BOOK REVIEW: Slumber, Vol. 1 by Tyler Burton Smith

Slumber, Volume 1Slumber, Volume 1 by Tyler Burton Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Release Date: October 18, 2022

Stetson is a “dream eater.” She makes her living by entering the dreaming mind of clients and “killing” their nightmares. When a series of mysterious and highly irregular murders happen in the real world, the police develop a hunch that Stetson might be involved, or – at a minimum – know something they don’t. And it soon becomes clear that it’s not just a job for her; there’s some sort of personal stakes or vendetta driving her.

I got hooked on this book. The art is colorful and fun and plays well with the imaginative and amusing dream world. The story was well-crafted and offered a satisfying and pleasurable read. If you’re into surreal speculative fiction that deals in dreams and nightmares, it’s worth looking into this book.

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BOOK REVIEW: Trapped on Zarkass by Yann

Trapped on ZarkassTrapped on Zarkass by Yann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Release date: October 11, 2022

This odd-couple quest story contextually resembles the movie Avatar, which is to say it involves an Earth-colonized exotic planet that has an intelligent – if primitive – indigenous lifeform. That said, neither the story nor the visuals are reminiscent of Avatar.

The story is about a pair of women who are tasked with tracking down a crashed enemy spacecraft in the remote jungles of the planet Zarkass, and returning with samples and intel about it. Because of treaties, the pair must operate undercover, assisted by a group of locals who are kept from the truth of the mission. One of the “agents” is a sweet, sensitive young woman who is pretending to do research as an expert on butterflies, and the other is a gruff, red-neck-ish drug dealer who’s released from prison to be the first woman’s guide and protector. The downed aircraft is a triangular spaceship that outmatches the Earthling craft, and the colonizers want metal samples to discover why their missiles glance off.

I enjoyed the story and found the world-building to be brilliantly imaginative [it’s outlandish, scientifically speaking, but creative.] As per the odd-couple norm, these two very different women slowly and begrudgingly develop respect and concern for each other by surviving numerous trials by fire together. Furthermore, in the end, it seems like they’ve developed a similar begrudging connection with the indigenous species that they did for each other. Even the main characters look down on the indigenous population throughout the book, but there seems to be a change. If you’re put off by nudity and near nudity of a gratuitous nature, the book does have it in spades.

If you like sci-fi adventures set on exotic worlds, you might want to give this one a look.


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BOOK REVIEW: DMZ, VOL. 1: ON THE GROUND by Brian Wood

DMZ, Vol. 1: On the GroundDMZ, Vol. 1: On the Ground by Brian Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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DMZ is a work of dystopian fiction that ditches the tired plot devices like Zombies and Nuclear Holocaust in favor of the fresh and simple idea of the American political divide run amok. The demilitarized zone (DMZ) in question is a sealed off New York City that exists in an armed and anarchic state.

The story features a journalism intern, Matty Roth, who helicopter crashes with a news crew in the NYC DMZ. At first, Roth is in over his head and just looking to escape to safety, but over the course of this volume he undergoes trial by fire and comes out the other side following his journalistic impulse to share the stories of the DMZ, stories which are much richer and more complex than people have been led to believe.

I had mixed feelings about the story as it feels like the protagonist is robbed of agency by always being saved. However, the story does show the character grow considerably and to face challenges voluntarily, and the assistance he receives does demonstrate community and humanity in a place that is supposed to be devoid of both.

Ultimately, I found the concept compelling and was deeply pulled into the world of this story. If you’re up for dystopian fiction, you might give it a try.


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BOOK REVIEW: Venom vs. Carnage by Peter Milligan

Venom vs. CarnageVenom vs. Carnage by Peter Milligan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This story revolves around the strange social dynamics of symbiote reproduction, which echoes the filial infanticide seen in many earth-bound species, whereby a family member tries to eliminate the competition while it can still be readily killed and eaten. There’s a shifting landscape of alliances as a new symbiote is birthed into existence.

