A writer for The Forward recently addressed Brian Bendis’ upcoming unmasking direction for Superman, in a query whether the Big Blue Boy Scout will still be Jewish without his secret ID:
But as with any great institution, disruptions are inevitable. Two developments in comics, one confirmed and one rumored, are now challenging foundational elements of long-established canon. Both of these moves strike at the Jewish ethos endemic to the form. That’s not a bad thing, though. In fact, these changes mark yet another triumph for the art as its stories attain the status of modern myths.
First, for the confirmed report. On December 11, Superman will reveal his secret identity, Clark Kent, to the world in Issue 18 of the new “Superman” run by Brian Michael Bendis. This is the first time in his over 80 year history that the Last Son of Krypton will go public with his alter ego. The development will send shockwaves through the DC universe, as Bendis insisted, in an interview with The New York Times, that the self-outing will not be a “fake-out,” like so many short-lived comic gimmicks.
It’s clear this writer isn’t an expert on comicdom, and didn’t even read the NYT article properly, or he’d know Clark Kent’s secret became public 4 years ago via Lois Lane, and while I haven’t read every Superman story out there, I’m sure there’s at least one from the pre-Crisis era where Superman’s secret was exposed, even if it didn’t become the norm. I know the Silver Age Hawkman’s secret ID was revealed in the mid-60s, but that was considered slapdash and quickly ignored.
For a bullet-proof man, keeping both identities separate is largely a means of protecting the more vulnerable people in Kent’s non-superpowered life. But on a deeper level, Kal-El is really defending himself from the fear of being labeled an outsider.
Of course, the culture of 1938, the year Superman was first seen heaving a car on the cover of Action Comics Number 1, is different from the world of 2019. Actors now appear under their given, Jewish-sounding names. Jews, while still a minority and still at risk, are more open about their faith and now boast decent numbers in states and towns that resemble Smallville more than Metropolis.
So, perhaps the question in Superman’s mind, as presented by Bendis, is the right one: “Who was he lying to protect?”
In a world where being openly Jewish is less fraught — or at least more protected — does Superman’s parallel of a private cultural life and public-facing professional one apply to Jews today?
Definitely. It is hard to imagine a time in America — or any country other than Israel — where Jews won’t have to face the dissonance of presentation that Superman so clearly signifies. And beyond the Jews, his predicament speaks to other minorities, to immigrants — to anyone, in fact, who feels the need to hide some of themselves away.
It’s precisely because this dynamic has spoken to so many that Bendis’s plans for Superman are an urgent and welcome evolution. Rather than losing something in the central dualism of Superman, we will gain stories of acceptance, pride, truth and the pitfalls of coming out to the world. No more longer will Superman be a closeted Kryptonian, but, in Bendis’s words, “the best version of himself.”
Let’s see if I have this right. It’s so much more important Superman reflect a metaphor of whether Jews should be open about their background than whether the Man of Steel’s hiding his ID as Clark Kent to avoid all the attention supervillains and organized syndicates armed with high-tech weapons would give him regardless of ethnical/cultural background, that Superman must unmask entirely for the sake of a horrid writer’s dreadful visions for what entertainment should be like? Please. I won’t say it couldn’t work, and it certainly did in the Flash during the 90s. But even if we don’t get heaped with tales of Supes and Lois Lane being targeted by so many villains they have to live in the Fortress of Solitude, we’re still bound to get some awfully pretentious tales laced with Bendis’ contempt for the audience, to say nothing of leftist social justice pandering, which he seems to have taken up lately.
And as for Superman lying to protect anybody, it would be more his ability to roam freely and operate as a journalist in his Clark Kent ID, without worrying he’ll be set upon by crooks who could be wielding Kryptonite and/or sorcery-based weapons, recalling there have been times when Supes was ideally depicted as vulnerable to magical energies. In years past, the reason he didn’t reveal his secret to Lois was in order to protect her from being targeted by the same villains who’d target him in their cowardly efforts to strike at the Man of Steel in revenge for the justice he meted out, with not the least of the bunch being Lex Luthor. Why, IIRC, Kitty Pryde often kept her identity as a mutant secret for many years for similar reasons, so it’s not like Superman’s the only one whose background is either Jewish or a metaphor maintaining a secret ID to avoid the wrath of criminals driving them into living in an isolated camp.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to start drawing metaphors like this for real life, and certainly not when Bendis already proved he’s a bad lot. And it’s not the only one – the writer also addresses what may be a rumor at this point commented upon by a Times of Israel contributor: Magneto being race-swapped to black in an upcoming X-Men film:
The second major shakeup in comics with large Jewish implications is still hearsay, but is already stirring up strong feelings. Recently, there have been whispers that X-Men villain Magneto, a Holocaust survivor whose persecution informed his views on mutant separatism, might be recast as a black man in upcoming films.
