Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Son, the Super-Hero

When I was in junior high school I was an avid collector of comic books.  My favorites were (and still are) those starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of teens who banded together to fight interstellar villainy in the 30th Century.  While I’ve been out of touch with the Legionaires since the first of Lord-only-knows how many reboots of the DC Universe in the 1980s. I can tell you anything you want about the Legion from their first story in Adventure Comics #247 (1958) until issue #300 of their own title in the early 1980’s.  Death of Ferro Lad?  Check.  Sir Prise and Miss Terious?  Um-hmm.  Why there’s a Proty 2?  Got that.  Princess Projectra and the pain plague?  Yep.  Radio Roy, whose ears could pick up any radio broadcast in history, with a chorus of “Three-Eyed Sam from the Planet Wham!” eminating from his head?  Sure, know that one too.  I was so into the Legion   that I can still remember lying in bed before sleep and pretending I was Wildfire, a creature of pure energy held together only by a protective suit, having giving up my life for the universe and being consoled as the raven-tressed Shrinking Violet and the winged Dawnstar proclaimed their love for me.  Nowadays Shrinking Violet is in a relationship with Light Lass, and as far as Dawnstar goes I never recognized that intimacy with a being of pure antimatter would probably result in horrific third degree burns at best, if the mixing of matter and anti-matter doesn’t first result in the complete annilhation of the known universe.  Not to mention that those wings have got to get in the way.  Granted, it’s kind of hot when your lover’s hair falls, soaked with the sweat of passion, in your face.  But feathers?  Choke, gasp, wheeze.

So it was with this background of great affection for super-teams that when I stumbled across a weathered copy of Issue #1 of the Jewish Superhero Corps while cleaning out boxes in the basement, I was captivated all over again.  The Corps were the work of  Alan Oirich, and as best I recall the story he was a mainstream comic book artist who returned to orthodoxy (the actual term is ba’al teshuva) and wanted to create heroes consistent with the values of the more traditional Jewish community.  Allow me to introduce you to the lineup.

Menorah Man:  An astronaut who ate a radioactive olive on Mercury, giving him the power to grow six additional arms for a total of eight and to shoot fire from all of them.  Has a talking pet monkey that does the same, just in case you need to fricassee eight bananas at once.

Kippah Kid:  Robin throwing trick yarmulkes instead of Batarangs.  No Speedos, though.  Probably for the best. 

Magen David:  Think Captain American with a shield shaped like a six-pointed Star of David.  Also the Patron Super-Hero of Kosher Wine.

Driedel Maidel:  The power of super-spinning, and probably of super-motion sickness and super-barfing.  No word on which hero holds her hair back.  My bet’s on Kippah Kid.  He’s that kind of nebbish.

Shabbos Queen:  Has a magic wand that can make anything mechanical rest for 25 hours.  The wand has to rest one day out of seven.  So invading Earth on a Saturday morning would be a smart move.

Matzah Woman:  Radioactive Matah gave her the powers of Supergirl.  Her kryptonite?  Being under water for 18 minutes, the time it takes for matzah dough to rise.  I think that’s also called drowning.

The Mysterious Minyan Man:  Can divide into ten six-foot-tall men, or grow to one sixty foot tall man.    (A minyan is a group of ten who form for prayer.)  So two really awkward basketball teams, or the best Jewish big man since Dolph Schayes.    

I should note that all members of the team are, in accordance with orthodox tradition, modestly dressed.  This means that unlike most superhero teams, you cannot be certain that every female has a truly heroic chest or a tight, well-formed…ummm…bagel.  Driedel Maidel spins so fast we’ll never know, and I suspect the blur is a way of hiding her shortcomings.  Since she’s Jewish, we know darn well that Shabbos Queen isn’t a natural blonde.  So that leaves Matzah Woman as the most likely candidate for bodaciousness, and she looks like the kind of girl who also makes a mean noodle kugel. 

