“Paper Girls” #4 is the point where the series has settled into its groove, and readers should know what to expect on some level. Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s series — which follows four teenage girls from the ’80s who are plunged into an apocalyptic future — is a fun adventure book with menace lurking on all sides, and this issue is no exception to that rule.
This new issue introduces us to the Editrix, which gives a new meaning to the idea of one’s life flashing before their eyes, even as the paper girls and their new allies try to save Erin. Just when you think you know what’s happening here and what’s in store, Vaughan proves us wrong again, serving up another one of his trademark cliffhangers.
In “Paper Girls” #4, no one can be fully trusted. This is a story about girls yanked into an uncertain future; their lives are on the line, and they’re being taken by different factions as if they were tokens on a game board. In lesser hands, they might have gone along with everything that’s happening to them, but there’s a level of skepticism and wariness that feels refreshing and real. What’s more, Vaughan doesn’t lose sight of when these girls are from. Social mores were different in the ’80s versus today, and concepts that are easier to swallow now are a little more difficult for them (even as Vaughan keeps them from coming across like jerks). It’s also fun to see the pop culture of the time reflected, with Tiff’s flashbacks involving the video game Arkanoid heavily.
It’s the section involving Tiffany, Arkanoid and the Editrix that will really grab readers’ attention. Up until this point, “Paper Girls” has been a charming and fun adventure story, but this is the moment where we’re starting to see something much greater happening. While the Editrix’s powers aren’t fully defined just yet, what little we do see is intriguing and promises a lot of craziness down the line. It’s a foe that does more than just physically attack its targets, and I am already eager to see its return.
Unsurprisingly, Chiang and Matt Wilson’s art is amazing in “Paper Girls” #4. Chiang’s work continues to look wonderful, with slightly sharp inks providing an edge to the smooth and slightly soft profiles of the characters. In particular, Mac has some great pissed-off expressions, and there’s a moment of sadness on Heck’s face that is heartbreaking because it’s drawn so well. The closed quarters of the sewer tunnels have an immense amount of detail, bringing the setting perfectly to life, and the Editrix manages to look both familiar and off-putting in one fell swoop. When Tiffany almost wins Arkanoid and we suddenly see her back at level 1, that look of frustration on her face is like a swift punch to the stomach. We’ve all been there, but Chiang makes it even more real than we might remember. Add in the gorgeous colors from Wilson — who gets so many things right, but especially nails it on the deep purple of the night sky — and this is a beautiful way to kick off 2016.
“Paper Girls” #4 is another strong issue from a strong new series; it’s a good reminder that Vaughan’s work on “Saga” isn’t a fluke, nor was Chiang’s run on “Wonder Woman.” At this point, I’m hooked, and I bet I’m not the only one. All in all, another winner.