* 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.
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 10:31 AM
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While reading this wonderful post, I was reminded of something I read a couple of weeks ago. You might know about how comics treat rape and sexual abuse in a highly frivolous manner. Anything bad that happens to a woman is generally important only in how it affects the male (lead) character, and seldom in how it affects the woman herself. This, and many related things, are amply illustrated in the Women in Refrigerators syndrome.

And Garth Ennis is this Irish chap who writes comics that trounce religion (mostly Christianity) mercilessly. His comics usually assume that the key figures in Christianity exist, but they are always presented in a highly perverted (and sometimes original and interesting) manner. Ennis has written his fair share of women into refrigerators, and his treatment of gender issues is extremely heavy-handed and rather clueless. But I was struck by something he wrote in his run of Hellblazer* (which is a title I started reading because of this guy).

[ * Hellblazer is a comic book about John Constantine, a chain-smoking semi-alcoholic British guy who does magic stuff, and who was, for some reason, morphed into the all-American expressionless Keanu Reeves when they made a movie of it. The character was created by Alan Moore. ]

Garth Ennis, in Hellblazer, postulated that Jesus Christ was born from the angel Gabriel’s rape of Mary, which Gabriel had committed on God’s orders. And now (in the twentieth century), Gabriel is hating God, and is going to fall, and one of the reasons he resents God is for making him do that.

Now consider that this is a god who can do such a thing to one of his own beloved creations. What kind of god might he be?

Ennis, in his story, was more concerned with Gabriel, but this is the part that struck me the most. And which is why, in spite of Ennis’s fetish for guns and for thrusting war stories into almost every title he writes, I will continue to read his books.

And since we are on the topic, I will take this opportunity to point you to this excellent quote.

Current music: Those Crimson Tears – Ed Harcourt
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 9:59 AM
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Spider Jerusalem ... knows you're full of shit.
Click on the image for larger version.

Alternative settings: Loose, watery, prolapse, rectal volcano.

You know, one of these days, I am going to get those glasses.

For those who don’t know about this, go here. Check a few out, and you’ll understand. I got it from the Pulse.
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 9:08 AM
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Hours – okay, minutes – of mindless fun, and a recipe of eye damage: the world’s smallest Pong game. (via Crooked Timber)

And to compensate: King Pong.

PS: The filter blogging is temporary, and will continue till Tuesday, when I will either take a week-long break, or post a regular post (and then take a week-long break).
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 9:23 AM
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Via Bookslut – a new film is announced:
"(...) There is some serious shit in this film, including political commentary and even a couple of non-violent, cloak-and-dagger–style murders."
So what is this film? Go take a look. I utterly loved the last sentence in the article.

And also from Bookslut, rewriting the endings of books:
Pride and Prejudice could be rendered less saccharine by introducing the scene where Darcy explains to Elizabeth that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune still in want of a wife is obviously gay, so he is moving to Tangiers to live with Wickham.
I know someone who would be very pleased with that.
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 7:22 AM
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This is hilarious. Midwest, a woman, wonders what it might be like to wake up one day with a penis:
I stand up and watch it flop down. I flick it up and watch it drop again.

(...) I again stretch my new dick out long, this time trying to tie it in a knot. I'm disappointed to discover that, like head hair, it won’t maintain it’s shape.
A must-read.
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 10:30 PM
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I probably won’t be blogging anytime next week (yeah, I know I haven’t been blogging much anyway), so I’ll link these right now. Be sure to visit (and, if possible, contribute):

March 8 – Blog Against Sexism Day (via The Geeky Feminist)

Blog-a-Thon on Street Harrassment (via m.)
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 9:44 AM
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Ooh! Straight from the Beat. Can’t believe I expected it to suck.

Can’t wait, can’t wait. *does a little fan-boy jig*
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 11:16 AM
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This is the sickest thing I have read ever. There simply are no words – go read.

PS: Update. Another update – makes you want to hurl.
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 10:27 AM
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