Frankly, I expected something weirder from Grant Morrison.
I mean, the guy’s given us The Invisibles, a comic book meant to simulate his drug trip in Tibet; the biggest, boldest, strangest Justice League stories on the modern age; the origin of Arkham Asylum; and the 2nd greatest story about a fictional character discussing his fictional nature with his real creator, (Dave Sim’s Cerebus: Minds will always be #1 for me).
So when he writes a comic about an Indian art student who helps free mythical warriors, and his fiancée is already in love with one of them, well, I can’t help but think anyone could have done this.
Sure, few others could turn a phrase as well as Morrison, (“That tiny little sort of popping noise you just heard was the sound of me going completely insane”). It’s also rare to find a multi-leveled visual joke as subtle or as funny as the one on page 4. But the idea of an ordinary guy’s life being complicated by superhumans isn’t exactly new.
Protagonist Ali looks like he has “Charlie Brown Karma”; he’s not a bad guy, but bad stuff frequently happens to him. That schtick is funny for five seconds. After that, I wait for the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore” scene that never comes. When I see a character take the same shit day after day after day, and he just keeps on walking through it, letting it pile up, I get too angry to read. Call it immaturity, call it taking it to seriously, but I can’t enjoy a story about a hero you pity. I hate feeling pity. And I hate those who elicit pity.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe the series won’t be that bad. But right now, it looks like Ali has some undeserved bad karma coming his way.
Philip Bond’s art doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s quite good. The gods are weird, the monsters are ugly, the spaceships are shiny, and the girls are hot. That’s all I ask from a comic. Bond has a very clear storytelling style that makes the action easy to follow. You do have to pay attention to small details in the panels, but that shows how much thought and effort Bond puts into his work. Brian Miler’s colors help give this comic a very pop-art look. It looks hip and modern.
It just reads traditional.
On the “strength” of this first issue, I will not buy the second. Nor am I interested in reading it on the shelves. That’s not to say you might not like this book. Technically, it’s quite good: well drawn and well-crafted. It just doesn’t hook me, and that’s why I give it the better-than-average rating of .
…or What If Stan And Jack Had Been More Interested In The Mythologies Of The Indian Sub-Continent When They Did Journey Into Mystery #83? It’s even got the mysterious cave in which gods dwell, and the hero wields a hammer!
That’s a flippant description, but it’s also quite true, as this comic delightfully captures the sense of fun and excitement from the more successful Lee/Kirby collaborations, as well as that sense of freshness and inventiveness. Whether he’s just having fun, or trying to bust your brains with weirdness, Morrison is always throwing out new ideas and concepts, and this is a wonderful example of that. This looks to be on the more fun side of the Morrison oeuvre, but it’s by no means inconsequential as a result. He may be well known for his far out concepts, but another of Morrison’s strengths is scripting and characterisation, and that’s what really impresses me here. All the characters seem genuine and real, despite the weirdness going on around them, and the jokes come across very much as things people might actually say rather than something a writer crow-barred in because he thought would be funny (well, there are a couple of lines that stretch it a bit, but it seems that Morrison’s taking the piss out of himself with those, so I’ll let it slide). The setting is also very natural and real; it would be easy to write a story in which our protagonist Ali wishes to dodge his arranged marriage because the writer wants to bring Western ideas about freedom to the subject, but here it is portrayed as just something that people in this culture do, and Ali’s main problem is not that he’s being forced to marry against his will, but that his wife might be a bit of a minger. We’re treated to a vision of an Islamic culture that’s more well-rounded, broad and realistic than the violent repressive lunatics the Western media would have us believe all Muslims are. For example, one member of Ali’s family wears a full Burqa, but another wears a less extreme form of the customary dress, and Ali’s wife-to-be, Sofia, apparently makes no attempt to wear any sort of traditional clothing. Similarly, Ali’s brother Omar (the “devout scholar”) dresses more conservatively than our hero. And yet, Morrison doesn’t make a big deal of this. This is just how the family are. They’re real people living in a real world. As such, it’s even more of a shame that DC has conscientiously avoided mentioning the “I” word in all their promotional material on this series. Perhaps they thought that American readers might avoid a story revolving around Islamic culture, but this is such a sincere and realistic portrayal that it might even be educational, and besides, I was under the impression that Americans didn’t buy Vertigo comics anyway.
