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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No ...

... it's Jabber the Powerful, lead character "The 99," an Allah-inspired comic wildly popular in the Islamic world and set to make its TV debut.

SAN FRANCISCO — The animated creations of Kuwaiti cartoonist Naif al-Mutawa wear dashing, body-hugging outfits, though nothing like the super-tight tights and flamboyant capes so prominent in franchises like “Watchmen” and “Batman.” 

Yet Mutawa's creations “Noora the Light” and “Jabbar the Powerful” are so popular in the Islamic world that they are set to appear in their own TV series, joining “The Simpsons,” “The Boondocks” and other cartoon titles that have made the jump from the printed page to the television screen.

His TV breakthrough moment comes six years after a cab-ride epiphany that gave birth to the idea, and three years after his — indeed, the world's — first Islamic-inspired superheroes emerged in print. Collectively, Mutawa’s heroes are known as “The 99,” a title that references the 99 names that Muslims have for God. A Kuwaiti national, and a clinical psychologist with three master’s degrees and a doctorate (“I’m the only licensed psychologist in Kuwait”), Mutawa created his series to showcase the positive aspects of Arab and Muslim culture and Islam’s historic embrace of other religions’ intellectual traditions.

Noora, Jabbar and their fellow crime-busters aren’t depicted as a group of devout Muslims but as secular do-gooders from 99 countries who use the hidden power of special Baghdad gemstones to make the world right again.

“The 99” is Mutawa’s synthesis of East and West — the reflection of a 38-year-old man who was born and raised in a religious household in Kuwait City but who went to college in the United States and still spends part of each year in New York City. Many of the people who help Mutawa write and draw “The 99” are U.S. comic-book authors who’ve also worked on “Spider-man,” “Batman” and other mainstream titles.

“The series is very much based on global storylines,” says Mutawa, sitting at a Starbucks coffee house in San Francisco before heading off to address an Arabic culture group. “The gemstones (represent) Islamic knowledge, Christian knowledge, Jewish knowledge and knowledge from the Greek philosophers — from collective civilization.”

More than 500,000 copies of “The 99” are sold each year, and the comic is syndicated to newspapers in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where it was initially banned.