Comics of the Decade: Daniel Clowes’ Ice Haven and The Death Ray

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This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

By Andreas Gregersen

Daniel Clowes hardly needs introduction. Best known for the comic and film Ghost World (1997 and 2000) and the irregular periodical comics magazine Eightball (1989-), he has attained a prominent place in international comics during the course of the last fifteen years. Five years ago, Chris Ware himself described Clowes as the most significant cartoonist in the US, which — irrespective of any false modesty — is big words from an artist whose own contribution to (and understanding of) the art form is hard to argue with.

Clowes most complex and arguably most successful work so far is Eightball #22, which was published as a full-colour comic book back in 2001. Now, in 2005, Pantheon has republished the story in reworked and reformatted form with the title Ice Haven. Since this more or less coincides with the publication last year of its remarkable follow-up, Eightball #23, and since they have a lot in common both thematically and formally, why not look at them both here?

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IN AND AROUND ICE HAVEN…
Ice Haven is the name of a small town and the story of a cross-section of its inhabitants. Its 29 chapters (or 36 in the Pantheon edition) interweave the threads of their lives in ways that on first glance may seem mundane and lacking in drama, but they slowly accrue to greater significance. The format recalls American ensemble cinema of the kind perfected by Robert Altman, and more recently seen in such works as Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon (1991), P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) and Todd Solondz’ Happiness (1998), for the latter of which Clowes drew the poster, incidentally. But in contrast to those, Ice Haven consists of a series of self-contained stories in different comics genres, like a casual flip through the Sunday comics page in days of yore.

Clowes exhibits tight control throughout, managing the storytelling with the eye for the telling image and the sense of rhythm and layout we have come to know and appreciate, but perhaps most notably the story marks a step forward in terms of colouring: best known for his clear black-and-white imagery, at times embellished by a second colour, he here brings a remarkable sensitivity to bear on a much more nuanced palette. The variety of styles on display often works contrapuntally with the material, suggesting the complex nature of life and its treatment in art.

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The central Macguffin of Ice Haven is the sudden disappearance of the small schoolboy David Goldberg, and while this is cover story material in the local newspaper, it is really only a marginal, contextual part of the narrative. It instead concentrates on a number of people in the poor child’s more or less extended orbit — he himself symptomatically appears only in a couple of panels in one of the opening stories. In the new, expanded version, the story coalesces somewhat more tightly around David, who both opens and closes it poignantly. But he is still mostly a symbolic framing device: the focus is never on him but on others, some of whom we meet only briefly, some that we follow to the end. Progressively, these subjective points of view come together in a coherent but ambiguous proposal for what life in Ice Haven, hence the planet, really means.

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Love and loss are determinant factors, often at play in tension. First up in love is the boy Charles, who hangs out with his pal Carmichael and pines after his older stepsister Violet. Violet herself is deeply unsatisfied with life in Ice Haven and insecure around her stepfather, so she hopes for escape to sunnier climes through the agency of her out-of-town beau Penrod.

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Little David’s disappearance brings to the town a private detective couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ames; the former is, in his own way, deeply in love with his wife, who by his own admission is the only reason for him to keep going. Over several chapters, we follow Mr. Ames and his wild temper on the search for David; he naturally ends up solving a different “crime.”

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Another bit of fateful synchronicity sets up a number of fundamental questions about the Artist and his or her relation to his or her community: the meeting, or non-meeting, of two poets struggling with their material — the seersucker-clad local oddball Random Wilder and the precocious young visitor Vida, in town to visit her grandmother, who herself has been known to compose a poem or two. Wilder acts as a kind of makeshift narrator — it remains unclear how reliably he fulfils this role — and in many ways acts out the main part of the story.

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Last but not least, there is a range of supporting characters, notably the comics expert Harry Naybors, who splits his time between “ordinary” citizenry and metafictional colour commentary. The latter function is allotted more space in the revised version, which has Naybors introduce and finish the book with some thoughts on comics and the general state of affairs, addressed directly to the reader.

Ice Haven, thus, is an ambitious, sprawling work, which ends up portraying the artist as a self-absorbed, deranged cretin in orbit around his own extinguished ego; a couple of boys as perverse caricatures their parents’ generation and its deception; a detective incapable of seeing the forest for the trees; and an academic who utilises his specialist knowledge and obtuse jargon to sap the life from an otherwise interesting field (guess which one, dear reader). To an extent Clowes is revisiting his favourite cast of weirdoes, with sharp dialogue and poignant character moments, but this time out he succeeds much better than in his uneven and at times palpably overwrought last book David Boring (1998-2000) to synthesise his heterogenic material into a convincing and masterfully constructed whole.

