Graphic novels have come to occupy a highly respected position, defying stereotypes that suggest that comics are strictly for children by building a long and sophisticated tradition.
Outside of the realm of blockbusters, printing presses in the US have churned out countless copies for comic empires that have withstood the test of time. Major graphic companies, such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics, publish weekly issues, which are subsequently compiled into volumes to create full-fledged narratives.
Yet, alongside the more familiar faces of the two comic heavyweights, such as the X-Men and Superman, Muslim characters in US literature have also maintained a presence to be reckoned with for decades.
Kamala Khan: The First Muslim Heroine
Contrary to the overwhelming trend for Muslim characters appearing in the US comics in secondary roles, Pakistani Kamala Khan was the first Muslim superhero to win her own series in 2014.
Khan first appeared in the Captain Marvel series in August 2014, under the name of Ms. Marvel. Later, in October 2014, a series appeared under her name, winning major international accolades and awards as the best graphic novel for 2015, most notably the Hugo Award, considered the most prestigious award in the world of science fiction and comics.
The series has recorded tremendous sales, prompting Marvel to include Kamala Khan in the Civil War II series, featuring the second epic standoff between Marvel heroes, this time with the Avengers facing off against the X-Men.
Thus, Kamala Khan appeared in series alongside Captain America, Wolverine, Spiderman Man, Iron Man and the rest of the Marvel superverse in 2016.
Amahl Farouk: The Egyptian Supervillain
In 1971, a supervillain named Amahl Farouk appeared in the X-Men universe. He was dubbed Shadow King, and was classified as one of the most evil supervillains in the world of the X-Men. He feeds on negative energy from the proliferation of evil, war, and hatred throughout the world, inciting wars in nefarious ways.
Farouk is one of the few villains with Wolverine's immortality superpower, which gave Marvel's authors the opportunity to write series in which Farouk appeared in historical events. He faced off against Wolverine in series such as X-Men: True Friends in 1999, when Farouk tried to appoint a Nazi king to Britain, after King Edward stepped down, to form an alliance with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler against the world. Wolverine thwarted his attempts in the narrative, which was set in the 1930s.
Farouk became the first Egyptian supervillain to appear in the Marvel superverse in the 1970s, requiring the X-Men to intervene on more than one occasion in Cairo.
What is particularly noteworthy about the character is his family name, as well as his physical stature and red tarbouche. The authors seem to suggest that he is of royal lineage, namely a descendant of King Farouk, the Egyptian monarch who was overthrown by the Egyptian Free Officers Movement on July 23, 1952.
Monet St. Croix: Confronting Racism in America
Coinciding with the Serbian massacres against the people of Bosnia, the character of Monet St. Croix appeared as a mutant in the X-Men universe. St. Croix is a Muslim born in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, from a French father and an Algerian mother. Her own background thus draws from Bosnian, Yugoslavian, Algerian, and French roots.
Monet St. Croix possesses superpowers such as telekinesis and telepathy, and the X-Men rush to rescue her from the Serbs.
In 2011, Marvel's authors revived the character to address issues relating to Islamophobia in the US, drawing praise from critics and boosting X-Men sales.
Sooraya Qadir: An Afghan with a Burka
With the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the X-Men travelled to Kabul to rescue a young woman named Sooraya Qadir, who has the ability to stir up dust storms, after she was captured by a trafficking gangs and sold on the market.
Sooraya Qadir appeared for the first time in December 2002, however attracting a great deal of criticism, as many argued that her extraordinary abilities were enough to allow her to free herself from the Afghan gangs. Moreover, she spoke Arabic, rather than any of the languages indigenous to Afghanistan, and even the burka she wears appears in the Saudi style, rather than the Afghan blue burka.
However, Marvel's authors were credited with providing a positive image of Muslim women, especially after Sooraya Qadir returned to the US with Wolverine and was named Dust Storm, and has continued working with the X-Men until today.
