I think we lost an exclamation point somewhere…

Vimanarama #1 (of 3)


I love a good pun (and I adore a bad one), so naturally “Vimanarama” was off to a good start before I’d even opened it. ‘Vimana’ is the term for ancient Indian flying machines, which to the modern eye, superficially resemble flying saucers, although they also came in cylinder-shaped varieties (a bit like the dueling formats of early 20th century sound recording, actually). Supposedly, they were all the rage in the Rama Empire, a sophisticated pre-Christian sprawl with seven grand capitals, established 15,000 years ago in lands today known as India and Pakistan, ruled by wise and powerful priest-kings. Tales are told of immortal superhumans who lived in this place, capable of flight and other wondrous attributes, among the Vimana of Rama. The term ‘Rama’ also applies to a heroic human avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, the preserver of worlds, creating the ultimate in human courage and adherence to spiritual law.

And naturally, you can also take the title in a more modern sense, with the suffix ‘rama’ denoting a crazy whirl of fun, presumably involving Vimanas from this context.

And all of this applies to the latest miniseries by Grant Morrison and Phillip Bond (who’ve also teamed for the 1995 graphic novel “Kill Your Boyfriend” and some of the later issues of “The Invisibles”) . Not only are there plenty of legendary flying machines, but there’s also references to the Seven Cities of Rama, plus the return of a brood of powerful heroes, including Prince Ben Rama, who’s out to not only defeat evil, but to claim the heart of his reincarnated love. Also, it’s a comedy, perhaps straining a bit harder to be Zany! than Morrison’s sense of humor can comfortably handle.

You see, the real lead character thus far is Ali, troubled son of a newsstand owner in contemporary India (EDIT - 3:03 PM: hahahaha no no it looks like it's England, as Rose points out in the comments... I didn't quite get the symbols or uniforms I guess... hey, while we're at it, try to guess which comics blogger has never been west of Texas in his whole life). He has no idea where’s he’s going in life, and he’s experiencing a lot of stress over his recent arranged marriage, to a girl he’s never met. Mostly he says he’s afraid that she’s going to be ugly, but he‘s really bristling at his preordained lot in life, stretching right back to his qualms about his religion. He’s so distracted, that he doesn’t notice folks bursting into what’s not necessarily song and dance, but kind of resembles it; Morrison and Bond seem to be going for a Bollywood quality here, although they’re aware that comics will never be able to handle musical interludes as well as film, so Bond choreographs the action so that the moments we glimpse (frozen in time with the panels) can be taken both as delightful dance moves as well as, say, a volleyball game or public vandalism. It’s amusing, though there’s even subtler bits to be found: Bond has a lot of fun with tiny animals playing around in the background, and I really liked how he handles the characters’ dress. Ali is dressed in entirely fashionable modern garb, while his relatives are clad in varying degrees of ‘traditional’ clothing. Note that the younger kids are usually dressed more modernly than adults. All of Ali’s female relatives are heavily covered (one of them has only her eyes visible through her burka, another is simply wearing a headdress), which naturally makes his inevitable betrothed stand out in her own casual wear.

The dialogue, however, seems a bit more forced than usual for Morrison. There’s a lot of quick, sitcom-type banter, which is maybe supposed to draw out the movie-artificiality of the premise (note that this issue it dubbed ‘Act 1’), but I don’t really like it as much as the quieter, or more absurdist humor that Morrison usually provides. This one feels a bit too much like it’s trying to be funny, which saps the actual effectiveness of the humor (in contrast, I always felt that the humor in “Seaguy”, while no more subtle, felt like it naturally flowed from the book’s ‘world’… this stuff feels like it flows from little more than Grant Morrison at the word processor… but humor is subjective, your mileage may vary). And there’s not all that much more to it at this point; the issue is entirely set-up in a plot sense. Ali locates a hidden world underneath the newsstand, his betrothed shows up and she’s not ugly (one panel depicts her chiding Ali for being superficial while her ass stretches out directly into the foreground; nothing like damning the reader with the authorial eye!) and Ali’s baby cousin (EDIT 2 - 3:03 PM: no, it's his nephew) unleashes the Forces of Darkness and then the Legendary Heroes return and whoops Ali’s wife-to-be is also the Millennia-spanning love of Prince Ben Rama. Damn it.

It’s cute material, pretty smooth entertainment although kinda familiar. We’ll have to see where it goes in the future. Didn’t blow my mind but I seriously doubt you’ll regret buying this. In fact, I recommend you do buy it.

Wild Girl #4 (of 6)

The most fascinating thing about this issue is that J.H. Williams III gets to handle some of the character art as well as vaguely disconnected vignette illustration. His character design for the title heroine is slightly different than dominant artist Shawn McManus’ work, a bit heavier and more elegant in linework (not to bash McManus; his cover for this issue is especially lovely). The resulting dissonance really gives off the impression of entering a new world and becoming a new person, which is what this issue is hitting at, although it could have done it in a less repetitive way.

It doesn’t take a critical dynamo to figure out the structure of “Wild Girl” thus far, with Williams’ interludes highlighting the mythological role of animals throughout epic history. These bits, visions and dreams on the part of the lead character, fall in the middle of the modern-day action, breaking things up. This issue, the Williams material relates directly to the title heroine, bringing the myth of the past into the present. It’ll be interesting to see what Williams does in future issues. The style of his work on this issue moves away from the painterly qualities of prior installments, and into the mix of comics art, painting, and computer effects that got a lot of mileage in the later issues of “Promethea”, with ultra-vivid colors and photo-realist textures. I remain as uncertain about what I think of this style as I was when reading “Promethea”; it's awfully garish, but a skilled type of garish, with a steady hand behind it.

The real problem with this issue, though, it that it’s largely the same as last issue, which basically put the title character through something of a journey to trigger the Williams vision scene, with little pieces of the larger plot moving forward. So it goes here, and the entire series is beginning to show signs of stretching itself beyond the comfort level to hit the magic six-issue spot. A structure is maintained, yes, I have no doubt that writers Leah Moore and John Reppion have thought things through. It doesn’t feel sloppy. But it can’t help but feel overextended, even if in a precise way. Wheels have been spinning for a goodly time now, and the book thus relies more and more on its art team to provide pleasure, and luckily that art team is pleasurable indeed.

So the end of this issue all but shakes your hand and insures you that movement is about to occur. Here’s hoping.