Running Back: Monstress
Cutting a bit close…this week has been pretty busy lol. Hope all is well for the new year.
In this edition of Running Back, and in honor of its return, I will be going over the first 6 issues of Monstress (which is also volume 1 of the trade).
Monstress follows the story of Maika, a woman with a mysterious past and one arm as she embarks on a death-fueled revenge quest.
Issue #1: This is a huge double-sized book packed with all sorts of comic book fantasy goodness. Right from the start, the image of a naked one-armed woman lets you know this is no children’s book. Once you flip to page 2, even if it has no dialog whatsoever, you can get hooked on the amazing artwork alone. Holy crap the artist Sana Takeda does an amazing job bringing these characters and locations to life in a way I have never seen! Rarely have I ever been so conflicted on whether I like an artist’s backgrounds or facial details more; honestly, this book has it all. Done in what I can only describe as steampunk meets anime and then has a baby with Lovecraft, the only problem I have with it is that the work is so beautifully done that casting and set design for Monstress, if ever brought to live action, could never measure up to such a masterpiece.
Ok, enough drooling over the art. The story itself is also pretty good. The first double-sized issue is packed full of intrigue, mystery, and dialog that sometimes seems wordy but fits the regal and pompous demeanor of the characters. Here is where we get introduced to some of the main characters. Maika is the protagonist who we get to know very well and there is a supporting cast big enough to be a football team (I will list notable names in the rundown). We get everything from wolf spirits, witches, mad scientist, human trafficking, to cannibalism. The story keeps you interested with a mix of flashbacks and current events woven together almost seamlessly to give you an idea of the world without straying too much from the main plot. Alone this would probably bore me to a slumber flipping through this huge 60+ pager but the well-placed and beautifully done action sequences make it all worth it. You can’t help but feel the action as if it was on a 3D screen and not on flat pages. I try my best not to mention or draw comparisons to Saga anytime I read an Image book, especially ones with female leads, but I could not help but notice an obvious nod to Lying Cat in the pages of this book. It was so spot on it had to be deliberate and I loved it.
My only problem with the start of this book is they do give you so much to take in so early on. I found it a bit hard to get a grasp on what exactly happening at times, who is who, who can do what, and the factions/names/places are all exclusive to the world of Monstress as far as I can tell; it’s initially difficult to follow in that aspect. With that being said, issue #1 still closes out well and makes you want to read more as it leaves you with a big mystery (purposely leaving it out in case you have not read it yet).
Issue #2: This issues sets the series on its regular 20+ page format which works great in not leaving you feeling overwhelmed by the sheer massiveness of this world. Early on we are introduced to Destria, the bigger bad behind the big bad and her “daughters” (not sure if they are her actual biological daughters as everyone seems to refer to Destria as mother), The Inquistrix. They are a sort of royal guard consisting of Needle, Hammer, Tong, and Fray. Although issue #1 sets the overall tone of the series, I think issue #2 is where the storytelling really shines being much more focused and once again throws a nod to our favorite lying cat.
Unfortunately, it still suffers from a bit of who is who and what is what but manages to make you feel more comfortable in knowing what you don’t know and what you should know as opposed to the first issue where you always feel as if you may have missed something.
Issue #3: This issue returns us to action in a big way from the start and does a much better job at keeping the story centered. The art continues to be awe-inspiring page after page, equally amazing in both calm sequences and action packed fights. We get some much-needed grounding panels here from “normal” humans that help accentuate just how powerful and important our protagonist is. Overall a solid issue. (1st appearance of Moriko, Mika’s mother)
Issue #4: This issue really brings it in and finally gives us the views of another faction of the “war” that centers the story. We get an introduction to a new character called “Warlord” who I believe first appeared on the cover of issue #2 for some reason. We also get a lot more insight into what is really happening and for the first time the feeling of being lost or missing something completely fades away. Something even more special happens in this issue: we get the first unnamed appearance of a new male character. Now you may say “so what?”, new characters appear in comics all the time but (this is where I personally came to a revelation about Monstress)…this is a female dominated book. Immediately when he appears on the final page in all his glory, I think man the artwork and designs are amazing like Dynasty Warriors meets Final fantasy! Then I start to compare him to all my other favorite designs and characters in the book and here is where I notice…they are all female.
