Jewish Comic Book Characters: The Best of 2009

Comic books in 2009 came one more step closer to being accepted by the literary public. Oh, there were the major 2009 motion pictures, Watchmen and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and the continuing debate over what constitutes a novel (Can it be illustrated? Can those illustrations take the lead in telling the story?) — but the smartest of graphic storytellers have continued to ignore these debates, focusing instead on blending together their pictures and their words in a way that makes great art and tells a great story.

This list of notable Jewish comic book characters from 2009 includes two mainstream superheroes, as well as three characters by independent creators, who took on subject matter as mundane as secretarial work and as grand as the story of Creation to illuminate their subject matter.

God, in R. Crumb’s Genesis
Like many secular-raised Jewish kids with a picture of God as an old white-bearded man, I spent most of my life deconstructing that image. Which is one reason why Crumb’s masterwork Genesis freaks me out, with its long-bearded, long-white-haired man molding the Earth and expelling Adam and Eve from Eden. Crumb’s Genesis is a bizarrely classical take on a classical book, and nowhere more remarkably so than his Protagonist.

god, r. crumb's genesis

Sabra, the Protector of Israel (Marvel Comics)
sabraIt’s bizarre that the superheroine known as Sabra, an occasional member of the X-Men and self-proclaimed Protector of Israel, has never even had her own miniseries. Consider how she lives in a world where Spider-Man says “oy,” the most powerful mutant on Earth, Magneto, is a Holocaust survivor, and even the superhero Captain America has been known to use a Yiddish expression or two. Last year, she had more background appearances in different comics than in any previous year, and 2009 found her first official comic book released. The story was mostly a disappointment, but we still love Sabra. She deserves better.

Art Spiegelman in his Be a Nose!
The Jewish world will never forget Art Spiegelman for Maus, the story of his father during the Holocaust and his own trials surviving the survivors. But perhaps the most haunting part of Maus was the four-page short, drawn by a much-younger Spiegelman, about his mother’s suicide. The volumes of Be a Nose!, a collection of Spiegelman’s early notebooks, give an insightful and depraved picture of Spiegelman as struggling artist and writer, as well as an infinitely more valuable picture of Spiegelman as a struggling adult.

The maybe-resurrected Gert Yorkes of Runaways by Kathryn Immonen
Almost every superhero team has one token Jew, and for a while, Gert filled that void for the Runaways, a cadre composed of the not-evil children of evil supervillains. She died a few years ago, but recent issues have given hints of her return — a return no one wants to see more than I do. Purple hair, glasses, nerdy catch-phrases, and a pet velociraptor. Need I say more?

gert yorkes runaways jewish

Miriam Libicki of Jobnik!: An American Girl’s Adventures in the Israeli Army
Why does our best-of list have two writer/artists doubling as subjects? Maybe because comics, with their sometimes nonlinear storytelling and their combination of pictures and words, come closest to seeing inside our heads. Or maybe because Libicki and Spiegelman are both so damn good at what they do. Libicki released her first collected edition of Jobnik! comics this year. Though the art is black and white, Libicki’s storytelling is anything but, and she examines the intricacies and paradoxes of being Canadian, Israeli, female, and a soldier who doesn’t blindly believe in her government.


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