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My Friend Jamo (who, when we first met in a graduate Lit. seminar, upon learning that I liked comics, assumed that I must know Daniel Clowes–alas, I did not!) on Eightball #23–Enjoy!



After harrassing my favourite comic book store owner for nearly two years, finally another Eightball has arrived. The cover will shake people to the core – a lone red masked figure, surrounded by black background, dressed in costume. The figure is reminiscent of another character from a short strip from issue 18 titled “Black Nylon.” Who is this though on 23? What happened to our Eightball? Such a sparse and heroic cover? This is your protaginist, Andy, who like many a Clowes character is cynical, obsessed with his past, and depressed by the present and future because he is unable to find any satisfaction with the world around him. The difference for Andy, the point that separates him from many of in the Clowes’ Eightball family of recent years, is that Andy has super powers. Now stop for a moment. You’re worried. Is Clowes (gasp) moving into and reinventing the super hero genre? If yes, are comic nerds everywhere about to get the blankets they’ve been hiding under ripped off to reveal the blazing flashlight that once danced merrily over the panels of the latest issue of X-Men! Can anyone ever say ’nuff said again without grimacing at its insignificance? Stop this thinking people, you have nothing to worry about. Unless of course you live alone, then ask yourself why are you still under that blanket. Get out from under it and run to the store and demand your Eightball medicine.



For those who have been reading Eightball from the start, those veterans of ’89 that can still tell you where they were when they first cast eyes on the lovely Tina, Clowes is back from his sojourn into film. He hasn’t sold out, man. He’s still on our side. Still fighting for all us marginals. But now he’s given us a hero. Forget your namby-pamby Spider Man, Fiore, Clowes gives us the undisputed champ, the world shaker, the panel defying…ANDY.



Unlike Spider Man 2, which asks among other questions, is Peter Parker capable of having an identity beyond his super hero persona, in Clowes’ Eightball world, Andy is always asking himself can he have a super hero identity. The problem for Andy is that he has super strength (courtesy his scientist father, who passed away while Andy was still a child). What Andy is missing though are those situations that will define him as a super hero both to himself and the rest of the world. He cannot just walk into danger like Spider Man, he has to find them, or what is always the case, create them himself. The likes of Dr. Octopus don’t exist, Andy’s nemesis is the banal. He has to settle for school bullies, abusive fathers, and insecure best friends. In one instance, Andy’s best friend, Louie, swear’s a friend of his, Janet, is being beaten up by her father. Andy confronts the man while he is walking his dog late one night. The result is not that Andy has made Janet’s life easier, but that while he’s beating up her dad, the family dog escapes. Janet’s thanks to him: “I pray to god you fucking die!” (21)



The only time Andy ever gets to construct an idealized persona is in his imagination. There are several series of panels of both Andy and Louie, dressed in costumes, jumping across building, flying in a space ship, or watching the Earth from the Moon. These fantasies though are never complete escapes from the real world. The dialogue is grounded in Andy’s real world – as he and Louie are swinging through the city sky, their conversation is about the school bully, whose car they both vandalized. A scene that should allow Andy respite from the real world is still trapped in that world, and a moment to see his potential is only a reminder to him of his ordinariness.



Clowes never allows Andy to escape his average life. From the moment “The Death Ray” starts, we see that Andy is mired in the banal. We’re introduced to Andy at the mid point in his life, in the section titled ANDY 2004. He states his situation: twice divorced; only friend a dog; and at the end of the second page this statement: “You try to make the world a better place and what does it get you? I mean, christ, how the hell does one man stand a chance against four billion assholes?” Possible the least inspiring words ever spoken by a super hero. Then he retraces, like a great Dick Powell film noir, the events that led him to this cynicism.



