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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Below: The return of the Atom (Ray Palmer) is given religious undertones. Source: Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1 (2001); written and illustrated by Frank Miller, colored by Lynn Varley; pages 5, 8 and 10; reprinted in Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again hardcover compilation, DC Comics: New York City (2002); pages 19, 22 and 24:
From: "Barry Allen is Jewish?" forum discussion, started 13 May 2005 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-4308.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
Heatwave the Rogue
May 15th, 2005, 07:44 AM
...I would rather comic companies take a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about religion.
May 15th, 2005, 10:59 AM
I think don't ask don't tell is for the birds. I mean, no, I don't want some kind of sermon every time I pick up a comic, but if you were a writer trying to flesh out a character sooner or later you'd have to come up against his or her spiritual beliefs. They can make for great stories...
If you are going to write stories that are beyond mere kiddie stories about men in tights, religion will enter it at some point. Take Identity Crisis for instance. There is a great moment when Ray fears that Jean is dead and he, almost involuntarly, starts to pray. He carries himself as an atheist and pretty much admits as much. But then, in the crunch, he turns to faith. To me, that is an interesting statment on the character...
May 15th, 2005, 11:42 AM
If Ray's reaction was unique, then I probably wouldn't think twice about it, but this is just another example of what I was talking about with the first two examples I gave.
Anyone who isn't religious is either painted as emotionally crippled, cold and unspiritual, or just angry at God. There's also the implication that if they could just undo their twisted thinking - or, in Ray's case, if they get desperate enough - they'll "revert to their senses and believe what they've always known to be true"...
May 15th, 2005, 11:59 AM
I disagree, although I completely understand your point.
In Ray's case, he was raised religious. His father was a religious man. Ray never really bought into it though and turned to science as his "faith". But it is very true that people placed under serious stress will, as you say, out of desperation turn to God or whatever. I don't think in Identity Crisis that has made Ray suddenly believe in God or start going to temple, but it does show us that deep down Ray Palmer hasn't made up his mind whether he believes in a god at all.
May 15th, 2005, 12:23 PM
...While I agree with crawfordcrow's thoughts and very well though out posts, I do have to add something. My father is a Baptist preacher and living in East Tennessee, I've seen lots of "atheists" and "agnostics" who are just like the sterotypes that you mentioned. Cold, emotonally stunted or "angry with God". Now mind you, I'm not trying to cheapen your thoughts/posts or beliefs, but while it may be a sterotype, it does exist. I can only speak for the places I've been and grown up, but I've seen it over and over. Almost Christmas Carol-like where Scrooge finally opens his heart/realizes his mistake or whatever and they join in and drop to their knees when the time comes.
Just to point out that does happen. No offense intended.
From: "Possible writers' cliche/prejudice: No well-adjusted athiests/agnostics in the DCU?" forum discussion, started 26 May 2005 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-5064.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
May 26th, 2005, 01:42 PM
...I've noticed a small, but persistent... subtext in the DCU, reinforced by many of my favorite writers...
It seems to me that anyone in the DCU who is identified as not being religious is either painted as emotionally crippled, cold and unspiritual, or just angry at a God that they do, in fact, believe in, deep down. There's also the implication that if they could just undo their twisted thinking - or, in the case of Ray Palmer in Identity Crisis, if they get desperate enough - they'll "revert to their senses and believe what they've always known to be true"...
May 26th, 2005, 02:12 PM
Well granted that Atom has embrased the notion of religion . . . If he was an atheist before, he seemed to be well adjusted to me.
He might have changed his views recently, but that doesn't mean he wasn't well adjusted before.
May 26th, 2005, 02:16 PM
Perhaps, but it does fall into the sub-point I made about atheists/agnostics being depicted as ready to fall to their knees in a crisis, showing that their disbelief was all a "pose".
May 26th, 2005, 03:14 PM
...I understand where you are coming from... But I still refer back to the point where Atom and Terrific (before the change) didn't seem broken, ignorant or disturbed. The fact that they changed does not mean they were repaired... Just that they changed.