How have Muslims been depicted in the DC and Marvel universes?
Alongside more familiar superheroes, such as Wolverine and Batman, comic books have a long history of Muslim heroes and villains.
Arabian Knight: The Hulk’s Saudi Sidekick
In the early 1980s, The Incredible Hulk series witnessed an important development with the appearance of Abdul Qamar, under the name of Arabian Knight, alongside the former Mossad officer Sabra, both of whom work alongside the Hulk. At the time, readers wondered why a Saudi hero and an Israeli hero had been placed in league with one another.
The narrative later evolved to include Iron Man and She-Hulk in the literary series in 1981, adding to its literary weight and raising sales figures.
Readers who were enthusiastic about Arabian Knight nicknamed him the Robin of Saudi Arabia, in reference to Robin, Batman’s sidekick in the famous DC series.
Damian Wayne: Batman’s Muslim Son
In June 1971, Ra's al Ghul appeared for the first time in Batman's world, after DC Comics realized that the audience had had its fill with the Joker, Riddler, and Penguin, whom he had been fighting for three decades.
As head of the League of Darkness, Ra’s al Ghul trained Bruce Wayne to become Batman, before Batman turned against him and gathered his forces to fight Ra’s al Ghul. However, in subsequent issues, Batman fathers a child with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, Talia al Ghul, an on-and-off love interest throughout the series.
Appearing for the first time in 2006, their son, Damian Wayne (also known as Damian al Ghul), becomes the fifth Robin in the Batman series, after the original Robin, Dick Grayson, becomes Nightwing.
Damian is wracked by an internal conflict, between choosing to follow in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather and his father. Finally, he sides with his father and becomes Damian Wayne in August 2009.
In keeping with the use of Arabic terms in the Ra’s al Ghul storyline, the first appearance of Batman's offspring was in a comic titles Ibn al Xu’ffasch (literally “Son of the Bat”), marking the first US comic book to be titled in Arabic.
Faiza Hussain: Captain Britain’s Doctor
In 2008, the British Muslim Faiza Hussain appeared in hijab, in the series focusing on Captain Britain, the UK counterpart of Captain America.
After earning great popularity among readers, she was included in the Secret Wars storyline in 2015, appearing under the codename Excalibur, alongside the X-Men, Spiderman, the Hulk, and others.
X-Men Go Head-to-Head with Saddam Hussein’s Cronies
Maintaining the tradition of comic series inspired by real-life events, and following the formation of the international coalition to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion and the launch of its military operations in early 1991, Marvel issued a series called New Mutants in the world of the X-Men. A group of the X-Men travels to occupied Kuwait to liberate a German scientist who is kidnapped by the Iraqi occupiers.
Yet, Wolverine and his colleagues face a surprise in occupied Kuwait. The Iraqi regime has experimented on humans, taking its cue from the practices of certain Western governments, and producing a team of mutants with extraordinary abilities, in league with the powers of some X-Men. The team is dubbed Desert Sword, and operates under the orders of Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi team includes the Veil, a chemical scientist capable of attacking clouds with poisonous gases, as well as the Arabian Knight, though we later learn that he is working as a double agent.
Critics however denounced the series as orientalist, due to its depiction of the Arab characters, in particular the depiction of Veil is a revealing outfit with veiled hair and face.
Batman Saves Tel Aviv from Hezbollah
In December 1988, Batman moves beyond US territory and, with Robin's help, hunts down Hezbollah cells seeking to buy sophisticated weapons from an arms dealer in Ethiopia. The Hezbollah cells aim to use the weapons to hit Tel Aviv, while the Joker mediates between the Hezbollah and the Ethiopian gang.
Batman succeeds in thwarting the deal. In a melodramatic turn of events, Robin (Jason Todd) is killed by the Joker while seeking to put an end to the deal.
It is one of the very few times in which a hero of the comics is killed in battle. Batman brings the body from Addis Ababa and Jason Todd is buried in the Wayne family burial grounds.