Monday, August 23, 2004

comics: off to save mumbai

By Jason Overdorf
(This article appeared in the American edition of Newsweek in August 2004).

Even superheroes aren't safe from job outsourcing. Next month Marvel Comics will launch "Spider-Man India," the first ethnic adaptation of the popular comic-book series. Peter Parker of New York City becomes Pavitr Prabhakar of Mumbai, Mary Jane becomes Meera Jain and the villainous Norman Osbourne (a.k.a. the Green Goblin) turns into Nalin Oberoi. But the reinvention goes further than just translation: Spider-Man's been transformed from an allegorical figure representing the dangers of scientific experimentation, which grew out of anxieties from the nuclear age, into a hero trying to navigate a modern India still steeped in Hindu mysticism. His alter ego, Prabhakar, wears the white dhoti favored by Hindu-temple devotees. "I was trying to capture the essence of India," says Jeevan Kang, the 26-year-old former architect hired to write and draw the series.

It's a blending of cultures that Marvel Comics sees as natural—and profitable. "India is very rich in graphical mythology, and that plays well to the superhero ethos," says Marvel Comics president Gui Karyo. The new four-comic-book series will capitalize on the release of the film "Spider-Man 2" in India, leveraging the publicity and flattering a population worried about the creeping influence of the West. Marvel also plans a U.S. release for the "transcreated" hero. But diehard fans, rest assured: Spider-Man remains a force to be reckoned with, loincloth or no.