SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING *Movie Review*


Peter Parker is back.

Spider-Man: Homecoming begins shortly after last year’s Captain America: Civil War ends with Tom Holland back, this time in the title role.  He’s the youngest Spidey in a decade trying to balance high school, his Spidey skills and learning to drive.  The problem?  His age shows.

Spider-Man: Homecoming also stars Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei and Jon Batalon.  It was directed by Jon Watts.

For more about how Spider-Man: Homecoming stacks up and what stood out the most, take a look below:

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Kippa Man settles lawsuits over Spider-Man and Batman


A Jerusalem shop settled out of court with two comic book companies that charged it sells unlicensed kippahs bearing the images of Superman and Spider-Man.

Avi Binyamin, owner of the Kippa Man store on Ben Yehuda Street in central Jerusalem, will pay Marvel Comics and Warner Brothers $17,000 each for the unauthorized use of their superheroes' images. The companies had sued for about $27,000 in damages.

Numerous shops along Ben Yehuda sell merchandise featuring Batman, Spider-Man and other characters, as well as college mascots and professional sports teams.

“They make them in China, I just bring them,” Binyamin told The Jerusalem Post in September after the Marvel Comics lawsuit was filed, adding, “There are 20 stores on this street, they all sell the same thing.”

Lawyers for the two companies told the Israeli daily Maariv that they will file lawsuits against other small stores in Israel that sell their characters' images without authorization.

Meet Brian Bendis, the man who killed Peter Parker


Spiderman heroically dispatched countless foes since he arrived on the scene in 1962.

Nearly a half-century later, Brian Michael Bendis managed to kill him.

In 2000, Bendis was hired to write Ultimate Spiderman, a modern-day retelling of the classic Spiderman story. More than 10 years, 160 issues and several blockbuster Hollywood adaptations later, Bendis did the unthinkable, killing off the superhero's famous alter ego, Peter Parker, and replacing him with a half-black, half-Hispanic 13-year-old named Miles Morales.

The change received national attention. Glenn Beck said Morales looked like President Barack Obama — and not in a good way. Lou Dobbs didn’t like the change either, prompting Jon Stewart to quip that Morales represented Dobbs’ worst nightmare: “a Latino that can climb walls.” But Bendis is unrepentant.

“Marvel is a representation of the real world,” Bendis explained from his home in Portland, Ore. “The Marvel Universe takes place in New York. Miles lives in Brooklyn — it’s actually Brooklyn. That’s a huge difference going back to my time as a crime writer. The city becomes a character you’re writing about.”

Bendis, 45, may be the most important comic book writer working today. He helped re-launch the Daredevil, Spiderman and the Avengers franchises, and his titles typically sell more than 100,000 copies, making him among the most popular comic book writers in the world.

“Brian is a unique and important voice in modern comics,” said Danny Fingeroth, a longtime Marvel editor and the author of “The Stan Lee Universe.” “He displays a profound understanding of, and respect for, the histories of the characters and their universe, but understands that they have to be updated for a modern readership.”

Raised by a single mother in Cleveland, Bendis attended an Orthodox day school and discovered comic books as an adolescent.

“I studied them like the Torah,” he said. “I memorized the ads. At 5, I literally stood on the sofa and said ‘I will be the artist on Spiderman.’ ”

Like others drawn to stories of caped crusaders and mega-muscled heroes, Bendis was searching for a stand-in for his absentee father. Stan Lee, the Jewish co-creator of Spiderman and other comic book heroes, became something of a father figure for him. But the rabbis who taught him as a child weren't too fond of Bendis' hobby, fearing that his penchant for drawing men in tights indicated he might be gay.

“I would just start drawing without thinking and [suddenly] it’s a bunch of naked guys and I’d get sent home,” Bendis said.

After high school, Bendis attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. An independent comic book publisher picked up his final thesis and published it. After graduation, he continued working on comic books but supported himself doing freelance illustration and caricatures at bar and bat mitzvahs.

“It’s the lowest form of human existence — and I worked at McDonald's,” he said.

Through the 1990s, Bendis hustled his work on the road with fellow independent comic book creators. Those years were somewhat of a golden age for the independent comic scene, producing a bevy of talented, original creators. But the period was financially rough for Bendis and his wife, Alisa, whom he met while doing a freelance assignment for the Hillel Foundation.

Even his successes didn't change the basic financial equation. The day after his work on the crime comic JINX won an Eisner Award, the comic book equivalent of an Oscar, he was back at a bar mitzvah drawing caricatures.

Bendis’ explosion on the independent comic book scene coincided with a shakeup at Marvel Comics, the largest comic book publisher in the world. A new president and editor in chief wanted a fresh voice for the company. Joe Quesada, then the editor in chief, called Bendis in 2000 and told him that he wanted to bring him to Marvel.

“I asked, ‘What do you need an artist for?’ ” Bendis recalled. After what Bendis describes as a long “dead” silence, Quesada finally answered, “ 'You know your art isn’t that good, but you’re an amazing writer.' ”

Bendis’ first assignment was a four-issue run on Marvel’s Daredevil. After the first two issues, Quesada asked him if he was interested in writing Ultimate Spiderman. The series became one of the best-selling comics of the decade.

“He’s really terrific,” Sean Howe, author of “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” said of Bendis. “I think he’s one of the few comic book writers that has a really singular voice in terms of dialogue. He just has the snappiness of a really great crime novelist.”

The couple’s financial worries were over. Bendis finally had regular comic book work and his original graphic novels were optioned for movies. He and Alisa began thinking about starting a family.

Doctors told Bendis that Alisa wouldn’t be able to have children, but as they prepared to adopt, she became pregnant with their daughter, Olivia. Later the couple adopted Sabrina from Ethiopia and, three years later, a third daughter, Tabatha, through a domestic adoption program.

