Agatha Clay is a struggling college student at Transylvania Polygnostic University, living with her adoptive parents and buried in lab-assistant drudgery. Her professors despair of her ever making anything of herself, but she has a certain something that keeps her a hairsbreadth from failure. Does she possess the Spark, that elusive mental catalyst that enables the elite of her world to transcend the laws of nature and turn insane ideas into unimaginable scientific power?
Why, yes. Yes, she does. Far from being a simple orphan lass, Agatha is the lost heir of the Heterodynes, one of the most powerful families of Sparks, a name that inspires horror throughout the world. Her birth parents, reformed mad scientists and crusaders against evil, disappeared when she was just a tot. So, when Agatha’s true potential and likely identity are revealed, she must flee for her life, pursued by the relentless Baron von Wulfenbach, the world’s most powerful Spark and de-facto emperor of central Europe.
It doesn’t help that she’s got sort of a “thing” for the Baron’s son, Gil.
There aren’t many comics that can lay claim to a Hugo Award. In fact, there’s only one so far. This one. Girl Genius is Phil and Kaja Foglio’s garish, audacious, ridiculous, delightful romp through the charms and excesses of steampunk, a genre featuring all the preposterous dreams of Victorian mad science gone twistedly and horribly right. Agatha Heterodyne, Girl Genius, is an anomaly in this world, a madgirl who, though sometimes carried away by her gift and the thrills of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, is an honest, caring person who just wants to be left alone to make the world a better place. Her heroism and ethical compass influence people around her for the better.
Unfortunately for Agatha (and thankfully for us), the world is not about to leave the heir to the Heterodyne empire alone for a second. She tumbles from one misadventure to the next, emerging triumphantly, and mostly-unscathed, thanks to her ingenuity, good-heartedness, and a chorus of loyal, eccentric friends.
Phil Foglio’s artwork is a loud, boisterous tribute to all things clockwork and the classic monster movies of the ’40s and ’50s. You’ll encounter bizarre mutations, robots small and large, death rays, gigantic airships, and all manner of ill-advised medical and mechanical experiments. There are so many wry gags peppered among the incredibly-detailed backgrounds and costumes that I’ve given up trying to find them all.
The comic is archived online, beginning at http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20021104, and you should read it from the beginning to avoid hopeless confusion. Start with the new-reader orientation at http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/info/newreader.php for best results. Print compilations of the comic are also available at the Studio Foglio online store.
Phil Foglio, his wife Kaja, and other partners-in-crime regularly perform live radio-theater versions of Girl Genius episodes for sci-fi conventions, and some of them are available online at http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/radio/radio.php. Funny stuff.
I’d rate the comic at about a PG-13 for occasional innuendo and, as the authors warn, some non-explicit “running about in Victorian underwear.” There’s also a fair bit of cartoon violence, including ghoulish deathtraps and the casual vaporizing of hapless minions. Mid-teens and up.