Shiny Shelf

JSA All Stars #7

By Mark Clapham on 10 November 2003

DC is increasingly publishing comics where the back-ups are far, far better than the leads. For instance, who would buy a copy of the execrable ‘Gotham Knights’ for any other reason than the star-talent-heavy ‘Batman: Black and White’ stories in the back? The new teams on the ‘Superman’ books will make their debut in back-up stories, presumably to dull the pain of a fill-in run by the Abnett/Lanning literacy vacuum.

‘JSA All Stars’ has taken this approach to a dizzying new high, with an entire mini-series where the lead stories are entirely worthless, but the golden age era back-ups represent some of the best talent in comics working on their favourite characters. While there have been some misses, all the back-ups have at least been interesting and pleasing on the eye.

With this penultimate issue, DC has a real coup on its hands. While the lead story is the usual face-your-fears rubbish, the back-up is the comic book writing debut of Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon. Chabon effectively outed himself as a fanboy with his novel ‘The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’, which rewrote the early history of superhero comics in fictional form, and featured cameos from several real-life creators. For Chabon, the essence of the superhero comic is a desire for escape, hence the genre’s rise at a time when the world was increasingly harsh and uncertain. His Siegel-and-Schuster-esque title characters create the Escapist, a superhero who embodies the desire of ?migr? Jews to fight back at the Nazi domination of Europe.

So, having researched and fictionalised the golden age of comics, Chabon brings to his story a deep understanding of the era. Chabon’s story focuses on Ned Sloan, brother of Terry Sloan, the golden age Mr Terrific. Like the relationship between cousins Kavalier and Clay, the relationship between the Sloan brothers is fraught with insecurity. Terry is the most brilliant man in the world, the man who can do anything. Ned is a bit of a loser, a drunk and a gambler. When Terry throws a Christmas party, Ned turns up in a parody of the Mr Terrific costume as ‘Doctor Nil’, whose superhero power is to hit rock bottom and still keep sinking. However, Doctor Nil turns out to have abilities his brother lacks after all…

This is a warm, funny story, beautifully illustrated in a polished pseudo-golden-age style by ‘Gotham Central’ artist Michael Lark. Ned is a terrifically engaging character, and his relationship to his older, intimidating brother is akin to that of the average fanboy and the heroes he reads about. As with ‘Kavalier and Clay’, Chabon captures the boyish need for someone to look up to perfectly.

A little later in the year, this would have been a perfect story to buy and read over the Christmas holiday. As it stands, it’s worth buying the issue now and saving it for December, for that seasonal glow.

Treat yourself to a copy of ‘The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’ from Amazon.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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