Thursday, June 30, 2011

Muslim Immigrant Superhero?

I have posted about Muslim superheroes before (see Sharia-Comliant Superheroes and A website on Islam and Science Fiction). Now a student at BU, David Lewis, is doing his PhD. on this topic - and he should have enough very interesting material to work with. Here is an article in the BU talk about the various Muslim comic heroes. I'm totally intrigued by the inclusion of an Algerian immigrant superhero into the DC universe. This should touch on the issues of religion, identity, colonialism, etc. and should be a fascinating inclusion. Here are some of the Muslim superheroes:
For all their alien/underwater/superhuman evildoers, says Lewis, comics have on occasion borrowed villains from the real world—the Image cover updated one from World War II showing Captain America slugging Hitler. The year after 9/11, Marvel Comics introduced Dust, a Muslim “mutant” (superhuman) member of the famed X-Men, only her eyes visible beneath her niqab. Born in Afghanistan, she can change into a blinding, skin-shredding sandstorm. Then there’s M, whose super strength, telepathy, and flight are the least obvious of her attributes (buxom and curvaceous, she’d shame Wonder Woman as an adolescent boy’s fantasy). M debuted in 1994. She revealed this year that she’s Muslim.
Meanwhile, rival publisher DC Comics recently brought out Nightrunner, an Algerian Muslim immigrant recruited by Batman, drawing charges from some American readers that DC is PC. Batman, they groused, should have deputized a native Frenchman.
And religion it self is a relatively new topic in the universe of comics, and Muslim superheroes - within Marvel or DC comics universe -  provide an added complexity to the plot:
For much of the Cold War, Lewis says, mainstream comics avoided religion and tended to use communists when they needed real-life villains. Then the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the 1979–1981 Iranian hostage crisis turned the comics’ gaze toward the Middle East, and the Hulk embarked on global adventures that included evil Arabs. But if that’s your scenario, Lewis says, you “do also have to opt for at least the token opposite…a token superhero,” and in 1980, the Hulk series introduced the Arabian Knight, “our first headlining, Middle Eastern superhero,” replete with a flying carpet and a scimitar that fired force beams and could pierce anything. He lasted about five years. The comics’ interest in Arab characters receded along with the price of oil in the late ’80s and the shift in national angst towards the rising economic sun of Japan.
Then came 9/11. While American interest in Islam led to Muslim heroes, Muslim villains (fictional ones, anyway) have been rare, which Lewis attributes in part to publishers “playing it safe,” not wanting to muck with either Islamophobia or offending potential customers. Frank Miller, creator of the Batman Dark Knight series, announced in 2006 that he was writing a graphic novel pitting the Caped Crusader against bin Laden. He later announced that he’d substituted a new superhero in the book, which he targeted for publication this year. It’s unclear how he’ll proceed in the wake of bin Laden’s death.
What is clear is that Muslims on the comics pages confront the conundrum of their flesh-and-blood counterparts: their community views them with suspicion. Lewis says non-Muslim heroes wonder, “Can they truly represent the American way? Could they really be on our side? When Dust joins the X-Men, these persecuted American mutants don’t really know if they can trust her. The comic book creators can have it both ways. They can present an altruistic Muslim hero, but also reflect the Islamophobia.”
Read the full article here. Also see this slideshow of Muslim superheroes.
Watch this video on YouTube


Anonymous said...

Excellent work! I like it. :-)

Larry Gilman said...

Interesting to note that that there have been at least two Catholic X-Men (Banshee and Nightcrawler, the latter a former seminarian), and that Ben Grimm, a.k.a. the Thing of the Fantastic Four, is Jewish: so much so that he recites the Sh'ma Yisrael over a dying man in Fantastic Four 56 (vol. 3).

The folowing website has a head-spinningly exhaustive tabulation of superhero religious affiliations, complete with supporting references, at

Wow! I mean, who knew that Supergirl was a Methodist?



Larry Gilman said...

Does that URL come through? I can't see the whole thing on my screen when the comment is displayed: it runs off the column and doesn't appear to be a live link.

Here it is in 2 shorter fragments that can be combined into a functional URL:


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