Wonder Woman (2017) Gal Gadot

WONDER WOMAN *Movie Review*

Over the past several months, I’ve eagerly anticipated “Wonder Woman” while simultaneously biting my nails considering the potential box office results.  A movie like this isn’t just about how much money Warner Bros. and DC Comics will make in a weekend, but about the future opportunities available for female actors and directors.  It sounds like an undue amount of pressure on a single movie–and it is, in ways with which male directors rarely contend.

At this point, the early polls–excuse me, box office–are in and “Wonder Woman” is a bona fide success.  The film’s domestic and international grosses are hovering near $220 million and director Patty Jenkins (Academy Award winner “Monster”) has earned the superlative of best opening domestically for a female director.  Gal Gadot, the Israeli actress/model previously best known in the United States for her roles in two of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise movies is now better known as Diana, princess of the Amazons.

In the midst of the fervor surrounding Jenkins, Gadot and “Wonder Woman” the question becomes is the movie actually good?  In fact, “Wonder Woman” is perhaps the best recent example of why gender doesn’t matter.  This is the quintessential superhero movie complete with ‘fish out of water’ jokes as Diana learns about the world outside her home island.  As with the other superheroes before her who are not of this planet or people, Diana’s charming naïveté is the basis for much of the movie’s humor.  Also like others before her, she gradually learns to harness her power and come into her own as illustrated through epic (and costly) battle sequences.  The challenges these heroes face speak to universal themes which know no gender.  In fact, it’s perhaps the most compelling explanation for their endurance in all artistic mediums.

For more about “Wonder Woman”, including how vertical movement is used as Diana comes into her own as a warrior, take a look below:

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.


This week I review DOCTOR STRANGE.  The latest Marvel superhero movie is about the mystical rather than the physical.  When Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a neurosurgeon, loses use of his hands following a car accident, he travels to Nepal to see The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) as he learns that she may be able to help him.  The movie also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong and Benjamin Bratt with the requisite cameo by Marvel creator Stan Lee.

Time plays an interesting role because usually when time is used as a major theme it has to do with not having enough of it.  I think the bigger theme here had to do with how time can be a blessing and, perhaps even more so, a curse.  The differentiation is important because lack of time is a common concept; there isn’t enough time to do work or to relax or to spend with loved ones.  We don’t tend to consider that more time isn’t necessarily better.  For instance, if you live forever then you’ll have the heartache of watching everyone you love die since the whole world cannot live forever. Immortality and limitless time and life continue to be things we long for as a whole, but sometimes without acknowledging the consequences.  It’s interesting, too, how DOCTOR STRANGE uses time as a punishment, so pay attention for that element as well.

Water and how it cleanses and represents rebirth is another theme in DOCTOR STRANGE.

For more about water, religious symbolism in DOCTOR STRANGE and product placement deals, take a look below:

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Superman belongs to DC Comics, judge affirms

The heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster do not have the right to reclaim copyrights to the popular character, a federal judge ruled.

Wednesday's ruling in California gives DC Comics, owned by Warner Bros., all rights to Superman for books, movies, television and other medium.

In response to a DC Comics lawsuit filed in 2010 seeking a judgment that it owns all copyrights to the Man of Steel, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled that Schuster's sister and her son did not succeed in reclaiming their rights to Superman. Wright said a 1992 agreement to receive annual payments from DC Comics in exchange for all rights to the character made by Shuster's sister superseded the Shuster heirs' claim under “termination rights” in U.S. copyright law.

The estate of co-creator Jerry Siegel successfully reclaimed some rights to Superman using such a termination notice some four years ago.

A new Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” is scheduled to be released next summer by Warner Bros. and is in the middle of production.

Patriot games: Is Captain America too American?

In March 1941—nine months before the attack on Pearl Harbor impelled America to enter the Second World War—one colorful American hero already had joined the battle: Captain America.

