“Not long now ’til the ultimate experiment, he’s breaking all the rules”
I received Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam in the mail some months ago, but thanks to the rather tumultuous summer I’ve just had, both in my real life (moving to a new house) and in my blogging life (the new web site), I haven’t had a chance to review it. I have a pile of books to review, however, and I hope to make a dent in due course!
The book is written by David Alton Hedges, drawn by Jefferson Costa, colored by Adão José and lettered by Comicraft. You can read the comic at the web site that I linked to above, or buy it in digital form for $3 or print for … I’m not exactly sure. I thought it was $5, but I can’t find any verification for that. My copy doesn’t have a price. Anyway, Hodges and Costa are into Chapter Two on the site, which is not included in this issue, but that’s okay – I’ll just deal with what I have in front of me!
In many ways, Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam is too similar to many comics we see these days – it’s set in Victorian England (1881, to be exact), and Mr. Steam works for a secret branch of the government that was founded in 1796 to combat supernatural threats to the realm. Nothing we haven’t seen before, in other words. However, as with almost everything, the execution is crucial, and in this first issue, at least, Hodges and Costa (along with José’s colors, which I’ll get to) do a fine job with it. Hedges wisely begins the book with an exciting event so that we get involved, and it shows Mr. Steam and his valet, Runnymeade, in fine form – Steam is obviously the more adventurous, while Runnymeade relies on bureaucracy (he tries to stop the monster they meet by reading it a royal proclamation), but he can also handle the action well. Then we get the inciting event of the book, as a different monster menaces a man and a woman in a spooky castle. We get a look at Mr. Steam at home, and then he gets his mission – find this monster, who has been cutting a swath through Steam’s “non-existent” agency (they can’t be known to the public, of course), and deal with a new partner, Sally (who is not seen in this issue). There’s absolutely nothing James Bondian at all about Steam’s boss (it’s probably Gladstone, who was Prime Minister in 1881) and the various code names the agents get. NOTHING WHATSOEVER!!!!
It’s a fun story, and Hedges follows a fairly standard protocol for setting everything up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. I admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for Victorian adventures, so this is in my wheelhouse, but Hedges still does a good job. The mystery is intriguing, the characters are a bit clichéd but still interesting, and everything moves along at a nice clip. The fact that it’s called “Arcane Sally” will probably ruin the surprise of her appearance a bit (“Gladstone,” who is not like M at all, simply calls her Miss Sally), but that’s just a speculation about part of the story I haven’t read yet. The way Steam will contact Miss Sally is nice and creepy, so there’s that.
Costa and José do a marvelous job with the art, which makes the story that much more fun. Costa’s angular characters and scratchy line work remind me a bit of Noelle Stevenson, which is never a bad thing in my mind. He draws a fine Mr. Steam and a portly but sturdy Runnymeade, but his secondary characters are a lot more fun, with their crooked noses and wrinkled faces and suspicious eyes. The woman in the book is beautiful but harried, as the giant chases her and her companion through the castle. The primary monster himself is well done – he’s human and obviously so, but Costa makes him just crazy enough that his menace becomes much darker than if he were just a big angry dude. The first monster in the book, the one Steam and Runnymeade dispatch in the prologue, is also terrific – it’s a giant, rampaging bull, and Costa makes it look like it came directly from hell. José’s coloring is astounding, too. The prologue is all blues, making it dark and spooky without obscuring anything. The brief chase through the castle is amazing – the woman wears a deep purple dress, helping her stand out among all the slightly pinker stones of the castle and the blues of the night sky, and perhaps linking her to the monster, whose clothes are also colored purple, although not quite as richly as hers are. José gives us a London that can be dark and dreary, but with small spots of color struggling against the black. We also get nice shapes of lightened color which José uses to highlight certain things within the panels. It’s not a new innovation, but when it’s used well, it’s very clever.
Arcane Sally and Mr. Steam is a neat comic. It’s fun and exciting, and the creators do a nice job bringing the world to life. As I noted above, they’re into the second chapter at the web site, so if you feel like checking it out, you can head on over there. Maybe throw some ducats their way while you’re there!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