Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sharia-compliant superheroes

Why do I get a distinct feeling that this is not exactly Watchmen? In any case, here are The 99: Muslim superheroes and superheroines:
They are fighting for truth, justice and the Islamic way and are heading for your living room — prepare to say salaam to the world’s first Muslim superheroes.

The story follows a group of preternaturally gifted Muslims: The 99, each with a superpower that mirrors one of the 99 attributes of Allah.

The cast includes Jabbar, a Saudi Arabian Hulk-type figure with an improbable physique, and Darr the Afflicter, a paraplegic American who can manipulate nerve endings with his mind to trigger pain. There is also a character in a burka — Batina the Hidden.

Hmm...ok. By the way, also check out an earlier post about an artist who was painting superheroines in hijab. Now it is totally possible that this series (or perhaps a competitor) may provide an interesting commentary about the current economic and social conditions in the Muslim world. I haven't seen/read these comics - so can't tell their focus. I doubt if the creator of the comics will play with any theological themes - but it seems that ideal role models is the central theme (yup - there goes most of the interesting story lines...):

The resulting franchise — a blend of fact, classic “kapow”-style action and Dan Brown-esque hokum — has proved a hit from Morocco to Indonesia and was branded recently one of the top 20 trends sweeping the world by Forbes magazine.

Beneath the rollicking storylines, however, there is a serious subtext. The man behind The 99 is Dr Naif al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti who was a clinical psychologist previously.

Dr al-Mutawa said that the idea came to him while he was riding in a black cab in London from Edgware Road to Harrods, but its seed was sown years before when he worked at the survivors of political torture unit in Bellevue Hospital, New York. Many of the young men he treated were Iraqis who had fled after being tortured under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“It hit me that the stories I was hearing were from men who grew up believing that their leader, Saddam, was a hero, a role model — only to one day be tortured by him,” Dr al-Mutawa said. “I decided the Arab world needed better role models.”

Read the full story here (also you can see some graphics as well as an interview with The 99 creator here). By the way, you know this story is big when it shows up even on the celeb gossip site, (and yes, the source of the perezhilton tip shall remain anonymous :) ). Intriguingly, DC comics has also jumped in - and some of their superheroes/heroines, are expected to meet The 99. I think there is room for some fascinating discussion between the burka-clad Batina and Wonder Woman (hmm...definitely not in burka) - first set in Afghanistan and then in France.

On a related note, if you are interested in comics as well as well-written books, check out Michael Chabon's phenomenal The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.


Matthew said...

I saw that when it was mentioned on the BBC website, and I found it interesting enough to follow up on.

I downloaded the preview issue from their website. The premise was interesting although that genre of superhero comic doesn't really do much for me generally. But for that sort of thing, it was ok. I didn't feel like I was being beaten over the head with religious themes.

If the Islamic world and Islamic kids need role models, they could do worse than comic book heroes.

Christianity plays a role in comics actually -- certainly in underground comics -- although they serve different purposes. At one extreme you have Jack T. Chick's "educational" Chick Tracts, and at the other you have Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's "Preacher". (Neither is for the squeamish, and the latter is NSFW, and really horribly violent at times -- think Cormac McCarthy level.)

Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

I don't see anything religious in the theme of these superheroes. Just a change of name and appearances more suited to the prospected viewers/readers.

Matthew said...

By the way, Salman, this is only tangentially related, but have you seen Persepolis?

I only learned about it because of publicity about the "fan fiction"(?) version (Persepolis 2.0) which used the characters to talk about the Iranian election and crackdown. Both the original and the latter are beautiful work. I might track down the movie if I can find it.

Salman Hameed said...


Yes, I did see the movie, Persepolis. I think it is beautifully done (apparently it follows the book quite faithfully) - but I found the narrative to be a bit inconsistent. I loved the first act - and also the bits when she goes back to Iran and the impact of the Iran-Iraq war.

While on the topic of movies based on graphic novels, check out "Waltz with Bashir". It is very well done! Also, check out this short clip by the same director.

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