Top critical review
Uneven Epic is Decent Intro to History of Comic Books
on September 1, 2003
Comic book fans & collectors are really split on this one! I say, read it if you don't know a thing about comic book history, but it's not good enough for the old guard.
True: it's an engrossing epic that touches on roots of popular comic book culture, especially superheroes. Any comic book fan will totally enjoy the format, which is oriented to the origins of the art itself. Protagonist serves as a metaphor for the golden age of comics, going from refugee escape artist to unsung war hero to battered & bruised survivor of postwar politics. If you treasure, say, the story of Bruce (the Batman) Wayne witnessing the brutal slaying of his parents, the vow to fight crime, you at least have one reason to try reading this book.
Many flaws are due to making sweeping broad brushstrokes about origins of comic art, and there are annoyingly erroneous glamorous bits, too. While truly Surrealism and cinema have their influences in comic book art, Chabon places New York comic book artists in an intellectual avant garde milieu and doesn't give enough credit to the more boring commercial art & advertising world that was a kind of spawning ground of many of the best artists. This book is not a factual history, Chabon's proud account of research notwithstanding.
As prose alone, there are several nice touches. Chapters of the Antarctic war posting of protagonist are wonderful, engrossing.
Bafflingly bad is account of nice if arty Jewish girl in bed with lover, nonchalant as her dad walks in. 1940s? No way, no how! Book is dotted with these embarassments.
Frankly, I just hope that the book wins more hearts for the art of the comic book. It may be doing that. It's a fine introduction, a novelty to the as-yet-unconverted. What the heck, all this hooplah helps raise the value of our collections! But there are enough of us old fans who can't abide by the faults...