While working on my thesis and discussing the lack of Asian American superheroes in mainstream comics, and in turn, the gap that still exists among female and male superheroes, my professor recommended Monstress to me. After taking many courses with her, I knew that she would not steer me wrong so I picked up a copy – yet I did not get a chance to sit down and read it until two nights ago.
The volume begins with Maika Halfwolf, a teenage survivor chained and being bidded upon – very similar to a manga I had once read, +Anima. You see the kids in this manga were sold because they were infused with animals. People did not like them because they were hybrids – but with Maika and Monstress, the story is completely
different the same. Rather than going by the term +Anima, Maika’s kind is referred to as Arcanics – magical creatures that can sometimes pass as humans but are also hybrids.
The beginning of the volume seems rather cryptic because there are all these allusions to the past but there are no explicit details or answers until later on in the volume. The answers are generated by flashbacks throughout the rest of the volume. Maika placed herself within this situation to get answers – mainly to find out what happened to her mother, and what is now happening to herself. In one flashback, we are introduced to a wise cat sidekick who tells Makia that her plan is foolish. There is another cat that appears mainly before each chapter that provides us with a mini-history lesson and some much needed context. In a way, it is a bit effective because it establishes a foundation without interrupting the plot all while providing information to the reader when they most need it. The cats’ behavior reminded me very much of Salem from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
In the flashback, it is revealed that Makia has left behind her sister (or who she refers to as her sister), Tuya. Although she is briefly seen, it is clear that Tuya is the complete opposite of the stubborn, aggressive, short-tempered Makia. After releasing the other Arcanics that are captured, Makia goes against Sofia, and demands answers. Sofia hits her with the, “Do you know who I am?” line yet she dies instantly (only to be resurrected shortly after). Makia flees as two children accompany her. Overcome by the monster that dwells within her, Makia unwillingly feasts on one of the children as the other, Kippa, watches in horror. This marks the beginning of the inner conflict that occurs between Makia and the monster dwelling insider her.
Does this sound familiar?
No? Perhaps a trip down memory lane that involves an AMV might help? Did I mention that like Naruto, Makia also has an imprint on her that people tend to fixate over?
Unlike Naruto, who is the emobidment of “BELIEV[E]ing IT,” Makia has a more darker aura. This makes her a bit more compelling to me because it adds a level of realness to her that I was not always able to find with Naruto.
Upon fleeing, Makia is discovered by a member of the Dusk Court, and despite her judgement, Makia follows him. This leads to an ambush in which she is captured and restrained. However, Kippa and Ren remain free – only for it to later be revealed that Ren knew about the ambush. While captured, Makia searches through her memories with the monster that remains inside her. Once again, the inner monologue that occurs is very Naruto-esque. As the volume concludes, we learn that Tuya is the one providing information on Makia’s whereabouts to those who ambushed her.
After finishing the volume I found myself unsure of what to think. This was because a lot of the volume reminded me of manga that I have read in the past. I know that it is difficult to make things entirely original because we constantly draw on ideas before us – but at times it just seemed a bit too repetitive, a bit too familiar. Yet at the same time, I liked the volume for these reasons. It seemed to draw upon what I liked most from +Anima and Naruto and combine it into one. Unlike these manga, Monstress seems to be much more rooted in social issues. From the very beginning there are epitomes of racism, slavery, and war, and these themes remain constant throughout. I also really enjoyed the hybridity of the comic itself – it was not a comic in the typical Western tradition, yet I would not classify this as a manga either. It does not possesses a hero that is two-dimensional nor one that is without flaws. It is dominated with women who are more than just mere props meant to diversify the panels. Yet there is something to be said about adding “-ess” to a word – Duchess, Princess, Monstress. Do we need to change the word “monster” to “monstress” in order to make it more alluring and fitting for a female lead? Or do we change “monster” to “monstress” to make the title of being a monster seem more enchanting – suggesting that perhaps it is not completely negative to be a monster? Or do we use “monstress” because nine-tails was already taken and that would be overt copyright infringement?