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Between the Panels: Culture Strike
By Lance Victor Eaton (August 2007)

How does a blossoming cultural center break through the traditionally hegemonic US consumer culture? Led by Gotham Chopra (son of Deepak Chopra) and other Indians, Virgin Comics has unleashed a slew of action and adventure comics steeped in Asian traditions, proving to the world that if readers want mythology and superheroes, Asia has thousands of years and thousands of stories to spin for their entertainment.

While some may hesitate to pick up series that have religious undertones - often invoking Hindu and other traditions - they should remember that many of the characters and scenarios set up by the two major publishers, Marvel Comics and DC Comics, also show their own religious origins. Characters such as Thor and Wonder Woman derive from Norse and Greek mythologies, while others such as Daredevil are troubled by their religious beliefs. But Virgin Comics has much more to offer than rehashed mythologies or heavy-handed cultural diatribes. They deliver tight stories from a talented pool of often Indian or Indo-American writers and artists, who prove that the US does not have a monopoly on storytelling.

The SadhuThe Sadhu is the perfect example. Realizing that a life as a harbor thug cannot provide for him and his family, James Jensen becomes a soldier in Queen Victoria's army. Arriving in India, he finds mild success and enjoys his life, despite the ongoing stress between British and Indians. But when he refuses a cruel order from his superior, Timothy Townsend, he loses everything. Beaten and caged, he witnesses Townsend's violence against his wife and child. Escaping, he finds protection in the unlikeliest of places, amongst a band of Indians with whom he had previously fought. Their spiritual leader, the Sadhu, unlocks the key to Jensen's soul and trains him until Jensen feels pulled to enact his revenge. However, Townsend has returned to England with a dark power.

The Sadhu Volume 1: When Realities Collide is filled with twists and turns, interesting character development, and plenty of action. The realistic drawings are complemented by hues and tints throughout entire pages emphasizing the mood and environment. The cinematic flavor is carried through with close-ups, full page drawings, and shadowing that grip readers.

The quirky David Stewart's Walk In revolves around Ian Dormouse, a young man prone to blackouts, who often awakens in entirely different countries from where he was last. Living the life of a wanderer, he finds working gigs where he can. In Moscow, he is taken in by Astrid, a stripper, while he develops his act as a psychic. But when he reads the minds of Russian mobsters, he goes too far. Soon, he and Astrid are racing to avoid the Russian mob and an odd set of twins, who keep trying to hook up Ian to a giant fish. As the story unravels, it becomes apparent that the world Ian knows is a false one and he must rediscover what reality is before it's too late.

Although the art does a decent job of illustrating the story, it isn't particularly compelling. However, while not one of the best tales to emerge out of Virgin's new line of graphic novels, this certainly can be a fun read, involving action, humor, and dimensional travel.

Ramayan 3392 ADWhen it comes to epic storytelling though, Deepak Chopra and Shekhar Kapur's Ramayan 3392 AD Volume 1: The Mahavinaash Age is forceful, artistic, and impressive. The Aryavarta are a race of humans under attack from the dark and demon-consorting Nark. There has been tension between the groups for hundreds of years, but the Nark are now making a play for power. Striking a shabby outpost defended by Prince Rama and his brother Bharat, the Nark overwhelm the weak defenses. Rama bargains and ultimately saves the people of the town and the army, but the Aryavarta council banish him for surrendering. Left to wander the wastelands, Rama finds a simple new life as a fisherman. But the kingdom is disintegrating and when Bharat goes searching for his missing siblings, he unintentionally finds Rama. The two are pulled together by an ancient sage who knows more about their futures than he is letting on.

Grafted from the Indian epic Ramayan, this series blends compelling narrative with amazingly beautiful artwork. Setting it over one thousand years in the future, the artists integrate a bio-technological look to the world while also instilling the ambiance of an ancient civilization such as India. Among the many new titles of Virgin Comics, Ramayan 3392 AD proves to be the diamond among gems.

Virgin Comics has unleashed a flurry of titles in the last year, including remarkable series like Ramayan 3392 AD as well as many which will fail, that being the natural flow. Overall, this publisher has much to offer to the often-secluded, Eurocentric culture derived comic scene in the United States.
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