Mohammad al-Mohamed Muhammad and Youssef Fakish
Northwest Press $5.99 digital/ $14.99 print
A year and a half or so ago publisher Soft Skull Press got in touch to promote a tongue in cheek book. The email teased another book,including some art, that would be available at a later date and would I be interested in reviewing it? That book was Al-Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon and I said yes even though I was ambivalent. The small art sample was well drawn but was the book really over the top as the publisher promised or would prove to be riddled with awful stereotypes and exploitive? So I waited and waited and never heard more from the publisher and then the creator surfaced at last year’s Bent Con and gave me a much better impression of the book’s tone.
A copy of the book arrived in the mail months later, the latest in a stack of graphic novels and comic related books to review when circumstances in my life made it absurdly impossible. Temptation was too strong. My eyes popping as I looked through it once, twice, and again and again. No doubt that the art overall is appealing in its and Youssef Fakish draws hot, muscle bound and realistically anatomical men and highly charged and erotic sex scenes. Sure, the men are hot and the artist knows how to draw body hair and grounds them in realistic backgrounds and I envy his skillful renditions of decorative Islamic flourishes incorporated in panel borders and page layouts. That’s enough – ahem – bones to keep the interest of many readers though usually not for me. What about the story?
Muhammed’s premise for the story is simple. Several years ago Senator John McCain was vocal in his reaction about how the impending repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would affect troop morale and military preparedness, making the United States potentially vulnerable to Al-Qaeda attacks, because, you know, teh geyz with their buttsecks ruin everything and will bring America to its knees. (clears throat) This irrational fear provides the foundation for Muhammed to poke fun at fundies and conservatives. It doesn’t seem like much for a graphic novel, but Muhammed’s imagination is fertile, his insight is laser sharp, and his enthusiasm is infectious! He just takes the metaphorical ball and runs with it, telling how sleeper agent Mahmoud undergoes a rigorous process to assimilate into American gay culture, meeting Steve with whom he confusingly falls in love and becomes influenced by evil American culture to the point he questions his loyalty and mission. Nothing is sacred and off limits to Muhammed though. Let me tell you poking fun at fundies can be both fun and eye opening, but it doesn’t take much for it to get old fast. Thankfully Muhammed knows this too and avoids being a one note disappointment by having as much fun making light of gay culture and all its quirks as those cray cray fundies.
Update: How did I forget to mention the fun bonus material that includes a paper doll figure of Mahmoud with accessories like a jock, jeans, boots, chaps, and full on Spartan warrior gear and a sexy double page pin up?
Al-Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon is outrageous, absurd, over the top, brash, and completely unapologetic. Just the way it should be I think. This book had a difficult journey. Numerous printers turned down the original publisher and it looked as if it might languish for a long time if ever see print until Northwest picked it up. This is my first exposure to both the writer’s work and I look forward to enjoying more from both he and the artist in the future.