Philip Bond’s art is perfectly suited to Morrison’s writing here; while a more traditional superhero artist might have been a better fit for the Kirbyesque bits, few artists could have pulled those off while at the same time doing such a great job capturing the humour in the script and conveying the personalities of the characters. Bond’s art at once manages to impart a cartoony vibrance and realistic characterisation, a knack that I’ve always been impressed by, and jealous of. As if it weren’t enough to just draw the events of the story, Bond gets technical in places, including sneaking in one of the most clever uses of the comics medium that I’ve seen in ages. Beautiful stuff, and Brian Miller’s colours really bring out the best in the art.
This is an absolutely wonderful comic. It’s got fun and exciting imagery, a funny script and well-rounded characters. And of course, it’s shoved off into an imprint where hardly anyone will read it. All comics should be at least this well-made, and you owe it to yourself to read Vimanarama.
Plot: Under his family’s convenience store, Ali takes a brass elevator ride to a world of wonder, and danger.
Comments: This is Philip Bond’s world, we just live in it. No one else captures the sense of modern youth fashion as well as he does, or finds
such a compelling balance between grounded realism and cartoonish flights of wonder. He also inks himself like a pro.
What’s interesting: I found Seaguy incomprehensibly over-written, and thought that We3 profited from its relative lack of verbiage (as I fully enjoyed Quitely’s innovative storytelling techniques). Vimanarama was initially the least
interesting to me of Morrison’s three planned shorts for Vertigo, but it turns out to be the most accessible and fun. Morrison has enjoyed strong artistic partners on all three series, and Bond is at his very best here.
The splash-page starts off well, with Bond staging his own mini-Bollywood that manages to ground young Ali in his suburban London world. He’s got a complicated family, and an intriguing dilemma. His arranged future wife Sofia is arriving in town, and his reaction is a bit atypical. He’s decided to kill himself if she’s ugly, because that would mean fate has worse in store for him.
Guess what: she’s not ugly. And she’s more than game for the existential dilemma (as in, the existence of all life) they get into when they unwittingly venture into the magical hidden world below the store (described by officials as “old mines”) and release the Dark Ones onto an unsuspecting world. A helpful robot instructs them to call on the Ultra-Hadeen, a pantheon of good gods that will know what to do.
Except … one of them is in love with Sofia, and has been across time and space! Ouch! Bad luck after all, Ali! Which is to say, this is Grant Morrison madness on a very human scale, grounded in a soap opera love story and the mundane, not usually so deadly, non-ultraviolent world of family life. It’s cool.
Since Grant Morrison began his string of three-issue wonders at Vertigo last year, I have not trusted the man. He took me down a cheery adventurous path in Seaguy #1, and then turned everything on its head with a tragic twist in issue two. Then, the story turned beautifully imaginative in the concluding installment, only to wrap up on a somewhat depressing note. (Still, the existence of Seaguy the series is inspiring.) Morrison then followed up with the violent, action-packed We3 #1, hyper activated the bloody intensity in issue two, then brought it all to an unexpectedly poignant close in issue three. Not missing a beat, Morrison has burst out of the gates with Vimanarama #1, and, once again, I don’t trust him one bit.
I have no idea what the final fate of our hero, Ali, will be in this series, which, despite my lack of trust, is fine by me, because what’s most fun in a Morrison tale is the journey there (it counterbalances his tendency to often break my heart). In a nutshell (although there’s really no such thing as a nutshell in dissecting Morrison’s stories), a massive hole has opened below Ali’s family business, and Ali has gone down into it to find his wandering baby brother. There he meets up with a girl, Sophia, who has been picked by Ali’s family to be his future wife. The duo drop down via a bizarre “elevator” into an amazing abandoned city, where they accidentally release something very, very evil (so evil that Ali’s trusty hammer, which he has on hand, is useless in defeating it). A portion of the evil beings, soon to be named the Devils of the Drowned Island, take off for the surface in some incredibly intense glowing spacecrafts. While fleeing from another of the evil creatures, Ali and Sophia come upon a shiny pink flower known as the Lotus. Sophia rubs the Lotus, and it releases a spectacularly clad foursome known as the Ultra-Hadeen, sworn enemies of the evil beings (one of whom smites down the creature chasing Ali and Sophia). We learn that this Kirby-esque group have been buried for over six thousand years. Their leader, Prince Ben Rama, also proclaims his undying love for Sophia. Ali isn’t happy at all about this turn of events.
