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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Superhero Team
Above: Suicide Squad #45, featuring the first appearance of the Israeli superhero team "Hayoth."
The Jewish community often complains that it's losing young people's attention. Have Jewish leaders checked the comic shops recently?From: Steven M. Bergson, "Jewish Comics: A Select Bibliography" last updated 28 June 2005 (http://www.geocities.com/safran-can/JWISHC.HTM; viewed 23 December 2005):
They might meet Ramban, the Israeli magician. Ramban serves two masters. One is the vengeful essence of a murdered cop. The second is his own heritage, which he satisfies by studying the Kabbalah.
Ramban is a supporting character in DC Comics' series The Spectre. Along with his other attributes, the magician represents society's increasing tolerance of Jewishness.
Modern comic books -- lively keystones of American popular culture -- aren't afraid to feature numerous new heroes, such as Ramban, who have clearly Jewish backgrounds. Nor do comic books shy away from topics of particular Jewish interest, such as interdating.
The Spectre's title character is the spirit of Jim Corrigan, a policeman murdered by a crime boss. John Ostrander, the series' co-writer, says Corrigan's spirit is linked to an "entity" that "seems to be an aspect of the wrath of God." This entity, he explains, was the angel of death who "killed the firstborn of the king of Egypt" and "destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
"I felt that if you're going into the Spectre, per se," says Ostrander, who collaborates with his wife, Kim Yale, "you have to go into the essentials of...Judeo-Christian culture."
Ostrander and Yale created Ramban five years ago for DC's Suicide Squad series. Ramban, along with a warrior named Judith, an artificial intelligence named Dybbuk and a hero named the Golem formed the Hayoth, an Israeli superteam the squad battled in Israel.
Ostrander said Yale asked people about the Kaballah, which is part of Ramban's Conservative Jewish background. The writers "pieced together types of [magic] spells" based on that research.
Neither Ostrander nor Yale is Jewish. But Ostrander grew up in Chicago's East Rogers Park section, which has a large Jewish population. So, he said, he "always had" an appreciation for Judaism.
Ostrander said Ramban is a "nice counterpart" to Father Craemer, another character in the series. He said the two men are "in many ways very much alike. They're strong representatives of their faith.
"He's one of the more pleasant characters," Ostrander said of Ramban. "He's got a great deal of honesty."
Ramban, Judith, Dybbuk and the Golem aren't the only Jews in comics published by DC, whose office is heavily populated by Jewish executives. In fact, there used to be one more -- Nuklon, a 7-foot-1 ponytailed power house who was a member of the Justice League America, DC's premier superhero team.
In one issue released last year, Nuklon had dinner with fellow Justice Leaguer Fire, who expressed a romantic interest in him. Nuklon told Fire he was "flattered" by her interest. But he said they couldn't get serious because "I'm going to marry a Jewish girl.
"You see, it isn't just my happiness that matters. I owe something to my family...to my heritage," Nuklon said. "I'm like a link in a chain. I can't be the one to break that chain."
Alas, the character's comic book didn't sell well so DC iced him from its list this summer.
Where did the idea of Jewish superheroes originate?
A number of years ago Paul Levitz, DC's executive vice president and publisher, was writing DC's Legion of Super-Heroes series. Levitz, who is Jewish, says he was reviewing notes on the heroes when he noticed that Gim Allon was the real name of the Legionnaire nicknamed Colossal Boy.
Gim Allon reminded Levitz of Yigal Allon (aka Paicovitch), a member of the inner Cabinet that mapped out the Six Day War strategy. So Levitz began developing the character's Jewish identity.
In 1983, Colossal Boy married Yera, an alien shape-shifter. The hero introduced his new bride to his parents a few issues later. After that meeting, the bride asked her husband, "I wonder if I can find a way to convince them to bring their kids up Jewish?"
"It was a sincere attempt to touch on the issue of tolerance," Levitz said recently. "There are obviously very strong issues in our faith and in our cultural background." One of these issues, he noted, is whether intermarriage will eradicate Jewish culture entirely.
Ragman is another DC character, a junk dealer who gains superpowers when he dons a special suit of rags. Each rag is the living soul of someone evil. According to the story, a Council of Rabbis created the suit years ago, hoping its wearer would protect society.
Although Ragman debuted in the 1970s, his Jewish background was never explored until DC published a 1992 miniseries. The late development is somewhat surprising, Levitz said, because Ragman's creators, Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, were Jewish. Levitz said many early comics creators were Jews, but that they "operated under pseudonyms."
