Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening (Issues #1-6) (Graphic Novel)

ARC release

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

– Monstress synopsis, Image Comics

This article combines reviews of the 6-part single issue release of the ARC Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening graphic novel. If you prefer to read each review at a time, you can do so on Goodreads: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6.

The review will read like in-depth synopses of each part and may contain spoilers of the parts prior to it. To make it easier, I’ve broken up each part by a horizontal rule to prevent reading ahead unintentionally. Enjoy!

Volume Review: Awesome action, great story, good protagonist development, and stellar art make Monstress an awesome read. After it’s released, pick it up as a whole volume and you won’t be disappointed!
Rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)


Part I

Monstress #1 by Marjorie M. LiuARC releaseMonstress #1 (Single Issue) by Marjorie M. Liu
Published: Image Comics (Nov 4, 2015)
Posted: Goodreads (Aug 7, 2016)
4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)
 
 
Monstress #1 is the first volume of a six part series that will eventually culminate into one full sized graphic novel. The series, designed by novel and comic book writer Marjorie Liu, focuses on the adventures of a mysterious psychic named Maika and her quest for revenge.

The story takes place in a fictional, bifurcated, war-torn land with Asian influences. Maika – a young girl from a seemingly primitive culture of spirit worshipers known as arcanics – must breach the wall of human kind and enter the realm of witches, the Cumaea.

The Cumaea – savage, imperialist cannibals in an unforgiving matriarchal society – are Maika’s primary enemy. The world in which they reside is advanced, akin to magic-inflected Steampunk. What hope does the young Maika Halfwolf have against her mortal enemies?

The greater question isn’t about monsters on the outside of the walls, but those from within.

Monstress1_PreviewPage-1 Monstress1_PreviewPage2-1 Monstress1_PreviewPage3-1
Check out the art by clicking above.

The art and illustration by Sana Takeda is truly breathtaking. The crisp-gloss color choice, art style, and simple yet action packed panel composition is truly terrific. Scenes depicting flashbacks and ethereal forces were handled excellently.

Original fantasy storytelling done right. If I had any problem with the story is that it was too short. Given the single issue nature of Monstress in its current form, this is understandable. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where this goes from here.

(Art approved for use in this review by Image Comics.)


Part II

Monstress #2 by Marjorie M. LiuARC releaseMonstress #2 (Single Issue) by Marjorie M. Liu
Published: Image Comics (Dec 9, 2015)
Posted: Goodreads (Aug 8, 2016)
5 Stars (5 / 5)
 
 
Monstress #2 (part 2 of Volume 1: Awakenings), continues the story of Maika and her hunt for understanding. If you haven’t read Monstress #1, check out my review here or on Goodreads.

With one of her goals completed, Maika must make her way from the bordertown city of Zamora – a once great trading hub and center of diversity – to escape the blood thirsty rule of the Human Federation. Only then can she resume her quest for understanding… and unravel her mysterious past.

Inquisitrix investigative assassins hunt the lands for their murderous slave, a spiritually attuned and feared psychic from the Arcanic Realms. Assisted by her fox-humanoid companion, Kippa, and her highly intelligent talking cat, Maika must quell the inner beast and lie low long enough to survive.

Monstress #2 improves upon the story set in part 1 and delivers more depth and world building than before. Unlike the previous volume, we’re introduced to a new race and a land’s vibrant history. We’re also permitted complete access to Maika’s thoughts and fears, adding depth and frailty to an awesome protagonist.

The detail and beauty of the illustrations is as outstanding as it was in the first part. I highly recommend this series to any graphic novel fans looking for something new and original.


Part III

Monstress #3 by Marjorie M. LiuARC releaseMonstress #3 (Single Issue) by Marjorie M. Liu
Published: Image Comics (Jan 27, 2016)
Posted: Goodreads (Aug 8, 2016)
5 Stars (5 / 5)
 
 
If you haven’t read the two other Monstress singles of Volume 1 Awakening, I reviewed both Monstress #1 and Monstress #2. Due to spoilers, you should read the other two before checking this brief review/update.

The Human Federation, through the The Cumaea, makes plans to expand their empire while pursuing the dangerous Arcanic named Maika. With the lives of her friends on the line, Maika is forced to confront of her inner demons. How much does she truly remember about her past and can it help her deal with changes to come?

As always, the illustration by Sana Takeda is outstanding. It really does get better with each part. Fans of The Darkness will likely draw parallels between it and something similarly depicted in Monstress. Character expressions, action sequences, facial details, and the coloring are all top notch. Unlike in the past, a considerable amount of time was spent on close ups, they’re expressive and good looking.

As with the second installment, a lot of information is given to us in a lecture by Professor Tam Tam. Interestingly this outlines the history of conflict between the Human Federation and the Arcanic Realms. The world building alone is worth the read.

