- Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World's Greatest Hero by Roy Schwartz
In Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World's Greatest Hero, Roy Schwartz sets out to demonstrate that despite the many Christian allegories portraying Superman as a Christ figure (made popular by the 1978 Superman movie), Superman is actually a Jewish character.
Schwartz's work joins a growing body of scholarship dedicated to parsing out the Jewishness of the Man of Steel. Schwartz himself makes note of works like Danny Fingeroth's Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero (2007). While Schwartz does not mention it, one could suggest Martin Lund's 2016 book, Re-Constructing the Man of Steel: Superman 1938–1941, Jewish American History, and the Invention of the Jewish-Comics Connection, another text that examines Superman's supposed Jewishness (with a more critical eye toward the question). Schwartz offers three ways that his book uniquely contributes to this growing body of literature: "it examines the entirety of Superman's career, from 1938 to date, whereas others have limited themselves to his formative 'Golden Age,' ending around 1945, with a few ventures up to 1960. It also explores more deeply the Jewish parallels, including their theological, folkloric, historical and sociological meaning. And it's the first to focus exclusively on Superman" (5). One of the best ways to evaluate this book is to judge it by the criteria Schwartz lays out here.
Starting with Schwartz's first point, the book is impressive in its breadth of material. Schwartz guides readers through Superman's origins and the early concepts from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster that eventually led to Superman's debut in Action Comics #1. From there, he doesn't stop until events from Brian Michael Bendis's recent run on the character, including when Superman reveals his identity to the world. Schwartz also references the recent CW television show Superman & Lois, which debuted in 2020. In between, he discusses Superman's depiction in various comic book publishing "ages" (i.e., the Golden Age, the Silver Age, etc.) as well as the various serials, television shows, movies, and other transmedia adaptations of the character. While a book like this will end up leaving some things out, Schwartz follows through [End Page 89] on his promise to explore the entirety of Superman's existence, from the early ideas leading to his creation to works that have appeared within the last two years, all the while attempting to highlight the Jewishness of the character.
I will address the exploration of Jewish parallels last, but to Schwartz's claim that this book is the first to focus exclusively on Superman, that's not quite accurate. Lund's (previously mentioned) text predates Schwartz's by five years, although Lund's does confine itself to Superman's early years. Also, Schwartz's book does focus on Superman overall, although at times in deviates into a discussion, more broadly, on the history of comics in general and on Jewish contributions to the creation and growth of the industry specifically. This is fine, and is done to provide context for the claim of Superman's Jewishness, but there are places where the text veers off course into one of these other directions so that Schwartz needs to throw in a sentence to remind us that the book is about Superman's Jewishness.
I direct a majority of my critiques to Schwartz's claim that the book more deeply explores Superman's Jewish parallels than many other texts. To this point, Schwartz does need to be commended for the breadth of material he has assembled in this text. It is an interesting survey of comics history as well as the Jewish presence in the comic book industry throughout this history. Many scholars studying the history of the Man of Steel may also appreciate this text as a resource to find primary and secondary sources for their own research.
There are places where Schwartz makes the...