Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank
Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio is a fun “gaslamp fantasy” starring a young woman just discovering her abilities. The first volume, Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank, establishes the setting and characters for the ongoing steampunk adventure series.
Agatha’s world is one of mad science, run by privileged nobles who display the Spark needed to work steam-powered technological magic. She’s a lowly lab assistant in this Cinderella story. No one, including herself, yet suspects that she possess the Spark, and quite powerfully, too. Right now, she’s a klutz just trying to do her best as the Baron visits her bosses’ laboratories.
The Baron persists in setting tests for his heir, Gilgamesh, to determine his abilities. The frustrated son thus has a motive for not following his father’s directions exactly and a reason for our sympathy. He also seems more clever than his father, because he’s more willing to consider possibilities that fall outside the rules.
Foglio’s art is known for being jam-packed and energetic. Future volumes of this series are in color, which may assist the unfamiliar reader in better following the action, but the brown-and-white work here gives a lovely old-fashioned feel that suits the material. The Jagermonster commander is a particular hoot, a feral beast man (with fangs!) who speaks in Eastern European accent. His jaded, seen-it-all attitude contrasts amusingly with his monstrous exterior and comic opera uniform.
By the end of the volume, all the pieces are in place for an inspired romp. The steampunk-flavored action is punctuated by comedy in a setting where over-the-top seems plausible. Agatha is a wonderful character, smart, pretty, beset by unfair circumstances she struggles to triumph over, and admirable in her determination.
The collection contains a bonus color story showing an older Agatha, one aware of and more confident in her abilities. The grave-digging premise makes her seem like Buffy (will), Giles (knowledge), and Angel (history) all rolled into one.