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Mild Mannered Reviews - JLA Comics

JLA/The 99 #1

JLA/The 99 #1

Scheduled to arrive in stores: October 27, 2010

Cover date: December 2010

"The City of Tomorrow"

Writer: Stuart Moore and Fabian Nicieza
Penciller: Tom Derenick
Inker: Drew Geraci

Reviewed by: Ralph Silver

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The Daily Planet headline announces the unveiling of the "City of the Future," a city in the "Empty Quarter" desert region of the Arabian Peninsula. This city is intended as a showpiece of international peace and cooperation. It has a domed roof and is designed to be energy-efficient and exist in harmony with its harsh desert surroundings. This new city is sponsored by a coalition of governments and corporations. The population includes families from virtually every country, to set an example of peace for the entire world.

Superman and Wonder Woman have arrived for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, representing the Justice League of America. Also on hand is Dr. Ramzi Razem, a philanthropist, author, and also a man who runs a teenage superhero group known as "The 99". In his speech, Dr. Ramzi extols the virtues of international harmony and cooperation. He indicates that his 99 Steps Foundation was created in order to foster those values, and that those same values are embodied by "The 99," and now by the new city itself. We learn that members of The 99 get their abilities from powerful Noor Stones.

Superman then steps up to the podium and gives a similar speech about peace, harmony, and diversity, using the Justice League as an example. Superman expresses great joy in seeing this new city, a bold experiment devoted to international cooperation and harmony.

Also on hand is Dr. Albert Chou of Mamluk International, a company owned by Rughal, a man who has sworn to destroy The 99. Dr. Chou claims to have pure motives; but he is immediately shown to be disingenuous and hostile. Three members of The 99, Jabbar the Powerful, Noora the Light, and Samda the Invulnerable combine their powers to banish evil Dr. Chou from the scene.

Suddenly, mob violence breaks out in the new city. Superman and Wonder Woman attempt to restore calm, and Dr. Ramzi sends in his three young heroes to assist. Dr. Chou, off in a remote corner, looks very guilty as if he has instigated the riot. He is stretching something that appears to be a rubber glove, (although it is not clear to me how this plays a part in what is happening).

In St. Louis, we see a young American member of The 99, return from the Middle East and hanging with some friends at a mall. His name is John Weller, but his superhero name is Darr the Afflicter. He is wheelchair-bound. He has the unusual power of being able to generate waves of pain.

Their reunion is interrupted by the arrival of four sinister characters known collectively as "The New Madmen". The text box identifies them as "Radically Maladjusted Community Disorganizers". They have outfits that are garish and almost psychedelic looking, and hair to match. They attack Darr the Afflicter, and somehow cause him to lose control and use his powers to victimize the people around him. Four members of the Justice League, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Dr. Light, The Flash, and The Atom are called in to help.

In Rio de Janeiro, Carter Hall leads a team of six college archaeology majors on an archaeological dig. When they are interrupted by an earthquake, Hall changes to Hawkman to investigate. He concludes that this is not a natural event, but the work of a saboteur. Soon, the City of the Future is also experiencing an earthquake. Once again, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Jabbar the Powerful, Noora the Light, and Samda the Invulnerable step in to protect the populace. When Wonder Woman rescues a woman trapped under some rubble, the woman lashes out verbally, claiming that Wonder Woman caused the disaster. Several members of the mob concur; as one person exclaims "They're all the same!"

Seeing all the strife in this supposed utopia, Superman is uncharacteristically cynical, declaring that perhaps he was wrong, and that people really *cannot* live together in peace.

At the Hall of Justice in Washington D.C., several of the JLA members are examining a rather reluctant Darr the Afflicter in an attempt to help him. Flash questions the young hero in an attempt to determine if his behavior was induced by mind control, or merely by coercion. He gets an answer that is inconclusive. When John Weller's behavior becomes unruly, Green Lantern uses his power ring to quell the undesirable behavior. Subsequently, these same JLA members are continuing their investigations in Spain at the 99 Steps Foundation. They meet a few more members of The 99, Bari the Healer, Jami the Assembler, and Hadya the Guide.

Back in Brazil, Hawkman encounters three more members of The 99, Rafie the Lifter, Fattah the Opener, and Mumita the Destroyer. Hawkman learns two things: that the epicenter is directly ahead of them, and the source of the earthquake is a newly activated Noor Stone! In the final image, we see the silhouette of somebody caught in a powerful shock from the earthquake.

3Story - 3: There are two ways to view and examine this comic book. One way is to focus purely on the story, and rate it in comparison to other Justice League of America books. The other is to regard it in its context, viewing it as a political, cultural, and religious phenomenon. And although I am certainly no expert in Middle-Eastern culture, I will attempt to review this book from both perspectives.

