The 99 Comes to America

This week DC Comics, the same comic book company that churns out Wonder Woman and Superman comic books will publish a set of six crossover issues featuring The 99, a group of Islamic superheroes who will be fighting along with the Justice League of America.

The 99 have been in print since 2007 and are continuing to garner attention from Muslim and non-Muslim fans.  Forbes Magazine named the series “One of the Top 20 Trends Sweeping the Globe” and   the series creator, Dr. Naïf Al-Mutawa was recently named as one of “The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World” by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center of Jordan.

With characters like Hadya “The Guide”, a 17-year-old Pakistani girl with superhuman abilities to track and locate or Fattah “The Opener”, an Indonesian man who has the ability to manipulate the space-time continuum, these are bona fide superheroes with super human abilities.  The only difference is that their characters are based on Islamic ideals.

That’s not to say that these are “Islamic” stories.  Dr. al-Mutawa prefers to call his characters “inspired by Islam”.  The majority of the female heroes do not wear head coverings (although at least one of them does wear a burka) but both genders stay away from the usual skin-tight-every-curve-revealing suits that most western superheroes wear.

The series boasts an unprecedented diversity among its characters.  Different ages, races, cultures and genders are represented as heroes, far more often than you will ever see in western comic books.  As a true reflection of the global Muslim population, the characters are drawn to accentuate their differences, which as it turns out, are also their greatest strengths.

In a interview last year, Dr. al-Mutawa elaborated on the differences between The 99 and western style superheroes:

“The American superheroes wear red, white and blue. Spiderman’s red, white and blue. Captain America’s red, white and blue.  So THE 99 are from 99 different countries. There’s a hero that represents each country, and each is equal in terms of strength but different in terms of their attributes. It’s the circumstance that dictates the ability to solve a particular problem, not who are, where you’re from, what your dad does, how much money you have or what passport you carry. It’s more the context. This problem requires these skills. So it democratizes, if you will, the idea of a superhero. It’s about teams, not about individuals. It’s a group culture, not an individual culture. You know Superman and Batman are very much based on western archetypes. It’s the Achilles heel-type of hero. He’s got all powers but kryptonite brings him down.  Very western.”

The first of the six DC collaboration issues
hits the stands on Wednesday, October 27, 2010.

                                Amanda Quraishi

Amanda is a freelance writer, professional blogger and community activist in Austin, Texas.