Alex and Joe talk with history teacher James Caudill about comic book history, and the books we’re currently reading. You can find James @teachcaudill on Twitter, and his writing at Comics The Gathering.
As always, Alex and Joe can be found on Twitter respectively @karcossa and @jcb_smark if you feel the need to tell them they’re wrong individually, or @those2geeks if you want to yell at them together on twitter, or by email at ItsThose2Geeks@gmail.com.
The following is originally a Tumblr post from a couple years back (as you can see from some of the contemporary references) that I held back from publishing because I wanted to have a Roma sensitivity reader take a look at it first, and then never got around to finishing when other things came up despite their very kind assistance. However, the popularity of WandaVision brought back some pre-existing discourse around Elizabeth Olsen’s casting as a non-Romani actress and Joss Whedon and pre-Feige Marvel executives’ decision to reimagine Wanda and Pietro Maximoff as radicalized Sokovian nationalists rather than Romani.
This reminded me of the unfinished post I’d written about the difficult question of Romani representation in comics rooted in problematic decisions made during Marvel’s Silver Age and its particular relationship to subtextual Judaism in the work of assimilated Jewish creators. So after the break, I’ve posted an edited and elaborated version of my original post.
One comics related question, Victor von Doom is Roma, a poor Roma in his origin at that, but he has “Von” in his title? Is it that Lee-Kirby never consulted the Almanach de Gotha, a reference to Erich von Stroheim (who was after all a Jewish haberdasher who passed himself as a aristo in hollywood and popularized the “von” concept)? But more importantly how does Doom being a proud Roma with a fake Junker aristo name work as a concept? Is Doom appropriating the Nazi-aristocratic culture?
Ok…this is a tricky topic, because I really don’t want to undercut any of the people pushing for better Roma representation in comics, especially with everything going on with Secret Empire and Peter Alan David’s rant at NYCC. However, Silver Age (and later) comics creators hadn’t usually done much cultural research with regard to the Romani, and tended to base their portrayals in the kind of tropes set out by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Universal Pictures’ Wolfman films. These tropes tended to traffic in both Romantic exoticism and anti-Romani stereotypes, and (as I’ll explain when I get into some examples) were used by Marvel creators in a way that arguably involved ethnic erasure, which raises questions about how we think about these characters as positive or negative representation.
To answer the original Tumblr ask, with Victor Von Doom, honestly I think the process didn’t go much further than: repeated Vs sound good and while Doom makes no sense as a last name that would exist in reality, there’s the repeated D’s of Doctor Doom, and “von” sounds Junkerish and (thanks to American propaganda from WWI and WWII) we all know the Junkers are bad guys – without any real reference to the sociocultural meanings of European naming conventions and ethnicities. Then Stan Lee and Jack Kirby probably moved on from a name to the character concept of Victor Von Doom as a tyrant (in the original Greek sense of the term) who overthrew the traditional order; why would Victor hate the old order, well he was persecuted, what’s a group that’s persecuted, Romani are persecuted, so go with that. In Von Doom’s case, things get even more problematic, because von Doom’s Romani heritage was used as a way to explain why Doctor Doom has mastery over magi as well as super-science:
Where I think things become even more complicated is when we get to characters like Magneto, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver. Because whereas Romani identity probably wasn’t a major element of the character creation process for Von Doom, here I feel like Romani was used as a background as a way to bring up Nazi racial ideology and the Holocaust without explicitly labeling anyone as Jewish. Despite the fact that Magneto, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver’s creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee were Jewish and had (Jack more so than Stan) progressive anti-Nazi politics, there was still something of a tendency in pop culture of that era to keep Jewishness subtextual to which the original generation of comics creators was no exception – something that is explored in excellent detail in Abraham Riesman’s True Believer.
Thus, it wasn’t until the Bronze Age of comics where a younger generation of Jewish creators like Chris Claremont took over the franchise that Magneto was revealed to be Jewish. As a result, some awkward retconning took place, such that Erik Lensherr (or Magnus or Max Eisenhardt) now had escaped Auschwitz and joined a Romani caravan, where he met Magda and then fathered Wanda and Pietro and then left. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t Romani of Jewish faith or people of mixed Jewish/Romani ethnicity, but given that what little use of Romani cultural identifiers there is in these cases – which generally boils down to the stereotypical caravans of painted wagons, men wearing vests, and an ill-defined state of persecution – makes no reference to the Zhutane Roma, I don’t think that’s what Lee and Kirby were going for.
