Paper Girls Vol. 1-5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson & Jared K. Fletcher

Imagine if the D&D-playing nerds of Stranger Things were four badass girls with paper routes, and you’ll get a decent idea of where this comic book series begins. Tho, tbf, this setting feels less Stranger Things than (at least the roleplaying version of) Tales From The Loop, as its 80s setting is of a decidedly more sci-fi bent than fantasy horror.

Anyway, the first book begins the morning after Halloween, when 12 year-old Erin Tieng has to get up at the crack of dawn to deliver newspapers in her small Ohio town of Stony Stream. An unpleasant run-in with entitled teenage jerks still running around from the night before is mercifully brought to a close by the three other female paper girls of their community: tough girl and pioneering paper girl Mac; field hockey stick-wielding KJ, and brainy Tiffany. They adopt Erin into their circle just as things go completely sideways and upside down.

Vol Two finds the girls unsure of whom to trust after KJ disappears and multiple Erins abound. While we learn a little more about the mysterious entities chasing down the Paper Girls, this volume focuses on 12 year-old Erin’s relationship with grown-up Erin, making for both compelling and heart-warming reading.

Vol Three finds the girls thrown back millenia to accidentally encounter the very first time traveler, as we dive into KJ’s psyche. While trying to help a girl from the ancient past, they discover what might be a way to solve the entire problem from the get-go, only to have everything go very wrong in the end.

In Vol 4, the girls are lost in the year 2000, and run into future Tiffany as well as a comic creator who might be one panel short of a strip. The war between the Old Timers and their descendants gets even more heated, as one casualty causes the man in charge to go ballistic. The girls escape Y2K only to find themselves in a far future Cleveland, Ohio in Vol 5, when I finally connect the dots and have a miniature freak out as to whom some of the most important characters actually are.

This is an extremely lively, fast-paced jaunt through space and time, folding scientific concepts and conundrums seamlessly into a whip smart narrative featuring four strong female leads who always read like authentic people. The art is relentlessly terrific, with Cliff Chiang’s clean, muscular lines and impeccable ability to differentiate between even minor characters given room to strut and play. The action is as strong as the emotion, and both perfectly match the scripting. Matthew Wilson’s colors are also superb, bringing to mind the best of Glynis Oliver’s work, tho with much more color blocking to suit the needs/aesthetics of the story. I also haven’t been this impressed by lettering since I was first introduce to Nate Piekos and Blambot via the X-Statix books! I kinda want to take the time to decode Jared K Fletcher’s ciphered script but also I’m lazy and have so much reading to do, so look forward to having it all eventually laid out for me.

This is such a great team putting out a really terrific title and I can’t wait to start the Hugo nominated 6th volume, which will be getting a review page all its own. I’m only sad that it looks as though the sixth might well be the final, but I can totally appreciate choosing a finite number of issues in which to tell a complete story. Given the amount of thought put into these volumes so far, it’s no surprise that the whole thing has been carefully planned from the start, with terrific callbacks in each volume to what might have seemed a throwaway detail in preceding ones. If you can remember living through the 1980s, or if you remember what it was like to be a 12 year-old girl, or even if you just enjoy a kick-ass, intelligent story about time travel, you should absolutely read these books.

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