Some would call Banker’s reimagining of the ancient Hindu epic a work of fantasy, others would call it historical fiction or spiritual metaphor. It’s all of that and so much more—but you don’t have to be an Indiaphile to enjoy this enthralling six book odyssey. I adored the entire series—Prince of Ayhodhya, Siege of Mithila, Demons of Chitrakut, Armies of Hanuman, Bridge of Rama and King of Ayodhya—but Prince and Siege captured my heart, soul and imagination in a way that reminded me of being fifteen and encountering Lord of the Rings for the first time. Truth is, I don’t think I’ll ever read LOTR again, but there’s a very good chance I’ll return to this magnificent series. A transporting, transcendent experience. (I was also enraptured by a very different take on the same classic story, published around the same time as Banker’s: Ramesh Menon’s The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic.)
Three of my pop culture heroes had new biographies in the bookstores in the 00’s: John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neil Gabler and Orson Welles: Hello, Americans by Simon Callow (I suggest you read Callow’s first volume on Welles, 1995’s The Road to Xanadu, before diving into this). Not one of these was definitive—that would be impossible, really—but all of them were thorough, compassionate, fascinating and great fun.
And now a shameful admission: I don’t really read a lot of comic books and haven’t for some time. (I’ll wait a moment while your jaws hit the floor.) That said, two comics that found their way to me and knocked my proverbial socks off were David Mack’s Kabuki (a dizzying meditation on life, the universe and everything. It’s as if Mack jacks his head directly into the drawing board, turns a switch and lets his unconscious mind bleed out onto the page. Unclassifiably weird and absolutely wonderful) and Godland by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli (Jack Kirby meets Philip K Dick in a comic book that explodes in your face every time you turn the page. Casey and Scioli transcend their influences and create a work of unbounded imagination and great fun).
I’m also a big fan of a couple of all-ages comics: Spider-Girl, by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema (a good old-fashioned Marvel Comic, done with intelligence, skill and heart) and Lions, Tigers and Bears, by Mike Bullock, Jack Lawrence and Friends (those three words—intelligence, skill and heart—come to mind again).
And let’s not forget those amazing web-comics from Mike Cavallaro, Dean Haspiel, Tim Hamilton and all their supernaturally talented cohorts at Act-i-Vate. To paraphrase Jon Landau, I have seen the future of comics and it’s just a click of the mouse away.
As for comic books on film, the hands-down winners were Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man. The former perfectly captured the essence of my old friend Peter Parker and the latter was the first super-hero movie that I actually liked more than the source material.
Tomorrow? Music and television.
© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis