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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blackmarket Books: Carter Beats the Devil

I've been on such a kick for the early twentieth century lately. Whether it's the history of the early comics industry, or just the aesthetic of art deco architecture, I've been just eating this shit up. Which brings me to my first post on this humble blog in just about 2 years: my recent fascination with the big, flashy stage magicians of the aforementioend era.

Carter Beats the Devil follows in the tradition of books like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Oddly enough, they were both published in 2001. Carter tells the tale of Charles Carter III as he grows into a world class, headlining illusonist from the humble beginnings of a travelling show performer working alongside such acts as a dramatic monologist and an immigrant couple who use barnyard animals as musical instruments.

Like Kavalier, Carter is firmly embedded into the culture of the era. Gold weaves characters and events from the time -- like Houdini, the Marx Brothers, and the 1904 San Francisco earthquake -- into the life of Carter the Great effortlessly, without making it feel as if he's simply name-dropping.

In fact, I would even rate Carter higher than Kavalier at this point: Chabon seemed to let the plot drive his characters more toward the end. He also handled his characters with kid gloves, allowing them some measure fo power against the publishing giants of the day, in contrast to actual conditions for writers/artists at the time -- the only comic book creator to actually get any respect was, ironically, Bob Kane, because he had the pull necessary to play hardball -- even when he was using ghosts most of the time! Carter, on the other hand, must struggle and suffer through the "minor leagues" of magic before he can get anywhere, and even then, he requires the self-interested assistance of Harry Houdini before he can rise up the ladder.

I'm not quite finished the thing yet, but, so far, everything's looking good. I can only hope that he doesn't flop after the half-way point like Chabon seemed to do with Kavalier.

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