Much has been written about how the superheroes of American comic books were developed largely by Jewish creators, and that within the symbolism of the comic book world, the popular superheroes were designed, often consciously, to represent Jews. According to this understanding, it has also been frequently pointed out that the “secret identities” of these superheroes are symbolic of the crypsis Jews have often felt necessary in a milieu of potentially hostile Gentiles.
Occasionally, it has also been mentioned that the intrinsic moral code that motivates these superheroes to use their powers for good has its root in the notion of Jews being essentially benefactors of society or “a light onto nations.“ Less has been written about the implication of their ”super-powers,” that is, special gifts that the heroes possess and which are absent in the wider world they are charged to protect.
And the super villains also have super-powers…
As the years have worn on, however, Jewish creators of these comic books have been more revealing about the Jewishness of their characters (and even its implications), much as Jews in wider society have felt less of a need to conceal their identity.
Clark wasn’t really from Kansas.
In at least one important and salient case, a superhero is depicted openly as a Jew and with his fantastic powers deriving from—or at least being enhanced by— his experiences as a Jew, specifically, the suffering of the Holocaust. This character is “Magneto” of the X-Men series. Interestingly, this superhero is, for the most part, perceived a villain, albeit a very complex one.
Indeed, watching the rivalry between Magneto (Max “Magnus” Eisenhardt) and “Professor X” (Charles Francis Xavier), particularly in the films, one is briefly tempted to view the X-Men series as a somewhat politically incorrect addition to the comic-book canon. The films, being products of their time, are pro- multicultural and pro-feminist—featuring Mutant superheroes of both genders and all races exercising roughly commensurate super-powers and working to safeguard a liberal, multicultural world. But at first blush, they do not seem obsequiously philo-Semitic. The Jewish Magneto has been twisted and made hateful and vindictive by his experience in the Holocaust, and, to a degree, the audience is invited to sympathize with his plight. Nevertheless, Magneto is a terrifying entity: he not only sees human as his persecutors but as his inferiors, an outmoded species that deserves to be subjugated and displaced (maybe even eliminated) by the highly evolved Mutants. The WASPy Professor X, on the other hand, is depicted as the moral center of the X-Men universe.
Hence, if we take Magneto as the representative of Judaism in the series, are the X-Men pro-multicultural, yet anti-Semitic? (Or at least are they “anti-Semitic” according to the hyper-sensitive contemporary usage of that term, in the way that, for example, the ADL sometimes fears that the Democratic Party is becoming “anti-Semitic” when it makes vaguely critical statements about Israeli?) Does the X-Men series represent a break from the metaphor of Jews as benevolent superheroes—indeed, a break in popular culture from the depiction of openly Jewish characters as anything but benefic? Do the virtuous X-Men, opposing Magneto, represent the “talented tenth” of a multicultural society, instead of crypto-Jews? Are the X-Men “progressives” who will, with their greater intelligence and wisdom, lead the rest of humanity in an evolution to a multicultural Utopia, where everyone will be a uniquely talented “Mutant” regardless of race and creed?
This seems to be at least the exoteric meaning of the Mutants’ multiculturalism. Though upon closer examination, there are more nuances at work here. To understand this, a good starting point would be to ask just who is Professor X, the leader of the Mutant coalition that seeks to avert Magneto’s plans for human subjugation? In the films, whether played by Patrick Stewart in his older incarnation or by James McAvoy as a younger man (both employing British accents), ethnically, he is apparently Anglo-Saxon. But this by itself is hardly definitive, as frequently characters who are not necessarily Anglo-Saxon are Anglicized in order to broaden their commercial appeal.
Indeed, Stan Lee, who developed the character, is understood to have taken Yul Brynner, an actor of Gypsy ancestry, as the inspiration for Professor’s X physical appearance in the comic book (though in fairer youth, Professor X is blue eyed and blonde as one can see in an accompanying illustration). To be sure, it is much more useful to look at the comics developed by Stan Lee, which form the basis for the popular film series. Here, one gets the strong sense that Professor X—whose very moniker suggests crypsis—is likely also Jewish.
