Russia's Vladimir Putin saves the day as a martial arts superhero in a comic strip spreading on the Russian Internet, where he teams up with bearskin-wearing sidekick Dmitry Medvedev.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits the AvtoVaz automobile plant in Togliatti. (Photo: AFP)
The comic strip, apparently the first in a series about "Super Putin, Man Like Any Other" is available on www.superputin.ru and is set in Moscow "one year before the end of the world."
Russia will choose its next president in 2012 and observers have their eyes peeled for any indication of whether current President Medvedev or Prime Minister Putin will seek the six-year-term as head of the country.
Although one of the strip's creators said it was drawn by pro bono artists, some Internet users hinted darkly that it may be a part of a behind-the-scenes campaign or was even commissioned by the Kremlin.
With a plot line resembling the 1990s US action film "Speed", the strip shows a kimono-wearing Putin -- described as a man "with a Nordic character" -- save a busload of people from a bomb blast.
"I will go no slower than 80 km/h," Putin says, gritting his teeth.
As he speeds ahead, he receives help from "nano-human" Medvedev, who unzips a frightening bear costume and sends a crawling iPad to deactivate the explosive.
The strip pokes fun at Putin's judo hobby and Medvedev's penchant for technological gadgets.
The bus is then attacked by a crowd of zombies that scream "Let us elect governors!" and "Free Khodorkovsky!" with Putin facing them in the final act.
The strip's writer Sergei Kalenik said it took two weeks to create and was not a paid project.
"We wanted to stir Russia's depressing political scene and create some dialogue," he told AFP.
He said some media outlets had refused to publish the strip because it refers to Medvedev as a "gnome".
Putin, meanwhile, is a "man like any other, but suffers from it", torn apart by internal contradictions, Kalenik, a 25-year-old PR freelancer, explained.
Artists behind the strip have previously authored another series of ironic superhero comics about the dour speaker of the Russian lower parliament house, Boris Gryzlov.
Earlier this week Putin emerged as a commando-style protagonist of a computer game on Russia's main social networking site Vkontakte.
Some of Russia's sceptical Internet users have quickly branded the comic strip a public relations stunt setting Putin against dark zombie-like opposition forces.
"Elections are near, and we'll be looking at a whole lot of different comics," said one comment posted on the Moscow Echo radio station's website.
"I think this is a stupid stunt paid for by Surkov!" said another, referring to Kremlin adviser and ideologue Vladislav Surkov.