Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
This week Marvel released a couple of tie-ins to its big Original Sin event, and DC Comics issued new printings of chapters from its Superman crossover “Doomed.” But the weirdest, most unexpected and, oddly enough, most traditionally formatted crossover going right now comes not from the Big Two publishers that invented and perfected the approach, but from IDW, whose Super Secret Crisis War #1 features the heroes and villains from a half-dozen old Cartoon Network series sharing story space.
IDW has done crossover stories before (Infestation, Infestation 2, Mars Attacks IDW), but in the past these have been rather indirect, with the same menaces (zombies, Lovecraftian monsters, the Mars Attacks martians) invading the different realities of its various licensed properties (G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Transformers, etc.). Here the participants all appear in the same book, and even rub elbows in the same panels.
What ties them together is that they all once had shows on Cartoon Network and, um, well, that’s about it really, but it’s enough to get them all in the same six-issue miniseries issues (plus five one-shot tie-ins that will bring yet more Cartoon Network stars into the fold).
This allows the series to capitalize on the pleasures of two different sorts of crossovers: There’s the shared-universe crossover, as when all the DC or Marvel heroes team up (even if these characters don’t technically share the same universe), and the inter-company crossover, when characters from various properties that were never meant to meet up do so (Think Batman/Judge Dredd, Archie Meets The Punisher).
The story is written by Louise Simonson, whose biography in the back of the book says “has edited and written comics since the dawn of time,” which is, of course, an exaggeration, but one based on a truth: She’s been making comics for forever now, and knows how these things work, inside and out.
As I said, her approach here is pretty straightforward. In fact, the first panel begins with readers apparently joining the villains in the middle of their plotting session. Aku, the shape-shifting master of darkness, has allied himself with alien warlord Vilgax, brilliant simian villain Mojo Jojo and “apprentice” evil boy scientist Mandark to form The League of Extraordinary Villains.
The plan is to send the robots from one of their worlds to challenge the heroes of another world and, should they defeat the robots, they will then automatically be transported into cells at the League’s headquarters for the next stage of their scheme to conquer everything.
In short order, the title characters of the cartoons Samurai Jack, Ben 10, The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory are captured, yet something goes wrong, sending a half-dozen robots to other locales, like the universe inhabited by Ed, Edd and Eddy of Ed, Edd n Eddy.
By issue’s end, “Step One” of their evil plan is complete, and we’ve been introduced to all the villains and heroes, and seen them in action. Next? Well, there are five more issues of Super Secret Crisis War, and the aforementioned one-shots, one of which will ship each month. These are Johnny Bravo, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, Cow and Chicken and Codename: Kids Next Door.
Simonson captures the cadences of the various characters well, and her plot is straightforward and simple, although perhaps there’s too great an emphasis on action and not enough on comedy (I remember at least a few of these shows being funnier than the comic featuring the characters).
Artist Derek Charm, who has worked on IDW’s Powerpuff Girls comic and drawn covers for plenty of the publisher’s books, does a fine job of aping the various styles of each of the characters’ home cartoons, and all of the designs are spot-on. Few of them look like they should exist in the same story-space. The softer, rounder, more realistic Ben 10 and his villain look particularly out of place among the flatter, more abstract and exaggerated characters, but there isn’t really a way for an artist to bridge those gulfs in designs without altering the characters beyond recognition. The crazy clash in design is part of the book’s awkward, shaggy charm.
One issue in, there doesn’t seem to be much to the comic other than the sheer strangeness of mixing the diverse character together, but in comics, you can go a long way on strangeness alone, particularly when mixed with nostalgia.