The famous front cover of “Captain America #1” showed its titular hero punching Hitler straight in the face, sending the ridiculous looking Fuerher tumbling backward.

With that single unforgettable image, the Nazi ideal of the Aryan ubermensch was dealt a fatal blow, as was what remained of the once respectable American “isolationist” movement.

As the first comic book character to enlist in World War II, Captain America was an instant success, selling nearly 1 million copies per issue. In a way that’s not surprising, considering the character’s pedigree. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, second-generation Jews who made no secret of their source of inspiration.

The character of Captain America, Simon said, “was our way of lashing out at the Nazi menace.”

In that first issue of the Marvel comic, readers meet the superhero’s “everyman” alter ego, Steve Rogers. A sickly Depression-era child, Rogers loses his parents at a young age, then tries to enlist in the military. Too feeble to join the regular forces, Rogers volunteers for a top-secret military medical experiment known as “Operation Rebirth,” being overseen by one Dr. Reinstein. (Note the character’s Jewish name, one that sounds suspiciously like “Albert Einstein.” In 1941, Einstein was a wildly popular—if little understood—cultural icon in the real world.)

In need of a human “guinea pig” to test his formula, Dr. Reinstein injects Rogers with his Secret-Soldier Serum. Unfortunately, a Nazi spy infiltrates the experiment and kills Dr. Reinstein, leaving the newly empowered Rogers as the serum’s sole beneficiary.

Hailed by the U.S. military as a superhuman savior, Rogers dons a patriotic costume of red, white and blue, with a star on his chest and stripes on his waist. Captain America is quickly dispatched to his most important early assignment: destroy his evil “super soldier” counterpart, a Nazi agent called the Red Skull.

Fast forward to 2011: This summer, Captain America returns to the big screen. Unfortunately, the spirit of 1941 (let alone 1776) is a long way off. In an era of anti-Americanism—at home and abroad—the movie’s director and star have been playing down the character’s American identity.

Director Joe Johnston insists that “this is not about America so much as it is about the spirit of doing the right thing.” Chris Evans, who plays the title character, echoes the sentiment, saying that “I’m not trying to get too lost in the American side of it. This isn’t a flag-waving movie.”

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has eagerly de-Americanized superheroes, sometimes by undercutting traces of “corny” patriotism with doses of winking irony. Take the 2006 film “Superman Returns,” which has Clark Kent’s boss cynically describing Superman as fighting for “truth, justice … all that stuff.”

Or take the 2009 movie based on a hugely popular toy from Hasbro. The film’s title, “G.I Joe: A Real American Hero,” was trimmed down to just “G.I Joe,” the toy’s iconic logo with the American flag was removed, and the storyline transformed the title character’s American anti-terror squad into an international peacekeeping task force that apparently took its marching orders from the United Nations.

The fact is, Hollywood movies today live or die based on worldwide ticket and DVD sales, and in a world in which American flags are burned regularly from Paris to the Punjab, received wisdom has it that anything too “American” is international box office poison.

Anticipating anti-American blowback, Paramount and Marvel Studios actually offered distributors the choice of marketing the new movie using its real title—“Captain America: The First Avenger”—or opting for simply calling it “The First Avenger.”

Most distributors say they are going with the original title, eager to take advantage of decades of “Captain America” brand recognition. However, three countries—Russia, Ukraine and South Korea—have decided to promote the movie as “The First Avenger.”

By literally cloaking their character in patriotism, Kirby and Simon displayed unabashed love of, and confidence in, the United States. Like many Jewish Americans during World War II, such as the heads of Hollywood studios, they felt duty bound to use their creativity in the service of their country.

Alas, times have changed. Hollywood is now more concerned with international box office numbers than national pride, never mind respecting the obvious wishes of the two artists without whom Captain America wouldn’t exist.

