Marvel Comics and the Golem Legend

Article excerpt

The Jewish legend of the golem is often considered the prototype as the "original" superhero (influencing the creation of Superman and other characters). During the 1970s Marvel Comics used the golem legend to create their own unique brand of "monster" superhero. This essay describes the various ways Marvel has used the golem motif in its sequential art stories. First appearing in the pages of Strange Tales, this golem differed from the original stories of Rabbi Loew's supernatural savior. The character really did not resonate with the comic book-buying public, lasting only three issues and one guest appearance. Yet the concept of the golem was too powerful a metaphor to be discarded. Marvel Comics brought back another type of golem for their Invaders World War II series. The creators (specifically writer Roy Thomas) tried to answer the question, what if a golem had been there to protect Jews during the Holocaust? This golem was a man/clay hybrid who was also a Rabbi.

"When I was woven together in the depths of the earth Your eyes saw the Golem."

Psalm 136: 15-161

To say that the Jewish legend of the golem has securely placed itself in popular culture would be an understatement.2 The golem can be thought of as the first superhero prototype. Most recently, in his hit film Inglourious Basteras (2009), Quentin Tarantino had the Hitler character make mention of his fear of the golem, and there are literally hundreds of golem stories and adaptations (including numerous children's books) in print and on the Internet. These stories range from traditional Jewish tales to horror stories. Even notable writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote his own version of a golem tale.3 Michael Chabohs Pulitzer Prize-winning comic book-related novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, makes use of the golem legend.4 One installment in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel series, Feet of Clay, deals with golems,5 and there are dozens of movies related to the golem dating all the way back to 1915 with the German Der Golem.6

Dan Bilefsky, in a May 10, 2009 New York Times article, argues that the world has gone more or less golem crazy. There are now golem-oriented hotels, toys, a door making company, operas, and musicals, and sandwiches. Even First Lady Michelle Obama has paid her respects to the golem legend.7 It is not surprising then, that golem stories have turned up in sequential art narratives. There are a number of recent comics/graphic novels diat use the golem as a metaphor for storytelling. Most notable of these are James Strum's The Golem's Mighty Swing8 and the Israeli graphic novel HaGolem: Sipuro shel comics Israeli (Tfce Golem: The Story of an Israeli Comic) by Eli Eshed and Uri Fink, which at the time of this writing has not been translated into English.9 Other comics include Jaime Morgan Robert's Golem, in which the golem character actuaUy confronts Hitler, who then commits suicide rather than die at die hands of a "Jewish Demon."10 There have also been numerous independent comics related to the golem,11 and it should come as no surprise that the two big sequential art companies, Marvel and DC Comics,12 have put together their own versions of die golem. This essay wiU look at the golem in Marvel Comics.

The Golem Legend

There are hundreds of stories related to the golem with as many incarnations.13 But the basic story is that in 1580, the Jews of Prague were experiencing great difficulties and persecutions. It was rumored that their Passover Matzos, normally made of flour and water, were actually made with the blood of Christian children (known as the blood libel). Because of this, Prague's Jews were forced into a ghetto with no rights of personal liberty, with the Czech emperor neither caring nor putting an end to the libel. Jews were then killed and victimized with alarming ferocity. It was in this environment that Rabbi Judah Löew ben Bezalel (circa 1520-1609), a great educator and lover of God (also known as the Maharal [teacher] of Prague), decided to act. …