Kavalier & Clay’s Escapist Adventure

By Nacha Cattan

Published December 19, 2003, issue of December 19, 2003.
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What if the power of the written word could bring a superhero to life? Well, it has — almost — with the release this month of “The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist.”

Like the Golem of Prague, who was animated by the scribbled name of God, the Escapist has leapt from the pages of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” (Random House, 2000). The fictional crime-fighting superhero is hitting comic book shelves this month as a full-color, expertly drawn man in tights.

“Presenting the longest-lived, least-known character in the history of comic books,” announced Chabon, in an interview with the Forward.

Set in the 1940s, Chabon’s novel tells the tale of Prague-born Joe Kavalier and his Brooklyn-bred cousin Sam Clay, who dream up a series of comic book characters — including the Escapist, a Houdini-like escape artist — partly as wish fulfillment but also as a profit-making enterprise. The new comic book, to be published quarterly by Dark Horse Comics, follows the characters’ adventures as though Kavalier and Clay really created them. As part of this conceit, each adventure in the first 80-page anthology is illustrated in the style of a different comic-book era, as if the stories have been published since the golden age of comics.

Chabon, who said he is a first cousin four times removed of Forward founding editor Abraham Cahan, noted that Jewish-themed comic books are making a splash for the first time in the history of an art form pioneered by Jews.

In the past, he said, “the Jewish identity behind comic books was completely unknown. If you grew up as a Jew who liked comics you might not have any idea that what you were reading had been produced by Jews. You might pick up on clues like the fact that Harry Osbourne in the Spider-Man comics would call Peter Parker ‘Boychik.’ All you could do was wonder about it.”

But now the Magen Davids are out from underneath the Spandex costumes. Comic book legend Joe Kubert has created a graphic novel about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, various X-Men flaunt their Jewish identities and master storyteller Will Eisner has produced “Fagin the Jew.”

Chabon credited this development to Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust graphic novel “Maus,” as well as a new Jewish pride sweeping the entertainment industry. But one more element should be added to Chabon’s list: his own novel.

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