By Dr. Rex (Dejai) Barnes, English and History Faculty
The Implied Spider-Man: Transcreating Religious Imagery and Meaning in Spider-Man India
Editor’s Note: This essay was written for and previously published in The Assimilation of Yogic Religions Through Pop Culture, Edited by Paul G. Hackett.
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the Amazing Spider-Man in the August 1962 issue of Amazing Fantasy #15, they conceived a young, reticent hero from Queens whose superhuman powers were the result of a scientific accident: the bite of a radioactive spider. Peter Parker’s transformation thereafter is well known. Having assimilated the proportional strength and agility of the spider, he can now climb walls and has gained a (sixth) spider-sense of alarm to imminent danger. Upon discovery of these newly acquired faculties, however, Peter initially seeks fame and celebrity, not crime-fighting. Only after the murder of his Uncle Ben does he embody the famous axiom: “With great power must also come great responsibility.” This is an important point often overlooked by avid and causal fans alike: it is the ongoing ethical engagement with Uncle Ben’s death, rather than the extraordinary arachnid encounter, which provides Peter the impetus to don the Spidey costume and enact his sense of inspired duty. 
That American comic book superheroes are often equated with and interpreted through their powers is understandable. Animistic designations often govern the namesake of many characters (e.g., Spider-Man, Ant-man, Hawkman), whereas a superlative or descriptive quality may emphasize another hero’s abilities and identity (e.g., Superman, Storm, the Human Torch). These are of course not hard and fast rules. Neither Wolverine nor the Batman derive their skills from the wolverine or bat. Their titles exemplify the respective traits of ferociousness and fear evoked by the symbolism of their animal avatars. No doubt myriad variations exist for how a hero’s name might dovetail with their capacity to astonish audiences in contemporary popular culture. In other words, the ways in which our superheroes are diversely portrayed and culturally perceived depends on more than simply a hero’s name. Social and political contexts, narrative setting, intended audience, and the publishers own creative intentions, among others, contribute to the numerous dynamic readings attributed to comic book characters.
With regard to Spider-Man, in particular, the Webslinger has been adapted through various mediums, appearing in television cartoon series, feature films, video games, collectible action figures and toys since his inception in 1962. Most recently, and following the commercial success of the first Spider-Man movie in 2002 (directed by Sam Raimi), the U.S. based publishing company Gotham Entertainment Group (licensed in India) announced that they were teaming up with Marvel Comics to print the four-part miniseries called Spider-Man India for Indian and American audiences. In what Gotham Entertainment has called a “transcreation” of the Spider-Man mythos, Peter Parker of New York City has been reinvented as the Pavitr Prabhakar in Mumbai. Along with his name and location, Pavitr’s appearance has likewise been altered: he now wears golden hoop earrings, has darker skin with long scraggily sideburns, and sports a dhoti both in and out of costume. In addition, Peter Parker’s closest family and friends Uncle Ben, Mary Jane, and Aunt May have been revised as Uncle Bhim, Meera Jain, and Auntie Maya. 
Yet the most notable adjustment is not to Pavitr’s external features but the introduction of a spiritual origination to Spider-Man’s abilities. In a vivid scene of mystical transcendence, a yogi appears to confer upon our familiar superhero the powers of the spider. Specifically, the ascetic figure emerges from nowhere to proclaim that “the universe will open itself to you…this is your destiny, young Pavitr Prabhakar. Rise to the challenge…fulfill your karma.”  In this unexpected plot twist Pavitr is said to participate in a long tradition of heroic avatars. As such his ultimate fate, transformation, and identity are tied to an adventure engaged in ridding the world of an ancient evil and impending cosmic doom. Unsurprisingly, the source of evil emanates from a magical amulet sought by none other than Nalin Oberoi (i.e., Norman Osborn), who by wearing the nefarious trinket becomes the Green Goblin—a rakshasa demon of the Hindu epics.
This retelling of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is certainly intriguing, and not least because the neighborhood has been transposed into an environment replete with new sorts of social, political, and religious significations and questions. How might audiences (Indian, American, or otherwise) read and perceive this superhero makeover within their own cultural contexts? What are the implications of retelling an American literary creation through a distinctly Indian cultural perspective? More critically one could ask whether this is an attempt to impose on Indian readers a “system of representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and later, Western empire”?  It is tempting to interpret this adaptation as a form of orientalist reification wherein the fabled East is artistically rendered as altogether different from Western imagery and its imaginary. These questions remain trenchant despite Gotham Entertainment’s own claims that the success of their transcreative endeavor is exemplified in Spider-Man’s universal appeal as a superhero story that captures “the imagination of all cultures—both east and west.” 
Building on these inquiries and themes, this essay examines the negotiation of religious meanings transmitted through the character of Spider-Man in both American and Indian versions. Where scholars have examined Spider-Man India as a form of mass-mediated mythology, as well as through lenses of transnational and transcultural adaptation, I argue that this novel conceptualization of an Indianized superhero presents a productive confluence of both marvelous and miraculous interventions that frustrate formulaic systems of representation found in many American superhero narratives. More specifically, this article will show how Spider-Man India draws from but also reconfigures the prominent theme of scientific rationalism in American comics, thereby casting new light on conventional readings of comic book superheroes. On this view, Pavitr Prabhakar’s narrative is tied to a larger interpretive framework that foregrounds an implied Spider-Man—a superhero that communicates several open-ended and paradoxical registers of religious meaning and imagery in order to bridge American and Indian cultural values.
Comics Cultures, East and West
Before analyzing Spider-Man India, it is important to briefly delineate the history of comics culture in the North America and India as well as the potential ideological implications of “transcreating” an American icon. Some twenty years before the advent of Spider-Man, Superman’s major debut in the first issue of Action Comics (June 1938) signaled the dawn of the superhero comic book in the United States. Since 1938, the comics industry has endured a variety of debated “Ages”—Golden, Silver, Modern, and so forth. These often diversely map onto concurrent developments in American history (e.g., Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War), the diversification of popular media forms (the advent of television and later the Internet), and the proclivities of competing publishers (e.g., DC Comics and Marvel Comics).  Over the past three decades especially, superhero characters have become a product of globalization, such that Superman, Batman, the X-Men, the Avengers, and Spider-Man, for example, are licensed for profit to alternative forms of international media. Thus in addition to material (or digital) comic books, we now have regular access to postcards, t-shirts, and smart phone apps, to list but a few, as avenues through which the genre has become a lucrative and unrelenting juggernaut of multiple consumer markets.
