Thursday, August 4, 2011

Comics Controversy: Captain Israel, Black Spider-Man & More

From Superman (temporarily) renouncing his US citizenship and becoming a "citizen of the world" (there's a phrase you should always beware of), to Barbara Gordon's miraculous paralysis recovery and the lack of female creators in DC's Relaunch, to this week's unveiled half-black, half-hispanic Ultimate Spider-Man, the comics world has had its fair share of controversy this summer. Some have been overlooked, others are silly and overhyped, and most are entertaining to talk about, especially in an industry with weekly stories, daily previews and interviews, and hourly press releases.

One of the recent news items that has come out of San Diego Comic Con, but has been circulating prior to that, and is my personal favorite controversial comic story, is the existence of Captain Israel and his recent verbal bludgeoning of Forsekin Man.

Captain Israel is a hero endowed with the strength of Samson and the wisdom of Solomon, who uses his abilities to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and to protect all allies of Israel. He's definitely borrowed a lot of design work and ideology from Captain America, but considering he was created by Arlen Schumer it's understandable. Schumer is an artist and writer, contributing to collections such as The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, working in advertising and editorial fields, and giving lectures on comic book history and specifically Jewish history in the comic book industry. (It should be mentioned that Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, both Jews. Go read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay already.)

Schumer's latest project is Captain Israel, the first issue of which can be found here. The second should have been published by now, but Arlen's publishers, StandWithUs, had a bone to pick. They requested the removal of an English translation of The Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther, notorious anti-Semite and leader of the Protestant Reformation. Apparently StandWithUs doesn't wish to cast the Church in a bad light, so Arlen's decided to Stand Elsewhere and is currently looking for a new publisher. Censorship's a  bitch biznatch, but there are ways around it.

Aside from that, however, a fairly recent anti-Semitic comic was discovered, funded by the national in 2006, a group dedicated to the outlawing and punishment of Male Genital Mutilation, or circumcision. The MGM bill was voted down in San Francisco last Fall, but proposed up to 14 year jail sentences for mohelim, physicians and parents involved in circumcisions. Their views are represented in the hero Foreskin Man and his crew of "Inactivists" who fight the Jewish treachery of genital mutilation.

Foreskin Man is an attractive, Aryan superhero with an uncircumcised penis-tip as his chest symbol.

His villains include Dr. Mutilator and Monster Mohel.

For a good response to the disgusting accusation of the mohel's enjoyment of the long defunct practice of metzitzah b’peh, check out this article from the Jewish Ledger. To say that such a depiction of Jews can't really be done because it's already been done a way to rationalize genocide, is a bit of an understatement. Schumer created his own response to Foreskin Man via his hero Captain Israel:

So, yes, it's disgusting, crass, anti-Semitic, hateful, and in addition unoriginal, but this is America, where anything is fit to be printed. We are not brown-shirted fascists who pass speech laws and create an unbearably litigious society that operates entirely on suspicion, emotion, impressions, and perception as reality. No, anti-Semites are entirely free to express themselves, up to and until the expression takes the form of violence.

This particularly glorious state of freedom is why it is OK for people like Glenn Beck, or a retail shop owner, or lifelong fans to question the relevance of having a half-black Spider-Man.

As a side-note, let me just remark on how ludicrous it is that the creators feel obligated to describe the new Spidey as "half-African-American" which is not a purely Marvel trait since in this week's Flashpoint comic, in the bonus pages where we were shown character design notes for each of the incredibly diverse SHAZAM kids, the black girl was similarly described in an attempt to fend off any possible hint of controversy. The levels political correctness have reached are rather scary. Here's a good description of the phenomenon by a favorite author of mine, Theodore Dalrymple, in an article with Frontpage Magazine:

FP: You make the shrewd observation of how political correctness engenders evil because of “the violence that it does to people’s souls by forcing them to say or imply what they do not believe, but must not question.” Can you talk about this a bit?

Dalrymple: Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.      

