Review | Monstress #1
Monstress is a dark fantasy epic revolving around the mysterious 'arcanic' slave named Maika as she struggles with her psychic link to a demonic entity of tremendous power.
Marjorie Liu wastes no time in building a diverse world, one rich in lore, and rife with struggles that echo real life war torn lands. Thematically, this is a story of survival for Maika and any companions she picks up on her journey.
In an interview with TheNerdsofColor, Liu describes some of her inspiration:
For a long time, I’ve always been thinking about what does it take to survive a cataclysmic war? What does it take to put yourself back together again after surviving something that horrific?
If Maika is any indication, you don’t put yourself back together fully, as shown by the yet unexplained missing appendage of our beautiful, yet fierce protagonist.
There is a delightful contrast between the charming cherubic faces of the small hybrid creatures, like the fox girl, Kippa, and the gore-filled violence of Monstress. In a setting where those in power are women, Liu takes care to provide a distinct voice for each of them, showing the facets of their personalities. So far, some of these characters are the monsters.
The project’s massiveness took Liu by surprise, and she told The Hollywood Reporter:
“I wanted to write about girls and monsters, which has been a theme of mine from almost the start of my career — girls and giant monsters, and the supernatural. I wanted to tell a story about war, and surviving war — and I wanted to set it all in an alternate Asia.”
Monstress certainly fulfills those requirements and without falling into popular tropes. Maika is definitely not the Asian Other, an exotic male fantasy for the rescuing, nor is she another Strong Female Character on her way to being someone else’s love interest or sidekick; there’s more to her than what we see in this first issue, and it’ll be an exciting journey with Liu and Sana Takeda at the helm.
Sana Takeda’s art is reminiscent of Japanese illustrator Yoshitaka Amano fantasy work, but where Takeda shines is in her incredible detail. From the get-go, this comic was on my radar thanks to that eye-catching cover, and allow me to say that the interiors and colors are equally beautiful. Sana Takeda does every bit of artistry in this book, from cover to color, and her attention pays off in a big way. Earthy tones provide excellent juxtaposition to flashes of bright color due to magic, or rivers of gold from clothing or metalwork, helping to create the vivid, steampunk infused Eastern flavor that helps make Liu’s story work.
Takeda also proves adept at bringing Liu’s disabled Asian female character to life, whom at no point comes across as weak, even as her first appearance is naked, yet defiant, as she is sold at auction. Maika’s powers aren’t the only thing magical in this book, if this first issue is any indication of Takeda’s talents. The final flashback panels in particular are haunting and unforgettable, as was the section below during Maika’s imprisonment.
If I had one criticism about the book overall, it’s that it might not be for people unwilling to stick with the slow burn Liu has crafted. At a whopping 66 pages of gorgeous content though, it’s a minor complaint for such an exquisite read.
At the end of the day, this is a comic worth purchasing and adding to your collection, but please note, this is a comic aimed at mature readers for some graphic content!