MONSTRESS #21  is all about intrigue — in more ways than one. When I looked up the word “intrigue” in Merriam-Webster to check that I was using that word correctly, I chuckled. I knew about the first meaning, “the practice of engaging in secret schemes,” but the second surprised me: “a clandestine love affair.”

In truth, love affairs underpin the shadowy secrets slowly brought to light in MONSTRESS #21. At the center of all of the intrigue is Maika. Her role at Constantine, as well as her connections to the married women of the Dusk and Dawn Courts, reflect present concerns and secrets. Maika’s mom’s “love affair” with the Shaman-Empress introduces Maika’s father into the story. With so many secrets abounding, Maika and Tuya, our focal characters, face a tense future.

Maika’s Affections are the Focal Point of the Plot of MONSTRESS #21

Beyond the aforementioned intrigue, the link between each of the stories in MONSTRESS #21 is Maika feelings towards others. In particular, this involves both Tuya and Maika’s father, The Doctor, introduced at the end of issue #20.

The comic leads with a gut punch done in a way I’ll never forget. It starts with Tuya in a happy place, cuddling with Maika in bed. Then, in a brilliant scripting choice, the next page reverts to reality: it’s actually the Warlord spooning Tuya. In bits of floating text blocks, we learn the Warlord is getting closer to figuring out her sister, Moriko, had a daughter. With that knowledge, the Warlord could find Maika and exploit her powers in the inevitable war with humankind. What adds intrigue to the story is Tuya’s reciprocated feelings for Maika. Their relationship could jeopardize Tuya’s political alliance with the Dawn Court — and endanger her life. I look forward to seeing how she keeps her secret.

MONSTRESS #21
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

On the other side is the more perfunctory story Maika shares with The Doctor. This conversation between Maika and her dad ends up being most of the rest of the comic. In it, he’s trying to win over Maika’s affection and convince her to join his faction. While this story reveals much needed information and world-building, it doesn’t have the same emotional heft as Tuya’s. It’s not particularly surprising that Maika doesn’t want anything to do with her old man or his paramilitary machinations.

In this Issue, Maika and her Allies Are Captured and Cornered

MONSTRESS #21 reveals little about the characters other than that they continue to be in bad situations. For Tuya, at least, this is partially her fault, and that’s what makes her situation compelling. Because she chose to love Maika, despite her position in the Dusk Court, she faces danger from the Warlord. Nevertheless, she promises proactive action against this in the final page of her scene. Tuya has been almost a background character up to this point, a person to whom Maika returns in her dreams. I’m really quite surprised and pleased to see her fascinating story show up in the comic.

Monstress #21
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Maika, however, is captured in a different way. She still seethes with anger and annoyance, but there’s not much else she can do. It’s just frustrating to see her character — a person of action — being led around (if not by Corvin in the past issues then by The Doctor now). Nevertheless, there is a hint that the next issue will have more intrigue for the young Halfwolf.

Therefore, beyond the characters that are there just to introduce their story and goals (The Doctor), MONSTRESS #21 does okay. Maika and Tuya’s problems are situational, and they will need to dig in deep at some point to solve them.

MONSTRESS #21 Comes Across as an Art Book

I doubt I’ll ever have a problem with Sana Takeda’s work. The art in MONSTRESS #21 does not disappoint. What’s fun about this book that it highlights Takeda’s various talents as a comic book artist.

The opening of the book — Tuya’s story — was an amazing study in character emotion. The whole scene plays out without any words: just actions and looks. But with that, you get insight into the emotional state of both Tuya and Warlord in a more economical way than words could ever express.

MONSTRESS #21
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Midway through the book, we get to explore The Doctor’s house and territory along with Maika. Takeda has always added details into just about every corner of every panel, but never to excess. They reveal both The Doctor’s opulence and his medical training. I’ll make special mention of coloring blood into these scenes, as a way to show Maika’s father isn’t a man afraid to get his hands dirty. Happily too, we get another two-page landscape splash to show off the newest faction in this world.

Finally, we get a series of character studies for a whole new group of characters. It is said that you can tell a person’s personality from the accessories they choose, and I think this applies for Takeda’s art, too. If that wasn’t enough, the back matter of the comic includes some of her sketches. All in all, MONSTRESS #21 is a great issue for showcasing her talent.

Final Thoughts on MONSTRESS #21

MONSTRESS #21 is an improvement on the current arc. While it still feels like Maika has become an angry encyclopedia, Tuya’s story more than makes up for this. I’m sure that this is all the build-up to the war between humans and everyone else, so I’ll be patient and still look forward to the next issue.

MONSTRESS #21 by Marjorie Liu (writer), Sana Takeda (illustrations), and Rus Wooton (lettering & design)
Plot
Characterization
Art
Summary
MONSTRESS #21 is the first issue of the new arc with a focus. At the center of intrigue is Maika. Even if the issue mostly uses that time to share more information, the underlying tension that shows just how cornered Maika and Tuya are is refreshing. Sana Takeda shines again, with this issue being a great example of her visual storytelling, landscape and background work, and character designs.
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