Most new comic titles begin with an issue that’s slightly longer than usual, for the normal price of between $3 and $4. Others open with a double-sized issue for an extra dollar. It makes sense; it’s a good way to encourage potential readers to check it out. Monstress 1 is 66 pages long for $5. At least if you’re counting pages for dollars, that’s a great deal in today’s comic market. Of course, a terrible 66 page comic is still a terrible 66 page comic, so it’s a good thing Monstress is pretty good.
Written by Marjorie Liu, Monstress stars Maika, a 17-year-old girl struggling to survive in a post-war environment. The setting is somewhere between Steampunk and Chinese Fantasy, where those infused with magic, called Arcanics, have lost. Most of them are subjugated, traded as slaves and sometimes even eaten. This is a dark world that’s meant to resemble the horrors of war that Liu’s grandparents faced in China during WW2 and it’s effective at that. Maika herself lost part of her left arm at one point and she’s one of the lucky ones. All this only made her mad.
Although the world is rich and fully of mystery and mythology, this issue’s story is fairly straight forward. Maika intentionally gets captured to infiltrate a particularly brutal witch’s headquarters, and then goes on a rampage. The action is kind of awesome and it involves powerful magic, flamethrowers with bayonets and objects of power. It’s also quite bloody. Throughout the whole comic it’s hinted that something’s living inside of Maika – something sinister – and she’s not even sure whether she wants to hold it back or not anymore. Most of the dialogue is fairly vague and for a first issue that’s fine. One thing that’s strange is that this issue features 3 well developed villains, and they’re all killed off by the end of the issue.
The art and colouring is handled by one of Liu’s X-23 collaborator, Sana Takada, and it’s fantastic. When things are supposed to look beautiful, like classy rooms and city shots, they’re breathtaking. The darker scenes, like the prison and the mad science lab, are disturbing. See how many jarred brains you can count in the lab. The action flows well and is often complete with environmental damage. Maika even keeps the dirt, scratches and bloodied clothing in the fight scene and it looks consistent. Whether it’s dark or light, beautiful or disturbing, the comic is always colourful.
As good as this first issue is, I’m not completely sold on this series yet. I still enjoy Liu’s X-23 run, but I didn’t enjoy her Astonishing X-Men work all that much. Also, the vague dialogue keeps this comic mysterious, but sooner or later we’ll need answers. As of now this is a fascinating world, featuring a compelling lead character, fantastic art and brutal action. There’s a lot of potential with this series, and if anything sounds interesting to you, by all means pick this up. It is, after all, $5 for 66 pages.