Spoiler warning: This review covers the fourth and final issue of Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare and contains some spoilers.
Story by Tyler James and John Lees
Written by John Lees
Illustrated by Alex Cormack
As any author will tell you, creating a suitable climax, one that ties the red thread of narrative together, is difficult. Many stories begin with great promise and end with a whimper rather than a bang. Others rely on over-the-top actions sequences to distract from their lack of emotional payoff.
Thus I approached the final issue of Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Fortunately my concerns proved to be unfounded. Tyler James and John Lees manage to carefully craft a finale that is both satisfying and believable.
These writers are able to convey emotions through minimal dialogue and well-staged scenes. The tension between the characters has the reader on the edge of their seat and it’s achieved without resorting to the cliches so common in comic-book showdowns. The pacing, an Achilles’ Heel for many independent works, is deftly handled. Each scene ups the stakes. By the time we reach the finale, we’re as tense as the protagonist Mary Clark.
This issue also gives Alex Cormack a chance to show his artistic range. His style manages to shine whether he’s depicting a deranged mob, weeping widow or a claustrophobic car ride with the Oxymoron. The character expressions are especially well-rendered this issue. Despite such minimalistic linework, the key panels still succeed in evoking dread, sympathy and fear in the reader.
The first three issues have been a roller-coaster ride, an addictive buzz that came from reading this clever blend of social commentary and visceral scenes.
But the heart of this series was always the conflict between the protagonist Mary Clark and her nemesis, the Oxymoron.
I recall a lecture on storytelling from my days as a bright-eyed student. “Stories can be divided into two kinds,” my lecturer informed us, “a story about an extraordinary person trapped in an ordinary world or a story about an ordinary person forced to become extraordinary because of extraordinary circumstances.”
Compared to the Oxymoron, Mary Clark is an ordinary person with a valuable but far-from-unique skill set. The Oxymoron fixates on her, hoping to use trauma to mold her into the opponent he desires. He views her as incomplete – crude material he can manipulate into an adversary worthy of him.
His method of doing so reveals the fatal flaw in his plan and character. The Oxymoron may be brilliant and unpredictable but he is also limited. He is a static character, incapable of growth or radical change. He is a catalyst only. He can inspire fear or madness in others but he himself cannot change. This limits him and leads to his satisfying downfall.
The Oxymoron’s biggest problem is his tendency to think in symbols. It makes sense since he’s turned himself into one. By traumatizing Mary Clark, he hopes to create a complementary symbol – a yin to his yang. Throughout the story, he engineers events designed to push her into a redemption arc. Since she’s damaged goods, he tries to force her to deny that damage by seeking out redemption as a heroic figure.
Instead, Mary embraces the damage and trauma she’s suffered. This makes her someone who can take down the Oxymoron using his own methods.
It’s a compliment to the writing that we never lose sympathy for Mary. If anything, the average reader will cheer her on. Her decisions and her actions, while often gruesome, feel wholly justified and believable. She’s more relatable than a superhero who always takes the moral high road, whose integrity never falters no matter what.
Mary acknowledges her own pain and that’s what allows her to triumph. She realizes that playing the hero would grant the Oxymoron victory, no matter the outcome. The only way to truly win is to play the game on her terms, not his.
It’s interesting that she still manages to achieve a degree of redemption in this issue. Indeed, she almost seems to be a deliberate foil to heroes who can never move past Saturday-morning-cartoon morality. By getting her hands dirty, Mary shows that she’s ready to embrace the duality of the world. She becomes a living oxymoron – a moral woman prepared to spill blood for the greater good.
She concludes the personal journey she began in issue #1 and that’s what makes this final issue so satisfying. People may have been drawn into this series by the madcap antics of the titular character. But this issue makes it clear that this has always been Mary Clark’s story.