Removing the Mask


This may be old hat to comic-book enthusiasts, but I for one did not realize that, symbolically at least, Superman was Jewish and Spidey was an uncloseted homosexual.

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  1. I thought Batman was the closeted homosexual superhero.

  2. Yeah, that’s old news. Comics often involve characters that gay people can get into, because they are “different” or “persecuted” or etc. Indeed, the fact that one of the main characters on Queer As Folk owns a comicbook shop just means that he fills one of the archetypal jobs that gay people get involved in.

  3. I’m a big comics fan and frequent purchaser since the early days of my youth. And while I’m tempted to role my eyes at the premise of the article, I guess the fact that superheroes are gay to gay folks and Jewish to Jewish folks says something about their timeless, psychological power.

  4. Les,

    Well, there are “gay comics,” but the idea that either Spidey or Superman or Batman are potentially gay (remember he has Robin living with him – depending on his incarnation) is something I’ve thought since, well I started reading comics in the 1980s. I mean, Batman only flirts with Catwoman so no one will suspect. 🙂

  5. What about my 5th/6th/7th grade favorite, (although out of print then) the Silver Surfer? Was Shalla Bal a beard?

    Man, getting reduced to a mere thought in Mephisto’s brain is a lot to go through to maintain your cover…on another planet, even!!!

  6. Gary,

    And Robin’s real name is “Dick” for Chrissake! 😉

  7. Les,

    Yeah, that too. 🙂

  8. Next thing you know, they will be accusing Norhtstar from Alpha Flight of being a poof..

  9. Superman, Harvey Superman.

    Honey, come say hellow to the Supermans.

    Yeah, I can see that.

  10. Michael Chambon pointed out that Superman was obviously Jewish: he came from the old country and immediately changed his name, and that only a Jew would pick the name Clark Kent.

  11. Jeff,
    Since Superman was sent here from the old country by his parrents. Wouldn’t that make him Irish? (His adopting family, the Kents, named him Clark)

  12. Actually, I heard that Spiderman was the Jewish one. Original name: Spiederman. (“SPEED-er-mun”)

  13. Just because a grown man wears a cape and spends an excessive amount of time with a teen aged boy doesn’t mean he is gay.

  14. The Superman-is-Jewish meme is an old one, but really has little to do with what Siegel and Shuster were up to when they created the character. Siegel especially was influnced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan stories, and Superman is clearly modeled, in part, on Tarzan. He is orphaned in a strange land and grows up to be the most powerful person in that land. (He also has this in common with another ERB character, John Carter, who arives on Mars with nothing — not even clothes — but is super strong, thanks to the lower Martian gravity, and eventually rises to become ruler of the planet.)

    The only difference, although it is a major one, is that Tarzan and John Carter are humans who come to rule exotic, faraway places, while Superman is an alien who comes to Earth, where he is powerful, but not sovereign.

    Given that pedigree, Superman is as “Anglo Saxon” as you can get.

  15. An “ubermensch” with dark, wavy hair.
    Jewish tendencies, definitely.
    Spidey gay, though? Not buying it.
    Robin, yeah…

  16. Gerald Jones. who I like, isn’t saying anything new. Besides Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay there was Joseph Torchia’s awful The Kryptonite Kid, and Jules Feifer made the Hebrew/goyim comparison in the `60’s.

    Whether it was the perverted Dr. Wertham seeing sexuality in what was essentially a Father/Son or Big Brother/Little Brother relationship (The Dynamic Duo) or the PoMo take that superheroes in circus outfits are a Gay Pride Parade in 4-colors, people read too much into what was an essentially innocent product of an earlier age.

    Of course, there was Madam Fatal.


  17. I agree with kevrob that people read too much into this stuff.

    But if you do want to read into stuff, take a look at the X-Men and the various other Marvel mutants — upon reaching puberty, they learn that they are “different” from the other kids, and are typically persecuted and ostracized if anyone finds out about that difference.

    The characters themselves may not be gay, but I’ve heard several gay members of the comic industry cite the X-Men as something they identified with.

  18. Gay, goy, whatever.

  19. Stan & Jack’s X-Men set the “hated heroes” meme, as did Drake and Premiani’s Doom Patrol, which debuted contemporaneously. Prof X’s charges owe a lot to Van Vogt’s Slan. “Fans are Slans” was a catchphrase of mid-century SF fen. The popularity of the kids from Salem Center has a lot to do with identification by the reader with the mutants. Possibly one might emulate them, and emerge from the chrysalis of adolescence as a superior being, or at least an effective one.

    I’m still waiting on that. 🙂


  20. Maybe so. And maybe not so. It doesn’t matter much as long as they do the right things to the wrong people. Well, you know what I mean…

  21. Although it might not have been part of Siegel and Shuster’s original conception, the developing mythology of Superman established fairly early on that “Clark Kent” was not Superman’s idea, but was rather due to his adopted parents on Earth, who gave him his name and trained him from infancy to be meek and inoffensive.

