It’s late-1400s Italy, and Leonardo da Vinci finds himself tailed by papal agents. This is situation is swiftly resolved by the massive wooden automaton he has built which disposes of the assailants.
Da Vinci is caught in the conflict between the Medici’s and the Catholic Church. He, along with his assistant Isabel, are valued by both sides, but Leonardo feels no allegiance to either. Leonardo da Vinci is interested in what best benefits him and his pursuit of knowledge and invention.
Monstro Mechanica is another in a line of the oddly large subgenre of sci-fi/fantasy fiction about Leonardo da Vinci. Assassin’s Creed II, The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci, Da Vinci’s Demons, and even The Da Vinci Code (to a degree) all have these weirdly opulent view of the Renaissance man.
Don’t get me wrong, he was a brilliant man way ahead of his time, and I’m mostly pointing this out because I noticed it. There is something of a tinge of ambitious self-reflection in wanting to be da Vinci if you’re a writer, artist, or scientist, and we do live in the House/Breaking Bad era of morally flawed but brilliant protagonists. Also, the same could easily be said about William Shakespeare and the American Founding Fathers, and I’m never going to be the one to tell someone not to write their Leonardo da Vinci epic.
In any case, Leonardo da Vinci is actually one of the main issues of the comic. He is really hard to like. He’s coarse, irritable, and maniacally self-involved. He’s kind of like every worst quality of Batman. He even has the same “I can do this because I’m da Vinci” quality that every bad rendition (but also the Lego Batman Movie) of Batman has.
It doesn’t help that he may have effectively created AI in the 1400s, which is really hard to swallow, even in an ambitious historical fiction like this.
In fairness, the comic shows that it’s aware that its protagonist is an ass, and it may not end up being about him as much as Isabela. If that’s the goal, it needs to do it fast, because she is a way better character than him. She’s brash but sympathetic. She’s ambitious and smart, too, but she isn’t nearly as insufferable as da Vinci.
The tone could use some lightening up, too. For a comic with some truly out-there science-fiction elements, it holds a pretty grim and unrelenting tone throughout its runtime. If it had just a bit more fun, it really would go a long way for the reading experience.
The Medici/Vatican conflict is an interesting historical moment, and the comic would do well to expand on that too. As it is, it’s just given in broad strokes. Hopefully, later issues will talk more about that.
I almost get why lot of historical fiction dodges the racism aspect completely now. Unless you’re willing to really talk about it, including the racism just results in your characters being awful to nonwhite people. It’s gets uncomfortable watching our de facto protagonist berating every black guy he sees.
Chris Evenhuis’s artwork holds together quite well through the comic, and I actually really dig the automaton’s visual design. It’s clunky, but it still looks like it could beat someone’s face in, which it does. The characters look quite nice, detailed, and expressive, and it pairs nicely with Sjan Weijers‘s color art.
There are some sparks of potential in this comic, but the first issue is heavily flawed. From an insufferable protagonist to a tone that could use with some lightening up, Monstro Mechanica was a disappointment. While the character of Isabela and the solid artwork give some hope to the future of the series, I cannot recommend this first issue. Perhaps check back in a few issues. Perhaps da Vinci will be jettisoned by then. He could also become the antagonist; that would be quite interesting, too.
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