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... 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.
Muslim clerics believed that the comics were antithetical to Islam since the human superheroes take their names (like “The Powerful” and “The Light”) from those attributed to Allah. Plus, “Noora,” “Hadya the Guide” and many of the other crime-fighting women in “The 99” don’t wear hijab or other conservative religious garments.
Mutawa has swayed Muslim critics with his view that “The 99” is an affirming outgrowth of “Islamic archetypes.” (To get into the Saudi Arabian market, it didn’t hurt that a prominent Islamic investment bank — on whose board sit seven Muslim scholars — gave al-Mutawa its blessing by investing $18 million in “The 99.”)
For such fans as Blake M. Petit, a high-school teacher and comic-book columnist in Ama, Louisiana, “The 99” is an ideal blend of thrilling, superhero adventures and Arab and Muslim culture. The series’ first issue, for example, originates the gemstones at the famous Baghdad library (Dar al-Hikma) that the Mongols sacked in 1258. In Mutawa’s reimagining, a modern-day foundation — led by a Unesco official named Dr. Ramzi Razem — enlists Jabbar and other “gem-bearers” who’ve been transformed by the stones’ ancient power. An evil nemesis named Rughal is also after the stones and their incubators.
“The thing that really appeals to me is that it’s very classic superhero storytelling that’s appropriate for all ages,” Petit told GlobalPost. “I enjoy the backdrop that comes from Arabic or Islamic culture, but it’s not a comic book about ‘Islamic superheroes.’ It doesn’t cross that line ... where it starts to preach. That’s to me when it would lose my interest. But the backdrop is rich. And it’s more about the plot and characters than it is about the setting.”
Mutawa had previously written a children’s book, “To Bounce or Not to Bounce,” that taught children to understand different cultures. While training as a clinical psychologist, he worked at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital in its survivors-of-political-torture program.
Weeks before his fateful cab trip, Mutawa graduated with an MBA from Columbia University. “I was in the cab with my mother and sister, going from Edgware Road to Harrods," Mutawa recalls, "and my sister turned to me and said, ‘I remember you told me you’d go back to writing after school.’
“I shrugged her off and said, ‘For me to go back now, it’s got to be a concept that has the potential of ‘Pokemon.’ I have my Ph.D. and three master’s degrees. Otherwise, it won’t make sense for me.’ It worked — she shut up. But because there’s now a vacuum in silence, I look out the window and started thinking.