Dictators are used to having their manliest poses carved into stone statues, or their most avuncular portrait printed on posters. But one Russian artist is bringing authoritarian iconography into the 21st century by drawing Russia's boss-for-life Vladimir Putin as an ass-kicking character in an online comic book.
Radio Free Europe reports that Russian writer, Sergei Kalenik has created a web comic that casts the Russian prime minister as a judo-chopping "Superputin." Often portrayed in the west as a comically over-the-top villain, Putin is instead painted as a superhero fighting the twin evils of terrorism and public protest.
It's yet another addition to Russia's weird and wonderful collection of personality-cult kitsch.
Fresh from destroying a terrorist lair, Superputin is called into action to stop terrorists (inspired by the success of the action thriller Speed in Afghan cinemas) from detonating a bomb on a bus, designed to go off if the vehicle falls under 80 km per hour [50 mph].
American diplomats once claimed that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "plays Robin to Putin's Batman," acting as second fiddle in Russia's ruling duo. In Superputin, Medvedev plays the sidekick yet again, placing him in the diminutive role of "nanoman." His "League of Superheroes" file reveals Medvedev to be a "gnome raised by bears" - albeit one with the ability to morph into Russia's national animal.
It's not just terrorists in Superputin's crosshairs, but opposition groups as well. In the course of trying to keep a bomb-laden bus from detonating, Superputin is confronted by zombies with blue buckets on their heads. The bucket-hatted bad guys are an apparent nod to the real-life protesters against Russian officials' allegedly promiscuous use of flashing blue lights to disregard traffic laws.
It's all part of a cult of personality that's developed around Putin over the years. Pop starlets have put their yearning for a Putin-like mate into song.
Like his spy pal Anna Chapman, Putin's name gets stamped on all kinds of products to help them sell, with the Putin brand gracing everything from Vodka labels to canned food. He's even got his own Kremlin-aligned pro-Putin youth group and a religious sect that believes he's the reincarnation of Paul the Apostle.
But it's not purely grassroots imagination that conjures Putin into a comic book protagonist. Vlad's adventures in public relations show that he's deliberately cultivating the macho, take-charge superhero image. During Russia's devastating wildfires last summer, he showed up on television hopping into a firefighting plane and co-piloting the aircraft to dump water on a raging inferno below.
And who can forget his various manly man action-hero photo ops? Like a Russian GI Joe figure, he comes in many garbs - each sold separately. There's Putin the Beastmaster, Putin the biker, Putin the rugged outdoorsman and, in the role most like his comic book alter ego, Putin the martial artist - complete with Kung-Fu grip.
Photo: Superputin.ru, via RFERL