Monstress: Vol. 1 Awakening
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Letterer/Designer: Rus Wooton
Cover: Sana Takeda
The world of Monstress is set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia. After a long war a cataclysm left the land locked in a cold war between the factions of Arcanics, magical creatures who sometimes pass for human and the Cumea, an order of sorceresses who harvest Arcanics to feed their magic powers. Monstress tells the story of Maika Halfwolf, a young Arcanic warrior set on a quest to discover her own foggy past, and avenge the death of her mother. Maika throws herself into any danger, including enslavement and torture to achieve those goals relying on a mysterious power she doesn’t quite understand to see her through. However, this mysterious power doesn’t belong to her. That power belongs to the entity sleeping inside Maika and her bloodlust has just woken the monster.
Marjorie Liu’s tale of vengeance and discovery does not pull any punches and is not for the faint of heart. Disfigurement, brutality, torture, you’ll be greeted by these things at page one. Monstress Vol 1 collects the first 6 chapters of Maikas story. The plot moves at a near breakneck pace without skimping on the story. Maikas quest, the political machinations of both the Cumea and Arcanics power structures are addressed with just enough intrigue to keep the questions and surprises coming. There is so much to follow here but it never gets frustrating. Every new story element that Liu adds as the story goes on will keep you turning those pages until the resolution. She also goes to great lengths to show the cruelty of both sides. If Monstress had been a novel I believe it would be incredibly difficult to differentiate the villains from the heroes. Takeda’s artwork is the greatest tool to tell who the real villains should be in this story. I’m noticing a trend in today’s stories where that is the case and it’s not a bad thing. Cookie cutter hero vs. villain stories get boring.
Sana Takeda makes this book one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read all year. Maika is rendered in the visage of a supermodel marred by the deformity of an amputated arm. Honestly, I barely noticed Maika’s arm is missing and in a lot of the promotional material that i’ve seen she has a mechanical prosthetic. Sana does a great job displaying emotions. Fear, anger, pain, confusion, and there is an abundance of each. As I said before this book pulls no punches. A majority of the cast in the later half of the trade are anthropomorphic but It’s never jarring or out of place to meet one of these characters as it is in some books. Sana skillfully incorporates animalistic features into these humanoid character models and vice versa as some of the cast can lean either way.
Monstress Vol 1 has a fairly large cast of characters. Marjorie does an impressive job making sure that each character is given plenty of room to flourish around her main character Maika. In a story where everyone has an ulterior motive where Maika can’t trust anyone it definitely makes you as the reader pay more attention to their words and actions. One particular scene in Chapter four introduces the Arcanic warlord Alia. Readers will notice something striking about her the minute she removes her helmet that i’m sure will turn the story on it’s head later on down the line. She’s a character that I will be paying close attention to as the story moves on. However, as this is mainly a story about Maika and the entity I have to mention how much attention their relationship gets from Marjorie.
Throughout the book Maika has subconscious conversations with the unnamed entity living within her. These are some of the most thought provoking scenes in the book. The relationship between the two of them isn’t your typical symbiotic relationship though. The entity just wants to rest within Maika and is forced from its slumber by the events happening outside. It starts out not even realizing that it’s being hosted by Maika and doesn’t really seem to care at first. As things progress both Maika and the entity vie for control of Maikas body as she has come to rely on it’s power even while she attempts to fight it’s need to feed on the life force of the living. There interactions also serve as opportunities for flashbacks and explanations for Maika’s devotion to her quest. The two eventual find some semblance of balance to prevent their mutual destruction. By the end it’s not exactly a friendship but it works out really well.
Monstress has been getting some incredible reviews and having read it I can see why. There is so much to love here. There’s tons of action, a well developed story, and political intrigue. It’s very hard to put this story in a box. I really hope that Monstress continues for a long time and i’m personally looking forward to more volumes in this series. There are so many questions that need to be addressed and judging by the first volume those answers are going to come in a spectacular fashion. I can’t recommend this book for small children though, there is too much death and mutilation for younger eyes. Teens and adults will absolutely love this book but make sure you’ve got the time to read it. Once started it’s incredibly hard to put down as the pacing is so quick.