Introducing: Super Commando Dhruv!
The year is 1987. A significant time not just for comics in India but worldwide, Watchmen has just concluded its run, The Dark Knight Returns has been published, somewhere Grant Morrison works on Arkham Asylum and back home Raj Comics is on its way to becoming the most powerful and well distributed Comic book brand in our country. Their flagship character Nagraj is a runaway success and pressure is on a young Anupam Sinha to create another character to fulfill the expectation of fans for more and more content.
Anupam Sinha had till that time worked in Diamond comics on other superheroes, and had recently joined Raj Comics, where he would go on to become the most influential writer and artist and a chief architect of many a childhood. He had the option on diving deep into mythology or science fiction, but he chose a different route. He gave the country a very different type of hero. One that does not hide behind a mask. One that lives with his (adopted) family, and does not have any Super Powers. And yet a hero that is today arguably more popular, and more loved and (dare I say it) more important than Nagraj.
April 1987, Almost thirty years ago to this day, Super Commando Dhruv was born. And when he made his entry, he did it in unparalleled style: by flying out of the cover page of his debut comics ‘Pratishodh Ki Jwala’ (The Fire of Vengeance) on his Motorcycle.
Pratishodh ki Jwala also marked the debut of Anupam Sinha the writer, and he brought with himself the craft of a novelist, each panel in the comic being well defined and packing (not cramming) oodles of story on every page. It tells the story of how Dhruv came to be who he was, the son of circus performers who inadvertently learns the trope of being a hero in his life in the circus. He has perfect aim, does strength training and can parkour his way out of any situation because he literally spent his childhood playing on a trapeze.
His Crime Alley/Krypton Exploding moment came when a rival circus owner decided to ice an entire Big-Top tent full of people and animals because he was suffering from low ticket sales. This over-reaction on business loss results in a lot of deaths but also gives birth to a young man with only one aim in life ‘Badla’.
Cue to Dhruv beating the stuffing off of various Circus themed villains, and (although this is debatable) he ends his revenge by stunning the entire rival circus by electrocution, the three main villains get killed off when they are eaten by a hungry lion in the final fight. He is then adopted by a kind hearted Cop, who becomes his father and provides a new home and family to him (in terms of canon Dhruv is the youngest Superhero, aged a shade under twenty). At the end of Pratishodh Ki Jwala Dhruv takes an oath to protect his city Rajnagar from criminals.
Pratishodh ki Jwala was a bestseller when it released, and a few years ago when Raj Comics released a Silver Jubilee edition at Mumbai Comic Con 2012 this writer was one of the first in queue to get an autographed copy. This comic is perhaps the best origin story for any Indian hero. It made people wait eagerly for the next comic (which was announced in a delightful Old-school way by putting an advertisement in the last page with Dhruv breaking the fourth wall and announcing ‘Roman Hatyara’ (Roman Killer).
So where lies Dhruv’s appeal? What makes him the best in India? For starters like Doga he has no magical powers (except for one, which is excusable – Dhruv can speak to and understand animals, this comes in handy more often than not, making all animals and birds his allies), he relies on his athletics and strength in dealing with criminals. But unlike Doga he uses no weapons, he MacGyvers his way out of situations by using his brain. There is one instance in his comic where he beats a villain using sand, freaking sand! Dhruv is the most brainy of all Superheroes, and whenever there are crossover comics, despite Nagraj being the defacto leader all plans are left on Dhruv. Also keeping up with the times, his name was Super Commando, instantly endearing him to kids who have ambitions of being the Blue and Red soldiers of Contra at that age.
Aided by a utility belt, a grapple gun, a trusty Motor Cycle (parts of which he has at times used to defeat enemies) and a Commando Force who help him in data analytics and at times physical violence, Dhruv battles motley of villains – both human and supernatural. And therein lies the genius of Anupam Sinha, with a deeply enriched universe of both allies and enemies Dhruv’s comics, perfected the concept of the continuous story arc, with minor changes in the lives of background characters culminating in a butterfly effect a few comics later. So with the story of Dhruv we also had a truly tragic tale of his on and off girlfriend Natasha, whose father is Grand Master Robo, a cyborg (Anupam Sinha was/is awesome in giving names, as well as designing villains) who is also the Mafia boss of Rajnagar. His daughter is an idealistic reporter who helps Dhruv in his investigations, but over the course of several comics spirals backs into a path of crime for no fault of hers, becoming an unwilling but ruthless heiress to her father’s life of crime.
The variety of villains that were written for Dhruv in the early 90s vetted the appetite of any comic fan. Each villain had either a scientific or a magical characteristic, there was ‘Dhwaniraj’ who used Soundwaves in his crimes, there is Mahamanav, an evolved human who can use his brainwaves for telekinesis, Bauna Vaman who makes Killer Toys and then there was Chandkal who is the last remaining Rakshas on earth. Even one-shot villains of Dhruv leave a lasting impression. Although no matter the prowess or super-strength of the villain, he was always bested by Dhruv’s cunning, often resulting in an internal monologue of jealousy and admiration by the villain.
In fact much before Raj Comics had its first true Multi-starrer ‘Kohram’ (Mayhem) Dhruv had a two-comic Multi-villain arc which pitted him against all his major villains turn-by-turn, who all gather in a Crime court and give testimony in a Roshomon-esque sequence of how each of them has killed Dhruv. The comics are called ‘Maine Mara Dhruv Ko’ (I Murdered Dhruv) and ‘Hatyara Kaun’ (Who’s The Murderer) and shows Dhruv at his best as each villain is proved to be lying.
Dhruv’s allies are quite entertaining too. His sister doubles as a crimefighter called ‘Chandika’ (this is an interesting anomaly, perhaps intentionally kept there by the writer, that the best detective in comics is not able to discern that his sister staying with him under the same roof is a masked crimefighter), he has a friend who is a Yeti, and Dhananjay, who is part of an advanced tribe of humans who live underwater. He often has skirmishes with his would-be allies, one of which gave Indian comics its most iconic cover ever.
A word has to be added to the environment of Rajnagar, being a fictional city it has a malleable geography, thus it has the scope of a sea as well as a hill range next to it. Scenes next to the sea are used effectively by the artist in creating a noir feel by introducing shady deals held at smoky/foggy docks. And it also gives enough chances for Dhruv to jump and kick his way across buildings.
Dhruv is thirty while he remains nineteen, and he remains the best. These days new solo Dhruv comics are rare since Dhruv is the only title on which Anupam Sinha still works in a solo capacity (apart from the odd Nagraj comics) and Raj Comics’ Facebook page is full of fans clamoring for the release of the next one.
If you have already tried Doga and want to give Dhruv a shot, start with Pratishodh ki Jwala, and marvel at the awesomeness of the ‘Dravid’ of Indian Superheroes.
(Coming up next: Ram-Rahim make their debut on Men of Comics)
(Edit : An earlier version of the article stated Dhruv had killed an entire circus by electrocution, this was erroneous and the same is regretted)
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