The bell on the door rings as I enter a dusty, cramped room sandwiched between a children’s clothing store and an alley. Wire racks reach the ceiling, the scuffed linoleum bearing ghosts of thousands of shoes. Long boxes reach into the aisles, curled yellow pages pressed flat against their neighbors. This is the environment of New England Comics, a bastion of old-school comic shops in league with The Million Year Picnic in Cambridge. Hundreds of glossy comics line the walls, collectible and special editions dangling in plastic sleeves from the ceiling. The shop would appear lost in time if it weren’t for the hordes of people leafing through stacks and discussing new issues under the whir of the air conditioning.
Comics are far from a stagnant medium, particularly given the rise of graphic novels in recent years, but their current popularity caused them to morph from a largely Jewish art to the scattered, sanitized stories easily sold as movies. Unfortunately, the Jewish history of comics is often lost and sometimes even corrupted by goyishe writers and rabid, uninformed fans. I’m speaking, in part, about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Siegel and Shuster were the creators of Superman, arguably the most recognizable superhero of all time. After turning the rights to the character over to Detective Comics (later DC) as was customary at the time, Siegel and Shuster were repeatedly fired and rehired as they struggled to regain the rights to their runaway success. Superman’s story is one inextricably linked with the Jewish Diaspora: a young refugee is separated from his parents and crashes into an inhospitable world. He’s an immigrant, an “illegal” one, struggling to integrate into a society that doesn’t understand him. I mean, his name is Kal-El, which means “voice of God” in Hebrew. Come on now.
For “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, who are canonically Jewish and Romani, are played by non-Jewish actors and join Hydra, an allegorical Nazi organization complete with salute, so they may become guinea pigs for genetic testing. In Nick Spencer’s widely criticized “Captain America” run, Cap reveals himself to be a Hydra spy. After “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” I emerged from my dorm to see a Hydra symbol chalked on the quad. People began sporting Hydra merch, its signature red-and-black insignia almost comical in its obviousness. The rich Jewish history of these characters was rubbed out in favor of cheap shock value and purposeful ignorance on the part of producers and writers.
I’ve written previously about the importance of Jewish writers telling Jewish stories. This goes doubly for the ongoing stories of characters whose experiences are linked with those of their Jewish creators. Erasing their canonical Jewish heritage and aligning them with Nazi-adjacent organizations is a disservice to their legacy as fixtures in American culture.