“Sangre” is a fitting title for the sixth volume of Joe Benitez’s Lady Mechanika, and not just because there’s plenty of blood and bloodshed to be seen across its pages. This is a story about the blood that ties families together, for better and worse—about the lengths a mother will go to to avenge the death of her children, and about the struggle of being bound by blood to a family where you can’t truly be yourself.
Sangre sees Lady Mechanika, occult detective extraordinaire, called to Spain to help investigate the demonic possession of the son of a local Barón. But this is far from a simple demon-hunting mission, and there’s much more to Alejandro’s apparent possession than meets the eye—and that’s before a vengeful spirit in service to La Dama de la Muerte comes into the picture.
Alejandro is, as his aggressively devout father describes him, a “deviant”. Growing up with such a father, the boy could never truly be himself, until he left home for university and finally found a place where he was accepted, even loved, for who he was. But Alejandro’s father is still his father, and blood ties are always complicated.
This is a story that is, unfortunately, all too common in the world. It’s something that Sangre deftly explores, in part through using its supernatural elements for handy metaphors, and in part by just addressing the issue head-on. Without going too far into spoiler territory, Alejandro’s new found family is with a group of creatures that most people would consider to be monsters, inherently evil. But evil is in one’s actions, so who’s really the monster: the outcasts forced to live in the shadows because of an unearned reputation for deviance, or the father who’s so firmly set in his bigoted ways that he’ll almost kill his son in an effort to “fix” him? It’s a question that should have an obvious answer, but as Sangre shows, blood has a way of complicating things.
Sangre is also the story of mother’s never-ending quest to avenge the murder of her husband and children. A prologue story, set within the Aztec Empire in the early days of Spanish colonisation, introduces Mali, a young mother who clearly loves her family more than anything. But when her home is overrun by demonic creatures and she sees her husband and children murdered before her eyes, she loses her whole reason for living. Her boundless love turns into an insatiable desire for revenge, something that she’ll sacrifice her soul to achieve.
Mali’s story inevitably becomes entangled with Alejandro’s, and through their contrast, Sangre looks at the power of blood ties through different, but related, perspectives. For someone who lost the people most precious to her, blood is something that can turn love into hatred; for someone whose family prevents him from being his true self, blood is an obstacle to happiness. In either case, it’s an unbreakable bond, and not necessarily for the better.
But, grim as that sounds, Sangre does end up in a place that is, if not necessarily happy, at least shows some sense of peace. Blood can be a source of healing, too, and paternity isn’t the only way a blood bond can be formed. A found family can be just as strong as a biological one.
And what of Lady Mechanika in all of this? With no knowledge of her family, blood relations are something of a foreign concept to her. But through this case, she gets some clues to her own past, and a deeper understanding of what family means.
But mostly, she spends her time fighting supernatural foes and kicking ass—for all its serious themes, Lady Mechanika is still an action comic. Guest artist Brian Ching captures that action vividly, with a real sense of dynamism and flow in every fight scene. Ching’s art style in Sangre is very different to that of Benitez and Martin Montiel, the usual art team for Lady Mechanika; it’s more sketchlike and rough, but in a way that really helps to draw out the emotion of each panel and convey the energy of the action.
With Lady Mechanika, Benitez always finds a way to balance a gripping mystery and plenty of action with thoughtful exploration of difficult themes. Sangre is a fine example of that, using Mechanika’s latest demon-hunting adventure to delve into the complicated nature of the blood that ties family together.