The Writer #1 – Josh Gad, The Berkowitz Brothers & Ariel Olivetti (Dark Horse Comics)

Just a year ago, The Writer must have seemed like a brilliant idea. 

A comic book series turning a seemingly ordinary Jewish American guy into a superhero, harnessing powers that go back to legendary king of Israel, King Solomon, and bringing in the mythic folklore of golems – creatures made of clay and mud, and magically animated by words written on paper and put inside them.

Mythic scope, religio-folkloric learning, a daring twist on the superhero genre that reaches back into the tales of the Torah for its origin, and an opportunity to highlight issues of antisemitism in modern America and the Western World generally.

Plus, it’s the brainchild of movie star Josh Gad – what’s gonna be wrong with that?

In and of itself, absolutely nothing. 

But in the ongoing tragedy of the world, the wheel turns, and the question of whether there’s as receptive an audience for a religio-mythic Jewish superhero comic book right now as there would have been a year ago is probably a lot more open than it would have been a year ago. 

When a bunch of Hamas operatives decided to act like murdering terrorist fuckheads in October, 2023, it shifted the world’s perception of the always-strained situation in Gaza, and focused the sympathies of the world behind Israel, and behind Jews everywhere. 

The response of the Netanyahu government in Israel though has been a seeming attempt at the wholesale genocide of Palestinians, leading many who aren’t directly affected by the conflict beyond a “Brotherhood of Man” level to look further into the long history of Israeli encroachment on Palestinian settlements, demand a ceasefire, and adopt a more “plague on both your houses” attitude.

The danger and the violence has expanded across the world – Jewish children who had previously felt safe in Western cities no longer feel that way as they go to school. Children of Palestinian heritage find themselves easy targets for whipped-up fear of the religiously and culturally different. Nobody’s denying that Hamas acted like murdering terrorist fuckheads. But the response has been to swing the war-power of an entire state against a civilian population, on the basis that that way, the guilty will die among the innocent.

Let’s – before we get back to the business of reviewing a comic book – remember that Israel’s by no means alone in that kind of indiscriminate action. In World War II, the Nazis bombed innocent British cities, and Britain blitzed cities like Dresden, killing innocent and guilty alike. The USA dropped nuclear bombs on the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, supposedly to end the war, but if recent historical revelations and revisions are to be believed, actually just because it could. 

There’s not a Western power alive today that can actually say it hasn’t been complicit in similar atrocities – but right now, while governments are standing by Israel, many of their citizens are demanding a re-think before generations of Palestinians are wiped out forever.

Innnnto which international calamity is launched The Writer

None of the horror of course plays into the comic book, and if you can divorce it from the reality of the world in 2024, all of the reasons why it sounded like a good idea come through.

The premise is strong, and it goes out of its way to weave American antisemitism into its modern-day plotline – there are Swastikas daubed on the walls of the English department where our hero Stan Siegel (who bears a striking resemblance to Josh Gad) teaches, and his students include antisemite crotch-goblins who, for instance, tell him they thought Jews were demons.

Subtle? No, not in any sense, but probably a relatively realistic portrayal of the culture of white supremacy in Trump’s America – remember the idiots with the Home Depot torches? So it’s absolutely a point worth making, even in such primary colors.

Within the scope of the first issue, we get the mytho-historical worldbuilding, in terms of the ring of Solomon, and a very powerful pad of parchment and pen that can animate golems. We get Stan being gifted these powerful objects by his father, but given the warning never to wear the ring. We get his daughter being bullied for being a black Jew in multicultural America, and Stan being reamed by the girl’s mother for never being there and never doing enough to protect either her or their daughter.

When Stan ignores his father’s advice and puts on the ring, he instantly gains a tattoo in the shape of the Seal of Solomon – and it’s fair to stay things start going batshit almost immediately.

When he’s attacked by a zombie-demon, a local old man and friend of his father gets busy with a sword, writes something in the notebook of mystical parchment and shoves it into Stan’s mouth – turning Stan into something that could at least get an audition for the next Fantastic Four movie.

Commence Clobberin’ Time.

But why do zombie-demons suddenly want to attack Stan?

Fairly sure it has something to do with the ring. Largely because they keep helpfully announcing it has something to do with the ring just before they attack.

There’s a touch of way too obvious exposition about “Hey look, you work like a golem now!” and Stan gets to grips with his new golem powers in a colossal hurry, given this is an OG issue. If we’re honest, it’s all a bit too fast and frenetic, leaving Ariel Olivetti seeming like they’re scribbling to catch up, and sometimes, the illustration choices are such that you’ll wonder if you’ve turned over two pages by mistake.

We won’t spoil the ending of this issue for you, but suffice it to say it involves folk in cloaks, demented reunions, Stan and his mother in mortal peril – you knew there was going to be a Power Mom in this, right? There are Jewish stereotype boxes to check, even here – at least one WTAF moment (What The Actual…), and a sense of having experienced a bumper double-length pilot episode, despite not actually being all that bulky in terms of page numbers.

That’s the overwhelming sense The Writer #1 leaves you with – of going like a bullet from a gun, covering a lot of ground dementedly fast, and yet, by the end, feeling slightly knackering and like you’ve been reading it for weeks.

The WTAF moment, we can’t spoil for you, but unless you have a very specific history, it’d be deeply questionable to write. It’s one of those moments where, for instance, it’s OK for black people to use the N-word because it’s been reclaimed. Which is fine, but having literally no skin in the game as a reader, it still might slap you upside the head with the sense of “Is it OK to dig this?” It is, but more or less only because Gad put it there.

This is clearly a passion project for Gad, who a little Wiki research will tell you has about the best pedigree you can get in terms of writing this story. His father is apparently descended from the Tribe of Gad (one of your actual 12 tribes of Israel – go, look ’em up!), and his mother is the child of Holocaust survivors. If you were looking for a high-profile 21st century human with the qualifications to create a Jewish superhero, you could do a lot worse than go with Gad.

And as a concept, The Writer is on the one hand kind of cool – while of course, on the other, claiming some kind of realism for the Torah claims of having an actual god with quite the conquering urge. Again, this is no fault of Gad’s, but that might play significantly less well among audiences right now than it would have done a year ago.

Is The Writer #1 worth your money?

That more or less depends on where you come down on Real World events. As a comic book, it’s fairly cool, but has perhaps a touch too much Mary Sue about it to really satisfy. It also, so far, lacks a punch of grit, with Stan learning his powers fast and gobbling paper like it’s going out of fashion. 

Could it go somewhere interesting? Absolutely.

Has it got there yet? Let’s say it’s got about half way there for an OG issue. It needs perhaps to catch a breath and fill in either an informational or emotional beat or two soon if it’s to hold the interest it created with its premise and initial flurry of activity. 

Then it just has the Real World of 2024 to contend with. Tony Fyler 

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