Friday, June 7, 2013

Note - No, a Review, Really - about Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a brilliant novel bursting with the wunderkind energy of being a quasi-fictionalized retelling of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster creating Superman. But to limit the work to a simple retelling is misleading, as the Last Son of Krypton and other characters are often referenced in the story. Chabon channels Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Jim Starlin. These are some of the comic-book luminaries who, in a sense, are the clay with which Chabon molds his protagonists much like a Golem. A Golem, in fact, also features in the outlandish prologue and a character’s attempt to flee Nazi-occupied Prague.

Kavalier and Clay is a story of two young artists breaking into the burgeoning comic-book industry of the late 1930’s. Brooklyn writer Sam Clay and Czech artist Joe Kavalier enter the rough-and-ready world of these early comics, a time when everyone wanted to mint another Superman and, later in the story, Batman. Clay, a brilliant concept man à la Stan Lee and Kavalier, a gifted artist à la Jack Kirby, try to earn their patch in this zeitgeist. They go through adventures and life changes and swim the rocky waters of a turbulent time that propels both kids through their quests for love, and the hammer-to-iron creation of comics, in all-nighter-weekends of coffee, cigarettes and take-out food. Much of their passion arises from the mad scramble to create comics that  readers will find impossible not to snap off the newsstands. The influences of the big houses is omnipresent in Kavalier, both Marvel Comics and DC comics, or their early incarnations, Marvel Mystery Comics and National Allied Publications.
In short, Chabon’s prose sizzle, pop, and sing through this yarn as Clay and Joe throw themselves into their work and lives in the Big City. Rarely has a book so delighted this reader. It’s the kind of novel you finish, put down, and think about. Then, a few years pass and you're still thinking about it. Thinking about it so much, in fact, that you may reread it. If I have one qualm it is that the ending seems a little curt in comparison to the vast and engrossing remaining 95 per cent of the novel.
Now, because Kavalier and Clay was so brilliant, one can find it harder to read Telegraph Avenue, Chabon’s new 2012 novel. While Telegraph is a good read, Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay, an immersing, dynamic, surprise-filled tale of two young rogues scribbling and pencilling their way through a quick adolescence and early adulthood, is utterly phenomenal. In many instances, Chabon’s descriptions, of Kavalier pulling off an escape feat, or of Clay imagining a new story or hero, are breathtaking.

I have admittedly not read Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which he published at 25, or Wonder Boys, whose cinematic version I have viewed many times. I suspect that each of these works also warrants a read.

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