Review - The Inventor

"But your system's not efficient enough."

Nikola Tesla was an inventor with a wild ambition and an even wilder hairstyle, both of which are on display in the The Inventor. The graphic novel is written by Ravé Mehta and illustrated by Erik Williams.

The story primarily follows Tesla's endeavors alongside Thomas Edison and an array of capitalists all seeking to fund his research in an effort to turn a profit. Tesla was viewed as a genius with in a time when the world lauded inventions and science, sometimes treating them as something more than simple fact. He deals with everything from a seemingly jealous Edison to businessman depicted as wanting him for his intelligence to successes and failures.

Mehta's tale relies on the sheer curiosity that is Nikola Tesla. Unfortunately, that character doesn't really shine through in The Inventor. Instead, the reader is presented with a Tesla who's a near demigod with an attraction to being an altruistic, benevolent scientist who seems to be doing it all for the betterment of humanity. Much of the story focuses on his "rivalry" with Edison, but it does so by twisting some of the historical facts of their relationship. For instance, there's reference to the $50,000 Edison promised Tesla, yet history seems to state that the promise doesn't quite jive with the fact that Edison's company was stingy with pay and didn't have that cash on hand. It's likely it was made as an offhand joke that was misinterpreted by Tesla, but in The Inventor it's used as a way to vilify Edison and idolize Tesla.

Beyond Edison, the rest of the book follows suit in terms of the adoration heaped upon Tesla himself. It's definitely true that he was a genius in his own right and his patents significantly changed many courses of history, but The Inventor feels more like it's making Tesla out to be the single most important inventor in the history of the world. Viewing him through that lens greatly downplays the impact that Edison and the investors had on the scientific arms race of the time. Westinghouse clearly thought enough of him (or maybe it was just a publicity stunt) to pay him a monthly stipend as well as put him up in the Hotel New Yorker for years. These aspects of his life are seemingly ignored in an effort to make companies like Westinghouse seem like greedy companies seeking to exploit Tesla for his knowledge.

Williams' art is fairly simplistic. Character anatomy is askew for many of characters, with some necks elongated beyond human capabilities. His style seems to change between base illustrations and manga, with Edison looking like a villain from something like Naruto. Panels float on the pages as opposed to filling them, with colors filling the pages behind them. There's no attention paid to the scenery that the characters inhabit and inconsistent filters applied to the pages as the book progresses. Largely, the art is very uneven and tries to infuse the era with some hints of steampunk that doesn't quite work.

Nikola Tesla was a very fascinating character in the history of science. Unfortunately, Mehta instead chose to deify him at the expense of some of the historical facts. The story seems to eschew capitalism as an evil motivation for discovery, despite the fact that it's likely Tesla never would've made nearly as many breakthroughs without the funding of capitalists. Mehta's dialogue is very dry at times and feels very rigid, refusing to give the reader much responsibility for piecing things together. Williams' art is erratic and seems to be lacking a lot of polish. Overall, the book does less in terms of presenting the reader with a graphic novel account of the life of Nikolas Tesla and, instead, gives the reader more of a PR spin Tesla.

The Inventor is available now.