With this in mind, the President and CEO of Gotham Entertainment Group, Sharad Devarajan, maintains that the creative impetus for Spider-Man India is to offer a new Spider-Man story “more integrated with Indian culture” and to “make an international hero also a local hero.”  Devarajan’s comments are perhaps measurable by the commercial success of the Spider-Man movies released in India and worldwide in 2002 and then again in 2004. The first film reportedly brought in fifty-three million rupees in India alone, which was then dwarfed by its successor with earnings of up to seventy-eight million rupees.  From this perspective, it would not be unreasonable to assume that Spider-Man India might make a marketable “local” and “international” product in both India and the United States. With a tinge of skepticism, and refiguring the well-known Spider-Man credo, Dan O’Rourke and Pravin Rodrigues have even suggested that Spider-Man India might demonstrate a new anti-heroic maxim: “With great stories come great opportunities.”  As O’Rourke and Rodrigues note, the comic series raises important questions of an opportunity for what and to whose advantage.
In modern scholarship, American popular culture has been scrutinized as a form of cultural imperialism succeeding orientalist trends in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In her study of early American comic books from 1930s and 40s, Sheng-Mei Ma has shown how the history of early comics is riddled with orientalist depictions of an explicitly eastern “other.” Ma notes how comics such as Flash Gordon and Terry and the Pirates generally portray a “common thread of ignorance and discursive violence” in which villains, servants, and women (e.g., Ming the Merciless, Connie, and the Dragon Lady) exemplify “the age-old cartoonish prejudices about the Orient.”  Ma thus deftly demonstrates how early representations of “the American hero maps out a narcissistic and imperialist masculinity at the heart of the culture that engendered the golden age of comics.”  For Ma, then, these early comic books served to reify racist notions of eastern caricatures. Americans are positioned as intelligent or clever heroes over against Asian figures that possess especially demeaning characteristics of stupidity and general malevolence.
With similar emphasis, Jane Iwamura’s recent work entitled Virtual Orientalism posits that a “new form of American Orientalism…more covert than its predecessors” has emerged. Iwamura writes: “gone are the days of direct colonial rule; the United States achieves hegemonic strength through channels that appear benign on their surface,” and where “images of the Orient become deeply embedded in a popular imagination that looks to the magazine page and to the big and small screens for products that re ready for immediate consumption.” She also notes that “the prevalence of this type of cultural stereotyping by visual forms of media is an important element of what I call Virtual Orientalism.”  Iwamura deftly illustrates how orientalism has been transformed—from British and French colonialism to modern America—by means of a ruse of benevolence on the part of American imperialism toward Asia. In her reading of discursive popular media representations, Iwamura finds the inscrutable romantic and mystical “Orient.” Here, prejudicial pop cultural depictions of recognizable figures from The Last Airbender or Kwai Chang Caine in the popular TV series Kung Fu (among others) re-present Asian spiritual heritages in a specific way so as to make them more palatable for an American public.
In light of these critical examples, one can ask then whether Spider-Man India is the latest form of re-inscribing racist notions of the eastern “other” through “Virtual Orientalism?” Has Gotham Entertainment, then, tacitly engaged in a legacy of mistranslation under the guise of so-called “transcreation?” The perspectives of Ma and Iwamura are significant because they identify an “American hegemonic imagination”—a form of mass media that crosses national borders with the potential to impose a particular worldview on its readers. And while the critical scholarship of Ma and Iwamura raise important problems associated with cultural essentialism and exploitation, I want to suggest that in the case of Spider-Man: India the creators at Gotham Entertainment have gestured toward the broader truism that the American imagination is not the only one at work in India.
The first Spider-Man movie may have been a partial indicator of the potential marketability for Spider-Man products in India. Yet the film alone was not the sole source of the Webslinger’s popularity abroad. The comic book publishers Diamond Comics and Indrajal Comics, for example, have successfully distributed Superman, Spider-Man, the Phantom, and Mandrake comics in both English and Hindi since the 1960s and 1970s.  These conspicuously American characters have served to introduce to Indian audiences certain cultural values, although scholars contend that the spread of American popular culture through comics in India has been generally accomplished in a markedly non-intrusive fashion. For instance, Tej Bhatia has shown that American comics function as a positive aspect of globalization, encouraging “the Indian appetite for comic books.”  Bhatia’s evaluation stems from the fact that American comics are both culturally and linguistically translated to follow the norms of a distinct Indian comic book tradition. In other words, rather than defining normative imperialistic or hegemonic ends, American comics in India are deliberately shaped to suit the context into which they are received, read, and enjoyed.  Moreover, Indian authors and artists have also produced their own original superhero comics apart from the American archetype. The superheroes Parmanu and Nagraj are exemplary in this respect.
In Raminder Kaur’s study of the Indian atomic superhero Parmanu, she demonstrates that numerous Hindi-language comics have evolved their own aesthetic qualities, and these creatively combine contemporary superheroes with modernized social and political motifs. Parmanu, whose name loosely means “the exemplary atom,” fells his enemies with atomic bolts fired from chest and wrist gadgets. He reels out atomic rope from his wrist-band gadget and can atomize his body to desired sizes. Akin to Spider-Man’s origins during the Cold War, Parmanu’s abilities reflect “how nuclear issues enter in the realm of vernacular culture, in the process concretizing a complex of currents to do with modernity and globalization, and enlisting its consumers into the contested fold of a ‘nuclear national’ citizenship.”  In Kaur’s estimation, the example of Parmanu indicates how Indian comic book culture has become a popular resource for Indian youths to identify with a “nuclear national” superhero and icon that represents an Indian nation looking to the future as a regional and global superpower. Parmanu thus represents an Indian cultural response to the Indian state’s development of nuclear capacities in the 1990s.
