Pop culture is awash with superheroes. From those we choose to embody like Ezio Auditore or Lara Croft in video games to the Marvel characters we worship on the silver screen, heroism in its many guises is an indulgence we can’t do without.
John Maher knew that when he created El3osba in 2012. A unique comic universe, The League, as it is known in English, featured Egyptian superheroes banding together in a selection of short stories originally published on Facebook.
The popularity of the page quickly grew as did the creative team (with writer Maged Refaat and artist Ahmed Raafat joining Maher) which oversaw its evolution into print before English language versions began popping up on Amazon’s Kindle.
Unsurprisingly, the superhero has transcended geopolitical boundaries. El3osba was created for an Egyptian audience. It was inspired by Egyptian concerns. And it is set in Egyptian locations. Yet, its themes are universal. Social issues, identity, security, conflict, and human rights are addressed in much the same way as many Western audiences will have witnessed in their diet of Marvel and DC.
But there are unique Middle Eastern and North African influences that make El3osba appeal to both its regional Arabic-speaking audience and newcomers to its English-language adaptations.
Maher told Ozy he felt “people have been waiting for Egyptian superheroes” in his homeland, hopefully inspiring citizens, with the stories’ issue-based adventures, to find heroes in everyday life.
That can have a much wider appeal. Indeed, as Western comic book fans seek further diversity and greater representation, El3osba can grow a fanbase around the world. That is certainly helped by its emerging reputation on the Kindle platform.
Maher also hopes it will inspire fellow North African writers and artists to follow his lead to overcome Egyptian stereotypes, which, he says, include desert-dwelling Bedouins and camels. And that’s certainly a part of why his work has been such a success.
Every member of the Avengers-like superhero team has uniquely Egyptian characteristics. But they importantly shirk stereotypes. Horus, the caped reincarnation of an Egyptian god, is laden with contraptions and gadgets as he rides his motorcycle. But his logo represents his roots, and one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Elsewhere, we have a sorcerer using the Arabic alphabet as the basis for spells, while El3osba’s depiction of the nomadic Bedouin is a toughened mercenary.
Yet, Maher has spoken about the difficulty in making an adult-themed comic series in Egypt. In an interview with Syfy, the creator says a radio host referred to El3osba as being for a young audience. Maher corrected him. But it has been a challenge to break away from a misconception in his homeland that superheroes are for kids.
Artist Ahmed Refaat says it’s easier for people to “digest the concept of a superhero in a Western country but not in Egypt.” However, while the setting brings about its obstacles, El3osba distinguishes itself by embracing them. “A lot of people look at a superhero operating in Egypt as a joke or a gimmick – we see it as the strength in our stories.”
It’s why a Western audience – one looking for something different – would find Maher’s creation appealing. Skot Thayer, in his article “The io9 Guide to the Egyptian Superhero Universe of El3osba” wrote about the already well-established attraction of the comic book series in Egypt and abroad. He notes that 3,000 physical copies have been sold, according to the creators.
And, as Ahmed states, Westerners “are no stranger to Egyptian lore”. Egyptian mythology has influenced movies like box office hits Stargate, The Mummy, and the 2004 French film Immortal. Video games too; most recently, Assassin’s Creed Origins took its cues from Egyptian history and heritage while Tomb Raider adventure Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris did too. You can even play Flash game Egyptian Tale on Miniclip.
They each have a common thread that will appeal to El3osba’s creators: they are created for a more mature audience. Indeed, The Pyramid, a violent found footage horror film released in 2014, and Cleopatra, a slots game developed by IGT and based on the ancient Egyptian ruler, represent nods to Egyptomania for adults only.
It’s a sign of Egyptian lore’s presence in Western pop culture. In fact, there are at least 102 English-language films set in Egypt, and more than 200 video slots inspired by Egyptian mythology with Cleopatra being one of the most popular on Buzz Bingo. The country also inspired Marvel’s Moon Knight and DC’s Hawkman characters.
Maher and the rest of the team behind El3osba are busily concocting new stories with a focus on several character-specific and standalone adventures populating recent output. While these Egyptian superheroes are still trying to establish themselves in the West, it appears to be a question of “when” not “if” El3osba will be the next big thing.
Dave has over 20 years experience in the digital industry, and is founder and editor of Geektown. Obviously a huge geek himself, he can often be found in front of the latest tv show or movie, on various video games, or with his head in a comic book.