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Sunday, October 09, 2022 

More discussions of Sabra in the media

The Times of Israel brought up more about Bill Mantlo/Sal Buscema's minor Israeli MCU character Sabra, as cartoonist Uri Fink had more to say:
Israeli comic book artist Uri Fink does not have much faith in Marvel’s planned portrayal of Sabra, a female Mossad agent with superhuman speed, in its next installment of the Captain America movie franchise.

“Sabra is a very superficial character,” said Fink.

Fink should know. As one of Israel’s leading comic book artists, known for creating “Zbeng!” an Israeli comic series for teens that has been published weekly for 30 years in youth magazine Ma’ariv LaNoar, he may very well have created the character that inspired Marvel’s Sabra.

Now 59, Fink was just 15 and in high school in 1978 when he created Sabraman, a former Israeli police officer who could shoot radioactive rays from his eyes and surround himself with a magnetic force field.

Fink’s Sabraman comic was extremely popular at the time in Israel and abroad, and received press coverage even in such mainstream US publications as People magazine.

“A lot of Americans saw it. I still get feedback from people who got it for their bar mitzvah,” said Fink.
The reason Sabra would be superficial is simply because she remained a minor character who got very little buildup over the years, and as Fink previously noted, at least a few of her first stories weren't very impressive in regards to Israel. I'd also add that the Arabian Knight, who debuted after she did, was pretty superficial too, yet his portrayal was potentially more respectable, and that's why Sabra's by contrast is insulting to the intellect.
When Marvel’s Sabra character was first introduced in 1980, Fink said he was shocked and surprised by the portrayal of the character.

“She’s a mother in mourning and an agent for Israel, but her character represents Israel unrealistically,” said Fink. “It’s all very problematic.”

The back story of Marvel’s Sabra, aka Ruth Bat-Seraph, is a Jerusalemite raised on a special kibbutz run by the Israeli government after her powers become evident. Dressed in the blue-and-white colors of the Israeli flag, Sabra is the first superhuman agent to serve with Mossad and she becomes a police officer in addition to serving as a government agent.

Yet the development of her character as an Israeli hero is clumsy, said Fink.

In the first 1981 Incredible Hulk issue in which Sabra is fully featured, the Hulk mistakenly ends up in Tel Aviv, where he befriends an Arab boy who gets killed in an attack by identifiably Arab terrorists. Sabra witnesses the attack and assumes Hulk is in cahoots with the terrorists. She battles the Hulk, and shows little remorse over the death of a Palestinian boy, until the Incredible Hulk steps in to teach Sabra about human compassion.

Hulk tells Sabra, “Boy died because boy’s people and yours both want to own land! Boy died because you wouldn’t share!”
Yes, again, it was embarrassingly half-hearted, oblivious to Israel's historical inheritance of the land. Not in direct focus here, however, is the aforementioned minor character who debuted an issue later, the Arabian Knight, whom some could argue was also depicted unrealistically, like in how he doesn't retain a degree of respect for Sabra in 1982's Contest of Champions, where he said he didn't want to work alongside a Jewess. Yet if memory serves, the Knight was the one who got hold of one of the puzzle pieces, and it looked as though the writers were more favorable to him than they were to Sabra. Moral equivalence struck again, and that's one of the reasons why I find that early Marvel miniseries so weak and pedestrian.
Patriotism in a comic book character is always a challenge, said Fink. “Patriots are problematic heroes.”
The reason why? Cowardice, if it's a foreign publisher dealing with this stuff. They don't have the courage to do serious research, let alone offer an ounce of genuine respect for specific countries.
Marvel’s Sabra represents how Israel was seen by Americans in the 1980s, said Hagay Giller, another well-known Israeli comic book artist who also writes a blog and hosts a podcast about the comic book universe.

At one time, said Giller, Israel was considered exotic, and the Israeli army offered ideological superheroes.

The original Sabra contains all of those elements, with her blue-and-white uniform portraying the colors of the Israeli flag, her powers that allow her to throw energy quills and her unarmed-combat training given to members of the Israeli military.

Comic book superheroes are often patriots, said Tal Lanir, a curator at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art whose latest exhibition, “Illustrations: David Polonsky,” examines the work of the artist known for his film animation work, as well as his illustrations for the graphic novel version of Anne Frank’s diary.

“Look at Captain America — he beat up Hitler, the ultimate villain,” said Lanir. “People love escapism and are fascinated by superheroes.”

But for some comic book fans, the concept of an Israeli superhero is an oxymoron.

Palestinian rights activists have charged that by including Sabra in the upcoming “Captain America” film, Marvel would be “glorifying the Israeli army and police.”
This is something to take issue with. Are these activists really "fans"? Not if they believe Israel and its authorities and other such components are illegitimate. And if they don't view Israel validly, why should we believe they actually admire the Jewish founding fathers of comicdom? These activists they speak of are but one of the reasons why the entertainment industry has almost entirely stopped producing projects about Islamic terrorism.
Marvel Studios has said it will take “a new approach” to Sabra, to be played by Israeli actress Shira Haas, after receiving criticism from Palestinian groups.
That they'd even consider responding to such vile anti-Israelists says it all. But, chances are they never had any intention of portraying Israel respectably in the first place, and whatever screenplay components they've had planned were already even worse than Mantlo first conceived. After all, when he first wrote that awkward tale in 1981, he at least had the audacity to place it in Israel without acting like there was ever literally a "palestine", unlike the disgraced Gerard Jones, who went the opposite route and obscured Israel altogether in his writings a decade later. For all we know, Marvel studios could make it look like "palestine" is an entirely existent Arab/Islamic state at the expense of Israel, and that too would be offensive. Similarly, what if they borrow a page from Steven Spielberg's Munich, which was extremely defeatist? That too would be terrible.
Lanir said she was also surprised by the decision to bring Sabra to the screen, given that Israel is a country in conflict, and it is complicated to bring forth an Israeli character and make her into a superhero.

“Maybe it’s more of a feminist act,” said Lanir, “moving away from the usually male heroes.”

Ultimately, said Giller, Sabra is a character who can be modernized, like most of the comic book world, which has become much more of a commercialized industry than it was at its inception, decades ago.

“They took all the cliches about Israel, but they did the minimum of research,” he said of Sabra, referring to the broad strokes taken to describe the character, from her day job as a policewoman to her work in the Mossad, her kibbutz background and flag-inspired costume. “They’re just trying to make it relevant to the younger generation and they bring the more minor characters forward.”

Fink never thought the Sabra character would be relevant again.

“I didn’t think anyone would relate to her,” he said.
Chances are, nobody in Hollywood will, nor has any intention. As Fink worried, chances are Bat-Seraph's just going to be exploited as a tool for propaganda hurtful to Israel, with the worst part being they'll employ moral equivalence to cover their tracks. That's all Hollywood may consider Sabra "relevant" for. In any case, if recent Marvel movies are any indication, the Capt. America film she'll appear in looks very likely to be woke, one more reason not to see it, and having an Israeli character in the cast is not reason enough to buy tickets.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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