*With the the news of Disney acquiring tv and film assets from 20th Century Fox, Black Panther being released in February and Yahya Abdul-Mateen being casted as Black Manta opposite Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, there has been more attention placed on characters of color. Below, our Arts & Culture editor Malikah A. Shabazz talks about the increase of Black comic heroes and where Muslim comic heroes fall into the equation.*
by Malikah A. Shabazz
With the growth of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, spaces for Black nerds, geeks, weirdos and all those who identify as different have grown and begun to flourish. The “Blerds” have come out to play and it’s a beautiful sight. Being seen as “different” has always been about self expression and uniqueness, which is something that not only Black people have struggled with, but so have Black Muslims. Having pre conceived notions projected on you by others based on your religious and cultural background has been a constant issue for Black Muslims. Iman Seeraj – Blanche, writer of the blog NerdGeekNinja, knows this all too well. “As a young Muslim teen woman growing up I was always the odd person out no matter what group I was in.” Seeraj-Blanche says. “If I was around Muslims, I was weird because of the things I liked. Even around other nerds I was weird because I was Muslim.”
Within the last 5 – 10 years we have seen Black artists and characters pushed to the forefront as old and new fans alike call for better representation within art. While we have seen Muslim characters such as Marvel’s new Ms. Marvel and Dust (whose power is turning into sand, but nonetheless, she exists), we haven’t seen a major Black Muslim superhero get it’s own series. Black Muslims have made cameos in various comic strips as supporting characters. Wise Son was introduced to us in Blood Syndicate in 1993 which was created in part by the legendary Dwayne McDuffie. Blood Syndicate itself is a dark story and Wise Son’s story arc and anger issues definitely fit in. Thankfully, it wasn’t a characterization of him as a Black Muslim man as all the characters in the series had colorful pasts. Wise Son was granted his own miniseries which only spawned 4 issues but gave a more in depth look into the circumstances surrounding him and the community he lived in as well as his battle with White Supremacists groups.
While being a Black Muslim may have not directly impacted Wise Son’s story arc (he was known to wear a hat with a crescent on it), it was a badge of honor for Muhammad X. Although he never explicitly said “I’m Muslim” or talked about his religion, his choice of name and community concern bares a stark resemblance to the influence and presence the Black Muslim community historically had in Harlem. Only appearing (thus far) in 2002’s Superman v2 #179, Muhammad X was a self-proclaimed protector of Harlem (not associated with Luke Cage). Muhammad X was used to address racial tensions, as he was very vocal about the state of his community and him accusing Superman of ignoring Harlem. Taking his name from Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, Muhammad X was a direct manifestation of the history of Islam in the Black community and the pride and responsibility that Harlemites feel to their community. His brief but memorable cameo in Superman was a great juxtaposition between the ideas of saving the world (Superman’s idea of everyone being seen as equal) vs. saving the hood (Muhammad X’s wanting Black people to be seen as equal). Their dialogue is an earlier version of today’s “All Lives Matter” vs. “Black Lives Matter” arguments.
And then there was that time in 1978 when the legendary Muhammad Ali battled the son of Kyrpton himself…and won.
The existence of these characters draws a correlation between Black and Muslim via culture. Historically, characters that are Muslim typically come from Arabia, and have names rooted in the Arabic language. However, with “Muhammad X” clearly being an ode to the Nation of Islam, and “Wise Son” bearing a stark resemblance to names from the Nations of Gods and Earths, Black Muslims characters are used as representation for communities often glanced over in the comic book world.
The comic and arts worlds are forever growing. New characters are created every day. It is only a matter of time before a Black Muslim Superhero rises to the occasion and comes to save to day. Until then we will continue to support the few Black Muslim characters that exist and those artists create them and the universes for them to exist in.