A radiation-ridden asteroid heading for Earth can only be stopped by a vintage 1955 solar-powered, Sukkah-shaped force-field, whose components were camouflaged and hidden in important Jewish historic spots decades ago. In a race against time, The Jewish Hero Corps follows clues to track down where their predecessors hid the devices more than half a century ago. – Issue 2, Jewish Hero Corps, “The Secret of the Solar Sukkah”
And so the world’s only Jewish super hero team, the Jewish Hero Corps, fights for truth and justice, and the Jewish Way! And oy, what powers they possess! Minyan Man can ... what else? Divide into ten. Shabbos Queen has a wand that nullifies electricity (but needs recharging one day in seven.) Menorah Man can shoot fire from eight arms, while Dreidel Maidel ... take a guess.
Wait ..... Jews fighting, flinging, flying? Is this what we learned in Hebrew School? You bet! The Jewish Bible is full of Mighty MOTs with super powers that would send Batman, a broken nishtikeit (a Mr. Nobody), slinking into his cave. Abraham, David, Moses, The Maccabees, with a leg-up from Hashem, are just a few who were archetypes for the many Jewish writers and artists who created some of our most beloved and enduring comic super heroes.
Jewish writers and artists were ripe for contributing their mighty values and images to their “mighty” comic creations.
And who better than us? Verbal, yet marginalized, deeply affected by the Diaspora and the Holocaust, Jewish writers and artists were ripe for contributing their mighty values and images to “Mighty” creations in pre and post-War America. But, with few exceptions ad agencies and syndicates weren’t thrilled with names like “Goldberg” on their talent rosters. So, what to do? What we’ve always done – developed our own characters and publishing companies!
The very first Jewish comic character, Gimpl Beinish the Matchmaker, created by Samuel Zagat, debuted in the Daily Forward in 1910.
In 1934, the first comic book, “Famous Funnies,” was the brainchild of Max “M.C.” Gaines (Ginsburg). Inspired by the old newspaper comics, he had a “EUREKA!” moment, realizing that funnies, packaged in “magazine” format, could rake in the gelt! Within six months, “Famous Funnies” did. (His son, wild man William Maxwell "Bill" Gaines was a shining light of the brilliant, irreverent, “Yiddishe”-styled MAD magazine, that changed comics – and comedians forever.)
OY VEY SAVES THE DAY,!
Enter Jerry Siegel, artist Joe Shuster and the Mensch of Steel! When Superman first flew in 1938, the D.C. Comic flew off shelves faster than a speeding bullet! The savvy, sophisticated super hero ushered in the “Golden Age” of comic books, and “super” clones who could BIF, BAM, SOCK, SWING, (after a short costume change in venues from caves to phone booths). Were his superpowers re-charged weekly by Shabbat cholent? The boys behind the “MAN,” did imbue him with Jewish traits – and roots. Like baby Moses traveling the Nile in a basket, Superman, born Kal-El, Hebrew for “Voice of G-d,” was saved from annihilation by his parents, arriving on Earth in a tiny space capsule, to escape the holocaust on Krypton. His values were to heal the world, fighting for good against evil.
Like the closeted Jews of the time, alter ego Clark Kent was the “vanilla” guy to the world, hiding the almost invincible hero. More, similarities to the Golem who protected the Jews in medieval Prague, are undeniable. During World War II, Superman, along with other comic heroes, BIF, BAMMED, and SOCKED the “reischstags” out of the evil Nazis! It’s been said that Joseph Goebbels denounced the Man of Steel as a Jew!
THE FLINGING AND FLYING CONTINUES ...
In Steve Rogers, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, also gave their Captain America, a passive and weak alter-ego, symbolic of how Jews were stereotypically viewed. That is ... until “Steve” slurped a serum transforming him into the star-spangled hero. Who on Earth could create such a potent potable? Simple, the Jewish team created “Professor Reinstein” to concoct the stuff. Hmmm.
And superJewish creators continued to define the medium. Bob Kane and Bill Finger developed Batman and world of Gotham City. Finger and Gil Kane (no relation to Bob Kane), created various incarnations of the Green Lantern, while Aquaman came to life via Mort Weisinger.
Legendary Jews, Stan Lee (Spiderman) and Jack Kirby spearheaded Marvel – a “Universe” of super heroes, including the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil among others. But more ... it was later discovered that one of them was Jewish! For decades, these demi-Gods of “Jewish extraction” professed no religion.
Then, in 2002, Lee and Kirby used The Thing as a metaphor for Jews and other minorities who were made to feel “freakish.” In as issue of the Fantastic Four, “Remembrance of Things Past,” test pilot Benjamin Jacob Grimm a.k.a. The Thing, returned to his Lower East Side roots to give back a Mogen David he stole from a pawn shop while a teen. When the owner, Mr. Sheckerberg, was “super villain-ized,” Grimm did what no other Super hero had done before: recited the Shma. Later, he finally celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, no doubt serving some gezunta buffet for the Fantastic Four, who watched him daven.
Lee and Kirby’s 1963's X-Men --super mutant heroes who were hated and feared by those they helped -- proved a powerful allegory for those born with differences.
OUT OF THE COMIC CLOSET
By the late 1970s, as Americans matured in their views of minorities, openly Jewish characters “flew” out of the closet and off the comic stands. Chris Claremont (yes, Jewish), introduced Kitty Pryde (X-Men), who often wore a Star of David, and “redeemed” the X-Men's arch nemesis Magneto (a.k.a. Max Eisenhardt), through a new backstory, explaining how his villainy resulted from his childhood in Nazi concentration camps.
Marvel's Sabra (Incredible Hulk #256, 1981), with the power to shoot energy quills (resembling the sabra fruit) was born in the Holy Land. Another Hulk pal, Doc Samson, is a former yeshiva student, (Incredible Hulk #373). DC comics created Hayoth, an Israeli super hero team. Led by Ramban, rabbi and a Jewish mystic, the group includes the Golem, Dybbuk, and Judith.
Moving into the 1980s, the legendary Will Eisner, took the “comic” art form into the literary and critical stratosphere. In A Contract With God (1978) -- four stories about the Bronx tenement life of Eisner's youth -- were released in novel-length. And the comic “graphic novel” was born. Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” series followed for which Pekar won the American Book Award (1987). A critically acclaimed film based on the series was released in 2003. Art Spiegelman’s ground-breaking Maus, a memoir of his father’s Holocaust experience, with animals representing characters, was the first graphic novel/comic to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. The popularity of the form continues to this day with James Sturm's The Golem's Mighty Swing, Miriam Katin's We Are On Our Own, and Ben Katchor's The Jew of New York, and the 2007 Time Magazine Book of the Year, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home to name a few.
Comics, that started on the fringe, with crude, childish, broadly drawn stick figures, has emerged as a sophisticated pop culture phenomenon. And from Maus to The Simpsons, this transition was due, in large part, to the talent and values of we “Mighty MOTs.”
The history of Jews as creators and characters in comics is as vast and complex as it is fascinating. So yes, I’ll apologize in advance: “I know, I know. I know I left ‘him’ out, put ‘her’ in, missed ‘that’ entirely.” The following is but a smidgeon of Jewish SUPER-eriority to WOW you!
Astrovik, Marvel Comics
Atom: The Justice League
Atom Smasher, The Justice League
Colossal Boy, DC Comics, Legion of Superheroes
Harley Quinn, Batman
Masada, Team Youngblood
Prime, Malibu Comics
Ragman, DC Comics
Sasquatch, Alpha Flight
Volcana, Marvel Comics