The Origin of Professor X
The first clue comes in the form of Xavier’s biological father. In the original comics created by Stan Lee, we come to understand he is the son of a Nuclear Scientist residing in New York City, who had worked on the Manhattan project. The development of the atomic bomb was led and dominated by Jewish scientists, and in the popular consciousness, it is understood to be a largely Jewish achievement, summoning to mind names like J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein (whose real contribution was lobbying for the funding of the project). This impression is especially strong in the minds of American Jews, who might take pride in the Manhattan project as an example of Jewish scientists outwitting the German establishment, which unwisely excluded Jews and thereby failed to develop the weapon of global hegemony.
Another salient clue to the possible ethnicity of Xavier comes with the introduction of his stepbrother, Cain Marko. Cain is certainly an unusual name for Stan Lee to have selected for this character. It is, of course, biblical in origin. And unlike common Torah names like Isaac or Rebecca, Cain carries with it ominous, pejorative connotations. Hence, we can very reasonably assume it was meaningful to Lee. And as in Cain and Abel, a rivalry springs up between Cain and the young Xavier that becomes abusive.
“Cain” and Xavier
In Medieval Europe, the story of Cain and Abel was popular and, like the story of Jacob and Esau, was seen as describing the conflict between two archetypal characters—one Jewish, the other Gentile. At this time, however, it was the cursed Cain who was associated with the Wandering Jew, forced to drift for all of eternity for the transgression of killing his brother. Yet this meaning, like so much else in the Bible, derives from a process of cultural appropriation, whereby the original symbology is altered as it passes from one culture to another, from Semites to Europeans. In this case, the symbols have, in fact, been inverted so as to take on the opposite of the original meaning. It is likely that Cain was originally understood to be representative of the Gentile, whereas Abel, the innocent and wrongly slain Jew. In the story, Cain is not a nomad (or, at least, he does not start out that way until he is cursed); rather, he is a landed farmer. Abel, on the other hand, is the nomadic herdsman, the archetypal profession of the Jewish patriarchs and most ancient Jews. All interpretations of the story of Cain and Abel, whether Jewish or Christian, concur, however, that the one named Cain is the evil “Other” (possibly even the son of the Devil).
It seems possible, if not likely, that Stan Lee is making a distinction between Jew and Gentile with the introduction of this biblically named character, who is not related to Xavier by blood. It is also interesting to note that a great source of the conflict between the two comes from Xavier’s ability to read Cain’s mind, leading to Cain’s anger and resentment of Xavier. Whether deliberate or not, Xavier’s “mind reading” ability seems like a comic-book metaphor for Freudian Psychoanalysis. It’s worth noting that psychoanalysis was developed by a Jew (who was, by the way, highly conflicted about his own Jewishness), and for a century it has been enveloped in a certain urban Jewish culture. Moreover, Cain resentment towards Xavier seems metaphorical of that of patient towards his analyst, who, in effect, knows him better than he knows himself.
Interestingly, Cain eventually becomes the arch-villain “Juggernaut,” via the possession of an ancient Demon named Cyttorak, who, being one of eight such beings seeking to reclaim the world, could be understood as a god of the polytheistic pantheon. Hence, Cain the Gentile reverts to his evil Pagan roots. It is important to note here as well that Juggernaut is a superhero nearly opposite to Xavier, relying solely on brawn, not brains.
It is possible, however, that Xavier’s early conflict with Cain may never have been written. Indeed, Stan Lee had originally planned for Magneto and Xavier to be actual brothers related by blood, which would have unequivocally indicated them both as Jews, hence eliminating the mystery surrounding Professor X’s ethnicity. Though had he done this, he would have lost the opportunity to depict what very likely appears to be a parabolic conflict between Jew and Gentile, where Jewish brains (Xavier) triumphs over Gentile brawn (Juggernaut).
