Monstress #29, available from Image Comics on July 22nd, recounts the siege Ravenna between the warring factions of humans and magical folk as the walls fall. Marjorie Liu’s story pulls no punches in portraying a grimy, violent battle where strategy wins the day but at a substantial cost.
Sana Takeda’s cover is beautiful enough and epic enough to be a movie poster. Kippa, the Arcanic fox girl, holds a powerful flashlight aloft to light the way for the coming battle. Takeda shrouds Kippa’s background with Maika’s dual personality, constantly fighting to resist Zinn’s possession. Symbolically, Kippa’s sword could also represent her desire to cleave Zinn from Maika rather than being forced to destroy her.
Liu’s story is heart-wrenching and difficult. Starting with the problematic part, Liu infuses so many individual characters with a battle happening on multiple fronts (five by my count) that it was difficult to keep track of who was where. Difficult but not impossible, and after various readings, you get a more definite sense of the battle flow and an appreciation for Liu’s strategy in weaving all the storylines together. And to Liu’s credit, the complexity adds a layer of realism that refuses to sugarcoat war as anything but messy and chaotic.
Heart-wrenching best describes the theme and tone of Liu’s story. Every leader is fighting what they believe to be a desperate and lost battle, and the carnage is not in any way sanitized. There’s a particular series of panels where individual soldiers prepare and most of their courage in battle, but their memory is immediately followed, but their depiction of death and mutilation. It’s a hammer blow statement on how bravado means nothing when half your limbs are blown off, and you’re just sitting there in shock, bleeding.
Takeda’s art is appropriately grim for the subject matter. The entire atmosphere of the book is covered in smokey greys to give the impression of dust and smoke. The only touches of brightness come from explosions of mortar shells and cannon fire. The art weighs on you oppressively. So much so that you can practically feel the need to cough and rub the sulfurous smoke from your eyes.
The most impactful element of Takeda’s art is the unapologetic carnage. There are no clean Hollywood style deaths in this battle. Soldiers and civilians die in clumsy and brutal ways; crushed under falling debris, burst apart by exploding munition, hacked limbless by an opponent’s blade. It’s shocking in its brutality without coming across as gratuitous. This is art that shows an ugly side of life and makes no apologies for doing so.
Takeda’s coloring, especially in the use of greys, is well balanced. Every panel is viewed through the haze of girt and dirt created by the layers of dark colors but not so much as to overpower the drawings. The characters remain sharp as if viewing the battle through a dirty window. It’s a great example using color to create an atmosphere without taking away from the designs underneath.
With so much haze, smoke, and shadow, Rus Wooton does a commendable job of using bold white lettering to make the sound effects stand out. The white is bold enough to be seen through the grime but no so bright as to become a distraction. It’s clean and clear lettering that punctuates the sound through the smoke while still fitting organically into the art.
Monstress #29, available from Image Comics on July 22nd, is a tough read for the sheer weight and brutality of the subject matter. However, it’s beautifully artistic in its execution. The story is complex and human, and the art is high quality for its fearless depiction of war.
[Update: The description of the cover art was corrected to reflect that Kippa is holding flashlight; not a sword.]