Monday, September 11, 2006

VIMANARAMA Vertigo Comics, 2005

I’m not a dumb guy.

I mean, I’m not a genius or anything, but I like to think of myself as moderately but unspectacularly intelligent. I went to college, I read history books, I’m curious about the world and shit like that. So I don’t consider myself dumb. Even when I bend/break grammatical rules. Like this.

In my experience, knowledge is humbling. The more you learn about something the more you realize how much you don’t know and how there are people out there who are way, way smarter than you are and will always be way, way smarter than you are.

Grant Morrisson is one of those people. Damn that guy. Whenever I read his stuff I get the nagging feeling that I am appreciating his writing on only the most superficial level. If I were better versed in comparative mythology or existentialism or theater of the absurd or particle physics, perhaps then I would be able to explain Seaguy, for instance.

Take Vimanarama. I picked up the trade collection of this 3-issue Vertigo series from Morrisson and artist Phillip Bond and I really, really enjoyed it. But do I get it? And how would I know if I did get it?

Vimanarama is a comic book about family obligation, sacrifice, true love, responsibility, and giant god-like beings with ancient flying saucers who fuck shit up big time. Ali is a young Pakistani Brit who lives in Bradford, England who lives in a world that he has very little control over. He is the underappreciated go-to guy for his large Muslim family, expected to fix whatever problems arise. Ali is also expected to marry a girl that he has never met, which causes him great stress. “I’m going to hang myself is she’s ugly!” he declares melodramatically.

Ali’s control over his life doesn’t exactly increase when he discovers a vast subterranean realm under his father’s corner store. While searching for his errant nephew in the weird underground realm Ali meets Sofia, his wife-to-be, and a race of demonic beings from ancient Atlantis who are up to no damn good.

Fortunately, Ali and Sofia also release the Ultra-Hadeen, a group of super-powered Hindu demigods from ancient India/Pakistan led by Prince Ben Rama. They are shocked by the sad state of things and intend to save the world from the Atlanteans and ourselves.

Unfortunately for Ali, Prince Ben Rama is in love with Sofia, who is his destiny, the Mina to his Vlad. How do you compete against a demigod?

That’s the basic set-up. Vimanarama is presented in a light-hearted and snappy way in both writing and art. Tonally it lies somewhere between a teen romance movie, a Bollywood musical, and an alien invasion epic.

The bad guys, led by Ull-Shattan, are like Hindu demons by way of Jack Kirby. They rampage and murder their way across the U.K. in glowing vimana spaceships because, well, they are “cruel to the weak.” I’m not sure the book needed a panel of Ull-Shattan making a naked member of Parliament kiss a severed head, but it does establish how evil they are.

He is going to make that dude KISS THE SEVERED HEAD!!!

Phillip Bond’s artwork in Vimanarama is incredible. He’s equally capable of drawing the streets of Bradford as he is of drawing rampaging Kirby demons. His work is cartoony but not comical – Vimanarama looks and feels like the pop fantasy that it is. In the transcendental sequences of the story, Bond’s design chops are really evident:


For my money, the best shot in the book is a bitchin’ double-page spread near the beginning of Ali riding his bike down a rainy street while a Bollywood-style musical number unfurls in the background behind him. It perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the story and fills me with comic book love.

Sorry about the crappy scan, but come on! How cool is that shit? Doesn’t that make you smile a little, or has your heart grown cold and hardened against the charm of spontaneous musical numbers in the street?

Vimanarama may sound like an off-beat but somewhat straight-forward story, and it is. It’s not perfect – sometimes the book’s whimsy seems forced, but for the most part, Vimanarama is a compelling comic confection.*

But do I get it? I have this nagging feeling that I’m just looking at Vimanarama on a superficial level, that there are people out there who think it’s a touching commentary on the nature of free will, or a subtextual meditation on Being, or some other deep shit. I am not one of those people and it is bugging me! I want to grab Vimanarama and shake out all the secrets that it holds!

