And out in the distance, her order was heard.
And the Soldier was killed, still waiting for her word.
And while the Queen went on strangling in the solitude she preferred,
The battle continued on.
— Suzanne Vega, “The Queen and the Soldier”
“Shakespeare used six words to pose the essential human choice: ‘To be, or not to be?’ Elisabeth, a character in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, uses two to answer it: ‘No, don’t!’ [Her statement] translates to: I do not want to feel pain, I do not want to be scarred, I do not want to die. She wants to be.. She admits she exists.”
— Roger Ebert, The Great Movies
Art, in all of its forms, has always been, if not an outright argument or response to something else in art, culture or politics, at least a healthy, and hopefully lively, debate. George Stevens’ 1953 films Shane, based on the Jack Schaefer novel, introduced filmgoers to the story of the titular cowboy, a scarred man who rode in from nowhere in particular, did his best to help those around him in his own way, and rode back out, possibly suffering a fatal bullet wound.
If those story beats sounds familiar to those of you who haven’t read or seen Shane, they should. Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s 1976 update of the story, set in a post-Nixon America, was written by Paul Schrader and also told the tale of a scarred man who rode in from nowhere in particular, did his best to help those around him in his own way, and sort of rode back out in his own mind, no doubt suffering from a fatal bullet bound. As Travis Bickle, Robert DeNiro interpreted Shane as a Vietnam veteran, even going so far as to paraphrase the film in an improvised moment while talking to himself in a mirror, drawing a firearm.
“You speaking to me?” Alan Ladd’s Shane asks Ben Johnson as Chris Calloway.
“I don’t see nobody else standing there,” Calloway replies.
In front of the mirror, Travis asks his reflection, who he might as well have named Shane, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking…you talking to me? Well, I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? Oh yeah? Okay.”
There is one aspect of Travis as a character that is never analyzed, never looked at, never even thought of: his obsession with water, with the notion of a cleansing rain: “Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.” “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” “I think someone should just take this city and just…just flush it down the fuckin’ toilet.”
In 1977, Australian auteur Peter Weir unleashed The Last Wave upon the world. A complete 180 from the urban yarn of the gruff warrior wannabe that was Scorsese’s film, Weir’s picture starred Richard Chamberlain as a lawyer named David Burton, a white man in Sydney who uncovers more than just secrets about himself when he finds himself smack-dab in the middle of what appears to be a heretofore unheard-of murder in an Aboriginal community. Much like Taxi Driver, The Last Wave tells the story of a man slowly shedding everything he thought he knew about himself as he descends further and further into an unfamiliar, seemingly alien world.
In the end, of course, David fails to warn the world of that apocalyptic wave as he collapses before it, preparing for the consumed world he’s seen in his visions. Even the most cursory Google-provided look into the very real spirituality that inspired the film unveils several truths, chief among them being that this wave, though no doubt coming to eradicate humankind for very specific reasons, is actually a cleansing wave. Like Noah’s flood or a giant Lysol spray, the filth and scum will really be washed off the streets. Travis would no doubt look on, nodding and smiling, before the wave swallowed him up, too.
Somewhere between Shakespeare’s question and Bergman’s answer, amidst the scale charting Travis Bickle’s obsessive hope and David Burton’s drenched reality, in the middle of Leadbelly’s notion of the river as a tool of suicide and Bruce Springsteen’s concept of “The River” as a symbol of lost innocence, among Oliver Stone’s and Bryan Singer’s vastly different conceptions of Lee Harvey Oswald, even between the moral debate at the heart of Frank Black and Peter Watts’ relationship on MillenniuM…somewhere on the giant sliding scale of artistic dialectic lies the entirety of Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon’s inventive, emotional and altogether game-changing Daytripper.
In my review of Daytripper, I hail the series as a brilliant, revolutionary work that could, in time, change the face and shape of comics much as Watchmen and others did before it. But, like all the great works before it, it wouldn’t have been possible for Daytripper to have been created in a vacuum. Moon, in an interview with Newsarama, says that he supposes “we can plan all we want, but sometimes life has other plans for us, and so life, for all of us, is an adventure worth discovering every single day. Every single day, life can change, life can start, end, change its course or just get a lot more complicated. Every day, we can fall in love, fall out of it, be happy and sad and all in-between, so it all comes down to this: as we live life, are we paying attention?”
