For more than a decade now, Tom Taylor has been bringing us to tears with his comics. He writes the kind of scripts that frankly shouldn’t work. A zombie apocalypse in the DC Universe, a tyrant Superman taking over the world. His premises are full of tragedy, and if his scripts were just that, it would all become old hat fast. Instead, Taylor fills nearly every page with heartwarming connections and side-splitting laughter. It’s his pension for levity that makes Taylor a master of the tragic.
What is the purpose of filling a tragedy with jokes and levity? It would seem that that would be working against the grain of what that piece of art is trying to achieve. But the fact is, characters who stare gloomily out windows aren’t all that interesting. It’s not long before you’re looking at your watch and wondering, “When will this guy die already?” If the characters aren’t given much of a life to begin with, we often find we don’t care that it’s over for them.
The best example of someone who employs humor effectively in tragedy is Shakespeare. Many of Shakespeare’s plays (like Taylor’s comics) work on a level of dramatic irony. We know the end is nigh from the beginning. Romeo & Juliet begins with the Chorus coming out and telling us, in not so many words, “Don’t get too attached; these guys are headed for the chopping block.” But then suddenly the stage is filled with the kinds of characters that we care about: characters that don’t know they’re going to die.
Taylor brings this approach to the superhero medium brilliantly. After all, what are superheroes other than characters that don’t think they’ll die or lose? They can repel bullets; they’ve saved planets, why should they be worried? They always find a way to come out on top. In a true act of kismet, in some of Taylor’s more recent projects, like Injustice and DCEASED, DC has handed Taylor the keys to the house. And so these characters that have so often been protected by fandoms and continuity are suddenly fragile.
Nearly every issue of Injustice has a heartbreaking death scene. For DCEASED, it’s almost every page. And the thing that keeps it from being grueling is that there are still characters out there who believe they can come out on top. Whether it’s Harley renaming the Arrow Cave or Lobo not wanting to talk about his feelings, life just goes on for such characters. They don’t wait at the window for death. They have a good laugh about how everything is falling apart.
Taylor has found something profound and seemingly contradictory in his comics. The things we connect to in a character are the things that make them human. But one of the things that make us the most human is that we think of ourselves as immortal. We don’t wait at the window. Most writers would think quite the opposite and wouldn’t tap into that shared humanity we have with immortal superheroes. Thank God Tom Taylor isn’t most writers.
In an interview with MFR, Taylor said: “I’ve made lots of people cry in public, and that’s always one of my favorite things.” It’s good he likes doing it, because he does it well. Taylor is aware of the fact that if you want lows in a story, lows that a reader cares about, you must first have highs. We have to laugh with a character if you want us to care that they lost. He puts a human face on apocalypses and makes us care about the slog to the end of the world. So if you want to cry in public, Tom Taylor is your man.