The Dead Girl’s Guide to Leading the Blind and Killing All Trespassers - A Review of The Dark, Directed and Written by Justin P. Lange

Written by O'Brian Gunn

Movie poster for The Dark.

Imagine being violently murdered in your own home as a child, the deed done by someone you know. You come back to un-life, but you’re now a zombie that preys on and eats the living. Now imagine a man named Josef kidnaps you as a child, tears you away from your family and renders you blind. This is the narrative framework of The Dark, a film written and directed by Justin P. Lange.

Mina is the undead girl, whose flashbacks reveal a fractured home life composed of a deadbeat mother, her abusive boyfriend, melancholy music, and visual art. After being killed and buried, Mina is revived by an unexplained force, going on to haunt the house in which she was psychologically haunted. One day, a fugitive and kidnapper on the run named Josef heads into the Devil’s Den (where Mina used to live and where she now hunts) where he’s killed by the dead girl after invading her house. After killing him, Mina discovers a young boy named Alex in the back of Josef’s car. Alex has developed a sort of Stockholm syndrome regarding Josef and persists in asking where his captor is after meeting Mina. From there, the two slowly learn more about each other as Mina helps Alex get back to safety, acting as his eyes and his guide.

Mina, in all her undead glory.

The Dark isn’t an easy film to watch. I don’t say that because the movie is terrible or downright unwatchable, but because of the subject matter. Mina suffered a great deal of psychological trauma both when she was alive and the way in which she was killed, and even more while she’s undead. Alex was kidnapped and abused physically and psychologically. The movie also has plenty of gruesome deaths. To me, the movie is about being lost not only in the physical woods, but in the woods of your mind. Mina and Alex are thrust into horrible circumstances beyond their control, and they’re both abandoned by adults who have no business taking care of them, but who also provide them with a deeply twisted semblance of affection.

When I first watched this movie, I wasn’t entirely blown away by it. The script isn’t the greatest, one specific character decision didn’t ring true to me, and I would have liked a bit more explanation as to how Mina came back to “life.” It wasn’t until I watched it the second time, skipping parts I’d already latched on to, that the themes started to solidify a bit better. It’s one of those films where you blindly put the puzzle pieces together as the story moves forward. When you reach the end, you feel like you’re missing pieces; the image isn’t complete, and you aren’t sure you assembled everything the right way. It’s when you watch the film a second time that you have the box in front of you and have a better idea of how the completed puzzle is supposed to look. For some viewers, that may prove to be too frustrating and too much of an investment, and I 100% understand that.

Alex and Mina.

With the recent discussions about trauma and how the body and mind respond to it, Lange gives a valiant effort at blending childhood trauma with elements of the supernatural. There have been plenty of zombie and kidnapping movies, but not all of them explore what it’s like to come back to life with the realization that you’re dead and remember how you were brutally murdered, or what it’s like to be physically scarred as a child by a kidnapper you view as a sort of parental figure. Even fewer combine the two. I feel The Dark is an atypical horror movie that focuses less on jump scares and external horror and more on the psychological horror of trauma and how it can turn the world into a type of horror movie. Or maybe I’m reading into it a bit too much.

So, did I like The Dark? I...liked the internal dialogue it sparked, which is better than a movie that instantly fizzles from memory as soon as the credits roll. It reminded me of how abuse can act as an undead zombie shambling through the halls of your life and gnawing away at your peace, or how abuse can blind us to what others see with 20/20 clarity. Maybe the true horror is realizing that there’s a version of Mina and Alex inside of us looking for a way out, a way home.

Runtime: 94 minutes

Recommend Buy New, Rent, or Skip: Rent (available for streaming on Amazon Prime, as of this review)

Book cover for Normal.

Up Next: Normal, by comic book writer Warren Ellis, is the story of Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist who’s paid to “gaze into the abyss” imagining various worst-case scenarios for geo engineering and smart cities. Suffering from “abyss gaze,” Adam goes to a “retreat” called Normal Head to recover. Soon after arriving, a patient disappears from his locked room, leaving behind a pile of bugs. Adam finds himself heading into the abyss of the abyss in a novella that explores “the core principles of how and why we think about the future—and the past, and the now.”

