Leonardo da Vinci prepares to lay siege to a city, but needs his assistant, Isabel to complete a mission in there first. She brings along the machine for help, which is showing signs of consciousness. Is this man made of metal and wood beginning to think on its own?
Da Vinci is an interesting character because he’s so unpredictable. He’s clearly smarter than anyone else he comes across, so he looks down on everyone he meets. It must be infuriating to speak to him, let alone work for him, which with Isabel is even more interesting. Da Vinci might expect anyone in his employ to follow his rules to the letter, but Isabel doesn’t do that. She bends and sometimes completely breaks them, especially when it comes to the robot.
There’s a near constant expression of disdain on da Vinci’s face. He looks like he just smelled some poop. In reality, that’s how he acts around other people because he’s so much smarter than them. He knows where every conversation is going to end up, so it’s just a matter of time until everyone else around him comes to the same conclusions he did ten minutes ago.
Where da Vinci is filled with boredom, Isabel is full of life and excitement. She often has a wide-eyed look of discovery on her face. Artist Chris Evenhuis draws her as a strong, intelligent woman. She’s rarely frightened, despite the outlandish requests from her boss that put her into insane and deadly situations. There’s one moment where she’s caught offguard, but quickly regains her composure, not letting it affect her too much.
Then there’s the machine, which is quickly becoming my favorite character in Monstro Mechanica. This is saying something because it doesn’t speak, and has absolutely no facial features. Much is shown through body language, allowing you to infer what it might be thinking. It has a pretty basic design when it comes to robots, however that fits perfectly within the time period. For something with limited features, it’s very dynamic in how it moves.
The robot is also responsible for some of the funniest segments of the book. They’re obviously visual gags for the most part. These are reinforced by Evenhuis’ layouts, which carefully control the pacing of a scene by repeating an image with some slight changes to it. Look at a number of books by Tom King to understand what I’m talking about. It works to great effect since a given action or piece of dialogue has some additional weight to it by spending more time with it.
A perfect example of this is a two page spread early on where Isabel is speaking to the machine and its mimicking her movements. The shot remains the same, but their stance is changed a bit from panel to panel. By the end, I was laughing out loud.
I won’t spoil my favorite gag in Monstro Mechanica #2. That comes at the end and it’s a nice callback to a line earlier in the issue. Writer Paul Allor has a real talent for this kind of setup, as seen in his recent issue of TMNT Universe. Despite the “duplicate” images on the page, every line and panel serves a purpose and helps to further the story. It’s efficient while maintaining a great pace.
The entire issue takes place at night and this is where colorist Sjan Weijers shines. Everything is shaded with a cool blue tone, giving it the feel of a quiet evening. This comes into direct conflict with the fire and destruction caused when da Vinci starts firing on the city. It creates a jarring effect that amplifies the tension of these scenes as Isabel and the robot rush to complete their mission before they’re trapped in the city or worse.
Monstro Mechanica is a smart, well-written, and beautifully illustrated comic. It’s something that’s entirely unique that you’d only find from a publisher like AfterShock Comics. The book brings robots into the Renaissance without relying on aliens or time travel. This bypasses hokey fish-out-of-water gags and goes straight for strong storytelling.