MONSTRESS 3: Haven by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
It’s always an event when the next collection of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s MONSTRESS is released — I take a copy home, make sure I won’t get interrupted, and just sink down into the complex storytelling and truly gorgeous illustrations. Every year this ongoing graphic novel cleans up at the Eisner and Hugo Awards, and for good reason.
Maika Halfwolf is a young woman with a terrible secret: an ancient monster resides within her body, only partially controllable and with regular bloodthirsty urges. Her entire life she’s fought to keep herself and others safe, but the onset of war throughout the Asian-/Egyptian-inspired world in which she lives means that all sorts of people are frantic to get their hands on Maika and the power she wields.
In Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven, the ongoing journey of Maika and her companions takes them to Pontus, a reputed neutral city where they hope to find refuge from those hunting them. But the rulers of Pontus aren’t as benevolent as Maika had anticipated, and they demand a price for their protection — one that requires Maika to work together with her inner monster for the first time.
Truthfully, the plot is almost impenetrable. Liu offers little in the way of exposition, and it’s dizzying to try and keep track of the myriad of factions, their names, their motivations, and their members. Every time I open a new volume, it’s a struggle to remember the difference between Arcanics and Cumea, Maika’s increasingly complex backstory, and all the other whys and wherefores of the world.
And yet that’s part of the joy in reading. Liu throws you headlong into a world you know nothing about, and Takeda supplements the tale with truly breath-taking illustrations. I could stare forever at her line-work and colouring, and the various influences she draws upon to create this world. Every character is distinct, and even those with animal faces are given incredibly human-like expressions.
It’s also worth mentioning the surplus of female characters. Since MONSTRESS takes place in a matriarchal world, the women outnumber the men 5:1, and fill positions of captains, generals, politicians, assassins and soldiers. Every time I open one of these comics, I’m struck all over again by the sheer volume and variety of the women on the pages, whether they’re good or evil, immoral or ethical, neutral or biased, young or old, right or wrong.
That said, the depiction of this world is also very violent. People lose their limbs in showers of blood, innards end up on the outside, and explosions leave graphic carnage in their wake. If you have an aversion to this sort of thing, you may want to give MONSTRESS a miss.
But I loved revisiting this world and its people. The story is as complex as ever, but I can follow the emotional journeys of Maika and her friends, and enjoy the stunning artwork on every page. The only problem is another long wait until volume four!