For much of the still-being-written history of comics, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Funnyman has been something of a footnote, usually mentioned as one more sad detail in the sad story of the two creators who fathered the superhero genre, and the medium and industry that genre carried for a while.
Funnyman, their creator-owned follow-up to Superman after their falling out with National, the company that became DC Comics, is generally seen as an example of how hard it is to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.
Writers Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon have taken up that footnote and expanded on it like never before, focusing on an aspect of the creators’ careers that could use the focus in their 2010 book Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero.
The sub-title suggests a thesis that I’m not entirely sure the book itself supports, and I’m even less sure that’s where the ultimate value of the book lies (particularly to an audience like us).
The book is sectioned off into articles by the authors and reprints and summaries of Funnyman comic book stories and comic strip stories. Mel Gordon’s “The Farblondjet Superhero and his Cultural Origins” notes that the fourth issue of Funnyman was released the same week the state of Israel was declared in 1948, claiming the hero was a perfect one for the time of immense Jewish anxiety.
From their he launches into a relatively long history of Jewish comedy (35 pages of a 185-page book), including discussion of various out-dated theories as to why the Jewish people have come to be regarded as a more humorous people than other groups, and then a brisk but thorough recounting of their traditions of humor and their interface with pop culture through the dawn of Golden Age Hollywood.
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