The first foreign culture that I encountered, outside of classes on the Holy Koran, was through comic books. Even today, I continue to frequent movies inspired by comic books. These movies return me to my childhood. With their innocence, children are capable of experiencing the power of fiction. In this way children find role models for life and escape destruction and injustice. As adults, many would like to return to childhood fantasy characters, but as we get older, that often becomes difficult.
Superman [Nabil Fawzi in Arabic] is the first comic book character that I remember, and he sparked the curiosity of my childhood. For some reason, I thought that he was Lebanese and that he rightfully deserved the title of Most Powerful Man on Earth. I still owe a thank you to a rich old friend of mine, who told me that his father (who spoke English) said that Nabil was just an Arab name to help us come to grips with new information and events that we know very little about, and that the real Superman is actually American.
[Editor’s Note: American comics have a long history in the Arab World. The first comic strip to be issued in Arabic was Superman. In the guise of Nabil Fawzi, a reporter for Al-Kawkab Al Yawm he swooped into the Middle East from distant Krypton on February 4, 1964. A year later Nabil was joined by a man called Sobhi and a young boy called Zakkour, who at night became Batman and Robin. The Lone Ranger, (known in these parts as the Masked Rider), along with Tonto and Silver, rode in on July 17, 1967, followed not long after by Ben Cartwright, complete with “Hoss,” “Little Joe” and the endless problems of the Ponderosa. Next came “Little Lulu,” “Tarzan,” and most recently, “The Flash.”].
At this time I can say that little by little, I started to slowly become aware of the wider world. I recall that at one time, I told a friend of mine, who was poor like me, while we were exchanging comics, “America is a wonderful and inspiring place, because Superman, who was born on the planet Krypton, has chosen only America as his home base, from which he applies justice everywhere else in the world.”
We were children, and we admired Nabil Fawzi. Later, when Superman appeared on TV screens, we used to wait every week to watch him find criminals in their hideouts and march them in front of him like sheep, or fly to capture them when they sought to hide from him.
Many in our generation who grew up with Superman, also surrendered other fantastic ideas through comics, and I would not call these fantasies that we had as ephemeral or dangerous. But let me describe for you what I believed.
I still recall that all of us believed in the values that came to us through television, and before television, we used to receive those values through comics. Despite my love of comics, my father used to consider me quite cultured. He once told my youngest brother that in comics, all he saw where scribblings on paper, and that he wouldn’t believe in Superman even if he saw him walk before him in the light of day. My position was totally different: Superman had found many solutions to the world’s chronic problems.
I knew little of those problems at that time – but as I was watched the latest episode of Superman on TV, I began to understand a different kind of truth: Superman, who came from the planet Krypton, chose Americans to find human friendship, helped the Department of Justice to go after and catch criminals who were destroying the economy. Moreover, he helped uncover everything from illegal nuclear sites to prostitution gangs. He even worked to accomplish a task that President Bush described, in a fine speech about values: that the American nation should liberate tormented children both inside and outside of U.S. territory.
Frankly, back than much of the complicated political and social agenda that America has for the world escaped me. But as we grew up, the story of Superman began to lose its hold on our consciences, as did the fun and incitement of our collective imaginations that he inspired before we came of age. But despite this, we discovered to our surprise later, that much of what we felt in our earlier years stayed with us.
The seventies were gone, and we thought the comic book Superman was completely extinct. But the truth is that he never disappeared. Only his role as a comic book character ended. He was not extinct. In the 1980s, another kind of Superman appeared, and this time he was more realistic, courageous and had much more insight, vision and intelligence than before. Look at Rambo, always fighting for justice and America’s glory in the world’s collective memory.
In comic literature, the Americans developed a different form of entertainment in order to achieve the same goals as the comic heroes themselves. Therefore, the fiction evolved and became a new kind of reality.