Super­man Isn’t Jew­ish (But I Am…Kinda)

Jim­my Bemon; Emi­lie Boudet, illus.

  • Review
By – November 19, 2018

While rec­on­cil­ing faith and moder­ni­ty is noth­ing new in Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture, it is not often explored in comics. The recent­ly released graph­ic nov­el Super­man Isn’t Jew­ish (But I Am… Kin­da) is an excep­tion. This seri­ous but charm­ing account is about a boy named Ben­jamin whose infat­u­a­tion with liv­ing a Jew­ish life sours as he grows old­er; the book fol­lows the small steps he takes to return to those ele­ments of Judaism that are most mean­ing­ful to him. The book’s title is a bit mis­lead­ing — there aren’t any Super­man hero­ics here. Rather, Super­man is a coun­ter­point, an arche­type of Jew­ish cre­ativ­i­ty and influ­ence (after all, his cre­ators were Jews).

Ben­jamin is a pre­co­cious French child with a love of pop cul­ture. Although raised in an inter­faith fam­i­ly, he clings to the Jew­ish roots of his father, who tells him that all great men are Jew­ish.” Though the themes of the book are quite seri­ous, the tone is not. Bemon and Boudet inject humor in their words and images, and in the style of bande dess­inée, they don’t focus on the grim­ness that seems to have infect­ed main­stream Amer­i­can comics. While Benjamin’s repu­di­a­tion of Judaism sets up the emo­tion­al stakes, his exploits are often com­i­cal, and typ­i­cal of any ado­les­cent try­ing to find his place in the world. The book is frank about Benjamin’s sex­u­al jour­ney; the iden­ti­fy­ing mark­er of his Jew­ish man­hood is a source of embar­rass­ment in his younger years. But the sto­ry nev­er veers into tru­ly dark ter­ri­to­ry. Boudet’s win­some art­work rein­forces the lighter aspects of the book, but is also deft enough to car­ry the emo­tion­al weight of Benjamin’s journey.

The need to con­ceal and come to terms with one’s role in the world is at the cen­ter of Super­man Isn’t Jew­ish—like Clark Kent’s dou­ble life as a hum­ble reporter and a galaxy-mov­ing hero. Though at times the protagonist’s motives come off as a bit shal­low, his inter­nal con­flict is some­thing that all read­ers will recognize.

Discussion Questions