The Escapists #6 from Dark Horse just came out, completing the saga of Max Roth, Case Weaver, and Denny Jones and their attempts to revitalize and reinvent Kavalier & Clay's character, The Escapist, in a self-published indie comic book.
I mention the characters first because for me, they were they key to my enjoyment of this limited series. The highest praise that I can give a story - a book, a movie, a play, a comic - is to say that I care about the people in it and want to know more about them. It doesn't happen often enough, but when I get that feeling, I know I have found a successful work of art.
The Escapists gave me that feeling. Without actually identifying with the characters - I'm a bit long in the tooth to relate to eager twentysomethings - I cared about their struggles, their triumphs, and wanted to know all about the parts of their lives that didn't appear in the book. The point isn't to hope for another story - although that would be swell - but to recognize that the characters had become important and as close to real as they could be. And that's no small feat.
Of course, Brian K. Vaughan already demonstrated his character writing chops to me in Pride of Baghdad, so I shouldn't be so surprised. What might be surprising, however, is how many other wonderful flourishes Vaughan and company incorporate into the series without its getting overwrought. The story uses contrasting art styles to distinguish between the comics pages the characters create and "real" life in the story, as well as several other states of reality. The style change is not only the formalist device that aids the story telling; Vaughan uses disjunctive captions in a far more productive way than media darling Chris Ware ever dreamed, actually using them to advance his story and reveal character development. With all this technique abounding, breaking the fourth wall almost goes unnoticed, yet the reader never gets lost in the telling but remains captivated by the story all this flair works in support of.
There are several other levels on which to appreciate The Escapists: its handling of Kavalier and Clay as real historical figures is engaging and consistent, overflowing into wonderful text pieces. The story also serves as a travelogue to Cleveland, using local history and landmarks to - once again! - advance the story. The commentary on the comics indstry is just gravy.
There are a few quibbles: the villain of the piece is a bit melodramatic, and there were some false notes in the indictment of "corporate creativity," but these are really minor.
With compelling characters, authentic dialog, a realistic plot and daring pacing, as well as beautiful art from a host of illustrators, The Escapists is an excellent mini-series that has earned a place on my bookshelf, not just in the Shortbox.
I'll even buy the trade, too.
The heroes of The Escapists