Cosmic Texts From Cthulhu - A Review of SemiAutomagic, Written by Alex de Campi, Illustrated by Jerry Ordway & Marissa Louise

Written by O'Brian Gunn

Cover of Semiautomagic.

There are plenty of shows, movies, books, comic books, and various other media that blend the supernatural/horror with urban fantasy. But not all of them accomplish their goal of scaring the souls right out of our bodies, and even fewer manage to do so in a way that relies on more than just lazy jump scares, half-baked dread, and been-there-been-bored-by-that attempts at body horror. Thankfully, Alex de Campi, Jerry Ordway, and Marissa Louise have come together to remind us of what it means to be gleefully terrified and deliciously horrified.

Semiautomagic is comprised of a series of short stories that explore the life and horrors of Alice Creed, professor and occult investigator with a penchant for ditching her own classes to save the lives of victims of the supernatural. Originally included as part of Dark Horse Presents, Semiautomagic seamlessly combines (truly) Lovecraftian-horror with a Black Mirror-esque exploration of the unforeseen consequences of technology. From children’s fantasies corrupted into devious demons and soul-sucking computer games to actors who use necromancy to secure a coveted role, Alice has seen and done it all.

We all have that one friend who’s unstuck in time.

What truly elevates this body of work is that the evil isn’t familiar. There are no werewolves, vampires, evil elven queens, or familiar god-like creatures to be found between these pages. Instead, readers are treated to the stuff of TRUE nightmares, visions that lurk in the corners of the Devil’s yellow eyes and make him want to churn up the fires of Hell to keep the darkness at bay. Imagine tripping on ‘shrooms, smoking a blunt and taking a hit of LSD, all before watching a horror movie while inside a haunted house. That’s what it’s like to read Semiautomagic. And I loved every second of it.

Last class.

While Alice isn’t the most fleshed out character, it’s the world she inhabits that gets the most development. De Campi does a great job of teasing the story and intrigue out, and Ordway and Louise are fantastic at using images and colors to translate the team’s shared vision of slowly dragging the reader into their wholly original universe. There’s an undeniable 80’s style to the work here that helps invoke that feeling of classic horror. That said, I’m not the biggest horror connoisseur, so your opinion and mileage may vary. The accompanying images should give you enough of an idea of what to expect.

As I said earlier, the stories of Semiautomagic were part of Dark Horse Presents from 2014 to 2015. Since then, the tales were bound together with the help of the collaborative magic of Kickstarter. There are also three additional stories made available only through Kickstarter, including a special story focused on Alice’s time-twisted friend, Harriet. If you have any way of getting a hold of the additional three stories, I highly encourage you to check them out. The selections do a great job of fleshing out the world and stretching your unease to the limits.

Lovecraftian lice.

You can finish all the currently available stories of Semiautomagic in a day, even sooner if you devour them like I did. Afterward, don’t be surprised if you start digging for more works from de Campi, Louise and I did. But now, I can’t help but wonder: Did the three creators sacrifice their own souls to Cthulhu to create such imaginative cosmic dread, or the souls of their readers? Either way, I hope the bill never comes due.

Page Length:

104 pgs (an additional 80 pgs with the Kickstarter-exclusive box set)

Recommend Buy New, Buy Used/On Sale, or Skip:

Absolutely buy new! (Or check with your local library)

Movie poster for The Dark.

Up Next: The Dark, written and directed by Justin P. Lange, centers on Mina, an undead teen cursed to haunt and hunt the woods of her childhood, and Alex, a blind teenager with problems of his own. Together, they’ll forge an unusual friendship, one built on a pile of bodies.

The Eureka! Memory - A Review of Genius (Written by Steven T. Seagle, Illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen)

Written by O’Brian Gunn

Cover of Genius

Life would be a lot easier if you were a certified genius, right? You’d probably have an easier time getting the job you want (or at least the experience necessary for the job you want), you’d likely have a higher salary and the standard of living that comes with it, and it would be a breeze to think of the name of the many songs that pop into your head at random times. In Genius, main character and physicist Ted Marx has a different take on what it means to be a genius. His particular work and home life situations lead him to consider stealing a secret idea from one of the most notable geniuses in history, Einstein himself.

