Howard Chaykin was an interesting writer in the 80s when he wrote the American Flagg! series, so I had high hopes for Barnum!: In Secret Service to the USA--it suggests an experience akin to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though glossed with early 20th century Americana. That the protagonist is American's #1 carny, P. T. Barnum, sealed the deal for me: Espionage, nostalgia, adventure, quirkiness, and a well-heeled writer at the helm. In sum, the story should write itself, and it should be a good one, clever and engaging.
However, I was disappointed that the plot provided poor development and relied heavily on deus ex machina rather than real bravado, deep characterization or clever writing. Much of the story seemed cheesy and hackneyed to me, relying on cheap jokes, pithy, uninteresting dialogue and "surprise! we're not who we say we are!"-type plot twists. Even the Barnum character was not engaging, Chaykin relying, it seems to me, on the mystique engendered by circus personnel in the American consciousness to write the book for him, rather than diving in and getting to the heart of his heroes. Little of this story made sense (and it *should* make sense; anyone can write nonsensica, meanderingl plots), and overall I was left with a feeling that I could have spent my money better elsewhere, or that a much better story could have been made of all this. As for the art, it was passable, but I was unimpressed.
If your sense of history is lacking or your taste in comics isn't refined--or you're under the age of, let's say, 20--this book might meet your needs, but it's not really intended for adults who have a smattering of taste or who've experience comics that are much better. It's a poor man's LXG--and, as to that, if I were a poor man, I would probably save my money rather than throw it away on the plodding narrative of Barnum!: In Secret Service to the USA. It's too late for me, but you can save yourselves the time and money by taking a pass on this one.