I received this in the mail not too long ago. It's ... unusual, to say the least!
Jeremiah Shanti, the creator of this book, sent it to me, and I'd like to thank him for it. I always enjoy getting stuff in the mail, mainly because the stuff I get is so far off the beaten track. Such it is with Illuminations. This costs 17 bucks and is self-published. The credits are a bit weird: Shanti is listed as writer and letterer, but then the digital inkers are listed first: Roel Jovellanos, Reynaldo Narciso, and Jay Hormouchi. Then we get the pencilers: "Lits" and "Anthony's Art Team." It's an odd way to show the credits, and it makes me wonder how the art side of the book was put together.
I should point out right now that I didn't like the comic.
I appreciate the work that went into it and I think Shanti has some good ideas in it, but it's just not very good. The cool ideas come from the fact that it's based on some Hindu teachings and the Bhagavad Gita. There's a lot of talk about cosmic and karmic cycles and reincarnation. There are gurus teaching disciples and demons ushering in eternal darkness and references to Shiva. The basic story is about a young man named Samuel, who is a reincarnation of a master but is now a student. He must battle an evil demi-god in the form of a man who has founded an evil corporation. Samuel, of course, must make a long journey to spiritual awakening so he can defeat the bad guy. Which he does.
Shanti gives us quite a bit about the teachings of Hinduism and what Samuel has to overcome to reach spiritual fulfillment, and he doesn't push it too hard. The book takes place in the 38th century for some reason, so there's a lot of "futuristic" stuff going on, but Shanti doesn't do too much with the science-fiction aspects of the story. A little, but not much. What placing the book so far in the future does, I suppose, is make it more believable that Hindu teachings would have become commonplace in Los Angeles schools. This isn't a bad idea - it makes the idea of Samuel accepting all the things that happen to him fairly easily more believable. It also makes the final scenes of the novel, during which a pop star begins chanting Hindu verses to her audience, more sensible. Like the rest of the religion in the book, it's part of the society, so it feels more natural than if Shanti was trying to shoehorn it into a present-day setting.
Unfortunately, the occasional decent ideas can't compensate for the rest of it. Illuminations is an interesting comic, but it just doesn't work.
It's poorly written and badly drawn. Shanti does far too much telling instead of showing, and even his dialogue is far too expository. His characters lack any depth, which is to be expected when they simply exist to tell the story. Samuel, the main character, is supposed to be sympathetic, but he's a bit creepy. I guess he's supposed to be all sensitive when it comes to women, but he comes off as simpering, and toward the end, he gets in a threesome with two completely random women and that's apparently all he needs to move on to total enlightenment. It's not the fact that he has the threesome that bothers me, it's just that it comes out of nowhere and feels completely puerile and somewhat smarmy, as if Shanti wanted a threesome in the book and then had to justify it somehow. He explains in a note at the end of the book what it means, but it just feels silly in the context of the book. He and his adversary, Judas Ramzburn, are never really explored as characters, simply set up as enemies and allowed to battle it out. The other characters in the book - his best friend, his two girlfriends - are also not developed very much, and at the end, they fall all over themselves praising him, which feels hollow. Yes, yes, he's a great guy, but that's not enough. His first girlfriend, Kira, is suddenly grown-up and wants to help him help the world achieve enlightenment. It's been years since we saw her, but her change of heart comes out of the blue. His best friend, who was seduced by the dark side, only comes around, it seems, because Samuel is stronger than Judas - not a real good endorsement of his best friend, simply following the strongest one there is. Shanti skims the surface of these characters, even Samuel, and therefore we don't really care too much about them. Shanti blends the religious aspects fairly well into the story, but in the process, he ignores character development, so all of these characters remain ciphers. We have no interest in Shanti's beliefs because we don't care about the characters at all.
The art is a mess, too.
It's a bad mix between some obviously photo-referenced stuff and poorly-drawn figures, and there's very little to recommend it. Some of the exterior shots of the future world are interesting, but for the most part, this comic takes place indoors and there's very little sense of the 38th century at all. The lack of color really hurts it, as nothing really pops off the page, and in the second part, everything becomes blurry, as if it was reproduced from the originals poorly (the originals could be blurry, but this looks more like issues in the reproduction process). It's not terribly dynamic art, which makes the big confrontations somewhat static. It's unfortunate, because the story, while not great, deserves better. The cover art is the coolest part of the book, and that's not good.
As always, I absolutely hate not liking something like this. I love that this comic exists, because it's unlike a lot of what we find in comics and it's obviously a labor of love by Shanti. There are some interesting ideas in the book, but it's overwhelmed by the poor storytelling and dull art. It's frustrating reading something like this, because I want to be nicer about this than some big-time superhero epic where the creators are just cashing in, but as I moved through it, I just couldn't find much good to say about it. I feel bad, but I just can't recommend this at all.
Tomorrow: Lesbians! Who doesn't love lesbians?