Growing up, Ted Marx had a natural aptitude for learning and grasping concepts that left even the most intelligent of students bewildered. Even though he skipped grades, he still found himself bored. While he was a mental genius, Ted lacked emotional intelligence, which means that when it came to matters of the heart, Ted practically had a learning disability. Fast-forward a few decades and we find Ted married with two kids and working at a think tank with several other geniuses. Even though he excelled in school, he finds himself stagnating in the working world when he’s no longer the smartest person in his zip code. With his job on the line if he can’t come up with a new idea, Ted turns to his elderly father-in-law, Francis, (who lives with him and his family at home), who served as Einstein’s bodyguard. Apparently, Einstein told Francis a dangerous secret, one that could be what Ted needs to secure his job.

Brains aren’t everything.

(One of the things I enjoyed most about this short read was the artwork. Teddy Kristiansen has a simple style, but his blend of inks, pencils and watercolors helps bring the story to life and set the mood. Subtle shifts in font and visual style act as great scene changers. This is one reason I love reading graphic novels and comics from smaller and lesser-known publishers, to explore more of the infinite possibilities of using this particular medium to tell a story. That’s definitely not to say that the artwork released by major publishers is trash, just that you’re usually free to be a bit more experimental with your storytelling when you’re working with a smaller publisher.

You can’t outthink time.

In regards to the writing, Steven T. Seagle does a competent job of weaving Ted’s story together, showing his struggles to connect with his teenage son, who seems to have inherited Ted’s intelligence, but has molded it into something much less refined, yet more emotionally insightful. There is a bit of a cliché to be found, which I won’t get into here. I’ll just say it’s a trope-fueled motivation for Ted doing everything possible to keep his job and doing anything he can to get Francis to reveal what Einstein told him. Make no mistake, this doesn’t take away from the narrative, I just thought it could have added a little something special to see Seagle provide Ted with a different catalyst for being pushed down into the murky depths of desperation. Seagle and Kristiansen both add a few other details that help make up for this particular issue.

Genius amongst the stars.

Genius makes for a quick, simple and overall enjoyable read. Seagle and Kristiansen demonstrate that even the geniuses among us don’t always have the answers, or if they do, they aren’t always the right ones. So maybe life wouldn’t be so simple if you were a genius, you’d just live in a world where life’s struggles have the same IQ as you.

Page Length: 126 pgs

Recommend Buy New, Buy Used/On Sale, or Skip: Buy New

Cover of Semiautomagic.

Next Up: Semiautomagic, written by Alex De Campi and illustrated by Jerry Ordway and Marissa Louisa. Professor Alice Creed is a techno-occult adventurer who slays monsters when she’s not skipping her own lectures. It’s Lovecraftian horror in a modern setting, brimming with an evil army of mannequins, demonic possession, and friends unstuck in time.

There’s Something Strange in the Neigh-Poe-Hood - A Review of The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, Written by Suehiro Maruo

Written by O'Brian Gunn

Cover of The Strange Tale of Panorama Island

Impostor syndrome. It’s something we all get, but it’s especially palpable for writers, visual artists, and practically every other creative occupation. We have a deep-seated fear that nothing we do is good enough, that we can chalk our accomplishments up to sheer luck rather than raw talent. In Suehiro Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, main character Hitomi Hirosuke experiences a different type of impostor syndrome - one that leads him down a dark criminal path to assume the life and luxury of a legitimate and proven success, one who goes by the name of Genzaburo Komoda.

When we’re first introduced to Hitomi, he’s dreaming of a beautiful island filled with tropical birds, gorgeous landscaping, towering waterfalls, actual towers, and people (mostly women) frolicking in the nude. He wakes up in his tiny, cramped apartment brimming with books and echoes of his setbacks as a writer. His latest work, “The Tale of RA,” mirrors the work of Edgar Allan Poe and is the story of a man with a limitless fortune who builds his own paradise in the form of a remote island.

Oh, Poe is me.

Hitomi goes on to lament being stuck in a creative and financial rut. Then, he receives word that one of his old classmates, Genzaburo Komoda, has died. While shocked, Hitomi remembers how the two of them were often mistaken for twins, and how Komoda was the noble son of a wealthy family. The seeds of a nefarious plan are sown by hands wracked with desperation. From there, Hitomi hatches a scheme to essentially kill his own identity and take on his friend’s identity.

