A.L. Krishnan and Supriya Mitra, Psuperhero

Regular column may have been affected by the first of April, a bit.

 

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When it was announced that Sebastian Faulks would be writing a Wodehouse-estate-sanctioned Jeeves and Wooster book, I don’t think anyone (including Faulks himself, possibly) thought it would go well. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells was published last year, and if the reviews weren’t uniformly terrible, neither were they good. Wodehouse is easy to parody; it seems to be impossible to imitate him well and in a sustained narrative.

Perhaps a Wodehouse tribute needs to be done slantwise if it is to be done at all; unexpected and outrageous, and containing the implicit admission that paying tribute to Wodehouse by recreating Wodehouse isn’t possible. In that case the most successful tributes are the unlikeliest (presuming they are done well); consider the ridiculous and wonderful “What Ho, Gods of the Abyss” section from Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, in which our heroes face a creature from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Or, closer to home, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola, which feels suspiciously like a Blandings novel set in Haryana.

And then there’s A.L. Krishnan and Supriya Mitra’s graphic novel Psuperhero, which feels at once both completely unexpected and completely obvious, and which pays tribute to Wodehouse in part by going back to his sources.

Wodehouse famously based his greatest character Psmith on Rupert D’Oyly Carte, the owner of the Savoy Hotel and proprietor of the D’Oyly Carte Opera company with whom one of Wodehouse’s cousins had been to school. Psmith first appears in Wodehouse’s school story Mike and Psmith as a wealthy, monocle-wearing, too magnificent to be pretentious schoolboy. Unlike D’Oyly Carte, however, he falls upon hard times in the later books, having to (horror of horrors) work for his living in a bank, as a journalist, and eventually as secretary to Lord Emsworth.

None of these events befall Rupert Pirbright (his name a reference to another minor Wodehouse character), the hero of Psuperhero. A suave and superbly dressed man about town, he uses his considerable wealth in charitable causes; a more outgoing Bruce Wayne. By day. By night, he rids the town of the scourge of a sinister cabal of fish suppliers (the original character, it will be remembered, worked for a brief and unhappy period in that industry).

Naturally, this is a superhero story. Pirbright would never wear his underwear over his trousers and reserves capes for visits to the opera; his disguise, in a nod to the superhero canon that made me laugh out loud, is simply to remove his monocle. But the superhero tradition isn’t the only one Psuperhero draws on; comic opera of the sort D’Oyly Carte’s company popularised is frequently referred to. Krishnan and Mitra are clearly part of India’s massive Wodehouse fandom and there are references to this as well, including a minor character who is clearly intended for a version of Shashi Tharoor. And then there are Wodehouse’s own books.

And it’s in this last area that Psuperhero reveals its weakness. Wodehouse wrote over a hundred books, many of them containing great moments that have come to be loved by fans. Krishnan and Mitra make great use of some of these; there’s a little interlude involving a fascist group and ladies’ underwear, and a glorious moment when Pirbright finds an umbrella for a beautiful young archivist. They even almost manage to capture Psmith’s voice. But it is simply impossible within a mere 150 pages to allude to every incident that one loves, and in trying to do so the authors lose control of plot, structure and character. By the end of the book it’s all rather a mess, loosely-connected Wodehouse gags overwhelming the clever central conceit.

It’s a frustrating conclusion, because there’s so much promise in Mitra’s clean lines and Krishnan’s absurd dialogue, as well as in the sheer scope of their joint project. Perhaps if the duo had been more irreverent, or someone had had the discipline to cut out the dross. It’s a pshame, though.

 

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2 Comments to “A.L. Krishnan and Supriya Mitra, Psuperhero

  1. Where can I get a copy of Psuperhero? You’ve made me very eager to read it, but when I google I just find your articles about it.

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