Review: Monstress Volume 1

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Review: Monstress Volume 1

The Shaman-Empress was the most powerful Arcanic who ever lived…and she was a Sciencemaster of the highest order. She created technology and magics that would make us look like we’re living in the dark ages.
And she buried it with her. The bitch.

After a crazy few months things are calmed down enough for me to catch up on some things, including FINALLY checking out Image’s Monstress. I’ve been hearing some buzz for a while, and I certainly thought the cover was gorgeous, but I didn’t give that too much credit, because lots of mediocre comics bring in a ringer to do a fantastic cover. But I gave it a try anyway.

And I apologize all over the place for ever doubting it. The cover is only the tip of the iceberg of how awesome this comic is.

monstress_v01_CoverThe story itself is amazingly detailed, painting a long history of war between two races (human sorcerers, and the Arcanics, who are all “monsters” at some level, sometimes only having wings or furry ears but sometimes they’re more animal than not) and the war has only come to a pause because something catastrophic happened that killed thousands on both sides. Problem is, nobody knows exactly what weapon caused it, and everybody is desperate to find it first.

And you can’t trust anyone. Most of the people we meet are fighting on one side but secretly working for the other side. People betray friends, family, leaders, and lovers right and left, and you can never be too sure of anyone. And I mean anyone.

Maika, our main character, is in some ways the least trustworthy of anyone: something lives inside her and it tends to eat people, and she definitely doesn’t have it under control.

But in other ways, you can trust her more than anyone else. She always says what she means, even if it destroys someone’s feelings, but she’s always honest. She doesn’t feel the need to be overly nice to anyone: being a slave, being tortured, losing her mother and her arm…she doesn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for anyone.

But you still like her, and admire the hell out of her. She’s very tough, iron-willed, and definitely a badass. She’s incredibly flawed, but with everything she’s gone through you give her a pass. Marjorie Liu has created a fascinating character in her, with a horrific history that she said in an interview was partly inspired by her grandparents’ experiences in China, the atrocities there during WWII.

…the victims of this horror had to learn how to first survive…and then survive the surviving.

And then there’s the art.

It’s a manga style but it has this dream-like quality with a dark, rich palette. It’s Asian and Steampunk at the same time. Sana Takeda has created depth and shading and texture, motion and subtleties, and splash pages that you’d want to frame and put up on your wall if you could find a really good frame and just the right spot where you can see it all the time and not let it get faded out by sun from the window.

Monstress 3I’m obsessed, is what I’m saying. It’s gorgeous.

I’d noticed the books because of the covers, and I would have forgiven them if the interior art wasn’t quite so detailed. And then the first (double-sized) issue was jaw-droppingly good from beginning to end. So I kept waiting for the quality in later issues to drop off, because nobody can keep up that level for six issues.

Except never mind, because that’s exactly what Takeda did. Every page.

And then you take into account that the whole book is an amazing look into race and prejudice and feminism and wait don’t stop reading! Liu never tries to hit you over the head with a message. I think in a lot of ways you might not even know it was there, it’s just a good story on its own. It’s a matriarchal society and there’s tons of strong, intelligent women all over the place, and it looks at women’s strengths certainly, but also their flaws. In the same interview Liu had an amazing quote:

If men disappeared tomorrow, there would still be racism, and conflicts over religion. If men disappeared tomorrow, we might not be as concerned about sexual violence, but that would still exist — women batter other women, and women are enablers of rape culture. If men disappeared tomorrow, we’d still have war, poverty — the exact same problems we have now. We like to imagine that women would do a better job of ruling the world — and I’m one of those optimists — but women aren’t a superior kind of life form, just because of our gender. We’re awesome, but not perfect. We’re human. Just like men.

So not only is it an interesting story, with gorgeous artwork, it’s also part of a much bigger picture.

Monstress 5You, smart person that you are, have probably already read it. Or, busy and oblivious like me, you might’ve missed it. I highly recommend you give Volume 1 a look. Heck, just go stare at the cover for a while, that alone will make you want to open it up.