Pow! Crash! Bam! ‘Is Superman Circumscribed?’ author welcomed to ‘Superhero Sukkot’
By ALAN SMASON, Special to the CCJN
Like many boys growing up, Roy Schwartz turned to comic books and cartoons for entertainment and to fantasize about superheroes in both Marvel and DC Comics. But, unlike many American boys, he did so at first as a young man growing up as an Israeli in Tel Aviv, where English was his second language.
Because Schwartz was so fascinated by pop culture and in particular the concept of heroism and the heroic figure in Jewish tradition, he taught himself English by reading comic books and graphic novels. He became a huge fan of superhero movies and in particular was transfixed by the Richard Donner film “Superman,” the first movie in which Christopher Reeve played The Man of Steel opposite Marlon Brando.
That movie was what he playfully calls his “gateway drug.”
“That got me into superheroes, which is a genre, which in turn got me into comics, which is a media,” he told the CCJN in a phone interview. “I just love it all.”
He recalled that some comic books were published in Hebrew with the punctuation and vowels inserted for younger readers, but because Hebrew reads right to left, the graphics were reversed. Thus, the “S” on Superman’s chest was always seen in reverse. “It drove me crazy,” Schwartz laughed. But he admitted: “There’s something to be said about reading comic books in the language of the Ten Commandments.”
Years later, when he came to the United States to attend college at The New School and, for graduate work at New York University, Schwartz kept returning to this theme so many times that it became the focus of his master’s thesis. More recently, his love of comic books has grown into a cottage industry. He has become a pivotal figure and authority on the Jewish aspects of comic book superheroes found in the written page and beyond that on the cinematic screen. He regularly speaks to groups at various science fiction and comic book conventions and led to the publication of “Is Superman Circumscribed?”, a 2021 book by McFarland Press with wide appeal to kids and adults alike.
Schwartz will be the featured speaker at Congregation Gates of Prayer, 4000 West Esplanade., for a daylong “Super Sukkot” on Sunday, Oct,. 9. The series of three events is set to explore the Jewish aspects of superheroes and the talented Jewish figures who had s huge part in creating them.
The first event early in the day at 9:30 a.m. is designed to appeal to the younger set with cosplay strongly encouraged. Schwartz will talk on “The Jewish Origins of Superheroes.” Schwartz continues with an exploration of “Secret Identities: The Jewish Origins of the Marvel Universe” at 10:15 a.m.
The day culminates with worship services at 6:00 p.m. to usher in the holiday in the succah to be followed by a dinner and talk by Schwartz on “Is Superman Circumcised?: The Complete Jewish History of The World’s Greatest Superheroes.” His book will be on sale at the synagogue throughout the day with a significant deep discount over the suggested retail price.
While Schwartz does devote some consideration to the Christian aspects of Superman in his book, he always finds himself coming back to the original source material and its Jewish influence. “The Old Testament is still part of the New Testament,” he stated. “You can’t be an informed Christian without first being an informed Jew.”
“Superman’s original DNA is Jewish!” he admitted.
Authors Jerome “Jerry” Siegel and Joe Shuster, created Superman as teenagers growing up in Cleveland as pushback against Hitler and the Nazis’ concept of an Aryan “master race” while also borrowing from Jewish heroes like Samson and legends such as The Golem. Other DC writers and artists like Bob Kane and Bill Finger, who created “Batman,” and Stan Lee and a startling number of Jewish writers and artists at Marvel Comics like Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber and Danny Fingeroth have contributed in a major way to the comic book genre ever since.
Another Jew of note is Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit at DC Comics, and acknowledged as the father of the graphic novel for his “A Contract With God.”
Schwartz spent some time as a writer in residence at the New York City Library and did the majority of his research over six and a half years prior to the publication of “Is Superman Circumcised?”
“Part of making this book fun to read is that it has 106 images in it, so it’s not quite a coffee table book, but it’s fun to look at,” he noted.
And as to the intriguing title, Schwartz absolutely has an answer, referencing that Superman’s original Kryptonian name contained “El,” one of the many names for God. “On planet Krypton, his birth name was Kal-El. His father was Jor-El and he was circumcised by Moh-El!”