The weird surprises just keep coming in "Paper Girls" #3. Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang play the strangeness as straight as can be, dropping dream sequences and laser guns alongside the girls' more realistic problems with gun wounds and driving a car without a license. Chiang and colorist Matt Wilson have put together a bold, beautiful world that has space for both sophistication and fuchsia, and these characters are as fun to follow as ever.
However, as the dino-riding warriors and cybernetic ninjas pile up, "Paper Girls" #3 loses some of the intimacy that made this series so compelling in the first place.
Even if its characters weren't so likeable, "Paper Girls" is one of the best-looking comics out there -- certainly one of the best that'll only cost you $2.99. Chiang's sharp, natural artwork is compulsively readable. The movement from panel-to-panel is impeccably clear: chases are easy to follow, emotional arcs are easy to trace and settings are easy to map. That may sound like a pretty basic skill set, but Chiang's brisk storyboarding is really exceptional in that regard. Add to that his slick inking and cool character designs, and the whole book is just sinfully stylish.
Wilson's colors are just as essential to establishing "Paper Girls." With bright pops of almost-not-quite-fluorescents, he weds the carefree colors of teen movies to the schlocky palettes of B-movies. The result is insolently colorful and surprisingly chic -- a YA world that really likes being YA. Letterer and designer Jared K. Fletcher caps it off with a pitch-perfect dialogue font and some cool alien glyphs.
The script is a quick spiral, with all the accumulating complications building and turning in on one another. There are plenty of new developments and foes until, in classic Vaughan fashion, the final page features a big reveal. I love to see the plot motoring along with such sureness, but it didn't give me the same joy that the longer, closer character moments in the first issue did. Admittedly, when one of the girls is shot, the decision-making process in the aftermath does help to establish the girls' personalities. Despite the tactical nature of the conversation, it becomes clearer who's capable, who's a wild card and who's a poor planner. I liked having those pages.
This isn't to say that the strange stuff isn't fun. It's hard to resist the bald-facedness of it, the way that massive pterodactyls and alien weapons are just dropped into the story, no couching required. Who doesn't love a good invasion story? Yet, what set "Paper Girls" apart for me was its investment in the emotional politics and social currency of adolescents -- especially adolescent girls. I missed seeing that element of the series in this issue, and I hope it will return in the months to come.
"Paper Girls" #3 takes a whole heap of hackneyed concepts -- the coming-of-age story, alien invasions, girl gangs -- and makes them feel fresh and vital again. It's fun without being jokey, and hip without being hipster. This is definitely a series to watch.