MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 by Paul Allor, Chris Evenhuis & Sjan Weijers
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 boasts strong characterization, developing complex identities for apprentice Isabel and the inventor Leonardo da Vinci. While moments of plot fall short, these characters' relationship, the depictions of Renaissance architecture, and the uncertain future of a mutant wooden machine will keep readers hooked.
85 %
Monstrously Good
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It is 1472 in Florence, Italy. This is a setting much better known for its nude marble sculptures than for its comics. In an unconventional but pleasing combination, AfterShock Comic’s new MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 brings the Renaissance to life with colorful illustrations. Writer Paul Allor, artist Chris Evenhuis, and colorist Sjan Weijers make a three-dimensional character out of Leonardo da Vinci. Known for his art and inventions, the real da Vinci was an original Renaissance man. In MONSTRO MECHANICA #1, however, da Vinci is also a sci-fi hero and “a target for powerful men.” Both the political and the religious elite are after him. The series opens on a chase scene, and the action doesn’t let up until the end.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 also introduces readers to Isabel, da Vinci’s spunky apprentice and the series’ co-protagonist. Isabel and da Vinci guide readers through the underworlds of Florence. Together, with the help of their so-called “machine,” the two dodge assassins and the Pope’s henchmen at every turn. While not much concrete plot takes place, this first issue weaves many threads of intrigue that should keep readers curious. 

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1
Image courtesy of AfterShock Comics.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 Gives Robots a Mind of Their Own

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 tells an action-packed tale of past and future. The comic ventures into centuries-old conflicts between art, power, and religion. Yet the comic is a product of 21st-century anxieties. In the age of iPhones, this story of robots and Renaissance art explores concerns about artificial intelligence and morality. By setting the comic in 1472, the creators erase readers’ 21st-century expectations of robots. Without fancy gadgets, da Vinci’s and Isabel’s machine won’t wow readers for its capabilities. That’s not the point.

Instead, this comic strips the idea of a robot down to its essence. It is a wooden machine with arms and legs which operates on its own. In this way, MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 approaches the dividing line between human and robot. The series’ Renaissance setting allows readers a fresh perspective on the question of artificial intelligence.

WESTWORLD Urges Us Not to Pursue Artificial Intelligence

According to MONSTRO MECHANICA #1, robots have had a moral role since their inception. Typically in the battle between good and evil, only a human mind can assess nuances. Humans are distinct from animals in our ability to judge what is right and wrong. But humans make mistakes. Even though we navigate good and bad every day, should we be trusted with this task? Is there a better judge?

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 alludes to machine morality as a solution. In fact, Isabel and da Vinci’s machine could become conscious enough to judge right and wrong. To a robot, such a decision is impartial. A smart machine gives definitive answers: yes or no. No gray area. Robots’ position outside of humankind gives them an objective perspective on human morality. Will this machine learn to decide what is right and wrong? In my opinion, this is the biggest hook that will keep readers caring about MONSTRO MECHNICA #1.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1
Image courtesy of AfterShock Comics.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 is Interested in Outsiders

In general, I’m excited about the way MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 proposes to deal with outsiders. Much as the machine doesn’t fit in with humans, so do other human characters stand out from the majority of Florentine society. Will the comic treat them only with sympathy or with more overt acceptance? So far, MONSTRO MECHANICA seems to be highlighting the people of Italy who fail to conform, whether for their race, their gender expression, or their beliefs. 

Where We Stand: A Look at Female Superheroes Through the Lens of Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”

For instance, MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 introduces readers to Lorenzo di Medici’s “Moorish nephew,” Alessandro. He is a background character with darker skin than we imagine of Renaissance Italians. Medici says of him, “Young Alessandro is a fine servant. So I overlook his paternal lineage. Even more — I admire him for overcoming it…” Is Alessandro’s lineage something to be overlooked or overcome? 

Likewise, we meet Father Minias, the Ethiopian priest distinguished by his black robes and collection of skulls. At this point, Minias exists in the plot as a symbol of evil. Da Vinci even notes that Minias’ status as “an outsider” is one of his best political assets. Will MONSTRO MECHANICA continue to equate evil and outsider? These moments of dialogue seed ideas that will hopefully become more complex as the series progresses.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1
Image courtesy of AfterShock Comics.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 Addresses Gender

Nowhere is the status of outsider more prominent than in the character of Isabel. Her gender, her relationship with da Vinci, and her secret tenderness towards the machine are the moments of MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 that reward the reader most. While other players in the story feel more impersonal and underdeveloped, Isabel is a rich and inviting character.

Isabel is known to strangers as the “girl who dresses like a man.” Humiliated in public for wearing men’s clothing, she is called “boy” and “he” by vendors in the market. Isabel is an independent character, though. In conversation with da Vinci, Isabel defends her beliefs, even while he challenges her notions of masculinity and femininity. Do strength and violence make someone a man? Does wearing dresses make someone a woman? Where do people fit in who fall somewhere between these narrow definitions? MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 exposes readers to these kinds of urgent questions.

Gender: Is “The Guardian” Wrong? Is Everyone Non-Binary?

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 also addresses gender through the topic of pronouns. Back and forth, Isabel and da Vinci continue to disagree about which pronoun to use in reference to the machine. Isabel instinctively uses “he.” Da Vinci keeps correcting her: “it.” This battle for gender pronouns takes place over the course of MONSTRO MECHANICA #1. Through the conflict, the comic teaches how a word can fail to accurately represent a robot — or even a person. Pronouns are one of the main details to watch out for in this series. Will Isabel continue to rebel in this subtle but significant way? The tension in da Vinci’s relationship with Isabel keeps MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 lively, while it raises topical questions for the 21st-century reader. 

Renaissance Art Meets Technology

Finally, MONSTRO MECHANICA #1’s attention to artistic detail is commendable. As a work of art about an artist, MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 cannot avoid such expectations. Thankfully, Allor, Evenhuis, and Weijers deliver. Iconic buildings of Renaissance Italy cover the pages of MONSTRO MECHANICA #1. These depictions are spot-on. Together, these architectural allusions evoke Florence’s reputation for artistic excellence, elevating the comic book to artistic status.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1
Image courtesy of AfterShock Comics.

Throughout MONSTRO MECHANICA #1, the combination of robot and Renaissance architecture link the mechanical and artistic sides of human creation. For instance, the first time we see da Vinci’s machine in its entirety, it stands in front of the Duomo, Florence’s main cathedral. Next to the machine, the building is a reminder of the triumph of human creativity over raw materials. MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 holds up both robots and cathedrals as feats of the human imagination. Allusions aside, the coloring in MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 might distract some readers from the plot. The purples are bold. The greens and blues are shockingly electric. Though saturated far beyond realism, these color choices enhance the sci-fi aspect of the novel.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1
Image courtesy of AfterShock Comics.

Evenhuis’ illustrations and Weijers’ coloring are a success for the complicated way they balance time periods: the Renaissance and the future. MONSTRO MECHANICA #1’s art reminds readers that we are immersed in a story about artistic invention as much as history.

MONSTRO MECHANICA #1
Image courtesy of AfterShock Comics.

The Verdict on MONSTRO MECHANICA #1

Overall, MONSTRO MECHANICA #1 is a successful start to a series. The pressing questions about life, death, and robots will keep readers coming back for more. The depiction of outsiders in 15th-century Italian society is compelling as well. Most notably, MONSTRO MECHANICA #1’s meditations on the nature of art and life are thought-provoking. At what point does art take on a life of its own? When does an invention become too useful? Too entertaining? Too dangerous for its own creator? The next issue may not provide any answers, but it will surely give us more robotics. 

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