Before we even talk about Aphrodite herself, Aphrodite IX: Volume 1 is the story of the Gen vs. the cybernetically enhanced people of Speros. Both sides have a vibrant culture, with dedication to showing off the differences in both aesthetics and function. As well demonstrated by the Science Class (more on that in a bit), writer Matt Hawkins really did his research and extrapolated advancements that are both founded in science and are unadulterated fun. The Gen abhor cybernetic enhancements, but their genetic modifications allow them to not only be faster and stronger than an average human, but even incorporate animal DNA to create cat men, unbelievable tracking dogs, and—my favorite—drakes, which are giant, bird-winged reptilian creatures that the Gen ride into battle. That's right, this book has dragons. The cyborgs on the other hand make use of implants throughout their bodies, mech-like suits, and sweet hoverbikes/fighters. The look and feel of this post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy universe is damn near perfect. Some of the world elements stumble over themselves in the telling of the story, which is frustrating when it happens, but they're not so obvious and in your face that they can't be overlooked given everything that's done right.
Added on top of this genetics vs. cybernetics war is Aphrodite, a relic from a past age, a product of both genetic engineering and cybernetics who becomes a part of the Gen's lives. But, there's just one problem: Aphrodite has no memory from before she awoke, no knowledge of where her infiltration and assassination skills came from, and she keeps blacking out. Aphrodite is a complex character. Thanks to her memory loss, she plays many different roles throughout this first arc and only settles on an identity near the end. This back and forth makes it difficult to latch on to her as a character. I didn't particularly like Aphrodite until the very end when it seemed she had finally settled.
Despite what the first few covers will make you think, Aphrodite IX keeps the fan service to a minimum and delivers some strong female characters. We see plenty of female drake riders among the Gen, and main character Marcus' fiancee Lina holds her own both when arguing with him and in a fight. Among the people of Speros, we see several strong women in charge of military units, all of whom made me very happy. Oh yeah, and there's Valr'x the drake, who is an incredible character in spite of not saying much for obvious reasons.
Characters like Valr'x can be so strong thanks to the impossibly good art of Stjepan Sejic. If you've never read a Sejic book, you're in for a treat. Sejic has an almost photorealistic, incredibly detailed art style that brings the cities of Genesis and Speros to life along with their characters. The character work and ability to show off emotions is so good that the story could almost be told without words. To top it off, Aphrodite IX features some well choreographed and brutal fight scenes. Both a plus and a minus, many of these fights are over far too quickly with a few quick blows determining the final result.
Which takes us to the pacing of the plot itself. There's a lot of material crammed into every issue of Aphrodite IX, and it takes the series a couple of issues to stop and catch its breath instead of sprinting from one scene to another, losing some readers in the process. Aphrodite IX is not a book that's going to hold your hand and make sure you caught everything what's happening. If something happened off panel, they'll refer to it, but the story is constantly moving forward. By about halfway through the volume, the scene skipping disappears while maintaining the same level of action and intrigue. While this sprint works well for this story arc, I'll admit to being slightly relieved when the book finally presented an opportunity to take a breather and wonder what will come next for our green-haired warrior.
Now, let's talk science! Accompanying each issue of Aphrodite IX is a segment of the “Science Class.” Originally started over at Hawkins' other book, Think Tank, Science Class explores the research and real-life science behind the elements introduced in the story. Although Aphrodite IX clearly pushes the boundaries of some of these theories with its focus on genetic modification and cybernetics, Hawkins' research is a fascinating read and some of the facts he presents may surprise you.
A good story, decent character work, brilliant art, dragons, and science! Aphrodite IX has a lot working for it and is well worth checking out.
Four Girls Cryogenically Frozen in a Box out of Five