German translation here
I’d like to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Bowden and discuss race and ethnicity in the context of Marvel comics. I used to be a collector, and, ironically enough, share with Bowden an appreciation of the Zukula’s daughter story. There are some who believe that this topic is merely “juvenile drivel,” but I disagree.
While this is not my usual topic of discussion, the truth is that the “culture wars” are fought through varied media, such as pop culture, which includes comic books. The powers that be have long targeted impressionable youth with multiculturalist messages through the comic book medium. As the culture is the “sea” in which our genotypes and phenotypes “swim,” it is useful to examine and evaluate aspects of that culture, and therefore comic books are a legitimate topic of analysis.
It must be noted that the Marvel Comics empire was predominantly built upon the work of two men, both of Jewish ancestry — writer Stan Lee (Stanley Martin Leiber) and artist Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg). Of course, other writers and artists, including later younger ones who rose in rank to editor, were important, and many of these were Gentiles. However, it was Lee and Kirby who laid the groundwork for all that followed, and who set Marvel down the particular ideological paths outlined here, emphasizing racial tolerance, opposition to bigotry, and a wholly aracial form of American constitutional patriotism.
For the record, I’d like to briefly comment on the Lee-Kirby method of story production, which was adopted by Marvel as a whole and revolutionized the creative process.
Here, the writer (e.g., Lee) comes up with the general story, and then the artist (e.g., Kirby), based on the original broad outline, draws the panels and by so doing essentially establishes plotline and the details of the story. The writer then comes in and writes the actual script, filling in the text.
In this system, the artist is an equal contributor to plot and storyline, and tensions related to Kirby’s desire for equal credit later caused problems for Marvel, leading to Kirby eventually leaving the company, ending the so-called “Silver Age” of (Marvel) comics.
The Fantastic Four
The Fantastic Four (issue #1 – Nov. 1961) was the first “superhero” comic produced by Marvel and by the famed Lee-Kirby combination; Marvel (including Lee and Kirby) having previously produced a series of monster comics in the 1950s. Here was a paradigm shift in the comic book world, in that the heroes were portrayed – mentally and emotionally – as “normal” people, not as godlike heroes; we observe characters with all the problems and foibles of ordinary folks, a concept developed to its fullest extent in the subsequent Spider-Man character.
The Fantastic Four is led by Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic), a super-genius with the ability to stretch (similar to Plastic Man), and is also composed of his wife Susan Storm Richards (the Invisible Girl), her young brother Johnny Storm (the Human Torch), and their friend, Ben Grimm (the Thing).
Ethnically/racially, they can be described as follows. Richards and the two Storms, based on surname, background, and physical appearance, seem to be founding stock Americans (i.e., of British derivation). Richards is a brown-haired, brown-eyed, fair-skinned Nord-Atlandid, while the two Storms are blonde, blue-eyed Nordics. I’ll pass over without detailed commentary the casting of half-Mexican (one-eighth Amerindian) actress Jessica Alba as Sue Storm in the Hollywood version of this comic. The Johnny Storm character was also slightly darkened in the movie version as well, but remains White; how he and Alba/Sue Storm make a credible brother/sister combination I do not know.
Ben Grimm, “the Thing,” is an interesting case. In his super-powered form he is a massive mutate with orange bricks for skin. In his human form, he was a rough-hewn, coarse-featured former football player and war hero. Given these facts, and his surname “Grimm,” it was reasonable to assume he was, perhaps, of German ancestry, with a Borreby phenotype. But, no. Fairly recently, it was revealed that the noble Grimm, college football star and fighter-pilot hero, is Jewish. Indeed, it is said that Kirby modeled Grimm after himself, for whatever that’s worth. Interesting though, that, if this is so, Grimm’s ethnicity was not revealed at the time of the Fantastic Four’s creation, but instead decades later. Were Lee and Kirby afraid this revelation would hurt sales in the 1960s?
From the above link, we read the following, emphasis (and “sic”) added:
“Kirby always thought of the Thing as being Jewish,” said Marvel senior editor Tom Brevoort. According to Brevoort, Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzburg) kept in his house, but never published, an early drawing of the Thing in full rabbinical regalia.
But while Kirby might have intended from day one for the Thing to be Jewish, and fans familiar with Kirby’s career might have suspected as much, the superhero’s Judaism had never been revealed in the pages of Marvel.
“It had never shown up in a Fantastic Four [issue], so was not what we considered canon,” Brevoort said.
The decision to reveal the Thing’s Jewish roots came almost whimsically, he added, when Carl Kesel, the co-author of the recent issue, said that he would like to write a story about the Thing’s past.
