Panelology is a weekly podcast about comics. We talk about current books, what we're looking forward to, and how to get into reading comics in the first place.

Monstress: “Awakening” (Image Comics, 2015; #1-6)

Hello, friends. Welcome to the hundredth installation of Clearing the Backlog.

Yes, I’m as surprised as you are.

To mark the occasion, I brought tentacle monsters.

In Monstress, a young woman named Taika seeks revenge for her mother’s death. As she closes in on her quarry, she discovers that there is more to her mother’s betrayal than she knew. Oh, and she shares a connection with a groggy Old One, whom she has awakened. Now she’s caught between factions of magical ruling classes that want to take advantage of her power.

There are also talking cats.

The most striking element of Marjorie Liu’s writing in Monstress is her confidence with world-building. It is obvious that she and Sana Takeda have a clear, intentional view of their world’s rules and history. Beyond that, the clarity and finesse with which Liu communicates this information speak to a sure hand. She does not tease or obfuscate to prevent readers from connecting dots. Nor does she hold hands and needlessly restate that which is already clear. New information and character developments, therefore, never become distracting or feel like an info dump. Other comics do this well, but I struggle to name any that do it better than Liu does here.

That technical control, on top of strong world-building, provides a rock-solid foundation for the emotional and thematic moments that make Monstress’s sprawling world feel personal. Cruelty surrounds Taika. Wars rage, orphaning her and others like her. The powerful masquerade as religious zealots to feed off of their supporters. The sins of generations past accumulate and fall on Taika’s shoulders. She grapples with becoming a monster—and with others’ fear, hatred, and desire to manipulate her for it.

Even if you ignore Liu’s storytelling prowess, Monstress is worth reading for Sana Takeda’s art alone. Her pages are decadent, blending Eastern and Western art and design in myriad ways to give the different cities and factions of this world their own senses of style and architecture. In turn, that leads to a rich, visual language that reinforces the book’s world-building. Early on, for example, opulence telegraphs brutality. Design elements in the Old One’s golden tomb parallel those of the Dawn Court’s city, hinting at heretofore unexplored connections between the two. And all this is simply gorgeous.

Monstress is too good not to recommend. It’s stylish, intentional, and engaging. If you enjoy stories set in fantasy worlds, this is must-read. Even if you don’t, there’s a lot here to appreciate, so find a copy to flip through or look up a preview online. It is, without a question, worth checking out.

Collected in

  • Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening (#1-6)


Writer: Marjorie Liu | Artist: Sana Takeda | Letterer/Designer: Rus Wooton | Editor: Jennifer M. Smith | Editorial Assistant: Ceri Riley

Civil War (Marvel Comics, 2006; #1-7)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Archie Comics, 2014; #1-5)