Bangladeshi Comic ‘Ms Shabash’ Fights Whitening Creams, Auntybots

I came back from the 2016 Dhaka LitFest, held November 17-19, with a suitcase crammed with books and Bangla-ized superhero t-shirts. And wishing I’d shoved in a few more books, t-shirts, and Ms. Shabashes.

The five-year-old immersed in Ms. Shabash.

The five-year-old immersed in Ms. Shabash.

Ms. Shabash is the hero of the titular comic. My 13-year-old complained that it was “derivative,” but Ms. Shabash is consciously leaping off from American-superhero tropes. It’s also self-consciously feminist and was launched on International Women’s Day in 2015. Ms. Shabash was written by Samir Asran Rahman and drawn by Fahim Anzoom Rumman, Mosharraf Hussain (Nipu), and Shamim Ahmed.

Ms. Shabash — when she’s not saving lives — is a journalist who wears thick black glasses, a bit like that Clark fellow. Yet she’s not simply covering news stories, or whatever it is Clark does. Ms. Shabash’s life is like that of a real journo working at a lifestyle magazine, with a boss who wants her to do stories she hates. (Er, not that this ever happens to me, bosses.)

In one Ms. Shabash adventure, she’s assigned to do a story about a woman who made her fortune from whitening creams. Fortunately, this evil CEO falls into a vat of Chemical W, something her teams have been cooking up to make people feel unhappy until they buy more of the whitening product.

“Ahh,” my 13-year-old complained. “Another supervillain who falls into a vat of chemicals!”

Yet this, too, is perfectly self-conscious, and Ms. Shabash is capable of turning to the reader to make fun of the comic or complain about an exposition-heavy passage.

Eight-year-old modeling a Banglafied Iron Man tee.

Eight-year-old modeling a Banglafied Iron Man tee.

Of course, Ms. Shabash finds a chemist who has been working on an antidote to Chemical W. And before the entire city can be turned into whitening-cream zombies, they manage to trick people into applying the antidote. (The supervillain CEO is cured a bit too easily with a dose of water.)

The comic must have come out of the NGO world, because I was puzzled by some of the lingo, and my partner had to explain the “CSR” (Corporate Social Responsibility) joke to me. My eight- and five-year-old had no need to understand, and a few stray letters that went over their head were no barrier to enjoyment.

Attack of the Auntybots

The second comic, “Attack of the Auntybots,” opens in a wedding with a an auntie who shouts at the wedding-goers: “Have you no shame – dancing like this in public?”

The auntybots are particularly anti-dancing, and they’re lured to their doom by a somewhat improbable dance party.

My five-year-old liked this one best, and particularly loved “how at the end, the doctor who made the auntybots makes bots of Ms. Shabash.”

I didn’t see whether Ms. Shabash is also available in Bangla; I hope so. If you’re ever invited to Bangladesh, my advice: bring a second suitcase.

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