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As mentioned, Clowes constantly shifts between genres, and despite the fact that most of the story is rendered in the lowbrow idiom of the comic strip or genre comic book, in order ironically to comment on the relation between form and content, the work never loses its tether to modern existentialism. In addition to the characters mentioned above, we encounter a cartoony caveman, who in the year of our Lord 100.000 BC vents his spleen in the area around what will become Ice Haven, as well as a stuffed blue rabbit, which in one story is merely a plush toy, but in another acts out its inner Jimmy Cagney in a sequence that is hard to relate specifically to the time and space of the overarching narrative. The rabbit sequences especially exemplify how Clowes draws upon superficially weird and silly ideas in order to enrich an already complex structure in which every actor in the ensemble is a protagonist, yet always tightly controlled by the director, or puppet master if you will.

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FACT OR FICTION? YOU DECIDE
Clowes presents his characters from different angles, making Ice Haven a clever piece of metafiction. The sensational, historic case of the possibly homosexual and certainly homicidal couple Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb from 1924 becomes an important piece of subtext: its events are dramatised in a self-contained sequence, while another (only included in the Pantheon edition) more playfully and ironically explores their relationship. The inclusion of these two authentic killers is initially motivated by a documentary novel that Carmichael lends to Charles; they are not part of the narrative as such, but rather the main characters of a “true story” embedded into Clowes’ fiction. The Jewish runt and policeman’s son Carmichael consistently talks tough and repeatedly asserts his responsibility for the kidnapping of his classmate David. These confessions reference the documentary novel and its murder story to imply violence, making it both a part of the mind games played by the kids and a sign of more ominous, incontrovertible significance stemming from its authenticity.

According to comics convention, Charles and Carmichael are depicted as small grownups talking about things, the significance of which they ultimately have only a vague idea of (Charles, however, will soon have his first, painful experiences with the opposite sex). The nature of the contradiction between Carmichael’s posturing and his rather phlegmatic behaviour remains vague, to both Charles and the reader. For although Charles knows that his friend is talking shit, he is clearly too involved in it for it merely to be empty imitation of grownup behaviour: it is the power of words, their promise and threat of a world beyond childhood, that creates the images in Charles’ and our minds, as well as in front of us on the page.

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Following this ambiguity, the question of whose reality is being depicted at any given moment is obfuscated. After the little book changes hands, Clowes lets us read a part of it, but the documentary (prose) novel in his fiction is clearly not the comic it appears as to us. The overlap between more or less factual murders establishes a tension between real events and dramatised “authentic” events that take place in his fictional world. This play with levels of reality brings into relief Clowes’ subtle grasp of worldbuilding through words and images that are simultaneously symbolic and real, and it emphasises how the issues raised cannot comfortably be dismissed as mere fictions. We are all implicated in some way in the narratives of violence so richly woven into the cultural fabric of our society.

Ice Haven is a microcosm of characters leading troubled lives, defined by their positions relative to the collective. It is not made clear whether we are supposed to see their actions as results of innocent child’s play, calculated cynicism, sheer evil, or a kind of moral incompetence grounded in alienation, but each individual story contributes to a broader diagnosis of abuse. Clowes crosscuts his way toward increasing complexity and existential heft. Our attention is held by precise characterisation, poignant individual images, a considered deployment of irony, and especially by the thoroughly calculated use of exposition running through the main story arcs. Slowly, the contours of a number of unpleasant, heartbreaking connections emerge — details accrue in episodes in which they do not seem to belong, calling attention to their connectedness to other parts of the narrative.

As mentioned, the inspiration from ensemble film is obvious, but Hitchcock’s presence is also felt, not the least in the story’s fascination for the two murderous, self-styled Übermenschen and in the overarching ambition to craft an ambiguous theatre of human darkness by way of refracted genre clichés. Add to this a touch of Nabokovian satire in the playful yet deeply serious portrayal of the story’s selection of eccentrics. Random Wilder’s deranged and far-from-harmless self-conception recalls Lolita’s narrator Humbert Humbert and his culpable eloquence, while the basic, metafictional structure of the story is a direct descendant of Pale Fire (which Clowes himself has cited as an inspiration for David Boring).

