The comic book Super Sikh, a brain child of California Bay Area natives Eileen Kaur Alden and Supreet Singh Manchanda, is noteworthy for two things: it features a turbaned super hero and it was fully funded on Kickstarter in 27 hours. The people wanted Sikh representation and they got it with the first issue of the series being published at the beginning of this month.
Though it had all the backing of the internet and all the potential in the world, the first issue of Super Sikh had the halting and jerking success of a TV show pilot. It had jokes that didn’t land, references too dated for its targeted teen audience, and occasionally lame writing. The first third of the issue was rapidfire world creation — we know that Deep regularly risks himself as a UN superspy/agent/tough guy, that his grandparents are worried about him, and that his main villain is some Taliban overlord. Also he fronts as a nondescript office drone and his cousin Preeti Kaur is a kickass inventor who definitely needs more time at the forefront of the story. The issue goes by fast.
The pacing is definitely choppy and odd. Compounding this, in one scene some of airplane passengers begin quoting Fox News and tell others bluntly to “hold on to their hate.” At times it feels that Super Sikh talks down to its readers about legitimate social issues and inundates us with cheap references and weak jokes.
After a bit more action and one odd reference to the Princess Bride, Super Sikh begins to figure itself out and the movement evens out. The comic ends on an interesting note that sets up the future and relevant conflict of racial profiling. Overall the story has strong and interesting side characters that I can see carrying the series. Deep Singh, though, needs more fleshing out — a kickass job and a weird hobby does not a personality make. If all his motives are derived from a need to continue his father’s legacy (as the first issue sets up), Super Sikh will be running the risk of losing its audience to other comics with less cliché storylines. There is still potential with this comic despite this rocky start.
The inherent issue the creators will have to solve is what is the purpose of this comic book? From the outset it looked like they really wanted to create a place for positive Sikh representation that combats the somewhat poisonous image the media paints of turbaned brown people. But in creating Deep as the beacon of Sikhi hope with his martial job and sense of justice, the creators seem to be creating a boring character without any faults. If the comic is meant to educate readers about Sikhs and Sikhism, then maybe it should be aimed at a younger audience that doesn’t mind uncomplicated heroes and conflicts being spelled out. But if the creators want to make a legitimate comic book where the hero is Sikh and good, they’ll have to do more than set up false dichotomies between Sikhism and radical Islam.
Minority representation is tricky but it’s not a box to check. Having a Sikh hero who prays and listens to Elvis does not humanize Sikhs, it simplifies them. The test for Super Sikh will be in how human and real they let their characters be. It doesn’t serve readers or Sikhs if the characters come off as bland ideals of what Sikhs should be. But if they have weakness and personality and ultimately triumph, it won’t be hard to teach people through the story.