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Features

Comic Strip Casts Putin, Medvedev As Superheroes

A scene from "Superputin," written by Sergei Kalenik and posted this month on www.superputin.ru
A scene from "Superputin," written by Sergei Kalenik and posted this month on www.superputin.ru
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By Claire Bigg and Dinara Setdikova
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, clad in a kimono, rushes to rescue a bus threatened by an Al-Qaeda bomb.

He narrowly manages to save the passengers with the help of his loyal, bear-costumed sidekick, President Dmitry Medvedev.

That's the plot of a new comic strip that has taken the Internet by storm.

"Superputin, A Man Like Any Other," has been viewed almost 3 million times since being posted last week on a specially created website, www.superputin.ru.

The success of the comic strip, the first to cast either Putin or Medvedev, has much to do with its timing. Russia holds a presidential election next March and speculation is rife about who from the Putin-Medvedev ruling tandem will run for the country's top job.

But the cartoon's humorous touches have also earned it many fans among politics-weary Russians.

"It's amusing. I would say it's even postmodernist," says political analyst Nikolai Petrov. "It contains a multitude of quotations and hints, starting with the view of Moscow highlighting the British embassy."

Judo And Gadgets

The action is set in the Russian capital "one year before the end of the world." The plot, based on the U.S. action film "Speed," pokes gentle fun at Putin's judo skills and Medvedev's predilection for technological gadgets.

Putin is joined on the ill-fated bus by "nano-human" Medvedev, who unzips his bear suit before sending a crawling iPad to deactivate the bomb.

"My Precious, I know you won't let me down," the president tenderly tells his device.

The bus then enters Moscow's traffic-congested "twilight" zone, where it is attacked by a crowd of bloodthirsty zombies donning buckets on their heads -- a reference to the "Blue Bucket Brigade," a group of Muscovites who use blue buckets to protest the flashing lights placed by many government officials on their cars to bypass traffic.

After fighting off zombies screaming, "Free Khodorkovsky!" and, "Let us elect governors!" the heroes face a giant troll in the final act.

While Internet users have identified the troll as either Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu or anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny, the cartoon's creators have fueled the mystery by saying the creature was inspired by Russian ballerina Anastasia Volochkova, who made waves in February when she broke publicly with the ruling United Russia party.

Vladimir Putin as sensei in "Superputin, A Man Like Any Other"
 



The strip's writer, Sergei Kalenik, says it was created in two weeks and none of those involved in the project was paid.

The aim? Liven up what he describes as Russia's "depressing political scene."

"We thought that the elections are coming up and that things are pretty boring on the Internet -- no one is doing anything fun about the elections," he tells RFE/RL. "So we decided to take matters into our own hands and make a comic stip."

Zombie-Like Opposition

Emboldened by his success, Kalenik, a 25-year-old PR freelancer, says he is now actively looking for sponsors to produce a dozen sequels.

But the comic strip has also attracted a fair amount of criticism.

Some Internet users see it as a public-relations stunt pitting a valiant Putin against zombie-like opposition forces.

"It's a disgrace, a slap in the face of the people," one viewer commented on LiveJournal.

"The majority of 'blue buckets' are educated, thinking people," another wrote. "The idea behind this comic strip, however, inspires respect; it's an astute, effective PR move."

"Either Kalenik tells the truth and this is an attempt to get a job, make money, and continue the comic strips, either it directly or indirectly carries out specific political directives ahead of the elections," says Petrov. "The part depicting civil society is particularly suspicious."

Kalenik denies taking orders from the Kremlin or any other political force.

He says several media outlets actually refused to publish the cartoon because it describes Medvedev as "a gnome raised by bears."

Kalenik, however, hopes the Kremlin appreciates his work.

"I don't actually know whether Medvedev and Putin liked it, but I very much hope they did," he says. "I wrote to Medvedev on Twitter but got no answer. The official media are all tight-lipped, they are obviously waiting for instructions."

Internet Trend

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst seen as having Kremlin connections, believes the state-controlled media have no reason to pay attention to the comic strip.

He dismisses it as yet another attempt to cash in on Putin's high popularity ratings.

"The Putin brand is a good method to promote any product, from vodka to online comic strips," he says. "Many use it to achieve wealth and fame. I think the Putin brand has been used so many times for commercial use that this comic strip is really no sensation."

Still, "Superputin" is the latest in a string of slick, Putin-themed gimmicks that have emerged on the Internet with next year's elections on the horizon.

One of them, a spoof of the U.S. apocalypse film "2012" posted on YouTube, has attracted almost 2 million viewers.



Posted on March 30, the video tells the story of a Russian presidential battle gone awry as the rivalry between Putin and Medvedev culminates in the world's destruction. The clip ends with a message urging Russians to cast their ballot for the Communist Party.

Putin also appeared in a video game launched last month on Vkontakte, Russia's equivalent of Facebook, casting him as a gun-wielding protagonist sporting a khaki uniform and giving players assignments.

The game's authors say it may soon appear on Facebook and as an iPod application.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
May 25, 2011 16:51
Just a quick note, its not a kimono, its a gi.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
May 25, 2011 17:54
Nice report. I heard Dmitry Muratov of Novaya Gazeta recently comment that Russia was divided into two groups (the TV-informed and the Internet-informed). He said that the latter group continues to grow and the consequences of this growth make political prediction doubly difficult. Should popular dissatisfaction escalate, I could envision a plan by the ruling 'super-hero' tandem to deflect criticism. It might not entail saving a bus of innocent passengers from peril, but will likely involve fireworks and fear.

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 25, 2011 21:11
I often wonder what would happen if Putin were assassinated. How would a Russia that idolizes him deal with such an incident? Riots? Civil unrest? War? He has gone from being an unknown in 1999 to becoming a cult of personality. He is not infalliable, but he already has a sect of Orthodoxy that worships him as a god. That brings him closer to Kim Jung-il in terms of power over people. Thankfully, there is no Church of Obama yet (Hopefully there will never be one). The next two years could be very interesting for the world.....
In Response

by: 4pauka from: USA
May 26, 2011 17:28
First of all, the population of North Korea has no choice but to follow the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, and it's a complete misconception that Putin could wield that sort of mind control over the majority of Russian peoples. He gained popularity for looking out for Russian interests rather than appeasing the West, which was the policy of Yeltsin. Is he the most morally and ethically sound person? No. Does he hold too much power? Yes. But, give Russian people some credit-- they're not all blindly following his lead. And, just because a lot of people "like" a politician doesn't make it a cult of personality. By that measure, we have developed a "Church of Reagan" and a "Clinton Orthodoxy" in the USA.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 27, 2011 02:27
@ 4pauka
Oh c'mon, Obama doesn't have a comic strip in which he is cast as a superhero. No pop songs devoted to him. He is not on TV all the time without his shirt on doing miraculous deeds. No streets or mountains named after him. No "Blueberry Heel". With that said, there is definitely a strain of meglomania in Vladimir Putin. Also, the Kremlin DOES wield a lot of mind control over Russians because most of them get their information from state television (though the Internet is growing rapidly and may change people's opinions). The Orthodox worshippers are definitely a fringe group even in Russia, but it all reminds me of those fringe Christians in Kansas that tried to worship George W. Bush. Back then, I thought the world would be better without Bush and Putin. Today, it is just Putin who needs to go.
In Response

by: 4pauka from: USA
May 27, 2011 13:09
Maybe not pop songs, but quite a few rap songs about Barack Obama. Also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_places_named_after_Barack_Obama... But, maybe I wasn't clear: I don't actually think there is a cult of personality issue in the USA. I think you may just be confused as to what a "cult of personality" really is and how modern day Russians really are. The Putin/Medvedyev competition for the presidency next year involves a lot of indifference on the part of the Russian peoples. If Putin wins, it's not because there were hordes of zealots supporting him-- a "popular vote," if you will, but because of a combination of indifference and election shenanigans.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 28, 2011 02:43
The Wiki link you listed of places named after Obama are probably more to do with him being the 44th US President than any miraculous achievements. There are a lot of schools on that list, but it is interesting nevertheless. Otherwise, I agree that there appear to be some Russians who haven't fallen for Putin's meglomania. Then there is also the issue of manipulated poll numbers by the Kremlin's own statistics people, making him appear more popular than he actually is. Here is the link to the Putin cult:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/25/us-russia-cult-putin-idUSTRE74O52E20110525
In Response

by: jennifer from: forest hills
May 30, 2011 12:08
putin is not popular in russia because he is on tv all the time (which he is not). that is a misconception created by russiaphobes in the western press.

he is genuinely popular - supported by well over 70% of russians - because of what he has done for the country in the past 11 years (in no uncertain terms he took russia from the hell that yeltsin and his western advisors left it in and led it down the road of prosperity and security). russians feel wealthier, safer, are happier, are having more children. they like it that their country is standing up for itself. and is not the west's lapdog. putin makes them proud -- and i'm talking about the stuff he says and the policies he pursues, not the hunting stuff or anything. russians don't care about that. and you're totally misconstrued about things if you believe so.

i'm not going to answer you first question because that is repulsive.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 30, 2011 18:43
@jennifer
Apparently, you did not read my previous post about the Kremlin manipulating popularity polls. Yeltsin is no saint, but all Putin gets credit for is HIGH OIL PRICES! True be told, both money and people continue to leave Russia and the country still faces a major demographic crisis. Your nonsense about Russia being the West's lapdog makes it obvious you are misinformed. It's actually the opposite, Obama is Russia's lapdog. All the roads to Afganistan go through Russia or its allies. The US can't leave without Russian cooperation. The only thing you mention that has some unquestionable truth to it is the fact that Russians are wealthier. Safer, happier, and having more children they are not!
In Response

by: jennifer from: forest hills
May 30, 2011 21:00
maybe you read rferl toooooooooo much

http://www.google.com/search?q=putin+genuinely+popular&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=&oe=

http://www.google.com/search?q=putin+genuinely+popular&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=&oe=#sclient=psy&hl=en&rls=com.microsoft:en-us%3AIE-SearchBox&source=hp&q=russian+birth+rate+rises&aq=1&aqi=g2g-v1g-j1&aql=&oq=russian+birth+rat&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=3ab7b119eb13be61&biw=1345&bih=536
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
May 31, 2011 09:36
I don't just read rferl, I read many different news sources. BTW, I find it interesting you only linked a google search instead of an actual source of information, but if you want to get technical, Russia's population did increase slightly but not enough to stop the overall decline which has been forecast to drop to between 100m to 120m. Russia has already dropped behind Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria in population.

http://geography.about.com/b/2011/04/24/russian-birth-rate-continues-to-rise.htm

As I said before, (for the 3rd time now), I don't trust any "official" statistics. The Soviets used to manipulate population data, and the current government is continuing to do so.

You might also find this article interesting:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-11/russian-debt-may-reach-585-of-gdp-on-demographic-woes-s-p-says.html

so much for the myth of "Super Putin"

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