When I first heard of The 99 I was intrigued and set about searching the internet to find out more, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Origin tale for the series was freely available on the website in PDF format.  If you have listened to Panelcast 65 then you have already heard my cursory review of the comic, which I had not finished reading at that point.

Well, I have finished reading it and I must say that I rather enjoyed it.  The 99 is a fine super hero comic and a new spin on the genre that I have not come across before, while remaining in many ways familiar.  I don’t want to deal with the controversies surrounding the comic as they are trivial and not at all relevant to a review.  Nor will I attempt to make this a discussion of religion.  Though the themes of the comic [i]are [/i]of a religious nature, there have been many such comics exploring a variety of religious themes and as a non-believer, I care more about the quality of the comic itself.

The 99 was different for me in that it presents the super hero genre using the belief system of Islam as a backdrop, but once I started reading the comic, I stopped thinking of it as a Muslim comic.  Created by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa and co written with Fabian Nicieza, The 99 stands as a comic that while created with Muslims in mind can really be enjoyed by just about anyone.

Origins begins by telling the tale of how the 99 “Noor Stones” came to be and sets the stage for the rest of the series.  A significant portion of Origins deals with the creation of the stones and sets up an cohesive mythology from which the rest of the series flows naturally, taking pains to explain why and how these super heroes exist.  The pacing of the comic is understandably slow at first as the groundwork is laid out but pick up once the meat of the story begins.  The characters are all believable for the setting they are in and the development is such that you can easily identify the motivation for what they are doing.  Dr. Al-Mutawa may have had a specific message in mind for The 99, but it is apparent that the writers understood that the most important thing for making a comic work is to tell a good story.  If you do that, people will be able to pick up on your message while being entertained.  Origins gives you just enough of the plans of the protagonist Dr. Ramzi to be interested in finding out more about his plans for saving the world as well as giving a slightly predictable but fitting twist at the end to bring in some conflict.

The art, by John McCrea, Jason Dennis and James Hodgkins, lends to the story without distracting from it and is sufficiently comic book-y, blending a little of Western and Middle Eastern styles to the characters.  None of the characters are stereotyped and all have been designed well and have their own distinctive look.  It is not my most favorite art ever, but it is expertly executed and works well with the story.

All told, The 99 – Origins, is a comic that does what comics should and tells an interesting story.  And a free 52 page comic isn’t a bad thing either.  I can only hope that the rest of the series is as well written and I am interested to see how the beliefs of Islam translate into an ongoing super hero series.  I will definitely pick up some more issues.

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