“One of Daniel Clowes’ strangest creations, The Death Ray, satirizes classic superheroes, creating not only a unique deconstruction of superhero tropes, but an indictment of the fans of those escapist comics. Death Ray is the story of a teenage outcast-turned-vigilante who is almost immediately corrupted by his newfound abilities. It is notable for how thoroughly it debunks any of the presumed illusions of superhero stories. Unlike Marvel characters’ origins, which are typically tied to their selfless acts, (such as Daredevil rescuing a blind man away from a speeding truck), The Death Ray’s Andy acquires his superhuman strength when he starts smoking. Clowes’ protagonist has an immature, reductionist sense of right and wrong, and becomes increasingly detached from anybody who can help him understand the responsibilities that come with his power. While other stories provide readers with escapist fantasy in which good invariably triumphs over evil, the Death Ray is far more nihilistic, and suggests a darker side to that appeal.
With this essay, I will place The Death Ray on a continuum of superhero stories. I will also discuss prior and subsequent efforts of comics creators to deconstruct superhero narratives. While other creators, such as Alan Moore, developed their seminal critiques of superheroes after decades of writing them, Clowes identifies superheroes as a staple of “mainstream” comics and describes his work as a deliberate counter-balance to that mainstream. Superhero subversions such as Kick-Ass depict their characters with colorful, dynamic styles and invariably include moments where characters must make noble sacrifices, but Clowes’ artistic and narrative decisions deliberately downplay dramatic release, denying readers any sort of catharsis.” – Edward Hornick
Edward Hornick is a graduate of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. A lifelong comics reader, he presented on Truth Serum, Achewood, and Evan Dorkin at past New Narrative conferences.

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