Don't be put off by the "Volume 2" label on this "Ramayan 3392 AD" trade paperback. As the cover indicates, "The epic journey begins here."
Sounds like hyperbole, right? And how could the journey "begin" in the second volume of the series?
I'm not completely sure, but having read only this current volume, I know the journey does truly begin here. I know editor Ron Marz had something to do with it. And even though this book is identified as "Volume 2," it's the first collection of the "Reloaded" series which apparently redirected the "Ramayan 3392 AD" concept into a more elegant and imaginative direction.
So feel free to skip the first volume. I did.
But don't skip this one, because, as Marz says in his foreword, "it's part of who we are." Marz is referring to the mythic structure of the ancient Sanskrit poem upon which this comic book series is based. The ancient "Ramayana," an essential text in Hinduism, follows the same pattern as other mythological quest stories. It's all that "Hero with a Thousand Faces" Joseph Campbell stuff that we've seen time and again in everything from "The Odyssey" to "Star Wars" to "Dude, Where's My Car?" The reason that story keeps getting retold is because it works. It's the story of humanity. On the small scale, it's our story each day as we go out into the world, facing tests and trials before returning home at night. And, on the larger scale, it's the story of our lives, as we leave our parents and make our way in the harsh, uncertain world.
"Ramayan 2292 AD Volume 2" retells that same heroic quest story, but it tells it in a way that's surprising enough to make you keep reading, and visually interesting enough to make you want to recommend it to others.
The central story of the series is this: Rama, the favorite son and great warrior, his beloved Seeta, and his younger brother Lakshman must survive their journey through the Wasteland in a vaguely post-apocalyptic future. It's a vision of the future that's part Frank Herbert's "Dune," part "Judge Dredd," and part insane grizzly bear bounty hunters and three-headed mutants. Plus, Rama has some kind of "Final Fantasy" lightning sword. But it doesn't feel like a hodge-podge of influences. It feels like a fully-realized fantasy world, something from the coolest video game you've never played.
The story arc collected in this trade paperback climaxes with a gladiator battle between Rama, his companions, and an array of strange villains. Artist Jeevan Kang does some brilliant work in the climax, his use of shadows evoking Jae Lee's work in the recent "Gunslinger" comic. And writer Shamik Dasgupta makes up for any lack of characterization in his protagonist -- Rama, as a religious figure, is probably too sacred too imbue with too much personality -- with well-developed secondary characters and freewheeling plot momentum. Once the story gets underway in the first chapter, it races to the finish with one insane situation after another. The grizzly bear bounty hunters and three-headed mutants mentioned above weren't metaphors. And they also aren't the craziest creatures in the book.
There's a thematic undercurrent in the book, emphasizing transcendence. Emphasizing that some of these characters have not reached their full potential. And that's what the hero's quest is always about. Growing through experience. Finding the path.
"Ramayan 3392 Volume 2" is accessible and intriguing, and the epic journey really does begin here. I hope it will continue for a long time.