The Times of Israel ran an op-ed by Thomas Brown wondering “ Would a race change for Marvel’s Jewish Magneto be anti-Semitic?” His conclusion was, essentially, “No, but…”
Brown writes of Magneto: “His identity as a survivor of the greatest genocide in modern history became inseparable from his identity as a Mutant and informed his violent crusade against the persecution of Mutants.”
(Of course, Magneto could also be black and harbor similar feelings, and many believe that the character, whose Jewish roots were a later development – as admitted Brown admits – was modeled off of Malcolm X.)
After suggesting that Magneto might be a Jewish and black or a survivor of a more recent genocide somewhere else in the world, Brown argues that the casting of a non-Jewish Magneto, while well-meaning and something he’d welcome, sends the wrong message in regard to representation.
There’s just one little thing: in the comics, it was indicated – at least during the 80s or 90s – that Erik Lensherr was of Romani descent, and his 2 children, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, certainly are. It actually is mentioned in the op-ed, although Brown describes it as a “revelation”, even though Magneto’s a fictional character. And if Erik was established as Roma a few decades ago, then the casting of a non-Jewish character in itself is a moot point. I’d argue it’s just whether Erik is race-swapped to a non-white that we should consider it ludicrous, both in comics and films.
Given that plans for Magneto’s casting have not been verified, any motives that might be ascribed to Marvel Studios are speculative. Accordingly, Brown’s thesis falls at times into straw man territory, but it does give us something to consider: To what extent can Jews still claim these characters and stories as proprietary?
Say, here’s a good query that leads to a vital point: the comics creations originally developed by Jews in the Golden/Silver Ages have since been hijacked by people who, no matter what their background, have no respect for their classic creators. Captain America’s surely a leading example in this regard, what with the way Kirby/Simon’s GA creation was exploited for the most rabid leftist platforms since the turn of the century.
It should, instead, come as a source of tremendous pride that less than a century into the form’s creation, superhero comics have become a part of a global mythology. They are a format to be re-imagined, reworked and re-calibrated to a moment in time, probed for new truths and challenged on their essential premises. What could be more Jewish than that kind of Talmudic rethinking?
The urge to change the understanding of Jewish comic canon is not a threat. Rather, it’s a sign that we have made ourselves understood.
Sigh. No, we haven’t, and I don’t think this should be compared to Talmudic thinking either. If the guy were smart he’d notice and acknowledge that today’s superhero comics have been hijacked for leftist causes, with Marvel’s Secret Empire crossover representing the worst of the more recent iterations. I’m guessing he doesn’t respect “Truth, Justice and the American Way” as a slogan in Superman either, which could suggest why he thinks a “global mythology” is acceptable, even if it means draining much of what makes the creations work in the first place, such as core values. This is a leading reason why Captain America may never recover. “Globalism” isn’t just an ambiguous concept, it’s one of the reasons why sane societies collapse, as they did due to “multiculturalism”, which made no distinction between what constitutes a sane belief system and ideology and what makes for barbarism, as does the Islamic religion.
I don’t like how the Forward reporter who wrote this item is apparently using the argument of Jewish metaphors to justify what Bendis does in his writing, mainly because it’s not story merit-based. If it wouldn’t be a good idea for other segments of society to do that, then even in mine, it obviously isn’t either, and it doesn’t guarantee solid storytelling. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Forward reporter doesn’t even bother to review Bendis’ stories a year or so from now to see how well it all turns out artistically. Even though, as Bendis has proven in the past, his scripting is perfectly dreadful.
Originally published here.