Fans at the Delhi Comic Con remember how childhood American superheroes inspired them through very human struggles.
Fans like Dhruv Kalra (right), the 20-year-old who cosplayed as Spiderman at the Delhi Comic Con, say American superheroes had a huge impact on them during their formative years, and continue to influence their decisions as adults.
Karan Desai was 8 years old when he first started reading comics. “I started collecting them in 2002, when they were priced at Rs. 20 or Rs. 25,” he says. His first loves were Batman and Superman. Now, 20 years later, he may have lost his original comic book stash and moved on from Batman and Superman to Doctor Strange, but the influence of these childhood characters has shaped how he views the world.
Desai has Bell’s palsy, which has led to facial paralysis on the left side. He identifies with the way the fictional Doctor Strange works around the nerve damage in his hands. “I’ve been learning to struggle and improve from that,” he says. Desai made his own Doctor Strange costume and has been using it for cosplay for the past seven to eight months.
For a lot of Indian kids born in the 1980s, comic books and American superheroes like Superman and Batman have been an integral part of growing up. Many carried on their love for their favorite superheroes for several years, and gave it a stage to play out at the Delhi Comic Con. From cosplays, comic book and figurine collections, to more deep-rooted influences, it was evident that American superheroes hold a special place in the hearts of old and new DC and Marvel fans.
Sakshi Singh, who came from Varanasi to attend the Comic Con, is a huge fan of feminine superheroes like Buffy from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and Shuri and Wanda from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For her, Buffy is the ultimate mascot for women’s empowerment. “Buffy is a strong character,” says Singh. “She is not only a superhero because she has supernatural powers, she is also emotionally strong and has a femininity that makes her iconic.”
Most importantly, says Singh, Buffy portrays none of the machismo that some of the male superheroes do. “She sees emotion, she goes through stuff, she develops and matures and grows in her own character and that’s what makes her very special,” she adds.
As standalone characters of the male-dominated Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shuri and Wanda also bring unique narratives to the superhero storylines. “I know Wanda is right now going through certain things, and we need not categorize her as a superhero. But I think Wanda’s character is a very rich representation of how people go through mental trauma, and it makes them the superhero. And when we see that they are also struggling and reacting in a very human way, it makes us feel closer to them.”
The relatability is what draws several fans to hang on to their childhood superheroes, well into their adult life. For Desai, the comic books were “like the idols that you get when your parents aren’t fully there” while growing up. “As I’ve grown, I’ve understood the complexity of the characters. It is not just black and white, good and bad. There’s a lot more going on—it’s been a much more educated experience right now,” says Desai.
Even Dhruv Kalra, the 20-year-old who cosplayed as Spiderman at the Comic Con, takes Uncle Ben’s iconic dialogue—with great power comes great responsibility—very seriously. But what kind of value can a fictional character add to someone’s life? “The way I want to live my life is that in future I don’t want any regrets,” says Prince Mahajan, the 23-year-old who visited the Comic Con dressed as himself—a superfan. “I want to believe that whatever I did in that moment, I thought about it, and it was the right thing to do then. And that’s how Captain America influences me. He sees the whole picture.”