Friday, September 28, 2007

Anti-Semitic Comment In "Countdown" #32?

The DC Message Boards have been buzzing with a discussion over whether the following words from the "Countdown" #32 backup story are a slur against Jews (here's the whole post by "phanboy216" for context):

I'm not normally sensitive about stuff like this but did anyone read the Eclipso origin this week? Something jumped out at me that really bugs me.

In the second panel, the narrative says "As the Old Testament gave way to the fairer and more balanced God of the New..."

Is DC saying that the Christians worship a better God than those who only believe in the Old Testament (like Jews)?

First, it's an ignorant statement - it's the same God

Second, even if unintentional, DC should give more thought when tying religious issues into comics.

Third - and this just makes me laugh, they make God sound like Fox News ("Fair and balanced"?!?!)

I know it's just a poorly-written 2-page story that is trying to explain 40 years of ridiculously convoluted continuity, but I just wanted to at least raise the point that DC writers need to be more sensitive and DC editors need to do their jobs...

another poster, "rsokolic," wrote,

"More importantly for DC Comics (although perhaps less so for the rest of the world), the page associates Eclipso, who has always been identified as a villain in the DC universe, with the Hebrew Bible, and the Specter, who has always been identified as a hero, with the Greek Bible.

The implication is that Judaism (at least ancient Judaism) was villainous and Christianity (at least ancient Cristianity) heroic. This is about as clearly anti-Semitic as one can be - saying Jews bad, Christians Good. This seems much closer to teh type of racial anti-Semitism that was the foundation for the Holocaust. In this conception, it is not merely that the Jewish faith, or the Jewish God is bad, but that Jews themselves are less good than Christians.

This is about as bad as the old portrayals of Wing and Pieface in the '40's, '50's and '60's. Julie Schwartz must be turning ovrer in his grave (Not to mention the Spectre's creator, Jerry Siegel, or Joe Schuster, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby or the other followers of a less fair and balanced God who created the comics industry).

Interestingly, this issue was published during the 10 days of Repentence, when Jews ask for foregivenness from those who we have harmed (part of the rituals ordained by our unfair and imbalanced God). Perhaps the writer and editor of this two page back up, or even the Senior Vice-President and Executive Editor on behalf of his staff, should make a suitable show of contrition or regret for this slur"

Was this short bit of narration anti-Semitic? Or, as other posters on the DC Message Board commented, is the original poster just being too sensitive & PC?

First of all, the idea of a "New" and "Old" Testament is Christian in nature. Jews refer to their sacred books as the Tanakh, and academics refer to them as the "Hebrew Bible."

So right off that bat, if you want to make comparisons between different characters in your comic and you put the Old & New Testaments in there, you're already sort of in the danger zone in terms of offending someone.

If the symbolism was indeed there in this "Countdown" story that evil Eclipso = Old Testament and Good Spectre = New Testament, then you've got some problems. But I haven't read the issue so I'm just going off of what I have heard.

As for whether it's a slur or just a lot of PC bellyachin', what do you think of this "BC" cartoon (published on Easter/last day of Passover):

Is this cartoon saying that Christianity has replaced Judaism? Or that even the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus? Or is this just a cartoon about cavemen who apparently have menorahs and elegant glassware?

It's verrrrry complicated. We tended not to use overt religious stuff in our books at DC. This is why.


  1. The old testament was a lot more "fire and brimstone" in general. All of the various religions that use either bible tend to interpret each in their own way anyway, so saying the old testament is stupid (for example) wouldn't really be directed to anyone.

    The internet is full of a bunch of whiny bitches really, so we get this stuff.

    Thanks for the heads up on the discussion though. Personally I always thought having the God figure in DC comics (related mostly through the Spectre) was kind of odd.

  2. Hold on, you're saying that the Spectre's a good guy? When did that happen, and why did no-one tell David Lapham?

  3. 1) I guess the Eclipso comment could be reflecting the fact that Judaism was all about The Law and Christianity is the next step beyond that but it hardly seems a concept to put in a comic much less in so few words.

    2) This is why two page stories suck. I doubt the writer intended to offend but he had to boil down concepts so far that whiny bitches could latch on to it for their daily dose of outrage.

  4. I don't really have a comment for the Eclipso part, other than I don't know how much "fairer and more balanced" the New Testament is. The God portrayed in it is a little bit nicer, but I don't know if that makes it "fairer and more balanced". The Old Testament is stories and laws and history and love songs to God. The New Testament is the story of a new way to live, The Way through Christ, and then people's personal reflections on trying to live that life. And then Revelation, which is basically a for-the-time, Christmas Carol (not a prediction of the far, far, faaaaar future, as some people read it nowadays).

    As for the B.C. comic, it may be anti-Semitic, as it is rumored the B.C. creator (who has now passed) became a very staunch fundamentalist and conservative Christian in his later years. I think it's more saying Judiasm naturally progressed into Christianity, as that's what many early Christian's felt. They weren't trying to not be Jews, they were just Jews for Jesus. Jews are what they were, Christ was just what they believed in. First they remembered their relationship with God with Hanukkah and now we remember it through Communion. And then the last panel is remember that the wine we drink in communion is the blood of Jesus who died and rose again as proof that this world, for all it's evils, can not kill Love.

    Sorry that went on so long. And I love your blog. I think it's really great.

  5. Well, on one hand, I don't think you can equate criticism of a religion with least in theory. On the other, it is a pretty clear endorsement of Christianity, which I think is a problem you'll bump into every so often. On the third, & final hand, you do find much less bears-eating-rowdy-children & plagues-of-frogs or what have you. Viewed as literature, this discussion becomes much less controversial. Of course, asking to view the Bible as myth & literature is controversial in & of itself (more is the shame).

