BOOK REVIEW: Out of Body by Peter Milligan

Out of BodyOut of Body by Peter Milligan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: March 8, 2022

As the title suggests, this story is built around the concept of the out-of-body experience (OBE,) as well as the near-death experience (NDE) — another controversial concept discussed in similar circles. We find a prominent psychotherapist, Dan Collins, in a coma after he took a beating in an alleyway. Having been blindsided by his attacker, the story revolves around Collins trying to solve his own near murder as his “astrally projected” self plays detective. It turns out that there are many possible suspects, ranging from those who might wish him ill for personal reasons to those who might have professional motives. However, as Dan is assisted by a young but talented psychic from the Ozarks named Abi, other possibilities arise, ones that are far more bizarre than the scientifically-minded Collins can wrap his head around.

While I’m not a believer in OBE’s and NDE’s as anything other than natural perceptual phenomena resulting from conditions in the brain, I do think they make for an intriguing speculative fiction plot. Some fascinating psychology is on display as Collins (who’s always fancied himself an expert in human nature) discovers that his beliefs about how he was perceived are radically different than what he glimpses in the minds of individuals with whom he has had relationships.

I found the story to be sound and intriguing, and I enjoyed reading this book. The art was well done, much of it being psychedelic, but all of it being clear and comprehensible. If an OBE detective story sounds compelling, you may want to give this one a read.


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BOOK REVIEW: Compass, Vol. 1: The Cauldron of Eternal Life by Robert MacKenzie and Dave Walker

Compass, Volume 1: The Cauldron of Eternal LifeCompass, Volume 1: The Cauldron of Eternal Life by Robert MacKenzie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: January 25, 2022

This graphic novel mixes Fantasy, mythology, and bits of history to tell a story with a fountain of youth trope. The protagonist is Shahidah El-Amin, an Arab Moslem Indiana Jones but in the form of a teenage girl. Her ultimate antagonist is a Mongolian Khan with leprosy who wants the “cauldron of eternal life” in order to cure his leprosy, and – you know – because he wants to live forever. However, the more immediate conflict plays out between Shahidah and a Chinese version of herself, i.e. another teenaged girl scholar / adventurer. This allows for a more interesting emotional arc as the two girls have clearly been close companions before, but now they’re on opposite sides and it’s never clear whether their friendship (or their other obligations) will win the day. Having a peer antagonist also avoids the strained credulity of Shahidah having to single-handedly defeat the leader of the biggest and most accomplished army of its time, and, well, said army.

This is an exciting adventure story. Being in the Fantasy genre, it’s hard to build and maintain thills and suspense when anything [i.e. magic] can happen. However, the limits of the fantastic elements are kept in check in this book, and don’t really benefit the main characters — who must rely on their own wits and physical capabilities.

If you like historical fantasy that blends mythology with creative story elements, you may want to check this book out. [Not to mention if you like the idea of a young / female / period Indiana Jones.]

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BOOK REVIEW: M.O.M.: Mother of Madness, Vol. 1 by Emilia Clarke & Marguerite Bennett

M.O.M: Mother of Madness #1M.O.M: Mother of Madness #1 by Emilia Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: December 14, 2021

This graphic novel uses a story about a single mother who develops superpowers tuned to her emotional states as a means of exploring a wide range of social justice issues. On the positive side, the story has moments of humor and moments of poignancy, and it takes efforts to avoid being purely divisive in the way socio-politically themed works often are. On the other hand, the book becomes bogged down in preachiness at times, and would likely have been much more effective if it’d used story to convey ideas, trusting the audience to grasp the takeaway without hammering them with ham-fisted dialogue. To be fair, the book, using fourth wall breaks, sometimes acknowledges its own exposition dumps and other clumsy and clunky elements.

The artwork was clear, if sometimes a bit bizarre and quirky. (e.g. See cover)

Unfortunately, as I read the book what the story most reminded me of was the Halle Berry “Catwoman” movie, which no one [even, I suspect, Halle Berry] wants to be reminded of. One reason for this comparison was that both stories decry objectification and shaming while featuring only beautiful people, and they definitely [unconsciously, I suspect] perpetrated the “ugly equals evil” notion ubiquitous in storytelling.

It’s not a bad story and has its admirable qualities, but I think it could have been better if it were a bit more focused and less heavy-handed with the commentary. At times it seemed as if the author thought, “Oh, and I want to say something about this social travesty,” and then she inserted dialogue that seemed to have little to do with what was going on with the story at the moment. Or, perhaps, there was a list of disparate social issues that needed to be touched upon in the single volume.


