A good book raises you to heights. You resonate with the characters and immerse yourself in their lives, places, and thoughts. After a long time I am reading one such book – Varanasi, by the Malayalam writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair. Coincidentally this is also a long time since I am reading a physical book and I keep half expecting being able to highlight text or long press a word to get its meaning. I am a wee bit excited too; the sensation of holding a physical book and reading from it thrills me for some reason.
This must be the fourth book by M.T. Vasudevan Nair that I have read. The first two were in college, as part of my humanities class, wherein we were supposed to read an author of our choice and present the work in class. If I remember correctly I read Asuravithu (Demon Seed) and Naalukettu and I loved the way M.T. wrote. I think I associated his writing to the way one paints. It’s very visual and I got the feeling of someone drawing his characters with broad strokes and then building them up with detailed strokes. (Before I forget, being a Malayalam author all these works are originally in Malayalam and what I read were the English translations).
The third book I read was Randamoozham (Second Turn). This was a mind-blowing read. It tells the story of Mahabharatha from the point of view of Bhima, the second Pandava. The title was meant to reflect that this is a second look at the Mahbharata and also that this look is from the second son. Bhima is unique in that he is the second son. So he doesn’t get the importance of the first born nor does he get pampered like the third and later borns. Moreover Bhima is usually associated with someone who is all muscle and no emotions, so it’s interesting how M.T. infuses this character with layers of feelings and emotions and retells the whole tale through his eyes.
While on holiday last week, I bought Varanasi and Kaalam. Currently reading Varanasi and it’s been a great experience so far. I love the characters and what they are doing. There isn’t much direction to the story really; it is just about the main character and his experiences, the people he encounters, the women in his life. But I loved the setting – Kashi, Varanasi – so there’s lot of philosophical undercurrents too. The narrative too is very different. M.T. keeps jumping between the past and present, and uses first person, second person, and third person – often even mixing them up! That’s quite daring and in a lesser author’s hands it might have failed and confused the reader, but not with M.T.
About half way done now. Bought the book yesterday so you can see I’ve been avidly reading it. I am reading two other books side-by-side, which I’ll talk about later.
Read “Batman: The Man Who Laughs” over the past few days. This is a comic intended to be a sequel to “Batman: Year One”, introducing the Joker, and was a good read. It wasn’t as awesome as Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” but is worth a read nevertheless.
The Joker artwork is a close second to “The Killing Joke”. It isn’t as smooth or stunning as the latter, but is good anyways. There’s more story in this comic too and I felt Gordon’s character was more fleshed out.
“The Killing Joke” included another comic called ” Made of Wood”. This was a pleasant surprise. It’s by the same writer (Ed Brubacker) but by a different artist and both the story and artwork were miles ahead. The story in this one is a detective mystery and Batman is accompanied by (surprise!) Green Lantern. I loved the artwork – the details, the colours – and also the plot. I liked the mystery investigation stuff. It was great and a must read for any Batman fan. In fact, the story and artwork reminded me of the Batman comics I used to read as a kid. The way they used to be simple and straightforward and less dark and broody (although I like dark and broody now). Good one!
Just finished reading “The Long Halloween”, another excellent Batman comic. This one’s by Jeph Loeb with artwork by Tim Sale.
It seems that every other Batman comic apart from “The Dark Knight Returns” is excellent! The artwork and story of this is miles ahead of the latter and yet every one seems to hold “The Dark Knight Returns” as some sort of gold standard. To me, “The Long Halloween” is way better. Yes it’s not as dark as “The Dark Knight Returns”, and there’s less inner monologue and doubts from Batman. There’s also no build up to a major even like a (unnecessary, in my opinion) Superman Batman clash to spice things up, but I still prefer “The Long Halloween”. The artwork too is much pleasing and fits the story. “The Dark Knight Returns” had a hugely muscular Superman and Batman and everything was presented very grotesque and exaggerated.
Hmm, I am conscious how every other comic review of mine mentions and contrasts with “The Dark Knight Returns”! Must stop doing that.
“The Long Halloween” continues from “Batman: Year One”, which is a good comic penned by Frank Miller (same author as “The Dark Knight Returns”, in fact “Batman: Year One was written after “The Dark Knight Returns”). “The Long Halloween” tells the story of a series of murders targeting members of the Carmine “The Roman” Falcone family. The murders happen on holidays, starting from one Halloween and ending on another. Batman, Gordon, and Dent try to uncover the killer. Side by side Dent tries to get Falcone behind bars legally, and that sub plot ultimately leads to the creation of Two Face.
