Ohhh snap, is that an American comic?!
Hooooly sheeeet it is! Oh, fan thyselves, darlings, I know it may be too much for you! Be strong, be strong!
So, several months back I picked up the first volume of the Soulless comic from Rightstuf in an effort to round out my order for manga and push me just up over the free shipping minimum. I’d glanced at it a few times before, as if looked mildly intriguing and someone else had mentioned it positively to me, but I’ll admit that in most cases with the opportunity, I just went for more manga instead of some American comic. What can I say? I’m biased. (The few times I have ventured out on a limb for American comics, they have almost always been indie efforts.)
So, Soulless is a steampunk-esque tale of a Victorian England in which vampires and werewolves roam fairly freely, are known to the populace, and are pretty much accepted by society. Alexia is a half-English, half-Italian young woman who is the spinster daughter of an aristocratic family, her mother having somehow not totally ruined her reputation forever in having first married an Italian (the term ‘dago’ isn’t used in the comic, but I recall it popping up once in the original novel, and this is absolutely indicative of the attitudes toward southern Europeans in that era). Alexia is herself a preternatural, a rare being who was born with no soul whatsoever, and who has the power to neutralize the abilities of werewolves and vampires should she touch them. She also doesn’t really get along well with her family or society, as she’s sharp-tongued, intellectual, and doesn’t have much patience with nor interest in adhering to social standards, the implication being that her mixed heritage background and preternatural state has made it wholly impossible so she doesn’t feel like bothering. Alexia runs somewhat afoul of a Scottish werewolf, Lord Connall Macon, early on as he investigates her attack by a rogue vampire, and the two continue to spar over the course of the story as more rogues pop up and loner vampires and werewolves begin to go missing. Who is making unauthorized vampires, and why the disappearances? And why does Alexia keep getting attacked?
Both the comic and the novel have the same storyline and the comic is, ultimately, just a re-telling of the novel with less details – there is no large difference in events otherwise. Having read both, I wanted to review both of them together, since I did walk away feeling fairly differently, and the way I did surprised me: I liked the comic a lot more than the novel. While the ultra-tits approach to the artwork in the comic was a bit of a turn-off (how Alexia’s boobs manage to not escape their confines is rather stunning rather frequently in the first half of the comic, not to mention how utterly non-Victorian her style is), the comic is missing the undertone of misogyny that the novel has. While Alexia’s mother and younger sisters are presented as being on the frivolous side in the comics, there isn’t the excessive degree of snideness about them that the novel has. Overall, women other than Alexia are treated with a fair bit of contempt in the novel as a means of setting up why Alexia is just the best instead of letting her character speak for itself. Its really irritating, and its honestly why I won’t be bothering with any of the other novels in the series, but do intend to read the rest of the comics. (There are other sexist things in the novel, too, which indicated to me that the author is one of those folks who thinks that living in the old days would be utterly delightful despite the fact that it would’ve been unlikely she would’ve been an author had she lived in that time period.)
Fans of steampunk will likely prefer the novel to the comic; I used ‘esque’ because the comic doesn’t really dig into it at all, while the novel certainly enjoys itself when it comes to technology.
So, yes: comic, no: novel. Alexia is an engaging lead – its certainly fun to watch her run headfirst into social conventions, and I like her spirit. I also quite liked her close friend, Ivy Hisselpenny, who is mildly snarky and comes off so much better in the comic than in the novel (where she’s a bit empty-headed and easily fobbed off on the runner-up guy). Actually, the supporting cast in general comes off better in the comic, which may be another reason I prefer it, as their personalities are toned down slightly, as is the case, too, with the gay vampire Lord Akeldama, who is more caricature than not in the novel, but is charming and quirky with a bit of flamboyance in the comic.
But all of you are manga fans. Would a manga fan like this? Maybe. Certainly not if you’re the sort who wrinkles your nose over any comic that isn’t Japanese in origin. But I like to think that those folks are few and far between on my blog at this point, honestly.
As a mystery romp with supernatural elements and steampunk tied in, as well as a dose of romance, I quite liked the first volume of Soulless. I’m usually not hot on supernatural and romance as a mix, and I’m positively allergic to werewolves, but the integration of these into the larger society goes a long way toward avoiding the usual pitfalls associated with these legends inclusion. I would even go so far as to say that the structure of this alternate Victorian London is a large part of what drew me into the story, although it isn’t nearly as detailed as the novel was about it. It certainly wasn’t anything terribly substantial, but I quite liked this first go-round, and I’ll be picking up the second when I get the chance.