Aaron Herman

Jewish Comic Creators Forge Heroes as Cultural Icons

Comic book superheroes have transcended mere entertainment, morphing into modern mythology that resonates deeply with audiences as allegorical reflections of the human experience. Notably, a multitude of iconic superheroes are intricately intertwined with Jewish identity, a connection stemming from the cultural perspectives of their creators. Visionaries like Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and others seamlessly infused elements of Jewish immigrant narratives, theological concepts, and confrontations with prejudice into the fabric of legendary heroes.

The archetype of Superman, for instance, draws a poignant parallel with the story of Moses, wherein survival necessitates an immigrant journey and adaptation to a new land. His dual personas, Clark Kent and Superman, mirror the delicate tightrope walk between assimilation into mainstream society and the preservation of one’s cultural heritage, a sentiment deeply resonated with by Jewish creators. The Thing, in a more direct exploration, candidly addresses his Jewish upbringing in the urban maze of New York City. His struggles with anger are intricately woven into Jewish psychology and self-identity issues. Similarly, Shadowcat’s expression of faith through a Star of David pendant and her observance of holidays illustrate a profound connection, while her metaphysical phasing abilities offer a thematic bridge to Kabbalistic concepts, her narratives shedding light on anti-Semitic experiences.

One cannot overlook the impact of Magneto, whose character is indelibly shaped by the harrowing shadow of the Holocaust, fueling his radical stance in defense of mutantkind. This multifaceted antagonist simultaneously represents the complexity of fighting for a persecuted people. Meanwhile, Mr. Terrific’s embodiment of Jewish intelligence, both brilliant and moral, plays on stereotypes while also providing a nuanced perspective. Sabra, as a beacon of Israeli pride in the superhero realm, unflinchingly confronts Middle Eastern conflicts, offering a distinctive viewpoint and adding depth to the exploration of Jewish cultural dynamics.

These superheroes, at first glance, embody fantastical power and valor. However, it is their creators’ deft touch that imbues them with the struggles of identity, isolation, bigotry, and moral quandaries grounded in Jewish existence. While some portrayals might veer into stereotypical territory, as a whole, these characters introduce diversity and compel the genre to grapple with substantial societal issues like persecution, assimilation, faith, and cultural pride.

The X-Men, in particular, serve as an allegory for persecution and difference, drawing inspiration from civil rights movements and writers’ personal encounters with anti-Semitism. The presence of Jewishness is dual-layered in iconic superheroes. On one front, writers overtly express faith and culture through nomenclature, religious practices, and homeland allusions. On the other, they subtly weave Jewish themes into character development and allegorical conflicts between superhuman beings and humanity.

Stan Lee once mused that his comics offered metaphorical solace to counteract the real-world injustices and indignities that groups like Jews faced during less tolerant eras. The mythic essence of superheroes permitted them to symbolically transcend the prejudices endured by their creators. While not glaringly apparent, traces of Jewish identity within figures like the Thing and Magneto enrich and complicate these narratives of empowerment and heroism.

Personally experiencing the resonance of this phenomenon, I procured the inaugural issue of Sabra’s introduction to the Marvel Comics universe at Comic Con NY last year. The emotional impact of this comic attests to how creators ingeniously injected their heritage into the mainstream, fostering connections with readers through a distinctive lens. Sabra’s debut in 1980’s “The Incredible Hulk #256,” a brainchild of writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema, introduced Ruth Bat-Seraph, born in Jerusalem, Israel. Initially a Mossad agent, she transforms into a superhero, drawing strength, speed, and agility from scientific experimentation. Marvel’s intent was clear: to craft an Israeli superhero, a manifestation of national pride who also aspires for mutual comprehension between Israel and other nations. Sabra, an Israeli Jew, adds a singular perspective to the Marvel Universe, her character shaped by heritage and fervor for justice. Serving as one of the first overtly Jewish superheroes from either Marvel or DC, she reflects Marvel’s drive to diversify its character roster. Her interactions with other Marvel icons like the Hulk, Spider-Man, and X-Men members accentuate her significance. Moreover, her encounters with threats to Israel, including foes like the Arabian Knight, underscore the geopolitical dimension of her tales, enabling Marvel to explore global issues through an Israeli prism.

As we approach fall, an exciting exhibition titled “JewCE! The Museum and Laboratory of the Jewish Comics Experience” is slated to grace the Center for Jewish History in New York. This event promises to celebrate the work of renowned Jewish comics artists and writers, encompassing original artwork, historical relics, and interactive installations that delve into Jewish narratives in the comic realm. Visitors can even engage in character creation, storyboarding, and iconography as part of the Laboratory segment of the exhibit. Running from October 6 through December 2023, this event coincides with New York Comic Con (October 12-15), offering attendees fresh insights and panels dedicated to beloved Jewish superheroes.

In their pursuit of grappling with queries pertaining to heritage, power, ethics, prejudice, and their own sense of being outsiders, Jewish comic creators have not only molded the identities of legendary champions but also steered the narratives toward profound inquiries. Their influence expanded the scope of the mythos from simplistic tropes to a literary domain reverberating with the struggles of diaspora identity, relatable to myriad groups. As such, superheroes evolved into unexpected bearers of Jewish experiences, tangible and allegorical alike.

About the Author
Aaron is a fundraiser, video journalist and growth hacker. Aaron’s segments has been featured on The Jewish Week NY,,, CNN and HLN network. Aaron holds a BA from Binghamton University and an MPA from Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU. Aaron lives in White Plains, NY with his wife Tani and his son Michael and Ari.