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The new age heroes

Published : Oct 18, 2016, 10:04 pm IST
Updated : Oct 18, 2016, 10:04 pm IST

Madaya Mom, Marvel’s latest comic that makes a Syrian mother a hero, brings to light the advent of socially conscious comics with unconventional yet relevant heroes.

Luke Cage
 Luke Cage

Madaya Mom, Marvel’s latest comic that makes a Syrian mother a hero, brings to light the advent of socially conscious comics with unconventional yet relevant heroes.

It’s time for over-sexualised superwomen and buff protagonists to move over, and let heroes influenced by social change and justice take centre stage. Marvel Comics recently created Madaya Mom, a comic with a Syrian mother as the lead. Priya’s Mirror, the second installment of the Priya comic series (the first of which was based on two rape survivors) features acid attack victims as the protagonists, and Luke Cage, the comic about a bulletproof black superhero, has been turned into a series, highlighting police brutality that has been taking over America, of late. With more and more politically charged, socially conscious comics coming out of the woodworks to create unconventional heroes, could this be the advent of a new age for pop culture

New York-based filmmaker Ram Devineni, also the writer of Priya’s Shakti and Priya’s Mirror, was inspired by the activism of acid attack survivors to create the latest chapter of the comic. He worked with several NGOs such as Stop Acid Attacks, Mahendra Singh Foundation and the Natalia Ponce de Leon Foundation in Colombia to create this. Speaking about the social change that comics could bring, he says, “The most important thing we want to emphasise with the comic book is that change is possible. Trying to create a cultural shift is incredibly difficult, but not impossible. India is going through some remarkable and monumental changes in a short period of time. What was clear to me from the massive protests that happened all over India after the Nirbhaya rape (which inspired Priya’s Shakti) is that we want things to change in our country. There were so many teenagers and young adults at those protests, and they will be the future catalysts and leaders who will define India, which is a hopeful sign. The comic book is only part of a larger movement to address gender-based violence issues.”

He adds that although not all comic books need to address social issues, there is a need to be aware, and also create women heroes. “Comic book creators should be aware and responsible that what they draw and write can affect teenagers and their perception of each other. A perfect example is how women are often over-sexualised in comic books — this creates a false perception of women and even leads to body-shaming. The power of our comic book series is that we are presenting very difficult topics — gang rape and acid attacks — in a very approachable and empathetic way. Readers can relate with the characters and story, especially the main character, Priya, and understand these problems.”

The artist for the Priya series, Dan Goldman explains, “There are many facets of the patriarchal problem that women in India and the rest of the world face in their daily lives. These are issues affecting women worldwide that cis-gendered males don’t consider. Priya will tackle these as her own journey continues.”

They are now working on Priya and the Last Girls, which concerns the issue of sex trafficking.

Gaman Palem, a Chennai-based comic artist puts forth, “American comics are based on the façade of creating a comic but is steeped in war. This includes Captain America that came in quick succession towards the end of the Vietnam War. It is no surprise that another character with a war background — a Syrian mother has been added.”

He adds, “Why are there no comics on LGBT issues or constitutional issue I’d like them to be addressed, rather than catering to just high TRPs. If you have to pay to hear the unheard, that’s consumerism.”

Abhijeet Kini, the illustrator behind renowned Angry Maushi, shares his opinion, “The Luke Cage comics were initially written by an all-white team and deemed as ‘blacksploitation.’ Now the series is fleshing the character out and talking about socially relevant subjects. Comics are the need of the hour, not only because they are influencers but also because they will help give indifferent audiences, a dose of real issues, making them take notice of it.” Talking about why India lags behind in creating content around such subjects, he says, “India’s market for comics is still new and the industry looks at it from a commercial point of view. Maybe that’s why we’re missing out, and pandering to those looking for just entertainment. The West has attained a balance between relevance and entertainment and can afford to experiment further. This in turn has created many more people of colour as heroes, like Ms. Marvel who is Pakistani-American, and Green Lantern, being of Arabic descent. I hope to see that change in India as well.” (With inputs from Dyuti Basu)