Undergraduate Honors Thesis


FROM SUPERMAN TO SUPER-MONSTER: Race and the Jewish-Comics Connection in the Twentieth Century Public Deposited

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  • In the past couple of decades, there has been increased academic attention to the Jewish history of comic books and their creators, due, in large part, to a resurgence in the popularity of superhero narratives as comic books are translated from text to screen. While the Jewish backgrounds of influential comic book creators are now frequently acknowledged, Jewish themes pervasive throughout superhero narratives have been downplayed in popular culture in favor of a universalistic approach that appeals to the dominant Christian culture. Books such as Harry Brod’s Superman is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice, and the Jewish-American Way, Danny Fingeroth’s Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero, and Simcha Weinstein’s Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero claim to reveal the uniquely Jewish perspective that Jewish comic book creators brought to their work, yet these books struggle to articulate a cohesive argument for the Jewish character of comic books. By focusing on the archetype of the superhero and by building upon Brod’s, Fingergoth’s, and Weinstein’s arguments, I will investigate how comic books, and superhero narratives in particular, map how Jewish-Americans negotiated their identity in the changing sociocultural contexts of 20th America. In chapter one, I will analyze textual and visual elements of hybridity in the first appearance of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938 and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Captain America in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941 in order to argue that the superhero initially emerged from assimilationist desires, navigating American ideals regarding whiteness, masculinity, citizenship, and patriotism. Furthermore, in this section, I will demonstrate how the duality of the superhero and his alter-ego encapsulates the precariousness of Jewish identity in the early to mid 20th century American sociopolitical landscape. Chapter two will detail how the aftermath of the Holocaust radically transformed the superhero from super-human to super-monster. Turning to The Fantastic Four #1, I reveal through the monster rhetoric of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four superhero team debut how Jewish comic book creators complicated assimilations narratives by reimaging the superhero through the grotesque body, altered by the scars of Otherness. Lastly, I will speculate on the transition of superheroes from comic book to movie screen, identifying the ways in which Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and Warner Bros.’s DC Extended Universe erase the Jewish perspectives and themes integral to many superheroes and their origins.


Date Awarded
  • 2021-04-12
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Last Modified
  • 2021-05-13
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