Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Lettering: Rus Whooton
Editor: Jennifer M. Smith
Monstress is one of those rare finds where the first page gets your interest. From the beginning, it compels readers to push forward and learn how things came to be. And with such beautiful art to accompany the journey, it’s a push readers likely wouldn’t mind.
Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, an arcanic with a completely human appearance. She can blend in with humans when need be, but if her true species is learned, she’s treated like nothing more than an animal. Humans and Arcanics (human/animal hybrids) are at war. Many factions exist in Monstress with many different goals. Some want Arcanics exterminated. Others merely wish to experiment on them. Other factions fight for peace. Many are Arcanic-sympathizers. Despite Maika facing prejudice all her life, though, what she wants is far more personal than an end to the war that threatens her people.
Volume 1 focuses primarily on Maika’s life now with healthy doses of backstory to frame her search for answers. Long ago her mother unearthed an ancient mask of unknowable power. Maika’s mother would die for this discovery. In the current, the mask is now broken but the pieces still hold power. When put together… very bad things can happen. Maika merely wants to learn more abut why her mother had to die and get revenge on the perpetrator. Despite her intentions being rather simple, her destiny is wrapped up in that mask because that mask is the reason for something inside Maika. A monster lives in Maika’s mind that feeds on people. Maika doesn’t understand it and it doesn’t understand her. But as situations go from bad to worse, they have to gain a better knowledge of one another if they want to survive.
I won’t spoil anything, but I highly urge anyone read this story. It’s dramatic, there’s tons of threads going on, and it is beautifully drawn. Maika is an interesting “rebel” protagonist that manages to not quite teeter into the unfortunate “super edgy” category so she’s easy to like. She’s tough as nails when she needs to be but “human” when she needs to be as well. The world is full of peril but also beautiful landscapes and sights. There are horrible events that take place but also quirky charms in the world and characters. And I’ve mentioned it before, but the art is BEAUTIFUL. It cannot be praised enough. Monstress is a sing-song feast for the eyes that is both complicated and extremely pleasing. This is only a taste of it:
Pictured: Maika and the Great Eye.
I would recommend Monstress to anyone willing to read comics. The alternate 1900’s Asia setting, with steampunk and mythological influences, creates one of the finest new fictional worlds I’ve seen in comics in quite some time. Monstress has a distinct feeling throughout the narrative that permeates it and makes it truly feel like it couldn’t be anywhere but Asia. The distinct Asian influence goes so hand-in-hand with the story it’s impossible not to feel its impressions. I’ve never said this about a comic before but Monstress is the first I’ve ever read that’s convinced me if it was ever adapted into live media, it would have to be anime. I’ve never been a large fan of anime but the distinct feeling of anime is present in Monstress at all levels and it works so well for this story it would be a crime to hypothetically adapt it as anything else.
If you’ve been hesitant to pick up this book, volume 1 is your chance to see if you like it and really dive into the world it creates. And with issue #1 being a triple sized issue, Monstress vol. 1 has the trappings of a decently lengthy graphic novel. It’s definitely worth adding to your comic collection.