Review - Clockwork Creature: Chapter One
Written & Drawn by Kyle Strahm
Ambrosia Publishing, Fall 2007; $6.95
“By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.”
This infamous line, which is uttered by a witch during the opening of Act IV of Shakespeare’s tragic play Macbeth, could replace the tinderstick-like title text of Clockwork Creature: Chapter One. Better still, the rest of the artwork in the book lives up to this devilishly enchanting forecast - delivering a carnival of menacing shadows and bewitchingly garish patterns. In short: Pure visual delight from cover to cover.
Drawn exclusively in high-contrast black and white, Kyle Strahm’s pages are black pools of night etched with figures and structures ablaze in searing white moonlight. His ghostly farm-town and its inhabitants are strung with diaphanous shadows that conjure amazing subtleties of depth of field. The spectral details of their agrarian charms are strangely visually magnetic: The frayed edges of overalls and errant facial hairs cast harsh shadows in the unforgiving glare of sinister moonbeams.
The creature itself appears graceful and innocent in comparison, despite its mammoth proportions. The solid, quadrapedal beast is hidden beneath a patchwork quilt of checkers, stripes and polka dots, stitched together with big loops of ivory thread. The blanket edges and hollows billow and flap gracefully about the creature, rife with anthropomorphic suggestion. In odd contrast to the vintage environment and its own old-fashioned drapery, the creature has rounded, metal robot feet, with big coiled springs for Achille’s heels.
If only the actual story were not such a disappointment, CC would be a masterpiece. At best, CC promises to be a tepid adaptation of Frankenstein; at worst, a mystery with no intrigue. Not every mystery has to have a clever twist, but every story has got to have a resolution. And nothing compelling is accomplished in Chapter One.
The story is not without promise during its set up. A bizarre creature has appeared in town; men have disappeared. Fearful townies have gathered at a local watering hole to suss out a solution. Weakened by panic (and, one suspects, not being overly-endowed with a surplus of mental acuity in the first place) the men fall prey the verbal rallying of the nefarious Baron von Salt, who looks like an evil circus ringmaster. Sadly, the gist of the Baron’s diatribe is to kill the beast with what looks like a Tommy gun, which he ridiculously brandishes as a “weapon … FROM THE FUTURE!” The only thing the presence of the modern-day gun really destroys is the delightfully antediluvian atmosphere.
Meanwhile, some of the missing men have found some of the other disappeared fellows, who in turn have figured out that the creature is not a menace at all. Rather, they have determined that the beast was lonely, based on the fact that several of its supposed victims (chickens) are still alive, and that the mute beast itself has saved a man from the creek (which reminds me of a scene from Universal Studio’s 1931 version of “Frankenstein,” in which the famous monster makes friends with a little girl on the bank of a lake).
In a very movie-monster manner, the pitchfork-brandishing mob descends upon an old mill, where the creature waits unsuspecting with its new friends. There follows the most awkward shoot-out scene of all time, in which almost everyone gets killed by the Baron. Enraged by this slaughter, the creature brutally murders the Baron, thus frightening its remaining friends (who are oddly un-phased by the mass murder of their neighbors by a total stranger). They run off, leaving the creature alone, to bow its head and amble along alone once more. Ho-hum.
None of the characters were developed enough for the reader to care about what happens to them! The creature has not been developed enough for the reader to care that it is lonely (again). The Baron may have had an evil design upon an innocent creature, but we don’t know enough about it to rejoice in his downfall. Finally, the townfolk (with one exception) have that sort of collective personality that, in the end, simply amounts to unaffecting numbers, in the same way that newspaper reports of body counts are less moving than a single tale of tragedy.
The sole exception to this stale conclusion is a man by the name of Jebbins. He is the man who was saved from the creek by the creature. As Jebbins’ friend tells it, “I don’t reckon you could get Jebbins away from its side if you wanted to.” But the scene in which Jebbins is saved is not part of the story. He’s also the first to die in the massacre. Perhaps a future issue will flashback to this scene, which would go a long way toward developing some characters that would make this book worth reading in the long term.
Without a proper ending, a masterfully illustrated comic book is little more than a gilded goblet with a big hole in the bottom. It gets you geared up for a drink of something special, and all you are left with is a faint taste on your lips and a very wet lap. At least when you’re finished reading it, you won’t feel guilty about snipping out a few choices panels for some uniquely cryptic home decor.