Brian K. Vaughan is known for his incredible storytelling, mixing the real world with fantasy, science fictionm, and pure magic. His latest series, Paper Girls, is no exception to his previous works. Many say that Paper Girls is like Stranger Things with a female cast, and that may be accurate, but Paper Girls may also be even better than the hit Netflix show. For starters, Paper Girls doesn’t stop with nods to the ’80s through music, art and props. The entire text and art by Cliff Chiang emulates the time period, and while there’s some of that in Stranger Things, it feels even more grounded in Paper Girls.
Paper Girls is also full of even weirder scenarios and monsters. Sure, the Demogorgon and the Upside Down were strange, but pterodactyl monsters, time-travelers, aliens, mutants… Here are The 15 Best Moments In Paper Girls to demonstrate just how incredible this comic is.
15. Nods To The ’80s
Reading Paper Girls is a bit like stepping into an A-ha video. There’s enough ’80s hair and clothing to make a Molly Ringwald movie, references to everything from Depeche Mode to The Far Side, and even a campaign sign that reads Bush ’88 (not to be confused with Bush ’00 or ’04). Like crowd-favorite iconic ’80s movies such as Stand by Me and The Goonies, there’s also the camaraderie of a group of four kids, plenty of foul language and adventure, as well as some great bikes. The difference, much to the delight of plenty of comic readers, is that all of these characters are female.
There aren’t many pieces of media that feature an all-girls coming-of-age group. The film Now and Then starring Christina Ricci and Thora Birch comes to mind, but even that isn’t quite as enjoyable as Paper Girls (although it comes close). Women who grew up in the ’80s now have a cool comic that they can relate to while everyone else can get a peek at what it was like to be a paper girl in that time period.
14. The Moment When Apple Shows Up
As much as we love the classic ’80s theme in Paper Girls, Vaughan ensures that we know that the entire comic may not take place in that time. Our first major clue comes in the form of none other than the Apple logo! The computer of the future features this symbol, which perplexes the girls. When it is suggested by Erin that the device might be a tiny computer, KJ scoffs, “How would you fit a whole computer into something the size of a Klondike Bar?” Erin sagely and prophetically suggests that since computers used to be enormous, maybe they could also be tiny.
This scene links the girls to the modern world, giving readers a clue about time travel being involved in the plot while simultaneously delivering a laugh. Readers of the series know that the girls have many more futuristic finds in store, but this is the moment when we see that, despite how strange the opposition forces may seem, at least some of them are likely still from our own world.
13. The Christa McAuliffe Angel
Fans often enjoy seeing Easter eggs of Vaughan’s work from previous comics in his current work and Paper Girls has a few. One of the most noticeable instances in the first compilation is the angel of Christa McAuliffe, who comes to speak to Erin in a dream. Her astronaut helmet brings to mind the imagery of Saga’s Prince Robot and his “people,” for lack of a better word, especially when the front reflects terrifying imagery to Erin before McAuliffe pierces her in the face, transforming into a devil-like creature after Erin utters a swear word.
McAuliffe was, of course, the teacher who was tragically killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. Mentioning her gives the story a fuller presence in the ’80s, since it occurred just prior to the Paper Girls timeline, given that Bush I ran for president in 1988. It is likely that McAuliffe is a hero of Erin’s, but she also symbolizes the dangers of exploration that Erin is about to experience in her own journey. Tragedy and death could very well play a part in it, as any Vaughan reader knows to be wary.
12. The Tree Of Knowledge Scene
The interesting thing about the McAuliffe “Tree of Knowledge” scene (aside from its terror-inducing imagery) is that the McAuliffe-like creature snarls, “We warned you… Never eat from the tree of knowledge.” Not only does this quote and its art foreshadow the entire comic, as Erin and her new friends attempt to make sense of the chaos erupting around them, but it also reverses the role of demon and god, implying that the Biblical God who warned humans to avoid the apples at all costs was, in fact, this monstrous beast.
Using the popular Labyrinth theme of “things are not always what they seem in this place,” Vaughan furthers the theme of the book: those who appear to be trustworthy are not and vice versa. Some of the very time-travelers who seem to pose a threat, in fact, are responsible for saving Erin’s life and sacrificing their own in the process.
11. The Paper Girl Meet-Cute
In the scene where Erin first meets the other girls in the story, not only is Mac established as a badass character fans are sure to love, but the scene itself is very reminiscent of Stand by Me. Mac uses obscene language to take on the older boys, as do the rest of the girls between one another, which gives the time period even more of an authentic feel, bringing to mind a time when Ace Merrill promised he’d make Gordie Lachance pay for standing up to him big time.
