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Comic books: European, Jewish, and American

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

The comic book and the comic book film remain remarkably popular—in all age groups—in the contemporary West because, from the start, the comic book was a still film; a comic is a film cut into individual frames—so it is a simple matter, a natural matter, to put the still frames together and make a moving image: the comic is the image, and the image is myth—the poet-shaman, the mythologiser, works in images; and so does today’s comic book. This is why, despite ideological overlays within comic book films, the comic book movie transcends ideology; it remains heroic, the image of the hero cannot be altered—a woman can be cast in a Hercules-type role, yet the myth beneath the script overwhelms the content. This is to restate Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message and the medium of the comic book is: heroism, myth, and adventure.

Yet there are particular aspects of the comic book—especially differences between Europe and America—that need to be excavated to understand the full significance of comic book movies. The contemporary American comic dates from the 1940s, and the characteristic hero of these comics is the masked hero with superpowers. I said that comic books are a myth, but the mythic heroes are generally—though not exclusively—unmasked; they are quite open about who they are and what they are about. In part, the advent of the masked superhero reflects the feminisation of society itself; we live double identities, just as the office worker has secret dreams of rape and murder but politely defers to the office nag lest she file a complaint and cost him his mortgage—the film Fight Club spoke to this very demographic, as do most comic books of double identity.

Further, the double identity also alludes, fairly obviously, to the obscene and violent desires that we must suppress to act in civilised society; we want to smash a car windscreen or carry off a woman from the streets—probably more often than we would like to admit, certainly more often than it is permissible to do in corporate society. The masked hero lives in the underworld, the underworld that exists in every person. These familiar characteristics of our technological and overcivilised world explain the general appeal of the masked superhero from the mid-20th century onwards.

However, it is important to note that the American comic book industry’s archetypal heroes—Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man—were the creation of Jewish writers and illustrators. The masked hero represents the Jewish dilemma in Gentile society, in mid-20th century American society in particular: I am part of the chosen people—I have a hidden superpower—yet I must also keep this secret, otherwise I will be feared, hated, or possibly killed. At the less religious level, in secular terms, Jews made large contributions to American society—think of Einstein and the bomb, Feynman and physics, or the immunologist Salk—yet, at the same time, they were viewed with suspicion and excluded from universities and country clubs. It is important to note—though almost impossible to say today—that some of that suspicion was warranted: the American atom bomb secrets were betrayed by the Rosenbergs and academicians like the Marxists Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse contributed to ideas that undermined the American and, more generally, Western ideal. Since on average Jews enjoy high levels of intelligence—again analogous to a hidden superpower, it cannot be detected from visual inspection as with a physique—and intelligence can arouse envy, the situation again finds a biological analogue to the masked superhero.

This tension is reflected in the villains faced by the masked superheroes, often Indo-Aryan in nature—a reflection of a tension with wider American Gentile society. Superman battles Lex Luthor, whose name recalls the Protestant reformer Martin Luther—author of On the Jews and their Lies and, in many ways, a proto-Hitler. Lex Luthor is literally Luther’s law (lex, in Latin). Luther was, famously, a rabble-rouser, particularly against the Jews; and the National Socialists received their highest vote shares in Lutheran areas of Germany—Hitler spoke to the Lutheran sensibility in an updated form.

Luthor is a Promethean type, engaged in scientific experiment and boundless techno-business expansion; and the Promethean type is typically Indo-Aryan. Superman, a journalist in his normal life—a trade closely associated with the Jews—could be seen as the avatar of the Jewish conscience and mission in the world, to be a signal people against the desire to become as gods and against war-like expansion—the slave-like priestly Judeo-Christian mission Nietzsche warned against, in other words. A great many of the comic book supervillains are of the Luthor type: the mad scientist-cum-billionaire with Faustian desires for limitless expansion. Similarly, the Joker—Batman’s foil—is obviously Loki, the Scandinavian trickster god.