You may think these sound silly, and they are.  But is it any worse than the genesis of my beloved Legionaires such as Lightning Lad, who received electrical powers when blasted by a lightning-shooting beast on the planet Korbal?  Shadow Lass, who can invoke pitch-black shades as a result of her encounter with a shadow beast on Talok VIII?  Ultra Boy, who gained his powers after his scout craft  was swallowed by a space whale? Do you see a recurrent theme?  (And for the record, Ultra Boy’s real name is Jo Nah.) 

Not all powers result from animal encounters.  On some planets, everyone’s got something.  Phantom Girl can dematerialize because she’s from the fourth-dimensional planet  Bgtzl.  Stone Boy’s people learned to turn to rock to avoid the six month nights on their home world.  Matter-Eater Lad is from the planet Bismoll, where everyone can literally eat everything without needing to stop for…well…it all goes somewhere.  Later, M-E Lad (he has no cool nickname) becomes President of Bismoll, presumably after an inorganic version of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest. Suddenly the Jewish Corps seems more plausible.

For the record, there really are super heroes who are Jewish.  Ben Grimm, also known as the Thing of the Fantastic Four.  (We won’t go into that whole Golem thing).  Kitty Pryde, Shadowcat of the X-Men.    Gim Allon, Colossal Boy of my own beloved Legion.  (His mother became President of Earth, but that was little comfort her boy dated a shiksa.)  And many of the most creative names in comic history were Jewish.  Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, and Stan Lee only top the list.  I’ve recently finished a book entitled “Superman is Jewish?” proposing that many of the comic book heroes are a reflection of the need for Jews to be seen as powerful forces rather than as the victims of history.  Maybe true, but I’m pretty sure Superman’s not Jewish.  I know this as one of the six Jews who live in Supe’s home state of Kansas, and while the Kents are fine people they really don’t drop by for Shabbat.

One of the things that I really liked about the Legion was that they were always having tryouts for new members.  I’d like to see that in future issues of the JSHC.  Because while the current membership is great, I think the Corps could use a little cultural-specific component.  Here are a few suggestions.

     Guilt Woman:  Interfaith sharing is not a new phenomena.  Both Catholics and Jews share a long legacy of guilt, but I would contend that because we don’t have either confession or a savior to take the guilt off our hands, we’ve got a worse time of it.  Guilt Woman’s power is to make you feel bad…not just bad, but rotten to the core…about whatever it is you are doing.  For example:

     Villian:  “I’m going to blow up the word with this hydrogen bomb!”

     Guilt Woman:  “And what would your mother say?  She’d be disappointed.  Imagine, her little        baby, all grown up acting like this?  When was the last time you called her?”

     Villain:  “I’m sorry.  Can I borrow your phone?”

Disaster averted.

Feeding Bubbe:  Patterned after my Great-Grandma Rosie who would give me a dollar to eat a bowl of Jell-O, Feeding Bubbe flings bowls of food at evil masterminds while shouting “EAT!  EAT!  YOU LOOK THIN!”  Compelled to do, the evildoers are then bloated and immobilized. 

(If only Grandma Rosie was alive when I was in college, I would have never had a student loan.  I should note that one of the prerequisites to the fiscal feed was that you had to sit and watch Lawrence Welk with her every Sunday night at 6.  Which is why I still think Anacani is a hot little number.)

Jewdar:  Able to determine with just a glance, or at the sound of a name, if someone is Jewish.  Spent twelve years in the Himalayan Yeshiva learning the skills of Six Degrees from Menachem Schneerson.  Not a particularly useful power, but able to pick out those who might be particularly susceptible to the abilities of Guilt Woman and Feeding Bubbe.

The WonderJap Twins, Melissa and David.  Like Zan and Jayna, their powers activate with a fist bump.  Melissa shouts “Shape of a Charge Card!” and is able to make unlimited purchases and put it on Daddy’s bill.  David yells “Form of an Inert Object!” and becomes a Jewish husband.

