Above: The Buddhist superhero "Tara". [From: Peter Parker: Spider-Man Vol. 2 #48, pages 14-15]
Above: Spider-Man has an intense Buddhist experience, thanks to his encounter with the Buddhist superheroine Tara. [From: Peter Parker: Spider-Man Vol. 2 #48, page 8]
TARA - A native of Bangladesh, she was mutated by the Virus, and she had some sort of connection to the Buddhist goddess Tara
--Peter Parker: Spider-Man #48, 49
Because significant Buddhist characters and lengthy treatments of Buddhism are such a rarity in mainstream superhero comic books, relatively speaking, we have taken the unusual step of transcribing the full text from Peter Parker: Spider-Man #s 48 and 49, the two issues featuring the Bangladeshi Buddhist superheroine named "Tara." This is, of course, not a substitute for a reading of the actual comics, which are collected in the trade paperback volume Peter Parker: Spider-Man, Vol. 4: Trials & Tribulations, Marvel Entertainment Group: New York City (2003). But with this text from this comic book story, along with our description of the visuals and action from the comics, one can get some feeling for what these stories are like.
Dialogue from: Peter Parker, Spider-Man Vol. 2 #48 (September 2002), titled "The Big Question", pages 1-3; written by Paul Jenkins, pencilled by Mark Buckingham, inked by Wayne Faucher; reprinted in: Peter Parker, Spider-Man Vol. 4: Trials and Tribulations trade paperback, Marvel Entertainment Group: New York City (2003):
[Peter Parker sits on his bed in his apartment, staring at his Spider-Man costume, which is draped over the back a chair.]
PETER PARKER (thinking): Me and God, we have this little game. We're still working out the finer details, but it basically works like this: He does something really spiteful . . . normally to someone I care about . . . and I get to ask a lot of questions about it. Prayers are, like, God's way of staying interested. I swear he does this stuff to us so that we'll complain and he can have someone to talk to.
Dear God, the thing is this: my life's a joke. I mean, if you're so infinitely wise then why would you send someone like the Green Goblin to try and ruin my life? Since when did my family and friends ever do you any harm? Why would you have the Goblin put my buddy Flash Thompson in a coma so that he may never walk or talk again? And where did I go so wrong that you needed to hold a miror to my heart, just so's I can see my ugly reflection?
GOD: Oh, Peter . . . Don't you see? This is all part of my grand design.
PETER PARKER: Uh-huh . . . is this one of those "create by numbers" things you got going here? Only I'm not sure I see the entire picture.
GOD: Would it make any difference if you did?
PETER PARKER: Probably not. So just why do bad things happen to good people?
GOD: I can't tell you. It'd spoil the surprise. You'd know everything. And then you'd get all bored and grumpy and you'd blame it on me. It's much better this way, Peter . . . You get to figure everything out for yourself and when you do, it'll make all the difference in the world.
PETER PARKER (thinking): Funny how most of my conversations with God end like that. [Peter Parker weeps while holding his Spider-Man costume. tears fall onto the costume.]
[NEW SCENE: Reception area of an expensive office building. The "BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP" of an alarm can be heard.]
SECURITY GUARD 1: What happened . . .?
SECURITY GUARD 2: Down on the vault, some idiot tripped the alarms!
[NEW SCENE: We see CORMAN, a stern-looking bald white man wearing a black suit with a white collar shirt a black tie. He also wears dark sunglasses and an earpiece/microphone headset. He sports a long black mustache. He approaches a massive vault door which is now open. A security guard is looking inside the vault.]
CORMAN: What in Sam Hill is going on here, Bobby? Did you set the motion detectors properly?
BOBBY THE SECURITY GUARD: It's gotta be a glitch, Mister Corman. There ain't no way anyone could get in there . . . It's sealed tighter than my grandpa's wallet.
CORMAN: We're supposed to be monitoring the screens twenty four-seven. In case you and the boys didn't realize, we got over nine billion dollars in untraceable assets in here. I don't care if it's a glitch or a ghost . . . I want to know why these alarms went off and I want to know now!
[Corman has rushed into the vault. He looks around but sees nothing. We see Corman as if from below, and we can see that holding herself up on the cealing of the vault is a woman with wearing a green and black costume. This is the first-ever comic book appearance of TARA, although we do not yet know who this mysterious woman is.]
[MISTER KIRKLAND, an overweight businessman, rushes to an elevator in the same building.]
KIRKLAND: Huff . . . out of my way! Hurry!
[Having ridden down the elevator to this floor, Mister Kirkland approaches the open vault, where he sees Corman standing in the entrance.]
KIRKLAND: Corman, you told me yourself that the vault is virtually impenetrable. What's going on?
CORMAN: In here, Mister Kirkland -- you'd better come see this for yourself.
KIRKLAND: My time is too valuable to come leaping downstairs every time someone accidentally trips the system. There'd better be a good reason for this . . .
CORMAN: I can give you about fifty million of them, sir.
