In Review: Æther & Empire #1

Steampunk action in the skies that will please any who are willing to get aboard.

The cover: Looking like an advertisement from the Victorian era, this cover by Tim Yates gives readers a few clues on what to expect within: two circles in each upper corner contain two airships held aloft by balloons, between these illustrations are two men using a rope to go from one object to another, a gigantic dial shows the title and three of this book’s creators, the flag of Britain is flanked by silhouettes of an English and Libyan soldier, and below them is a steamship, a telegraph, a pile of books, and some parchment with a quill. The layout on this is fantastic and the coloring excellent. This is exactly the way to bring readers into this new world before they even turn a page. Overall grade: A   

The story: “1879. Her Majesty’s Airship Nimbus. Somwhere over the Libyan coast,” begins this story by Mike Horan. All is calm aboard the ship: it proceeds with only two hands at the wheel, another man on deck uses this downtime to read, while the captain charts their course. Just as the captain signals a change in their journey, a large noise is heard. On the high seas, a heavy warship is seen chasing down a seagoing merchant vessel. The captain calls the men to quarters and the Nimbus becomes a beehive of activity. The ship turns for a closer view and Leftenant Bristow joins his captain. The captain makes a decision and things quickly go south for the crew of the Nimbus. Horan nicely builds tension in this tale set high in the clouds. This aerial Steampunk tale doesn’t have the airships moving quickly, they move at the speed of their water bound kin, which gives the author plenty of time to have his characters fret and second guess their decisions. The captain is exactly the sort of old man who has made the right choices in the past, but bad luck was bound to occur in his career at some point. Bristow is the lead of this book and he takes charge when things go wrong. The final two pages of the book show that others have plans for the heroic man. Horan also creates a nice supporting cast for this book: Pettigrew, Finch, and Griffin are quick stand outs, and I actually felt a loss when something happens to one of them. The action in this book, and there’s a lot of it, is some clever, fierce fighting. This was classic, historic British warfare transported to the skies, and I loved it. Overall grade: A

The art: Steampunk comics are made or broken by their visuals. Blue Juice Comics made the right choice going with Bong Ty Dazo who’s responsible for the pencils and inks on this book. The book opens with a gorgeous splash of the Nimbus as it makes its way through the skies; it’s a ship with wings and balloons. The second page has Dazo exploring the ship, moving in to a close up, to the flag, to Griffin, and finally to the men steering the ship. This is a great way to give a familiar aquatic feel to this ship, even though it’s flying. The appearance of the mystery ship is a good example of how to create visual tension: the reader sees only as much as the captain can see, which leaves him or her in exactly the same quandary as the captain in making a decision. I really liked the tiny panels on 7 showing how the Nimbus communicates with other ships. 12 and 13 is a double-paged spread and it’s exactly when the story kicks into full-on action mode. Dazo makes every panel action packed; even without dialogue, the final panel of 13 would be easy for a reader to surmise what’s occurring. Even more impressive than this double-paged spread is the attention to fine details that Dazo creates. The line work on 15 is amazing because the cast list has quickly doubled, turning into incredibly detailed drawings of two crews skirmishing, using guns, blades, and fists to be victorious. If this were a film, the budget would have been broken, but the tale continues with a daring feat on 18 and 19, culminating in a fantastic ending. I had become a fervent follower of this book at this point. Dazo has created the rich, vibrant, detailed images one would expect of a Steampunk book and exceeded my expectations. Overall grade: A

The colors: Being a wooden ship of the Royal Navy allows Tim Yates to give the Nimbus the rustic browns and tans of timber, accompanied by the silver and grey of newfangled metal weapons. It’s a great combination that puts two unlike colors together, making each shine when shown. The skies are dark in this tale, but not so much that the colors eclipse the visuals; everything is easily seen. Characters’ flesh makes them stand out in the dark colors, too, and they provide an instant focus for readers as they make their way through this book. The best pages that Yates completes are 16 and 17 when the crews of the two ships engage: the men’s clothes, the sky, their flesh, and the colored sound effects make these pages come to life. Overall grade: A

The letters: Scene setting, the story’s title, dialogue, sounds, and yells come courtesy of Crank! The font for the scene settings instantly gives the reader a historical air for the story and the sounds make the actions bigger than the visuals. Overall grade: A

The final line: Steampunk action in the skies that will please any who are willing to get aboard. This was a good introductory issue and has me looking forward to the next installment. All are to be congratulated for this book. Overall grade: A 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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