Sunday, August 2, 2009

Comics Rewind: The Escapists

The Escapists
Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Artists: Steve Rolston, Jason Shawn Alexander, Philip Bond, and Eduardo Barreto
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Rating: 5 Stars

Inspired by Michael Chambon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Brian K. Vaughn's The Escapist is a must read for any fan of comics who dreams of someday professionally writing their favorite character(s). It is a story of friendship, love, and ultimate heartbreak. Any hardcore fan of comics really should find great appreciation for this book.

The story centers on Cleveland-born Jewish writer Max Roth. After his father's funeral, he is given a key to the basement where his father's comic book collection is kept. His father was a HUGE fan of the Golden Age character, The Escapist. As Max grows up, he inherits his father's love of the character and stories.

In high school, Max starts an unlikely friendship with a jock, Denny Jones, who transcribes novels for fun. The two remain close friends through the years. Max becomes an elevator repair man after high school. As luck would have it, he meets the sexy, yet off-beat, Case Weaver (a comic book artist) while "rescuing" her from a malfunctioning elevator.

When Max's mother passes away, he uses her $150,000 life insurance policy to buy the rights to The Escapist. He recruits Denny to be the letterer and convinces Case to do the art. Max also decides that the best way to promote the return of this character would be generate some real life headlines. He has Denny dress up like the superhero and go out and generate buzz for the book. While in costume, the trio find a group of small-time thugs looting a store. Denny jumps in and saves the day. He's captured by the store cameras and the story goes viral.

An early review of the first issue is not so great, crushing Max. Case doesn't give up and despite Max wanting to quit the book, she goes forward in penciling issue #2. Denny gets word from their distributor that the initial orders for #1 has exceeded 80,000 copies making the book a top 10 seller for the month. Suddenly, all of Max's dreams come true and he's an instant success.

The success is short lived though. A maga-corporation wants to buy the rights to the character, by any means necessary. The main guy wanting those rights begins trumping up some fake stories by the people Denny busted as The Escapist, leading to Denny's arrest. Trying to protect a smaller detainee in booking (similar to how he used to protect Max), Denny is beaten nearly to death. The only way Max can help Denny get out of jail is to sell the rights to the Escapist back to the mega-corp. And, thus, the dream dies.

As bad as it seems, the end of the story isn't all that bleak, but it isn't without lessons learned and hearts broken. It's tribute to the real-life inspiration of the Kavalier and Clay character, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster - the creators of Superman. Siegel and Shuster were also Jewish and born in Cleveland. They also felt the sting of losing control of their hard work and dreams. This story should also serve as a friendly warning that if you wish to write comics, and in particular, your favorite comic, you should make sure that you are ready for the interference of the big corps who will stop at nothing to make money.

Thank you for reading. I'll return with reviews of Captain America Reborn #2, The Marvels Project #1 both while I'm on the road attending Wizard's Chicago Comic Con!

1 comment:

  1. Very sad. At least there is a glimmer there right?