Upgrade Soul written and illustrated by Ezra Claytan Daniels (e-graphic novel review).

October 26, 2019 | By | Reply More

Originally released in 2012, ‘Upgrade Soul’ has a new, digital app with animations and a soundtrack available from the iOS App Store. I’m sure it’s great but I’m reviewing the normal e-book version because I don’t want to listen to music while I read for the same reason I don’t want someone talking while I’m watching a movie.

The plot follows the aging Hank and Molly Nonnar. He a successful but now irrelevant writer and she a noted but old-fashioned scientist as they get involved in an off-the-books experiment to ‘undo’ aging. Events spiral in unexpected directions and characters are pushed into difficult decisions with no clear right or wrong answers.

Whilst this book deals with some complex, weighty issues it presents everything in a dark and disturbing manner, with only a single main character coming out of it in any way ‘better’ and she has to murder someone completely innocent to get there.

The artist’s style doesn’t help with the bleak tone. He over-details every twisted limb and jutting bone, which along with the sickly, saturated colours gives the comic a faintly queasy edge. There’s very little blood or graphic horror, but I guess you could call it more of a constant nagging feeling of ‘body horror’. I’ve no idea what the aforementioned soundtrack is like but I assume it’s not easy-listening.

The writing does an excellent job of explaining complicated scientific concepts in an approachable way and characters are given enough personality to disguise the heavy doses of exposition they need to deliver. Indeed, characterisation is one of the author’s strong points, with almost everyone given depth beyond their main story role. It’s easy to find yourself caring for the characters despite the decisions they make.

Another of the author’s strengths is quickly sketching out a situation with just a few carefully chosen details. For example, the old-fashioned small town setting is established by the school making a character coach of the basketball team simply because he’s black and tall.

‘Upgrade Soul’s plot is cleverly unveiled in stages, pulling the reader forward with a series of questions. At first, I wanted to know the nature of the experiment, then I became invested in the main characters so they pulled me along. New characters and complications were introduced and I found I needed to see how all of this was going to be resolved. Finally, I wanted to see the repercussions of it all and even just find who was going to survive.

The dense art and weighty concepts make this a book to take your time over and, as mentioned earlier, it raises some interesting questions about morality, scientific progress and the nature of relationships. But that’s balanced against the oppressive art style and generally downbeat tone to give a graphic novel that I’m glad I read but am probably never going to read again. I felt the same way about the new ‘Joker’ film as a point of reference. Powerful and gripping and I’m glad I watched it, but I don’t need to go through that journey a second time.

So, ‘Upgrade Soul’ is a clever, thoughtful and evocative book, but a hard one to love.

Stuart Maine

October 2019

(pub: Lion Forge. 272 pages digital graphic novel. Price: £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-5493-0292-3)

check out website: www.LionForge.com

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Category: Comics, Horror

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