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: Hawkeye Vol. 1: My Life As A Weapon by Matt Fraction

Hawkeye, Volume 1: My Life as a WeaponHawkeye, Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This six-issue volume features a Clint Barton who’s a great deal more hapless and humorous than the one we’ve seen in the Avengers movies. [I haven’t seen the “Hawkeye” streaming series, though I’ve heard that it borrows elements and devices from Fraction’s run, including enemies (e.g. Tracksuit Mafia) and gags (e.g. trick arrows,) thought I don’t think the TV series relies on the comic for story, per se (i.e. beyond the Barton / Bishop team-up angle, generally speaking.)] This version of Hawkeye is still impressive with his accuracy in archery (and otherwise,) but his ability to take a beating and keep moving may be his primary “superpower.” In this collection, we mostly see an un-uniformed Clint Barton going about his daily business, getting into adventures consistent with his persona as an unpowered individual without allies of the supersoldier, tech wiz, or giant green rage monster varieties.

It should be pointed out that the sixth issue is different from the first five. It’s not a “Hawkeye” title but a “Young Avengers” one, and it’s built around the handoff of the Hawkeye mantle from Barton to Bishop. I’m not sure why they included it. It feels like a jarring discontinuity. In the earlier issues, the two are working together, but in the last issue they seem to be meeting for the first time with Bishop having already assumed the mantle of Hawkeye. Moreover, the tone is completely different. The Barton of the last issue is more like movie Barton: costumed, less funny, and surrounded by Avenger-level superheroes.

I enjoyed this collection, particularly the first five issues. It’s amusing, and creates a likable scamp of a character who is witty, relatable, and more sympathetic. If you don’t think Hawkeye is a character you’d be interested in, this is a good collection with which to give him a chance.


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BOOK REVIEW: unMind: A Graphic Guide to Self-Realization by Siddharth Tripathi

unMind: A Graphic Guide to Self-RealizationunMind: A Graphic Guide to Self-Realization by Siddharth Tripathi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This clear and concise guide uses graphics and story to make the self-realization teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (and those influenced by him) approachable and even entertaining. Ramana Maharshi was a Jnana yogi who advocated a single-minded path of self-inquiry as a means of coming to grips with one’s life. This book does a spectacular job of conveying the method of self-realization and exploring the philosophical ideas that inform it.

For those unfamiliar with Jnana Yoga, there can be said to be three forms of yoga. Bhakti Yoga is the devotional form practiced by those who have an affinity for worship. Karma Yoga is associated with actions and a selfless works. This leaves Jnana Yoga, which is the studious branch of Yoga. Jnana yoga is widely considered to be the most difficult path because it requires constant self-investigation, and because one is working without a net in that one takes nothing on faith, but rather one must see for oneself. This makes Jnana Yoga the least appealing “flavor” of yoga, but if one is a scientifically-minded and studious person, it offers an option that one will find far preferable. While terms like “self-inquiry” and “self-realization” may sound pretty pie-in-the-sky, the approach is really quite grounded.

I found both the text explanations and the artwork to be incredibly effective in explaining the ideas behind self-inquiry and Jnana Yoga. The artwork combines comic strip style graphics with full-page stylized images. Not all the material features graphics, but the text-only pages are concise and easy to follow.

If you are looking for insight into Jnana Yoga, self-inquiry, self-realization, or just the way the mind works, generally, I’d highly recommend this book.


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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: Fine Print, Vol. 1 by Stjepan Šejić

Fine Print, Volume 1Fine Print, Volume 1 by Stjepan Šejić
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: November 30, 2021

This erotic graphic novel intertwines a “real world” star-crossed love story with a storyline set in a fantastical realm that mixes Greek Mythology, the lore of incubi and succubi, and elements from the author’s imagination. The central premise is a Faustian bargain, but with some twists.

The artwork is beautifully done, colorful, and in some cases quite explicit. Readers who are a bit prudish or who are considering buying this for someone as a gift should beware that there are many graphically explicit scenes of nudity and a wide variety of sex acts.

It’s best read in a single sitting because the non-linear depiction of events combined with the crossing between two different story worlds can result in the read being a bit disjointed / confusing.

I found this story to be engrossing and evocative with likable characters.


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