What would happen if a high school loser were suddenly given superpowers? Per Spider-Man, he’d go momentarily nuts, using his newfound abilities to beat up folks, make some money, and get on TV. Eventually, however, the once-nerd would become a hero, thanks to a life-changing tragedy and/or the love of a good woman.
In real life the tragedy would never come, the girlfriend would leave town, and the guy would turn into a vindictive jerk, which is precisely what happens in the latest number of Daniel Clowes’s Eightball series. In “The Death-Ray,” Andy, a fatherless ectomorph who digs Sousa marches and stinks at sports, discovers that a couple of drags from a cigarette give him the strength of many men. Goaded by Louie, his tougher, cooler pal, Andy soon uses his bone-crushing strength—and a vaporizing ray gun left behind by his dad—to lay waste to squirrels, dope dealers, abusive parents, and assorted jocks and bullies.
As Clowes has gradually eliminated some of the more fantastical elements from Eightball (e.g., the eye-socket-slurping crustaceans in “A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron”), the tales have only gotten creepier. Andy describes people as “the ugliest creatures in all of nature,” and if we’re not the ugliest, at least in Clowes’s worlds, we’re definitely in the top three. Even so, the story is infinitely more human than any of the superhero series it parodies, and about as funny as any tale about a homicidal loner has a right to be.