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April 23, 2004

{     The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist No. 1     }    

"To all those who toil in the bonds of slavery and the shackles of oppression, he offers the hope of liberation and the promise of freedom! Armed with superb mental and physical training, a crack team of assistants, and ancient wisdom, he roams the globe, performing amazing feats and coming to the aid of those who languish in tyranny's chains. He is – The Escapist!" The greatest comic that never was, now is. Straight from the pages of the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay bursts The Escapist. Michael Chabon has proven to be a master student of the comic book hero as he progressed and changed through the Golden and Silver Ages. The Escapist was not created in the 1940's – though this comic book plays with the idea that he was, more on that later – but he feasibly could have been. His persona, both in and out of tights, his cadre of supporting players, and his origin are all faithfully Golden Age material. Turning him into an actual comic book seemed to me a "no brainer." I'm sure glad someone at "Dark Horse":http://www.darkhorse.com/ agreed with me. The Escapist, Master of Elusion, is an expert of breaking locks, chains, bars, and anything else that might strive to imprison another human being. Both figuratively and literally he frees others from oppression and imprisonment. Sworn to never rest until none should have to suffer unjust confinement by a mysterious organization he travels the world ever warring with agents of the sinister Iron Chain, who are dedicated to power at the cost of human freedom. His powers are derived from a magic golden key, given to him by his dying uncle. What really grounds The Escapist in the Golden Age is the malleability of his superhuman abilities. Certainly he is stronger than an average person, but just how much stronger is never fully described (at one point in the novel, during fictional artist Joe Kavalier's most fervent anti-Nazi period he is shown tearing German tanks asunder with his bare hands) and varies considerably depending on the mood of the writer (again, the writer is always Michael Chabon, but as comic book titles are wont to do The Escapist passes from one creative team to another, each bringing their own ideas to the page). His ability to evade capture and assist others to do so may or may not be heightened by his talisman. In fact, there is really no solid indication that said golden key is actually giving Tom Mayflower a.k.a. The Escapist any supernatural abilities whatsoever, yet he certainly wouldn't be The Escapist without it. In some ways The Escapist is a blank slate in terms of comic book heroes. Aside from the basics of his physical appearance, costume, and goal there is little that remains constant throughout his (fictional) lifetime. This is where the genius of the comic book shines through. Presented as a catalog of previously published esoterica, The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist is free to include any number of stories about the Master of Elusion in several distinct styles, which are laid out plainly in an essay midway through the book that describes (as Kavalier and Clay did) the change in The Escapist from straightforward war hero, to a less worldly and more urban crimefighter, to a parody of the comic book genré. The first issue contains 6 different stories. "The Passing of the Key," the origin story, is exactly as described in the novel. "Reckonings" features Luna Moth in an spacey afterlife jaunt that presumably is supposed to be from the 1960's. Luna Moth was barely described in Kavalier and Clay, aside from her voluptuous measurements, and I was never certain what the big deal was. Her character was supposed to be a runaway hit, but exactly what she did was never revealed. Apparently she flies through computer generated fields of skulls and stars to fight skeletons. Nearly any panel of "Reckonings" could easily double as the poster art for a Grateful Dead cover band. Dud. "Sequestered" is a tale from The Escapist's parody period. Tom Mayflower, The Escapist's alter ego, is summoned for jury duty and recognizes the defendant. . . as The Escapist brought him to prison. Through the process of the trial he stumbles on yet another plot by the Iron Chain to destroy the individual spirit of free men everywhere. "Sequestered" is well written and illustrated in keeping with the musclebound clown persona The Escapist had become by the time. The third story " 'Are you now or are you ever been?' " has The Escapist fighting against a Joe McCarthy character. The resolution is a very modern, and I'm not so how I feel about this one. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be from the same period as McCarthyism or a retrospective chance to ridicule a horrible man. It's a fine story though, I'm probably reading too much into it. "The Escapegoat" answers the question "What if The Escapist were a cartoonish goat, no bigger than a child, whose friends endlessly get him into trouble?" It's cute and it's funny and it fits on only one page. The final story of the book "Prison Break" a confusing and highly illogical tale of a false prison warden outfitting a select crew of his prisoners with weapons and releasing them into the general public to turn all of Empire City into a prison. There's also the matter of a missing agent of the League of the Golden Key and a saboteur who is the polar opposite of The Escapist, it's a jumbled mess but it's my favorite story in the book. It's precisely the sort of madcap nonsense a hero would be forced to resort to after he has already crushed countless foreign despots, released hundreds of kidnapped victims, and smashed agents of the Iron Chain in all corners of the globe. I have one small gripe with this comic, though it seems petulant of me to find fault with such a wonderful hero. While I love the idea that this is supposed to be an archive of materials published decades ago and lost for nearly as long the presentation defies this notion. The art, while admirable and never subpar, is decidedly modern. The coloring is much too complex to be from a book printed 50 to 60 years ago. How beautiful it would be had they gone the extra mile and drawn, inked, and colored the book in the predominant style of the time it was purported to be first printed. There is (finally!) an illustration of the cover of the first appearance of The Escapist which had been described vividly in the novel as a controversial depiction of the hero punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw. I, for one, would have loved to seen more of that particular style. As it stands this is an excellent comic book. I just think with a slightly different focus it could have transcended merely great comic book and become a work of art.

     » Dark Horse Comics
     » Michael Chabon

Comments

Man, keep these comic reviews coming because I'd love to find something new to read. I had honestly given up on that whole scene, and I haven't read a comic since "Preacher" ended...

Posted by: Shane at April 26, 2004 1:53 AM

The Escapist is cool, but where da Golem at?
I feel Shane's pain, but my problem isn't so much that I haven't been into anything since I read Preacher, it's that when I read Preacher it was all nice and collected together in trade paperbacks- and that has ruined me for monthly comics permanently. I can't take a tiny chunk of plot at a time, I need the whole shebang.
I think it's the easily-addicted side of my personality ODing on some of the best shit ever cooked up in comics, now I'm just chasing that first high- and I'll never be that high again.

Posted by: Adam at April 26, 2004 4:49 PM
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