    Personally, I think that this is where the “reimagining” of Superboy in “Smallville” seems to miss the boat (although I enjoy that TV series well enough), avoiding the true darker side of Superman. What kind of people were the Kents, to decide in their child’s infancy to make him afraid of his own shadow? How were they then able to pull it off, given that the kid was super-powerful? And how did Superman overcome his training, so that he could be bold and dynamic as a superhero, yet meek and mild in the secret identity? (My theory is that the costume had something to do with it, just as actors are “freed” to immerse themselves in their characters by wearing special makeups or period clothing.) Even though they did it for “his own good,” Ma and Pa Kent deliberately and expertly played with the young Superman’s head. The consequences of that, and Superman’s effort, not only to overcome that programming, but to be able to turn “Clark” on and off for his own benefit, are the stuff of psychological drama that the “Smallville” on TV can now never touch. (Almost as if in a parallel universe, the TV series is establishing Clark’s dual personality as a side effect of his pseudo-hypnotic “possession” by programming left behind by his birth-father. That’s a passable explanation, but too “neat and tidy” to make for the best psychological drama, in my opinion.)

    Psychological symbolism aside, the practical advantages of a secret identity are two-fold: 1) You can observe and act covertly, free of distractions or impediments. 2) Your enemies cannot identify your loved ones, keeping the latter safe from harm, and from being held hostage as a weapon against you. Such advantages are real, as any spy knows; the concept of “secret identities” may help repressed readers find fantasy wish-fulfillment in superhero stories, but any real superheroes would find practical benefit from leading dual lives. Some of the best superhero books examine the cost of the dual-life approach in detail, while others (notably the Fantastic Four and X-Men) try to present both the benefits and pitfalls of operating out in the open.

    I think it is wishful thinking of a particularly sloppy kind, when people with agenda conclude, just because a comic book’s character traits or personal situation appeal or are instructive to a particular group (gays, jews, etc.), that the character is a member of that group. The problems of not being allowed to express your inner self and talents freely, or of being rejected if you do, are not just gay problems, or jewish problems, or nerd problems, etc. They are universal human problems.

    For another example, just because the Batman and Robin scenario is congruent with a certain kind of gay fantasy, that doesn’t make the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson a homosexual one. Indeed, Batman operated alone for many years in the comic books, and only took on a sidekick in response to real-world pressures on the comic book creators to introduce characters, with whom younger readers could more readily identify, and who would lighten up the tone of an otherwise dark book. The relationship between the two has always been a mentor/protege, father/son relationship, a bond forged not in the commonality of being “different” or “persecuted,” but rather through common loss: Both became orphans due to brutal, criminal acts of violence, and both needed revenge. The analysis really doesn’t have to go any further than that. I’m just sorry that the flamboyance of the Robin name and costume — created in a deliberate, commercial (and, in my opinion, misguided) attempt to counterbalance Batman’s grimness — give ammo to those who want to allege and focus on homosexual overtones of the “dynamic duo.”

    The article didn’t say that Spiderman was an uncloseted homosexual, by the way; at best, it said that the situation of superheroes in general mirrored that of homosexuals, and suggested that Spiderman’s “outing” in the 2nd movie was catharitic to homosexuals.

    Getting back to Superman, there is no question in my mind (after having read, watched, and listened to his tales for over 40 years) that his mythology was informed and influenced by Jewish history and traditions. But is Superman a Jew, or was he ever intended to be symbolic of Jews in a gentile society? Perhaps, but I doubt it. It is more likely that Siegel and Shuster simply borrowed and worked with what they knew — the rich storytelling tradition of the Jewish culture — and that they focused on aspects of general resonance and appeal, eliminating specific ethnic details or replacing them with fictional “Kryptonian” ones. Again, the Superman mythos might have a natural appeal to Jews, but obviously also to millions of others, in all countries and cultures around the world, over many decades. How many kids, of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, have NEVER fantasized that they were foundlings with an exceptional heritage and a special destiny?

    Finally, I have always been fascinated by the selection of “Krypton” as the name of Superman’s home planet. Was this an allusion to Clark Kent’s “secret” nature and heritage? The fact that Clark, a “crypto-person,” is a “Kryptonian” is incredibly coincidental, don’t you think? Were Siegel and Shuster trying to make a statement, or did the name just sound good at the time?

  22. I always thought that the utopian planet Krypton was named after the element [Kr], which, as a noble gas, is “chemically perfect.” Sr. Mary Griffin used to say that elements in ion form needed to find another atom or molecule to hook up with, forming an isotope or compound, and thus attaining “atom heaven.” Noble gasses were, to her, the angels of the Periodic Table, as their electron shells were already complete.

    Only Rao knows if Jerry & Joe meant Kryptonian to mean “hidden.”


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