Reviews: Hopefulbright to the Rescue!

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by Darcie Little Badger

Darcie Little Badger is a Lipan Apache scientist, writer, and friendly goth. After studying gene expression in toxin-producing phytoplankton, she received a PhD from Texas A&M University. Her short fiction has appeared in several publications, including Strange Horizons and Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time, an anthology of speculative fiction by Indigenous writers.

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Metropolis has Superman.

Batman lurks in Gotham.

Neither holds a candle to Super Indian, defender of the Leaning Oak Reservation.

Lately, Indigenerds have a lot to celebrate. In November, 2016, Native Realities Press and A Tribe Called Geek co-sponsored the first Indigenous Comic Con (ICC). The inaugural convention featured some of the most talented visual artists, writers, and cosplayers on this side of the multiverse. One of the ICC guests was Arigon Starr, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. Starr has written, illustrated, and lettered the comic series Super Indian since its webcomic debut in 2011. Initially only available online, Super Indian issues two through seven have been collected in two full-color volumes (print and digital formats available) that are published by Rezium Studios of Wacky Productions Unlimited.

If the tone of this review seems humorous or I make one too many puns, it’s because rereading Super Indian has put me in a jocular mood. This superhero comic series is the polar opposite of grimdark (funnylight? hopefulbright?). Every page radiates playfulness. There are also plenty of sci-fi jokes. Let me rephrase that: there are plenty of jokes, period. This comic series should come with a laugh track. Feel free to provide your own.

Super Indian follows the adventures of the titular hero and his friends (including an eloquent mutt named Diogi; yes, it’s pronounced D-O-G). Donning blue tights, black gloves, and a hulking silver “NDN” belt buckle, Super Indian fights everything from bingo-related misunderstandings to a 100-foot-tall German anthropologist. Super Indian’s extraordinary powers (which include incredible strength, energy punches, and flight) are the result of “Rezium-tainted commodity cheese,” a reference that will resonate with anybody who has eaten commodity food, whether they live on a reservation (rez) or not.

Like many of his costume-wearing peers, Super Indian has a secret identity: mild-mannered Hubert Logan. Hubert is the grandson of the Leaning Oak historian and medicine woman, Flora. Bespectacled Hubert is infatuated with the computer whiz and sci-fi fangirl Tillie Thunder; unfortunately, in a breed of two-person love triangle that’s endemic to superhero plots, she only has eyes for Super Indian. Other recurring cast members are delightfully larger-than-life. There’s General Bear, Hubert’s friend and purple-costumed sidekick. Diogi, a genius with adorable puppy dog eyes (literally, since he’s a dog). And I cannot fail to mention Lena Marie, leader of the rez bingo hall (“Lena never met a steer she couldn’t rope or a bronc she couldn’t rid”). Although she aggravates Hubert, Lena Marie is one of my favorite side characters, possibly because she goes Bride-of-Frankenstein Goth for a couple issues.

Starr illustrates Super Indian with bright, bold colors that complement the upbeat comic action. The characters—yes, including the women—possess a range of body types, hairstyles, ages, and faces. Where Super Indian really shines, however, is its wickedly clever writing. Social forces that harm Native people are addressed with a subtly humorous attitude. This tactic in no way diminishes the seriousness of our problems; rather, it’s like mixing sugar in vital medicine. Sweet, enjoyable, and effective. For example, the villains in the “Technoskin” issue include appropriative evil-doers (such as “Bick Bucks,” a non-native superstar who plays the Native love flute for public television) and a wealthy diva who zombifies the rez through mind-control assimilation (she forces Leaning Oak Natives to adopt mainstream white fashion, thus creating an “ambiguously brown army”). In “Technoskin,” Starr highlights the plight of a contemporary Native American; while colonists profit from our culture, we are pressured to assimilate.

A two-issue arc, “The Curse of Blud Kwan’tum,” is a tour de force of satire. With biting wit, Starr riffs on the colonial obsession with “Indian blood quantum.” Mister Blud Kwan’tum (get it?), a vampiric Bureau of Indian Affairs agent descended from Spanish conquistadors, preys upon “full-blood” Natives. When Blud targets elders at the Leaning Oak Reservation, Super Indian seems to have met his match. The story’s arc has danger, insightful commentary on discrimination and identity, plenty of Twilight jokes, self-aware characters in red shirts, and a full rez cast. It’s a personal favorite.

“The Curse of Blud Kwan’tum” also introduces a new character, Lakota woman Phoebe Francis. Phoebe plays a pivotal role in the plot, and the moment she comes into her strength—indeed, the strength of her ancestors—is both empowering and poignant.

If you need more incentives to buy Super Indian, the volumes include an exclusive series called “Real Super Indians.” As the name suggests, these illustrated, one-page biographies highlight Native American heroes, such as Doctor Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915), the physician who built and operated a hospital on the Omaha Reservation in order to care for her people. Super Indian does not contain profanity or graphic violence and is thus suitable for younger readers. In fact, Super Indian Volume 1 appeared on the 2016 Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading List, curated by Dr. Debbie Reese.

As an Apache nerd, I have read too many comic series—including Batman and Superman—that erase Native Americans and/or represent us with stereotypes. In Super Indian, the heroes are Native. The sidekicks are Native. Computer nerds, wealthy snobs, villains, and background characters with no speaking lines are Native. The only Natives you won’t find are stereotypes, and this includes the “tragic Indian” trope. There is something truly validating about seeing yourself, your experiences, reflected in your fandoms. Super Indian is a refreshing example of contemporary Native storytelling, and that’s why I recommend it to anybody who enjoys funnybright romps.

 

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