Bakarmax, an up-and-coming webcomic portal in India, has come up with what users on Reddit are guessing as 'India's first-ever Muslim superhero' — 'Musalman'. Although the webcomic consists of several issues, the one posted on the social network portrays the character's quest on a "dangerous rescue mission" that also has him meet 'Chandrashekhar Quaid', a character clearly modelled after lawyer-turned-activist Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan.
To retrieve what, you ask? Why, the very transparently-named "Ambedkar locket", of course.
This issue of the short webcomic, created and written by Falah Faisal, opens with 'Chandrashekhar Quaid' being sentenced to "5 years of hard labour" by a judge who looks suspiciously like Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde.
The series apparently takes place in a fictional realm, which would explain the 'Antim Pradesh High Court' (did our fictional CJI-lookalike get a demotion? We'll never know) but coincidentally modelled after India, complete with its legal-judicial systems.
Past several panels portraying protesters holding #DalitLivesMatter signs, the police convoy is intercepted by 'Musalman', who has apparently come to rescue the convict only to deliver an over-the-top witty line: "Quaid Ab Tum Aazad Ho!" No, it's not subtle at all.
However, as fate would have it, Quaid did not, in fact, have the "Ambedkar locket" that Musalman was searching for. If it matters, he had offered "Kanshi Ram's Pen" instead but clearly Musalman did not want it and let him go.
"Musalman, I owe you one," Quaid says, fading away into the distance.
Browsing the other issues of the webcomic, it does seem like the writer seems dead set on making bold statements in extremely broad strokes, as some issues have Musalman taking on 'Corona Virus' and even 'Arnab Cowswamy', a completely fictional anthropomorphic journalist with the head of a cow.
The comic does seem rather dull for Bakarmax, known for its often sharp and witty webcomics in a country where the webcomic space is, well, even duller and dormant. Over the years, Sumit Kumar's Bakarmax has earned a niche audience appreciating the platform for its satire, parodies and political commentary. Very recently, a webcomic 'Karejwa', penned by satirist Varun Grover, earned popular and critical acclaim.
On August 2013, American comic books publisher Marvel introduced Kamala Khan, the first prominent Muslim character to headline her own solo graphic novel series. Over the years, Khan went on to leave a lasting cultural impact on mainstream pop culture, as evident from her recent inclusion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and critics generally agreeing that she normalised the "idea of the American experience as a Muslim."
Is India ready for such a nuanced character yet, or will poorly written characters continue to advance racial stereotypes? 'Musalman' certainly has an answer, but maybe time will tell.