Fiction  > Contemporary  > Eightball

The Death Ray h/c

The Death Ray h/c back

Daniel Clowes


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"Who's this?"
"My Mom."
"I didn't know you had a Mom."
"How could I not have a Mom?"
"Where is she?"
"Dead from a blood clot in the brain."
"So then is Pappy your Dad?"
"Nope - my Grandpa."
"Where's your real Dad?"
"Dead too. Dead from cancer."
"I wish my parents were dead."

From the creator GHOST WORLD, WILSON, MISTER WONDERFUL, DAVID BORING, ICE HAVEN etc., album-sized and in full colour, this is familiar, old-skool Clowes before that crack of optimism crept in, but it's been considerably enhanced since its appearance as EIGHTBALL #23. For example, directly inside the front cover you'll find a bespectacled bod with a horrible hair-don't shouting, "PENIS!"


That would be the first young gentleman here called Louie, best friend of the main protagonist Andy, and a total dickhead. Almost all of Andy's actions are triggered in one form or another by Louie - usually by direct request. They're both school outcasts but Andy is as resigned to that as he is to everything else. After the death of his mother then father then grandmother, Andy is pretty much left to his own devices because his grandfather's mind strays and he doesn't look long for this world, either. His girlfriend's in California and hasn't written to him for so long that his letters to her are embarrassingly limp affairs signed (as if reminding her), "Your boyfriend, Andy". "I guess that's just the way it is," could almost be his motto.

No, it's Louie who mumbles and grumbles and then starts provoking and not from any moral high ground, either. I'd punch the toe rag too. But when he goads Andy into his first cigarette, the effects are immediate: he pukes. No, no, the wider effects are less immediate but far more substantial: self-confidence and super-strength. It transpires that his father, the famous scientist who died from cancer, once gave Andy a serum which ensures that whenever he smokes a cigarette he gains superstrength. What's more, he's bequeathed him a gun synchronised specifically to Andy which will eradicate anything on anyone in his path. So, with great power, will there come great responsibility? There really won't, especially with Louie around:

"You're lucky to have me around, Andy. I'll keep you honest."

Hmmm. See, Louie loves picking a fight: at the dinner table, with complete strangers in the street, and once with a squirrel. He even lies down on the ground in front of school bullies just to get the shit kicked out of him in the hope that Andy will use his gun to obliterate them once and for all: the epitome of passive aggressive!

Now, as Mark once pointed out, the origin itself isn't that far from Marvel's traditional routine: radiation (in reality a killer) giving you superpowers. It's something Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen addressed in IT'S A BIRD. But unlike the pumped-up protagonists of Marvel Comics, Andy has absolutely no ambition and the ambition of those around him stretches no further than immediate grudges and gratification. No, with Andy's great power comes even greater mediocrity. Twenty years later you'll find him, vaguely misanthropic, sitting on benches and walking the dog. But at least he's given up smoking.

In spite of the cover you won't get much of a costume here. Apart from one hilarious, superhero-style double-page spread, it's a decidedly downbeat affair told in a series of snap-shot set pieces with a palette that swerves from the more vividly modern to stark flesh and blue, as if faded under sunlight. I can see the title sequences having been an enormous influence on Chris Ware ("What Do You Think Of Andy?" They really don't care. "Thank You.") while the "Choose Your Own Adventure. How Will Our Story End?? You Decide!" is the perfect anti-climax to the story of a man whose opinions rarely exceed "I guess".