“Adoption is something I’m insanely proud of,” Bendis said. “My wife wanted to make a family of the world and help raise children with a lot of love that they might not have gotten otherwise.”

Bendis raised the idea of shaking up the Spiderman franchise at a Marvel creative retreat.

“We thought about what we wished we could do differently,” he said. “We talked about that the New York in Marvel comics isn’t the one you see when you walk outside the door.”

Ultimate Spider Man No. 160 was published in 2011. In that issue, Peter Parker is killed by his archenemy, the Green Goblin. Morales makes his debut in the next issue and inherits his super powers after being bitten by a genetically engineered spider.

The Jewish nature of comic book superheroes has long been an object of speculation, with much attention focused on post-Holocaust Jewish psychology and the yearning for powerful protectors of the innocent. But Bendis traces the connection back even further.

“The Torah is full of mythological sources of father and son, and so is Marvel Comics,” Bendis said. “I think about my upbringing with a single mother — I have father issues — I was born to do this. That’s why I can write.”

In December, Alisa gave birth again. It’s a boy.

Superman is Jewish?: People of the comic book


Nothing is quite so purely American as the comic book, which is why it will come as a surprise to some readers to discover that philosopher Harry Brod regards Superman and Spider-Man and many other comic-book characters to be uniquely Jewish artifacts that offer crucial insights into the Jewish experience in America.

“For it turns out that the history of the Jews and comic book superheroes, that very American invention, is the history of Jews and America, particularly the history of Jewish assimilation into the mainstream of American culture,” Brod writes in “Superman Is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice, and the Jewish-American Way” by Harry Brod (Free Press: $25).

Brod, a professor of philosophy and humanities at the University of Northern Iowa, affirms that his own path into the life of the mind began with a childhood passion for comic books. 

“I attribute much of my motivation to become a philosopher by profession to my early reading of science fiction and comic books,” he explains. “The world need not be as it was. There were alterative possibilities, reached not by fantasy but by rational extension of the world we knew. ‘What if…’ became a guiding question for me, and wanting to think that through became second nature.”

The Jewish origins of our superheroes, according to Brod, do not begin and end with the fact that so many of the writers and artists who created them were Jewish. Rather, he detects the influence of characters from Jewish folktales — the golem and the dybbuk — as well as “Jewish traditions of Talmudic disputation.” Nor is it a coincidence that so many Jews found a showcase for their sensibilities in the pages of comic books: “We couldn’t get into newspaper strips or advertising; ad agencies wouldn’t hire a Jew,” recalls Al Jaffee, a longtime cartoonist for Mad magazine. “One of the reasons we Jews drifted into the comic-book business is that most of the comic-book publishers were Jewish. So there was no discrimination there.”

Then, too, he teases out the Jewish values, aspirations and anxieties that are sometimes deeply encoded in comic book characters. Superman, for example, can be seen as “an alien immigrant from another planet.” The Incredible Hulk, a latter-day golem conjured by Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) and Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), turns into a “man-monster” when he gets angry: “Is it too much to speculate that in the Lieber household it was perhaps impressed upon young Stanley that nice Jewish boys don’t get angry,” muses Brod, “that they’re supposed to be, dare we say it, ‘mild mannered,’ like our old friend Clark Kent?” Spider-Man “is a post-Holocaust American Jew,” writes Brod, “and the guilt that plagues and motivates him is a specific post-Holocaust American Jewish guilt.”

Brod, an intellectual whose gifts include a lively sense of humor, is perfectly willing to invoke a Jewish joke to make the point. “It is hard to resist — too hard for me, in fact — quoting Zeddy Lawrence here: ‘It may not be true in all cases, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb. If the word ‘man’ appears at the end of someone’s name you can draw one of two conclusions: a) they’re Jewish, as in Goldman, Feldman, or Lipman; or b) they’re a superhero, as in Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man.’ ” As Brod himself puts it: “Before Joe Shuster drew Superman, the only artist drawing Jews flying through the air was Marc Chagall.” 

So, too, does Brod detect “a mocking Yiddishist sensibility” that runs from Mad magazine to Marvel comics and finally into the pages of Playboy, whose “Little Annie Fanny” was drawn by Mad magazine stalwarts Will Elder (born Eisenberg) and Harvey Kurtzman. But he seeks to show us “how American Jews created the modern comic book,” an achievement that has less to do with Jewish jokes than with a Yiddishe Kopp — that is, a characteristically Jewish way of seeing the world.

For example, he insists that Superman and Spider-Man share a common Jewish ancestry, but the differences between these two superheroes reveals a change in Jewish self-image in America: “The difference between Superman’s and Spider-Man’s Jewishness is analogous to the ways Jews, as they became more assimilated into American culture, struggled less with identity issues of being strangers in a strange land,” he offers. “They felt themselves to be more native to America, and so became freer to act and create in ways that are identifiably Jewish, not coded or indirect.”

Brod opens his book with some special pleading on behalf of the comic book as an authentic and worthy expression of culture and creativity. By the end of his book, however, it is clear that he has made his case. Brod devotes a chapter to Art Spiegelman, who boldly rendered a story of the Holocaust as a comic book populated with cats and mice and thereby “demonstrated what the medium was capable of and that there was an audience for it.” But we are able to appreciate Spiegelman’s courageous work all the more because we have seen the work of Jewish artists and writers who came before him.

“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a champion of the oppressed! It’s a messianic liberator!” Brod sums up in his enchanting and enlightening book. “Yes, it’s the Jewish imagination in flight!”


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. His next book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” which will be published in 2013 under the Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Kirsch can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

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