Girl Genius is print/web comic (and prose book) series by Phil and Kaja Foglio. It is a massive and epic adventure. They call it a Gaslamp Fantasy, think steampunk cranked to 11 with Frankenstein, zombies and a bit of super hero thrown in. It has adventure, romance (sort of, a little bit) and a lot of humor.
The world of GG is one where the industrial revolution became a war. This happened because of “Sparks.” A spark is someone who is a mad scientist but on a genetic level, think the mutants in Marvel’s X-men, at a young-ish age the spark breaks through and suddenly they are making gadgets, robots, war machines or genetically engineered monsters. And like Marvel’s Mutants there are levels of power from trinket making to planet (and more ) destroying. A lot of sparks don’t survive break through because they make something that goes wrong and kills them and sometimes it takes a section of the countryside with or they get attacked by people who don’t want a spark causing trouble.
One of the most powerful Spark families is the Heterodynes, unfortunately most of them really put the mad in mad scientist. Among other things the Heterodynes created Jagermonsters, nearly unstoppable warriors that are very loyal to the Heterodyne family. And they place a huge amount of importance in hats. Honest. The Heterodynes have embraced the chaos of warring sparks for generations until about 20 years before GG starts. At that time Bill and Barry Heterodyne came on the scene, and instead of rampaging they set out to save the world. They worked to end the fighting, unite Europa and improve things for everybody, and it worked. Then Europa is attacked by someone (or something) known as “The Other.” When the battles stopped The Other and the Heterodynes and their allies were just gone. Except for Klaus Wulfenbach, an old friend of Bill and Barry, he sees what is left of Europa and decides to fix it. Most of the long standing spark families have been wiped out and the rest are at each other’s throats in a bid for power.
So Klaus aided by his very strong spark and intelligence gets control of a good part of Europa. He is a tyrant but not in “bwahahah” evil kind of way, he wants to have peace and to find out everything he can about The Other and the war. So he has one rule: No. More. Fighting. He will destroy anyone who breaks it but any who follow it get to rule their land as they will. Baron Wulfenbach as he is now called does have one other rule: He is to be notified if ANYTHING connected with The Other is found. And that is where things are as the story starts.
Miss Agatha “Clay” is on her way to a University for Sparks when a portal opens in front of her. In it a figure singles Agatha out, being rather smart Agatha bolts. And then she runs into a pair of guys who decide to rob her and the take her ornate locket. She arrives at the University shortly before the Baron makes an inspection which has her mentor, Dr. Beetle, a bit freaked out. So to condense things here, it turns out NOTHING Agatha builds ever works, Dr. Beetle has a Hive Engine to make Slaver Wasps that he planned to use to fight the Baron and the Baron’s son Gil has a chivalrous streak. Things go badly for Beetle and Agatha is expelled because she has zero Spark ability. And because the new head of the school hates her.
When Agatha arrives home her “parents” are upset over the loss of her locket, the fact the Baron is in town AND that he met Agatha in person but recovering the locket is there top priority. Oh did I mention her parents are also super humanly strong? They tell Agatha they are fleeing the area in the morning and she goes to bed. It turns out thing aren’t going well for her muggers as one of them suddenly dies mysteriously and it seems he’s been holding on to the locket since they stole it. SPOILER The locket was in fact a device to stop Agatha’s Spark from breaking through END SPOILER. The surviving mugger decides to hunt for Agatha to get a little revenge because she was responsible for his brother’s death and totally not because they stole the locket…
So now that the locket is gone Agatha starts sleep creating, turning a steam engine into a clank that is sent hunting for someone. And of course it ends up tangling with the Baron, Gil and a squad of Jagers. They follow it back to Agatha, who is having a “discussion” with the locket thief in the workshop. The Baron gasses them and collects the thief because he knows Agatha has no spark ability Gil however, has been paying attention and is sure Agatha is in fact is a spark. The Baron has Agatha taken back to his HQ because she must be the thief’s girlfriend and that makes her a bargaining chip.
Over the course of the (as of this writing) 12 volumes for Girl Genius you will find out who The Other is, start on an epic story and see Agatha start to reclaim both her ability and her birthright. There will be adventure, battles, plots, betrayals and above all a TON of humor and fun. The cast grows fast and is filled with great characters including a travelling acting troupe, the emperor of all cats, an amazing trio of Jager Monsters, a sentient castle that’s slightly crazy and Dupree. For Dupree think Captain Jack Sparrow but crazy.
One of the great things about this series is it’s got an honest to goodness well-constructed and strong female character. Agatha is the one doing the rescuing most of the time rather than being the damsel in distress. She’s not spending time trying to impress a guy, most of the time the guys are trying to impress her. If you are a comic reader the best examples I can give would be Agatha is like Captain America or Batman, not for the fighting (though she can throw down with the best of them) but because everybody starts looking to her leadership, plans etc. If you are looking for a good comic for girls that isn’t “girly” this really is a great choice.
Now on to Phil Foglio’s art, I have been a fan since WAY back when he was doing “What’s New? With Phil and Dixie” in the back of Dragon Magazine. He also did the comic version of Robert Asprin’s Myth books, the “Buck Godot: Zap Gun For Hire” series and a lot more (more on this later.) He has a very unique art style that is cartoony but not at the same time. The men still have the super-hero build and the ladies have that comic book attractiveness but in a nice change they aren’t that super model thin look, Agatha has a physique that doesn’t make you go “Eat a sandwich!” and has more human curves. In a stylized art kind of way, if you want photo-realistic this isn’t for you but if you want good, here it is.
Phil’s art is also insanely detailed. You can spend as much time looking at all the detail he puts in each panel as you do reading. He also hides gags in the art, if you see labels, signs or whatever, read them. Phil Foglio has become an artist I dearly want a page from, preferably with Agatha and Jagers.
Now as a warning if you check this out and say “I want to see more Phil Foglio” you should check into what he has done BEFORE you just buy it. His work has ranged GG and the Myth comics all the way up to Adults Only titles. I just don’t want anyone to be surprised or put off because you got something you weren’t prepared for.
You can get 12 very nice over-sized collected editions, a hardcover that is the first 3 trades or you can read the ENTIRE thing for free online at http://www.girlgeniusonline.com (not .net as in the header image.) It started in 2001 and has be nominated for an insane amount of awards and won eight. The fact that it is still going 13 years is a good indicator of it’s quality. I got the hardcover and before I was even done I was tracking down volumes 4 – 11 to keep going, it really is that good and it’s already one of those things where I just go reread it because I need something fun.
Please believe me while my write up of it really sucked you have to understand it’s like trying to explain all the Star Trek TV series and Movies in 1,400 words, it’s not going to go well. But you can try it for free so really you have no excuse not to.