Many Batman villains are present in this one, including the Joker. I didn’t find the artwork and colouring of the Joker as stunning as that in “The Killing Joke” though. For me the latter is the gold standard for Joker artwork. The Joker has the most presence, while villains like Scarecrow and Mad Hatter have a blink and miss presence. These latter villains are presented as working for Falcone in investigating the holiday murders and so their presence is incidental. The Catwoman continues her role from “Batman: Year One” and in this one her alter ego and Batman’s alter ego seem to be dating. That is a jump from “Batman: Year One”.
Apart from the story I loved the artwork, colouring, and text of this comic. Everything gelled together well and it was a pleasure reading it. As I mentioned, the story isn’t dark nor does it have any layers to it (at least none I could discern). So this puts it in the easy reading category. A cool thing about the “The Long Halloween” is also its gangster focus. You could say this is a Batman story set in a Godfather environment. Gotham City is in the control of the mafia and Batman, Gordon, and Dent are working to bring them down. The artwork depicting the mafia is super cool! Fits the mood perfectly and I wish the authors would create a Godfather series in comics. That would be awesome!
Overall, a great comic, and now I must check out its sequel.
Been trading Asura: Tale of the Vanquished these last few days. About 3/4th done now.
The book began well and it is still a good read, but I have been bored for a while. “Asura” is an interesting book. It tells the story of Ravana (the villain if the Hindu epic “Ramayana”) and I am generally a fan of stories told from the perspective of the villain. Two reasons for this: 1) History is always rewritten by the victor so heroes and villains as we know them are simply versions of history passed on to us as written by the victors – whoever won became the hero; and 2) I like to look at things from a different perspective and also understand the psyche of a “villain”, and what better way than read a story told from the villain’s point of view.
Malayalam author M.T. Vasudevan’s “Ramdamoozham” (“Second Turn” in English) is a look at the Mahabharata from the point of view of Bhima. That is an odd but interesting choice in that the author didn’t use the voice of the villain of the story, but uses that of Bhima – the second brother of the Pandavas – and so it is from the point of view of someone in the victors came, and yet due to the psyche M.T imbues in Bhima is of an outsider, an odd one out of this camp. Which makes it all the more interesting, and “Second Turn” is indeed an amazing book. The book is fascinating not only for the way the events are retold but also for the character of Bhima. One imagines Bhima to be a lumbering fatty force – all physical, no emotions – but in M.T.’s reimagining Bhima has a turbulent force raging inside. He is a whirlpool of emotions and conflicts and his story, even independent of the backdrop of the Mahabharata is engaging. (Which reminds me of what Christopher Nolan had to say about his Batman trilogy. He said that he imagined the character and stories as a regular story, not some superhero movie, and that’s why they have more story and backdrop to them than regular superhero movies. I agree).
Back to “Asura”, I knew from the Amazon blurb that this was from Ravana’s point of view and that’s why I bought the book. It began well too. The first few chapters were very well written and I was hugely excited about the book. The author (Anand Neelakantan) turned the whole Deva-Asura mythology around and presented the Devas historically as an invading race that conquered the original inhabitants of India & Lanka (the Asuras), drove them out, suppressed them, and bought with them various creepy social practices like the caste system, religious practices, rise of Brahmins & their Gods, and so on. This was a good twist and is probably true too. I am not well versed in Indian history but a lot of the things he presents as faults of Devas are things I too have wondered as a kid (I am a mythology fan and as a kid have devoured religious stories). The Devas aren’t all straight forward and righteous as one would expect, but no one questions it because usually a divine explanation and backstory is given justifying why in the particular case the Devas behaved unfairly. This sounded sneaky, and I was pleased to see “Asura” pull on various such examples to show Asuras as simple minded tribal folk whom the Devas defeated through unfair means and trickery. I loved those bits and I was excited for it. The book also pulls the curtain behind many stories and removes the symbolism to present a regular version of events as they could have been. Very nice!
Moving on, I loved the way the author handled Ravana too. Initially it felt like one of these underworld movies. Ravana is the poor man from the streets, wanting to rise up and become the next Don. He is taken in by an ageing Don (the Asura king Mahabali) and trained. Soon he leaves the ageing Don because he is young and ambitious and possibly more ruthless (think Emraan Hashmi in contrast to Ajay Devg in “Once Upon a Time in Mumbai”) and his plan is to start by capturing Lanka, ruled by his half brother Kubera, and proceed from there.
