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Review of Monstress, Vol. 3

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Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

Cover of "Monstress," Vol. 3: "Haven." Art by Takeda.

Cover of "Monstress," Vol. 3: "Haven." Art by Takeda.

Pursued and in need of time and safety to contemplate her next move, Maika Halfwolf travels to the theoretically neutral city of Pontus. There she discovers the shield that has allowed Pontus to decide its own destiny has become deactivated, and only someone with the blood of the Shaman-Empress, like Maika, can restore it. Going against her solitary and combative nature, she makes uneasy alliances to advance her own goals, not the least of those tricky partnerships being with Zinn, the devouring Monstrum that lives inside her. Kippa and Ren, meanwhile, have to make their own choices as to where their loyalties lie. Seeing the suffering of others, Kippa wants to help them, and Ren is threatened if he cannot find a way to repay his debt and deliver what the Nekomancers need. In other locations, different factions emerge among the human and Ancient leaders, but it seems they can all agree on two things: they all are spoiling for a war, and they all want Maika and Zinn for their own ends. Caught in the middle of all these power plays are the civilians and refugees who stand to lose everything in what will undeniably be a catastrophic conflict over the living resources the Arcanics represent and the unimaginable power of the Old Gods.

Imperfect Allies

The question of shifting alliances and priorities dominates this volume, working hand-in-hand with examinations of what characters truly value. Maika, abrasive by nature as a defense mechanism, momentarily reveals the depth of her concern and affection for Kippa (81). Zinn, not conflicted about devouring others, is shocked to learn he may have betrayed the Shaman-Empress thousands of years ago and not remember it (111). If his devotion has been a lie, then what has been the purpose of all his destructive efforts? Kippa and Ren, too, must decide whom they value and who needs their help. The same is true of the political leaders, all of them bracing for a war they believe is inevitable. Of everyone, Kippa is revealed to be the most selfless and willing to help others even when putting herself at risk (72, 118-20, 149). While Maika isn’t nearly as altruistic as Kippa, she is also trying her best, and she does have a moral compass. When contemplating the devastation she helps the cause in driving away one of the Old Gods, she rejects being called a hero. However, she’s told, “He didn’t say you were a good person. He said you were a hero. There’s a difference” (158). This differentiation between performing amazing deeds and performing moral deeds has been an undercurrent to the series so far, and hearing it openly voiced suggests there will be more examination of this dichotomy in the future.

Monstress: Volume 3 (Forbidden Planet Exclusive - Signed Mini Print Edition).  Art by Takeda.

Monstress: Volume 3 (Forbidden Planet Exclusive - Signed Mini Print Edition). Art by Takeda.

Life Eats Life

The continuation of Zinn as both a character and a metaphor is intriguing. What he loses in mystery as a cosmic horror he gains as confused but duplicitous, destructive force. He needs Maika, yet he undermines her. He gives her power beyond her own abilities, yet he makes her vulnerable and weaker by consuming her body. Their relationship is one of necessity, but it is clearly doomed as it currently seems impossible for them to both gain what they want. This tension drives the plot and makes readers anxious as to how far either of them can push it. As this conflict is immediate and personal it carries more weight than the political calculations that happen away from Maika, but it is a smart move on the authors’ part to have Kippa, the kindest and possibly most likable character, confront the carnage and devastation of those political and military choices. Readers will likely care more about the widespread destruction if they experience it with Kippa as opposed to seeing it in abstraction.

As with previous volumes, Takeda’s art is strong and detailed. The characters all have distinct designs, and the world continues to appear as a realized and fantastical place. The scenes that take place in the labs can be a bit harder to follow visually because it is dark and there is a significant amount of action that takes place. Since Zinn is all darkness and motion, it can be harder to keep track of him in the course of those panels. Nonetheless, the sense of danger therein remains well expressed.

The Mask Is Also a Mother

Monstress is one of the best series out right now, and anyone looking for strong storytelling and a distinct, evocative visual style should read it.

Works Cited

Liu, Majorie; Takeda, Sana. Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven. Image, 2018.

© 2018 Seth Tomko