The Escapist: Pulse-Pounding Thrills
Written and Illustrated by: Eduardo Barreto, Daniel Best, Jeffrey Brown,
Eddie Campbell, Michael Chabon, Jerome Charyn, Howard Chaykin, Will Eisner,
Steven Grant, Paul Grist, Paul Gulacy, Joshua Hagler, David Hahn, Jason Hall,
Marc Hempel, Jason, Matt Kindt, Jon Lewis, Shawn Martinbrough, Kevin McCarthy,
Shawn McManus, Chris Offutt, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jeff Parker, Gary Phillips, Ron Randall,
Roy Thomas, Joe Staton, Andi Watson, Eric Wight, Marv Wolfman, Thomas Yeates,
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
A review by Stacy Dooks
The Escapist was one of those Golden Age characters I’d heard of but never actually encountered in comics form: I read about him in the odd piece in Comics Scene or Hero Illustrated but I never really came across the character in print. Copies of Amazing Midget Radio Comics #1 from Empire Comics aren’t quite as hard to come by as the fabled Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27, but they’re not exactly easy to find. To have Dark Horse Comics reprint and restore the adventures of Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay’s classic character is no small feat, and sitting down with The Escapist: Pulse Pounding Thrills I was eager to get acquainted with a classic. . .
. . .that’s certainly what I would open this article with on the Earth in the multiverse where Joe Kavalier, Sam Clay, and the Escapist actually existed. They never did, and yet they do. Confused yet? Let’s dig in to The Escapist: Pulse Pounding Thrills and I’ll explain.
The Escapist is at once fiction and meta-fiction. The character is Tom Mayflower, nephew to Max Mayflower, an escape artist who performs under the stage name Misterioso during the Great Depression. When Max is fatally shot onstage, he reveals he isn’t actually Tom’s uncle but actually rescued him as a baby from a cruel orphanage. He gives Tom a golden key and a costume, informing the boy he was the agent of a secret society called the League of the Golden Key, who fight to ensure the freedom of the oppressed everywhere. As long as Tom has the golden key on his person, he finds he no longer suffers from the limp he’s known since he was a boy and can perform amazing feats of escapology. Aided by former circus strongman Big Al, the exotic Asian beauty Plum Blossom, and the East Indian Mystic Omar, Tom travels the world under the guise of the Escapist, aiding the downtrodden everywhere and battling the evil forces of the Iron Chain, who seek the enslavement of humanity. The Escapist is an exemplar of the kind of character created during the Golden Age of comics, the creation of artist Joe Kavalier and writer Sam Clay in Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. In the story the two artists create the character amidst the comics boom of the late 1930s and early 1940s. The novel itself is excellent, and if you haven’t read it I’d encourage you to do so, but The Escapist: Pulse Pounding Thrills is actually a different animal: its a look at the medium of comics itself, shot through the prism of a single character and his iterations from the Golden Age through the modern day. From classic Golden Age pulp-inspired derring-do to the Blaxploitation era, from the EC comics Horror line of the 1950s through the Vietnam War, from within the Escapist’s world to the world of comic book creators, the book is chock-a-block full of fond looks as well as barbed commentary, with an underlying enthusiasm and appreciation for the superhero genre.
One can tell just from the list of talent above that this is a pretty impressive project, so picking favorites from this anthology is tough to do. Stand-out tales include ‘Heil and Fear Well’ by Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton, ‘Doc Hypnosis vs. The Escapist’ by Paul Grist, ‘The Escapist at the Royal Festival of Magic’ by Jeff Parker, ‘Escape from Mars’ by Ron Randall, ‘Weird Date: Electricity’ by Steven Grant and Norm Breyfogle, and ‘Mr. Machine Gun: Arms And The Man I Sing’ by Michael Chabon and Eduardo Bartetto. Each feels of a piece with the era of comics history they’re attempting to capture from the art to the writing.
Buy It! The Escapist: Pulse Pounding Thrills is a great way to introduce a potential new comics reader to the breadth and depth of comics over the years through the medium of a single character, and makes for a fun companion to works like The Comic Book History of Comics by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. For fans of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, this is a fond look at the character of the Escapist and deserves a place on your shelf next to that august volume. Recommended.