[Kirkland looks to where Corman is looking, and sees a display case labelled "STAR OF PERSIA." The spot where something valuable once was is empty. Clearly the "Star of Persia," valued at $50 million dollars, was taken by the mysterious woman, although Kirkland and Corman do not yet know this. All they know is that the gem is missing. Other valuable items such as expensive paintings remain in the vault, undisturbed.]
BOBBY THE SECURITY GUARD: [Looking upward.] Mister Corman . . . look! Up there!
[A red silk cloth with black print on it drifts down from the ceiling. Corman catches the cloth and holds it up. It bears a single mark: a bold question mark.]
[SCENE: A hospital room, wherein a seriousy injured Flash Thompson lies in a hospital bed. His face is bandaged except around his mouth. His comatose body is covered with a blanket. Flash's friend, Liz Allen Osborn sits in a chair next to him, reading a sports magazine. Spider-Man is watching this scene through the window, from his vantage point atop another building across the street.]
PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN (thinking): A friend in need is a friend indeed. Unless they're my friends. My friends end up on life support. They get busted up by maniacs in leotards, just for the pleasure of knowing me. The really close ones get thrown off bridges.
LIZ ALLEN OSBORN: So, I guess Miami's probably going to repeat, huh, Flash? They're gonna get to keep their entire offensive line. Anything but the Gators, huh? Yeah . . . I thought so too.
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): Good old Liz: she's been a real saint. She's as busy as all get-out, and yet she's here with Flash every time I come by. A man could wait a thousand years and never meet a friend so loyal. I'm guessing she knows this wasn't Flash's fault -- he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One minute, he's minding his own business and next thing you know, he's at the wheel of a truck crashing into a wall at ninety miles an hour. And me . . . I might as well have been the one holding that wheel. [Spider-Man leaps from the building, and begins swinging through the city.]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): This is all because of me: All because of my stubborn, stupid insistence that I can put on a goofy spandex suit and somehow make a difference. Well, I sure made a big difference to Flash, didn't I? Thanks to me, my friend is now clinging to life, victim of a hit-and-run associate named Peter Parker.
"Hey, Flash . . . long time, no see. It's too bad you were trying so hard to make something of your life . . . and then I came along and ruined it."
[Landing on another building rooftop, Spider-Man looks and sees lotus flower, a key symbol of Buddhism. The lotus flower will appear repeatedly throughout the rest of this issue and the one that follows, the two issues which comprise the two-issue "Tara" story arc. Spider-Man stares at the lotus flower and then picks it up.]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): This is weird. My spider senses are chattering like monkeys on a hot plate, but I don't get a sense of danger . . . not immediate danger, anyway. It's almost . . . a sense of melancholy. As if someone's laughing, but I'm too far away to hear the joke.
[Spider-Man looks ahead of him, and sees a trail of lotus flowers placed every few feet. The trail of lotus flowers lead across this rooftop, and then he can see on the ledge of the next rooftop more lotus flowers, and the trail continues.]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): I feel like I've tapped in to someone's phone conversation, or something. It's as if some strange force has invaded my senses from incredibly far away. It's like nothing I've ever felt before . . .
[Various imagery appears around Spider-Man, as if he is having a vision. He appears to be standing on a giant lotus flower or lotus leaf. We see the eyes and forehead of Tara, the woman we glimpsed in the bank vault. On Tara's foreheard the jewel that hangs from a band around her head glows. We see a dimly lit scene that appears to be a disaster in Southeast Asia. Dominating the scene is a golden statue of the Buddha, sitting, holding his hands in a traditional Buddhist pose, his back against a giant pink lotus flower.]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): AAH! Oh, God . . . what the heck was that . . . uhh . . . ah-hehh
[Spider-Man pulls his mask up off his mouth, trying to get air. This vision has been like a mental attack, and has knocked him to his knees. When he looks up, he is sitting in a pile of lotus petals.]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): Can't breath . . . it's as if my very intuition is under attack. I hear a sound, laughter. Like tinkling bells across the snow. White snow falling through dead air. Becoming a blanket of flower petals, covering the grime of the city. My senses are screaming at me . . .
[A cloth drifts from the sky, identical to the one that Corman caught in the previous scene. Spider-Man catches it, and holds it up. He sees the bold stylized question mark printed on it.]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): . . . and that distant laughter now whispers my name.
[Spider-Man looks up. Behind him we see the mysterious woman Tara, standing on the next building over, watching Spider-Man, who does not see her.]
[SCENE: The corporate headquarters of the AGK Incorporated, the same tall downtown New York City building that the vault scene took place in. But now instead of the reception area or the lower floor that houses the vault, we see a swank boardroom on an upper floor. Mr. Kirkland stands next to a large table, at which at least five men and women wearing business suits sit, with worried looks on their faces.]
KIRKLAND: Didn't I tell you something like this was going to happen? In twenty five minutes I'm supposed to go in and explain to the Board exactly how the Star of Persia went missing in broad daylight, right under our very noses. They're going to ask me about the question mark symbol we found on the scarf, and they're going to connect it to what happened in Bangladesh. What are we supposed to say about that? We don't even know what the question means . . .
