Zap! Pow! Bam!
Post #1234 • September 22, 2008, 9:35 AM • 7 Comments
Beachwood, OH - It's hardly a secret to those familiar with the medium, but it bears noting that Jews are as crucial to comics as African-Americans are to jazz. For those unfamiliar, the short list includes the creators of Superman (Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel), Batman (Bob Kane, born Robert Kahn), Captain America (Jack Kirby, born Jacob Kurtzberg), and Spider Man (Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber). This is the crux of "Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950, currently at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland Heights. Much of the show is aimed squarely at the kids, who can gawk at a life-size Superman crashing through a brick wall, and put on child-sized costumes of DC and Marvel characters padded with foam muscles. (Watching them run around in these things was a hoot. One of them, holding himself in a manner indicating a need for an imminent trip to the little boys' room, caused me to remark to my wife that he was soon going to become Aquaman in more ways than one.) But there is also a lot of good original art on display. The panel-busting genius of Will Eisner is in full effect on one particular page from The Spirit. On an old Batman and Robin cover, Kirby unleashes the drama of his sculpted forms in their distinctive high-contrast environments. (It's important to appreciate that Kirby invented those distinctive ruled stripes that indicate flying bullets, shooting shrapnel, and whatever the bad guys have thrown at you at lethal velocity.) Also of note is the underrated Jerry Robinson, who invented Robin, and had a refined, clear style with enormous authority.
One could squint a bit and find all the templates for comics in the stories of the Jews: Superman as Samson, Batman as the sling-wielding David, Hulk as the Golem. But the whole enterprise of comics is driven by a problem with a particularly Jewish flavor: the path of righteousness. "Justice, justice you shall pursue," says the Torah. Not, apparently, to Batman, but it might as well have.