As an Indian-American raised in the U.S., I was really excited to discover independent comic book publisher Graphic India, which is devoted to developing and showcasing Indian writers and artists.
Graphic India’s line of comics, while mining the rich heritage of India, also straddles the line of Western sensibilities. Which, I suppose, does define those of us who live in the West, whether or not we write comic book reviews.
Which brings me to Shekhar Kapur’s Devi Rebirth. The original series had 20 issues. I am actively searching for them, so I unfortunately can’t discuss more than this “Rebirth” story line. For those who have been living under rock, creator Shekhar Kapur is an internationally acclaimed director and producer, who in additional to his great Bollywood films, Masoom, Mr. India and the Bandit Queen, won the British Academy Film Award for Elizabeth and directed Heath Ledger in The Four Feathers.
While Devi is his creation, the Rebirth series is penned by Siddharth Kotian and drawn by Mukesh Singh. To be honest, I had not heard of either gentleman before, which is unfortunate, as they are both enormously talented.
In the introduction we are told that the gods each gave up some of their powers to create Devi to battle their errant brother, Bala. Without getting too deep into Hinduism, suffice to say that “Devi” is the Sanskrit word for “Goddess.” In this comic, Devi is not one of the traditional forms but is instead an original creation inspired by the Vedic traditions.
In Western comics we are familiar with gods making appearances. In particular Thor and Wonder Woman are not only a couple of the best comics in their respective universes, they are heavily steeped in the western mythology. Thor is a Norse god, and Diana was created by the Greek gods and is often involved with their machinations.
I found it exciting to see the concept of our gods being handled by Indian artists who understand and can translate our culture with intelligence. Where the West has the Old and New Testament, Homer and Icelandic Sagas, we have one of the oldest written works, the Vedas, written between 1500 and 1000 BC, which forms the bedrock of Indian culture, just the way the Old and New Testament underlay Judeo-Christian culture.
This is a long way of saying Devi mines this rich material.
The first issue is divided into two parts: in the first, during mythic times, Devi defeats Bala who is then imprisoned by his father. Fast forward to modern times; a mysterious female assassin is working through a group of Japanese thugs on her way to kill their boss. All the while she’s on her cell talking to someone who wants to hire her. Turns out it’s Bala. The scene shifts to Devi who’s been called in by the police to rescue a kidnapped child who is about to sacrificed.
On its face, the comic might seem like we’ve seen it before. Yet, Kotian’s brisk script and Singh’s dazzling art, complimented by Nanjan J’s colors drew me right in. My biggest regret was that the book ended too soon.
Singh’s art strongly reminded me of Michael Turner’s pencils on Witchblade. But, I found Singh’s art cleaner, without the excess lines which Turner used, yet found a similarity in the composition of pages and action. Singh, clearly exhibits a strength and maturity of form and style which should easily place him the ranks of anyone working at DC or Marvel. Which is not too surprising as he has done cover art for Marvel.
Kotian knows how to write and pace the story. He also has a sense of humor, which you’ll only find in the best comics. The initial scenes of the assassin, Kratha, talking on the cell phone with one hand and demolishing the Yakuza with the other were laced in humor. Yet, he also portrays the strength and dignity of the Devi without making her look pretentious. While I am sure that there will be comparisons to Wonder Women, she is clearly an original creation born from the dual traditions of the Vedic culture and the American pop culture.
I really loved Devi, and recommend her to anyone who wishes to get a sense of what Indian culture can produce in the comic world. I would be interested in seeing a comic book review of Devi from someone to who is new to this pantheon.
[Modified 29 August 2016 to improve discoverability. -wf]