Grant Morrison and Philip Bond’s Vimanarama is a delightful little comic. It’s one of Morrison’s simpler comics and part of why I like it so much is because of its simplicity. It’s pop comic or the comic equibalent of a popcorn film. Note, that it’s not the comic equivalent of a blockbuster film, not at all. It’s light-hearted and charming and it’s also funnier than most comics written by Morrison. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should you.
While the comic doesn’t take itself too seriously, the characters really do. Ali is a young Muslim man who is going through and existential crisis. His father has arranged for him to marry and he’s hours away from meeting his bride-to-be. He’s convinced that when he meets his future wife he will know if God loves him or not by how beautiful she is (or isn’t). He’s seriously worried that she’ll either be ugly, stupid or boring. As it happens, Sofia is very pretty and she’s far from boring. Nothing about Ali’s life is boring because the same day he met his fiancée is also the beginning of the end of the Earth when he inadvertently unleashed a great evil upon the world.
The best thing about this comic is the tone but it’s also the easiest thing to miss. A lot of it has to do with Philip Bond’s art. His stocky and cartoonish characters work really well with this story. It’s drastically different from his earlier collaboration with Morrison on Kill Your Boyfriend. Here his art style is more exaggerated or defined than it was with Kill Your Boyfriend and it really works. It actually works better with Vinamarama, partly due to the juxtaposition of the regular human characters and the godlike Ultrahadeen (religious superheroes) and the evil Atlanteans (Jack Kirby inspired villains). Actually, now that I think about it a lot of this comic works by presenting opposing elements and letting them play our organically.
I started to talk about the tone and that’s what makes this comic work for me. Bond’s art is walking on the edge of characterization and Morrison’s dialogue is much sillier here than it usually is in his comics. Really though, it’s two comics professionals not taking it took seriously but still managing to produce a very interesting and very entertaining story. I should say four professionals as colourist Brian Miller and letterer Todd Klein help to round out what is essentially a superstar cast of creators. They’re goofing around a bit but they’re doing it like pros, nothing is unpolished, and the result is a micro version of what you would normally find inside a comic written by Morrison.
I’m pretty sure the whole thing is meant to be over the top for humorous effect. When talking to journalists about the sinkhole in his store, the Ali’s father mentions that the underground mine (that’s what he thinks it is at the time) was a threat to him and his family. He almost lost his scholar son (Omar) who only survived because of his brother (Ali). Really though, he’s exaggerating for the press. Omar is disciplined and obedient but he’s far from being a scholar. Likewise, Ali likes to doodle and he doesn’t appear to have gainful employment. Being described as an artist isn’t accurate at all. It doesn’t sound funny when I explain it but trust me, in the hands of pros like Morrison and Bond, it works rather well. Really though, it’s the compound effect of these little gags being thrown around the page in the midst of godlike alien apocalypse and meet-cute love story. The first issue actually opens with a double splash page taken right out of a Bollywood film because this is the kind of story it is. Imran, Ali’s nephew, couldn’t even crawl yesterday but today he’s walking around getting into all sorts of trouble.
All the humour is just one part of the comic. The second part is the budding romance between husband and wife to be, Sofia and Ali. Their story feels so real and even though it’s told in three single issues, the whole thing feels rather well paced and believable. There is a third part to the comic and that’s the superheroics, a love child of Jack Kirby and Eastern philosophies and religions.
Vimanarama is a micro Morrison story. A lot of his popular themes are present here such as love, metaphysics, superheroes, Eastern cultures but, most important of all, is the theme of human transcendence and the power to save ourselves. Sofia doesn’t fall in love for Ali because he’s cute or charming (mostly because he’s not really charming at all, he’s a bit depressing really) but because he has “sad eyes”. The other reason she falls in love with his is that while his family is busy bickering and complaining about the destruction of their corner store, Ali is always running around trying to save everyone. He’s the family hero and nobody recognizes it but Sofia.
Ali’s decision to achieve transcendence through death in order to save the world was a plan doomed to fail but his heroic action (as much as you can call suicide heroic) helps to defeat the Atlanteans. Though Ali doesn’t succeed on his own, it’s his heroic spirit that helps Ben Rama realize the potential that modern man has to succeed. Prior to Ali’s gesture he was caught up in his own bravado and partially defeated by the decay of the great civilization of Earths he’s familiar with (civilization from 6,000 years ago). This is a deceptive comic. My earlier descrition of pop comic isn’t accurate. That’s what it is on the surface but readers who take their time and choose to savour Vimanarama will be reading a completely different comic than those who are simply reading these issues in an effort to catch up with their reading pile.
Vimanarama is an inspired combination of cosmic superheroics like Jack Kirby’s Fourth World or The Eternals mixed with a family centric dramady and the result is a comic filled with contrasting ideals that’s s pleasure to read.