MONSTRESS 5: Warchild by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
This is my fifth review for what is the fifth volume in Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s collaborative MONSTRESS project, and it’s getting difficult not to repeat myself. Here are the basics: it takes place in a matriarchal society that’s embroiled in a devastating war between those that wield magic and those that rely on technological advancements.
The main character is Maika Halfwolf, a girl with one arm and a Lovecraftian monster living inside her, desperately trying to keep her head above the morass of political intrigue and violence that surrounds her. And the artwork in this series is exceptionally beautiful, combining Asian and Egyptian influences with an Art Nouveau style that I’ve certainly never seen anywhere outside of these books.
Volume 5: Warchild (comprised of issues 25 to 30) sees Maika throwing in her lot with the walled City of Ravenna, which is about to be besieged by the Federation of Men. The book in its entirety covers the build-up, duration and aftermath of the battle in all its blood and guts, never flinching from the horror of violence and war. Seriously, it can get pretty graphic.
We’re also treated to a few glimpses of Maika’s childhood as a scavenger, along with her friend Tula (who also features in this volume as an adult, with a mysterious agenda all her own). Little Kippa has a really bad day as she tries to summon her bravery in the face of war, and Zim – the monster within Maika – has some fascinating insights to share.
I have to admit that on some level the storyline is practically impossible to discern. Even five volumes in I have to check and double-check exactly what the Arcanics are, who the shaman-empress was, or why there’s even a war in the first place. In any other story, this lack of clarity would infuriate me, and yet something about MONSTRESS is compelling enough to keep me returning with each publication.
Most of this has to do with Sana Takeda’s incredible artwork – intricate as it is epic in scope – but I also enjoy reading about women who are unapologetically complex. Because most of the characters are female, they encompass the whole spectrum of morality, from the innocence of Kippa to the cruel depravity of Colonel Anuwat. Even Maika herself is forced to make difficult decisions throughout this volume, sacrificing a few to save the many.
I am curious though, as to how much longer this series intends to run. We’re thirty issues in now, and there’s no sign of things wrapping up, even though Maika is becoming more assured regarding her own identity and abilities. Perhaps there’s still a long journey ahead of us, but I’m ready for things to start edging toward a conclusion.