Staff: Shane Will, Nicholas Garza
A ham-fisted attempt to make a Muslim superhero.
Today we are looking at “Brake”, a short, 7-page, superhero comic about a Muslim superhero (I don’t normally read the sales blurb, but I happened to catch it). This is apparently the origin story for a member of a comic universe (known collectively as the “Tomorrowverse”) by CK Comics and Scattered Comics. Let’s jump on into “Brake”.
The art is not great. it gets the point across but there are some wonky angles, bizarre and inconsistent anatomy, and it all looks very low grade. The scenes are empty sometimes and the poses pretty exaggerated even by comic standards. The shadows, though done in the standard high-contrast fashion, are more or less random. There was a point on page 5 & 6 (of the PDF) that I thought his costume had an odd fan-shaped pattern on his forehead as it is in 5 panels it is there but later on we see that it was just intended to be shadow- despite him moving and us getting several angles on him.
The lettering is not bad, but it was clearly done by someone new to the art. Sometimes the way the balloons are placed makes it difficult to tell who is talking in what order. A minor issue is that, since the site I got the comic from watermarks things, the bottom of the pages look like a jumbled mess because they place white text on the black bleed. Not a big deal, but most comics avoid putting things into the bleed for reasons like this.
So I give this comic props- it tackles a very difficult topic. The opening narration talks about how the teachings if Islam are bad being perverted by an group of extremists few and not all Muslims are evil. This is a very bold stance to take in the current climate but one I happen to agree with. If I can soapbox here for a moment, every belief (be it religious, national, cultural, and even philosophical) has their extremists and we shouldn’t judge the group as a whole for their more radical parts. Radicalism has little to do with the nature or teachings of the group and more just serves as the glue that binds them- it could literally be anything that meets a few criteria. However, this comic handles this delicate topic about as subtly as a toddler with a hammer.
The first page sets up the universe with a exposition dump delivered ala the news. The world is full of superheroes, the war in the middle east is ongoing, anti-muslim sentiments are running hot and there is a superhero named “Tomorrow” who is from the future that our protagonist is inspired by. Oddly enough for an origin story, we just get a few lines of narration to explain his backstory. He was in a car accident and suddenly he was invulnerable.
The dialogue is pretty heavy in this comic- a lot of “tell” rather than “show”. Honestly, a lot of the first few pages could have been shown visually rather than exposited about in narration (show some images of Tomorrow on the news, some anti-muslim rallies, give us 2 panels giving him his origin and power, and finally show the protagonist making the costume like we get). This is a problem with a lot of indie comics and indie superhero comics in particular. We are told everything rather than shown anything. For example, we get a panel where a villain pulls a gun and one guy yells, “Look out!!!” and another guy screams, “He’s got a gun!” but their poses and expressions already convey that.
Overall the plot is about as generic as it could be, relying on a lot of tropes of the genre. The protagonist, Bahir Azeem, got superpowers and was inspired by another hero to action. He is Muslim and I mean SUPER and stereotypically Muslim. Every scene he is either praying, talking about something related to his faith, or giving exposition. It’s like when a female character is in the cast and it is painfully obvious that she is “the girl” and that about sums her entire character up, except in this case Bahir is 100% defined by his religion. I can respect this comic for trying to give us a Muslim hero- but a cardboard cutout with the word “Allah” would have had more depth.
The comic ends with some sickeningly derivative scenes of the hero punching the villain and then being locked in jail 2 panels later and is followed by the generic scene of the hero shaking hands with the political leader while looking at the crowd waving one hand. This seems like something out of a 80s TV show, but it falls really flat and feels super stale. I’ve read PSAs and propaganda pieces that were more subtle than this. In fact- that’s exactly what this feels like; a propaganda comic. I mean I know it’s really just ham-fisted writing, the best intentions gone wrong, and an over-reliance on superhero tropes but that is what it feels like. Like a PSA or propaganda piece in that they rely on high moralizing and dramatics over any sort of substance. We are TOLD that the Muslims are being treated ill but we never see Bahir experience this sort of prejudice. The villain’s motives might as well be “to ruin Christmas” because it ultimately amount to “Because I’m evil!”.
In conclusion- don’t read this comic if you want a good story about a Muslim superhero. Go check out G. Willow Wilson’s fantastic run on Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan or the New 52 Nightrunner comic. Both feature much more developed Muslim characters than this one dimensional schlock.