Saturday, July 17, 2004


I've read Eightball #23 several times, and am still not sure what I think of it. This isn't a review, then; it's just some unpolished thoughts about it. If you're looking for a review, Christopher Butcher is keeping track of them, including an excellent one by Sean Collins.

What defines Andy's character isn't that he's evil (though he is) or sick: it's that he's empty inside. He feels no emotions except anger (he says he's in love with Dinah, but I don't see anything more than lust), and even his anger is shallow. He kills people not for sadism or sexual pleasure, or even out of a twisted sense of vengeance. He does so because he can, and because they've irritated him. If we can't empathize with him, it's not because he's a killer, but because there's nothing there to empathize with. The single exception to his lack of genuine emotion is his fear of the blankness in the nightmare he tells us about, and to ward it off, he clings to his few friends: first Craig Jones, then Louie, then the maudlin Sonny. But the blankness is inside him.

Since Andy is empty inside, it's not surprising that his words, including his speeches to the reader, are just empty verbiage. Here I'd disagree with Sean Collins when he says that Andy's perspective is dominant. Even before Andy commits his first murder, it's clear to the reader that Andy is an unreliable narrator. When he describes himself, after first trying out the death ray, as "a modest guy with common sense who knows the difference between right and wrong.... a straight-shooter and a stand-up guy," it's already evident that these are just cliches with no connection to who Andy is; just as when, on the next page, he proclaims "I hereby devote my life to the protection of the weak, the innocent, the unloved, and the friendless," his subsequent behavior does nothing to bear this out.

And the speeches of the adult Andy are equally empty. Sean Collins transcribes his speech beginning "It's a damn shame about people" on p. 40, and it's chilling; but when you read it in the comic, it's not chilling, because he doesn't mean it: it's just a pose, just as when, on the next page, he says "For you, Mr. and Mrs. decent citizen, I'll do anything," it's also just a pose. The same is true of the Ditko-esque morality he espouses from time to time: he kills people because they've gotten in his way. Clowes likes to write about protagonists who "try on" one identity after another: Louie is like this, as were Enid and Rebecca. But Andy doesn't even attempt to live his poses; they remain empty verbiage. It's Louie who pushes Andy to become a "superhero"; Andy just goes along with it.

What Andy really can't stand is any threat to his unjustified self-image. That's why he winds up (on p. 40) disposing of the litterer from the start of the story (thanks to Sean Collins for catching this): because his taunt on p. 39 (11th panel) reminds Andy of the hollowness of his claim to be "making the world a better place." It's also why the adult Andy's only friend is Sonny, whose chief virtue is that, unlike Louie, he will never criticize or question Andy's actions.

So what is it that keeps me from embracing the book wholeheartedly? I wish I knew. This is the most I've been able to figure out: there are book with depressing subjects or loathsome protagonists--even books with a thoroughly misanthropic view of humanity--where you can still sense the author's joy in creation. I don't get that sense in Eightball #23: there's a very high level of skill, but no sense that Clowes took pleasure in using it.

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