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Clockwork Angels

It's times like these that I wish I would ape the style of some other online reviewers and employ a rating system. After all, the world isn't black and white; it's more of a 1 through 10 kind of deal. It would be easier to say that a book that didn't really sparkle and didn't completely satisfy my three-color preferences, could be called a "6" because it had some good and memorable bits that I enjoyed, rather then saying "don't buy this." This whole recommending bit comes down to basically my opinion versus the comic reading community (well, the part of the community that likes whatever book I'm panning…) So why don't I just give books that are "okay" but not "great" a nice round "5" or "6"?

Because, damnit: comics should never be just "okay".

Comics are the ultimate medium: a perfect (most of the time) fusion of the visual and aesthetic aspects of Art and expressive and allegorical power of Literature. If a movie and a novel had a kid, it would be a comic book.

I bring this up because I really would have liked to give Lea Hernandez's Clockwork Angels a better review, but sadly, I just can't do it.

Temperance is young woman in 1897, plying her trade as a magician and traveling with her life long friend Amy in an effort to escape her past and criminal family. But Temperance's "magic" isn't limited to parlor tricks and long-eared mammals; Temperance can read the minds of the recently dead. When she is asked to read the mind of someone called the Mad Machinist, Temperance becomes embroiled in a nightmare that involves a pact made with a demon, Amy's own mystical past, and a small town called Heaven with some secrets of its own.

There's a lot here that Hernandez deserves credit for, among which is the interesting setting. It's been called "steampunk," but I failed to see the high level of technology that is supposed to accompany the multi-tiered genre of 1880s/sci-fi/western in order to qualify, so call it fantasy with a touch of the old west. Coyotes can talk and there's literally a bunch of jackalopes running around. They're horse-sized, deer-horned rabbits and people ride them. It's a hoot.

Problems arise with Hernandez's characters. The fact is that there are a touch too many that get introduced rather haphazardly. While Temperance and Amy are both okay characters and we get early indications of both their friendship and their budding romance, other characters are severely lacking. The villain of the piece, the demon Sacerdote (this was the most "evil" sounding name we could come up with? Wendell the Tap Dancing Demon was taken?), is introduced to us in a boring panel, where he runs into Amy in a hallway.

What kind of entrance is that? Where's the drama? Where's the fear one should have for the characters as they have to face this demon? Sacerdote never does any killing in the book, though we get told several times that he's the worst killer around. While I realize that this book is meant to appeal to a younger and female audience, it's a visual medium and showing us why Sacerdote is so feared works much better than just telling us about it. The kiddies can take a little blood spray here and there. They get plenty of it on the news.

In fact, that's one of Hernandez's problems: she spends too much time on exposition, and half the time, it's not as much in-depth as it is long and simply a chore to read. In the middle of the book, an entire three pages is devoted to nothing but text and some side illustrations in the upper or lower corners. While it explains the connection between Amy and Sacerdote (it's not supposed to entirely, but it's pretty obvious who the "red-haired sister" is), it's a dead stop to the reader. Up until this point, we'd had a small build up where we didn't know what was going on, but it was interesting to guess at what the connections each character had to one another.

But instead of letting the reader piece it together, Hernandez chucks a huge chunk of exposition at the reader, which basically fills in the cracks of the story and answers too many questions. If Alan Moore had told me exactly how Watchmen puzzled together halfway through, what would have been the point?

All the other characters are either of such little consequence to the events of the story, or are introduced so fast and seemingly without point or explanation, that speaking of them almost wastes my keyboard. The exception would be Temperance's uncle, who gets a lot of page time, but ends up being a very minor character in the final analysis. Out of all the characters though, I did like what Hernandez did with him the most: he was also fighting the stigma of his criminal family, but doing so as an investigator and was in the process of investigating a murder when he got caught up in the plot. I would have liked to see more done with him.

The art is mostly terrible. There's no mincing words here, it's just that bad. Hernandez subscribes to the Amerimanga style, but does it so sloppily that there are times when looking at the art is just too difficult. Some visuals blend together too easily and I find it hard to distinguish background from foreground. Characters look almost identical, especially in the case of Temperance and Amy. I couldn't tell who was talking to whom unless a word balloon held a name or a reference that pointed to which of them was speaking. At one point, I was squinting and turning back some pages to figure out whose hair was up and who's was down, just so I could follow a conversation. It's a little better for the men since they all wear different suits and have dissimilar hair, but even they suffer from a bad case of cloning.

The book would have benefited greatly from some color, and as I look at the cover, I realize I would have appreciated the art more if it had been as lovingly rendered as on the cover, with both Amy and Temperance in full color. The inking isn't crisp and doesn't help the already shoddy penciling.

One thing I do like about the art is Hernandez's good eye for the cinematic shot. Many of her pages are laid out as movie shots: low-angle, high-angle, long shots, etc. It really adds a level to the artwork. Hernandez could be a great visual storyteller in the vein of Chyna Clugston-Major and Jill Thompson, if she could polish up her character and background work.

In all fairness, this is a sequel to Hernandez's first work Cathedral Child, and some of the problems I had with the plot might have been assuaged had I read the first one, but just because it's a sequel is no reason that it shouldn't be able to stand on its own. I dislike giving this book a bad review only because I don't want to sour anyone towards Hernandez and what she's trying to accomplish. We need more women in this industry: one Devon Grayson to every hundred Chuck Dixons is not a good ratio. And we also need books that appeal to females because manga is winning them over.

I hate to say it, but Clockwork Angels is not worth the $10.95 Image is selling it for. It's an okay book. It should have been a great book.

Robert Sparling

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