Suchitra Mathur has likewise explored the Indianization of American comic superheroes such as the Indian character Nagraj (“Snake King”). Developed by Raj Comics in 1986, Nagraj is different from Parmanu in that he embodies an Indian superhero inspired specifically by Spider-Man, rather than one tied to national issues of nuclear power. In lieu of Spidey’s webs, however, Nagraj shoots snakes from his wrists to capture villains and swings on objects by means of snake ropes; he also has a sixth snake sense. Again, one might question the extent to which American comics have steered Western popular culture as the desired norm in other parts of the world. Yet, as Mathur convincingly argues, Nagraj is not an unimaginative imitation of Spider-Man; rather this superhero “is an Indian version of a commercially successful American cultural product, which, nevertheless, stands independently; reading (and enjoying) Nagraj comics does not require any familiarity with Spiderman or any other American superhero.”  That is, Nagraj represents a compelling negotiation of the Spider-Man mythos alongside Indian cultural tenets that is rooted in Indian-inspired tropes specifically.
In addition to American superheroes and their Indianized versions, the Amar Chitra Katha comics series emerged in 1967 and has since constituted popularized moral admonitions from and for Indian history and mythology. In the ACK or “immortal illustrated story”—originally conceived and edited by Anant Pai of India Book House—Indian adults and children read and experience the ancient epics in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which are written and drawn so as to educate readers about India’s national and cultural heritage. These comics are based on traditional Hindu tales and historical figures, finding markets not only in India, but also in Indian immigrant communities within North America “as the primary source of stories about India.”  A distinctly nationalist enterprise, the ACK deliberately separates itself from the American comics tradition and strives to retell a coherent Indian cultural tradition. The editorial staff under Anant Pai “insist that they are creating a library of comic book classics on a body of history and mythology that is Indian, not Hindu.” Still, as John S. Hawley comments, “the line between ‘Indian’ and ‘Hindu’ has always been blurred; it can be argued that ‘Hinduism,’ as a distinct, internally consistent system running parallel with other ‘religions,’ is an invention of the nineteenth century. For better or worse, readers of ACK are not likely to be able to disentangle Hinduness from Indianness with any ease.”  This is particularly apposite to analysis of Spider-Man India because the creators at Gotham Entertainment insist on precisely the same point. As I demonstrate below, Pavitr Prabhakar’s story is one steeped in representations of what Hawley calls “Hinduness” and “Indianness,” rather than Hinduism per se.
Of course, Spider-Man India differs considerably from these examples and in significant ways. Broadly speaking, it presents an intercultural endeavor of domestic and foreign collaboration that reinvents a specifically American superhero. In contrast to the examples of Parmanu and Nagraj, Pavitr Prabhakar is “localized” as an Indian superhero with the simultaneous goal of sustaining his international celebrity status. Gotham Entertainment’s reinvention of Spider-Man thus invites interpretation of what makes Peter Parker American, while foregrounding the extent to which Pavitr Prabhakar challenges this image. This means that Peter Parker’s global renown informs the alliteration of Pavitr Prabhakar and his cultural revision, but in a way that does not reduce his Indian character to a facile imitation of the American counterpart.  Indeed, the representations of Pavitr rely on those from the Amazing Spider-Man but also creatively frustrate linear readings of Spider-Man India as a crude knockoff.
Furthermore, it is important to point out that Spider-Man India does not retell the stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana as in the Amar Chitra Katha tradition. The comic book series deliberately references Indian religious traditions but in an ambiguous and vague fashion. As we shall see in the third section below, it gestures toward Indian cultural practices and customs without advocating for the truth or validity of any one religious worldview. Instead, the comic purposefully invites cultural comparisons while raising ethical values shared among “the imagination of all cultures—both east and west.”  An interesting tension can thus be found within Spider-Man India, as Gotham Entertainment has to balance Pavitr’s Indian re-presentations and still maintain cultural references to the American version. Most provocatively, the comic situates itself within Indian and Hindu systems of representation which disrupt one narrative model that recursively appears in American comic book traditions: that of scientific rationalism.
Marvelous Science and Miraculous Religion
For many comic book fans, the core alteration to the archetypical Amazing Spider-Man will be obvious: Indian Spider-Man’s powers are spiritually conferred rather than scientifically determined. This is of considerable consequence, for part of what invests Peter Parker with an American superhero identity is the very science behind his transformation. As noted in the introduction, Peter Parker’s webslinging abilities unequivocally derive from his radioactive arachnid encounter in the American version. This makes the aesthetic connection between Peter, the spider, and his resulting superhuman powers a neat and legible equation–one that might, a little tongue-in-cheek, be read like so:
spider + man = Spider-Man.
Admittedly, this is a reductive formula. It takes for granted the complex array of superhero identities and imaginative narratives which sustain them. The emblematic role of the “spider” does not necessarily determine how the young “man” Peter Parker becomes a “Spider-Man.”
Still, scholars have duly commented on the relevance of animal avatars associated with superheroic figures, in general, and Spider-Man India, in particular. Suchitra Mathur, for example, has examined the pertinence of animal symbolism in Indian comics and the considerable cultural weight they carry. She notes how the character of Nagraj relies on symbols of protection, prosperity, and fertility, all of which are associated with the nag (cobra) in order to communicate this superhero’s social purpose.  Thus in contrast to representations of the snake as a tempting serpent, Nagraj communicates positive serpentine qualities based on an Indian cultural reading. With regard to Spider-Man India specifically, Shilpa Davé argues that part of Gotham Entertainment’s “transcreative” failure results from the fact that “the spider figure does not have a historical connection to Indian stories.”  According to Davé, the spider evinces such a close approximation to the American version as to negate its innovative transcultural thrust. The perspectives of Mathur and Davé are important because they indicate that the relation between a symbolically-laden avatar and its human counterpart, as well as the resulting values ascribed to superhero transformations, warrant attention for the cultural work they perform.
For the purposes of this section, I am interested in how the algebraic signage for “spider + man = Spider-Man” tacitly occludes overt religion in many American Marvel and DC origin stories. That is, it is often taken for granted that religious causes will have little, if any, relevance or function in the extraordinary transformations of comic book superheroes. Instead, we readily prefer ideals of “science” and “technology” to provide the language and reasoning for how the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. As will be demonstrated in the following section, this is not the case at all in Spider-Man India, as Pavitr’s amazing power derives from a mystical yogic visitation. What effect, then, do representations of science and technology have on how American audiences read superhero comics?
