The dream to create an iconic Singaporean superhero is ongoing, and none have been more invested in this goal than the Association of Comic Artists (Singapore), aka ACAS. Their latest attempt at locally based metahumans is SupaCross, a 6-issue comic book mini-series created by ACAS President Jerry Hinds and scripted by Vice-President Boey Meihan.
The first issue was officially launched at this year’s Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention (STGCC), and the 22-page comic book is printed on very high-quality glossy paper that belies its S$5.50 cost (the equivalent of a US$2.99 comic). Entitled “Don’t Drink the Water”, the issue showcases two local teenagers who live double lives as costumed vigilantes, as well as introducing their broad cast of supporting characters including the mysterious tuition teacher and the very human but very competent law enforcement.
Has ACAS finally figured out the formula behind creating a truly Singaporean hero? Will the main protagonists, Singapore Sling and D-Temasek become household names by the time the country celebrates its 50th birthday? Are we on the cusp of history? Find out in our review of SupaCross #1, under the cut.
First off, I really liked the characters behind the costumes. They’re definitely a slice of Singapore that is way under-represented. Crissy Lee is an “academically challenged” convent girl, but it’s clear she’s not lacking in IQ at all. Her witty banter is much more than just a localised version of Spider-Man, and she definitely comes across as someone penalised for not fitting into the Singapore education mould. Of course, when your secret identity is the “supa” Singapore Sling, it’s hard to focus on preparing for the ‘O’ Level examinations.
Crissy envies Rosli Rahim, a student at the mind-numbingly obvious pastiche of our country’s premier arts institute, and wonders if his life is any easier. Though it’s not clear how Rosli feels about his education, there’s definitely something Singaporean about envying those talented enough (and fortunate enough?!) to go to an arts school in Singapore instead of mugging in the generic school system. Rosli, whose costumed identity is D-Temasek, takes on a mentor role to Singapore Sling.
While I enjoyed reading about Singaporeans, it was their alter egos, on the other hand, that were harder to appreciate.
D-Temasek’s is apparently “empowered by the life-forces of an ancient alien, and Temenggong warrior”, but most of the time he just seems to be… constipated? His thoughts include “I can’t hold out much longer!” and “Those raging souls coursing through me needed releasing!” Admittedly, I’m taking at least one of those out of context, and probably need to get my mind out of the gutter, but surely we need to figure out a better way for him to demonstrate his abilities without it sounding like he hasn’t “gotten some action” in a while. Also, for a design student, his costume is ironically rather garish, with its overtly complicated four-colour scheme of red, black, white and gold.
Conversely, Singapore Sling has a pretty snazzy, straightforward costume, but it’s hard to ignore the extremely cringe-inducing fact that the story’s main “supa” is running around with the Schutzstaffel logo on her chest. That’s right, what is essentially the logo of the Nazi paramilitary that, among other horrific World War II acts, were in charge of the Gestapo and the Reich’s concentration camps, is proudly emblazoned on a local hero’s chest. No matter how you defend it, even suggesting that it’s intended to show ignorance, it’s just such a terrible design flub, I’m rather surprised more people haven’t pointed it out.
Now, in all fairness, we could presume that this whole attempt to create an iconic local superhero (or two!) was something done tongue-in-cheek, meant as satire or comedy. The script itself isn’t above poking fun at the oddly named heroes, as on an early page, where random members of a gathered crowd describe one as “the schoolgirl in a thong named after a cocktail” and the other as “sponsored by Temasek Holdings to get us all to vote at the next election”. This kind of self-deprecating cynicism is arguably as Singaporean as it gets, and for it to be acknowledged in a comic book is pretty great. The local flavoured snark permeates throughout the comic’s 22 pages and it’s definitely the best part of the comic – it’s apparently clear that this is not a comic that takes itself seriously.
Except, it’s also clear that the creators of SupaCross are indeed taking this project seriously. The back of the comic advertises merchandise, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts, not to mention the very hard-to-miss Singapore Sling and SupaCheer cosplayers we saw at STGCC earlier this month. There’s a clear investment in this mini-series that is rather unprecedented in the decade-long existence of the ACAS. It’s very tough not to appreciate their enthusiasm for the product, but on the other hand, I wish all that effort was invested in better named characters, less unintentional facepalming and a more legitimate lingo instead of “supa” and “powa”.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that there seems to be a certain styles clash between SupaCross creator Jerry Hinds and scriptwriter Boey Meihan. Clearly, both are bringing their A-game to the comic – Hinds’ art is dynamic, very expressive and easy on the eyes while Boey’s writing is peppered with appropriately used local creole, very “on the nose”, and definitely a pleasure to read. However, as the creator, Hinds seems to have a certain naivete, as if experiencing Singapore through rose-tinted glasses, while Boey’s take on the country is much more grounded and familiar to someone who was born and bred here. This results in characters whose regular lives are very engaging and relatable, but whose secret identities are laughable at best and cringe-inducing at worst.
All that being said, of course, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. If the comic’s creators can supersede or, at least, match the quality shown in the first issue, and churn out the entire 6-issue story according to schedule, then I dare say Singapore can have one more reason to celebrate its 50th National Day next year.