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Dark Knight, desi comics

Indrajit Hazra Indrajit Hazra, Hindustan Times   January 08, 2011
First Published: 00:09 IST(8/1/2011) | Last Updated: 00:12 IST(8/1/2011)

Prince of Ayodhya
Ashok K Banker & Enrique Alcatena
Penguin India
Rs 350  pp 93

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Ashok K Banker knows his Ramayana. And it’s definitely worth our while to know his Ramayana too. For those unfamiliar with his six-volume Ramayana series, this ‘graphic novel’ adaptation of the first volume, Prince of Ayodhya, is an enticing entry to Banker’s Dungeons and Dragons-meets-Dandakaranya and Asuras world of Ayodhya and beyond.

Banker uses characters from Valmiki’s text and riffs with them, pressing different notes from the ‘original’ text — itself a wobbly concept when it comes to the Ramayana — and sets a steroid-pumped, Peter Jackson-friendly tone to the adventures of Rama. The Raghupati gets the same kind of makeover Batman got after Frank Miller in the 80s pulled the Dark Knight out of the prince of Gotham.

Here, in this slim volume, Argentine comic book illustrator Enrique Alcatena takes Banker’s layered vision one step further. His illustrations marry a marvellous story of a superhero with 70s-80s DC Comics aesthetics. Jatayu is no longer a Raja Ravi Varma-vision of a giant bird but a green, mutated scaly thing reminiscent of the Swamp Thing. Manthara is a viable contender for the Most Repulsive Face Prize with Freddy Krueger. And Rama grabbing an axe and two arrows mid-air in a panel could jolly well have been a shirtless Nemo catching bullets in slo-mo in The Matrix. 

I just have two complaints: one major, one minor. In chapter 7, the flow of panels depicting the story of Sati and Rudra (Shiva) on pages 76-77 is confusing. The same sort of confusion for the reader is repeated over the next two pages while dealing with the clothes-rejecting and very sexy Axa-on-acid-looking yakshi Tataka. The sudden switch from ‘vertical’ single page to ‘horizontal’ double-spread format doesn’t make navigation easy at all.

And the minor complaint: the feel and size of this book goes counter to the comic book format that Prince of Ayodhya naturally possesses. Especially for a ‘to be continued’ story, a larger, thinner format would’ve been better. But Banker and Alcatena do a fab job. I certainly can’t wait to see Ravana and his gang make their appearance.


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