Legendary writer/cartoonist Jules Feiffer was there at the birth of the modern superhero, and he’s got an interesting theory.
Feiffer holds that superheroes represent a projection of the Jewish, New York City liberal tradition. The large majority of the creators of the early superheroes were Jews (Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and Bill Finger, to name only a few), while their characters we’re always Anglo-Saxon Protestants with the least ethnic names imaginable (Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Steve Rogers, etc.). This is consistent with the urge of first generation immigrant-sons to assimilate into the larger American culture.
However, once granted power, instead of pursuing wealth, fame and personal gratification, these uber-WASPs champion the weak and helpless…for free! Superheroes, Feiffer says, behave like a bunch of guilt-ridden Jewish social workers — and this tradition continues through the “silver age” and lingers on into the present day. You doubt Mr. Feiffer? What could be more Jewish than “with great power comes great responsibility”? Excelsior and Oy-vey.
Leave it to genius comedy writer Robert Smigel and animator/director James Dean Conklin to turn the idea of the selfless superhero on its head in “Wonderman” — a segment from Smigel’s Comedy Central “TV Funhouse” series which has been making the film festival rounds. Spoofing Max Fleisher’s classic “Superman” cartoons, Wonderman is a superhero with only one goal: obtaining sex for his secret identity. Far from your usual superheroic altruist, he’ll even commit murder in the pursuit of fleshly pleasures, sending a comely admirer’s boyfriend into outer-space to clear away the competition.
That’s basically all there really is to “Wonderman,” which is a little too “one-joke” even for a two-minute gag. It doesn’t really compare to Smigel’s better known SNL superhero parodies (“The Ambiguously Gay Duo” and “Ex-Presidents”), which had premises complex enough to support several funny cartoons. Or maybe it’s just that barely repressed homosexuality is funnier than rampant heterosexuality.