This is probably about as good on all fronts as comics are currently capable of getting. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, that’s because it is.
Remember like 10 years ago when there was that movie about a woman who was a monster, and it was called Monster because the writers weren’t assholes who felt the need to specify that it was some kind of lesser, vagina-based monster? Good times.
The title of this makes me irrationally angry, in a straw-camel’s-back kind of way. I literally have a visceral reaction to it every time I see it. I’d go as far as to say it’s like 50% of what’s keeping me from reading the second half of the series. And you know, going into it trying to figure out fucking why, I thought, well, maybe she gets called a ‘monstress’ and it’s a commentary on the way the society views women and it’s actually a clever satirical move, but no, the word never appears in the story and the only thing it’s a commentary on is the comic industry’s continuing view of women as other.
Or to put it another way, this is a story in which, after the first issue, I started to count how many times women got called ‘bitch’ because it was so goddamn many and then before the sixth issue lost count and was too angry to go back and check.
The first collected edition of this is actually quite large, pulling together 6 of the current 17 issues, at least two of which are double issues. And for a comic, it’s coherent and competently told. The artist is Japanese, which means there was actual effort put into every panel and some semblance of art direction (edit: WHEW DID I PHRASE THAT POORLY), and the splash images are gorgeous. However, it still tends to run into some usual COMICS problem, like several panels in a row being the same image unchanged, and characters’ dialogue and body language not lining up. But overall it was definitely several cuts above the standard. The pacing is solid, the plot is intelligible, and the characters are identifiable.
But the character design is still COMICS, so there’s tits everywhere (but no nipples NIPPLES ARE EVIL EVERYONE IS JUST HAIRLESS NIPPLELESS BARBIES UNDER THEIR CLOTHING FOREVER). It’s less male-gazey by far than something like, say, Witchblade, but costuming is still whatever the fuck this is. Also, the female church police are called ‘inquisitrixes’ because remember, just because they’re not fucking doesn’t mean they’re not fuckable! If for a single second you thought this might not be for men’s benefit, you were deeply mistaken you fool.
It also has this weird thing going on where there’s like no men anywhere, but the story doesn’t bother to explain it in any way — like, is the reason there’s so much war that they can no longer procreate and it’s supposed to be a plotpoint? Or is the writer just under the impression that the only way to write a story about women is to remove all the men, who would inevitably be better and more interesting? It reminded me a lot of that Nasu quote about how all-girl shonen and the absence of boys vs the presence of girls. That’s what this felt like — the absence of men. And regardless, you have to explain the worldbuilding about something like this. You can’t have a plot point be gods fucking mortals and making babies and then create a world where no procreation can take place. It just doesn’t make sense.
And speaking of which, this is YET ANOTHER plot about how brown people are nonhumans and that’s why we enslave them, though like I said, it’s marginally better than average so it at least has like two nonwhite characters that are human, because it knows on some level ‘black people are animals’ is bad but doesn’t really care that much. This plot is the other half of why I just cannot continue with this. Putting aside that it’s offensive, it’s so goddamn overdone. It’s doesn’t even make fucking sense. In a world where nonhumans are absurdly powerful and apparently numerous, how is it even possible they’re still at the bottom of the ladder? I’d love to see a world where for once the nonhumans have the upper hand. Or maybe this just makes white people uncomfortable and that’s why it never happens, idk. But it’s super hard to believe that a people so powerful one can annihilate an army are struggling that hard to push back the human horde.
Underneath all this mediocrity and shittiness is a pretty interesting plot about the protagonist being possessed by some kind of cthulu, but it’s just buried under layers of old lady tits and BITCH BITCH BITCH and racism and it just doesn’t feel worth it.
And yet, it’s so much better than anything else from a major label. The art is better, the treatment of women is better, the representation of black people and old people is better, the story is better, and it’s still this. I don’t even know how to parse that. It just makes me angry.
In conclusion, just read manga and webcomics.