Spider Man: India is a comics mini-series created for Gotham Entertainment Group in 2004 by writers Sharad Devarajan and Suresh Seetharaman, and artist Jeevan J. Kang. Unlike previous Indian versions of American superheroes, Spider Man: India is not a translation but a transcreation. The series sought to translate the traditional Spider-Man mythos into the Indian cultural milieu, its hero a young man embedded in the cultural concerns of 21st century Mumbai.
The series is the story of Pavitr Pabhakar, a young man from a remote Indian village who wins a scholarship to an elite private school in Mumbai, where for the duration he will stay with his Uncle Bhim and Auntie Maya. Bullied for his rural background as much as his intelligence, Pabhakar’s only school friend is the beautiful Meera Jain. When a crimelord named Nalin Oberoi uses a powerful artifact to transform himself into a hideous green, goblin-like demon, a mystic yogi grants Pabhakar the powers of a spider to fight the forces of Hell. In a red and blue bodysuit with a familiar spider motif, Pabhakar is clearly Spider-Man—in a billowing dhoti and curled slippers, his iconography draws on traditional Indian fashion as well. Over the course of his four-issue miniseries, Spider-Man battles Oberoi and the doctor who transforms into a hideous four-armed demon while losing his Uncle Bhim when the latter attempts to intervene to stop a mugging. Ultimately Pabhakar defeats the demon possessing Oberoi, resists the venomous temptations of a demon sent by Oberoi to ensnare his soul, and rescues both Meera and Auntie Maya.
Printed in multiple languages for the diverse Indian market, priced at 10-15 rupees (about 20-30 cents), Spider Man: India sought to reach as many customers as possible in the Subcontinent. Though the series attracted little follow-up in India, it was reprinted in the U.S. in 2005 and packaged as a graphic novel in the same year. In 2013, in The Superior Spider-Man #32, Pabhakar began a crossover with the rest of the Marvel Universe that would see him battling extra-dimensional vampires alongside other characters inspired by the Spider-Man mythos—Dan Slott’s Spider-Verse.
Pabhakar’s mythology abandons the concerns about radiation and science in the comics of the 1960s to grapple with concerns about mysticism and modernity. This can be seen in other works by Gotham Entertainment Group, such as 2008’s Devi, Sadhu, and Ramayan 3392 AD.
The product of Indian-American creators transcreating an American character for an Indian audience, Spider Man: India’s origins offer a unique picture of 21st century cultural exchange. Though the experiment has so far failed to break into the Indian market, Spider Man: India remains one of the few transcreations given full support by a mainstream American comic book publisher.
–Michael A. Davis