In short, the masked superhero represents the tension that second-generation Jewish immigrants felt as they lived in an America that—especially before and during the Second World War—regarded them sceptically, if not with outright hostility. The somewhat campy feel of the masked superhero comes about because, as with the Jews, homosexuals were, up until the late 1960s, another group with hidden “superpowers” that had to be concealed—as gay liberation became more powerful, the comic books began to feel less campy; everything was out of the closet now.

In the 1980s, the leftist British comic book writer Alan Moore produced a series called Watchmen that reinvented the masked superhero. The series is generally credited with a switch in register for English-language comics into a more mature form, and it spawned the term “graphic novel”—an attempt to assert that the comic could be as psychologically sophisticated as an actual novel, the queen of the arts.

In the alternate universe imagined by Moore, President Nixon passes a law that forces superheroes to unmask, register with the government, and retire—so protecting legitimate state authority; the police disliked, in this reality, competition from super-vigilantes. Only a Gentile writer could have done this: the idea that the masked heroes should be unmasked and registered—by the government, by Nixon no less—was the fictional equivalent of Hitler’s Star of David patches. While Watchmen is not sympathetic to Nixon—Moore being a leftist—it accidentally breaks a taboo around the masked hero, quite innocently; for Moore, as an Englishman, the mask carried no special weight; and to unmask the hero was simply an attack on America’s clean-cut image, since it allowed him to introduce alcoholism, rape, and domestic violence—the messy and ambiguous private world—into an arena where characters had previously been one-dimensional “good people” or “solid citizens”.

The masked superhero was, for the Jewish writers and illustrators, a form of psychic protection: the worst thing that can happen to a masked superhero is to be unmasked; and, of course, the worst situation for a Jew in a Gentile society is to be identified as a Jew as such; since, as a market-dominant minority—as with the Boers in South Africa and the Chinese in Indonesia—identification of Jews as Jews would lead to immediate envy and suspicion, perhaps some of which would be legitimate. Consequently, it was only the English Moore who could unmask the superheroes; it is significant that he used a fictional Nixon to do so, since Nixon was known for his highly ambivalent comments about the Jews: in his Watergate tapes, Nixon claimed that it is not possible to trust the Jews in general—Henry Kissinger, one of his lieutenants, excepted. Moore’s choice of Nixon was probably unconscious—motivated more by Nixon’s status as a hate-figure for the left—but it is still significant. Moore effectively imagined a world where Nixon snapped and ordered America’s Jews to be registered and unmasked.

The reason why Moore’s comics are seen to have made comic books “more mature” or “grown up” is that he carried out an act of integration. His superheroes are unmasked; in other words, his heroes are integrated: their underworld and overworld become one and the same—and this is a mark, in Jungian terms, of integration and full maturity.

Moore sits at an intersection between European and American comics. Yet European comic books—even the British school—differ from the American; and, indeed, American comic books from the 1940s onwards were widely regarded as too violent and pornographic for children—perhaps again a recapitulation of differences in moral and aesthetic sensibilities between Gentiles and Jews. In Britain, comics divided into slapstick humour for children and “war stories with pictures”; the masked crusader is a distinctly American-Jewish idea, largely absent from Europe for obvious psychic reasons. Attempts to replicate masked heroes from Europe, such as Captain Britain, fell flat and even the popular masked character Judge Dredd is simply permanently masked—he never takes his helmet off; but this means that his public and private identity are one and the same, he is always Dredd; to always wear a mask is, in effect, never to wear a mask.

On the continent, comics grew more sophisticated, the French Moebius and his alchemical representations approach high art; the Franco-Belgium cowboy Blueberry provides a Western flavour largely absent from American comics; Italy provides the supernatural detective Dylan Dog and the seafarer-adventurer Corto Maltese, a figure reminiscent of Conrad or The Count of Monte Cristo.

But it is the Catholic Hergé and his “boy-reporter” Tintin that remain the archetypal European comic and a foil to the American-Jewish tradition. Let us explore two of his late works, circa the 1960s, in a little depth: Flight 714 and Tintin in Tibet. Late in his career, Hergé was dogged by white dreams; he saw a Jungian therapist, and was urged to explore the whiteness; in response, he producedTintin in Tibet. In this story, Tintin rescues an old Chinese friend from the high plateaus of Tibet after a plane crash—although everyone says his friend is long dead, Tintin dreams that he is alive and he literally follows his dreams into the mountains. Tintin is dubbed “the Great Heart” by the Buddhist monks he meets in Tibet; unlike Hollywood, Hergé presents a positive vision of Shambhala—the sacred hidden mountain kingdom.