With an eye to the longue durée of western history, premodern Christian ideations can help shed light a broader discussion of Marvel superheroes as marvelous phenomena.  This may come as a surprise given the glorification of scientific rationalism in many superhero narratives. Whether it’s Peter Parker, Tony Stark (i.e., Iron Man), or even Thor (yes, even the thunder god himself), advanced science and technology are consistently used to explain and legitimize superhuman abilities and their origins. Yet the manner in which this legitimization is formulated resembles much earlier philosophical and theological systems of thought. In fact, our responsiveness to Marvels qua marvels evinces profound religious meanings that allow for insightful comparisons between Spider-Man India and the Amazing Spider-Man. From this perspective, what seems at first a purely cultural phenomenon—that American comics use “science” to justify their superheroes’ powers and Indian comics use “religion”—turns out to be a significant misrepresentation. It is this misrepresentation, I believe, that forms the backdrop for a proper understanding of Spider-Man India’s novel endeavor and warrants the need for the following discussion of premodern marvels.
The Latin Middle Ages inherited a broad understanding of marvels from classical antiquity. Derived from the Latin term mirabilia (of mira) and related to the French miroir and mirage, marvels typically presented an inverted image of earthly regularity.  They were considered naturally occurring events or phenomena for which the objective causation was obscure.  Thus, an individual born with, say, an extra appendage, heterochromia, or dwarfism could be considered marvelous. More frequently, the occult properties of certain stones, liquids, plants, and animals—sometimes categorized under the heading “natural magic”—were explained using the same criteria.  The mandrake root, with its anthropomorphic form, was considered astonishingly fatal should its roots be fully drawn from the ground. Particular mountains, fountains, shrines, and other locations could similarly evoke wonder-full effects. In these examples, marvels were diffuse but integral to past perceptions of singularity in the cosmos.
That marvels were deemed “natural” or sometimes classified as magical means that they were subject to the prescribed limits of divine creation. Indeed, marvels (and all magical arts) by definition exhibited exceptional attributes but never violated the natural order of the world. They presented elusive albeit profoundly meaningful boundaries for God’s creation. While premodern marvels were inexplicable by means of human reason, this was only because the objective cause for their existence was as yet unknown. The failure to understand occult virtues stimulated inquiry into how and why such things happened. Marvels marked an occasion to “wonder” (from the Latin “admiratio”) at a universe replete with new, if confounding, signs and portents.  This final point is crucial because marvels were pedagogically useful within the integrated schema of premodern Christian cosmology; one could be taught to marvels at the unknown for its moral and ontological significance in relation to God.
Importantly, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, marvels were contrasted with miracles (miracula); as we have seen, the former were defined by opaque origination and an emotive spark to investigate. For the latter, the trigger of wonderment was likewise paramount, although miracles were said to definitively transgress the ordinary workings of nature. Miracles thus differed from marvels by degree of divine involvement: God alone produced miracles through unmediated grace, whereas defects in nature or created agents (i.e., angels and demons) might engender marvels. The parting of the red sea, resurrection of the dead, transubstantiation, and the postmortem deeds of saints were considered miracles that demonstrated the direct hand of God and the attendant suspension of natural operations. Attractive for their pastoral applicability, miracles and miracle-stories promoted ecclesiastically sanctioned sites for pious devotion (e.g., saint’s relics and canonizations, the Eucharist, and various acts in the Bible). Marvels, on the other hand, provided an alibi for the miraculous; they worked negatively to illustrate where miracles were absent. For certain elite and scholastically trained theologians this difference meant that unlike marvels, miracles operated literally above nature: they were technically “supernatural” rather than natural. 
A similar logic operates for our Marvel heroes today: the origination narratives for the X-men, the Avengers, and many characters from both the Marvel and DC canons typify marvelous causations rather than miraculous contraventions. The namesake, nature, and abilities of our superheroes empower them to bend, never break, the laws of creation. On this view a gamma radiation experiment gone awry or an orphaned alien from Krypton evoke wonder at an imaginative depiction of the extraordinary. The Hulk and Superman, on this view, are fictional representations of abnormal phenomena always reconcilable within the framework of scientific rationalism. This does not mean “science” explains away fictional phenomena; rather, an unreal gadget, ability, or idea is accepted as possible but unrealizable within our current scope of knowledge.  While we cannot recreate the exact fictions of Superman, the Hulk, or Spider-man per se, superhuman flight, strength, and transformations are conveyed as resulting from exceptional forces of nature which science and technology only have yet to comprehend and harness. Even the idea that an undiscovered planet might foster powerful forms of extraterrestrial life suits the conceptual feasibility of the marvelous.
Consequently, the miraculous is all but dismissed in American Marvel and DC origin stories. One ironic reason for the repudiation of miracle-working in comics derives from the unspoken taboo against overt religion. Ostensibly more palatable than the deus ex machine of miraculous interventions, the ideal-types of science and technology are employed as sources of human or alien (never divine) power. For Peter Parker and Bruce Banner (i.e., the Hulk), radioactive mishaps transform the quotidian into the astonishing. Sometimes extra-evolutionary mutations serve this purpose, as in the example of the X-men, or a blinding mishap with toxic materials might enhance one’s sensory faculties, as with Daredevil. Alien knowledge and design, such as that of the Kree or the Guardians of the Galaxy, can similarly act as a catalyst for advancement in science fictional settings. Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) are not inherently made superhuman; their expert comprehension of high-tech computers and engineering affords them this privilege or burden.
Particularly striking in these examples is how superhuman powers are almost always validated by a specific and vaunted form of knowledge or its misuse. In these popular representations, extraordinary human ability is never given by means of divine gift. Rather, it remains tacitly embedded in the conceptual realm of an ever-expanding universe—like our specialized knowledge thereof—lest religious doctrine and dogma (i.e., the miraculous) exclude so-called “secular objectivity.” Arguably, the subtext in many such narratives is that we never eclipse the potential for further scientific or technological progress, perhaps even utopia.
In fact, few from the familiar superhero order can be said to exhibit religious provenance. True, characters like Daredevil or Nightcrawler may voice their confessional backgrounds (both Roman Catholic), and a number of scholars have also noted the highly Christ-like qualities of Peter Parker specifically. These quirks rarely develop as a centerpiece for their adventures and certainly not their skills. Instead, hyperbolic depictions of so-called “secular science” dominate themes of transformation and hybridization, as any overt religious values are generally sidelined or given over to vague allegory.
