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The Foreseeable Connection: Superheroes and Jews

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The foreseeable Connection: Superheroes and Jews

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a novel that takes place during the "Golden Age" of comics, a magical era right before television when the country was at war and needed a medium that could help them coupe with these difficult times. Who was behind the creation of many of these superheroes? Who desperately needed an alter-ego? The American Jewish male; growing up in America Jewish males faced many stereotypes, most of which were concerned with the physical stature and the masculine identity. As we have discussed in class, the majority of the thoughts revolve around the idea that the Jewish male is a frail, somewhat feminine, intellect who in no way fits the description of the rugged all American male that many men strive for.

When Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, was asked what kind of superhero he most relates to he said; "There's Daredevil, who was blind; Hour Man, who had his powers for an hour; Bouncing Boy bounced into people; Matter Eater, who could eat anything, and as a nebbishy Jewish guy from Cleveland, I always identified with characters with greater frailty." This notion of relating to someone or something else is what made the comic book industry such a booming business, and this is also why it was so easy for Jews to identify with these characters. The first of these characters was and still is Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jews who grew up together in Cleveland and moved to New York to work for DC comics. Superman was an inspiration for many of Jewish Americans who, like Superman had been ripped from their home lands and placed in a foreign land because of war and the destruction of their people. While Jews did not have any super-human powers like Superman, they must have associated with the idea that mild-mannered Clark Kent was able to transform in to a crusader for justice, something I'm sure that each and every Jew had imagined at one point or another when thinking about the atrocities being committed in Europe during World War II. I am going to leave the topic of Jewish superheroes for a little bit but I will return to it later.

"Houdini was a hero to little men, city boys, and Jews; Samuel Louis Klayman was all three" Sammy Clay (he would change his name, like so many other Jews did, when he entered his professional career) a seventeen year old New Yorker and one of the protagonists of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was a dreamer, he had spent his entire life in Brooklyn surrounded by towers made of steel and bricks with only his imagination to let him roam free. He lived with his mother in a very small apartment in a bedroom that was only a small bit bigger then his bed, he often let his mouth do more talking then he could back up. One day Sammy must have let on about being an artist for the company that he worked for, when in actuality he was just an inventory clerk, his mother must not have realized that this was just another one of Sammy stories and she had told the rest of their family about it. This might have been the best thing to have every happened to Sammy Clay, because of this Sammy's cousin Josef Kavalier (the stories other protagonist) who had just arrived from San Francisco via a daring escape form Nazi controlled Prague, and wanted to know how to get in touch with Sammy's boss so that he could show him his artwork. This gave Sammy a great idea, with all of Sammy's great ideas and the artistic ability of Joe, they where going to make a comic book together.

There has always been a strong connection between superheroes and Jews, superheroes always fight for good and against injustice. But are often conflicted between doing the right thing and not relinquishing there alter ego. This is a concept that we have been dealing with all semester, in almost every book we have read or movie that we have watched. This is something that Jews struggle with on a regular basis, form Ethel and Julius Rosenberg having to decide weather or not to give up one another to have a chance at raising their children, or Gregory Peck having to choose to tell his son weather or not they are Jewish in A Gentlemen's Agreement. Albeit not always directly, if we look at Louis Ironson from Angels in America we see that he struggles with the fact that his boyfriend Prior has AIDS. Louis embodies all the stereotypes of the neurotic Jew: anxious, ambivalent and perpetually guilty, but the way in which he deals with the situation is what draws connections to my argument, first abandonment, then repentance and sorrow, and finally with an awaking of responsibility. If you have ever read or seen any Batman or Spiderman movie or comic this is the exact way they respond throughout the story, first the superhero struggles with the idea that they are "super" and wants no part in any of it, then they find that there is a reason for them to take advantage of what they have been given and eventually they embrace their powers.

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby creators of Captain America, in my opinion the most "Jewish" superhero, Captain America was created just before America had entered WWII, "Captain America dates from, I [Chabon] believe, May 1941. No villain was up to Superman. Kryptonite, in a way, is a substitute for Hitler, because Hitler was the ultimate villain. They fought the Japanese and demonized them, but this was what superheroes were made for. Comic book covers from the period are superheroes punching out U-boats, and tying anti-aircraft guns into knots. You have to remember that for the first several years of the war, it wasn't going that well; it looked as though there was a good chance that the Allies might not win." Simon and Kirby who were both Jewish, and like so many from the comic book industry they were devastated about the news oversees and their lack of ability to do anything about it, so they used the character of Steve Rogers (Captain America) who was a week, blond-hair boy who, with a special secret-serum, was able to become the perfect American. Chabon recognized Jack Kirby's unspoken contribution to Kavalier & Clay in his author's



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