Stereotype This! Introducing Ethnic Superheroes
Abraham begat Isaac. Isaac begat Jacob. Eventually, Noah begat Shem and, in due course, nerdy Jewish kids begat superheroes.
In 1933, two nebbishes named Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel created Superman (birth name “Kal-El,” Hebrew for “All God”), and since then it’s been a source of pride that Jews created the culture of comic book superheroes.
And yet, Jewish superheroes themselves have been few and far between. Sure, the Fantastic Four’s The Thing has been known to daven on occasion; the X-Men’s archenemy, Magneto, is a survivor of Auschwitz, and the Golem had a brief promotion from Jewish oral tradition to the funny pages. Courtesy of a new show on the Cartoon Network, however, we can now add another character to Jewish superhero pantheon: Jewcano, an elderly rabbi who flies and shoots fire from his fingertips.
Jewcano is one-fifth of Minoriteam, a merry band of ethnic bad-asses who use their racial stereotypes to fight stereotypes. As part of the Cartoon Network’s late-night “Adult Swim” lineup, “Minoriteam” is purportedly a send-up of racism in general and of racists in particular.
The Minoriteam crew consists of leader Dr. Wang, a crippled Chinese owner of a Laundromat, who has a supersized brain that works better than a calculator. Joining him is Fasto, né Landon K. Dutton, by day a women’s studies professor at Male University; by night, he’s a rage-filled black man who runs faster than the wind. Richard Escartin, known as El Jefe, is a sombrero-wearing oil baron with a bionic leaf-blower. Non-Stop (real name: Dave Raj) has survived 235 attempted robberies at his family’s convenience store; thus he has developed a skin as thick as armor. Finally, Neil Horvitz, known as Jewcano — as in part-Jewish, part volcano, not, as I initially assumed, some superpowered combination of Jewish brain and Mexican brawn — merges “all the power of the Jewish faith” (that’s according to a press release) with a volcano.
Minoriteam’s enemy number one is the White Shadow, who sports a dual identity as a shadowy (ha) corporation and an evil being, cleverly portrayed as an anthropomorphized version of the pyramid on the dollar bill. The White Shadow’s lackeys include fellow racists like the Corporate Ladder; the Standardized Test, and the Hot, Stuck-Up Bitch. Sounds like a hilarious premise for an adult-oriented cartoon, right?
Adam de la Peña, Todd James and Peter Girardi, veterans of “Crank Yankers,” Comedy Central’s offensive and gut bustingly funny puppets-for-adults series, created “Minoriteam.” A fan of “Crank Yankers,” I tuned in to “Minoriteam” with high hopes. Sadly, however, the cartoon is strictly the stuff of novelty, not quality.
Just how does Minoriteam combat the evils of racism? “We use power of racial stereotype to destroy Shadow,” Dr. Wang explains. “We use what we are not to destroy what they have become.” For example, in the “Illegal Aliens” episode, Wang employs the stereotype of a lousy Asian driver to crash an enemy car; in another episode, “Tax Day,” Jewcano poses as an IRS auditor in order to foil the White Shadow.
The creators seem to take pains to make “Minoriteam” an equal opportunity offender, taking down everyone from the hapless superheroes themselves to the White Shadow’s Irish American and Italian American cohorts. But with such insipid dialogue as “You’re getting on my nerves, white boy!” (Fasto to an out-of-costume Jewcano) and “Maybe we can buy that Bowflex we’ve always wanted” (the White Shadow, on his latest racist, moneymaking scheme), what’s insulted most is viewers’ intelligence.
The animation, deliberately low-tech, will appeal to only the hardest of hardcore comic book buffs. Allegedly homage to the creators’ idol, comics icon Jack Kirby, much of the action is implied, supplanting realism with graphic “ka-pows!” and the like.
Kirby, of course, was the man behind Captain America and The Fantastic Four. Born Jacob Kurtzberg, he reportedly had a rough-and-tumble childhood growing up on New York City’s Lower East Side; the kiddie gangs he encountered allegedly served as inspiration for the numerous superheroes — and superbaddies — he created.
Just what inspired the creators of “Minoriteam”? Perhaps we’ll never know. De la Peña, Girardi and James — claiming, through a publicist, that they only speak to the press en masse — rejected numerous requests for an interview. Perhaps they were trying to cultivate a bit of that superhero mystique for themselves, too.
Lisa Keys is a senior editor at Weekend magazine.