Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening Part 1 of 6 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda

Rating: WORTHY!

Two of the pages in this graphic novel had completely empty speech balloons! I've seen this phenomenon before in other graphic novels. There are no page numbers to quote from the graphic novel itself, but on my iPad, Bluefire Reader identifies the page numbers as 52, and 62.

In 1999, the American Library Association found that only 33% of children aged 11-18 read comic books, and when considering girls alone, this was down to 27%. More recently (2014) on Facebook, self-identified comic fans numbered some 24 million in the USA, of which almost half (~47%) were female. These were two different surveys covering different demographics and using different methodologies, but from this it sure looks like women are beginning to feel like they're finally being catered to.

I think that's a very good reason to celebrate by reading this remarkable series which is both written (Marjorie Liu) and illustrated (Sana Takeda) by women. It's also a very good reason to ask why, after over a decade of modern blockbuster comic book-based movies, we have yet to get one which is centered on a female character! I'll leave that question out there!

This is a very richly illustrated series of which I got the first six installments as advance review copies, and for which I thank the comic book creators for this fine work, and the publisher Image Comics, and Diamond Book distributors. The series is comprised of six volumes, all of which are thirty two pages except for the first, which is seventy-two pages long. It is beautifully illustrated in sumptuous detail, and the time and effort which has gone into this is quite staggering to contemplate. But it was worth it! Takenada must really love her work!

The story is well told and begins with teenager Maika, a naked, one-armed female slave, who is part of a collection of 'freaks' being sold to an idle bunch of self-centered and wealthy old white(-haired) men for the purpose of being their property. It's rather reminiscent of a scene from the Australian movie Sleeping Beauty which has nothing whatsoever to do with the fairy-tale, but which is a live-action movie starring the remarkable Emily Browning who at one point finds herself in a similar position, but at least Lucy has a choice in her participation. Maika does not.

This is however, a matriarchal society, and just as the bidding on Maika, who is referred to as an Arcanic, begins, she's quickly snapped-up not by one of the men, but by an influential nun known as Sophia Fekete, who maintains a lab at the Cumaea compound. Maika and her 'companions, a "fox cub, the cyclopean freak, and the stubby one with those useless wings" are transported to the city of Zamora with a sour-faced guardian by the name of Ilsa, who tells them they will be killed. Ilsa tells them that being smart and obedient might keep them alive, but nothing will keep them whole.

For Sophia, the interesting thing about Maika is the symbol tattooed above her breastbone. It has associations with monster worship, and Sophia has never seen a person branded with it before. Most people discount and discredit stories that people can raise the monstra, but Sophia does not. Maika and her 'friends' are incarcerated.

This is not a story for children. The art is beautiful although at times disturbing. The writing is threatening, deadly, and abusive. There are four-letter words and dismemberment, and some weird and crazy characters. But Maika doesn't have that particular tattoo for nothing, and just what it's for? People are going to find out in short order. I recommend this volume one unreservedly.

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