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I don’t know that much about Marvel so I’m going to pass on this question, any of my followers who know more can comment as they see fit.
I’d like to see some examples so I could make a better explanation, but here are my thoughts on the matter…
1. Superman IS a Jew. No, not in the sense that he is actually Jewish in ethnicity, but his story deliberately parallels numerous aspects of Jewish faith and Jewish history. Most specifically, Superman is a Moses figure and his experiences track with the Jewish immigrant experience. Let me give you a rundown:
Superman is like Moses in that his family sent him away to avoid a dark fate. In the case of Moses, all Jewish baby boys were to be murdered. In the case of Supes, Krypton was about to be destroyed. Both Superman and Moses fled their adopted homes to learn about their birthright from a father figure, in Superman’s case it was Jor-El, in Moses’s case, it was G-d. Both Superman and Moses then returned to become heroes with abilities beyond normal people. Both are intended to be figures who lead by example and teach people to follow a greater truth by rallying behind a new truth that he delivers either the Ten Commandments or Superman’s Truth, Justice and the American Way.
Superman tracks with the Jewish immigrant experience very closely as well. Many Jewish immigrants in the era when Superman was created fled from their communities being destroyed by Pogroms. Sometimes families would not have the means to send everyone and would only send one child. Superman was sent away from Krypton, but his family was unable to go to Earth with him. In both cases, their homes were left behind, gone forever and never to be returned to or recreated. Once arriving in his new home, Clark merged the values of his new home, taught to him by his adopted parents, the Kents, with the values of the Kryptonians as taught to him by the ancient knowledge left to him by Jor-El, his father. Also, keep in mind the use of the name “El,” which is one of the many names that Jews use for G-d. In Pirkei Avot, a collection of teaching by Rabbis of the Mishnaic period, verse 1:18 states: “Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel said: The world endures on three things – on justice, on the truth and on peace.”
What are the three pillar’s of Superman’s credo? Truth, Justice and the American Way (apparently, peace isn’t the American way).
Superman represents a merging of the immigrant Jew with American ideals. Also, like most Jewish people who can pass for white, what makes him different is only visible when he chooses to make it so. He simply can’t live his life in complete safety and security if everyone knew he was different, even if he loves his adopted home and even if he considers himself a part of it. Exposing himself fully puts himself at risk. This sort of mirrors the assimilationist pressures many Jews face. What makes us exceptional also puts us at risk for not being able to enjoy the same kind of lives everyone else lives. We can lie about who we are to live like other people, but doing so costs us the truth of ourselves.
There’s more. There are numerous books on how Judaism influenced Superman all over the place. Here’s a recent, well-reviewed one by Larry Tye.
2. Captain America is intended to be Aryan as all get out. He’s blonde, blue eyed, his name is Steve Rogers. On the surface, he appears to be the ideal person as idealized by Nazi Racial Science. AND THAT IS THE POINT. When Joe Simon and Jack Kirby decided to have the most Aryan American possible punch Adolf Hitler in the face in a comic printed BEFORE the United States’s entry into World War II, they were making a very conscious choice to have an American Hero who has every reason to BENEFIT from Nazism, and punches the Fuhrer right in his mother fucking face. Steve Rogers was created as a conscious rejection of all the things he COULD stand for, while choosing to stand for something else instead. Steve Rogers was an intentional counter to Nazism and an encouragement to get Americans involved in the war in Europe to HELP SAVE THE JEWS.
A fictionalized version of this story appeared in Michael Chabon’s novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. In the book, two Jewish comic book creators, asked to create a character who could compete with Superman design a character called “The Escapist” whose purpose is to free everyone who is in chains. They have him do the same damn thing as Steve Rogers, punching Hitler in his mother fucking face. When they complete the comic, Joe Kavalier, who, like Clark Kent, is the only person in his family to escape Europe and needs the money from selling the comic to bring the rest of his family over says a few words that made me bawl my fucking eyes out: ”I wish he were real.”
So what does Steve Rogers represent to the Jews? The hope that someone out there, in the position to do so, would give enough of a damn to save us, that this country could reject its racism and anti-semitism and fight the Nazis. Captain America was a call to arms. It was a plea to save our people. In that context, it tears me up inside.
So, getting back to the original question what do I think people SHOULD do? Well, here are some examples of some great things professional comic creators have already done.
James “Rhodey” Rhodes AKA War Machine
Miles Morales AKA Spider-Man
John Henry Irons AKA Steel
Anya Corazon AKA Spider-Girl
You don’t need Clark Kent or Steve Rogers to tell Captain America or Superman stories. Create a different Captain America with his own story, his own reason he was chosen to be a Super Soldier, whose different history informs the different character that he will inevitably be. Make a female Captain America who’s a Cuban immigrant. Make up whoever the hell you want. But be creative about it! Don’t just change the character’s ethnicity, make that difference mean something! Just like being a Jew influences my reading of these characters, someone else’s background will probably lead them to find things they love about the characters that they can translate into something completely their own. Just because Jews invented these characters it doesn’t mean we OWN them. Well, technically Marvel and DC DO, but you get my drift.
this is a fantastic breakdown of why superman/captain america are jewish, and why that’s important, but I think it would be completely possible to have jewish characters that aren’t presented as white, seeing as so many jewish people aren’t white/white passing.
Absolutely. As I stated above, Superman is a great metaphor for White Passing Jews because of the secret identity issue. Jews of Color don’t get to pass as white and as such their experiences are quite different. There might be a JoC superhero somewhere, but none of which I’m aware. That is a problem.
To reiterate, I don’t think Captain America is Jewish. What’s important about him is that he’s as close to the Aryan ideal as possible and he rejects every privilege it confers on him aggressively. I just think his origins are incredibly informed by the fact that he was created by Jews.
I find it very easy to fanon-ize the Kents as rare Kansas Jews. It changes nothing about the character besides making him more representative of his creator.
Yeah, though, Steve Rogers sort of has to be as close to the Aryan ideal as possible post-serum, for that extra punch to the Nazi’s ideals. The idea of a black Cap is fascinating, but Isaiah Bradley and Adam Brashear both sort of cover that territory in different ways.
As for Jewish superheroes of color, really can’t think of any.
Cosmo tip inspired by 50 Shades #2: Stab him in the ass with a fork.
DICK GRAYSON SECRET AGENT
EDGIER OUTLOOK ON LIFE
and I’m here just like
Dick Grayson. Dick Grayson???