***All images property of Image Comics, Sana Takeda, and/or Marjorie Liu***
It’s safe to say that Monstress is probably not a title that I would’ve picked up on my own. I’ve just never been into many things with a fantasy bent. I’ve always been more into sci-fi. Of course, the two often come together in many works of fiction, and I’m not one to obsess over what genre something is or isn’t. With that in mind, I was happy to be presented with volume one of this book. Opportunities to veer at least slightly outside of your comfort zone are underrated I think.
My interest in fantasy mostly begins and ends with The Lord of the Rings and a few other properties at best. I’m not so sure this book is decidedly fantasy or sci-fi though, which is a positive. Without further ado, here is my review of Monstress volume one.
“Witch” Side Are You On?
Our story begins with an unsettling scene. Rich bidders are presented with Arcanics at an auction. The unsettling part is that Arcanics are various beings that have some kind of magical element. The human-trafficking element is not lost on the reader, and the scene does an effective job establishing that this is not going to be some glittery fairy tale. The auctioneer is a Cumea, part of a society rules by witches. Right away we see the Cumea as the oppressors and the Arcanics as the oppressed.
One of the Arcanics to be auctioned is Maika, who unlike many Arcanics, has a human appearance. She eventually escapes along with some younger Arcanics, one of which is a humanoid fox. Maika seeks answers regarding what happened to her mother, and must go through the Cumea to find out. It’s also made clear fairly early on that she is also quite capable of handling herself, to say the least.
Eventually, Maika makes the violent discovery of another being residing in her severed arm. It has a mind of its own and needs to feed. Maika is determined to control it, thought the being might have other ideas. For the time being in the story, they come to a reluctant understanding and begin to coexist.
An Aspiring Epic
Marjorie Liu pens an incredibly ambitious tale here. You have everything above that’s going on, then a lot more on top of it. There are also normal human characters that serve as another factor in the power struggle between Cumea and Arcanic. Speaking of the Arcanics, they turn out to be anything but powerless. They have their own leadership group and appear battle-tested, so there is no guarantee that the Cumea will overrun them. There is also a powerful mask which Maika finds a piece of. What it does exactly is unclear through the first six issues.
There is quite a lot going on and it became a bit confusing for me. Liu gives you a lot to process and account for so early in the story. The potential benefit is the payoff once you get everything straight in your head. There is definitely a lively, original, and creative world presented here. It’s just a lot to put on the reader when they’re first starting to acclimate themselves. A lot happens in the first volume as well, so there is quantity in terms of world-building but also plot points.
A Watercolor Dream(scape)
The above might be a bad heading. I literally have no idea if Sana Takeda uses water colors, as I am the farthest thing from an accomplished artist. Perhaps it’s okay to say that that’s the “vibe” I get from her artwork. Everything is bright yet tempered, with a slight sense of wear.
Personally, this is the best art that I’ve come across in a long time. I love everything about it. It’s impossible to know how Liu envisioned the world of Monstress appearing in her head, but I have to imagine Takeda has at least come very close. Obviously they both collaborated on much or all of it, but Takeda’s execution is marvelous no matter how you critique it.
The costumes are something else, and a particular highlight. The Cumea are adorned in great regal detail. More than the usual thought and effort went into each character’s appearance, and it shows. Just an insanely great book to absorb visually.
I like Monstress a lot so far. It’s packed with action, revenge, and interesting characters with a little political intrigue thrown in. If that’s all true, then why am I still on the fence about continuing on with it? Well, it comes down to the statement above that I find it a bit cluttered. Once I’ve gotten my bearings, the book might be that much better. I’m just not sure if that’ll be the case though.
There’s so much here that it actually diminishes it all a little bit. There are a handful of things I can’t bring myself to care about simply because there’s so much quantity. This goes for my favorite elements of the story too, such as some of the particular Cumea that are introduced. They’re great, as is the dynamic between Maika and her symbiotic foil. However, so many other bits are shown off that I think the book runs the risk of shooting its wad early. Of course, a great writer might be up to that kind of task, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Liu continued to wow the reader throughout the entire tale.
I can’t quite commit to shelling out for volume two, but it’s a weird feeling. Everything here is great. There’s so much of it though, at least for me. The globs of world-building at the end of a few issues don’t help in my opinion. Instead of acclimating the reader I think they just make things more overwhelming.
Broken up into all of its requisite components, I adore everything about this book. On the whole, it might not be the best choice for someone like me who always has a backlog of books. For anyone else, my review of Monstress volume one is that it’s a no-brainer purchase though. Just as important, don’t overlook it if you already have enough to read. It could easily overtake the other books you have on deck.