Paper Girls is about exactly what it sounds like—at least for a little while. We meet the titular girls on the early morning of November 1, 1988 (when it still feels like Halloween) as they team up to make their deliveries. Even though we only spend about 40 pages with the girls, writer Brian K. Vaughan makes them feel like fully-formed people. Mac (short for Mackenzie) smokes and likes to pick fights, but she’s also fiercely protective of her friends. KJ is confident well beyond her skill set or knowledge base. Erin–our apparent hero and a newbie to the paper business–is innocent but brave and has dreams where she answers the Devil’s questions to save her younger sister Missy from Hell.
That last point might seem kind of a sharp turn for what seems to be a relatively simple set up, but there’s more to this comic than meets the eye. Vaughan does write Saga after all. Of course there’s something weird going on.
The sense that something is slightly off is thanks in large part to colorist Matt Wilson, but before we get to him, we should probably talk about the lines he’s filling in. Cliff Chiang, who was part of the team that made post-New 52 Wonder Woman great, provides that art here. So much of the storytelling is done visually. With just a panel of the girls’ bike wheels spinning or the assembled odds and ends in a junk drawer Erin opens in the first few pages, Chiang is making the world rich and real through detail. While Erin’s comic-a-day tear away calendar tells us when this story takes place, Chiang also conveys a sense of place and time in subtler ways: the ’80s clothing and hair that he keeps realistic instead of parodic, the midwestern track housing look of the neighborhood the girls explore, even the look of the strange craft they discover in the basement of an empty house. Admittedly, those details wouldn’t have quite the same effect without Wilson.
The colors here are somewhat more solid than a lot of his other work (The Wicked and the Divine, Daredevil, Wonder Woman, you name it), but they’re almost a character with how much they add to the story. Since much of the issue takes place in the magic hour light of pre-dawn, the palette is somewhat cold, all purples and blues. So, when a warmer color appears, a red or yellow for instance (as in the moment when Erin’s dream turns into a nightmare), we know something’s gone wrong. And something definitely goes wrong near the end, though we don’t know exactly what yet.
Vaughan is smart enough to set up relationships and mystery, but not tell us reveal too much about where the story is going. It’s a great beginning—except the last image. With one splash page, Vaughan brings the story crashing back to pedestrian old Earth. Maybe in the long run, this thing that’s revealed–that means so much to the reader and absolutely nothing to the titular paper girls–will turn into something really interesting and unique. But right now, it feels like a cheap meta joke ended an otherwise strong sci-fi set up on a sour note.