(RNS) — “Daredevil,” the popular Marvel Comics series, was relaunched this month with a new creative team and several innovations, including a new adversary for its swashbuckling blind superhero that has drawn fire from interfaith scholars.
Starting with a new issue #1, Daredevil, whose civilian identity is Matthew Murdock, is now a Catholic priest in New York City. The nameless new villain, meanwhile, has long horns, a long white beard and a hooked nose — imagery straight out of anti-Jewish Nazi propaganda, the commentators say.
“This illustration draws from an ancient tradition of demonizing Jews in literature and art to portray a clash between good and evil,” said Malka Simkovich, director of Catholic-Jewish studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
“The hooked nose and the beard, as well as the weathered and wrinkled forehead, suggest that the antagonist in question is a demonic rabbi.” It doesn’t help, Simkovich added, that Daredevil is shown fending his enemy off with a cross.
Rabbi A. James Rudin, who recently became the first rabbi granted a knighthood by Pope Francis, called it “repulsive.”
“When I first saw the illustration of Daredevil’s opponent in this new iteration of the comic book hero, I was immediately struck by his resemblance to posters advertising a Nazi propaganda film called “Der Ewige Jude” (“The Eternal Jew”),” said Philip A. Cunningham, director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “One might have hoped that the comic’s creators would have been wary of playing with such hateful imagery in these days of unabashed antisemitic rhetoric.”
When reached by email on Thursday (Oct. 5), “Daredevil” artist Aaron Kuder vigorously objected to any reading of his art as antisemitic. “If you’re comparing my art to that of Nazi propaganda … Well, that’s just insane. Completely laughably insane. Also extremely and utterly insulting,” he wrote in an email.
“I will point out that in the Nazi propaganda that I’m aware of (I’m no expert) dark hair is also a key component. Also, being short in height is a key visual component. Neither of which are components in the villain design … literally any kind of person can have large facial features and long hair. There is no correlation here.”
Explaining that he never comments on ongoing stories, Kuder said he made an exception because he could not stand by and “be even passively lumped in” with other artists previously disciplined by Marvel who “slipped messages of hate past their editors.”
In 2017, fans discovered antisemitic and anti-Christian messages in the pages of “X-Men Gold” #1, inserted by Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf. The company removed the images from subsequent printings, digital versions and trade paperbacks. In 2021, Marvel removed antisemitic imagery from print and digital editions of its “Immortal Hulk” comic after fans noticed a panel with a jewelry store whose name was rendered as “Cronemberg Jewery” with a reverse Star of David in the window.
The comic book site ComicsXF said: “(The) only conceivable interpretation, to put it frankly, is that this is a visual play on the old and antisemitic trope of Jews running the diamond business.” It described the panel as “an incredibly overt antisemitic dog whistle.”
The artist in that case, Joe Bennett, later apologized, calling the panel, “offensive, and hurtful in many ways,” and saying he was “using this lesson to reflect on how I approach my stories and my work.”
Marvel did not respond to requests for comment on the new “Daredevil” villain.
Some see an irony in Marvel’s history, as the superhero comic book industry was founded by Jewish creators almost a century ago out of necessity, when they were discriminated against from working in the mainstream publishing world.
“In the 1930s and 1940s Jewish immigrants in New York were kept out of most respectable industries, so publishers, writers and artists created an industry of their own, comics,” according to comic book expert Roy Schwartz. “They also created its proprietary genre, superheroes. Superhero comics are fundamentally Jewish literature.”
The result was the creation of Superman, Batman, Captain America and Spider-Man — all by Jewish writers and artists.
“Daredevil” was co-created in 1964 by the legendary Jewish Marvel editor Stan Lee, (originally Leiber) with artist Bill Everett, who was Christian.
Daredevil’s Catholicism is a rare case of religion being made explicit in a Marvel scenario, even as the origin of his extraordinary abilities is standard comic book fare.
As a boy, Matt rushes into a busy New York street to save an old man in the path of an out-of-control truck. Matt is struck by radioactive chemicals from the truck and blinded. But the chemicals heighten his remaining senses beyond normal human ability and give him an amazing 360-degree “radar sense.”
As an adult he becomes a lawyer fighting for the underprivileged during the day and at night battling crime as the red-suited Daredevil, also known as “The Man Without Fear.”
His single father, boxer Battlin’ Jack Murdock, is killed by the mob for refusing to throw a fight. His mother is later revealed to be a Catholic nun.
Gerry Gladston, chief marketing and legal officer for Midtown Comics, the industry’s leading retailer of comic books and graphic novels based in New York City, said this week he was unaware of any complaints about the “Daredevil” issue until contacted by Religion News Service but saw it as an educational opportunity.
Simkovich, meanwhile, expressed concern that without response from Marvel, the antisemitic message will continue to be promoted under the reader’s radar.
“Readers who scan these pages will become inculcated and inured to antisemitic tropes without even knowing that it’s happening,” she said. “They will become desensitized to situations in which such demonization presents an immediate danger to the health and wellbeing of Jewish people.”
Not everyone sees the “Daredevil” images as only antisemitic. “The image also seems to pull on anti-Arab imagery,” said Hussein Rashid, an independent scholar whose focus is religion and comics.
“The use of symbols against an adversary or The Adversary is quite common in comics,” said Rashid, adding that “comics, not just Marvel, are replete with images and storylines that continue to reinforce narratives of marginalization.”
Though he admits that the comics companies are improving on this score, “these tropes need to be pointed out.”
(Eric J. Greenberg is an award-winning religion journalist and expert in multifaith relations. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)