Monday, September 25, 2017

Comics Review: Monstress Volume 1 & 2

Monstress is a dark fantasy story written by Marjorie Liu (Astonishing X-Men, Dark Wolverine) set in an alternate version of 1900's Asia where gods, magic and monsters all dwell among humans and part-animal half-breeds. Our protaganist Maika Halfwolf is one of those half-breeds, known as Arcanics. She has survived a major war, and in the beginning of volume 1, she has purposely allowed herself to be sold off at a slave auction in order to learn more about her mother's life and death.

Volume 2 reveals much more about Maiko's backstory, her mother's history, and the mythology of this world in general. In every issue they peel back one more layer and it gets more and more fascinating as you go. I won't reveal too many details, because the best part of this series is discovering these links and layers for yourself firsthand. But I will say that one of the highlights of the story is the same theme the title so clearly advertises. Is Maiko, herself, a monster? How will this struggle change her? What does that mean for her relationships with others? How will her mother's secrets change how she views herself?

Monstress is the most gorgeous comic I've read all year, thanks to the brilliant artwork by Sana Takeda (X-23, Ms. Marvel). There is a clear anime influence to its style, particularly the way the characters are drawn. But in the clothing, interiors and buildings there is a solid Western influence. It's very Art Deco, and it works beautifully. The art also lays full claim to both the horror and fantasy genres; there are many intense, dark scenes to convey the hungry monster inside Maiko that threatens to take control. But you also get a sense of how big and complex this alternate world is through the intricate scene details, and the expert work on the half-human half-animal characters.

For all these reasons, Monstress has become my new go-to recommendation for both horror and fantasy fans. It has a rich mythology, as well as engaging themes of otherness and fear that are well explored through the horror of slavery and invasion.

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