The Arty Semite

Funnyman, the First Jewish Superhero

By Josh Tapper

  • Print
  • Share Share

In 1947, nearly a decade after Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold the rights to Superman — an infamously raw deal that earned the comic’s creators a paltry $130 — the duo attempted to avenge their exclusion from the franchise’s lucrative rise to the top of the comic book heap. But their new effort, Funnyman, a bizarre fusion of the archetypal American superhero and Jewish vaudevillian humorist, tanked after six issues and spelled the end of Siegel and Shuster’s partnership.

A new book to be released in July, titled “Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero,” by pop culture historian Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon, a professor of Theater Arts at the University of California, Berkeley, details the genesis, influences and demise of Funnyman.

The book, luminously printed by Feral House, reprints the original six-issue color series, which debuted in January 1948 and began appearing in newspapers later that year.

In three deeply analytical historical essays, Andrae and Gordon contextualize Funnyman — undoubtedly timed to coincide with the newly founded State of Israel — within imaginings of Jewish masculinity and the larger cultural trend of Semitic superheros, like Paul Wegener’s “The Golem” and real-life strongmen such as the early-twentieth century Polish performer Siegmund Breitbart.

Funnyman, a sort of antithesis to the hyper-masculine Superman, juxtaposes the fantastical identity construction that Superman embodied (a strong, successful, assimilationist immigrant), while still finding himself in Superman-like save-the-day situations.

Funnyman’s use of Yiddishisms, his clownish appearance (the entertainer Danny Kaye was a major inspiration) and his knack for defeating villains with braininess and not brawn closely illustrates the Jewish stereotypes of the period and foreshadows the pop culture Jewish sensibility of the second half of the twentieth century.

With their publication, Andrae and Gordon have made quite an achievement by bringing the long-forgotten Funnyman back into the fold, not just as an emblem (however unfortunate) of twentieth century Jewish identity, but as a vital piece of American Jewish history.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Joe Shuster, Superman, Jerry Siegle, Funnyman, Comic Books

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.