Girl Genius Volume 5 by the Foglios

Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio
Line Art by Phil Foglio
Color Art by Cheyenne Wright
Self-Published (originally a webcomic)

Agatha makes her way across the wastelands with the traveling circus, but they run into trouble almost from the start, from horrendous creatures to a town that takes entirely too much interest in her. Meanwhile, the Baron isn't quite ready to give up on finding Agatha, and some old faces return--just when Agatha might be beyond help! Things get increasingly worse for our heroine in the fifth book of this series.

Not sure at what point I just decided, "screw it, I'm gonna just keep reading and reviewing this for the site," but that's one of the perks of having a site that's devoted to good comics, not necessarily recent ones! It also helps that interlibrary loan is your friend, though I'm a bit shocked these aren't coming from Seattle's public library, given that's where the Foglios live. Strange.

At any rate, I'm pretty convinced I missed this arc last time around, because I don't remember any of it. (Maybe I had books 1-3, then 7-9?) However, the story is working incredibly well as the Foglios juggle a large cast of characters extremely well, keep the innuendo going though various gags and costumes, and build on the mystery of Agatha, who gains a depth of character due to her lack of understanding of her true nature or history. What was designed to save her life might very well kill her, because while dangerous as all hell, knowledge is power in this world of talking constructs and power struggles.

 And if there's one thing Agatha lacks, it's knowledge. Sort of. She's able to work mechanical miracles as a spark, including repairing an oversized musical player in this trade, but at the same time, she's a bit of a damsel in distress, as the Foglios play with the trope of a woman constantly in danger. It's a very fine line they're walking, but I trust them to walk it well. The extreme humor helps a lot, along with the fact that everyone from the Baron to the Jagermonsters to the acting troop are all exaggerated caricatures. We aren't meant to take any of this as a serious commentary.

The Jagers really steal the show, with their hysterical dialect and lack of any filter whatsoever. The three guarding Agatha get some of the best lines, especially when discussing what it's like to be an actor, picturing themselves in roles and kissing actresses. (As if.)

As the plot ramps up, the difficulty of hiding Agatha in plain site rears its ugly head, and soon she's part of a power-grabbing scheme that goes horribly wrong. This section really shows the plotting chops of the Foglios, twisting and turning while keeping up the patter and leaving us on a huge cliffhanger, even as the Baron looks ready to re-enter the picture. Part of why I've kept re-reading is that these are really compelling comics, and it's structured in such a way that the story works in either online or print form.

Phil Foglio is credited with "pencils" in the credits, which might explain why the art goes from being extremely detailed to a bit sketchy, something I've noted in the past. This time around, I feel like the linework is a bit sharper most of the time, though there are moments when it seems like Foglio might have gone so hard on getting the wacky machines so perfectly detailed that he didn't have time to get the figure work nailed down.

I continue to be impressed by the layouts of these comics. Foglio almost never creates two pages back to back with the same layout, keeping the reader's eye moving across the page, using everything from small, tight panels to near-splashes to insets and allowing the backgrounds themselves to dictate where the panel breaks occur. It's really phenomenal work, and I know I keep saying that, but it really pops out at me. Cheyenne Wright continues the bright color work, bringing this work to life, but here she also expands a bit, going for overall moods at some points. It's a perfect complement to Phil's pencils and a big part of why the comic works so well.

If you'll pardon the pun, at some point I expect that Girl Genius will start to run out of steam. For now, however, these early adventures are as good as anything being produced today, and are worth digging up if you can find them. I'm very glad I'm doing it, and hopefully my ILL luck will hold--at least better than Agatha's has!