In line with our discussions about how to get more positive images of Muslims in popular culture, it’s tremendously disappointing that DC has axed a storyline about Superman working with a Muslim superhero based out of Los Angeles — in favor of a story about a superpowered dog. I kid you not.
It’s especially sad given how timely this would have been. Sharif is an existing character, an immigrant from the fictional Middle Eastern country of Qurac who has worked with Superman in the past under the name Sinbad, so it’s not as if he’s some insanely risky new creation. If anything, he’s a nice callback for devoted fanboys, one, whom as we can see in this cover, is willing to sacrifice himself to save Americans. It could have been particularly valuable to have a character who is not just Muslim but an immigrant to point out the similarities between Islamophobia and anti-migrant sentiment, particularly if that story dropped at the very moment that a major piece in a national magazine was forcing a conversation about how we treat immigrants, especially undocumented ones. Also, given the superheroes-begone trend of recent movies ranging from The Incredibles, to Watchmen, to X-Men: First Class, an installment where people want to get rid of a superhero for specific reasons other than the simple fact of his powers would be both of a piece with trends in superhero stories and a useful framework for analyzing irrational fears about Muslims in America.
Comic books probably have more leeway than most media to take on risky issues. Folks who are buying comics regularly are devoted enough to handle a single issue on something they don’t like. The potential for a bump in sales with an issue that tells a more relevant story or that ropes in new audiences is high. This would have been a tiny gesture, nothing even as remotely controversial as Superman’s giving up his citizenship, a storyline the Man of Steel seems to have survived.