Escape is a recurring theme in graphic novels. The most common of the genre are those devoted to the exploits of superheroes and heroines, usually normal people who wear involved costumes to escape: (a) gravity, (b) their ordinary lives, (c) being identified, or (d) all of the above. The exception is Superman who, to paraphrase writer and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, wears a costume to escape his extraordinariness.
At the turn of this century, Michael Chabon wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a book that is as much about the Golden Age of comics in the US as it is about escape. Joe Kavalier, trained as a not-too-good escape artist, wants to escape the past. Sam Clay wants to escape, in order: his humble roots, a dead-end job, and, eventually, his marriage to be what he wants to be—gay. Together, the two create a character called, (what else?) The Escapist.
Dark Horse, one of the best-known publishers of graphic novels (Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, anyone?) and manga (cult-classic Akira among several others), convinced Chabon to collaborate on a series of Escapist graphic novels. There have been three collections of Escapist comics released thus far, featuring work by Michael Chabon, Eddie Campbell (the illustrator behind Alan Moore’s From Hell), Brian Vaughn (of The Last Man fame) and Will Eisner (yes, his last work, completed just a few weeks before he died was an Escapist story).
All three are more graphic short-story collections than novels and, strangely enough for a series that should have ideally had only novelty value and that too only for those who had read Chabon’s book, can be read on their own merit. The Golden Age comics were not renowned for their subtlety. The writers of the day were happy to portray superheroes as superheroes—individuals very comfortable with their powers and the responsibility these entailed.
None of Alan Moore’s who’ll-watch-the-watchmen conflict for them, thank you. Chabon, who has put together all three Escapist graphic novels, has managed to retain the flavour of the Golden Age, yet given it a contemporary twist. There’s self-doubt, there’s farce and there’s enough allusion to the politics of the 21st century to make some of the Escapist stories apt parables of our time, in Golden Age colours.