For the first time in print, writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Wytches) and artist Francis Manapaul (The Flash, Detective Comics) team up to bring us a neo-noir mystery dripping in hard-boiled detective work dripping with a cyberpunk edge.
It is almost too easy to boil art with a cyberpunk edge down to a Blade Runner wannabe. Those who decide to craft rich or flaccid stories with a futuristic neon edge and dystopian themes are racing against the shadow of Ridley Scott’s cinema classic. It’s almost as though the cyberpunk genre isn’t something that exists without the constant lens of Blade Runner comparisons, as though the quality of art depends on whether it matches the viewer’s subjective love of a forty-year-old film. It is heinous to downplay the value of stories within this sub-genre as pulpy clones of other material. If that were the truth, then CLEAR #1 wouldn’t be one of the best comics I’ve read in 2023.
In a happier future sick to its core, Detective Sam Dunes is one of the few people left willing to see the world for what it is and actively try to make it better. Technology has grown advanced enough to be intertwined with human biology without consequence. The internet and neurology are one in the same; augmented reality is now just part of everyday life. People can choose between multiple ‘Veils’ to see the world how they like. Instead of basking in the sick glory of dying Americana, people can change that into worlds of great fantasy and escape. As such, illegal ‘Dark Veils’ have grown in popularity due to their utterly private nature. That is where Dunes comes in. As a man who pays the high price of seeing the world as is, he works as a private detective and often crosses paths with the illegal Veil trade. After the suicide of someone he used to love, he’s dragged deeper into this tricky world of falsehoods and corruption.
I haven’t read a Scott Snyder book that has utilized his narrative techniques as extensively as this one has. He never hides his love for prose; this book is choked with POV textbooks that successfully ingrain atmosphere and world-building into the narrative without ever stepping on Francis Manapaul’s art. It is quintessential noir narration, yet somehow avoids sounding cliche in its execution. The voice of Sam Dunes is modern, and this is due to the themes that Snyder has infused into this story.
What makes CLEAR #1 so compelling from the get-go because of how that voice informs the world and themes. Yes, the ‘hard-boiled detective dragged into a world of intrigue by the death of someone he once knew’ plot isn’t anything special or re-defining on its own. However, Snyder does what Snyder does best. He utilizes an on-the-fly yet completely integral world-building style to twist that plot into a fresher shape.
With the contemporary use of his involvement in the Red War, Snyder builds Sam Dunes in a character archetype popularized by Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Expatriation and the effects of having one’s faith shattered by trauma directly plays into the story’s theme of seeing the world for what it is, and how punishment comes from those who unveil its sickly corrupted underbelly. The hyper science fiction MacGuffin, ‘The Veil,’ is extremely compelling because of this. CLEAR #1 is Snyder at some of his most thematically rich, if unsubtle.
As expected, Francis Manapaul matches Snyder with what may be the peak of his artistic career—dynamic and radical character angels. Beautiful colors. Expressive and creative paneling. When an artist mixes those key graphic art aspects with style more fluid than water and more complex in its simplicity, then one would believe, they get a comic book rife with beauty. The neon, cross-culture cityscapes and sterile futuristic laboratories we see in this issue are believable. It’s an immersive rife with easily identifiable characters thanks to the instantly badass designs.
As a reader, you never feel like you’re peering into a world that is wholly aesthetic. The setting is used to inform the themes and narrative, not vice versa. This isn’t neo-punk vomit. Manapaul truly creates a world of visual depth in such a short amount of time that his work in CLEAR #1 is impressive. It absolutely deserves to be printed onto a physical page and held in the hands of readers everywhere.
The only thing that issue #1 struggles with is its mystery plot. It is still well-written and compelling, but the print issue of CLEAR #1 combines the first two chapters of the original series. As such, the mystery pacing is off at times. The issue is broken in-half because of this, but read all at once, the mystery becomes a backdrop to everything else happening with our main character. That being said, it is written in a way that keeps the book’s plot interesting. While all those themes I mentioned are great, they wouldn’t matter if the plot itself wasn’t still engaging. The suicide-turned murder mystery is still a great hook that I’m excited to see develop in issue #2.
Cyberpunk Noir is a literary genre that truly needs an artisan understanding of its values and attributes to work. When done wrong, you can get a visibly offensive and substance less story stuck forever in the realm of pulp fiction. When done right, you end up with instantaneous classics in the vein of Neuromancer and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
Its safe to say that CLEAR #1 is nothing short of excellent, a story that not only nails style with its visual flair and writing choices, but brings something new to the table with an overarching them of expatriation.
Clear #1: Near Perfect Neo-Noir
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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