By Molly Jane Kremer. Readership of mainstream comics has never been more diverse, and more and more there come series geared directly towards women. While many of these series are still penned and/or drawn by guys (and they are some of the best in the business), books like Pretty Deadly and From Under Mountains meet those high artistic standards with teams of ladies doing all the creating. Admittedly, there aren’t very many comics with all-female creators—though it’s gratifying the few that do happen to be brilliant. Newly added to that list of excellent reads by women is Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress, a brutal, emotional, and enveloping new series from Image Comics.
Marjorie Liu (both a novelist and accomplished comics writer of Black Widow and X-23) has written a massively thorough (and thoroughly massive) introduction to Monstress’ compelling world, and Sana Takeda’s intricate, lush art drags you into it head-first. It’s not very often that we see a debut issue with sixty-six (!) story pages, but that’s exactly where Monstress #1 clocks at. (For comparison, a few of Marvel’s recent All-New All-Different first issues have had a paltry third of those story pages—or less—at the same $4.99 pricetag.) An introduction this huge has an automatic advantage to more normal-sized debuts, but the extraordinarily large page-count almost lends this the reading experience of an introductory graphic novel: even compared to other over-sized Image first issues, that’s a monumental achievement.
Liu has populated Monstress with a female majority, and the amount of male characters with speaking parts can probably be counted on one hand. The femininity of both heroes and villains allows her to write them all as multi-dimensional people: Liu reveals protagonist Maika as flawed and almost broken, both mind and body ravaged by war and resultant horrors. She paints a world in shades of grey and red, emphasizing the consequences of denying people their humanity, and what the ensuing subjugation, terror, and victimization can do to a population.
Sana Takeda’s art is so finely detailed one wonders how long this issue took her to produce, as she also did this quadruple-sized comic with all of her own inking and coloring. The final product is visually luscious: Takeda’s sense of design is gorgeous, pulling in handfuls of intricate art deco and art nouveau details for elegantly-wrought architectural interiors and costuming. The comic itself takes place in an alternate version of 1920s Asia, and Takeda’s manga-esque style keeps the pace at a quick clip. The roiling emotional content always close to the surface as she draws the interiors and exteriors of opulent palaces with the same flair as she does dank dungeons, misty steppes, or panoramas of wooded hills.
Takeda’s character design ranges from the adorable to the unsettling. The tiny fox-child Kippa, grasping her fuzzy tail, is an endearing sliver of imperiled innocence in a grim world, while amputees due to cannibalism abound along with kaiju-esque Monstrum. It’s this pairing of beauty with despair and, well, monstrousness, that gives Monstress its substantial impression: feathery, gorgeous renderings of the evils of which humanity is capable in its ignorance, and how that brutality affects the people caught in its crosshairs. This is a dramatically stunning debut for an incredibly promising series.
Written by Marjorie Liu.
Art by Sana Takeda.
9.5 out of 10