Jews, Comics, Kaddish and Crosses

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I was internetless in the mountains for a bit, so I missed the whole furious flurry about how Magneto might be Jewish, how The Thing of the Fantastic Four is Jewish, and how Superman is probably not Jewish (but Kryptonian religion bears more than a passing resemblance to the one documented on this website).

The fact of the Thing’s Jewishness always gave me a sense of pride. Karl Kesel’s issue (Vol. 3, No. 56, duh) in which the mountain-man returns to his old Lower East Side haunting of Yancy Street to deal with both his metaphorical and physical ghosts was both moving and clever, even if the inclusion of both the Kaddish prayer and the Shema felt a bit contrived. On the other hand, the issue’s final punchline — you’re just going to have to track it down (or visit the website above) — is probably one of the best-delivered closing lines in any comic book in years.

What’s more, I’ve always been uncomfortable at the occasional matter-of-factness with which Ben Grimm (that’s the Thing’s real name) would, depending on the writer, drop casual references to Aunt Petunia’s Christmas pie or going to church. In one issue several years ago, there was even a flashback to Aunt Petunia’s funeral, in which he knelt in front of a cross-marked grave. (Not that he couldn’t still be Jewish, but it’s an odd image…and yes, probably more because of an artist’s lack of homework than any truth, but as comic fans know, canon is canon.)

Meanwhile, frequent MAD Magazine writer and sometime MJL contributor Arie Kaplan has a book out this month, From Krakow to Krypton, about the Jewish origins of comic book heroes. It’s the second book (at least) on the subject that’s been released in the past few years; Simcha Weinstein, the “comic book rabbi,” recently published his panegyric to Jews who wear capes, Up, Up, and Oy Vey, with chapters on the Jewish origins of Superman, the Hulk, Kitty Pryde, and even the character I’ve been propositioning Marvel to let me write for years: Sabra, the Israeli super-soldier. So if anyone knows anyone, feel free to give a shout…

Posted on September 2, 2008

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6 thoughts on “Jews, Comics, Kaddish and Crosses

  1. The Doctor

    One person said Superman is probably not Jewish; this is not a universal opinion. The X-men have 2 prominent Jewish characters [Magneto has been portrayed as Jewish for over 20 years; the comics are always "reinventing" histories and the business about exploring this new part of his history is hype]; the Thing is proved Jewish.

    Most of the writers and artists at Marvel in the early sixties [when all the famous characters like spidey, the hulk, fantastic 4, x-men, etc were created] were Jewish and many wove Jewish themes into their work. DC comics less so…

  2. The Doctor

    Actually, I recall reading about his being a holocaust survivor when I was an active X-men reader in the 1980’s. Regardless of what anyone said in any blog.

  3. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Moment Magazine Blog

  4. The Doctor

    That’s true; but this is a Jewish discussion board, and our perceptions are colored by our interests. I suspect a “myRomaLearning” discussion group would spend more time on the Roma experience in the holocaust. But we’re Jews and this is our focus and interest…

  5. matthue Post author

    Actually, Magneto has hardly ever been overtly portrayed as Jewish — check out this blog about it and, more directly, this detailed listing of Magneto’s references to his time in the Holocaust. When I was a kid, and held by the only-good-guys-should-be-Jewish dictum, I always wanted him to be Roma…not because I hate Gypsies, but because I thought Gypsies were cool and mysterious, and also because it fit well with his daughter the Scarlet Witch’s odd-looking headdresses.

    Right now, a bunch of Marvel’s new crop are also Jews — most notably Brian Michael Bendis, who is writing half of Marvel’s top titles (and grew up observant, I think) and some others, I believe…

  6. matthue Post author

    Definitely! Check out the link — there are some fascinating page from comics from the 1980s (and 70s!).

    But Jews weren’t the only people targeted in the Holocaust….

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