One might suggest that the mythological figure Thor is the prime example of an archaic religious system. Again here, Thor represents a dashing powerhouse of “magical” rather than expressly “religious” abilities, although scholars have noted overlapping religious connotations. Richard Reynolds, for example, has famously indicated how in American superhero comics “[s]cience is used as an alibi for magic.  And Reynolds points out that although science and magic (or as I am arguing “religion”) generally exist as structural opposites in comic book worlds, the figure of Thor ostensibly brings them together as rough equivalents. After all, the Norse thunder god explains to the astrophysicist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) in the first Thor film: “Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.” 
Whether the Asgardian deity’s insight bespeaks the values I here highlight remains to be seen. Most recently, the crowning moment for futuristic technology in the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron collapses any religio-magical equivocation with the character Vision. An incarnate form of Iron Man’s supercomputer Jarvis, Vision memorably performs the impossible feat of lifting the hammer of Thor called Mjölnir. In effect, the scene underscores the heightened, even salvific, function that good science (Vision) enacts in its domestication of religion and magic (Thor), alongside the impending destruction of bad science (Ultron). Even in its original comic book form, the narrative for Age of Ultron foregrounds alternate futures in which the Avengers bear witness to a horrifying apocalypse where “[m]agic won in a battle against technology.”  In this last example, the greatest threat to humanity is “magic” and its devoted practitioners, and by extension, its purportedly nefarious entanglements with the superhero venture to end suffering in the world.
At the level of literary device, the repudiation of divine action perhaps makes good sense for twenty-first-century sensibilities. Dramatic storytelling predicates that a heroic figure’s abilities be remarkable but also limited. Excitement rests in the portrayal of how a character with unprecedented gifts/insight/energy/adaptability responds to a challenge or crisis within the ambit of amazing but still finite knowledge and dexterity. If the awareness and capacity of the protagonist were unlimited or godlike, there would be no drama and no tension. This being said, our superheroes could be represented as the product of divine deeds or sent forth to enact marvelous means for religious ends without obstructing the story’s use of suspense and conflict. Why not employ agents of divinity to color and enrich the narrative environment? Spider-Man India is one recent example to employ religious elements as a means to explain superhero powers and their origins.
The Implied Spider-Man
Given the marvelous and miraculous conventions of American superhero comics, Spider-Man India represents something of an audacious intervention. In lieu of explicit scientism, Indian Spidey is depicted as an agent of spiritual destiny and divinely inspired power. Part of what makes this novel representation compelling is the way in which Gotham Entertainment relies on an ambiguous yogic aesthetic to explain Pavitr’s transformation. In its most apparent form, the emergence of a mystical yogi serves as a diegetic gloss for how Pavitr’s powers are derived from the avatars of the gods.
After locating Pavitr, his family, and friends in the Mumbai, young Pabarkhar encounters a shadowy figure that turns out to be a mysteriously powerful yogi. The ascetic immediately explains that Pavitr must accept the powers of the spider in order to fulfill his destiny and conquer an ancient evil threatening the world. The scene, while brief, is in many ways the crux of Gotham Entertainment’s transcreative endeavor: the otherworldly visitation and divine command act as a substitute for Peter’s arachnid accident in the original.
With regard to Indian Spider-Man’s newly gifted powers, it is important to note that Pavitr does not become an omnipotent being. Out of costume he still struggles to make friends at school, just as while in costume he has to discover effective ways to defeat his enemies. In fact Pavitr’s amazing abilities are explicitly related—much like in the American version–to an ongoing process of self-discovery. At the comic series’ start, Uncle Bhim speaks to Pavitr of his as yet unrealized “great talent” and “power,” and how these will carry him through his adult life. The early scene highlights Pavitr’s youth and thereby situates the story’s setting within a time of Pavitr’s coming of age–with Uncle Bhim acting as something of a father figure. Echoing the sentiments of Uncle Bhim, the mystical yogi arrives pages later and proclaims to Pavitr: “who you are is what we are here to discover.” In effect, the introduction of the yogi thus provides a clear spiritual valence to Spider-Man’s powers. At the same time, it also makes legible that Pavitr’s heightened senses and astounding capabilities stem from some latent “talent” and embodied “power” within him, even before the ascetic figure arrives.
To this end, Spider-Man India seems to allude several representations of the yogic. Most overtly, yoga is portrayed as part of Indian religious traditions wherein devotees are called to visionary experiences. As June McDaniel has shown, these are often extraordinary occurrences limited to specific times and places, as well as mythic narratives and historical events.  Pavitr’s encounter with the yogi invokes this cultural idea of a religious visionary experience or prophetic call to spiritual transformation. Likewise, Pavitr’s actions are directly associated with past events carried out by former avatars inspired by the gods. The reader is thus meant to infer that Indian Spider-Man will relive mythical instances of a relationship with divine beings.
Spider-Man India also implicitly depends on the idea of yoga as a form of disciplined meditation that leads to self-improvement—physical, spiritual, or otherwise. Here, Spider-Man’s yogic body and self-discovery exemplifies a process of realizing one’s physical and spiritual potential. In the comic series, this is exaggerated and typical of superhero narratives: Indian Spider-Man climbs to impossible heights, has inhuman strength and agility, and with his “spider sense” has the capacity to divine immediate, future events. Yet this representation of the yogic is to some extent more accessible as a plot point: it reimagines Spider-Man’s famous axiom “With great power must also come great responsibility” as a yogic mantra that empowers Pavitr to act as a moral person.
The yogic element of Spider-Man India is but one facet of a larger narrative framing buttressing Gotham’s transcreative impetus. Further Indian and Hindu references are evinced throughout the comic, and these appear alongside more profound allusions to the intersection of natural and supernatural being. To some extent, the comic series bears oblique resemblance to the ACK, although it does not draw explicitly from the stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. In one sequence, for example, after Pavitr has laid waste to the Rakshasa demon threatening Mumbai, he meets Auntie Maya to celebrate a Diwali festival. The scene places the broader narrative in an Indian framework by depicting the familiar Hindu holiday. The significance of this penultimate episode is perhaps a play on Rama’s triumphant return after defeating the demon Ravana in Hindu epics. While Gotham Entertainment does not overtly align Pavitr with Rama, nor Nalin with Ravana, these analogies are subtly suggested by Indian Spider-Man’s victory over the rakshasa as a Ravana-like demon-king figure from the Ramayana. Such Indian and Hindu references provide the reader with both familiar and foreign systems of representation, depending on the audience’s own cultural setting and circumstance. The creators at Gotham Entertainment thus deliberately call attention to and delineate the comic’s new cultural backdrop. 
