Girl Genius Vol. 5: Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess

Written by Phil and Kaja Foglio
Art by Phil Foglio
112 pages, color
Published by Airship Entertainment

When Phil and Kaja Foglio announced that they were shifting the publication of their comic Girl Genius from single issues to web-serialization halfway through what was book four, I’m sure there were many that thought they’d never succeed and that the promised book collections would never appear. With the fifth volume now hitting stores and the comic still going strong online, I think most naysayers have learned their lesson.

Agatha Heterodyne is a Spark, one of the few who has the mad scientist power to create whatever she puts her mind to—but that same power has driven most of its holders nothing short of insane. Taking refuge in a traveling carnival, Agatha’s about to discover that you can’t stay hidden forever, and that perhaps there was a very good reason indeed as to why her parents had left her disguised all of these years.

Girl Genius Vol. 5: Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess is in many ways a major turning point for the Girl Genius series. Up until this point multiple plots were building, and Agatha’s adventures were ones that were primarily centered around her adjusting to her true nature and the rest of the world around her. This is where everything changes, where Agatha runs out of time to get ready for everything that’s about to be unleashed upon her. It’s a pretty daring move on the part of the Foglios (and if you’ve read the online serialization of Volume 6, it’s also very clear that it’s not something to be quickly and easily resolved) because they’re taking huge steps forward in terms of plot, no longer taking everything at a leisurely (if still enjoyable) pace.

The Foglios could’ve easily lost a lot of their audience with this book. As the plot kicks into high gear, this is definitely the most serious book in the series to date. It’s to their credit that they’re able to make these changes in the book without shattering the mood that was established up until now. There’s still a healthy dose of their playful humor that’s defined Girl Genius available, able to give a chuckle to the reader even as things go horribly wrong. At the same time, though, the Foglios certainly recognize what they’ve done to the series; not only are things getting more heavy, but this is the first collection in quite some time that’s ended on a major cliffhanger. If there was ever a moment in the series where you simply must know what happens next, this is absolutely it.

Foglio’s pencils, with colors by Cheyenne Wright, continue to look lovely and slick as ever. Foglio’s art always has a nice, smooth look to it. While slightly exaggerated in places (but always consistent in that regard), there’s a very natural, human look to the series thanks to Foglio’s craftings. It’s an important contrast, so when the crazy and over-the-top technology created by the Sparks shows up, it’s so off-kilter and different that it’s easy to see it for the alien menace that it usually is. Foglio’s art is also quite creative here, able to come up with strange creatures and constructions that each look different from the others. And, as always, I absolutely adore the intricate musical notes that Foglio’s created to signify the sound of Spark technology in motion. They’re just complex and different enough from regular musical notes that you instantly get what he’s going for, a beautiful yet eerie sound that signifies something both wonderful and terrifying at the same time.

I’m a big fan of Girl Genius—thanks to the website’s RSS feed I never miss an update—and re-reading this latest collection just reminded me once again why it’s so good. Phil and Kaja Foglio’s decision to take the series to the web seems like a winning choice to me; it lets people sample the comic for free, but once you’ve read the series you’ll want to read the stories again and again and almost need to buy the collected editions. Me? I’m just happy that with their three-days-a-week update schedule, that I’ll get the next page of Girl Genius before too long. Adventure, romance, and mad science have never been so crazy and fun.

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