Written by Young Jeohn
Story: Marjorie Liu
Art: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Image Comics
Monstress is a fantastic tale in a time of magic and monsters, where we follow the journey of Maika Halfwolf in the aftermath of a cataclysmic war between the Arcanics and Humans. She is determined to find answers to her past no matter what the cost - and risks her own life by crossing enemy lines to find the people responsible for her mother's death. Her Arcanic heritage of being part animal comes as an even bigger peril, as humans have taken to experimenting and torture of their arch enemies.
The war between the Arcanics and Humans have devastating effects on the life of all things living until a truce is called resulting from an unknown explosion. It's during this truce that we follow the story of Maika, an Arcanic resembling a human, find her way back into human civiliation. The enmity between the two races are at an all time high, with hateful propaganda being spread by both sides and factions within each race following their own agendas in a struggle for power to dominate all.
Despite the danger of enslavement and torture, Maika decides to infiltrate the human enclave to find the person who may have answers to her one burning question - why? Her mother was killed... why? It had taken her many years to find the name of this person, who she's discovered is kept secreted away from the public eye for reasons unknown. Whatever the outcome, she knows this is the path she must follow.
The world she lives in is an interesting one, where her kind is dissected and "consumed" for the powers they give to humans, especially by the order of Cumaeac nuns who harvest it for weapons, life and even to bring back the dead.
It's during this journey that Maika discovers what they're all after - the powers of the old gods. Hidden away and dormant, fragments of such powerful artifacts have been discovered by researchers - including her mother and the human she is seeking out for answers. And little does she know that an old god lies dormant in her own being...
The story never loses sight of its main focus, and does a good job of weaving in backstory, flashbacks and mini-arcs that help enhance the telling of what's currently happening - or is a foretelling of something that is to come. The world the author, Marjorie Liu, has created isn't simple, and you can tell a lot of thought and planning has been put into the history, beliefs and way of living of each of the main characters as well as the different groups of people that live in each region.
It's obvious to me that the writer has much to say about our society in her writings. Of how kindness and openness has an effect on people different than you, even from perceived enemies. And of how people who are supposedly "on your side" still have the ability to betray you, which comes from closed mindedness and an unwillingness to face their own fears. She even touches on issues of poverty and homelessness, which is recognized by the young and innocent but something most people tend to ignore as they pass it by. These are issues that ring true in the current events of our world, the existence of which the author feels is worth shining a light on, even if just for a moment.
But back to the writing, it's easy to follow with the way the comic's laid out, though it may be confusing when you first start reading. It's akin to watching the first episode of Game of Thrones - you may get confused the first or even the second time you watch it, but it's a story that you'll not want to stop following once you grasp the names of the characters and why they're fighting for what they're fighting for.
It's interesting that the writer does a thing that is typically common in anime and manga, which is to kill off a character that you're not expecting to die. Perceived mercy sometimes doesn't happen and it's not always a happy ending. Or a sad one either. You just never know who and what will deliver that little devastating blow, even if it's for a minor character that you feel will make it out alive, but somehow gets decapitated for purposes other than a simple kill.
Beautiful. I saw a glimpse of this comic on the rack of my local comic book shop and I knew I just had to read it. I was half expecting the artwork to be a grand disappointment the minute I opened up the pages (as happens with most comics these days, with the cover art being drawn by someone else), but I was happily surprised that the art inside was of the same awesome quality as the cover art by Sana Takeda. Kudos.
It's not to say it's perfect. In fact, a good number of improvements could be made, especially in facial expressions and hands. The expressions and body dispositions don't get the point across as it should sometimes, reminding me of my own drawing days when I got to parts I wasn't confident in penciling. There would always be lack of detail and the faces would look suspiciously similar, though there might be some small differences for the sake of experimentation and improvement with a dash of hopeful fingercrossing. But you know what? At this point I think it's acceptable because in every issue, you see noticeable improvement in these areas.
Aside from this, the art is wonderful to behold. The presentation of concepts, the darker "muddier" color pallet and the artistry follows a certain style that I appreciate very much. The layout is simple - rows or boxes - but why put your attention on these when you could be concentrating on the gorgeous old buildings or detail of the 17th century outfit of the half tiger/half man?
The artist draws influence from many historical time periods, from ancient Egyptian (from which I reckon she gets the eye of Horus -or perhaps peacocks) in the conceptual parts of the story to medieval times of knights and the musketeer times of French lore. And of course the Japanese influence is baked right in, with references to Hakusai's wave. It's a lovely smorgasbord (and a nod) to many cultures in history.
I'd say that only the character expressions are what'd hold me back from printing out poster sized prints of these gorgeous pages. But sooner or later, I'm sure the time will come when this concern will be a thing of the past.
I was drawn to this comic by the cover art and wasn't disappointed when I opened its pages. The story so far has me wanting to come back to reading future issues, and with the beautiful conceptual artwork, I'm hooked. Pick it up and read this story (or just stare at the art - or the funny cat with two tails). It's a must read.
FINAL SCORE: 4/5