This episode is a prequel to the main storyline of Lady Mechanika, although that’s not made terribly clear by the blurb or the opening. However, it quickly becomes obvious that this is a much younger Nika here, pre- Mr Lewis and Fred and pre- “England’s elegant and virtuous heroine”, as she arrives in Cuidad de México mourning the death of someone called Dallas.
Having said that this is a prequel, if you were to read this before any of the other volumes I think it would be a poor introduction to Mechanika’s world. It was published in between The Lost Boys of West Abbey (volume 3) and The Clockwork Assassin (volume 4) and that seems a far more sensible position to approach it from. At least then the reader will have a clearer idea of the world in which Nika exists and some of the things that haunt her.
This young Nika is a little more emotionally open, a little more reactive, than the Nika of the main run of comics. She’s mourning, without direction and seemingly without friends at this point in her life and has ended up in Mexico simply because that is where the train she boarded was going. (How and why she came to be in North America will hopefully be filled in at some point further along the line). Fortunately, (or not), she bumps into local medicine man Bembé almost as soon as she disembarks and he points her in the direction of Santa Catrina with the words “you will attain peace there”.
I’m not quite sure what Bembé had in mind when he said that. Nika joins in the Day of the Dead festivities with the family that runs the inn she’s staying at, and perhaps that does help her begin to sort through her feelings for the loss of Dallas, but pretty soon the village’s own troubles become her concern. And because of a mistake, something terrible happens. Really terrible.
The second half of the story is savage and bloody and powerful in the way that only revenge stories can be. Benitez and his fellow creators have never shied away from the murkier, bloodier side of things in the Lady Mechanika comics up until now, but this slim stand-alone volume packs a heck of a punch all the same. A dark, dramatic palette and some incredibly strong visuals make it very clear that this is a formative event in Nika’s becoming a private investigator and hired gun.
And perhaps the violence with which she pursues her aim weighs a little more because of the lack of gadgets and guns. Lady Mechanika hasn’t been fully born yet, she’s yet to meet Mr Lewis and make use of his clever inventions. Yes, she carries a gun, but she’s not yet delivering killer lines along with her bullets. We are seeing just one of her beginnings, and she is a raw and ferocious fighter here, with none of the panache she later acquires.
And it’s frigging awesome.