While superhero movies and comic book franchises are very popular today, India was not totally immune to the craze of superheroes.
Before DC and Marvel, we had our own home-grown comic book superheroes. These were guys we grew up with, swapping comics among friends, hiding them in school bags and reading them stealthily in the night.
Back in the 90s, kids didn’t have a lot of entertainment options. Cable TV had just come in, but if you had exams, parents would disconnect ‘Cable’. In comics, there was Diamond Comics, but once you grew up, the illustrations on Diamond Comics seemed juvenile. There was of course, Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha, but they were too ‘clean’, sometimes even parents would buy them for you, so there was a sense of ‘preachiness’ to them.
However, there was Raj Comics.
Raj Comics was the Badass of Indian comics. The characters were dark, diabolical, and dangerous. There was action, blood, gore, and dark storylines. The language they used was violent, the action real, and the illustrations – top class.
Here’s a journey through the greatest Indian comic superheroes .
1. INSPECTOR STEEL:
Inspector Steel was India’s answer to Cyborg and Robocop. Built entirely from computer chips, circuits, armor plating and weapon systems, Inspector Steel was barely human.
The story followed Inspector Amar, who nearly dies in an accident. His good friend Prof. Anees rescues him and fits him with gadgetry, resulting in the only human part of Inspector Steel being his brain. Standing at a towering 7 feet and weighing 450 kgs (due to all the weapons), Inspector Steel was a terror for criminals in Raj Nagar.
Inspector Steel sometimes got help from the buxom Inspector Salma, who helped him out with his crime-solving adventures. Unfortunately for Inspector Salma, Inspector Steel never responded to her feelings.
2. AGNIPUTRA – ABHAY
The only member from Diamond Comics to make it to our hallowed list, Agniputra Abhay was the story of Agniputra and Abhay.
Agniputra is an immortal, indestructible God-man who has every single power on earth – strength, X-ray vision, teleportation, super-speed – you name it. Agniputra is the son of Agni, the fire God, so his only weakness is water. Also, since the illustrations of Diamond Comics were terrible, Agniputra looked like a stoned Sanjay Dutt in a fancy dress competition.
His sidekick was Abhay, a sharp and street-smart man who had a superbike that could fly. Abhay referred to his bike as ‘Princess’ and the two shared an uncomfortable tension. Together, Agniputra Abhay fought crime, monsters, and saved the earth on their adventures. What made Agniputra Abhay unique was that they also released audio cassettes that you could listen to when your parents went to weddings or the temple.
3. SUPER COMMANDO DHRUV
Created by the legendary Anupam Sinha, Super Commando Dhruv remains one of the most popular Indian comic superheroes to this day.
Dhruv lost his parents while they worked as trapeze artists in Jupiter Circus. He resolved to avenge their death by fighting crime on the streets. What set Super Commando Dhruv apart was the fact that he possessed no superpowers.
Instead, he relied on his intelligence, bravery, and martial art skills. Having inherited the skills from his parents, Dhruv fought crime single-handedly, or in collaboration with Nagraj. Dhruv also possessed useful skills like being able to communicate with animals, and possessed a clear conscience while fighting crime. To this day, Dhruv’s popularity is only challenged by the next contender on our list…
Doga was the anti-thesis to Super Commando Dhruv. While Dhruv had morals and compassion, Doga didn’t give a rat’s ass.
Doga believed in eliminating the root cause, and killed criminals ruthlessly. Created by Sanjay Gupta, another legend in Raj Comics who also created Nagraj and Bhokal, Doga’s origins were cruel and sad. He was brought up by a monster who treated him like a dog and referred to him as a dog too.
When he grew up, Doga put on a dog mask and went about fighting crime in the night. Doga’s friends were street dogs, who’d inform and help him in his exploits. Doga’s stories were hard-hitting, ruthless and realistic.
Doga also had a love interest – Monika – who had an alias – Lomdi. Interestingly, Monika knew of Doga’s secret identity, but Doga didn’t know that Monika knew. Doga was an original character and is among the most popular Indian comic superheroes. In fact, Anurag Kashyap announced a few years ago that he was working on a graphic novel/film adaptation of Doga.
A lot of people might question Tiranga’s presence in our list, partly because he seems like a rip-off of Captain America. But there was more to Tiranga. Dressed in the costume of India’s tricolor, Tiranga carried a shield that defended him from enemies.
A patriot at heart, Tiranga was originally inspector Abhay Deshpande, who donned the costume to fight the enemies of the nation. He also dished out shayaris and quotes to terrorists before arresting them.
