Tom Mayflower worked with his uncle Max Mayflower (aka the great escape artist Misterioso) at the Empire Palace Theatre, in Empire City. Though Tom had been crippled since he was young, his skills at devising and repairing the various traps, bondage's and snares that his uncle used in his performances onstage was unparalleled. One night, Uncle Max is shot while performing the famed water torture escape. Agents of the Iron Chain, whose button Tom found earlier, wedged under the wheel of the water trap, murdered Max because of the hope he represented in opposing their fascist ideology. As Max slowly bleeds to death, he asks Tom to grab a spare costume and get out on stage to finish the show, Tom is skeptical because of his bad leg, but his uncle hands him a small golden key and tells him "Just keep it about you, you'll be alright."
After successfully completing the coffin trick (while finding his bad leg is now usable), he is rushed backstage by Max's assistants, Omar, Big Al and Miss Plum Blossom. The Great Misterioso is dying. As he lays among his friends and only family, Max tells Tom the story of the golden key. When he was a younger man, Max was a cad and gadabout, going to the lowest dives and fleshpots of Empire City, gambling and wasting his rich fathers money. Unable to pay off some loan sharks one night, Max is kidnapped and held for ransom. Despite his son's wasteful life, Max's father is willing to pay the sum asked for, if only to get his boy back. But one night, while Max sits in the captors hideaway, a man dressed all in white comes and frees him. Before Max can properly thank his savior, one of the kidnappers comes in, and shoots the man in white. As he dies, he hands Max his golden key and tells him to "Stop wasting your life. You have the key." Max then spent the next ten years, searching the world for the lock that the key would open and consulting with masters of locks, bonds and snares, while in the process becoming a master showman and escape artist. While touring with a circus in Canada, Max meets Big Al (who is on display as the carnival freak named 'The Ogre'). One night, he hears Al play a beautiful classical piece on the violin. He offers to buy Al's freedom with the only thing he has of value, the golden key. As Max strikes the chains that held Big Al, another man in white suit appears, telling him that he has finally understood the true purpose of the golden key. Over the years, as Max and Al would continue the work of liberation, along the way Omar and Miss Plum Blossom would join their cause, being freed from toil and slavery. Tom was found in an orphanage in Europe.
As Max slowly gives up the ghost, he reveals to Tom that the men who kidnapped him all those years ago, were agents of the Iron Chain, and that tonight, while he was assassinated, their old dream of ruling a nation had to come to pass. The Iron Chain was now in control of Germany (via the Nazi Party). After Max passes from this world, Tom gather Al, Omar and Miss Plum Blossom around him, and then he raises his uncles golden key high, and swears an oath to fight and drive out the forces of the Iron Chain, from Germany or wherever they rear their ugly heads and fight for the liberation of all who toil in chains, as the Escapist.
The Escapist is a character of Dark Horse Comics, and makes his first comic appearance in Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist #1. But the character in fact made his first true appearance in Michael Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. In the novel, Chabon presents Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, two Jewish cousins who, midst the glory days of the Golden Age of Comic books, create their own character, the Escapist! The novel details their lives during this time, and how their work and the influence of WWII, plus all the other cultural madness of the time, impacts their lives.
Major Story Arcs
The Escapist had many enemies during his Golden Age run. Fascist foes like the Steel Gauntlet, Kapitan Evil, the Panzer, Siegfried, Swastika Man, the Four Horsemen and Wotan the Wicked, who confined their nefarious operations to the battlefields of Europe and North Africa. But on the home front, the Escapist faced other deadly foes including Renata von Voom, the Spy Queen, the Fifth Columnist, Mr. Fear, Benedict Arnold Junior and his deadliest enemy of all, the Saboteur. This man, who sought to take Empire City as his own, constantly battled the Escapist during his original run, sometimes by himself, other times with Renata (his girlfriend) and the others mentioned, as the United Snakes of America.