The care with which the scenes and especially the dialogue is written comes back full circle to Vaughan. He says, “I like writing female characters. I remember when I was doing Runaways at Marvel, that was a teen book that had more females than males in it. At the time, it was the subject of great controversy as we were doing it…Usually, there’s a token female or two, but to have a team be predominantly of women, the fact that it was a bit of a conversation to have even that. Now… here’s a great opportunity to do what I always wanted to do, just a group of females and not have to defend it or explain it, and just get to write them.”
10. It Came From The Basement
When the girls find the monstrous-looking machine in the basement of an unfinished house, Erin points out that it looks a lot like “the old Apollo capsule,” which further highlights her interest in space for the reader. Humanoid features, including what appears to be a brain, can be seen in the machine, if it is even a machine at all. The thing also looks a bit like a Dalek, but it also featured a skin-like cloth, making readers whether it’s alive. Readers are well aware of Vaughan’s ability to meld man and machine, so this would not be a first if the thing really is some kind of life form. His Ex Machina comics focus on a man with the power to “talk to” machines, among other things, and he blends robots with humans in his Saga series.
Of course, the outer-galactic moment that occurs when Tiffany, KJ, Mac, and Erin get back outside is worth mentioning here as well. When KJ fiddles with the machine, it begins to buzz before emitting a blinding light that acts as an X-ray on the girls. It is clear that something has changed in their community as they emerge from the house and see the universe up closer than they ever have before. As many weird things have occurred within the first few pages, this is the moment when we know not all is right with the world as they know it.
9. Hit A Girl!
Mack proves her mettle in the panel where she takes on the “alien” creature. KJ attempts to grab Tiff’s beloved walkie-talkie back from the mysterious interlopers only to be casually backhanded for her trouble. Mack is outraged over the treatment of her friend, gritting her teeth and seething, “Son of a bitch!” twice before reaching for the bad guy. Crying, “Hit a girl!” she follows her talk with her walk, yanking on the thief only to pull back his face cover to reveal a human-like creature with strange facial hardware.
The creature attempts to strangle Mack but KJ comes back to intervene, whacking it on the head with her hockey stick. Mack suffers some weird aftereffects from the alien’s touch, including what seems like temporary face-melting and different speech patterns, but in all, the girls have won a greater battle than the threat of the teen boys earlier in the book.
8. A Plethora Of Villainous Possiblity
Monsters, aliens, a disease (“like Rocky Dennis in Mask!“), nuclear mutants, demons… the girls begin postulating about what the villainous creatures could be and it reminds us of Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, in which we never really found out what caused the death of man, but were given several options. Explanations of mystical, biological and nefarious natures were all provided but Vaughan himself has stated that even he is not sure, though he has his preference, and that he prefers for readers to come to their own conclusions about the cause of the near-extinction of men. Will Paper Girls have a similar conclusion?
In book one, it seems as if the culprits of this crazy day (yes, it’s still only been a single day, at least to our knowledge) are evolved humans from a distant future that includes a herd of pterodactyls and a leader who looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia and Santa Clause. Vaughan still has much in store for readers so it could be too early to tell.
7. Those Crazy Pterodactyl Monsters
Other than the Marvel Savage Lands, you don’t see pterodactyls in comics very often. Sauron is probably the most famous example. The pterodactyls (or whatever they are) in Paper Girls are the first real sign that maybe we aren’t dealing with terrorists or even aliens, but actual monsters. The first time we see one of the creatures is in the second issue when one of the antagonists is seen running with a bag under his or her arm. The next thing we know, there’s a giant monster foot in the panel as the humanoid looks up. Next his shadow is seen in the shadow of the beak of the creature before blood splatter fills the next panel.
The page presents more questions than answers, since not only is there suddenly a monster resembling a dinosaur on the scene, but also a futuristic gloved hand that reaches down for Tiff’s walkie-talkie. Later, when the sky is full of the creatures, it feels as if the entire world has at least partly traveled back in time. It’s also one of the scenes that brings a Doctor Who feel to the book, making readers wonder if Vaughan drew any inspiration from the show.
6. The Shot Heard Around Mac’s House
Kids irresponsibly handling a gun is another coming-of-age trope that we’ve witnessed in films like Stand by Me, and in Paper Girls the situation proves to be much more dangerous. This time, it is an adult who introduces the weapon. Mac’s pessimistic stepmother, who the girls find drinking, smoking and lamenting the end of the world, attempts to kill herself with it. Mac wrestles the gun away from her, telling her that she loves her, and as the gun goes off, readers are left with a crushing cliffhanger at the end of the issue.
