Wait…seriously? says the Hypothetical Reader. I’m reading a review of a comic book based on that board game I played maybe twice as a kid and then never thought about it again? To that I say…gosh, I certainly hope so. I put some real time into this, you know?
Look, I get it. I was skeptical myself, but after reading up on all things Clue over the last few days (i.e. I skimmed over all the pertinent bits on Wikipedia), I dunno, I guess curiosity got the best of me. I even pulled an old copy of the board game we had lying around the house to reacquaint myself with the set-up, and I think I have enough now to make this worth your time and mine. So yeah, let’s put on those deerstalker caps and dive in.
So if we’re doing this, let’s say for the sake of argument that you’ve never played a game of Clue. Look, I know that you know how Clue works, but maybe some of these other readers don’t know, eh? Let’s cut them some slack. Cool, so it turns out there’s actually a couple different variations and special editions of this game out there, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll be sticking to the original this time around.
The plot of the game takes place in a mansion with nine rooms. The owner of said mansion has just been found dead; murdered by one of the six guests currently residing at the mansion. Each player chooses one of the guests to play as — characters with short descriptions like “professor” or “big game hunter” — using dice to move around and collecting “clue cards” from the rooms and players along the way. In order to win the game, it’s not enough that a player simply figure out who did it, they also need to know which room the host was killed in and which of the six possible murder weapons was used.
As murder-mysteries go it’s an admittedly thin premise, but on the plus side it means whoever is adapting the tale has a ton of freedom to play around and do their own spin using a classic set-up. The way I see it, there are only a few basic elements one needs to make a decent Clue adaptation:
1.) A Mansion
2.) A Dead Body
3.) Six or Seven Suspects With Funny Names
There’s another element I want to address, but I’ll be keeping that one to myself for a bit longer, maybe save it for some incredibly dramatic reveal towards the end of the review. Anyway, now that we have some of the fundamentals down, let’s take a look at the comic itself.
The story opens on — what else? — a dark and stormy night. Our guests have been invited to an opulent mansion by the mysterious “Mr. Boddy” under the pretense of attending a dinner party, although their host’s true intentions remain frustratingly unclear. What is clear, however, is that none of Mr. Boddy’s guests seem to like each other very much. This is only made worse when a loud BANG! echoes through the halls and the lifeless body of their host is discovered. A pair of detectives are the only ones able to reach the mansion before the storm outside completely floods any way off the property, leaving our cast of curiously colorful characters conspicuously cornered. Alliteration!
In less than thirteen pages, the comic manages to cover all three of the elements I mentioned earlier, leaving plenty of time for the team to tell their own story for the next five-and-a-half issues. That may not seem like a terribly big deal, but keep in mind this is coming from a medium that has gotten a lot of flack in recent times for “decompressing” stories over an absurd number of issues. In any case it’s clear that the publisher didn’t pass this adaptation off to a couple of slouches; this is the work of some dedicated storytellers.
While I’m on the subject — and because I’ve utterly failed to bring them up this entire review — this is as good a time as any to recognize a few of the names behind the scenes: namely artist Nelson Daniel (String Divers, The Cape) and writer Paul Allor (Clockwork, Monstro Mechanica). I confess I was only vaguely familiar with the creative team beforehand but based on this comic alone I can say I was definitely impressed. I’m a pretty hard sell when it comes to picking up books by creators I’m not already familiar with, but the team’s mix of mystery and genuinely clever humor had me glued to the pages right up until the end.
One thing the team got correct right off the bat was expanding on the characters from the game. Admittedly, the creative team only had one or two sentence biographies and a few stock images to draw on for inspiration, it’s not like they had much choice. For this version of Clue the whole story has been updated to fit in a modern day setting, and the cast along with it. While some roles and occupations remain generally the same, such as the professor and the wealthy aristocrat, we also have a United States senator, a CEO of a pharmaceutical company, a toxicologist, and an Australian pop star among the usual suspects. Those are just a few of the more noticeable changes the team adds to the story; there are plenty of smaller details sprinkled in along the way as the truth behind our roster of suspects is slowly uncovered.
That being said, if I had to nitpick, it seemed to me there were often more ideas thrown out than could be fully developed in the time given. I’m not certain if this is intentional or not, especially given that this is a murder-mystery and we’re not supposed to have all the facts, but by the end of the comic I couldn’t help but wish I knew just a bit more about our little band of suspects. Still, everyone in the book gets their own little moment to shine, and ultimately I was content with what I had.