In a letter published in one issue of the miniseries, Los Angeles-based Ragman fan Mark Lucas advocated further explorations of the superhero's Jewishness. "By placing this character so heavily in Jewish history," Lucas wrote, "it might be prudent to follow up and illustrate this culture right here and now. With anti-Semitism on the rise, even an entertainment package like Ragman can be an educational tool."
Marvel Comics, publishers of the Spider-Man and X-Men series, has at least one Jewish character. Sabra, Ruth Bat-Seraph of Israel, has superhuman strength, speed, reflexes, endurance and recuperative powers. Needless to say she is also less vulnerable than most humans.
Are more Jewish heroes likely? No one is sure. But both Ostrander and Spectre editor Dan Raspler said comics fans have welcomed Ramban to their world.
"They like him," said Raspler, who is Jewish. "He's an interesting character. There's definitely an appreciation for him."
Several other DC and Marvel Comics superheroes have been portrayed as Jewish or as having Jewish origins:
In the Seraph series, teacher Chaim Lavon of Israel possesses the staff of Moses, the mantle of Elijah, the magic ring of Solomon and the strength of Samson (in his hair). The Seraph is a member of the New Global Guardians, a team of international heroes. On covers from the old Super Friends comic book, the Seraph is called "the Man Who Works Miracles."
In Dust Devil, Israeli youngster Moshe Levy can become a human whirlwind. He gained that power after being kidnapped by aliens known as the Dominators. The Dominators sent Levy and 49 other people into a minefield. The aliens had hypothesized that certain people had a gene that triggered their superpowers. Levy and five others survived the mines, gaining new abilities in the process.
Levy and the survivors formed the Blasters, a superhero team. The Blasters haven't appeared often. Because Levy is so young, his mother travels with and cooks for the team, making the Blasters, in the words of one comic book, "the first kosher superhero team."
In the Colossal Boy series, Gim Allon was sand-skiing on Mars in the 30th century when he was accidentally bathed in a meteor's radiation. The radiation gave Allon the power to grow, at will, to a height of some 25 feet. When Allon grows, his mass and strength increase proportionately. Allon later joined the Legion of Super-Heroes as Colossal Boy.
DC recently revamped many of its characters, including Colossal Boy, who is now known as Leviathan. DC has not revealed Leviathan's religious affiliation.
In Ragman, title character Rory Regan wears a living costume made of rags. The costume gives its wearer superstrength, agility, speed and the power to float on air currents. Regan's father, Gerry, was the Ragman during World War II.
In times of dire need, young Billy Batson shouts the word "SHAZAM!" This turns him into Captain Marvel, who has the powers of six historical figures or mythical gods.
Solomon, a Jewish king, provides the captain's wisdom. That makes Marvel one-sixth Jewish, even though comic books have never explored this.
Gelbwasser, Michael. "Cool Characters Entice Kids: Jewish Superheroes Work Wonders in American Comics" Boston Jewish Advocate Jan. 7, 1997.
Gelbwasser, Michael. "Look! Up in the Sky! Jewish Superheroes." Jewish Advocate Oct. 19, 1995, pg. PG.
Discusses the Jewish super-heroes Seraph, the Blasters, Colossal Boy, Ragman, Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, Mindboggler, Ramban, Golem, Judith, Dybbuk, Nuklon, Phantom Stranger and Sabra.
Ostrander, John. "The Jerusalem Serpent" Suicide Squad #45 Sep. 1990 (NY: DC).
---. "Choice of Evils" Suicide Squad #46 Oct. 1990 (NY: DC).
---. "Old Blood" The Spectre #15 Feb. 1994 (NY: DC).
---. "Spear of Destiny" The Spectre #19 June 1994 (NY: DC).
---. "Wrath of God" The Spectre #14 Jan. 1994 (NY: DC).
--- and Kim Yale. "Choice of Dooms" Suicide Squad #47 Nov. 1990 (NY: DC).
---. "Legerdemain Part One - Forces in Motion" Suicide Squad #59 Nov. 1991 (NY: DC).
The Israeli metahuman called Golem sneaks onto Blood Island, where deposed Quraci leader Marlo is being held. An observer who spots him notes that more of the Israeli team Hayoth may also be on the island or may be nearby.
---. "Legerdemain Part Three: Snafu" Suicide Squad #61 Jan. 1992 (NY: DC).
The Israeli Hayoth team, realizing that they had been duped, try to prevent the escape of the real Marlo (ex-president of Qurac) and of the members of the Janissary who had tried to free him.
---. "Legerdemain Part Two: Dangerous Games" Suicide Squad #60 Dec. 1991 (NY: DC).
