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‘Monstress #4:’ Comic Book Review

My what fools these mortals be.

We all have a little darkness within us.  For some, it’s an overdeveloped sense of Schadenfreude. In others, it’s a willingness to look the other way when bad things go down, and yet others have an insatiable demon living inside them that starves for the flesh of man.  So, okay, this third one is a little more uncommon, but then again Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda aren’t exactly spinning a tale like any other.  They’ve managed to create an incredibly rich and nuanced world, with the main influence seeming to be anime and manga, but with flavors of all shades of storytelling traditions worked into the mix.  Some of the most interesting are present in the formatting, with time being treated fluidly and quick jumps between scenes keeping you off balance and engaged in every moment.

Liu has opened another fold in the world for this issue, as we begin in a discussion among the “ancients.”  Much like in Eastern tradition, these are gods/demigods who are living aspects of certain ideals or spirits.  In a way it also feels like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, where aspects come to life through belief.  We have seen what will likely become the beginning of a major war between the normal humans and those of the ancients and the halfbreeds caught in between.  The fact that Liu can meld brutal action with a deep political aspect and still manage to hit the emotional tone that she does is pretty impressive.  There’s still a lot going on here that we’re not privy to, but each issue does a great job of filling in the backstory while moving the narrative forward.

Ms. Takeda’s work is incredible.  Looking like the best anime frozen on the page, there’s a depth to her style, making every blade of grass come alive.  The characters are incredibly expressive, and you can know what’s happening just looking at the page before you even read the text.  The layouts are well done, with the focus never straying from the storytelling aspect.  The more I see, the more I’m reminded of Inuyasha. The visual tone and gravitas are very similar, but Takeda’s approach is much more concentrated and effective than that show ever needed to be, as her work could potentially carry the story without text at all.  She is a world-class artist and makes Liu’s story leap off the page.

Fans of the darker side of anime (No Vash the stampede thieving donuts in this book, folks.) will fall in love with this complex and wondrous world that these women have brought to the table.  Filled with rich, imaginative characters and a focus on a story that has little pity for those in it or reading it, this is a brutally honest and dangerous place that won’t hold your hand.

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