The title, for instance: Vimana are trippy magical Hindu flying machines, sort of proto-flying saucers. Rama is the name of an ancient culture in northern India and Pakistan as well as Prince Ben’s last name. Hence, the title could mean “magical flying machine of an ancient Hindu culture.” Or it could mean “magical flying machine of the demigod.” Or it could mean “a jubilant overabundance of magical flying machines” if we choose to read –rama as a suffix similar to –palooza.

You see what I mean? That’s just the fucking title. For all I know, the love story in Vimanarama between Ali and Sofia is a gender-reversed modern interpretation of an archetypal romance from ancient Vedic texts and I am just not well read enough to realize it. Ull-Shattan probably represents self-doubt and is based on some Zoroastrian demon worshipped by Aleister Crowley, while the Ultra-Hadeen represent the virtues of man. I’m still reeling from that last issue of Alan Moore’s Promethea, my mind isn’t up to the challenge of decoding Morrisson. I’m going to have to have my wife read it and explain the Secret Metaphor to me.

Having said all that in a hopefully tongue-in-cheek manner, I can heartily recommend Vimanarama to just about anybody that can make it past the one kissing-the-severed-head scene. It’s an enjoyable read on any level.

*Ouch! Minus ten points for an awfully awkward alliteration.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looks like the good stuff. Read it I must, conditions permitting and [i]inshallah[/i] and all that.

And Mr. Campbell, take comfort in the fact that you realized there may be more to the book [i]at all[/i]. A possibly surprising number of folks don't get that far.

Not that I have any clue what else it may be about...

Anonymous said...

Heck, I don't even know how to keep Tags straight these days.

Anonymous said...

Shiva H. Vishnu, Philip Bond can draw, can't he? I spent a lot of time just looking at the detail in Bond's backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

Vimanarama was great... for the first two issues. Issue 3 lost me because I lost my own father to suicide, so that whole part of it really threw me off and depressed me. I can't fault the art or storytelling otherwise, though.

Anonymous said...

Well, Dave, at least you got a stylin' new "The Pain!" graphic out of it. That would almost be worth kissing a severed head right there. As long as it wasn't, you know, too severed.

(The triangle thingies, chawunky, use the triangle thingies and ye shall triumph over non-italicization. Greater than, less than, whatever they're called. These: <>)

I haven't read Vimanarama, but that won't stop me from speculating that it's an allegorical representation of the song "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama. Or maybe "Venus", I don't know. It sounds like a hoot, though. Kirbyesque demons destroying stuff? Woohoo! And that line about "Good thing I brought my Dad's hammer" is classic.

Anonymous said...

Rama is also the name of the 7th incarnation of Vishnu, aka the lead hero of The Ramayana the lead characters of which are what The Ultra-Hadeen seem to be loosely based on.

I loved this mini, though there's alot there that I'm not entirely sure I got either in my first or 2nd reads of it. The most I've gotten for metaphors so far are "young man finds purpose and happyness via shamanic deconstruction and spiritual conversion" and "young man finds purpose and happyness by escaping his parent's shadow and making his own decision". Both seem like simplifications though.

The art was really kick-ass though, my personal favorite sequences being the arrival of The Ultra-Hadeen and Ali's deconstruction (his body being turned into words that represented the parts).

Anonymous said...

My theory is that a good comic book should appeal to you on a universal level, and you shouldn't be forced to feel inadequate and inferior unless you are well-versed in Hindu mythology.

I mean, I could have written this entire post in tagalog and just because you didn't understand it wouldn't make me brilliant or smarter than you. It would just mean that I grew up in the Philippines.

You don't understand Seaguy? Well, maybe that's not your fault. Maybe Grant Morrison should learn to a less opaque narrative.

Anonymous said...

"KISS THE SEVERED HEAD!!!"

This will be my new battle cry. And if I cannot find a battle in which to cry it, it will at the very least become my personal slogan. It almost sounds dirty.

Almost ...

Anonymous said...

Holy Major Coincidence, Batman!

(really have to stop watching that Superfriends DVD on a loop, sorry)

I just read Vimanarama this weekend! And had pretty much the same reaction.

And then I read his Skrull Kill Krew, which stopped me shouting "Grant Morrison can do no wrong!" for a minute.

Trent Jensen said...