  6. The B.C. comic? Well I think it shows that the artist can't count.

    Seriously though, that text does sound anti-semitic to me, or at least anti-jewish. "Semitic" can refer to all the ancient people from the middle-east, not one religion per se.

    But anyway, it can be racial, Mordicai, since the jews are not only a religion but also of the same ethnic group. But it seems this is referring to the religion only and does not mention "jews" explicitly. Either way, its another way that religion makes people idiots.

  7. Look here, I'm the kind of liberal, lapsed Jew who, when I noted Yom Kippur on the calender this month, went "Jee-sis Christ, am I glad I stopped observing that one." See, I've got a sense of humor, and context is important.

    Whether or not it was intended as satire (who wrote it?) the text is inappropriate fodder for an innocuous origin story from the back of DC's very mainstream weekly serial.

    As I recall, John Ostrander ran with allusions made by fellow Jew Keith Giffen and his pal Robert Loren Fleming in casting Eclipso as the personification of Adonai's pre-Noahite vengeance. As I recall, Eclipso overstepped his boundaries with the flood and was cast aside in favor of the Spectre, effectively scapegoating Ha'Shem's most genocidal act in scripture. At the coming of Christ, it was decided that as with Jesus, the vengeful agent of G-d should have its essence tied to a mortal host to better relate to the human condition.

    Since Christians were far more invested in that aspect of the Bible than Jews had been since well before "the Messiah" was an itch in Mary's drawers, I had no trouble with the Spectre's mythology being co-opted from his Jewish creators. However, none of the above was really commentary on my faith so much as playing with the toys of popular Christian myth. This asinine remark from Countdown, on the other hand, is nothing but.

    Speaking of which, exactly how fucking "fire and brimstone" can my God be when my people don't even have a "Hell?" The closest thing we had was Sheol, a shithole where the unloved got their bodies tossed. As with the Christian misinterpretation of "sin," its reference is more about living your life like you belong in a cesspool rather than the sadistic shit people tapped into when they made a theological club sandwich out of every faith in the region.

  8. My question is, when do they show Black Adam saying "Allah Ackbar!" after killing someone and be done with it?

    Between the gender/sexual politics going on lately, and now an obvious religious insensitivity, the question is, is the DC editorial staff a bunch of nerdy fratboys, or are they realy just that clueless? And which is better?

  9. I haven't seen the issue in question yet, but couldn't the phrase "fairer and more balanced" be a sneering allusion to Fox News? In other words, could it not have been sarky rather than serious? Who's narrating?

  10. It was idiotic to refer to the Old/New testament. The could have just referred to them as "The Spirit of Wrath" and "The Spirit of Vengence" without distinguishing between different parts of the bible.

    That being said, I suspect it was less meant to be a slur, and is just ignorance of the writer/editors of the weight of their statements. Of course, this doesn't make it right.

  11. Its not even valid Christian theology: it's street-level Marcionism (Christian Heresy), where the Old and New testaments have two different Gods.

    I always like to point out that Jesus said more about Hell in the Gospels than anything the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures ever said.

    But avoiding the topic in comics seems like a smarter policy.

  12. >Viewed as literature, this discussion becomes much less controversial. Of course, asking to view the Bible as myth & literature is controversial in & of itself (more is the shame).<

    This is true. If you ignore (as one should) that people believe the texts of these books to be true, the notes on the two gods are both accurate and appropriate. (Yes, the god of the New Testament is indeed fairer and more balanced than that of the Old Testament; for instance, no people are the god's chosen in the latter text.)

    There is no reason to read this as an issue of hate. It's a question of literary accuracy.

  13. KarenR- it is true that there is a degree of overlap between "Judaism" & "Jewish" that is very tightly interwoven, but crying "racism!" at discussions of religion is, I think, a bit much. Mind you, I'm not endorsing the statement: heck, I think making the Spectre (& Eclipso) tied to Judeo-Christian "God" is a bad idea-- I liked the pop-culture "God" that has previously been used. The faceless Power, you know?

    I guess what I'm saying is that the statement is from a Christian perspective. That doesn't make it outright offensive. It does, however, mean that it is hardly representative. It DOES mean that it participates in ethnocentrism. The Christian American perspective is given credence here & that IS disappointing. Anti-Semetic? I don't think so, but it certainly isn't encouraging of diversity. A case of shutting down stories, rather than opening them.

    More importantly...people are still reading those "Origin of..." in the back of Countdown!? Now THAT is shocking.

    (PS props to PDuggie).

  14. The God of the new testament introduces us to the idea of eternal torment, which might just be the most evil idea anyone has ever had, ever.

    Of course, Jews, at least, don't buy for a second that the Christian God is their God. That's the Christian belief, not the Jewish belief.

    And frankly, all the evidence is on the Jewish side, IMHO.

    There's the Christian invention of original sin (complete poppycock, from the Jewish perspective) and the idea that humans cannot achieve forgiveness on their own (again, complete nonsense in terms of the Scriptures, which outline plenty of ways) or that blood sacrifices are necessary to mollify an angry god (human sacrifice is explicitly forbidden, and blood sacrifices are the least important and most trivial of all methods of washing away sin, and they are done away with in Judaism regardless). And so on. Plop that down on top of Jesus' utter failure to fulfill any of the ACTUAL signs of the messiah, and we're definitely talking about some pretty incompatible theology.