Monstress Volume 1: Awakening
Marjorie M. Liu , writer; Sana Takeda, artist
Image Comics, 2016
Monstress is a remarkable series. Takeda paints the art, giving the story a rich visual setting. Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900s Asia, the designs combine Art Deco with steampunk–an imaginative, ornate style. It’s an interesting fusion of Western fantasy art and manga. There are small animal-like characters that especially have a manga look, big eyes and all. This also gives a layer of cuteness to contrast with the often bleak action. Liu has created a truly unusual fantasy world. It’s a place with multiple species, including talking cats; magic, and monsters lurking in the background.
Teenage protagonist Maika is struggling to overcome the trauma of war, and on a mission to find her lost family. She has unique powers, which increasingly manifest themselves in the course of this first arc. Initially this includes an undependable ability to open locks with her mind. But it soon becomes clear that she is also unusually strong, and has some kind of link with a tremendously powerful monster that may have world-changing implications.
In many ways this is a traditional high fantasy adventure story, but there are more than enough unique elements to take it out of the ordinary. While it is visually beautiful, it’s also quite violent: severed limbs and beheading are both frequent occurrences. There’s a map of the “known world” in the back of the collection, but I would have appreciated a character guide. After awhile I had trouble keeping track of both the characters and their political affiliations.
It’s a fascinating new world being created here, and I look forward to seeing more of it.
Sex Criminals: Big Hard Sex Criminals Hardcover
Matt Fraction, author; Chip Zdarsky, artist
Image Comics, 2015
Sex Criminals was such a runaway hit that the first ten issues were given the deluxe hardcover treatment (in addition to the trade paperback collections and the numerous reprints of individual issues). I had intended to read this (digitally) to catch up on the second story arc, but realized it had been so long since I read the first TPB collection that I wound up speed-reading the first five issues as a reminder. The end of issue #5 found Suzie and Jon running away from the Sex Police, who had just detained them while they were trying to rob a bank. For a good cause, of course: to save a public library that was about to get foreclosed.
Matt Fraction has said that the runaway success of this series was a complete surprise: he never expected it to get past five issues. So he took a hard turn at the end of the first arc to keep the story going, and there’s more evidence of frantic re-plotting at the beginning of this one. Jon suffers mental and physical breakdown, and he and Suzie drift apart. But when the Sex Police threaten Suzie with immediate foreclosure of the library, Jon gets angry and attacks the S.P. headquarters (which he learned about due to a deposit at the bank where he works).
There’s also a lot of Jon’s history in high school, which intersects with the present when Suzie sees a new OB/GYN who turns out to be an old friend. The S.P. files tell them about another person with their talent, a woman who had been a porn star–Jon was a fan, and we get her history as well, which includes a fun porn parody of the comic series The Wicked + The Divine. Suzie and Jon recruit her to their counterattack on the S.P. And this arc closes much like the first one, with the S.P. about to do something bad to the rebels.
This deluxe collection has a ton of extra material. All the original covers (including alternates); limited bookplate images; and Zdarsky’s breakdown of his artistic process. Then there’s all of the short Sex Tips from the individual issues; as well as an extensive tour through the insane background details Zdarsky creates for most of the issues (e.g. fake band posters and t-shirts, and a book cover only seen in one panel).
Starve Vol. 2
Brian Wood, writer; Danijel Zezelj, artist; Dave Stewart, colorist
In Vol. 1 celebrity chef Gavin Cruikshank got drawn back into his cooking game show Starve after years of self-imposed exile. In the process he had to face everything he had run away from: his ex-wife, daughter, and the celebrity chef culture he had helped create. At the end of the first collection he was winning the show, had reconnected with his daughter, and been shot by his wife.
Two out of three ain’t bad, but the surprises come fast in the second collection. Gavin begins by reconciling with his wife. Then he puts his daughter into the show in his place, and begins to make a real change in the food choices for ordinary people by establishing a new clean, fresh version of a fast food chicken franchise. His daughter and wife (who is a lawyer) team up to really stick it to the network, which is tremendously satisfying after all the evil machinations we’ve witnessed previously. Lots of unexpected choices here, and a surprising happy ending to boot.