MONSTRESS #20 is not a bad comic, it just feels a little weaker than other entries in the series. I think this is because in the 23 pages this issue has, it attempts to tell four concurrent stories at once. MONSTRESS #20 will no doubt read fine once it occupies its spot in yet-to-be-completed six-issue arc; however, on its own, the weaknesses exist.

Each Plot String in MONSTRESS #20 Ends With a Revelation

As a whole, I think the biggest problem with MONSTRESS #20 is what I mentioned: its ambition. Due to no fault of this individual issue, the cast is split. As such, it’s hard for Marjorie Liu to go too deep into any one story at a time. That’s not to say that each story is useless: each vignette reveals relevant, vital information. It’s just that that vital information comes without the emotional impact it could have otherwise carried if there was more coherence throughout the issue.

So what are those stories? First off, there’s the political alliance between the Dusk and Dawn Courts forged by marriage. Because the brides are Maika’s aunt and Maika’s lover, this no doubt spells future conflict for our protagonist. Then, we follow Kippa as Yafaela continues to follow her into the Tomb of Baru (the dead bear king). Calamity finds both of them. Maika and Corvin continue to talk about the Battle of Constantine before meeting some unexpected adversaries. Finally, Master Ren, nekomancer, wakes up to have a conversation with Vihn Nem, the Royal Engineer of Pontus. Ren discovers she may not be just who she says she is.

Image courtesy of Image Comics.

MONSTRESS #20 covers a lot of ground with these stories, but none of them ever resolve in a satisfying way. They just cut when new information gets revealed. World-building paperwork is important, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to an engaging story.

The Plot Advances but the Characters Remain Static 

What would lead to an engaging story is seeing what the characters decide to do after the surprise and shock. This is the difference between a character being reactive versus being proactive. MONSTRESS has incredible characters who make their own life what they want it to be. Being passive receptacles to share information is not the best way to use them.

But — and it’s a big “but” — that doesn’t mean the characters are less enjoyable to watch in this comic. Even though they get surprised, they do show incredible resolve. Just look at how the Warlord and Tuya stare at each other. See how Kippa grabs a knife to defend herself against a monster. Ren shows his typical pluck (it’s good to see him back). Even Corvin and Maika show a resolute face to each other and the face of danger.

Monstress #20
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

So critically, I’m at a loss. The characters — one of the pillars that holds MONSTRESS up as a great series — are still good. I just have a hard time being excited about the next issue. In their way stand procedural obstacles that I know they can overcome. What would interest me more is getting some glimpse at how figuring out the obstacles reveal new depths to their characters.

Sana Takeda’s Art Gets Room to Breathe in MONSTRESS #20

A plus side to MONSTRESS #20 is that it gives Sana Takeda access to the wide-open panels where her work shines. Within at least 5 either mostly- or full-panel spreads, we see her detailed pencil work filled up by the smoky, ethereal colors typical of her work. It reinforces the awe-inspiring, larger-than-life feeling of the comic’s locales and characters. It’s safe to say that the art is one reason why I keep coming back to the series.

What was particularly good in this comic was the opening wedding marking the union of the Dusk and Dawn courts. Both the Dawn Court’s Warlord and the Dusk Court’s Tuya are resplendent in their dress. There’s even an almost delicate air to the ceremony. But the wedding itself is a blood-based ritual, and here Takeda really nailed the implications of that. Both of the characters share a kiss with blood running down their mouths. Tying that with Liu’s script, laced with almost civil threats from the Warlord, you get a situation where the art and words elevate each other. This is the quality I’ve come to appreciate and expect from the series, and this issue delivers.

Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Final Thoughts on MONSTRESS #20

MONSTRESS is at a point where critically, it’s acclaimed and has a devoted fanbase. I will read beyond MONSTRESS #20, but mostly out of obligation and not necessarily excitement. As a serial publication, I think it’s important to be aware that this could be the first comic a new reader reads. Although the summary of characters at the beginning of each issue is helpful, there’s almost too much that has happened to read this comic in isolation. On top of that, because not much happens that makes sense out of context, there’s not a lot to grab new readers — other than the art.

I hate to come down hard on a series that has done so much good. But MONSTRESS #19 had similar problems to this issue. Reading through my copy of MONSTRESS VOLUME 3, those issues were better at standing on their own. That’s my way of saying that I know if it’s possible for the series to be better. Right now, though, all I can do is wait.

MONSTRESS #20 by Marjorie Liu (writer), Sana Takeda (illustrator), and Rus Wooten (letterer)
MONSTRESS #20 comprises four separate stories, which weakens the issue on its own. Within its pages, we see the Dusk and Dawn Courts ally in a political marriage, Kippa go deeper into the tomb of the bear kind, Ren wake up, and Maika and Corvin talk. New information does get revealed. Although its fun to see the characters do what they do, there isn’t much space for them in the comic to do anything meaningful. Even still, Takeda’s artwork is as beautiful as ever, shining in particular with more full-page spreads. Don’t miss her work in the wedding, either. All in all MONSTRESS #20 is weaker than other issues in the series, but I’m sure that’s only because I’m reading it without the benefit of the six-issue arc in which it will eventually find itself.
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