June 1st, 2005, 12:15 PM
I think our inability to agree on what an atheist is in the context of the DCU makes this whole conversation a tricky thing.
If being an atheist in the DCU means that you don't believe in cosmic beings or the afterlife or unseen forces, than that person's kind of a flat earther.
However, if being an atheist means you acknowledge powerful beings and concepts like the afterlife but don't actually worship a God (as Cestrian is saying), then there's plenty of examples. If that's your definition of atheist in this context, there are plenty of good examples. Hal Jordan springs to mind.
So, if God is known to be capable of helping people out, does Ray's appeal to him really mean an acknowledgement that he's the one true God who is the moral arbitrer of all things? I don't think so.
From: Avi Green, "Is this the reason why DC spat on the Silver Age Atom?", posted 14 December 2006 on "The Four Color Media Monitor" blog website (http://fourcolormedmon.blogspot.com/2006/12/is-this-reason-why-dc-spat-on-silver.html; viewed 30 May 2007):
If this article [link to: http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=13388] in The Jewish Week has anything to it, then one could certainly argue that DC may have been more discriminatory than one would think:In "Marvel Comics Holiday Special" (1993), green-haired, red Spandex-clad superhero Doc Samson returns to his childhood yeshiva to tell the story of Chanukah to the school's young Jewish students. In "Justice League of America" No. 188 (1981), the tiniest Jewish superhero, the Atom, celebrates Chanukah with his superhero friends and experiences his Chanukah miracle: when the team's life-support system fails, the oxygen supply lasts long enough to make the repairs that save them. Chanukah is indeed a time for superheroes.
I don't know if Ray Palmer (and Jean Loring) has ever truly been identified as Jewish (Al Rothstein, Nuklon/Atom Smasher of Infinity Inc. and JSA has), though as this item from the Orthodox Union [link to: http://www.ou.org/ncsy/projects/kp/5763/kpwint63/thing.htm] says:From DC's largest hero, to the smallest: the Atom may be Jewish. Sure, he was married in a church, but in Justice League of America #188 he says that he is not familiar with the Chanukah story because he is "not very religious." Isn't that an odd thing to say if you're not Jewish? (As a side note, Nuklon, now known as Atom Smasher, protege of the Golden Age Atom is clearly Jewish. Could the whole Atom dynasty be Jewish?)
Even so, there's still no telling if Ray Palmer is really Jewish, but, there still may be something to it, and, I can't help but wonder if that has anything to do with their offing/villification/humiliation. Could it?
In fact, as Bob Rozakis once said on Silver Bullet [link to: http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/bobro/102552572329705,print.htm] when he was still writing for them:Jean Loring, the Atom's girl friend -- named after Julius Schwartz's wife, Jean Ordwein.
I can certainly say that by villifying Jean, Meltzer and company at DC insulted the wife of a very fine fellow who preceded them, that's for sure!
If anyone argues that there's no definite way to tell if these suggestions written in the yesteryear had anything direct to do with DC's desecrations, you'd certainly be right for now. But if they did do it for the reasons I sadly suspect, I am very angry, and should be.
While I'm at it, I do have a most distubing sentence from The Forward [link to: http://web.archive.org/web/20040803123721/http://www.forward.com/main/article.php?ref=robinson20040728917], that tells a little bit about where Brad Meltzer may stand:As a Jewish writer, Meltzer says that his own cultural heritage comes into play, not only in "Identity Crisis" but in all his works, as well.
See this here? This helped reinforce my suspicions that, in addition to being an allegorical piece of anti-Americanism (and Meltzer pretty much confirmed it in an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette last year [link to: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4191/is_20050904/ai_n15326817/print]), it could be an allegorical form of anti-Israelism too, and that Meltzer could be of standing similar to that of Tony Kushner [link to: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1205/tobin_2005_12_22.php3?printer_friendly]. I once wrote to a Jewish radio editors group about that part, and while I don't know if they ever did any research on it, they certainly thanked me for it.
