This October, worlds will collide when writers Stuart Moore and Fabian Nicieza bring together for the first time ever DC Comics and the Middle Eastern publishing company Teshkeel Comics for the six-issue crossover miniseries “JLA/The 99.”
While many comic fans know of the Justice League – with a roster reaching all areas of the DCU and consisting of such powerhouses as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – they may not be as familiar with Teshkeel and The 99. Founded by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, a proponent and prominent speaker on progressive Islam, the comic book company licenses many America comics from DC, Marvel and Archie for the Middle Eastern market. However, they also began publishing their own title, “The 99,” which focuses on a group of young super heroes of various nationalities from all across the world. The youngsters all gained their powers through use of one of The 99 Noor Stones, each of which represents a different attribute of God and grants the wielder abilities associated with it. Although the basic idea behind the title stems from certain philosophies derived from Islamic faith, both Nicieza and Moore stated that there is no real religious content in the title, which they co-scripted for Teshkeel.
“It’s really not dogmatic in its presentation of its characters, vis-Ã -vis, the religion,” Nicieza told CBR News. “It’s actually more about taking the basic tenants of almost all religion and philosophy and having characters try to do the right thing and make the right choices. I’m not religious, so I never wrote them with any kind of religious bias one way or the other. I always wrote them as characters that were learning how to use these abilities that they’ve been given the right way.”
As for the upcoming crossover, the writers told CBR that the story stems from a worldwide threat that necessitates the teaming of both super groups. Moore further said that they wanted to create a story that both draws from the richness and depth of the DCU while incorporating the very source of The 99’s powers. The crossover also introduces a new character to The 99 lineup. “In ‘The 99,’ we didn’t start off the comic with 99 members, because we all would have jumped out the window before we finished issue #1,” laughed Moore. “So, we’re introducing new members all the time. Over the course of the first few issues of the crossover, a new member of The 99 is introduced and plays into the overall plot, which involves a threat to the entire world from a DCU villain. The identity [of the villain] is initially a mystery, but they have made some sort of deal with The 99’s archenemy Rughal. It’s all a matter of figuring out the common ground.”
Nicieza compared the main villain of The 99, Rughal, to a cross between DC villains Lex Luthor and Vandal Savage – an immortal and corrupt businessman constantly seeking more power. “He is long-lived. He disappeared for over a hundred years and then returned, but he’s been around for over a hundred now. He has found the means to corporate and political power, but he doesn’t have the great power, which is The 99 stones,” said the writer. “He really wants those gems and to find a way to control them. The story breaks out that his involvement is through a longtime DC Universe villain and together they hope to accomplish something for Rughal that would make his task easier in controlling those stones.”
Although Moore said that they wanted to keep the DC villain involved a secret for now, the writer admitted to the existence a strong hint available for everyone to see. “The villain, I’m not going to say who it is, but you can make a pretty good guess by looking at the first issue cover,” laughed Moore.
For those wondering how the story fits into current continuity for the universes involved, both writers decided to set the story in its own world, one Nicieza jokingly called “Earth Crossover.” “The real approach Stuart and I wanted to take was a real fun, old-time style meeting of teams and teaming up of characters. Take the best of what Gardner Fox could do from a template/structure standpoint and move it forward 40 years into present-day storytelling,” he said. “It’s a really fast-paced story. It’s six issues, but there’s a lot happening. It’s like a Marv Wolfman, George Perez-ian scope and scale because stuff is happening all over the world. We’re isolating different pockets that help advance our story.”
“There are different kinds of intercompany crossovers, and this is not one of the ones where people fall through one a hole in reality and find the other group,” added Moore. “We’re playing this as if these two groups exist in the same world. They’ve never happened to run into each other, but they are somewhat familiar with each other. This is the combination of threats and events that finally bring them all together.”
Although the writers couldn’t say much about the villains of the story, they definitely took some time to talk about the heroes. Moore said that most of the big Justice Leaguers make an appearance, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern. However, other characters play roles as well. Moore specifically called out the Atom (Ray Palmer), whom the writer said plays a very big part, and another old favorite of his. “I wrote ‘Firestorm’ for a while,” he added, “So I guess it’s not giving too much away to say he will be showing up as the series goes on.”
On the other side, the miniseries features the majority of the characters from The 99. “Most of the core characters of The 99 will appear,” said Moore. “That includes Jabbar the Powerful, Noora the Light, Hadya the Guide, Darr the Afflicter – who is the American character that plays a pretty pivotal role and comes in right away – and Fattah the Opener, who is our teleporter and who is extremely useful. He gets the team from place to place in no time.”
In order the juggle the massive cast of character set to appear during the course of the crossover, the writers decided to take a page from “The 99” playbook and split the cast into various teams. “The way The 99 work is that their adult mentor Dr. Ramzi chooses three members at a time to work together in what they call triad links, where they link the powers of their gems together,” explained Moore. “It’s a problem solving exercise where they have to use all of their powers in order to deal with a specific situation.”
“We’re focusing on specific sets of characters,” added Nicieza. “We’re trying to introduce them pretty cleanly – who they are and what they can do – and then over the course the series, we follow different groups of characters. It’s constant cutting between the different groups so each time it allows us to focus on a cleaner, leaner sub-section of people.”
The first characters from The 99 that readers encounter are Jabbar, Noora and Samda the Invulnerable, an untouchable 8-year-old girl that Moore admitted adds a lot of fun to the miniseries. “Samda is probably my favorite character to write because she’s 8 years old, nothing can touch her, she knows it,” he said. “She’s just always super cool and walks through any situation with her force field around her. She’s just great.”
Nicieza on the other hand said he likes a character not so content with staying grounded. “I’ve enjoyed Hawkman being involved with three teens who are wide-eyed and innocent. That’s a fun combination to write,” he laughed. “I enjoyed seeing a character like Jami, who is this little tech-wiz kid, being surrounded by Flash, Atom and Green Lantern, which is almost like a dream come true for him. Flash and Atom being scientists and Green Lantern being able to create anything with this ring, similar to what he tries to do with his own tech jacket.”
For the writers, being able to mix and match all these characters added to the fun of the project. And although normally when teams come together, there is usually some infighting and violence, both writers insisted that’s not really the case here as the nature of The 99 characters and their world work almost in opposition to the punch-first mindset of many super heroes.
“I like that these are positive, innocent characters that are respectful of adults. To them, to be standing around some of these Justice Leaguers, there’s a lot of Mr. Flash. You don’t get that too often in comics, so I enjoy that,” said Nicieza. “What will eventually play itself out is that the super heroes in general like to hit things in order to solve problems. I shouldn’t say they like to do it. That may not be inaccurate, but they seem to do it a lot. That is almost antithetical to how The 99 think. They’re capable of fighting if necessary, but that’s never their first course of resort. Through the course of the story we will see situations where they start to realize that their method of trying to solve the problem may work better than run fast and hit hard.”
“That’s a lot of the fun of it,” added Moore, “Taking all these characters who have radically different histories and backgrounds and putting them together and seeing what happens.”
Look for the first issue of “JLA/The 99” on October 27 in comic shops everywhere.