I promise that not everything I write about will be “dark but beautiful”, but October really brings out my inner Goth so I have to tell you about the eerie beauty of Monstress.
Monstress is a comic series being published by Image Comics. Because I don’t have time in my life to fuss around with bags, boards, and long boxes like I did as a teenager, I prefer to buy this and other comics series as trade paper back collections. Each volume of Monstress collects 6 issues of the comic, and conveniently, the authors seem to be mostly telling the story in arcs that wrap play out over 6 issues, while also advancing the meta story.
It’s hard to know where to start with what I love about Monstress, but since comics are such a visual form of media, I guess I’ll begin with the artwork.
Artist Sana Takeda is from Japan, and her artwork definitely shows a manga influence, but the character and world design in Monstress shows so many other influences as well. There’s a lot of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styling, a hint of steampunk, and a bit of Lovecraftian horror as well.
Takeda’s color palette is dark and muted, with lots of golden accents. There’s some really amazing effects with shadows, mist, and light. Honestly, it’s downright breathtaking and I would probably read this comics just for the artwork, even if I didn’t enjoy the story.
But the story. Oh wow. It’s a doozy. It takes place in a world where humans are at war with “Arcanics”, people with animalistic features.
This is a very much NSFW comic. There’s violence, gore, adult language, nudity, and the atrocities of war. It’s not an easy read. I had to do a lot of flipping through the pages in order to ensure that my photos for this blog didn’t show anything too objectionable!
Volume One: Awakening introduces us to the world, the war, and our primary cast of characters. This story is primarily told through the eyes of Maika Halfwolf, an Arcanic who looks human but carries a terrible monster inside of her. She gains two companions in her travels: the young fox-tailed Kippa, and the two-tailed feline Nekomancer Master Ren.
Maika is not a nice character, and to be honest that’s one of the things I love about the story that Marjorie Liu is telling. It’s so rare that we get a female protagonist who is full of rage and often lashes out at the people who love her. She’s deeply flawed, and for good reason. Her childhood and the war have left her scarred — when we meet her, she’s missing half an arm.
One of the most amazing things about Awakening is that almost every character is female. The human society that is fighting against the Arcanics is heavily matriarchal and almost every character we meet on either side is a woman. It was a nice change of pace, to be sure.
Volume Two: The Blood finds Maika and her companions setting sail to a mysterious island to try to find out more about Maika’s dead mother (to say anything more would be to give major spoilers for Volume One).
Along the way we learn more about the politics and history of the world, and we get some interesting characters, such as Syryssa the ship’s captain, pictured above. We also learn more of Maika’s past, which helps explain a lot of her actions, especially towards Kippa (who serves as something of a cheerleader, always encouraging Maika to be a better person).
If you love comics with artwork so beautiful it might make you cry, and characters full of righteous rage, pick up Monstress today.
Pros: Stunning artwork, queer protagonist, feminist AF.
Cons: Really NSFW, have to wait 6 months between graphic novels.
Final verdict: Utterly unique and well worth the read. If possible, purchase the physical graphic novels, especially if your ereader is smaller than a traditional comic book.
Additional notes: Image does this thing with their graphic novels where the first one is significantly cheaper than the rest (I noticed the same thing with my other addiction. Saga). The first volume is only $9.99 and is longer than the second volume (I believe the first chapter was a double-sized comic). The second is $16.99 and I suspect future volumes will be priced accordingly. This is a blatant attempt to suck you in at a lower price and IT WORKS.
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