Competing with the likes of Paul Bunyan for the hardest big guy in the West, The Steam Man sows the seed of a solid, steam-punk myth. It does have a bit of a prerequisite, being derived in part from Edward S. Ellis’s The Steam Man of the Prairies. However, Joe R. Lansdale’s story of the roaming giant, while seemingly vast, comes off as too schizophrenic for this early of an installment. Likewise, though the work may present a vast scope, all of that space feels about barren as the Mojave and a tundra’s lovechild. The Steam Man is, of course, in a bit of an awkward position as it understandably teases a meaty lore but does little to garner much curiosity. Still, a crisp and campy art style, paired with a few not-so-subtle allusions to Orson Welles and Stephen King save this piece from being too muddled to endeavor upon.
After an invasion of extra-terrestrial tripods twists humanity’s arm into utter disarray, a crew of four juxtaposed engineers assume control of brass, top hat-toting colossus. Easily defeating the aliens’ initial offense, the giant lumbers across the faux American frontier, eliminating any mutant or monster that crosses its path. William Beadle, the captain of this bi-pedal vessel, seeks to put an end to the mysterious Dark Rider, an apocalyptic terror leaving only desolation and corpse in its wake. Meanwhile, the remaining three members of the team slowly come to terms with the limitations of their savior of a war machine.
As of now, Beadle isn’t exactly the most compelling protagonist. His motivation, avenging his wife, feels a bit exhausted here. It’s as if defending humanity simply won’t suffice, and the horrifying trials of the unknown weren’t enough to propel this character forward. Of course, the trope is ancient, but the story is enough of a genre throwback to forgo some of these more tired conventions. The remaining three crewmen, especially Feather, have a bit more going for them, and should provide Beadle with a much needed narrative supplement.
Creature design is where The Steam Man rises above its flaws. Near cousins of John Carpenter’s The Thing are never too far off, and rabbit hole these oddities uncover is enticing enough to anticipate the next issue. One frame in particular posits a startling implication: A horned-spider derived from a human head gazes across a snowy landscape as the Steam Man lumbers on after yet another battle. The environment is not alien in any particular, but ultimately, neither is the creature question. The presumed comfort of the old west is subtle compromised by the presence of the creature in question, but even then this being doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary. Thus, Piotr Kowalski polymerizes Americana with cosmic horror with a single, defining image.
The Steam Man still has a few obvious growing pangs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t find a happy medium somewhere down the trail. It may want to do so soon, though, as the prairie his a hell of a lonely place to die.
WICKED RATING: (5.5 / 10)