Batman writer David Hine has come out to explain his decision to have the Dark Knight team up with an Algerian Muslim, Nightrunner. In light of Hine’s remarks, a few more thoughts on why the right’s oh-so-wrong to protest.
When Batman headed to France to find a new ally in his global Batman, Inc., he originally considered recruiting a Musketeer-based crime fighter.
Hine, however, felt such a move would be too bland. He and the team wanted to create a character who tapped into France’s zeitgeist.
“Rather than use the obvious choice of The Musketeer as the new French Batman, I wanted to come up with the kind of hero I would want to see in a comic book if I were French,” says British-born Hine.
“The process of developing a story is complex and there are all kinds of things I looked at. The urban unrest and problems of the ethnic minorities under Sarkozy’s government dominate the news from France and it became inevitable that the hero should come from a French Algerian background.”
Hine also said that Clichy-Sous-Bois, a neighborhood known for its riots, provided an “obvious location” for Nightrunner, real name Bilal Asselah, a Sunni Muslim Algerian who lives in—and is a citizen of—France.
Right-wingers overcome by comic derangement syndrome immediately denounced “Islamist” Nightrunner. Avi Green, a writer at The Astute Bloggers, fumed, “How about that, Bruce Wayne goes to France where he hires not a genuine French boy or girl with a real sense of justice, but rather, an “oppressed” minority who adheres to the Religion of Peace.”
Nightrunner’s Islamic past make it impossible, Green and his allies say, for him to be a hero, because heroics and Muslims are mutually exclusive.
Had these critics bothered to read Hine’s story, told in ‘Detective Comics Annual #12′ and ‘Batman Annual #28′ they would see that Nightrunner’s fits quite nicely into the archetypal “hero” format.
Nightrunner’s story goes like this: raised by a single mother in Clichy-Sous-Bois, he and his friends remained, to use his word, “neutral” in the ongoing clashes between their Muslim neighbors and French police. On day, however, Bilal and best pal Aarif got caught in the crossfire, leading to increased anger within them both.
Though Bilal swore not to take revenge, Aarif decided otherwise, and torched a police station an incident that led to his death, which only inflamed protests. It was then that Bilal began practicing Parkour, or free-running, and listening to a peace-mongering Muslim singer named Leni, who inspires him to take up the Nightrunner mantle.
He knows the danger, but it’s for the greater good of the nation he loves. “Even if stopping these murders damns me,” he says, “doing nothing damns everyone else.” Like a true hero, Nightrunner realizes he has to risk life and limb to save his nation from civil war.
Thus, he begins to track down the Le Portail D’or (the Golden Portal) cult, which has been programming people to assassinate key political leaders—a Marxist union organizer, a white supremacist and a Muslim diplomat—to spark social unrest. “I have taken murder and purified it. Peace will come through violence,” the cult’s leader tells another crime fighter, lesbian hero The Question, whom Batman also recruits to take down the assassins. The team, including Nightrunner, is ultimately successful.
Right-wing anger over Nightrunner’s introduction isn’t based solely in anti-Islam attitudes, nor is it only about how DC eschewed a native—read: white —Frenchman. It’s based in an increasingly firm belief that only natives know what’s best for their country. Outsiders, real or imagined, can’t uphold a nation’s particular ideals.
Though Bilal swears his allegiance to France, and will defend its honor at all costs, to right wingers, he’s still an impotent stand-in for a “real hero.” Such a concept helps explain conservative opposition to the defeated DREAM Act, which would have allowed children of illegal immigrants to gain citizenship by either enlisting in the military or enrolling in college, two moves that would ultimately benefit the United States.
Later in the Batman story, after he’s been integrated into the Dark Knight’s expansive family, Nightrunner’s astonished to see his adventures, including inadvertent combat with Algerian protesters, spark backlash. “Before I know it, I have become a symbol,” thinks Nightrunner, recalling Batman’s insistence that every city needs an emblem of justice. “But not the one I wanted.”
Like a good apprentice, Nightrunner turns to Batman, who tells him, “[building a symbol] takes time. But I wouldn’t be so quick to give up on them.” While Batman’s talking about the DC Universe’s fictional France, he might as well be talking about the United States’ real conservatives.
They may not understand the importance or impact of a Muslim comic hero today, but perhaps one day they’ll see the errors of their ways and those who practice Islam will be seen as courageous as any other caped crusader.