Brevoort noted that a high percentage of the early comic book artists were Jewish (Stan Lee, for example was born Stan Lieber). “Quite a few of them disguised themselves — that’s what you did to get your foot in the door,” Brevoort said, adding that the creations of these closeted Jews were, quite often, disguised personal stories.
In “Remembrance of Things Past,” the Thing provides his own explanation for why it took so long for his Judaism to come out.
Mr. Sheckerberg, a pawnbroker from the old neighborhood, says to the Thing: “All these years in the news, they never mention you’re Jewish. I thought maybe you were ashamed of it a little.”
“Nah, that ain’t it,” replies the Thing. “Anyone on the internet can find out, if they want. It’s just . . . I don’t talk it up, is all. Figure there’s enough trouble in this world without people thinkin’ Jews are all monsters like me.”
But, in fact, it seems fans are taking the news quite well, Brevoort said. “We had no idea that the response would be like this,” Brevoort told the Forward.
He said that since the issue came out, Marvel has been inundated with hundreds of positive letters and e-mails, with responses ranging from “Wow! I never knew that — cool, like me!” to “I always suspected.”
“The closest thing we got to a negative response was [a reader who said], ‘It was a good story — but wasn’t there a 1974 issue in which the Fantastic Four were all celebrating Christmas together?’”
But the new issue makes it clear that the Thing is no mere token Jew; he’s not some Jew who’s never seen the inside of a synagogue. Although the Thing no longer attends services, he still remembers his prayers. Kneeling over Mr. Sheckerberg, who appears to be dead, the Thing recites the Sh’ma.
Of course, let’s face it, the Thing doesn’t look Jewish. Nor does he exhibit qualities — studiousness, passivity (sic!), intelligence — that many readers probably associate with Jews.
“He certainly doesn’t fit that stereotype,” Brevoort said.
I find it hard to believe though that Jewish writers and artists had to “disguise themselves” in order to “make it” in the comics world, as individuals of Jewish ancestry were prominent in the field from the earliest days of the “Golden Age” of comics (e.g., creation of Superman by DC comics etc.).
Perhaps not unrelated to this concern for ethnicity, in one early comic the Fantastic Four battled “the Hatemonger,” who incited White Americans to attack (innocent, of course) foreigners. The Hatemonger, when unmasked, turned out to be . . . you guessed it, Adolf Hitler (more on Marvel’s treatment of Hitler below). Years later, the Fantastic Four battled a different Hate-Monger, but again with the theme of “hate” being evil and psychotic, with the noble heroes battling for “truth, justice, and the American way” – which, according to Marvel, is tolerance, diversity, and constitutional patriotism.
The Fantastic Four’s greatest foe — and one of the greatest villains in comic book history – is Dr. Doom, tormented genius, monarch of the mythical East-Central European nation of “Latveria,” a man hiding behind a metal mask after being allegedly disfigured in an explosion (or by putting the hot mask on his face before it properly cooled).
The interesting thing about Doom from the ethnoracial perspective is that he is supposed to be an ethnic Gypsy. I have traveled in Eastern Europe, and have seen real Gypsies. Unmixed Gypsies are dark-skinned South Asians, who resemble – in physical appearance, dress, and mannerisms – their racial cousins from the Ganges. More admixed Gypsies have a Near Eastern appearance; both types are usually easily distinguishable from the indigenous Eastern European stock.
Doom, however, is portrayed (before his accident) as having a completely (Eastern) European phenotype. Thus, Marvel portrays Gypsies as if they were like, say, Irish Travelers – racially indistinguishable from the host people, but merely characterized by a different lifestyle and culture. Whether this racial distortion is ignorance or malice on the part of Marvel, I do not know.
The Incredible Hulk
With respect to The Incredible Hulk (Bruce Banner), Bowden has given an excellent appraisal of the Hulk vs. Leader dynamic. Of particular interest was a comment to that article, concerning Jewish hero Doc Samson:
How about an analysis of the first appearance of the Jewish super-hero Doc Samson? Samson cures the Hulk by draining his gamma radiation, turning him back to Bruce Banner. Samson uses a fraction of that radiation to transform himself into a superhuman muscleman with long green hair. He then starts dating Betty Ross (shiksa), essentially stealing her away from the now scrawny Banner. Banner gets angry, re-irradiates himself, becomes the dumb Hulk, fights Samson, and wins. Betty Ross watches the battles and makes her choice . . . she runs to help the brainy Jew Samson who is being “persecuted” by the dumb brutish gentile Banner/Hulk. The gentile Hulk – too stupid to understand “what it is he has lost” – leaps away, leaving Samson with the shiksa woman. Later of course, Ross returns to Banner, but this story is intriguing. Of course, Samson’s Jewishness was only implied in the first appearance, to make it more palatable to the reader, but was openly revealed later, and the intention of his ancestry was obvious all along.
