“In the aftermath of a terrible war, tensions between the Federation of Man and the supernatural Arcanic hybrids remain high. Maika Halfwolf, an Arcanic Teen and war survivor, has found herself at the center of that conflict. After bidding farewell to her closest friend, Tuya, Maika traveled to the city of Zamora, where she broke into the stronghold of the Cumaea, a human religious order that slaughters Arcanics to harvest the precious lilium that flows through their bodies. There, Maika obtained a photograph and a fragment of an ancient and powerful mask that might provide answers about the murder of her mother.”The story so far … Issue 6, Introduction
The story of the series “Monstress” starts with little children that are handled like slaves and sold to the highest bidder in an atmospheric room, filled with aristocratic looking people which may own more than enough fortune. Among the slaves is one, named Maika that soon catches the attention of a powerful witch, also a member of the so-called arcanian Order. Powerful enough to ask for the slaves as a donation. She lets them bring to her home, a tremendous and huge villa that has cells and dark corridors in the dungeon. There we find others, often children from other or similar species, most of them being young. It is not only rumored that the witches who live there do take parts of the children but also make strange experiments with them. One of the older ones also completely insane due to his lost. The prison cells itself are controlled by a sadistic prison officer, fortunately for the remaining prison inmates she gets killed right after we get to know her. Maika provokes her and makes her torture her and in the middle of this she uses some power and throws together with her cell bars on the opposite wall. From this point on it gets very fast, we see Maika running through the house killing guards and fighting her way to one of the witches. When she reaches her we find out that this outcome was planned by her for a long time, to confront the witches find out more about the truth of her mother’s death and also an ancient mask, one that may keep a powerful secret. One that may change the outcome of this conflict between the races for those who more or less lost last time.
Marjorie Liu, the author and architect of this story tells us on the last page of issue one what led to this series, what was first, which idea started this story. We learn that she grew up to be Chinese-American and grew up with nightmarish stories from her grandparents about war, starvation, rape camps, biological experimentation, occupation and more. Within the first issue the readers learn a little about the background story, gets only some hints about the conflict and which parties were involved and who won. In the end it doesn’t matter, the first issues sets the ground rules for the character and Marjorie Liu sets this perfectly well. Her main character Maika is determined and starts straight without thinking too much about possible consequences, parallel to the aboe mentioned storyline the first issue also shows some snippets, a few pages that lead us into the past, in a time where everything seemd peaceful. There – together with her sister – we learn to know a different Maika. Even that the first issue contained 72 pages (also no ads) there was not a single moment where it felt over-sized, the suspense and the pacing storytelling will keep the reader hooked upon. Looking at it afterwards it seemed to have been a good decision to read all six issues at once, waiting each month for the next issues will surely kill some. Soon there will be a trade and it is more than worth buying.
The art of Sana Takeda is breathtaking and considering that Marjorie Liue, being Chinese-American plays with different mythologies, most of them asian makes Sana Takedas style very fitting. She draws the interior of the rooms very atmospheric and very detailed. There are moments where the reader gets caught and a bit lost within the detailed pictures. At the start we are confronted with many characters that are wild, furious or angry, this changes when other characters appear through the story and two of them show the many talents the artist has, one is a little fox creature that is fearful but accompanies Maika because she believes that she will survive at her side. Another one is appearing by the end of issue one, a cat creature named Master Ren, one that was sent for help. Personally, such art is not easy to find, each panel and sometimes even each page can be taken as art itself. There is no bubble for words or dialogue necessary.
After getting this stone-mask Maika and her companions start on a roadtrip trying to escape the enemies. Eventually on this trip we learn more about Maika, Master Ren and the little Arcanic girl Kippa, the aforementioned little foxgirl. Furthermore there are moments where parts of this universe get explained, the legends and myths and the different races find some place to be more clear for the reader. Later one is accompanied by a cat teacher, one of those teachers that explains to little pupils (cats, clearly) how the world works. Here the reader finds himself invited to follow the lectures. Step by step the mythology of old and new gods gets unfold, at the end of chapter one a lot has been explained and provided but a lot is still missing, room enough to explore.
One main thing that makes this story extraordinary is that most of the characters are female, from slaves to witches to powerful rulers. Seldom do we meet male characters and many of them seem to be not that colorful in comparison with their female counterparts. This may be the case because both artist and author are female but the experience of the past shows us that this conclusion can be misleading. In this very case it works amazingly well, strong female characters, determined with flaws, hopes, strength and also fear. Each of them brings important chracteristics into the game and makes the players not only plausible but also lovable, hateable and even more importantly understandable. Nothing kills a story more than the lack of plausible characters.
A character-driven story that is filled with suspense, strong female characters and one that makes you longing for more. So far the six issues deliver the first chapter of a story that promises the reader more of this well built world and more of the people that live there.