Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening
Written by Marjorie Liu
Art and Colours by Sana Takeda
This is one of the best surprises I have gotten the entire year! I had expected this comic to be adequate, but not as magnificent as it turned out to be. Liu and Takeda brought an astounding tale of self-discovery and the capacity of love to the pages of comics. Luckily, I was one of those that got to pick up the trade paperback instead of having to wait, although, now I ought to for the next one.
The story takes place in an “alternative world” similar to 19th century Asia, in the brink of war between two groups. The Arcanics are magical creatures that can sometimes pass for humans but also posses animal attributes (and perhaps some magic), their enemies are the Cumea, an order of sorceresses who consume the Arcanics in order to fuel their power to use for whatever it is they use it for. The Cumea’s allies are humans, who are frightened by these creatures and believe them to be inferior. Here we follow Maika, an Arcanic set on avenging her dead mother while learning more of the world, and the dark power that resides within her. She is joined on her quest by some interesting characters, and the journey begins.
The issue most people seem to have when regards to this comic is the world building, which is hard to grasp when simply looking at the images. Most of the story is told through dialogue. In small snippets that reference past events, rather than actual descriptions of them, we are shown a slow buildup to what this society looks like and the beliefs held by the various groups. Upon finishing the book, I found this to be the best form to present it, as it created a sense of wonder for what else was to come, and a desire to know much more of the world than what was given.
The series is a metaphor for many issues that have affected humans for millennia, and which now, with the political, social, and economic state of the world, may serve a much present danger; treating others as lesser than us. The pages are filled with allegory over the constant dehumanization of people over the misconceptions of others. Much like certain groups today, the Arcanics are treated as “too different” to humanity’s ideals of what a person should be like, and when not being kidnapped and murdered, they are assured to be kept on the opposite side of the rest of society. It also shows how much the humans are being manipulated by the Camea, as they believe what they are told, enough to let the witches do some despicable things to Arcanics. This sort of social criticism, alongside the female characters at the center, make the tale as interesting as it is.
The darkness surrounding this fantasy is perfectly represented with the art and colouring. Takeda uses an art-style similar to manga, but not quite, to show off the characters and places in a form that is not usually depicted in mainstream comics. Not only was the manga/anime style a clear separation from the art in other comics, but with the addition of colours, it helped immerse us more into the folklore. It is truly, a beautiful book.
Am I still confused over this story? Yes. Do I care? Nah. My only disagreement comes from having to wait so long for consecutive issues to come out, I lack that sort of patience. That aside, go to the store, or pick it up online, and read it. There will be no disappointment.