The Washington Post has an interesting story about the trouble the creator of Islam-inflected (though not explicitly Islamic) superhero comics The 99 has had getting a cartoon adaptation of the comics aired in the United States. I think it’s probably likely that, as one supporter of the show says, “The Hub [the network that bought the show] clearly expressed that, as a relatively new network, they simply could not afford any risks…This was not something they had initially anticipated when they bought the rights to ‘THE 99’ but was, in fact, an unfortunate reality of the current political climate in America.” Professional Muslim-bashers like Pam Geller, who has inveighed against the show despite the fact that it never explicitly mentions religion or religious law, have a deeply unfortunate amount of influence.
But I also think, as much as I like the idea of Muslim superheroes and flexible, multi-use Muslim archetypes more generally, that The 99 may not be entirely ready for prime time, at least based on what they’re putting out there in a seven-minute promotional trailer for the show:
The animation’s a couple notches above Taiwanese animation dramatizations of the news, but the visuals aren’t overwhelming. The history is intriguing — there are actual precedents for the Noor stones, and highlighting the history of scholarship in the Muslim world, the Muslim history in Spain, and suggesting that Muslims can be victims of Islamic terrorism is, and from a larger war of ideas perspective, an important point to make. But when a villain is so grindingly obvious as to declare that the people who deserve to rule the world are “the ones who are willing to crush dissent and impose their will on the mindless masses,” it’s hard for even someone like me to roll my eyes at the political overload.
And I wonder if the franchise has maybe just gone too big. Ninety-nine characters is a lot of powers to invent, and an even vaster number of characters to make believable and compelling in a way that will make readers invest in them. There are a ridiculous number of mutants now, but the X-Men started out with a fairly small cast of heroes and villains and built from there.