Somewhere in our emotional attic, next to dog-eared baseball cards and yellowed Herald Tribunes, are comics from the 1950s and ’60s. Look at the old Action Comics or Adventure Comics: In contrast to what’s on sale today, the drawings were less busy, the stories more coherent, the themes more about human emotions and the problems of secret identities than about obtuse scenarios of world destruction. There was more soul, less science fiction.
Back then you picked up pretty quickly that Clark Kent was Superman; he worked at the Daily Planet; Lois Lane was his sort-of girlfriend but he really loved Lori Lemaris; Lex Luther was bad; Lana Lang was the redhead. Today, anyone who can explain the post-1980 detours and restructuring of the basic Superman story deserves a can of New Coke.
Maybe the problem, as Lenny Bruce would say, is that comics used to be Jewish and now are goyish. The early comic book creators were almost all Jewish, in a world of immigrants: the story of their lives was one of escaping from a destroyed world; fighting in their new world for truth, justice and the American way; having one identity at work and another in private. They never forgot where they came from. They never forgot their real names.That these ideas elude modern comic book writers led Alan Oirich, a comics maven and Orthodox Jew, to create a new comic universe featuring The Jewish Hero Corps — sort of a Justice League of America except they wait six hours after meat.It’s available in most Judaica stores.But while the comic is old-fashioned in its themes and simplicity, it has high-tech delivery. The comic comes to you on a CD-Rom, offering a half-hour story complete with interactive options, a press conference with the superheroes, and four after-story games and puzzles.
There’s a good soundtrack by Oirich’s brother Steven, who does soundtracks for TV and movies.And the Jewish superheroes are drawn with classic muscle-rippling panache by Michael Netzer, who used to draw Spiderman, Batman and Wonder Woman before he became Orthodox and moved to Israel.In this comic we get to meet, among others:Minyan Man, a tough looking dude who can overwhelm anyone after he splits himself into 10.
Dreidel Maidel who, a la the Flash, can spin at super speed. She flies, sees, hears, thinks and reacts with computer quickness.Menorah Man, he of metallic strength, can sprout eight flame-shooting arms and fiery rockets from his feet. This fly-boy, according to creator Oirich, “is impervious to the rigors of space travel.”Earl Chandler, Menorah Man’s secret identity, explains Oirich, comes from the menorah itself: Earl (oil) Chandler (chandelier). Hey, it’s a comic.Yarmulkah Youth, the boy wonder, scoots around on a “Yarmaha” motorcycle. His yarmulke and gartel have more chotchkes than Batman’s utility belt.Shabbas Queen wields a magic wand that manipulates or disables electrical and mechanical devices. This blond’s mastery over the muktzah above is limited only by her necessity to recharge her wand like Green Lantern has to recharge his ring. Green Lantern has to recharge daily; Shabbas Queen recharges one day in seven.
Then there’s Hyper Girl who’s, well, hyper. The CD-Rom informs us that “after eating matzah accidentally baked with radioactive water in a microwave oven, she discovers that the molecules in her body have been charged with hyper energy.” She has microwave vision, hyper strength, and hyper immunity. But she loses her power if, like matzah becoming unkosher for Passover, she spends more than 18 minutes underwater.She also has “hyper senses” which, I guess, makes her super sensitive.Remember “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”? Sexy “toon” Jessica Rabbit, with her come-hither eyes and naughty voice, seductively purrs like Bacall-to-Bogie: “I’m not really bad; I’m just drawn that way.” But throughout the entire “Jewish Hero Corps,” there is nothing like a dame: Dreidel Maidel, Shabbos Queen and Hyper Girl may be as curvy, leggy and perfectly complexioned as Betty and Veronica but they’re drawn with the same modest long sleeves and long dresses that you’d see at Bais Yaakov.Are they really so modest in their secret identities or are they just drawn that way? Oirich actually asked artist Netzer to draw Shabbos Queen like the 1965 Supergirl, but with a skirt well below the knees.The Jewish Hero Corps have more important things to worry about. Aliens, intercepting a NASA database of world cultures, are seeking to sap the planet of all Jewish memory. Unlike regular comics that are obsessed with the destruction of the world, Jews have already seen the end of the world: Auschwitz. Now our greatest threat is loss of memory. For us, that’s the end of our world all over again.In one upcoming story the heroes chase down Haman, who time travels from Persia B.C.E. into the 20th century.Oirich, 40, started toying with these characters when he was 14, before hooking up a few years ago with the Israel-based Jewish Multimedia Center. Now living in Manhattan, Oirich’s apartment is decorated with everything from a Batman alarm clock to a Chinese-language movie poster of “Indiana Jones & The Final Crusade.”He recalls that as a kid “it impressed me that Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, came to earth and they had Kryptonian holidays that they would still observe, like strangers in a strange land. They would save lives and do good things, and then remember Krypton.”Then these “flying tzadikim,” as Oirich calls them, gave way to Marvel’s anti-hero concept, which now dominates the industry. If Oirich’s comic “flies” he’ll take Jewish kids back to the innocence of an earlier Marvel: Captain Marvel, whose famous “Shazam!” was an acronym for the best physical qualities of Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury, led by the wisdom of Solomon.“It’s really quite a compliment,” says Oirich. “For wisdom, Captain Marvel looks to the Jews.”We may have our secret identities, but we have that super power.