Comics and Culture

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American comic book characters are known worldwide. People in foreign lands watch these fictional heroes on the big screens in their countries and buy American comic books translated into their respective languages and formatted to their specifications. I myself have a collection of X-Men, Spiderman, Superman, and Captain America comic books from other countries written in their foreign language.

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The idea of heroes and freedom is universal. When you have tasted freedom, it’s hard to let it go and give it up; and many who have never had it, are willing to fight for it. American ideals and the imagery of the fictional American heroes materialize in organized public demonstrations worldwide where thousands of people protest against oppressive governments. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Asian nation or and Arab nation. You’ll see somebody dressed as Superman or Captain America…the symbols speak volumes in any language. No translation is necessary.

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DC and Marvel, and their parent companies Warner Brothers and Disney respectively, are making money in the overseas market. The companies cannot afford to completely overhaul their established characters because some risks may work in some markets while not in others.  Not every country is as accepting or open minded as others. There are cultural biases. Singapore is very liberal when it comes to homosexuality; to people in Singapore, the two gay characters who got married in Archie Comics two years ago would be no big deal to them but in other countries where homosexuality is grounds for death, it IS a big deal. Even interracial dating or pre-marital affairs can get you into trouble with some cultures.  This is true in countries whose politics and religion are one and the same and any affront to their traditions and/or religion could cost you your life.

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Take the case of  Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti-born clinical psychologist and graduate of Columbia Business School. He noticed that there were no Muslim superheroes, so he created a comic book series with the help of  experienced comic book personnel. Initially, his series met opposition in the Saudi Arabian and American market. It shouldn’t be too surprising since it was created in 2006. The wounds of September 11, 2001 were less than 5 years old.
In 2010, US President Barack Obama publicly supported the series called “The 99” according to a PBS documentary based on Dr. Al-Mutawa on the show “Independent Lens”.  The comic book series is about a group of people of various ages across the planet who are followers of Islam and possess individual powers after the 99 attributes of Allah. 99 superheroes, male and female.  Most of the prominent heroes in The 99 hail from nations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia,  Portugal,  and the USA while most of the villains come from Russia, Egypt, and Europe. Although The 99 did not find success in the gigantic and profitable market of the United States, it found its niche overseas. Five 99 based theme parks were planned and an animated series was produced. He was even able to do a crossover with the Justice League of America, yet he still found his comic series banned in Saudi Arabia and  Kuwait.
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The comic series ran from August 2007-September 2013. According to The Kuwait Times,  on July 2, 2014,  Jihadis in the Iraqi militant group ISIS  by means of twitter offered a reward for the death of Dr. Al-Mutawa. Even though the comic had ended and he had Sharia scholars verify that the comic was Sharia compliant to begin with, the Jihadis want to kill the man because he went out and created his own characters for the youth in his culture to relate to. Dr. Al-Mutawa did create his own characters. He did it for the benefit of the children of his culture, and the politics of his culture has marked him for death because the ultra right of the Islam culture has taken this as blasphemy and as a great insult to their traditions.
In some cultures,  superheroes are symbols of strength and freedom, while the big corporations that own these same superheroes  just see them as dollar signs. Paychecks that need to go to shareholders. In other cultures, superheroes are a threat. The common factor? Superheroes have value in any way you look at them.
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