I Need a Hero

By: Yechiel Amar  |  September 20, 2023

By Yechiel Amar, Staff Writer

Batwoman. The Thing. Kitty Pryde. Moon Knight. If you recognize these names, you would know that these are prominent superheroes in the Marvel and DC comic universes. Something you might not have known, however, is that all the characters I’ve listed have something in common: they’re Jewish. Pretty cool, huh? For most people that’s just a fun fact, something they would see on a trivia website, say “huh” at, and then scroll on to the next fact. For me, however, it means something different and has the potential to signify something so much more.

Recently, in all forms of media and entertainment, representation has become a major focal point of the conversation. Discussions over what actually does and does not qualify as “representation” are frequent among critics, along with their assessments as to whether said representation is good and tasteful, out of touch, or worst of all, offensive. The average consumer may see these conversations and ask, “why does it matter?” Well, to answer this question, one may simply look at the effects of representation “done well.” When people of marginalized backgrounds and cultures can see themselves on screen, portrayed as characters triumphing over the odds, the empowerment that experience provides can be immense. 

This is especially true in the superhero genre with its larger-than-life heroes and the central ideals they stand for. The most recent example of this is DC’s “Blue Beetle” which was marketed both by the studio and the actors as a “tour de force” of Latino representation. The film was both Latino directed and written and starred Latino actor, Xolo Maridueña, as Jaime Reyes, the comic’s Latino protagonist. Other examples of representation include Ms. Marvel, being Pakistani-American and a practicing Muslim, and of course, the powerhouse of the 2018 film “Black Panther.”

If this is true for other marginalized peoples, then why can’t it be true for the Jewish people as well? Who is the larger-than-life hero fighting for what’s right whom our community can identify with and look up to? Yes, there are certainly community/rabbinical leaders and biblical figures we’ve been raised to look up to, who act as heroes in their own right. But we all know that what I’m referring to is something different. We need a figure of mythic-level power, yet relatable in his life and struggles as a Jewish American in today’s age. We need someone that our children would strive to emulate, not only while playing and in their imaginations, but in life as well. This is more than an icon. We need a superhero.

But what about all those heroes I listed earlier? Or the other 11-13 that show up when you Google “Jewish superheroes?” Surely they count! How ungrateful of me to ask for more!

Though that may be true, let’s take a closer look at those heroes. First, let’s put aside the names that the average comics fan wouldn’t recognize (sorry Atom Smasher, less sorry to you, Colossal Boy). Now for the rest of the big names, their Judaism is, as I mentioned earlier, a fun fact, a tidbit. For some, their Jewish identity was probably mentioned in a few comic panels every so often to add some different spice to their character (or in a Holiday Special to show that the publishers remember Chanukah). For others, being Jewish is a part of their identity, but is largely overshadowed by some other aspect that receives the spotlight. Though it hurts to admit it, the majority of writers portray the comic hero Kitty Pride to be more mutant than she is Jewish. The same can be said for Batwoman regarding her lesbianism and Moon Knight regarding his dissociative identity disorder. Not to say that these aren’t important pieces of their characters and that someone can’t be both; of course, I’m not saying that. Nor am I saying that one needs to be visibly or practicing as Jewish in order to be considered such. Rather, it seems that in emphasizing one aspect, the other has been de-emphasized into nothingness. It’s not that they aren’t visibly Jewish, it’s that they seem to be—depending on occasion—only “selectively” Jewish. In contrast, with heroes such as Daredevil and Ms. Marvel, their religion and culture in particular (Catholicism and Islam respectively) inform their character no matter who’s writing them. Not so much by Batwoman though. 

 Don’t mistake this for a cry for a “super Jewish” superhero or a call for Kevin Feige to introduce “Agent Emes” into the MCU. There’s a very fine line between what constitutes good or bad representation. Turning one’s race, ethnicity, or religion into the entirety of their character can often make the character seem like a one-dimensional “token” character, or possibly even as an offensive caricature. (If you need an example of this, look up “Miles Morales what if Thor”). In the search for good representation, there are many missteps one can take along the way. So no, I’m not asking for a Fedora-wearing rabbi to throw bagels at the bad guys.

So, given everything I’ve presented, and factoring in some realistic expectations, what do I really want? Well, if I had any one dream request to make, it would be this. It is fairly known that Magneto, the oft enemy, sometimes ally of the X-Men, is not only Jewish but a survivor of Auschwitz. This then provides the reasoning behind why he is so violently protectful of the mutant race: to ensure that what happened once to a persecuted people doesn’t happen again. Yet in Magneto’s crusades for mutantkind, he seems to have eschewed his Jewish roots entirely, trading his old people for a new one. In plain speech, he doesn’t seem to care about his Jewish brethren. For me, this is completely unconscionable and indicative of the problem entirely in which Judaism is used merely as a flavor and not as a piece of enduring identity in and of itself. So yes, Magneto is a mutant. But imagine that for one day a year, he isn’t. Imagine that one day a year he takes off his helmet, puts on a kippah, walks into a shul, and says Kaddish for his parents. For that day, he remembers why he fights so hard for mutant-kind because he knows how deep the darkness of persecution can reach. For one day he remembers what it is to be a Jew.

Perhaps one day there will be a Jewish superhero whose identity permeates through everyday of the year. But right now, one day is enough.