More generally, there is an interesting if ambiguous theology of avatars developed throughout the comic series. While Indian Spider-Man is not placed in the category of popular Hindu incarnations (e.g. Rama or Krishna), the yogi announces to Pavitr in their first meeting that “an evil as ancient as existence itself has been unleashed upon the world” in which “the avatars of the gods have transcended their realms to halt these despots of malevolence.” Pavitr is told he must become Spider-Man, for “such an evil must be balanced by another force…a being of virtue and righteousness.” The images accompanying these lines portray rather vague avatars, who war with rakshasa demons in order to maintain a delicate equilibrium between “the righteous and wicked”, the “pure and impure”, and moral values compatible with the teachings from the Bhagavad Gita.
Unsurprisingly, the rakshasa manifestation of the Green Goblin represents the immoral and despotic aspects of creation which are deliberately counterbalanced by images of Pavitr’s moral virtue. With a twist on the narrative customs of Spider-Man comics, Nalin Oberoi memorably becomes the Indianized Green Goblin by means of an ancient amulet rather than technological advance. In the American version, especially the first Spider-Man movie, Norman Osborn is the head of Oscorp, a company contracted by the U.S. military to create super-soldiers. Working on a tight deadline to produce results, Osborn ultimately experiments on himself. He succeeds in producing a super-soldier of sorts (the Green Goblin) but thereafter goes insane as a side-effect of his own, imperfect scientific formula. In Spider-Man India, however, Nalin’s post-transformation madness is reimagined as demonic possession. Nalin thus resembles Norman’s industrialist greed but becomes a supervillain via preternatural means rather than scientific malfunction.
These depictions of good and evil are also supplemented on the last page of the fourth comic where roiled water from the ocean forms the Indianized version of Venom (a familiar Spider-Man villain). In the fourth comic specifically, Pavitr comes into brief contact with Nalin’s sinister amulet, which begins to morph Indian Spider-Man into Venom. Pavtir is remarkably able to resist the amulet’s influence, thereby halting the malefic transformation. This particular scene is important because it creatively adapts the traditional Spider-Man mythos yet again by twisting the idea of “secular” knowledge explaining Venom’s provenance. In the American canon, Venom exists as a symbiotic alien that attaches itself to Peter Parker. Contact with the alien grants Spider-Man a black and white costume and also affords Peter additional strength, speed, and self-destructive hubris. In Spider-Man India, however, Venom is no longer an extraterrestrial being but another rakshasa demon seeking to possess Pavitr. Notably, the close encounter with the demon Venom leaves open the possibility of another Spider-Man India series in the future. The final image of the comic series depicts a remnant of Venom’s possession and concludes with the words that quote the Bhagavad Gita: “The demonic and the divine are the two kinds of men in this world. Now…learn about the demonic.” The comic thus ends with a new beginning and foreshadows an ongoing cosmic struggle to follow from this story.
In many ways these representations help foreground Gotham Entertainment’s “transcreation” as a connective means for comparing the American and Indian Spider-Men. And the Indian portrayal of Spider-Man seems to purposefully highlight some of the more furtive religious aspects of the American version, suggesting that more profound similarities to be drawn between the Pavitr and Peter. Despite the prevalence of scientism noted in the previous section, American superhero comics are never devoid of religious symbols, themes, and meaning. They often provide a rich source of playful ambiguities from which religious motifs can be drawn. As in the example of Spider-Man, the manner in which his abilities are wielded and how Peter Parker rebounds from his traumatic origin carry ultimate importance. Spider-Man deserves the epithet “Amazing” precisely for the onus of complicated moral choices he must confront and not just his webslinging guile. His maxim (“with great power comes great responsibility”) emphasizes this point. Were Peter Parker the Amazing Spider-Man for his powers alone, his supervillain assailants could share in this title.
The 2016 premiere of Batman v Superman film similarly highlights the multivalent nature of superhero morals, and in this case with explicit religious imagery. At various points throughout the film, the audience observes a monumental statue of Superman—graffitied with the words FALSE GOD in red paint. And the character Lex Luthors bemoans that we have “been so caught up with what he can do that no one has asked what he should do.” On this view, complex ethical considerations framed in relation to extraordinary powers typically present the most suggestive narratives for American Marvel and DC comics, movies, and so forth. My point is that the use of scientism in American comics frequently serves to disguise, not erase, religious symbolism and aesthetics.
The example of Spider-man India is especially helpful in this regard because it illustrates how the physical, metaphysical, and ethical worlds that characters like Spider-Man inhabit are embedded in complex systems of representation. Rather than proffering a rigid binary of science vs. religion in which the former is always privileged over the latter, the two Spider-man comics are replete with overlapping social, political and indeed spiritual concerns. As such, the creators of Spider-Man India seem to invoke what Wendy Doniger has called “the implied spider” or what I am calling the implied Spider-Man. Drawing from the Upanishads, Doniger brilliantly suggests that the image of the spider can be a useful metaphor in comparative analyses if we take it to mean “the shared humanity, the shared life experience, that supplies the web-building material, the raw material of narrative to countless human webmakers.”  This is in essence the teachings of Pavitr’s yogi in the comic: “there is only you, with the power of the spider, the spider that weaves the intangible web of life. The universe grants you this power, and the knowledge necessary to use it.” Here, the yogi’s “intangible web of life” is that which is created through the comic book narrative and sustains its relation to the American mythos. Rather than two discrete tales, in both tellings Spider-Man is meant to transcend the boundaries that would disassociate the American mythos from its Indian counterpart. In other words, they are meant to be read as the same story told in different cultural contexts. What is “implied”–in Doniger’s sense of the word–is that the reader will notice the cultural variations between the two stories while also acknowledging their obvious ethical resemblances.
In Doniger’s comparative mythology and in Spider-Man India, the trope of the spider and web are therefore used to describe the interconnectivity between the stories of Peter and Pavitr. From this perspective, Spider-Man India should be read as a medium for reflecting on or even marveling at the complex interplay of religious and scientific causalities by means of storytelling. Reading the comic is or can be similar to reading an inspired story in which the reader interacts with themes, symbols and ideas that are or can be both familiar and foreign. And such a reading culminates in the recognition of Peter and Pavitr’s unique differences, but not at the cost of their similarities.
