Look in the sky! It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! No! Wait…!!
It’s the failed attempt at writing a book about a completely lame, worthless, and kind of offensive Jewish superhero!!
Sadly, this brings me to “Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero, from the Creators of Superman” (Feral House: July 1, 2010 release) by Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordan (priced around $20), which Feral House generously provided TCJewfolk a copy of.
The book, in its own meandering, patchy way, tells the story of how after Superman creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were screwed over by National Periodical Publications, which would eventually become DC Comics—the writer and artist were paid a small sum of money, causing them to have their creative rights to the last son of Krypton stripped from them–the creative dynamic duo decided to create the failed titular superhero.
Sounds like an interesting story, right?
Well, to be fair, In fact, the book kicks off rather swimmingly, with an energetic, electrifying, and intelligent introduction by Marvel Comics (?!) editor, writer, and all-around comic book historian/connoisseur, Danny Fingeroff.
And then—sigh—there’s the rest of the book.
Following this, the authors decided, instead of making it a narrative, they’d turn the book into a schnorrer—er—snore-inducing text book. That’s right. The first 47 pages, written by Gordon, trace the history of Jewish humor, starting in the 1600’s!! I can only assume the purpose of this history lesson is to illustrate the—ACHEM—humor that imbued Jerry Siegel and his “funny” superhero. Being one who loves the artistry of a good joke, especially when it’s slathered on with our own special brand of Jewish sauce, I would be lying if I didn’t say some of this was fascinating stuff…but come on! People don’t want to read about this shit in a book about a superhero! This whole section, intellectually stimulating though it may be, is completely superfluous and would have been much better-suited in a text book for a college elective course. You know, the kind you take when you need to squeeze just one more credit in, in order to graduate.
The second half of the book fails even worse than the first.
Thomas Andrae’s history of Siegel and Shuster’s comic book woes, what with losing their rights to good ol’ Supes, to their even further decline with the god-awful flop that was Funnyman, is not only repetitive, but even worse: It’s boring!! Andrae seems as interested in his title subject as the public was, during Funnyman’s short-lived run. He talks more about Superman and actor/comedian, Danny Kaye, whom Funnyman was based on, than the latter superhero! The author even goes so far as to dig deep into Kaye’s alleged relationship with actor Laurence Olivier, hence the hero’s alter-ego, Larry Davis’ femininity and seeming disinterest in his leading lady, June Farrell. To quote another Jewish comedian: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Homoeroticism aside, the point is that it’s sad that the most interesting parts of Funnyman include everything and everyone except the central character, who, well, is pretty much anything but that! For G-d’s sakes, people! His disguise included clown pants and a putty nose to elongate his features; ya know, make it look bigger.
Rounding out the rest of the book are the reprints of the failed original comic books, followed by the failed newspaper strips, where the “funny” in both incarnations of Funnyman was nonexistent.
I mean, there are definitely intriguing, eye-raising points, within the book, but not only are those moments few and far between, but none of the different sections of the book really, well, gel. It’s a big mess.
What a disappointment.
Being a self-proclaimed comic book geek myself, I was really looking forward to learning about the first Jewish superhero.
It’s just really a shame that the authors had such lofty, high-minded ambitions, rather than simply telling the true tale of two Jewish comic book masterminds.
Where’s Michael Chabon (author of one of my all-time favorite books, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) when you need him?
In terms of serious Jewish superheroes, well…
We’ll always have Ragman.
*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of the book for free in the hope that I would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the book for free doesn’t mean that I was obligated to give a glowing review. I wouldn’t recommend anything that I don’t think you’d enjoy. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Blah, blah, blah…