Simcha Weinstein is a best-selling author whose latest book is “Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century.” He also chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at the Pratt Institute in New York.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane — Oy Gevalt, It’s a Jewish ‘Watchmen’

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—Who watches the watchmensch? Yes, you read that right—the comic book “Watchmen” is getting a Yiddish makeover courtesy of a British comic writer.

And in fitting with “Watchmen’s” trademark plot twists and surprising revelations, “Watchmensch” has one of its own: Although it’s crammed with Yiddish dialogue, Jewish in-jokes and black hats, its creator isn’t Jewish.

Rich Johnston is known in the comics world as a sort of gossip columnist—he writes a news and rumors column called “Lying in the Gutters.” He also has written several comics of his own, including one about a 17th-century Italian monk combined with elements from the TV show “Smallville.”

Johnston, 36, came up with the idea for “Watchmensch” at a comic book convention.

“I was messing around with friends about titles of comics, and ‘Watchmensch’ is just one that got stuck in my head,” he said in a phone interview from his home in southwest London, where he lives with his wife and two children.

He had an idea for the comic as well: A parody about the murder of a Jewish lawyer. After he wrote about it in his column, Johnston received positive feedback, including an e-mail from Swedish comic artist Simon Rohrmuller, who ended up drawing the book based on Johnston’s script.

The original “Watchmen” follows a group of former superheroes in 1980s America as they investigate the murder of one of their own, the Comedian. The series deconstructs the superhero genre with groundbreaking narrative techniques and an intricate alternate-history plot.

Originally published in a 12-part series from 1986 to 1987, “Watchmen” was a major hit, and is still considered one of the greatest comics of all time. It was named one of Time magazine’s top 100 English-language novels in 2005, and the highly anticipated “Watchmen” movie opened March 6.

It was the No.1 film in America on its opening weekend, bringing in $55.7 million—the most successful opening in 2009.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the series has been parodied in works like “Botchmen,” made by Mad magazine, and now in “Watchmensch.”

“Watchmensch” follows a similar trajectory to its predecessor, starting with the death of the Comedian—known in “Watchmensch” as Krusty the Klown, in homage to the famous Jewish character on “The Simpsons.” Investigating the murder are Spottyman (a takeoff on “Watchmen’s” Rorschach) and Jewish lawyers Nite Nurse (Nite Owl) and Silk Taker (Silk Spectre).

Along the way are numerous insider references to the history of “Watchmen” and comics in general, with particular emphasis on the industry’s Jewish roots.

“It’s a parody of ‘Watchmen,’ the comic book and the movie, and also a satire on the comic book industry, how the artists and the industry worked together for the past 70 years,” Johnston says.

The Jewish theme worked perfectly, he adds, because the history of the comic book is filled with Jewish names—among them Captain America creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), Superman’s Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and Batman’s Bob Kane (born Robert Kahn).

Siegel and Shuster even make an appearance in “Watchmensch,” in a flashback to the day when they famously sold the rights to the Superman character to DC Comics for a mere $130.

Because Johnston isn’t Jewish, he wanted to be sure he was making an accurate portrayal.

“Once I got [a Jewish element], I’d go online and make sure I got it right,” he says. “I was also able to run skits past a few [Jewish] friends.”

The Jewish elements include Yiddish terms and Chasidic-style clothing, with Spottyman sporting payes and a black hat, and Silk Taker in a modest, high-necked dress. A pet named Balabusta also has a cameo, as does a can of Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda, a classic Jewish icon.

Johnston says the irony is that “I give the most Jewish lines to Spottyman, who’s not Jewish. It’s this secret identity he’s put on.”

Keeping things hidden, he says, is a common theme in comic-book history.

“Even in the early days of superhero comics, Judaism was there but it was disguised,” Johnston explains. “Even the Thing in the Fantastic Four—he was Jewish, but it was never actually said. Only within the last few years was it finally said, ‘Ben Grimm is Jewish.’ It’s long overdue.”

Rachel Freedenberg is a staff writer for the j. weekly.

