1980s Indian comic books were the best. Sometimes the English translation was baffling, other times the plots were inscrutable, and -- if you were really lucky -- these twain did meet, and you were transported to a realm of semi-unreadable fantasia. Here are five such glorious occasions.
#5. Superman Goes to India, Gets Casual About Murder
The greatest comic ever published is neither Watchmen nor The Annotated Hi and Lois. It's Nagraj vs. Shakoora the Magician. How come? In this comic book, Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man visit India, where they're vexed by a dwarf wizard from outer space (and some spotty Hindi-to-English translation).
I hope Supperman also has Supper-Vision, so he can shoot casserole out of his eyes.
In this issue, the Indian superhero Nagraj fights alongside these paragons of justice, as well as a random circus ringmaster that the translators (for reasons unknown) designated as the now-deceased WWF wrestler Captain Lou Albano.
Every panel in this comic is magic, particularly the deus ex machina in which -- I couldn't make this up -- the heroes are saved from a burning child-sized locomotive by an 11th-century Hindu yogi who flies out of the sky.
The guru is summoned by the power of prayer. Again, 100 percent serious.
Did Marvel and DC Comics sign off on this crossover? Well, no, as this tremendous team-up received zip fanfare stateside, and Superman happily craps all over his no-killing policy within the first five pages.
After that, the Last Son of Krypton's behavior grows even more erratic. At the comic's climax, the extraterrestrial magician transforms Captain Lou into a psychotic giant. Nagraj's pachyderm-murdering bite proves fruitless, so he improvises and launches thousands of cobras from his wrists into Lou's cyclopean pie-hole.
Once Captain Lou succumbs to cobra venom, Nagraj and pals enjoy a big belly laugh around his bloated, decomposing corpse. Superman, ever the insecure jock, incorrectly assumes that he punched Captain Lou to death.
The Caped Crusader relishes the bloodshed, knowing damn well that the GCPD has no jurisdiction here.
But why would a superhero as lauded as Superman be so eager to impress Nagraj? The translation adds a dollop of accidental subtext. Compare Nagraj's behavior on a hot date ...
Ah, the ol' "bring a gal to the circus and tell her to shut up for two hours." Women adore that.
... with his tender interaction with Superman, who ran afoul of some mystical hoops.
Mind you, the only people Superman calls "dear" are Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, presumably during those many escapades Jimmy went undercover in drag. (Remember, Superman's ever the farm boy. Even with his X-ray vision, he remains ignorant to the erotic caprices of big-city life.) But who is this Nagraj joker anyway?
#4. Nagraj Sort of Blows at Being a Superhero
The truth is, Nagraj is pretty godawful at this whole crime-fighting business, for the simple reason that he can't stop murdering his nemeses (or at least accidentally consigning them to oblivion).
In one of his capers, Nagraj defeats a terrorist named Zebra who has been poisoning schoolchildren with tainted chocolates. In lieu of notifying the authorities, our hero slings Zebra over a Delhi overpass, toodles off, and allows a vengeful mob to do the rest.
This is what happens when a superhero has to take a dump the entire comic.
Another issue saw Nagraj square off against an ogre so fearsome that he cows everybody into speaking in produce-related similes.
And unlike his pitched battle with Captain Lou Albano -- whose tough hide stymied his toxic chomp -- Nagraj's hickey o' death immediately disintegrates the ogre into liquid pastrami. The sheer barfosity of this spectacle shocks his colleague into silence (and his internal monologue into hysterical illiteracy).
Fortunately, Nagraj's mighty mouth has utility far beyond giving bystanders the meat sweats. His serpentine maw also works in reverse. Let us not forget the time he vacuumed venom out of the mouths of an entire herd of elephants. That's so heroic that I don't even want to think about it.
Bosh, Nagraj. Given your track record, everything about this scenario is blissfully normal.
I suppose this is a good time to mention that if you ever become trapped in a Nagraj comic, you'll probably be mercilessly pancaked by an elephant.
See, this lady knows the score. She's handling her impending doom like she's waiting for the bus.
She's so pro that she had time for a comma.
#3. Super Commando Dhruva: Like Robin, But Balls-Out Macho
Let's move on to another superhero who knows a thing or two about elephant stampedes: Super Commando Dhruva. His origin runs parallel to that of Batman's sidekick, Robin -- both characters were raised in the circus by trapeze-artist parents who were murdered by criminals, prompting their sons to mete out justice in pastels.
His bon mots are catchier than "Holy [insert noun here], Batman".
But the Boy Wonder was whisked away to stately Wayne Manor, as the Gotham YMCA didn't offer Krav Maga for Orphans. Dhruva had no such luxury. In fact, he began his crime-fighting career at the tender age of 14, with an equally tender murder spree. Growing up with the Jupiter Circus, Dhruva was hardened by years of executing songbirds and running headfirst into brick walls.
Ornithologists, please identify the bird whose death scream is FUR FUR FUR.
But not everybody was enamored of Dhruva's feats of child endangerment. No, an unsuccessful rival circus grew jealous of his success, so they hired a heavy to torch Jupiter's big top. Can you handle the dramatic tension?
To be fair, FUR FUR FUR carries greater dramatic import than OOUCH.
The gangster celebrates his arson by burning Dhruva's surprisingly flammable father alive in front of him ...
... and incinerating a clown for good measure. Note the man getting fresh with a rhino, their forbidden passions ignited by imminent death and thrown petrol:
Once the fires die down, Dhruva grabs a pile of his father's ashes and vows his revenge, unaware that he's probably running his fingers through charred clown intestine.
Dhruva races over to the enemy circus. He promptly electrocutes an assortment of henchmen and big cats, which is maybe the least auspicious way to kick off one's superhero career.
I take it all back, I'd rather devote my dying breath to OOUCH over ASSS.
With 1,500 pounds of circus hooligan and genus Panthera left smoldering in his wake, Dhruva is then captured and left to the mercy of an abused lion named Shaitan. And thanks to some imperfect translation, we are left wondering if he honed his mental steel by romancing apex predators.
SUPERHERO PROTIP: Unnerve your opponents by admitting to banging lions. Unprompted.
Despite the fact that all of Dhruva's foes end up dead, our hero waltzes away scot-free. Perhaps the best part of his 1987 debut issue was the cover, which sported Dhruva unhelpfully waving to a random old man being devoured by Shaitan.
Also, that motorcycle is the size of a tractor.
The second best part? The evil circus kingpin's muted reaction upon eavesdropping on unsatisfied customers. Remember, this is the bad guy who had zero problems immolating a clown.
At least it's not "UFF."