Three books to discuss this week, bound by themes of heroism and the divine...
by Grant Morrison and Jeevan Kang
This is kind of a curious project. It was originally conceived as an animated series offering a sci-fi fantasy take on the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. As far as I know, that version of the project never materialized. But an illustrated script book was released about five years ago, featuring a brief series bible, scripts for the first three episodes, and lavish artwork from Mukesh Singh. Then it sank back beneath the waves for a while, until a series of motion comics hit YouTube last year. Those were... less than satisfying.
Limited animation and bad acting combine to make them rather unwatchable for me. But, hey. They must have a following, because they're still running. Episode 92 (!) went up last week. I didn't make it past five. But to each his own, I suppose.
Of course, the same could be said of me. Because now, we have 18 Days the comic, which is far more to my taste. The artist is the same guy whose work is the basis of the motion comic: Jeevan Kang. While his work's not as lush as Singh's stuff on the script book...
...Kang's clean cartoon lines and ability to combine Indian iconography with Kirbyesque design fit the story like a glove.
And the story itself? That's pretty good, too. The Mahabharata is about... Well, it's about everything, really. There's an old saying that goes, “If it's not in the Mahabharata, it's nowhere.” But the heart of it, what it builds to, is the story of two families fighting a war whose roots go far back into the past, and whose implications echo far into the future. So Morrison, being Morrison, decides to start his version with a history of the universe, from its birth to its death, and what lies beyond that. The whole cycle of existence, echoing down from the largest possible cosmic scale to the humblest of human lifespans.
And that's just the first half of the issue. The rest is devoted to introducing characters. But starting where he did, their lives have been given the proper weight. These are mythic figures whose actions change the course of history. They deserve that kind of build-up. I won't go into detail on who's who and what's what. All you need to know for now (in fact, all Morrison gives us in this first issue) is that the conflict is between the troubled, heroic Pandavas (pictured on the cover above) and the indignant, villainous Kauravas (pictured right here):
(click to embiggen)
Why are the heroes troubled and the villains upset? Well, that goes into the complicated background to the battle, something that (assuming Morrison follows his stated intentions from the script book) we'll discover in flashbacks later on.
Thus far, though, it's fun stuff. A bit melodramatic, certainly. Some of the dialogue is ludicrously over-heated, like something out of a Republic serial, or a kung fu movie. Taken in its grand, epic context, though, that stuff's a hoot. So I can't help but cackle a bit when Kaurava leader Duryodhana tells the Unbeatable Drona (trainer of the Pandava super-warriors), “You taught them well. I hope you taught them to die.” HEH. That's the whole point here, after all: to present this complex and deeply spiritual story in trappings pulpy enough to appeal to the mass audience.
So far, it's working pretty well for me. And with this first issue priced at only a dollar, why not to give it a shot? Even if you hate it... You're only out a buck.
The Wicked + The Divine 12
by Kieron Gillen and Kate Brown
So it's been a full month since (SPOILER!) Kieron Gillen killed off his main character in truly spectacular fashion. How's the book holding up? Eh... Okay, I guess. From a dramatic standpoint, I'm still interested in the story he's telling. But I have no emotional investment in it anymore. He's not left me with very many characters I find all that interesting. And that's a problem.
It doesn't help that we're starting off a six-issue run drawn by guest artists. A lot of this book's appeal is the unique alchemy of the Kieron Gillen / Jamie McKelvie team. They're like Lennon & McCartney: their work together is far better than their work apart. So WicDiv
without McKelvie is like... I dunno. It's like Wings, I guess. It ain't awful, but it ain't the Beatles, either.
Of course, it also doesn't help that I'm not fond of initial guest artist Kate Brown. Again, her work's far from awful. She's got solid basics, and she pulls off a few very nice page layouts in this issue. But her stuff's just not to my taste. There's a heavy manga influence on it, which isn't intrinsically a bad thing. It's just that the manga stuff she's picked up is the stuff I don't much care for. So even when she turns in an obviously great page, I don't respond to it very well.
(It's the faces.)
So, anyway. There's a big god-fight this issue, and that's kinda cool. But, all things considered, I found it hard to care. Maybe we'll do better next issue, when Tula Lotay guests on art. I like her stuff quite a lot, so that may make all the difference.
And our last book deals in imagery that's a little Not Safe For Work, as they say, so once I tell you what it is, the review will continue... after the jump.
by James Robinson and Greg Hinkle
I was going to say that this second issue's not as shocking as the first. But in retrospect, I think that's only because the first issue had the shock of the new going for it, while I opened this one expecting more of the same. Because, honestly... In spite of all the drugs and penises and double-teaming of bar girls going on in that first issue, none of it really beats this issue's shot of simultaneous bathroom stall transvestite blow jobs:
Of course, it’s not all about illicit sex acts. The series is heading more or less where I suspected it might: it’s about the juxtaposition between the bleak hedonism of Robinson’s life and the meaningful danger of Airboy’s. It has an odd connection to 18 Days in that respect: that book is all about larger-than-life heroes fighting a larger-than-life war that results in the birth of a fallen world (ours). This one’s about the larger-than-life hero of a different larger-than-life war coming face to face with the fallen world that’s risen from the ashes of his own conflict. At least the Pandavas never had to actually face the world they never made. Airboy’s not as lucky.
(click to embiggen the outrage!)
Heh. Now, for all the sensational hilarity of that scene, I suppose I should deal with the controversy it’s caused. Robinson’s caught flak for this story element, with some calling the story transphobic. He’s apologized for any offense, but I’m going to defend him on that front. Yes, he uses the term “trannies” (which is why it’s also in my title). And yes, Airboy’s clearly not very happy to discover that his liaison was actually with someone who had a penis. But to take offense at that, I think you’d have to take it out of context. Here’s the full page. Airboy’s clearly the butt of the joke. But what I really want you to pay attention to is the final panel:
(click to embiggen)
“It doesn’t matter. I thought she was beautiful.”
That’s lovely. And far from transphobic.
Of course, while his hook-up’s gender identity isn’t a hang-up for Robinson, the hook-up itself is part of his empty hedonism. This is a married man we’re dealing with here, after all, out on a two-day bender in which he’s had sex with two different people who weren’t his wife. He’s rudderless. Lost. And filling the void in his life with meaningless thrills. He knows it’s sleazy and wrong, but he doesn’t know what else to do. Then along comes Airboy to put Robinson’s existential despair into stark relief. He criticizes the emptiness of it all, railing against the meaninglessness of modern life in a way that Robinson himself can’t quite bring himself to do. He’s a mid-life crisis made flesh.
I was going to end the review there, but then I realized that I hadn’t praised Greg Hinkle’s artwork yet, and that would be criminal. This is beautiful stuff. Great, lush, heavily-detailed cartooning that’s every bit as much responsible for the book’s appeal as Robinson’s hysterical and painfully confessional script.