Ravana Libre : Abhimanyu Singh Sisodia – “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King”

“Oh, never star/ Was lost here, but it rose afar!/ Look East, where whole new thousands are!/ In Vishnu-land what Avatar?

-Robert Browning, “Waring.”

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Campfire Comics is a New Delhi publisher that takes a “Classics Illustrated”-like approach to canonical tales both Western and Eastern (Tom Sawyer! Oliver Twist! Zeus! Krishna!). On the Eastern side, we get “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King,” (written by Abhimanyu Singh Sisodia and digitally painted by Sachin Nagar). Born from a literally unholy marriage of the Brahmanic and the Demonic, Ravana is one of the more villainous troublemakers in the Hindu pantheon. 

Being largely unfamiliar with Hindu religion, I enjoyed “Ravana,” which re-tells one of the gnarliest stories from the “Ramayana,” and does its best to redeem, or at least justify, the ways of this Luciferian character. Lucifer had one God to contend with. This being Hinduism, there are a lot of gods to defy.

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Born innocently enough as Dashananda; a student of the four Vedas and six Upanishads which were to earn him a ten-headed representation; a master of the veena, (a  fattish proto-zither); and a warrior in the kshatriya tradition, Ravana the Roaring One starts well enough in life. But his training gets pretty grizzly when in an attempt to summon/piss off Brahma (the ultimate Creator), Ravana  cuts off his own head.

Kids, do NOT try this at home.

The religious logic of summoning the Creator through self-beheading escapes me, but Brahma simply makes it so Ravana’s head grow right back. So an angry Ravana cuts it off again. This happens NINE TIMES until Brahma gets tired of the bloodshed and finally puts in an appearance on the tenth beheading.

The 10 heads are similar to the 7 Christian deadly sins, so symoblically kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), madha (arrogance), matsarya (jealousy), manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), chitta (consciousness) and ahamkara (ego).

ravana3suppose that a demon who is willing to cut off its sinful tendencies so persistently is bound to please Brahma, so the Big Guy grants Ravana a potion for immortality, (that goes right into Ravana’s navel, tucked nice and safe), gives him a book with all sorts of witchy spells, and sets on him on his way to do horrible things like kidnap the beautiful Sita, which is a major faux pas given that Sita is already married to Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, one of the BIG THREE along with Brahma and Shiva. Eventually, all of Ravana’s peccadilloes add up, and Rama shoots him down with a  magical bolt, since head-chopping doesn’t work on Ravana.

Overall, this has worked as enough of an appetizer as I hope to expand my knowledge of the canon beyond the West. I’m currently reading “The Tale of Genji” and hope to go on the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Jataka and the Four (or six, depending who you ask) Chinese Classics. All these have been absent too long from my education!

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Assorted Graphic Frenchness

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“Deadline” is an Ante-Bellum / Bellum/ Post-Bellum revenge western that deals with the many ways racism’s razor cuts across America. Our white Union hero surprises himself by falling in love with a black man while they’re both interned in a Confederate prison camp. What leads to this, and the repercussions, would make for one of those great Westerns that are no longer being made. I usually hate foreign criticism of another country’s past. (No one needs an American comic criticizing France’s involvement with Vietnam.) But this is a well done story, can’t argue with it. (Bollee / Rossi)

lydieThe graphic novel “Lydie” puts some cutesy Disney-animation knowledge to a tale of an infant’s death, and the residents of “Mustachioed Baby Alley” who decides to play along with a grieving mother’s delusion, because “Why be cruel when it is so easy to be kind?” Tear-jerker. (By Zirdou and Jordi LaFebre)

snowL’Hermenier and Looky do a Dutch “Snow White” that is faithful to the Grimmness, give or take a cannibal dwarf.

“The Firefighters” (Cazenove and Stedo). French humor for these waterboys, but nothing to raise alarms.pompiers

 

 

 

 

 

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Silver-fox spy Bruno Brazil is a pure product of the “Mission: Impossible”/ “James Bond” 60s. (He even looks like Robert Graves). Well-written, and well-drawn in classic strip mode by William Vance, best known as the creator of XIII.

bruce Vance’s “Bruce J. Hawker” begins as a too-well-researched C. S. Forester sort of nautical adventure, with Hawker as another silver-fox, (although presumably his well-attached powdered wig is to blame, since he’s supposed to be 20). In command of the H.M.S. Lark, Hawker has a mission to transport a secret weapon through the Cape of Gibraltar- this being 1800, the British are at war with the French and the Spaniards, and the Spanish Armada, represented by the Santisima Trinidad, intercepts Hawker’s ship. Surprisingly, all of Hawker’s heroic maneuvers fail, the Lark is destroyed, and the survivors captured and tortured. Will good old Bruce ever return to his fiancee? To Be Continued!

Back in the Day : Mark Millar – “The Ultimates” (2002)

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Earth 1610. Not the year 1610. The Ultimate Dimension 1610. The year is 1945. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, plunges into the Arctic waters after de-routing a Nazi rocket aimed for Washington. Cut to 2002, New York. General Nick Fury recruits morning-drinking, Maxim-girl courting Tony Stark, newly-in-control Bruce Banner, and Mr. and Mrs. Pym (Giant-Man and the Wasp), to form the ULTIMATE superhero team. And hey, maybe that Thor guy over in Europe can help? Together, they will provide the blueprint for Joss Whedon’s smash hit “The Avengers,” while defeating the Chitauri menace, (the Chitauri are reptilian aliens that caused the rise of National Socialism, if you must know.)

