01 March 2012

Superman's Other Identity

The first chapter and introduction of Simcha Weinstein’s Up, Up and Oy Vey! analyzes the presence of Jewish tradition in numerous comics, especially those about superheroes.  Essentially, Weinstein seeks to provide Jewish comics artists with the recognition they deserve for the conception of superheroes.

In the introduction of Up, Up and Oy Vey! Weinstein introduces the idea that many popular Superhero comics are chock-full of Jewish influence, likely due to the fact that most of these comics were created by Jewish artists. During the period of Jewish persecution, several young Jewish artists began creating heroes who protected the innocent and conquered evil. These superheroes with the Jewish influence experienced vast popularity that continued past the conclusion of World War II. Not surprisingly, some of the popular themes that were present in Jewish comics include assimilation and discrimination. In addition, Weinstein claims that many superheroes symbolize other themes that are prominent in the Jewish tradition, such as the justice theme in Bob Kane’s and Bill Finger’s Batman, and the integrity theme in Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s Superman. In Chapter One, Weinstein discusses in more depth the Jewish influence present in the legendary Superman comics, an influence that was included in the origin and extended to his many crusades.

 “Superman: From Cleveland to Krypton,” the first chapter in Weinstein’s book, opens with a brief account of the childhood of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and recounts how the renowned Superman came to be. The two boys began drafting sketches and mailing them to possible publishers without much luck. The boys persisted and in 1938, Detective Comics, Inc., purchased their Superman comic and it became instantly successful. Interestingly, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster provided their superhero with a “secret identity,” which became the norm in several subsequent comics of the same genre. Although the double identity allowed for plot twists, Weinstein suggests that this double identity represents something much deeper.

Of the many Jewish references present in the Superman comics, not all of them are so subtle. In fact, some of the stories actually take place in “thinly disguised” Nazi Germany, including issue No. 10, which Weinstein implies is a parody of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Superman, of course, embarrasses the “Germans” and shatters their attempt to establish any sort of superiority. Weinstein proposes that No. 81 actually takes place in Nazi-occupied Poland, where Superman is forced to fill a mass grave. Superman eventually triumphs, which reflects the strong Jewish theme of good conquering evil. One of the most blatant similarities between Superman and the Bible is the uncanny resemblance of Superman’s origin to that of Moses. To ensure their respective child’s survival, both the mother of Moses and the mother of Superman send them away, allowing them to eventually be found and then be brought up with foreign customs. Both keep their true identity hidden and both become protectors of the innocent. The Superman comics occasionally have direct biblical references, such as one to Samson, who smashes the pillars of a temple to defeat his enemies. Interestingly, even Superman’s Krypronian name possesses suffixes bearing Hebrew significance.

One of Weinstein’s key points and most likely his overall purpose is to increase the public’s awareness of the adversities that Jewish Americans have had to overcome in media and the great accomplishments that they have achieved in comics. This idea also refers back to McCloud and his “Twelve Revolutions” of Reinventing Comics. More specifically, it refers back to minority representation. According to McCloud, in order for comics to flourish, they must be created by more than “white upper-class men.”  McCloud suggests that people of differing ethnicities are likely to provide a more accurate portrayal of concerns pertaining to their own ethnicity as opposed to those of someone outside of that culture. I think this especially rings true in Superman, which addresses several issues concerning Jewish culture to include Anti-Semitism. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster could rely on personal experience and thus were probably able to more accurately portray the issue than someone who had no such experience. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster overcame the difficulties of the Great Depression and Anti-Semitism, and their story is inspiring! I believe their story is proof that anyone with a dream and an idea has a chance to create something amazing in the world of comics.


  1. I think this is a really great summary! You make it seem so easy! I agree with all of the information that you gave including your opinion.

  2. Chantel's right; this is excellent :-)