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  • In October 2010,

  • the Justice League of America will be teaming up with The 99.

  • Icons like Batman,

  • Superman, Wonder Woman and their colleagues

  • will be teaming up with icons Jabbar, Noora,

  • Jami and their colleagues.

  • It's a story of intercultural intersections,

  • and what better group

  • to have this conversation

  • than those that grew out of fighting fascism

  • in their respective histories and geographies?

  • As fascism took over Europe in the 1930s,

  • an unlikely reaction came out of North America.

  • As Christian iconography got changed,

  • and swastikas were created out of crucifixes,

  • Batman and Superman were created by Jewish young men

  • in the United States and Canada,

  • also going back to the Bible.

  • Consider this:

  • like the prophets, all the superheroes

  • are missing parents.

  • Superman's parents die on Krypton

  • before the age of one.

  • Bruce Wayne, who becomes Batman,

  • loses his parents at the age of six in Gotham City.

  • Spiderman is raised

  • by his aunt and uncle.

  • And all of them, just like the prophets who get their message

  • from God through Gabriel,

  • get their message from above.

  • Peter Parker is in a library in Manhattan

  • when the spider descends from above

  • and gives him his message through a bite.

  • Bruce Wayne is in his bedroom

  • when a big bat flies over his head,

  • and he sees it as an omen to become Batman.

  • Superman is not only sent to Earth

  • from the heavens, or Krypton,

  • but he's sent in a pod, much like Moses was on the Nile.

  • (Laughter)

  • And you hear the voice of his father, Jor-El,

  • saying to Earth, "I have sent to you my only son."

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • These are clearly biblical archetypes,

  • and the thinking behind that was to create

  • positive, globally-resonating storylines

  • that could be tied to the same things

  • that other people were pulling mean messages out of

  • because then the person that's using religion for the wrong purpose

  • just becomes a bad man with a bad message.

  • And it's only by linking positive things

  • that the negative can be delinked.

  • This is the kind of thinking that went into

  • creating The 99.

  • The 99 references the 99 attributes of Allah in the Koran,

  • things like generosity and mercy and foresight and wisdom

  • and dozens of others that no two people in the world would disagree about.

  • It doesn't matter what your religion is;

  • even if you're an atheist, you don't raise your kid telling him, you know,

  • "Make sure you lie three times a day."

  • Those are basic human values.

  • And so the backstory of The 99

  • takes place in 1258,

  • which history tells us the Mongols invaded Baghdad and destroyed it.

  • All the books from Bait al-Hikma library,

  • the most famous library in its day, were thrown in the Tigris River,

  • and the Tigris changes color with ink.

  • It's a story passed on generation after generation.

  • I rewrote that story,

  • and in my version, the librarians find out that this is going to happen --

  • and here's a side note:

  • if you want a comic book to do well, make the librarians the hero. It always works well.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • So the librarians find out

  • and they get together a special solution, a chemical solution called King's Water,

  • that when mixed with 99 stones

  • would be able to save all that culture and history in the books.

  • But the Mongols get there first.

  • The books and the solution get thrown in the Tigris River.

  • Some librarians escape, and over the course of days and weeks,

  • they dip the stones into the Tigris and suck up that collective wisdom

  • that we all think is lost to civilization.

  • Those stones have been smuggled as three prayer beads

  • of 33 stones each

  • through Arabia into Andalusia in Spain, where they're safe for 200 years.

  • But in 1492, two important things happen.

  • The first is the fall of Granada,

  • the last Muslim enclave in Europe.

  • The second is Columbus finally gets funded to go to India, but he gets lost.

  • (Laughter)

  • So 33 of the stones are smuggled

  • onto the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria

  • and are spread in the New World.

  • Thirty-three go on the Silk Road to China, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

  • And 33 are spread between Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

  • And now it's 2010, and there are 99 heroes

  • from 99 different countries.

  • Now it's very easy to assume

  • that those books, because they were from a library called Bait al-Hikma, were Muslim books,

  • but that's not the case because the caliph that built that library,

  • his name was al-Ma'mun -- he was Harun al-Rashid's son.

  • He had told his advisers, "Get me all the scholars

  • to translate any book they can get their hands onto into Arabic,

  • and I will pay them its weight in gold."

  • After a while, his advisers complained.

  • They said, "Your Highness, the scholars are cheating.

  • They're writing in big handwriting to take more gold."

  • To which he said, "Let them be, because what they're giving us

  • is worth a lot more than what we're paying them."

  • So the idea of an open architecture, an open knowledge,

  • is not new to my neck of the desert.

  • The concept centers on something called the Noor stones.

  • Noor is Arabic for light.

  • So these 99 stones, a few kind of rules in the game:

  • Number one, you don't choose the stone; the stone chooses you.

  • There's a King Arthur element to the storyline, okay.

  • Number two, all of The 99,

  • when they first get their stone, or their power, abuse it;

  • they use it for self-interest.

  • And there's a very strong message in there that when you start abusing your stone,

  • you get taken advantage of

  • by people who will exploit your powers, okay.

  • Number three, the 99 stones all have within them

  • a mechanism that self-updates.

  • Now there are two groups that exist within the Muslim world.

  • Everybody believes the Koran is for all time and all place.

  • Some believe that means that the original interpretation

  • from a couple thousand years ago is what's relevant today.

  • I don't belong there.

