x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Muslim heroes are beginning to take their place in US comics

The Pakistani-born, Minnesota-based computer scientist Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, who runs a blog called Islam and Science Fiction, says there's been a recent flowering of Muslim superheroes in American comics.

The Algerian superhero Nightrunner, who fights crime alongside Batman. Courtesy DC Comics
The Algerian superhero Nightrunner, who fights crime alongside Batman. Courtesy DC Comics

On the Saturday evening of the New York Comic Con held last October, a packed crowd of New Yorkers cheered and nodded as a panel described their experiences as non-white fans of sci-fi and fantasy, often feeling discriminated against or invisible. Many of the audience were dressed as their favourite characters: there was a couple who had come as juvenile delinquents from the British show Misfits; a teenage Batgirl; and one Indian-American attendee who was “Captain India”, a home-made Captain America with a turban and a green-and-orange shield.

Among those contributing to the panel, titled Geeks of Color Assemble!, was a Pakistani-born, Minnesota-based computer scientist called Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, who runs a blog called Islam and Science Fiction. He painted a mixed picture of the way that Arabs and Muslims are portrayed in mainstream geek culture: on one hand, he says, they are still “the quintessential ‘other’” and often presented in opposition with the West; on the other, writers have become much more sensitive in the past decade and there has been a recent flowering of Muslim superheroes in American comics.

These include such Marvel and DC heroes as Nightrunner, an Algerian free-runner who teamed up with Batman; Simon Baz, a Lebanese-­American member of the Green Lantern Corps, whose story begins when he’s a child watching the events of September 11 on television; and Dust, an Afghan member of Young X-Men who wears a niqab and turns herself into a sandstorm to take revenge on the slave traders who kidnapped her.

“There’s a general movement towards humanising Muslims,” Ahmad said. Anglophone sci-fi has yet to reach the point where the beliefs and culture of Muslim characters are presented as just one aspect of a multifaceted personality, he contends, but “we are getting there”.

artslife@thenational.ae