Spoiler warning: This review covers the third issue of Oxymoron and contains some spoilers.
Story by Tyler James and John Lees
Written by John Lees
Illustrated by Alex Cormack
Fiction can be a powerful thing. It always annoys me when someone describes a work of art, game, or comic as “just a work of fiction,” whether to dismiss its merits or to excuse its flaws. In either case this is disrespectful to both the creators and their audience.
Because fiction impacts our lives and emotions, I’m still punch-drunk and reeling from the latest issue of Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare.
I’m old-fashioned enough to be thoroughly disturbed by the brutal bludgeoning of a female character. Yet I can still admire the execution, symbolism and creative choices behind the scene. This character is killed not simply by The Oxymoron but by those who treat her demise as a spectacle. Her death scene recalls a scene from Punisher Max where the title character beats a female brothel owner to death.
However, in Punisher Max, we’re meant to celebrate Frank Castle’s actions (although I doubt many readers could stomach them, let alone justify them.) The scene in Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare #3 and the escalating violence throughout this issue serve a different purpose.
The first two issues of this comic set up The Oxymoron as a possible antihero, the kind of man who uses violence to achieve necessary social upheaval. But his choice of victims in this issue is designed to destroy the readers’ sympathy for him. He is revealed to be a monster–a complicated, fascinating monster, but hardly a sympathetic one.
Instead, our sympathies now lie wholly with Detective Mary Clark. She really gets put through the wringer in this issue. Both her strength and integrity are revealed – The Oxymoron makes it clear that she’s the heroic counterpart to his villainous self.
It’s also refreshing to see a female protagonist brutalized through proxies. This is a common fictional trope when it comes to male protagonists. Girlfriends and lovers of male pop culture protagonists are almost guaranteed to end up kidnapped or else murdered. Whereas female protagonists are almost always brutalized themselves (for example, Lara Croft in the recent Tomb Raider game.) So it was an interesting choice to have the villain attack the men who matter to Mary rather than Mary herself.
Both Tyler James and John Lees have proven themselves to be masters of the unexpected. Their writing skills are on full display in this issue. The dialogue remains a pleasure to read. Character interactions range from the touching to the terrifying. Each scene is well-crafted, blending elements of Grand-Guignol with procedural drama.
The fact that this comic carries such an impact speaks volumes about the quality of the writing. Days after reading it, I still feel haunted. It’s a truly harrowing piece of work that manages to get under your skin without resorting to shock tactics.
The art continues to delight. Stylistically, it’s ideal for this type of story. This particular issue introduces more surreal elements than we’ve seen so far, and Alex Cormack does an admirable job of incorporating them into the (overall realistic) urban setting. Using lighting reminiscent of classic horror movies, he manages to evoke deep feelings of dread in key scenes.
I await the next issue with bated breath.