I’m a fan of Michael Chabon even though he carries a man purse.
Joe Kavalier is a young artist who had also trained to be a magician and escape artist...moreI’m a fan of Michael Chabon even though he carries a man purse.
Joe Kavalier is a young artist who had also trained to be a magician and escape artist in Prague. When the Nazis invade in 1939, Joe is able to escape to America with the plan that he’ll find a way to get the rest of his family out. In New York, he meets his cousin Sam Clay. Sam is an artist of limited talent who has been doing drawings for the ads of a novelty toy company, but the recent boom of superhero comics thanks to the newly created Superman has inspired him to try and break into that budding industry.
When Sam sees Joe’s artistic talent, they form a partnership and Sam talks the owner of the novelty company into launching a comic line featuring masked men. Joe and Sam create a group of comic characters including The Escapist, a magician and escape artist who is also endowed with super strength by an ancient secret society to help free the oppressed. Sam’s story telling instincts and Joe’s art quickly make The Escapist one of the most popular comics on the market.
However, Joe’s inability to get his family out of Europe due to anti-Semitic German bureaucracy and US government red tape continually leaves him frustrated and angry. Falling in love only makes him feel guiltier for his happiness and success. Meanwhile, Sam buries himself in work to avoid admitting that he’s a homosexual until a relationship with a radio actor forces him to confront his nature.
Chabon’s a comic geek, and he really understands the medium at a DNA level. This is obviously his ode to the Golden Age of comics when the industry was born. My favorite part of the book is where Joe and Sam are trying to come up with a new hero, and their conversation about what will work and what won’t is a great deconstruction of what makes for a good superhero. The following weekend they spend with a group of artists cooking up several heroes to fill out an entire comic book made me feel the energy and creativity that seemed to be present in air of the New York comic scene in those days.
The book also highlights the flaws of funny books of the time, too. Chabon makes it clear that a lot of the stuff that came out was schlock thrown together cheaply and quickly, and the stories about creators getting ripped off by publishers are legion.
We also get into how comics were thought of back then. Despite their large sales, they were shunned and mocked by the general public and seen as lurid trash for children. Joe and Sam are proud of their creations, but they’re also embarrassed to be writing about men in tights. Joe often feels that he’s wasting his time with war looming and his family trapped in Europe, but it’s giving him the money he needs to try and get them out so he takes out his frustration by having The Escapist beating the Nazis in the pages of the comic book.
The first half of the book is the portion that I really love. There’s a point where Sam & Joe attend the premiere of Citizen Kane, and its clever story structure and inventive camera angles inspire them to push their own work into a more adult direction. (It’s also a nice nod to the way that comics eventually started breaking the old nine panel per page format and became more cinematic.) To me, that’s the high water mark of the book because for one brief shining moment, the two men see what a comic book could become and temporarily manage to push their own self-imposed limitations aside to create something new. Unfortunately, like any Golden Age, it doesn’t last
Joe can’t let go of his desire for the kind of justice that a character like The Escapist deals out regularly because he‘s looking for the wrong kind of satisfaction. Sam wants so badly to be ‘normal’ and respected that he ends up living a lie and trying to be anything but what he is: a gay writer of pulp fiction.
Chabon has crafted a great look at a bygone era and meshed it with a pretty good story about a couple of likeable characters so embroiled in their own private triumphs and tragedies that they don’t realize that they’re among the pioneers of a new art form even as they create it.
I had an itch to revisit this one since the latest film version of Logan’s adventures, The Wolverine, is inspired by and loosely based on it. (Check o...moreI had an itch to revisit this one since the latest film version of Logan’s adventures, The Wolverine, is inspired by and loosely based on it. (Check out my review of the movie on Shelf Inflicted.)
While Logan is off in the wilderness dealing with a rogue grizzly and some dumb-ass hunters, his girlfriend Mariko returns to Japan with no explanation. Logan follows her to Tokyo where he is shocked to learn that Mariko’s missing father Shingen has returned and set up an arranged marriage for her which she was honor bound to go through with. When Logan goes to see her, Shingen tricks him dishonoring himself in front of Mariko and nearly kills him in the process.
Ashamed and heartsick, Logan finds himself in a rebound relationship with a female assassin named Yukio who is being pursued by a gang of deadly ninjas called The Hand. Logan tries to get a crime lord off Yukio’s back without realizing that he’s still caught up in a scheme of Shingen’s.
The legend goes that Chris Claremont and Frank Miller had a long car ride together when traveling to some event, and the two cooked up a story that would broaden the character of a mutant Canadian ex-secret agent turned X-Men with a bloodlust and a bad attitude into something more. This mini-series helped Wolverine go from being a minor supporting player as a bloodthirsty X-Man to one of the most popular (and overexposed) members of the Marvel universe.
The story holds up pretty well for being over 30 years old at this point and while some of the cheesy tough guy exposition that Logan spouts seems like it came from a bad detective novel at times, there’s a lot of moments here that would become iconic for the character including his oft quoted line, “I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice.”(less)