COMIC REVIEW: Clockwork Watch Vol. 2, Breakaway

Clockwork Watch BreakawayFor those of you unfamiliar with the grand transmedia experiment that is Clockwork Watch, you’re in for a treat.  We took a look at the first volume here on the Geek Syndicate last year, but as you’ll see while browsing the production blog, Yomi Ayeni’s creative sandpit has continued to grow and thrive across the mediums of music, craftwork, live performance and the written word.

Meanwhile Corey Brotherson and Jennie Gyllblad have been hard at work producing the second volume of their spectacular comic, and boy howdy was it worth the wait!  It may be a slender tome but the world it unfolds is a visual and metaphysical feast, fit for poring over and pondering on long after the story has been devoured.

Normally I tend to focus on narrative before artwork in these reviews, but it’s the imagery that really blew me away here.  You can see for yourself that the cover is stunning.  Stylish and steampunky; it reeks of reckless adventure and pure brassy class.  One of the things that often disappoints me about the mainstream comics industry is how rarely the quality of the covers are matched by the internal artwork.  Well, Jennie Gyllblad is responsible for both here and, for my money, raises the game for the medium single-handedly. There is something about Gyllblad’s style that just breathes life into the story.

The pencil work is detailed, but lightly done, with the overlaying paints softening them further amidst the panoply of colour.  Ink is used sparingly to delineate figures and artifacts, and she eschews rulers for a more sensitive organic approach.  The way Indian script is used for the cemetery scene; the Clockwork speech bubbles hinting at smooth mechanical speech; the way panels flow across and overlay each other and, above all; the background details which service the world-building, all demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of visual story-telling.

It’s Jennie’s watercolours that really blow me away though, imbuing the world with light, soaking it in rich textures and wreathing all with an indefinably historical atmosphere.  This is a lived-in world, where carpets hold footprints, walls are stained by smoke; everyone and every thing bears scars of one kind or another.

Plot-wise, the world has moved on since the first volume.  Janav is now a full-grown, educated and bitter young man.  His father’s Clockwork automatons have evolved beyond recognition, practically able to pass as human now.  The country is teetering on the brink of a social revolution against the devices, while the Clockwork people themselves are stirring restlessly, craving freedom and a full recognition of their rights.

Meanwhile, a new Government body arises to monitor and tighten control over the metal population – The Clockwork Watch. It was quite a shock to discover that the wide-eyed little Janav from Vol 1. ‘Arrival‘ is suddenly a twenty-something rebel with a cause, but it speaks volumes for this team’s story-telling ability that we are brought up to speed so quickly.  A simple exchange of letters between friends, overlaid with current events, serves to identify this young protagonist; link up his past to his present; layer in some bitter contrasts  between past hopes and the current reality; illustrate how the world has changed in twenty years and give Janav the motivation to do something about it.

Moral compass spinning wildly, he throws himself into the ‘Clockwork Watch’ with a will.  The ambiguity he now represents is both alluring and frightening, stalking through the book as a cocksure young Turk who enjoys his work a little too much.  It has to be said, he’s pretty badass though.

I can’t say this is a perfect read, as some aspects of the story remain frustratingly opaque.  There is enough on the pages to tell the story at hand, and every page is packed to the brim, but there simply aren’t enough of them.  I want to know more, dammit, I want to see more!  But, I suppose, that’s part of the point of the grand experiment.  Little touches are brought in here and there to encourage further exploration of this marvelous shared world – from the Readers Letters at the start to the cod Victorian advertisements at the back – but whether they are sufficient to motivate you into seeking out the broader narratives remains to be seen.

Personally I found the Reader’s letters a little too expository, but I don’t hold it against them.  It’s a tricky act to tell a story across different mediums, never knowing if people will find all the pieces (or in the right order.)  By and large I think Ayeni, Brotherson and Gyllblad have done a great job, hinting at wider things but keeping Janav’s story sharp-focused and character driven.

The book is a thing of beauty to behold and truly relish in its own right, but don’t stop there.  Once you start to immerse yourself in the the rest of the Clockwork world you’ll appreciate it all the more.  So what are you waiting for?  Time’s ticking…

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

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