Daniel Clowes - The Death-Ray (4 stars)

Daniel Clowes - The Death-Ray

Amusing and poignant deconstruction of the super-hero genre

(Jonathan Cape)

More gorgeousness from writer/artist Daniel Clowes with this oversized hardback reprinting of 2004’s The Death-Ray. A slacker superhero story about 17-year-old orphan Andy discovering that smoking cigarettes charges him with super-strength, it’s told in a series of vignettes and flashbacks, with Clowes creating another superbly realistic character even within these more fantastical parameters.

He may possess inhuman strength and a death-ray that disintegrates his foes but Andy is never really a proper hero. There are no super-villains in the real world and he squanders his potential, turning from a victim into an indiscriminate executioner. Those cut down by his power are just people who annoy him in petty ways. Andy starts off as a pacifist egged on by his best friend Louie, but as he grows older and lonelier he finds it all too easy to turn the deadly ray on menial offenders.

The Death-Ray covers similar ground to Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass but ups the alienation for a more poignant take on what might happen if the average outsider was given power over life and death. It’s a neat deconstruction of superhero comics and another fascinating, wryly amusing character study by Clowes.

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