Tefillin Lad:  The Lubavitch Hasidim are the closest thing we have to missionairies, but they work only within The Tribe.  For the Lubavitch, wrapping tefillin is the starter mitzvah that leads a liberal Jew back to more traditional ways.   (Tefillin are straps attached to small boxes containing written prayers which the pious wrap around their arm and head while they pray.)  Tefillin Lad will brave aliens, dust storms, and even a herd of pigs to wrap tefillin around the head and arms of an enemy.  Then he will produce a pushkah (charity box) and ask for a donation for the State of Israel.

Hypochondria Girl:  Has to power to make everyone think they have a dread disease.  Kind of like when  you see a patient with scabies and suddenly everyone ER itches.

     Villian:  I’m going to take over the world as soon as I take a Tylenol for this headache.”

     Hypochondria Girl:  “You should see a doctah.  I might be a tumah.”

     Villian:  “You’re right.  I’ll put down the laser and go right now.”

Shiksa Kid:  Consistently drawn to WASPY blondes and petitie Asians, he is a skilled scout, stopping at nothing to track down his prey, shower her with gifts and affection, and marry her no matter what his mother might say.  As a result, he doesn’t get along well with Guilt Woman, and they usually have to kept at opposite ends of the Super Hero Clubhouse.  His best friend is another hero, Family Law Attorney Man. 

Gefilte Fish:  A non-human member, he lives in a jar and only comes out during Passover.  This oozing  gelatinous mass with an odor of adolescent gym socks is the ultimate deterrent.

Your suggestions are welcome.


Speaking of interesting Jewish things, the other day I decided I would see what kind of Jewish game apps were out there.  There’s not a lot, and the few that are there are really not much fun.  It’s kind of like when you go to the toy section of the Christian bookstore and find the David and Jesus action figures.  There’s not a lot to do there.  I mean, what kids besides Rod and Tod Flanders want to play crucifixion?  “Look, Rod!  Let’s scourge Jesus with a stick!  Let’s have David kill some guy and sleep with his wife!”    Besides, they don’t come with accessories like water, wine, fishes, loaves, lepers, or Philistines, which clearly limits the play possibilities.  (Although I have seen a Moses action figure that comes complete with staff and tablets.)

I really only have two favorites within these meager pickings.  One is the Hebrew Lite Animal Cards, which comes (as most apps do) as a sample package of five cards until you shell out more money for the complete set.  As a result of careful study, I can now use the proper Hebrew words for bear and hippopotamus.  This is especially important because the bear and the hippopotamus are native animals to the windswept Israeli deserts.

The Teen and I did find another game which we still play.  It’s called “Mendy,” and it features a guy named Mendy (short for Mendel, if you must know) who wants to go to shul (a colloquial name for an orthodox house of worship).  The way Mendy gets there is to cross a bridge made up of ten moving segments, and you have to make Mendy jump between these segments without falling into the chasm below.  If you miss a jump, Mendy falls off and reappears back at the start.  We like to think that the moves you make to get Mendy across the bridge are an allegory for his journey of faith.  For example, when you have to move him backwards, we say that Mendy Runs From God. 

If you reach the shul, the screen flashes SUCCESS! That’s it.  No new levels, no pat on the back from an approving deity, not even a cents off coupon for the local haberdasher.  Nothing but spiritual rewards which, I suppose, is the point. 

Let me end with a personal plea for some good Jewish games.  Or at least add the Israelites to the Civilization series of games, so I can personally wipe the floor with the Germans and Arabs and Spanish and everyone else who has kicked us out and about for the past several thousand years.  I’ll play on the easiest setting so I can have tanks and jets and nukes while they still have sticks and rocks.  Kind of like the Israelis and Palestinians now.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, there IS a Civ 5 mod that adds Israel as a playable civ. I can link you if you'd like.