The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Kuwaiti comics

The New York Times has yet another Arab comics story, this time inspired by the 99 attributes (or names) of God:

The story concerns 99 gems encoded with the wisdom of Baghdad just as the Mongols are invading the city in the 13th century - in his version, to destroy the city's knowledge. The gems are the source of not only wisdom but power, and they have been scattered across the world, sending some 20 superheroes (at least in the first year, leaving another 49 [sic] potential heroes for future editions) on a quest to find them before an evil villain does.

"To create the new, you have to tap into the old," Mr. Mutawa says of the deep historic connections in the comic. "The real goal is to teach kids that there's more than one way to solve a problem."

The characters in "The 99" are not all Arabs, but Muslims from all over the world. Jabbar, the enforcer, is a hulking figure from Saudi Arabia with the power to grow immense at a sneer; Mumita is a bombshell from Portugal with unparalleled agility and a degree of bloodlust; and Noora, from the United Arab Emirates, can read the truth in what people say and help them to see the truth in themselves. There is even a character who wears a burka, aptly called Batina, derived from the word meaning hidden.

But that is where religion stops and mythology begins, Mr. Mutawa says. "I don't expect Islamists to like my idea, and I don't want the ultraliberals to like it either," he says. So far, he has managed to get Kuwait's censors to approve the early mock-ups, he says. But to keep the orthodox at ease, he has included women in headscarves and plays it by the book as far as religion goes.
This guy seems to be quite serious about this, and has gotten people from Marvel to work on the project.