Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Release Date: 4th November, 2015
My review pick this week was a blind one; I scanned the review list options and snapped this up as it was a first issue. I really had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the PDF to a gorgeous cover, and a style of art that the fanboy in me immediately associated with Yoshitaka Amano. For those of you that don’t know this name, he’s the commissioned artist for the popular video-game franchise Final Fantasy. Bonus points already, I was immediately warming to this comic.
Monstress is a story about an Arcanic called Maika. Arcanic is a collective name for what I guess you could describe as the fairy races, the Humans regard themselves as ‘pure bloods,’ while the Arcanic seem to have both Human and Animal (or Monster) heritage. Several years ago they lived together in relative harmony, but eventually war broke out between these two factions. Now an uneasy truce has been agreed, it’s hinted that something at ‘The Battle of Constantine’ happened to bring about this resolution, and while there is still no all-out war, there still exists much hostility between the two races.
Maika’s journey begins with being deliberately captured by the Humans, and we meet her about to be auctioned off á la Taken. Although an Arcanic, Maika has the appearance of a young 17 year old human, you don’t have to be a genius to work out why she was being sold at auction. However, before bidding can start, Maika and the other Arcanic at auction are requisitioned by the Cumaea. The Cumaea seem to be the Human army and are led by the order of Nuns: basically female Magicians. Maika is trying to track down one of the heads of the order to find answers about her mother, and this is the start of her journey.
There are a few things about Monstress that I love. While reading through the first issue (and it’s not small at 72 pages), you can’t help but appreciate the depth of the world that Marjorie Liu has created, it seems very complete, cohesive, and provides such a solid base for this story to take off. There is a very real sense of dedication in this work, and I think you can’t help but appreciate the amount of effort that has gone into this recreation of turn of the century Asia where the story is set… albeit in a very alternate universe.
The second thing is the wonderfully Eastern take on things such as magic and the fairy creatures. Anyone that has played Korean or Japanese RPGs will be immediately familiar with the style of world an creatures present in this story. Even such themes as Humans harvesting Arcanic parts to make magical solutions and items has a very JRPG feel, and it’s interesting to witness this through the eyes of the hunted as opposed to the hunter. A player character slaying Cyclops and harvesting eyes to make an invisibility potion (for example), but this time you are the Cyclops.
The story works very well as we experience this world through Maika’s eyes. It’s obvious that this is going to be a journey through some type of crucible for Maika as she tries to get answers about what happened to her mother. Marjorie Liu keeps us interested by revealing just enough story, while keeping us at arm’s length as to what the overall picture will become. We get small hints and references to the greater story, but other subjects, such as how Maika lost her arm or what is the mysterious brand on her body are alluded to, but not explored… yet. Maika has some kind of special power that she hopes will help her on her journey, we know she can’t control it, but we don’t know how she got it – could it be related to the brand on her body? I’ll just have to keep reading to find out.
I’ve already mentioned the art, drawn and coloured by Sana Takeda. It’s delightfully spry, and very different in style from her work on Ms Marvel. The line work is so deliciously light in touch that it almost gives the detail of the work an ethereal quality that lends to the general atmosphere of the comic. The varying use of perspective and the irregular shape of the panels all add to the unreal quality of the story, almost like watching a dream sequence. At times it is quite spellbinding, and all through the story is a very Eastern influence to the art that is truly beautiful.
Overall, Monstress is quite an exquisite read. It’s a delightfully rich experience to be savoured at a slow and relaxed pace. Make sure when you read it that time is taken to drink in the astonishingly wonderful art and absorb yourself in a thoroughly complete world as you join Maika on her journey.
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The writer of this piece was: Andrew McGlinn
Andrew Tweets from @Jockdoom.