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Fundamental Comics: ‘Monstress’ and Finding Ways to Live in a World of Inequality and Hate

“Fundamental Comics,” a monthly editorial series that introduces readers to comics, graphic novels, and manga that have been impactful to the sequential art medium and the comic book industry on a foundational level.  Each month, a new essay will examine a familiar or less-known title through an in-depth analysis, exploring the history of the title, significant themes, and context for the title’s popularity since it was first released.

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: 2016
No. of Issues: Issues 1 – 6


A dark, fantastical story can be filled with diverse characters, dealing with anger, grief, and prejudices, all while being led by a widely large female cast and the normality of it all is equally as beautiful as the story.

Discussing Monstress with Lenika Cruz from The Atlantic, writer Marjorie Liu shares how anger and grief are significant emotions to main character Maika Halfwolf, and it’s completely acceptable to see a woman explore similar emotions that might be deemed “heroic” or “righteous” in male counterparts.

Seeing significant, long-term change in storytelling comes by getting “more creators of color, more writers of color, and more women in order,” which was a motivating factor in creating Monstress. Artist Sana Takeda takes a war-torn world and builds beautiful characters, devastating fight and torture scenes, and an overall sense that when Maika bleeds, the reader will feel its impact.

Monstress Vol 1 Picture of First Page dc4

The Plot

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening begins in a fashion that rips open the heart of the reader, as we see Maika chained without clothing, while bearing the trauma of war with part of her left arm missing. The sight immediately makes it clear the struggles Maika has endured and the deplorable situation she currently faces, as a room full of humans bicker over the next slave on the market.

Maika is a teenager and an Arcanic, a race feared or despised by most humans, who hopes to understand her role in a war brimming on the edge of return, while also trying to understand an ancient monster living within her soul and how it somehow connects to her past, and possibly more importantly, her mother.

One thing all readers will understand within this six-chapter arc is that Maika is as equally resolute as she is hunted. Her strength is seen through the words she expresses to those who attempt to bend her will, and the determined looks upon her face that never seem to falter regardless of her emotional state, which is a testament to Takeda’s craft as Maika’s character is fully defined in both the story and artwork. Monstress is a story that travels over vast lands, filled with various races of creatures, all with various suspicions or prejudices of one another – because fear comes from previous actions from others and not necessarily the reality of everyday people trying to live their lives.

Maika is a character who is valid on all levels, not only because others try to tear her down or kill her which is absolutely horrific and we want her to overcome such a harsh life, but because she is a reflection of everyone in the real world – trying to find her place in it.

Monstress Vol 1 Cover 2a3

Reception Upon Release

Monstress Volume 1 has been esteemed from the likes of IGN, Paste, and Vulture, including being labeled as one of the best upon its release and worth sticking around on each page because the art is that stellar. It was also highlighted how Monstress transforms the reader to better understand the horrors associated with war, which is immediately understood from the first page of this story.

Monstress was also highly recognized for its representation of women, by showing women as they should be, “as diverse, complex individuals whose stories build on, and move beyond, misrepresentation, rather than repeating it.” To extend on Liu’s storytelling, Fanbase Press compares her creativity to what might be found in a novel, because the world within the story is so “rich and diverse.”

Critical Analysis

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening is an epic story that drops readers into a character’s life without leading in first. This dramatic introduction to Maika immediately makes her well-being an immediate concern for the reader, while instantly feeling satisfied when her strength of will pushes her forward in the face of deadly consequences.

The consequences are nearly always grounded in hatred, fear, or bigotry. In the face of torture, Maika finds a way to maintain order within her own mind, with flashbacks to times with friendships that endured similar struggles highlighting that slavery and torture should never be commonplace. Even with all of these outside factors affecting Maika’s well-being, another story takes place that could dominate any other story on its own – her internal struggle with a very real monster.

Monstress is layered with potential allies, more-than-certain villains, and a world that doesn’t recognize Maika as a person. Liu’s ability to create such a world, while always providing hope for the reader to see Maika survive, is an incredible achievement. Liu’s skill enables Maika’s emotional responses to be significant, holding weight with each action as she navigates her memories and the power of an ancient god.

Takeda’s artwork highlights all of these moments with darker tones and wonderful colors to amplify brilliant night skies, intense fight scenes, or dream-like sequences that seem as real and vivid as every other interaction within Maika’s life. Characters and backdrops are beautifully drawn, sometimes subduing readers into a false sense of security, because the difference between safety and danger can change in the blink of a panel.

Relevancy Today

Monstress speaks to a world teeming with conflict, hate, and uncertainty. Maika is a female character, viewed as lesser based off her race and potential. This certainly speaks to present-day society where women, persons of color, persons of non-heterosexual orientations, persons of varying religious beliefs, persons with disabilities, or anyone not resembling what can be personified as suit-and-tie power must fight for equal rights and inclusion.

Maika is seen as something unknown and dangerous. But, in society, a person should not be deemed a danger for looking different or because a group dictates harm should come to those who resemble something other than what they are accustomed to. The stout defensiveness we see from our hero comes from experiences that tell her she’s hated, that tell her she’s not seen as equal, and unequivocally tell her she’s not safe in a situation with others that oppose her.

Despite the uncertainty with whom Maika can trust, the semblance of hope seen from her story and a small companion (because size should never validate a person’s heart, feelings, or thoughts) is what the world always needs. Hope to find common ground. Hope to believe in a world worth living in peace. Hope to find meaning in our lives that doesn’t revolve around hate, but the simplest of expressions – being kind and being loved.

Other Points of Interest

Monstress has been nominated for several Eisner Awards since 2016, including wins at the 2018 ceremony. Monstress won for Best Continuing Series and Best Publication for Teens (ages 13 – 17), while Marjorie Liu won for Best Writer, and Sana Takeda won for Best Cover Artist and Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art).

Monstress currently has three volumes available, with Book One containing all three volumes being available in early July. Issue #24 will also be available in July, with Monstress Volume 4 to be published later in September.

S.T. Lakata, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor



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