To that end, Hitomi digs up Genzaburo’s body from his grave, extracts his gold tooth (yanking out his own tooth in the process), and removes Genzaburo’s burial clothes so he can wear them himself to make it look as if his friend washed up on the beach, miraculously alive. When he’s found and assumed to be Genzaburo, he infiltrates Genzaburo’s life. Hitomi struggles to truly mold himself in Genzaburo’s image, holding his chopsticks the same way, reading without his glasses, and remembering the names of those closest to, Genzaburo, rather. His biggest obstacle is fooling Genzaburo’s wife, Chiyoko.

Digging down into the depths of desperation.

While enjoying the Komoda family’s wealth, Hitomi enacts the lofty goal presented in “The Tale of RA.” He plans on turning an island into a tourist destination, complete with an undersea tunnel, and is willing to displace families living on the site, sell businesses, and offload Genzaburo’s expensive art collection to bring his dream to life. It’s here that the meat of the story starts to sizzle...only to quickly fizzle out.

Maruo has some fantastic panels and arrangements, ones that easily transport you into the inner workings of Hitomi’s mind and the beauty of his island. It’s easy to see that our main character has some psychological issues that go deeper than wanting to be rich and leaving behind a legacy, and it’s apparent that Hitomi has “some thoughts” regarding sexual liberation. The set up was great, but the follow-through left a lot to be desired.

The inner workings of Hitomi’s mind.

One of my biggest gripes is the story feels a bit rushed. There are only eight chapters, but I think that adding two more would have fleshed out the narrative better. I would have loved to dive more into the motivation regarding some of Hitomi’s actions that come later in the story, one specifically that I won’t spoil if you’d like to check the story out yourself.

Here, I need to point out that The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is an original story by novelist Edogawa Rampo that Suehiro Maruo adapted. Rampo himself was an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, so perhaps if I were more familiar with Poe, I’d have a deeper understanding/appreciation of this particular tale.

A feast for the eyes.

This is most certainly an adult manga, one with graphic depictions of sex. That said, I didn’t find it to be terribly pornographic (your mileage may vary); it’s more frank than anything. There’re drawings of both male and female genitalia, as well as both heterosexual and homosexual sex, but neither is so overwhelming that I felt like I was reading Samuel R. Delaney’s Hogg (a story you can explore on your own).

All in all, I don’t want to write off The Strange Tale of Panorama Island. If you’re looking for a solid story, this one may not sate your appetite. That said, the artwork and detailed page spreads are certainly enjoyable to behold. At the very least, it got me wanting to explore Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, so that’s something. Maybe what makes Panorama Island truly strange is that it’s a getaway destination where you don’t realize where you went or what you saw until you’re back home.

Page Length: 274 pgs

Recommend Buy New, Buy Used/On Sale, or Skip: Buy Used (if you’re in it for the artwork, or want to explore Japanese manga), or check out from your local library

Cover of Genius.

Next Up: Genius, written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, is the story of quantum physicist Ted Marx and his desperate attempt to keep his job at a think tank. When you’ve got the chance to steal a secret idea from Albert Einstein, is it possible to make the math of your moral calculus equation add up?

Far Away Enough To Touch - A Review of Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, Directed by Pete Ohs

Written by O'Brian Gunn

How can an object/concept/person be simultaneously within arm’s reach and so terribly far away? This is one of the many questions Pete Ohs tackles in Everything Beautiful Is Far Away. In the film, Lernert has grown tired of the noise and suffocation that come with living in a city packed shoulder to shoulder with so many people. To that end, he takes to what I call the “full emptiness” of the desert with his android, Susan, who is whittled down to just a head by the desert sand. Along the way, they’re joined by a young woman named Rola. Together, the three set off in search of the fabled Crystal Lake. (Not to worry, there aren’t any hockey-masked murderers at this particular Crystal Lake.)

One of the first things I have to say about Everything Beautiful Is Far Away is the fact that it’s a simple, flowing movie. It only has four characters from beginning to end (counting Susan), there are no jerky-cam ridden action scenes, it doesn’t go out of its way to try to shock or amaze you, and it doesn’t try to reinvent the cinematic wheel. The movie can best be described as a lazy Saturday afternoon lounging outside with a psychologist, philosopher, bohemian, and an indie musician passing a blunt.