Rather, I think creators reached for Romani backgrounds because these creators thought that Roma shared tropes associated with European Jews – Eastern European origins, oppressed minority status, an “otherized” cultural difference from the perceived mainstream – so that they could stand in for Jewish, without running into the problems with either management or the consuming public that Jewishness was believed to run afoul of, while adding exoticized elements that might move more sales units.
And it’s this assumed sameness and safeness I have a problem with, because embedded in there is an assumption that Romani aren’t a real living people and culture, that they are instead a stock trope of fairytales and Gothic horror and thus can be used as a costume, whereas Jews are a real people and culture and thus it would be inappropriate or bad business to depict them directly.
That’s always stuck in my craw when it comes to some of these characters because I’ve never been quite sure whether Erik, Pietro, and Wanda are really supposed to be Romani representation or whether these characters are Jews in Romani-face. Making it all the more complicated is the fact that Marvel doesn’t seem to be comfortable with the situation either; hence the large number of retcons that have taken place that revolve around Wanda and Pietro’s parentage and Magneto’s own ethnic heritage. Are Wanda and Pietro ethnically Romani, or merely adopted? Are they the biological children of Magneto or not, and what does that mean for their Jewish identity? Is Magneto himself a Jew from Warsaw or a Sinti Romani from Gdansk? It all depends on when and which creators one asks.
This uncertainty, however, leaves some significant questions unresolved: is it better, given the fact that almost no minority-group representation in comics (Silver Age or no) is that good to begin with, to have bad representation or none at all? How do we deal with situations in which members of one minority group are appropriating the culture of another to smuggle their own experience into the dominant narrative?
In the end, I think that it can never be satisfying for either Jews or Romani to have one group play-acting as the other – but the real issue is that neither should have to settle for that simply because there’s so little representation for either group that the two groups find themselves fighting over scraps. The answer is that comics companies need to commit to more robust representation both in quantity and quality, such that we don’t have characters having to shoulder the entire weight of being “the” representation for an entire group, let alone more than one.
 The Junker class were hereditary landed nobility in Prussia (more specifically from the north-eastern regions of Prussia) who had something of a lock on military and administrative positions, first within the Kingdom of Prussia and then within the German Empire of 1871-1918. The Junkers tended to be actively pro-monarchist and anti-democratic, and bitterly hostile to both free-market liberalism and Socialism, and because of their dominance within the German Army became stock figures (think buzz cuts, monocles, and dueling scars) of German militarism in both WWI and WWII. More to the point, a Junker would always have the noble title of “von” in their last names, no Romani would ever have been allowed the honorific under the pre-Weimar monarchies, and the Junkers were generally pretty hostile to Romani in much the same way that they tended to be hostile to German and Polish Jews.
The greatest wedding in Marvel Comics history is almost here! Just in time for the Fantastic Four’s 60th Anniversary, the latest arc in writer Dan Slott and artist R.B. Silva’s thrilling run on Fantastic Four will kick off in Fantastic Four #32. Packed with unpredictable twists that will change the First Family’s dynamic forever, “The Bride of Doom” promises to join the ranks of the greatest stories in the Fantastic Four mythos. To celebrate the upcoming nuptials of Doctor Victor Von Doom and Victorious, some of the industry’s hottest artists have turned out stunning variant covers including Marvel’s Stormbreaker Peach Momoko, Skottie Young, Valerio Schiti, and Ron Lim! The main cover is by Mark Brooks.
Check out all the covers now, including a Hidden Gem Variant Cover with artwork by Jack Kirby. And don’t miss this glorious affair when Fantastic Four #32 hits stands on May 12th!
