Monstress Vol. 4: The Chosen by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

I chose to review this volume separately from the first three, due to it being nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story 2020, but I feel like I don’t have a lot to say separate from my thoughts on the preceding volumes. I feel like Monstress is a bit of an acquired taste of a series. If you dig manga-inspired tentacle monsters inhabiting a realpolitik world loosely based on early 1900s Asia, with steampunk technology and a fascinating diversity of factions/people, then you may very well enjoy this series. If you’re okay with things not being explained to you but enjoy constant novelty with pretty or grotesque things thrown onto the pages before you, then you’ll probably enjoy this series. Given my high tolerance for deep world-building and fantasy settings, as well as my partiality for diverse representation and feminist interpretations, I thought I’d enjoy this title a lot more than I do. But after Vol 4, I don’t think I’ll bother reading any more of this series, unless forced to next year by Hugo voters.

The main trouble is that as the series progresses, it gets really, really tropey. Maika is a grumpy but attractive anti-hero trying to fight the literal demon/old god inside her. She has a soft spot for Kippa, the pure-hearted and v earnest child Arcanic who’s decided to be her sidekick. In this volume, Maika discovers that her dad is as much a bastard as her mother was, and has to hit the road again as forces continue to amass, threatening war against one another when the real threat is the release of the old gods into the terrestrial realms. There’s a bunch of betrayal, a bunch of ghastly horror stuff, and just enough of Kippa and Ren’s absolutely adorable adventures to make me care about what’s going on while everyone else is V Grumpy and V Serious around them. I get it, it’s a horror/high fantasy comic, it’s not gonna be a laugh a minute, but all this dourness is just exhausting, especially when it no longer feels in service to anything new or fresh story-wise.

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