Review by Frank Plowright
Arlo’s parents are missing, and his Aunt and Uncle have no interest in him beyond his being the means by which they can acquire a larger house. It’s no life, and Arlo’s method of escape is to investigate the strange machinery his father stored in the attic. It proves a literal escape when he’s transported across the universe to the steampunk planet Pother where the lessons come thick and fast. Fortunately the first to spot Arlo’s arrival are the well intentioned Dalton and Gaynor.
Even before an engaging adventure sinks in, Duane Leslie’s astounding art and designs almost leap out to slap you around the face. His work ethic is based on an appreciation of detail providing a world for readers to become lost in, and he applies that to every page. The character designs are equally imposing, and everyone has small little details added to their clothing, yet everything is achieved without slowing down the rocket-paced story.
It’s not as obvious, but Drew Ford has put the hours into building a cohesive world. This isn’t just a steampunk location populated by humans, as there are all kinds of things going on in the background, including the eccentric groups that have evolved in isolation. The trimmings disguise a relatively straightforward quest and rescue plot with a side dish of redemption, but narratively or visually, these are first rate trimmings. However, the one aspect that doesn’t work is Arlo revealing he’s been abused by foster parents. It’s something too serious in real world terms to be trivialised as a momentary item clumsily mentioned to induce sympathy.
Otherwise the plot is pacy with surprises dropped at the right moments, and a sense of impending tragedy hung over the final quarter, although the ending itself is smart, but a little too rapid. It all makes Steam the kind of adventure that would still be too expensive for movies, but which a graphic novel can provide at a reasonable price. Prepare to be wowed.
Aimed at young adults, the milder end of British swearing vocabulary is used in the dialogue.