CORMAN: It's not a question. [speaking from the shadows of the room.] It's a statement. [Corman, holding the red cloth he caught in the vault, walks closer to Kirkland and the people sitting at the table.] What Mister Kirkland is trying to say is that if word of this incident gets out, people are going to start asking some very tough questions . . . Not just about the diamond . . . that should be pretty clear to everyone in this room . . . but also about our involvement in the Bangladesh affair.
KIRKLAND: Gentlemen, we're in some very deep water here. If the scarf is intended to be a message, someone knows a lot more than he should. God help us, if that's the case.
HARRY (one of the people sitting at table): We could simply create a fake diamond. If it's discovered, we deny everything . . .
CORMAN: Since you're so full of ideas, Harry, you mind telling the rest of us just what you'd say when they ask when the switch occurred?
KIRKLAND: Okay . . . So we can't place the blame elsewhere. What do we do then?
CORMAN: We do what we've done all along: Nothing.
[SCENE: Inside Peter Parker's apartment. Peter holds the lotus flower that he picked up on a rooftop. He stares at it.]
PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN (thinking): Two hours later and I still can't shake it. I'm supposed to be moping around, or something. I'm supposed to be marking my students' papers. But all I can do is stand and stare. My spider senses are going crazy . . . but not because I'm registering danger. There's something else going on here. Something very weird.
[Peter looks out his window to the building across the street from his. He sees a dog wearing a tuxedo. He calls the person who lives in that apartment on the phone. She is having a party at her place.]
PETER PARKER (on phone): Uh, yeah . . . hi, Caryn? It's Peter from across the way. Hey, listen ,I was just looking over towards your balcony and wondering . . .
CARYN: What? Peter, is that you? I can't hear you over the music. Listen, I can't talk right now -- Barker has some friends by. I'll call you later, okay, sweetie? Bye. [CLICK as she hangs up.]
[SCENE: A New York City rooftop. Tara is shown in a page-high image for the first time, against a backdrop of a lotus flower that fills about half of a two-page spread. Tara stands on one foot with her hands in a traditional Buddhist pose. She is weeping, and we can see images from her memory, or from scenes which she is mystically aware of. Four different grainy, jagged-bordered panels show images from a disaster in Bangladesh. South Asian refugees flee a disaster. Men with guns shoot at them.]
VOICE: Sir, they're moving outside the city border--
VOICE: Open fire!
SOUND EFFECT: Blam! Blam! [gunfire]
VOICE: No! No!
VOICE: Those people . . . get them in the truck! Don't argue, just do it!
VOICE: Please . . . have mercy--
SOUND EFFECT: BANG [gunfire]
[Tara remembers these events from on a rooftop. During this time, we see a spider crawling across the roof toward her. The spider taps on her heel. Tara's eyes open. She reaches down, still standing on only one foot, and picks up the spider. Tara holds the spider in the palm of her hand, looking at it. Then she sets the spider down on a ledge, and it walks way. Tara smiles.]
[SCENE: Inside Peter Parker's apartment, with the focus on his telephone. Liz Allen is calling Peter from the hospital, leaving him a message.]
LIZ ALLEN OSBORN: Peter, it's me . . . It's Liz Osborn. If you're there, I need you to pick up. I've been down at the hospital visiting Flash. I just spoke to his doctor. Listen, Pete . . . It's not good good news, I'm afraid. They've been running some tests . . . some brain scans, or something. Flash is going to be okay . . . at least, his bones an' ligaments an stuff . . . but there's a problem. His doctor says there are some major scars where Flash's brain smashed into the skull during the crash. They're not sure what it means yet, but the doctor seems pretty alarmed. He says they're going to be brusing on his spinal chord, and . . . and . . . Oh, Pete . . . they can't pick up anything on the nerve induction test. His brain's not responding, no matter what they try. What are we going to do . . .?
[We pan back from the phone enough to see Peter Parker is sitting on his couch, right next to where the phone sits on his coffee table. He was listening as Liz left the message, but he could not bring himself to pick up the phone and speak to her. Peter Parker stands up, and stares outside at the night. He seems despondent.]
PETER PARKER (thinking): I can't get involved, Uncle Ben. I can't. Look where "getting involved" has gotten me so far: Flash is going to be a vegetable because of me. You remmeber him, don't you? Captain of the football team, great big happy grin, Mister All-American? His life's in a big, dark hole . . . and all I can do is stand around feeling detached and thiking about what happened int he city today.
[Peter Parker sees Caryn's dog in the apartment across the way. The dog appears to have a some kind of cloth tied around its neck like a scarf.]
PETER PARKER: What are you looking at, dog-breath?
[Peter looks closer, and notices that the dog is wearing a red scarf with the black printed question mark, similar to the one that he plucked from the air after having his Buddhist vision on a rooftop. The scarf tied around the dog's neck is divided into a field of yellow and a field of red, just like the scarfs that we saw tied to Tara's wrists in the previous scene. These red and yellow pieces of fabric appear to be part of Tara's costume, but also seem to be something she uses as props or a sort of "calling card."
Peter Parker hurridly dons his Spider-Man costume while rushing up the stairs to the rooftop of his building.]
PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN (thinking): Someone's here-- I cn feel it . . . her! A woman-- don't ask me how, I just know. She must have lad out those flowers to draw my interest and then followed me here. Unless . . . unless she knew where I was all along. Can't worry about being careful, there's too much on the line. I'd better hope none of my neighbors are out moon-bathing . . .
[Peter Parker bursts through the door to the roof of his building. Tara is standing there, with her eyes closed.]
SPIDER-MAN: Hey! Okay, this is weird. Uh . . . thanks fo the flowers, I guess. I mean, I'm flattered. Flattered and freaked out. Do I know you from somewhere, or is this a kind of super-hero/stalking thing?
[Tara says nothing. She merely looks at Spider-Man and smiles. The breeze seems to blow the scarves attached to her wrists (or sleeves?) in a certain direction, and then Tara jumps that direction, seeming to half-fly/half-jump to another rooftop. Spider-Man chases after her.]
SPIDER-MAN: Nutty as a fruitcake, huh? I don't think we've been formally introduced. Are you related to the Brooklyn fruitcakes? Hey, slow down!
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): She's quick. I'm going as fast as I can and I'm barely making a dent. All I see is a blur. All I hear is a sound, tragic laughter on the wind. Like tinkling bells. And all I can think is, there's no way she could've gotten that far ahead. It's not physically possible. . . Not unles she's a mutant.
[Spider-Man continues chasing after Tara as she bounces from rooftop to rooftop. Finally she stops, and stands still while he catches up with her.]
SPIDER-MAN: Oh, huh . . . hehh . . . gee, thanks for waiting. Okay, I don't suppose you're going to tell me what this is about? I mean, as much as I've enjoyed chasing your tail . . .
[Tara says nothing. She pulls at the edge of scarf tied to her wrist, slipping it off her wrist, and holding it up flat in front of Spider-Man.]
SPIDER-MAN: Yeah, I didn't think so. So, what does a guy have to do to get a straight answer around here?
TARA: The question is the answer. Red and yellow is everything.
[The cloth Tara holds before SpiderMan is divided into a field of yellow on top and red on bottom. In the middle, printed on both fields of color, is a bold sylized question mark.]
SPIDER-MAN: Red and yellow, huh? And this is for me? You really shouldn't have . . .
[Suddenly, Tara bashes her forehead into Spider-Man's forhead. Sound effect: BOSH]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): I hear a sound like tinkling bells . . . no, scratch that . . . it's a sound like aherd of elephants on motorcycles. Oh yeah . . . that's it . . . my head.
[Spider-Man falls backwards, smashing his back onto the cement on the rooftop. Stars indicate his head hurts almost to the point of passing out. Tara dropped the red and yellow cloth when she struck Spider-Man's head with hers. Now the cloth drifts down toward Spider-Man. There is no sign of Tara.]
SPIDER-MAN: Totally unexpected, that's her M.O. She caught me before I had a chance to react. My senses don't seem to work around her -- that's one of her many abilities, apparently. [Spider-Man plucks the drifting cloth from the air and stares at it.] Everything means something, and nothing is quite as it seems. As soon as I touch her scarf, I hear a sound welling up from within. It's a message: "Look behind you!"
[SPLASH PAGE: Spider-Man turns and looks behind him. He looks up and sees a tall building towering over the one he is currently standing on. At the top of the building is a large logo sign: "AGK Inc." The glass windows on the building are placed asymetrically against a backdrop of cement, forming a pattern that looks just like the stylized question mark on the red and yellow cloth Spider-Man is holding in his hand. The sylized question mark might not be a question mark after all, but a symbol of AGK Inc. This is the last page of Peter Parker: Spider-Man Vol. 2 #48.]
[Inside a yoga classroom in New York City. A thin elderly South Asian man with a long beard and hair wrapped in a white cloth is putting his legs behind his head in a yoga position. He briefly stands on his hands while his feat are fully behind his head, and thn sits on the floor. He is obviously incredibly limber. He has a red dot on his forhead. He is some kind of Eastern religious swami or guru. The man's appearance seems to combine elements of Sikhism, HInduism and Buddhism, and he may not be clearly intended to represent one of these religions. The pictures on the wall and the small golden statues seen in the room are Indian in origin. There is even a map of South Asia (including India and Bangladesh) on one wall. One framed poster on a wall has the words "Art of India" at the top. Another framed sign or poster is topped with the words "Yoga Classes."
Spider-Man apppears crouching on the window sill, apparently having just entered the room through the window. MISTER SINGH, the guru, looks up at Spider-Man.]
SPIDER-MAN: If I could do that, I'd never leave the house. [This is apparently a subtle but vaguely crude reference to how limber Mister Singh is. Spider-Man's intention with the statement is to break the ice with a humorous remark.]
SINGH: This is an unexpected honor, Spider-Man. Your exploits are spoken of even in my country . . .
SPIDER-MAN: Uh-huh. Foreign chicks dig me.
SINGH: Indeed. And to what do I owe this considerable blessing . . . have you decided to pursue yoga clases in your spare time?
SPIDER-MAN: Sorry, Mister Singh -- I leave stretching to rubber bands and newspaper editorials. As a matter of fact, I wanted to talk about you. According to any one of about fifty internet sits I read last night, you were an activist for justice in the Malpura case years ago. [Malpura is a village in Bangladesh.] Your village was poisoned by a chemical leak from an American company called AGK.
