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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Silver Scorpion Challenges Biases and Bridges Cultures

I was delighted to download  the upcoming graphic novel release, Silver Scorpion, under the auspices of Net Galley. It was made available by Dynamite Entertainment which is the print publisher of the English version of this international superhero comic book. (It is also available in Arabic at Silver Scorpion--Arabic Edition .) I was a fan of  Dynamite's Zorro. That comic book series focused on a multi-cultural incarnation of the masked hero along the lines of Isabel Allende's novel in which the daring crusader for justice in early California is depicted as half Native American.  Given the success of their Zorro title, I thought they were a perfect home for the English print version of the equally multi-cultural Silver Scorpion.

                                                 
The history of the creation of  Silver Scorpion is an amazing one. The Open Hands Initiative  sponsored a Youth Ability Summit for American and Syrian differently abled teenagers which took place in Damascus in 2010.   These young people created a Middle Eastern protagonist in a wheelchair who undergoes a metamorphosis into a superhero. The Open Hands Initiative partnered with the digital publisher Liquid Comics and Dynamite Entertainment to realize their vision.   For a video about the origins of this project see The Making of the Silver Scorpion Comic Book .    

Silver Scorpion is the first publication from Net Galley that I am reviewing for this blog, and the first graphic novel that I read on my Kindle.  My Kindle 1 is not an advanced e-reader, so what I have to say about my experience may not apply to later models.  First, I definitely missed seeing color illustrations.  I feel that it lessens the impact of  the work which was intended to be viewed in color.  Secondly, the font was tiny and I found that I wasn't able to adjust the size.  Thirdly, my screen tended to freeze when I tried to navigate backward to check on earlier panels in order to confirm my impression of their content.   If I had a print copy in front of me and been able to turn pages, it would certainly have simplified my review process.  So for me, reading on Kindle was not the best way to enjoy Silver Scorpion.  I was able to see the opening of Silver Scorpion in color by viewing the four part animated web series at MTV Voices  which is an excellent teaser for the graphic novel.

Despite problems with the Kindle format, I was impressed with the character of Bashir, the young Syrian sculptor who becomes the Silver Scorpion.  Bashir lives with his uncle Tamim, who is a scrap metal dealer. According to the sources I consulted, Tamim in Arabic means strong, solid and impeccable.  Tamim in Hebrew is used to describe a  fully-committed spiritual relationship with God.  The character Tamim is a wise mentor for Bashir.  He provides stability through Bashir's transformative ordeal.

 The tale is a melange that included some familiar elements. The Silver Scorpion's powers might be considered similar to the powerful Marvel mutant anti-hero, Magneto . I also recognized tropes from my old favorite, Witchblade.   Ron Marz, one of the Silver Scorpion co-authors, has written quite a bit of Witchblade  for Top Cow which is the original publisher and owner of the Witchblade  franchise.  See Top Cow's Witchblade Page . The Witchblade is a powerful and intelligent artifact that chooses its female wielders. The historical personage Queen Zenobia  of ancient Syria is central to the Silver Scorpion origin story, but she is also part of Witchblade continuity as a previous wielder of the Witchblade. For more information see Witchblade Page From Image Comics, a former publisher of Witchblade.  If you scroll down on that page, there is a list of  Witchblade wielders that includes Queen Zenobia as Zenobia Septima which is her Latin name according to the Wikipedia article linked above.
 
There have been other comic book heroes who sit in wheelchairs, but have extraordinary abilities.  Marvel's Professor X, the leader of the X-Men, is probably the most famous of them. He was born Charles Xavier and became a powerful telepath.  Another comic book hero in a wheelchair, known as Oracle , was a tremendous inspiration to a great many people. She didn't have any superpowers, but she was a former librarian and wielded the formidable power of information.  She was born as Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon of Gotham City, the home of Batman, the world renowned Caped Crusader of DC Comics.  For the complex history of this DC character see The Wikipedia Article on Barbara Gordon.  Barbara Gordon continues to have adventures in the relaunched DC continuity, but Oracle is gone. I have seen her tombstone and have mourned her.  The Silver Scorpion can't replace Oracle, but I do recognize him as a successor who can play a similarly important role.

I think that it's the character of Sandstar that is the most original contribution of Silver Scorpion to the annals of  comic book heroes.  Sandstar  emerges from the desert.  She seems to be inspired by Arabian legends of spirits such as the Jinn.  They are usually seen as evil, but I located An Islamic Page on the Jinn which states that Allah created the Jinn , and that when they are righteous they will be rewarded.  Within  Silver Scorpion's narrative, Sandstar represents the urge of Islamic women to educate themselves and defend their rights.  She can become a role model in Syria and other Islamic nations.  My only complaint about this character is that she is inconsistently called Sandstorm later in the storyline.  So I am uncertain about whether her official name is Sandstar or Sandstorm.

What happens when our heroes are in wheelchairs, or they are women who refuse to be marginalized?  I hope that what happens as a result of this graphic novel is positive change like the transformation of Bashir into the Silver Scorpion.

                                         
                                                     



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