Tuesday, July 12, 2005

No Holds Barred Comics Review!

I don't know why I titled the post that - it just popped into my head. Of course holds are barred!

So, Omaha Perez of the enigmatically-named O-P-P Press sent me some comics. Yes, I know I'm not special, since he sent some to Cronin as well, and if he thinks Cronin's opinion is valuable, he obviously has some problems. Since Brian already gave us his opinions of some of the books (and I basically agree with him), I'll just focus on the book he didn't review: Bodhisattva.

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Bodhisattva is written and drawn by Mr. Perez, with script assistance from Richard Raleigh and Dr. Michael McLaughlin. It's $11.95 for a pretty good chunk of book. According to Mr. Perez, it will be in bookstores this very month, so this review is awfully timely!

So, is it any good? Well, despite the somewhat disappointing ending, yes. Since I'm not necessarily an art guy, I'll briefly talk about it. It's good. Rough, sure, and a bit stilted at times, but good throughout. The scenes in 1591 B.C., when the Indian dudes meet the "gods," are particularly well done, conveying a nice sense of majesty and mystery. The final showdown, while disappointing in its execution, was also nicely rendered. Perez has a good grasp on the Hindu gods (Ganesh is especially powerfully drawn) and his characters are easily distinguishable from each other. That may not sound like much, but it is. Everyone can't look the same, people! That's why superheroes wear costumes, after all - so we can tell them apart!

The story is intriguing, because it's not something we see every day and it's a nice mystery wrapped up in religious overtones. In Periphery #1, Brian liked the story of Ganesh, while others didn't. In this book, we get a lot more Hindu mythology, and although it threatens occasionally to overwhelm the story, Perez manages to keep from doing so. A slight knowledge of the Hindu pantheon couldn't hurt, but it's not like you need to have read the Ramayana to get it.

The main characters are Bodhi, a monk living in 1591 B.C., and Alex, a schizophrenic living in San Francisco. Back in the day, Bodhi and his group of acolytes met up with the gods and received their power. Another monk, Rahula, receives power from Kali, and that's never good. Rahula and Bodhi both survive until the present day, avatars of their gods (Bodhi gets his power from Brahma, the "good guy" of the gods), each striving to bring about their deity's vision on earth. For Rahula, this means a lot of destruction. What is interesting about the scenes from 1591 B.C. is how Perez suggests, subtly and not-so-subtly, that the gods are actually aliens who have to leave Earth. He never comes right out and says it, and Ganesh's appearance at the end seems to argue against it, but it's still there, and it adds a nice layer of mystery to the proceedings. Erich von Däniken would be so proud.

In the present day, we meet Alex and Jack Costello and a few others, all in the loony bin where Alex is sent. He's not really schizophrenic, he just happens to see Bodhi floating around a lot, and no one else can. The scenes in the asylum are the most interesting in the book, as Perez comments on the state of the mental health industry and who exactly is crazy and why these people never get any better. Costello, the orderly, is a horrible human being, while the inmates, although crazy, don't seem to pose any threat to society. This borders on stereotype, but Perez redeems himself with the mini-story of Hatar Singh, who did a bad thing years earlier and seeks forgiveness. He finds it, but not in the way we expect, which is nice. It takes a while for us to find our footing with the story, because we're not sure exactly how everything fits together, but eventually we're on a clear path, and all makes sense.

Unfortunately, it makes too much sense, I think. For most of the book, it's a meditation on what makes us good and evil, and why we make the choices we do, and how we can find redemption. It's elevated above standard comic-book fare by these themes and the unusual vehicle - Hindu mysticism - that Perez uses to convey these themes. In the end, however, it disappoints, because it turns into a superhero fight. It's not a bad superhero fight, and the art, as I mentioned, is as good as the rest of the book, but the scene wouldn't feel out of place in a Dr. Strange comic, and I don't want that from this book. It just seems like it could have been much more, and Perez took the easy way out. It's a shame.

Is it worth it? It's 12 dollars, after all, and I always try to look at the value you get for your buck. It's a cynical way to review things, I know, but that's the way it is. I would say it's worth it for the nice art and the first three-quarters of the book. It takes you to a world we in the West know little about, and it forces you to look at the world a little differently. That it ultimately doesn't deliver isn't the worst thing in the world - it's not an illogical ending, just a disappointing one. Other than that, I would check it out. It's neat. And you can listen to Steely Dan while you read it!

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