A bus carrying wedding party disappears on an Indian backroad near an abandoned village. Almost two decades later, a young man enters a bar in the village of Navamalai seeking help. His car broke down on that same back road, and he left his wife and daughter in the car to seek a mechanic in Navamalai. He receives it from the village patriarch, an older blacksmith, and the bartender. Little does the young man know that he and his family have been caught in a decades long tribal feud involving deception, corruption, and murder. He and his family may not live to see the morning.
To give some background on this one, The Village comes from a relatively small publisher called Yali Dream Creations. They are an Indian publisher attempting to help the nascent Indian comic book scene grow.
The Village is a horror comic at its core, the above-mentioned plot primarily working as a motivation for the tribal conflict between the upper caste Thevar family and the untouchable Koda tribe to come to a head.
As you could guess from that description, The Village is also a harsh critique of the Indian caste system.
Also, I absolutely love this comic.
Writer Shamik Dasgupta plays with western horror structure to set up a Stephen King-esque tale that uses circumstance and history to build up to a spin on the Hills Have Eyes that will haunt your frigging dreams.
This comic does so much right. It is flawed, but we're going to start with the positives.
The main thrust of the graphic novel is a slow boil leading from the village of Navalamai to the abandoned village of Kattiyal. The young man, a doctor named Gautham, recruits the village head, Shakthi Thevar, the blacksmith, Rajah, and the bartender, Peter for this journey. On the way there, Shakthi explains the history between his family and the Koda. This brings context to what will happen later on in the comic.
This is also where the comic falters. While the history is interesting, the narration is long and winding. Plus, a lot happens in the flashback sequences, and the length and content diffuse the tension of the story in the present.
It's also worth mentioning that this first part of the comic, flashbacks included, don't have many bloody scenes. This is smart, as it allows for the comic to hold its cards back for what goes down at Kattiyal.
The Kattiyal sequence is where the comic really comes to life. It delivers a blood-drenched mixture of gritty hardcore violence and gut-wrenching body horror. I don't want to spoil any of what the comic has in store, but I will say that it presents imagery which I will remember for a long time to come.
The horrific violence and mutilation performed at Kattiyal also muddles the comic's allegory.
The story of the Thevars and the Koda is a tale of slavery and exploitation. The Thevars use, abuse, and ruin the Koda. They rape their women, blame the for the fallout, and then leave the with land soon to be diseased and annihilated by a chemical plant. During this, the narrative falls into the trap of patronization, often describing the Koda as simple, plain, and innocent. While the comic is ostensibly on the side of the Koda, this treatment paints them as almost childlike and still dehumanizes them to a point.
That combines — and I'm going to be spoiling the comic a little here — with what the Koda have done in Kattiyal sense to make them truly look as savage as the Thevars treat them. The comic's intended implication is that mistreatment of the Kodas have corrupted them and turned them cruel. However, the monstrosities committed by their survivors are abominable. It's an odd mixture of victimization and monstrousness that complicates what the comic wants to say.
While we're on the note of social implications, the comic doesn't have any nice implications about people born with physical deformities. It isn't especially feminist either.
There is one Koda who helps the protagonists towards the end, but we're not shown this character coming over to their side. They just suddenly are, and it feels unearned.
Despite this, the comic kept me glued with the creativity of its horror and how compelling its characters are. Shakthi, Rajah, and Peter are great characters. Gautham pales a little in comparison, but even he has enough personality and depth to shame many a Big Two comic.
And the Koda antagonists are still humanized, even if the comic's message can get muddled with them.
Here are a couple of other oddities worth mentioning. The dialogue bubbles are square. This isn't bad. In fact, it's better shaped to the panel. I only mention it because we're all used to round bubbles. Also, the comic is technically set in our future, but it never capitalizes on that angle. Again, it doesn't take anything away from the comic. It's just odd.
The art to this comic is incredible. Artist Gaurav Shrivistav goes for a more realistic styling, and it does wonder for the comic once things go nuts in the village of Kattiyal. Many of the angles on characters are quite fantastic too and make good use of the emotions the panels are intended to convey. Also, the design of the antagonists is horrifically beautiful. Prasad Patnaik's color work is wonderful too. It plays with shades and shadowing to make for truly atmospheric panels.
The Village may very well be among my favorite horror comics now. It has excellent build-up, an astonishing payoff, great characters, and its intended message seems to be very positive. I highly recommend this one. Give it a read.
The Village can be found on ComiXology at this link.