Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I’m not ashamed to tell you that when I read that DC Comics was canceling Art Baltazar and Franco’s Tiny Titans series, I collapsed to my knees, raised my eyes to the heavens and let out a long, low “Nooo!” I would have torn out my hair, if I had any hair to tear out, and I did try to rend my garments. However, I quickly discovered that either I am too weak to rend garments, or my garments were simply too well-made to be easily rend-able.
Tiny Titans quite gradually had become my favorite comic book-format comic; I picked up the first issue out of a mixture of curiosity and cynical disbelief that you could do a mass-appeal kids comic based on DC’s Titans franchise (after all, DC seems to have had trouble doing a narrow-appeal grown-up comic based on the franchise over the decades, if you see how many times its been canceled, relaunched and given new directions and new creators since Marv Wolfman stopped writing it). But I never dropped it, as Baltazar and Franco had decided to do an old-school (like, John Stanley old-school) gag comic featuring kid characters for kid readers, and do it in Baltazar’s own super-cute style, and fill it full of DC trivia and ephemera.
The silver lining of its cancellation was the announcement of Superman Family Adventures, which uses a name most recently used by DC for their Showcase Presents collections combining stories from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. The new comic was to be by the exact same creative team, which preview art suggested would be told in a similar style. Well, the first issue hit the stands yesterday, and I have some thoughts about it.
1.) Look at what Superman is wearing! Superman is wearing his regular Superman costume, but a Baltazar-ized version of the New 52 costume that Jim Lee designed, complete with the high, v-neck collar, the bigger, differently styled S-shield, the red belt and the immodest lack of super-shorts.
What’s noteworthy about this is that DC insisted upon it at all, given that we haven’t really seen the New 52 costumes show up outside of the DCU comics (certainly any new toys or other licensed material to be released since last fall have featured the classic costumes), which might presage the new costumes starting to show up in such venues from now on (if they last that long).
Additionally, it’s worth noting how much better the costume looks in Baltazar’s style than in Lee’s. Because he doesn’t fuss with his art to the degree that Lee does, we don’t see the armor-plating that Lee, George Perez and the other artists have included in the super-suit, and the belt looks more classic than the oddly-shaped one Lee gave him.
Basically, at first glance, it just looks like Superman took off his shorts, making the costume change look less dramatic and, to my eyes anyway, more appealing.
2.) Look at what everyone else is wearing! Baltazar has drawn all of the characters elsewhere before; Superman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Superboy and Supergirl all appeared in Tiny Titans, as did Lex Luthor (but only from the neck down, which is the kids’-eye-view way Baltazar generally presented grown-up superheroes and supervillains in the book). Krypto, who was a puppy in Tiny Titans, is a full-grown dog here, and drawn as he in in the DC Super-Pets line of junior reader illustrated prose books (worth looking at your local library for, if you’re a fan of Baltazar’s art and/or superhero pets).
Supergirl is wearing a simplified version of her New 52 costume, complete with cut-out knees in her thigh-high boots. Superboy is wearing a version of his old T-shirt and jeans look, only now he has a long-sleeve shirt, allowing for red cuffs and collar to echo Superman’s costume. Lois and Jimmy are dressed as if they were pulled from their 1950s comics (I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve read a comic with Lois Lane in it in which she had all her buttons buttoned, and wasn’t popping out of her blouse).
Lex Luthor, the villain of the issue, is in his traditional purple and green; here a purple turtleneck, purple pants and purple boots, with a long green coat, suggesting his look in All-Star Superman(his wicked plot, by the way, is similar to that in All-Star Superman; to steal Superman’s powers for his own, although he accidentally steals Krypto’s instead, which has predictable side-effects.
3.) It’s a different beast … but not too different. Unlike Tiny Titans, this book doesn’t have the gag-book structure, in which it consists of short stories centered around particular jokes — often with a theme for the issue tying them all together. Rather, it’s one book-length adventure, with a prologue introducing Superman and an epilogue in which the chief finally gets his coffee.
Despite the different structure, it still looks just like an issue of Tiny Titans, right down to the lettering and the character design of the guy who works in the coffee shop. In addition to being lighthearted, there are plenty of jokes, some aimed straight at kids, like Lex’s arrogance or Lex acting like a dog, some more situational, like this one:
4.) A new character is introduced, Fuzzy, a super-mouse with a fine head of hair. Fuzzy is a mouse in Lex’s lab that accidentally gets some super-powers, and whom Superman decides to outfit with a super-suit. There’s a super-dog, super-cat, super-horse and super-monkey, so I suppose they might as well add a super-mouse to their super-menagerie.
5.) Superman says “Not cool!” in the course of the story. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Superman say “Not cool!,” and I don’t think I like it. Krypto says “Chillax,” at one point, but for some reason that’s not quite as distressing as hearing Superman say “Not cool!” Now, if Superman said “Chillax” … well, I don’t even want to think about it.
6.) Despite its title and focus on the extended Superman cast, the book doesn’t really achieve the sort of unique, lunatic feel of the old Girlfriend and Pal comics, something I don’t think is even possible these days, given the fact that Superman’s secret-identity is no longer so sacrosanct that entire series need to be devoted to the completely insane lengths he will go to in order to conceal it even from his best friends.
And, unfortunately, it isn’t quite the all-ages Superman comic you might think DC would want to have on the stands every month. It’s fine for kids, and it’s fine for grown-ups like me, but I don’t know if this lighthearted, gentle Superman comic would necessarily hit the same buttons of readers of a certain, in-between age in the way that, say, the Young Justice cartoon does (yeah, I know, they’ve got a comic to do that). This isn’t all-ages in the way that the old Superman Adventures comic was, nor is it all-ages in the way that, say, just about everything First Second publishes.
I think that there’s therefore still a hole in DC’s publishing line, where they’re excluding a certain segment of potential audience simply by not publishing anything for them to read: This, like Tiny Titans was, is for little kids and grown-ups; the DCU books are all for grown-ups.
7.) But that’s what it’s not, not what it is. What it is is a very entertaining comic featuring the same great art and sense of humor present in Tiny Titans, applied to new characters and a different story format. It hasn’t yet filled the Tiny Titans-shaped hole in its heart, but I’m more than willing to keep reading, as it certainly has the potential to do so.
Would I recommend it? Aw yeah.