CLOCKWORK LIVES / Writers: Kevin J Anderson, Neil Peart / Artists: GMB Chomichuk, Tom Hodges, Vic Malhotra, Tony Perna, Moy R, Benjamin Roboly, Vicente Vegas / Colorists: Adrian Crossa, Alba Cardona / Letterer: A Larger World Studios / Publisher: Insight Comics / Publication Date: June 26, 2018
Before sitting down to read Clockwork Lives, I knew I needed to do a bit of homework first. The Clockwork series actually began life as an album, written by Neil Peart and performed by Rush—with whom Peart has performed since 1974. The album, Clockwork Angels, consists of lyrics chronicling the history of the land of Albion, a steampunk world inhabited by carnies, the Seven Cities of Gold, and the nefarious, overbearing Anarchist. The album could be best described as a sort of musical audiobook, making it no small wonder it eventually spawned a novelization in 2012. The novel was adapted into a graphic novel in 2014, which also produced a sequel, Clockwork Lives.
This brings us to 2018 and the long-awaited adaptation of that sequel, which itself was an of the album, Clockwork Angels. Unfortunately for this writer, all of that research proved rather pointless as Clockwork Lives stands on it’s own, both as a sequel and as an adaptation. None of that prior reading is necessary to enjoy this book, nor is it even necessary to read the previous graphic novelization, Clockwork Angels, to understand the story.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t really enjoy the first graphic novel, Clockwork Angels. It read as though the source material had been stretched too thin, and the dialogue seemed somewhat stilted and stiff at times. That said, the world that Neil Peart created is it’s primary saving grace. Background characters and the backstories of the ancillary cast would have made for a more interesting read over the meandering story of Owen Hardy. Fortunately, these background characters are exactly what Clockwork Lives chooses to focus on.
Clockwork Lives reads more like a compilation of short stories than a novel, jumping from character to character through each chapter. While it does have a main character, Marinda Peake, her role in the story is that of an author for other people’s stories. While she has her own motives and drives, they ultimately exist as a narrative conceit. Each chapter focuses on the backstory of a new character that Marinda chronicles in her book, also titled Clockwork Lives. Due to the nature of this plot device, your own personal mileage may vary from story to story. Of those smaller stories, I enjoyed “The Bookseller’s Tale” and “The Seeker’s Tale” most, simply for their sheer originality, but you’ll undoubtedly have a different favourite given there are twelve to choose from.
With each chapter comes not only a different character’s story but a different artist as well. Tony Perna, however, draws every scene featuring Marinda, giving him a hand in drawing each chapter. All of the chapters are coloured by Adrian Crossa, regardless of who’s doing the pencils and the inking, giving the book a consistent tone. Perna’s artwork is competent and consistent enough, if not a little uninspiring, but the same cannot be said unfortunately of Crossa’s colouring.
At times, Crossa’s work is vivid and bright with an inspired choice of palette and tone. Though, despite neatly tying each chapter together, it does little to save some of the poorer penciling work in the book’s lesser chapters. Chapters like “The Fortune Teller’s Tale” seem amateurish in sections, with block-shaped characters and scruffy pencil work. On the opposite side of the spectrum, chapters like “The Sea Captain’s Tale” allow Crossa’s work to excel. Vicente Vegas’ pencil and ink work is not amazing by any standard, but the neat lines and keen use of space allow the colours of Crossa to shine through. Overall, the art is very much a mixed bag, but it’s to be expected given the the nature of the book. At no point was it bad enough to stop me in my tracks, but at no point was it amazing either.
Clockwork Lives is a difficult graphic novel to score. The inconsistent tone results in frequent spikes and drops in quality, both in art and narrative. One would not envy Kevin J Anderson’s colossal task of adapting Clockwork Lives into a graphic novel, but for the most part, he succeeds in faithfully bringing the world of Albion to life. Whilst Neil Peart’s steampunk world isn’t lacking in imagination or inventive settings, it does lack the kind of finesse and quality of a more seasoned author. Anderson does his best to iron out the kinks but without defiling Peart’s vision. At its best, Clockwork Lives is an extremely inventive and quirky affair. Even at its lowest points, it is still competently written and illustrated, and it is a definite improvement on its predecessor.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5
Lewis loves Nightwing more than you ever will, so keep your filthy hands away from him. If he’s not delving into his insanely long back catalogue, Lewis is likely getting bodied in a fighting game or tweeting something pointless.