Meltzer does not represent people of my standing, and if he really did do this out of the motives I suspect, that's one more reason for me to look down upon him in disdain.
Posted by Avi Green on Thursday, December 14, 2006 at 8:11 AM
From: "Stuart Moore's A Thousand Flowers: O Deadly Night" forum discussion, started 2 December 2003 on Newsarama website (http://forum.newsarama.com/archive/index.php/t-6949.html; viewed 28 June 2007):
12-02-2003, 01:24 PM
As a Jewish fan, I do get a bit tired of Christmas stories in all media, but I am certainly not hoping to see more Hanukkah stories. There was a reasonably good one in 1979 by Gerry Conway, but it only stands out because it established for all of one story that Ray Palmer is Jewish. No one ever followed up on that.
However, I will say that good writers write good Christmas stories built on ideas that can be very universal...
12-02-2003, 02:08 PM
re: No one ever followed up on that.
...Even DeMatteis appeared to ignore that one in his Spectre run. It was almost as if becoming the Spectre caused a conversion to Christianity.
12-02-2003, 02:35 PM
...OM, I think you'll find that the Spectre II was Hal Jordon, not Ray Palmer. So there's no need for a religious conversion...
12-03-2003, 11:03 PM
re: ...There was a reasonably good one in 1979 by Gerry Conway, but it only stands out because it established for all of one story that Ray Palmer is Jewish...
Ummm... sorry to disappoint you but I read the story recently and that's not quite it.
JL of A [Justice League of America] #188 -- Miracle At 22,300 Miles
It was a Hanukkah story but in it, Ray is invited to the home of a friend of Jean's to celebrate Hanukkah (the friend being Jewish, not Ray).
Ray reveals he's not religious, not Jewish, and completely ignorant about Hanukkah and the friend takes the opportunity to explain the history and the ritual.
That said, it was a good tale.
From: "What Religion is Your Favorite Superhero?" discussion board started 20 April 2006 on official website of DC Comics (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000072337&tstart=0; viewed 8 May 2006):
Posted: Apr 20, 2006 9:30 AM
...What is the religion of the heroes we read about?... Don't get me wrong, not picking on anyone, just wonder what everyone thinks what our heroes believe. ...Other threads touch on the subject in passing, time to discuss it!
Posted: Apr 21, 2006 12:44 PM
Adam Strange and Ray Palmer:
Posted: Apr 24, 2006 7:07 AM
re: "Adam Strange and Ray Palmer: Presbyterian"
Except for that one issue of Justice League from the 1970's that showed Ray Palmer and Jean Loring celebrating Chanukah.
Can't remember the issue? Anyone?
Anyway, the web page
must have caught onto the same and listed him as Jewish.
Of course, this was pre-COIE [Crisis on Infinite Earths] and Superboy's pounding, so who knows?
From: "an Asian as a major hero. FINALLY. but..." message board started 21 April 2006 on official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000072443&start=15; viewed 31 May 2006):
From: "New Christian JLA member" message board, started 5 May 2005 on official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000023085; viewed 15 May 2006):
Posted: May 1, 2006 9:08 AM
Speaking of minorities...
The new Asian Atom isn't replacing a typical white male whom, as with most heroes, you'd presume to be Christian. Ray Palmer is one of the few Jewish characters in comics, and certainly one of the most famous and prominent.
The only other major Jewish character is Kitty Pryde of the X-Men.
The two most powerful Jewish heroes are Marvel's Sabra and DC's Seraph...
I'm all for Asian or other minority heroes, but not at the expense of other minority heroes.
Besides, with the whole Jean Loring / Identity Crisis stuff, can't they make some decent stories with Ray Palmer from all that.
Posted: May 1, 2006 12:41 PM
...when was it established that Ray Palmer is Jewish? I know Atom Smasher (Albert Rothstein) is Jewish, but the Atom? Was a rabbi depicted as officiating at his wedding to Jean Loring?