Ice Haven is a hugely ambitious, many-headed beast making use of a long range of postmodern conventions, such as addressing the reader directly and shifting between thickly pastiched genres in deep and unabashed debt to our shared pop-cultural heritage. Although it is a pleasure to read, and an impressive narrative construction, its postmodern irony risks the impression of fixation on form, on craft — heavy-handed and cynically blasé in its treatment of its characters; is this really anything but an irony played for printer’s ink and dashed human ambition? The answer is a resounding yes: Clowes is somewhat distant, but he clearly cares about his characters, and especially the episodes with Violet and Charles — each troubled by their unrequited love — are great, diabolical, and deeply moving.

Clowes continues to develop as an artist: just as Ghost World revealed in him a sensitivity previously unseen, technical mastery, emotional clarity, and an acute understanding of how to grasp through form difficult-to-articulate fragments of experience, here combine to create a fragile, compelling whole. Cruel tenderness, indeed.

deathray_cvr_t.jpgDEATH FROM THE ROOFTOPS
Like Ice Haven, The Death Ray is an assembly of short, discrete episodes, but here Clowes uses fragmented storytelling to tell a more conventional, focused story. The comic consists of 33 short, self-contained chapters, most of which follow the protagonist, Andy. A number of the themes of Ice Haven recur, but more grimly, so if you dislike the more misanthropic aspects of Clowes’ work, you might not appreciate The Death Ray — its darkness threatens to overwhelm entirely the sympathetic empathy of the earlier book.

The story follows Andy’s development from high school wimp to a bitter, passive-aggressive loser in his forties. A development that includes his acquisition of superhuman strength, an idiotic — but to comics fans strangely familiar — costume, and a raygun with which he destroys a number of fellow men.

This sounds silly, but the story is almost as complex and finely executed as Ice Haven. It is perhaps Clowes’ most focused, if also bleak, book yet, and is definitely among the most consistently pessimistic works of fiction known to this reader, coolly observant and devoid of romantic fancy. It is fairly simply drawn and seems a little looser in its linework than Clowes’ earlier work, but upon scrutiny reveals itself to be strongly intentional. The colouring is exacting, and pleasingly muted, with sensitive use both of mono- and duotone sequences, as well as more naturalistically coloured ones.

Thematically, the story once again centres on murder and its motives. The case of Leopold and Loeb is once again invoked, not just as a quotation but in the basic structure of the entire story: two young high school boys feel isolated and establish a relation; one is an introverted, somewhat neglected child whose parents have passed away; the other is a misfit punk rock fanatic. We follow them as they become murderer and accomplice, respectively. The story is animated by the notion of the homosocial Übermensch, critically reconfiguring the superhero genre; its framework is realistic, but rendered with an eye for the kind of graphic or verbal detail that suggests an underlying, devilish absurdity in its chosen setting of big city living in the late fifties.

Clowes has dealt ably with both resentment and misfit characters earlier in his career and he reportedly relies upon such impulses in himself a lot of the time. The teenage years have furthermore played an important role in his work. J.D. Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye (1951) is, of course, the quintessential American narrative of young, ultimately harmless, urban alienation, and at the end of the novel, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has his famous conversation with his somewhat alcoholic but wise schoolteacher. The latter, who is as close as the novel gets to a surrogate for Salinger himself, starts out by telling Holden that he has to do something about his hatred for the world:

”I have a feeling that you’re riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall. But I don’t honestly know what kind… Are you listening to me?”
”Yes.”
You could tell he was trying to concentrate and all.
“It may be the kind where, at the age of thirty, you sit in some bar hating everybody who comes in looking as if he might have played football in college. Then again, you may pick up just enough education to hate people who say, “It’s a secret between he and I”. Or you may end up in some business office, throwing paper-clips at the nearest stenographer. I just don’t know. But do you know what I’m driving at, at all?”

Holden ensures him that he is not all that resentful after all: he only hates them for a short while, and when they are not there, he starts almost to miss them, all the idiots.

