Using a Veil to Avoid Reality
As a note, while Clear #1 was originally published as a set of 6 ComiXology Originals digital issues in 2021, I, as well as likely many others, did not read it at the time, and as such will be reviewing the series as something entirely new to me.
If the brain is a computer, then are eyes the screen? This is a concept that Scott Snyder sought to explore in his originally digital-only, sci-fi noir, miniseries — Clear — in which to blind out the dystopian future, humanity has taken to installing filters that can let them see the world as whatever they want to. The miniseries, originally a set of 6 digital books published by ComiXology, will be printed as three double-sized issues by Dark Horse Comics. The series follows a private detective investigating the murder of an old lover, a common trope Snyder aims to inject new life into by setting it in a far less familiar setting.
Snyder’s writing in this issue absolutely evokes his work on Batman; some lines of the internal monologue could have been uttered by Batman as much as they could by Sam Dunes, our protagonist. Dunes has a further touch of sarcasm and dry humor than Bruce ever has, giving his voice its own distinct flair. His writing is sharp as always, keeping up at an incredibly fast pace while never failing to explain how this cyberpunk future works, what makes it unique, and what caused it. Some of these things are typical of the genre: a devastating “Red War” is a very familiar idea for dystopian futures of all varieties, but it serves a far more direct purpose than just set dressing by being part of Dunes’ backstory as well.
Of course, the element of this world that sets it apart from others is the ocular filters, or “veils.” While I hope they take a greater presence further into the series, they are a very unique concept. Clear paints a future where the entire world has chosen to look away from its own surroundings, except for Dunes of course, and the femme fatale Petal Madders, who decided to pay exorbitant fees to keep the world clear to view. On the opposite end is the 1518 gang, the very gang that Dunes’ lover was investigating before her passing. A cult that instead views the world in illegal “shared veils,” engaging in the delusion together.
I have one criticism about this comic’s status as a rerelease. It is surprising that it is an oversized issue, combining two issues together into one—and it very clearly is. To best put it in perspective, I would draw the comparison of the pilot episode of HBO’s The Last of Us. Since its airing, the pilot has been revealed to have been written as two episodes. The scripts, combined into one long episode, resulted in an episode paced with two beginnings, two middles, and two ends. It feels odd to watch, and this first issue is just as odd to read. I feel that Dark Horse should have made some effort to mark the issue itself as a combined work, as I did not know until doing some minor research after reading.
The final, and incredibly important element, is Francis Manapul’s art, which fully delivers on the concepts of Snyder’s script. The art is dirty, grimy, and rough, filled with heavy lines and splotches. But in contrast, it is also incredibly vivid and bright, with pinks, purples, and blues that cause a mix of dark and colorful that absolutely fits the cyberpunk setting. One particularly inventive sequence shows the effects of a “zad,” a grenade that forces you to see random veils as a sort of flash-bang, distracting its target. Manapul uses this as an excuse to draw in a variety of styles, some so different I wrongly thought guest artists may have drawn them. It’s a highlight of the comic, and I hope there are more ideas like that in store.
Clear #1 presents an interesting start to a miniseries that, despite the ending leaving me with absolutely no clue as to how it continues, I will be reading as it releases. Though it has some less-than-original concepts that are often beholden to its genre and setting, Clear smartly balances those with a unique twist on the part of the veils, an experienced hand in the world of detective stories, and stunning art that uses the setting to its fullest.
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