While at Comic Con, I had a chance to catch The 99 panel which ran just before the Christian Comic Arts Society Friday night mixer. You may remember The 99 from a big ginned up faux-outrage from a year or two back. How dare those towel heads make superhero comics! That's an AMERICAN art form!
The panel was less about the comic...
...and more about the animated series...
All I knew about The 99 before the panel was that it was a superhero comic book from the Middle East that featured Islamic superheroes. Why this should be any more controversial than Japanese manga featuring stories about Buddhist superheroes can be attributable to any number of reasons, some political, some religious, all of them ugly.
I watched an episode & listened to the panel of story editors and writers (all Americans -- go figure) explain the show.
In a nutshell: X-Men only with magic gems, not mutants. 99 magic gems arrive on Earth giving 100 kids -- half male, half female, one pair of twins, all save the twins from different cultures or countries -- one unique super-power apiece, apparently related to some personality trait.
There are at least two sets of villains at work in the series, battling not only The 99 but each other, which adds a bit more complexity to the story. The episode I saw played like a chess game, with The 99's mentor / leader Dr. Ramzi figuring out which combination of superheroes would best meet a particular challenge.*
The animation looked like a mediocre video game from 1998. Plot was standard issue, dialog left no trope or cliche unuttered.
It's a big hit around the world.
Not just the Middle East, but African, South American, Asian, and some European countries as well. Ireland is running it.
Now the religious bigots will want to howl that this is all part of a vast Islamic plot to conquer the world, etc., etc., and of course, etc. but they're wrong.
The popularity of The 99 has less to do with the religion of its characters (and other than cultural clues like names & dress, nothing in the story refers to Islamic beliefs & practices) than the fact it's not American.
We fail to realize what a heavy footprint we put down around the world culturally. There are some people who think this is a good thing, proof of our worth & virtue & blessings from on high.
Other people realize at times this can be insensitive, perhaps even offensive to other cultures.
There's nothing anti-American or even un-American about The 99, but the fact it's clearly non-American carries a lot of weight outside our borders.
To the haters, I say leave it alone. Everything doesn't have to be about us.
* The series refers to the full cast, but has only a dozen or so of The 99 actually appear in action due to budget restrictions; as a former story editor of G.I. Joe with its cast of 86 characters, I can commiserate.