A Hero’s Struggles

“Once you’ve tasted fame. It’s very difficult to live without it.”

Christoph Meili was living as an average guy when he did an extraordinary thing and suddenly found himself idolized as a superhero.

After basking in the adulation of the Jewish community for his allotted span, the spotlight shifted, and he had to figure out how to build a new existence in a foreign country.

The strain of this process left him sometimes embittered and split up his family but also opened up new opportunities for the 33-year-old Meili.

The story began five years ago when Meili was working as a night watchman at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Zurich.

While making his rounds, he discovered a stack of ledgers and documents destined for the shredder. He took a closer look and discovered extensive financial records on bank accounts and other assets belonging to Holocaust victims that the bank had withheld from survivors and heirs.

At that point, Meili made an irrevocable decision. Instead of continuing his rounds, he took some of the incriminating bank records and turned them over to a Jewish organization in Zurich.

When the deed became public, the bank fired Meili. A few months later, when he testified against the Swiss bank before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, he started receiving hate mail and death threats and was denounced in much of the Swiss media.

In July 1997, Congress passed a special act granting permanent residence in the United States to Meili, his wife, Giuseppina, and their two small children.

The family arrived in New York and Meili embarked on his new and strange double life. Jewish organizations and institutions vied in heaping encomiums on him. He was lauded as a moral giant and righteous gentile, as a simple man who dared confront the avaricious Swiss banks. As Meili’s English improved, he proved to be an adept speaker.

But away from the glittering banquet circuit, he had to face the reality of surviving as an unskilled and uneducated immigrant in a new country.

He got a job as a security guard at a Manhattan high-rise and rented a small apartment in New Jersey, but his salary was barely enough to make ends meet.

Meili looks back on his 18 months in New York with some bitterness. “The media called me a superhero, but I was used by everyone,” he complains. Though he received donations from individual Jews, “the big Jewish organizations did not help me.”

His life took a turn for the better following a 1998 visit to California, where he addressed a Whittier Law School conference in Orange County.

Among the listeners was William Elperin, an attorney, son of Holocaust survivors and president of the 1939 Club, an organization of mainly Polish Jewish survivors and their families.

In short order, Elperin arranged for a tuition-free scholarship for Meili at Chapman University in Orange County, a Christian institution with a major Holocaust education program, and a $5,000 monthly stipend for the Meili family from the 1939 Club, as long as Meili remained in college.

Elperin also took Meili’s finances in hand and saw to it that he received an adequate speaker’s fee when he appeared before Jewish organizations.

As the Meilis tried to build a new life in California, they were under constant scrutiny by the Swiss media. Reporters checked regularly on their doings, and some papers labeled Meili a traitor and a “Nestbeschmutzer” — someone who fouls his own nest.

“When I was a child at school, I remember reading cruel headlines in the Swiss papers about this or that murderer,” Giuseppina Meili says. “The headlines about Christoph are worse, they are trying to crucify him.”

The Swiss media hit paydirt toward the closing months of last year, when they reported that Meili had threatened to kill himself, had separated from his wife, spent several nights in jail, was flat broke and living in a hostel.

The reports, unfortunately, were pretty close to the mark. Giuseppina Meili confirmed in a phone interview that during one violent argument, her husband threatened to kill her and the two children and then himself. She called police, who took Meili away — “without socks and shoes,” he says — and held him in jail. His wife bailed him out after two days and dropped the charges.

The couple, who married in 1989, has separated and Giuseppina Meili has filed for divorce.

Meili acknowledges the altercation, but says the supposed threats of physical harm were based on a misunderstanding. However, he has moved out of the house and lives in a rented room in a private home.

Elperin sees Meili as a man who loves politics, much of it absorbed through the Internet. “I have never seen Christoph get violent; it seems totally out of character,” Elperin says.

