By Chris Irvine
Published: 8:39AM BST 06 Jul 2009
The 99, who personify the 99 attributes of Allah, are a creation of Teshkeel Comics in Kuwait, and will soon be appearing in a new mini-series collaborating with Justice League characters from DC comics.
The Kuwaiti comics, which sell about one million copies a year, are already popular in the Middle East with an animated film already commissioned. The first of several 99-based theme parks has already opened in Kuwait.
None of the characters pray or read the Koran, as they are meant to have equal appeal to children of all faiths. They do not wear disguises and unlike their DC counterparts, they are not outsiders with secret identities. They tend to be ordinary people who develop superhuman abilities after coming into contact with mystical gems.
Only Batina The Hidden, who has powers of invisibility and camouflage, wears a Burka. Other characters onlcude Darr the Afflicter, who is able to stimulate nerves associated with pain, and Bari the Healer who heals wounds and broken bones.
Paul Levitz, DC Comics’ president and publisher, said while comic book crossover was a regular occurrence, the cross-cultural project was unprecedented.
“It is a long-standing tradition for characters to meet others in the fictional world,” he said. “And over the years a lot of the superheroes have been translated into Arabic, taking on ethnic elements. But this is a nice step forward. The most difficult creative test is when you are working with the least precedent and when you’re trying to reach an audience that has a different cultural bias and different interests.”
The team behind the 99 comics include Fabian Nicieza, Stuart Moore, June Brigman, Dan Panosian and John McCrea, who have worked for comic book heavyweights DC and Marvel, the brand responsible for Spider-Man and X-Men.
Dr Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of The 99 and founder of Teshkeel Media, said he was unsure of the direction the mini-series would initially take.
“Are we going to have them working together from day one, or will they think the other is the enemy?” he said. “Enemy number one is fear. You could open it with Obama’s speech [in Cairo] with the two sets of superheroes watching it and having different reactions. There’s plenty of possibilities.”