Posted: May 1, 2006 5:18 PM
Ray Palmer isn't Jewish. This was clearly established in the original JLA series where his Jewish friend invites him to a Hannukah celebration.
Atom Smasher on the other hand is Jewish.
Posted: May 2, 2006 8:54 AM
Ray Palmer is indeed a member of the tribe. (That's a slang term meaning he's Jewish, ie - a member of the 12 tribes of Israel).
I don't remember the issue #, but in the original JLA, mid-1980's, there was a holiday issue possibly titled "Miracle at 22,000 miles". Instead of a Christmas story, it was a Channukah story, starring Jewish Atom, Ray Palmer. The JLA satellite had a problem and the air was running out. Like the Channukah oil menorah of old, which lasted eight days instead of one day, the satellite air lasted long enough so no one died, even though it should have run out much earlier. What a freakin' miracle!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted: May 2, 2006 7:08 PM
JLA 188 [Justice League of America]
Ray and Sue get invited to Sue's friend's place for Hanukkah. Sue's friend Stu Solomon has to explain Hannukah to Ray. He has no idea what the day, the menorah or anything is about.
Later Atom tells the JLA about a story he just heard that day. About Hannukah.
While Ray doesn't say he isn't Jewish in the story, there can't really be any other logical conclusion. There certainly is no evidence that Ray is Jewish in this issue.
Posted: May 21, 2006 7:27 AM
re: JLA 188
I have the issue and it seems to me that Ray Palmer has a spiritual experience by the end of the story. Perhaps that is why he became Jewish.
Posted: May 6, 2005 3:50 AM
...Nightcrawler, Daredevil, Nightwing, Huntress, Doctor Mid-Nite, and the Flash are all Christians. Sabra, Seraph, Ramban, Atom-Smasher and the Thing are Jewish... Many of them have debated their beliefs in the comics - as you say, not the hardline way, but that is definitely not the same as saying that they are not Christian superheroes, or that they are not devoted...
Posted: May 6, 2005 5:08 AM
Huh. Didn't know about the Flash -- though, come to think of it, he did have that bet with the Atom, in "Heaven's Ladder", didn't he?
From: "How many Atheist superheroes/heroines are there?" forum discussion, started 20 May 2007 on Newsarama website (http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?p=3716053; viewed 24 May 2007):
05-20-2007, 06:23 AM
How many Atheist superheroes/heroines are there?
05-20-2007, 02:54 PM
...according to Wikipedia, I can't find a single [Marvel superhero] atheist besides Yellowjacket. However, DC has the Atom, the Question, Booster Gold, Rorscach, Dr. Manhatten, Lex Luthor and Booster Gold as atheists.
From: "Barry Allen - Why?" forum discussion started 26 February 2007 on "Comic Book Resources" website (http://forums.comicbookresources.com/archive/index.php/t-165569.html; viewed 25 May 2007):
03-01-2007, 04:48 AM
Barry Allen being Jewish is a subject of some debate...
Then there's the Atom:
Ray Palmer was Jewish. Or wasn't. There's a long record of him being explicitly Jewish and a long record of him being explicitly NOT Jewish.
Here's a big index that gets changed periodically, it would appear:
03-01-2007, 07:30 AM
I can see Ray being Jewish before Barry.
I dunno, there's just something about Barry that screams WASP.
From: "Wonder Woman and Religion", posted 21 February 2006 by Ragnell on "Written World: Hyper-Feminist Comic Book Culture Commentary" blog website (http://ragnell.blogspot.com/2006/02/wonder-woman-and-religion.html; viewed 20 June 2007):
In a way, I feel this discussion gives the writers at DC more credit for nuance and intent than they actually deserve. Speaking as a lifelong non-Christian, it's always seemed pretty obvious that the DC (and Marvel) position on religion and philosophy is exactly that of mainstream America. Some sort of nondefined Protestantism is the default "normal" state and characters who are anything else -- including Catholic or Jewish or atheist -- are only those things because it's immediately vital to their histories or a significant plot point. There might be one or two exceptions (Kitty Pryde got to be a Jewish character without her backstory involving the Holocaust or Israel or the Golem of Prague or anything like that) but overall, a generalized nonspecific Christianity is the rule...
re: But as a rule, comics writers are so immersed in the default assumption of the Protestant God being the one real God -- even if they themselves aren't believers -- that they can't get outside that headspace.
