Review time! with <i>Chakrula - Series 8: Bringing Riley Back</i>

I received an e-mail from the writer of this comic asking if I'd like to review it, and I wrote back that I'd be happy to do so. That's just how I roll, people!

Chakrula is an unusual superhero comic written by Sarah Granahan and drawn by Tim Larsen. It's available for 99 cents on Graphicly, in case you're interested. She has the ability to "run energy and rebalance the chakras, so she can stop people from doing harm to themselves and others."

Her "secret identity" is a woman named Sierra Rosario, "an energy healer and psychic by trade." In this issue, she is called in by the police to investigate a kidnapping, at the insistence of the family whose daughter has been taken. Then she does her thing!

The issue is 30 pages long, and Granahan and Larsen really pack a lot into it. Bobby O'Donnell, the detective in charge of the case, has met Sierra before, but he doesn't remember it while she does (and seems very interested in keeping him in the dark). This is one place where the book feels like part of a larger story arc, but the issue itself is pretty self-contained (Granahan told me she has written the first 7 parts, but they haven't been drawn yet). O'Donnell is, naturally, very skeptical of Sierra and her psychic abilities. Sierra is already getting psychic visions of the girl - Riley - and the kidnapper, a man named Dennis. When she gets to Riley's house, the visions become stronger, and she's able to send out her spirit, which then turns into Chakrula and, naturally, saves Riley. Granahan isn't interested in just showing a superhero who saves people and beats up the bad guys - she's interested in writing a superhero, as the description notes, who stops people from doing harm to themselves as well as others. So she saves Riley, but she also tries to save Dennis, too. In a way, that's as important as saving Riley, and it's nice that Granahan puts it in the book.

Another reason this feels like part of a bigger story is the way the issue ends, with a new character, a child psychologist, who seems a bit more sinister than she appears, although that might just be me reading into it. I guess we'll have to find out more when the series continues!

Granahan is a very earnest writer, which is both a strength and a weakness. Sierra is an interesting protagonist in that she tries to see the good in everyone, which leads her to care far more about the "bad guy" than your usual superhero. She doesn't solve things with her fists, but instead uses her "energy" to hold off Dennis while she rescues Riley, and she doesn't just pound Dennis once she saves the girl. I read an interview that Granahan gave to her local newspaper, and she said she wanted to use the series to focus on social issues, and she invests the character with a great deal of conviction, which goes a long way. Even Detective O'Donnell can't remain cynical for long, although he still doesn't believe that Sierra had much to do with the resolution of the case. On the other hand, the earnestness of the writing means that there's just not a lot of dramatic tension - Riley doesn't seem to be in any real danger, and while I'm not such a twisted individual that I want a girl to put in peril just for entertainment's sake, it does feel like this is more like a manifesto about Chakrula's healing powers than a solid story. The ending feels a bit too inevitable, in other words. Granahan wants to show that a superhero doesn't have to fight to make a difference in the world, and that's great. She doesn't do a ton with character development, but she does enough to make Sierra and Chakrula different people, which is an interesting idea (stolen from Captain Marvel and others, perhaps, but still an interesting idea), and she sets up a nice antagonistic relationship between Sierra and O'Donnell, even though O'Donnell is a decent person.

Still, it's a bit difficult to get into the story because it's more of a vehicle for the thesis that superheroes can heal people rather than beat them up. Again, there's nothing wrong with that sentiment (or at least I don't think there is), but Granahan doesn't quite get everything she needs for a good story into the issue.

Larsen's art is pretty good, and it helps make the more esoteric parts of the book work well. He packs the pages with panels, but the book is never illegible - Larsen moves our eye around the page pretty well. He's not great at faces, but he does a good job putting the characters in scenes so they relate well to each other, and his character designs are pretty good (although Riley looks a bit too much like a girl from a Norman Rockwell America). He does a good job with the action, and while Chakrula's costume is a bit silly, it's dynamic and fits in with the idea of chakras aligning, so there's that. Larsen's colors are really nice, as he moves from a relatively drab but still bright real world to a much more lively "spirit world." He also does a very good job showing how Sierra's psychic visions intrude on the real world and how she perceives it - it seems that Sierra can't really control the visions, and Larsen's use of blurry panel borders, muted colors, and a slightly sketchier line helps delineate them from the "real world" and also adds to the menace that Sierra feels when she has them.

Larsen has some issues with his line work, but they're standard issues for artists - trouble with fluid movement - and it doesn't distract too much from the work. He also does some nice work with body language so that Granahan doesn't need to spell everything out, which is always nice.

Chakrula is a odd comic, one that has some very interesting ideas and one that takes the notion of superheroes and upends it a bit, which is always a treat. It's also old-fashioned, in that Granahan isn't being ironic or self-aware at all - this is a straight-forward superhero comic even though it doesn't end the way we might expect. The problems with the story keep me from liking it more, because I do wish the ideas of chakras and spirit animals and psychic visions had been blended with a more dramatic story, but it's obvious that Granahan has the ability to do better with that, and that would be nice to see. It's a comic that feels like it has more to offer, and I hope that it can. As I noted, you can find it on Graphicly. You can also visit Granahan's web site, Color My Spirit, for more information. Check them out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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