In keeping with NPI’s December theme of Aught Lang Syne, this month’s Sunday Book Reviews will cover some of the most important works of literature to come out this decade. Today we’re starting with Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
What is the appeal of superheroes? As this decade’s onslaught of superhero movies* has proved, simply investing someone or something with incredible abilities does not suffice to make a compelling story. And yet so many people are preternaturally drawn to these stories, like a moth to a flame.
*For the record this decade has seen three Spiderman movies, four X-Men, two Batmans, two Fantastic Fours, one Superman, two Hulks, one Iron Man….Am I forgetting some? Oh yeah, two Hellboys, Daredevil, Catwoman, Elektra, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and, if you want to count them, two Blade sequels.
In Michael Chabon’s modern classic, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier &Clay, he provides something of an explanation. Early in the novel, when the titular “heroes” are struggling to come up with a superhero to launch their new comic book business, they realize the futility of trying to come up with an irresistible gimmick for the hero. As Sammy Clay, the brains of the operation, puts it:
“No matter what we come up with, and how we dress him, some other character with the same shtick, with same style of boots and the same little doodad on his chest, is already out there, or is coming out tomorrow, or is going to be knocked off from our guy inside a week and a half…How? is not the question. What? is not the question….The question is why…What is the why?”