Oh, Ali and Sophia did find the baby, who isn’t handling the trauma of encountering ancient beings very well. He heaves all over Ali’s back. And that’s the cliffhanger!
Artist Philip Bond does a fine job illustrating Morrison’s fairly straightforward script (I personally found it easier to follow than my initial reads of Seaguy #1 and We3 #1). Bond’s two-page spreads (four in all) are quite impressive. I especially liked the architectural design of the underground city in the middle of the book. It’s an eerie blending of Middle Eastern buildings and futuristic structures. So what does Sophia call it? “A shopping center.” Wow. Nothing fazes this lady. Well, at least not until Prince Ben Rama looks lovingly at her.
Morrison provides some good humor in this story, especially in the conversations between Ali and his brother and father. That, of course, disturbs the heck out of me, because there was humor in Seaguy #1, too, and I won’t soon forget how that turned out. But for the time being, Vimanarama, while hard to pronounce and even harder to write, is a lot of fun, in the kinetic and frenetic GM way. Still don’t trust that Morrison, though.
Somewhere between its initial announcement and final publication, Vímanarama! lost the exclamation point in its title. That’s ok; the excitement of the story makes itself felt perfectly well without the punctuation cue. Grant Morrison and Philip Bond present an unusual modern romance steeped in Hindu mythology and clever humor.
On the day he is to meet a bride of his father’s choosing, Ali finds himself occupied by more pressing matters. His brother Omar has fallen through the floor of their family’s general store, revealing a passage to an ancient underground city. This might not ordinarily concern the young man on such a pivotal day, but Ali’s baby brother has disappeared into the chasm and somebody really must chase him down. A woman has already gone after baby Imran, but Ali follows to represent the family. What he finds beneath the earth, however, is a mystical realm beyond his imaginings, and before this issue is over Ali and his betrothed will have unleashed forces of ultimate darkness… and, unfortunately, light.
For a story that so openly embraces metaphysical themes, Vímanarama looks to be one of Grant Morrison’s more straightforward works. Of course, the same could said for the first issue of Seaguy, and that turned out to be an exceptionally strange little number. We3 doesn’t fit into the comparison, as it was pretty quirky from the start. For a story adhering to narrative conventions, though, Vímanarama is quite a satisfying tale, with a fresh perspective and unexpected disasters.
Artist Philip Bond gets to have most of the fun this issue, though, as the backgrounds are as much a joy to explore as the story itself. In the first five pages alone, one can find a cat whistling, police officers fooling mischievously with a pair of handcuffs, and a dog stuffed in a garbage bag. Brian Miller’s colors add a sharpness to the art, and are particularly effective in the majestic or magical scenes.
Coming off the high of We3, Morrison’s work in Vímanarama is considerably more grounded. Still, this first issue is funny and emotional enough to satisfy readers of Strangers in Paradise, all swirled in wi
th the writer’s odd sensibilities and unrestrained inventiveness. While sharing some thematic and structural similarities to Mike Carey’s wonderful My Faith in Frankie, Vímanarama looks to unwind into a different kind of story entirely. This is just a good, fun comic.
I really like the bright and colorful cover to this issue: it stood off the shelf. This is what all covers should do!
The insides, or the interior as we like to call it, was as equally refreshing. I don’t know Philip Bond’s work, but I do like what he is doing for this comic. I love how clean the art is, how it looks simple on the page but clearly it is not. There is so much more going on in the art than just the story; little visual jokes are littered thoroughout the comic. You can see that Philip Bond has really put his all into this issue. Looking at the end result, I think I can safety say it has paid off.
Grant Morrison, what can you say about a man who can write JLA, We3, X-Men and now this and make them all seem so bloody good? As a writer myself, I find it hard to see how the guy manages to be so good at so many different genres at the same time. Like the artwork there are so many little things in the script that make repeat reading fun, and not a chore.
I am looking forward to the next issue. It is refreshing and fun. Remember “The Panel” a few weeks back where we asked about how to get different races etc into comics? Well comics like this are a start. The themes of a superhero comic are all here, and this makes for damn good reading!
Grant Morrison is a revolutionary comics writer. He is a creator who not just pushes the envelope, he breaks through to a place where his perceptions are unique and yet clear, a place where readers might yearn to be taken by other writers, but where other writers never seem able or interested in going. Most writers’ comics are surface affairs: what happens in the story is exactly what’s meant. Superman punches Lex Luthor and there’s no deeper meaning to the moment. There’s nothing wrong with that; comics are usually
all about the immediate moment. Then there are creators whose work has deeper meaning. Kurt Buseik was praised for creating Marvels, where there was a deeper subtext to the characters’ stories. And creators such as the Hernandez Bros, Chris Ware and Eddie Campbell successfully create stories that have complex emotional and intellectual subtexts.
Then there’s Morrison. With Grant Morrison, the story and subtext are one. A story’s plot is literal as long as it needs to be; when it veers into different directions, the story takes on a deeper, more complex and meta-meaning.
This is a long way of saying that Vimanarama is one hell of a strange comic and one hell of an amazing comic. The comic starts grounded in reality, as young British immigrant Ali, worried about his planned wedding to a girl from another town, saves his uncle from being trapped under a box that fell on top of him when the floor broke. From that quiet beginning, a wild ride begins. Ali meets his betrothed Sofia in a bizarre underground Indian-themed city where aliens and gods live, and all hell (or is it heaven?) breaks loose. Sofia speaks for all readers when she wonders at one point, “I’ve just been thinking. When did everything stop being normal.” And yet, somehow, everything is still normal, deep down.
Each reader will bring his or her own interpretation to this book, just as readers did to Morrison’s amazing 2004 mini-series Seaguy. To me, the events in the second half of this comic are symbolic of the stresses Ali feels. He’s worried about his upcoming nuptials, hoping that Sofia will be not only attractive by also smart and fun. He’s worried about staying in touch with his Indian heritage in England, so he imagines a dreamscape of the most spectacular Indian architecture. At the same time, he feels a little alienated from his parents’ culture, so the dreamscape is deserted aside from creatures symbolic of that alien culture. Who knows what kinds of progressions his emotions will take over the rest of this storyline?
Grant Morrison is working in a world where no other comics writers work. He is brilliant at using the symbols and feels of comics to subvert and at the same time amplify their deeper meanings. There have been other revolutionary writers in comics – Eisner, Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman – but none have the unique outlook of Morrison. He’s amazing.
What a curiosity this comic turned out to be: I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this issue, picking it up on a whim whilst browsing in my store this week. The flashy cover is certainly an attention-grabber, and conveys the main themes of the issue well: a down-to earth (but slightly neurotic) British boy, Ali, meets a pretty girl in some fairly strange and colourful circumstances. However, this isn’t a typical Woody Allen movie. The story soon takes a twist into the bizarre when Ali stumbles across a secret underground complex which appears to contain old Indian architecture, ancient demons, and some kind of universal communication device. And when supernatural deities in futuristic armour show up, things really get weird…
I really enjoyed the local detail in this issue. Maybe it’s something to do with a lot of mainstream comics culture and storytelling being so U.S.-centric, but it was nice to see a fairly faithful rendition of the streets of contemporary Britain on the pages of such a high-profile new series. The art captures the urban streetlife of the UK well, and the setting of Bradford is really secondary to the more general social environment of a third or fourth-generation Indian family living in England. I grew up in Leicester, one of the UK’s best examples of a well-integrated multi-cultural city, and the Asian influences on the style of language used, the family’s various relationships and the architecture all felt familiar and true to me without coming off as overly cliché. Ali is a believable, regular young man helping out at his father’s shop when all the weirdness starts, and that’s important in grounding the series.
The art is solid and cartoony without ever sacrificing a sense of reality, with a deceptive level of detail included in the backgrounds. Little touches like the perfectly Bollywood-esque dancing girls on the opening splash page or the prominence of the mosque on the Bradford skyline show a real cultural awareness on the part of artist Philip Bond. His double-page splash of the underground complex stopped me in my tracks, and I spent a few minutes exploring the authentically Indian architecture and grand scale and detail of the cavernous city which feels suitably out-of-time and out-of-place, yet
still very solid and real. This real-feeling fantasy mixture extends to the mechanical monsters which come after our heroes towards the end of the issue, which are cartoonish enough to be acceptable in a fantasy story, but also dark and sinister enough to carry a real air of menace. On a lighter note, there are also lots of jokes in the artwork that you might only pick up on the second reading: a good example is the four-panel sequence outside Ali’s family’s shop – a great, subtle piece of old-fashioned cartooning which raised a smile from me. Brian Miller’s colours also prove to be spot-on, starting off as dreary and dull (that particular shade of grey in the sky is particularly familiar to me as a UK resident…) but bursting into colour as the more fantastical elements of the story begin to take over.
Morrison’s incorporation of cultural detail into his writing bears favourable comparison to that of the recent Spider-Man: India series. Whereas that title battered you round the head with the sheer Indian-ness of the setting and characters, here the racial or religious nature of the players is secondary to them simply being well-drawn characters in their own right. All of Ali’s family members are particularly entertaining but sympathetic, with his kind mother and business-driven father providing a nice background to Ali’s relationship with his twitchy and stressed brother Omar. A sly reference to a certain web-slinger is also made as Omar lectures anti-hero Ali on responsibility, when all Ali cares about is his “existential doubt” over how pretty his intended bride is going to be when he meets her. There are plenty of jokes and genuinely funny moments in this issue that keep the story and dialogue bubbling along at a jaunty and fun pace; however, my reservations about the story began to grow as the issue drew to a finish. Morrison is obviously keen on incorporating all sorts of religious symbolism into his strange sci-fi plot, but the resultant hodgepodge of robots, spaceships and mechanical deities in the closing pages was more confusing than enthralling, and the heart-throb rendition of one character left the issue on a strange and unexpectedly romantic cliffhanger. Perhaps it’s just the fact that I had no preconceived notions about the book before picking it up, but I certainly preferred the character-based opening half of the issue to the odd direction taken after the more “out-there” elements kick in.
There’s a nice boy-meets-girl plot beginning here, and I’m already fond of the characters, so this opening issue has certainly done a good job in grabbing my interest and attention. However, it remains to be seen whether the weird and wonderful plot that Morrison has cooked up is going to be able to be supported by such grounded personalities. I’ll definitely give issue #2 a shot, and my overall reaction is a positive one, but I’m afraid that the more comic-book elements are going to detract from my enjoyment of the rest of the book rather than add to it.
Synopsis: Ali is experiencing existential angst. Today he will meet his fiancé, Sofia, betrothed to him through an arranged marriage. It’s an important day in his young life, but Ali sees a greater significance underlying his betrothal. For everything is predetermined through the will of God, including the quality of his wife. Therefore, if Sofia turns out to be ugly, dull, or imbecilic, then it is clear that God does not wish him well. And if God is against you, then life is not worth living.
But before the moment of truth arrives, strange events intervene. His brother is injured when a hole opens up in the floor of the family store. Later, Ali’s young nephew wanders into the newfound subterranean depths. When Ali ventures forth into the strange tunnels to find the missing child, he discovers things wonderful, horrific, and awe-inspiring. It seems that God is not yet ready to give him a clear answer.
“I’m less than an hour away from knowing whether God hates me or not.”
Morrison delivers a fun and accessible story. It’s part romantic comedy, part fantasy adventure, and part mystical allegory. Superb management of plot, delineation of character, utilization of setting, establishment of mood, and coherence of theme combine to create a rich and exhilarating read.
The plot is simple, but contains an escalating conflict structure, going from the mundane to the fantastic. At first, Ali needs to deal with his brother, both at the store and later at the hospital. But this conflict thread is just a prologue to the story, an introduction to the characters and situation. It is during his visit to the hospital that Ali discusses the true conflict of this story, his ability to accept and submit to God’s will. Then the need to find the child takes over as the immediate conflict. But this gets complicated by both the surprise arrival of Sofia and the unfortunate releasing of the “Devils of the Drowned Island.” Technically, there are four distinct conflict/resolution points in this issue, but the underlying premise regarding God’s will unites them; they are merely different aspects of the same challenge.
Characterization is astutely accomplished through compelling dialogue and coherent character action. Morrison knows his characters, which shows through the dialogue. The cadence and word choice is authentic, managing to convey both individuality and their shared ethnicity. Moreover, it is well paced, establishing the narrative’s rhythm while providing insight into the characters; it never becomes the focus in and of itself, but always serves to further the plot. Unlike hack writers who think that “realistic” dialogue is supposed to drive the scene, Morrison understands that it is but one method with which to tell a story, not an end in itself.
Setting is more than mere backdrop in this issue. It is a notable character within the narrative. Obviously, it serves as a contrast element for the rising conflict of the plot, starting in the mundane world and growing even more fantastic. Bond’s art certainly brings these places to life with rich detail and a superb sense of dramatic stage-setting. However, there is an implied setting behind the obvious. Let’s look at the title. Vimana is a term used in Indian architecture to signify a building that contains a shrine or sanctuary, a Palace of the Gods. On the second page, Ali enters the “Palace of Rama” when he passes under the entrance archway, delineated by the arc of the ball, while the celestial apsaras dance and celebrate the Hero’s arrival. After that point, the entire story takes place in “transcendent” space. Every scene has implied mystical significance, from the playground outside of the hospital to the dark railway beneath the store. Everything takes place within the Palace of Rama.
Mood is established by both the text and the artwork. Overall, there is a sense of levity to this issue. Yes, there are serious thematic matters under exploration here, but it is all done with a comedic lightness. Obviously, the witty banter and zany situations elicit many a chuckle, but the panel pacing is a huge part of dramatic weight. A lot occurs on this issue, but it never becomes overbearing because the panel count is leisurely, with a per page average of less than four. However, given that this is a thirty-two page comic, it still contains a full share paneling.
Furthermore, the four two-page spreads, that contribute to such a low panel average, serve as dramatic punctuation points, placing the awesome fantastic elements in contraposition to the comedic elements. My favorite scene occurs when Ali comments upon Sofia’s physical assets while a grave cosmic mishap is unfolding
before their eyes; upon the following two-page spread, Sofia’s chides him for focusing on such a matter at such a moment. Meanwhile, the page composition is such that the reader’s eyes are equally as guilty in such a focus. It’s great use of lines of convergence and insistent foreground presence.
“I think we unleashed the forces of darkness by mistake.”
Theme is the essential part of what makes this story so wonderful. Can the individual see beyond the obvious to discern the Will of God? If Ali’s betrothed is an ugly imbecile, does that mean that God hates him? Since God preordains everything that occurs in life, what is the spiritual significance of these actions? This is a meaty topic, delivered with levity and style. But what makes Morrison so special among comic writers is his ability to craft a fulfilling story on an obvious level, but have levels of significance underlying it.
For example, let’s look at a clue to gain further insight within the text. As Ali enters the subterranean realm, he passes through an archway bearing Arabic inscriptions. One panel focuses exclusively upon a word and has a bordering style unique to the story. The letters spell “Z-U-N” but there’s a vague letter before it. It looks like it ought to spell huzun, signifying rough, rugged, hard ground, which is derived from the base word hazana, to make sad, sadden, grieve. Obviously, this is a signifier for a realm of spiritual punishment, one version of Hell. However, it also has connotations within Muslim mysticism. Huzun is the feeling of spiritual anguish that God places upon the devout pilgrim as a form of purgation. The feeling of abandonment allows believers to understand their place within the divine manifestation, and, realizing that Self and all external matters are insignificant, to submit with gratitude to the Divine wish.
That’s a cool subtext to the story. But notice, it is an enhancement to the story, not a necessary reference point. The story is enjoyable in itself. The reader doesn’t need to know about vimana or huzun to appreciate the fine storytelling. This isn’t something that you need to “read again knowing what you now know about Wanda” to appreciate. This story is coherent and accessible as is. Lesser writers create narrative morasses and pull out a “BIG IDEA” in the final issue, expecting the reader to then accept the lousy storytelling that led to this point. That’s not Morrison’s style.
This is a magnificent work of sequential art. It’s a Sufi tale for an eclectic spirituality. I highly recommend it!