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But where Holden is a martyr and a troubled person of no danger to anybody but himself, Clowes’ (self-)critique is squarely aimed at the position of the outsider and the notion of his harmlessness. While Ghost World and much of his earlier work embraced the outsider, Clowes here seems to attack the (self-)righteousness inherent in many portrayals of such people, including his own. He by no means absolves society of its responsibility: his depiction of high school as hell on earth is only made more depressing by not seeming satirically exaggerated at all, and even though the protagonist’s jock foil Stoob comes across as an extraordinarily obnoxious son of a bitch when he tells Andy that he is “truly sorry” to hear that his grandfather is sick, the reader is left with the impression that he is neither better nor worse than anybody else on the high school football team. The world does not deserve better, really.

Without overlooking its artistic merits, The Death Ray can easily be seen as a nuanced commentary on the ongoing and periodically overheated debate in America about the possibility of a causal relation between violence in the media and in society. In his Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine (2002), Michael Moore pointed toward sociological and economical reasons for the violence committed by American teenagers of high school age. Put bluntly, Moore’s basic position was that it is all the establishment’s fault, whereas Clowes looks rather to the individual for his answers.

It has been proposed that The Death Ray is really the portrait of a serial killer and his motivations to act. Whatever the case, the story clearly probes a personal reality: most of the book concentrates on Andy, and he explicitly acts as the narrator of several lengthy sequences, talking directly to the reader. The serial killer genre often makes use of a basic Freudian notions of childhood trauma to explain the aberrant, often sexually perverted character of the murderer, and while The Death Ray acknowledges this model — Andy struggles with certain familial and sexual issues — its protagonist ultimately is a lot like you or I. The comic thus acts as a kind of warning to those (all?) of us who have registered the urge to get rid of all the idiots around us. Perhaps it takes less than we think to cross the line — Andy’s fall into the abyss is probably closer to Mark Chapman’s case than to Holden Caulfield’s; Chapman, as one might recall, was ordered by voices in his head (and with Salinger’s novel in his coat pocket) to shoot and kill John Lennon in the middle of the street. Do it, do it, do it.

HERO TIME
Social engagement and artistic sophistication are not mutually exclusive, of course, and although The Death Ray works as a piece of social commentary, it is just as much an involved work of art, breaking new ground for the medium of comics.

As the cover so clearly demonstrates, its critique of violence is staged in superhero drag. It graphically and thematically references the superhero genre, most directly Spider-Man. In his earlier work with the character Dan Pussey (1995), Clowes demonstrated that he is not exactly enamoured with superheroes and their constituent institutions, and he has said that he has no interest in comics after 1950, least of all superheroes. Occasionally in his earlier work, most notably with the Yellow Streak motif in David Boring, however, he has exhibited a certain fascination with the 1960s superhero; David, after all, is in search of a lost father who left behind him only a pile of silly but strangely compelling sixties superhero comic books. Clowes’ preference for functional, graphically tight mise-en-scene furthermore owes a lot to Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.

The Death Ray is thus in some ways an outright attack on the myth of the superhero. Others before Clowes have cast the superhero as a psychotic vigilante, most notably Alan Moore in Watchmen (1986-1987), which had in Rorschach a character entirely disconnected from civil society (and who was directly based on Ditko’s work, incidentally). As in Moore’s work, The Death Ray connects vigilantism with a feeling of masculine potency, and similarly describes the vigilante’s irrevocable leap into self-righteous insanity. Clowes has already deconstructed the notion of superheroism in his small, acerbic gem “Black Nylon” (collected in Caricature, 1998), in which he almost indulgently created a paunchy superhero narrator, but in The Death Ray he applies psychological realism to create a more involved and demanding critique.

He for example points to one of the more suspect aspects of Spider-Man’s origin story by having Andy play with the idea of his grandfather falling victim to a crime, in order to provide for himself an excuse to use his newfound powers to beat the shit out of somebody — “Oh, if only I had enough hate to cut loose; hey, what if my grandfather was mugged?” Andy basically wants for a reason to do much of anything, but fortunately his sidekick Louie is brimming over with oodles of unfocused hatred and resentment. Andy slowly develops into the type one encounters both in Ice Haven’s Mr. Ames and in Clowes’ short contribution to the anthology McSweeney’s #13 (2004): a self-righteous passive-aggressive asshole and self-styled “authority figure”, who cannot help but constantly notice the lamentable imperfections of the world around him, furnishing himself with sufficient motivation to act against it.