So far still going strong. 3 out 6 great parts is a pretty good reason to keep your eye on Monstress.


Part IV

Monstress #4 by Marjorie M. LiuARC releaseMonstress #4 (Single Issue) by Marjorie M. Liu
Published: Image Comics (Mar 16, 2016)
Posted: Goodreads (Aug 9, 2016)
5 Stars (5 / 5)
 
 
Possibly containing the most revelations to date, part 4 of Monstress, Volume 1 contains a mixture of action, character development, information about the setting, and relevant history. If you haven’t read the previous parts of Monstress, you should before reading this review!

In this edition, cultural diversity and world history takes center stage. Not only do we see new ancient races and their cities, but we also gain an understanding of their political arrangements with the Human Federation.

We learn about the Dusk Court, the history of the witch-nuns, the present stalemate between The Cumaea and Arcanics, Maika and her inner turmoil, and the mask. The segment of Professor TamTam at the end explores the mysterious history of the Arcanics.

Issue cover art, full panel art of Maika showing her past and inner beast are all outstanding. Great edition to an awesome series.


Part V

Monstress #5 by Marjorie M. LiuARC releaseMonstress #5 (Single Issue) by Marjorie M. Liu
Published: Image Comics (Mar 16, 2016)
Posted: Goodreads (Aug 9, 2016)
5 Stars (5 / 5)
 
 
“You were always the one who hoped. You had enough hope for both of us. I wish I had that gift. Because I’m in a cage again, Tuya. My body isn’t my own.” – Maika, Monstress Volume 1: Awakening

This is the second to the last installment of Monstress Volume 1: Awakening and it’s as powerful as always. To avoid spoilers, please make sure you’ve read 1-4 of the single issues.

In the first part of Monstress we saw the inhuman treatment of prisoners at the hands of the Cumaea and Federation. Finally the author’s vision of a fantasy version of a World War II-like setting is realized. The opening segment of the the Arcanics in camps evokes feelings of hopelessness and despair, further illustrating the horrors of the Federation-Arcanic War.

The majestic and flawlessly illustrated Dusk Court character, Corvin, is awesome. We also see more races and a Steampunk airship!

As always, #5 ends with a long bit of information regarding the world and its lore. It serves to help flesh out the world and – unlike other fantasy worlds – takes evolution into account! For those with questions about The Cumaea, Arcanics, Ancients or psychic powers, #4 and #5 pretty much answer everything. If there’s any weakness here, it’s that the info dump is long and could have been visually depicted instead.

Given the scope and detail of the world building in Monstress, I’m of the opinion that it would also make an interesting novel. Time will tell if it hooks readers enough to become a regular fixture in fantasy. Awesome series! Looking forward to the last part of Volume 1!

“What’s wrong now? You look like you want to kill someone.”
“No…. I think that’s her happy face!”

– Ren and Kippa, Monstress Volume 1: Awakening 🙂


Part VI

Monstress #6 by Marjorie M. LiuARC releaseMonstress #6 (Single Issue) by Marjorie M. Liu
Published: Image Comics (May 25, 2016)
Posted: Goodreads (Aug 10, 2016)
4 Stars (4 / 5)
 
 
The final part of Monstress Volume 1: Awakening is about Maika’s attempts to seize control over the growing darkness inside of her, while dealing with the Dusk Court and Mother Supreme.

This last part also deals with Maika unlocking the secrets of her past. Only with their aid can she attempt to deal with a battle on two fronts. The fight scenes and art depicting the monster within, the characters, and the sky are all stunning. We also got more airships and that’s always a plus. This final part was interesting and action packed.

Is it a satisfying conclusion to the first volume? Yes. But there are a few elements that it could do without (or at least handled better).

The same info dump that exists in #5 is present here in Tam Tam’s lecture. I believe it overloads the reader with details that should have been in the comic somehow instead. Instead of back-loading explanations, it would have been far better to explain things like what Lilium is through small stories or glimpses of the past. It really wasn’t such a pivotal story element that it needed to wait till the very last page of the first volume. Proper use of it throughout the volume would have let it explain itself better.

Another example is all of the meta-story elements discussing Ancients, Old Gods, and the rise of the Cumaea in human society. Yes, it makes the story interesting, but #6 was more about Maika’s personal struggle, so why overload us on details like Marium on the coast of Galilea with her 13 apostles afterwards? Hell, this too would have been better to include at the beginning of the volume since, after all, the reader went nearly 200 pages without learning a lot about the witches’ motivations.

While it wasn’t satisfying on every level, I did love it. This particularly conclusion fit better than anything I could have come up with and the action and visuals were top notch. I eagerly await Volume 2’s release!

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