Canadian rock band Rush released their "Clockwork Angels" album two years ago, a concept album based on an idea by drummer Neil Peart. Author Kevin J. Anderson reaches the halfway point of his comic book adaptation of this story with "Clockwork Angels" #3, a pleasingly subdued take on the idea that's lavishly painted and envisioned by artist Nick Robles.
Peart's story is one of young, adventure-craving farm boy Owen Hardy who grows up in a society governed by The Watchmaker -- the controller of nearly everything, even the weather, in a tightly regimented social structure. The populace, though, seems largely happy, or at least content, except for the restless Owen and the troublesome Anarchist, a mysterious figure who repeatedly creates social disruptions as a means to rebell against The Watchmaker's imposed will.
The Clockwork Angels themselves are the mechanical but hypnotic creations of The Watchmaker that serve as the public face of his message to the people. In this issue, Owen's wanderlust has brought him into the company of a travelling carnival show, which gives him the means to finally see the Clockwork Angels in person. Owen's character has a kind of refreshing, optimistic naïveté, summed up in his fascination with Clockwork Angels, but seemingly oblivious to their message of order and structure even as his own mindset and actions belie the very message being preached to him.
It's a journey of self-discovery for Owen, who has found a home on the road and strikes up a pseudo-relationship with one of the troupe's performers, but he still has no sense of true purpose, especially after he's ultimately rejected by Francesca near the end of the issue. Owen's proposal doesn't come as a big surprise, other than by its sudden presentation, and equally quick dismissal, in the span of a mere two panels. It's a jarring shift that discombobulates the remainder of the issue as much as it does Owen, and his wanderlust just turns into plain aimlessness. The issue just kind of melts after that, and the orchestrated storyline turns into what feels more like a random jam session.
Anderson's storytelling tone follows that often seen in European graphic novels; there's a sense of deliberate emotional distance. It's not distance from the characters, but from the narrative, where the emotional extremes are clipped; quiet moments aren't overbearing with a pervasive sense calmness or serenity, and action scenes don't leap off the page with any kind of heart-stopping excitement. The mood shifts are there, but tempered, and this smoothing out of the story's expressive content doesn't come across as any kind of flaw or shortcoming, but instead a curious oddity, at worst; the story doesn't suffer from the lack of any kind of drastic emotional change, but it might be a little off-putting to some.
Robles' world is a kind of alternate turn-of-the-20th-century Western European setting, a world not unlike our own in that era save for the slight pseudo-steampunk vibe that The Watchmaker and his elaborate creations evoke. If there's such a thing as a friendly totalitarian world, then the one envisioned by Robles and Anderson is it; the people in it might not have control of their lives, but they certainly have learned to cope, if not adjust to it, or even embrace it. Every page is lush with soft lines and rich colors, not the usual stark black and white or washed out greys that a world without free will is often portrayed with. It's a refreshing touch that gives this issue, as it has the series, a likeability factor that a colder environment might not have. The frequent Orwellian catchphrases run a little thin, though.
"Clockwork Angels" #3 is part of an enticing story developed by Peart that's pleasantly and colorfully brought to life visually by Anderson and Robles. Rush fans will appreciate this interpretation of their most recent album, and those unfamiliar with the band will have no problem getting into or following it.