Review: Monstress Vol. 1

[su_quote]“For everyone who has their own journey”-Sana[/su_quote]

We open with this quote from our artist: Sana Takeda as it sums up both the book and my feelings toward it rather well.

I’ve long been wanting to get my geeky little hands on this comic book and with good reason.  Mr. Gaiman himself offers high praise, the fantasy setting is imaginative and beautiful, the characters creative and well-drawn but...I didn’t love this book as much as some others did.  The worst part is I can’t even tell you why exactly.  It is by no means a bad book, in fact it’s a very good one, so perhaps the problem is more with me, this just might not be my sort of story, and that’s ok.

For those unfamiliar with the tale of Monstress, the humans and their Ancient hybrid  descendants, the Arcanics, have been at war and we’re dropped into the aftermath.  Our fantastically drawn protagonist, Maika, is the centrepiece of the story, something is inside her, some call it a monstra, others an old god, but no one, even our hero; can truly identify its origin.

Monstress vol 1One thing we do know for sure is that the Cumaea, a high nunnery of sorts, with the demented Mother Superior at its helm, is hunting the child and the creature she keeps locked inside.  Maika has been struggling to contain the creature, leaving death and drained corpses in her wake.  She is separated from her friend Tuya, an arcanic like her, but meets many other allies along the way, including a talking feline poet known only as Master Ren, one truly awesome name for a cat.  There is even a lovely little nod to the Brian K. Vaughan comic Saga as our feline friend utters the amusingly simple retort, “lying” just like the lovable Lying Cat.  In many ways this comic continued to remind me of Saga throughout, the story is strikingly different but it shares imagination, visceral action and frankly rather adult humour.

This first volume of this ongoing story gradually comes to a close with the reveal of the Dusk Court, one of two Ancient factions who also search for the truth inside Maika.  There’s betrayal, forbidden love, violence, bloody gore, and coarse language dripping from every page right until the end, and even a nice little plot twist that was certainly a surprise to me.

My only real complaint with Marjorie Liu’s writing is 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.  There is humour, but it doesn’t always work and is often quickly brought back down to earth, which you will either like or dislike depending on your own comic tastes.  The story moves at a fast pace and I found it quite a challenge to take it all in, the world of Monstress is vast, and I frequently lost track of who was allied with whom and why.  Still, it’s not clunky despite its exposition and the main character’s repeated attempts at self-reflection.

What really drives this story home though is the art from Sana Takeda, it’s beautiful and perfectly suited to this story.  The Japanese influences are obvious and used to brilliant effect.  The characters are gorgeous, rich and detailed, the skies are colourful and awe inspiring, you almost feel like you’re sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the characters as they gaze skyward.  I can’t imagine another art style working quite as well with a story such as this, not that I’m an artist mind you, but I know what I like and I really liked this.

I’ve often held an unpopular stance on many a creative piece and frequently fly against the winds of popular opinion, and this might be another example.  This is a fine book but despite that I didn’t love it and worst of all I can’t tell you why.  The world is diverse and vast, the characters are strong, and the art exceptional.

So what is it?  

I’ll tell you this, I’m not going to stop reading until I find out, and I hope that as I do, the world of Monstress draws me in further and I wonder what on earth I was thinking in criticising it.  Just like our conflicted hero Maika, I need to know what’s buried deep inside.

[su_box title="Score: 4/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]

Monstress Vol 1
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $9.99
Format: TPB; Digital or Hardcover