Friday, November 16, 2018

Stan Lee’s Chakra the Invincible #1

Thanksgiving 2018
Forgotten Heroes
Stan Lee’s Chakra the Invincible #1

A farewell

Writers – Stan Lee, Shard Devarajan, Ashwin Pande, and Scott Peterson
Artist – Jeevan J. Kang
Colorists – Jeevan J. Kang and S. Sundarakannan
Letterer – Aditya Bidikar
Editor – Sharad Devarajan and Ashwin Pande

I’ve stated before how I believe the Crapbox is sentient.

I find no greater proof than this: last Tuesday, November 12 we lost comic book legend Stan Lee. On Thursday, when I could bring myself around to look at a comic again without feeling an overwhelming sense of grief, the Crapbox spat out the Forgotten Hero issue of Stan Lee’s Chakra The Invincible #1.

Serendipity or Sentience? I’m choosing the latter as this is the Crapbox’s way far more often than not. I have a semi-intelligent pile of old comics. There are worse things that could happen to me, I suppose.

Things like the death of Stan Lee.

I grew up on Stan Lee, both his words and his comics. I’ve mention before all of the Marvel paperback reprint books that littered my collection. Books that introduced me to Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and the Fantastic Four. These collaborative endeavors of Stan with top Marvel artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko became a personal heroic template for me. They were magnificent stories the overflowed with imaginative imagery and peppered with verbose, energized language. They are classics.

At the same time I was picking up Marvel books off the comic rack whenever Mom or Dad allowed me to. Mostly they consisted of 35¢ page-turners or Three-For-A-Dollar sealed packs with their mysterious issue you couldn’t quite see without opening the package. The books featured the X-Men or Fantastic Four or Iron Man or the Avengers. Marvel books resonated with me more than DC did. Their universe seemed more “real” due to Stan’s cultivation of a shared continuity. They became like comfortable friends I would visit when I needed a dose of adventure or thrills.

And after devouring those stories and still needing more, I’d turn to the letters pages and the coming soon blurbs…

…and Stan’s Soapbox.

Hard to describe what it was like to grow up in a world where you couldn’t send a Twitter DM to any of your icons or shout out across their Facebook feed what you think of their latest work. The books back then were all we had. And yet Stan used them to create a connection that went beyond just the story. Marvel had a huge creative team called the Marvel bullpen. Each artist or writer didn’t just have a name, they had an expressive over-the-top title. Stan took the veil that separated the creatives from the readers and didn’t simply tear it off, he pulled it back like a carnival show curtain. And then he stood to the side like a barker. “Step right up, ladies and gents! Meet the King of all comic illustrators, Jack Kirby! Enjoy the inks of the Scintillating Joe Sinnott! Feast your eyes on the pencil-work of Swinging Steve Ditko…”

Say whatever you want about his contributions and accreditation in the collaborative process that was comic book creation of the day. Chip away at his legacy by attacking how early Marvel developed stories with the illustrators and then adding Lee's signature flair for the English language to the word balloons after. But don’t ever take away from the fact that Stan worked as hard as anyone in the industry to bring the recognition of these people’s contributions to light. He may have snuck into the spotlight himself, but he was always willing to share it. He made these guys household names.

I grew up not knowing that Dick Dillon drew Justice League for 12 years. But I knew Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s entire portfolio by heart. Most of the credit for that goes to Stan Lee for pushing their names out there, center stage and then pontificating about them to no end.

Stan Lee was a businessman. He made Marvel artists into more than just household names…he made them into rock stars. He kept the lights on. He paid the bills. He did what he had to do to ensure his staff earned a paycheck each week. Without him there wouldn’t be a “Marvel Universe.” I am eternally grateful for him.

I took my son to meet Stan at a convention in 2011. Rob was probably about seven. We were first in line to get him to sign something, I brought along a copy of Son Of Origins, which had some sentimental value. Stan was gracious and shook Rob’s hand after signing the book. We watched his panel and I was astounded that Rob wasn’t bored. Stan captivated the audience like your favorite grandfather telling stories. When we saw him again in 2016, Rob was actually excited to watch him speak. I owe some of that to his cameos, which my son would always point out by nudging me in the theater.

“That was Stan Lee.”

Yes, it was.

On to the issue at hand, a production of Lee’s Pow Entertainment that partnered up with Graphic India to produce an Indian superhero. As with all things this late in Stan’s career, his actual input was possibly quite modest. He received a story and created by credit, but likely had little real involvement with plotting or writing the actual book. The book has three OTHER writers attached to it, and I’m certain its 31 pages didn’t need that much help.

It is notable that the book features a Stan Lee cameo. And bless his heart, I’d rather people remember, even in his later years that Stan was still spry, still active, and still fueled with the same fires he burned with way back in the 1960’s. Let’s pile into this one and just enjoy it.

The Chakra The Invincible comic book lasted a respectable ten issues before fading into the background. Its release followed an animated special and series of shorts that were released on the Toonami India channel of the Cartoon Network back in 2013. Odd that there is a couple of years gap there, not to mention that the comic and the specials were released a complete ocean-length away from each other. I watched a few of the shorts, which apparently aired on the Angry Birds TV show and they are innocent fluff pieces that would appeal to a very young audience. Young as in around six or seven years old.

Chakra’s animated adventures garnered a series of sequels in 2017, so apparently he’s only forgotten on this continent.

Here we go, starting with Chakra facing off against some bad guys with guns. I find myself slipping into hearing an Indian accent when Chakra speaks in that first panel, which is either great dialoguing or my imagination sticking him in a stereotype. Possibly the latter, as I hear him speaking as much older male voice. 

