American baseball is often thought of as the light-hearted, family-friendly sport that feeds the machines of democracy and patriotism; a sport that goes hand-in-hand with the “achievable” American Dream.
Unfortunately, the reality can be much darker and James Sturm’s 2017 graphic novel reissue of The Golem’s Mighty Swing reveals the invisible truth.
Centering on the fictional Jewish-American baseball team, the Stars of David, Sturm’s 110-page black and white, sepia-toned graphic novel touches on racism, small town America, desperation and baseball in the 1920s.
The Stars of David are a travelling all-Jewish team that earn their living bussing from town to town playing local squads. After they face financial difficulties, the team’s captain, Noah Strauss, strikes a deal with a Chicago promoter who wishes to transform the team’s largest bearded player, Hershl Bloom, into a golem from Jewish folklore.
For the fans, the game becomes more of a spectacle of watching the Golem and the Stars more than the game of baseball.
Along the way, the Stars face anti-Semitism and threats to their lives. Baseball becomes less about sportsmanship and more about survival.
Sturm’s graphic novel has a simple narrative, but his imagery is what really stands out.
Each panel has that concrete, hardline style found in graphic novels, but Sturm chooses to add meticulous details to certain objects. This is easily seen when Sturm introduces the small American towns as the Stars drive through. Minor characters become obstacles and grow more detailed as the narrative continues.
Then there’s the Golem—Sturm’s hulking creature whose costume is centered around stereotypic racism.
Initially released in 2001, The Golem’s Mighty Swing was a thought-provoking read. It seems many comics nowadays focus on vivid action and lose their speed within the plot. This is not the case with this tale of America’s favourite pastime.