For me, the most exciting is the announcement of Monstress, a new series written by Marjorie Liu and drawn by Sana Takeda.
According to the Image Comics website, Monstress centers on “a young woman warrior” (as Liu describes the protagonist) in an alternate-reality 1900s Asia which is inhabited by supernatural beings.
If we look at each of these elements on its own, it’s easy to believe that we’ve heard it all before. Alternate-history turn of the century? Check. A woman warrior? While there still aren’t enough of them in mainstream media, the popularity of Katniss Everdeen enables me to check this off, too. Sort of. Asia being magic? Too many checks to count.
The fact that this is Image Comics, however – the fine folk who give us Ody-C, The Wicked + The Divine, Wytches, and all kinds of bizarre, wonderful series – suggests that we’re not getting a rehash. Liu and Takeda may be working with standard components, but the end result is probably going to be something we’ve never quite seen before.
Plus, there’s the cover image. Against a white background stands a young woman wearing an outfit that combines late 19th-century/early 1900s Chinese dress with visual echoes of steampunk – there’s a gear-like design on the sleeves. It’s a clever subversion of the imperialist undertones inherent in steampunk, given that the backdrop of that scientific fascination was the drive to conquer the heck out of as many countries as possible: there are some hints of that aesthetic, but they’ve been subsumed into a dominant Asian visuality.
But it isn’t the cover image that’s gotten me so hyped up. It’s the creative team.
Within comics, Liu is perhaps best known for her work on X-23 and Astonishing X-Men, and has written for a number of X-Men titles. Takeda previously worked with her on X-23 and has provided art for various Marvel titles including the Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel, as well as several series for Aspen Comics.
And – the best part, at least for me – they’re both women from Asian ethnic backgrounds.
When I was a kid, I assumed that comics were mostly made by white guys. This is largely because I grew up after Alfredo Alcala was popular and didn’t read many comics drawn by Whilce Portacio or Leinil Yu. I also didn’t know that Dwayne MacDuffie was black until much later. Even Alcala, Portacio, and Yu didn’t give me much hope; it was great to see Filipino artists making it in mainstream comics, but they were still male.
Finding out that Marjorie Liu existed, then knowing that she and Sana Takeda were making X-23 together, were great steps forward. But I wanted more. While they were putting their own stamp on the character, she wasn’t theirs per se. She’d been created by another (male) writer and artist and would doubtless be written and drawn by other creative professionals after Liu and Takeda. (I’m not trying to downplay the creativity of people who write and draw legacy titles, by the way. It’s an impressive responsibility to take on, and if someone let me write an official Judge Dredd or Batman story, I’d be all over it.)
I didn’t actually know how much this issue meant to me until Monstress was announced. As soon as I read those few lines, I felt somehow fulfilled in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Finally, a creative team consisting solely of women with Asian ethnicity doing a story that focuses on female power, with characters they can truly call their own. It was like that announcement had traveled back through time to encourage my younger self: we’re not going to remain invisible in this art form you care about so much. We’re going to tell our stories and be admired for it. We can do it. We’re doing it now.