Another thing is, Andy has to prepare carefully when to activate his superpowers, with their concomitant blood rage and subsequent nausea, because he needs to smoke a cigarette to call them forth. A short reference to the Hulk underscores this issue, in that the Banner-Hulk opposition, as one might remember, is determined by uncontrollable rage. This common notion of basing superheroics on biologically determined excitement, followed by exhaustion and illness, remains a condition for Andy until he receives in the mail from his aunt the bizarre raygun. This changes the nature of his power, removing it from physiological determinants; suddenly it is dead easy for Andy to kill, and when Louie realises this, he decides to end their relation. The truth is in the lack of consequence.

It is a banal, but nevertheless pertinent and incontrovertible fact that the superhero genre from the 60s onward became increasingly targeted at a male, teenaged audience, and that a large part of its dramatic conventions and thematic concerns depend on this. To be more precise, it is natural to assume that the audience’s hormonal imbalance and feelings of social marginalisation and lack of agency find confirmation and resonance in the superhero’s displays of power when faced with a clearly defined evil. These aspects of the genre relate to very real issues for teenagers, and find a “symbolic” resolution in the morally unproblematic disposal of a fictional (super)villain. Since Marvel’s rise to prominence in the sixties, the superhero’s justified use of violence is generally rejected by the society around him, which misunderstands him and treats him like any other criminal. The comics assume that the teenage reader sympathises with the protagonist’s plight and his lonely struggle for a higher justice.

Here is the comics critic Sean Collins on Andy’s superheroics:

“Andy’s adoption (largely at Louie’s behest) of a superhero’s costume and vigilante techniques make next to no sense given Andy’s actual life experience, even given its wealth of tragedy and the incredible introduction of superpowers into it.”

This is a strange argument in an otherwise excellent review of The Death Ray: one of the comic’s central points is, it seems, that the superhero’s inherent relation to society is ridiculous when seen in a realistic context: the superhero and his world is hardly commensurate with any “actual life experience.” Clowes takes this idea further than Moore in demonstrating that it is basically meaningless to imagine this kind of struggle for justice in our world. The superhero genre’s approach to concepts such as identity, guilt and punishment comes off as grotesque when juxtaposed with a teenager’s real problems.

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Clowes’ superrealism evokes a series of absurd postulates — daydreams only a crazy person could take seriously. Formally, he intercuts a number of scenes that seem to depict such grandiose fantasies — the two friends are for example portrayed as superheroes flying high above the city — but there is no firm distinction made between what is real and what is imagined in this fiction. Clowes systematically undermines the idiomatic conventions he employs: most notably he plays loose and fast with the shape of the panel borders — traditionally a firm marker in comics of the degree of reality or subjectivity of a given scene; many kinds of panel borders are used without any clear relation to the perspective presented in the narrative. Clowes is careful in one respect, however: one of the central points, as we have seen, is that the twisted world-view of the two teenagers is incommensurable with a more mundane, intersubjective reality, which makes necessary a basic demarcation between these two levels of the fiction. The superhero sequences therefore are designated as subjective both through the use of special, “cloudy” panel borders and the actions depicted: Andy’s destruction of the Southern Hemisphere with a shot of his ray gun hardly happens in the “reality” of the fiction.

Another important point is that the relationship between the two boys ends up fatally dissolving into the texture of the fiction as a whole. A large splash page, printed across a spread, shows what is presumably an ‘imagined’ action scene, which provides the background for a sequence of costume shopping. Louie however wears the same clothes in the splash as he does in a later, clearly realistic sequence, whereas he appears in his sidekick uniform in the other obvious fantasy sequences. And since one of these shows both Louie and Andy/The Death Ray fully suited up, flying in a kitschy fifties-style science fiction vessel past the window of an apartment in which we see Andy, it is ambiguous who acts as the “subjective filter” for these sequences. The question, thus, is whether they represent Andy’s or Louie’s fantasies, or perhaps the knowing commentary of a third narrator.

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But whether fantasy or omniscient narrator, Andy is clearly the conduit through which we experience most of the story, which is often narrated retrospectively his older self 26 years later. The dissolution between these recollections and the “true” events of the past are handled extremely effectively by often having the captioned voiceover of the older Andy slide into the speech balloons of the ‘past tense’ sequences. While the other characters speak directly in this past narrative space, Andy comments on it from his later point of view while appearing in it as his teenaged self. As Collins points out, there is actually a small difference between the speech balloons containing the older Andy’s monologue-like address to the reader and his actual dialogue for these scenes, but this distinction is so subtle, and speech balloons are such a consolidated indicator of direct speech in comics, that past and present coalesce into a combination of an omniscient point of view, and Andy’s increasingly self-righteous and idiosyncratic interpretation of events that turn out to be fatal both for him and the people around him.

