by Spencer Irwin and Mark Mitchell
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: I made as much fun of the Battleship movie as anyone, as well as of the other movies based off board games (such as Connect Four) announced around the same time, but even so, I’ve got to admit that basing a story off a board game isn’t automatically a bad idea — you just need the right game. The 1985 Clue film found a way to turn the game’s murder mystery concept into a compelling narrative, becoming a cult classic in the process. Can Paul Allor and Nelson Daniel’s new IDW adaptation of the game do the same?
It might be too early to tell, but Clue 1 certainly heads in the right direction. The best decision Allor and Daniel make is updating the cast of characters slightly. While stalwarts like Col. Mustard and Mrs. Peacock remain largely the same, Mr. Green has been reimagined as an expy of perpetually smug and punchable businessman Martin Shkreli, while Miss Scarlett has become an Australian rapper (I assume based on Iggy Azalea?) — there’s also the addition of Dr. Orchid, a character only recently added to the game, bringing the suspect count up to seven (likely to make up for Mrs. Peacock’s death at the issue’s close).
Besides modernizing the somewhat old-fashioned setting of the original game, Allor also seems to be taking care to assemble a roster who can bring different elements to the story. Senator White’s wheelings and dealings appear to be driving much of the behind the scenes plot, Mr. Green creates conflict every time he opens his mouth, and Miss Scarlett is likely intended, on some level, to be comedic relief — at one point Allor and Daniel straight-up use her to make a Scott Pilgrim vs. the World reference.
Allor is also smart to downplay some of the game’s more well-known elements. The film turned even the dinner party into a game of wits in order to introduce all the murder weapons before the murder actually happened. Allor and Daniel aren’t shying away from candlestick and rope references, but they’re letting their importance to the narrative pop up more organically, which I appreciate. The downside is that the dinner itself also feels less important as a result — Mr. Boddy, by the issue’s own admission, is a cipher, making a gathering of such disparate, antagonistic characters feel strange. Upton the butler even fast forwards the narrative past most of the dinner to get the good stuff.
Upton’s ability to break the fourth wall and serve as an omniscient narrator is an interesting touch. The jokes are cute at first (especially when he berates the book’s editor, Carlos Guzman), but, at least for me, grew a bit grating after a while. Humor isn’t Clue 1‘s strongest skill anyway, though at least part of that comes down to the medium — Mr. Boddy’s frantic attempt to stop the arguing at dinner would be a lot funnier on film, where the actors could bring their energy and chemistry to it, but falls kinda flat on the page.
That said, the advantage of Upton’s role is that it allows him to directly address the reader and invite them to play along at home.
We aren’t just watching a story unfold — we’re directly investigating the mystery ourselves by reading the issue, which is a small distinction, but a cool one nonetheless. It goes hand-in-hand with the issue’s gimmick, the random “extra clue” on the back cover. This harkens back to the multiple endings of the Clue film (while the home release includes all three, on its initial release each theater was randomly given one of the three endings), which in turn harkened back to the randomly chosen murderer in the actual board game. These are both smart ways to honor Clue‘s roots and incorporate some more game-esque elements into the issue while still allowing room for this version of the story to play out on its own terms.
I’ll be interested to see how well these elements end up being executed, though. At this point it’s too early to try to solve the mystery or start putting together clues — which is a problem with serialized mysteries in general, not just Clue, but is exasperated a bit by this series’ specifically inviting its readers to play along — so it’s hard to know how much those extra clues on the back page are going to help, or if this is really even going to be a mystery readers have a chance to solve on their own.
So yeah Mark, that’s why I say it’s a bit too early to tell how successful this series will ultimately be, but I do think it’s off to a strong start, and it’s making a lot of smart choices in order to make Clue feel modern, yet still distinctly Clue. What are your thoughts on the matter? And hey, have you ever actually played a game of Clue? My parents played a lot when I was a kid, but always sent me out of the room because I constantly asked questions about the rules (to which I never understood the answers), so I’ve never actually had the pleasure.
Mark: I love the game Clue. As far as the “traditional” board games go — Monopoly, Sorry!, Battleship, etc — the only one I can stand is Clue. There was a time in my early 20’s where I was playing classic Clue and the remixed Electronic Clue multiple times a week. Plus, I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie’s closed-room murder mysteries like Mousetrap, And Then There Were None, and Murder on the Orient Express, so a comic book based on Clue is right in my lane.
Unfortunately, Clue 1 didn’t really work for me. The problem, I think, comes down to the story lacking a strong central mystery. Since Clue is based on the board game we expect the story to turn on the question of who murdered Mr. Boddy, but Allor is intent on subverting those expectations by immediately revealing the murderer to be Mrs. Peacock. Instead, it’s the unanticipated murder of Mrs. Peacock at the end of the issue that seems to be the most important event in the issue.
It’s impossible to tell how much weight we should assign to either murder, really, because so little is made of them. For one, the characters barely react to either death. In the aftermath of Mr. Boddy being shot, we’re treated to a single panel dedicated to everyone looking momentarily concerned.
But after that brief moment passes, the plot barrels forward without sparing any time for individual reactions or accusations — a vital moment in any murder mystery. How can we determine who our prime suspects are without knowing how everyone feels about Mr. Boddy?
Yet that’s more than can be said for the death of Mrs. Peacock, a murder which lacks the intended shock factor thanks to its confusing presentation. One moment we’re shown a single panel of Mrs. Peacock sitting alone in a dark room, handcuffed to a chair and…smoking a cigarette? Firing a gun? Holding a flashlight that is giving off a ludicrous amount of lens flare?
And then, after a brief diversion somewhere else in the house, a scream rings out. We return to the dark room to find Mrs. Peacock slumped over, a puddle of blood under her lifeless arm.
Was she murdered? That’s the implication, but once again you wouldn’t know it from the way characters react. Upton’s omniscient position means he’s completely unphased, so the strongest reaction we get is a merely sarcastic “What is going on in this mansion?” from a cop who — wait, how did the cops get to the mansion so fast, anyway? We never see anyone call them, and they seem to be on their way immediately after Mrs. Peacock is apprehended by Col. Mustard. I can intuit the missing pieces, but there’s never any indication that a significant amount of time has passed between one event and another.
All told, Clue 1 feels like a missed opportunity in other ways (part of the game’s cultural cache is the iconic locations in the mansion — the study, the billiard room, the kitchen, etc — but, despite making cursory appearances in the issue, nothing of substance is done with this aspect of the IP), but it’s the lack of a compelling central mystery that really stalls the interest I had going into the issue. Perhaps as the story unfolds and more clues are revealed, there will be a greater sense of urgency, but the key to writing a great mystery is knowing when to reveal vital information and when to play things close to the chest. In that regard, Clue 1 misses the mark.
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