For example, Spider-Man India rehearses the story of Uncle Bhim’s death and Pavitr’s internalization of great power and responsibility in the first comic. Like Ben, Bhim interrupts a mugging to save a woman and is killed in the interaction, which Pavitr could have potentially halted. For this reason, Pavitr recursively draws from Bhim’s words and repeats the famous motto. As in the American telling, the appropriate use of extraordinary power points toward excellence of character; and, I would argue, readers are supposed to reflect on Pavitr’s actions as if they were our own regardless of one’s cultural setting. In both versions, Spider-man teaches us that “we all have more power than we care to recognize to be a positive force in the lives of those around us.”  That the Indian comic places emphasis on the religious origins of these powers should not obscure the underlying principle shared in both comics: despite his sensational abilities, origins and context, Peter and Pavitr remain the same human character. And whether Spider-Man’s origins are scientifically or religiously expressed, the ethical issues orbiting his abilities remain constant and are therefore appropriate in forging links and productive comparisons.Undertaking such a comparative venture may heighten the risk of cultural essentialism, but re-presentation can also be an invitation to rethink cultural categories with an emphasis on similarity rather than exploitive difference. What makes Spider-Man India so compelling is precisely that the broader Spider-Man mythos is not bound by a single text, but to a common narrative underlying the whole series of telling and retellings—or in this case creations and transcreations. Peter and Pavitr, therefore, share in these extraordinary narratives an ability to provoke response to what is and could be. In many ways, to be the Amazing Spider-Man India is to wear the mask of advanced knowledge and embody astonishing religious potential.
Dr. Rex (Dejai) Barnes is a faculty member of the English and History Departments at St. Mark’s School. He coaches JV Boys soccer and lives on campus with his wife Alanna, daughter Willa, and their dog Bowie. In his free time, Dr. Barnes enjoys playing soccer and video games; he also shreds on acoustic and electric guitar. When pushed to give a definitive answer, he will unwaveringly argue that Ghostbusters is the all-time greatest film of the 1980s.
- For readers unfamiliar with the basic story behind Spider-Man, his powers, and origins, see the collection of chapters in Jonathan Sanford, ed., Spider-Man and Philosophy: The Web of Inquiry (Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley & Sons, 2012).
- These characters also underwent visible Indianization. Uncle Bhim has dark hair and skin, golden hoop earrings and a bushy dark moustache. Meera no longer has her trademark red hair (it is now brown) and has a decorative mark on her forehead. Auntie Maya dons a light blue hooded robe that conceals most of her appearance.
- Spider-Man India 1, Marvel Comics, January 2005.
- Edward Said, Orientalism, (London: Penguin, 2003), 203.
- Spider-Man India 4, Marvel Comics, April 2005. On the back cover.
- For the history of superhero comic books in the United States, see Randy Duncan, Matthew Smith, and Paul Levitz, The Power of Comics (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2009) or in a much more condensed version, B.J. Oropeza, The Gospel According to Superheroes (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), 10-18. Generally, three distinct comic book eras are often referred to depending on the original date of release. These are the Golden Age (e.g. comics from 1938 to the mid-1950s), the Silver Age (comics from roughly 1956 to the mid-1980s), and the Third/Modern/Bronze Age (comics from roughly 1986 to the present day). The Golden Age is characterized by your typical do-gooders fighting crime without reference to the character’s internal or personal struggles (i.e. superhero teams get along well and always defeat the villains). The Golden Age takes place during and after World War II and superheroes often fight Nazis or other characters aligned with a particular social “evil”. The Silver Age is characterized by figures such as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, who do-good, but are hounded by police for vigilantism or are forced to confront inner conflicts of the character. These superheroes’ powers are often the result of nuclear or scientific accidents/experiments (e.g. Spider-Man, Hulk, the Atom) reflecting fears of the Cold War—there are many exceptions to this last point. The Modern Age is characterized as “Postmodern” and superheroes are often deconstructed in various ways to show the multiple layers of various social, religious, and political subtexts surrounding the figure. These “Ages” are often contested and given various names other than those used here.
- Singh, “Eastern Swing: Sharad Devarajan Talks Indian Spiderman,” accessed March 24, 2013, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=3682.
- “The ‘Transcreation’ of a Mediated Myth: Spider-Man in India,” in The Amazing Transforming Superhero: Essays on the Revision of Characters in Comic Books, Film and Television, ed. by T. Wandtke (London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2007), 126.
- Ibid., 127.
- The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2000), 20.
- Ibid., 5.
- Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 7.
- Suchitra Mathur, “From Capes to Snakes: The Indianization of the American Superhero,” in Comics as a Nexus of Cultures: Essays of the Interplay of Media, Disciplines and International Perspectives, ed. by M. Berninger, J. Ecke, and G. Haberkorn (London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010), 176.
- “Super-heroes to Super Languages; American Popular Culture through South Asian Language Comics” World Englishes 25 (2006), 296.
- Ibid., 280.
- Kaur, “Atomic Comics: Parabolic Mimesis and the Graphic Fictions of Science” International Journal of Cultural Studies 15 (2012), 330.
- “From Capes to Snakes” (2010), 184.
- Frances Pritchett, “The World of Amar Chitra Katha,” in Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia, ed. by L. Babb and S. Wadley (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 76.
- “The Saints Subdued: Domestic Virtue and National Integration in Amar Chitra Katha,” in Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia, ed. by L. Babb and S. Wadley (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 130-1.
- Jeffrey Kripal, “Western Popular Culture, Hindu Influences On,” in The Encyclopedia of Hinduism, ed. by D. Cush, C. Robinson, and M. York (New York: Routledge, 2009).
- Spider-Man India 4, Marvel Comics, April 2005. On the back cover.
- “From Capes to Snakes” (2010), 180.
- “Spider-Man India: Comic Books and the Translating/Transcreating of American Cultural Narratives,” in Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Novels: Comics at the Crossroads, ed. by S. Denson, C. Meyer, and D. Stein (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 139.
- A shorter version of this article was originally published as Under the Mask of Marvels in the July 2015 issue of The Revealer: a review of religion and media.
- Jacques Le Goff, The Medieval Imagination, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 27.