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BOOK REVIEW: Bliss by Sean Lewis

BlissBliss by Sean Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This eight-issue graphic novel blends sci-fi and mythology to tell a story of the double-edged nature of memory – bringer of both bliss and trauma. At the story’s core is a father-son relationship in which both the father, Benton, and son, Perry, must come to grips with the fact that contained within the former is the greatest possible range of virtue and vice, a nearly irreconcilable mix of good and bad.

I enjoyed that the author instilled an intriguing strangeness to the book’s world using a mix of futurism, mythology, and creativity while at the same time dealing with primal human concerns. The book asks whether being free of memories can contribute to our being worse versions of ourselves (being able to forget misdeeds,) and whether healing (forgiveness of both self and others) can happen without memory.

I found this book to be provocative and well-composed. There were points at which it felt like the scale of deviation between the good and the bad Benton were unfathomably great. In other words, it felt like the motivation for his actions strained credulity. However, that encourages one to think about how a person might behave if he knew he could be freed of the memory of ill deeds.

I loved the story, the art, the world, and the characters. I’d highly recommend the book.


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BOOK REVIEW: Iranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard & Deloupy

Iranian Love StoriesIranian Love Stories by Jane Deuxard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: December 14, 2021

This graphic novel shows what life is like in Iran. A French couple engaged in immersion journalism converses with Iranian men, women, and couples. As the title suggests, the theme of the book is intimate relationships (and marriage, when it – sadly – doesn’t fall into that category,) and the trials of love under an ultra-conservative theocratic regime. The book offers insight into how singles sneak love, how arranged marriages work (or don’t,) and how the bizarre in-law dynamics of arranged marriage are navigated. One also learns about non-amorous elements of Iranian life – i.e. the illicit nature of dog owning, workplace dynamics, etc.

The people Deuxard talked to were overwhelmingly wealthy, educated, and unhappy with the regime. That said, there’s a range of views presented. There were a few who were mostly happy – e.g. one young woman complained about the impossibility of openly dating, but said she was ultimately happy not to live in the West where she would probably have to work and / or take on other responsibilities she was freed of as an Iranian housewife. Additionally, one girl said that a relationship in Europe would offer no thrill because, you know, no one will murder you for smooching your boyfriend in Denmark. There were also many who desperately wanted out of the country, some of whom felt trapped and others who were working toward getting away (there are measures in place to make this difficult for many – e.g. if you have an Iranian degree, you have to pay it off before you’re granted an exit visa.) Some were hopeful that the theocracy would be overthrown, but most were resigned to a tormented life.

As a traveler, I’m fascinated by how people live at various places around the world, and so I found this book intriguing and thought-provoking. However, I can see how those who aren’t interested in such questions might find it a bit dull. It’s essentially documentary-style interviews in graphic novel format. That said, I thought the artist and writer did a good job of conveying mood. If you want to know what life is like in Iran, check it out.

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BOOK REVIEW: Marvel-Verse: Shang-Chi by Fred Van Lente, et. al.

Marvel-Verse: Shang-ChiMarvel-Verse: Shang-Chi by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of issues involving Shang-Chi. The early issues present the “Master of Kung Fu” in cameo / secondary roles within headliner characters’ comics – notably Wolverine and Spiderman. In those early issues, Shang-Chi mostly serves as the invincible master showing quippy superheroes that their kung fu lacks vigor and precision. In the later issues, those in which Shang-Chi is the lead, he becomes more well-rounded leading man material and less of a stoic, exotic Yoda-figure. In those issues, Shang-Chi combats the elusive ninja organization called “The Hand,” as well as “Lady Deathstrike.”


There is one issue, “Shang-Chi’s Day Off,” which is written as one-liner laden low comedy. Its tone stands out as distinct from the rest of the volume, but it has a few genuinely amusing lines, and so it’s not so bad. Those who take their superheroes somewhat seriously will hate it.


This collection isn’t a bad way to gain insight into the character and his evolution over time. Don’t be thrown off by the campy and stereotyped way he’s portrayed in his 70’s Kung fu cinema iteration, it gets more balanced and sophisticated later in the volume. I read found it on Amazon Prime.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Old Guard: Tales Through Time, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka, et. al.

The Old Guard: Tales Through Time, Vol. 1The Old Guard: Tales Through Time, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: December 21, 2021

This six-issue graphic novel collects twelve standalone short stories from “The Old Guard” universe. For those who’ve neither read the comic nor watched the Netflix movie, it imagines that a few immortals walk among us, or – if not immortals – at least extremely long-lived people. The oldest known among them, Andromache the Scythian (a.k.a. Andy,) is somewhere between six and seven thousand years old. (She appears in about half the stories in some capacity or another, ranging from cameo mention to main character.)

