Jewish America and Israel in Comic Books!
Updated: Apr 28
Guest Blog by Susan Eisenstein
At some point in time, you’ve most definitely heard of the famous Superman or Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, X-Men, and all of the other great superheroes of our day. The list goes on and on...and they are timeless!
But did you know that many of the early comic book heroes are actually Jewish? Yes, that's right. The comic book industry, comic books as an art form, and many superheroes are the inventions of American Jews.
As such, comic book superheroes often reflect aspects of their creator's Jewish heritage and upbringing. These Jewish writers and artists were creative, entrepreneurial, and often shut out of the more established media art forms. When first created, comics were viewed as being a low art, and not an industry for people with a respectable background. For more than 80 years, legendary comic book writers created characters who reflected the hopes, ideas, and problems of modern American Jews. The heroes are often conflicted, troubled, or oppressed, but they still fight for the disenfranchised, the other, the downtrodden, which are distinctly Jewish traits as well!
Many of the superheroes have predominately Jewish immigration and assimilation story. For example, take Superman. The creators of Superman, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, first-generation Jewish Americans, gave us many clues. Superman's Kryptonian name is Kal-El, Hebrew for "vessel of G-d," or "voice of G-d." His middle name is Joseph. Superman's origin story is taken from Exodus. His parent launched him to safety and he is adopted by a gentile couple, Martha and Jonathan Kent. See the parallel to Moses? Superman also takes on an American identity as Clark Kent, even though his original identity is alien. Superman even has a social security number! In a 1966 issue of Action Comics, the editors revealed that Clark Kent's social security number is 092-09-6616. (This number actually belonged to a real person, who had died a year earlier. His relatives have no idea why his number was picked.)
Spiderman's teenaged angst is thought to make him Jewish, along with his guilt trips, as well as his being puny and picked on in school. The Incredible Hulk is thought to be modeled after Adam, the first man of the Torah. Captain America has very public Jewish roots, as he was the first superhero to punch Hitler in the face!
Some characters received an explicit Jewish background decades after their creation. These include The Thing, aka Ben Grimm, from the Fantastic Four, and the tragic X-Men antihero Magneto, whose origin story presents him as a Holocaust survivor.
Yes, even antiheroes seem to be Jewish in essence. In the series X-men, Magneto was born with the name Max Eisenhardt and is a Holocaust survivor. He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (Stanley Martin Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg, respectively), and was imprisoned in Auschwitz. The series depicts him with views of mutant supremacy, which makes complete sense, as a Jewish child brought up in Nazi Germany.
What about Israel in all of this?
And of course, Israel is not left out of the American comic book world! Masada is a fictional Jewish superhero from Image Comics. She is a member of Team Youngblood and is Israeli. Masada the character can turn into a giant and acquires her powers from the souls of the Jews who sacrificed themselves at Masada, as well as anyone else who sacrificed themselves for Judaism.
Another Israeli comic book character is Sabra, aka Ruth Bat-Seraph, an Israeli superhero who appeared in Marvel Comics! She was born in Jerusalem and grew up on a kibbutz for people with superhuman abilities. In the comics, she was the first person with superhuman abilities to work in the Mossad. She has enhanced strength, stamina, speed, agility, and uses special cutting-edge technology to help her fly. She also proudly displays the Star of David on her blue and white uniform. A true defender of Israel!
Check out this video comic of Sabra fighting The Hulk! And notice her big, beautiful blue and white, Jewish star uniform!
The world of Judaism and Israel in the comic world goes on and on, and there are surprising connections between the Bible, the Talmud, and Jewish mysticism.
Looking to learn more on this subject? Check out these books!
Stan Lee: A Life In Comics by Liel Leibovitz
From Krakow to Krypton, Jews In Comic Books by Arie Kaplan