The agents of the Israeli Hayoth team try to free Quraci ex-president Marlo from a U.S. military prison. American superheroes Batman, Superman and Aquaman try to stop the Hayoth from freeing him while the superpowered team-for-hire called Janissary tries to free Marlo during their battle. However, it turns out that the true Marlo is being questioned by the Suicide Squad. The man known as Nemesis had been impersonating Marlo in the military prison.
---. "Number the Dead" Suicide Squad #62 Feb. 1992 (NY: DC).
Superman, Batman and Aquaman fight members of the Suicide Squad (who they mistakenly believe are attacking the military police), as well as escaping members of the Janissary. The members of the Israeli Hayoth team also attempt to subdue the Janissary.
---. "True Minds" Suicide Squad #63 Mar. 1992 (NY: DC).
Dybbuk interfaces with the Ifrit program in an attempt to release it from its hostile programming. As a result, Ifrit's core personality (Leah Wasserman) replaces Ifrit. Dybbuk, who decides that "Dybbuk" is no name for a real person, renames himself Leah and decides to "marry" Leah.
From: Lisa Keys, "Stereotype this! Introducing ethnic superheroes", published 26 April 2006 in Voices That Must Be Heard, Edition 218 (http://www.indypressny.org/article.php3?ArticleID=2635; viewed 27 June 2007):
...Jewish superheroes themselves have been few and far between. Sure, the Fantastic Four's The Thing has been known to daven on occasion; the X-Men's archenemy, Magneto, is a survivor of Auschwitz, and the Golem had a brief promotion from Jewish oral tradition to the funny pages. Courtesy of a new show on the Cartoon Network, however, we can now add another character to Jewish superhero pantheon: Jewcano, an elderly rabbi who flies and shoots fire from his fingertips.
From: James NicollFrom: "Religious Inclinations of heroes" message board, started 1 March 2005 on StarDestroyer.net website (http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?t=63632&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=25; viewed 8 June 2006):
Date: Thurs, Oct 24 1996 12:00 am
re: "For that matter, what characters have been portrayed as having any definite religion?"
...Ravan was a thuggee, wasn't he? I suspect Sinbad was Islamic (Hey, a non-bomb-throwing Arab in the DCU! Heresy heresy!) and that team from Israel was almost certainly predominantly Jewish.
Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 6:38 pm
Post subject: Religious Inclinations of heroes
What about other heroes? I notice religion rarely plays a part in mainstream superhero comics (absent things like the Vertigo line) but have you ever picked up on hints or outright admissions by some heroes as to their religious inclinations?
Seems that atheistic heroes are as rare in comics as in real life. If they are religious it's a sort Judaeo-Christian wishy washy sort of religion... Any other examples of guesses?
Posted: Sun Mar 20, 2005 12:01 am
...Jewish characters include... the Hayoth, Ragman, Sabra, and Rose (from Punisher)...
From: "Banned for using this nic" thread began 4 Apri 1999 in rec.arts.comics.dc.universe newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.dc.universe/browse_thread/thread/f38288dc4e56542/8a873a0a53da3d0d; viewed 12 June 2006):
From: Tom Galloway
Date: Mon, Apr 5 1999 12:00 am
Well, one'd have to go with Spectre and Zauriel as religious heroes... There was also the Israeli group of heroes John Ostrander is fond of using [Hayoth], which included a Jewish AI [i.e., Dybbuk, an artificial intelligence, or A.I.] (and his fiancee, by now probably wife, Mindbreaker [correction: Mindboggler])...
From: "Need Help With A Research Project" forum discussion, started 9 December 2005 on the "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-16070.html; viewed 6 August 2007):
December 13th, 2005, 10:57 PM
In relation to question 6: as a Jewish comic book reader, I look around a great deal for any sign of Jewish stuff in comics. It's a habit. Things like the upcoming Sgt. Rock mini about rescuing the rabbi in Eastern Europe are few and far between. Interestingly, the three highest profile Jewish characters at Marvel--Kitty Pryde, the Thing and Moon Knight--have a mini-series, an ongoing and an upcoming ongoing, respectively. On the DC side, Ragman is in the Shadowpact ongoing, but otherwise, Atom Smasher is in jail and... that's it. No one's heard from Seraph and Hayoth for years, and I think I'm the only person that considers Black Canary to actually be Jewish (I have my reasons). Atom Smasher could become a player in OYL considering his current imprisoned status and his apparent recruitment by Amanda Waller.
As for Jewish themes in writing, the legend of the Golem has influenced a number of characters, most notably Marvel's Thing.