By Anthony Perconti
Although he needs no introduction from the likes of me, let me just take a moment to restate the fact that Grant Morrison is the premier auteur working in the field of superhero comics. What sets his works apart from other comic book creators is his deep and explicit understanding of the genre. This understanding, down to a granular degree, encompasses its limitations as well as its inherent potential. This wellspring of knowledge enables Morrison to contribute a fresh perspective on a genre that has been in existence since the late 1930s. His writing is able to express quite grandiose, metaphysical ideas, while simultaneously grounding them in characters that wear their humanity on their sleeves, the stand-ins for you and I, the everyman (and woman). This Morrison touchstone, to link the droll in the everyday world with the numinous, is where much of the absurdity and humor of his books derive. The three-issue miniseries, Vimanarama, illustrated by Philip Bond, is an exemplary blend of high and low. A charming mix of Kirby’s cosmically preoccupied “Fourth World” or The Eternals, with the quotidian pathos of a vintage Marvel Comic circa 1963.
The plot of Vimanarama revolves around Ali and Sofia, two young Muslims from Asian backgrounds, whose parents have arranged for them to be married. Ali is prompted by his father to go over to the family corner shop, Kandivali Gulley, to check on his elder brother Omar, who somehow has become trapped. Within the first few pages, Morrison immediately sets the tone of the series. As Ali begrudgingly bikes over to the shop, behind him in the background of the splash page, a group of teenage girls is suspended inches off the ground in the midst of a synchronized Bollywood dance number in the middle of a Bradford street. He ironically mumbles to himself; “Ali to the rescue.”
It turns out, that the shop is situated atop an ancient outpost; a (nearly) abandoned Vedic city from a long-lost mythic age. In addition to being a storehouse of ancient, exotic super-science, this city is also the prison for the devil Ull-Shatan and his minions, that Ali and Sofia inadvertently let loose upon the world. Equipped with this exotic weaponry, the antagonists take flight in stolen, shining Vimanas, cutting a bloody swath through England. Their eventual goal being the Drowned Island of Atlantis (located beneath modern Manhattan) where Ull- Shatan can awaken the Black Vimanas, thereby dealing a deathblow to God and his creations. But don’t fret, this being a Grant Morrison comic, as Ben Rama says; “All will be made well.” The young couple sends off a cosmic SOS that is felt (according to Sofia) “like a fire alarm going off in my soul”.
As if an all-out war between ancient demigods and devils isn’t enough, as the story reaches its conclusion, things go full-blown psychedelic
Responding to the Earth’s distress call is Prince Ben Rama and his Ultra-Hadeen! These four shining demigods have been away for six thousand years, adventuring and fighting the Seven Sultans of Silence of the 11th Planet. Yes, really. Morrison and Bond’s portrayal of this Vedic super-team is a post-modern amalgamation from the Hindu and Islamic traditions, with a heavy dose of Erich Von Däniken and Jack Kirby mixed in for good measure. These towering immortal super-beings are handsome and beautifully resplendent in all their trappings, platonic embodiments of humankind’s noble virtues. These servants of Rama struggle against the minions of Ull- Shatan utilizing outré armaments including projectiles that are primed by prayers and a miniature weaponized female angel. Morrison characterizes these beings in bright, bold strokes. There is no doubt that the Ultra-Hadeen is inherently beneficent and heroic; acting simultaneously as humanities defenders as well as the catalyst in the next step of human evolution.
In the midst of this epic Bollywood super-saga, Morrison infuses elements of human melodrama, which recalls Stan Lee at his finest and most bombastic. Ali, the youngest son of his family, lives in his brother’s (more dutiful and responsible) shadow. While as a last resort, in a pique of post-adolescent histrionic rebellion, this black sheep carries a noose in his pocket to end it all in the event that his bride to be is unattractive; essentially the mopiness of Peter Parker dialed all the way up to eleven with the knob broken off. With the revelation that Sofia is indeed beautiful, Morrison adds another wrinkle to Ali (and Sofia’s) story in that she is Prince Ben Rama’s long-lost love reincarnated. Sigh. Vimanarama is the type of whimsical comic book in which a demigod can withstand the crushing pressures of the ocean floor and the vacuum of space, only to be physically injured by a broken heart.
As if an all-out war between ancient demigods and devils isn’t enough, as the story reaches its conclusion, things go full-blown psychedelic. Upon death’s door, his consciousness teetering between worlds, Ali begins to literally fall apart, body parts float away like a child’s party balloons. A few scenes later, when Ali reaches the ‘edge’ of this celestial way-station, towards the blinding supernova known as the Ramparts of Being, the character literally turns the page of the comic book for us (the readers) shattering the illusion of the Fourth Wall.
As promised, Prince Ben Rama was as good as his word. “As Kirby tried to tell us in his book of the same name, we are the new gods, just as we are the old ones, too”.(1) In the final few pages, almost as an afterthought, like an actor in a stage-play, Ali, with a knowing twinkle in his eyes, turns to us and tells us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It should be noted that he is decked out in Ben Rama’s action suit and helmet, amongst his wife and family. As he flies off into the night on his shining Vimana, we see the city of Bradford, in the process of transformation by the Vedic super-science.
As Morrison states so elegantly in his introduction to Supergods; “Get ready to take off your disguise, prepare to whisper your magic word of transformation and summon the lightning. It’s time to save the world.”(2) When they are at their best, superhero comics are able to distill the best aspects of human nature and condense them into engaging (and frankly absurd) two-dimensional picture stories; morality plays that can inspire readers to strive for their better selves. Grant Morrison (along with Bond’s help) is able to elicit these emotions through engaging storytelling coupled with the innovative manipulation of the story-form. Ali to the rescue indeed.
Morrison, Grant & Bond, Phillip. Kill Your Boyfriend/ Vimanaram: The Deluxe Edition. DC Comics, 2016.
- Morrison, Grant. Supergods: Our World in The Age Of The Superhero. Vintage Books, London, 2012. Page 115.
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