Starting a series in the middle is always a bad idea. But alas, shit happens, and Cross Cult sent me volumes two & three (2012, 2013) of Das Kupferherz (The Copper Heart), a darkly pretty German comic series. Volume one was published almost three years ago and had Benjamin Schreuder at the pencil-shaped helm rather than Verena Klinke, who took over as writer in volume two. I can see why they wouldn’t send volume one. But the result was a hell of a lot of confusion, and I have no idea what was intentional and what I missed in that initial volume.
In the Steam Noir world, “souls” come back from the dead—except they occupy their original, now gross and rotting, bodies? Professionals called Bizarromant’s are supposed to, umm, capture them? (One Bizarromant does carry around a Ghost Busters-esque machine for a scene or two.) Render them harmless? Because the souls’ return is somehow damaging to humans and their world? A girl is missing and dead? Except she’s totally not? Something something Blind Days something something copper heart?
You got that? Because I sure as fuck didn’t, and I spent most of my Steam Noir reading experience feeling confused. From the extra reading material at the end of each volume (and extra material at the back of their hard-cover comics is one of Cross Cult’s things, which is awesome), I gathered that much of the confusion is intentional. That is to say, is used in the name of suspense. But without the beginning (or the end for that matter), I don’t feel that I can critique the story.
Our three lead characters are interesting, at least that much was clear. Herr Lerchenwald is a scientist who has had his research into healing souls used to create weapons to destroy them, and who is unhealthily obsessed with keeping his terminally ill son alive. Herr Hirschmann is a hulking machine not-a-man who is an incredibly kind, loyal friend and colleague to Herr Lerchenwald. Frau D is, well I am not quite sure what she does, but they are all in this together, and hey, look at that, the female characters are quite three dimensional, if predictably busty. Hip hip hooray.
But my favorite character was Leander, who we don’t really get to know until volume three. He’s dead, or undead, or whatever the fuck these “souls” are, and in order to keep the returned souls from looking too much like zombies, Klinke and Mertikat decided to put him in a creepy, wonderful, long-nosed mask.
The series’ aesthetic is gorgeous: dark and beautifully drawn, if not more reminiscent of Star Wars than what I think of as Steam Punk—take a look at these two panels:
Is there anyone here who doesn’t see that two-legged robot and think Star Wars? Or that hover bike? Or the outfits with the bug-eyed goggles?
It is not Steam Punk, but Steam Noir, I had to keep reminding myself, though I would have preferred a more dramatic commitment to the aesthetic of both. I would have liked some stranger-looking machines, something that looked like the past of a different future and not the future of a different past, but if you don’t let yourself get too caught up in expectations, then it works. I particularly enjoyed a story within the story told in the middle of volume two in silhouette cut outs. And one more fun fact: many of the outfits worn by Frau D were designed by Redcat 7, a German steam-punk-influenced designer whose clothes you can order for yourself right here. Neat.
Buy Steam Noir for its beauty—though each 54-page, color hardcover will set you back 16,80 euro—but if you want in for the story, be sure to start with volume one.
Where I got Steam Noir: Sent to me by the publisher for review