Actually, we're talking children's books here. I was reading an Amar Chitra Katha after a long time, and I was appalled at its contents.
Not only was it terribly drawn, it told a story in the most unimaginative way possible (this happened, then that, then the other), with little room for word play, fun or the shadow of a thought.
Krishna and Narakasura is the story of how Krishna kills Narakasura after the hapless devas, unable to defend themselves against the son of Bhoomidevi, run to him (as the always do) and beg him to save them and all mankind.
The summary on the inside cover has this little gem of interpretation:
Many who celebrate the festival of lights – Deepavali – believe that they are commemorating the death of Naraka and the consequent emancipation of all
good spirits. In South India, the story of Naraka is laced with a ‘woman’s lib’ edge. As told over there, it is Satyabhama who took up arms against the Asura when, during the battle, Krishna had closed his eyes in momentary exhaustion. The Puranas apparently have no knowledge of this.
'[L]aced with a woman's (sic) lib edge'?! Gosh, how enlightened. I mean, given this huge concession to the representation of women in our puranas, the text and illustrations go on to show Satyabhama (Krishna's consort of choice on this expedition) as petulant and frightened by turns, mere arm candy, clinging on to Krishna's forearm, his chest and at times his bow and arrow and no doubt making it more challenging for him to dispose of said villain. Woman's lib? What's that? We'll show you how things really happened!
Also, pardon me for quibbling, but according to the first page of this katha, "In his varaha avatar, Vishnu lifted Bhoomi Devi from the depths of the ocean. Soon after that, a son was born to Bhoomi Devi. He came to be known as Narakasura."
Far as I can remember the Dasavatara, it is Matsya, Kurma Varaha. So Narakasura was born after the third avatar had done his job and the man terrorised the world for several more avatars until Indra ran to Krishna? The poor man had to stand in queue and wait his turn to be demolished?
The illustrations are also hideous - why did I never realise this when I was a kid? When Krishna agrees to take on Narakasura, he notices Satyabhama sulking - though how he could tell, I don't know. She looks sour and bad-tempered in every panel that I can see. So Krishna decides to take Satyabhama along on this dangerous mission. No doubt he thought it would be a fun aand educational trip for her. Broaden her intellectual horizons, like.
So, "without uttering a word, he caught the pleasantly surprised Satyabhama by the waist..." How we're to deduce this, I don't know, because they're in mid-long shot with Satyabhama's less-than-lovely profile turned to us; and Satyabhama's body language is not all it could be. Krishna is lunging at her. I'm suprised that she was only suprised and not scared out of her wits.
Fiftenn of the 31 pages are about the battle that ensues, a large number of pages being devoted to the conquest of the elements. If this is how ACK cuts to the chase, they need better illustrations and a sense of humour or something. Why would any kid read this when there are any number of exciting graphic novels out there which can supply them with the requisite gore and a good script? Even Tintin and the Shooting Star, or Explorers on the Moon, which are heavy on explanations, make for more exciting reads.
But what is really hilarious is the complete absence of irony the story displays at the end. At the beginning we are told the Narakasura is a Bad Man because he plunders other peoples' wealth and steals their women and elephants. This is clearly Not Done. At the end, after vanquishing the asura army and killing Narakasura, Krishna inspects the palace in the company of Narakasura's son. You'd think he'd rescue the 16, 100 women (the puranas are, apparently, very clear about the number) Narakasura had captured and set them free, wouldn't you? Erm...actually, what he says is, "Have the damsels sent to Dwaraka, properly escorted."
The spoils of war. Good when Krishna wins a battle, but bad when an Asura does.
This is the right time to, perhaps, examine what makes an asura and asura. Or what constitutes right and wrong, good and evil. But Amar Chtra Kathas have always glided over these questions, preferring to spend one half of their pages on battles and gore, decapitations and destruction. Where's the time for anyone to ask questions?
I used to feel nostalgic about ACKs, even though I knew they perpetuated a lot of nonsense in the name of tradition and keeping our myths alive and current. Now, I'll glad to read them only when I want to vent some spleen. Or find out What Happened To The Navels.