It may come as a surprise, but superhero mythology is deeply rooted in Jewish culture. After all, it was Jewish artists who built the comic book industry and influenced the superhero movie blockbusters of today. Our latest edition of the In Conversation podcast seeks to unpack the influence of legendary Jewish-American comic-book writer Stan Lee. We'll consider how some of our most cherished superheroes came to be, and how actors like Gal Gadot and Paul Rudd portrayed and embodied these characters on the big screen. Matt Goldberg, Senior Editor for Collider, is our special guest, as hosts Sara and Brad geek out over superheroes and superheroines through a uniquely Jewish lens.
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Our special guest is Matt Goldberg, Senior Editor at Collider.com, one of the world's leading film and TV news outlets. You can read his film reviews and other writing here (and here), or follow him on Twitter.
Films mentioned in the episode:
The Superman franchise, in general, but specifically:
Superman (1979) – Amazon – We actually recommend you buy the whole anthology of Superman films through 2006's Superman Returns on Blu-ray.
Superman Returns (2006) – Amazon | Blu-ray – Jewish director Bryan Singer helped guide the OG superhero back to the silver screen, but he had to ditch the X-Men to do it (see below).
Man of Steel (2013) – Amazon | Blu-ray – Love or hate this oddly downcast take on the legendary Superman, but our own guest, Matt Goldberg, argued quite convincingly why it needed a sequel before the character was joined up with Batman in the DC cinematic universe.
Wonder Woman (2017) – Amazon | Blu-ray – The character isn't particularly Jewish, nor is her original comic book creators. She's currently portrayed onscreen, however, by Gal Gadot, and she is exceedingly Jewish (and Israeli).
Justice League (2017) – Amazon | Blu-ray – This team-up of DC Comics superheroes didn't quite... work. One of the reasons, the director put the Amazonians (Wonder Woman's people) in skimpy, decidedly non-practical, bikinis.
The two Ant-Man films, starring Jewish, age-defying actor Paul Rudd:
Ant-Man (2015) – Amazon | Blu-ray – Check out this timeline of the famously troubled production history for the original Ant-Man film. The movie turned out OK in the end.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) – Amazon | Blu-ray
The entire X-Men franchise, which kicked off in 2000, then went through a winding roller coaster of canon-bending permutations:
X-Men (2000) – Amazon | Blu-ray – Launching modern day superhero films was no small feat, though it was too scared to fully embrace the colorful tights of the comic book pages.
X2: X-Men United (2003) – Amazon | Blu-ray
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – Amazon | Blu-ray
X-Men: First Class (2011) – Amazon | Blu-ray – After director Bryan Singer departed the franchise, and a box office disappointment with The Last Stand, the X-Men get a prequel reboot with an all new cast and loads of critical acclaim. Also, not that we didn't like this film, but it apparently killed off what would've been a very cool (and very Jewish) spin-off, X-Men Origins: Magneto.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Amazon | Blu-ray
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – Amazon | Blu-ray – The critical acclaim of the rebooted X-Men officially ends under the weight of Oscar Isaac's prosthetic makeup.
Dark Phoenix (2019) – Amazon | Blu-ray
The many incarnations of Spider-Man, who arguably super-fueled the modern day renaissance of superhero flicks with his Sam Raimi-directed bow in 2002, which made a massive amount of money at the box office:
Spider-Man (2002) – Amazon | Blu-ray – The beginning of Tobey Maguire's tenure in the tights.
Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Amazon | Blu-ray
Spider-Man 3 (2007) – Amazon | Blu-ray – The end of Mr. Maguire's web-slinging days.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – Amazon | Blu-ray – Andrew Garfield takes the reins of the friendly neighborhood comic book character.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) – Amazon | Blu-ray – Andrew Garfield rather quickly surrenders the spidey suit to...
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – Amazon | Blu-ray – A separate entry, apart from the live action incarnation, is Sony's much-beloved animated film. Introducing the notion of parallel realities, each with its own version of Spider-Man, the film begs the question, "Is There a Jewish Spider-Man in Into the Spider-Verse?" The director apparently thinks so.
Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) – This one hasn't even been released yet, but we're excited to see uber-Jewess Natalie Portman take up the mantle of the God of Thunder from Chris Hemsworth. Plus Jewish director Taika Waititi will be back. But will scenery-chewer extraordinaire Jeff Goldblum be back?
Also mentioned in this episode... Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song. Enjoy.
Finally, some articles we encourage you to read if you're still interested in the topic of Jewish comic book heroes:
- "Stan Lee gave comic books permission to be more Jewish" by Arie Kaplan (Jerusalem Post)
- "'Take that, Mr Hitler': the Jewish roots of superheroes" by Jennifer Rankin (The Guardian)
- "Paul Rudd is your friendly neighborhood Jewish superhero" by Lisa Klug (The Times of Israel)
- "How the Jewish identity of ‘Wonder Woman’s’ star is causing a stir" by Sarah Pulliam Bailey (Washington Post)
- Wikipedia's List of Jewish Comic Book Characters
- "Harley Quinnesday: The Jewish Roots of Harley Quinn" by Alex Jaffe (DC Daily)
The music for our episode is provided by the incomparable Joe Alterman. Specifically, our into and outro music is "Pure Imagination" off his album, "Give Me the Simple Life", and our interlude music is "Over the Rainbow" from "More Cornbread (Live)". Check him out on Spofity or wherever you get your music.
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