SINGH: It is true that I have long sought justice in that affair. Such dissidence has made me an outcast of my own government, I am sad to say.
SPIDER-MAN: Yeah, well . . . you organized a protest at the United Nations that resulted in millions of dollars paid in compensation. But for some reason, you're still after AGK. Which means whatever happened in Malpura was a lot worse than anyone was willing to admit. In acting terms, that would be your cue.
SINGH: My meditations bring me into harmony with my surroundings, and I choose to forget. Peace is not easily obtained in the face of such dark memories. It was a typically humid day, as I recall . . . my brothers and I had come to market in order to negotiate the purchase of a goat for our grandfather. I remmeber hearing a distant siren, coming from the direction of the factories on the hill. I assumed this meant a changing of work shifts. The poisoning of Malpura was as sudden as it was unexpected . . . a pall of thick, black fog came upon the village, coating us in a dark, sticky substance that seared the eyes and lungs and clung to the skin like burning oil. Through this choking fog, I could hear noises. Screaming, shooting . . . a voice barking orders. I noticed my brother, Pindar, clutching at his throat. Then, all was black.
Four thousand people died, Spider-Man. I was one of the few survivors. One of the unlucky ones.
SPIDER-MAN: I don't suppose you have any idea what this silk scarf represents, do you? [Spider-Man shows Mister Singh the red and yellow silk scarf.]
SINGH: [startled] This . . . this artifact -- how did you come across it?
SPIDER-MAN: I had kind of a, uh . . . a visitation. Some chick dressed in funky foreign gear. She said something about "red and yellow," and then she bolted before I could escort her back to the rubber room.
SINGH: [holding the cloth] She is here. She is among us.
SPIDER-MAN: Who is?
SINGH: My dear Spider-Man, you have been visited by a goddess. The goddess Tara -- a most beloved of Buddhist deities. In legend, she was a mortal born from a lotus flower. She is a servant of Truth who vows to enlighten mankind. Tara appears in many forms, dressed in many colors, each of which carries significance. In her white form, she is the mother of all Buddhas, the embodiment of compassion. But imagine her duty to a tiny poisoned village, so far away. As Green Tara, she stands a protector of the land . . . yet her message to you is that she requires vengeance.
Above: Mister Singh, a South Asian religious guru (Buddhist? Hindu? Sikh?), tells Spider-Man he has been visited by a Buddhist goddess. [From: Peter Parker: Spider-Man Vol. 2 #49, pages 4-5]
SPIDER-MAN: Vengeance, huh? And I'm guessing AGK Incorporated is first up against the wall . . .
SINGH: You are blessed, Spider-Man. The goddess asks your aid in our deliverance.
SPIDER-MAN: Very poetic. Am I right in assuming your goddess wears red and yellow when she's out to bust somebody's head?
SINGH: Yes. Tara seeks revenge against those who infected Malpura. Go. She will call on you when the time is right and show you the way.
[Spider-Man exits the window of the yoga classroom and swings away. Mister Singh looks down at his hands and sees some kind of black blobs of energy or shifting matter on his hands.]
[SCENE: Interior of an apartment in the city. A picture of a building in India is on the wall. A small statue of a deity from a South Asian religion. Is on a shelf. There is a map of South Asia (including India and Bangladesh) on the wall. A seamstress's mannequin stands in the room, with Tara's costume, headband and wig displayed on it. A cellphone is on a small table. A South Asian woman removes her vest, blouse, and glasses. As she does so, we see a closeup of her forearm and then her neck, and we see the same amorphous blotches on her skin that we saw on the hands of Mister Singh. These look more like dark black rashes or stains on the skin than energy, but there's still a sense that they the black rashes are shifting. Tara, who looks rather like a normal woman without her heroic costume and long-haired wig, stares at her naked back in the mirror. She sees the black rash on her lower back as well.]
[SCENE: Inside Mr. Kirkland's office in the AGK Incorporated building. Mr. Kirkland sits at a desk, with Corman standing behind him. A couple of other young gentlemen dressed in suits are in the office.]
RECEPTIONIST (voice heard on the speaker phone): Mister Kirkland, I have a young lady on line four. She's very insistent-- and says it's in reference to a silk scarf . . .
KIRKLAND: What Put her through. [talking on phone. The others in the room can't hear what he is hearing.] Who is this? What? Yes, yes . . . I understand. No, I can't talk. I'm busy at the moment. Can't we discuss this after work . . . dear? Yes . . . yes, that's right-- in my office. About six? I'll see you then.
[Mr. Kirkland looks back at Corman to make sure that Corman understands that whoever it was who took the gem will be coming to this office at six o'clock, and that Corman should be ready to handle the situation. The other two men in the office have cheerful smiles on their faces and apparently know nothing about what is going on.]
SMILING MAN IN SUIT: Jeez, you look like you just stepped in front of a bus, Mister Kirkland. Little woman giving you trouble, huh?
KIRKLAND: No, no . . . uh . . . wrong number.
