Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman

The First Jewish Superhero From the Creators of Superman
Mel Gordon & Thomas Andrae
Review by Kenn Thomas,

Feral House bills Siegel and Shuster's Funnyman as the "first Jewish superhero" in this anthology that reprints certainly most of that comic book and strip. So the book should appeal to students of both popular American culture and Jewish cultural identity. Text chapters here deal with the history of Jewish humor, including analytical takes concerning self-mockery, inversion, solipsism and materialism sure to deprive the subject of some laughter, accompanied by essays on old Jewish superhero legends and the decline of the modern superhero. Siegel and Shuster created Superman, after all, the quintessential comic book super guy, and this lesser known creation - Funnyman, a crime fighting comedian named Larry Davis - demonstrates more clearly the Jewish roots of their inspiration. Authors Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon also make a case for a connection between the creation of Funnyman and that of the state of Israel. The book is short on discussing comic books as secular culture in which Jewish tradition stews along with everything else, but in the process of directing this focus here, the authors shed some new light on Siegel and Shuster's legal struggles. They worked harder to retain the rights for Funnyman after the legendary ripping off they received from their publishers over Superman. The comic book industry has been one of those "conspiracy as usual" businesses that routinely deprived its best creators of a percentage of the licensing of their own creations. Recent lawsuits involving technicalities of the changing copyright laws have rectified this only to the smallest degree, and a similar case being fought between Jack Kirby's estate and Disney, which owns the Marvel properties Kirby created, remains a thing to be looked at for a possible victory against this type of conspiracy. Alas, no such legal drama accompanies Funnyman, a character few people know of or care about, and the book dodges any cynical remarks about comics economics and Shylock stereotypes. And while its essays may be overcooked, it does reprint an obscure and well-done piece of comics history and so is a must for the geeky bookshelf.

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