During a recent phone interview, Meili said he was unhappy about the separation from his wife and two children, compounded by a lack of friends and a breakup with a new girlfriend. But he is trying to get on with his life; is now in his third year in college, majoring in speech and communication, and eventually hopes to become a human rights lawyer.

Giuseppina Meili is also getting along, working occasionally as a gardener and waitress, and is proud of her children, 9-year-old Miriam and 7-year-old David, who go to public schools and have become well- integrated Americans.

She tries to understand what happened to her husband. “He gets frustrated and moody when he doesn’t get any attention,” she says. “Sometimes he is close to depression. It is difficult to understand his thoughts.”

Two experts who have studied the impact of sudden fame on human behavior are not surprised at Meili’s mood swings.

Professor Leo Braudy of USC has written a book on the history of fame, from Alexander the Great to Judy Garland, titled, “The Frenzy of Renown.”

The attention lavished on a suddenly famous person “becomes like a drug,” Braudy says. “When the attention is withdrawn, it is often replaced by a feeling of resentment, a feeling that he has been let down.”

Dr. Rex Beaber, who maintains parallel practices as a clinical psychologist and an attorney and has dealt with numerous celebrities in both his professional fields, agrees.

“Once you’ve tasted fame. It’s very difficult to live without it,” he says. “It’s like the man who for one time is taken to a lavish restaurant and served the finest cuisine. After that, he won’t be satisfied going back and eating at McDonald’s. He is never the same.”

Meili, who in a lengthy phone interview comes across as an intelligent and pained man, says that much of his resentment is directed against what he perceives as promises of large financial compensations that have never materialized.

Foremost, he points to a 1998 agreement, in which Swiss banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion to settle all Holocaust-era claims.

As part of this settlement, says Meili, $1 million was to be paid to him, the money to come out of the substantial fees paid to American lawyers in the case. So far the money, though transferred by the Swiss, has been tied up in lengthy legal proceedings.

Edward Fagan, a lead lawyer in the class-action suit against the Swiss banks, confirmed the special $1 million arrangement with Meili.

Meili also believes that some major Jewish organizations raised considerable money by featuring him as a speaker, but failed to share the proceeds with him.

His criticism of Jewish organizations, based partly on complaints he has heard from survivors that much of the Holocaust reparation funds from Germany, Austria and Switzerland have benefited these organizations, rather than individual survivors, has been gleefully picked up by the Swiss media.

Even without the $1 million, which will probably be halved by taxes and lawyers’ fees, Meili should be doing all right.

Besides the monthly $5,000 from the 1939 Club and speaking fees, a Beverly Hills fundraiser for him less than two years ago grossed about $125,000, or about $70,000 after taxes.

Elperin advised Meili to invest the money through a money manager just at the moment when the stock market started slipping.

And while the $5,000 monthly stipend ($4,000 of which Meili says goes to his wife and children) sounds adequate, in affluent and expensive Orange County, it is just at the poverty line for a family of four, Meili says.

Elperin believes that the Meili lifestyle is fairly frugal, except for an expensive trip to Italy last year to visit his in-laws.

Given all that has happened to him and his family since the fateful night he discovered the bank documents, would he do it again if faced with the same choice?

“Yes, I would still do it,” he says. “I knew there would be side effects, and life has not been easy. But I have helped lots of people and Switzerland has been forced to deal with its past.”

Boys Wonder

Joe [incredulous]: Jewish superheroes?

Sammy: What, they’re all Jewish, superheroes. Superman, you don’t think he’s Jewish? Coming from the old country, changing his name like that. Clark Kent, only a Jew would pick up a name like that for himself.

A day after Yom Kippur, Michael Chabon, with his telegenic looks – long dark locks, piercing clear eyes – does not stand out amidst the young and the beautiful circulating through Chateau Marmont. However, as a writer, the 37-year-old – best known for the 1995 novel “The Wonder Boys” – has stood out in the publishing world since graduating from college in the mid- 1980s.

