Review:: Daytripper

September 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm By:

I should start out by saying that I’ve wanted to write a review of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon‘s Daytripper series from the first day it saw print.  Over the past few years I’ve appreciated the twins’ work on books like Casanova, Umbrella Academy, and B.P.R.D.: 1947 and was curious to see how they might follow their success on those titles.  What seemed most intriguing about Daytripper from early buzz was the concept and how it seemed to veer away from much of their previous fare.  Daytripper is a challenging, complex series that engages readers in a endless strand of reflections and possibilities.  Those avenues of interpretation only increase with each new issue.

In preparing to write my review there was a point where I  considered drawing parallels between this comic and works from literature like Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, where readers learn about a town’s residents via the epitaphs on their tombstones.  Thoughts then turned back to superheroes and the possibility that Ba and Moon might be using a non-costumed common reality to comment on the cyclical nature of death among comic book heroes and villains.  It soon dawned on me that this review is not being written for one of my old college English courses.  With the final issue (#10) set to be released this Thursday (September 9) we’ll see the close of one of the year’s most thought-provoking series.  Ultimately, the only issue facing us as comic readers (and me as a reviewer) is to ascertain whether or not a book does the job it has set out to complete; or, “Does it work?”  As with many things opinion-related this is entirely subjective.  My goal here is not to try to convince you that “Daytripper is better than [insert book of your choice here]”, but to let you know why some of you may enjoy reading it if you haven’t already.

Fans of the duo’s work on books like Umbrella Academy and Casanova can appreciate how their energetic art styles are appropriate for those genres.  What is most telling to me is that they are able to translate that energy over to a book like Daytripper. Ba and Moon consistently build momentum and drama with their characterizations and landscapes, and manage to do so exceptionally well in a book where there are no costumes or rayguns in sight.  Without the bombast of some of their previous work, Ba and Moon rely on their skills as storytellers to bring this very human world to life.  If you are a longtime super hero fan and are curious about getting into the ‘genre’ and ‘literature’ sections of our store, I think you might benefit from reading this book.

Reading like a set of vignettes on a common theme, Daytripper resembles independent films like Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, where viewers learn about characters through their brief encounters at a coffee shop.  In Daytripper Ba and Moon aim to explore the main character Bras’ life by using each issue to focus on a different potential day of his death.  Ten issues, ten days, ten different deaths.  This isn’t executed in a morbid way but one that attempts to bring to life the entirety of carpe diem by reminding us that each day is indeed a rare gift in and of itself.  While the comic itself isn’t darkly fixed on death, I must say that the subject matter is a bit heavy at times.  However, I don’t necessarily see that as a negative.  In a small way, Daytripper is reminiscent of one of my favorite comics, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, where in spite of the difficult subject matter it’s nearly impossible not to be blown away by the beauty of the craftsmanship and the ambition of the book.

Ambition is one thing unto itself but is it possible that Ba and Moon were over-ambitious with Daytripper?  I’ve heard a few readers ask why the twins made the series ten issues in length.  Couldn’t they have picked the 4 – 6 most poignant issues to focus on and then get back to their higher profile mainstream work?  Indeed they probably could have done that and still had a successful series, but the numerologists among you might suggest that the significance of the number ‘ten’ among numerous cultures and faiths.  In most cases this number represents the completion of a cycle, so one might infer from that common thread that the final issue of this title will wrap the whole story up in a nice bow.    Who knows, maybe we’ll see the series end like the ’80’s drama St. Elsewhere, with Bras’ son shaking a snow globe of a Rio sunset (a gift from Bras’ old friend Jorge), as Bras smiles in observation.  Or maybe the final issue will act as a bookend to issue one with Bras coming out of his writing room, greeting his dog Dante (symbolically named for the hellish poet) and deciding to spend a quiet birthday evening at home rather than be present for his father’s award presentation.

At the end of the day it seems likely to me that the series will end as quietly as much of it has proceeded.  I wouldn’t necessarily refer to this book as subtle since it has essentially done exactly what it said it would do.  It is probably a bit more accurate to call Daytripper ‘restrained.’  I doubt that anyone expected Ba and Moon to capitalize on their recent success with a book like Daytripper.  It’s possible that they could have gone further into the superhero realm and created a bright, flashy world full of action and archetypes.  The fact that the duo instead chose to create a book like Daytripper speaks volumes to me.  Relying more on soft watercolors and pastels (from the palette of genius colorist Dave Stewart), it falls upon Ba and Moon’s skills as storytellers to convey very simple, human truths through characters with whom we can relate and empathize.  The fact that Daytripper has been so highly regarded among critics, creators and customers is a clear indication that they are highly skilled artists who have a long history of comics work ahead of them.

Regardless, each issue of Daytripper has been up to this point about finality in one form or another.  Yet while each issue is essentially an exponent in the series necessarily rigid formula, the real complexity of the series lies in how Ba and Moon slowly elaborate on Bras as a character and how they wring empathy from us as readers.  We relate to Bras because we too have walked the precarious path dividing our need for self-provision and self-expression.  We, like Bras, have sabotaged relationships that we knew we should have fought to keep.  We have devalued the momentum of maturity and lost sight of the fragility of innocence.  Daytripper won’t change the world; it might not even change someone’s mind about the vast potential that still exists in comics.  But if you’re open to it, Daytripper might just make you appreciate truly good comics and see that they, like life itself, are something to be valued as a gift. 


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