The olive-skinned, burly Baz hails from Dearborn, the hometown of Henry Ford and the capital of Arab America. His story begins at 10 years old, when he and the rest of his Muslim family watch their television in horror as airplanes fly into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Events unfold from there as U.S. Arabs and Muslims find themselves falling under intense suspicion and ostracism in the days, months and years following the attacks.
"Obviously, it's affecting everybody," said Johns, who grew up in nearby suburbs in a Lebanese Christian household and got into comics when he discovered his uncle's old collection in his Arab grandmother's attic. "One of the things I really wanted to show was its effect on Simon and his family in a very negative way."
Baz is not the first Arab or Muslim character to grace — or menace, as has historically been the case — the comic world. Marvel Comics has Dust, a young Afghan woman whose mutant ability to manipulate sand and dust has been part of the popular X-Men books. DC Comics in late 2010 introduced Nightrunner, a young Muslim hero of Algerian descent reared in Paris. He is part of the global network of crime fighters set up by Batman alter-ego Bruce Wayne.
Frank Miller, whose dark and moody take on Batman in "The Dark Knight Returns" in 1986 energized the character, took a different tack in his recent book, "Holy Terror," which tells the story of The Fixer and his efforts to stamp out Islamic terrorists. The graphic novel initially took root as a look at Batman's efforts to fight terrorism, which grew out of Miller's experiences of being in New York on 9/11.
A broader mission to bring Islamic heroes and principles to the comic world comes from Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of "The 99." The U.S. educated psychologist from Kuwait has been gaining followers across the globe since the 2006 debut of the comic book that spawned a TV series. "The 99" is named after the number of qualities the Quran attributes to God: strength, courage, wisdom and mercy among them.