Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Letter & Design: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: 2.5 out of 3 Michelin Stars
This week’s review could be considered one for those truly hungry for a good story. I am going to be going over MONSTRESS Vol.1 THE AWAKENING by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Immediately on the back of the book, you can find a great quote by Neil Gaiman describes the book as the two creators combining Eastern and Western comics into something entirely new. MONSTRESS definitely felt like a whole other beast, entirely different from what I’m normally used to. With the order placed by the community for MONSTRESS it’s time to sink our teeth in.
A Three Course Story
The story follows Maika, a half breed cross of humans and Ancients (animal people). When we first are introduced to her she is being sold at an auction between humans and Cumaeans (witches?). Turns out this is part of her plan as she breaks out with the help of a sort of monster that lives inside her. Together they treat themselves to revenge and snacks in the form of murder. Very violent and gruesome murders. Before escaping with a little fox child named Kippa (oh my god this sweet soul is too adorable for such a dark book) they grab a piece of a broken mask that starts a hunt for Maika from the opposing factions of humans and Ancients in this story.
Through the story, we also introduced to a number of other players that have a stake in this mask. Yvette, a possibly undead witch lady who has a past with Maika’s mother. You got Destria, a Final Fantasy looking boss who literally is the boss of everything going on with the humans. She is pretty evil and wants that mask. Tuya, a childhood friend of Maika’s from the slave camp who is more than our protagonist really knows. Along the way, we are also introduced to Ren, a talking cat with an extra tail. Cats aren’t limited to one tail in this world and on top of the added ability to speak they are also kind of their own race that’s one of the oldest around. The cat’s got a real reluctant helper vibe that seems to know more than they are letting on. Combine the cuteness of Kippa hugging him tightly in relief when they reunite later in the book and you have got a side dish story that I would throw lots of money at. Super cute.
While all these characters have prominent time on page, there is one whose role is largely greater and is the least known from the vibrant world created. The Monster. The Monster, a terrifying creature made of eyeballs on black vines, lives inside Maika and alludes to somehow passing on from one of her ancestors to the next. Other than that he doesn’t seem to know much about himself other than he is really hungry. Like a lot. Like snickers won’t do for this dude. It wants to eat people friend or foe alike, as long as it gets its protein. While trying to prevent her inner demon from constantly trying to snack, Maika needs to solve the mystery of where her friend went, the demon inside her, as well as, it’s connection to her mother.
When Neil Gaiman said that this book combined Eastern and Western comics into one I could really see it. One of the main draws for picking this book up was the art done by Sana Takeda. After enjoying the covers to Bêlit, I felt like I needed to enjoy that decadent art in one of the most recommended Image books at my local shop. A lot of the Arcanics in the world of MONSTRESS has the Eastern style. It reminds of older style manga like Inuyahsa, with all the half demon and monster themes as well as the facial features. The overall look has that gothic/cyberpunk (minus all the steam and goggles) feel to it. The best part about the art is that this book is stuffed with all that good art. For six issues, MONSTRESS gives us a large Western-style portion of content.
What I’m learning Sana Takeda does really well besides the art that drew me in so much, was drawing some pretty brutal death as well as straight nightmare fuel monsters. Throughout the story, we get giant panels that take almost whole pages of different three-eyed monstrosities. They are supposedly the ghosts of dead gods but I feel like the characters are way too chill around them. We also have the monster that lives inside Maika. While his other crazy-eyed monster brethren are large and more monstery, the main one this story focuses on, takes on a vaguely humanoid shape and size. Takeda does a great job also conveying a mouthless and almost expressionless eye monster to have emotions throughout its appearances which like Kippa made me less scared.
Professor Tam Tam’s Culinary World History 101
A lot of what I really enjoy about comics from DC and Marvel are how fleshed out their worlds (or universes) are. All the different titles and years to build off each other create such a large place to get absorbed into. How could you not order the same thing every time when you know it’s good? Other publishers have great stories but I have always had a hesitant reflex to add one to my order, worrying if it was gonna provide me with a satisfying meal. I can say MONSTRESS provided a hearty amount of content in just the first six issues that I almost needed a take out box.
Different races of humans, animals, witches, ghosts, and demons are thrown at you so fast on top of wars and truces. It was a little jarring at first. You don’t know why certain people are being sold as slaves. Some are being harvested as some sort of immediate fossil fuel. You’ve got twists and secret alliances and agendas coming from every angle it’s almost overwhelming. Not to mention giant behemoth like monsters that are just ghost-like that fade in and out every now and then.
Thankfully Professor Tam Tam was here to help us by giving some extra credit lessons about all the lore and history in the world of MONSRESS. Who is Professor Tam Tam? Why he is only the coolest cat (literally) that teaches the fellow kittens what's up with everything going on in the story, in terms of background, so you can jump into the next issue with a little more knowledge each time. The Prof only has his class in four of these issues and the best part is there is no quiz at the end. I’m sure he would encourage an open book if there was.
Marjorie Liu stuffed a lot into this first volume. The combination of a large number of characters introduced rapidly, with the combined flavors of deep lore and history was definitely a bit of challenge during the first course of the meal. Thanks to Professor Tam Tam’s extra classes I was able to appreciate my next bite and Sana Takeda’s art did wonders for the eye feel. Maika is a real treat with her badass attitude. I love that even without her demon arm, she is a force of nature that you don’t want to mess with. Spicy. Plus she straight up tells her demon whose in charge between the two of them. Even Spicier. I will definitely be ordering another plate of MONSTRESS the next time I visit my local shop. If you want some very beautiful art and a large dark fantasy world this a book you’ll have to try.