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Up, Up and Oy Vey!

: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book
Superhero by Simcha Weinstein
Review by: Robert G. Weiner
MELUS, Vol. 32, No. 3, Coloring America: Multi-Ethnic Engagements with Graphic Narrative
(Fall, 2007), pp. 315-318
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic
Literature of the United States (MELUS)

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315

REVIEWS

is perceptiveand revealing. He does an especially good job examining Addams's attack on the family and, by extension, middle
class America.
The final artist, Saul Steinberg, has a status analogous to
Topliss himself: the outsider to American culture turning his eye
on an adopted country. Born in Romania, educated in Italy, then
emigrating to America, Steinberg brings his Old World Jewish
heritage to the New World and uses his art to understandthe
contradictoryexperience he encounters. The outsider artist succeeds in revealing the New World even more clearly to its inhabitants, embodied best in Steinberg's famous 1976 cover "View of
the World from 9th Avenue." Topliss's analysis of this iconic
drawingis perhapsthe finest study in a book filled with excellent
examinations.One comes away from the chapter fully convinced
of Topliss's pronouncementof Steinbergas a genius.
A short final chapter sets the cartoons in contrastto the other
pervasive art of the magazine:advertising.The chapteris interesting, but perhapsnot all thatnecessary.Topliss has alreadydone his
work, and done it exceptionally well. He gives us a look at art
centralto the first fifty years of The New Yorker,art that might at
first seem peripheralto American culture of the time, but feels
absolutelycentralafterreadingthis insightfuland perceptivestudy.

John Bird
WinthropUniversity

Up, Up and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture,


and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero. Simcha Weinstein. Baltimore: Leviathan Press, 2006. 150
pages. $19.95 paper.
There are two main aspects of American popular culture that
were more or less created by Jews: Hollywood and comic books.
In terms of Hollywood, this has been well documented,but in the
case of comics, there has not been nearly the same amount of

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316

REVIEWS

documentation. There has also been little exploration of the


Jewishness of both the creators and the major superheroes.Who
would have thought that Spider-Man,the Justice League, Batman,
and, most unlikely of all, the Hulk have Jewish connections?With
Up, Up, and Oy Vey, Simcha Weinstein rectifies this by looking at
how Jewish history, culture,values, and theology helped shape and
create the comic book industry and its superheroes. Given the
recent upsurge of Christian-orientedsuperhero studies like H.
Michael Brewer's WhoNeeds a Superhero? (2004), David Zimmerman's Comic Book Character (2004), Greg Garrett's Holy
Superheroes(2005), and Stephen Skelton's The Gospel According
to the World's GreatestSuperhero(2006), it appearsthat the time
is right for Up, Up and Oy Vey. The above-mentioned books
contain little real historical value, but Weinstein's text is filled
with contexts and resources that highlight the links between
superheroesand Jewish ideology.
Today it is no secret that those creatorswho defined the Golden
Age of comics-Stan Lee, Martin Goodman, Joe Simon, Bob
Kane, Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, Mort
Weisinger, and Julies Schwartz-came from Jewish backgrounds.
As Weinstein points out, during the late thirties and forties, many
of them had to change their Jewish-soundingnames in orderto get
jobs and to avoid the Jewish quota system used by many publishers. In that era, comics were looked down upon, both culturallyand
as a business. Similar to the ways the film industry, largely
founded by the Jewish studio moguls, had been consideredculturally suspect, so too were comics consideredpabulumin their time.
Not many gentiles were interestedin producingcomics.
Weinstein successfully compares many Jewish theological
principles with those of the major superheroes.He quotes from a
wide variety of sources, including the Jewish Bible (the Tanakh),
the Torah,the Talmud,the Kabblalah,and various Jewish sages, to
demonstratehis points. One could argue that Jews are People of
the "comic" Book. The Jewish role in the history of the comic
book can not be underestimated,and there are essays devoted to
each of the following heroes: Superman,Batman, Spider-Man,XMen, Justice League, the Hulk, the Spirit, Captain America, and
the FantasticFour. It certainlymakes sense that Superman,the first

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317

REVIEWS

comic book superhero, and the prototype for all those that followed, is included. His name, KA-EL means, "All that is God" in
Hebrew. It also makes sense to believe that many of the Jewish
creators of these comic heroes, either consciously or subconsciously, had the Jewish story of the Golem in mind in creating
their heroes. Indeed, Superman'sJewish connectionwas kept alive
into the 1990s throughthe television show Seinfeld.
Weinstein even documentsthe more recent Jewish connections
for nearly all the superheroes covered in this book. Examples
include the Thing, from The Fantastic Four, coming "out of the
closet" and admittingthat he is Jewish; the Atom's desire to marry
someone Jewish; Batman's alternateuniverse story in which his
alter ego is the Jewish man, Baruch Wane; and Spider-Man's
recent dealings with the Jewish tailor, Leo Zelinsky. Weinstein
also points out that many of the currentcrop of writers, filmmakers, and comics artists who employ graphic narrativeor superheroes in their work are Jewish, including Bryan Singer, Sam Rami,
Michael Chabon,Neal Gaiman,Paul Levitz, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert,
Ben Katchor,and Daniel Clowes.
Two of the more interesting,and more blatantly,Jewish comics
charactersare the mutantsMagneto and Kitty Pryde from X-Men
and Ucanny X-Men. Magneto, the X-Men's main nemesis, is
portrayedas a survivorof Auschwitz and, at one time, a memberof
the Israelisecret service, Mossad. Kitty Prydewas createdby Chris
Claremont,a Jew, who specifically designed her to be Jewish, and
proud of it. The episode in which Kitty lights the traditional
Yartzeit candle, after the death of her former lover and friend,
Colossus, is reprintedin Weinstein's book, as is the one where
Kitty and Magneto attenda gatheringof Holocaust survivorsat the
NationalHolocaust Memorialin Washington,DC.
The most curious chapter is the one on the Hulk. While this
superherohas no overt Jewish connections, Weinstein is quick to
point out that the Hulk resembles the Golem, and one of the
recurringcharactersin the Hulk mythos is the Jewish doctor, Doc
Samson. The Jewish kabbalist, the Arizal, is invoked when discussing the Hulk's angerproblem,but perhapsthe most interesting
Jewish connection is when the Hulk meets the Israeli superhero,

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318

REVIEWS

Sabra, and they end up working together. Weinstein demonstrates


that, like the Jews, the Hulk is often mistreatedand misunderstood.
The book is short and beautifullywritten. Weinstein, a rabbiby
profession, manages to bring in many complex Jewish ideas. He
could have taken hundredsof pages to cover the subjectmatter,but
his prose is very concise, writtenmore for the common readerthan
a more detail-oriented scholar. The book would have benefited
from a discussion of real Jewish Golems used in comic book
series, such as those included in Marvel's Strange Tales and
Marvel Two-in-One, both published in the 1970s. Roy Thomas
also invoked the Golem mythos in his comic book, Invaders. In
addition, a chapter in which Weinstein discusses more recent
Jewish superheroes, Todd Norlander's Shaloman and Alan
Oirich's the Jewish Hero Corps, would make for fascinating
reading. Still, Up, Up and Oy Vey belongs in both public and
academic libraries,and deserves to be read by anyone interestedin
the history of comics and its connectionsto Jewish culture.

Robert G. Weiner
Mahon Library,Lubbock,TX

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