October 10, 2002
Funny, He Doesn’t Look Jewish
"It's clobberin' time!" used to be the Thing's catchphrase -- but now he might be hollering, "It's davenin' time!"
Four decades after his debut in "Fantastic Four" No. 1 (Vol. 1) -- the comic book that single-handedly launched Marvel Comics -- the craggy orange member of the eponymous superhero quartet has been revealed to be Jewish in "Fantastic Four" No. 56 (Vol. 3).
The Thing, a.k.a. Benjamin Jacob Grimm, has always had a Jewish subtext. The creation of writer Stan Lee (né Stanley Lieber) and artist Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzburg), the Thing's cantankerous, wisecracking demeanor was a Kirby surrogate. But while writer-artist John Byrne implied a Jewish heritage in the 1980s, it was never explicit. Until now.
In the recently-released "Fantastic Four" No. 56, writer Karl Kesel sends the Thing back to his old neighborhood (modeled after the mean streets of the immigrant-populated Lower East Side of Kirby's youth). Now an internationally recognized and cosmically mutated superhero, Grimm pays a visit to return a Star of David he stole as a teenage tough from pawn shop owner Mr. Sheckerberg. In the process, he grapples with his Judaism and becomes Sheckerberg's Golem-like protector. Sheckerberg insists that Grimm keep the Magen David as a symbolic connection to his heritage.
"When Karl sent me the [story idea], my reaction wasn't, 'Wait! That's a new Thing.'" Tom Brevoort, the "Fantastic Four's" editor, told The Journal. " My reaction was, 'Oh, of course.'"
In fact, a well-circulated Kirby drawing that hung in the late artist's Thousand Oaks home -- featuring the Thing in yarmulke and tallit, carrying the Torah -- had fed into that assumption.
Response to "Fantastic Four" No. 56 has been very positive. The most negative letter, Breevoort said with a laugh, "was one guy who said, '[the Thing] can't be Jewish. There was a story in 1974 where they celebrated Christmas.'"