Vimanarama begins in Bradford, England, with Ali’s brother getting trapped under cases and cases of Turkish delights when part of the floor beneath their family’s store collapses. Then, Ali has a hand in accidentally releasing an ancient evil he finds in the tunnels beneath their store. Then, Ali rubs a magical lotus and summons Rama and other religious heroes to stop them. Pretty crazy. But a lot of fun.
Ali is a funny guy. Ali, like his family, is a pretty devout Muslim, and he reasons that if his arranged bride is hot, then God loves him; if she’s ugly, it’s sure proof that God hates him. So, he prepares for the latter outcome by carrying around a noose.
As it happens, though, his bride-to-be, Sofia, is hot, and she’s with him when he’s wandering the tunnels beneath his family’s store. And she’s with him when the aforementioned ancient evil is released, as well as when Rama and the gang are summoned to stop him. Rama’s super team is called the Ultrahadeen.
They ride vimanas. A vimana is a flying vehicle piloted by gods in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
A rama is a suffix added on to a word usually to indicate a spectacle. This is a Rama too:
Hey, the title is a pun.
The Ultrahadeen appears to be composed of gods and religious heroes from various traditions. The character in the center of their picture above is Rama (he’s wearing a mask there). The character on the left appears to be Budai. Anyone know who the others are?
The premise is that the Ultrahadeen, who are responsible for subduing and interring that ancient evil (denizens of Atlantis, as it turns out), have since left to adventure on distant planets; now, they have been summoned to combat that evil again. But can the Ultrahadeen succeed now, when their allies aren’t the big and mighty humans of the times of epic, but this era’s puny creatures? The Ultrahadeen, you see, are not gods, and they aren’t really human either, but are something else – they may be aliens, but more probably they are some kind of transhumans. There is certainly a strong Kirby-esque vibe here, reminiscent in particular of The Eternals, a book about humans genetically altered in prehistory who protect the human race and are the actual gods and demigods of myth. Morrison, too, must have been inspired by Chariots of the Gods or some similar work, since vimanas frequently are adduced as evidence for ancient astronauts due to their resemblance to airplanes or space ships (see, for instance, The Objective. Actually, don’t see it).
That Morrison would take up an idea like this makes perfect sense: these gods and demigods of religion and myth are the superheroes of the ancient world, beings we have practically willed into existence through the power of imagination and who have long watched over mankind. But he doesn’t push this idea in this book. Only someone reading his corpus and extrapolating a little would wonder if he would say that we can and should pray to Superman the way people did and do pray to Rama.
The Ultrahadeen, the Atlanteans, and their vimanas are cool and catch the eye, but really the book is, like the Ramayana, a love story; really, it’s about what Ali goes through. Moments of mystery, excitement, and danger punctuated by the mundane – or what is mundane to us, but of cosmic importance to Ali. Chased by the ancient evil, Ali takes the time to note that Sofia is, in fact, not ugly at all, shallow and inane to us, and also to Sofia, but a matter of life and death to Ali. When Rama and the Ultrahadeen appear and Sofia realizes that she has long dreamt about Rama, Ali says that this could only happen to him; we know that what’s on his mind isn’t so much that the gods from epic and mythology have returned to earth from beyond the stars or that he’s unleashed an ancient evil. It’s that his arranged wife turns out to be beautiful, but may be in love with someone else. That’s what exacerbates his existential crisis. This kind of humorous tension abounds – the juxtaposition of pedestrian, but personally important, concerns and the fantastic.
This gets pretty extreme sometimes. At one point, the Atlanteans brutally assault members of the British government.
In the mean time, Ali’s father wonders how they’ll be able to rebuild their shop, which was mostly leveled when vimanarama burst out from the tunnels below.
Part of what I’m trying to get at is that this is a fabulously inventive book. It has ancient astronauts; familial concerns; a love story; a guy who carries a noose around; even prayer-powered missiles, and it juggles all of this around not just cleverly, but intelligibly. I find the syncretism in particular delightful and well done: the hero is a devout Muslim living in England; he is a fully fleshed out character, and not just a caricature. The Ultrahadeen comprise gods from various religions, but an Indian one, Rama, appears the most prominently. Meanwhile, Islamic features abound, and it’s amusing that the Ultrahadeen’s doomsday weapon that Rama refuses to use, the one that will destroy the Atlanteans but crack the earth, is “the horn of Jabreel” (an Arabic rendering of Gabriel).
Grant Morrison seems to write two kinds of books. One type is overflowing with strange and sometimes crazy ideas, has so much stuff going on its hard to follow all the threads on the first read through or even the third, is highly ambitious, or even over-ambitious. The other type can also be clever or subtle, but it’s much more careful and restrained. It focuses on smaller, less dense stories that are easier to follow and frequently more character driven. His stories of the former type have sometimes changed the way I’ve thought about comics and fiction. But the latter type can be a hell of a lot more enjoyable, and that’s Vimanarama for you.