Shekhar Kapur’s Devi: Rebirth #1 (review)
(Graphic India, August 2016)
Writer: Ashwin Pande
This title has come back into existence following a crossover event in January 2016 between the title character, a warrior goddess named Devi, and Top Cow Production’s character “Witchblade”. “Witchblade” reached the height of popularity in the late 1990s when comics featuring beautiful, under-dressed superheroines sold stock. This vogue prompted the term “T&A” (“tits and ass”) to describe comic books, such as “Tomb Raider” and the truly awful “Mike Deodato’s Jade Warriors” which sat on the hazy border of soft pornography and comic book entertainment for teenaged boys.
The series begins with an historical battle against the hordes of a rogue god called Bala. Bala is an archetypical devil, defeated by the forces of good led by the new goddess Devi. Bala is a hideous creature, wearing taloned steel armour. Devi wears a flame which writhes around her breasts and groin, and wields fire. Bala is dismissive of being attacked by a woman, but is summarily defeated by Devi. Bala is trapped by the pantheon of gods in a stone tomb. The series then skips forward to the present day. Bala walks upon the surface of the world again. He is depicted as sitting in an office, the shadows of horizontal blinds across his face, now human but wearing sunglasses, his clawed hand holding a small globe of the Earth. The imagery of this closing scene has the subtlety of a falling brick. Oddly, Bala is on the phone to an assassin, who casually chats to him about her terms of engagement while she is mid-kill. Setting aside this lumpy plot, the dialogue is truly awful and clichéd:
a. “Lord Bala, the humans have a new champion and none can withstand the fury of her blade.”
b. “Ahahahahaha! Devi! A woman? They sent a woman to defeat me?”
c. “You should have run, Bala! The chase would have been good entertainment!”
d. “Ha! Your ego blinds you, “Lord”! Two minutes from now I’ll have you kneeling before me!”
e. “Just a man of many curious resources.”
And there is some terrible misogyny: when Devi is on the ground with legs apart, knocked down by the villain, we read the awful line, “Stay down wench! This position suits your kind!”
The story in a round-about way has its roots in Hindi epic mythos, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. This is fertile ground for comic books, a dramatic and cataclysmic Kurekshetra War. The main character in this comic, Devi, is apparently based on the mother goddess and primordial cosmic force, Durga in Hinduism.
This has only been briefly explored once, to our knowledge, by American writer Marv Wolfman in 1982 with DC Comics’ “New Teen Titans” #19. In this comic, the hapless villain Dr Light inadvertently causes statues of the Dashavatara, the ten avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu, to come alive. The action features Narasimha, the half man/half lion : Matsya, the fish: Varaha the boar: and Rama the hero.
But otherwise this wealth of folklore has been untapped by comic books.
This comic is not the right vehicle for that task. In many ways, it is understandable why this title was paired with “Witchblade” in early 2016. The title character of “Witchblade”, a policewoman who could be mistaken for a supermodel, runs about wearing a dangerous, sentient artefact with the texture of a coral reef. This artefact is a mystical weapon called the Witchblade, and it can change shape: and so it cups the character’s large breasts and barely covers her below the waist. “Devi” seems to be of the same ilk, an almost nude goddess who prefers flame to clothing and is drawn so as to titillate boys. Solid plot and dialogue are not needed for that purpose.
We are a little late in writing this review: issue 4 is now released. But we would be surprised if the quality of this comic has improved in the interim.