philadelphia | Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s … Menorah Man? This guy’s a superhero who sports a chanukiah on his chest, who can suddenly grow eight arms and roast villains with flames flying from his 40 fingers.
With a name like Menorah Man and a mission to defend the collective memory of the Jewish people, who else would you hang out with but Minyan Man, Dreidel Maidel, Matzah Woman, Kipa Kid, Shabbas Queen and Magen David?
Nearly four decades ago, 8-year-old Alan Oirich came up with the idea for what eventually has become his comic book about the Jewish Hero Corps. He’d learned that a Jewish classmate in school would be celebrating Christmas instead of Chanukah, and thought of those public-service announcements he’d read so often in comic books. Where heroes like Superman would dispense life lessons, such as not to play with matches.
Oirich thought: Wouldn’t it be great if a superhero could tell Jewish kids it was cool to be into Chanukah? As he explained, “I came up with a few characters and storylines,” but, being a kid, he couldn’t get Marvel or DC Comics interested in the idea.
Today, Oirich, a 46-year-old freelance writer and multimedia producer living in New York, is the proud author of the first issue of Shayach Comics’ Jewish Hero Corps. Judaica Press, a Brooklyn-based book and software company, is publishing the glossy publication, hoping it will serve as an outreach and educational tool for Jewish children ages 6 to 14. Oirich is also promoting the Jewish characters on the Web (at www.jewishsuperhero.com).
But how do you get kids to put down X-Men and pick up a comic about the adventures of Minyan Man, who can, at will, either multiply into 10 men or form one giant 60-foot-tall super-Jew?
“Kids like excitement with conflict and resolution,” said Oirich, adding that his comic book provides these elements. “And it can be exciting without violence.”
He wanted to create a work with a positive message that was also a throwback to an era when comics were more lighthearted in nature, when characters such as The Flash would come into the grasp of a supervillain and would require an adept use of his powers to escape.
These elements enticed veteran comic-book artist Ron Randall, 47, to join the project. Randall, who is not Jewish, lives in Oregon, and has lent his pen to such titles as “Swamp Thing,” “Star Trek Unlimited” and “The Justice League International.”
The premier issue pits Hebrew heroes against enemy robots, called Fobots, who are planning to launch a missile from outer space that will erase Jewish memories, a concept “that is intentionally vague. It can mean whatever you want it to mean.”
Much has been made in recent years of the Jewish connection to the genesis of comic books. Many creators of the original superheroes were Jewish. And Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay,” depicts a pair of Jewish cousins who create a superhero inspired by the mythical Golem of Prague.
Of course, there was the revelation last year that Marvel superhero The Thing is Jewish. But wouldn’t the inclusion of a Jewish character in the famed Fantastic Four seem hipper to a 9-year-old than the idea of Dreidel Maidel and Shabbas Queen saving the universe?
Admitting that the Yiddish term maidel, meaning “young woman,” is a bit antiquated, Oirich said that once he invented it, he couldn’t resist using it.
As for Shabbas Queen, she answers to many names: “Sabbath in English, Shabbas in Yiddish, Shabbat in Hebrew … You can call me whatever you want, just don’t call me after sundown on Friday.’