Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was once described to me as a Valentine to comic books. Its homage to the golden age comic creators, specifically the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, was something not only comic book enthusiasts enjoyed. It would have been foolish had somebody in the comic industry not picked up the superhero of the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Escapist, and done something with it. Enter Dark Horse Comics and their anthology series, Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist. It only lasted eight issues, and was a quarterly book that contained sixty-four pages of stories. Sales however were not spectacular, and so Dark Horse decided to cancel the title. They did not give up, however, and with the announcement of the title’s cancellation, they announced that The Escapist would return in a number of limited series, the first of which would be written by comic book super-star, Brian K. Vaughn.
The first issue of The Escapists is actually a re-printing of a story that was contained in the final issue of the earlier anthology. Rather than telling a tale about The Escapist himself, Vaughn set the story in the world that Kavalier & Clay inhabited, and set out to tell the story of some fans of Escapist comic books trying to resurrect the character themselves. It is quite a novel idea, and in fact, aside from perhaps a sagging middle, the six issue story is the perfect accompaniment to Michael Chabon’s classic.
Due to the first issue being a reprint of an earlier story, the art team on that issue, namely Philip Bond and Eduardo Barretto, is different than the art team on the next five issues, Jason Alexander and Steve Rolston. It is a very smart ploy to have two artists on each issue, one doing the “real world” tale and the others doing the comic that the characters are creating. It helps create two separate worlds and allows the reader to understand easily the shift between the two stories.
The best part of The Escapists, though, is the love of comic books that is put into the story. This is a story about the ultimate dream of most comics fans: writing the comic book of their favorite character. Most people will never get to tell a Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or X-Men story. But what if you could? What if you were able to purchase the rights to these characters, or perhaps long forgotten characters that you loved growing up, and try and breathe new life into them? As much as Kavalier and Clay was a Valentine to comic books, The Escapists is one to comic book fans.
The one weakness of this mini-series is that it weakens a little in the middle, and one can begin to lose interest in the story. Both the beginning and the ending however are solid and are sweet without being sappy. In fact, Vaughn makes sure that the ending, while plausible and true to the characters, is not something that everyone will foresee from the beginning. The ending could be a message to comic book fans all looking to break into the industry: rather than trying to create stories about existing characters, create your own. It is no surprise that this is the message, as Vaughn is quite vocal about his love for creating his own characters and comic books over telling stories using existing characters. Even with The Escapists, he has blended the two by merging an existing character with ones he has created.
It is unknown what Dark Horse plans on doing with the Escapist franchise in the future as at the time of this review no solicitations have been released for another mini-series. Perhaps Vaughn, Rolston and Alexander will return for another run, or maybe a new creative team will be chosen. The Escapist is too good of a character to be forgotten, so let us hope that someone will continue the tale of the Escapist and his world.