Lady Mechanika 2: Tablet of Destinies

Volume 2 gives us a more interesting story at the expense of all originality and even worse milieu issues. With a plot nearly wholesale ‘inspired’ by Indiana Jones, I couldn’t help but feel the level of simplicity and silliness reached a climax here. I do get what Benitez is doing but I just wish he’d take a break, really research the subject, and come up with a story that matches the beautiful illustration work. Because honestly, this truly reads like someone saw some steampunk cosplayers at a con, thought they were cool, and then tried to rope a story to a ‘feel’ of which he knew nothing about. In other words, style over substance, which is a shame.

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Story: Lady Mechanika (still nameless, sigh) helps a young girl whose grandfather is in trouble while doing academic work in the wilds of Africa. What she will find is a conspiracy to unearth a supernatural object that will give the discoverer untold power – a weapon of mass destruction. When the girl is kidnapped, Mechanika chases her across continents and will save the world in the process.

Sadly, the synopsis makes this seem a lot more fun than it was. Yes, again we have Benitez’ exquisite layouts and designs. But at the same time, there is such a clear lack of understanding or appreciation for the Steampunk genre that it is staggering. Such simple things – as understanding how a corset in Victorian era would not show muscles of the stomach underneath nor were they designed to make breasts stand out. And that even in an alternate universe world, materials of the era could not be made skin tight light tights nor would anyone be showing midriffs (why would anyone even do that as an adventurer anyway?). It just comes down to pandering to the audience and I wish Benitez would strike beyond that 1990s mindset that if you make it super sexy, it sells. His work is so sophisticated that he doesn’t need the bare midriffs or jutting breasts to make the women beautiful. Nor the dreary requisite ‘cat fights’ between female heroine and female villain, both of whom look like supermodels.

As with the first book, I liked the side character better; in this case, little upstart Fred was much more interesting than any of the cliche other characters. Including motorcycles was also a huge mistake since the villain sidekicks all dressed very 1940s German extras from an Indiana Jones movie about Nazis wanting to take over the world. It’s again a very poor understanding of Steampunk and what makes steampunk so rich and fascinating (replace the motorcycle with a aeolipile and you get the idea).

I know those seem like minor grievances but they are symptomatic to the problem here: Lady Mechanika is so simplistic as to be disappointing. I absolutely loved the visual layout and coloring. But the story was silly (can we please stop adding supernatural elements to steampunk?) and missed the whole point of the wonderful world of Steampunk. The characters were cliches or cardboard and the plot we have seen before so many times. Benitez really needs to hire himself a first class storytelling to give him a plot worth drawing. It feels like he is still firmly rooted in the 1990s of style over substance digital art comics and decided he doesn’t need the invaluable help of a great editor. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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