Posted October 29, 2013 by Alvin Minon in Comics

COMIC BOOK REVIEW: Steampunk Originals Vol.1

“Imagine a reality where steam-based technology and 19th century culture persisted. The confederacy holds to southern tradition while industry flourishes in the union. The West is wild as the Apache fight to take back their land. Japan remains feudal under the shogunate, China struggles with opium addiction, and India is oppressed by the East India Compan. Rebellions run rampant across mainland Europe while the British Empire seeks to colonize the globe.”

I’ve always been a fan of the steampunk genre. It showcases an author and artist’s imagination and creativity, displaying various stories and tweaks of steam-powered technology. And that fandom’s been fully satisfied as Arcana Studios pools together different awesome steampunk stories in its anthology SteamPunk Originals Volume 1.

And when I said my fandom’s been fully satisfied, I’m referring to the fantastic cover and 28 stories from various authors and artists compiled in one book. By fantastic cover, it’s Le Mieux est L’ennemi du Bien by Mike Schneider and Matt Wiley. It’s just a one pager but there’s a story going on. What’s the machine that the repairman’s tinkering? Why are the townsfolk screaming of disapproval? There are lots of stories like this within the book that sell thoughts, give readers the avenue to play around with unfinished ideas or new concepts.

There are one-pagers that really tickle the mind. An example of which would be Millan Brothers of Chicago by Anne-Marie Woolley and Michael Adam. Best advertisement I’ve seen. “Remember, if you want to fit in with the modern times, we can ‘Put a gear on it!'” In just one page, Millan Brothers of Chicago has defined what the steampunk genre’s about, what it dabbles with and why steampunk’s not just about steam and cogs but also about being punk. Same goes with the Acme Steamatic Computagraph that dealt with a lot of detail and made the idea of a steampunk computer intriguingly believable. There’s also those like Preposterous by Scotty O. White and Dominic Black that sells an idea. While we in this world the peculiarity of a steampunk world, Preposterous takes on the different angle: how people from a steampunk world think of horseless carriages aka cars. How about airplanes or ships or submarines? Wi-fi and laptops? Imagine if there’d be a comic some material that would tackle that thought, bet it’ll be cool.

The stories are fascinating too, as each author and artist has their own take on the genre. There are those like Rule Brittania! The Messenger that takes us to an alternate Wild West filled with metallic prostheses, jetpacks and anti-Brittish-rule villains. Stories like this present an alternate version of our world that could’ve happened due to some change at some point in time or maybe it’s a whole different reality altogether. On the other hand there are stories that serve familiar plots such as that of End of Bushido. Imagine Last Samurai, except instead of riflement and cavalry trying to eradicate the warriors, we have golden robots spewing lasers. Sounds like Star Wars’ Order 66, yes. No Wookies though.

As for my personal favorites, I have two right from the top of my head. First would be Unconventional Conventions by Schneider, Woolley and Nursalim. It’s one of those stories that present to the readers an image of a very different world yet familiar to us. It’s about a kid trying to pursue his hobbies, his geekdom, despite the fact that everybody frowns upon it. His world seemed to be more fun though, as they have steampunk technology, with steampunk “picture books” and steampunk conventions. Perhaps I liked the story very much because it’s like reading my own story, only set in a steampunk reality. The kid even has posters of “Dark Gentleman” and “Iron Sir”! Good job with the references!

Another favorite’s Eleonor’s Arm. Of all the stories that showcase emotions and the storytelling, this one hit the deepest. Eleonor lost her arm as a kid and a robot sacrificed his arm and his life to save the young lady. Years passed and Eleonor, who has never forgotten the sacrifice, found a way to duplicate the prosthetic arm and repay the love that saved her once. There’s the theme of self-sacrifice and compassion that endures the years, but what intrigued me here is that Eleonor’s study resulted in an innovation which could help countless others that’re in the same scenario as her, or even other problems their world is suffering from.

Sadly, as much as there’re a lot of stories in this book that I like, there are also stories whose art and/or story disappoint. I wouldn’t even need to go deep into the book, the first story itself’s an example. Terra Nullius provides an alternative history of 1850s Australia where an explorer named Cornelius York sets out to reclaim the land down under that has turned back to the wilder ways. It’s barely steampunk, all we have is a steam-powered blimp and a silhouette of York flying across the night sky. I can’t even appreciate the art that seems rough and out of place if you consider the other stories. I guess it aims to leave some kind of statement, with York being able to plant the British flag on Australian soil at the cost of his own life, without any idea what will happen to the flag later on. But still, I’m not sure why this story’s even in the book.

It might sound cruel but that’s really the case in SteamPunk Originals. You just gotta accept that not all stories can be that amazing. It’s not just Terra Nullius but a several others too. We’ve got stories that could’ve been anything else if not for the presence of a few wheels and gears. Plus the art that really shrinks when compared to the visually stunning pieces like We also have stories that tackle with zombies and dead wives being brought back to life. They’re good, I even enjoyed the humor and the drama. However, they just left me wondering “Where’s the steam? Where’s the punk?”.

Just like what the book says in the opening and closing pages, “Punk takes a critical stance on society. Lose that and you’re just blowing hot air.” So you can’t blame me that I find some stories in this book lacking not only in the steam part but also in the punk department. I know it’s not just about the machinery but also about the story and the stand it makes, but some stories as I see it some stories in this book really lack. But still, the letdowns do not offset the good stories I’ve read, leaving me satisfied with the book at the end of the day.

It’s just Volume 1 so there’ll be a lot more in the second volume. Though I’d hope the good ones would really drown down the letdowns. This book quenched my thirst for the steampunk genre so I’d say whether you’re into the machinery, or the stories of alternative histories, then this one’s for you. If you’re not into steampunk, or you just don’t get it at all, shame on you! Kidding, or not.

Alvin Minon