Xavier’s inaugural encounter with an evil Mutant, The Shadow King, whom he encounters in Cairo, is also of interest. The Shadow King, who here takes the corporal form of Amahl Farouk, an Egyptian crime lord, is understood as an entity of pure psychic force that “feeds on the hatred of humanity,” a force which possesses others and commands them to do his evil bidding. According to the backstory, he was born from the first human nightmare and exists as the explanation of all great human evildoing in all times and places. As a concept, he harkens back to Amalek, regarded in Rabbinical tradition as an enemy that reoccurs through all times, taking different corporeal forms: the Armenians, the German National Socialists, and the Palestinians have each been referred to by Rabbis as “Amalekites.” (For what its worth, The Shadow King’s Egyptian form, Amahl Farouk, harken back, phonetically and orthographically, to Amalek.)
The evil Amahl Farouk inspires yokels to oppose gay marriage.
Perhaps more important, however, is that the Shadow King is Egyptian and is encountered in Egypt. As the Bible relates, next to Cain and his descendants, the Egyptians were one of the great early archenemies of the Jews. But is this merely coincidence? Supportive of the relevancy of this detail is what Professor Xavier does after he defeats the Shadow King; like the Jews of the Bible, who escaped the God-smote Egyptians during their famous Exodus, Xavier travels to Israel.
In Israel, Xavier works at a psychiatric hospital where he treats the mentally ill, including the Jewish woman Gabrielle Haller, who has become catatonic because of her experiences during the Holocaust. Xavier cannot help but fall in love with her and eventually impregnates her, before leaving her in Israel on good terms. Their confused child becomes the arch-villain Legion, whom is known for his multiple personalities. Perhaps the schism between his mother and Xavier created these internal schisms within Legion, and they are not just personal but political.
In Israel, Xavier also meets and befriends the Holocaust Survivor Max “Magnus” Eisenhardt, who will later become Magneto. He and Magnus have long debates on the challenges that humans face with the ascendancy of Mutants. Magnus’s view of humanity is decidedly darker than that of Xavier’s, and he is insistent that humans will seek to oppress or eliminate this new minority, as they have done to others in the past. Xavier is more optimistic and believes coexistence is possible. Nevertheless, despite their seemingly opposed worldviews, the two become fast friends, and Xavier discovers in Magnus “a fascinating kindred spirit.” In fact, Stan Lee himself never viewed Magneto a villain, as he related in an interview.
I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He just wanted to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist… . [H]e was trying to defend the mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he was going to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course … but I never thought of him as a villain.
Bigoted and racist?
The Great Schism
In the end, Professor X and Magneto’s views develop thusly: Magneto believes that Mutants or “Homo Superior” should be protected by any means and, intriguingly, should have a Homeland. The slaughter or enslavement of humans he sees as a completely reasonable means to achieve these goals. Professor X agrees that Mutants represent a higher stage of evolution—or, more precisely, a new people that must be identified and cultivated, hence the founding of Professor X’s “Gifted School of Youngsters.” He also concurs that humans are prone to destroy that which they fear and don’t understand. However, he ultimately hopes that Mutants can live in peace with human kind. In a scene from 2011’s X-Men: First Class, Xavier and Magnus concisely sum up their positions:
Xavier: We have it in us to be the better men.
Magnus: We already are.
Xavier and Magnus take separate paths.
For obvious reasons, Magneto has often been compared to Malcolm X, while Professor X to Martin Luther King Jr. (their respective monikers not withstanding). Indeed, MLK and Malcolm X were two figures that were doubtlessly on Stan Lee’s mind when he invented these characters in 1963. Though the radical Zionist Meir Kahane is also considered, likely more accurately, as inspiration for Magneto. Professor X, on the other hand, can perhaps be best likened to the Diasporic Jew, deeply interested in the safety and prosperity of his people but convinced this can be best achieved through peaceful coexistence, maybe even integration, with Gentiles.
