Vetala Buddha #1
Publisher: Russ Gartz Comics
Writer: Russ Gartz
Artist: Nick Valente
Cover: Nick Valente
Colors: Brian Skipper
Letters: Adam Wollet
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
When I learned of the existence of Vetala Buddha, I admittedly didn’t have much in the way of expectations. I had no real knowledge of these creators or even the publisher of this title. However, the concept gripped me immediately, and I could see the potential in the idea. A vampire comic centered on the notion of vampires from ancient India captivated me, and I was eager to learn more about this series.
While it is true that we have seen vampires from Eastern cultures before, and some of them are even present in their mythology, portrayals of vampires in ancient India are much less prevalent. This becomes even more interesting when the idea of vampirism comes into collision with Vedic mythology and the Hindu belief system. The creators apparently noticed these threads as well, since they address those ideas heavily within this issue.
Although there is room for improvement, Vetala Buddha weaves vampiric lore and ancient Indian culture into an intriguing new tapestry.
Although the subject matter is interesting, this cover can best be described as standard. In fairness, the one thing it does do well is illustrate the core concept of the book. The backdrop of ancient India comes across decently here, and the blood-soaked vampire is striking enough. However, this is very much a cover that consists of characters standing around and posing, rather than offering a teaser about what this story actually is. There’s not really a sense of who any of them are or what the story itself is beyond the genre elements, unfortunately. In the end, it doesn’t really do much to bring the reader into the story. It is solid artwork otherwise, though, and the characters on the cover do look distinct in body type and attitude.
However, it should be noted that the variant cover is actually quite effective. The use of negative space to show the shadow of the vampire works very well as an attention-grabber. The forest scene is well rendered, and the use of shadow helps to create a sense of mystery and dread, and thus establishing atmosphere. This cover actually does convince me to turn the page, even though it doesn’t make use of the book’s distinctive concept. My only concern about the “B” cover is precisely its lack of ancient India, which is what helps to set the book apart. Without that, it looks like any standard vampire comic, which this one definitely shouldn’t. Still, I like the image and it is visually striking, so points for that.
Although the art is at a level of quality that one might expect of a small press comic, it generally does a good job of telling the story. The layouts and visual storytelling get across the important story points, and Valente manages to get across the action scenes well. There is a clear sense of motion to these scenes, even if some of them are extremely sparse on background. Establishing shots are effective at conveying a sense of time and place, and the flashback scenes focusing on Javas are distinct from the present-day scenes. Though there are areas where the art has room for growth, it hits just the right notes at the right times.
Generally speaking, the coloring is solid enough for a book like this. Admittedly, the lighting work could be somewhat better in places; there are scenes where the lighting is a bit overwhelming, and others where it’s a bit sparse. There are also times when the shadows aren’t used to their potential, since they’re best used to create mood in a horror comic. However, there are moments where it holds up quite well, particularly when highlighting the red eyes of the vampires and the depicting the color of blood. The coloring also helps to distinguish the flashback scenes from the modern-day scenes, giving them a sense of the historic through muted tones. The coloring does the work it needs to for the most part, though, and it doesn’t detract from the story in any noticeable way.
One of the strongest points of the issue is in the lettering, which actually uses some interesting techniques. The most notable of these is the curvature in the dialogue when a vampire is using a hypnotic spell; this is a distinctive visual, and one that works well in the story. Dialogue balloons are all well placed and indicate the speaker well, and there’s a good sense of economy to the balloons and captions. Sound effects are well placed and use effective fonts that help the reader visualize the sound the script is aiming for. At the same time, there’s also plenty of room for the art to stretch itself, and the lettering knows when to step back and allow the art to do its magic.
If anything helps this book stand apart from the many titles currently on the stands, it’s the writing and the story concept. One of the points that struck me quickly is the amount of research that Russ Gartz probably invested in understanding the history and culture of ancient India. There is a reasonable amount of worldbuilding that comes through nicely, even if he doesn’t give all the rules away in the first issue. If I have any concerns on that front, it’s that he’s less restrained with information when it comes to Indian language and culture. While I appreciated the detail, it felt at times like the story was slowing down to provide information to the reader.
My other misgivings concerning this issue lie more in the contrast and pacing between the present-day story and the flashback involving the vampire sect’s origins. Although bringing in a fledgling vampire to introduce the world as a reader-identification character makes sense, there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable conflict to concern the modern characters. The more interesting material takes place during the past sequences focusing on Javas, who is destined to lead the vampiric brotherhood. While his motivations and conflict ring clearly, we don’t see any hint of his struggle in the present day or why he needs to lead this sect. Hopefully, this is something the creators intend to explore in coming issues.
Aside from those points, though, the story was well presented and entertaining, especially during the flashback sequences. The idea that these vampires have a spiritual ideology that challenges the idea of reincarnation makes sense and could well be intriguing. I also appreciate that these vampires are not treated either as monsters or romanticized creatures, but as people struggling to control their natures and fit into society. The idea of vampires with a concept of spirituality is also promising, especially when they’re often portrayed as enemies of religion in many versions. Additionally, Javas comes across as an intriguing character with a complex background, and his story firmly carries the issue.
While not a perfect issue, the first issue of Vetala Buddha was an issue that was more satisfying than I’d expected it to be. The concept is one that should be explored further, and Javas is a lead character I’d be interested in reading more about. The book also doesn’t shy away from creating its own mythos and worldbuilding rules to invent a new form of vampire lore, which is welcomed in a genre that’s been played as often as this one.
Because this is a $2.99 issue, you may want to consider this one carefully and decide if this is to your taste. However, the writing is just good enough to justify a look into this series if you have a little bit of extra money to spend. Because of that, Vetala Buddha earns a blood-sucking 7.5/10, though I hope it will improve in its later issues. I can sense a good comic trying to shine through the gloss, but it does need a bit more polish before it gets there.
Written By Steve Sellers
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