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Wednesday, January 05, 2011 

Israeli site reports on the JLA/99 subject

Israel National News writes about DC's intellect-insulting collaboration with the Kuwaiti company that's behind "The 99", the comic that whitewashes the Religion of Peace. While the article is a bit awkward in that it's talking about the miniseries 3 months after it actually got published, it's still got a lot to think about, and if The Hub is going to broadcast the cartoon based on the comic from Kuwait, then the article could certainly coincide with that. The prime focus here is on how Superman, a character created by a pair of Jewish writers/artists, has ended up becoming involved with a religion that's an enemy of his creators' race. They say:
For comic book fans, it's the irony to end all ironies: Superman, created by two Jewish artists and rife with Jewish themes and imagery, is hooking up with a band of Muslim superheroes to pursue truth, justice, and the Muslim way – which would presumably include putting an end to the existence of Israel, a basic religious tenet of jihadi Islam. But as a member of the Justice League of America and the property of DC Comics, Superman apparently has little say in the matter, and he, along with Batman, Aquaman, and other JLA members, will be featured in the adventures of a group called “The 99.” Already a popular print product in the Gulf states, "The 99" is coming to the U.S., and has even been developed into a TV series for new U.S. kids' cable network, The Hub.

"The 99" is the brainchild of Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, founder and C.E.O. of Kuwait's Teshkeel Media Group. “The 99” consists of 99 teenagers from around the world, each of whom bears an Arabic name from the Koran that reflects one of the 99 attributes of Allah, as recorded in the Koran. The comic itself first appeared in 2006 in Arabic, and an English language version was produced for the U.S. a year later (nearly 30 issues have been released in the U.S. already). A movie has been rumored, and last year a theme park – one of several planned – based on the The 99's characters opened in Kuwait.

In a number of interviews, Al-Mutawa has said that in the group's adventures, he tries to avoid religious content exclusive to Islam, and instead concentrates on universal virtues, such as the fight against evil, cooperation, and friendship, which he sees as Islamic values as well. Al-Mutawa recruited several veterans of the comics industry – longtime artists who worked for DC and Marvel Comics – to work with him on The 99. In a recent interview, he said that he had a hard time convincing some of the artists to work with him, given the attitude of many Americans to Islam in the wake of 9/11. “To assuage fears that this wasn’t an Islamist project, I bought the satire magazine ‘Cracked,’” among the most irreverent humor comics in North America, Al-Mutawa said in the interview. “This was able to convince a lot of people that my motives were not religious, and that I was seriously committed to the project.”

However, the matter is not that simple, says one experienced comic book connoisseur who spoke with Israel National News. Reviewing the first copy of The 99's adventures, entitled “Origins,” Mark Ginsberg found it rife with Islamic religious imagery. “There are clear references to the Great Mosque in Mecca, Islamic symbols, and the birth of an Islamic savior who will redeem the lands Islam lost to the Christians in Europe, if not fight the final battle with evil.”
I think that certainly tells that, even if this blatant book doesn't contain some of the most disturbing verses from the Koran/Hadith (which actually makes it even more effective a propaganda tool if it turns up in western schools), which include chillers like "Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like" - Sura 2:223, it could still contain even subtle forms of deception (known in the Islamic world as "taqqiya").

And al-Mutawa's claim that he bought a copy of Cracked isn't very clear either: Cracked published its last print edition at least 4 years ago, and since then anything this MAD clone's had to publish is only online (I only read Cracked once in my lifetime, and never found it as appealing as MAD). So unless he bought a back issue, this is not clear, and I don't think it proves much on his side either.

The INN article also tells that:
Most troubling for Superman, he says, are the scenes in the series that take place in Jeddah and Mecca. “With his Jewish roots, Superman wouldn't even be allowed into those cities altogether, as Jews are banned from the holy cities of Islam,” Ginsberg said.
Now this is interesting. It could certainly be said that, if Superman is a Jewish creation, then some of the most hardcore Islamofascists might actually dislike the idea of his turning up at the House of Saud, where Jews are not allowed in real life. And Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators, as people of Jewish background, most definitely wouldn't be allowed to enter Saudi Arabia. Nor in fact would Bob Kane, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Julius Schwartz, Stan Lee, Mort Weisinger, Gil Kane, Marv Wolfman, and at least several other names that would take too long to list for now. Come to think of it, even fictional characters like Al Rothstein (Nuklon/Atom Smasher) and Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat), who are characterized with Jewish descent, wouldn't be allowed into Saudi Arabia, and a story featuring them would likely be despised by any Muslim segregationist.