- Three useful articles on marvels include Peter Harrison, “Miracles, Early Modern Science, and Rational Religion” Church History 75 (2006): 493-510; Lorraine Daston, “Marvelous Facts and Miraculous Evidence in Early Modern Europe” Critical Inquiry 18 (Autumn, 1991): 93-124; Axel Rüth, “Representing Wonder in Medieval Miracle Narratives” MLN 126 (Sept. 2011): 89-114.
- On definitions of magic see Richard Kieckhefer, “The Specific Rationality of Medieval Magic” The American Historical Review 99 (June 1994): 813-36 and Robert Bartlett, The Natural and Supernatural in the Middle Ages: The Wiles Lecture given at the Queen’s University of Belfast, 2006 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
- Caroline Bynum Walker, “Wonder,” The American Historical Review 102 (1997): 1-26.
- Euan Cameron, Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion, 1250-1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 78.
- Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, trans. by R. Howard (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973).
- Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992), 53.
- Thor, Dir. Kenneth Branagh, (Paramount Pictures, 2011).
- Age of Ultron, Marvel Comics, February 2014 (Issue #8).
- June McDaniel, “The Role of Yoga in Some Bengali Bhakti Traditions: Shaktism, Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Baul, and Sahajiya Dharma,” The Journal of Hindu Studies 5(2012): 53-74.
- The back sleeve of Spider-Man India (#4) also contains a small glossary of Indian terms and meanings. The reader thus finds definitions of “Amravati,” “bhaijaan,” “dhoti,” “karma,” and “salwar-kameez,” among others, on the final page of each comic. These are by no means exclusively Hindu and are presumably included to help American readers understand the terminology used throughout the comic.
- The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 61.
- Travis Smith, “Batman v. Spider-Man: Who is the Greater Hero?” The Weekly Standard (Dec. 31, 2012).
- Age of Ultron. Marvel Comics. February 2014.
- Bartlett, Robert. The Natural and Supernatural in the Middle Ages: The Wiles Lecture given at the Queen’s University of Belfast, 2006. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
- Bhatia, Tej K. “Super-heroes to Super Languages; American Popular Culture through South Asian Language Comics.” World Englishes 25 (2006): 270-97.
- Bynum Walker, Caroline. “Wonder.” The American Historical Review 102 (1997): 1-26.
- Cameron, Euan. Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion, 1250-1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Daston, Lorraine. “Marvelous Facts and Miraculous Evidence in Early Modern Europe.” Critical Inquiry 18 (Autumn, 1991): 93-124.
- Davé, Shilpa. “Spider-Man India: Comic Books and the Translating/Transcreating of American Cultural Narratives.” In Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Narratives: Comics at the Crossroads, edited by D. Stein, S. Denson, and C. Meyer. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.
- Devarajan, Sharad. “Men in Tights.” Radio interview. NPR Fresh Air WHYY. Jan. 6, 2005.
- Doniger, Wendy. The Implied Spider: Politics & Theology in Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
- Duncan, R. and Smith, M. The Power of Comics: History, Form, and Culture. New York: Continuum, 2009.
- Harrison, Peter. “Miracles, Early Modern Science, and Rational Religion.” Church History 75 (2006): 493-510.
- Hawley, John S. “The Saints Subdued: Domestic Virtue and National Integration in Amar Chitra Katha.” In Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia, edited by L. Babb and S. Wadley. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.
- Iwamura, Jane N. Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
- Jewett, Robert and Lawrence, John S. The American Monomyth. New York: Anchor Press, 1977.
- ————. The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.
- Kaur, Raminder. “Atomic Comics: Parabolic Mimesis and the Graphic Fictions of Science.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 15 (2012): 329-47.
- Kelly, John. “From Holi to Diwali in Fiji: An Essay on Ritual and History.” Man, New Series 23 (1988): 40-55.
- Khanduri, Ritu. “Comicology: Comic Books as Culture in India.” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 1 (2010): 171-91.
- Kieckhefer, Richard. “The Specific Rationality of Medieval Magic.” The American Historical Review 99 (June 1994): 813-36.
- Le Goff, Jacques. The Medieval Imagination. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
- Lewis, David and Hoff Kraemer, Christine, eds. Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels. New York: Continuum, 2010.
- Ma, Sheng-mei. The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2000.
- Mathur, Suchitra. “From Capes to Snakes: The Indianization of the American
- Superhero.” In Comics as a Nexus of Cultures: Essays of the Interplay of Media,
- Disciplines and International Perspectives, edited by M. Berninger, J. Ecke, and G. Haberkorn. London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010.
- Masuzawa, Tomoko. The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005.
- McDaniel, June. “The Role of Yoga in Some Bengali Bhakti Traditions: Shaktism, Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Baul, and Sahajiya Dharma.” The Journal of Hindu Studies 5(2012): 53-74.
- Oropeza, B. J. ed. The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Pop Culture. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
- O’Rourke, Dan and Rodrigues, Pravin. “The ‘Transcreation’ of a Mediated Myth: Spider-Man in India.” In The Amazing Transforming Superhero: Essays on the Revision Of Characters in Comic Books, Film and Television, edited by T. Wandtke. London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2007.
- Pritchett, Frances. “The World of Amar Chitra Katha.” In Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia, edited by L. Babb and S. Wadley. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.
- Reynolds, Richard. Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
- Richardson, Niall. “The Gospel According to Spider-Man.” The Journal of Popular Culture 37 (2004): 694-703.
- Rüth, Axel. “Representing Wonder in Medieval Miracle Narratives.” MLN 126 (Sept. 2011): 89-114.
- Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 2003.
- Sanford, Jonathan, ed. Spider-Man and Philosophy: The Web of Inquiry. Hoboken: N.J.: Wiley & Sons, 2012.
- Saunders, Ben. Do the Gods Wear Capes? Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes. New York: Continuum, 2011.
- Singh, A. “Eastern Swing: Sharad Devarajan Talks Indian Spiderman.” Accessed March 24, 2013. http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=3682.
- Smith, Travis. “Batman v. Spider-Man: Who is the Greater Hero?” The Weekly Standard Dec. 31, 2012.Spider-Man India 1. Marvel Comics. January 2005.
- Spider-Man India 2. Marvel Comics. February 2005.
- Spider-Man India 3. Marvel Comics. March 2005.
- Spider-Man India 4. Marvel Comics. April 2005.
- Superman: Red Son. DC Comics. 2003.
- Thor. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Paramount Pictures, 2011.
- Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. by R. Howard. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.