Weird! I just picked up the trade last week, too!

Also, to be fair to Seaguy, it is only half-way completed. A lot of things don't make complete sense from the middle.

Anonymous said...

I read Seaguy and liked it a lot. (which doesn't mean that I understood every reference) I dropped Vimanarama after the first issue. Actually, I have quite a collection of Grant Morrison penned first issues and not much else after. The art was certainly fabulous.

I think Morrison's quite a smart guy and well read...but people might be looking for more than there is his stories. They seem to scream their references more than being enriched by them...

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Mr. Sexington--my trouble is flipping back and forth between blogs and BBSes. My bracket toggle fails to click over.

Alas.

The League said...

I'm not sure I buy that a writer should write down to the average comic reader/ write to the "universal" level. There are enough homogenized comics as a dierct product of comics meeting but refusing to exceed reader expectation. Instead of the endless recycled references to Greek/Roman and Norse mythology, Vimanarama manages to tap into a mythology most westerners (and especially Americans) are not exposed to.

If Morrison is successful, it isn't because he lifts and drops references. In this case he did write a complete narrative. Whether the reader choses to go to their local library and do more reading as a follow up is irrelevant to the success of the story in this case.

It's a shame if a reader feels inadequate rather than challenged by a comic that brings something new to the page. Isn't enrichment supposed to be part of the experience of reading?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Dave really felt inadequate, it seems like he was being tongue-in-cheek

Anonymous said...

At least with the Internet a lot of that background information is right at our fingertips. I haven't read this series yet either, but it made me curious enough to Wiki "vimana" and get an overview. (Check out the legends of the Nine Unknown Men if you do the same thing--that's some good secret society stuff there.) So a book that I haven't even read yet helped me learn some new things, which as the league said is part of the point. I'll tell you, between the easy access to information and the porn, it's a wonder I ever leave the house.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this book was fun. It was easier to follow than Milligan and McCarthy's ROGAN GOSH (as much as I loved it, most of that book went way over my head.)

Mob said...

I love Bond's art, and I have to say I really admire Morrison's writing, because it does stand up to multiple re-readings, with small details becoming more apparent as you get used to the way his writing flows.

The League said...

I think I followed what Dave meant as far as feeling inadequate. Honestly, my reaction is pretty much the same as Dave's when it comes to Morrison's writing. I was more or less responding to some other reader's comments.

Anonymous said...

I, too, believe I am "moderately but unspectacularly intelligent," and in this case, it simply doesn't suffice.

You'd probably have to be frigg'n Joseph Campbell to realize the references (if any) that are being made in Vimanarama--which I'm sure slaps mutiple beliefs and cultures in the face.

--but hey, it's Grant Morrison. He's a genius.

JYD said...

I concur. Grant Morrison is a genius. Judge Dredd: Book Of The Dead was what introduced me to GM and my collection is shockingly lacking in his work so I think I'll try and get a hold of Vimanarama. Even if it is set in Yorkshire...

Ken said...

It looks promising. As to "how" writers should write: one could argue that as one's presumed objective is to communicate, one should make an effort to make sure that happens.

In the end, though, I go with Dave Sim: Say what you have to say. It will find an audience, or not.

Edward Liu said...

I had mostly the same reaction as Dave to this comic, but had so much fun for the duration that I didn't really care.

I'm still trying to puzzle out the sequence from Morrison. I have extreme reactions to his stuff, either really liking it (this and his JLA, for instance) or really, really hating it for being more packed with awesome ideas than coherent writing. Perhaps understanding that pattern will be the key to my own enlightenment or something.

I'd also like to know why a Scot is the one who channels the mythology of the Indian subcontinent rather than an Indian one. Who's the Grant Morrison of India, I ask ya? At the moment, the only contenders seem to work for Virgin Comics, but I can't say I'm terribly impressed with their efforts.

Anonymous said...

I think most of Morrison's work works on that most perfect level: where the story is perfectly enjoyable without knowing the references, but carries extra layers of awesomeness if you do.

