Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Cheese Stands Alone: Daytripper #3

The Cheese Stands Alone is a semi-regular column featuring examinations of single issues that can be understood and appreciated on their own, without reading any of the preceding or following issues of the series.

Before I start, I should mention that pretty much any issue of Daytripper could be the subject of a Cheese Stands Alone post. The premise of the entire series is that each issue tells a self-contained story about the same character at a different point in his life, and at the end of every one, he dies. There are a couple twists on that concept in the later issues, but that's the basic foundation of the book, so I could definitely have chosen any individual chapter for this column. Daytripper #3 isn't even necessarily my favorite, though certainly it's in the running. I picked it because it does something particularly nice with its conclusion by making the tragic, violent, sudden death of the protagonist into a happy ending. That's an impressive trick, and done quite well, optimistic even while it reminds us of our own mortality.
     The star of Daytripper is Brás who, in this particular issue, is 28 years old (which I know because the title of the issue is "28"). In the first scene and several other times throughout the issue, we see him fighting/breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, whose name I don't believe we ever learn. Actually, a more accurate phrasing of that would be that we see her fighting/breaking up with him, since Brás is largely a passive observer in those flashback scenes, watching and listening as the woman he supposedly loves tears him down verbally before walking out of his life. Brás gets his licks in here and there, but always in a desperate attempt at self-defense. He doesn't really want the fight to continue, so he isn't adding much fuel to the fire, but it doesn't matter because it's already burning his world down.
     Separating these snippets of Brás' past-tense break-up are scenes of its present-tense aftermath, as Brás wallows in and wanders through his newfound loneliness. He talks about his ex with his best friend, discusses love in general with his father, and mopes around his home, work, and city in a state of disinterest and/or malaise. Daytripper #3 is, for the most part, a portrait of the specific brand of depression which can only come from heartbreak. Brás, so used to sharing his life with someone, now finds himself in a whole new world, one in which he is on his own for the first time in years. It's a difficult adjustment, because even as he sincerely wants and tries to acclimate himself to his new situation, he continues to pine for that former life, too. It hangs over him and slows him down, like an oversized fur coat he refuses to take off even though the sun is out and he's sweating like crazy.
     It would be a pretty boring comic if all that happened was Brás being upset in various locations, though that is definitely the bulk of the issue. Then in its third act, Daytripper #3 switches gears quite suddenly when Brás, out for a bit of coffee and self-pity a full year after his break-up, makes pseudo-flirtatious eye contact with a young woman for whom he instantly falls. Though they don't interact, Brás can feel his love for her overtake him immediately, which catches him somewhat off-guard. He was not prepared to stumble across the love of his life that morning, and initially he walks away, not really sure how to react. He doesn't get far before he realizes he absolutely must turn around and go meet the woman who so enchanted him, and it is in that moment of confidence and hope that this story finds its happy ending. After spending 2/3 of the issue exploring all the ins and outs of Brás at his lowest, it launches him upward again in a bold and bright new direction. And then he dies.
     Because that's what happens in Daytripper, as I mentioned: Brás dies at the end of every chapter. In this case, he's hit by a delivery van while racing across the street to find his mystery woman, dying with all the abruptness and surprise of his love-at-first sight moment a few minutes before. More, really, because Brás seeing the girl gets a few pages, while his death takes a mere three panels (or two, depending on whether or not you count the final shot of onlookers staring in shock at his body). You might think that this death would bring things back down to a negative place, closing the issue with the same kind of darkness that took up so much of it. But the beauty of Daytripper #3 is that Brás' death still feels like an upbeat occurrence, since it happens to him when he is happier than he's been since the story started. No longer sour over a lost love, he is energized over the prospect of a new one, and while it is tragic that he doesn't get to actually experience it, having him go down right at the peak of his hopefulness still seems like a win.
     In part, admittedly, it's easy not to be too bummed by Brás dying here because he's done it twice before in this series and by now we know he'll be coming back. The point of this column, though, is to look at stories that don't rely on previous or following issues to make them work, and I still think Daytripper #3 qualifies, because the effect of Brás' death is more or less the same even if you don't know he won't stay dead for long. Writers/artists/brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá do such a thorough job of delving into Brás' depression in the beginning of the issue, and then take great care to drive home the impact the woman at the end of the story has on him, the joy of that encounter easily outlasts the awfulness of Brás getting run over. His newfound vibrance and excitement are what stick, not the dull thud of the crash that kills him.
     Turning a main character's death into a positive event is just one of many such tricks Daytripper pulls off over the course of its ten issues. By ending Brás life at many different points, Moon and Bá get to tell numerous contrasting stories that at the same time all tell one story, which is a character study of this fairly normal guy. The creators enrich his normalcy with their care for him and for the comicbook itself. Daytripper #3 is an especially nice example of this, in that it gives us two extremes in Brás' emotional spectrum: depressed detachment and active romanticism. In providing these polar opposite views of the man, they present a full picture of him in this one issue, and by infusing his demise with so much sweet, budding love, they create a moving, memorable tale without needing to fall back on the tragedy of it all.

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