Superman Is Jewish? How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice, and the Jewish-American Way

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 8:48 am

In brief

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You will believe a Hebrew can fly.

Wait for it… wait for it… yes, there it is, the inevitable Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel movie. If you haven't seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and all your friends have, so what makes you so special?) I don't think I'm giving anything away by noting that the comic book legend has a funny bit of business in the film. Of course, Lee is completely wrong because he is not "so fired." Nobody's canning America's favorite Jewish grandpa.

That Lee and so many of his contemporaries (Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Siegel and Shuster) were Jewish is fairly well-known, but it's Brod's thesis that this was hardly accidental or irrelevant to their work. Instead, he places not only the creators, but the characters, firmly within Hebrew religious and storytelling traditions. Per Brod, it's no coincidence that Peter Parker grew up in Forest Hills, and he wags a finger at those who would convert Superman.

"By Superman Returns…he was even being claimed as a Christ figure. Another nice Jewish boy was being resurrected as a Christian god…the next time someone tells you to look at Superman as a Christ figure, tell them they need to look elsewhere. Look, up in the sky! It's a man! It's a Jew! It's Supermentsh!"

What I appreciate most is that Brod isn't merely a defender of the faith, but a defender of the form. He devotes an entire chapter to Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and does his best to rescue it from highbrow critics: "Separating the comics part from its supposedly more 'serious' ambitions does a real disservice to the work…I'm overcompensating in the opposite direction. I'm going to discuss it as primarily about the Jewish origins of comic book superheroes, which means I'm going to consciously not do justice to much of the book." And what could be more appropriate than a Jewish-American author serving truth, justice, costumed heroes and the comic book way?