Virgin Spring


Ah, Virgin Comics. Considering their extremely well-known brand, they’ve turned into quite an unpredictable comics outfit. Just the other day came word that Virgin apparently will aid in the development of a graphic novel based on that classic series of ‘90s television specials, Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, which will concern the adventures of a fictional version of the series’ masked magician, who will have adventures and solve crimes, hopefully in a trade secret-revealing manner. This is, of course, the most brilliant non sequitur of a media tie-in comic of the last decade or so.

But that’s not the only odd thing coming out of Virgin. They put out a lot of stuff this week; if you like meat ‘n potatoes violent action, you can certainly do worse than issue #1 of Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper. Don't get too caught up on Ritchie; Andy Diggle is actually the writer, and artist Mukesh Singh has apparently mistaken the filmmaker for Dario Argento, since much of the art is awash in solid, glowing colors straight out of Susperia. But it’s a nice little set-up of an issue that really only doles out just enough background to dive into the throat-slitting.

This, on the other hand, is something completely different. It’s what I suppose resembles a Prestige Format book, in that it’s 64-pages and handsomely bound, although there’s house ads lightly interspersed with the story (and it’s only $4.99). More than that, it’s very loud, nasty, garish, clumsy, bloody, and altogether weird. At its best it seems like some lost, politicized post-underground horror title. At its worst, it seems like something out of the lower end of Avatar’s horror line, only with some of the gore replaced with extra international anxiety. Did I mention it’s also a semi-incoherent allegorical update of the myth of Raktavīja, the blood demon defeated by Hindu goddess Kali?

Virulents is/was actually the, er, virgin installment of something that was at one point called The Asura Analogues, which was to be (or possibly still is) a group heading for a number of projects presenting unique takes on the titular demons of Hindu and Buddhist myth as repositioned for a contemporary global audience. That particular banner is nowhere to be seen on the book as printed, so maybe they’ve canned the whole idea, or decided that the individual projects would be better off on their own. But that only tells you half the story - set in the months immediately following 9/11, the plot sees two groups of soldiers, one American and one Indian, run into each other along the Pakistani/Afghani border. One group is searching for a lost comrade. The other is searching for a rogue nuclear device. They really don’t like each other all that much, and yell and yell and yell a whole lot. Sample dialogue:

Isn’t it ironic that you’re at war with a bunch of men you armed and trained? Your 9/11 means nothing to us.”

Watch your mouth, raghead, like I said, your turban, their turban -- all the same to me.”

And so on, including several exciting uses for the term ‘cunt’ in Indian. Unfortunately, woodenly-scripted terrorists (they only ever seem to discuss their own religious extremism) have accidentally freed the vampire-like evil of something analogous to Raktavīja whilst fleeing to the caves, and now terrorist and soldier alike are being devoured and converted by all-consuming evil, and everyone must set aside their differences to combat a threat that overrides any current human war.

I certainly get the feeling this is all supposed to be saying something about These Current Times We Live In, but I’ll be damned if I can divine a coherent message from all the jumbled mayhem that goes on in here. I actually do like writer Shamik Dasgupta’s arch, quasi-mythical writing on Virgin’s Ramayan 3392 AD, but he seems way out of his element in attempting to handle rough, ‘modern’ dialogue - characters mainly just screech platitudes and insults at one another until the monsters show up. Artist Dean Ruben Hyrapiet offers plenty of stiff poses and awkward expressions, although his work does perk up to goopy, gut-spattered life once the blood starts flowing, the visual storytelling taking a backseat to vivid feeling.

That’s the curious thing about Virulents - it’s kind of a terrible book, but it’s an off-kilter, let’s-follow-our-vision-no-matter-what sort of terrible that I wouldn’t have expected from a tie-in/famous names happy comics line with the Virgin brand attached. I really don’t think that kind of aesthetic is going to ‘save’ the book for those not up for a load of blood and gore and politicized screaming, but the nervous energy behind it bumped it up a point or two for me. Someday, it will be the kind of thing you pluck out of a dollar bin, only to marvel over the curiosity of it.

I don’t think Virgin’s published anything I’d call great, but its choices are weird and unpredictable enough that it prompts a tiny, baffled leeway, and I find myself oddly pleased by its presence.

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