As the subtitle suggests, the dozen stories jump through time offering vignettes from the lives of the various immortals. The locales also vary, though primarily involving places that are known for their belligerency, intrigue, or noir ambiance — e.g. the wild west, samurai era Japan, 197o’s New York City, Berlin in 1932, etc. Some of the tales, e.g. “How to Make a Ghost Town,” “Zanzibar and Other Harbors,” and “Lacus Solitudinus,” are story-driven. Other pieces are more conceptual, focusing on an intriguing idea that comes with immortality. For example, “My Mother’s Axe” explores the Theseus’s ship idea of what it means for a thing to be itself when it’s replaced piece by piece over time.

I enjoyed this collection a great deal. The artistic styles vary to be apropos to the time and place in question, and the storytelling approach also shifts, owing not only to the different settings but also to the numerous authors involved. If you’re attached to having extended story arcs told over several issues, this might not be for you. The storytelling is necessarily terse and / or truncated, owing to space constraints. But if you go in expecting the two story-per-issue flash fiction format, you’ll likely find it compelling.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Umbrella Academy, #0 by Gerard Way

The Umbrella Academy #0The Umbrella Academy #0 by Gerard Way
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This issue features the dysfunctional family of freakish [non-blood] sibling superheroes taking on a character called the “Murder Magician,” a dapper but demented individual who likes to combine the showmanship of magic with the psychopathy of serial killing. The Murder Magician takes control of a talk show with a live studio audience while he’s being interviewed so that he can have the makings of mass murder readily at hand.


The art is chaotically drawn, but colorful, imparting a level of whimsy in line a villain with an affinity for sleight of hand.


It’s a simple story, as a single-issue comic can only be. I was familiar with the characters from the Netflix series adaptation, and that proved necessary because even though it’s #0, it’s very much a story in medias res.


I stumbled upon this issue as a free promotional gift on Amazon. If you like and are familiar with the comic, it’s worth a look. If not, there might be too many characters and too much oddness to make sense of it.


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BOOK REVIEW: Death: The Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman

Death: The Deluxe Edition (Death of the Endless, #1-2)Death: The Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book includes seven stories featuring the character of Death from Gaiman’s Sandman series. Two of the stories are longer (three-issue) tales, and the rest are single-issue short fiction.


For those unfamiliar with character, Gaiman subverts the “Grim Reaper” persona. Instead of a cloak-enshrouded skeleton, its face obscured by hood and shadow, Gaiman’s Death is an attractive young woman who goes by Didi, Gothically pale but certainly more beautiful than terrifying. However, appearances aren’t the only way in which Didi is the polar opposite of the Grim Reaper. She’s also preternaturally likeable and gregarious.


The first tripartite story is entitled “The Hight Cost of Living,” and in it a suicidal teen, Sexton, gets drawn into Didi’s drama, but also experiences a newfound appreciation for living. The other three-part story, “The Time of Your Life,” is about a rock star [stage name, “Foxglove”] who has everything a budding pop star could want, but when she learns that you can’t have it all and no one escapes their mortality, she’s forced to reevaluate her priorities. While the collection is built around those two stories, it’s not like the shorter works are filler. I found that “Façade” and “Death and Venice,” in particular, to be quite satisfying as stories.


A couple things to keep in mind: First, the stories are pulled from a long run, and so there are discontinuities – e.g. Death in “The Wheel” looks different from the other stories. Second, one reviewer said this book wasn’t a good choice if one hadn’t read the whole “Sandman” series. Someone who’d read it all might get more Easter Eggs, but it’s not the case that the stories don’t make sense in isolation. With the exception of the opening story, “The Sound of Her Wings,” I didn’t feel I was missing anything by not having read the series.


One can’t go wrong with Gaiman, the storytelling is clever and compelling, and the art is captivating – despite the stylistic variation.


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BOOK REVIEW: Home by Julio Anta

Home, Vol. 1Home, Vol. 1 by Julio Anta
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Out: November 23, 2021

This book starts out with a gripping premise, a single mother and her son separated at the border, the mother being deported back to Guatemala as the son makes his way to the home of his aunt in Texas. The story shows a great deal of promise in the introductory issue. Unfortunately, over the course of the volume, all of the tension that is painstakingly built up is squandered. Whenever there is a challenging and visceral circumstance a new set of random superpowers is revealed, such that by the fifth and final issue, one no longer feels the protagonist is in peril (regardless of circumstance) because it’s a given that some deus ex machina magic will come along to save the day.


What’s sad is that, other than the crippling problems of anti-climactic story, the book shows many positive attributes. It’s well drawn. The book builds characters for whom the reader is rooting. Emotion is effectively portrayed. I think if the superpowers had been introduced upfront with some understanding of limitations and “kryptonite,” there would have been potential for an enjoyable read. As it is, however, it’s exactly the opposite of what one would like – a book that gets more and more intense – as resolutions come too easily.


It’s an impassioned, if not nuanced, view of immigration issues, and – if that’s enough for you – you might be interested in checking it out.


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