Comic Judgment: Lady Mechanika is Precious Metal


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.

Pull List Assessment Time

Every now and then, it’s a good idea to evaluate the old pull list instead of running on autopilot. Though my queue tends to be DC-heavy, there are several indie titles that I read either in trade or via review copy that are plenty good. Since V. and I are asked what we recommend or books that rock/suck, here’s assessment of what I’m reading and where it falls on the Great-to-Dropped scale. Those listed under “Promising” have not yet been added to the file, but they’re well on their way.

GREAT
Morning Glories: Image is firing on all cylinders with this book about a scary private school that traps and traumatizes its adolescent charges. Comic shops can’t keep it in stock, and that’s no surprise given the roller coaster of a plot, snappy dialogue and pretty art. Morning Glories is further proof that there’s some stellar work being done outside of the big publishing houses and the capes genre.

Morning Glories

Fables: Since I get this in trade form, I’m not current. The last volume, “The Great Fables Crossover,” was only so-so, but this book has been otherwise excellent. It also continues to evolve and expertly mixes fantasy and comedy with flat-out horror. I can’t wait for the next trade, “Witches,” to drop in December.

Batman and Robin: I’ve written before about how much I dig this book, so I won’t bore you with another love letter. Grant Morrison is handing the reigns to Peter Tomasi soon, but I’m a fan of Tomasi’s work and eagerly anticipate his work on Batman and Robin — especially since he did such a good job during his all-too-brief Nightwing run.

Madame Xanadu: After the most recent (and brilliant) issue about a deadened supermodel named Neon Blue at the height of late ’60s-fame, I was even more depressed that this comic is coming to an end. I have V. to thank for educating me about Madame X just in the nick of time. At least I’ll always have the back issues.

 

GOOD
G-Man: I initially started getting this Image comic for my children, but like Tiny Titans, it’s a smart, kid-skewing book that’s better than much of the fare for grownups. The most recent arc, “Cape Crisis” centers on young hero G-Man, who gets powers via a magic cape. The problem is that all of his peers (and his kid brother) want a piece of the action, and the results are darn funny. The news that Chris Giarrusso’s book is returning made me very happy, and the kids will have to pry it from my hands.

 

Red Robin: I didn’t like this comic at all when it debuted, but it has found a consistently good groove and done right by one of my favorite characters. Fabian Nicieza writes Tim Drake and the extended Bat-family well, and Marcus To sure can draw.

G-Man = good times

Birds of Prey: The Gail Simone incarnation of BoP was instrumental in getting me back into the comic book habit, and it’s been a fine reunion. While I’m not as mesmerized as I was the first time around, BoP is one of the books I look forward to most each month, along with …

Secret Six: This comic vacillates between “great” and “good,” so I have been spoiled. I love the characters and their bloody misadventures, and there is some real tenderness and heart underneath piles of bodies. My expectations for a Secret Six issue are probably unfairly high, but if it came down to cash flow, there are a whole lot of books I’d drop before this one.

Love and Capes: This book about a superhero married to a non-superpowered bookstore owner is light, bright and utterly adorable. I’m also reading this in trade, and there’s a longer overview here.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: As with Red Robin, I’ve already heaped lots of praise on the latest incarnation of Brian Michael Bendis’ long-running, consistently winning comic. The love-triangle drama between Peter, Mary Jane and Gwen is heating up again, and if enjoying juicy teen drama is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Hawkeye and Mockingbird: When I started reading this title after the “Read This, Too!” challenge, I immediately thought that this is the book Green Arrow & Black Canary should have been. The vibe between the title characters — formerly married, now dating — is sexy and fun, and the book is full of action.

 

 

 

Welcome to Tranquility: Another Gail Simone gem about retired superheroes and supervillains, and a whole lot of secrets and lies. See a recent review here.

Mystery Society: I was late to the party on this five-issue series about a wealthy, urbane husband and wife who uncover government conspiracies and recruit odball characters along the way to join their adventures. The story is a kick, but it’s worth reading for Fiona Staples’ artwork alone.

 

PROMISING

 

 

 

 

 

Haweye and Mockingbird

 

Thunderbolts: I read my first issue a few weeks ago and thoroughly dug it. Luke Cage is leading a group of formerly bad guys trying to go legit, and Jeff Parker spins a good narrative (with ninjas!). Declan Shalvey’s art is impressive, and as a Thunderbolts newbie, I found issue #148 easy to jump into. And no, I’m not reading Shadowland.

Freedom Fighters: I bought this comic based on Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s Power Girl work, and I liked the first two issues quite a bit. It’s always a joy to see Nazis getting beaten up, and chances are good that this will be a dynamic team comic. Stay tuned.

Lady Mechanika: I’ve never been a Steampunk gal, but the artwork in this Aspen Comics title by Joe Benitez blew me away. The story focuses on a rifle-toting character named Mechanika, who is part human, part machine. It’s set in late 1800s London, and based on issue #0, it’s going to be a wild ride. My Newsarama review is here, but suffice to say that it’s worth checking out. If my stomach were sufficiently flat, this would SO be my con costume.

MEH
Wonder Woman: I think I got all the Haterade out of my system in this post, but I’m buying this book purely out of loyalty. I don’t want to give DC another reason to treat Diana like a stepchild, so I can’t bring myself to drop it.

First Wave

First Wave: At this point, only Rags Morales’ awesome illustrations are keeping this in my LCS file. This pulpy, character-heavy comic involving The Spirit, young Batman, Doc Savage and an alternative Black Canary got off to a nice start, but the long stretches between issues killed some of its momentum for me. There are only two issues to go, so I’m not sure it can deliver on its early promise or do justice to all the players.

DROPPED
Brightest Day: Pretty, but too draggy, convoluted and crowded. I might read it in deeply discounted trade form.

Power Girl: Judd Winick’s first few issues were better than I expected, but they just weren’t good enough to justify my $2.99. Part of the problem is that the previous creative team was so good that any successors would have a challenge on their hands. I don’t care enough about PG to read her adventures if the comic is just middling, so I cut it loose with no regrets.

 

Justice Society of America: I stuck with this book after Bill Willingham finished his “Fatherland” arc, but James Robinson’s follow-up just didn’t do it for me. I almost kept buying it just for Jesus Merino’s illustrations, even though story quality fell off in a major. The book is getting a new creative team, so I might give it another shot. Maybe.