Eightball #23 - SPOILERS!!!

A whole bunch of this stuff I posted and discussed with folks on the TCJ board here, and I’ve tried to make a bit more sense of my ramblings. I liked the book a lot at first, and I like it better the more I think of it. It didn’t sport the instantaneous slap of euphoria that issue 22 provided, I must confess, but there’s a lot of fascinating stuff in these oversized pages.

It’s a superhero story, as you’ve no doubt heard. What impressed me about the book was the highly focused use of Andy’s superpowers in regards to his growing perception of the world, and how he acts on those perceptions (and as Sean has already stated, the story is very much filtered through Andy’s eyes). Both of the superpowers on display in the story act as a means for Andy to enforce his sense of justice, but in different ways, though always beneficial to him. One of them, the enhanced physical strength, indulges his bodily urges ("I'll be damned if it didn't feel pretty good."), and the other, THE DEATH RAY, makes his problems literally disappear. A far more elegant solution, and I found the Death Ray to be vastly more telling in terms of character development (which probably shouldn‘t come as a surprise, since the big words on the back cover scream THE DEATH RAY)! Andy's growing maturity is shaped through his observations and experiences he encounters throughout his youth. But unlike the rest of the world (the non-superhumans), Andy becomes an adult without any physical barricades against acting on his perceptions; there is almost nothing to stop him from doling out the justice that he feels the world needs. Only his own mental state prevents total indulgence. As a result, Andy (who loves structure, perhaps as a reaction to the instability and hypocrisy of the world he views as a teenager) feels free to act unlimitedly on his personal philosophy. He always knew he was destined for big things! All his life's tragedy has forged a savior of consistency! Ah, but Louie, poor old kid. The Death Ray won't fire when he pulls the trigger (such is impotency). He can't even make killings 'pop' out of his mind, much less the physical world. The kid’s a bit of an ass, and he seems fond of living vicariously through Andy (those occasional silver-age fantasy sequences are mutual as I read it... Louie is casting himself as Andy's sidekick as much as Andy is casting him), and yeah, it was his idea to kill that guy, but Louie's gotta live in this world, not above it. Note that after Andy receives the Death Ray, he becomes far more dominant. He immediately cuts his hair and delivers a rousing speech in favor of honestly, integrity, and loyalty, and his hand is even over his heart so we know he's extra goddamned serious! And with a power that can remove any problem, he has truly become the enforcer he wants to be! At this point, Louie still holds some pull, but everything changes after the killing. Tellingly, Andy delivers a speech on the same page as the killing about a former friend who grew up to be a different person and abandoned him. And after the killing, Andy (superhuman) tells Louie (human, having human doubts) that Andy will be the boss of this Dynamic Duo. That's how it goes in The United States of Andy. ‘Superhuman’ just means ‘above the humans’ sometimes.

All of this ties in to Andy's dream, I think. Note that a seemingly random panel is included at the end of the page on which Andy first uses the Death Ray, depicting Andy in bed surrounded by the evil white clouds from his dream (which come later in the story... I only picked this up on a second reading). The dream depicts Andy's grandpa eating the white fruit from the evil tree outside Andy's home. Slowly and with great pain, he fades away. This seems to reflect his grandpa's painful senility, which Andy must live with each day. White clouds (white like the fruit) then invade Andy's room, and he must struggle to beat them back. Outside his room, it is all white. The color white seems to be tied to the decay of stability in this way; if Andy leaves his room, he is swallowed by white. (K. Parille on the TCJ board also pointed out that the clouds resemble cigarette smoke, indicating anxiety about Andy’s powers). In his next dream, he has sex with his grandpa's nurse, the person who tries to maintain the stability of his grandpa's life. Andy respects her so much, he cannot even see her naked. All of it serves to reflect Andy's love of stability, his fear of disintegration and change. Near the end of the book, it is revealed that Andy’s one true friend is in fact Sonny, a fellow man of fixation, who simply could not see a reason for life without his true and destined love. Andy's own preoccupation continues to the point where he remains fixated on Dusty and the nurse's affairs long after they're out of his life. Even after Louie's death, Andy maintains that he was always a better man than him (perhaps recognizing his role in Andy's own development), although Andy also mentions earlier that Louie is not an adult, while directly after the first killing Andy considers himself capable of making tough 'adult' decisions... and naturally, Louie's attack on Andy, the betrayal, leads to Louie's demise. And note that Louie maintains that he's not going to hurt Andy (I suppose not much more, considering he's already hit him with a rock) while Andy tells us that he knows Louie wants to kill him. Makes you wonder how much 'self-defense' was really involved. Ah, but with Louie dead, Andy can idealize him like he does Dusty (Andy has to squint while hiding in the bushes to see her the proper way when he and Sonny visit her) and others. Really, Andy only stands for his own brand of loyalty and stability, but hey! He can make shit vanish! He'll always be able to justify his own perceptions with powers that can erase any problem. Many interpretations of the story can arise from such circumstances. Is it all a commentary on fantasy? A commentary on superheroes? Andy, like a certain famous webslinger, is driven to aid those in need, to take responsibility for his great power. But Clowes suggests that one’s sense of ‘responsibility’ can potentially act as more of a mask than any costume, hiding one’s own insecurities far away, heading off any threats to one’s own perfect little private world, while really accomplishing little to benefit the world as a whole. Clowes only provides three endings for Andy: the status quo, self-annihilation, or the annihilation of everything else. Hardly the dawn of an age of Marvels.

The art is excellent throughout, with subtle shifts in color and line signifying giant emotional shifts. The prior issue of Eightball occasionally seemed like an attempt to cram the visual history of comics into a single story; the visual shifts here are far less overt. The relationship between Andy and Louie felt highly authentic to me, fortunately; a lot of this material would fall flat if the characters didn’t ring true, but they did, and I found myself strongly reminded of people from my own youth. The insecure posturing, the imagined agendas… ah, youth! Good wry wit too (not only does smoking make you look cool, but now it makes you super-strong). And an excellent back-cover gag involving the book’s price. Yeah, I tried to peel that sticker off.