Comic Review: Monstress Vol 1

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From Goodreads:

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

Originally, I read the first issue of this comic back when it was released and when Marjorie Liu had a signing at our local comic book store. I was fascinated and couldn’t wait for more. It has been a little over a year since then, and I finally picked up the trade paperback to go through the first six issues simultaneously. I am truly glad I read it this way instead of issue to issue. While engrossing and beautiful, the story would have been much harder to appreciate had I read it monthly.

The comic follows Maika Halfwolf, who at the start of the first issue is seeking revenge for the death of her mother. She is both crass and combative, and I honestly had a hard time liking her. It is understandable as to why she is that way, however, due to her upbringing during the war and also having been a slave. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and even if she is indeed monstrous and unlikable, I can definitely respect her as a character.

The other characters, human, Arcanic, or otherwise, are all captivating in their own right. I loved reading about Ren and Kippa especially. Kippa, being a scared yet optimistic child regardless of what he goes through, and Ren, the trickster cat, work as great companions to Maika throughout the story. While the human villains feel truly evil, even they are full of surprises. Intrigue, betrayal, and ulterior motives are staples of Monstress, and nobody is truly as they seem. The humans are often inhuman, and the Arcanics are not the monsters the humans claim them to be.

One of my favorite aspects of this comic is the setting. The artwork gives off a very Egyptian atmosphere, with depictions of masks that resemble Anubis and the gratuitous use of the color gold. Their world is one of steampunk elements such as airships, and Lovecraftian Old Gods whose ghosts roam the world. While each element on its own may have been used time and again in the past, together they create an unique and stunning universe.

The plot itself, however, is one found in many comics. It is a story of revenge and a story where multiple factions are trying to track Maika down for what she holds. I can’t tell you how many comics I have read where people are chasing the main character as a main plot device. Even only considering the comic’s publisher, Image Comics, this is a common trope. Regardless, I still felt heavily absorbed in the story even if there are many recycled plot threads.

The depth of the worldbuilding in this work is rather grand as well, and this is why I felt it would be difficult to read each issue separately. I was dropped into the story without much guidance, and there was little info-dumping throughout save for the lessons given at the end of each issue. Those segments were incredibly helpful, and I would have been rather lost without them. It definitely takes the first few issues for things to begin to make sense overall.

Even with the formulaic plot, I loved Monstress. It is arresting, beautifully drawn, and full of fascinating characters. I also couldn’t help but love the cats too! I give this comic four out of five stars, and cannot wait to read more in the future.

Comic Review: Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars

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From Goodreads:

Young Robot boy TIM-21 and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. Written by award-winning creator, Jeff Lemire, Descender is a rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey. Lemire pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling epic. Created by Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Trillium) and Dustin Nguyen’s (Little Gotham) critically acclaimed, bestselling new science fiction series!

Collecting: Descender 1-6

Okay, it is time to reel in my flailing before beginning, this graphic novel was that good.  I honestly have not read something this amazing in quite a long time, and it was wonderful for a comic to just “click” with me so well.  Descender is fantastic sci-fi rendered in a beautiful watercolor setting that was incredibly unique and refreshing.  Alien worlds emblazoned in rich shades, so unfamiliar and otherworldly, fit with the flow of the story well enough that any doubts I may have had from the deviation from normal comic book art were blown out of the water.

The story follows TIM-21, a companion android for children that wakes up years after an attack from massive robots known as the Harvesters.  Alone and afraid on a desolate mining planet far from populated reaches of the galaxy, different factions vie for retrieving him due to his importance in identifying the origin of the murderous machines that killed millions upon millions.  Those groups, such as the UGC, Grishians, and the like, all have their own clear motives and were each fascinating in their own right.  I cannot wait to learn more about each of them as this comic progresses!

The grayness of each character was another favorite part of this work for me.  No one was strictly good or evil, which in comics feels great as there is so often a clear good guy and bad guy, especially in the superhero genre.  From the “father of modern robotics” to those who want to destroy all robots in existence, they all have solid reasoning for their actions and their own light and dark sides.  This becomes clearer as the comic progresses.  All we can root for is poor TIM-21, who just wants to see his family again.  And, of course, Driller, because Driller is the best and there is no argument that’ll make me believe otherwise.

Finally, the theme of the humanity of robots is always a wonderful one to visit, and this comic has this in spades.  TIM-21 is programmed with emotions to facilitate his job as a companion robot, and the robots shown throughout the story feel much more human than their modern-day counterparts.  Yet, they are being massacred due to the robot attack that so many planets endured.  The parallels to genocide are not easily missed, and the easiest characters to empathize with are the machines.

