Hello? Is anyone here? Anyone seen my health issues? This is usually the point in my work where they mercilessly work me over like I owe them money and leave me pissing jagged hellrocks. Seriously. Anyone seen them? No? Holy shit. I might actually be able to get some work done.
To celebrate my temporary lack of spiky sea urchins of calcified suck working their way through the most sensitive parts of my anatomy I decided to come back on a positive note. Today’s subject is the comic (though I feel that word is a weak one for this work) Monstress: Volume One by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Now this is a title I had heard mention of here and there over the last couple of years – always accompanied by glowing praise. So when I saw a Humble Bundle (I love Humble Bundles) presenting a bunch of comics including this one I jumped on it. Since then I have bought the first two volumes in print.
Let’s start with the summary.
“Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.”
That makes this sound an awfully lot like a YA novel doesn’t it? Like you could imagine her dealing with a dystopian society that makes absolutely no sense while floundering in a love triangle between two equally hunky but bland love interests. Usually while being forced to go to dystopian high school for some stupid fucking reason. Sigh. I’m sorry. I just really hate YA Scifi Dystopias. Thankfully Monstress has nothing in common with them.
I am in love with this world. It is this beautifully imaginative mix of Asian inspired myths, steampunk, and Lovecraft. From the fey arcanic peoples to the Cumean witches to the mysterious apparitions of the Monstrum. The war scarred lands burn with history and intrigue and old hatreds. The thread of action and consequence weaving together seamlessly.
The story of Maika Halfwolf and her search for answers is brutal and elegant and possessed of more fire than I was expecting. The basic shape of the story is familiar – traumatic past, a dead parent, and a mystery related to them – but the execution is phenomenal. Maika may be a teenage girl with a great power inside her but she very much plays against the archetypes normally in that role. She is angry and violent. She is driven to risk herself and others to have her answers. She deals with Lovecraftian monsters to achieve her goals. In many ways she reminds me of the older Sword and Sorcery “heroes” like Elric of Melnibone or Kane or Tomoe Goezen in that she very much does bad things in her pursuit of her goals. In the deals that she makes. The crimes that she justifies. She would easily be the villain of a human centric story.
However, at least in this first volume, she is not the villain. That title goes to the Cumaea – an influential organization of female humans that research lilium and appear on the forefront of the human-arcanic war. Lilium being the essence extracted from arcanics in a manner that can best be described as Mengele-esque. Actually the whole treatment of the arcanic by the Cumaea carries heavy echoes of the horrors of the Holocaust with a touch of slavery like a cherry on top of the shitcake. And in classical style Maika has a fondness for setting the witches on fire.
After page 34 you will be firmly on her side.
I cannot go further into the story or characters without spoilers so I will leave that be for now and turn my attention to the first thing you will notice about Monstress – the art. Holy shitballs. The art is absolutely gorgeous. If I have seen its better in a comic I do not remember it. The use of color and shading is outstanding but don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.
That character design is haunting.
She may be gorgeous but fuck her. Fuck her with a spiky dildo covered in siracha sauce.
I love every shot of the Monstrum.
I love this little bastard. The cats in Monstress are fucking gold.
This is not a gallery of the best shots of Volume One. This is just a random selection of pictures I could find on short notice. Every page looks like this. Every fucking one. God damn. This is art. There are half a dozen pieces in this I want to hang on my wall.
So go. Read Monstress. Support some amazingly talented people and enjoy one of the most imaginative and visually stunning comics I have ever had the pleasure to read. Also, if you enjoyed the review, share it. Like it or hate it leave feedback.
Up next Mike Mignola’s Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham!