GUY RICHIE’S GAMEKEEPER 1

GUY RICHIE’S GAMEKEEPER #1
Written by Andy Diggle and Drawn by Mukesh Singh
Published by Virgin Comics

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

Where VIRULENTS did a solid job of taking formula and molding it into something fresh and interesting, GAMEKEEPER falls short on that account.

The Glen Morgan estate in the Scottish countryside has a reputation for taking in homeless teenagers, so when a new one shows up, no one thinks twice. The Gamekeeper, who takes care of security, hunting, and other violent aspects of the estate’s grounds brings him into to meet the lord of the manor, and goes back to work. But when it turns out that there’s a breach, the Gamekeeper must slide back into his violent past and kick some ass/take some names/go back on his oath to chill out. That old chestnut, ya know?

Andy Diggle is unquestionably a talented writer, and his LOSERS was one of the best action-driven books of the decade. But he really isn’t given much to work with here; indeed, it really isn’t like Richie gave him anything to work with at all. An interview with Guy is printed in the back of the book, and he basically acknowledges that he knows or understands anything about comics and can’t really remember the details of how he really got involved with Virgin Comics. Editorially, printing the interview was really an error; it pretty much acknowledges that GAMEKEEPER is little more than a huge bait-n-switch. You don’t expect Richie to pour over the plot with Diggle, but expressing damn-near indifference isn’t the way to go, either.

I liked Singh’s art and the color scheme he used, and he really seems to be stronger in quiet, personal moments versus the action bits, which is surprising these days. I’d like to see him develop a bit more fluidity in his characters’ movements during the action sequences as he progresses, but it isn’t something I would expect immediately. In all, GAMEKEEPER is a book that just doesn’t get it done and instead falls kind of flat. There’s room to grow, but it will depend on how much Diggle can take the concept and make it his own.

Marc Mason

VIRULENTS

VIRULENTS
Written by Shamik Dasgupta and Drawn by Dean Ruben Hyrapiet
Published by Virgin Comics

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

Few books hit the stands more film-option ready than VIRULENTS, and even the front matter admits to that, discussing what the logline for the book is (“vampire terrorists”). But that doesn’t play out as crassly as you might imagine; even with many of the characters drawn from central casting, the execution of the concept is handled very well, and the book is an entertaining and worthy read.

A group of soldiers, half from India and half from the U.S., work together in the desert near the India/Pakistan border in the days following 9/11. A previous group of soldiers has gone missing, and this crew has been charged with learning their fates. Plus, the Indian contingent has a second, very secret, mission that could render the purpose of the primary mission completely moot. Unfortunately, they run into what could be considered creatures of legend: the Raktaveej (“blood demons”), nasty beasts who could clone themselves from drops of their own blood. In mythology, the goddess Kali was able to stop the creatures with her mighty powers; however, these poor bastards only have the dwindling ammo on their backs.

VIRULENTS follows formula, setting the groups against each other racially, then uniting them for the traditional picking off one-by-one scenario, but Dasgupta really does a nice job of making the beats very enjoyable. And Hyrapiet delivers some terrific pages, doing something that many artists struggle with mightily: make the two ethnic groups look different, not just like the same archetypes dressed in different clothes. The ending, like any good action franchise, leaves the door wide open for a sequel. In all, a solid success.

Marc Mason

KSHATRIYA 1

BLADE OF THE WARRIOR: KSHATRIYA
Written by Arjun Gaind and Drawn by R. Manikandan
Published by Virgin Comics

BLADE OF THE WARRIOR: KSHATRIYA is a story of a legendary warrior who lived more than two thousand years ago. Born of betrayal and loss, Kshatriya became a legendary figure to be remembered throughout the ages.

In this first book the reader is told the history of Kshstriya through the classic vehicle of a story within a story. This first issue opens with a different warrior: Alexander the Great stands at the head of his army, surveying land not-yet-conquered. His hunger and hubris is almost tangible as he speaks of traveling and conquering until he reaches the end of the Earth. Yet a storm suddenly falls upon the glorious leader and he is forced to take shelter with a strange man who appears dramatically out of nowhere. The old hermit sees the arrogance of the young king, and decides to tell him the tale of Kshatriya, the greatest warrior the world has ever known.

Years ago when magic still inhabited the planet, a good king Amitabha had two sons. The elder, Mayadeva, was educated and power-hungry, the younger, our hero Kshatriya, possessed a more kind heart and patient understanding; qualities which mimicked his fathers. Soon the time came for the benevolent king to choose his successor, and despite his young age Amitabha chose Kshatriya, without fully understanding how far his first son would go to gain ultimate power.

Mayadeva, bitter and frustrated, makes a deal with a devil for dark powers which he uses to overthrow his father and take control of the kingdom. Amitabha makes a dying request of his mad son that he spare his brother. Interpreting his father’s words as literally as he can, Mayadeva burns off one of Kshatriya’s hands and has him thrown out of the palace Harrison Ford via Fugitive-style. The battered prince survives with magical aid of a passerby who blends his life force with that a tiger, giving him his striped, furry clawed arm.

BLADE OF THE WARRIOR has a tone and writing style more suited towards a younger generation. It opens with one of the most famous beings to walk the planet, yet he is depicted as a land-craving explorer in desperate need of some schooling. A cave-dwelling scholar appears to educate the young king on what a true warrior is made of. The story idea is sound though more than a bit played (good king chooses young son, older son gets angry, takes over by force, attempts to kill chosen son, evil dominates until good can return to rule). Plus the villains who appear at the end of the issue are more puzzling than they are intimidating (the best assassins in the world and it takes them ten years to find their quarry?).

The art is generally a bit murky, yet it matches the folklore theme of the story. The muted colors are well-suited to the feel of the book, though brightness prevails when sorcery and jewels are involved, giving those panels more pop and pizzazz. For example, the smooth, inky power transfer between Shaitan (the evil force behind Mayadeva’s supernatural strength) and Mayadeva came out well and lent a darker feel to the book.

Overall BLADE OF THE WARRIOR is an enjoyable read as long as one understands and accepts the simple truth behind the plot: it is a magical hero story which focuses on true honor and the basic roots of what makes a great warrior. This is not a book featuring pop culture references or ribs at current events; rather KSHATRIYA seems to be taking its time fleshing out the creation and motivation of a timeless legend.

Avril Brown

MUMBAI MACGUFFIN

Mumbai MacGuffin: The Bomb is Back in Bombay
Written by Saurav Mohapatra and Drawn by Saumin Patel
Published by Virgin Comics

MUBAI MACGUFFIN is a fun adventure story following CIA agent Ike Flint on a top-secret mission to recover a downed satellite in one of the most dangerous ghettos in India. Although the plot line is a bit played, the supporting characters are more than enough to garner a couple chuckles and raised eyebrows, and the colorful artwork does an excellent job of snagging the eye.

Flint isn’t the strongest protagonist to grace the pages of comics. He’s supposed to be a CIA spook, but he doesn’t exactly radiate bravado when he steps off a plane and is immediately overwhelmed by over-eager cabbies. Taking the advice of a local, he hires a pre-paid taxi, and this is apparently all he needs to get his rocks back as we see when he smashes his cab driver’s PSP just to get his attention. Must be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

CC, the driver, is a pretty typical sidekick type of character, with his fast talking and assurances of ‘cousins’ involved in every type of business under the sun. He has his entertaining quirks, like his five cell phones with varied ring tones ranging from ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ to ‘The Macarena.’ His dry commentary on why the residents of Mumbai aren’t keen on Americans at the moment, one of the reasons being Paris Hilton, also earns a smile.

Shortly thereafter we meet Fukku Bhai, a creepy, badass gangster/businessman who is a deadly shot and apparently does not like to be pointed at. His dependency on a wheelchair hasn’t affected Fukku any more than it did Franklin D. Roosevelt, and though his potbelly hangs over Western-style gun and holster like blobby monolith, it doesn’t deter from his commanding presence. His only concern is turning a profit with as few complications as possible, and he’s not afraid to resort to sneaky tactics or mow down anyone who interferes.

As Flint proceeds with his mission he meets more eclectic characters, including religious zealots who worship the shiny, metal, penis-shaped satellite, trigger-happy Jihadists and double-crossing Russians. Naturally Flint begins to realize there is more to this mission than he was originally informed, and what began as a simple search and retrieve becomes a battle for his very survival.

The art is bright and busy; exactly what one would expect in a comic book rendition of a bustling Indian slum. Sharp, detailed lines give the characters definition and depth while allowing them to flow into the next panel. The colors make the art pop off the page and give it the right amount of pizzazz without overwhelming the pencils. The large, splashy letters introducing all of the main characters is a classic and festive way of imprinting the names of the important players onto the reader. Plus the blend of English and Hindi dialogue gives the book a distinctive voice and authentic feel.

This isn’t an original story idea and Ike Flint certainly is no Jack Ryan, but the motley crew of characters, the occasional one-liner and the ability to make fun of itself buoy MUMBAI MACGUFFIN enough to deliver a fast-paced and pleasurable read.

Avril Brown

DEVI/WITCHBLADE 2

DEVI/WITCHBLADE 2
Written by Samit Basu and Drawn by Mukesh Singh
Published by
Virgin Comics

Detective Sara Pezzini has followed a murder suspect halfway around the world, finding herself in Sitapur, India. But this journey begins to take on overtones that she didn’t expect; a previous bearer of her Witchblade had been there before and been allied with the local heroine, the Devi. Now Sara finds herself matched against the new Devi, and the two seem to have some issues to work out before they can get on with catching a murderer and saving the world.

The Witchblade is quite a popular character when it comes to inter-company crossovers, but very few manage to do anything interesting with her. The reason is simple: they focus on the T&A aspects of the character rather than creating an interesting story. DEVI/WITCHBLADE avoids that mistake.

Instead, writer Samit Basu puts energy into creating a story that makes sense for both characters. He sets up who they are, has them do the traditional first meet/fight, get past it and get on with the story. He even takes the time to get Witchblade into proper clothing. That makes the rest of his job pretty simple- Devi is the “home” character here and she comes off dead perfect, so the book becomes very readable and entertaining.

The other problem that can crop up with inter-company crossovers is art assigned to a B-level talent. Not so here. Instead, Virgin has assigned the single best artist on their roster, Mukesh Singh, to the project, so it looks absolutely terrific.

It isn’t deep, and it isn’t complex, but DEVI/WITCHBLADE does exactly what it should: it brings the two characters together and entertains. When you plunk down your dollars, that’s ultimately what matters.

Marc Mason

PROJECT KALKI 1

PROJECT KALKI 1
Written by Arjun Gaind and Drawn by Vivek Shinde
Published by
Virgin Comics

An archaeologist on what appears to be a fruitless dig suddenly finds the legendary thing he was looking for: the tomb and lost remains of the Indian god, Rama. But his feeling of triumph is short lived… as is he, and no trace is left behind. Instead, those remains find their way into a scientist named Shyama’s hands, along with an offer: clone the god Rama. Bring him back from eternal sleep. But is that a good idea? After all, there are some very bad omens portending from the resurrection of Rama…

The Shakti line of books from Virgin, focusing on the astonishing myths surrounding India and its culture, has been kind of hit and miss for me throughout my reading. When it’s good, it’s really good (THE SADHU, DEVI), and when it gets thick and difficult to penetrate (RAMAYAN) it can grind at your patience. PROJECT KALKI falls into the former area of experience. It’s engaging, snappily pace, has a fantastic, easy-to-grasp premise, and has so many potential directions for plot movement that you have absolutely no concrete idea of where the book is heading. It holds actual surprise in its grasp, and that’s become a rare thing in comics. More, please.

Shinde’s art isn’t flashy, and lacks some of the polish some of his colleagues like Mukesh Singh have demonstrated, but it tells the story in solid fashion and gets the job done. Gaind’s script is full of foreboding moments, and Shyama is a very sympathetic character, developed well on the page. I think PROJECT KALKI is the best thing I’ve seen out of Virgin in recent memory- recommended.

Marc Mason

DEEPAK CHOPRAS BEYOND 1

DEEPAK CHOPRA’S BEYOND 1
Written by Ron Marz and Drawn by Edison George
Published by
Virgin Comics

Michael is your typical self-obsessed, money-obsessed yuppie prick. Against his wishes, he’s traveled across the world to India on vacation with his wife and son, offering him only the barest bones of being able to do wok while he’s there: setting up outsourcing for his company. But his life is about to take a drastic turn: during a shopping venture, his wife disappears in the briefest of seconds while his son’s attention is diverted elsewhere. Ignored by the local police, it only gets worse; he imagines her voice behind a wall , he drinks too much… and his son receives a special comic book that just might be magically telling them just enough to lead them into danger.

BEYOND takes a very familiar premise and does its best to run with it and jazz it up, with mixed results. Certainly, it’s executed well- Ron Marz is a veteran scribe and knows how to make good comics, And Edison George tackles the India locales with grace and style, giving the book a flavor that only Virgin’s output manages to pull off. The plot is structurally strong, and you never have any question about how much of a jackass Michael is before it all goes south. The character setups are perfectly in place.

But on the flip side, you don’t get a whole lot here. As the book tries to overcome its very well-worn premise, not much here leads you away from that familiar feeling, excepting the trappings. And we don’t get a large enough chunk of the story to grant any reassurance that Marz is eventually going to take us very far off the beaten path. The prologue suggests it, but the flashback construction of the rest of the comic leaves it open for question.

So ultimately, I’d say there’s enough here to give it one more issue and see if it makes enough progress to pay off for the reader. Developing…

Marc Mason

BUDDHA A STORY OF ENLIGHTENMENT 1

BUDDHA: A STORY OF ENLIGHTENMENT 1
Written by Joshua Dysart and Drawn by Harshvardhan Kadam
Published by
Virgin Comics

According to Virgin Comics’ PR Department, Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment is ‘a 6 issue story arc based on a stunning adaptation of The New York Times Bestselling novel by spiritual leader Deepak Chopra (Kama Sutra, Lifer After Death: The Burden of Truth), realized by visionary comics writer Joshua Dysart (Violent Messiahs, Swamp Thing), BUDDHA: A TALE OF ENLIGHTENMENT is an emotionally evocative, fictional look at one of the most iconic figures in philosophy and spiritualism, Buddha.’ Thanks for the summary folks.

In Buddha: ASOE, we are introduced to the cruel warrior-king Suddhodana and his Queen Maya. The King is on the battlefront with his army, cutting down his enemy while the Queen is elsewhere with her servants and maidens preparing to give birth to their child. Under a full moon, the baby Siddhartha is born. With designs of having him as heir to his kingdom, King Suddhodana consults with mystics and oracles to see if his new son is destined to be a great ruler. When he is told that his son is destined to ‘rule his own soul’, the King takes umbrage and sets on a course that he believes will ensure that his son will grow up to be the warlord like himself. Angered by the death of his wife after giving birth to the boy, he banishes all the sickly and weak from the kingdom, determined to raise his son in a world without pain or death.

And that’s when the book lost me.

There are all sorts of parallels that can be drawn from the story of Siddhartha and how he would become the Buddha; the most recent being with the Beijing Olympics and the displacement of thousands, if not millions, of the ‘poor and sickly’ from the grand metropolitan areas for the benefit of giving a certain appearance to the world audience. But with all the symbolism and poetry that Buddha: ASOE offers, it fails to give a very cohesive STORY. It starts strong, but then gets bogged down with demons and mystics and a bunch of philosophical rambling that just made me yawn. And the most pivotal point of the story, the king’s expulsion of the poor and weak from his kingdom really made no sense to me, the rationale for the king’s actions being muddled with philosophical mumbo-jumbo that came off as the equivalent of Star Trek techno-babble. And while the art is lush throughout, Dysart’s dialogue goes from poetically sparse in some areas to reaching near Chris Claremont-ian proportions in others.

Buddhism’s greatest appeal to me as a philosophy and religion (if you can call it that) is its simplicity and straightforwardness. Too bad the comic isn’t the same.

E.R. Serrano

SNAKE WOMAN: CURSE OF THE 68 1-2

SNAKE WOMAN: CURSE OF THE 68 1-2
Written by Zeb Wells and Drawn by Virgin Studios
Published by
Virgin Comics

The Snake Woman is a vengeful deity who was created in the 18th century when 68 British soldiers desecrated and looted an ancient Indian temple. Back then she was a cobra who guarded a shiny emerald with her cobra husband, but when the soldiers stole the jewel, shot her hubby and set her temple on fire, she made a dying vow to be reincarnated over and over until she kills the 68 souls (who will also be reincarnated as long as she is) that committed those crimes.

At the conclusion of the summary page detailing the above history it states the following stories are those of the 68 souls being hunted. One must wonder if this is the case, then why have the premier title be ‘SNAKE WOMAN’ and the secondary title be ‘CURSE OF THE 68,’ rather than vise versa. Regardless, here’s a story idea that has a million different settings that can (and probably will) be used, as demonstrated in the first two issues.

Issue #1 takes place in the Old West, and Pradip Ingale’s art was perfect for that time period. The grittiness of his lines and his shading really captured the feel of the Wild West. The story seems pretty straightforward: two cowboy scoundrels are on the run from someone they don’t know. When Snake Woman (who’s tall, blond, definitely foxy but not overdone) finally catches up with them, there’s a bit of a twist. The two souls she claims are not who you think they are, and though it left me grateful for a surprise, I was a bit disturbed as well. I’m trying not to give up too many spoilers, but one of the men she kills seems to be a very decent man. He must die, however, because his soul is one of the 68. But neither of the men killed had any idea of the crimes committed by their souls decades ago. All they have are dreams of being bitten by a snake. Quite frankly it just makes Snake Woman look like a mindless killing machine, counting down how many she has left to kill as she scalps her latest victims and takes off on her pretty pony.

Issue #2 takes place in Russia during the fall of the Romanov family. Manu P.K.’s art was decent, but he needs to work on consistency in the faces of his characters, and the letterers should follow the precedent of having Snake Woman’s dialogue in green set in the previous book. In this comic we see the birth of the Snake Woman into a new body and a new hunt. Her kills this time are established murderers whom are aware of their nemesis the Snake God and seem to most certainly deserve their fate. Perhaps it was because of their awareness, or because Snake Woman was born from a wronged young woman, thirsty for justice, but I found myself liking this particular Snake Woman more so than the last.

This may be the aim of the author, to keep the reader unsure of what team to support, be it Snake Woman or the Cursed 68. Or maybe the idea is to show how each reincarnation can be completely unique, for both man and deity. Either way, I found it a bit exhausting. The end of the second issue possibly hinted at continuing the story of that Snake Woman, which would be cool, but if each issue is going to follow a different Snake Woman and 68 men in a different time period, then it’s just too much. How are readers supposed to get invested in these characters where there is almost no consistency in them from issue to issue? I can understand characters evolving and changing over time, and if Wells continues in a forward motion chronologically, then this might work. However, if we’re constantly going to jump around in history and watch a pissed off and/or Terminator-like Snake Woman kill both bastards and seemingly good men, then it’s pretty difficult to care what happens to who in the subsequent issues.

Avril Brown

INDIA AUTHENTIC 11: HANUMAN

INDIA AUTHENTIC 11: HANUMAN
Written by Saurav Mohapatra AND Drawn by Swapnil Singh
Published by
Virgin Comics

HANUMAN is the newest entry in the India Authentic line from Virgin Comics, bringing tales from the rich culture of the Asian continent to the West. Written by CWR’s own Saurav Mohapatra, HANUMAN tells the story of the deity that ‘is the most admired, respected and held with the most affection of all the deities in India Pantheon of 300.000,000 gods and goddesses.’ (Yow! And I thought the Marvel U had an excess of mutants!) In western terms, he’s looks like a cross between a monkey and He-Man, but with more muscles -if that were even possible. Issue #1 tells a grand, sweeping tale full of mythic elements and melodrama, with more than a few similarities to western/European mythologies, showing that we’re not all that different when it comes to telling tall tales. The climax involves a variation on the old adage ‘if Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, the mountain will go to Mohammed.’ It’s a fantasy full of swords and sorcerers and will feel quite familiar to those well read in the genre.

Outside of being part of the India Authentic line, there’s not much beyond that to distinguish it from any other swords & sorcery book. You have kings and princes, all introduced in the midst of a great battle. One of the princes falls when he becomes victim to treachery. Once the treachery is revealed, the title character goes on a quest to save his friend. Pretty basic stuff, really. If anything, the visuals in the book are what give it a distinct feel, with a colorful palette of purples and reds to give the drawings a lush quality. The hero’s journey takes him across a mythical land with panoramic vistas and strange creatures, sure to capture the imagination of a ten-year old reading of this character for the first time.

My biggest problem, though, is in the plot, the conclusion of which I’d rather not give away as it is the hook to the whole story. I will say this: if the voyage to the mountain -where the solution to the problem can be found – takes so long to make, then there’s no way the hero would have been able to make it back in time to save his friend, especially considering what he carries with him. But of course, this is a mythic tale and like many of its ilk, will have its plot holes for the sake of inducing gasps.

The book reads like a child’s fable, and I guess this would make it an ideal book to introduce younger readers to Indian folklore, but the Virgin line of books has always slanted more mature. So I fear that if the book is intended for younger readers, it may not get to them.

E.R. Serrano