Creator-owned comics have always existed, but recent years have seen a new surge in writers leaving Marvel and DC to pursue their own projects and receive proper compensation. Scott Snyder rose to fame thanks to his and Greg Capullo’s Batman run during DC Comics’ New 52 era, and after a succession of cosmic stories like DC Metal, he jumped ship over to Amazon’s Comixology Originals. Through his Best Jackett imprint, Snyder is in the process of launching eight comics, each featuring their own artist like Jock, Jamal Igle, and Tula Lotay.
Thus far, only three have been released: Night Of The Ghoul, with artist Francesco Francavilla; We Have Demons, reuniting him with longtime collaborator Capullo; and Clear with Francis Manapul, whom Snyder previously worked with during Justice League: No Justice. Demons and Ghoul are both about horror, a genre with which Snyder became intimately familiar during his DC tenure. But Clear puts the writer in the realm of sci-fi, more specifically cyberpunk—and it’s far and away the standout title.
The setting is 2052 San Francisco, and people have access to technology called Veils that gives them an Instagram-style filter through which to view the entire world around them, such as the 1980s, or a world filled by zombies. For protagonist Sam Dunes, he uses the Veil to see things as is, through the “Clear” setting. That reveal early into the first issue makes him an ideal audience surrogate to investigate the death of his ex-wife Kendra, her passing having been written off as a suicide.
Snyder is very much playing the detective hits here, from Sam forming a connection with a high society damsel, to his cop best friend, to a black-market Veil dealer known only as “the Widow.” Clear’s vision of San Francisco three decades from now feels very much lived-in, worn away while still vibrating with energy, thanks in no small part to the citizens viewing everything through filters. Because Veils are individual to a specific person and can’t be shared, it makes the moments where we get glimpses into how others see the world—and how the world looks through Sam’s view—all the more illuminating. Unlike much of the work that came to define Snyder’s time at DC, Clear doesn’t try to overreach and go big: Sam’s dilemma is specific to San Francisco and its people, and is all the better for it as he tries to figure out his role in this city.
It doesn’t hurt that the book is gorgeous to look at; Snyder found a great collaborator in Manapul. Perhaps best known for his own Flash run with Brian Buccellato in the New 52 days, Manapul’s vibrant art style proves to be a perfect fit for cyberpunk detective noir. He’s given ample opportunity to play with color throughout the book, which really comes alive when allowed to provide more than a fleeting glance at a person’s Veil. A motorcycle chase in the first issue sees Sam experience multiple Veils all running together at once and bleeding into each other, which is simultaneously trippy fun and nightmarishly jarring.
In the penultimate issue, Sam makes a shocking discovery, which changes the book’s art yet again: All the color gets sapped out in favor of a depressing black and white, with the red of his tie and mask serving as the only real splashes of brightness. With Sam’s goal being to force all of San Francisco’s citizens to confront a hard truth, it feels like Snyder and Manapul know exactly how to bring Sam’s story to a close. Whether the next issue is the end of Clear for good or there’s more story to tell later on, the two men have made one of Comixology Originals’ strongest books; it’ll be exciting to see what creator-owned work they pursue next.