'Le Batman Francais' finds a formidable foe in right-wing America

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The Independent Online

Holy baguettes, Batman. Your brand-new French lieutenant – aka "le Batman Francais" – is already in trouble. This must be a job for the caped crusader, or maybe the crusader with a képé.

The American right has attacked the comic-book creators of Batman and Robin for introducing a "French Batman", who is "not French, but Muslim". The new superhero, introduced in DC Comics' Batman Annual 2011 last month, is called Nightrunner.

He is a 22-year-old French man of Algerian origin, who lives in Clichy-sous-Bois, the town north of Paris where the 2005 suburban riots began. His "real" name is supposed to be Bilal Asselah. After brushing with riots and crime in the multi-racial French banlieues as a teenager, he is chosen by Batman to become his French representative in the struggle against Evil. This is part of the Dark Knight's drive to build a crime-fighting network all over the globe – and a drive by DC Comics to franchise the lucrative Batman legend to other countries and cultures.

American right-wing commentators and bloggers see nothing wrong, in principle, with extending US comic-book culture to the land of the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys". Yet they are incensed that DC Comics should have chosen not a blond, blue-eyed Frenchman in a beret – but, instead, a young man of Algerian origin.

The right-wing blogger, Warner Todd Huston, wrote on his website Publius Forum: "Apparently Batman couldn't find any actual Frenchman to be the 'French saviour'.

"In this age when Muslim youths are terrorising [France], heck in this age of international Muslim terrorism assaulting the whole world, Batman's readers will be confused by what is really going on in the world."

On the ultra-conservative website The Astute Bloggers, which sees manifestations of a "left-wing agenda" under almost every bed in the US, Avi Green wrote: "How about that. Bruce Wayne goes to France where he hires not a genuine French boy or girl with a real sense of justice, but rather, an 'oppressed' minority."

French observers have been amused by the controversy but also rather startled by the portrait of France painted both by DC Comics and by the right-wing bloggers. The 2005 riots were not "Muslim riots" but involved young people of many races and backgrounds. A young man born in France of Algerian origin is, whatever Mr Green or Mr Todd may think, an "actual" or "genuine" Frenchman.

The issue of the comic book featuring Nightrunner also paints a rather lurid picture of police-immigrant warfare in the French banlieues and makes Clichy-sous-Bois look like only a lightly gallicised version of Gotham City.

Politically correct characters in Batman comics of the 21st century are not new. The current Batwoman is a lesbian. The new French Nightrunner wears a superhero outfit that looks vaguely like the baggy clothes favoured by French suburban youth, complete with a face-covering hood. He is also adept at parkour, the acrobatic sport in which people jump from buildings and leap over walls.

The writer, David Hine, who is British, said DC Comics wanted to avoid old national stereotypes in creating new Batmen based in other countries.