The 99, Radio 4
Walking on the Moon, Radio 4
How 99 heroes could save the world
Sunday 12 July 2009
It's not the most obvious gap in the market, that's for sure, but a comic about 99 Muslim superheroes is an idea that seems to be working.
The first of five planned 99 theme parks opened in Kuwait in March, and a TV cartoon series is being produced by Endemol. Conceived in the back of a London cab by a Kuwaiti psychologist, Dr Naif Al-Mutawa, who wants to become the Walt Disney of the Arab world, the mag has sold about a million copies so far and hasn't even hit Europe yet.
Al-Mutawa's stated aim is to show the moderate face of Islam. Each hero in The 99 is based on one of the 99 attributes of Allah, but only one, Batina the Hidden, wears a burqa. Even so, an editor on Kuwait's biggest magazine for young people thinks that's one too many. "The burqa is wrong," she says. Ranged on the other side are the likes of the political scientist who tells Al-Mutawa: "If your skill is going to harm our children's values, we are going to stop it." He does remind us, in case we'd forgotten, that "Islam believes in freedom", so that's all right then.
Because the heroes work in threes – to emphasise teamwork and co-operation – Al-Mutawa has been accused of attempting to propagate the Christian trinity; some other Sharia scholars, though, like the idea. "We're fighting for the future of Islam," Al-Mutawa says. "I believe that what I'm doing will make everybody's family safer." That, as they say, remains to be seen.
Walking on the Moon, narrated by Buzz Aldrin (right) and celebrating the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, was full of little surprises, such as the revelation that the plan for a lunar landing was almost an afterthought. Picture the meeting between boffins and politicos to discuss the US response to Yuri Gagarin's space flight. "Could we put two men in space?" "No, the Russians will beat us to that." "A space station?" "Nah, they'll do that first." Finally, after all seeming possibilities had been exhausted: "What about a man on the moon?" "Er, yeah, we could do that." And so the Apollo programme was born.
There were some nice interviews with earthbound spectators, such as the submariners, unbearably tense because they feared something going wrong and the astronauts being trapped, or the girl whose dad promised to get her up in the middle of the night – but forgot. And the Russian cosmonaut who heard it on the radio and knew at once that there was no point carrying on: the space race was over.
As we now know, all the promise generated by one of the greatest days in the history of mankind fizzled out in a gas cloud of budget cuts – particularly gutting for one scientist, John Saxon, who'd been manning a tracking station in Australia. "I suppose you could say I never really recovered," he said, "because I'm still living those missions."
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