The Escapists #s 1 & 2
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artists: Philip Bond, Eduardo Barreto, Steve Rolston & Jason Alexander
Colors: Dave Stewart, Paul Hornschemeier & Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Cover artists: Frank Miller & James Jean
Editor: Diana Schutz
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $1 US (#1) & $2.99 US (#2)
I haven’t read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel about two comics creators in the Golden Age of the industry. I sampled some of the stories from Dark Horse’s Escapist anthology, featuring the adventures of the Kavalier/Clay-“created” super-hero. It was diverting, but I found creators were essentially using the character to tell new “classic” stories in the vein of other characters, such as the Spirit and the Batman. I lost interest, as the book really didn’t stand out from the crowd. I suppose that’s why this new series, The Escapists, failed to grab my attention at first. Buzz about this series is growing, and justifiably so. Y: The Last Man and Runaways creator Brian K. Vaughan has done it again, crafting another must-read comic that demonstrates the writer’s keen appreciation of human behavior.
When Maxwell Roth lost his father at a young age, he ended up getting to know the man better when he finds his dad’s hidden stash of Escapist memorabilia in the basement. From that day on, Max was as much an Escapist fan as his late father, and his love of the comics created by Kavalier and Clay decades before grew as well. Reaching adulthood and searching for direction, Roth decides to revive the Escapist as a comic-book hero, and he’s joined by his best friend Denny as the letterer and a new friend, Case, to illustrate his scripts. But how can an independent creator stand out from the crown in the comics industry? Roth turns to the long-forgotten tradition of the publicity stunt.
I absolutely love the two-pronged approach to the art that characterizes this series. The first issue offers up a glimpse of a Golden Age Escapist comic, and Eduardo Barreto adapts his style perfectly to achieve a dated look in the visuals. His efforts actually put me in mind of Frank (Invaders) Springer’s style. The second issue brings us Jason Alexander’s art, which is used to convey the new look of the Escapist, courtesy of the efforts of the main characters of the series. I like how Alexander’s darker style demonstrates the differences between Max’s modern sensibilities and the brighter approach of yesteryear.
Philip Bond’s art (pictured at left) dominates the first issue, and he captures the awkward, mundane aspects of Maxwell’s personality and existence perfectly. Steve Rolston takes over in the second issue, and his style maintains a nice visual consistency with that of Bond. I have to admit… this may be the strongest work we’ve seen from Rolston to date. He really breathes life into these regular joes, and his cartoony style seems to have evolved somewhat. It reminded me a bit of Steve (Preacher) Dillon’s artwork.
It’s easy to relate to Max. He’s the stereotypical comic-book fan, the awkward kid who got picked on. But Vaughan doesn’t write him as a stereotype all the way. He’s not a college guy or a computer geek. He’s a regular guy whose identity is tied into his father’s (and Kavalier’s and Clay’s) status as a blue-collar, working-class guy. Max takes pride in it, so it’s refreshing to see him working as a repairman instead of going to college to get a writing or business degree to make his dream come true. Vaughan balances the character’s universal qualities with his distinct ones nicely. Denny is also a powerfully familiar and comfortable character. He’s the Ben Grimm to Max’s Reed Richards, the kind-hearted, true-blue friend whom one might expect to behave a completely different way.
I like how Vaughan weaves the dialogue of Max’s “real” world in with the fiction of the Escapist comics sequences. It adds a hint of complexity to a grounded slice-of-life story, and it also demonstrates how a creator’s mood or circumstances of the moment can really impact what he’s writing. At the end of the second issue, we get a hint of something a little more magical happening in Max, Denny and Case’s world, but it’s clear the book and the characters have their feet firmly planted on the ground.
It’s fitting that the most successful and innovative of the Escapist spinoff comics should focus on characters that create comics, just as Michael Chabon’s award-winning novel did. Dark Horse’s initial decision to publish super-hero spinoff stories may have seemed like a natural way to extend Chabon’s vision, but Vaughan has taken a far more logical approach to adding to the world of Kavalier and Clay. 9/10