Aetheric Mechancics

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Gianluca Pagliarani
Genre: Victorian steampunk detective science metafiction
Context: published in 2008 by Avatar; “a graphic novella” from their Apparat imprint

Aetheric Mechanics is one of three (I think) short books. How short? I don’t know. No page numbers. Without counting, I’d say 50 or pages. It’s a great format, and I’d love to be able to buy superhero stories in full chunks like this. (DC has tried it a couple times, of which I’m thankful, but it always seems to fizzle after a year or so.)

Pagliarani is not a name I recall seeing before, but if this was his first outing as a cartoonist, I hope he continues working in the field. There’s a texture to his work that reminds me a little bit of detailed linocut or an etching, which is great for the Victorian milieu. His faces emote well and are consistent across the whole book. This sounds like a weak compliment, but a lot of mainstream superhero artists basically rely on color to differentiate between one character and another. Pagliarani makes each character unique, and he does it in black and white.

I don’t want to spoil the ending of the book. I usually don’t care about things like that, but with a book this short, plot is a pretty large part of the mix, so giving away the ending is like revealing the twist at the end of a Twilight Zone episode. I will say that, while the book starts off as a steampunk pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, it ends up being about how fiction can (and will) violently assert itself over real life.

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