… prepare for slight tangent …
This is a testament to how great and immersive this story is so far. I would say the book has been overall 90% female and 100% female when it comes to notable reoccurring characters. This would put it in the category, if you’re into that sort of thing of, of being a female book but done in such a way that at no point did I think this is a in-your-face girlpower slap in the mouth. You never hear the strong leading characters even mention what they can or can not do because of their gender or how they can do what any man can do or any of those cliché lines that make dialog seem forced. I found myself relating to the characters easily as they are not great female characters or male characters but just great, well-written characters and that’s really what it’s all about. So I must give credit to Marjorie Liu for doing something and grasping a concept that so many other writers and even whole publishers seem to get wrong. Write good stories! Write interesting characters! Don’t force things for the sake of diversity, make good material and people will enjoy it. Ok, now that I hvae expelled some of my comic industry frustration, on to the final 2 chapters of this story arc.
Issue #5: This issue gives us what I would say is the first full appearance of Corvin, who had a cameo on the last page of the previous issue. This issue builds on the backstories of many of our main pro/antagonists, fleshing out and filling in those small details that may be vital later on. We also get some insight to yet another faction at play in this world. Not an action packed issue but worth its weight in pennies for sure.
Issue #6: This is actually my 2nd time reading through this arc. It’s even better now. I know my review was sprinkled with spoilers but I will not spoil all the greatness in this finale. I promise if you invested time and money into the first 5 chapters it will all pay off in grand fashion. If you are tired of story arcs that start well and fall flat by the end then this one is for you. Pick it up, in trade digital or whatever you can.
Run to read score: 8 out of 8
If you like comics, fantasy, action, art, etc. read this book. Heck, even if you never picked up a comic before, read this book. The art does not skip a beat from start to finish, it makes the little hiatus these Image books tend to take more than worth it. The story, while borrowing some elements from things here and there, is incredibly unique and captivating: you don’t want to overlook this book.
Run for your money score: 8 out of 8.
This 6 issue run is loaded with speculation goodness. With issue #1 already reaching triple digits in 9.8, I think these books are still a bargain. Moderate print runs, no RRP’s or outrageous ratio variants, this is the baseline core of comic collecting. Any murmur of live action adaptation (which I think would be hard to do this book justice honestly) will send this book into the stratosphere, grab them and hold on tight.
Issue #1 (30k print run) this book has been holding steady on its own merits. Having owned a few myself, I can say due to the double size of this issue, splits in the spine are very common and a 9.8 is not as easy to come by as some other books.
First appearances of:
- Maika Halfwolf
- Monster (cameo)
Issue #1 2nd print (yellow title) is one of those rare 2nd prints with a different cover that people just can’t resist. I dont have a definitive number on print run but it is said to be between 8-12k.
Issue #1 3rd print (blue title) Same art as the 2nd print; still rare but not as sought after.
Issue #1 Image Firsts also available but would be just for reading.
Issue #2 (21k print run) also a 2nd print (blue title), same cover art.
First appearance of:
- Warlord? (cover only)
- Mother Superior (Destria)
Issue #3 (20k print run) also a 2nd print (blue title) same cover art.
First appearance of:
- Moriko (flashback)
Issue #4 (22k print run)
First appearance of:
- Queen of Wolves
- Monkey King
- Corvin (cameo)
First appearance of:
- Corvin (full, named)
- Tanno (cameo)
Issue #6 (20k print run)
First appearance of:
- Tanno (full, named)
While I know we tend to spec more on 1sts in the modern days of collecting, I still believe in the value of a great plot point in a great story. This issue has 3 great revelations/reveals that are noteworthy and give this issue a bit more value in my opinion.
As always thanks again for reading. See you next week.