Clue: Candlestick #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Dash Shaw
Editor: David Hedgecock
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $4.99 US
Clue is something of a dichotomous piece of our pop culture history. Though certainly not as well known a board game as, say, Monopoly, there’s something about it that has allowed it to insinuate itself, almost subtly, into the collective consciousness. Its success strikes me as odd, since it’s a child’s game about murder, but it’s definitely stood the test of time. It’s both obscure and familiar all at once, and even inspired a film years ago. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see this comic-book adaptation of the game property, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’m pleased I perused its pages, though, as cartoonist Dash Shaw offers a surreal examination of human intellect, obsession and emotion. This comic book embraces the classic elements of its inspiration even as it deconstructs and satirizes them, while also challenging the reader with its experimental approach to the comics medium and human nature.
Antiquities expert Prof. Plum receives a mysterious, coded invitation to the home of a man for whom he authenticated an ancient murder weapon, and upon his arrival, he encounters a collection of eccentric personalities who’d similarly aided the wealthy client. Discussion turns to the darker side of humanity, only for the evening to be upended by the murder of one of those present, prompting paranoia and investigation among those left standing.
Shaw’s artwork here is fascinating. He employs different styles to convey different concepts. Secondary characters and flashbacks are rendered in a much simpler, basic way, signalling their lack of importance to the main plot and themes. The main characters — the host, the servant and the five guests — are presented at times in an almost photorealistic manner, but there’s also something surreal and distorted to their looks at time that’s in keeping with the off-kilter tone of the plot and script.
Color is obviously an important element here, as Shaw takes his cues from the original game. The characters take their names and looks from colors, and the cartoonist employs muted, almost unnatural shades of those colors throughout the comic. He even brings the classic game elements — from the layout of the board to the game pieces representing the characters — into the mix. That meta approach puts the audience even more off balance while at the same time piquing its interest with these unusual, though logical, visual choices.
Plum is cast in the role of both the most obvious and least obvious suspect in the story. He’s our introduction to this plot, and as such, seems the most grounded and centered of the lot, unlikely to be our killer. But at the same time, the notion that he’s the least likely suspect drives the reader to suspect him all the more, and then there’s the fact that he might have the greatest opportunities to commit the crimes depicted. Shaw captures the fun of the game nicely.
However, the main point of this comic is the game or murder, but rather an exploration of the human condition. Ultimately, Shaw’s central theme here isn’t the darkness of the human heart, but a pervasive sense of loneliness and isolation. Every man and woman in the story appears to be an island, many craving for some kind of connection but being denied it, chiefly by their own shortcomings. Shaw’s script is meticulously crafted, conveying the intellect, curiosity and awareness of these odd characters. 8/10