“Clear” #1

By | March 9th, 2023
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Classic detective noir meets cyberpunk tech cautionary tale in Scott Snyder and Francis Manapul’s “Clear” #1.

Cover by Francis Manapul

Written by Scott Snyder
Illustrated & Colored by Francis Manapul
Lettered by Andworld Design

Writer Scott Snyder and artist Francis Manapul team up to co-create a flashy and heady cyberpunk noir tale that both pulls from many techno thrillers that have come before while allowing it to stand on its own with strong world building and classic tropes that work without any irony.

Snyder has been deep in the world of “Batman” and DC Comcis for far too long only picking his head up to put out the occasional horror passion project, to the point that I recently felt that his talents have been squandered over the last few years. So, it is incredibly refreshing to get something like “Clear” from him. Working with Manapul to create this sci-fi world that captures a similar vibe of many other cyberpunk and classic detective noir stories. The mash-up of these two sub-genres have been attempted, with many failures, ever since people finally realized that the original Blade Runner was a masterpiece and the clones came pouring in – with many great ones coming out of the world of Japanese manga and anime.

Snyder and Marapul bring us into another neon soaked near future of San Francisco, 2052 and introduce us to the idea that there are no longer computers and tech as we know them. Humans are now the computing hubs linked directly to not just the internet, but synthetic worlds and stories called “Veils.” You can live your entire life within a veil, like fully immersive social media that sells an ever bigger lies and lives to those willing to pay. There is even a black market of unregulated veils for those with deep pockets that don’t want the government or the general public to see what lurks in the darkest corners of their minds.

Private detective Sam Dunes takes a lot of jobs, a lot that deal with black market veils and other tech related crimes, but the majority of his days are filled with calls like the one he is on when we meet him. He has been hired by the wife of an illegal veil customer to see if their husband is looking for another life without them in a veil. Dunes is everything you might expect from a character such as this. Gruff, soft-spoken, and gets to the point. He has no deep connections with anything or anyone around him and fills his hours with plenty of clients to keep getting paid. He has a dark past, plenty of his own secrets, and isn’t looking for anything that could drag him lower than he already is. He is also a rarity in this world as he never connects to a veil or any other web source. He lives completely in the moment, in the real world. Snyder gives him plenty of character and backstory in this gigantic 60-page premiere issue, but he still works quite well as an empty avatar for the reader to step into. Especially for those who have fantasized about being the dark and broody leading man with plenty of secrets and a shady-eyed femme fatale standing in your office upon returning from your last stake out.

Big ideas and even bigger set pieces grace the pages of “Clear” #1 in a way that feels extremely familiar and comfortable within this world of cyberpunk science fiction. Where does life end and begin within a digital world? Fans of any black and white detective film, as well as cyberpunk films and manga like Blade Runner, “Ghost in the Shell,” The AniMatrix, “Hard Boiled,” Robocop, “Eden: It’s An Endless World!,” and many, many other examples will find familiar themes and philosophical questions at play in “Clear.” While not as labyrinthian as some of those examples, there are plenty of breadcrumbs and flashbacks tied to something much bigger beginning to get hinted at and fleshed out, even in this first issue. With as long as it is, it does feel like two full issues glued together, most notably in its story structure that comes in with plenty of ideas and action, and then throws in some backstory for Dunes that feels a bit out of place at first, but will most likely come together more evenly as the subsequent issues are released.

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There is so much happening in this first issue that it will only benefit from multiple read throughs. Snyder’s writing is clear, clean, and moves at a nice pace, so nothing is lost or confusing in the slightest. It is simply a nice dense story with a lot to offer, and paired with Manapul’s really wonderful art, readers should be poring over every panel soaking in the delicious sci-fi noir we have been gifted. The character designs are hard-lined, almost to the point of being completely flat in this popping dystopian cityscape. Neon and sharp edges fill the pages, and the panel/page design completely sets the unique tone for the entire story. Nothing feels safe or quiet. Everything and everyone is on edge. At first glance the color palette may seem like any other cyber story or 80s genre pastiche all rolled into one, but the deeper you get into this story, the more Manapul’s distinct style and purposeful choices become clear. It’s stunning work across the board and his pairing with Snyder has really pulled something new from the author which many a comics fan should be incredibly grateful for.

I have not felt this connected to a similar comic since reading the original “Ghost in the Shell” or “Akira.” And while those are truly masterclasses and originators when it comes to this sort of story and it isn’t fair to compare “Clear” to them, there have been so many duds in the last 35+ years that something that actually works tends to feel like a champion amongst the crowd. “Clear” #1 was a joy to read, if a bit too long for a single issue, and the wait to read the entire run will hopefully be a short one. While the entire story was released online as a Comixology Original, it is now be printed at three physical issues by Dark Horse Comics, with a complete trade paperback getting released later this year. If the quality of the miniseries is equal or greater than this issue, that trade should be a must buy for any fan of future noir.

Final Verdict: 8.5 – A truly smart, gorgeous, and thrilling cyberpunk noir worthy of the genre.

Christopher Egan

Chris lives in New Jersey with his wife, daughter, two cats, and ever-growing comic book and film collection. He is an occasional guest on various podcasts, writes movie reviews on his own time, and enjoys trying new foods. He can be found on Instagram. if you want to see pictures of all that and more!