Variant Cover by PEACH MOMOKO (MAR210541)
Virgin Variant Cover by PEACH MOMOKO (FEB19320)
Variant Cover by RON LIM & ISRAEL SILVA (MAR210540)
Wraparound Variant Cover by VALERIO SCHITI & MARTE GRACIA (MAR210542)
Variant Cover by SKOTTIE YOUNG (MAR210544)
Hidden Gem Variant Cover by JACK KIRBY, JOE SINNOTT & MORRY HOLLOWELL (MAR210543)
(W) Joe Simon, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (A) Various (CA) Steve McNiven Rated T In Shops: Mar 17, 2021 SRP: $6.99
Captain America celebrates 80 years of battling tyranny this month! And what better way to celebrate than by having a cadre of Marvel’s best artists redraw and modernize Captain America’s origin and the debut of the Red Skull from CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1 as well as Cap’s return in the Marvel Age from AVENGERS #4! The legendary stories that changed the course of comic book history are presented in an all-new way for the current generation of Marvel fans!
The Fantastic Four, the very superheroes that kicked off Marvel Comics’ Silver Age are celebrating 60 incredible years! Home to concepts and characters that revolutionized comic book storytelling, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s beloved creations have enjoyed one of the most memorable sagas in comic book history. Now, get ready to see what’s in store for Marvel’s First Family this year in all-new teaser artwork by Valerio Schiti and Marte Gracia. This epic piece foreshadows the Fantastic Four’s action-packed year, giving fans a hint at the deadly threats they’ll be facing and a look at an unexpected new arc that kicks off in May by Dan Slott and R.B. Silva!
Keep an eye out for announcements about the other exciting things Marvel Comics has in store for the Fantastic Four’s milestone celebration.
Six-time Best Selling New York Times author Fred Van Lente and four-time New York Times Critics’ Pick playwright Crystal Skillman, in association with the Broadway Podcast Network, have kicked off a four-episode mini-series audio drama King Kirby, based on their hit Off-Broadway show by the same name. A true-life story about Jack Kirby, the man who co-created the Marvel universe, King Kirbyis an epic comic book story of the most famous cartoonist you never heard of. This audio drama features original music composed by award-winning Bobby Cronin. The podcast premiered on Wednesday, February 10th exclusively from the Broadway Podcast Network and wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Heroes aren’t born, they’re made. Born in the Lower East Side slums, a veteran of the battlefields of France, Jack Kirby co-created Captain America, The Avengers, The X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, and many other legendary characters. But Kirby had his biggest fight after his comic books became an international sensation: He had to fight for his name, and the recognition he was denied. From the Jewish ghetto of New York’s Lower East Side to the battlefields of France to the Senate hearings of the 1950s, King Kirbyis the heartbreaking yet inspirational story about a man who pours his quintessentially Twentieth Century life into his comics, only to make the fateful mistake that sends him into obscurity while his creations become known to every person on Earth.
The audio drama stars Steven Rattazzi (the voice of Dr. Orpheus from Cartoon Network’s The Venture Bros and Broadway’s Indecent, Marie Antoinette at Soho Rep, Galileo at CSC, and Stunning at Lincoln Center) as Jack Kirby, Amy Lee Pearsall as his wife Roz, Joseph Mathers as his business partner Joe Simon, Timothy McCown Reynolds as Martin Goodman, and Nat Cassidy as Stan Lee.
This is a story for comics fans of the man they never knew behind their favorite superheroes, and for those who have been waiting for Jack Kirby’s story to get its due. A modern-day American Amadeus, King Kirbyasks what happens when an artist doesn’t own his own legacy? Can he ever get it back?
An exciting new line of Marvel graphic novels will debut this June! The Mighty Marvel Masterworks will collect the very beginning of Marvel’s most iconic heroes: the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and more. The stories that kicked off the sagas of these beloved franchises will now be available in an accessible new 6 x 9 format that the whole family can enjoy!
These timeless stories were crafted by none other than industry legends Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko who revolutionized the comic book genre with their bold new approach to superhero adventures. Now, the Mighty Marvel Masterworks will serve as a perfect gateway to the expansive Marvel Universe and allow a brand-new generation to witness the historic beginnings behind these pop culture phenomena.
Collecting Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #1-10 and material from Amazing Fantasy (1962) #15, Mighty Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man – With Great Power will feature Peter Parker’s web-slinging adventures from the very beginning — including the tragic origin that started it all; the first appearances of the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, Doctor Octopus, the Sandman, the Vulture and Electro; and guest-star nods from the Fantastic Four and Human Torch!
Collecting Fantastic Four (1951) #1-10, Mighty Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Vol. 1 will feature the fateful cosmic voyage of scientist Reed Richards, pilot Ben Grimm, and siblings Sue and Johnny Storm, who became known to the world as Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, the Invisible Girl and the Human Torch —the Fantastic Four. See the first of their many extraordinary adventures including their first battles with legendary villains such as the Mole Man, the Skrulls, the Puppet Master, the Sub-Mariner, and the diabolical Doctor Doom.
Collecting Uncanny X-Men (1963) #1-10, Mighty Marvel Masterworks: The X-Men – The Strangest Super Heroesof All will feature Professor X’s original teen team as they set off on a mission to forge peace between man and mutantkind. Meet Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl and thrill to their first encounter with the Master of Magnetism, Magneto, and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Own the very foundation of the Marvel Universe in new must-have collections! Check out Michael Cho’s cover for Mighty Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man – With Great Power as well as the Exclusive Comic Book Shop Cover by Steve Ditko and pick up the Mighty Marvel Masterworks when they hit stores this summer!
This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comicsby Tom Scioli.
Biographies aren’t always the first thing you think of when you think of graphic novels, and vice versa. But the thing is a graphic novel is a fantastic way to tell a person’s life story, or a portion there of, that isn’t often used as much as it could be. Graphic novel biographies are a wonderfully unique way of telling a story that you really can’t capture the same way with a prose book. By utilizing the graphic novel format, the creative team have the opportunity to bring the story to life with picture, or temper the harshness of what the biography’s subject went through so that the reader can take more of the story in (seriously, imagine the first entry with realistic artwork). Or the artwork can tell give you a subtlety that’s missing in other mediums as you’re more readily able to spend time pouring over the images in front of you. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that I think graphic novels are an underrated method of telling a biographical story.
Biographies told in the graphic novel format have been around for awhile, and I’ve found are often my preferred way to read story about a person’s life. Maus for example would be a much harder book to read in prose, and part of Spiegleman’s genius is in how he still conveys the horror of his father’s story with the art that’s never cute or adorable, but wouldn’t look out of place next to Andy Capp in your Sunday supplement (this isn’t a knock against the book – it remains one of my favourite graphic novels because of exactly this; the balance of the art to the horror is perfect and frequently left me questioning how I would be reacting if the art was realistic or had the story been told in prose with vivid descriptions).
But when it comes to reading a graphic novel, even a near 200 page one, to learn about the rich history of a subject, then there is an obvious trade off with the amount of information you can fit into a graphic novel verses a text book – sometimes that matters, and others it doesn’t.
I’ve read a few biographies of Kirby over the years (Mark Evanier’s Kirby: King Of Comics is probably my favourite), but this is the first biography of Kirby I’ve read in the graphic form. Other than some minor details, Scioli doesn’t tell me anything that I wasn’t already at least partly aware of, though that’s not because he doesn’t have a well researched book (he really does), but rather because this isn’t the first Kirby biography I have ever read – Jack Kirby:The Epic Life of the King of Comics, published by Ten Speed Press, is a thoroughly engaging read, and Scioli’s dedication to the presentation of the book shines through early with a scene of young Kirby reading comics for one of the first times.
This is told from Kirby’s perspective, which does lead to him being portrayed in a very flattering light, but given the author’s well documented reverence for Kirby, I’m genuinely impressed that Scioli is somewhat restrained at the same time; he never crosses into a full worship of the comics legend (which is very easy to do given how much respect Kirby is due and how much he often gets outside of the comics community).
Jack Kirby:The Epic Life of the King of Comics is a really good book; it’s often overlooked in a lot of the circles I run in because it’s both a graphic novel and a biography – the combination of which never seems to excite people as much as a fictional graphic novel (or comic). It’s a shame, because this book is an ideal start to learning about Jack Kirby, and will propel you into reading the comics he so loved to create.
