May 12, 2004


Just finished reading the Amazing Adventures of the Escapist (even though Amazon thinks it hasn't been released yet),'s okay. Michael Chabon contributes one story, an introduction, and a pseudonymous essay to this little Kavalier and Clay souvenir (for those unfamiliar with the book: the Escapist is the superhero created by the title characters), and Glen David Gold (author of the terrific Carter Beats the Devil) also writes one tale. Glen's is the best in the book, but is still a little half-baked.

The problem is, although Kavalier and Clay was excellent, and featured complex, believable characters, the Escapist is not a very deep creation. There's not that much a writer can really do with him, and we never get emotionally invested in his story. He's kind of a cipher. This didn't matter in the novel; there, of course, it was basically received wisdom that the Escapist was a classic comic and a wildly popular one. It's hard for an actual comic to live up to that. This problem arises in just about any story -- movie, book, whatever -- about a genius; it's always much better if we can avoid having to see the ostensible evidence of their talent. "Mr. Holland's Opus" comes to mind.

The book does have a certain freewheeling charm, with its attempts to touch on genre stories from different eras, but that's the whole M.O. of Alan Moore's Tomorrow Stories, and honestly, Moore does it much better. It's still not high art all the way through (I could do without the First American stories), but there's just more joy in Moore's deconstruction than there is in the Escapist. Greyshirt, Moore's homage to Will Eisner's Spirit, is particularly enjoyable.

The Escapist book also reminds me of McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (edited by Michael Chabon), an attempt to revitalize the world of genre stories. It also has its weak moments (Harlan Ellison doesn't hold up very well in this company, alas), but with more authors working in a format that suits them better, it kind of can't help but be better than the Escapist collection.

(Of course, I also highly recommend both Carter Beats the Devil and Kavalier and Clay...although I suggest that if you read them both, that you not read them one after the other, because they cover similar eras and subject matters. I kind of had to get past the deja vu I felt upon starting the second of the two before I could really enjoy it.)

Posted by Francis at 12:37 AM