Thursday Comics Hangover: The weird dawn light of Paper Girls

We're in a golden age of Brian K. Vaughan comics. I can't shut up about how good Saga is; he recently wrapped up The Private Eye, a beautiful sci-fi comic with Marcos Martin; his Canadian future war comic We Stand On Guard keeps getting better; and his newest series, the retro sci-fi adventure comic Paper Girls, is probably his best non-Saga comics work yet. Co-created with artist Cliff Chiang, Paper Girls tells the story of a group of newspaper delivery girls in 1988. One day, they encounter some monsters. The audience is introduced to an object that suggests time travel might be involved. The second issue, released yesterday, adds to the mystery by tossing in some more monsters and a very confused adult.

Paper Girls is reminiscent of the J.J. Abrams movie Super 8 in that it's a genre story that's soaked in nostalgia for 1980s childhoods. But while Super 8 collapsed under its own weird self-regard — did the world really need a Spielberg homage produced by Stephen Spielberg? — Paper Girls hums along by keeping the postmodern winks to a minimum. Sure, the characters argue about pop culture; when one character calls Peggy Sue Got Married a sci-fi movie, another delivery girl can't resist a little fannish pedantry: "That's actually more of a fantasy time travel story," she says. But this meta-commentary feels appropriate for the story and not at all forced.

Fresh off a career-making turn on Wonder Woman, Chiang proves to be exceptionally suited for a comic like Paper Girls. The girls are realistic teenagers (hooray for a complete lack of creepy objectification!) and the monsters are happily comic-booky. Chiang's genius, though, is that these disparate elements somehow obviously exist in the same universe; they each have equal weight. From the mundanity of an abandoned Big Wheel on a street corner to the bizarre vision of a werewolf in a Guns N Roses t-shirt stagering around, Chiang keeps everything tight and consistent.

Paper Girls also stands as a representative example of what good coloring can do for a comic. Matt Wilson uses an 80s-appropriate neon palette for the covers and special effects, but most of the book takes place at an eerie moment of dawn — or is it dusk? — when the sky is a washed-out rainbow of deep purples and royal pinks. Anyone who has ever run a paper route remembers the eerieness of waking up at pre-dawn when the whole world is asleep; Wilson captures the glow of that moment on paper and makes it real.

It's unclear at this point exactly where Paper Girls is going, though it's obvious that Vaughan has a plan in mind. It could become a full-on creature feature, or it might be a twisty time-travel story, or it might be a tribute to the friendship between girls. Knowing Vaughan, it'll likely be some combination of all three. Whatever happens, I'm entirely onboard; Paper Girls has rocketed to the top of my list of must-read books.