We’ll confess, we often scoff at university courses that focus exclusively on contemporary pop culture—as much as we would have liked to have taken “The Simpsons as Satirical Authors,” for example, we’re not entirely convinced those classroom hours couldn’t be better spent slogging through Ulysses.
But we’d make an exception for a comparative literature course on comic-book superheroes. The way in which various cultures have adopted and tweaked the Marvel/DC model is a source of endless fascination, as is the impact of political trends on comics consumption habits. Case in point: Indonesia, whose comic-book industry has waxed and waned in accordance with the nation’s broader fortunes. An Australian admirer breaks down the basic history:
The first Indonesian comic books in the 1950s were American lookalikes. But while Flash Gordon flooded the local markets, an Indonesian artist named R A Kosasih began to print Sri Asih in 1954, the precursor to his famous comic versions of the Mahabarata and Ramayana.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a proliferation of locally produced copies of foreign comics, adaptations of Chinese kung fu legends complete with Chinese settings, alongside Indonesian martial arts (silat) adventures and traditional hero legends.
This was the Golden Age of Indonesian comics. Everybody was reading them thanks to a brilliant local innovation, the comic rental kiosk. Many Indonesians have described for me their happy memories of sitting under a tree beside a huge pile of comics they just borrowed from the rental kiosk.
Yet more contemporary Indonesian superheroes have increasingly worn their X-Men influence on their sleeves, despite a seeming hostility among the nation’s artists to mutant origin stories. In fact, while their comics’ visuals and plots now borrow heavily from the likes of Chris Claremont, the backstories remain mystical rather than scientific. Our favorite is the one behind Gundala (née Sancaka):
Sancaka was a scientist who invented an anti-lightning struck serum, finally cracking the formula the night of his girlfriend’s birthday… which he forgot about in the midst of his work. She broke up with him, causing the heartbroken Sancaka to run off into the stormy night. He was struck by lightning, and elevated to “Lightning Land” where Kronz, the king of Lightning Land, adopted him as his commander and his son, renaming him Gundala, the son of lightning. Kronz subsequently commanded him to attack Cloud Land. After some adventures on Pangeran Mlaar’s Planet Covox, Gundala returned to Earth.