Monstress Vol. 3
Marjorie M. Liu (writer), Ceri Riley (editorial assistant), Jennifer M. Smith (editor), Sana Takeda (artist), and Rus Wooton (letterer and designer)
September 5, 2018
Monstress is one of the best ongoing series out right now (lest we forget its multiple Eisners) and volume three continues to deliver. The story follows Maika’s stay at Pontus, a city established by, and still a central place for, refugees. There we discover more about the enigmatic Shaman-Empress and witness some of the first Arcanic’s great powers and skill.
Pontus is a sanctuary for all who set foot on its shores, and I’d suggest flipping to the map at the back of the volume first to get an idea of how Pontus relates to the rest of the continent. Regardless of its geography, Maika is there searching for more information about her ancestor, the Shaman-Empress, and a way to separate herself from Zinn, the being sharing her body. While there, she is tasked with fixing Pontus’s shield, a technology built by the Shaman-Empress, that helped to keep the city’s population safe from a variety of invaders.
This third volume highlights how well Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda have created a world and place for the displaced. While this is no different than earlier volumes of Monstress, volume three’s setting in Pontus—a place specifically for refugees and other mixed communities—accents this aspect of the series. Liu writes complex, morally-grey, mixed-race characters, and Takeda expresses that in the coloring of the characters, allowing the detailed lines, unique appearance of different racial blends, and the colors of different characters to accent the cultures, places, and positions they come from. Specifically, the colors of this volume highlight how there is only one unambiguously bright character, in persona and in coloring, and that is Kippa. Whenever Kippa’s in a scene, they are the bright spot of that section. Kippa’s constant fun orange coloring echoes the oranges that were placed in scenes in The Godfather. While Coppola used fruits to brighten a dark movie, Kippa does this colorfully and narratively, giving optimism and hope to those around them.
This complexity in color and character deepens the themes of the earlier issues, but in some ways this volume’s storytelling structure felt formulaic. While this structure is necessary so that each issue, each volume, and then the series overall has its own nested plot, this volume read like a new video game level. New place, new (but similar) goals, and new secondary characters, but the pattern for those was the same. The main characters set out to do a thing, they interact with a new group of secondary characters who will help them do that thing, an emissary of the “big bad” arrives to impact something, but the task/goal is still completed, onto the next place.
The evaporation of the crew from Maika’s sea voyage, the secondary helping characters from volume two, added to this rinse/repeat feeling. Maika’s company—herself, Kippa, and Master Ren—appear in Pontus abruptly, after a two-page interlude in the Dawn court. And there’s no mention of where the sailing crew is, as if the characters they spent multiple issues with were never there. There are a few frames of the crew near the end of the volume, but that’s not enough alleviate the feeling that now that the ship’s crew are of no use to Maika, the readers won’t hear from them ever again. My hope is that the seeds this volume planted for side-stories, which include some of those previous secondary characters, will help the series avoid falling into a storytelling pattern.
Regardless of some similarity in structure, no panel feels wasted, and no issue feels like filler. We see forces massing on multiple fronts and this volume of Monstress sets us on a path for more action-packed, gorgeous, and complicated journeys with Maika, Zinn, and company.