“Wait, you’re mac? As in, MacKenzie?”

“So what?”

“You were the first. The first paperboy around here who wasn’t a… you know.”

The year is 1988; the day, November first; the place, a small Ohio suburb. In the wee hours of the morning following Halloween, four twelve-year-old girls go on their regular routes to deliver newspapers. There are some troublemakers still out from the night before, but for Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ, it’s nothing they can’t handle together--the girls pair off and go about their routes together for safety in numbers.

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Rowdy teenage delinquents, however, turn out to be the least of these girls’ worries--especially when they are attacked by a masked man carrying a bag of bizarre electronic devices. And then, almost everyone else in town disappears into thin air. And then the sky opens up, and monstrous, prehistoric-looking beasts swoop in for the kill.

Something is very, very wrong in suburbia--and these four paper girls must crack the code, before it’s too late.

The newest project from Brian K. Vaughan (of Saga and Y: The Last Man and Runaways fame), featuring art from Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman), Paper Girls is a bold mixture of science fiction, mystery, and adventure. Collecting the first five issues of the ongoing comic series, this first graphic novel is what I’d imagine you’d get if you mashed-up Monster Squad with an all-female cast, threw in some scifi elements, and set it against some sweet pink and yellow themed art. In other words: it’s pretty gosh darn amazing.

So what things work in Paper Girls’s favor? First, it’s awesome to see this particular story--twelve-year-olds on the cusp of teendom bonding together to fight off forces unknown--told from the perspective of girls. I love this thematic trope, from the aforementioned Monster Squad, to Stephen King’s It; the problem, however, is that I’ve encountered only a scant few titles that actually put young women into the role of finding and fighting great evil, against a nostalgic 1980s style novel.

Beyond the mere fact that the four protagonists are female, they also happen to be nicely varied characters, with different personalities and family lives, and who are generally awesome. The main focal character for this book is newbie paper girl, Erin Tieng--an outsider even among new friends, who overachieves at school but has a hard time fitting in with others. Erin’s arc is still progressing, but she is by far the most detailed and nuanced character of the bunch, with her relationship with her younger sister, her stick-to-the-rules attitude, and her earnestness. In contrast, the other character we get to see a lot of is Mac (aka MacKenzie) who was the first paper girl in the area, and who puts up a front as a hardass. Mac smokes, she swears, she comes from a rougher home life--but we also see she cares deeply for the people she loves and is close to, including her friends. The other two characters, Tiffany and KJ, are sadly less developed--KJ’s a jock, Tiffany has an interesting reflective period after a harrowing experience--but there’s plenty of potential here for more in future installments. (Also, huge bonus points for creating a multi-ethnic cast here and for trying to be inclusive of other sexual orientations and addressing some of the bigotry of the 80s head-on.)

As for the story? Well that’s pretty cool, too. Taking a Twilight Zone-esque premise, and pushing a hard science fiction angle, Paper Girls’s first arc focuses on the glorious art of the OMGWTFPOLARBEAR moment. That is, it’s a set-up shot: we see a lot of really weird crap go down (teenage cyborgs, a mild mannered Bill and Ted-esque Old Evil Dude, random tech that has no right being in 1988, and so on and so forth). There isn’t much in the way of answers in this first volume, but I know Vaughan can deliver the goods in subsequent volumes. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on Cliff Chiang’s gorgeous artwork throughout. Muted pinks and yellows and bold, heavy black inks make Paper Girls incredibly easy on the eyes and visually compelling--I love the sense of innocence that Chiang is able to give each girl, along with the gritty toughness that they all will need in order to survive. It’s not an easy feat to pull off, this hard but vulnerable play, but Chiang’s art somehow manages to get it done.

This first volume ends, sadly, on a really intense cliffhanger--which is a smart choice to hook and retain readers, although I certainly wish that I had volume 2 at the ready, right now.

So is it recommended? Oh, hell yes.

In Book Smugglerish, 6 and a half iPod nanos out of 10.