Justin Giampaoli: Jim Morrison is The Lizard King.
David Bowie is Ziggy Stardust.
Beyonce Knowles is Sasha Fierce.
Paul Pope is Pulp Hope.
Pope's alter ego is known only to the true believers in his religion of comics. You need only whisper it to the comic book cognoscenti and await a look of comprehension. He's an elusive creator to casual fans of the medium, serving as a basic litmus test for "who's in" and "who's out" of my personal circle in the industry. God, I've become an elitist snob. You'll find the "Pulp Hope" persona adorning Pope's fiery red studio stamp he uses to personally christen original art. PulpHope is also the name of his gorgeous coffee table art book, published by AdHouse Books. For anyone who managed to grab Pope's Oni Double Feature story in the late 90's, he also acquired a double-entendre name provided by an accented South American lover, "Pole Pop." Altar Alter egos are a basic conceit in the world of comic books. In the oeuvre of artist Paul Pope, they step further and build toward the primal power of myth. It doesn't matter if he's dealing with the enduring urban legend inBatman: Year 100, Hope Sandoval-cum-HR Watson in the Martian adventure THB, or the pulpy sci-fi origins of the superhero genre itself in his Wednesday Comics strip Strange Adventures, the myth is the thing.
Presidential speechwriter William Safire wrote about manned space travel: "In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood." Pope shares the belief expressed by fellow shamanic creator Grant Morrison, that of the superhero paradigm as modern myth. Listen to him discuss Batman: Year 100:
"I wanted to present a new take on Batman, who is without a doubt a mythic figure in our pop-psyche. My Batman is not only totally science fiction, he's also a very physical superhero: he bleeds, he sweats, he eats. He's someone born into an overarching police state; someone with the body of David Beckham, the brain of Tesla, and the wealth of Howard Hughes... pretending to be Nosferatu."
The distillation of these archetypes into a singular sequential elixir is about reliance on myth as fuel for storytelling.
This foundational literary topos surrounding myth is essential to discussing the works of Paul Pope, and The Invincible Haggard West is no exception. Before the main feature concerning Herculean demi-god or god-like superhero Battling Boy may commence (original graphic novel debut on 10/8/13), there must first be a story establishing lineage with the proto Titans who serve as forebears. In myth, there must be death before there can be rebirth. Billed as a "limited edition sneak peek of Battling Boy" in the indicia, The Invincible Haggard West is a faux final issue functioning as a prequel, as a teaser, as a call-it-what-you-will one-shot. Final Issue! #101 prominently features "The Death of Haggard West." It's publishing slight-of-hand used to cue the end of that fiction-within-a-fiction period, which never actually existed, yet we're meant to believe it did ("thanks to all the fans for following his exploits all these many years"). It's a glance at things past. It sets the stage as prelude. It contains hints of what's to come. It's a method for establishing that foundational mythic belief system.
I've always wanted to see Pope's riff on Mister Miracle, so it's impossible for me not to look at this Haggard West cover and see Orion from Kirby's New Gods. Pope never denies the Kirby connection. In fact, he openly cites influence from Caniff, Toth, Pratt, Herge, and Kirby. This myriad of styles is evident in Haggard West. Amid the Art Deco street lamps in Acropolis (an overt clue re: Greek Mythology), West swoops down from the sky to save kids in peril like a god damn steampunk dragonfly. This adventurer is equal parts The Rocketeer, Indiana Jones, Flash Gordon, Adam Strange, James Doolittle, Nikola Tesla, and Ernest Hemingway. He's there not only to save the kids, but to save the future, to save his own legacy. Haggard West exists in the liminal state between generations and genres. He bridges the gap as pulp and sci-fi roots transitioned to superhero dominance; he's there as the Golden Age gives way to the Silver Age. There's a tight zoom panel of West's bullet ridden scarf signaling the end, one that deliberately lingers for a beat, the symbolic death of an entire generation of adventurers. The somber two-page spread of his monument follows, punctuating the loss. The Titan has fallen. The nightmares have won. But it's merely a platform to launch from. Our god, our hero,Battling Boy, is on the way.