Lernert and Rola

Let’s start with the characters. Lernert is a logical as frak, by-the-book, no-words-wasted character. At times, I wondered if he was an android himself (not going to say whether it turns out he is). It’s hard to say if he’s low-key misanthropic or introverted, or if he just prefers the company of androids to humans. Other than the fact that he once lived in the city and emigrated to the desert where he built Susan, the movie doesn’t give us much of his backstory (more on that aspect later).

We first meet Rola when Lernert finds her sprawled out in the sand, foaming at the mouth as the result of eating dactyl root instead of kernyptus root, differentiated only by a green ring. The always-prepared Lernert saves her and instructs her on the difference between dactyl and kernyptus root. Rola rebukes Lernert’s efforts to connect with her, making sure he gives her plenty of physical space, takes her meager supplies, and resumes her journey. She and Lernert reunite when it’s her turn to find him sprawled out unconscious. Rola helps him...but not before rifling through his belongings to see what kind of person she’s dealing with. Rola finds something that makes her want to trust Lernert, and from there, the two set out together in search of the mythical Crystal Lake...and parts for Susan’s new body.

Susan says.

There’s a lot of symbolism to dive into with this film. Mainly, I feel it’s an examination of the multiple layers of distance that divide us as human beings. The movie gives us plenty of wide shots that draw attention to how near or far objects are. With the lack of character backstory in this flick (something I’ve remarked on in past reviews), it got me thinking: This is a film that mirrors how we can meet someone for a season who serves a purpose in getting us to where we need to be in life, all without us learning more than immediate, surface information about this person before s/he fades into the background. That’s how it is when we first meet our two main characters, but the film and story make it so that we really don’t need to know a lot about Lernert and Rola’s pasts. It’s almost like we can see their blurred backstories winding behind them in the undulating depths of the sand dunes. We have to use their present actions to attempt to bring their pasts into focus.

An additional theme the movie gracefully grazes includes the subtle programming we’re subject to in our day-to-day lives. Just as Susan is programmed with specific, manufactured emotions regarding Lernert - we, too, can be programmed for certain knee-jerk responses during certain situations. Immediately responding with “fine/good” (or “well,” if ya nasty) when someone asks how we are, even if we’re going through a small snarl of emotional turmoil, or even asking someone how they are when we don’t give anything resembling a damn regarding their feelings. How would we be deprogrammed/reprogrammed if we lived in the desert for a few years and hardly came into contact with another human being?

As intimate as it gets sometimes.

As intimate as it gets sometimes.

I’d also like to touch on the film’s soundtrack, scored by Alan Palomo of Neon Indians. Much like water in the desert, musical beats are few and far between, but when we stumble upon them, they’re wonderfully refreshing. I can only describe the overall feel of the soundtrack as “delightfully indie.” The beats are effervescent, dynamic, and...intimate. I can easily imagine myself listening to the soundtrack while working or reading.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started watching Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, but I enjoyed where Pete Ohs took me, and how he took me there. The next time you find yourself with some free time and in a mood for a solid indie flick, check it out for yourself. Maybe you’ll find that distant, fully realized beauty you can see but not touch is just as enjoyable as imminent delights.

Runtime: 91 minutes

Recommend Buy, Rent, or Skip: Rent (or stream on Hulu)/Buy (I say this because a single viewing may be enough for you, or you may want to buy it and share it with your friends and family again and again)

Cover of The Strange Tale of Panorama Island

Next Up: The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, by Suehiro Maruo, is a pulpy manga centered on a novelist named Hitomi, who fakes his death to impersonate the recently deceased son of a wealthy industrialist family. The intrigue mounts as Hitomi drapes himself in the industrialist’s fortune, company, and marriage. What mysteries await in this tale of horror, the grotesque, and...“perverse aims?”

Mark Millar’s Moral Superior-ity - A Review of Superior (story by Mark Millar, art by Leinil Yu)

Written by O’Brian Gunn

Cover of Superior #1.