Besides the titular characters, Venom and Carnage, the story’s other major characters are Toxin (the new symbiote on the block,) as well as Black Cat and Spiderman. It’s a simple, but action-packed, story.

I read the e-version of the book and the art was strange and rubbery. I think it’s meant to be hyper-realistic, but it tripped the uncanny valley for me. That said, it’s fairly easy to follow what’s happening. (And to the degree that it’s not, it’s not a problem with the artistic style, but rather with the chaotic stringiness of symbiote combative interactions.)

I enjoyed the story. It’s a quick read, and is thrilling entertainment fare. If you know nothing about the symbiotes of the Spider-verse, it’s not the best place to jump in because it assumes you know a bit about what’s what and who’s who.


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BOOK REVIEW: Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan

Unmanned (Y: The Last Man, #1)Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This graphic novel has a fascinating premise, a dystopia in the aftermath of the extinction of all males – except for one man (of whom we know.) The “Y” in the title is a reference to the Y chromosome that no doubt factors into the cause of the eradication of males, and some genetic mutation presumably explains why there’s this one male survivor. The state of the world is as seen in any apocalyptic dystopia in which a huge proportion of the populace dies off, leaving governance and essential services broken down, being replaced by anarchy. However, there’s also the unique feature that the clock is ticking on the last generation of humanity (and some other species,) unless something can be done about it.

The protagonist is a love-struck man-child who wants nothing more than to get to the other side of the world (to Australia from America) because it’s his fiancé’s last known location. However, given that the key to continuation of the species may lie within his chromosomes, what remains of the government insists he be studied. Other segments of the population have their own ideas about what they’d like to do if they get their hands on him. All of this makes international travel infeasible.

I’m a bit torn on this book. On the positive side, not only does it have a compelling premise, but it presents a thoughtful examination of some of the problems that might arise — such as political bodies being tremendously thinned and that the remaining women politicians wouldn’t necessarily be proportionately distributed between political parties. On the negative side, the volume doesn’t have a substantial climax and conclusion, and thus isn’t a satisfying standalone read. This isn’t uncommon among comic books written with vast serialization in mind. My problem with such writing is that if the first volume doesn’t provide a satisfying self-contained arc, I don’t trust that the story will ever conclude satisfyingly – especially if it’s something that turns out to be popular.

If you’re committed to reading the whole series, you’ll find this volume to provide a gripping and humorous start. However, I can’t say I’d recommend it as a standalone read, and I can’t speak to the overall story.


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BOOK REVIEW: Night Mary by Rick Remender

Night MaryNight Mary by Rick Remender
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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In this graphic novel, the protagonist is a young woman, Mary, who is a talented lucid dreamer – i.e. being conscious in one’s dreams. While lucid dreaming is a real thing, the sci-fi “magic” of the story world is that, using an experimental medication in conjunction with skilled dreamers allows the lucid dreamer to observe and take part in the dreams of another person. Said experimental medication was developed by Mary’s father, who’s a bit of a shady “evil scientist” type, and he employs Mary as his lucid dreamer (even though she is still a high school student.)

The story is intense and provocative. Character development is good and we learn that Mary is dealing with her own mental health issues, presumably PTSD-like traumatization related to an automobile accident she was in with her mother, but she may have already been anxiety prone. Mary’s father is a complex character throughout. He’s cold and distant as a father and obsessive as a scientist, but not altogether dastardly. I enjoyed falling into the story and found it to be narratively taut. That said, it wasn’t with out some problems of pacing and villain monologuing around the climax.

The artwork by Kieron Dwyer succeeded in creating a visceral horror / surreal feel. Also, the use of different color palettes for the real world versus various dream worlds helps to clarify where one is, which is useful in a story that shifts between the real (waking) world and dream scenes.

If you enjoy stories set in dreams and the sci-fi of the unconscious mind, you may want to look into this one.

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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: 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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