In issue #3, it is revealed that Mac’s stepmother is safe. It was Erin who was shot. The scene features a surreal moment when everyone is so relieved that Mac’s mom isn’t dead that they don’t even notice Erin bleeding. The comic pans to her and she weakly says, “It’s a miracle,” while she bleeds. The girls then embark on another beloved tween-teen theme in coming-of-age stories: attempting to drive Erin to the hospital themselves.
5. An Effed Up Time
After everything the Paper Girls have been through already, it seems as if their world is as insane as it gets. From terrorist/cyborg/alien beings to pterodactyls, weird moments of outer-space nearness to the vanishing of all people except for themselves, it would seem that their world cannot get any weirder. When the humanoids reveal themselves to be teenagers, the girls are surprised to say the least, but readers have to chuckle when, while traipsing through the sewer, they inform the girls that the girls themselves are the ones from “an effed up time“!
One of the teenagers, Heck, says that his boyfriend was murdered by one of the “old timers.” This likely refers to the death of the teen we witnessed in issue #2 with the first appearance of a pterodactyl. Mac, who has expressed several off-color remarks already, says, “Eww.” KJ admonishes her friend but Heck replies, “Don’t worry about it. You guys are from an effed-up time,” which readers already know from having lived in it or knowing the history of attitudes toward the LGBT community in general.
4. Tiff’s Near Death Experience
While traveling with the two time-traveling teens in the sewers, the girls meet yet another monster. This enormous, green creature sort of makes us think of the aliens in the tween film Explorers starring Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. Those aliens were teenagers as well. This alien (or monster), however, is a round, neon green, almost glowing creature with multiple appendages that each feature a cubed eyeball, and it is out for blood from the girls and their companions.
If that isn’t weird enough, Tiffany almost dies in the scene and her near death experience is a flashback with which many people can relate. She sees herself playing the NES Nintendo game Arkanoid for hours and hours on end, ignoring Christmas presents, Thanksgiving meals, and other excitement in lieu of the game. Some cells even depict her on the phone or with longer hair to demonstrate how much time she has spent on the game. The danger of Tiff’s situation, the fragility of her life, is cut with the irony of how much of that life has been spent in front of a game system– something that many of us understand well.
3. Future Erin’s Arrival
It’s not every day that you meet the future version of yourself on the street, but that’s exactly what happened to Erin at the end of the first Paper Girls book. A car pulls up and the girls are so relieved to see an adult from their time that they approach and beg for help. Erin introduces herself only to gape at the woman who emerges from the car, who asks, “Is this a joke? My name is Erin Tiang.”
This version of Erin looks like she comes from modern day America. She’s wearing a contemporary shirt with modern jeans and shoes, and her stylish haircut is definitely not an ’80s throwback, but what really gives her presence away are the earbuds that she wears, which are attached to her cell phone in her pocket. Of course this is where Vaughan leaves the series until the next installment, leaving fans to ponder the future of the girls (quite literally) in the series.
2. Those Bugs!
The nanogenes from Doctor Who had to be running through artist Cliff Chiang’s mind when he made Vaughan’s futuristic medical bugs come to life. When Heck and Naldo take Erin to their “Whenhouse” of the future (or wherever they go) to save her life, they treat her with something that seems to stem from medieval healing methods rather than futuristic ones: bugs.
Heck calls the bugs “iNsecs,” and says they were difficult to boost when Erin warns she is going to toss her cookies all over them. He also refers to them as junk. The bugs take over on Erin’s gunshot wound, healing it like a bunch of futuristic leeches.
This scene gave us a feverish Erin in the throes of more weird dreams. This time, they featured Erin as a young child telling her father that she didn’t realize that grownups were scared, too. His face melts off as he cries and admits that grownups are terrified before she wakes up to see that Heck and Naldo are dying.
1. The Human Collection
While the Paper Girls have no idea where their town disappeared to, readers find out when we see the inside of the Grand Father’s home. Grand Father was previously introduced when one of the pterodactyl-riding warriors called to report the death of her comrade, but it is in Paper Girls issue #5 that we see him walk through a hall of pink chambers that house the people of the town. Readers can recognize the teen girl dressed as a cat who previously vanished. Adults, children, and even toddlers can be seen in the chambers, and again the scene, like most other revealing moments, gives readers more questions than answers.
Readers now understand that the people of Earth may not be dead, but why they are captured in cryogenic-like containers, who Grand Father and his soldiers are, and what exactly is happening in the first place all remain a to-be-continued mystery.
What’s your favorite moment from Paper Girls? Let us know in the comments.