Thursday, October 28, 2010

On the challenges of writing a comic book about scary Forn Parts

I'm begging you, PLEASE forget that The 99 has Muslims in it. 

Forget that it was created by a Muslim professor specifically to give Muslim children some positive role models so they don't grow up thinking that the guys with exploding jackets are cool.  Forget that the concept, origin and themes of the book are based on the 99 aspects of Allah, and that similar concepts pervade the book.  Forget that it's staggeringly popular in other countries (Muslim and non), not only because it's entertaining, but because they have heroes that a Muslim child can look at and identify with.

Because let's face it, you don't know bugger-all about the Muslim religion, and if you didn't read in the paper that this was all so, you'd never know.

You know the story of Aladdin, Ali Baba and the other 999 nights?  Muslims.  Has anyone asked Disney to pull copies of their film off the shelves or stop showing off the characters in the theme parks?

The origin issue of The 99 starts at the fall of Baghdad; the Mongols overran the city, razed it utterly, and destroyed the most expansive library of the time, throwing the books in the Tigris river, the ink turning the river black. All that really happened.  The comic starts with the knowledge from the books being absorbed into 99 gems with the help of a magic potion.  The gems give the bearers superpowers.

Now that's a HELL of a White Event, and if you didn't get told that it had deliberate Muslim overtones you'd just think it was as cool as any version of the Thief of Baghdad with its flying carpets and giant genies.

This book has gotten almost no distribution in America.  I got ahold of the first few issues, and never saw another one.  I asked my local comic shop how many had come out; they thought they'd gotten the first mini-series done and that was it.  A check of the website shows that they've done twenty-five issues to date.  Two years of monthly issues, and I'll lay odds you won't be able to find a single copy of a single issue in a store near you, save MAYBE for the origin issue, because everybody picks up first issues.

Some people are starting to notice the limited distribution of the .  There's a guy on eBay trying to get upwards of 25 dollars for the first few issues of the book.  Bear in mind, they're all available digitally from the 99 website for $1.99 each. 

A full year ago, DC announced they'd be doing a crossover with The 99 and the JLA.  Y'all had a full year to learn about the characters.  How many did?  The talk show circuit glommed onto the idea that a Muslim Comic Book existed, and that Superman was to appear with them, and had to put on new shirts cause the drool stains looked horrible.  I really don't want to turn this into a tirade about the short-sighted way most people are seeing anything connected to Muslim culture but...well, if it walks like a camel, and spits like a camel...

I know I've rather buried the lead on this piece, but the lack of fair looks this book has been getting has infuriated me, and I really thought it needed venting.

The first issue of JLA / The 99 came out this week, and to be terribly honest, if you don't know dicky-bird about The 99 (and most of you don't), it won't make a lick of sense. Which is why at the very least you should download the origin issue FOR FREE from the 99 website. It takes place on Earth-Crossover; Superman is not on walkabout, Wonder Woman appears in her new costume but not in a dystopian landscape, and there's only one Batman.  The mini (and the regular series) is written by Fabian Nicieza and Stuart Moore, who as far as I know are not on any government watch lists.  It starts with a promising moment of cooperation that gangs quickly aglay, and ends with the tease of a new Noor Stone and new member of The 99.  The concept of intolerance being used as a weapon by the bad guys is an obvious direction to take the book, but Fabe & Stu keep it from becoming hammer-handed. The art by Tom Derenick and Drew Geraci is clean and impressive.  It is worth your time, as is the regular series.  They are doing a great job of showing that there are swarthy people in the world who do nopt want to blow us up.  We could do worse than to meet them half-way.

Similarly but less controversially, Paul Cornell is writing a book that is steeped in the mysticism and culture of a foreign country, is filled with references to its ancient practices, and is drop-dead awesome.  In his case, the country is England, and the book is Knight and Squire.  Grant Morrison brought back the Batmen Of Other Lands club in his R.I.P. arc, and K&S were the breakout stars.  Paul Cornell, who writes for Doctor Who, and was nominated for numerous awards after his Captain Britain title was canceled at Marvel, was handed the job of expanding the brief glimpse of Superhero Britain that Grant gave us, and he has run with it.  He plays England the way most Americans think of it - a strange land steeped in magic, strange accents, and tea.  The entire first issue takes place in a magical pub where the heroes and villains meet to drink and schmooze, protected from attacking each other by a magical spell.  The spell, of course, wears off.  In three pages he introduces more new characters than the average title does in a year of Wednesdays.  This is a book so full of creativity that it must be read standing up, for fear of spilling any.  Cornell is also doing a bang-up job on Action Comics, about which I have already kvelled.  He's about to take on Batman proper as well, and I expect that story to have a much darker bent, once again keeping the reader surprised as to how much he can do.

Both books do a great job of entertaining and letting you see other peoples and cultures without being pedantic about it.  Pick up on them.

1 comment:

  1. Talk about a comic that can make learning (about other cultures, in this case) fun! Thanks for spreading the word about THE 99 and KNIGHT AND SQUIRE!