Sorry to hijack Ragnell's blogspace but I disagree with this completely. A great many comic book creators *aren't* actually of a Protestant background...
Over at adherents.com, there is a fantastic list [link to: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html] that compiles character beliefs based on creator and writer commentary and visual clues.
Let's look at some of the Jewish characters listed:
Kitty Pryde as you mentioned, Ben Grimm, Ragman, Colossal Boy/Gim Allon, Atom Smasher/Al Rothstein, Firestorm/Martin Stein, The Atom/Ray Palmer...
Now many of these characters are lapsed/non-practicing, it's true, but quite a few are pretty devout in their own quiet ways. And none of them have really had their Judaism used as a Holocaust/Israel related plot point...
From: "The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters" forum discussion, started 20 January 2007 on "The Comic Bloc Forums" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-42479.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
January 20th, 2007, 07:38 PM
January 20th, 2007, 08:23 PM
Hmm... and the debate goes on.
Is Ray Palmer Jewish? Or does he just recognize some of the Jewish rituals and symbology? I guess we never did get a straight answer, especially since it was clear that he had pushed most religion aside in favor of science anyway. At this rate, we will probably never get a straight answer since he's disappeared from the face of the DCU.
January 20th, 2007, 08:40 PM
Didn't he say he didnt believe in God in Identity Crisis?
January 20th, 2007, 08:43 PM
From my experience, in this day and age, believing in God and following the Jewish religion can be two separate things.
Seems I recall reading a book (might have been The Science of God) where the author tells of some Jewish professor friends who won't work on Jewish holidays, still do Hanukah, etc., but are atheists.
January 20th, 2007, 08:46 PM
Ah, I get it.
So he could be Jewish and not believe in God. Interesting.
From: "Increasing comic circulation through different perspectives" forum discussion, started 30 November 2005 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-15542.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
November 30th, 2005, 09:55 AM
I think the religious issue is particularly tough to write in with regards to the main stream religions in that Heaven and Hell actually exist for sure in the DCU and Marvel universes.
We have seen characters in Heaven and return, we have seen demons from Hell. Heck, most comic book heroes have actually fought the legions of Hell. Having faith when your're standing beside an Angel who is hitting on Wonder Woman is kind of like having faith in gravity. It's the classic Douglas Adams joke with the babble fish.
November 30th, 2005, 10:01 AM
But to me, that makes it even more ridiculous that none of them are [visibly religious].
How can anybody who worked with Zauriel say they don't belive in god at the least, much less God?
Look at the Spectre, who we know is the spirit of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God's wrath?
I mean, when you have met his servants, and know there's both a Heaven and a Hell, how do you justify not going to some form of service, or at least praying when the spit hits the fan? (as the Atom did in IDC [Identity Crisis])
If anything, the Atom's prayer makes the lack of such things [on a more regular basis] more apparent.
Apparently an issue of Comic Book Marketplace inadvertently indicated that the Hulk had been revealed as Jewish when in fact the writer was trying to note that Ben Grimm ("The Thing") had been revealed as Jewish. This misprint prompted the following discussion. From: "What issue was the Hulk revealed as Jewish?" forum discussion, started 12 November 2004 on IMWAN website (http://www.imwan.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=999; viewed 31 July 2007):
Posted: Sat Jul 21, 2007 8:01 am
It's rare for superheroes to appear in church, unless their religion plays heavily into their characterization (Wonder Woman, Daredevil). I don't see Batman or the Atom or Green Lantern going to church, but I don't assume they're athiest or agnostic. I work with dozens of people on a daily basis, have no idea if they attend mass unless they work it into a conversation (and very few do that).