Friday, June 30, 2017

Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez

Lady Mechanika
by Joe Benitez

Lady Mechanika is a steampunk adventure comic set in an alternate history Victorian England, first published in 2015 by Aspen MLT. Aspen MLT was founded in 2003 by comic book artist Michael Turner, it's lead comic is Fathom, which I may or may not review one day. The comic itself however is creator owned under Benitez Productions. As for Mr. Benitez himself, he is an American comic writer and artist born on May 21, 1971. He's mostly worked for Top Cow Comics, but has also done work for DC Comics. In addition to Lady Mechanika, he was the co-creator of Weapon Zero (a science fiction superhero comic) and the creator of the Wraithborn comic, which is urban fantasy originally published by DC Comics but now by Mr. Benitez in a redux form; but let's focus on the comic we're here to review shall we?

Lady Mechanika is a cyborg with amnesia. She was found in a cellar surrounded by dead bodies with no memories of anything that happened before. Through a series of utterly unexplored and only vaguely referenced events in this graphic novel, she managed to make a name for herself as an adventurer, private detective, and problem solver. The character has a distinctive style of dress that was very inspired by Kate “Kato” Lambert, a British ex-pat to the US, who is a fairly successful fashion designer and model with a heavy steampunk bent. Ms. Lambert started designing outfits with a Neo-Victorian and Post Apocalypse style in 2004 and founded her own company in 2007. I do need to warn any readers that if you look the lady up, not all of her pictures are safe for work so please keep that in mind. The comic itself however is fairly smut free. You might think I'm being pretty sparse when talking about the character herself and that's because... There's not much tell. To be blunt we don't get to know Lady Mechanika very well in this story. I know she's lacking memories of her creation and is very driven to correct that. She has a friendship of sorts with a man named Lewis who invents things for her to use on her jobs but I don't know why they're friends or how the relationship developed. It's all left a mystery in favor of pushing the adventure. Let's talk about that.

When a young lady dies after exiting a train that has just arrived at Mechanika City (we'll come back to this) that's a tragic mystery. Especially when no one knows who she is or when she got on the train. Throw on top of this that she was clad in rags and looks like she had fought off several attackers and it's a matter for the police. Add on that her arms were mechanical claws that she clearly wasn't born with and that gets Lady Mechanika's attention. This sends her on an investigation to track down the young lady's origin and find who did this to her and why. This means raiding the Ministry of Health (which seems to perform its function in a manner straight from Orwell's nightmares) for the body, to hunting down clues in a Gypsy circus and of course a confrontation on a giant airship (this is steampunk after all and in steampunk you never apologize for a giant airship... Nor should you.). This leads us to meeting a cast of characters that... We end up learning more about then we do our title character (YES THIS BOTHERS ME!), whether it be Gitano, the member of the circus who joins her quest or the Lady Katherine De Winter, Countess of St. Germains and bearer of the 7th key of the inner collective (no, we don't get to find out what this means), an evil redhead that has a history with our main character and likely served as a mentor at one point but this is referred to only in an oblique manner and a few others I won't mention to prevent spoilers.

The art is very good in this comic, despite a heavy preference for dark colors in a lot of scenes, there's enough variety in shading and colors that I never had trouble telling what was going on. There's also little chance of getting characters mixed up, which has happened to me on some independent comics, Mr. Benitez makes sure that each character has distinct visual characteristics that set them apart. The action is also very well captured, which can be a problem in a static medium like a comic book. So whatever problems the comic has it's not the art or the character design (although I think Lady Mechanika could stand to look less like a playboy model who got lost). Additionally the dialogue is fairly workmanlike, Lady Mechanika speaks in a light Victorian style voice, enough that I am reminded that she is not a modern character and that I never feel that she's a transplant from the 21st century. The same goes for the other characters, who are also given distinct verbal cues, so I never mix them up. My main problem is that the plot goes so damn fast that I still struggle to come up with ways to describe the title character of the book beyond a one sentence archetype, the same goes for Lewis her back up character. I've made this complaint before and I'll make it again, slow down on the plot so I can actually met and get to know the characters. I think part of the problem is I picked up volume I of Lady Mechanika expecting something of an origin story of sorts and Mr. Benitez has decided to skip that and just start Media Res (which is a fancy way of saying in the middle of the action). You can certainly start that way if you like but then it becomes even more vital for you to slow down and focus on the characters for a moment or five. We also have enough mystery to fill an oil tanker thrown at us but no answers, which is honestly frustrating, because a complete story (and I maintain a graphic novel should tell us a complete story) should provide some answers. Now you don't have to answer every mystery but you should answer some. I should also touch on the setting which is very contained to Mechanika City with a lot of suggestions that the technology we see on display (Cyborgs! Flying cars! Giant airships!) are all neatly contained in one city in the British Empire. If that's the actual case I would be very disappointed. If you're going to suggest massive changes to history, you should commit to it instead of trying to put them in a box. The kind of technology on display here would have modern nations devoting large chunks of their GDP to crash programs to try to replicate it. In the 1880s? All manner of nonsense would take place simply to figure out how to build their own fortress airships.

To be honest I don't regard this as a great start for the series but I do remain hopeful of improvement. While I do feel Mr. Benitez has made mistakes, most of them are rather common mistakes that writers starting out make. I mean for example, Mr. Sejic made a number of writing mistakes in Ravine but then came back and gave us Death Vigil. I think there's promise in Lady Mechanika's character, I really like the setting, what little I've seen anyways but I'm concerned with pacing of the plot and how many questions remain unanswered. Because of this I'm going to have to give Lady Mechanika a C-. Hopefully when I get to volume II, it will earn a higher grade. Next week, we're gonna feel blue, with the Blue Beetle.

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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