While I won’t be going into exhaustive detail about every single character, there is one in particular I absolutely need to talk about: Upton, the loyal butler to the late Mr. Boddy. Because if your story is already doing the whole “dark and stormy” bit, you’re clearly not above adding a butler to the mix. Upton has a rather…unique perspective, serving as the narrator for the night’s events. Many narrators in tales like this tend to have a more detached and unbiased perspective on things, preferring to stay in the background and offer the occasional insight to move the story along.
Not Upton, though.
Upton is probably the most prominent — and potentially the most divisive — addition that the creative team adds to the story, for reasons that will quickly become apparent to readers. In addition to his usual duties around the estate, Upton regularly breaks the fourth wall to poke fun at the guests, complain about the use of flashbacks as a narrative device, and routinely stops the story altogether to lean out of the panels and chat with the book’s editor Carlos Guzman. As you may have realized by this point, the creators are just as interested in constructing a solid little murder-mystery as they are in deconstructing it.
There are many more examples of this type of humor to be found in Clue, especially as the reader gets closer to the conclusion. Even as the mystery is resolved and all the loose ends are seemingly tied up, Daniel and Allor have one more trick up their sleeves that throws the whole comic off the rails. This is awesome if you’re into Deadpool style “meta humor” — I won’t deny I got a kick out of it — but there was a part of me that felt like the team could have done it in a way that was a little more…Clue-ish?
What do I mean by that? Well, forgive my presumptuousness, but it seems to me that the big idea that the board game revolves around is the idea of possibilities. Do you remember that “mystery element” I mentioned several paragraphs ago? Well, that was uh…yeah, “possibilities” was what I was referring to…before. Sorry gang, as a reveal goes it’s a bit underwhelming, but cut me some slack, it’s my first review of a comic book based on a board game centered around a murder mystery. I’m sure I’ll be aces on the next one.
Anyway, look at the board game: only counting the original version you have six suspects, six murder weapons, and nine rooms. Off the top of your head, do you know how many possible outcomes there are to playing Clue? 324! I mean, of course you knew that already, you read comic books, you are obviously extremely intelligent, but I digress. Anyway, yes, it’s 324 possibilities in the most basic version of the game. Add another suspect to the line-up or throw in another weapon and you’re talking another dozen or so choices on top of that. Yikes.
So then…what am I trying to say here? Should the creative team have constructed a comic with 324 different possible endings? I mean, I guess not, although thinking about it now how amazing would that be if this comic came out as a thousand page monster of a book with a hundred different endings. I don’t know, am I vastly overestimating how much interest there is in a Clue comic? Almost definitely, but I suppose what I was ultimately hoping for was a little more variety in the paths the story could take, if not in the ending then perhaps in the investigation along the way.
This isn’t anything new; at the end of the first issue the comic actually gives us three alternate pages showing us three distinct viewpoints with different characters and different hints at the story to come. I love that, but it only happens for that one issue and then it’s never tried again. Instead the book focuses heavily on meta-humor, which on it’s own is entertaining enough, but I wonder if perhaps the team adapting the property could have explored the “alternate ending” angle a bit more.
Just a random thought, but what if the comic was constructed as more of a “choose your own adventure” style mystery? Instead of releasing six issues and twenty pages at a time, release the full story with maybe a dozen or so possible outcomes. Or alternatively, if you really want to break the fourth wall, maybe include the creative team at the beginning of the story and show them arguing about how to put the comic together, repeatedly changing characters and plot around as they try to figure out how to solve their own mystery. It just seems like the creative team could have done so much more here. With a property that’s so heavily associated with the idea of choice, as it stands the comic seems a bit…limited?
Sorry gang, that came out harsher than I wanted it to; as an adaptation of Clue I suppose it doesn’t work quite as well as it could, but as a fun little standalone mystery that plays with the comic book format I think it works much better. If you’re into murder-mysteries that aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves and feature some solid artwork besides, I’d give Clue: The Graphic Novel a chance.
Well, that’s enough words for now. All this talking about Clue has got me interested in sitting down and actually playing it again. It’s definitely been a while and the family is long overdue for a game night. Speaking of which, are there any board game lovers out there who can recommend some new material? Our current selection is a bit long in the tooth and I really, really don’t want to play Monopoly ever again. Nothing is off the table here.
Game on, Squares!
Clue: The Graphic Novel is available now wherever graphic novels are sold. If possible, please consider supporting your local comic book retailer.
Clue: The Board Game is available to order online and wherever board games are sold. Availability of board games with box art done by Drew freaking Struzan will vary. 😉
Clue is the property of Hasbro Gaming. All images used for the purpose of this review, unless specified, are taken from Clue: The Graphic Novel, which is the property of Nelson Daniel, Paul Allor, IDW Publishing, and Hasbro. I own nothing.