Daytripper #1 reviewed by Gavin Lees

Posted by on December 15th, 2009 at 9:15 AM

Daytripper # 1; Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá; DC/Vertigo; 22 pp., $2.99

Moon and Bá have finally returned home.  After illustrating the wigged-out superheroics of Casanova and The Umbrella Academy, the Eiser award-winning twins have launched a new series for Vertigo set in their native Sao Paulo.  It revolves around the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos, an obituary writer living in the shadow of his novelist father, with each issue detailing a day in his life.  Expectations are soaring for these stories, given the high profile and high acclaim of the twins’ previous work.

It is not without good reason that Moon and Bá are so highly praised — the art here positively sings. The casual brushwork, the textural ink splatters and hectic, sketchy shading have a raw energy whereby you can feel the passion of the artists in every line.  While never overly precise, the power of their art comes from the ability to capture the essence of a scene, rather than meticulously render it.  This is ably mimicked in the coloring by Dave Stewart (surely the hardest working man in comics at the moment) that uses mottled ink washes to give everything a slightly dirty feel, but yet still avoid the murkiness of the Vertigo house style.  As a whole, it feels urgent, as if every frame were rendered in sync with the sparks of imagination.

Daytripper #1 - Fabio Moon, Gabriel Bá

Sadly, the swagger with which the brothers wield a brush does not carry over into the script, and it feels like here they are having to prove themselves as writers.  Having previously worked with writers like Matt Fraction and Joss Whedon, they have a lot to live up to. Many daring moves are made within these 22 pages, none more so than killing off their main character and — given the realist milieu of the story — it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see a resurrection.  If the rest of the series is set to chart Brás’ earlier life, it looks set to be something of a nihilistic endeavor.  This punk boldness does not prevent them falling into some rookie traps.  The first is the attempt to lend the story gravitas by making their protagonist a writer, drawing explicit attention to the craft (and their own issues with their literary forebears). This clichéd trope has plagued a lot of modern literature, from Stephen King to Paul Auster, and become a device that now just seems pretentious. If a work is thoughtfully crafted, the intelligence will shine through — we don’t need it sign-posted to us that This Is Important.

Daytripper #1 - Fabio Moon, Gabriel Bá

Indeed, this is a recurring feature of the script in this issue, almost as if they are desperate for readers to recognize how clever and well-written it is.  As a result, many of its potential highlights become dumbed-down and muted.  The story is concerned with issues of legacy and the impotence Brás feels at trying to fill the literary shoes of his father — a seeming amalgam of Borges, Marquez and de Assis.  So when the theater where the elder Domingos is receiving an award is revealed to have previously housed a performance of Hamlet, that fact alone should be enough to set readers on a path to the ideas of the play — through its modern legacy in Joyce and Greer and all the implications of impotence and Oedipal patricide that entails — without getting in the way of the story.  Instead, the twins choose to spell out their theme explicitly in a caption box, making the scene feel belabored and near condescending.  As cartoonists they, of all people, should be aware of the old dictum to show not tell.

Perhaps this is just the heavy hand of the editors at work (who also failed to catch a couple of ESL slips) trying to make the comic accessible to a more mainstream audience, since there are a few moments where the writing really shines and shows how literate and intelligent Moon and Bá can be as creators.  For instance, we find out that Brás calls his dog Dante — a tragically subtle touch that works on so many levels.  It lets us inside the neuroses of the protagonist, showing us how he feels the paucity of his own writing makes him only fit to play Virgil to a Labrador.  But it is also bitterly ironic since, like the Dante of the Divine Comedy, Brás finds himself “midway along the journey of our life” making him the unwitting traveler through a modern, urban Hell.  It allows for some powerful tension in the final act when he crosses a darkened street — a move now loaded with allegorical resonance — entering a bar lit with infernal shades of vermillion (Stewart’s coloring on the nose as ever).  Inside he encounters a poignant reflection of his own family issues and experiences their fitting punishment.
Daytripper #1 - Fabio Moon, Gabriel Bá
Like the tuxedoed Brás in the dive bar, Daytripper looks sharp but feels awkward.  You can’t fault Moon and Bá’s ambition — in scope and tone, this brings some much-needed indy literacy to Vertigo — it’s their execution that is woefully uneven. If, however, they gain the same confidence in writing that rings out from their art, this could still be one of the best series of next year.

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