Every once in a while, a comic comes along and just grabs hold of you with its gorgeous art, and then draws you in with an epic story set in a sprawling fantasy world that makes you wish you could be a part of it. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is one such book. Jonathan Hickman’s East Of West and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series are also great examples of this.
You can now add Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda’s Monstress to that list.
Japanese illustrator Takeda’s artwork is simply breathtaking here – her beautifully drawn panels are like a hybrid of Western comics and Japanese manga, coloured with rich details, and her characters are expressive without being over-the-top like some superhero comics. Oh, and she draws some really cool cats too.
As gorgeous as the art is though, Liu’s story is also a masterclass in world-building and storytelling, with themes that include slavery, feminism, racism, violence and family.
Monstress is set in a world torn apart by a war between a race of hybrid magical creatures called the Arcanics and humans led by the Cumea, a cruel order of sorceresses.
An uneasy truce has been called on the war for now, but Maika Halfwolf, a teenage survivor, is determined to fight her own personal war against the Cumea and avenge the death of her mother.
Little does she know that her mother is not what she seems, and that there is a deadly monster insde her waiting to get out …
As mentioned earlier, this is an absolutely epic piece of world-building.
From the five races – Arcanics, Humans, Old gods, Ancients and Cats – to the various factions within each race, the weapons they wield, the magic, the spells… there are layers of details and history in each of these elements, and even after you’ve finished this collected volume, you get the feeling that Liu has barely scratched the surface of her world.
Monstress combines elements of fantasy, science fiction and good old-fashioned horror, making for a roller-coaster ride that, admittedly, can get a little violent and gory at times.
Liu doesn’t pull her punches when it comes to the more visceral elements of the story (the Cumea witches actually cut apart and eat Arcanics to gain magical power), and Takeda matches her ambitious storytelling every step of the way with her gloriously rich (and sometimes gleefully gory) artwork.
If there is one thing that vexes me about Monstress, it’s that there seem to be too many characters at one point.
Liu crams a great deal of backstory and characters into the six issues that make up this first collection. In fact, there is so much information to digest that Liu even has to resort to appendices featuring a talking three-tailed cat giving readers a lesson in the history of her world. You still get the feeling that there is more to come, but it CAN get a tad confusing at times.
That aside, Monstress is ultimately a monstrously great book. It does for fantasy comics what Saga did for space operas, and East Of West did for Western science fiction – that is, build a world filled with memorable characters that you just will not be able to get enough of.
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Image Comics
Monstress: Volume One and Plutona are available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. There is also a variant cover for Monstress: Volume One that is exclusive to Kinokuniya. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kinokuniya.com/my.