If you were allowed a single wish, what would it be? To wake up every morning at peace without worrying about your finances, health, or safety? That George R.R. Martin would publish his next book before at least the end of the year? To do away with your need for sleep? Or would you do what 12-year-old Simon Pooni did and wish to become a superhero? Writer Mark Millar and artist Leinil Yu show us what this wish looks like in 2010’s Superior, a seven-issue miniseries from Marvel’s Icon imprint.

What makes Simon wish to become Superior is the fact that he has multiple sclerosis, also known as MS. For the uninitiated, MS is a debilitating disease that causes the immune system to gnaw away at the nerves, resulting in vision loss, coordination issues, problems with walking, incontinence, and much more. Currently, there are treatment options for MS, but there isn’t a cure. MS crept up on Simon, his diagnosis progressing from problems moving his fingers and toes to blindness in one eye and trouble pronouncing his own name. The disease kept him from playing basketball, spending time with his friends, and even removing the wrapper from DVDs.

One wish is all it takes.

I break all this down to give you a solid idea of the physical and mental condition Simon is in when he’s visited one night by a spacesuit-wearing monkey named Ormon who informs Simon that he’s been chosen for The Magic Wish. In a puff of smoke, Simon goes from using a wheelchair to learning how to master unaided flight and yankin’ trains to get yoked as the superhero known as Superior.

After spending an issue testing the limits of his Superman-like abilities, Simon/Superior decides to use his newfound powers to prevent and respond to major disasters all over the globe. Simon/Superior’s deeds catch the eye of reporter (of course) Madeline Knox, who’s so bloody ravenous for a story she makes Lois Lane look like a weekend blogger. Millar never lets us know why she’s so dang thirsty for an interview with Superior. For me, it wasn’t enough that she’s a reporter. We all have our reasons for being either passionate or dispassionate about our jobs/careers. I felt like Madeline needed a reason for being desperate enough to drive her car into the sea in the hopes that Simon/Superior would hear her screams for help. I’m all about knowing what motivates a character and why s/he wants what s/he wants. Thankfully, this didn’t bring my story engagement to a screeching halt, just made me pump my brakes.

Obligatory mass destruction and superpowered showdown.

Issue four is where things really start to gel. Simon/Superior is starting to come into his own as a hero, we learn a bit more about Ormon’s true motives, and a figure from Simon’s past is set up as his proper nemesis. I like the flashes of levity and humor Millar included in the story to show that underneath the jacked physique, feats of herculean strength, and flowing cape, Superior is a 12-year-old kid at the end of the day. I won’t go into any more of the plot, as I feel that would spoil things. Sure, you can guess where the story goes, but I want you to experience it for yourself.

Another one of my minor gripes with Superior (other than some of the language usage being a bit off for a kid Simon’s age) is the unnecessary/gratuitous fanservice via Madeline’s generous offering of boobage with nearly every panel she’s in (maybe that’s just part of her personality? It’s something else that’s not made entirely clear). On the flipside, there is a single panel of Superior’s beefcake booty reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s flying skirt; and it is, indeed, delicious. Oh, well, I guess you’ve gotta do what you can to cater to your audience (no matter their sexual orientation). As someone with a book coming out next month (which also has superpowered characters in it), I understand doing what’s necessary to get your product into the hands of your target customer.

Don’t have to budget for the valet if you don’t drive to your fancy dinner.

This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the upcoming Shazam! movie, which has a verrrry similar premise to Superior. The Shazam! trailers have left me underwhelmed, but I do like the depictions of Billy Batson in the Young Justice and Justice League Unlimited animated series (both of which I highly recommend you check out). One of the big differences between the two properties is that Simon/Superior doesn’t have fellow superheroes to mentor him or turn to for help in learning how to be a proper superhero the way Captain Marvel does. It would’ve been interesting to see how Millar would have handled this thread had he made Superior a longer series, especially given Simon’s medical diagnosis.

After reading Superior, I was pleasantly reminded of the magic of being a kid, that feeling that comes from the fresh-faced and unblemished belief in fairy tales, Santa Claus, and heroes with the unshakable morals of Captain America. As we grow up, I feel it’s not that we lose that magic, but that we allow it to be washed away to the rising tides of life, that we tuck it away to make room for pressing adult responsibilities. It collects dust, gets a little dingy, tries to remind us it’s there between the bills and work weeks and attempts at figuring out our love equation. Then, it flickers at the edges of our attention, just as strong and bright and reassuring. Thanks for the reminder, Simon/Superior, keep doin’ the Lord’s work.

