Pro-Palestinian social media users slam Marvel for character

Israeli cartoonist says Marvel copied superhero Sabra, he’d sue if he had the means

As Shira Haas is cast as Israeli heroine in next Captain America film, Uri Fink recounts creating Sabraman two years before Sabra emerged, and warns portrayal might be anti-Israeli

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Israeli comic book artist and writer Uri Fink holds a book at the annual Animix festival for animation, comics and caricature in the Tel Aviv Cinemateque on August 2, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israeli comic book artist and writer Uri Fink holds a book at the annual Animix festival for animation, comics and caricature in the Tel Aviv Cinemateque on August 2, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

An Israeli comic book artist has been getting attention since Marvel’s Saturday announcement that it had cast actress Shira Haas as the Israeli superhero Sabra. He claims the character is based on a superhero he created when he was 15 — although he says he won’t sue the US entertainment giant because he doesn’t have the means.

In 1978, Uri Fink created Sabraman, a comic series about an Israeli superhero whose attire, colors and symbols appear to resemble those associated with Sabra, a little-known character that first appeared in Marvel comics two years later.

Haas, who gained international fame through her starring role in the hit Netflix series “Unorthodox,” will play Sabra in the next “Captain America” film, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and titled “New World Order,” according to multiple reports Saturday.

In the comics, Sabra, aka Ruth Bat-Seraph, is a former superhuman agent for the Mossad spy agency who sometimes knocks up against other superhuman characters such as the Hulk and the X-Men. Her powers include super strength and stamina, and her costume often incorporates the Israel flag and the Star of David.

Sabra, in Hebrew “tsabar,” is the local term for the fruit of the cactus (commonly known as a prickly pear). It has long been a term for Israeli-born Jews.

Fink tweeted Sunday morning that he had woken up to countless tags and messages telling him it was “time to sue Marvel and make a lot of money.”

He said his publisher and co-creator David Herman had considered doing just that when Sabra first emerged in 1980, but that Fink convinced him otherwise. He said there was no chance of succeeding against Marvel’s lawyers and that it was doubtful he even had a case, since he doesn’t own a copyright for the word “sabra,” and Sabra’s superpowers were different from Sabraman’s.

“Nothing has changed since then, except that Marvel are now part of Disney, with even more monstrous lawyers, so it’s not worth the effort,” Fink wrote.

“It’s pretty clear to me that at the time, someone [at Marvel] saw the hype surrounding Sabraman — there was an article in People Magazine! — and went for the idea,” he said. “But I can’t do anything except maybe try to get some attention for the superhero with whom I started my career.”

Fink told the Ynet news site that if he had the means, he would “definitely” have sued Marvel, but that in the current state of affairs he would be “crazy” to file a lawsuit against a huge conglomerate like Disney.

Israeli actress Shira Haas receives the prize for Best Supporting Actress at the 2018 Ophir Awards, sometimes called the Israeli Oscars, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, September 6, 2018. (Flash90)

Fink also had some words of warning to Haas.

“I don’t predict her portrayal in Marvel will be positive in woke days such as these,” he told Ynet, adding in a separate interview with Channel 12 news: “Those who work at Marvel today are all sorts of progressives. I have nothing against them, but we won’t get the most accurate depiction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I suggest that Shira carefully read [the script], so that the character won’t be portrayed in a way that is too problematic,” he added. “On the other hand, it’s a terrific opportunity because Marvel has learned to take their most esoteric characters and make them into great characters. Shira has an amazing opportunity.”

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian social media users have been criticizing Marvel for featuring an Israeli superhero in the first place.

And some pro-Israel users were warning that the character’s arc could turn out to be less than flattering for the Jewish state.

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