Over the last decade, or at least since the events of September 11, 2001, life, love and the pursuit of a well-lived life has been the focus of a metaphorical metric ton of popular media. The message at the end of Lost was that one incredible moment can change your life forever to the point where the strangers who were with you when it happened become the defining relationships of your life. Battlestar Galactica concluded with the notion that you absolutely have to be good to your neighbors, love them for their differences and treat others well, or else expect the worse. Y: The Last Man ended with the revelation that no one can fully prepare you, even through honest anecdotes, for the painful transition to maturation or for dealing with tremendous loss. Given how Daytripper touches on most, if not all, of these concepts and does so expertly and seemingly effortlessly, it’s no surprise that, like Lost, it touches upon 9/11 in its own way, with the occurrence of a plane crash that is deeply personal for the protagonist, Brás, and almost impossibly immediate and heartbreaking for the readers as well.
The story gets more personal than 9/11, though, and it ought to. For as many people who knew and loved any one of the 3000 people who perished on that Tuesday morning, there were just as many people who had no personal connection to that tragedy. By admittedly making the life experiences of Brás and his supporting cast so heartfelt and universal, the potential for post-9/11 reactionary stigma is wiped away cleanly.
Like Battlestar and Y — and, in the end, Lost as well — Daytripper is the story of successive transitions over the course of the life of every single character in the book and every single person who reads it. What sets Daytripper apart from the other works, though, is that it is not a fantasy piece. Yes, it owes quite a debt to magical realism, but it’s not hard speculative fiction owing great debts to the existence of metaphors and loose analogies like the other serial stories, but it takes more of a hands-on approach. Where Kara Thrace discovered her “Special Destiny” as a result of the Cylon holocaust, John Locke found his purpose in life by crashing onto a magical island and Yorick Brown went from being a boy to a man in a world full of women, the beats in Daytripper are more day-in-the-life than all that.
Any moment — meeting the person you know you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, losing a parent, a major professional victory — can feel like a door has closed and another has opened. These moments are little deaths, hence Brás’ death at the end of every issue. His death is never literal; it’s merely a symbol of transition from one part of his life to the next. In that way, then, Daytripper does answer those other works; Battlestar showrunner Ronald D. Moore was noted for saying that there was no direct analogy to concurrent sociopolitics in the show. His Cylons weren’t quite Al-Qaeda and Laura Roslin wasn’t quite George W. Bush, but they both had aspects of each other. Similarly, when Lost’s Jack Shephard operated on Ben Linus and cut open his kidney sack, he wasn’t helping bin Laden out with his dialysis. In all cases, the true intent, even though it may be just slightly oblique, is there for all to see.
The conclusion of Daytripper, in its own way, both subverts and expands upon the ending of Lost. In that show’s final moments, Jack met his father, Christian, in the afterlife, who explained to him that this place he found himself in with all of his friends was a place they had metaphysically created for themselves to reunite in after each of them had passed so that they could all move on together. It is a conversation, a dialogue between a man and his son.
At the end of Daytripper, it has been decades since the death of Brás’s father, who died the same night that Brás’ son was born and occupied much the same role in his life that Christian held in Jack’s. Now slowly fading away thanks to a terminal cancer, Brás finally discovers a letter from his late father written to him on that fateful night. In the span of the fairly brief letter, he explains to his son everything he’s learned thanks to becoming a father and that that is when he came into his own as a person and was able to put the shadow of his own father behind him. That’s when he was finally able to start living.
It’s arguable that Brás let his father rule far too much of his life even after he was meant to have read the letter years earlier, and that this intensely delayed delivery crippled him for life and prevented his Yorick Brown-esque or Lee Adama-like maturation. Unfinished business can haunt someone for their entire lives, and that’s just another one of the long, long list of personal experiences everyone has that is reflected in Daytripper.
As the readers are treated to the letter over the series’ final pages, we eventually see Brás standing by the shore at night, back to the readers, as the small, gentle waves continually wash over his feet, and we finally find out his father’s intended final words:
“You don’t need me anymore.”
The waves come, presumably matching the tears Brás must be shedding; the cleansing wave of relief that Travis Bickle dreamed of and David Burton didn’t understand, that final chuckle in Jack Shephard’s throat, that last smile Kara Thrace gave Lee Adama, Yorick Brown’s final escape.
“You don’t need me anymore.”
The wave rises, ready to cleanse us all of our sins and pasts. We fall before it, helpless in its majesty and humbled by its size, ambition and mission.
The screen goes black.
The credits roll.
The story is over. At least for now. But the dialogue will continue as long as we can draw breath enough to tell tales