By Joe R. Lansdale, Mark Alan Miller and Piotr Kowalski
The Steam Man starts off as the steampunk version of Pacific Rim, but by the end of the issue you realize it is so much more. The Steam Man is a story concept by short story author Joe R. Lansdale. The concept is that in the year 1895 we are attacked by deadly alien forces. To fight these alien monsters a man invents the Steam Man, an iron giant piloted by a crew of 4 men located in the head of the robot. It turns out that the aliens are not the only threat to the human species and The Steam Man becomes the protector of the human race and enforcer to anything that poses a threat. Cue The Dark Rider, a vampire-like horror of the night who along with his army of killer ape creatures, called Moorlocks, are ready to hunt.
Mark Alan Miller takes an interesting concept by Lansdale and injects personality into it. While the idea of the story may not have originated in Miller’s mind he definitely brings it to life with his humorous dialogue and compelling team of characters. The crew who pilots The Steam Man often engage in witty banter which is both surprising and refreshing. I find a lot of the steampunk stories I have read are so focused on the concept that the characters all come out one dimensional. Miller has been able to break this mould and given each of the four leading men their own charisma. I was caught off guard with the enjoyment level of the crew and found myself in a couple surprising “laugh out louds” along the way. The story may appear to be all about a giant Steam Man robot vs squid aliens, but that is simply the background story of how the Steam Man came about. The aliens are actually not that big of a threat and focus is quickly switched to The Dark Rider. The concept of a large robot as a vampire hunter is a new one to me and I love the direction this story has taken. What seemed on the surface as a book that was going to be full of action but effectively hashing out an existing concept actually turns out to be a story idea I have never experienced before and therefore really have no idea where it could be going.
As good as Miller is on this book Piotr Kowalski is the star. You may know Kowalski from the impressive Image series Sex with Joe Casey. Well, I can tell you that he has to draw far fewer nipples in The Steam Man. I think Kowalski is an excellent fit for a steampunk book. The Steam Man allows Kowalski to really cut loose on a couple pages. There are a few scenes at the beginning where the robot is fighting an alien and Kowalski uses these moments to shine. His action sequences are so involved that even an unrealistic concept like giant steam powered robots fighting earth invading aliens feels believable. He brings such a real feeling to the pages as he pencils an unknown world which such familiarity. Kowalski is very impressive on this book. I wonder when the robot sex scene is coming.
I think one of the most difficult things for a steampunk comic is engaging the audience. The concepts in steampunk books are usually so familiar yet so abstract it is tough to find something in the book to latch onto. This usually hurts the success of the book because although it is engaging early on, once you are over the initial shock value you realize there isn’t much to hold onto and end up dropping the book. I do not think The Steam Man will have this issue because of the solid characters Miller has created and the very involved artwork by Kowalski. The Steam Man hits shops on October 21st. If you think you know what this book will be like just give it a try you will be pleasantly surprised.