‘Monstress’ #2 looks at racism and war through urban fantasy

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Monstress_02-1Monstress #2
Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Sana Takeda
Letters by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics

In Monstress #2, cats are sarcastic, utopian religions are helpful, inquistrixes are scary, and Maika Halfwolf continues to struggle with her monstrous nature as she scares her adorable fox Arcanic companion, Kippa. Writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda tell two stories in Monstress #2 with a heartbreaking flashback sandwiched in between. The comic opens with the Mother Superior of The Cumaea, a coven of witch-nuns who extract lilium from the body of Arcanics, coming to Zamora to investigate the aftermath of Maika’s escape and vicious attack on the Cumaeans. And in the other plot Maika, Kippa, and wiser-than-he looks cat Ren are on the run in the borderlands between the Federation and Arcanic lands. (The overarching conflict of Monstress is that the humans and Arcanics hate each other because of ethnic difference in a way analogous to the Chinese and Japanese in the 1930s when Imperial Japan invaded China.) There is a lot of  information to take in, but Takeda’s gift for elaborate costumes and establishing shots of new settings keeps the comic as riveting as ever. Liu and Takeda also continue to flesh out Maika’s character as the mask that she took from the Cumaea continues to bring out her dark side up to the mysterious and powerful cliffhanger ending.

Liu and Takeda raise the threat level in Monstress #2 by showing how ruthless and bigoted The Cumaea are in both words and actions. The Inquisitrixes actually kill lower ranking members of their orders and leave obvious slash wounds to make it look like Maika’s rampage was worse. The Mother Superior will do anything possible to find Maika and the mysterious, dangerous, and probably hellfire infused mask that Maika left with, and this includes reanimating corpses using pure lilium. Takeda uses an eerie blue color palette juxtaposed with Yvette’s (who died last issue and has more information about Maika and her abilities) dehydrated, rotting body to show how terrifying the Inquisitrixes are before they reappear towards the end of the issue.

However, the introduction of the Edenites almost balances things out in the story. Liu and Takeda cut from the nightmare torture of the Inquistrixes to a nice woman named Emilia, who is driving her wagon filled with produce (and Arcanic fugitives) through the Trucelands between the Federation and Arcanic territories. Emilia is an Edenite, or the member of an agrarian, utopian religious group that wants to return the world to a state similar to the Garden of Eden in the Hebrew Bible where humans and animals co-existed in peace. (In this story’s universe, humans and Arcanics.) She is a friendly, funny woman, who speaks her beliefs openly even to a couple of deer hunters, who she has a bartering relationship with, but search her wagon for Arcanics. Emilia is an example that there are still good people even in the middle of racist, war-torn areas.

Unlike Monstress #1, which mainly showed Maika using her lycanthropic powers openly against the Cumaean’s guards and members, Monstress #2 keeps the battle between her and inner monster internal along with some sharp debates with Ren, who calls the mask “an abomination” and doesn’t know why she keeps it on her person. Takeda shows the fearsome nature of her powers by having Kippa, who was so attached to Maika in the previous issue, be afraid to touch her because she was forced to carry Maika’s mask and also saw her kill an innocent boy to sate her bloodlust while she was on the run. But Maika has feelings too and is devastated when Ren tells her that they won’t be meeting up with Tuya, who was Maika’s best friend before she sold herself into slavery to infiltrate the Cumaeans. Liu and Takeda capture these feelings through the occasional use of narrative captions and intense facial expressions, like when Maika is tired of Ren’s sarcastic responses to her pain.

In a world where a valid Republican contender (polls wise) for the president of the United States wants to prevent Muslims from entering the country based on their faith alone, Monstress #2 is an important read as Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda show the harrowing results of racism and bigotry on a once flourishing city through the lens of an urban fantasy horror story. It is also a powerful character study as Maika fights to control the wolf within while also trying to get her adorable companion Kippa (who is sadly afraid of her) to safety, and Liu and Takeda continue to expand and explore their world with the introduction of the inquisitrixes and Edenites.


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