Comics / Steampunk
First of all, I would just like to state that if a comic book wants to win my heart, apparently the best way to do that is to include a recipe for chocolate-caramel tarts in the back. It also doesn’t hurt that Lady Mechanika is the most steampunk of steampunk comics – full of wonderful mechanical creatures, gadgets, dirigibles and other flying gizmos, mad scientists and soldier guys running around looking like the gas-mask zombie Nazis from Suckerpunch. And that our heroine is an android/cyborg/robot girl.
Lady Mechanika is a badass who happens to have mechanical arms and legs, demon-ish red eyes and more gadgets and weapons than any one person should need. She doesn’t remember who created her or where she came from, just that she woke up in a basement surrounded by dead bodies and random limbs some undisclosed amount of time in the past. She now spends her time searching for other mechanical things that might be able to lead her to answers about her past and also rescue mechs in danger of being hunted by the crazy redneck British guys who don’t like mechanicals.
In these three issues we get mostly set up. Lady Mechanika is independent and self-reliant, but has a working relationship with Mr. Lewis, an inventor who supplies her with handy gadgets and might have a tad bit of a crush on her. He’s also a drunk, but whatevs. By the end of #2, our heroine is facing three different bad guys – Lord Blackpool, a scientist who would like to take Mechanika apart, Commander Winter, the leader of Blackpool’s soldiers, and the yet to be really seen Mr. Cain, who might be using black magic to do very evil things. A vast and important history is hinted at between Commander Winter and Lady Mechanika and a previous short encounter with Lord Blackpool make up the events of #0.
The opening spread of issue #0
In this small amount of pages, it’s hard to really create characters, but Benitez at least gives you an idea who all the players are and glimpses of who they might eventually become. There are hints to a much bigger world with much odder creations. This is only scratching the surface of what a wondrous world Benitez has the potential to create. I hope he’s able to realize even a portion of that potential.
Storytelling-wise, it’s nothing really new. There are some basic conflicts, people trying to kill other people, Lady Mechanika trying to swoop in and save the day. Then again, you have to consider that in the first three issues, there are only about 50-60 pages of story. That’s not a lot of room for much plot. Lady Mechanika is a private investigator that, so far, only takes cases that might tie back into her own lost history. It’s hard to get very original in such a short time period with that setup.
The dialogue in #0 hit me as very cliché and full of as many British phrases Benitez (who is American) could think up. He dials it down a little by the time to official story begins, but the overall lessons – of being different, accepting yourself, repressed memories – are nothing new and he’s not addressing them in any new way. But then again, that’s not really the point with this book, is it?
The point is that these are gorgeous books from start to finish. The artwork is clean and uses a lot of sepia tones. This is Victorian London after all, so many images have a foggy texture to the background and there is never really any use of bright colors. Lady Mechanika wears some weird clothes, but her gadgets make sense and are functional so everything flows really well. There were a few instances where something in the illustrations caught me off guard – mostly the giant thighs on Commander Winter – but the details of all the other characters quickly took my attention away from any flaws.
The absolute worst thing about the Lady Mechanika comics? They seem to come out with an issue (around 32 pages, much of which is advertisements) every six months or so. It makes sense, considering Joe Benitez is writing the comic as well as creating the artwork, but seriously? Six months?! Issue #0 – the preview issue that’s a bit of setup to the main storyline but doesn’t explain anything – was released during New York Comic Con in October 2010. Issue #1 followed in February 2011. Issue #2 and the point where I discovered the steampunk joy of Lady Mechanika was released around San Diego Comic Con – July 2011. The next issue seems to have no release date. No wonder I’d never heard of Aspen comics before stumbling upon this.
I can’t confidently rate these books. There’s not enough here to get a full idea of where Benitez is headed and what Lady Mechanika could potentially become. There is so much here that could be explored and twisted into a somewhat unique hero’s journey with all the wonderful gadgets and gizmos that make steampunk so wonderful. Lady Mechanika has all the pieces on the board, now it’s a matter of putting them into interesting configurations. Or you know, just getting some more issues out to the public.
Addition: I just discovered that issue #4 is supposed to be released December 28, 2011, so that must mean #3 should be coming out around the end of the month. I really hope that’s true. Here’s the cover of #4.
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