Updated: Oct 30, 2019
The Last Asuran, Vol. 1: Bite Marks, written by Ram V, illustrated by Gaurav Shrivastav and Vivek Goel, coloured by Parasd Patnaik.
NOTE: Since the beginning of 2000s, India has seen an increase in the number of comic creators who are trying to redefine mythology with artistic innovation and experiments. Holy Cow Entertainment has been one of the comic book houses in India, that has been one among many who are nursing an infant Indian Comic Industry.
The Last Asuran: Bite Marks, is an origin and prequel story of Desh, a white-haired man in whose veins runs the blood of demons. Desh was first seen in the super popular comics from HCE's Aghori Origins. He was seen there in the role of a mentor to a similar person with demon blood and he fought against the forces of evil. In the Aghori series, Desh is a matured middle-aged man and a collected person who cared for strategy over recklessness, but The Last Asuran, presents us an entirely different persona.
Desh, a young underground mixed-martial-arts player, who is invincible in the Mumbai* arena, also serves as a watchdog for his gangster father figure Monty. Monty, who has almost conquered the underworld scene of Mumbai, sends Desh to retrieve a briefcase from Bhanapur, a village in another state. The constituency of Bhanapur has its own dirty politics and secrets suppressed by its Minister of Parliament, the Raja Sahab.
The story opens with intense action, as two people trying to retrieve the briefcase die. From then on, it is alley chasing, brutal murders, and forbidden experiments. Desh begins his investigation as subtly as you can imagine any angry hot-headed male protagonist can do. He asks questions openly and stirs up tension in a village that is still following the dictates of feudalism. He asks a few more questions and brings the quintessential bar fight to the story.
As the story title Bite Marks suggests, the antagonist of this arc Raja Saab is trying to temper with the mortality question. He has a big laboratory and some seriously ultra-rich friends who have been funding this project of his! And Desh literally has to stop this quest of immortality as discreetly as possible!
There are some immensely satisfying blood and gore scenes, from ribcages ripping to roundhouse kicks; the book is full of action. Prasad Patnaik has done a good colouring job, he has played with multiple shades, from orange to cyan, to green to negative tones. It is a bit dampening that Prasad Patnaik's name was not on the cover except for his initials inside the book and at the end for the interview conducted by a superfan. A comic book series depends equally on its colourist as it depends on its illustrator to bring a wholistic work.
The pencils have been done by Gaurav Shrivastav and Vivek Goel. Though both artists use the technique of realism, sometimes the transition from one artist to another is not seamless in panels. It’s very easy to identify the artists behind the panels. While Goel’s anatomy skills lean to the leaner side of the lines and more distorted facial features that are good for a spooky beginning, Shrivastav, on the other hand, has bolder and cleaner line art that is detail-oriented, with prominent facial structures which are good for action sequences. There have been some panel breaks, and a lot of geographic shifts and that brought variety to the story. The background art was well researched and accessible.
The writing was very predictable, but that’s generally expected of a hero’s journey. But some elements in the dialogue by Ram V were not so natural to the universe it was being spoken in. Like when Desh is in extreme pain during a fight, his speech bubbles had "EEEYYAAAAH!"... which could've been put better. And there are some typographical errors which hopefully will get rectified in the second print run.
It’s the art of the story that has established Desh’s single debut. Desh in every sense is beefcake with a heart of gold; he appeals to the male readership as an ideal example of the daredevil guy who drowns in his whiskey and rides his bike and beats up bad guys. And as a female reader, I definitely enjoyed reading-watching him shirtless, wrestling the forces of the evil page after page.
I loved the social commentary behind the narrative; the Raja Saab is the offspring of a feudal past and modern capitalism. He has been contesting and most probably rigging the elections for years to secure his ultimate goal. His acts have left people terrorized so much that they don’t leave their houses after sunset! An evil of such making comes with his hubris. Desh as a child faced discrimination because of his white hair, which is a story we get to hear every other day, either it is because of gender, or it is skin colour, or religion, or just choice of food.
As an opening issue, lots of questions have been raised for Desh. There is, of course, the Who am I?, but now there is the question of Why am I here? Though we get to see flashbacks of his relationship with Monty, it doesn’t explain a lot of things as of yet.
And who is the old man in para-military uniform, and why did he help Desh?
Overall it’s an action-filled start and I really, I really hope it doesn’t take the "you are better than your blood narrative", that also parallels Ravan’s** story in reverse.
Aghori Origins by HCE
The Last Asuran is available at the HCE STORE.
*Mumbai is the FInancial and Syndicate Crime Capital of India.
**Ravan is the antagonist from Ramayana the Indian Epic; he too had demon blood in his veins.