Another take on this story is here.
Some more information on Doc Samson is here. Relevant excerpts (emphasis added, except for names at beginning):
Leonard Samson was born Leonard Skivorski, Jr. in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father, Dr. Leonard “Leo” Skivorski, was a popular psychiatrist in his hometown who specialized in treating young women, often conducting extramarital affairs with them. . . . Mrs. Skivorski had nicknamed her husband “Samson” after his long hair. Leonard Jr. initially expressed disinterest in becoming a psychiatrist, perhaps because he resented his father’s philandering. Despite this, he became a college professor and psychiatrist. After Robert Bruce Banner was temporarily cured of being the Hulk by siphoning off the gamma radiation that caused his transformations, Samson, who had been working with Banner/Hulk in his job as a psychiatrist, exposed himself to some of the siphoned radiation, granting him a superhumanly strong and muscular physique and causing his hair to turn green and to grow long, reminiscent of his biblical namesake. Initially, Samson’s physical strength depends upon the length of his hair, though his gamma mutation eventually stabilized, making the length of his hair no longer a factor. Shortly afterward, his flirting with Betty Ross causes a jealous Banner to re-expose himself to radiation, becoming the Hulk once more to battle Samson.
Samson’s Jewish heritage is discussed in the non-fiction book From Krakow To Krypton
Another well known Marvel comic is the X-Men, which became wildly popular in the 1980s, and was then characterized by convoluted and “mature” plotlines, often intersecting varied related comic lines, and populated by a whole host of “complex” characters, both heroes and villains.
As mutants (“Homo superior”), viewed with discriminatory hostility by normal human society, the X-Men are put into situations allowing Marvel to explore issues of race, racism, discrimination, and tolerance from the liberal, multiculturalist perspective. After all, the X-Men, who value mutant-human harmony, are heroes, while mutant-hating humans and the elitist, anti-human “evil mutants” are villains. This dynamic carries over to the movie series. In Bowden’s Hulk article, the following comment was left:
This ideological battle between the humanist superheroes and the elitist villains is summed up quite nicely in a dialogue between Professor X and Magneto in the newest X-Men film. Professor X says, “We have it in us to be the better men.” Magneto responds, “We already are.”
Elsewhere in the film Professor X tells Magneto that he can have peace within himself, but he is rebuked with, “Peace was never an option.” A line that recalls Nietzsche’s summation of his morality in The Anti-Christ: “What is good? . . . Not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war.”
Note that Magneto is a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Note as well that both the normal human and mutant factions are multi-racial: there are White, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Red humans and White, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Red mutants. Thus, the X-Men comic, in a clever manner, lessens, even eliminates, the importance of actual race. The fundamental human subdivision of race is replaced with a mythical human/mutant boundary, which transcends racial differences and is itself the subject of moralizing about discrimination and tolerance.
Captain America has always been a rather “political” comic book, with the lead character representing Marvel’s liberal, tolerant, diversity-friendly, constitutional patriotic view of America. Captain America is Steve Rogers, of similar phenotype and ancestry as the Fantastic Four’s Storm siblings. Originally a prototypical “98 pound weakling,” Rogers was transformed into the “perfect physical specimen” by the “super soldier serum” invented by a Jewish scientist. This was during WWII, and Captain American represented Marvel’s America against the dreaded Nazis, Hitler among them.
According to the Marvel Universe, Adolf Hitler is intentionally, knowingly evil. In other words, while the real world Hitler, although reviled by polite society as evil, perceived himself as on the side of good, the Marvel Hitler knows he is evil, revels in it, and bases his actions upon what he believes will not only increase his personal power, but also on what will spread evil. Hence, according to Marvel, Hitler and National Socialism, and the battle of these against liberal democracy, were not the result of Hitler’s perverted sense of good, or even conflicting worldviews of the ideal society, but, rather, Hitler’s active and knowing embrace of evil, his choice to be bad. Hence, Hitler and his followers are the agents of darkness. The Red Skull (Johann Schmidt) surpasses Hitler, as he rises above Adolf’s “banal evil” to embrace “cosmic evil;” here, coming from Marvel, is the ultimate dehumanization of one’s ideological (and ethnic) opponents as incarnations of evil, rather than as fully formed human beings.
