In Brooklyn in 1939, Sammy wakes to find that Josef has pasted elaborate drawings carefully over his own comic landscape. He is impressed, and they decide to partner up, as Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, to make “big money.” Bubbie, Sammy's Czech grandmother, sits quietly in her chair. Ethel, Sammy’s mother, serves breakfast, and Sammy tells her that his plan is to draw comic books with Josef, as the comic-book market is booming. He says it will make them $50 a week.
At Empire Novelty, Sammy’s boss is Sheldon P. Anapol, a “likable and cruel” businessman with marital difficulties. Sammy makes an appointment with him. In the meeting, Sammy shows Anapol a drawing of Joe’s. Anapol demands to know who the illustrator is, and Sammy says it is his cousin, who is looking for a job. At the same time, Joe is outside the office, drawing.
Sammy suggests to Anapol that establishing their own Superman would be a sound business move for Empire Novelty. Anapol then asks Joe to come into the office, and he tells Joe he is hugely impressed by his drawing. The drawing depicts the Golem, and Joe explains that he views Superman as an American Golem. He says that he has studied at the Academy of Fine Art. Anapol’s colleague, Jack, arrives and declares Joe’s work beautiful. Anapol suggests the boys go home and produce a twelve-page story featuring their equivalent to Superman by Monday. Joe seals the deal by offering to fix the company's broken radio handsets for free.
Joe and Sam, desperate to impress Anapol, convene and to create their characters, defining their identities and roles. Sammy lists several existing comic-book characters. The pair consider animal-people and special powers, but they decide the first question is: why is their character fighting crime? They are seeking a compelling origin story, like Batman’s, when they encounter a young man Sammy introduces to Joe as Julie Glovsky. Julie’s brother is “making good money in comics.”
Sammy tells Julie he is “art director in chief” of their comics venture and asks if Julie would like to come and work for him. Sammy agrees he will also hire Julie’s brother, provided that they can work in the cramped studio quarters they call “the Rathole.”
Sammy’s father, “the Mighty Molecule,” or Professor Alphonse von Clay, came home when Sammy was thirteen, having abandoned their family soon after Sammy’s birth. As a child, Sammy had been curious about him: he learned that his father was a stage performer and was only five feet two. Alphonse married Sammy’s moher, Ethel, when she was almost thirty. When he returned, Alfonse swore frequently and rarely slept, not content to stay in one place for long.
Sammy begged to be taken with his father when he left for his apartment on Sackman Street after a day of job hunting. But Alphonse explained that he couldn’t bring Sammy along because of the nature of circus work. Sammy had polio as a child, which meant he would struggle to do physical work.
One day at the steam baths, the hammam, Sammy was struck and embarrassed by the physical impressiveness of his father’s nude body. The Molecule said that after Sammy had polio, it was he who forced Sammy to walk again until he succeeded in doing so. After much further begging on Sammy’s part, Alphonse said he would take Sammy with him when he left, but Alphonse did not honor his word. Much later, about a year before Joe’s arrival, Sammy receives a telegram saying that the Molecule has...
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been killed in a fairground accident.
Multiple cartoonists gather in the top two floors of Patroon Town, an apartment block whose landlady, Mrs. Waczukowski, is the widow of a cartoonist. Jerry and Julie Glovsky moved in six months earlier, but the arrangement seems a rather haphazard one, with the legality of the artists’ living situation being somewhat in question. As such, when Sammy, Joe, and Julie arrive, Mrs. Waczukowski refuses to let them in and tells them to “scram.” Julie doesn’t have a key, so the boys are unable to get into the apartment.
Joe says he could get them in, if only he had his tools. Julie protests that perhaps they should not be attempting to break into apartments, and Joe concedes this. However, he says he has another plan and proceeds to climb up the fire escape. Despite the others’ protestations that Joe’s plan is dangerous, he begins to swing, more and more wildly, out into space. He eventually swings himself into a position from which he can open the window and climb into the apartment. Julie is impressed, as if Joe is a cartoon character himself.
The three boys are now inside the apartment, Joe having opened the door for the other two. A girl suddenly appears in the stairwell, running past the three boys, wearing an overcoat. She drops a satchel containing various pieces of makeup and other items. Joe says the girl was lying naked on the bed when he first came in through the window. Julie says he will give Joe three dollars to draw a picture of the girl, whose name is Rosa Saks, as he saw her on the bed. Joe draws her as he had seen her, lying on her stomach, asleep.