Comic Faith: The Thing's Religion Revealed

The thing is, the Thing is Jewish.



That's a statement probably worth a double-take for the millions of people - mostly former teen-age boys - who grew up with the characters of the Fantastic Four comic book. And even for those who ignored or sneered at comics - moms, pay attention here - it's a small indication of a shift in the way our culture deals with faith.

That Benjamin Jacob Grimm - a huge, orange, lumpy, enormously strong caricature of a human being - blue-eyed idol of millions and his Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew, should be Jewish after all these years, who knew?

Well, lots of people say they knew, unofficially. But to have it actually appear in the plot of the comic book more than four decades after the character was "born," that's a different thing entirely. And that's what happened recently: Ben Grimm was explicitly identified as Jewish for the first time in an issue titled "Remembrance of Things Past."

How far past? The Fantastic Four was created for Marvel Comics in 1961 by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. Fans immediately recognized the story as a seismic shift away from square-jawed, flawless heroes like Superman who lived in places called "Metropolis" and toward bollixed-up human characters who flail around New York City.

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Even the origin of the FF (as the comics cognoscenti call them) was a snafu. Four friends, including test pilot Ben Grimm, were accidentally exposed to radiation during a rocket test and returned to Earth with various superhuman powers. Together they became sort of super family with recognizably ordinary squabbles to settle among themselves while they battled super villains. Ben's blue-collar battle cry became "It's clobberin' time!"

The success of the FF begat Spider-man, the Hulk, Daredevil, the Punisher, Blade, and the X-Men (just to choose characters who have come or will be coming soon to a movie theater near you) and dozens of others. The FF success woke up DC Comics - home of Superman, Batman and other costumed heroes - which started adding fascinating, fallible traits to its lineup.

Over the years, the writers told readers all kinds of things about the habits and foibles of the characters. We knew about their taste in clothing, their troubles with relationships, their sense of humor. But we rarely discovered whether they followed any particular religion.

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Jeffrey Weiss
The Dallas Morning News
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