Chabon’s latest, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” (Random House), chronicles the rise and fall of Sammy Clay and his Czechoslovakian refugee cousin, Joe Kavalier – cartoonists who create, then lose control of their biggest creation: the Escapist. Set in the World War II-era Golden Age of comic books – when Jewish American males thrived, conjuring up dime store escapism – the story echoes the real-life tragedy of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Jewish teenagers who concocted Superman, only to naively forfeit the rights.

Five years in the making, Chabon’s novel not only encapsulates the author’s childhood-forged passion for superhero comics, but also his recent rediscovery of his own Jewish culture. The book’s strength lies in its rich universe of Jewish characters and metaphors, as the Golem of Prague, Harry Houdini and Europe at the dawn of World War II all figure prominently. And while some publishers might consider a saga containing the double whammy of overtly Jewish themes and comic books as an elixir for disaster, Chabon was surprised by how receptive his associates were to his concept.

“I was sort of talking initially to my agent about various book ideas,” Chabon told The Journal, “and it was the one she jumped on right away. My editor had the same reaction. She’s not Jewish, she never read a comic book in her life.”

Researching “Kavalier & Clay,” Chabon conducted firsthand interviews with legends of the field: Marvel Comics’ guru Stan Lee, “The Spirit” creator Will Eisner, Martin “Green Lantern” Nodell, and on and on. As Chabon learned, “Almost all of the major characters – with the possible exception of Wonder Woman – were created by Jews. I wondered, ‘What was that about?’ As soon as I started thinking about it and doing some reading into the history of comics, especially superhero comics, it’s immediately apparent.”

Indeed, the Golem of Prague looms large in Chabon’s book, as symbolic of the Jewish storytelling tradition; as precursor to the modern superhero idiom; as a reminder of Kavalier and Clay’s Ashkenazi roots. While Chabon originally included the Golem in a passing reference, his chat with Eisner, who referenced the legendary champion of the Jewish people, led Chabon to reevaluate the clay giant. Several drafts later, the Golem had insinuated itself into a greatly expanded role. Like the original Golem rising in a besieged medieval shtetl, Chabon said the character “popped into my life kind of right when I needed it.”

The link between the Golem and the American superhero is clear to Chabon, who cites the “messianic” component of early Superman editions, when the Man of Steel – with powers less godlike and more earthbound (Superman originally did not fly) – served as a champion of the oppressed.”It was not about fighting supervillains,” said Chabon, “but rescuing people from bosses that were exploiting them.”

One eye-catching item in “Kavalier & Clay” comes at the end of the lengthy acknowledgments, where Chabon dedicates not only this comics-themed work but every story he has ever written to Jack Kirby – co-creator of Captain America, the Hulk, the X-Men, and hundreds more. Chabon never did meet the prolific cartoonist, a tough Depression-era New Yorker born Jacob Kurtzberg who died in 1994.

“The greatest thing about Kirby that I ultimately find so inspiring,” said Chabon, “is the sheer fecundity of his imagination. The way he could just toss off, in a throw-away story, seven or eight different ideas that other writers would be happy to have an entire series built around. He was such an unstoppable force.”

For years, Chabon was somewhat disconnected from his own Jewish heritage.”As I had children, I found myself coming back to it and looking at it in a whole different light,” said Chabon, who lives in Berkeley.

With his novelist wife, Ayelet Waldman, and their children, Sophie, 6, and Zeke, 3, Chabon actively attends a Jewish Renewal congregation called Kehilla Community Synagogue and sits on the synagogue’s board.

“It is through Kehilla that I see myself, at least in the foreseeable future, defining my Jewish identity,” said Chabon.

