Writer and Dearborn native Saladin Ahmed on creating Marvel’s first Arab American superhero
If writer Saladin Ahmed never typed another word, he'd already have introduced us to so many interesting people. From fantasy novels, to Westerns, to supernatural sleuth stories, Ahmed’s writing spans both genre and form.
Right now, he's the author of two major titles for Marvel Comics: The Magnificent Ms. Marvel, and Miles Morales: Spider-Man. Ahmed took over the character of Miles Morales from creator Brian Bendis, and is putting his own stamp on the story.
Ahmed said Morales, a young biracial man of African American and Puerto Rican descent, was an “absolute blast to write.” The writer has been a fan of the Spider-Man comics since he was a kid. According to Ahmed, while Morales is a new iteration of this superhero, he actually shares a lot in common with the original Spider-Man Peter Parker.
"This sort of confused teenage superhero trying to balance everything at once and sort of constantly having stuff thrown at him. He’s a working-class kid from outer borough New York, and I think that’s all continuity with Peter rather than difference from him,” Ahmed said.
Miles Morales is not the only diverse character that Ahmed has helped give voice to on the page. Ms. Marvel is the superhero alter ego of Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American girl from New Jersey. Ahmed is also Muslim, and he grew up in Dearborn, Michigan. He said that was one reason he was asked to write for the character.
"I was deeply intimidated at the prospect of taking over the comic," he recalled. "And yet, I had all sorts of ideas about where the character might go."
From his very first call with Marvel Comics, Ahmed knew he wanted to create the Marvel universe's first Arab-American superhero. It took time and patience, but that dream is now a reality. In the upcoming Magnificent Ms. Marvel #13, which hits comic book stores in March, Ahmed debuts Fadi Fadlalah as the superhero Amulet. Ahmed describes Fadlalah as a "gentle giant type."
“He’s a defensive tackle from Dearborn who quit football because he hurt somebody. And it was very important for me to show an Arab man, and a Muslim man, or a young man who is kind. We don’t see a lot of that in our media. We see a lot of angry, fanatical guys with beards, and not a lot else.”
Many comic book plots, and the movies based on them, have taken a decidedly darker turn in recent years. But Ahmed said that he likes writing narratives where the "good guys" win. Even a cynic like him, Ahmed said, has to find hope for the future world his kids will inhabit.
“It’s very easy just based on my own experiences as an Arab Muslim man in America for some 40-something years, it’s very easy to see darkness ahead. And maybe that’s realistic,” Ahmed said. “I try and think about what skin-of-their-teeth escape, comic-level escape might be possible for my kids in the future.”
Magnificent Ms. Marvel #13, in which Marvel's first Arab American superhero Amulet debuts, is out on March 4th. That day, Ahmed will be signing copies of the book at Green Brain Comics in Dearborn.
Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.