Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening

Monstress is a book that has appeared on many Best of 2016 lists, and I liked it but did not love it. The main story follows Maika Halfwolf, an Arcanic (a magical creature that can look human), as she tries to avenge her mother's death. In the opening pages, she infiltrates a household of the Cumea, an order of sorceresses that treat the Arcanics like animals, experiment on them, and sometimes even consume them.


On Maika's side, she knows that there is something powerful and ravenous inside her, although she has to learn what it is and how (if?) she can control it. Her plan might not be the most solid one, but she soon finds herself embroiled in a world of revelations, double-crossings, cruelty, and surprising alliances. Also, she learns about the five races of beings in the world, one of which is cats. Smart cats that can talk and have multiple tails, how cool is that? They were among my favorite characters in the book.

If all of the above sounds like a lot to digest, that's because it is. My big issue with the book is that much information and exposition bogs down some of the proceedings. Still, this book is gorgeously illustrated, as you can see in the preview above, in a style that combines elements of manga with more western comic books. Its lush images are imaginative, interesting, and aptly frightening. I feel that this fantasy world is an interesting take on typical monster/magic books. It's a good allegory for several civil rights issues as well as compelling locale populated with complex characters.

Monstress is the creation of writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda. Liu has published best-selling novels such as the Dirk & Steele and Hunter's Kiss series as well as several comic book series about Wolverine, X-23, and the X-Men. Takeda's credits include work on Marvel's X-23 and Ms. Marvel. Liu speaks about her work on Monstress in this interview, and Takeda speaks about her evolving art style in this series in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have praised the artwork, but some have been more critical about the narrative. Jeff Lake called it "confident and complex, bolstered by a compelling narrative and wondrous visuals." Publishers Weekly summed up, "The labyrinthine drawings enchant, but the convoluted storytelling and extreme violence may drive away more casual readers." The reviewer at Comic Bastards liked the book overall but voiced "that in trying so hard to establish this vast, fantasy world for the reader, there is a tendency for heavy exposition and extensive historical dialogue that can be a bit of a drain at times."

Monstress, Volume 1 was published by Image Comics and they have much more information about this book and the series here. The series also has an official page here, if you are interested in checking out previews, art, and news about it.

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