Warning: If you haven’t read the first five issues of Paper Girls, this discussion will spoil a few things. On the other hand, if you have read those issues but not the latest, don’t worry. Nothing major will be spoiled.
If you could take a teenager from 1989 and transport them to 2016, what would be their reaction? The answer question is a big part of the latest issue of Paper Girls, which dives head first into a complex time-travel story in its sixth issue, but never loses its witty tone and narrative confidence. Brian K. Vaughan’s latest effort continues to be appealing, entertaining and well-realized stuff: a perfect mainstream comic book.
The “Paper Girls” themselves have seen some pretty odd things by issue #6. They’ve seen time-travelling teenaged scavengers, giant flying dinosaur/birds, some sort of strange-talking stormtrooper types, and at the heart of it all, some old hippie who seems to be running the show. But what they met at the end of issue #5 was the real whopper: one of their own (Erin Tieng), as a 40-year-old woman. Our four key characters (Erin, Tiffany, Mac and KJ) found themselves in direct conflict at the climax of issue #5, face-to-face with forces they didn’t understand, using the strange device with the Apple logo on it they found to transport themselves somewhere — anywhere but facing certain doom at the hands of weird time travelling overlords. When they wake up at the end of the issue (and at the beginning of issue #6, which picks right up), they’re not in any strange dimension but emphatically the here and now, and one girl (KJ) short.
Vaughan has a wonderful time situating this issue emphatically in the present, right down to the date that opens the issue: June 1, 2016 (the release date). Erin today is very much like many of our generation: still young at 40, disaffected with the narrowing possibilities of our lives, cynical and a bit lonely. When she encounters her younger self in the middle of the street with two childhood friends, she becomes the one who instantly recognizes the situation (she asks young Erin a series of rapid-fire private questions and examines the scar on her stomach from her prior wound), but she also has the hardest time accepting it. It’s much more difficult for Erin, age 40, to see Erin, age 13, than the other way around. Although, the older Erin remains a decisive leader, immediately taking action to help the time travelling girls find their missing friend and figure out what this situation is all about.
The wonderful scenes that fill the middle part of this issue are the most charming aspect of it, particularly seeing how the 80s teens respond to things like HDTV and the iPhone. (They’re absolutely transfixed by the former, to adult Erin’s disappointment, but the latter reminds them of the strange object that brought them here, opening the door to issue #7.) There are also other plot developments it would be best not to spoil, except to say that the plot points involving time, paradoxes and alternate realities are apparently going to get even more complex.
Paper Girls still crackles with the energy that earned it an Eisner Nomination this year, and frankly keeps one guessing about where it will all lead. The main theme of youths vs adults acquires a new dimension here, as the youth and adult are literally the same person, setting in motion dramatic irony that will hopefully make this book as insightful as it is entertaining.