Clear #1 Review: Masterful Cyberpunk Noir Reckons With the Helplessness of Connectivity

Scott Snyder and Francis Manapul's Clear, a new Comixology Original series, is a neo-noir, cyberpunk murder mystery. It's also a work drenched in the existential dread that comes from staying informed about all the crises facing the modern world and the accompanying feelings of impotence born from having no direct means of doing anything about them. Clear takes place in San Francisco in a near future where people use devices called veils to alter how they see the world around them, applying cosmetic skins to reality that let them feel like they're in any place, any time, any genre. Detective Sam Dunes is one of the few who apply the "clear" setting, allowing him to see the world for what it is, and he increasingly wonders why he bothers. Though this is only the first of six issues in the miniseries, Clear seems intent on posing the same question to its readers.

The veils are escapism taken to the extreme, allowing individuals to impose their fantasies on top of inconvenient realities. There's the obvious metaphor here, the rise in popularity of simplistic fiction juxtaposed against humanity's increasingly dire-looking future, but there are subtle notes here as well. Dunes remarks upon reality consisting of old structures in disrepair and new creations intentionally designed to be generic, purposely lacking identity to make it easier for others to project onto them. It feels like another, more specific commentary on our relationship to the world around us, art and reality alike.

Manapul delivers a perfectly executed cyber-noir atmosphere, scenes appearing like neon lighting shining through a dirty window. The premise of overlapping realities allows Manapul to do some exciting things with layouts, framing entire pages with that noir style while altering the colors and lines of individual panels to drastically different, even cartoonish styles. Yet, Manapul knows when less is more, toning down the experimentation and opting for simplicity when delivering big emotional beats.

Snyder has a reputation for novelistic writing, which applies here, and such prose works well in this genre, creating something that feels like Blade Runner but with better internal monologue. Dunes might be hunting black market veils instead of androids, but he's cut from the same cloth as Rick Deckard, both reserved and competent men living as best they can in a world that's past its prime.

The first comparable comic book that comes to mind is Tokyo Ghost, the 2015 Image Comics series by Rick Remender and Sean Gordon Murphy. Both series reckon with humanity's addiction to technology and the social changes it has wrought. But Tokyo Ghost wanted to reject that society entirely, presenting itself as a punk rock loner fantasy. There's a certain self-righteous undercurrent to Clear, as one might expect from a story about the only clear-eyed person left in a world potentially beyond saving. Still, it's less interested in the self-aggrandizing, non-conformist glory of breaking away from the herd as it is reckoning with the more mundane reality that we're all forced to live in this world, for better or for worse.

That makes Clear a more somber story, which is part and parcel with the genre, but its themes ring true. Despite living in a futuristic dystopia, Dunes is a relatable antihero with all too familiar anxieties. As is the case with all of Snyder's best work, he's putting his worries and fears and—though this time he's swapped horror for sci-fi—dread on display and wrestling with it on the page, and it works because they're the same fears that many readers have, even if they don't know how or when or why to express them. For Manapul, it's an opportunity to show off his artistic versatility and remind readers why he's been one of the best in the business for the past decade. Built on the impeccable execution of two masters at the top of their game, Clear is easy to recommend for anyone who wants unnervingly relevant genre fiction.

Published by Best Jackett Press

On October 13, 2021

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Francis Manapul

Colors by Francis Manapul 

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Cover by Francis Manapul