With Great Chutzpah Comes Great Responsibility: IS THE THING REALLY JACK KIRBY?

In 2002, forty one years after his first appearance, Benjamin Jacob Grimm, AKA The Thing, was revealed to be Jewish. Wooohooo! I have Yiddish pride gushing through my Semitic pores. The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing was created in 1963 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee; both members of the tribe. Kirby also co-created the legendary characters Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers, The Hulk, The X-Men, The Black Panther, and many more. Grimm’s character was inspired by Kirby’s life. Grimm is a stocky, stubborn, cigar-smoking, tough guy who has a heart of gold; just like Kirby.

GRIMM AND KIRBY grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Jew-iest place ever to exist in America. The Lower East Side was one of the densest neighborhoods on the planet with around a quarter million people squished into every square mile. Between 1880 and 1915, over 2 million Jews fled to America from Russia and Eastern Europe to escape pogroms and anti-Semitism. Most of those Jews moved to the Lower East Side. Families who lived there were so poor, they often had to cramp as many as 10 people into one bedroom tenements (apartments).

Grimm lived at 7135 Yancy Street, probably inspired by the real Delancey Street. You can take a trip to the Lower East Side and walk the same streets on which Grimm spent his youth causing trouble. You can visit Essex St., where Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg on August 25, 1917, and then walk to the Suffolk Street tenements he grew up at.

I recently took a trip with my niece and girlfriend to Katz’s Delicatessen on East Houston St. I ordered a ridiculously overpriced bowl of matza ball soup and a pastrami sandwich while wondering if Kirby had ever ordered the same meal. I imagined Grimm bickering with the dude behind the register about the price, right before informing him “IT’S CLOBBERING TIME!

GRIMM AND KIRBY both ran the streets, eventually joining the gangs that controlled them. Back in the day, most every street in the Lower East Side had its own gang. Grimm was a member of the Yancy Street Gang; Kirby was a member of the Suffolk Street Gang. Gangs served as social organizations and they also fought (a lot), normally with the gangs from other streets. “Fighting became second nature,” Jack said. “I began to like it.” Some of the kids would strive to become real gangsters, but Kirby and Grimm just fought and did a few minor crimes. Sadly, Grimm’s brother Daniel, who he idolized, died in a gang fight when Grimm was 8.

Both yearned to get out of the ghetto, and were willing to fight to do so. Kirby was determined to escape using his art. Kirby’s father, an immigrant from Austria who was a garment worker, saved for his son to attend the Pratt Institute. When the depression hit, Kirby’s father lost his job and the money he saved had to be used to support the family. Kirby’s anger and determination fueled him as he worked all day and drew throughout the night. Like Grimm, Kirby was always willing to fight; his fight was often to survive.

Grimm escaped the ghetto using his skills as a football player to earn a full scholarship to Empire State University (a Jewboy playing football, got a problem with that?). At college, he met his good friend “Stretcho”, Reed Richards- the teenage genius who later became Mr. Fantastic. While at school, Grimm also met some dude named Victor Von Doom.  Grimm was more than just an angry meathead, he earned numerous advanced degrees. After graduating, he joined the United States Marine Corps, later becoming an astronaut for NASA. When Thing made it to outer space, he could be seen as symbolic of Jews in America. Grimm left the ghetto, but also left much of his identity behind. It can be interpreted as how the upward mobility of Jews in America often comes at a cost.

KIRBY ADMITTED “I think anger will save your life. I think anger will give you a drive that will save your life and change it in some manner.” He put all his rage into his drawings. Kirby used his characters to destroy real life villains; through his characters, he beat the crap out of scumbags, fascists, and nailed Hitler directly in the jaw! When Kirby and Lee created the Fantastic Four, the anger and angst between the team made the comic stand out. Thing was a hero who fought with his own teammates and was self-loathing. Grimm was part of the first heroes who were not perfect pretty boys and wonder women. Grimm was angry at Reed, angry at villains, and angry at a society that judged him.

Next Issue:  The Saga Continues!  We will look at what Thing’s acceptance of his Jewish heritage says about the state of Judaism and the comic industry!  Yaaaaay!  See you in two weeks.


From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books by Arie Kaplan 

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerald Jones



Jay Deitcher, LMSW(@mrdeitcher) embraces the term MUTANT and proudly represents his MUTANT brothers and sisters.  He is an educator on comic history and runs successful Free Comic Book Day events yearly.  You can see a listing of his incredible articles and his highly energetic videos at JayDeitcher.com.