Adventure! Romance! MAD SCIENCE!
I don’t read many graphic novels — though I’ve tried many of them, they’re just not my thing. In fact, I only read one graphic novel and that’s GIRL GENIUS by Phil & Kaja Foglio. I love this comic and I must not be the only one —it’s won the Hugo Award three times (and lots of other awards, too). Therefore, I was thrilled to see that Tor is releasing hardback omnibus versions of GIRL GENIUS because this comic is a work of art that deserves to be beautifully bound and displayed on coffee tables everywhere.
GIRL GENIUS is a “gaslamp fantasy” set in a Victorian-style world which produces “Sparks” — admired, but also somewhat mad, geniuses who are able to create bizarre machines and biological constructs — some which make life easier for people, and some which can be used as deadly weapons. For years, the Sparks have been warring with each other and leaving devastation in their wakes. Things are beginning to stabilize, though, as Baron Wulfenbach, a particularly ambitious Spark, continues to annex more lands and to control them with his weird minions.
The story begins several years after the disappearance of the Heterodyne Boys, a couple of hero Spark brothers who fought evil and protected the regular people from the less benevolent Sparks. Without the protection of the Heterodynes, the people try to stay out of the way of the mad scientists, while hoping for the Heterodynes’ return. The heroine of GIRL GENIUS is Agatha Clay, a girl who, though she isn’t aware of it at the beginning of the story, is actually Agatha Heterodyne, daughter of one of the Heterodyne Boys, and a very powerful Spark.
Agatha Awakens, the first hardback omnibus, contains the first 10 comics which were later collected into three volumes: The Beetleburg Clank, The Airship City, and The Monster Engine. In the front of the book, there’s a cast of characters and a letter from “Professors Foglio & Foglio” at the Transylvania Polygnostic University explaining that you’re reading the True History of Agatha Heterodyne.
The first chapter, The Beetleburg Clank, is colored in sepiatones, making the city where Agatha lives feel like a grimy sooty gas-lit town. The only brightness in this chapter is the occasional sudden burst of color when Agatha, who has gold hair, gets emotional. The tone changes drastically in the next chapter when Agatha awakens in the Airship City — a conglomerate of blimps where Baron Wulfenbach reigns. There she meets the Baron’s brilliant son and the other promising teens who the Baron wants to keep an eye on.
Agatha makes a charming heroine — she’s smart and brave, but somewhat clueless and not always capable. And, as a Spark, she sometimes teeters on the edge of madness. That’s why she creates crazy metal machines in her sleep. She can often be seen at the lab bench, with greasy hands, working in her lacy Victorian underwear. (I didn’t know they had such sexy underwear back then!)
The other characters, and even the machines and biological constructs, are also vivid and likable (or extremely unlikable when appropriate). The world, with its castles, airships, steam engines, metal monsters, and talking animals, is a lot of fun to explore. The plot is fast-paced and exciting and, as promised, contains “Adventure! Romance! MAD SCIENCE!”
If you’re already a fan of GIRL GENIUS, you will be more than pleased with this omnibus. I rarely buy hardback books these days since I have two e-readers, but even though I’ve already read this story online, I love being able to hold it in my hands so I can examine the intricate gorgeous art. I’ve read this comic in several formats, but Tor’s hardback omnibus is the very best way to experience GIRL GENIUS. Now that I’ve finished reviewing Agatha Awakens, it’s going on my coffee table!