Punk'd up and tricked out, a clever new adventure takes flight

COLUMBIA, Mo 10/14/13 (Review) --  "Money," explains Lady Jade Summers, "isn't everything.  It can't buy love.  And no matter how hard you try, you can't take it with you when you die.  But it turns out there is one thing money can buy:  Power.   And I have plenty of both!"  

Not to worry.   Lady Jade isn't the latest student apartment developer ramming a lawyered-up project through City Hall.  
As the twenty-something power broker pours her afternoon tea from a pot of pure gold, a Schubert piano concerto playing on a gramophone nearby, newcomers and fans alike realize she inhabits a very different place -- and time. 

Only Jashin Lin, who plays Lady Jade in a web series that's getting a lot of buzz, lives in 21st century CoMo.  

Lin's alter-ego presides over a team of memorable 19th-century mercenaries in Steamworks & Shadows (S&S).
Lensed and produced in Columbia, the 9-part Internet-only film -- which debuted Part 1 this month -- promises an intriguing mix of science fiction and American history, luscious backgrounds, classical composers, and amazing costumes.   At the heart of it all is gadgetry reminiscent of Jules Verne and this writer's fave television show from the 1960s, The Wild Wild West (WWW).

Like WWW,  S&S unfolds on the small screen in episodes -- or webisodes, as they're known online.  Fifty years apart, the two shows share a fascination with steampunk, a campy blend of high-tech performance and low-tech power -- a steam-powered robot that can mimic a human, for instance.  
But where WWW followed government agents West and Gordon as they conquered steaming-mad villains and steamier women, a private enterprise rolls in Steamworks and Shadows:  the 9-member crew of the Airship Vindus, a flying 19th-century battleship that "battles mad science and supernatural horror" -- for hire.  

On board to fight monsters and madmen:  the mysterious Captain William Wilson;  expert weaponeer Gunny McManus; the ship's steam-blinged navigator, Layla Anders;  Second Officer Judge, a ruggedly-handsome gunslinger/monster hunter;  Shamus McMagnus, a time-traveling Viking whose hammer makes earthquakes; and their wealthy industrialist patron Lady Jade, an Eastern-born empress of the West.  

Their first job:  fighting terrorists, naturally.  A sinister group of kidnappers called the Veritas Academy threatens the Vindus crew while taking the re-enactment concept to a whole new level.   The cast of S&S has few, if any, actors.  Instead, they're role players with day jobs, like director Ben Watkins who also plays Judge.  He works at Michael's craft store in CoMo and runs a business making film props.
Steamworks and Shadows is part of a growing nationwide community of steampunk aficionados, who have their own conferences, regional events like DodecaCon in Columbia, and now -- a full-length television-style series. 

Early reviews are good.  "Love it!!!!!" wrote one viewer on the series' Youtube page.  "Very impressed with the art department quality," wrote another. 
The "art" is impressive:  Hollywood-worthy costumes and sets on a $2,000 budget, raised mostly via IndieGogo

For fans of the imaginative TV shows of old -- Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and of course, the Wild Wild West -- Steamworks and Shadows may be the start of a refreshing trend. 

It sure beats the next episode of The Kardashians, or the Bitchy Housewives of ____________ (Fill in blank with gated community marked:  Gun-Free Zone Monsters -- but no Monster Hunters -- Allowed.)

 -- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat