Human nature has an ugly tendency to separate those who are different and to treat those who are different as inferior and unworthy. In the case of Monstress, this separation is hair thin. If everyone is a bit monstrous, how do we make distinctions?
Monstress #1 has been a much anticipated new dark fantasy comic venture from Marjorie Liu. Liu has contributed her writings to other titles such as the Dark Wolverine series and NYX: No Way Home (featuring my personal favorite Marvel character, X-23). Monstress is Liu’s first comic creation with art by Sana Takeda.
The anticipation surrounding Monstress stems not just from being a presentation of absolute artistic beauty exploring some dark human actions. It also comes from this being a comic series being set in an alternative Asian landscape in the 1900s. In this world, monsters really do physically exist. They can exist in plan sight as those with tails or one eye. There are others that seem to look human but are of the deadliest monsters of all. Even more monstrous, are the humans themselves.
The main heroine of the story is a one armed teenager named Maika. The story begins with her naked body being auctioned off to some very wealthy people. Due to her status as a mostly human -looking but with a small bit of arcane (a term they seem to use for those who are different or have different abilities), she is inferior. She is donated to an ornately dressed but powerful women. The art by Takeda is so full of details and depth that the reader can also see that Maika does not go forward happily. There is an underlying rage and tenseness to the character that relays the hatred. As the reader finds out, Maika is definitely not a passive character.
There are some pretty dark elements playing in this story. One characters demise on the table saddened me quite a bit. The adorable tailed girl character did make a great light counter to that. Although it comes back to darkness in the end. Maika is also definitely more than she appears. That symbol on her chest means something big.
Her rash and emotional decisions take the story plot from zero to sixty. With all of the artwork and the action, it took awhile to read this story straight on through. The story progressed so rapidly that it was easy to speed past the artistic details. It is well worth it to go back and look at them all. This is one of those works where the team behind the comic really pulled through. The art and story are seamless in cohesion. It took very little effort to bring this story to life. This is on the same level as Autumnlands by Kurt Busiek. Just like that series, the art and story absolutely grip your mind and eyes.
The only frustrating part is what makes this comic so great. The story progresses pretty quickly but it also leaves a dense trail of questions and mysteries. For a new series that is barely starting out, this does become worrisome for the integrity of the future stories. Will Liu be able to deliver a complete and cohesive story? Or will it buckle under the weight of the mystery?
The first issue is presented so strongly that this leaves a pretty confident answer that Liu will deliver a great story. It is tale of dark human nature and exploring concepts that have been seen before. It does stand out as being a comic set in a different landscape with a heroine who risk her life for her cause.
Absolutely go and pick Monstress #1 up at your local comic book retailer. This is an intense first issue.