- Associated Press - Sunday, September 26, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Comic book fans will soon be getting their first glimpse at an unlikely new superhero _ a Muslim boy in a wheelchair with superpowers.

The new superhero is the brainchild of a group of disabled young Americans and Syrians who were brought together last month in Damascus by the Open Hands Intiative, a non-profit organization founded by U.S. philanthropist and businessman Jay T. Snyder.

The superhero’s appearance hasn’t been finalized, but an early sketch shows a Muslim boy who lost his legs in a landmine accident and later becomes the Silver Scorpion after discovering he has the power to control metal with his mind.

Sharad Devarajan, co-founder and CEO of Liquid Comics whose company is now turning the young people’s ideas into pictures and a story line, said the goal is to release the first comic book _ launching the disabled Muslim superhero _ in early November in both Arabic and English.

Snyder says he was inspired by President Barack Obama’s effort to reach out to the Muslim world in his January 2009 inaugural address. Last month, Snyder flew 12 disabled Americans to Damascus to meet their Syrian peers, and one of their main goals was to come up with ideas and story lines for the new superhero.

“The only limit was the imagination these kids had _ the opportunity for a great story,” said Snyder, a comic book collector who heads HBJ Investments LLC. “They helped create something by their combined talents, and that becomes a gift to the world.”

Devarajan found the young people’s imagination to be quite amazing.

“The opening question we asked the kids was if you could have any superpower what would it be? I’ve asked that question in many different groups before and the typical answers are always the ones you’d expect _ flying, reading minds, or being super strong,” Devarajan said.

“The fascinating thing about this group was that I don’t think I heard any one of those three,” he said.

“Each of their ideas was so originally distinct, whether the Syrian kids or the U.S. kids,” he said, adding that perhaps because of their disabilities, the young people think as individuals without being influenced by outsiders. One girl, for example, wanted to have the power to combine the energy of the moon and the sun.

Devarajan said it was noteworthy that none of the young people wanted the hero’s power to be something that cured their disability.

“They were empowered by their own disabilities, and they should not be seen as a source of weakness,” he said.

Initially, 50,000 Arabic-language comics will be distributed throughout Syria, and subsequent issues will be distributed elsewhere in the Middle East, Snyder said. The comic will also be available worldwide for free in digital formats through the Open Hands and Liquid Comics websites.

It will be the first in a series of comics with international superheroes, and while one will have disabilities others will not, Devarajan said. He added that almost all the characters being planned “are based on the seeds that were created by these kids together in this trip.”

The dozen Americans were selected after a national call for applications by The Victor Penada Foundation, a non-profit educational organization that promotes the rights of young people with disabilities. They included youths who were blind, deaf, using wheelchairs, or suffering from Down syndrome, autism, and cognitive disabilities.

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