First some background information, supplied by Wikipedia. The 99, also written as The Ninety-Nine, is a comic book published by Kuwaiti comic book publisher Teshkeel Comics, featuring a team of superheroes based on Islamic culture and religion. The team consists of 99 ordinary teenagers from across the globe who each come into possession of one of the 99 magical Noor Stones, which gives them their powers. Challenges faced by The 99 will be overcome through the combined powers of three or more members. Through this, The 99 series aims to promote values such as cooperation and unity throughout the Islamic world. Although the series is not overtly religious, it aims to communicate positive Islamic virtues which are, as viewed by creator Dr. Al-Mutawa, universal in nature. The books are aimed specifically at young Muslim readers.

The concept of The 99 is based on the 99 attributes of Allah. As such, although they are mortal, each hero represents one attribute of God. The heroes are intended as role models, showcasing the virtues mentioned in their names. A list of some of the heroes who have been introduced so far is shown below:
- Jabbar, The Powerful;
- Noora, The Light;
- Darr, The Afflicter;
- Jami, The Assembler;
- Widad, The Loving;
- Fattah, The Opener;
- Mumita, The Destroyer;
- Raqib, The Watcher;
- Bari, The Healer;
- Sami, The Listener;
- Musawwira, The Organiser;
- Hadya, The Guide;
- Rafie,The Lifter;
- Baqi, The Everlasting;
- Baeth, The Sender.
- Jaleel, The Majestic

I presume that this is not a complete list, and that the list is growing.

This series must be pretty popular overseas. Although The 99 is pretty new, having been introduced in 2006, there is already one theme park, with others planned, and an animated series is in the works.

OK, so that is what Wikipedia told me. I am fascinated by the concept, and by the cultural implications of this book. We are talking about a region of the world that has really suffered, due to sectarian strife and religious extremism. Radical groups have engaged in acts of violence and terror, and continue to recruit young men and women to join them. These extremist groups spread hate in the region and commit acts of violence around the world.

In a world where such a thing as a "suicide bomber" is even possible, the world needs the voices of moderation to step up and provide alternative influences; to offer positive values and ways of thinking for the young minds in the region who are being victimized. The 99 comic book is one of those voices, attempting to make a positive influence in the region by promoting the virtues of cooperation, tolerance, and peace.

And for those of us who are die-hard Superman fans, I know many of us look at the mess the world is in, and wish that Superman, Wonder Woman, and the others were really here to prevent atrocities such as the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania; and other terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Tokyo, and other places around the world. How many of us, viewing news reports of the carnage and destruction, have truly said, in our hearts, "This is a job for Superman".

So, as one of those die-hard fans, I am proud to see Superman, Wonder Woman, and the others participate in this genuine effort to counter the forces of evil in the Muslim world. I want to see the forces of moderation in the region triumph over the extremists. I believe they can. I believe they will. Perhaps this book will play a small part in winning over hearts and minds. I really hope it will. I love what this book is trying to accomplish.

OK, so those are my thoughts from a political and cultural perspective.

I also looked at this book purely as a story, comparing it to other Justice League comics I have enjoyed in the recent past. And as much as I was fascinated by this book as it reflects values and ideas from a different culture, I was very unimpressed when viewing this story from a more local perspective. It suffers in comparison to many Justice League books I have read and enjoyed. I found this story to be simplistic, unimaginative, and pedestrian. It plays as a morality tale, rather allegorical. But much of the symbolism is quite transparent. Clearly the New Madmen are intended to represent extremist forces in the region. They are made to look very foolish, with their maniacal expressions, outlandish appearances, and rambling dialogue. They coerce or force Darr the Afflicter to cause pain to the people around him, which continues the metaphor. But it all seemed rather uninteresting and obvious.

Perhaps this book targets a very young audience. That would explain the simple storyline.

Of course, this book occurs outside of regular DC continuity. Here we have the classic Justice League line-up, not James Robinson's JLA roster. However, we have Wonder Woman's new costume, which she has never worn as a member of the Justice League. Go figure!

And of course, I was bothered by the scene where Superman looks at the riot in progress, and says that maybe the people of the world can't live together in peace and harmony after all. My Superman would never, ever, ever express that, or even think that. It is just WAY out of character.

I struggled a bit with this review. I was of two minds. As a pure Justice League story, compared to the regular monthly book, I give it a 1. But perhaps that is an unfair comparison. This book has a different purpose. For what it is trying to accomplish to promote cooperation and unity in the Muslim world, it gets a solid 5 from me. I am glad that The 99 exists, and am rooting for its success.

So I have averaged the two ratings, and given a 3 here. Future ratings may be lower if the quality does not improve.

If you are curious about a book that promotes peace and positive Muslim values, you might be intrigued by this book. But for those who are outside of the target audience and are strictly looking for a great story, I would pass this one by.

2Art - 2: I did not care for the artwork. Like the story, the art seemed rather simplistic and uninspiring. There is the occasional good image, like the close-up of the Flash at the bottom of the page showing the Hall of Justice. But there were more bad images than good. In several scenes, Superman looks as if his lips are glued together.

3Cover Art - 3: The cover by Felipe Massafera is not bad. On the one hand, the image has no action or theme. It is not a very dynamic pose. The colors are drab. But on the other hand, his Superman reminds me a tiny bit of Alex Ross' Superman. I would like to see more of his work. Also, I added a point for the historic nature of this crossover event.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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