Writer: Joe Benitez (with M.M. Chen)
Art: Joe Benitez (with Martin Montiel)
Colors: Beth Sotelo
Letters: Michael Heisler
Lady Mechanika: Monster of the Ministry of Hell is the first Lady Mechanika title published under the Image banner and the start of the eighth Lady Mechanika story (five volumes, plus La Dama de la Muerte and Sangre). While the first issue begins with more callbacks to previous issues than other stories, Lady Mechanika arcs are always inviting to new readers and Ministry of Hell is no different. In fact, the story is set to provide readers with more insight into our mechanical heroine’s origins than ever before.
As ever, Ministry of Hell is a work of art when it comes to character design and layouts. Mechanika sports one of the most stylish designs in comics and Benitez knows it. Page five features a recurring approach to layouts: a near full page Lady Mechanika profile laid carefully over numerous panels. This tactic allows readers to enjoy meticulous character designs while maintaining a strongly paced narrative. Benitez’s poses are simply deft.
Nothing is ever busy in Mechanika’s art–on the contrary, everything is richly detailed and perfectly slotted. Layouts are compact and precise, like a well-made watch, or the Lady Mechanika herself!
As a character, Mechanika continues to represent an effortless combination of power, empathy, ingenuity and pure badass panache. I happen to be watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time and Xena: Warrior Princess for the first time since air. Mechanika, with the right exposure, could well stand shoulder to shoulder with these sci-fi/fantasy icons. And as a steam punk monster hunter, Lady Mechanika occupies a unique place in genre fiction, a sort of X-Files-meets-Sherlock Holmes vibe.
That said, Ministry of Hell gives readers their first glimpse of a young, vulnerable Mechanika yet to find her place in the world. We do not hear much from her this issue, but a number of heinous characters have already appeared in need of a good, mechanical ass-whooping. I look forward to LM delivering said whooping.
Horror has always been an aspect of the series, to varying degrees, but the Monster of the Ministry of Hell (as the title suggests) builds off of the vampire-fueled Sangre, leaning heavily into the macabre. Our first look at a young Mechanika is horribly bloody. There’s a particularly brutal sequence during which child Mechanika grows accustomed to her powers. This is a gentle way of describing her slicing deep gashes in her face, ripping out her hair, and kicking down the door of her padded cell. She appears to be about twelve years old in this heartbreaking scene. That’s to say nothing of the “whoops guess that wasn’t enough anesthesia” surgery scene.
As a series, Lady Mechanika’s greatest weakness has simply been consistency; Ministry of Hell #1 is the book’s 29th issue in 11 years. While the self-contained stories are always worth the wait, early pages show off the book’s growing supporting cast–Dr. Littleton and his comically dubious daughter Alexandra, spunky almost-sidekick Fred and her freaking mech teddy bear(!!). This crew begs for a more extended run that allows Benitez to really flesh out the characters. In other words, Lady Mechanika has not been the type of series that can afford to dedicate an entire issue to a side character, or romantic relationship, and the world Benitez has created can most definitely support those kinds of stories.
Ministry of Hell #1 is an exciting, chilling tale with three installments to go. I can’t wait for what nightmare comes next.
New readers may not be as excited as longtime LM fans to get a look at her early days, but this issue sets up what looks to be a truly nightmarish Victorian romp.