Upgrade Soul

If you could become a better you, would you?

That is the basis of this beautifully written and drawn graphic novel by Ezra Claytan Daniels. Hank and Molly are an older couple, one having inherited a fortune and the rights to a character in the entertainment industry, and the other a brilliantly known geneticist. Molly has a direct hand in the field of science, with Hank being a deep pocket in support of research. A chance encounter leads to the two becoming involved in an underground research project that intrigues the two and prompts them to become the test subjects. 

The Upgrade project aims to take the aging bodies of Hank and Molly to create something better, stronger, and practically immortal. The project is clearly dangerous, but Hank and Molly see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and ultimately decide to give their bodies to this experiment in the hopes of becoming strong healthier versions of themselves. A better them. What awaits them after the experiment, although much more capable than their original bodies, comes this terrible realization over the horrors of encountering something far better at being you than you. 

The grainy looking texture of the art gives the atmosphere this almost soft and tender feeling when reading, which definitely helps in making the plot raise the hairs on your arms when the plot is anything but gentle. The detail of the character only adds to this feeling when Molly and Hank are seen after the experiment in. which they appear so frail, as though their life-force was sucked out of them, making the results of the experiment even scarier for their larger plump looking bodies. Despite their appearance, the doppelgangers, if you can call them that, are far more superior to the original bodies in strength, intelligence, and health. Molly’s mind is deteriorating whereas Manuela’s is flourishing with memories of things she has never truly experienced herself. Hank’s fight against destroying the black body of his book character is questioned by Henry, who points out changing times, infuriating Hank. There is growing tension between the originals and their counterparts, as though the new bodies are slowly finding ways to snuff out the originals. 

There is honestly so many characters, but Ezra is able to perfectly capture all of these personalities and struggles, especially when their lives start to connect through situation and emotional connection. You can feel the plot getting up a cliff that makes you plummet at a certain point, creating such an emotional response that you can’t help but feel for these characters, whether you despise them or wish for them to make it out of their struggles in one piece. 

Based in Los Angeles, Ezra Claytan Daniels is an illustrator and artist known for his work, The Changers. His latest work, Upgrade Soul, was a recipient of the Dwayne McDuffie Award and was listed in Publisher Weekly’s Top Books of 2018.
You can follow Ezra on Twitter.

I Am Alfonso Jones

This beautifully written and illustrated graphic novel that puts to words the horrors and emotional terror that bring about these fights for acknowledgement over police brutality on the black and brown body, making this piece a visual of the deaths behind the Black Lives Matter Movements. 

Alfonso Jones is a student that eagerly awaits the day his father is released from prison for a crime he did not commit, is preparing for a modern rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and slowly is gaining the courage to confess his feelings to a close friend. An errand to buy a new suit becomes fatal when an officer mistakes a clothes hangar in Alfonso’s hand for a gun and shoots him, taking the life of the young man. Now Alfonso is riding on a train through times alongside the spirits of men and women known for their tragic deaths at the hands of the police, as he bears witness to the after-affects of his death. Community, friends, and family rally together in an emotional and physical fight for justice, while accepting the terrible truth that Alfonso is gone and cannot get the chance to meet his father in person. 

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement that aims brings to light the violence and systemic aggression of black people, but with media rarely displaying both sides of everything, it is often difficult to remember that there is more than what we are being shown. There are people driven by fear,  loss, and anger behind this movement, and Tony Medina captures that in this story. 

You are witnessing the raw emotion of these individuals and is nearly impossible to not share the feeling of loss as we see friends and family fight for the wrongful shooting of their son and best friend. The train filled with spirits also is a literal visual of this system aggression traveling through time, repeated act with different people, all with people fighting to stop the violence. Alfonso has become a vessel for this terrible chain of deaths and seeing all these people in one location, puts an even scarier reality as we see just how many have lost their lives to violence through authority figures. It a disturbing yet powerful image, especially when Alfonso is seeing what his death has trigger in his community and even around the world. 

Two of the most impacting character are the two women in Alfonso’s life: his mother, Cynthia, and Danetta. His mother being the transitions of her son throughout his entire lifetime and the being a representation of the mothers who lose their son to police brutality and what it is like to face a system that seems determined to protect the one behind the uniform. Danetta is the love interest of Alfonso in life and death, and represents the youths that are affected by the death of a peer and friend, and in her case, being a witness to the shooting. 

