A few weeks back, The New York Times Magazine wondered whether the graphic novel would supplant the more traditional sort. Perhaps, but this maturing medium doesn’t intimidate the novelists and critics in Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!, who have penned 17 rhapsodies to the glorious underpinning comics can provide the literary life. Aimee Bender draws a parallel between Chekhov’s maxim that “good writing should be grasped at once—in a second” and Chester Brown’s simple panels in Yummy Fur, where two storylines unfold side by side, stoking the teen protagonist’s rage until the “page begin[s] to thrum with it.” A full-page illo opens each essay, including some overstuffed graphics from Howard Chaykin’s mid-’80s American Flagg. Novelist Steve Erickson champions the series’ “vaguely populist iconoclasm, a seething indignation that patriotism somehow had been requisitioned by the political right.”
The highlight is Glen David Gold’s funny, irresistible memoir about comic connoisseurship (“I have a secret weapon as a collector: I can get along with the clinically insane”), featuring Marvel’s soul-weary Adam Warlock (1975). In the best literary tradition, Gold uses this tortured demigod in sagging red cape—”Everything I’ve ever cared for or accomplished has fallen into ruin!”—to illustrate how even minor heroics make workaday existence profound.