Everything is Reborn

*Confusion Dept: Ok ok... wait. Some of us (like me) had a lot of difficulty with this topic the last time it came up, but now the ground has shifted again - according to DC’s solicitations, next week’s issue of Batman (#659) is now going to be the first issue of the four-part fill-in storyline, and writer Grant Morrison will be back in issue #663 with Andy Kubert doing the art, even though there was supposed to be an issue in the interim with Morrison’s script and another artist, which I guess isn’t happening now. Certainly I’m without a clue as to what’s actually going on, so I’ve elected to blame everything on 52 from this moment forth, regardless of evidence. GOD DAMN YOU, 52!!

Actually, if Dan DiDio is to be believed in his print column this week, the writing team is only seven scripts away from polishing off the entire project, so I don’t even have this excuse to lean on.

*So I read the new issue of Garth Ennis’ John Woo’s 7 Brothers, and it was determinedly mediocre. It’s devoted almost entirely to backstory (some of which is inadvertently revealed in the inside front cover’s summary of last issue), with the series’ real villain eventually introduced to kill off last issue’s fake villains. Characters sit around and express disbelief at what’s happening, only to eventually come around, as they always do in this sort of thing. It’s wholly inoffensive and sleepy. I’d have had no idea Ennis was scripting had I not known ahead of time. Dull.

On the other hand, I’ve found myself oddly intrigued by another one of Virgin Comics’ current ongoing series, Ramayan 3392 A.D. (aka Ramayan Reborn, an earlier title that can still be glimpsed on Virgin’s website). It’s a comics update of the Ramayana, ancient Indian literary epic and Hindu text concerning the journeys of Rama, only set in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting in the manner of a fanciful myth-powered Heavy Metal serial. And it’s compelling in that way, though I can’t even elucidate much of particular excellence regarding the visual or textual component - writer Shamik Dasgupta does decent work with feeding the ancient tale into modern sci-fi action style (despite the deployment of constant footnotes explaining specialized terms to the reader) and artist Abhishek Singh manages some very attractive panoramas of glowing warfare and jut-edged doom (with appropriately downcast, painterly colors by Ashwin Chikerur). I just can’t place my finger on anything that blows me out of my seat.

And yet, I find myself interested. Maybe there’s just something to be said for a sturdy, attractive dip into ancient stories, sugared and smoothed as it might be to relate to the contemporary audience that creators Deepak Chopra & Shekhar Kapur have targeted (neither creator seems to have taken a direct creative role). I don’t know. But it’s a book that’s caught my attention.

Seven Sons

Of course, you don’t need to look to Virgin for reincarnations of classic tales. For example, AiT/Planet Lar recently released this $12.95, 120 page b&w graphic novel from Alexander Grecian and Riley Rossmo, presenting once again the classic tale of the Skillful Brothers or the Clever Brothers or whatever... you’ve heard of it. There’s a bunch of siblings, they all look alike, and each has a special power. One gets in trouble, and the others systematically take his spot so that any means of execution the authorities can think of fortuitously happens to prove ineffective. It’s the sort of primal tale that has a way of slip-sliding across cultures and times, easily taking on new attributes as it makes it way to each fresh environment.

This one takes on a slightly more action-oriented stance, moving the whole works to the Old West of 19th century California and positioning the titular brothers as Chinese immigrants caught up in a wave of hate following the accidental death of children in a local river. As such, it’s impossible not to read a certain racial tension into proceedings (though Grecian and Rossmo are subtler than average on that point), and perhaps a hint of uncertainty about the literal transferral of another people’s legend into the storyteller’s home environ.

As if to beg the question, there’s also a framing sequence involving a young graffiti artist literally hearing the tale from an elderly bookstore owner in a present-day city, though the resolution of that wing of the book is less indistinct; it will come as little surprise to discover that stories are made for retelling and art thrives on outside influences, but it’s a thoughtful enough addition.

Mostly, this is a very nice collection of visuals set toward embodying a number of primal themes about grief and fidelity and acceptance, and unfettered vengeance. There’s some truly impressive set pieces in here, sooty inks and curling lines wrapping themselves into smoke and destruction, and the rending might of fate that runs through so many old, passed-down stories of this type. If you’ve heard it all before, at least it’s an energetic rendition in its blood, thunder, etc.

Also included is a nice ten-page essay in which Grecian details exactly which versions of the tale he mixed and matched elements of the comic from, with a little talk on the tale’s penetration of culture and art in the English-speaking world, thus rendering it partially an extension of the book’s own themes. It’s a good little package, assembled with some thought, though it’s the visual element that’ll attract and capture much attention, I expect.