As for the battle, Chakra uses one of his powers (and his catchphrase) and blasts all of his attackers. 

But they still aren’t down for the count, so he does a little internal monologue thing where we learn he is the people’s champion of Mumbai, India, standing up for the poor and downtrodden.

He uses a different chakra power and tosses the attackers onto a passing garbage scow as I start to wonder where those powers come from. Knowing story structure as I do, I’m expecting a flashback soon that explains his origin and a bit about his powers.

And after an odd, very juvenile-aimed conclusion to the fight with the gunmen…

…I get my wish. Back we go to when Chakra the Invincible was just plain Raju Rai, a parentless young boy living on the streets in Mumbai, India. A young boy who, I might add, just tried to stop a gang over slightly older boys from robbing Stan Lee of his man-purse.

From the looks of things, it’s less likely that he’s stopped the robbery and more like he’s invited them to rob him as well.

Raju tries to resist and even tries a few blows, but the troop of kids arrayed against him is just too much. 

At least it is until his older brother figure (I’m not sure how the naming thing works. The story soon implies he is his actual brother, but he shares no surname so I can’t be for certain) shows up.

He’s known for his athletic abilities in pretty much every sport by the dialogue that follows this. Some of which is Sameer doing cricket commentary while kicking the butts off all these ruffians.

As the bullies run off, Sameer helps Raju back onto his bike. We learn that Raju is something of an inventor, too.

And then Stan steps back into panel like the messianic figure he is to the comic book reading community…

…and does a fair impression of “blessing” Raju into the brotherhood of superheroes. It’s an effective scene and in my heart I hope these words were Stan's actual contribution to the writing in this title. It would be apropos to know that these words, which resonate with much of his energy, were written by “The Man” himself. I can believe anything I want and I choose to believe it was so.

And here we move the plot forward by establishing the relationship between the two boys, with Sameer having acted as the parent to Raju after the loss of their parents. Also that Raju is in the employ of a Doctor Singh as a gopher/courier and that he’s late.

The book then goes to great lengths to establish the paternal-fraternal relationship between the two boys. It feels tacked on. The brief mention in the panels I showed, being enough for the audience to “get it.”

After that two page inclusion, we finally make it to Singh’s lab and what I hope will be the start of Chakra’s origin. Singh appears cast in the “Absent-Minded Professor” mould, so much so that he can’t remember Raju’s name. That gets old quickly.

Also the book draws out the introduction of the suit that gives Chakra his powers in a most unsatisfying way.

We wander through page after page of the Doctor talking about the Cybernetic Hyper-Acrobatic Kinetic Realignment Acceleration suit where he talks about how it is made up of trillions of tiny nanites that bond to the user when it is activated….

…and how it harnesses the energies of the seven chakras in the human body to focus a person’s prana or life energy…

…but all this really doesn’t explain what the suit actually DOES. 

And it misses some big opportunities. With seven chakras, there could be seven distinct powers the suit has and linking the powers to a specific chakra means you get to inform the audience about some Hindu philosophy/occult physiology. Much the same way that the Thor comics were a big lead in for many into Norse mythology, Chakra should be doing that for Hindu mysticism.

Perhaps they were afraid of blowback from Christian religious conservatives. Or maybe they just didn’t want to dumb down concepts in a way that might offend practicing Hindus. Who can say? What I do know is this seems like a no-brainer of a opportunity to work in a differentiating factor to Raju’s power set that is totally missed by the book.

So…welcome generic flight and blasting powers. Oh, wait. We’re not to that part yet. First the Doc is going to have Raju hold the suit while he hits it with electricity in an attempt to get it to activate. I’m seeing “laboratory accident gave me my power” when suddenly the book left turns me. The Doc brings up his impatient, mysterious benefactor who is NOT a nice guy. Like magic, he shows up out the blue to check on the Doc’s progress. 

With his oversized bodyguards.

The Doc distracts them after directing Raju to take the suit out of there.

And of course, the only way to do that is to put it on under his street clothes.

However, a chance encounter after leaving the lab means that while the Doc is getting beat up by mobster-type investors, Raju is getting beat up by their school-yard equivalents.

But just as things are looking pretty grim…

…a bolt from the blue, ends the issue in an explosively shocking way.

And thus "cliffhangers" the end of issue one of Chakra The Invincible. The art and story are juvenile. It meanders too much and goes on too long for my tastes, feeling like a 15 page story that was stretched out 31 so it would feel “epic.” 

It is worth it for the Stan Lee cameo alone though. However, unless he shows up every issue to impart a bit of encouragement or wisdom, I wouldn’t be on board for more of these. It is just too generic.

I’ll miss seeing Stan Lee at conventions. I’ll miss seeing his cameos in the Marvel flicks. I remember him best as the faceless voice that introduced so many Marvel cartoons. He had a one of a kind energy, as if he himself could “channel his prana” or whatever into a positive, motivating force for good. He told stories. He brought people together. He was a hero.

And he will be missed.

Thank you, Stan.

One last time…Excelsior!  

1 comment:

  1. You dug deep for this one! As a lover of Longbox Junk, I can really appreciate this below the radar tribute to the late, great Stan "The Man" Lee. I too feel the sting of his passing. . .just knowing that the outspoken goodwill ambassador of comics isn't with us any more makes me sad just thinking about it. He was THE voice of comics for my entire life. There's never going to be another one like him, that's for sure.


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