Hergé sent his character to Tibet in search of whiteness, long taken to mean symbolic purity in the Hindoo tradition: Tintin embodies the spiritual purity of whiteness. In the monastery, Tintin is given a yellow scarf; in Buddhism, yellow is the highest colour—it is the colour of purity and enlightenment, of Buddhahood. This matches his designation as “the Great Heart”; the heart is the seat of the sacred in esotericism, the intuition Jung spoke of is located in the heart—and this is related to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary. In other adventures, Tintin refuses to kill and only uses minimal violence, a characteristic of those initiates that seek the Holy Grail, another connection with the primordial spiritual traditions of Europe. Hence, in Tibet, Tintin adventures in the peaks and, at last, finds his lost friend in a cave—another symbol for the heart and initiation. He saves his Chinese friend, a representation of a spiritual reconciliation between East and West of the sort supported by C.G. Jung and Hermann Hesse.

In Flight 714, Tintin and his friends are invited to travel on a private business jet that belongs to the multi-millionaire Laszlo Carreidas. The figure of Carreidas is a caricature of the French-Jewish aviation tycoon Marcel Dassault—whose business serves the French armed forces to this day. The Dassault family remain pivotal to French and European politics; in early 2021, Marcel Dassault’s grandson—a French politician, among other activities—was killed in a helicopter crash and it was international news. Carreidas is depicted as a hypochondriac; cheap, he dresses so badly that he is mistaken for a tramp; petty, he uses CCTV to cheat at an in-flight game of Battleships; and also cruel, dishonest, and villainous.

When his aircraft is hijacked by an old nemesis of Tintin and diverted to a tropical island, Carreidas is given a truth serum in an attempt to extract his Swiss bank account numbers—the serum merely causes him to confess a litany of petty cruelties; his first, a false accusation of theft against a family maid as a child. In the end, Carreidas, the hostage and nominal victim, is in a competition with the comic’s putative villain as to who is “more evil”. This depiction of Carreidas-Dassault reflects Hergé’s uncomfortable relationship with Jewish influence in Europe; after all, the main Dassault fighter jet is called “the Mirage”—perhaps the Dassault family works mainly by illusion. Carreidas’s personal assistant is a servile Englishman; his relationship to Carreidas reflects the position of Anglo-American interests in relation to the Jews—at least so far as European conservatives like Hergé are concerned.

Eventually Tintin and his friends rescue Carreidas, but they are forced to flee a volcano that has erupted on the island; they are then psychically guided on an escape route that takes them underground to a complex built by “ancient astronauts”, here they meet a journalist who has been in contact with UFOs and knows psychic communication. Tintin and his friends are then whisked off by a UFO—naturally, the aliens wipe the memories of Tintin and his friends afterwards. This theme—ancient aliens, psychic communication, and UFOs—recapitulates elements of European Gnostic and esoteric thought that links the Indo-Aryans to the giants of the Bible, the Nephilim—and, indeed, to Tibet and the “Hidden Masters”. This remains a touchy topic, even today, and popularisers of such ideas, such as the amiable stoner Graham Hancock, come under suspicion of “racism” when such ideas are discussed. The reason for this is that similar Gnostic ideas were held by the National Socialists and, in particular, Himmler’s SS.

It is my view that these comics—European comics in general—represent a more integrated and artistic approach to popular visual art, a sort of spiritual tradition, that is characteristically European and quite different to the more commercial American-Jewish comic book tradition that represents, in part, the concerns of an ethnic minority in negotiation with its position as an alien group in another nation. Hence the American-Jewish comic book tradition is more amenable to adaptation by the universal medium of Hollywood, itself a site of considerable Jewish influence, and speaks more loudly—if not so deeply—than the European.

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