Zeb Larson reviews Paper Girls #5…
END OF STORY ARC! The first arc of the smash-hit ongoing series concludes with major revelations and another game-changing cliffhanger.
Paper Girls’ first arc has been a mystery wrapped inside a riddle, stuffed into an enigma cannon, and fired into a black hole. It’s not that Vaughan hasn’t been feeding us little clues as we go: a code for the alphabet some of the characters speak in, little nods to the nerd culture of the ‘80s, and of course, the Apple logo that keeps popping up. Like any good conundrum though, all that information is raising more questions than answering them. This has been one of the best books Image has published in the last six months, and this arc is a fitting capstone to that. I will be discussing spoilers from here on out, so consider yourself forewarned.
Erin wakes up aboard the Heck and Naldo’s ship in some sort of Apple-brand healing chamber. Their ship is more warehouse than futuristic cruiser (fitting, since most spaceships in ‘80s movies look that way). They’re quickly caught by “old-timers,” which damages their ship. Meanwhile, the other girls have another confrontation with one of the dinosaur-riding space weirdos. More and more, I’m growing to love those characters, especially their neo-Shakespearean technobabble. In a carefully-calculated bluff with the gun, KJ disarms the woman and they make their way back to the basement where this all started, figuring that the device might lead them to Erin. However, the woman communicates with her “Grand Father” (wearing an Apple Records t-shirt), who tells her that he will punish them himself.
As they arrive, Erin stumbles out and tells them that the boys are dead. The house they’re in is surrounded by the Grand Father, who tells them that the boys were lying murderers. Erin recognizes the Apple on his shirt, looks at the device she picked up in Issue #1, and activates it. KJ is separated from the others, and the three remaining girls flag down a passing car. The driver is none other than the adult Erin Tieng.
Everything keeps coming back to Apple, doesn’t it? Yet the Apple Records t-shirt is an interesting sort of wrinkle to this, because the two companies were involved in a long and bitter lawsuit over trademark issues for several decades. Is this all some of oblique reference to a division between science (Apple Computer) and culture/spirituality (Apple Records)? The boys were thieves and scavengers, and their symbol was of the Apple being bitten into, knowledge being acquired from the forbidden fruit. Conversely, the Apple Records’ symbol is whole, and Grand Father keeps insisting that the boys are thieves. They even keep calling it a “generational conflict.” All of this might explain why Grand Father’s people are participating in this “abjuration.” It might seem crazy to keep focusing on this weird Apple connection, except that it’s everywhere in the comic. Literally the last panel shows the future Erin Tieng with her iPod (so now we know it’s at least 2001).
In terms of character development, this arc ends on the right note. Mac apologies to Erin for the shooting, as well as what happened to the boys, while Erin seems to have accepted these girls’ as her friends and crew. This also raises the question how meeting her future self will change her. What does the future Erin Tieng signify for this book? In bits and pieces, this book has been hinting at who Erin is and who will she become for a while now. How else can you explain the wonderfully serene dream with Ronald Reagan a few issues ago, when he weirdly scolds her for not having enough friends? Was that friendless and lonely version of herself the person she grew up to be? Or is there is something I’m missing? (Probably).
I’m digging the direction this very unusual book has taken. The girls may not be in Time Bandits quite yet, but they’re headed in that direction. Now they have to figure out where KJ went, and what they’re doing in the future.