Overall, I cannot wait to read the second and third trade paperbacks that are currently out and will likely review those as well!  (We may have already bought them, I was so excited.)  Descender deserves all five stars, as Jeff Lemire has created a beautiful world and characters I can get behind.  This is probably my favorite sci-fi comic outside of Saga, which is a high honor!

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Goodreads

Comic Review: Paper Girls

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From Goodreads:

In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Collects Paper Girls #1-5.

Paper Girls kept popping up on my radar through various posts and best of the year lists on Twitter and the like.  Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of eighties and nineties nostalgia in particular, and coming into this comic I knew practically nothing about the story itself save for the back cover description.  Not my typical read, I thought, but I went ahead anyway.  And I’m glad I did – though I have not watched Stranger Things, I assume this is the kind of enjoyment I would get out of it.

For your sake as well, I want to keep you all as much in the dark about the actual plot as possible, because I felt it was a lot more fascinating watching it unfold that way.  What I can say is that the supernatural elements and the eighties culture and iconography were mixed very well, including and up to the way the comic was drawn and colored.  Neon hues illuminated the pages, like something out of an old movie such as Blade Runner.  Everything felt like it fell into the right place for the comic it wanted to be, and boy, it moves at breakneck speed once it gets going.  Brian K. Vaughan does not disappoint, as usual.

I absolutely loved the all-female main cast, even if I’m still trying to get a grasp on their characters.  They mention breaking the glass ceiling in paper delivery, and I quite enjoy stories that show young women at the helm and kicking ass at what they do.  I really hope that in the next volume or so, I can get to know the individual characters more readily and have an appreciation for each of them, as at the moment I see them as a conglomerate.

If you enjoy supernatural elements and your eighties nostalgia, then this graphic novel is right up your alley.  I give it a solid four stars, and recommend giving it a try, as I was pleasantly surprised.  Which I shouldn’t have been, honestly, because I love the writer’s other works, such as Saga.   And if you haven’t read Saga already, you better do that too!

Comic Review: The Beauty

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From Goodreads:

Modern society is obsessed with outward beauty. What if there was a way to guarantee you could become more and more beautiful every day? What if it was a sexually transmitted disease?

In the world of The Beauty, physical perfection is only one sexual encounter away. The vast majority of the population has taken advantage of it, but Detectives Vaughn and Foster will soon discover it comes at a terrible cost. Now, they’ll have to find their way past corrupt politicians, vengeful federal agents, and a terrifying mercenary out to collect the price on their heads.

Collects the first six issues of the critically acclaimed, Pilot Season winning series by writer/artist JEREMY HAUN (Constantine, Batwoman) and co-writer JASON A. HURLEY.

To begin, please be aware that this graphic novel contains mature content and is rated M accordingly.  Nudity, strong violence, vulgarity, and the like are gratuitously used.  You have been warned.

Image Comics is my favorite publisher in the comic book industry, outside of Dark Horse and the like, so picking this horror trade up was a no-brainer for me.  With such a fascinating premise as an STD that causes you to become beautiful, I could not say no.

That being said, even though I enjoyed the first six issues of the comic overall, I felt there was something lacking.  I wanted more scientific explanation for the disease, more character development, just… more from this.  It was very plot driven, and while we get bits and pieces of character backstory, other characters we get little to nothing about.  This can be attributed to the medium itself, of course, but with the issues following this apparently following a different set of characters, I was really disappointed in that aspect.  If you cannot remember the character’s names without referencing the material itself immediately after reading, there is a problem with the amount of impact they are leaving on you.  And with how comically bad the villain was for the general atmosphere of the story, mask and all, I was a bit let down, to be completely honest.

While the overall story was predictable and easy to follow, there tended to be a lot of holes as well.  (HOW DID THEY FIND THAT PERSON?  HOW DID THEY DO THIS AND THAT?  HOW???)  Even so, I really did enjoy the general concept and where the authors took it.  The themes of governmental cover up and pharmaceutical control of the population always tend to grab my interest, and following the detectives as you see the full picture with them is wonderfully intense.  The horror aspects are well done, and the gruesomeness of the work can be felt in both the text and the accompanying images.  The end of the sixth issue is satisfying and, to be honest, the comic could end there and I would be happy.  No cliffhangers, a nice solid open ending.  I honestly do not know what they could do with subsequent issues, it felt complete enough.

Something that pleasantly surprised me was the LGBT inclusion within the story.  Both one of the anti-Beauty activists as well as the CDC director are stated/shown to be in same-sex relationships, the latter with a family of her own.  It was done so naturally and seamlessly, did not feel tokenized, and is a breath of fresh air, honestly.

This story is quick and relentless, and I give The Beauty a solid three stars.  If you are looking for a quick horror comic read, I would definitely recommend trying it if you are there for the story itself and not the characters.  Characters are easily disposable enough in horror anyway, right?  Haha.