Cynthia had to witness her husband get taken away for something he did not commit, and is once again thrust into a deep ocean of loss and despair over Alfonso’s death. She has been wronged by the system that is supposed to protect her twice and she doesn’t hold back in voicing her anger over the world and calling out the media for showing only what they wish to see, her crying over the loss of a son, when it is more than that, he wasn’t lost, he was taken, and that is something she will not accept. 

Danetta is a witnes to her friend’s murder and it is never unremembered that this is a young woman in high school that is dealing with the loss and is still expected to cram for exams. There is a powerful scene depicted in this panel that shows a sobbing Danetta who is speaking to her classmates as they voice their opinions on if all police are to blame for the continued police brutality against black people. The teacher beautifully explains that not all police can be to blame, but there is absolutely a problem with policing and that was something that needed to be fought against fiercely. It is an extremely emotional tense moment as we see that these are children, not even entered into society as adults, already being thrust into a world of violence and fear. 

This graphic novel is a must-read for adults and young adults alike.

How It Ends

This film is categorized as an action disaster thriller to which I both agree and disagree, considering the fact that despite the film relying heavily on its intensity and suspense, was basically a road trip story following the dullest characters possible amidst a disaster. The plot follows Will (Theo James), lawyer and boyfriend to Samantha (Kat Graham) who is pregnant with his child. Determined to get the blessing of Sam’s parents, Will goes to Chicago where he has a not so friendly encounter with Sam’s father, Tom (Forest Whitaker). Tom and Will have a heated argument which leaves Will debating the prospect of even considering to mention his intentions to marry Samantha. Calling his girlfriend the next day, Will is in the middle of a conversation with her when plot thickens, forcing the conversation to end with Sam expressing fear just as the line cuts off. 

Tom and Will 

Naturally, Will immediately wishes to return to Seattle but at the airport all the flight are canceled with the news reporting that an earthquake has hit the west coast of the U.S. Returning to Tom and his wife’s home, Will informs them of the sudden events and they notice fighter jets passing through. And thus our road trip begins with Tom deciding to get to Sam via car to which he allows Will to tag along. The world is suddenly falling apart with natural disasters and people were quick to steal from each other as Tom and Will are approached by thieves that forces Tom to pull out a gun. Tom, a veteran of the U.S. Marines, gets past security blocking the interstate who informs them that they are on their own as loss of electricity means a loss of communication and support.

They encounter more thieves and criminals which eventually results in Tom fracturing his ribs. Concerned over their run down vehicle, they offer a mechanic they meet two thousand dollars to have her accompany them as their at-hand mechanic in case the car breaks down throughout the trip to which she agrees, because why not, right? Her presence doesn’t last long as she eventually snaps at them, railing her regret for joining them after the constant danger and deaths she has witnessed and leaves them to continue their journey. Tom later dies from his broken ribs, leaving Will to finish alone with him covering Tom and the car with gas and burning it. Seattle is nearly completely disappeared with earthquakes continue every so often, but after finding his apartment, he sees Sam had left him an address where he rushes to reunite with her. 

Will looking over what is left of Seattle. He wears a gas mask as ash rains over the city. 

To my complete shock, Sam was really there when Will arrives and she tells him that Jeremiah, the neighbor, helped her get away during the danger. The two have sexy times later that night and the next day Will notices Jeremiah looking through Will’s car, leaving him suspicious of the man. Jeremiah attempts to kill Will, saying he though Will was dead and believed Sam had a bond with him, but Will was prepared and immediately killed him. Disaster ensues and Will and Sam are last seen driving away from a cloud of fire, the two kiss and say their goodbyes, and as they drive the clouds seem to slow down enough for them to escape. 

I don’t know where to begin with this film, it was story not even Theo James and Forest Whitaker could save. Will and Tom were a means of putting realistic people in a terrifying natural disaster, but all it did was create brief moments of tension that were not enough to keep me completely entertained or even committed to these characters. Ricki, the mechanic was an opportunity to have a character push character development and there definitely were moments of that especially the scene in which Ricki and Will have a heart-to-heart conversation, but it was instantly made awkward with the too long silence they had staring at each other. 

