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Michael Chabon‘s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was an outstanding novel that took a fictionalized account loosely based of the lives of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman. The titular characters of the book invented their own superhero, The Escapist. Due to both the popular of the novel and Chabon’s own strong interest in comics, he and Dark Horse decided to make the character flesh — or, rather, ink.
The first issue of The Escapist features “reprints” of stories from the long run of the fictional comic, interspersed with essays about the character’s history. In the world of the comic, the original novel was based on actual people (the consensus seems to be that while the novel took some liberties with the facts to make it more fantastic, it’s basically reasonably accurate), and the Escapist comic itself was a rare series and typically fans and readers would stumble across a lone issue, or small run of issues, and have difficulty finding any more.
The stories in the comic themselves — one, the origin, written by Chabon himself — are all very strong. They come from different eras of the run, including a more-for-kids two-pager, “The Escapegoat” (by Kevin McCarthy in a style that reminds me of some of Dan Clowes’ cartoonier stuff), “Sequestered” (by McCarthy and Kyle Baker) from the early-to-mid-fifties where the character became a parody of himself and superheroes in general, and “Reckonings” a Luna Moth story by Jim Starlin — an outstanding almost wordless story from 1974 taken from the artist’s Cosmic period drawn in a break between Captain Marvel issues.
Some of the stories — notably Howard Chaykin‘s “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been…” — don’t fit into the chronology provided by the story. Chaykin’s entry takes place in the early 1950s, during the “Escapist as Buffoon” period, but it’s played very straight — and it also reads more like a comic from the 1980s or 1990s in the Alan Moore tradition with more adult themes. Of course, the story is so good, it doesn’t particularly matter that it doesn’t fit in with the overall story; it’s a great read and a worthy detour.
Appropriately enough, I stumbled across this issue of The Escapist in a used bookstore and so far haven’t been able to find any other issues — though, of course, in the world of the Internet, it’ll be much easier to track them down than it was in the 1960-1980s. (It also is nice that these books actually exist rather than the older ones.) The Escapist is definitely something comics fans should seek out, regardless of whether or not they’re particular fans of the Superhero genre nor if they’ve read the original Chabon novel (though that’s also highly recommended as well).