Like many young men of his generation, Chabon’s entry into literature began with comic books, particularly the steady diet of Marvel titles he avidly consumed in the 1970s. By his own account, his childhood was “a standard suburban Jewish upbringing in Columbia, Maryland,” where his family occasionally attended synagogue. Chabon’s parents have Polish, Lithuanian and Russian roots. His father, a former pediatrician and lawyer, now works as an executive for Mutual of Omaha, his mother as an attorney. The family name is either Moldavian or Belarussian and means “shepherd.”

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1984, Chabon attended the University of California at Irvine, where his professor, MacDonald Harris, forwarded Chabon’s thesis to a literary agent. That project became Chabon’s well-received 1988 debut, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” and that literary agent, Mary Evans, represents the writer to this day.

In the early 1990s, Chabon agonized over, then abandoned his original follow-up to “Mysteries” after amassing thousands of pages. His critically acclaimed sophomore novel, “Wonder Boys,” hit movie theaters earlier this year starring Michael Douglas and directed by Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”). While the film version failed to find its audience, Paramount believes in it enough to rerelease the movie this month, in time for Oscar consideration. And producer Scott Rudin has tapped Chabon to adapt “Kavalier & Clay” as a motion picture.

“It’s going to be incumbent on me not to be too protective as a screenwriter,” said Chabon, who was pleased with Steven Kloves’s “Wonder Boys” screenplay.

By translating his book to celluloid, Chabon hopes to direct new interest to the long-maligned medium he cherishes.

“Comics had already existed for 40 or 50 years as this art form that nobody had paid attention to,” said Chabon. “There was never a critic who stood up and had the guts to say, ‘I read comics. I like comics.'”

Fortunately for comic book fans, one writer has.


Siegel. Shuster. Kane. Just a few names of Jewish storytellers whose restless imaginations fueled a multimillion dollar entertainment business that boomed throughout the 1940s and 1950s, when America was at war and television was in its infancy.

We’re not talking about the movie industry but the Golden Age of comic books – specifically, superhero comics. These men were the Warners, Mayers, Zanucks and Cohns of their field. As in cinema, these Jews built a popular and lucrative business around a visual storytelling medium.

Before Superman arrived in 1938, the superhero idiom didn’t exist. It took Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish teens from Cleveland, to dream up the Man of Steel for D.C. Comics. In 1939, D.C. struck gold again when another pair of Jews, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, created Batman. Publishers flooded the market with scores of characters cut from the same costumed cloth – Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, the Flash. The superhero craze even paved the way for other genres – horror, humor, romance, westerns.

But by the 1960s, interest in superheroes had waned. The genre had become clichéd. What no one could have predicted at the time was that this moribund industry was ripe for a renaissance. Nor that one writer-creator would lead it – Stan Lee.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

No, the above is not a quotation from Talmud; it’s the lesson that Spider-Man learns after an act of arrogance leads to a loved one’s death. Yet this morality lesson is not the only instance in Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics universe bearing Judaic resonance. Allusions to Jewish literature and ethics were commonplace at Marvel. Look no further than the Silver Surfer’s Moses-like struggle with his maker, the planet-devouring Galactus; or the Hulk – a gamma-ray golem.

It all started by accident. Nearly 40 years ago, Timely Comics – a company best known for some marginal monster titles – was losing readers fast. So editor-writer Lee rolled the dice in 1962, using the last issue of a canceled monster mag to debut a bold, avant-garde superhero. That character was Spider-Man; the issue – “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 – was the web slung around the world. It became, along with “The Fantastic Four,” the flagship of the renamed Marvel Comics Group, an empire that dominates the comic book industry to this day.

Moreover, “Spider-Man” ushered in what is now referred to as the Silver Age of comics. With the unbridled visual virtuosity of artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee challenged the clichés of an inherently silly genre – supermen in tights – and reinvented the superhero by humanizing comic book characters with angst, vulnerability, fear, failure; in other words, traits we mere mortals could identify with. Lee not only served as the company’s premier wordsmith but as the engine behind the “House of Ideas” – ostensibly, its ultimate PR machine.