  • Then there's a group that believes the Koran is a living, breathing document,

  • and I captured that idea within these stones that self-update.

  • Now the main bad guy, Rughal,

  • does not want these stones to update,

  • so he's trying to get them to stop updating.

  • He can't use the stones, but he can stop them.

  • And by stopping them, he has more of a fascist agenda,

  • where he gets some of The 99 to work for him --

  • they're all wearing cookie-cutter, same color uniforms

  • They're not allowed to individually express who they are and what they are.

  • And he controls them from the top down --

  • whereas when they work for the other side, eventually,

  • when they find out this is the wrong person, they've been manipulated,

  • they actually, each one has a different, colorful

  • kind of dress.

  • And the last point about the 99 Noor stones is this.

  • So The 99 work in teams of three.

  • Why three? A couple of reasons.

  • Number one, we have a thing within Islam that you don't leave a boy and a girl alone together,

  • because the third person is temptation or the devil, right?

  • I think that's there in all cultures, right?

  • But this is not about religion, it's not about proselytizing.

  • There's this very strong social message

  • that needs to get to kind of

  • the deepest crevices of intolerance,

  • and the only way to get there is to kind of play the game.

  • And so this is the way I dealt with it.

  • They work in teams of three: two boys and a girl, two girls and a boy,

  • three boys, three girls, no problem.

  • And the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, also spoke about

  • the importance of the number three in all cultures, so I figure I'm covered.

  • Well ...

  • I got accused in a few blogs that I was actually sent by the Pope

  • to preach the Trinity and Catholicism in the Middle East,

  • so you -- (Laughter)

  • you believe who you want. I gave you my version of the story.

  • So here's some of the characters that we have.

  • Mujiba, from Malaysia: her main power is she's able to answer any question.

  • She's the Trivial Pursuit queen, if you want,

  • but when she first gets her power,

  • she starts going on game shows and making money.

  • We have Jabbar from Saudi who starts breaking things when he has the power.

  • Now, Mumita was a fun one to name. Mumita is the destroyer.

  • So the 99 attributes of Allah have the yin and the yang;

  • there's the powerful, the hegemonous, the strong,

  • and there's also the kind, the generous.

  • I'm like, are all the girls going to be kind and merciful and the guys all strong?

  • I'm like, you know what, I've met a few girls who were destroyers in my lifetime, so ...

  • (Laughter)

  • We have Jami from Hungary, who first starts making weapons:

  • He's the technology wiz.

  • Musawwira from Ghana,

  • Hadya from Pakistan, Jaleel from Iran who uses fire.

  • And this is one of my favorites, Al-Batina from Yemen.

  • Al-Batina is the hidden.

  • So Al-Batina is hidden, but she's a superhero.

  • I came home to my wife and I said, "I created a character after you."

  • My wife is a Saudi from Yemeni roots.

  • And she said, "Show me." So I showed this.

  • She said, "That's not me."

  • I said, "Look at the eyes. They're your eyes."

  • (Laughter)

  • So I promised my investors this would not be another made-in-fifth-world-country production.

  • This was going to be Superman, or it wasn't worth my time or their money.

  • So from day one, the people involved in the project,

  • bottom left is Fabian Nicieza,

  • writer for X-Men and Power Rangers.

  • Next to him is Dan Panosian,

  • one of the character creators for the modern-day X-Men.

  • Top right is Stuart Moore, a writer for Iron Man.

  • Next to him is John McCrea, who was an inker for Spiderman.

  • And we entered Western consciousness

  • with a tagline: "Next Ramadan, the world will have new heroes,"

  • back in 2005.

  • Now I went to Dubai, to an Arab Thought Foundation Conference,

  • and I was waiting by the coffee for the right journalist.

  • Didn't have a product, but had energy.

  • And I found somebody from The New York Times,

  • and I cornered him, and I pitched him.

  • And I think I scared him -- (Laughter)

  • because he basically promised me --

  • we had no product -- but he said, "We'll give you a paragraph in the arts section

  • if you'll just go away."

  • (Laughter)

  • So I said, "Great." So I called him up a few weeks afterward.

  • I said, "Hi, Hesa." And he said, "Hi." I said, "Happy New Year."

  • He said, "Thank you. We had a baby." I said, "Congratulations."

  • Like I care, right?

  • "So when's the article coming out?"

  • He said, "Naif, Islam and cartoon?

  • That's not timely.

  • You know, maybe next week, next month, next year, but, you know, it'll come out."

  • So a few days after that, what happens?

  • What happens is the world erupts in the Danish cartoon controversy.

  • I became timely.

  • (Laughter)

  • So flurry of phone calls and emails from The New York Times.

  • Next thing you knew, there's a full page covering us positively,

  • January 22nd, 2006,

  • which changed our lives forever,

  • because anybody Googling Islam and cartoon or Islam and comic,

  • guess what they got; they got me.

  • And The 99 were like superheroes

  • kind of flying out of what was happening around the world.

  • And that led to all kinds of things,

  • from being in curricula in universities and schools to --

  • one of my favorite pictures I have from South Asia,

  • it was a couple of men with long beards

  • and a lot of girls wearing the hijab -- it looked like a school.

  • The good news is they're all holding copies of The 99, smiling,

  • and they found me to sign the picture.

  • The bad news is they were all photocopies, so we didn't make a dime in revenue.

  • (Laughter)

  • We've been able to license The 99 comic books

  • into eight languages so far --