Anyway, back to Spidey. The Ultimate universe, a separate line of Marvel books that takes place in an alternate universe to the one we know and love, recently saw their version of Peter Parker die in battle, and naturally he needs a replacement. The new Spidey's name is Miles Morales, echoing the early Marvel days where all heroes' secret identities possessed alliteration, and in the USA Today article that Marvel used to reveal the hot news item, we get the sentence "We have an African-American president, so why not an African-American Spider-Man, too?"

We have a half-black president, so who do we need a half-black Spider-Man? The majority of the country voted for Barack Obama, and one would think put to rest the idea that Americans are overwhelmingly racists and bigots. The Change of Obama and the "groundbreaking" election was, I thought, supposed to be the historical achievement that propelled us forward as a species into a more enlightened, open-minded, color blind state of magnanimity and decency.

If that is the case, then we are not in need of newly created heroes to show us, and the children growing up, that having different colored skin or being gay is entirely normal and acceptable. We all have a pretty good idea about that, and if there's disagreement, well see above re: America.

Making a character that is just a collection of diverse genetic traits in an attempt to either appeal to minorities or, more likely, to display the forward thinking, non-judgmental creative conscious of an entire company is in and of itself a kind of racism. It is the exploitation of a serious and once-huge social issue in order to drum up publicity and provoke useless debate that leads to more sales and unwittingly damages us by reinforcing the false, collective idea that we as a people are more backward, unfair, and cruel than we truly are.

If anything takes race out of the equation, and gender too for that matter, it is capitalism, and both Marvel and DC, whatever they may tell you, are primarily concerned with their profits. The Ultimate universe was created not just to tell new stories but to jump start a flagging line of books, and it has performed exceedingly well, despite, or because of, its tendency to be grotesquely violent and vulgar.

However, when it came to creating this brand-new character, was their focus on the potential sales numbers or the potential social influence they could display? From what I can tell recent forays into propelling new black characters to prominence haven't fared entirely well, such as the new Latino Power Man, or having T'Challa take up the Daredevil mantle. Meanwhile characters who have been around forever, who have proven themselves as solid, deep and exciting, like Storm or Luke Cage, endure simply as heroes rather than cultural icons.

Boiling demographics down to consumer groups is not racism, it is honest, good business. And racial profiling is not an injustice, it's a redundancy, since all profiles include a line concerning the subject's race. (It makes it a bit easier to find your target.)

This method of purely focusing on business could also explain the recent outcry about the "appalling" lack of female creators involved in DC Comics' new Relaunch. The large majority of writers and artists working on the 52 new #1 issues are men, and the reaction has run the gamut from multiple articles in the media to the social-guerrilla-hero cosplay-Batgirl who crashed multiple panels at San Diego Comic Con to "ask the tough questions."

For many people it seems inconceivable, but what if the answer is simple? What if the majority of Americans aren't intolerant, redneck, bigots? What if the DC editorial staff doesn't have a secret agenda to block women from entering the comic book market and thus keep them in their rightful places in the kitchen?

What if, in orchestrating their bold new move to revitalize their constantly-second-place line of superhero books, they focused on the story and chose popular, well-read writers whose ideas excited them the most? What if they were concerned with the story rather than straight-up pandering and filling quotas?

Perhaps you disagree, but I'll take creative honesty over affirmative action, an insulting, belittling and hypocritical practice, any day of the week.


  1. Captain, I salute you!
    This is a level of writing nobody expects in a comic blog. It has clarity, logic, passion and profound wisdom. One can only wish to find a NYT editorial written so well and being so exactly spot-on!

  2. great posting! if you want to see a video of me using this comic to tease some Israel hating leftists in S.F. go here:

  3. Stands and applauds! That was excellent!

  4. In the interest of fairness it should be noted that Captain Israel itself is hate-filled propaganda. See e.g. for a great analysis.

  5. From Mark Levine's article re Captain Israel (funded by right wing group "Stand With Us": "This blatantly racist version of history erases not just Palestinians but the pre-Zionist Sephardic Jewish community multiple times and in multiple ways in order for the country to be transformed into a "land without a people for a people without a land". It is one that most Israelis have long ago discarded as crudely inaccurate, although it was at heart of Zionist portrayals of the land for decades. But for the backers of the comic, it has been resurrected as "the truth against the revisionist version"."