NEW YORK — Comic book fans will soon be getting their first glimpse at an unlikely new superhero — a Muslim boy with superpowers who uses a wheelchair.
The character is the brainchild of a group of disabled young Americans and Syrians brought together last month in Damascus by the Open Hands Initiative, a nonprofit 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 to a land mine 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 in early November in 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."
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 be available worldwide for free digitally through the Open Hands and Liquid Comics websites.
The dozen Americans were selected after a national call for applications by the Victor Penada Foundation, a nonprofit 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.