Super Sikh, Volume 1
Eileen Kaur Alden (Writer), Supreet Singh Manchanda (Writer), Amit Tayal (Artist)
14 February, 2019
Deep Singh lives with his aunt and uncle, but they barely ever see him. With good reason: Deep’s day job is at an IT firm called IIIT, but in reality, he works for the UN Global Unified Defense Force as the covert operative known as Super Sikh. Needless to say, he never gets a break.
After a particularly exhausting mission taking down the Taliban leader Salar Al-Amok, Deep’s aunt and uncle insist he take a vacation. There is only one place Deep wants to go: Graceland, home of Deep’s hero, Elvis Presley. But first, a quick stop at the super-secret UN office under IIIT to meet cousin Preeti.
Tech-genius Preeti has a host of new gadgets for Deep, even if he is just going on vacation. It’s a good thing too, as Deep’s much-needed vacation is in danger before it’s even begun. His flight is hijacked, and the U.S. authorities put the blame on Deep, instead of the actual hijackers. Forget Graceland. Can Deep even get out of the airport detention?
The longer Deep remains in the U.S., the more trouble he gets into. His hope for a quiet time paying homage to Elvis and his father, who was also an Elvis fan, is dashed at every turn. Can Deep finish his vacation from hell without causing an international incident?
I have so rarely come across superhero comics with Indian characters that I leapt on Super Sikh when WWAC was offered it. I’m so glad I did. I enjoyed this comic from the cover till the closing pages! The first thing that struck me was the art. Far too often you get comics with stunning covers, where the inner pages have a completely different artistic and colour style. Not so with Super Sikh, where the artistic style on the cover continues throughout the entire volume.
Amit Tayal’s art is astounding. There’s so much detail and such richness in each panel that you can’t help but be absorbed in the story. Early on in the comic, there is a full page dedicated to the secret UN facility that is mind-boggling. I wonder if Tayal has a background in architecture because that facility is so well-designed and executed.
But it isn’t just the places that matter in this book; it is the people. Bordering on photo-realistic, Tayal’s characters have vibrant, expressive faces. Even the evil Taliban leader gets to evoke humour with his expressions! The colours Tayal uses for the characters are just matte enough to remind readers that this is a graphic novel, and not real life. It’s a distinction we definitely need in this volume.
The story of Super Sikh often feels like pastiche, particularly with the quirky dialogue, that seems deliberate, though not realistic. I’m not sure how much of this was intentional by writers Eileen Kaur Alden and Supreet Singh Manchanda, but it gives the story a whimsical feel which I enjoyed.
However, the writers aren’t afraid to delve into darker subject matter, and that’s where I think the whimsy works. It lulls you into a false sense of security that everything will go well for Deep, and of course, things go awry really fast.
Deep faces the most ridiculous kinds of racism. There’s a fantastic series of pages near the end of the volume where Deep is being vilified by people, all juxtaposed against his acts of bravery. We’ve seen this kind of racism before, and Sikhs still suffer at the hands of Islamophobes who retaliate against suspected terrorist acts by attacking anyone wearing a turban. There’s so much to unpack in these racist acts and Super Sikh tries to deal with a fair amount of it.
I love how central Sikhism is to Deep’s story. It would have been easy to sideline the spiritual elements in favour of a more Western-focus, but the writers manage to deftly weave in the tenets of Sikhism into Deep’s superhero-ing. I particularly enjoyed how Preeti incorporates her tech and weapons into the kara (bangle) and the belt Deep wears, among other things.
I also enjoyed the way the writers use Deep’s love of Elvis to tie the story together. Whatever Deep does, Elvis is somewhere with him, and it is fitting that the denouement revolves around Graceland.
I would have liked a few more female characters in this story. There are so many men here! Though Preeti does appear from time to time, she is largely the only female character, aside from her mother, until the introduction of Janelle, a former soldier, now waitress, who is rescued by Deep. Janelle turns out to be great in a fight, but her story is stereotypical at times, which is frustrating. She seems like an interesting character, and I feel like she deserved more space in this book. I do appreciate that the writers chose to write Janelle as African-American, which gives the story more diversity.
Despite a few hiccups, Super Sikh is an absorbing story with plenty of fun, a lead character with tons of personality, and some hard-hitting discussions about racism in the world today. Coupled with mesmerising art, this is an altogether fantastic read.
And seeing as the next volume is set to focus on Preeti, we may get some of the gender diversity missing in this book. I definitely can’t wait to read more.