Writer: Paul Allor / Artist: Chris Evenhuis / Aftershock Comics
Set in Renaissance Florence, Monstro Mechanica, created by Paul Allor (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Chris Evenhuis (Wynonna Earp), with colors from Sjan Weijers, is billed as “the story of a girl and her robot…oh, and Da Vinci.” Like many blurbs, this one is misleading. This comic is about way more than that.
The set-up here is compelling. Everyone knows that Leonardo Da Vinci was an artist and all around smartest-guy-in-the-room. What’s less well known is that, owing to the fact that he rarely actually finished his paintings, he made most of his money designing siege weapons for the petty princes of the Italian States: Florence, Milan, the Papacy. He is a 1490s arms manufacturer.
Along with Da Vinci, plenty of historical figures are featured, including the Black Prince of Florence, Alessandro De’ Medici — “Black” here is for reals, not metaphorical, his mother was of African descent — and Machiavelli. In the midst of these historically powerful men, we also have Isabel, Da Vinci’s apprentice. She’s a teenager who chooses, for her own reasons, to dress in men’s clothes. More on that later.
The story opens with the Pope trying to kidnap Da Vinci to force him to design more and better weapons, it is bloody, but not graphic, opening, that wraps up when the “girl and her robot” turn up to save the day. Isabel is the lead caretaker of the machine, the apparent Monstro Mechanica, of the title. She quickly becomes the center of the story as it becomes clear that her connection with the machine, she calls it “he”, is far deeper than one’s usually relationship with a tool.
Starting with this exchange, it becomes clear that Isabel’s reasons are not exactly as obvious as they seem, and her motivations are deeper still, some of which she may not understand. And as she is asking herself questions about her own identity, she’s also asking them about the “personhood” of her robot, and about the motivations of her master, Da Vinci. She’s a developing “spunky heroine” in the lines of many others. We’ll have to wait and see how she breaks the mold. What is sure is that the end of the first issue, the matter of the robot has gotten much more complicated. And Da Vinci’s manipulation of the political machinery of Italy — a notoriously dangerous activity — opens up all kinds of possibilities for success and failure.
I picked this book up for the setting: Renaissance Florence is one of my favorites and I’m always interested to see how writers take it in different directions. This version of Florence has a light steampunk feeling to it, but that could be as much owing to the fact that Da Vinci was playing with technology so far ahead of his time that it feels imagined. The timeline of history is stretched and toyed with to get many of the most complicated men of the period into the same place and time, which holds lots of promise for the future of this comic.
The colors are muted, with the people boldly outlined. Faces are well drawn and distinctive. Also, there is more than one Black character! What? Black people in the renaissance? Love it.
In a few ways, this reminded me of Princeless: Raven Pirate Princess, also the tale of a teen girl who dresses in pants. If you enjoyed that one, or have a teen reader who wants something a little more politically complicated, then this is a good bet. I enjoyed the read and will be back for issue #2. There is a good mystery of intentions set up by the end, along with the eternal robot questions: Is it a He or a She? Can we go with They?
Monstro Mechanica is available for digital purchase from Aftershock Comics, the folks who bring you all sorts of indie comics goodness. Or you can ask your Local Shop about it.