In fact, this whole thing could actually have the opposite effect of what al-Mutawa (whose name may derive from an Arabic word for "religious policeman") allegedly wants it to have, no matter how much he supports Hamas, as mentioned here. (Update: I'd read it too quickly at first, but the article is actually referring to another man al-Mutawa was speaking with. It doesn't mean any concerns about al-Mutawa aren't valid, but still, it's a good idea to make a correction where needed.) I'm not sure there's that many Muslims who actually read comics like DC/Marvel's, and the more hardcore the Muslims are, the less likely they are to read a miniseries co-starring characters created by people they don't like. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, this can certainly be the case, and Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Somalia may not be far behind. There is severe censorship in many of the most viciously shariah-enforced regimes that bans clear female imagery as much as Jewish ones. So al-Mutawa's collaboration could just as well be shunned in many Islamic regimes regardless.

Some more history is given here on the inspirations Superman contains for his origins:
The question of Superman's Jewish roots has been debated for decades – with many observers pointing to the facts and philosophy of the Superman story for proof. According to the story, Superman was saved from the dying world of Krypton when his parents bundled him up in a small craft and set him adrift – a clear reference, many observers say, to the story of Moses.

“It took place in (Krypton's) 25th century,” comic book artist Alan Oirich writes – comparable to the Jewish year of 2448, the year Moses was sent down the Nile in the hope that he would be saved from the destruction he, as a Jewish male infant, would otherwise have faced at the hands of Pharaoh. “Like Moses' mother Yocheved before him, Superman's father, Jor-El, saved his baby son from doom by placing him in a small conveyance (a mini-spaceship) and sending him off to be adopted, to be raised with an assumed identity and become a hero known the world over,” Oirich writes, exploring other themes in the story showing that Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – themselves the children of Jewish immigrants to a new world – had in mind a Jewish superhero.

“Superman is Kal-El, a member of the family that had been known on Krypton as "The House of El," in Hebrew Beit El, which means 'The House of G-d,'” Oirich writes. “The story has been told that 16-year-olds Siegel and Shuster didn't work on their comic strip on Thursday nights. They had nothing to draw on. Mama Shuster needed her challah board.”

In the original episodes that appeared in the 1930s and 1940s, Oirich continues, Superman didn't fly much; “his first encounters with criminals -- and with Nazis -- in the 30s and 40s had him behaving more like Samson than the Superman we know today. Mostly land bound, he lifted cars and tanks and shook out the bad guys. Bullets couldn't hurt him, but exploding mortar shells could.” In fact, he adds, original drawings of Superman by Joe Shuster has Superman wearing not the red boots he is now associated with – but sandals laced up to his calf, Samson-style.
Yes, this does make some sense that Samson was an inspiration, and this history page also mentions the sandals. And that's one more reason why the JLA/99 miniseries is a disgrace. The article says at the end:
Now, however, Jewish Superman is set to undergo an identity change, or, at the very least, to become close friends with The 99. “It's hard to see Superman, of all characters, being recruited to help Muslims,” says comic book fan Ginberg. “Whatever Superman's views on Israel, he was an ardent enemy of the Nazis – unlike the Muslims, who still, today, keep Mein Kampf at the top of the bestseller list.”
Let's remember of course, that this is the fault of the writers, editors and publishers, for associating themselves with fiends who truly have no respect for the properties they're in charge of. If I were Siegel or Shuster, and I knew the company now holding their creation prisoner was doing this, I'd be spinning in my grave. The miniseries may have been a fiasco, and DC published it with little or no fanfare in the end, yet it's still a serious disgrace, and one more reason why I can't be too bothered if the estates of Siegel/Shuster filed a suit to win back the main rights to their creation. They've actually done the right thing - DC has gone so far out of their way to abuse past people's creations that eventually, they're going to lose the rights to the entire stable, and deservedly so.

Update: I may have found something about al-Mutawa that can raise eyebrows and tell that something is wrong with him: this 2010 interview in The Atlantic, which contains the following:
You've said that you hope that The 99 provides a less threatening face of Islam to non-Muslims. But what do you hope it achieves within the Muslim world?

