In the new movie “Justice League,” The Flash introduces himself to Batman as a “nice Jewish boy” – thus staking his claim as the first-ever self-identified Jewish superhero in a film of this genre. He also happens to be played by Ezra Miller, a Jew in “real life.”
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This may constitute a double first for those who keep track of such milestones, as noted in a recent Washington Post story by Noah Berlatsky, who writes about comics and pop culture.
Berlatsky describes Miller's Flash as a character with wobbly self-confidence and “a bit of Woody Allen self-deprecation and a bit of Mel Brooks/Jerry Seinfeld fast talk. He’s the Yiddish comic relief. He’s also, not coincidentally, the least heroic of all the collected heroes. One of the best lines of 'Justice League' is his quavering admission, 'It’s really cool you guys seem ready to do battle and stuff, but, full transparency, I’ve never done battle. I’ve just pushed some people and run away.'"
By the way, other League members include Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Batman (Ben Affleck) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa).
The Jewish character of The Flash may be a first on the silver screen, but Jews were among those who created the superhero comic book genre. See the Jewish duo of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, who created Superman in 1933 when they were still in high school. Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber to Jewish-Romanian immigrant parents, co-created Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and The Fantastic Four, among other comic book stars, at Marvel Comics. Bob Kane, born Robert Kahn, also to Jewish immigrant parents, co-created Batman for DC Comics.
The story lines these writers and illustrators devised were sometimes informed by their experiences as Jews, but at least outwardly, their characters were decidedly not Jewish.
Living large for decades
But Jewish and Jew-ish superheroes in comic books have been living large in recent decades. Wikipedia even has designated page dedicated to the subject and a page for Jewish comic book characters, most of whom are superheroes. Here’s a sampling:
Batwoman: In 2006 she returned to the pages of DC Comics as gay and Jewish. To make it "official," she even celebrates Hanukkah – a far cry from the original 1956 persona of Katherine Kane as a Gotham City heiress.
Kitty Pryde: A character in the "X-Men" series, Pryde's paternal grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. In one story line she wages battle on a concentration camp prison planet, which for her conjures up images of Jews murdered in Nazi death camps and impels her to fight to liberate all the prisoners and smash all their captors.
Sabra: This alias was given to an Israeli Marvel Comics superhero named Ruth Bat-Seraph, who made her debut in a 1980 Incredible Hulk comic book. The Hebrew word sabra is what native Israelis call themselves, after the prickly pear cactus: sweet on the inside, prickly on the outside. Bat-Seraph’s backstory? She grew up on a special government-run kibbutz after her superpowers were identified, and later became a Mossad agent who battled Hulk. She wrongly identified him as assisting Arab terrorists in Israel. Whoops!
Magneto: A character in the "X-Men" movies and in Marvel Comics, whose real name is Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, he was a German-born Jew who was sent to Auschwitz with his parents. The horror and stress Magneto experienced there is what sparked his mutant powers. A villain to some, a hero to others, Magneto’s cynical worldview is driven by his desire to protect his fellow mutants. He sees similarities in the way the world persecutes them and the trauma his people suffered in Nazi Europe.
Masada: Deborah Konigsberg is her given name, and she’s an Israeli superhero who originated in an American comic book series called “Team Youngblood.” She morphs into a giant when she is fighting crime. Her superhero name, Masada, refers to the ancient mountain fortress in the Judean Desert where a group of Jews zealots committed mass suicide instead of surrendering to the Romans. She cites the souls of those dead Jewish warriors as the source of her power.
Moon Knight, aka Marc Spector: He is the disobedient son of a rabbi who grows up to be a U.S. Marine and then a mercenary. He finds his way to becoming a crime-fighting superhero in Egypt when he’s anointed with superpowers by the ancient Egyptian god of the moon. He first appeared in a series featuring the anti-hero Werewolf and later even had his own series: “Moon Knight – Fist of Khonshu.”
Reuben Flagg: Flagg is the hero of the “American Flagg” series, written in the 1980s as a science fiction and political satire, and set in the futuristic 2030s. Flagg was born on Mars (where the United States has “temporarily relocated”) to a Jewish couple with bohemian tendencies. His parents are cited as the reason he has idealistic views of the U.S., even though the world by then is an over-commercialized high-tech nightmare. Flagg is there to help save the day.