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Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics

September 15, 2006 - January 28, 2007

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As Michael Chabon made clear in his Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the work of comic artists in the 1940's was inextricably linked to the socio-political realities of America at the time. At this moment, young artists, primarily immigrants in urban realms from Cleveland to New York City were pioneering the creation of the comic book. This mode of art-making and story telling would become one of the most popular visual genres of all time.

With the creation of superheroes and super villains, these artists and writers not only reflected their own experience as immigrants--frequently Jewish immigrants from European countries--but explored the very real battles of good and evil that were being fought internationally during WWII. Superheroes who echoed characters from Greek mythology and biblical narratives now came to life in the pages of comic books to fight Hitler. The young comic book creators, often keenly aware of their own sense of cultural marginalization, struggled to define themselves in terms of mainstream American culture. By extension, they created characters whose identities largely reflected this aspect of the immigrant experience. Superheroes were almost exclusively characters whose alter-egos were ordinary, even shy and distanced people. Once transformed into their superhero, special power-endowed selves, these characters fought to right the ills of the world, often ills they had witnessed first hand. These powerful figures came to secure truth and justice the American way--forging an Americanness that was extremely important for many of these immigrant children and immigrant artists.

The Jewish Museum will explore these themes in Superheroes Sept 15, 2006-January 28, 2007. Over 70 works and artifacts from the golden age of comic books (1938-1950) will be on display. The exhibition will showcase the work of fifteen Jewish comic book artists and writers from this era, including Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel who created Superman and Bob Kane and Bill Finger who created Batman. The Exhibition is curated by Jerry Robinson, who joined the Batman team in 1939 and is credited both with creating the infamous villain, Joker, and giving name to boy wonder, Robin, among many other significant achievements.

Works by

Will Eisner
Lou Fine
Bill Finger
Irwin Hasen
Bob Kane
Jack Kirby
Joe Kubert
Mort Meskin
Emanuel (Mac) Raboy
Fred Ray
Jerry Robinson
Alex Schomburg
Joe Shuster
Jerry Siegel
Joe Simon


Fred Ray
drawing for cover of Superman #14
(published January/February 1942)
Collection of Jerry Robinson
© 1942 DC Comics
Superman ™ and © DC Comics
All Rights Reserved
Used with Permission



Fred Ray
Superman, drawing for cover of Action Comics #44
(published January 1942)
Collection of Jerry Robinson
© 1942 DC Comics
Superman ™ and © DC Comics
All Rights Reserved
Used with Permission



Jerry Robinson
Batman and Robin ("A Crime a Day"),
drawing for cover of Detective Comics #71
(published January 1943)
Collection of Jerry Robinson
© 1943 DC Comics
Batman, Robin and the Joker ™ and © DC Comics
All Rights Reserved
Used with Permission


Jerry Robinson
Original concept sketch for the Joker, 1939
Collection of Jerry Robinson
Joker ™ and © DC Comics. All Rights Reserved
Used with Permission

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The Jewish Museum - 5th Avenue
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York NY 10128

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