Spoiler warning: This review covers the first two issues of Oxymoron and contains mild spoilers.
Story by Tyler James and John Lees
Written by John Lees
Illustrated by Alex Cormack
Many modern comics tend to pander to the lowest common denominator. I sometimes read a comic and can’t help but feel that the minds behind it are afraid of creating a work that’s too challenging. They opt to spoon-feed the reader instead. But I was hungry for an intelligent, uncompromising and complex comic . Oxymoron was that comic.
In many ways, Oxymoron is a descendant of Nolan’s The Dark Knight. At least on the surface.
It revisits some of the themes from the movie. Arbitrary chaos versus order. A puckish villain poking fun at the flawed power structure of a city already under siege from other factors. Apparently random acts of violence that are all part of a larger plan.
However, the first two issues lack something that was central to The Dark Knight. And that is a Dark Knight. But this is conscious choice of writers Tyler James and John Lees. By not immediately including a superhero, Oxymoron makes the threat posed by the titular character far more immediate.
This is not a villain pitting himself against his super-hero foil. This is a maniac or a visionary pitting himself against the system itself. His main adversary (and comic’s POV character) is disgraced detective, Mary Clark.
The modern day incarnation of Batman protects the system by working outside it. He’s aided in this by the fact that he has nearly limitless resources and a body honed to the pinnacle of physical perfection. Mary on the other hand is a pariah among her fellow cops and has been betrayed by her own body. She has an auto-immune disorder known as Addison’s Disease. The character was obviously crafted as the deliberate mirror-image of Bruce Wayne. She’s black, female and apparently forced to work within the system.
But if she’s our substitute for Batman, then who is the Joker?
That role is fulfilled by The Oxymoron himself. His design is meant to be reminiscent of The Joker yet still manages to be original. Unlike The Joker, The Oxymoron wears a mask, leaving the reader guessing about his true identity. Is his alter-ego someone already introduced in the story? Will his face one day be revealed or should we consider the mask his real face?
By choosing to mask himself, The Oxymoron renders himself at once anonymous and larger than life. While the red lips and sinister smile call to mind The Joker, The Oxymoron’s focus and political awareness reminded me of V from V For Vendetta. Like V, The Oxymoron is aware of the social impact of his actions and like V, he seems to have a grand design.
Whereas The Joker simply relishes causing chaos, The Oxymoron is intent of causing a social shift and that’s what makes him such a fascinating character. The reader is curious about his ultimate goal and his obsession with Mary Clark.
It’s also a pleasure to read about an intelligent villain. Too often pop culture resorts to shock tactics to cover sloppy writing and lack of character motivation. It’s easier to show a villain slicing up a child than plotting and successfully executing an elaborate plan.
The Oxymoron is shown as a mixture of chess-master and maniac. He’s able to manipulate people into doing his bidding, play on human emotions to achieve his ends and yet still get his hands dirty when he feels the need.
The comic is undeniably bloody yet it never feels gratuitous. This series is a meditation on violence, fear and panic and how they shape our lives and perceptions. This is a story about the consequences of one’s choices. Without the violent panels, the comic would feel anemic. Scenes depicting a massacre in a movie theater or the broken corpse of a jumper are necessary because they give weight to the game of choice and consequence.
The writing is excellent. The comic is superbly paced, the characters are well-developed and best of all, the writers never feel the need to dumb down their work. The writing is lean – there’s no superfluous fat. Every piece of dialogue serves a purpose, whether it’s to share necessary information with the readers or give us insight into a character’s mindset. Character interaction is well-crafted and believable, ranging from the heartfelt to the chilling.
The artwork is perfect for this kind of procedural drama/thriller. Alex Cormack delivers pages that are simple to follow yet carry a punch. The characters look alive. There’s an immediacy to his art that transports the reader into the heart of every scene.
I couldn’t help but feel that this is a series fueled by a great deal of anger. I for one welcome this. Tyler James and John Lees are angry at the system, angry at a world that rewards corruption and angry at a public too apathetic to care.
This anger works because they’ve harnessed it to create a well-structured, carefully planned work. Oxymoron melds genuine outrage with disciplined craftsmanship. Like The Oxymoron himself, the comic has a larger goal in mind.
As for the main antagonist….well, he may just be destined to take his place among the great villains and anti-heroes of pop culture. It won’t be long before collectors place his figurine between that of The Joker and V from V For Vendetta.