Friday, January 19, 2007

Rakan #1

Rakan #1, May 2005, AK Comics
writers: Dr. Ayman Kandeel & Todd Vicino
penciller: Raphael Albuquerque
inker: Raphael Kras
letterer: Waleed Al-Telbany
colorist: Chris Peter
editor: Sara Kareem

First of all, what are the odds of scoring a penciller and an inker both named Raphael? Nice.

The foreign origins of yesterday’s comic book made it difficult to understand, at least to a na├»ve westerner like me, so today’s read, one of the AK Comics dedicated to telling stories of Middle Eastern superheroes, is an appropriate follow-up, and thankfully much easier to digest. In fact, Rakan #1 is so desperate for its readers’ awareness that it summarizes its story on the inside front cover before the actual story really begins. Yes, the inside front cover, which is too text intensive for my tastes, offers an origin synopsis of the Rakan character, the same story that follows in illustrated form for twenty-four pages afterward. I never would’ve read that blurb so intently if I thought that it would ruin the overall reading experience. Is this the first comic book that provides its own spoilers? How oddly repetitive and unnecessary, especially for a first issue.

Fortunately, Rakan’s humble beginnings are interesting enough to keep my attention a second time, especially when they’re beautifully illustrated by Team Raphael. Their expressive, borderline cartoony style reminded me of Ed McGuinness, with a Kubert-esque interpretation of the Middle Eastern desert. Many of these pages have a graceful fluidity that speaks to the story’s cultural richness, to Rakan’s connection with the earth and, thanks to the teachings of his mentor, his spirit. In one sequence, we can feel the desert sand clogging up a young Rakan’s nose, in another, the backgrounds look as ethereal as the Sheba martial arts he masters. For a comic book the size of an ashcan preview (a cost effective format that increased its circulation fourfold, according to the issue’s introduction), it packs quite a punch.



I wish Rakan’s story was as easy to explain. So his village is plundered and destroyed, and while wandering the desert, Rakan is attacked by a pack of hyenas. Fortunately and peculiarly, a saber-toothed tiger leaps into the fray and saves him, eventually raising the boy as its own. When the tiger dies, Rakan wanders with the beast’s real son, his makeshift tiger-brother Arameh. Rakan finds and is soon tutored by Sheikh Nasser (enter that Sheba stuff), and although Rakan defeats the band of thieves that attacks his master, he cannot save Sheikh from death. Sheikh’s dying words commit Rakan to the quest of finding his master’s long-lost daughter, which is presumably the driving force behind the rest of this series. Truly, this origin sequence could have lasted for issues in and of itself, with a Tarzan-like epic featuring Rakan’s tiger family, and again with a focus on Sheikh’s trainings, akin to the opening act of Batman Begins. AK Comics may be intended to spotlight strengths from Middle Eastern culture, but I can’t help but observe some definitely western parallels. Am I a keen analyzer, or a narrow-minded nationalist?

Something else regarding the contributor’s names I couldn’t help but notice . . . writer Dr. Ayman Kandeel . . . AK Comics . . . Did the founder of this comic book company dare to use his initials as the corporate moniker? A bold move considering the global implications of this company’s mission. I’m not sure if I feel any more educated about Middle Eastern culture, but hey, at the end of the day, I enjoyed Rakan, no matter how many times I read his story. This comic book served one purpose, at least: entertainment.

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