As already described, Clowes is good at interweaving his narratives with metacritical real-world elements. When one considers, for instance, the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s comments in his 1954 study Seduction of the Innocent and the invocation of the Leopold and Loeb case, the homosexual undertones of Louie and Andy’s relationship become hard to ignore. It is Clowes’ partly ironic take on the suppressed homosexuality that Wertham and others — whether tongue in cheek or dead serious — have detected in classic superhero comics. A scene where Louie forgives Andy for not being sufficiently ruthless toward the bully Stoob shows a tenderness between them that cannot help evoke this historical subtext. It is further suggested in a later scene in which Louie experiences a kind of salvation through the agency of a newfound girlfriend, whose love for him is without condition and helps him transcend his hatred and his past in general.

But there is another, equally resonant way of interpreting this dysfunctional duo, namely as a manifestation of a kind of divided narcissism: on the dust cover of Ghost World, Clowes describes its two main characters, the teenage girls Enid and Rebecca, as originally having been conceived as a kind of dialogue between aspects of his own personality. It seems likely that Louie and Andy work together in a similar manner, especially since the author imbues them with certain autobiographical traits: Clowes’ father died when he was a boy, and he spent much of his time growing up with his grandparents. Clowes himself has stated that he had serious problems relating to others in high school and that he, like Louie, moved to New York after his graduation and got into punk rock. In a way, this is a portrait of the artist as a conflicted, but nevertheless ordinary man, who loses touch and becomes a killer, simply because the option is made available to him. It is almost as if the author is telling us: “Hey, if you’ve identified with my earlier characters, please consider what all their hate really might mean.”

The story thus becomes a classic morality fable of the careful-what-you-wish-for type. The strange raygun is a key element; it might seem initially as a zany gimmick, but it enables Clowes simultaneously to indulge his taste for bizarre pulp science fiction, to further (and affectionately) mock the superhero genre, and — most importantly — to problematise the role played by guns in fiction as well as in real-life American society. The very purpose of weapons is to enable easier killing of people and here Clowes makes it as easy and risk-less as possible for his protagonist. That the gun only works for Andy further underscores the absurdity in justifying acts of violence by self-entitlement. The disconnect from the common order that it affords Andy means that there is very little to prevent him from killing. Apparently, only his mood swings and “moral ideals” dictate whether or not to remove a given person. Nevertheless, it seems that a fear of being found out lurks somewhere in his (sub)conscious: his crimes are seemingly “perfect”, leaving no clues, but Andy still feels he has to move after he has eliminated a guy from his apartment block. Once again we sense that neither he, nor Clowes, tell us the whole story.

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The Death Ray ultimately is the story of a man addressing us from his own, private hell — a hell that happens to look like the big city in which Clowes himself grew up. It is a story that exposes the modern individual and modern media, sharply delineated and precisely narrated with form matching content. The comic might look a little careless in execution upon first glance, but the reader quickly discovers how imprecise such an impression is, even if it captures a fundamentally uncontrollable, almost automatically written aspect of the work. Upon further scrutiny, the elements that most prompt this idea appear simply as products of intuitive genius. It is hard to explicate these undertones in words and images, but this comic unfolds them with an awe-inspiring darkness that continues working on you long after you have put it down.

Summing up, Clowes has secured his position as an authoritative practitioner of visual narrative, or “narraglyphic picto-assemblage” as he himself — through the proxy of the deeply serious Harry Naybors — ironically and tongue-in-cheek describes his medium of choice on the title page of Ice Haven. He has attained a real mastery of the portrayal of quotidian pain, from the ironcast to velvety. From here on, it might well be all downhill, and he is reportedly taken with filmmaking at the moment, but yours truly nevertheless looks forward once again to see him deliver the goods on paper. And if it takes a while, so be it — the work here under review clearly bears a reread or five.

Published in 2005 on the Rackham website. Other installments in this series: David B.’s L’Ascension du haut mal (Epileptic), Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Goražde, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Sammy Harkham et. al. Kramers Ergot 4, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan — The Smartest Kid on Earth, Dominique Goblet’s Faire semblant c’est mentir, Chester Brown’s Louis Riel, Gary Panter’s Jimbo in Purgatory. Read also the Bunker on Clowes’ Mr. Wonderful.

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