What holds up in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run are the funny bits, such as Nick Fury’s prophetic conviction that only Mr. Samuel L. Jackson should play him in a screen version of the story. Tony Stark errs in aiming for Johnny Depp (although Robert Downey Jr. does get name-dropped.) The Wasp (of Asian descent in this version) complains that they’ll probably cast her as Lucy Liu even though they look nothing alike, but hey, ain’t that Hollywood. As for wimpy, neurotic Bruce Banner, casting suggestions include: “Woody Allen if he dropped a few pounds? That Stuart Little mouse that Geena Davis adopted? Steve Buscemi?” Overhearing this talk, poor Bruce runs out and transforming into the Hulk, howling: “HULK WANTS FREDDIE PRINZE JR!”

Which is funny.

Less funny? A bizarre marital conflict story-line that sees things escalate into what has to be one of the first cases of superhero-on-super-heroine domestic violence. Watching Gigantic, emasculated Hank Pym attack his poor wife (“You shouldn’t have made me seem small”) has to be one of the cruelest moments in Marvel history.

And when Captain America white knights his way into beating the shit out of the wife-beater? Nope, that doesn’t feel right either. These Ultimates are Ultimate assholes. Working close to ‘Watchmen” territory, Mark Millar made a tense, gritty epic that would reverberate.

(Currently re-reading a lot of the Ultimate Universe, which was really my introduction to Marvel in the 2000s)

 

Cool Hand, Warm Gun : Rene Goscinny, Morris – “Lucky Luke”

“I am a lonesome cowboy, I’m a long long way from home.”

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“Lucky Luke,” some 60 + adventures into his journey, is second only to “Asterix” in my Franco-Belgian BD catalogue (I suppose Spirou and Fantasio are a close third). Belgian cartoonist Morris created ‘Lucky Luke’ in post-war France and eventually hooked up with Rene Goscinny (the sprightly, witty writer of ‘Asterix’ with Albert Uderzo, and of “Iznogoud” with Jean Tabary). The saga is one of Western tropes through French binoculars, (call it the baguette Western) but has some actual historical worth to it, plus more jokes than your average John Wayne oater.

Lucky Luke is a purely Mediterranean character, olive-skinned, cigarette dangling, (surgeon general be damned). He has been disrupted  from his siesta into showing loco Americans how not to kill each other over fool’s gold prospects. Accompanied by his trusty stallion, Jolly Stomper, as well as clueless Rin Tin Can, (the Inspector Closeau of the canine kingdom), Lucky Luke meets all the Wild West greats in non-flattering encounters: petulant Billy the Kid; the Daltons (same face, different heights); a Robin Hoodian Jesse James; Frank James, as Shakespeare-quoter; easy-going Calamity Jane; and prank-loving dimwit Cole Younger.

There is so much to explore in this great masterful series, I simply can not recommend it enough. The Cinebooks edition do a great job of translating the French puns, or figuring out alternate English jokes. “Lucky Luke” should not be missing in any library of the world’s iconic comics.

RATING: MASTERPIECE!

This Is Why Superheroes Can’t Have Nice Things: Tom Taylor – “Injustice: Gods Among Us” (Year 1)

The sweetest sound Superman has ever heard is the double heart beat of Lois Lane (and their baby inside Lois). The oddest sound Batman has ever heard is that of a quiet, crime-less Gotham. But neither of those moments come void of tragedy. They open the “1st Year” of Tom Taylor’s “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” a prequel to a popular video-game that keeps the “WHOA!” factor at almost too high a level. Maybe I haven’t read enough recent mainstream comics? This might be a bold bet, but I bet you there is no better book out with the words “From the Creators of ‘Mortal Kombat'” stamped on its cover.

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SPOILERS GALORE: So Joker steals Lois, and tricks Superman into killing her AND triggering the destruction of Metropolis, (no worries, nothing profitable ever really dies in comic book land). But when an angry Superman seeks revenge on the Joker, the Green Lantern tries to mellow Supes out, while Batman meekly listens to the Joker’s 10,000th speech. How much can Batman and the Justice League coddle the Joker? He just killed 11 million people in one minute! I feel like pretty much anybody in the DC Comics Universe could kill the Joker and get a medal. What jury of peers would say anything other than: “He kinda had it coming since 1940?” So Superman kills Joker, and… good for him???

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Anyway, fearing Superman will kill not only the Joker but also Harley Quinn, Green Arrow takes Harley to his Arrow Cave (Did you guys know about this Arrow Cave? As Harley points out, it’s a dumb name. “Arrows don’t live in caves, they’re inanimate objects. Why not call it the Quiver?” GA concedes that would be an improvement.)

Meanwhile, an outraged Superman vows to end ALL the wars (and with Wonder Woman’s help pretty much reduces Ares, God of War to the less intimidating role of “God of Ponies.”) Only Batman foresees the dark path that lies ahead. If Superman opposes the shady dealings of all the armies and governments of the world, it’s only natural that he’ll have to replace them with SOMETHING. Superman must become King of the World Might not Aquaman make a bid for King of the Sea? Not if Superman can help it, which is how the Man of Steel throws Atlantis in the middle of the Sahara. ATLANTIS IN THE SAHARA. If DC movies bothered to be a tenth as inventive as even the run-of-the-mill DC books, fans wouldn’t have to spend the year griping about how they wasted their money on Zack Snyder’s ” Justice League vs. Suicide Squad: Day of Reckoning Reboot” or whatever is waiting around the bend. “Wonder Woman” is also much more complex and interesting than the Perfect icon of Feminism movies proposed in movie form. Here, she manipulates Superman down a bad path because she BELIEVES in him- she lacks the innate cynicism of Batman. Her behavior is not wondrous, but it’s human!

“Injustice” makes a surprisingly deep statement on how reactionary behavior leads to absolutism and tyranny even in well meaning people. I highly enjoyed this series, it drew me back to DC Comics, and hey, when Batman gets outed via Twitter, you can’t get more modern than that!

RATING: COOL!