Actually, it's interesting, because just recently I read the only thing of Morrison's that I've read that I really didn't like; the Kid Eternity mini. It just felt like he didn't put in the trademark flow of ideas that suffuse his other stuff, and all that was left was obfuscation and gothness.

Anonymous said...

Morrison now apologizes for Kid Eternity. He said he "got everything wrong" and threatened to fix him during JLA but it didn't work out.

Anonymous said...

Roel said: "Maybe Grant Morrison should learn to a less opaque narrative."

Amen to that.

I'm one of those people who think's Morrison is way overhyped. Yes, he does some brilliant work. But he also does some really pretentious, look-how-much-smarter/weirder-I-am-than-you crap.

It's not that I want to read dumbed-down work, but sometimes when the reader can't understand the writer's work, it's not so much that the reader is stupid as it is that the writer failed at communicating and connecting with his audience.

joncormier said...

Dave. Completely agree with you on this one. It is fun comics at their funnest. You get some sci-fi action but you also get a new world and worldview to experience this action through.

I also had that feeling, of "I liked it but I don't know if I can find the words to really explain why." This is one of my recommendations to folks looking for fun fast comics to distract themselves from their daily lives.

Anonymous said...

--apparently, I was misred.

Grant Morrison writes a good story. He's creative. He's good at what he does. But I seriously doubt he's a genius (picking up a book on Indian folklore hardly qualifies one as such). [end_darcy_comment]

Anonymous said...

Ull-Shattan making a naked member of Parliament kiss a severed head

That is evil.

Poor severed head...

Anonymous said...

I generally find that the best way to experience "deep" art is to not bother worrying about its depth at all. Just give it a surface read and make sure you have the basic "uh, what's happening?" stuff straight, and then if the work really does have anything else to it, it'll probably come to you, either right away or maybe while you're shaving a few weeks down the line. But the most important thing is to make sure you're having fun first.

Anonymous said...

(unhealthy obsessive commenting)

The more I think about it, the more it perplexes me. I've teetering between: 'Morrison doesn't know what he's doing' and 'Morrison is a genius and mad props all around'. Either way, I rescind my previous comments. I really just need to pick it up. --Thanks a lot Dave $$$

Mike Haseloff said...

If it were called, Bend it like Bhangra, it would've sold much better.

Clearly everyone thought it was a collection of enthusiastic quotes and responses taken from Newsarama.



Vim particles!

Anonymous said...

Sounds great. But is it Maggutz?

:)

Cyn said...

my opinion, however usless this may be.. check referances you don't understand, look deeper, but 99% of works that are open to interpritation unless you get a chance to probe the writers mind.. you'll never understand, and plus, most of the metphors (and such) readers find, the author actualy didn't notice himself, they just happen, you probably know the comic better than you think.

K.Fox, Jr. said...

If you don't understand it, how'd you give all that insight? How is it that you did that? You are a genius and you didn't even know it. To Dave Campbell, to whom my hat is now 'officially' tipped.

Johnny Bacardi said...

Maybe Grant Morrison should learn to a less opaque narrative...

Amen to that!


Wait...you not only understood that sentence, but praised it as well? Now I'm confused!

About Morrison, yeah, he does sometimes wax all incoherent...but at least he has ideas, secondhand or not (but truly, what is creativity if not the art of disguising one's sources?), and that's a rare and precious thing among comics writers these days. In my book, anyway. Your average Vaughan fan might disagree.

Anonymous said...

I used to stress about Morrison and Neil Gaiman and such being wayyy smarter than me, until I realized that they have spent DECADES where they have had NOTHING TO DO ALL DAY except research and write comic books. If you felt like spending a solid week researching obscure Norse Gods and figuring out how they fit into Hitchcockian archetypes from his Jimmy Stewart films, you COULD do it. If you were making enough money as a writer to do it. Y'know? We have DAY JOBS.

Now I'm just angry with all the OTHER comic book writers for NOT being bloody brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Vimanarama...

"Deus ex machina", maybe?

Just a thought...apologies if someone's had it already...

Anonymous said...

Little did Ali know he was being followed by what looks like Indian Summer Lovin' from Grease!

verif:
kjqot-
Ancient Indian Demon of Doorframes and small windows.