Monstress is a comic-book series where incredibly messed-up things happen. We’re talking child slavery, lynchings and cannibalism. Thank the poets it’s also got a magical, two-tailed talking cat named Master Ren.
The lead character in Monstress is a 17-year-old girl named Maika, a survivor of horrible atrocities rippling out of a long-running, cross-cultural necromantic war. Ever since the series by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda started, Maika’s struggling with her own inner savagery, which has burned hotter after her abduction into internment camps, forced labor and the presence of a malevolent elder deity in her body. The series debut saw Maika pulling off a bloody escape from a lab in Cumea, where the aloof witch society experiments on half-human, half-celestial Arcanic creatures like her.
Early on, Monstress #1 sprinkles some seedlings about how special—and shady— cats are in its fictional universe.
Maika’s capture and breakout are part of a brewing plan to find out the truth about the long-ago death of her mother. A flashback sequence is the first time we meet Master Ren, who tells Maika that her plan isn’t too smart.
That sequence establishes the dynamic that’s played out between the two characters so far. Maika’s profane, impetuous ferocity constantly butts heads with Ren’s cautious, worldly wisdom.
When faced with the threat of the witches who’ve been hunting them, Ren invokes an impressive resume...
...which is, of course, total bullshit.
Ren isn’t a coward, though. He intervened to save the humans who were helping Maika and other Arcanics to safety.
The thing about Master Ren’s portrayal that’s so good is that it homes in on the vague suspicions that humans have about real-world cats. They seem like they know a lot more about the world than we can figure out and like they talk a lot of shit about every other kind of species. They know we don’t understand them and don’t care. Master Ren is nurturing and strategically prudent but also caustically blunt when telling Maika about herself.
Back-up sections in Monstress have shown another cat called Professor Tam Tam holding forth on the history of the series’ mystical universe. But in this week’s issue #5, another chubbier feline showed up, working with the elites of Arcanic society to hunt down Maika.
Laughing at him seems like a really bad idea...