Cartoonist: Kumail Rizvi (@hikumail)
WHAT IS IT?
The official tag-line for the series sums it up perfectly: Kahlil is “a comic about the Superman that crash-landed in Karachi, not Kansas.”
It’s far more of a coming-of-age narrative than flashy, fist-filled fare. It takes many of the core elements from the beloved DC hero and places them within the vibrant culture of Pakistan. In these first thirteen chapters, Kahlil focuses on the genesis of this version of Superman. Imagine a John Hughes film that happened to be focused on someone with super-speed, heat vision, and the ability to lift buildings.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Kahlil is equal parts an examination of how context affects the narrative arc of Superman and a love-letter to Pakistani culture.
We live in a period in history when vast groups of people are receiving representation in Western media for the first time. Kumail Rizvi presents his singular take on the tale of Superman with Kahlil. Instead of landing in midwest America, Kal-el’s pod crashes to Earth in Karachi, Pakistan. He is found by an engineer, who takes him home to his wife. The pair name the baby Kahlil, and begin to raise him as their own.
Much of Kahlil’s childhood is left to the imagination, as readers primarily see him in his teenage years. Kahlil is a loner, struggling to adapt to a new school. Kahlil stumbles into a group of friends who, along with his loving family, will form the base that Kahlil uses to discover what he is truly capable of. There is a dark force lurking in Karachi, and Kahlil will need to find what truly guides him in order to face it.
Rizvi is unafraid to use unusual and dynamic layouts to make particularly captivating moments stand out. As Kahlil is a webcomic, is it not bound by page and panel count restrictions. This leads to some delightfully imaginative spreads.
Kahlil fully immerses the reader in Pakistani culture, from food to slang to exploring the landmarks of the city itself. Little touches add so much life to Rizvi’s version of Karachi.
It is unafraid to take its time to allow readers to bond with Kahlil, his family, and friends before escalating the story. Kahlil walks with the reader along Kahlil’s journey at a comfortable pace, particularly in the first few chapters.
Kahlil goes through a satisfying character arc that progresses naturally as a response to events that occur throughout the comic.
All of the core characters are well-rounded; none of them feel one-note or flat. Rizvi takes his time to give each of the important players in Kahlil’s life space to show themselves properly.
The bonds that Kahlil forms with these characters are touching, and help Kahlil to both mature and remind him of what is important in life. Having well-realized characters interacting with each other makes for rewarding reading.
The color palette that Rizvi uses gives the world of Kahlil a soft feel, making it feel less outlandish and more grounded, which amplifies its emotional impact.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Rizvi has noted that they learned how to make comics while creating Kahlil, and it shows at times. Kahlil may have more than its fair share of heart, but Rizvi’s inexperience shows in a number of small issues.
Rizvi’s rendering of characters does occasionally waver, particularly during action sequences. Characters can lack dynamism, and feel like blobs of clay being posed into movement.
Some of the dialogue is stilted and unnatural. It feels like it only exists to progress the plot, and does so in a more rudimentary manner than could be possible.
Rizvi’s lettering can, at times, break the reader’s immersion into the world of the comic. While most of the time it is fairly innocuous, sometimes Rizvi uses a distractingly long balloon tail, or sizes the text unusually. While this might not be noticeable to everyone, I found it distracting on a couple of occasions.
Some story beats feel tacked-on, and don’t seem to go anywhere. Rizvi pours a host of ideas into Kahlil, and not all of them land perfectly.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
The world is becoming increasingly tired of stories centered around white men. Kahlil is one person’s reimagining of Superman as a young man from Karachi; with this simple twist, Rizvi approaches the classic origin story from an entirely fresh angle. Those familiar with Superman have an idea of what Kahlil will become and the first chapter even hints at how directly Rizvi transplants elements of the original narrative of Superman onto his characters. However, by choosing to focus less on Kahlil’s abilities (at least for the most part) and instead gradually develop all of the characters and the setting of Karachi, Rizvi gives readers a much more intimate tale.
Kahlil is not a newspaper article detailing where Kahlil Khan came from and what he can do. It is a loving depiction of who he is, who is important to him, and where he comes from. If you love the Superman mythos, are fascinated by authentic depictions of foreign cultures, or just want to support a growing indie artist, Khalil is definitely worth your time.
HOW DO I READ IT?
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