Aetheric Mechanics is one of the newest releases from Apparat, the independent line of Warren Ellis-dominated comics. As a vanity press, Apparat publications have a tendency to vary wildly in their quality of work. In Aetheric Mechanics, however, the creative team of Ellis and Pagliarani has produced something very close to perfect.
In Aetheric Mechanics, Doctor Richard Watcham reunites with his old friend, detective Sax Raker. Against a backdrop of zeppelin attacks and mysterious 'aetheric' technology, the pair chase down an elusive serial killer - one who flickers in and out of existence like a ghost.
Despite the short length, Aetheric Mechanics manages to introduce a fantastic steampunk universe, craft an engaging mystery and then introduce a plot twist that successfully tosses every other steampunk world into the backseat. If it sounds complicated, it actually isn't - thanks to the writing and the art, the story is so absorbing it is easy to follow from start to finish. In further testament to the creative team's skill, the clever narrative devices and plot twists are also all secondary to the characters. Although the reader is constantly rocked by fantastic revelations, the emphasis is always on the characters and never on self-congratulatory world building.
(Steampunk is a young and explosively popular genre, but this still doesn't excuse the surfeit of world-building that is going on. Steampunk should definitely take a lesson from the recent trends in fantasy, and start focusing more on the characters - else it'll become another flash-in-the-pan trend, and we might as well abandon it to LARPers now. End digression.)
Gianluca Pagliarani is an inspired choice for an artist. Although black and white, Pagliarani manages to lever in the detail necessary to bring the world of Aetheric Mechnics to life. The layout - especially vital in a space this short - is neatly done, balancing small panels of minute detail with breath-taking city-scapes.
Aetheric Mechanics is clever, clearly experimental and very entertaining. It pushes the boundaries of a fledgling genre, challenges the reader and, above all, gives fans of the graphic novel another fantastic read.