|From Left to Right: Omar, The Escapist, Big Al, and Miss Plum Blossom.|
In many ways, this story was a return to my roots. Over 10 years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, I read Michael Chabon's remarkable, Pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a loving tribute to the Golden Age of comics, pulp fiction, and old-time radio. The novel itself is the story of how two down-and-out Jewish kids in New York City in the late 1930s create the comic book character called The Escapist, who becomes the lost hero of comics' Golden Age. The character combines the strength and virtue of Superman with the escape artist abilities of Harry Houdini. The novel touches on many broader and deeper themes including portraits of Prague and New York City from the 1930s to the 1950s; the beginnings of the comic book industry; the "high art" of literature versus the "low art" of a comic book; and the mysteries of the creative process, especially how events in the "real" lives of the novel's characters get translated into the adventures of their fictional creation. There is also a strong pro-gay rights and gay marriage subtext, as one of the central characters, Sammy Clay, discovers that he is gay and must carefully suppress his sexual identity in an environment that is very hostile to same-sex relationships. As a supporter of traditional marriage, I found this last element to be the most problematic thing about the book, but it's hard not to feel sympathy for Sammy in those circumstances.
I was so moved by this story that I was inspired to write a piece of Escapist fanfic as a get well card for my friend when she became seriously ill. It launched me on a journey of exploration into the world of comic book superheroes that I've been on ever since. Since then, I've had ideas for other Escapist stories, including the one I just finished. I had this story more or less completely mapped out in my mind, but it lay unfinished on my hard drive. I finally decided to complete it when another favorite superhero series I really enjoy, "The Red Panda Adventures" podcast, aired what sounded like its final episode. I felt almost as if someone had to take up the torch and continue telling superhero stories. The world still needs heroes, perhaps now more than ever, and I believe that comic book superhero stories, at their best, inspire us to think that even ordinary people like ourselves, in moments of crisis, can rise to the occasion and become heroes. Comic book superheroes, for all their melodrama and ridiculous costumes, show us images of the people we wish we could be, of the people we want to be. I want to be a hero, but if I can't be a hero, at least I want to be someone who creates heroes for the rest of us.