A year ago, I gave a lecture at the medical school in Kuwait on the biological basis of behavior. I gave my students a copy of two articles--one from The New York Times and one from New York Magazine--but I removed the name of the reporter, the actor, where it took place. The first article was about a group who wanted to ban Valentine's Day. The second article was about a woman who was complaining that a man she didn't know started to talk to her, pinched her son's cheek, told her he was cute. Then he walked off and some vans pulled up; six bearded men jumped out and interrogated this woman.

I asked my students where they thought these incidents took place. They all said the first incident was in Saudi Arabia. For the second story, the students were torn between Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. It blew their minds when I told them that the first incident took place in India and the second one took place in upstate New York at an ultra-orthodox Jewish community. This is what broke my heart: In the situation in India, people being interviewed, called that behavior "Talibanization." In other words, this is Islam's influence on Hinduism. We don't act this way with Hinduism, said the people in the article. In the second example, the woman called the men "stupid Talibans." Again, this is not Jewish behavior; it is coming from the Muslim world. But my students said, "it is us."

This is what I fear. This is very, very problematic. With The 99, the idea is that we have gone back to the same places from where other people have pulled very negative one-sided fascist messages and created a multicultural theme park. When you have the happy-go-lucky stuff that is based on the same source as the extremism, your average is going to be pushed in a different direction. It confuses the system. That is where I think the impact will come from.
An important note should be made about the latter article they provided from NY Mag that al-Mutwa didn't explain: the women interviewed there left a Satmar community in upstate New York where she felt belittled. And as they say in the article itself:
“The Lubavitchers, they have a joy about them. The Satmars are nuts. They tell you the State of Israel shouldn’t exist because the Messiah hasn’t come yet, that the Holocaust was God’s way of punishing Jews for Zionism. It makes you sick.”
You can say that again! If there's any religious community that doesn't deserve to be called "Hasidic" if it derives from positive words, it's the Satmars. They really are a thorn in the side of Judaism and the Jewish state. It's their very twisted beliefs that are exactly why the Messiah is kept from coming. The Lubavichers/Chabad movement may not be perfect, but are a lot more respectable of freedom to choose how to run your life than the Satmars are.

And this is what al-Mutawa doesn't make a distinction about, otherwise making a cryptic, subtle statement that villifies Jews and Hindus while living in denial about his own Religion of Peace. Anyone concerned about al-Mutawa and his propaganda may want to take a good look at this worrisome piece from the Atlantic, which bears more than a hint of taqqiya about it.

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In fact, this whole thing could actually have the opposite effect of what al-Mutawa (whose name may derive from an Arabic word for "religious policeman") allegedly wants it to have, no matter how much he supports Hamas, as mentioned here.

Actually, Avi, over a year ago I misread that same passage incorrectly from the linked article ... just as you have. al-Mutawa is NOT a Hamas supporter. Here's the passage in question:

The conviction was reinforced by children’s literature that was circulating in the Middle East. When Dr al-Mutawa visited potential financial backers he took a newspaper article that described the popularity in Nablus, a city under the rule of the Palestinian National Authority, of a sticker book known as the Intifada Album.

It depicted weeping Palestinian mothers, Israeli tanks and wounded children. Captions included: “Let me die a martyr, my glorious homeland is calling.”

The book’s creator, a Hamas supporter who had sold 40,000 albums and 12 million stickers in four months, brushed off accusations that he was inciting hatred, saying: “There is no escaping the everyday reality of the intifada.”

Dr al-Mutawa, a father of five boys, disagreed. “This is not what I envisage for my children,” he said.

You see, the "book" in question is not al-Mutawa's creation, but the sticker book he read about, the "Intifada Album." A reader of my old comics blog pointed this out to me, and he's indeed correct.

This doesn't invalidate in any way the rest of your excellent post here. But we should be fair to al-Mutawa in this respect.

Yes, I see what you mean; I also read the part too quickly to notice that. I'll write a correction into the post.

Actually, Cracked continues as a website, only instead of parodies they do humorous articles. (My Sunday "Weekly Wrap-Up feature includes a link to an article relating to my site's theme, because I usually find them funny and interesting.) Maybe he bought the site? I haven't heard, but that seems like a long way to go to push this comic.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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