Superman, Batman, and... Mumita! - Islam Conqures Comic Book Genre ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Monday, August 23, 2010

Superman, Batman, and... Mumita! - Islam Conqures Comic Book Genre

A quick post: I've been noticing interesting mixtures of religion and popculture lately, mostly because I think people are wrong to believe that the appeal of popular culture exists only among certain brands of Christian Protestantism seen to be crassly consumerist and dumbed-down accomodationist. But the effort to remain lively and relevant are found among all religious orientations.

Enter the 99!

Created by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, the 99 is a comic book series in the style of Justice League or X-Men that unites a band of superpowered youth to bring peace into society under the leadership of the brilliant Dr. Ramzi.

The backstory returns to the Middle East, the attempt to preserve a library of knowledge being destroyed by war, and a mystical-chemical process of inscribing knowledge into 99 gemstones. Fast-forward to our modern day, and our heroes discover their powers and their brilliant mentor form a team to save the world.

The "origins issue" can be downloaded online.

The writers freely draw on allusions of other successful comic book series. After all, they want to be successful and believe they can learn from the models of the greatest characters created in the past century.

But perhaps the most interesting is the upfront attempt to introduce comic book heroes that reflect the virtues of Islam and are consistent with beliefs of Muslims worldwide. This makes the development of this graphic art series ripe for sociological study: how do the comic book creators fashion an Islamic-friendly graphic that can appeal to the various, globally-diffused orientations within Islam?

I've not read much of the series, so I have yet to see blatant reference to prayers or readings from sacred texts. At most, someone online has already joked about Wonder Woman being "fully clothed" in an forthcoming six-issue team-up with DC comics JLA in October. Besides this, it is hard to tell just how "religious" this series will be.

But I do know this: What is special about the number 99? Why are there 99 gemstones and 99 heroes? Because the characters are intended to display the 99 attributes of Allah.

Just like the Hollywood Christians I write about in my book Hollywood Faith, the series is intended to support and accentuate religious values. Yet it is intended to do so in a way that is unobtrusive to telling a good story. When you read the last page of the "origins issue," the creator is clear that the comic is intended for a Muslim audience, fashioned in what he calls an "East-Meets-West" fashion that combines the fierce independence of heroes of the West (Superman, Batman, Spiderman) and the team-work comeraderie of the East (a la Pokeman).

More on the use of popculture in the Arab world is found in a talk given by Shereen El Feki.

Overall, the intent is to correct the view of Islam as an intolerant religion through a humble framework, accessible to children. There is even a 99 theme park in Kuwait prominently displaying the heroes as awe inspiring icons. According to this news story, this is the Middle East's first theme park.

And while success is hard to measure, the comic is already translated in various languages, is conveniently available online for digital download, has already been put into a computer animated format, is teaming with other important comic book publishers, receiving good media attention, and the creator is committed to making this bold venture a striking presence on the global stage.

Watch a TED talk from the creator and more on the comic book series.

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