Plot Junkie: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon (Part 2, A Couple of Boy Geniuses)

Book 1 of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay told us who Josef Kavalier and Sam Klayman/Clay were, Book 2 tells us what they want to do.

The morning after Josef arrives in his life, Sam wakes up to find his cousin filling in spaces of his own cherished comic book sketches. His artistic ambition is hampered by a rather less than deft drawing style. Josef, on the other hand, is adept and, as it is revealed, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. (This is just a quibble, but I don’t believe his drawing ability was alluded to at all in the first book. His younger brother could draw, but he was more involved with learning methods of escape. Josef seems to have been imbued with a lot of various talents.) Anyway. Josef is very artistic, it turns out that Sam is a whiz at plot construction. After successfully pitching the idea of a comic (in the style of the newly-popular Superman comics) to Sam’s boss, their character “The Escapist” is born.

I’d never really considered the social context of the comic book genre. I’ve been troubled by the messianic qualities of the superhero genre (people don’t save themselves, they wait for an otherworldly someone to combat the baddies, which is great if that otherworldly being comes, but could tend to make the population somewhat passive in their wait for rescue.) The Amazing Adventures contextualizes that reliance on the otherworldly superhero by placing it against the seemingly insurmountable adversaries of the era: the financial woes and the European turmoil of the 1930’s.

I think I love most how Chabon talks about the centrality of language to reality:

Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. Every golem in the history of the world, from Rabbi Hanina’s delectable goat to the river-clay Frankenstein of Rabbi Judah Lowe ben Bezalei, was summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat–was, literally, talked into life.

 

 

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