Ben Grimm is one of the classic Jewish heroes of Marvel Comics, and the book confirming that identity sheds light on why it’s so important.
Ben Grimm, also known as The Thing, has always been one of Marvel’s most important and powerful heroes. From the beginning, he has been a character saddled with the classic curse of the monster with a beautiful heart. He has always been a tragic character that struggled with self-acceptance and persecution for what he is. This is an excellent metaphor not only for people who have struggled with feeling comfortable in their own skin but also for those who have faced discrimination and bigotry based on their culture or ethnicity.
In Fantastic Four #56 (by Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen), The Thing revisits his old neighborhood, Yancy Street, to see an old pawn shop owner whom he knew as a child, Mr. Shekerberg. In his youth, Ben was a street thug and ran with the Yancy Street Gang. To prove himself, he stole a very special star of David from Sheckerberg, and he has returned to give it back. Of course, comic book antics ensue and during a fight with a supervillain, the old man becomes injured. Thinking he may be dead, Ben recites the Jewish last rights over him in Hebrew.
Ben Grimm’s Jewish Heritage is a Key Part of His Character
Luckily Mr. Sheckerberg is no worse for wear and the two have a heartfelt conversation about their shared Judaism. The Thing explains that, while he is not ashamed of his Jewish heritage, he does not advertise it as he doesn’t want to add any fuel to anti-Semitism, believing himself to be a monster. Sheckerberg recalls the Jewish myth of the Golem, a creature made of clay and brought to life through magic. The Golem is a protector, not a monster, as Sheckerberg points out after chastising Ben for not remembering the proper date of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement.
Relating Ben to the Jewish Golem is an apt comparison, and it is used well in this story. Like the Golem, Ben Grimm is a force of safety and protection. He is a guardian of those weaker than himself. The Golem’s role as a servant is also an appropriate comparison for The Thing. He is a hero which, by its nature, is a role of servitude. Although he isn’t a mindless automaton like the Golem, Ben Grimm’s position as a relatable, regular person thrust into extreme circumstances demonstrates the potential for heroism in all of us, no matter our humble origins.
Ben Grimm is a Highly-Relatable Protector
In many ways, the Thing acts as an avatar for the reader. He is an Everyman, a blue-collar guy who finds himself keeping company with super scientists and gods. Through his perspective fans can see themselves, and how we might behave in the outlandish situations so common in comic book storytelling. This especially important for Jewish fans to see that kind of positive representation.
Ben Grimm is a man with a good heart whose greatest fears are his own demons. It is for this reason that he struggles so much with his monstrous appearance and why, like all of us, he simply wants inner peace and to be loved. Luckily he has recently found such love in his marriage to the blind sculptor, Alicia Masters, and the Hero community. It’s this community involvement and his role as a protector, that is intrinsic to his Jewish identity, which truly makes him one of Marvel’s most successful heroes.