I finally got some me time and managed to read Monstress, which I has really been looking forward for a long time. And let me tell you something: it was better than what I wished it would be, what I had read it was, and what it could potentially be. I mean every word.
This is not just a story heavily powered by the third wave of feminism, and a pretty bleak commentary on earlier feminism: this is a comic written and drawn by women, about women, but not necessarily just for women: Monstress is a Warning. Monstress is about what lies inside and you don’t want to know about, and fight to keep within. Monstress is also, the crudest example of – please excuse my vulgar terminology – “bitches be crazy, bitches be powerful”. I do not think there is a single male character in this volume that has more lines than a female one. And I guarantee you every single one of them passes the Bechdel Test. In fact, I do not think a single woman talks to another about a guy…People are dying here! There are far more important things to talk about. There is magic, mystery, conspiracy, politics, idealism…But mostly Lies. Pretty much everything that drags the argument forward is a very deep and elaborate lie someone created for their convenience – and yeah, that someone seems to me always a woman. Again, I could sit here and tell you how the dialogue is brilliant, how the narrative combines elements of Western and Eastern storytelling. How the art work is with is the prettiest steam punk/fantasy/art decoish thing you can buy currently…But Why? You don’t need me to tell you that. It is Obvious. You just need to open and look at a page.
Monstress is also about brutality, particularly the brutality we exercise as individuals for the sake of justifying a mean or a need. This is evidence with the figure of Maika – kinda in the title, a bit difficult to miss. But like good little Kippa says “Monsters and people too”. And if you want to understand the monster or monstresses in this case that creep on the pages, you need to understand the person. That is why Yvette keeps on staying alive. That is what the Mother Superior is all about. Fear. Destruction. Power. Egotism…Vulnerability and eventually failure. Or at least, seemingly so…I guess it depends on what you class as failure. Which is kind of the point in the comic: there is so much subtext, failure is just another construct.
But this is not just about feminism – there is also diversity. I thought it was a very nice touch that they make Maika, they main character, a cripple: she is missing part of an arm. Tuya is a woman of colour, and although we do not know much about her yet, she is certainly a key player in the story to come. This is also a world full of half-breeds – Arcanics – half human half something else. A place where cats talk and do not need to acquire human shape to be meaningful for the story. We start moving away from anthropocentric stories to conceptualised narratives. But don’t get me wrong, the fact that women are the key players of the story, is not a matter of chance. And all of these women have a common feature, regardless of what side of the story they are in: they are not only powerful, but also outcasts in their own terms. Maika is a half-breed, crippled, weapon of doom. Yvette is a witch gone rogue, much like her daughter Sophia who also seems to be a lesbian. Atena seemingly homosexual too, is also a political sympathiser of the group she should be exterminating.
Ah, but let’s not forget the context that develops the entire story: war. And not just a war of any kind. At first, this seems to be a case of racism and slavery. But that’s just superficial. Monstress gives us a story of ill-intentions driven by individuals for their own gain – so, like most wars would the historian say…I think Monstress brings war as an element for the story just to emphasise the underlying issues about tolerance and being oneself, and not a self-imposed standard by our own society. Conflict brings out the worst of people…It allows the monsters to escape.
This comic reminds us not to take anything for granted, not even ourselves, because inside every one of us, there is something dark, something unknown, something difficult to master. And just as a call out to the die-hard feminist who spread their wings beyond their ideals of equality. Monstress reminds us all, that just because you are a woman, because you are female, you aren’t any better. You can be just as powerful, dangerous and destructive than any man. And so are every single one of the characters in the story.
Monstress is just a metaphor. We are its reality.