The only female superhero on our list, Shakti was a character who instantly grabbed your eyeballs (and your balls, if you were a criminal!)
The origins of Shakti are interesting. Chanda was a housewife – ignored by her husband because she was unattractive. Chanda later learns that her husband had killed their children and her rage bursts out in the form of the character Shakti.
The most powerful character in the Raj Comics universe (in terms of physical strength), Shakti can travel at light-speed, and melt metal with her strength. When she opens her third eye, everybody in front of her crumbles to ash. The character of Shakti was probably created to target women readers, but she was so hot, most of her fans were guys!
7. BHERIYA (KOBI AUR BHERIYA):
Long long ago, in the land of wolves – Wolfano – there existed the Wolf King – Wolfa – who fell in love with a human being. He kidnapped her, and *cough cough*, a son was born. When the son grows up and wants to rescue his mother, he is cursed for 50,000 years.
Cut to present day, and Kobi wakes up in a forest in Assam. He is blessed with immense power and fighting abilities, and vows to avenge the injustice meted out to him. However, he also has an alter-ego – Bheriya – who is the opposite of Kobi. Bheriya is kind, patient and compassionate.
This dual personality of Kobi and Bheriya were one of the most fascinating characters in Indian superhero comics, and at 8 feet and 154 kgs, Bheriya was a monster who could rip apart enemies with his bare hands. The comics were raw, brutal, and hard-hitting.
8. CAPTAIN VYOM:
Technically, Captain Vyom was a TV show on Doordarshan. Even though there were comics released later when the show became popular, Captain Vyom acquired a cult following among the children of the country in the 90s.
The story of a captain who fights intergalactic villains, Captain Vyom contained beautiful visual effects and had a loyal audience among children who would return home after school to catch the episodes.
Starring Milind Soman and Dino Morea, Captain Vyom sadly has no remnants on the web. There’s not a single clip on YouTube, or any other site. Which is sad because Captain Vyom probably had the best graphics and signature tune, and these were created by an Indian studio. I think it’s time someone ran a campaign to release the show on YouTube or DVD. For a sample, check out the graphics of the show, and remember, this was in 1997!
Parmanu was a huge hit among the geeks and nerds of the class. Especially the guys who understood atoms and molecules.
A superhero whose costume contained magical powers, Parmanu’s suit allowed him to fly at 1000 km/hr, and fire atomic bolts from his belt. Parmanu comics were the most scientific among the series, and he often teleported himself, or reduced his size to microscopic levels to evade danger and villains. Probably to give geeks and nerds some hope, the creators of Parmanu also slipped in a woman – Pralayanka – who helped Parmanu in his exploits.
Finally, we come to The Man himself.
Nagraj’s popularity has remained intact for more than 25 years. Created by Sanjay Gupta, Nagraj was originally a villain trained by Prof. Nagmani, to be auctioned out to the highest bidder. However, Nagraj has a transformation and resolves to fight crime, terrorism and all sorts of evil.
Nagraj was fed poison in his childhood till his White Blood Cells were replaced by venomous snake cells. Nagraj can release snakes, is extremely powerful and quick, and his bite is fatal. Nagraj can also conjure up snakes to form boats, weapons, and hypnotise his enemies without their consent. Nagraj also has a love interest, the very hot (if slightly over-muscular Visarpi), who featured in the comics regularly.
Nagraj has been the face of Indian comics. There have been numerous unsuccesful attempts to bring him to the screen. This could be because of a lack of vision among the creators, or the sorry choice for Nagraj – Sonu Sood.
Sadly, Raj Comics couldn’t sustain their popularity.
As our economy opened up the West, Marvel and DC replaced our heroes. Also, while Marvel and DC’s characters changed with the times, their themes got darker and smarter, Indian superhero comics lagged behind. A lot of kids soon realized that many of the characters had been blatantly lifted from DC/Marvel.
The influx of video games and television channels significantly ate into the market of Indian comics. Parents and schools never encouraged comics either. Unlike in the west, comics were never considered serious reading.
Slowly, comics became unfashionable. Raj Comics and Diamond Comics still sell their comics online, thanks to the burst of e-commerce websites. But as Indian comics vanished into relative irrelevance, the impact they had on an entire generation is harder to erase.
Of comics exchanged with friends, of hiding under blankets to read them, of saving money to buy the next comic from the Railway Station.
DC ki Aisi Ki Taisi !!