Tom, the paranoid veteran, was Will’s wake up call to harden up if he wishes to make it back to Sam, but the two never appeared to form a relationship until the moments leading up to Tom’s death in which the two laugh over a story involving a drunken boat accident. The moment is honestly very genuine and made me feel for Will when he realizes he must get to Sam alone. Tom presents himself as a man that holds no trust for no one and when he has Will and Ricki with him, he makes it vocal that he doesn’t want to have any interactions with strangers, including friends of Will’s. It isn’t evident what Tom’s relationship was with his wife as he did, after all, easily leave her behind and doesn’t even seem to mention her when he realizes the extent of these natural disasters. 

Tom and Will engaging in conversation before Tom succumbs to internal injury. 

Despite not having much screen time, Jeremiah was a character of interest, mostly for his existence seeming unnecessary in the first place. He gives his own input on what he thinks is happening, explaining his theory that this is all a war based on his knowledge of war simulations that he finds similar to what is happening. Will becomes very hostile hearing this which I assumed was him feeling angered over Jeremiah’s attitude about the subject, but it simply came off as Will getting nasty towards a genuine thought over the situation. Also, Jeremiah has the hots for Sam and takes Will into the woods where he plans to kill him. Gee, now why does that look familiar? Maybe because that is exactly what happens in the Walking Dead! Jeremiah pulled a Shane and it made absolutely no sense, this character had no development and was only noted for having crazy eyes over the fire pit at night. 

The film had its moments that kept me on the edge of my seat and I especially found the cinematography beautiful, but I was disappointed with the overall result of the film and wished it would have so much more with these characters and settings. The ending was a cheap shot as it had me demanding for a sequel just to understand what the hell I just witnessed. I never thought I would want a sequel, knowing full well that I would be in for disappointment. All in all, this film is not something I would recommend to anyone and if a sequel is in future plans, then I will likely watch in the hopes that the ending of this one is made clear. 


Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery

Being a big Harry Potter fan myself, I was among the fans that were extremely excited for the upcoming mobile game, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. With the Pokemon GO craze still going, this announcement had been a highly pumped up one that left us all waiting in anticipation, especially with the constant reminders of the game leading up to its official release.

For the excitement it built up, it didn’t do so well on the day of its release as it turned out to be another play to win game. The storyline is really the only reason I continue to play and by play, I mean I use up the energy points available then leave the game to use up another set of energy points hours later. I would describe the gameplay as a game where you can leave a child being strangled by a Devil’s Snare because you have no more energy points to make an attempt at saving the poor child. But worry not, for in a mere few hours you will have your energy fully restored and you can return to saving them, unless the timer ran out, in that case you must start over the attempt. 

The game allows you to customize your character and offer a variety of accessories and outfits that you unlock throughout the years of the game which you can get with -you guessed it! – gems that cost very real money. With the purchase of gems, you can obtain more energy points, clothing, and accessories. To test out the benefits of purchasing gems, I spent about fifteen dollars on a cauldron of 150 gems. It allowed me to refill my energy points meter three times which added up to about ten minutes of extra gameplay compared to the usual five. In other words, it didn’t do much to make up for the set up of the game and by this point, I hope the story ends up being well worth the weeks I have spent playing this. 

Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery Screenshot

The plot of the game is you are a student entering your first year of Hogwarts and is the sibling of a previous Hogwarts student who disappeared after causing trouble and involving himself in something referred to as the Cursed Vaults, which he was obsessed with up until his disappearance. Determined to unlock the secrets of these vaults and find the answers to your brother’s disappearance, you and allies you make along the way must manage learning spells, riding a broom, and slipping under professors’ radars as you explore the campus and its guarded secrets. 

Having played since its release date of April 25, 2018, I am close to completing the second year of Hogwarts and have gotten through the game by playing in between classes because the waiting for that energy meter is what drives the urge to put the game down completely and delete the app. For the excitement it brought when it was first announced, the results are disappointing. The game has released some updates and seems to provide some opportunities to gain some energy points by encountering ghosts, house elves, or stacking books along hallways, but doesn’t do much with advancing the game. 

Grade: D-