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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.

Detective Comics #71. Cover art by Jerry Robinson. © 1942 DC Comics. Batman, Robin & The Joker ™ and © DC Comics. All rights Reserved. Used with Permission. From the collection of Jerry Robinson.

Superman #14. Cover art by Fred Ray. © 1941 DC Comics. Superman ™ and © DC Comics. All rights Reserved. Used with Permission. From the collection of Jerry Robinson.

Wonder Woman #1, Summer 1942. Publisher: DC Comics. Collection of Michigan State University Libraries.

Detective Comics #69, cover art featuring the two‐gun Joker in battle with Batman and Robin, November 1942. Artist: Jerry Robinson; Publisher: DC Comics. Collection of Jerry Robinson.

Comment

1.

opie

September 22, 2008, 10:40 AM

George Herriman was doing those "velocity lines" in Krazy Kat before Kirby was born.

2.

MC

September 22, 2008, 10:50 AM

Man, the Joker used to be freakin' huge...

3.

Franklin

September 22, 2008, 1:59 PM

He didn't invent the metaphor, but he developed a particular version of them that was so widely copied as to become part of the comics vocabulary.

4.

opie

September 22, 2008, 6:17 PM

Well, just to split a hair, I would call that a refinment rather than an invention.

5.

william hessian

September 22, 2008, 11:04 PM

i never even read batman comics, nor really watched the shows, but the mythology of batman is still somehow very strong in my mind. even though ive never seen these covers, they seem very nostalgic to me.

love the blog tho. ill be back.

check out my blog sometime:
http://www.beardedbunnyblog.blogspot.com

6.

rojkoo

September 23, 2008, 6:32 AM

the jokers artlout finest ...

7.

Chris Rywalt

September 23, 2008, 12:35 PM

Have you read The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay? It specifically lays out the connection between Superman and Jewishness, how Superman is the mystical and mythical force for justice -- especially for justice for the downtrodden Jewish people -- in a very entertaining read. It's loosely based on on the Shuster and Siegel story, with some Jack Kirby thrown in, and small cameos by comics greats.

Another interesting book involving comics comes from an entirely different direction: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco. An exploration of the comics of Italy in the early to mid-20th century. More frustrating and opaque than K&C but intriguing and absorbing in its own way.

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