The Thing is not only the Fantastic Four’s most popular member, but the most important in terms of Jewish representation – but the writers still have a ways to go when it comes to accurately portraying Jews. Ben Grimm is one of the very few Jewish superheroes in Marvel Comics (and comics in general) and after decades of hinting at his Jewish identity, Ben finally accepted his role as a Jewish superhero (and a husband and a father in 2018 when he married Alicia Masters). But as a Jewish superhero, writers must take better care when it comes to exploring his Jewish identity.
Jewish writers in the Silver Age of Comics often hid or downplayed their Jewish identities, and both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg, respectively) were perfect examples. Either to avoid antisemitism or a stigma associated with Jewish writers, Lee and Kirby changed their names – but the Jewish themes in their work were quite apparent, especially for Jewish readers. Spider-Man is constantly consumed with guilt, the X-Men are hated and feared by those who do not understand them, and the Thing grew up poor, struggled his entire life, and shies away from his Jewishness for fear of being judged.
The Thing eventually embraced his identity after a famous story in Fantastic Four #56, in which Ben returns to his old neighborhood and reconnects with his old Jewish neighbor. Later, in 2006’s The Thing #6 by Dan Slott and Kieron Dwyer, Ben Grimm is asked to participate in a second Bar Mitzvah (technically possible since the Rabbis believe a “second life” occurs after a man turns 70; the accident that transformed Ben into the Thing occurred thirteen years ago; thus, Ben’s new life began thirteen years ago, making him 83). With all of his superhero friends and Reed Richards, Susan Storm and her brother sitting in the shul, Ben reads from the Torah and later gives a drash about the story of Job. One problem: Job isn’t in the Torah.
Ben Grimm Finally Embraces His Judaism
Job is indeed a figure in Judaism, but he isn’t mentioned in the Torah at all (he is mentioned in Ketuvim, a separate book, but not in the Torah scroll proper). Additionally, the circumstances surround Ben’s ability to become a Bar Mitzvah a second time are quite dubious; not all rabbis agree on this interpretation. Even as other superheros like Kitty Pryde and Magneto are Jewish, it appears that the writers are viewing the Thing’s Jewishness through a Christian lens. This is analogous to a Christian tendency to consider the holiday of Hanukkah as important to Jews as Christmas is to Christians, simply because the two holidays occur in the winter.
The Torah does not mention Job, but the fact that Ben reads from the book at all is quite a sight to see, especially after years of the Thing shying away from his Jewish roots. Despite many Jewish writers shaping the Golden and Silver Ages of Comics, Jewish characters are few and far between. The Thing stands as the prime example of a Jewish character in comics: the popular Fantastic Four member who stayed away from the religion for years, but is finally at peace with expressing his beliefs openly.
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