Contrasting the two super-powers of Magneto and Professor X is also instructive. Magneto is a “materialist”: his attacks come in the form of matter (specifically, metal), which he marshals against his foes; his powers are thus almost necessarily violent. Professor X relies on reading minds and, frequently, mind-control (a most peaceful solution to any conflict if ever there was one). One is tempted to see in this the contrast between the Israeli Jew, armed with the gun, the missile, and the tank, versus the liberal, American Jew, armed with media, film, TV—and comic books!—who is able to neutralize potentially hostile adversaries through “mind control.”
Ultimately, the difference between these kindred spirits—whatever their disagreements and however they might tussle—might merely be one of strategy and not end goals; their relationship vis-à-vis humanity might be compared to that of Good Cop/Bad Cap or Diplomacy versus War.
One faction of the Mutants is openly hostile and dangerous to humans and, presumably always will be; the other faction acts as guardians of humans—and also of the Mutants (half of whom, again, are adversarial to humans). One wonders if Professor X is intended as a hero and model for humans and some “Mutants,” whereas the edgier and cooler Magneto is designed as a hero and model for other “Mutants.” (Humans are not allowed a hero of their own in the X-Men universe.)
Cynically, given the reluctant and often cozy nature of the pair’s rivalry, one might even view Professor X as “controlled opposition.” Maybe Magneto and Professor X, a latter day Moses Hess and Karl Marx, decided long ago that as Lenin put it: “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” Invariably, Professor X was destined to seems like the “good guy” (after all, he’s controlling your mind!). He is thus a master a thousand times more effective than the one who endeavors to rule openly with steel.
We might have been friends!
What to make of the “X” in Professor X and X-Men? While ostensibly drawn from Xavier’s surname, given the context, its symbolism seems to stretch much further. “X” is certainly suggestive of rootlessness and non-identity; Malcolm X took the moniker as a symbol of his erased heritage, which was, ironically, the basis for his racial nationalism. When used by a person of presumed Jewish identity, “X” has an even deeper connotation of lost identity.
Certainly, an “X” in lieu of a last name has often been used by illiterates when signing documents. But for early Jewish immigrants arriving in America via Ellis Island, who were either illiterate or unfamiliar with the Latin alphabet, signing a document with an “X” could be seen as tantamount to disavowing ones Jewish religion. It is frequently reported that these immigrants, particularly those from Eastern Europe, associated the “X” with the image of the Christian Cross. Wikipedia describes:
The word “Christ” and its compounds, including “Christmas”, have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern “Xmas” was commonly used. “Christ” was often written as “Xρ” or “Xt”; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as 1021. This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ (Ch) and ρ (R) used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for “Christ”), and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ.
Hence, among these immigrant Jews, there arose the practice of signing documents with “Os” (the slur “kike,” likely derived from the Hebrew word kikel, is thought to have its origin in this practice). Is it too much to see significance in the “O” in Magnet-O?
The “X” taken as an allusion to Christ (whether this was Stan Lee’s intention or not) is quite suitable for Professor X, who with his purported desire to save both “Mutant” and human is by far the more Christian of the two. Like Christ (perhaps the ultimate Crypto-Jew), Professor X is a Jewish character with a Jewish enemy, developed by a Jewish scribe for the moral instruction and guidance of a non-Jewish world. To wit: “Love thy enemy.”
And if the X does have this additional significance, does this also mean we should interpret X-Men as “Christ-men” or “Christians” in the manner we read X-mas as Christmas? Who knows? But perhaps it’s not a bad rumor to spread, whether it was an intended allusion or not. Doubtlessly the idea of the “Christ-men” versus the vindictive and antagonistic Jewish Magneto would, at the very least, cause fuss and moral angst among that particularly effeminate breed known as “fan boys.” Stan Lee himself could quash it … but then one could reasonably contend that the nomenclature arose unconsciously from a Jungian impulse … or better that Stan Lee was being evasive in the manner he appears to have been with Professor X’s apparent ethnic identity.
