“How does one man stand a chance against four billion assholes?” This is the central question of Daniel Clowes’ The Death Ray. And if this question hits home, you’re going to like Andy, the absurdest of superheroes.
From a young age, Andy knows he’s destined for greatness – it’s the only way he can justify the less than fair hand life has dealt him. Orphaned and living with his widowed grandfather, Andy is an outsider, living the typical trials and tribulations of his teen years… until he discovers that cigarettes give him superpowers! Rightfully and nobly, he declares his devotion “to the protection of the weak, the innocent, the unloved, and the friendless.” Life is cruel enough. Villains of the every day sort – the unkind – need not be tolerated.
Great! Go Andy!
But, this is a coming of age story. And life is more complicated than that. While Andy negotiates the inevitability of powerlessness, disappointment, and betrayal, cynicism creeps in. Humans, he decides, “are surely the ugliest creatures in all of nature.” Smoking and kicking butts is his social responsibility.
Watching Andy’s life unfold in non-linear snippets is a pleasure, thanks to Clowes’ art and execution. Over the course of only forty pages – forty oversize pages, each packed with twenty plus panels – we traverse and make sense of the definitive moments of Andy’s life. Cinematic in scope and approach, The Death Ray, and each of its pages, is unified not only by style, color, and order, but also by an overarching lesson about self-righteousness and redemption.
Andy is a mirror, a device of vicarious self-discovery. If only each of our life stories could be so neatly curated and beautifully represented, we might learn from each other and evolve as a species. Andy’s is a good start, though. He is a true hero – weak, innocent, unloved, friendless.