[SCENE: Spider-Man swings by the exterior of the AGK Incorporated building.]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): It's not often you find yourself swinging aimlessly around the city waiting for a major Buddhist deity to buzz you on your psychic cell phone. You figure the Gods must have this really enormous copy of the Yellow Pages which they open at random whenever they get bored or needy. My listing is no doubt in the well-worn section under "Bleeding Heart." That's the only explanation why I'm such a favorite target of the metaphysical brigade. Either that, or some Bangladeshi ultra-chick with a great taste in super heroes has found a new and very meaningful way to pass the time.
As a matter of fact, I'm just about to head home and file this episode under "stalker" (albeit a very attractive one) . . . and that's when I'm shown the way.
[Spider-Man sees a lotus flower.]
[SCENE: Inside an office in the AGK Incorporated building. Mr. Kirkland sits at a large table. Mr. Corman stands behind him. Tara stands at the opposite end of the table.]
KIRKLAND: So, um . . . I understand you were involved in the, uh . . . accident in Malpura, Miss . . .? Um. As you know, AGK has paid millions in restitution to your people . . .
TARA: Not enough, Mister Kirkland. Not for the families of those who died. Not for the land you destroyed. Not for those of us who live with the disease you thrust upon us, and which you subsequently denied even existed.
[Tara pushes down the arm-length glove of her costume, revealing the black splotches on her arm.]
KIRKLAND: Then what can I do? I can't live with this stain on my soul -- how can I make this go away?
TARA: Four thousand people died. You paid nine million dollars, thinking that such a pitiful amount would represent a fortune in such a poor country. For the diamond that I liberated . . . merely a tax write-off for your company . . . another fifty million dollars.
CORMAN: We're not interested.
[From inside his suit coat, Corman pulls out what appears to be a high-tech, industrial strength water pistol. It is labelled "Super-Soggy 3000."]
KIRKLAND: Corman, what the devil are you doing . . .
CORMAN: Shut up, Kirkland! For once in your miserable life just can it, okay?
TARA: I should have known. You said you would come unarmed.
CORMAN: I said no guns. This is just a water pistol. It happens to contain a watered down version of the control virus. It can't escape the plastic in this state-- that's the way it was designed to work. It would kill you in an instant because you're already contaminated. Now I have no idea what you want, lady, but I'm pretty certain you want to live.
KIRKLAND: I want no part of this--
CORMAN: Better think twice about that, Boss. I got twenty surveillance tapes that make you a part of it whether you like it or not. So be a good little CEO and zip it, huh? Loook, we're in this up to our eyeballs . . . or did you conveniently forget that part where we accepted a payoff from the good old C.I. of A? A hundred million dollars for an undetectable, intelligent metal nonovirus released into a non-threatening environment . . .
TARA: An intelligent metal? This virus was no accident. You tested it on us.
CORMAN: It worked, didn't it?
[Suddenly, Spider-Man swings into the room, landing a kick square in Corman's chest. Corman manages to shoot a squirt of liquid out of his water pistol, but he doesn't hit anybody with it. Tara ducks out of the way.]
SPIDER-MAN: Tally Ho!
CORMAN: uhf . . . !
SPIDER-MAN: Okay . . . these guys are mean, you're a goddess and I'm late. Did I forget anything . . . ?
TARA: Get down!
[Corman fires the water pistol. Spider-Man dodges and lands on the floor. The liquid misses him. Some of the liquid lands on a shelf above Spider-Man. It starts to drip off the shelf. Tara lands on top of Spider-Man, accidentally, or perhaps she is trying to shield him. He is lying on his back, and she is on top of him facing him.]
SPIDER-MAN: Uhh . . . not being funny, or anything . . . but I hardly think this is the time or place . . . [Spider-Man here jokes about the unintentionally intimate-seeming position that he and Tara found themselves in after dodging Corman's shot.]
[The dark liquid from Corman's water pistol drips off the shelf above Spider-Man. A drop lands on his gloved hand.]
[Spider-Man screams. His spider sense seems to be firing crazily. An image taking up most of the next page shows the face Tara merging with the face of Spider-Man, suggesing that their consciousnesses are momentarily merged. Around their faces are the faces of many South Asians from Tara's home town of Malpura, Bangladesh. A large lotus flower is in the background of this scene.]
SPIDER-MAN (thinking): I hear a sound. It's like an inferno, raging through a foret of four thousand burning trees. And every tree is screaming. And I'm one of the trees, linked to the others by a thick, black oil that eats into flesh and lives as a single mind. It's an intelligent metal virus, commissioned by a far-away government and designed to enhance latent human/mutant tendencies for application in military conflicts. I know all of this because my spider-senses are attuned to the consciousness of the men who designed the virus. The virus is a conduit to Tara. I feel her breath on my cheek through the mask, her heart, beating. I'm captivated by a goddess.
TARA (whispering to Spider-Man): We must go after him. Help me.
[A crackling black energy seems to hang in the air. Mr. Kirkland apparently sees it to, so perhaps it was not just in Spider-Man's head.]
KIRKLAND: Oh, my word--
SPIDER-MAN: [to Kirkland] Stay there.
