Welcome to Mechanika, the most advanced city in a Victorian-esque era, where zeppelins rule the sky, technology advances with rocketing speed, and innovation can be found around every corner. It is also home to the renowned detective, Lady Mechanika, a woman whose past lies in shadows, her mechanical limbs the result of extraordinary but sinister experimentation. When another woman with similar enhancements is found dead, Lady Mechanika leaps to investigate the case and whether it has any ties to her own origins. In this newly revised hardback edition of the first volume, writer and illustrator, Joe Benitez, introduces readers to a brilliantly illustrated steampunk world full of mechanical marvels and insidious mysteries.
Though it contains moments of action and adventure, it is the mystery aspect that takes center stage in this story. Each chapter feels like another piece of the puzzle as Lady Mechanika pursues leads and squares off with foes tied to her foggy upbringings. As a result, there are copious scenes of heavy dialogue where characters discuss motivations, angles, deductions, and give a healthy dose of exposition, ultimately contributing to a slower paced plot. This may alienate readers expecting more of a balance between these elements and its action-oriented moments. And yet, these conversations also help the reader gain a better understanding of the characters, the world, and where the story could possibly be going. In the end, all the pieces come together to form a satisfying conclusion that hypes the audience up for the next adventure with Lady Mechanika, as her ingenuity, patience, and quick wit with a hint of vulnerability make her a character worth following.
Lady Mechanika’s startlingly intricate and atmospheric art style is bound to appease any steampunk enthusiast. The staples of the aesthetic, based on combining Victorian fashion with industrial, steam-powered technology, are on full display on every page: goggles atop every hat, brassy automatons and gadgets, and corsets and striped trousers for as far as the eye can see. Rather than coming off as a gimmick to capitalize on the popularity of this movement, the steampunk elements are an ingrained part of the world that bring more intrigue to the plot, visuals, and possibilities of the setting. What stands out the most is Lady Mechanika’s wardrobe, which is refreshingly varied in terms of style and color. When I first started this comic, there was an initial fear of how this character was going to be depicted in an aesthetic that traditionally lends itself to a lot of form-fitting leather, tight pants, and corsets meant to drive attention to certain points of the anatomy. Thankfully, while these elements are present, they are not drawn in a way meant to be exploitative or put the female lead in strategically compromised positions. Lady Mechanika is still drawn with dignity and, even in her civilian, more conservative clothing, cuts a figure that is both alluring and intimidating.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading Lady Mechanika and consider this volume in particular a strong introduction to the setting and its inhabitants, I feel the need to at least mention its usage of the “g” slur in reference to the Romani people. The comic includes a Romani circus with Romani characters who mention the discrimination and demonization of their people and Lady Mechanika is able to empathize with their plight and never refers to them as anything other than Romani. Instead, the slur comes from an antagonist as well as Lady Mechanika’s assistant, which feels needless as the more appropriate term is already utilized. Given that the comic is meant to have an updated script from its 2017 edition, it is an odd and misinformed choice to keep the slur intact when many have come out against its use in today’s culture.
Determining a potential audience for Lady Mechanika, I would recommend this comic for fans of Hellboy, for its gritty supernatural elements, and Penny Dreadful, for similarities in aesthetic and tone, though mainly because Lady Mechanika exudes Vanessa Ives vibes, especially in her more Victorian-era garb. While the publisher has given the comic a T for Teen rating, it may fare better in adult collections due to its mature tone and slower pace, but there isn’t any content that would make this story unsuitable for the teenaged crowd. Libraries that see a decent circulation of mystery titles and are looking for more diverse styles in their graphic novel collections should consider purchasing this title.
Lady Mechanika, Vol. 1
By Joe Benitez
Art by Joe Benitez, Peter Steigerwald
Publisher Age Rating: T
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)