The fictional damsel in distress has run through a dark forest countless times, but not like this. A terrified young woman in a tattered gown looks at her limbs, now a horror of metal forearms and gleaming talons; “flesh and metal fused in an incomprehensible manner.” She’s being hunted. The armed predators call her a “thing.”

It’s a riveting opening sequence, one that cements Joe Benitez’s Lady Mechanika (Aspen Comics) status as one of the books to watch in 2011. His interpretation of steampunk is simply ravishing, and his commitment to this creator-owned comic book shows in the illustrations and the writing. Colorist Peter Steigerwald and letter artist Josh Reed also deserve major kudos for contributing to the book’s striking aesthetic. (To see V.’s take in Newsarama, click here.)

Commander Winter frightens children.

Lady Mechanika explored the science/superstition divide in issue #0, and the dangers of zealotry in both camps. But even if you haven’t read that issue (though I strongly recommend that you do), #1 is an excellent entry point. Benitez introduces the luminous Mechanika, billed as the City of Tomorrow, and it’s the kind of place that’s ethereal and gorgeous by day, menacing by night. Somewhere among those glowing towers, humans are being altered without their consent and against their will.

The title character is a product of those experiments, though she has no memory of where she came from. Lady Mechanika is on a mission to learn her backstory, and she’s a mighty intriguing character. She’s tough when she has to be, yet tender toward the oppressed and mistreated, like the unfortunate woman who was being hunted in the woods. She knows the feeling.

Speaking of intriguing characters, Commander Winter is one of the most formidable baddies to come down the pike. A ruthless, flame-haired villain with an eye patch and a talent for swordplay, she’s emerging as a fierce adversary for Lady M. An epic throwdown is clearly on the horizon.

I haven’t explored much steampunk, but Benitez makes it both accessible and gorgeous. Lady Mechanika’s distinctive look is a New York Fashion Week mashup of Annie Oakely, Amelia Earheart and Kate Moss. There’s a funny scene where a disguised Lady M. encounters a young fan who doesn’t believe she’s the real McCoy: “(Lady Mechanika) has impeccable style and grace, and she would never be caught dead in an outfit like yours,” huffs Annie, the daughter of a pivotal character named Professor Littleton.

This book is no empty thrill. It’s got beauty and brains, and a story with loads of potential. Even better, there are recipes — recipes! — in issue #1. Lady Mechanika is metallically delicious.

11 thoughts on “Comic Judgment: Lady Mechanika is Precious Metal

  1. Very compelling review. You really make the series sound fascinating and beautiful. You’ve piqued my curiosity, but I’m a little gun shy with my money after being burned by some other new books out there. I might have to borrow these from a friend first (*hint* *hint*), then purchase my own copies if I love them as much as you.

    The Irredeemable Shag


  2. I am stunned by how frickin’ beautiful this book is. What makes me hopeful is that Joe Benitez is so personally invested in the comic, and he is bringing his A-plus game right off the bat.


  3. I have to admit that Aspen is one of those studios who I’ve always thought of as delivering T&A and not much else. The original series of Soulfire was good, but after that ended they didn’t seem to have much more than “oooh, look at the boobs.” Even though I love steampunk I was going to give this one a miss. Your review has changed my mine thought so I’ll rush off to get #0 and #1


  4. Joe, that makes me very happy. I hadn’t been terribly impressed by Aspen either until this. It takes them to a whole new level, which is good for them and readers alike. I hope you love it.


  5. Yeah, my Spidey-Sense told me to pick this up as soon as I saw the preview image. But the preconceived Aspen/Top Cow stereotypes in my head kept dampening it.

    Yet, I’ve heard nothing but good reviews on it. I’ll have to snag a copy when I get to the shop this Wednesday.


  6. Erica,

    Per your glowing recommendation, I copped Lady Mechanika #1 this past Wednesday. I was pretty pleased with it and I’m genuinely interested to read more. Neat concept and I liked the red herring of who you thought was Lady Mechanika not being her at all.

    My one quibble is that Benitez needs to be inked. His designs and storytelling were on point, even breathtaking at a couple of moments. Yet, those moments and more could have been sharper with a clean ink line under Stigerwald’s always fantastic colors.


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