(JTA) — Like some Jewish baseball fans, many dedicated Jewish comic book readers keep a running roster of Jewish heroes that have appeared in the “major leagues” of the comic world: Marvel, DC and some independent publishers’ titles.
Many know the handful of often-discussed Jewish characters: The Thing, whose adult bar mitzvah and Jewish wedding were major storylines; the Jewish star-wearing X-Men character Kitty Pryde; one-time Batwoman Kate Kane; and the popular supervillain Harley Quinn, to name a few. Moon Knight recently became the first overtly Jewish character to appear in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, with his own show on Disney+ starring Oscar Isaac.
But not many readers are aware that, for a brief period exactly 20 years ago, the most overtly Jewish of all mainstream superheroes was the Black Panther.
Marvel’s original Black Panther character debuted in the summer of 1966, coincidentally just months before the launch of Bobby Seale and Huey Newton’s political party of the same name. Like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Captain America, the first mainstream Black superhero was created by Jewish comic book legends, in this case the dynamic duo of Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) and Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber).
The Black Panther first appeared in a “Fantastic Four” issue, and is also known as T’Challa, the king and protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a technologically advanced society hidden from the world. T’Challa possessed superhuman abilities, advanced technology and unmatched combat skills, and was considered one of those most brilliant men alive. The character and his storylines explored themes of identity, heritage and the responsibilities that come with power.
At the time of its creation, a strong, positive portrayal of an African superhero that defied stereotypes was a significant milestone in representation and diversity in the comic book industry. The Black Panther’s impact has been far-reaching, inspiring generations of readers as an enduring symbol of Black empowerment and pride.
Flash forward several decades after the character’s debut, and comics creator Christopher Priest was nearing the end of a transformative 60-issue run at the helm of the Black Panther title. Priest was the first Black writer to work full time at either of the big two studios, and his trailblazing reinvention of the character served as the primary inspiration for the two blockbuster movies that have earned acclaim in recent years.
In the final dozen issues of Priest’s “Black Panther” series, the story took a surprising turn. T’challa had vanished and was presumed dead. In his stead, a new Black Panther appears mysteriously on the scene: Kevin “Kasper” Cole, a narcotics officer in the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau.
Cole’s father was born in Uganda, but Kevin lives in a tiny apartment in Harlem with his Korean girlfriend, Gwen, and his Jewish mother, Ruth. Kevin is known as “Kasper” — after the well-known Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon — because, as he puts it:
There once was the greatest cop who ever lived. A proud and noble warrior, someone to be both feared and respected. Jonathan Payton Cole. “Jack” Cole. Called him “Black” Jack because he was so dark. Just like they called his kid “Kasper,” because I was so light.
Meanwhile, Priest modeled Ruth after the mother on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” played by Jewish comedic actress Doris Roberts.
Cole originally “borrows” the Black Panther costume from the home of his boss, Sgt. Tork, an ally of T’challa who had held on to the costume for safekeeping. Cole’s motives were hardly altruistic, as Priest wrote on his blog at the time: “Kasper’s motive is to wear the costume so he won’t be recognized by the good guys or the bad guys as he goes about cleaning up his precinct so he can get a promotion to Detective so he can make enough money to marry his pregnant girlfriend and move them all out of Harlem.”
But what starts out as a side hustle for Cole soon evolves into a hero’s journey. When Cole is discovered by T’challa’s longtime adversary and half-brother, Hunter — AKA The White Wolf — he provides Cole with training, equipment and mentorship in order to use Cole as a proxy to hurt T’challa, who has resurfaced in New York City. The story soon becomes, in Priest’s words, “a war between The Black Panther (T’Challa) and the ‘white panther’ (Hunter) over the soul of this young kid.”
The story doesn’t end there: Cole decides to pursue official Wakandan acceptance as Black Panther by enduring rigorous initiation trials, and he soon receives support from none other than Erik Killmonger (the villain in the first “Black Panther” movie). Killmonger offers Cole a synthetic version of a heart-shaped herb, giving him T’challa-level powers. The series ends when Cole agrees to become an acolyte of the Panther god, Bast, instead of living as an imitator. He assumes a new title, The White Tiger (thereby becoming the second Jewish Marvel hero after Moon Knight to dress all in white and serve at the pleasure of an African deity).
Throughout the series, Cole’s Judaism is not a mere aside. Priest provides numerous examples of a strong Jewish identity: He dreams of his unborn son having a bar mitzvah (where they will serve “Bulgogi and ribs”). He dons a kippah and recites a Hebrew prayer at the grave of his slain friend and boss, Sgt. Tork. Even Erik Killmonger refers to Cole’s Jewish identity as a reason why Cole would identify with the underdog. Cole also proudly mentions his Jewish identity to several other characters in both Black Panther and in Priest’s short-lived follow-up series, “The Crew.”
(Priest originally envisioned the ensemble for “The Crew,” which wound up being mostly Black heroes, to be a much more diverse group, including not only Cole but also the one-time Avenger and New Warrior, Vance Astrovik, AKA Justice. That would have meant an unprecedented two Jewish superheroes on one team.)
One reason why Priest decided to make Cole Jewish could have been his personal familiarity with Jews. Priest himself went to a primary school in a Jewish neighborhood in New York City, where, he writes, “I had absolutely no sense of racism being directed at me… If I had a beef with another boy, it was about whatever it was about—race played absolutely no role… At least half of my friends were white. Right up through middle school, my girlfriend was a little Jewish girl.”
Fabrice Sapolsky, CEO and Founder of FairSquare Comics — which aims to “promote and give more exposure to immigrants, minorities and under-represented creators of the word” — hopes that Cole will not be the last comic character to represent an understanding of Jewish ethnicity beyond the “Ashke-narrative trope.”
“It is the right time for these kinds of stories to emerge,” said Sapolsky, who recently published a book starring an Asian-Jewish protagonist. He said he is also releasing a title soon that features a Black-Jewish heroine.
Cole’s journey has continued in a new series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, over a dozen years after his first appearance (or 1-2 years in “Marvel time”). In the Coates narrative, T’challa convinces Cole to come out of superhero retirement and move to Wakanda. T’challa offers to train and outfit him not as The Black Panther or The White Tiger, but as an entirely new hero, simply known as Kevin Cole. In the most recent issues, he defends Wakanda alongside a veritable who’s-who of Black Marvel superheroes.
“One of the prime directives at Marvel has always been to create characters that resemble the world and people we know, that are around us,” Mike Marts, Priest’s editor on “Black Panther,” said about the groundbreaking representation that a Black-Jewish hero represents. “So making Kevin half-Jewish was most likely a result of collaboration between us (Marvel) and Priest… to create a character that our readers could identify with and relate to.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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