The Steam Man, the new series from Dark Horse, has an irresistible cover that draws you in immediately. Who could possibly resist a giant robot wearing a top hat and battling otherworldly menacing creatures trailing tendrils?
Certainly not this reader. I’ve loved robots ever since that first book I discovered in my elementary school library and the fascination has only continued, whether it was within the covers of Isaac Asminov’s robot novels, DC Comics’ Robotman or the Metal Men or good old Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Come to think of it, there’s also Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet. Anyway, you get the idea, and once again the line between science fiction and comics is a very thin one.
The Steam Man draws from many sources as you read through it. Set in the late 1800’s, it has a heavy steampunk influence, naturally, along with elements of the Wild West where he was built. His “birthplace” is Nacogdoches, Texas, to be precise. It’s also obvious that the creators of the series, and the credit list is a bit longer than usual, with Joe R. Lansdale under “story,” Mark Alan Miller scripting and art by Piotr Kowalski, have some major influences.
I found myself jotting down notes as I was reading and I was reminded of many different storylines: Sir Edward Gray, Witchfinder, particularly the Dark Horse mini-series that was one of John Severin’s last projects came to mind. So did not one, but two stories by H.G. Wells: War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, the latter primarily due to the reference in the story to Moorlocks.
So in this 24-page introductory adventure, we’re shown the creators and crew of the Steam Man, who is literally so large that he doubles as the quarters for the crew. Steam-powered, obviously, he is manned by William Beadle, the leader and creator; Mike Hammer, described as First Officer, boxer and sophisticate; John Feather, Marksman, Tracker and conversationalist and Alfred Blake, navigator, engineer and anarchist. The lineup and their skill sets put me in mind of pulp legend Doc Savage and his teammates.
The premise behind the story is that 5 years prior an extraterrestrial invasion took place, turning the world on its ear. This spurred William Beadle to build the Steam Man and to hire the crew so that they could take on this threat, ostensibly as bounty hunters. The massive robot turned out to be successful, but within a short time, they began to die off, allegedly due to germs encountered on the Earth. (Remember what I said about War of the Worlds?)
The services of the Steam Man and his crew are not put out to pasture, though, as another significant menace has emerged in the form of the Dark Rider, described as “evil incarnate.” The mysterious creature preys on humans and operates a bit like a vampire, consuming blood and avoiding the sun and killing in the most grisly fashion imaginable with his bare hands and sharp teeth. He also leads the aforementioned dark army of Moorlocks. Together their evil extends to rape and torture in addition to murder.
This is their conflict and their quest: To take down the Dark Rider and his Moorlocks and to make the west a safe place once again, using the Steam Man as their weapon and refuge.
We also learn as this maiden tale winds down that William Beadle is driven by more than just the money offered for his services. His beloved wife Matilda was a victim of the Dark Rider and he has vowed that he will not stop until either he or the Dark Rider has breathed their last.
Despite all the influences I mentioned above, this doesn’t feel like a derivative story. A bit grisly, perhaps, but I can see where the adventures of the Steam Man and his motley crew will be a fascinating journey. Piotr Kowalski’s art is a great complement to the storyline and it will be fascinating to see where this pursuit leads.
My one complaint is some of the profanity laced throughout the dialogue. The F-bomb is a word I’ve heard and even used on occasion, but the setting here isn’t the docks or an Army barracks, so I can’t see where it served much purpose. If something doesn’t help to move the story along, where is the value? It struck me as unnecessary and gratuitous.
Despite that minor difference of opinion, the Steam Man is worth your time and I recommend checking it out for yourself. Dark Horse will be releasing it October 21st.