Is this Clowes at his finest? A friend of mine hasn’t finished it yet. Issue 22 (Ice Haven) was the high point, he says. Clowes has nothing left. This is just retreading over the same material without anything new. If you’ve already read “The Death Ray”, if in anyway you agree with any of these sentiments, don’t be insulted baby, but like I said to my friend, you’re wrong. What Clowes has done in issue 23 is subvert again his readers’ expectations of the tone of an Eightball comic. This isn’t a laugh out loud comic like 22. The humour is subtle – there isn’t a Pencil Dick or Dan Pussey to make us feel better, or my favourite supporting character Mr. Beard with his wonderful “Glad to see they’re still teaching the classics” when he sees David Boring reading a comic at a coffee counter.



Death Ray is upsettingly full of cynicism. Why detail the fall of an optimist, a child, who, with his super powers, has, finally at his finger tips the super powers that only our imaginations allow us? Why end the comic the way it ends? Why be so dark Clowes? The answer, I feel, is one of timing. More than anything else, more than a super hero parody, more than a study of adolesence to adulthood, or the relationship between boys, “The Death Ray” is a critism of America in the present moment. Yes I agree it is about super heroes, about teenagers, about the homoerotic undertones in many male relationships, I won’t take that away from anyone who is more passionate about these aspects of the comic, but lingering over Andy’s story, is a criticism of America right now and primarily the Iraq war.



Clowes lets his criticism slip into the narrative subtely. He ain’t no Michael Moore, in your face, guiding your hand as you fill out your ballot. In the strip called “Sonny,” while enjoying a bowl of cereal, Andy tells us: “Really I’m kind of an All-American type — a modest guy with common sense who knows the difference between right and wrong.” In the next panel, his hand over his heart as he listens to the national anthem at a sporting event, he says: “I’m a straight–shooter and a stand up guy. I value honesty, integrity, and above all else, loyality.” (24). Wow, if that ain’t how Jr. has presented himself over the past four years. Then there’s the strip called The United States of Andy (40), a monologue of Andy in the present. Here his identify and beliefs are interwoven with the society he’s a product of. Andy shows throughout the story, especially his relationship with Louie, that he is incapable of seeing right and wrong. His decisions are made strictly for personal reasons, not necessarily positive reasons, but to eliminate situations he has clear solution to – the results always emotionally ambiguous for him.



This is an America in which a US soldier rapes his girlfriend every night and who laughs when his dog kills Andy’s dog. How does Andy stop a person like this? A evil next door that he can’t reason with? Zap him with his death ray and make the problem disappear. Kind of like Jr.’s plan to tear down Abu Ghraib – problem solved because problem gone. Andy’s the law, getting rid of who ever he wants, without answering to anyone (cue UN analogy now). And if that’s not enough example for you, Andy at the super market reading a paper in line, and what does the cover scream but “Weapons found in Artic!”



I don’t want to blast people with political ray guns all day though. Eightball 23 is a major achievement by Daniel Clowes because it isn’t just an attack on the Iraq war, that’s embedded within in the story as much as the parody of a super hero comic, hey as much as the strip comic. There isn’t anything that can be discarded from Clowes story, finally he has found a way to incorporate his love of the set-up punch line comic and a narrative storyline.



My fear, as I read #23. as my hands shook, is when will these beautiful new panels stop arriving. When will the outside forces of Hollywood and big magazine money interfere with Clowes Eightball work? Who is there that can replace him? (My bet right now is Rick Altergott who’s new Doofus storyline is soaring within the Raisin Pie covers). Sorry, comic book panic.



Jamie Popowich


Good Afternoon friends!
Dave

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2 comments

  1. I have nothing to offer in response at the moment, because I have not read the issue yet, but I will say that, just from what I’ve read about it, I know I’m gonna hate the cynicism (“how the hell does one man stand a chance against four billion assholes?”)

    it’s interesting that Frank Smith saw fit to contrast this work to Grant Morrison’s “pushing coolness”… Personally, I like people who understand that they are “cool” (i.e. likeable and capable of engaging in meaningfully ironic dialogue with the world–people like Jamo, in fact)… I have no use at all for cynics and suicide bombers.

    Dave

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