I think I liked the book up to this part. After that I lost touch with the character of Ravana. A lot of his decisions and actions didn’t resonate with me and I couldn’t see the reasoning behind them. There’s a character called Bhadra – not sure real or imaginary – through whose voice nearly half the book is said. He seems to be a “Forrest Gump” sort of person – present at all crucial events – and usually more than just being present is an active participant in them. For reasons unknown Ravana doesn’t trust him and this mistrust leads to all sorts of problems for both Ravana and Bhadra during the takeover of Lanka. In fact, trust seems to be an issue with this version of Ravana. He doesn’t trust helpful loyal servants like Bhadra, in spite of the latter proving his trust many times, is constantly unsure of his wiser advisers like Prahastha, yet at the same time blindly listens to his brothers and sister – which eventually leads to him being cheated by Vibhishana (and nearly dethroned by Shoorpanakha’s lover) thus losing his life and war. That bit seemed odd. Why was Ravana like this? Was he merely being human – which I think was the author’s intention – or was it just setting things up to match the mythology and perhaps keep the story on track to his defeat?
Back to Bhadra, I couldn’t empathise much with him either. He seemed interesting initially, but when you have a character that is constantly misused by others (Ravana and royalty) and he doesn’t seem to get the point, you lose interest in him. At least I did. Added to that he seemed to have a habit of hating Ravana but constantly falling at his feet and proclaiming himself to be a loyal servant. Didn’t make sense.
The biggest mess of all was the twist that Sita is in fact Ravana’s daughter. That was neat and smart, I liked that. Due to circumstances Sita had to be abandoned as a kid to be found by Janaka, and as she was married to a Deva chap and Devas as we know are jerks (from the story, and also because as readers we can relate to the idea from Hindu customs and rituals towards women) she has to he saved. Makes sense. To add urgency to the situation, her husband gives up everything and goes into exile, so as a loving father Ravana has to bring her over to Lanka. However, the way he does this is what does not make sense. Rather than approach her and talk about this, he kidnaps her! And then never mentions this to her ever – thus incurring her anger – and keeps wondering why she hates him and what has he done to deserve this! That didn’t make sense to me. Moreover, as Bhadra comments once, this is a personal matter of the King. Why incur war and suffering for his people over this!?
Up to the point where I have read (3/4 the book) Ravana is yet to tell Sita about him. In a fit of emotion he announces to the whole world of this, but she is yet to know and neither has anyone told her! Unbelievable. Just that one action could have changed things, but it can’t be.
Owing to reasons like these I lost touch with Ravana. As Ravana eloquently states somewhere, he is only a Man, not a God, and has made mistakes and lived like a Man – which I agree with – and I am guessing that was the author’s intention too in presenting him like that. But I couldn’t get a feel for the character, couldn’t resonate with him, and so lost connection. In the case of “Second Turn” I remember being sucked into Bhima’s mind and thoughts, there was no similar feeling here. Which is sad, because the character started off extremely well.
Many other parts of the book are good. Like I said, the whole idea of presenting Devas and their customs without any symbolism or justification but simply as what they are plainly – showing us how it is not straightforward “holy” as one might believe – was good. The war between Rama and Ravana was presented not just as a war between these two, but as a war for the soul and future of India. If Asuras had won India would have been different! No caste system, no silly Brahminical rituals, no way of practicing religion and praying to Gods as one does now… Everything would be vastly different! I liked that. I associated with that, it felt real and likely, and it put the war in a whole new light for me. I rooted for the Asuras and saw the war as something like an Independence war. Excellent presentation by the author!
I still have a quarter of the book to go through. Hopefully I will wrap it up in a day or two. Apparently the author has one more book in the pipeline – a retelling of the Mahabharatha from Duryodhna, Karna, etc point of view – to be released in two parts. I will probably buy it, but won’t expect much. The author has interesting things to say, just that the character development falls short for me.
Update (the next day): The book never seems to end! Nearly 95% into it now and Ravana has long died, but now the author has gone on a tangent about caste system! I agree with what he is trying to say, and I like the way he is exposing the Deva way of things including how they cheat to win (killing Ravana, Maghanada, Kumbakarna, and so on) but going on long after Ravana has died isn’t what I expected from the book. Which in a way is my qualm with the book, I think. It isn’t just about Ravana – while I expected a book that’s personal about Ravana this one doesn’t get to that level and seems to aim for more than just Ravana. And that’s starting to bore more and more …
Today I read “Superman Earth One”. Another amazing comic! I am thankful for Amazon’s offer last month of comics for US$5.99 or less. I managed to buy many comics through that and am enjoying them.
