Monday, September 28, 2015

Review - The Steam Man #1 (@DarkHorseComics)


"My only concern is...why my navigator ain't hardly wearing any clothes."

Fighting aliens is generally presented as some dire case where the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. Humanity throws everything it has at the invaders and--with barely any hope left--manage to pull out a win. It's not often that the all-out brawls ends slightly differently, but it does in The Steam Man #1 from Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Mark Alan Miller, illustrated by Piotr Kowalski, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick and lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot.

The Old West, but not as we know it. Giant steam-powered robots are created to take down invading Martians and armies of killer albino apes in an all-out brawl. The Steam Man, a giant metal man operated by a team of monster hunters, seems to have the town protected and the West under control, until a crazed and powerful vampire comes to town to bring forth the apocalypse!

As a setting, the old west brings with it a lot of atmosphere and appeal, both of which The Steam Man #1 capitalizes on to great effect. Miller infuses the book with the mystery of the frontier as something that bolsters the unknown in the arrival of the aliens, while at the same time leaning on it as an effective vehicle for explaining the Steam Man. The script maintains the rough and tumble nature of the frontier west as well, with the characters not shy about coarse language. At it's core though, the story itself will likely feel somewhat familiar with the mech-alien genre (Pacific Rim comes to mind as one of the more recent entries), as the concept of humanity crafting a giant robot to fight invading organic entities isn't exactly new. Lansdale and Miller do offer a twist on that concept though with the arrival of the vampire, as it offers an opponent whose size and stature may prove difficult for the Steam Man to combat.

The Steam Man #1 has a very unique look to it, courtesy of Kowalski's artistic approach. Kowalski blends together many disparate styles for the main characters, offering a pretty representative look at what groups of people might have looked like at the turn of the 19th century. The Steam Man looks like a giant-sized person who's extremely combat ready, while the aliens look a lot like squids from the deep. There are some very interesting panel layouts throughout, with many pages accented by staggered panels that seem to cut against one another. Fitzpatrick uses a lot of colors throughout in a way that is really emphatic--for instance, the introduction of the vampire comes with pages awash in red.

The Steam Man #1 is an interesting first issue that blends together a few different themes into one story. While the Steam Man vs. the aliens is the primary focus of the story, there's a subplot that focuses on the vampire, which is interesting and will offer parallel stories that will likely converge at one point (and defy geometry). Miller offers some interesting elements to the tale that prevents it from being just an alternate Kaiju book. Kowalski's artwork is sort of grimy and fits the western frontier aesthetic that the book is going for. The Steam Man #1 offers a pretty simple premise and doesn't wasted any time in getting into the dirty details.

The Steam Man #1 is in stores October 21.







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