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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