* I would like to note here that it is Spider-Man, not Spiderman, not Spider Man. He is a Man who is a Spider. It’s different for Batman or Superman, who are not, respectively, a Man who is a Bat or a Man who is a** Super.

** Not a typo.

When I read in the papers some months ago that there was going to be published a new version of Spider-Man called Spider-Man India, I had this intense wish to read it – just like one can’t resist looking at a messy road accident.

I have no beef with new versions of old heroes – I dearly like DC’s Elseworlds[1] print, which hasn’t exactly given the world magnificent stories, but which has been generally amusing and diverting. My problem was with an Indian version of a western superhero. And, just to see if I was right, I picked up the first two issues of this ... er ... exercise. As expected, I was entirely right.

The story goes thus. Pavitr Prabhakar, who is from a village and always wears a dhoti, is ridiculed by everybody at his college. His uncle Bhim and auntie Maya are doing their best to keep him there. His only friend at college (well, he considers her his friend, but she has actually only spoken a couple of civil words to him) is Meera Jain. And while this is going on, the evil industrialist Nalin Oberoi is plotting to raise a demon. The demon is the Green Goblin. And suddenly Pavitr Prabhakar wakes to his destiny of wearing a Spider-Kurta and swinging on his web around the – ahem – skyscrapers of Mumbai.

Issues 3 and 4, as far as I know, continue the story with the addition of Doc Ock, and something inspired by Venom (which is, obviously, a figure that is a lot more black-and-white here than in the original).

Now simply from this synopsis, you can tell what’s wrong. They have ignored the basic point of the original Spider-Man – that he is a normal person who got his powers by accident – there was no destiny involved[2], and that was what made Spidey special. Apart from that, I don’t think a single young boy/man in Maharashtra, be he from the city or from a village, actually wears a dhoti. And it’s not even as if dhotis come out that much cheaper than trousers (unless, of course, he’s wearing his uncle Bhim’s discarded dhotis). It’s plain unrealistic, as is a large part of the book.

This story, and the take, has a lot more in common with a Hindi movie from the 80s than with the source material. The robbery that leads to the death of uncle Bhim has now been morphed into an attempted rape of a woman in an alley (although it’s not referenced as such, because this is a kids’ comic, isn’t it?), and the fact that Spidey India ignores this incident for some web-slinging fun (combined with the fact that he’s supposed to be an honest-to-god hero and not just a kid with powers) shows him as a callous human being rather than as a normal teenager who has petty emotions like everybody, which was the way it was shown in the original comic (and the movie). The only time I actually enjoyed this comic was when I thought to myself that when introduced Venom here, they might make him a Vish-Purush[3]. There is something vaguely amusing about Spider-Man chasing villains trying to escape in a rickshaw, but it isn’t even camp enough to enjoy it that way.

But most of this is simply bad writing, and there is something a lot more fundamentally wrong here. The book is written in English, and has a generally high quality of production. This, when combined with the subject matter, is not something that might cater to either the primary demographic – urban boys in their preteens – or the secondary one – everybody else. Instead of being either an entertaining yarn or a moral story, it simply comes across as a confused attempt to play to all audiences – young boys who have ‘lost touch with their culture’, older people who think this would be a good way to get the young boys back in touch with their culture, and non-Indians who might be interested in reading a new and interesting take on a concept that now seems as old as the hills.

My friend Nikhil, who likes animated cartoons, tells me that an animated version of this comic book is being developed as an ongoing television series. Considering that a lot more kids watch tv than read comic books, all I can say is God help the poor critters.

Also, it seems that a film version of this, with Shah Rukh Khan in it, is currently being discussed. I am just going to leave that sentence like that without comment.

[1] The Elseworlds hook: In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places – some that have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow.

[2] I choose to ignore the recent revamp of Spidey as a totemic figure, forged by destiny, because it was essentially a display of an utter lack of ideas. Also, Peter now lives with MJ and Aunt May in the plush Avenger Towers, but I have nothing against that because you can’t keep him a loser forever.

[3] A Vish-Purush is a man (as opposed to kanya = girl) who has venom in his veins instead of blood. And to the credit of Indian writers, this concept was around a long time before Bane came along.