Zeb Larson reviews Paper Girls #6…
The smash-hit ongoing series returns with a bold new direction, as Erin, Mac, and Tiffany find themselves launched from 1988 to a distant and terrifying future.
Paper Girls is finally back, doing what it does best: raising questions that it doesn’t even begin to answer. We get thrown down yet another rabbit hole just as we’re starting to think we understand the rules of this universe. Yet when it’s not confusing us with its profoundly weird universe, it also manages to be a book about generational conflict, childhood, and what happens to imagination as we age. The meeting of the child Erin and adult Erin is an opportunity for the adult Erin to reexamine what’s happened with her life and to contrast the vividness of her childhood with the relative dullness of adulthood. Warning: this review will be full of spoilers. Consider yourself forewarned.
Adult Erin’s morning drive is interrupted by the appearance of the girls, and she quickly realizes what’s going on, or rather realizes that this could answer a great many questions. For example, she has a scar on her stomach from an injury she can’t remember. She convinces the girls to come home with her to looking for the missing KJ. Back in 1989, Grand Father says that the girls have been “timelined,” which is dangerously disrupting the timestream.
The girls arrive back at adult Erin’s house, marveling over the little details such as having bottled water everywhere, twitter handles, or LCD televisions and a TMNT movie. After a news broadcast shows the same lightning as in 1989, a new intruder drops in and kills a newsman. After removing her helmet, it is none other than a third Erin. Back at the house, the power goes out, and adult Erin takes out her iPhone. The girls realize it’s got the same symbol as the device they found earlier and give it to adult Erin, who activates the device with her voice.
The big mystery is of course the third Erin, speaking the same alien tongue as the other visitors. Is it even really Erin? When translated, her dialogue doesn’t give much of a hint as to what she’s doing there, but given that the timestream’s disruption cannot be a good thing…
But the mystery of the new Erin and the missing KJ isn’t drawing me in nearly as much as the idea of meeting one’s childhood self. There’s the obvious in this issue: the girls reacting to all of the differences in the 21st Century, or the dismay child Erin shows when she’s revealed to still be living in Stony Stream (a cute little nod at Back to the Future 2). Erin’s reaction to all of this insanity changes throughout the issue. For most of it, she’s reacting a lot like an adult by thinking rationally, like not rushing to the weather disturbance for fear something dangerous might be there. The children’s enthusiasm for the television and TMNT is contrasted with adult Erin’s lack of interest; there’s all sorts of entrenched deeper meaning there.
But gradually, that adult standoffishness starts to break down. By the end of the issue, adult Erin’s reaction to turning on the mysterious Apple device is a “fuck yeah.” So much of this series has been about the pop culture of the ‘80s and the power it wielded over childhood imaginations. That imagination is so much more intense and interesting than adult Erin’s current life, working for a declining newspaper and waking up at 4:00 AM to do so. By allowing herself to get wrapped up in this, adult Erin is slowly moving back to that kind of childhood imagination.
I hadn’t really noticed it before, but even the color palette of this comic drives home the distinction between the dullness of everyday life and the brightly colored madness of adolescent pop culture. Most of the tones are heavily muted, except for third Erin and the Apple devices, which have a brightness that stands out in the comic.
I have a feeling next issue will be back to the action as we get some idea what the device is for, and what the new Erin’s plans are. KJ probably isn’t going to show up for a little while longer, but there are plenty of ways we could be surprised on that. This was a good opening issue for the new arc.