In 1874, an artifact is found — a tiny portion of remains from the god Rama. Over one hundred years later, Dr. Shyama Bhalla attempts to create a clone from that ancient DNA. As you might imagine, it’s not such a good idea.
First of all, she’s working for a bad guy. It’s one of those Faustian bargain situations: he’s supporting her research, and she’s cloning an avatar of Vishnu. You can tell he’s a bad guy, because he’s got really gnarly teeth. Plus, he wears a fedora and trenchcoat. And he’s all shadow. And, he has red, mind-control eyes. He’s certainly a menacing figure, an evil being who was present at the original excavation back in 1874. He had no qualms about killing archeologists back then, and in the present he snaps a kitten’s neck without hesitation. He wants the clone of Rama for apocalyptic reasons.
This comic is filled with religious overtones about salvation, but it isn’t burdened by them. It’s a pulpy story of mysterious characters, secret science, and the end of the world. Even if the themes are heavy, the pace of the comic isn’t. “Project: Kalki” #1 is a good first issue, intelligently scripted by Arjun Gaind and drawn in strikingly bold images by Vivek Shinde. This isn’t a fully-painted comic like “Ramayan: Reloaded,” but rather a moody, Michael Gaydos-inspired visual narrative. It looks like an issue of Gaydos’s “Alias,” actually, although with a heavier use of black. Mignola meets Gaydos, perhaps — not a bad combination from Vivek Shinde. Although the figures are somewhat stiff, such poses of the Rama clone serve the story. The character, hyper-aging a year every few days, might indeed stand with the awkward stiffness of a mannequin.
The plot is simplistic, focusing on Dr. Bhalla’s attempts to create a clone from the Rama DNA and then her care and concern for the rapidly growing blue child, but the emotional subtext is strong. Gaind gives Dr. Bhalla some depth — she’s been in a wheelchair since she was young, and her loneliness has led to her devotion to science, but it’s also left her without the possibility for a child of her own. Until she cradles the infant Rama in her arms, she didn’t realize how much her loneliness had affected her. It’s a nice moment, and it sets up later plot developments as she realizes that she must protect this beautiful creature from what her evil benefactor has planned.
I don’t know anything about the Hindu mythology upon which this series is based, but that doesn’t matter. Gaind and Shinde present their version of the story clearly and effectively. It’s not a heavy-handed “religious” comic book. It’s the story of a woman who has sacrificed too much to achieve what she has, and who may ultimately doom humanity because of it. And it’s the story of an innocent, a clone who seems able to channel the emotions around him and convert it into energy. I don’t think the character will don a costume and jump from rooftop to rooftop punching jewel thieves — his destiny is to be a greater hero, no doubt, although the path will be anything but easy.
If you’ve been avoiding comics from Virgin because you feared they might be inaccessible to Western readers, you needn’t worry. “Project: Kalki” #1 is a good example of a mythological world that transcends geographic boundaries. It’s worth a look.