[Spider-Man chases after Corman, who is running away. In the next panel we see Corman approaching a high-security door, similar to the vault door, but this one is labelled "RESEARCH LAB: No Unauthorized Personnel." Tara has been chasing after Corman, and has nearly caught up with him. He sees her approach.]
CORMAN: You're crazy! Get back, you hear me? I'll drench you in this stuff -- I swear!
[Corman enters the research lab and triggers the door closing mechanism. The heavy steel door starts closing, and Tara sommersaults through door into the room, landing on her feet. Against the wall behind Tara are two large canisters labelled with the same stylized question mark symbol that was on the scarves. This same symbol can be seen on other equipment and containers throughout the lab during the rest of this scene in the lab. Seeing Tara, Corman turns and throws a test tube full of dark liquid at her.]
CORMAN: Suit yourself, super-chick.
["THIWP", as Spider-Man's web intercepts the test tube. We see the test tube harmlessly fall to the ground, its arc halted by Spider-Man's expertly shot web. The test tube is now completely surrounded by webbing, rendering it harmless. Spider-Man stands before Tara and speaks to her.]
SPIDER-MAN: Lucky shot. You owe me three wishes.
[Corman has run to the other side of the room. He crouches down behind a half-height wall or narow lab bench. He holds the water pistol, ready to shoot anybody who comes near him. He calls out to Spider-Man and Tara.]
CORMAN: Don't come any closer, Spider-Man-- I'm warning you! You an' that psycho-bat better get outta here, 'cause you sure don't want to find out how much this stuff really hurts . . .
[Silently, Tara signals to Spider-Man that she's going around the other way. Spider-Man gives her the "thumbs up" signal, indicating that he understand her plan.]
CORMAN: Hey, you hear what I'm sayin' to you? This ain't no joke!
[Spider-Man clings to a wall of the lab while Tara approaches Corman. Tara walks right in front of Corman, who holds the water pistol menacingly.]
TARA: It was never a joke, Mister Corman. Now, you must come with me or . . .
CORMAN: Or what? You'll report me to the authorities? . . . In case you forgot, the nano-virus was their idea.
[Spider-Man clings to the ceiling, crawling along it to get into position behind Corman. He can hear what Corman is telling Tara.]
CORMAN: I'll give you this . . . you got a lot of chutzpa, lady. Anyone else came in contact with this stuff, they'd have run a mile in the other direction by now. Don't you get it? This was never about accidents . . . This was about testing, an' you're just the little rat that gave us the right feedback.
[Spider-Man continues inching along the ceiling, right over the head of Corman. His passing disturbs some matter stuck on the ceiling, which drops in front of Corman. Corman looks up.]
CORMAN: Once I get this back to my handlers, I'm gonna . . . [noticing material falling from distrurbed ceiling] huh? [looking at Tara] What . . . are you crazy?
[Corman aims the water pistol at Tara, about to shoot her with it. Spider-Man shoots webbing at the water pistol, covering it with webbing so it can't shoot.]
CORMAN: N-no! Get away from me-- Get back . . .!
[Corman throws a punch toward Tara. She dodges him. Something pushes Corman backward - perhaps Tara?]
[Corman falls backward into a slew of containers and test tubes containing the dark liquid. Black tendrils begin covering Corman. The black liquid, seemingly with a mind of its own, completely covers him as he screams in agony.]
CORMAN: Nn-ahh! Oh, God . . . it burns! Please . . . you gotta help me . . . The virus . . . hkk it's eating me alive. I don't . . . hkk I don't wanna . . .
[Corman rises from his knees into a crouching position, rising from a hole that was eaten in the floor by the virus. Corman has been entirely transformed into a monstrous creature covered in the black liquid, with black energy cackling around him.]
CORMAN: I do . . . I am. The Virus. Don't lie to yourself, Spider-Man. Don't think this will be forgotten. Remember-- we are a part of each other.
[Corman, a.k.a. "The Virus", seems to melt into a pool of black, throthing liquid. In this form he eats a whole in the floor and disappears downward. Spider-Man peers down through the hole.]
SPIDER-MAN: Wow. Clean-up on floors six, seven and eight. I said "clean-up on fl . . ." . . .oh.
[Spider-Man looks behind him, to see Mr. Kirkland entering the room.]
KIRKLAND: You probably think you've accomplished something, Spider-Man, but you've done nothing. The men who commissioned the virus are too highly placed and too powerful to permit exposure.
SPIDER-MAN : I don't doubt they'll protect themselves, Kirkland-- It's you I'm worred about. See, I happen to know there are a bunch of surveillance tapes in a control room two dors down. "Episode one: Jail Sentences of the Rich and Famous."
[Upon hearing this, Kirkland buries his hands in his face in despair.]
[SCENE: A newsstand on a busy New York City street. Peter Parker, wearing "civilian" clothes, stands at the stand, looking at a newspaper headline, and thinking.]
PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN (thinking): One of these days, I'm going to find out what my spider-senses really are. Like, what they're for and how they really work. See, for the longest time, I've had this sneaking suspicion I'm connected to something far bigger and weirder than anything I can possibly imagine. I think my senses are a conductor--some kind of telephone line to persons and parts unknown. And now that I've tapped into the heart and soul of a goddess, I can hear the wires humming in the back of my mind . . . it's a sound like tinkling bells.
[Peter looks at his hand (perhaps the spot where the black liquid dripped on it in his earlier battle). Peter looks at the sky. He then looks at a newspaper, at a headline which reads "AGK DENIES LINK TO CIA IN POISON GAS LEAK."]
PETER PARKER: Tch . . . would you look at that. Some people never learn.
[While he looks at the newspaper, somebody sneaks up from behind him. Suddenly a woman's hands are covering his eyes, a friendly "guess who?" gesture. Peter smiles.]
PETER PARKER: Jonah? You know I told you never to goose me again in public . . .
Above: The Bangladeshi Buddhist superheroine "Tara," in her civilian identity, thanks Peter Parker for his assistance as Spider-Man. [From: Peter Parker: Spider-Man Vol. 2 #49, pages 21-22]
[But it is not J. Jonah Jameson, as, of course, Peter knew. With her fingers still covering Peter's eyes, Tara whispers into Peter's ear. But we see not Tara in her wig and superheroine leotard. Rather, it is the South Asian woman wearing glasses we saw earlier in an apartment, the civilian identity of the woman known as "Tara."]
TARA (whispering to Peter): Thank you.
PETER PARKER: Yeah. Hey, you know what? I got about a million questions--
[Peter turns around, but Tara has already gone, and he can't see where she is.]
PETER PARKER (thinking): A million questions and no one to answer them . . . very tantric. [Peter looks down on the cement sidewalk, and is somewhat surprised to see a lotus flower.] There's nothing here but a lotus flower. And that sound again, like tinkling bells. Like laughter coming from far across the white snow. Only I think I just worked out what that sound is: It is the sound of four thousand people, laughing.
[We see Peter Parker holding the lotus flower in his hand, while standing in front of the newsstand. Throngs of people of all shapes, colors and sizes pass by him on the sidewalk. At the front of the page, many feet past Spider-Man, we see the civilian-garbed South Asian woman "Tara" smiling broadly as she walks away from him. END]
It is up to the reader to decide whether this story presents an authentic representation of Buddhism. The religion of Buddhism certainly is a central thematic element in this story, but is this story really about Buddhism? Is this a story about Tara, or about Peter Parker, or about the emergence of The Virus?
The concept of Tara as a Buddhist goddess of vengeance may strike some readers as paradoxical, based on what they know of Buddhism. But many Western readers know little of Buddhism as it is actually practiced in Asia, as their experience has been primarily with Western interpretations of Buddhism and Western practitioners of the religion. Is the Buddhism glimpsed in this Spider-Man story representative, perhaps, of Bangladeshi Buddhism?
Writer Paul Jenkins is not a Buddhist as far as we know, but clearly he has done something unusual in the extent to which he has written a Buddhism-centric comic book story. Is the Buddhism in this story based on research by Jenkins, or purely a flight of fancy pulled from his imagination?
Within the story, the South Asian religious guru and yoga teacher named Mister Singh claims that Spider-Man has been contacted by the Buddhist goddess Tara. But he makes this claim based purely on Spider-Man's description of events and a yellow and red scarf. Spider-Man certainly believes that he has met a Buddhist goddess, but has he really? Is there any evidence that the super-powered woman who goes by the name of "Tara" actually has a connection to a Buddhist deity?
We see "Tara" dressed in civilian garb, and we see that her body has been transformed by the virus designed by AGK Incorported. So the story certainly does not seem to present the woman as Tara herself. Does Spider-Man really believe the woman to be the goddess Tara herself, or simply a representative of Tara?
If a reader is disinclined to believe in the reality of Buddhist deities, even within the Marvel Universe, is there room within this story to interpret the woman known as "Tara" as simply a native of Malpura, Bangladesh who, having obtained super-powers after surviving the virus experiment in her village, has taken it upon herself to obtain vengeance and a $50 million gem for her people.
One aspect of these two issues of Peter Parker: Spider-Man which is not tied directly to the story of Tara and AGK Incorporated is the "soap operatic" elements involving the continuing subplot about Peter Parker's friend Flash Thompson's injuries and coma. Are these subplot scenes tied thematically to the AGK Incorporated/Tara storyline? A part of this subplot is the opening pages of this story arc, in which Peter Parker talks directly to God, as if in heartfelt, informal prayer. God appears to speak directly to Peter. In this scene, is Peter praying? Is God speaking to Peter? Do the words that Peter hears (or the words that he ascribes to God) represent a theologically sound interpretation of the will of God?
Is this opening scene, which centers on Peter Parker's Judeo-Christian concept of God, tied thematically to the rest of these two issues, in which Peter Parker believes that he meets a Buddhist goddess? If Peter really believes he has met a Buddhist goddess, does this mean he "believes in" Buddhism? Should he? Is it likely that Peter will convert to Buddhism?
We leave the answering of these questions to the reader. As Peter thinks to himself in the last scene, "A million questions and no one to answer them..."