In the meantime, Underrated will return to highlight more comic book related stuff that either gets ignored despite it’s high quality, or maybe isn’t quite as bad as we tend to think it is.
In August 1961, Fantastic Four #1 hit newsstands, heralding a new take on super hero stories and the birth of the Silver Age Marvel Universe! Now, sixty years later, experience the excitement of being a comic book fan in that momentous month with the Marvel: August 1961 Omnibus, a complete hardcover collection of every issue that shared the shelves with Fantastic Four #1, many never before reprinted!
Considering leaving the comic book industry behind, Stan Lee was persuaded by his loving wife Joan to create one more book exactly the way he wanted it. And so, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Fantastic Four #1 and changed the American pop culture landscape forever. Before the Silver Age kicked off, Marvel Comics had published western, romance, comedy, monster and science fiction titles — and in August 1961, Fantastic Four was just one of over a dozen very different Marvel books. This first-of-its-kind omnibus will include:
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (1952) #73-74
LIFE WITH MILLIE #13
PATSY WALKER #97
AMAZING ADVENTURES (1961) #6
FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #1
KID COLT, OUTLAW #101
LINDA CARTER, STUDENT NURSE #2
MILLIE THE MODEL #105
STRANGE TALES (1951) #90
TALES OF SUSPENSE (1959) #23
TALES TO ASTONISH (1959) #25
GUNSMOKE WESTERN #67
LOVE ROMANCES #96
TEEN-AGE ROMANCE #84
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #7
PATSY AND HEDY #79
RAWHIDE KID (1960) #25
These works were brought to readers by some of the most influential comic book creators of all time including Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Stan Goldberg, Al Hartley, Paul Reinman, Jack Keller, Dick Ayers, Bob Forgione, Vince Colletta, and more!
Check out the all-new cover by Javier Rodriguez as well as the exclusive Direct Market variant cover by Jack Kirby and be sure to pick up this rare and unique collection when the Marvel: August 1961 Omnibus hits shops in August 2021!
In March 1941, comic book legends Jack Kirby and Joe Simon introduced the world to Steve Rogers in the historic Captain America Comics #1, and a pop culture icon was born. Marvel will honor their tremendous contribution to the comic book industry with Captain America Tribute #1, a giant-sized special celebrating the character’s 80th anniversary.
Captain America Tribute #1 will feature a cadre of Marvel’s best artists redrawing and modernizing Captain America’s first appearance, Captain America Comics #1, as well as his genre-defining reintroduction to the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Avengers #4. See the Star-Spangled Avenger’s extraordinary origin, his first battle against the Red Skull, and his Silver Age debut where he emerges from suspended animation to live on as a Star-Spangled Avenger like never before as your favorite artists reimagine these classic tales for a new age. These definitive comic book stories will be presented in an all-new way in a star-studded special that will delight long-time True Believers and the current generation of Marvel fans!
This unparalleled undertaking will include artwork by John Cassaday, Marguerite Sauvage, David Lapham, Declan Shalvey, Pere Pérez, Salvador Larroca, Leinil Francis Yu, Valerio Schiti, Carlos Pacheco, Inhyuk Lee, Kei Zama, Sara Pichelli, Jesús Saiz, Kim Jacinto, Adam Kubert, Federico Vicentini, Mahmud Asrar, Jim Cheung, Terry Dodson, Joe Bennett, Alex Ross, Steve Epting, Adam Hughes, Stephanie Hans, Javier Garrón, Alitha E. Martinez, Elena Casagrande, Paco Medina, Daniel Acuña, Chris Samnee, Butch Guice, Rachael Stott, Pepe Larraz, Greg Smallwood, Greg Land, Ray-Anthony Height, Mark Bagley, and Marvel’s Stormbreakers including Peach Momoko, Juann Cabal, Carmen Carnero, R.B. Silva, Joshua Cassara, Natacha Bustos, Iban Coello, and Patrick Gleason! And with a cover by Steve McNiven.
For 80 years, Captain America’s adventures have entertained fans of all ages around the world. Don’t miss today’s top talent pay homage to Captain America’s most legendary stories when Captain America Tribute #1 hits stands this coming March!