“Superman Earth One” is what “Man of Steel” should have been. I didn’t enjoy “Man of Steel” much. At that time I attributed the dislike to maybe me having high expectations from it or wishing something along the lines of a “The Dark Knight” and so I kept my opinions to myself and decided to see how the story develops in the sequels. (Which I am doubtful about now, by the way, because if the studio is confident about the movie and story then why are they introducing characters like Batman and Wonder Woman? Sure these are rumored to be not central to the movie, but still they are a sure shot way of working up frenzy for the movie and I don’t see why a studio that’s confident about its product needs to do that).
The artwork in “Superman Earth One” is excellent. The coloring eye catching, and the story sufficiently dark and broody and grounded. I loved it! “Man of Steel” had a lot of things I didn’t like. Amy Adams as Lois Lane didn’t feel right, the way she uncovered Superman was contrived as was her being used as a hostage, the subplot of Jor-El being in the space ship and also his suit being provided from there just didn’t feel natural, Clark’s father not wanting him to expose his identity made sense but it was obviously harming the boys’ self confidence and that wasn’t addressed satisfactorily, and so on. But “Superman Earth One” takes sensible route with all this. Sure, his father tells Clark not to expose his identity, but he isn’t so morose or harmful to the boy’s confidence with it. The spaceship is present, but no Jor-El. The Superman suit was made by his mother and she went on to explain why the colors are thus (apart from her not having a choice) and also why Superman doesn’t need a mask. Tyrell discovers during his search for Superman that other suns gave them both power and that Kryptonian sunlight (real or artificial) is a weakness for them. Tyrell is also smart enough to build his spaceship using material from his home planet, making it unbreakable for Superman. I could go on and on… heck, even Perry White is so much better in the comic and has depth to it!
Apart from the comic the interview piece at the end added more depth to the story. That was Superman’s chance to speak to the readers and public and he uses it to clarify how he didn’t know of the intruders and more importantly how he works for humanity and NOT any Government. That was brilliant! That was one aspect of Superman I used to hate – how he was reduced to be an agent of the US (something which Batman in “The Dark Knight Returns” too points out) and it was good to see the writers address it head on here.
A great re-imagining of an iconic character! Simply superb and one which will appeal to all geeks and comic fans.
Today I read “Batman: The Killing Joke”, a 46 page short comic on Batman and the Joker. I love the visuals in this! They are absolutely stunning and it’s such a refreshing change from those in “The Dark Knight Rises”. Brighter, better colors, yet dark so not to be too colorful or light, and with amazing detail and good quality. The characters have more life and detail too. The Joker looks so life like and the Batman has a Sean Connery look to him!
The story is short but filled with punch. Makes you think. Batman and the Joker are a match with a special relationship, and that’s explored here. And so is a question of what makes one a villain? Is it just “one bad day” – a series of ill timed events that unhinge your mind and morality and you turn into someone else? If so, can any rational person be subjected to such pressure and forced to change? That’s what the Joker explores here. Neat idea, I must say!
The Joker’s dialogs are just like one would expect from, along with his typical sense of humor. Batman looks just like he used to in the comics of my childhood. And the focus is on the story for the story’s sake, no unnecessary melodrama here.
I read the deluxe version and that included an afterword by the artist Brian Bolland, as well as a short piece by him called “Innocent Guy”. That too was a fun read with the same stunning visuals and detail – I just love the visuals!
A must read for any Batman fan!
I have been reading “The Dark Knight Returns” (comic) past few days. It’s a good read but I wasn’t as blown away by it as I expected. Maybe it’s just me – the comic has a high rating and huge fan following after all.
I liked the idea of the story. And I liked the old Batman narrative. That was some great story telling. His fears, his reasons, the challenges he has to face and overcome. That was great and dark! What I didn’t like much though was the overall plot. There didn’t really seem to be much to it except setup for this fight between Superman and Batman and Batman’s eventual fake death. The story seemed to involve unnecessarily releasing Batman’s old villains and then blaming Batman for whatever wrong they did. I enjoy the twist there – that the villains were bad because of Batman and so he is to blame here, and I can see the influence of this in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (especially the second one) – yet the way it was told in the comics didn’t resonate much with me. It felt superficial and fast. Too many villains, too many blames, no time to convince me that perhaps Batman could be at fault here or that the Doctors and public point if view is worth thinking about.
The fight sequences were beautifully drawn. And I liked Commissioner Gordon a lot more in this compared to “Batman: Year One” – there was more depth to his character. In fact I liked the Joker too here. The way he escapes and then incriminates Batman by killing himself – typical Joker stuff! Which is why I am confused about my feelings for this comic because I seemed to have enjoyed the individual elements but just didn’t like the overall pointless story.
The culmination of this story – the grand fight between Superman was well done too, and I enjoyed the dialogues as well as the fake death idea. That was a good resolution.