The comic book superhero genre is one of the great American art forms of the 20th century, its impact on popular culture is immense and it continues to thrive through other media such as blockbuster movie franchises and video games, not to mention a new generation of comics and graphic novels.
It is widely acknowledged that the Golden Age of comic books was pioneered by Jewish Americans which included the likes of DC’s Superman by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster or Marvel’s legendary writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby who were behind some of the most enduring, iconic superhero characters to date; Spiderman, Captain America and the Hulk to name but a few.
Amid the rise of Fascism in Europe and the Second World War, many of the superheroes became metaphors of the Jewish experience facing anti-Semitism and the Holocaust with characters having to live with dual or hidden identities in order to assimilate in a society that would otherwise shun them, as with the X-Men.
Although described as secular, Stan Lee is quoted as having once stated: “To me, you can wrap all of Judaism up in one sentence, and that is, ‘Do not do unto others…’ All I tried to do in my stories was to show that there’s some innate goodness in the human condition. And there’s always going to be evil; we should always be fighting evil.”
While many of these comic books dealt with upholding morality and goodness in the face of evil, they have also served as propaganda in times of war, particularly from the Second World War, through to the Cold War to present-day’s conflicts post-9/11.
The most recent expression of the latter case appeared abruptly on social media over the weekend, when the US-based, pro-Israel advocacy organisation StandWithUs posted an image on Twitter of an idealised Israeli superhero named after the state’s air defence system – the Iron Dome. Replete with the Star of David symbol on his chest, the masked figure also donned the blue and white of the Israeli flag.
🇮🇱🇮🇱🇮🇱 Introducing, a new Israeli superhero: Iron Dome, the protector/defender of Israel. We love it! #irondome10 🇮🇱🇮🇱🇮🇱
— StandWithUs (@StandWithUs) May 30, 2021
Describing the superhero as a “protector/defender” of Israel, the image was credited to an Instagram post belonging to Israeli actress and singer Sarai Givaty who said the artwork was designed by webcomic artist Yehuda Devir, who along with his wife Maya both served in the Israeli military and frequently depict their everyday married life together in his comics.
However, given the global backlash against Israel’s military attacks against Gaza and its colonial policies in occupied-East Jerusalem and the West Bank, this PR stunt also appears to have failed amid widespread ridicule by other users.
Such was the online fallout, that it’s safe to say that Iron Dome got “ratioed”. This is when replies to a tweet vastly outnumber likes or retweets, generally indicative that people are objecting to the tweet’s content.
While the original tweet received just over 3,000 likes at the time of writing, one user replied with an image of a Palestinian superhero by Brazilian-Lebanese cartoonist Carlos Lattuf, which has so far garnered over 40,000 likes.
ratio'd by the Palestinian hero pic.twitter.com/OgmMs58g9c
— Bes D. Marx (@BesDMarx) May 30, 2021
A similar post referred to “Captain Palestine” as being the superior hero.
Ratio’d by a better superhero pic.twitter.com/BwmFlkC3qC
— Mohamed Enieb (@its_menieb) May 31, 2021
As one user pointed out, the group had previously worked on a similar Israeli superhero called Captain Israel, created by American comic book illustrator and historian Arlen Schumer. According to an interview in 2015, this superhero fights against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
So was Captain Israel here not hardcore enough for y'all that ya needed a brand new Israeli apartheid mascot? pic.twitter.com/w5WNdrxRBj
— Lauptrapta 🔞 | (@SheRaIsAllISee1) May 30, 2021
While another highlighted the appearance of an Israeli superheroine called Sabra in a Hulk comic, as the latter tried to negotiate a peace settlement between Palestinians and Israelis.
Its all been done. pic.twitter.com/K8X8szrTJ5
— Angry Son (@3rdimpactjamz) May 30, 2021
Some people ironically found that the “superhero” actually had a closer resemblance to an archetype super villain.
absolutely hilarious that this guy is 100% a villain based on his face and stature https://t.co/KE3daEROL1
— even the iron still fears the rot (@real_cultleader) May 30, 2021
Highlighting the disparity in military capabilities and the Israeli military’s track record of deliberate targeting of children, this user asked if Iron Dome’s nemesis is a stone-throwing child.
There was also some debate as to what Iron Dome’s superpowers or special abilities might be
His superpowers are to bomb hospitals.
And cry antisemitism when told he is stealing land. https://t.co/q540zL2qNc
— ⏳ (@gIoIous) May 31, 2021
However, it would seem that an over-dependence on American protection is a double-edged sword according to this user
His superpower is relying on Captain America's superpower. That is also his weakness. https://t.co/nBoGCxejkr
— Alejandro Argandona (@Toshi_TNE) May 30, 2021
The humour aside, one user argued this entirely fantasy character would simply be no match for the very real and historic heroes such as Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib and Saladin Al-Ayubi who famously broke the siege of Khaybar and liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders, respectively.
Judging by the responses so far, it would appear that Iron Dome should in fact be classified as a reviled super villain rather than a much-loved superhero. He also seems to be disconnected from the oppression and persecution that so inspired the classic superheroes created by Jewish comic writers and artists of the past. I somehow doubt Stan Lee would approve.