Monday, July 30, 2007

Comic Relief

Captain America is dead and now buried. He was killed earlier this year by a sniper’s bullet on the courthouse steps in New York. He died just as he lived, a hero, when he stepped in front of a bullet that was aimed at him but was going to hit a police officer. He’s now supposedly laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Or is he?

That Cap has occupied space in our collective pop-culture consciousness for some seventy years is a tribute to humanity’s spiritual quest for something greater than ourselves. Just as Greek gods and biblical heroes were vital to their epoch, Cap and assorted comic book stars have woven into our lives, enveloping us like a super suit.

First created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in December 1940, Cap’s what Gerard Jones in his book, Men of Tomorrow called, “the passion of the immigrant, of the Jew”. Both Simon and Kirby are of course Jewish (Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg in 1917, the same year Steve Rogers AKA Captain America was born). In the first issue, even before the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, they had Captain America punch Hitler in the jaw. Way to go boys!

That he’s dead now serves as a metaphor. At a time when civil liberties are curtailed and one’s identity is being monitored by the government, never mind an unpopular war in Iraq, his current animators aptly iced him. But as Joe Simon, said in reaction to the news, “It's a hell of a time for him to go. We really need him now.” Doing a little research I learned that he’s actually been reported deceased some dozen times and will probably resurrect again.

In the meantime, all is not lost. Just last night (Thursday) a super mensch made his debut on the Sci Fi Channel. His name is Mr. Mitzvah aka (Ivan Wilzig) and like Cap, uses a shield, but in the form of a Star of David, as he’s described as a direct descendant of the biblical King. His super powers include flight, night vision and super-strength while his vulnerability is Non-kosher foods.

The show is called “Who Wants To Be a Superhero” and is co-produced and hosted by legendary comic creator Stan Lee and picks up on the reality TV trend by with an hour-long weekly competition series.

If all sounds a bit silly and a little too fantastic, it’s nothing new. After all, it’s a story that’s been told, re-told and remolded out of Golem-like clay going back thousands of years to the prophetic, Messianic age.

From Bar Kokhba (not an east village pub, though that’s a great name for one), the leader of a revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE to Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson who died in 1994 and who still has followers who believe he will be the messiah and reveal himself, Jews have been in search of heroes for, well…ever. We’ve found ways to either fictitiously create them or truly actualize them by anointing them with god-like powers.

I suppose one reason we do it, is that we find we are constantly in peril. We’ve been able to disguise ourselves blending into every culture on the face of the earth and have assimilated more times and into more cultures than Clark Kent has business suits. Eventually too, we have to reveal who we are. And if for some reason, like supers we have to keep our identity hidden, then our true identities must find a way out in storied manifestations and through actions.

While Captain America might be gone for now, the need for someone to come along and punch out the next Hitler won’t disappear. Last night’s Sci Fi renderings were only the latest in a long line of wishful projections onto an imaginary screen––a screen that we’ve used to both hide behind as well as reveal our true selves.