R.C. Harvey goes Daytripping.

Posted by on February 11th, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Daytripper #1-2 by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon; DC/Vertigo; 22 pp., $2.99 ea.

Don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to keep up any more. Too many comic-book titles. A hundred years ago — when nights were filled with revelry and life was but a song — a normal person could buy almost every comic book on the stands every month. But then the number of comic book titles started increasing and so did their cost. Together, those advances in civilization defeated any intention of keeping up by buying and reading everything.

I buy a few titles regularly (all 100 Bullets, for instance), but otherwise, I confine my purchases to first issues. Not all first issues, but those with subjects or artwork that intrigue me. With any first issue, the question is: Do I want to buy the second issue? Mostly, I don’t. But sometimes I do. Why?

In flailing around for an answer to that, I finally formulated criteria that seemed to underlie my decision.

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode” — that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

The first issue of Daytripper by the twin brothers from Brazil, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, could have been concocted precisely to upend the foregoing criteria. It fulfills all the requirements and yet is more frustrating than I would have supposed with such a performance. It proves, I suppose, that criteria such as I’ve cobbled up here are useful but, in the final analysis, are much too cut-and-dried, too brittle — too mental — to evaluate works that are genuinely superior: Such endeavors, when successful, appeal to our emotions in ways that the cold math of intellectual criteria cannot adequately account for.

Click to view larger image ©2010 DC Comics

In #1 of the 10-issue miniseries, we meet Bras de Oliva Domingos, who, at the age of 32, works at a newspaper writing obituaries while, in his off hours, he struggles to produce his first book, a novel, probably. His mother loves him in a demanding but not unpleasant way, and she phones him in order to make sure he will attend later in the day a ceremony honoring his father, also a writer but a successful and highly regarded one. Bras assures her that he’ll be there despite an unvoiced reluctance, stemming, perhaps, from a mild resentment that his mother remembers his father’s “special day” but has forgotten, apparently, that today is also Bras’ birthday. He is interrupted at work by his friend Jorge, a dark-skinned young man with wild raggae dreadlocks, and they go out for a coffee break, during which they remember fondly a trip they made together to Salvador eleven years earlier. Then Bras launches into philosophical pondering about life and about his vocation: “I wanted to write about life, Jorge, and look at me now — all I write about is death.” Jorge remembers Bras’ birthday.

That evening, Bras arrives early at the site of the celebration for his father, but he has run out of cigarettes and drops into a nearby bar to buy another pack. He’s the only one in the place; he orders a beer and passes time in idle conversation with the bartender, who is also the owner, having inherited the establishment from his father. Then the bartender’s nephew enters, brandishing a pistol and demanding money. The bartender tries unsuccessfully to calm him down, but the kid shoots him in the face and kills him. Bras, sitting at the bar in his tuxedo, is dumbfounded: “Why … why did you shoot him? He … he was your uncle.” The kid points his gun at Bras, and, saying, “You don’t choose family,” he shoots and kills Bras.

That brings us back to the book’s opening scene that shows us Bras standing at a bar, splashed with blood and staring at a body on the floor — all inexplicable at the onset; now fully explained. A caption at the end of the book tells us that Bras was killed “in a robbery gone bad” and that, “like Shakespeare,” he died on his birthday.

We have grown fond of the likable Bras, we admire his dutiful response to his mother and to the demands of a job that is ultimately unfulfilling to him. But now he’s dead. If this were a stand-alone single-issue book, that would be that. But it’s the first issue in a series. So is the rest of the series going to consist of short stories like this one? A day-in-the-life sort of series? We can’t tell from anything in the tale itself.

There’s an element of suspense here, but it doesn’t arise from any aspect of the story per se. The suspense emanates from an extra-story consideration: What do you do for an encore when your protagonist is dead? Well, do flashbacks. Yes, but, now that the protagonist is dead, who cares?

The answer, of a sort, to these questions is supplied at the end of the book in the editorial written by Ba and Moon. There, we learn that every ensuing issue will be about Bras. Every issue will “present a new chance” to get to know Bras, his aspirations and exasperations, his successes and failures. In this way, Daytripper is “about life,” they say:

Have you ever realized how our lives can change at any given moment? Have you noticed how we can plan ahead all we want, but we’re always surprised by the unexpected? And that, afterwards, we end up with a sum of moments, both good and bad, that really define who we are, what we want, and what we love? Such roller coasters of ordinary life happen every day, and that’s what Daytripper is about.

The book itself may not foster the sort of suspense a first issue is supposed to nurture, but the book as supplemented by the brothers’ editorial does.

The issue contains several short completed episodes (like Bras and Jorge having coffee together), but the entire issue can be seen as a completed episode — a day in the life of Bras that ends in a wholly unanticipated way, with his death by violent means. But my criteria are designed to help evaluate first issues of continuing, serial stories, not stand-alone one-shot tales, which is what this first issue seems to be until we get to the brothers’ editorial musings. And then the suspense kicks in: what will the rest of the series be about now that the protagonist is dead? Will we flashback through the rest of his life, day by day?

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