By Mr. Xenophon


“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

All golem making recalls God’s creation of Adam—from the traditional recipe of earth and breath, to the initial purity of purpose, the inevitable corruption of that purpose, and finally redemption through death.

The Escapist is Joe and Sammy’s Adam. He is created in their collective image, infused with their spirit, and betrays his intended purpose. The novel can be read as the search for his redemption, and the ultimate fulfillment of his purpose in lives of his creators.

On the evening Joe and Sammy conceive the Escapist the narrator observes that every golem is “summoned into existence through language, through murmuring…literally, talked into life.” Sammy and Joe’s conversation, their breath, is the Escapist’s animating force. Like God’s “breath” in Genesis two (translated from the Hebrew, ruah, which also means spirit) their words bring their creation to life, imprinting it with their comingled desire for liberation. For Joe, the rescue of his family; for Sammy, escape from the psychological baggage left him by his father. More consciously for Joe than for Sammy, the fulfillment of these desires become the Escapist’s purpose.

In his initial state of purity the Escapist thrives. He vaults Sammy out of his mother’s house and into a state of financial security—each a wrung of self-worth on Sammy’s ladder out of insecurity. He brings Joe the “big money” he needs to rescue his family and resettle them in America. But in each case their Adam falls short. Sammy becomes embarrassed of the lowly art form that has brought his success, and Joe’s efforts to get his family out of Prague are frustrated by a tangled web of red tape.

Ultimately the Escapist comes tantalizingly close to making good on his creation purpose. Tracy Bacon and Hollywood for Sammy; the Ark of Miriam for Joe. But like all golems, Frankenstein, and Adam before him, he must betray his creators


“It looks like it’s kind of dangerous, making a golem.”

At the height of the Escapist’s prelapsarian existence, just before Joe and Sammy see Citizen Kane, the narrator foreshadows what’s to come: “Later writers and artists, with the connivance of George Deasey, turned the strip into a peculiar kind of inverted parody of the whole genre of the costumed hero…He was a superpowerful, muscle-bound clown.”

The perversion and corruption of his initial “earnestness, [and] social conscience” and relegation to the artistic hackery of his postwar masters are the consequences of the Escapists Fall. But the ramifications of his betray for his masters is equally as harrowing.

As is often the case, the golem’s power, the very means by which it is able to fulfill its purpose, is used to betray it. Joe’s Escapist money put Tomas on the doomed ship. Tracy Bacon and the promise of a career writing for television led to Sammy being brutalized.

They each experience their own kind of Fall—the hope of escape replaced by grim reality of captivity. Joe’s separation from his family not only becomes absolute, but he is dramatically isolated, ending up trapped under a mountain of ice in a base full of dead people in the total darkness of the Antarctic winter. Sammy is sexually stifled by the pretense of heteronormativity and left to toil shamefully in cut-rate comics. Their Adam has done the opposite of what they created him to do.


“Today,” said Anapol, “I killed the Escapist.”

For the Escapist, restoration and fulfillment, his reunification with his creators, is achieved only in his death, which provides Joe and Sammy with opportunities for redemption.  Joe is able to buy Empire Comics and redeem the costumed hero, and he finds himself, as he once dreamed, settled in America surrounded by family. Sammy is forced by the comic book hearings to face and reconcile his sexuality, finding in the experience the liberation he’s been seeking throughout the novel.

I think in the end the Escapists real power, and that of any golem, lay in providing his creators with a frame work to understand their own tormented spirits; to insulate them form the “impersonal magic of life…sometimes beautiful, sometimes cruel,” that bewitched Bernard Kornblum. Whatever mystical potency they are imbued with is only the fancifully dressed yearnings of their artist fathers, who are not content to sit idle for the chaotic forces of life against which there is no carnate defense.

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  1. Mans says:

    Does this mean that we exist only to help The LORD understand its own tormented soul?

    • Patrick M says:

      Rereading it this time, I was struck by this late-in-the-book “Weird Planet” comic Sam is working on:
      In the highest tower, a mile above the planet, he comes upon a giant. Twenty feet tall, huge wings, golden like all the others but with ragged hair, big long beard. In chains. Giant atomic chains.”
      She waited while he waited for her to ask.
      “And?” she said finally.
      “We’re in heaven, this planet,” said Sam.
      “I’m not sure I—”
      “It’s God.”

      • thepurplemonk says:

        That was a cool concept. The crazy God in the comic can definitely be read as an explanation for why the world is so filled with suffering and evil, something the characters in this novel had firsthand experience with.

  2. Mans says:

    And also, great job.

  3. jarkrenshaw says:

    if this was videogum I would put up some weird approval gif (also i don’t know how to do that)

  4. hotspur says:

    Really, really interesting take. But… hmm… in Genesis, God saw Adam was lonely and pulled out a rib to make Eve. (I think there is reference to this in K&C — looking at the golem someone says can we make a female and the answer/joke is no, you need a rib for that.) So… is there an Eve here at all? Or does the lack of Eve for their creation reflect Sam & Joe’s lack of a partner to love and therefore reflect their doom/ loneliness as time goes on? (Not totally doom, because eventually Joe gets Rosa and Sam gets — Miami?)

    The lack of Eve was maybe a fatal flaw in their creation — a creature designed to roam and fight, not to love and build. Especially interesting given how much these two guys were partners to each other in their youth, on a great adventure together — but that this was not enough as time went on. As adults more than adventure what they need is someone to love, and the book (I think) runs out of steam as they lack such a love (the book itself is a kind of golem, brought to life by language) — and the book ends when finally they find it. (Or at least when Joe does.) So maybe this whole book is a story set, in a way, between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve.

    Or is Luna Moth an Eve?

    • Mans says:

      I can’t answer any of these questions! (Because I didn’t reread the book and its been years since I read it). However, I have read Genesis twice recently and so I am totally interested in this idea that the lack of an Eve is a flaw.

      In Genesis, God does not make Adam and then see that he needs Eve. God makes a Human and then splits the human in two–male and female. This idea is, of course, open to endless debate and interpretation as Genesis doesn’t really make it clear and there are two creation stories, etc. However, this is how I read it.

      So in that, it seems to me that the lack of an Eve would be a problem–that one with out the other is incomplete. Or maybe more precisely, the division between man and woman is a problem. This is not to say that I think that men and women need to be paired in some romantic way, but as a symbol for strife on Earth–that humanity is incomplete while there is not equality between the two.

      I now wish I’d reread the book so I could apply these ideas. I’m totally bummed.

  5. Bookface says:

    Great job, Mr. Xenophon!

    I like the notion of betraying creators. Many of the characters do this unconsciously or consciously without malice. Early, Sam lets his mother believe him to be more important at Empire Novelties out of shame.

    Another item related to the religious discussions in the book by which I was intrigued was the absence of religion from Joe and Kornblum’s lives playing against their faith in magic.

    • babbycakes says:

      First, big ups to Xeno for using the word prelapsarian.

      Second, Bookface, I thought the belief in magic was really interesting too. So much to delve into. The way that it’s treated in two parallel ways, for the audience as mystical and requiring faith and ignorance of the methods, and for the Chosen Performers or rare few who practice it, as a completely non-supernatural art form, but an art form for which rigorous and devotional practice BECOMES transcendent and more important than ignorant faith… I think it’s clear that performing magic is a stand in for judaism, and maybe making the characters religious on top of that would cloud the metaphor.

      Maybe Chabon did this so he could dig into the impact of religion on their lives without making it an explicitly “religious” book? The same way Joe&Sam are worrying that the explicit Jewishness of the Golem Comic will limit its appeal?

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