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Yes, Jewish superheroes do exist

A history of Jewish superheroes & villains whose powers aren't mathematics.

By: David Shear
Published: June 2nd, 2011 in Culture » Books » News
Magneto, Sabra & The ThingPic: Marvel Comics
Strip from Remembrance of Things PastPic: Marvel Comics
BatwomanPic: DC Comics
RambanPic: DC Comics

When I was a kid I loved my comics. I was, and still am, a Marvel kid. Spider-Man and Wolverine were my favourite and I built a pretty complete, and valuable, collection of The Amazing Spider-Man comics starting at issue 6 till well over 300. Unfortunately those were given away by my mom when she decided, without discussion, that I’ve outgrown them. But that’s a conversation for another day and another psychiatrist.

Having been engrossed in this world of radioactive spiders and adamantium claws, I never once thought about the background of the characters, their beliefs and religion. Only once I was introduced to Magneto, and his background story, did I realize that I can’t think of a single other superhero that’s Jewish. And the only one I knew of now was a villain.

Of course, since I was strictly a Marvel kid and never went near anything resembling a DC character, I was missing one half of all superhero and villain characters. So maybe there was a chance that DC stood for David Cohen (it doesn’t, it stands for Detective Comics), or that Superman, who I knew of but didn’t know well, was a Jew since there is evidence (created by Jews, found in a basket like Moses, his father’s Hebrew sounding name Kal-El). Alas, there is no concrete proof.

But how could it be that an industry dominated by Jews -- Stan Lee, Bob Kane, Jack Kirby, Jerry Seigel, Joe Shuster, and many others -- created so many characters and none were Jewish?

With X-Men: First Class set to hit theaters tomorrow, and its Jewish evildoer, it got me thinking again about this question. So I decided to do some light research, and found a list of characters from both Marvel and DC Comics who are actually Jewish. Now there are a lot of other characters, more than I expected, who are Jewish under different comic book brands, but I decided to focus on the more known ones:

Batwoman: Real name Kathy Kane, she's the counterpart to Batman and was created by Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff of DC Comics. While there was no mention of Batwoman being Jewish when she was first created in 1956 until she “retired” in 1964, when she was re-introduced in 2006 her character was prominently featured as Jewish and lesbian, in efforts to connect to modern day readers. So while we can’t have Batman, we do have his better half. And no, I don’t mean Robin.

The Thing: Real name Benjamin J. Grimm, he is a Marvel character who is the founding member of the Fantastic Four. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he first appeared in 1961. Unlike Batwoman, The Thing was conceived as a Jewish character from the beginning, but there was no mention of his Jewish background until August 2002 in Fantastic Four (Vol.3) #56 in a story titled Remembrance of Things Past.

In this issue, The Thing returns to his old neighbourhood in New York to return a Star of David he stole as a teenager from a pawnshop. Through a series of events, the Pawnshop owner gets wounded and The Thing prays the traditional “Sh’ma Yisrael” while bent over the pawnshop owner, which leads him to ask “All these years in the news, they never mention you’re Jewish. I thought maybe you were ashamed of it a little.” The Thing explains that, to the contrary, he did not want to bring shame on the Jewish community. “Figure there’s enough trouble in this world without people thinkin’ Jews are all monsters like me.”

Magneto: Real name Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, he's a Marvel villain and arch-nemesis of the X-Men. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he first appeared in 1962 in X-Men #1. While historically there was some disagreement as to whether Magneto was Jewish or Roma Gypsy, the recent X-Men movies have put this discussion to rest as Magneto was clearly portrayed as Jewish. In the original X-Men movie, released in 2000, the opening scene shows Magneto as a youth being led into a Nazi concentration camp along with other Jews. In X-Men: First Class the evidence are irrefutable, with multiple scenes showing Magneto’s Jewish upbringing, including lighting a menorah.

And while Magento’s wife was Roma Gypsy, it likely had to do with the industry-wide taboo at the time against reference of specific real-world religions during the 1960s. Therefore, the writers did not want classify him as Jewish.

Sabra: Real name Ruth Bat-Seraph, she is a Marvel superhero who was created by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema and first appeared in 1980 in the Incredible Hulk (Vol. 1) #256. The name “Sabra” means both a native of Israel and a kind of prickly pear known well in Israel.

Sabra was born near Jerusalem, Israel. She was raised in a special kibbutz run by the Israeli government after her powers were discovered. Sabra was the first superhuman agent to serve in the Mossad and was given a costume which bears the Israeli flag and colours. And while she is considered a genetic mutant by the U.S. Government, technically she isn’t a mutant. Sabra was granted her powers through an Israeli project similar to the program that created Captain America.

Ramban: Real name Aviva Joby Weinberg. Ramban first appeared in 1990 in Suicide Squad (Vol. 1) #45. Ramban is a DC Comics character and likely the most religious of all Jewish characters. Ramban is a rabbi, an observant Jew and the leader of the Jewish/Israeli superhero team Hayoth, an Israeli government-supported meta-humans group. Ramban has fought alongside Superman, Batman and Aquaman.

The most ironic part of Ramban is that he was created by two writers, Ostrander and Yale, neither of whom are Jewish.

Comic books originated in 1933, thanks to a Jewish novelty salesman named Maxwell Charles Gaines (née Max Ginzberg). Due to his love of reading newspaper strip comics such as Joe Palooka, Mutt and Jeff and Hairbredth Harry, he had the savvy to know that if he loved it, so would the rest of the U.S. From that spark grew the comic book industry publishing volume 1, series 1 Famous Funnies – the first comic book.

Related articles: Comics, Superheroes, X-Men, Magneto, Marvel, The Thing,
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