Pullbox Reviews Eight Limbs- A hard-hitting story about fighting, in and out of the ring

When retired Muay Thai champion Joanna Carr takes in and begins training a troubled foster teen, the fight to keep their new family intact turns out to be her greatest challenge yet.

After the devastating loss of her Muay Thai championship title, Joanna decided to walk away from competition, start a family, and open her own gym. But her quiet life gets disrupted when an old friend asks her to temporarily foster a troubled teen. Just as Joanna believes she is starting to break through Mari’s walls, a misunderstanding drives Mari to run away and join an underground fighting ring. Joanna vows to do anything to get Mari back, even if that means stepping back into the ring… When writing powerhouse Stephanie Phillips (Grim, Harley Quinn) and star newcomer Giulia Lalli join forces, it’s sure to be a tag team you won’t forget.

The blood, cuts, bruises, welts… they are symbols of commitment and the effort that we give to this sport. Our bodies are constantly placed under scrutiny, but the choice to participate in Muay Thai and other martial arts allowed me to turn my own body into a site of resistance against the norms that are typically placed on female bodies. The blood represents my choice- my choice to train and build strength, and my choice to step into the ring.

“The bloodied face of a female fighter is beautiful.

“It is strength.

Stephanie Phillips, writer

“Why would you want to ruin your pretty face?”

According to the forward written by Stephanie Phillips, this is a question she gets a lot. Her answer, found in the above quote, is as succinct and profound as anything else I’ve ever seen or heard from a fighter. But that level of profound insight isn’t what drew me to Eight Limbs.

I’m a fan of martial arts movies. I have studied and practiced some over the years. I like to watch MMA and have found a great appreciation for the art of Muay Thai, thanks to some great broadcasts from One Championship. So it was that I stumbled over this book when I was checking out some of the artwork of Giulia Lalli, I saw the title, knew what it referred to, and wanted to check it out (“Eight limbs” refers to the weapons used in Muay Thai: fists, feet, elbows, & knees).

Regarding that artwork, Lalli does a great job of displaying good form in her fight scenes, which isn’t something that seems to come naturally in comics. There’s a tendency in the bigger, more action-driven titles, to take things like physics and body mechanics and toss them out the window (I don’t care how cool Nightwing is, human beings don’t move like that!). Lalli has done some homework and has made the effort to be sure that she’s showing athletes in top form as they go through their paces in a traditional martial art. It’s always fantastic to see a roundhouse kick fully chambered, or a block angled to deflect a blow more than stop it cold. The kind of attention to detail Giulia Lalli shows here is amazing, and the extra work she put in makes her work shine. That dedication continues in the book’s quieter moments, where Lalli displays a lot of skill in showing emotion and personality in the characters’ facial expressions.

As to the story, there are layers for readers to dig into. On the surface, Stephanie Phillips has the requisite teacher trying to help a student in need. Joanna and Mia do not have a smooth relationship at first, but as Phillips moves them along we get an understanding as to why that is, and the bonds formed in the end are earned and satisfying. The average writer could have stopped there and been fine, but Phillips didn’t seem to think “fine” was where she wanted to be.

Her story picks her two main characters apart, breaking them each down to go deeper into the “why” for both of them. Joanna is plagued by self-doubts, in her fight career and as a new mother, and the overwhelming need to help Mia pick herself up. For her part, Mia is a young woman with all the promise in the world who hasn’t had the chance to find a calm center in which to explore what that means. Either story could be compelling in its own right, so it seems a little unfair that Phillips is able to convey them both so well in 120 or so pages.

Readers interested in exploring the mindset of a professional fighter will find some insights here, as will anyone looking for an uplifting story of motivation and redemption. Phillips and Lalli have both put in the work and produced something that goes beyond what is thought of when the subject of “comic books” is brought up. Finding my way into Eight Limbs was just crazy random happenstance, and I’d encourage anyone to follow along.

Final Score: 12/13

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