Professor X’s status as an invalid further establishes him as a Christ figure. Indeed, the villainous Alien that crippled him in the original comic book series was named, quite unsubtly, Lucifer. But his status as a disabled hero has a Jungian dimension as well. Christ is the wounded god, transfixed to the cross; Professor X is, likewise, transfixed to his wheelchair. The figure of the Fisher King, a being synonymous with Christ and appearing in Arthurian Grail Legends, is likewise lame and without the use of his legs. Interestingly, in the film X-Men: First Class, Profess X is injured by a human: when Moira Mactaggert fires a bullet at Magneto, he deflects it, unintentionally wounding his friend in the spine. The guilt is for Professor X’s metaphorical crucifixion is thus transferred, at least in part, away from super beings (Alien or otherwise) and onto humans.
Had Stan Lee been an open Joseph Campbell acolyte, à la George Lucas, we’d perhaps be inclined to suspect details like this were deliberate. Though maybe this is naïve … for as Stan Lee succinctly points out in an interview:
I have never been a Joseph Campbell follower. There are so many people who write so learnedly and at such great length about things that to me seem so obvious.
And the Midrash, too, offers insights for storytellers.
Return of the Gods
Whatever differences might exist between Professor X and Magneto, they are both in tiresome accordance with the zeitgeist: openly multiculturalist and therefore unavoidably hostile to the existence of European-derived peoples. Additionally, merely the idea of “Mutants”(often depicted in this series as misshapen, freakish beasts) as “Homo Superior” is distasteful and feels inherently degenerate. Even Nietzsche, who waxed about a “Superman”—and who, perhaps, inspired comic books as we know them with this term—made explicit his aversion to the idea that man should seek to become another species. A better version of the species? Certainly.
All this said, one is inclined to take solace in the fact that superheroes, who seem to grow more popular in film everyday, are inherently problematic for a monotheistic (in our case, Judeo-Christian) culture. After all, the superheroes that receive our reverence, “offerings,” and “tithing” at local movie theaters—which are no less than modern day temples—are tawdry bowdlerizations of the gods and heroes we’ve always worshiped. (Marvel’s bland “Thor” is the most explicit example of this, but he’s certainly not exceptional.)
Indeed, one is even, quite gradually, witnessing an Anglicizing of comic book characters in the works of Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder. It’s an appropriation that reminds us of the Cain and Abel myth mention above, when the meaning of a myth is turned on its head. The common practice in comic books of “retcon,” retroactive continuity, that is, the alteration of previously established facts in the continuity of a fictional work, may even eventually explicitly Gentilize a character like Professor X (though, to be sure, this would mean destroying an interesting and illuminating backstory). Lord of The Rings, Braveheart, Gladiator, 300 and even the often lurid Game of Thrones offer glimmers as well of the gods seeking to return. Even Hellboy, with its charismatic “villains” such as the Elfin Tuatha De Danann, indicates the call of the gods, albeit through a hostile priest serving as medium. Dare I say that Harry Potter is a sign?
Perhaps one day, in a not-too-distant future, these modern-day temples will finally fill with the real gods in their true and noble form and offer services worth attending. What is lacking now is the bards of the scale of Wagner and Shakespeare to sing of them. And they are coming, getting better, getting wiser. One should remember, and take courage in the fact, that artists like Nolan and Snyder have to contend with very strong social taboos; but with bold and careful decisions, they have succeeded in creating popular art with radical-traditional characteristics. Perhaps social restraints are necessary for the creation of great art? Pressure, after all, makes diamonds. And there is potentially—not to sound vulgar—a lot of money to be had in restoring this particular priesthood. Hence, one should be keen to assist such artists who seem promising.
Could mass-media become community-forming, as opposed to community-destroying? Could what was formerly known as “Comic Con” become a Pagan festival on the scale of Bayreuth—an event attended not only by geeky “Cosplayers” but intelligent, cultured men and woman of all walks of like, who seek to honor the gods, the bards, and high art? Am I getting carried away?