The Red Skull character has often been used by Marvel to score racial-political points. Amusingly, however, the Nazi Skull accused the Jewish Magneto of hypocrisy here; Magneto subsequently used his powers to imprison the Skull in an underground dungeon, where he almost died before being rescued by followers. Also, in the mid-1970s Captain America #185, the Red Skull, enraged by a Black male-White female couple, has the two captured and tortured. Well . . . the Skull is the personification of evil, is he not? Only pure evil would object to such a couple, no? At one point, Captain America had as his sidekick a noble and heroic Black man, the Falcon; at another time, Rogers was dating a Jewish woman. Thus, in the epic Captain America #300, during a showdown between Captain America and the Red Skull, the Skull castigates Rogers as to why a “superior man” (Rogers) associates with minorities and other such inferiors. Johann, Johann, don’t you know the Marvel agenda?
One must also add that most “evil conspiratorial organizations” in Marvel, and always prominent in the pages of Captain America, tend to be right-wing and fascistic, from HYDRA to AIM to the Secret Empire to the racist Sons of the Serpent. Yes indeed, the all-American Steve Rogers deals harshly with such un-American haters!
The comic book Thor is also somewhat interesting, being reasonably true to the ancient Norse legends. In contrast to the movie, the comic’s Asgardians are all essentially of Scandinavian physical appearance, although there are some minor differences between the comic portrayals and the original mythological descriptions. Thor’s main enemy is his adopted “brother” Loki. The comic origin of Loki has the Asgardians, led by Odin, warring against the Giants, slaying all the men, including the Giant King. Surviving this bloodbath is the King’s infant son, Loki, born at normal size and thus scorned by the Giants.
Odin adopts Loki and raises him as his own son, alongside his actual biological son, Thor. Blood wins out, though. In contrast to the cheerful, golden-haired Thor, Loki is a slouched, black-haired, sullen malcontent, savagely jealous of his “brother,” and constantly plotting mischief. Loki grows up to be the “god of evil,” sometimes depicted with a vaguely Semitic countenance – a demonstration of the havoc caused by bringing the alien into the fold, and ignoring differences of blood. This was indeed a remarkable and anomalous story coming from Lee-Kirby and one wonders if either man ever realized the various ways such a story could be interpreted.
The Paleo-Atlantid “wealthy playboy industrialist” Tony Stark, apparently of similar ethnic derivation as most of Marvel’s heroes, is the hero known as Iron Man. Originally, a strong Cold War character, Iron Man tended to fight East Asian and Slavic villains, some of whom had communist connections. Later, in the 70s, Stark “reformed” and moved to the “left”; his company stopped making war supplies and his enemies became less overtly political (although at that time he did fight the revolutionary leftist villain Firebrand, a White man too radical for Marvel’s constitutional patriotic tastes). At one point, Stark became a hopeless drunk and there have been times he has been unable to serve as Iron Man. Never fear! Stark had a noble, tough, powerful, intelligent, charming, and wonderful Black friend who was able to take over the Iron Man role when needed; this individual was once depicted in a sexual relationship with a White woman – perhaps one of the perks of the job?
Marvel on White America
Probably Marvel’s most famous character is Spider-Man, “real name” Peter Parker, apparently of similar ethnic origins and phenotype as Reed Richards. Originally a troubled teen-aged nerd, Peter Parker/Spider-Man was and still is the epitome of Marvel’s attempt to depict their characters as real life “men in the street,” rather than as Superman-like demigods.
Since Spider-Man and many of these other heroes are stationed in New York, one must comment on how Marvel deals with the world’s most cosmopolitan city. Judging from these comics, New York City is overwhelmingly White, Euro-American, with most people apparently being founding stock American. If we look at the surnames of many Spider-Man characters, we see, for example: Parker, May, Stacey, Thompson, Watson, Jameson, Dillon, Osborn, etc. One would never believe New York is actually a city that is predominantly Black, Hispanic, and Jewish, with a sprinkling of Asians and White ethnics. Of course, most of Spider-Man’s villains, as well as street criminals, are White men, and his most persistent foe, Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) is red-haired.
On the other hand, blind super-hero Daredevil (Matt Murdock) is also red-haired, so perhaps that evens things out? Daredevil is also stationed in New York, and, historically, leading characters in this comic have been surnamed, for example: Murdock, Nelson, Page, Fisk, etc. We see again the general Marvel pattern of obscuring racial realities. It should come as no surprise that most of the villains and criminals that Daredevil encounters are also White men. Who would have ever guessed that New York City is so overrun by White crime?
By the way, and alluded to by Lee himself in one of his books, Stan Lee was a big fan of alliteration in choosing character names: Peter Parker, Susan Storm, Reed Richards, Matt Murdock, Victor von Doom, Bruce Banner, etc. Certainly Lee, with the sure touch of his co-ethnics in Hollywood, knew how to market his brand and make names and images stick in the mind of the reader. In addition, similar to Hollywood, comic book creators understand how to utilize appealing White characters to promote destructive multicultural memes, while making nationalists and preservationists into, literally, the personification of pure evil.
Non-Whites in Marvel’s Universe
Compared to the ever present White criminals and villains, Marvel’s Black characters tend to be noble and heroic, from the Black Panther to “tough guy” Luke Cage, and a whole slew of others. As we can see, Marvel is not shy about promoting Black male-White female coupling/marriage and the consequent production of hybrid offspring. Are we surprised?
On the other hand, Marvel’s East Asian characters had a more troubled history, originally going through the buck-toothed, claw-handed, yellow peril phase, before a more modern interpretation in recent decades. This in a sense parallels Marvel’s take on the Vietnam war and politics in general. In the early-mid 1960s, particularly in Iron Man and Fantastic Four, Lee and Kirby promoted staunch American constitutional patriotism, anti-communism, and support for the Vietnam War. At this time, Oriental racial stereotypes were more common.
Later, younger writers came along with more liberal ideas on war and politics, and East Asian portrayals were adjusted accordingly (although the Mandarin and Yellow Claw continued as buck-toothed villains for a while).
Marvel on White Ethnics
Finally, some words about Marvel’s treatment of “White ethnics.” One amusing case is the mutant Banshee, who is, not surprisingly, Irish. Portrayals of this character back in the 1960s appear to be lifted from anti-Irish nativist cartoons of the mid-19th century – a facial phenotype looking like a hybrid of ape and leprechaun. Later depictions, in more “enlightened” later decades, gave him a more Celtic Brunn, normal human appearance.
With respect to Italians, Marvel’s version of the Mafia is the Italian-staffed “Maggia,” violent thugs always causing trouble for the heroes. Perhaps the most prominent Italian-American character in Marvel is Frank Castle (Francis Castiglione), of Sicilian ancestry, phenotypically Atlanto-Mediteranean, the vigilante anti-hero known as “The Punisher.” In contrast to the noble Jew Ben Grimm or Negro Black Panther, Castiglione is described thus:
The Punisher is a vigilante who employs murder, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence, and torture in his war on crime. . . . The Punisher’s brutal nature and willingness to kill . . .
Brutal and violent. We see interesting parallels to Hollywood there.
Other “Med” characters include the Daredevil villain “Matador” (Spanish of course) and the Greek-ancestry “Elektra” who is a female assassin (a trend is apparent). Eastern European/Slavic characters tended to be villains, particularly during the Cold War. These include: the Red Ghost, Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo, the Abomination, the Gargoyle and his son the Gremlin, Kraven the Hunter, the Black Widow (later a heroine, after defecting), etc. Many of these characters are laughable stereotypes. What to make of “Boris Bullski” (Titanium Man) for example? That’s he’s angry at “moose and squirrel?” No, Slavs have not been treated by Marvel with the respect and sensitivity they’ve given to, say, the Negro. Or, to Ben Grimm.
Marvel as Multiracial Propaganda
While I will agree that Marvel comics (and comic books in general) have been becoming more multiracial and “politically correct” in recent years (never mind the comics-based movies, which are often worse), my essay makes clear that I do not believe that Marvel ever was a “bastion of whiteness” in a racial nationalist sense. Sure, most of the characters were, and still are, White, but the most appealing White characters have always been strong supports of aracial constitutional patriotism, with an opposition to the values of “intolerance” (sic) that nationalists would favor.
One can argue that the racially liberal White Marvel of the past set the stage for the more multiracial Marvel of today. If Peter Parker were not such a bleeding heart racial liberal (reflecting the attitudes of his creators), then his “Ultimate” (but not original) version would never have been killed off to make way for a “person of color.” Steve Rogers, Captain America, may represent “Whiteness” physically, but did he ever represent nationalist values? That comic characterized racial nationalists as the very personification of evil, and showed Rogers with a Negro partner and a Jewish lover. “Whiteness”?
Similarities between Marvel Comics and Hollywood with respect to their treatment of ethnicity and race are not surprising, given the similar ethnic origins of both institutions. Films, TV, books, comics, or whatever the medium, the extended phenotypes of particular ethnic groups are always expressed, and it is clear that these extended phenotypes are incompatible with the long-term well-being of European-derived peoples.