Page Length: 200 pgs

Recommend Buy New, Buy Used/On Sale, or Skip: Buy new, or (as always) check with your local library

Poster for Everything Beautiful Is Far Away

Next Up: Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, an indie sci-fi film directed by Pete Ohs, is the tale of a man, his robot head, and a young drifter as they trek across a sand-shrouded planet in search of a legendary water basin and the key to their survival. Will the film live up to its promise of an examination of love, loneliness, and relationships in the modern world? Only one way to find out.

Reflections of the Way I Used To Be - A Review of Luisa: Now and Then, art and story by Carole Maurel, translated by Mariko Tamaki

Written by O'Brian Gunn

Cover of Luisa: Now and Then

Growing up, most of us wanted to avoid turning into our parents. But what if you wanted to avoid growing up into your older self? That’s the question Carole Maurel and Mariko Tamaki tackle in the graphic novel Luisa: Now and Then. In it, 32-year-old Luisa Arambol is working as a photographer in Paris when she gets a knock on the door from her 15-year-old self. What follows is a journey of both discovery and rediscovery, and the insight that comes from a different type of self-reflection.

Where Alex Robinson explored the idea of going back in time and inhabiting your younger self with your grownup mind still intact in Too Cool to Be Forgotten, Maurel heads to the same destination via a different route. Rather than reliving your teenage years all over again with the knowledge and wisdom you have now, how would you react to meeting your younger self in the present day? Would you both get along? Would you feel tempted to warn yourself of mistakes, heartache, turmoil, and the like you were once too young to recognize and avoid? Would just talking to your past self cause your present self to shift into something neither of you recognizes?

When past meets present

In Luisa’s case, she uses meeting her younger self as an opportunity to gain clarity on memories and mindsets muddled by the passing of time. The novel includes flashbacks that establish both Luisas and what brought them to their present circumstances. We see where a younger Luisa started to understand her sexuality, all while she struggled to understand why she wasn’t allowed to see her friend Lucy, whom she developed feelings for. Younger Luisa is disappointed by who (and what) she grows up to be, which is essentially someone who’s settled in life, both professionally and romantically. The rest of the story is an exploration of ghosts that have yet to be and those brought back to life through the ritual of repetition and rumination.

Canned heat

Overall, I enjoyed Luisa: Now and Then. The narrative fumbled a bit of its momentum in the middle, but it found its footing again toward the end. Both Past Luisa and Present Luisa have to reach back into their shared bloodline to truly make sense of their shared lives. Speaking of shared lives, I like how Maurel gave the story a sense of urgency by rapidly aging the younger Luisa and de-aging the older Luisa. There’s a risk of both disappearing into the other if they can’t work together to sort things out.

Where it all started

Something else I enjoyed was how Luisa’s sexuality wasn’t the sole focus of the story. True, it consumed a large portion of the narrative, but I felt it was never overbearing. Instead, Maurel chose to focus on how our heart’s desires play a part in shaping who we are and influencing the decisions we make. After all, who can say they didn’t learn more about themselves by being in a serious relationship, or even having deep, unreciprocated feelings for another person? There’s also the fact that those closest to us are impacted by our decisions and desires, which is something else that’s explored.

Luisa: Now and Then wraps up in a way that’s heartfelt and earned. No matter your age or sexuality, it’s a great exploration of what happens when we neglect to get to know and stay connected to ourselves and those closest to us. It’s a lesson on the razor-thin edge that divides now and then.

Page Length: 272 pgs

Recommend Buy New, Buy Used/On Sale, or Skip: Buy used/on sale, or check with your local library.

Cover of Superior #1.

Next Up: Superior, Mark Millar’s tale of 12-year-old Simon Pooni, who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and his transformation into the ultra-powerful superhero known as Superior. What happens when a pre-teen is given the powers of a legend, and will he have to go back to life in a wheelchair? The (unintended) exploration of the crossroads of adulthood and childhood continue next month.