Myth makers 

From the streets of our nation's full-scale prototypes of Gotham and Metropolis -- teeming with the hopes and dreams of the children of turn-of-the-century immigrants -- came that oft-disregarded but fanatically worshiped art form, the comic book. The creators, raised on pulp fiction and trips to the movie theater, drew the aspirations of a generation, catapulting the newspaper comic strip into a new form of storytelling, one that would speak to the pains of adolescence even as it created lasting heroes for our nation.

Like Zeus and his cronies on Mount Olympus, the pantheon of superheroes spawned (and later Spawned) by these artists infiltrates our national identity as surely as any religion. And yet the genesis of these heroes is often shrouded in mystery and obfuscation, as Gerard Jones explains in his monumentally ambitious history of the comic book, Men of Tomorrow.

Jones paints a picture of an incestuous industry that fed upon the dreams of men like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (who sold the rights to Superman for 130 bucks), repackaged them as commodities and made fortunes selling those dreams to kids all over the United States. Insidiousness to the max, but every good story has its heroes and villains.

Jones clearly favors the escapism addicts who created the superheroes over the business geniuses who built the comic book market. That's how it should be; superheroes are fundamentally about the revenge of the nerd. And while the medium's fan base has changed over the years (a progression that the author addresses thoroughly), Jones' background as a former screenplay and comic book writer for Batman and Spider-Man gives him the street cred he needs to impress the grassroots-oriented fanboy crowd.

Jones' loving description is flowery at times (he describes New York's Waldorf-Astoria as "that two towered palace on Park Avenue ... the great tits of the bitch goddess Manhattan herself"), but appropriately so. Like the thousands of fantastic comic book narratives that have woven their way into our cultural fabric, the story of those heroic geeks deserves the full-color treatment.

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones. $26. Basic Books. 320 pages.

Other worthwhile words this week

Attention voyeurs: FOUND magazine editors and dumpster divers are throwing a reading/performance/party at Ashton's as part of a book tour for Davy Rothbart's FOUND: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World. Both the book and the magazine reproduce collages of real photos, notes, to-do lists, cards and other detritus of daily life found by the editors and their readers. Often hilarious, sometimes sad or sweet, almost always deliciously maddening in what remains untold. Bring your own finds to the party.

Sun., Oct. 31, 8 p.m. Ashton's, 314 E. Howard Ave., Decatur. 404-378-6310. Book: $14. Fireside. 256 pages.



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