Talk about Aishes Chayil. The time has come to usher in a very different sort of Shabbat Queen — literally, “Shabbas Queen,” a new superhero who wields a golden wand with a Star of David affixed at the top that gives her the power to lift heavy objects and fly, apparently unencumbered by her full-length skirt. She is a new defender of the Jewish people, on call 24 hours a day, though only six days a week because, as you must expect, her wand doesn’t work on Saturdays.
Shabbas Queen is a member of the Jewish Hero Corps, one of many superheroes who can be seen on display at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan’s January exhibit “People of the Comic Book,” about the involvement of Jews in the world of comic books and superheroes.
“I don’t feel that it’s a coincidence that superhero comics took off in the 1930s and 1940s [and had] a Jewish consistency,” said Alan Oirich, one of the organizers of the exhibit, who is also the creator of Jewish Hero Corps, which was published last month. “The timing seems to imply that there was real frustration — that there was a wrong in the world… the consummate fight between good and evil.”
The Jewish presence in the creation of comic books has been profound and well noted. Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman; Bob Kane created Batman; Stan Lee created Spider Man and the X-Men. And many commentators have remarked that the core of every superhero’s story — the assumption of a secret identity — is an allegory for assimilation.
The JCC exhibit begins with a section on Jewish folklore’s golem, a man built out of clay with superhuman power who acts as a defender of the community, which, according to Oirich, was the precursor to the superhero. The exhibit then shifts to World War II, when superheroes like Captain America were fighting Nazis long before any American soldiers were, moving on to the present day, when Jewish superheroes are no longer outwardly gentile and symbolically Jewish, but overtly Jewish and proud of it — like the Jewish Hero Corps.
The Jewish Hero Corps made its appearance on the comic book stage last month with its first issue, “The Amnesia Countdown,” which puts these crusaders in kippot on a mission to save the Jewish people from losing its collective memory.
Oirich has been tinkering with the idea for his own comic book about a band of Jewish superheroes since he was 8 years old. When the Jewish family of one of his friends decided to celebrate Christmas instead of Chanukah, Oirich said, “I thought what if two Chanukah heroes came down and said, ‘Hey, you don’t have to celebrate other people’s holidays.’”
Oirich expanded his idea to other mitzvot, creating Shabbas Queen, Minyan Man and Matzah Woman (who’s rendered powerless after 18 minutes under water) –– defenders of the faith with the kind of snappy comebacks that most superheroes can only dream about. “Those crooks are in for a surprise,” says Dreidel Maidel to herself, in one scene. “I’m going ‘out for a spin…’”