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What Place for Muslims in DC Comics?

'Superman' writer Chris Roberson on the controversy of earthly aliens

By Richard Whittaker, 1:43PM, Fri. Jun. 24, 2011

Would the real alien please stand up? DC pulls planned Superman #712, in which the last son of Krypton teams with a Muslim hero
Would the real alien please stand up? DC pulls planned Superman #712, in which the last son of Krypton teams with a Muslim hero
Image courtesy of DC Comics

The comic industry press is bubbling with the news that DC Comics pulled the original story slated for issue #712 of Superman. Written by Austin author Chris Roberson, it was to feature Superman teaming up with Sharif, an American Muslim superhero. Instead, when it shipped this week, comic fans got a lost tale of Krypto the Superdog.

So who did Roberson get the news, and what reason was he given? He said, "When I heard about it, and that's an easier question to answer, was the third Friday in May. I got a weird text message from DC that they weren't publishing that issue of Superman." However, as for the logic for the late switch, he said, "I was never really given a reason, and until they released a press release I didn't know what their publicly stated reason was going to be."

This is how DC filled in that "why?" blank in their press release to stores:

This fill in issue contains a lost classic, Lost Boy: A Tale of Krypto the Superdog, set shortly after Superboy died in Infinite Crisis and Superman went missing.

DC Comics determined that the previously solicited story did not work within the “Grounded” storyline. However, Chris Roberson, will be back for the final two issues of Superman’s year long walk across America. As we near the conclusion, catch up with Superman next month as he makes stops in Portland and Newberg, OR.

So what was the problem? Two rival stories have emerged. The first and most bizarre, as revealed by BleedingCool.com, is that DC editorial was upset that the last son of Krypton rescued a cat from a tree. Second, and more worrying culturally, is that they pulled planned story because it featured a Muslim superhero.

Sharif is not a new character: Originally created in 1990 as Sinbad, Roberson described him as "a naturalized American citizen of Middle Eastern origin who was Muslim, developed superpowers, and was inspired by Superman to become a hero." His appearance in #712 came from the urge to "roll the clock forward, to see where that kid would be now." Now a college student, Roberson said Sharif is "a dude who is visibly from somewhere else. He doesn't wear a mask. He wears the symbol of his culture on his chest, and he tries to help people."

Hmm. That sounds very familiar. Roberson said, "The point that the story explicitly states is that that is what Superman is. He's a guy from somewhere else. He's an alien, literally, naturalized as an American, and trying to help us. Everyone thinks Superman is great, so why should it be any different if it's someone who is brown skinned from another country here on Earth?"

The replacement issue has caused a secondary PR firestorm: The original #712 was supposed to ship with a variant cover by George Perez as a tribute to long-time Superman fan Rob Morrisroe. That cover has been scrubbed and now will run with issue #714. Perez announced via Facebook that he was "both extremely upset and personally embarrassed" that DC had made this decision without informing him.

Look for a full interview with Roberson next month, just in time for some big announcements at San Diego Comic-Con International.

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