Between the fact that my comic book shop is an hour from my house, and that I worked every Wednesday in November, I had a hell of a stack of comics waiting for me when I finally made it down there. On top of that, there were several comics that I’d heard good things about but hadn’t subscribed to, and I was hoping against hope that they’d still have some in stock. One of the latter was Monstress #1, from Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda.
I’d first heard about Monstress on Gail Simone’s Tumblr what seems like ages ago, and while there wasn’t much info about the story, I was intrigued right away. I haven’t read much by Marjorie Liu, but the comics writers I follow have nothing but praise for her work, and the art looked compelling and beautiful. Plus, just from the title I was interested, since I’m always down for a good female monster story. I was surprised when I actually laid hands on it at its size—at almost forty pages, it’s a good deal longer than the typical single-issue comic book. On top of that, because it’s published by Image Comics, there’s no advertising inside, so the whole thing is 100% actual comic.
Monstress is a high fantasy story set in a world where humans and Arcanics, a different, mostly-humanoid species, have reached a stalemate in the war between their two peoples. From what we know so far, the war was inspired by distrust and hatred between the two species, and while neither side was innocent of terrible wartime atrocities, it seems like the humans particularly excel at cruelty. The story so far follows Maika, a human-passing Arcanic, as she attempts to learn more about the mysterious relic her mother passed on to her. To do so, she has to infiltrate a human religious order posing as a slave, where she frees a bunch of fellow Arcanics from their slavery and cuts a bloody swathe through the convent to confront her mother’s former (human) colleague.
I found myself engrossed from the first page. Upon opening the comic we’re confronted with our protagonist, nude and chained, up for auction—but it’s not sexualized. Her body language is natural (and so are her proportions) and her snide, defiant, almost bored facial expression in just that panel gives you a snapshot of what her character will be like. The art as a whole is gorgeous; Sana Takeda is bringing her A game for sure, and the character designs are an awesome variety of body types, skin colors, and ability/disability. In fact, Maika herself is an amputee thanks to her involvement in the now-fizzled-out war. The color palettes Takeda uses, a combination of greens, browns, and bronzes, gives the story an almost steampunky aesthetic, and the ubiquity of the warm earthy tones makes it all the more shocking when she throws in a brightly contrasting red or purple. Also, something about the way she draws expressions reminds me of Kazuya Minekura’s Saiyuki characters, which gives me nostalgic flashbacks to my initiation into anime and manga fandom.
I’m interested to learn more about the world, how the different cultures work and how much of the mythology the characters have alluded to so far is just myth and how much will turn out to be real. I’m also interested to see who’s gonna be sticking around for the long run of the story and who’s cannon fodder—several people who I expected to be long-term antagonists (or at least like, opening-arc antagonists) met a gruesome end pretty quickly in the first issue.
If you do want to check it out, let me throw a content warning out just in case: there’s a brief scene where a guard mentions having raped a prisoner and threatens Maika as well, there’s some pretty gratuitious violence, and the human characters harvest Arcanic flesh both for experimentation… and for dinner. Liu set out to tell a story about the horrors of war and the atrocities sentient beings can perpetrate on each other, and she isn’t pulling any punches in the meantime.
The first issue came out on November 4th, but if you’re very lucky you might still find an issue at your local shop. If not, Image offers DRM-free downloads via their website, so you can always pick it up there. For the length and the content, it’s well worth the $4.99.