Middle East gets zapped by its first comic-book superheroes

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The Independent Online

There is no Batmobile prowling Palestine nor will you ever spy Peter Parker donning his spider suit in the streets of Riyadh, but if you are in the Middle East watch out for Zein, Aya, Jalila and Rakan. Is it a bird, is it a plane? No. It's one of these guys, battling crime and saving mankind.

There is no Batmobile prowling Palestine nor will you ever spy Peter Parker donning his spider suit in the streets of Riyadh, but if you are in the Middle East watch out for Zein, Aya, Jalila and Rakan. Is it a bird, is it a plane? No. It's one of these guys, battling crime and saving mankind.

Generations of children have enjoyed parables of action icons thwarting evil. If it wasn't Clark Kent or Parker, it was Bruce Wayne. But one part of the world has been underserved in the superhero stakes. Until now, that is.

Welcome to the zap-pow *&#@ world of Middle East Heroes , a series of comic books being published in Egypt. The books, available in English and Arabic, are the first to feature superheroes drawn from Arab culture.

"Why can't the Middle East have its own heroes?" asked Marwan Nashar, the editor of AK Comics in Cairo. "I grew up reading 'Spider-Man' and loved him. But I couldn't get into Peter Parker. I always wondered why there weren't any Arabs leaping off buildings."

Now there are four. Zein, the last of the Pharaohs, has been transported to the 21st century in a time capsule. Rakan is a medieval warrior from Mesopotamia. The other half of the team is female. Jalila is a Levantine scientist and Aya is a "vixen who roams the region on her supercharged motorbike confronting crime wherever it rears its ugly head".

No religious faiths are attributed to the four, but there is no disguising where the stories are drawn from. These heroes are trying to bring back stability to an area ravaged by 55 years of conflict between the "United Liberation Force" and the "Zios Army".

Some of the comics explain their mission with a message on the inside flap - to "fill the cultural gap created over the years by providing essentially Arab role models, in our case, Arab superheroes, to become a source of pride to our young generations".

With no comic strip culture to draw from, Mr Nashar has used writers in California to supply the English texts and Brazilian artists for the drawings, although some of the original sketches - involving bare flesh on the female characters - had to be toned down.

So far, the books are being distributed in Egypt and the Persian Gulf states, but Mr Nashar hopes to expand into Lebanon, Syria and North Africa. The reaction to the comics across the region has been positive, says Mr Nashar. The most common response, he says, has been "it's about time".

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