Last Updated on March 16, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1224
Joe moves his enormous collection of comic books, which represent emotional security to him, into the Clays’ house. Sammy peruses Joe’s new Golem work, which he thinks is excellent, although Joe thinks it will be “too dark” for most.
Joe has been in New York since 1949. Initially he had a vague idea that he would return to Rosa after he finished his Golem work. But he waited too long and became paralyzed, unable to approach her again.
Sammy tells Joe that he thinks they should tell Tommy about his parentage. He says that marrying Rosa was “the easy thing.” He never loved Rosa romantically; rather, he married her because he didn’t want to be “a fairy.”
Sammy reads through Joe’s work while Joe fetches sandwiches from a diner. While they are in Joe’s suite, Anapol arrives unexpectedly and asks how Joe is. Sammy tells Anapol that he has been subpoenaed. Anapol says that he has killed The Escapist, having been losing money on him for some time. The age of costumed heroes is on the decline.
Sammy tells Joe that if he had a million dollars, he’d buy Empire. Joe says, for his part, he has “not quite a million,” and Sammy remembers that Joe put away a lot of money in order to eventually start a family.
Joe is shocked at how unhappy Sammy is and considers buying Empire Comics for him, but that decision would mean accepting that his own family is gone. Sammy tells him to keep his money.
A moving van arrives at the Clay house with a large wooden crate, which excites Tommy. Joe has disappeared, so the Clays presume the crate is part of an escape act. Still, Sammy feels that Joe would have left a note and taken his clothes if he had meant to leave for good.
Rosa has been expecting Joe’s boxes of comics, but the delivery man has only the crate, and he says it has come from Nova Scotia by way of Penn Station. Rosa signs for the crate, confused. It is very heavy. At this moment, a car pulls up in the drive: Joe is home.
The previous night, Joe lies awake, thinking about the possibility of relaunching Empire Comics. He has come to think Sammy may be right about the potential of the Golem—and other superheroes based on Jewish folklore.
Just before five in the morning, he takes the car and leaves, at first aimlessly. Soon, he finds that he is heading for New York, specifically the credit union where his money is held. He sits outside the building for a long while until a policeman tells him to move on; his decision has been made for him. He cannot get the money today.
Next, he visits the Jewish cemetery. In a vision, Kornblum comes to him and tells him to go home. When he returns home, he finds that Rosa is furious and crying as she stands by the mysterious crate. Joe recognizes the crate at once as the one that had contained the Golem. Joe opens the box and finds it filled with silt from the bed of the Moldau river in Prague. The Golem has disintegrated.
Sammy is at the trial to which he has been subpoenaed. The subject of the trial is the moral effect of comic books. The prosecution has already connected comics with perversion in the minds of the jury. Further, the prosecution insinuates that Sammy deliberately creates homoerotic and pederastic relationships in all the comics he writes. Finally, before being asked to move on, the prosecution accuses Sammy of having “psychological proclivities,” a euphemism for homosexuality.
Joe and Rosa escort Sammy out of the court, aware that Sammy is now feeling at a loss, having been “publicly identified as a lifelong homosexual” in a televised trial. They take him to a bar and order bourbon. For a while, they drink together, and Joe and Rosa comfort Sammy until they realize Tommy will soon be home from school. Sammy tells them to take the train home and says he will bring the car home later.
Sammy stays at the bar on his own for another hour and begins to think about Bacon, becoming distressed at the memory. At this point, George Deasey appears in the bar. He tells Sammy he was present at the trial. He asks whether it’s true that Joe is back and asks how Sammy feels. Sammy says he feels more relieved than anything. He tells George he is considering moving to LA to work in television.
Joe’s boxes of comics arrive and are stacked in the garage. Tommy mentions that he watched his father on TV, but he seems more interested in the comic books.
Tommy finds a box containing a copy of the first issue of Radio Comics, various newspaper clippings, a drawing of the Golem, a ticket to Citizen Kane, a box of Kavalier & Clay stationery, an envelope containing a photo of Tracy Bacon, a pair of socks, and a strip of pictures of Rosa and Joe kissing.
Rosa and Joe come in and see the strip in Tommy’s hand. Realizing that they can no longer pretend, Joe and Rosa sit down with Tommy, and Joe explains the history of his relationship with Rosa. He describes how the war changed their lives. He explains about his brother. Eventually, Joe says, “I think we are okay,” and Tommy agrees but asks, “what about Dad?”
Sammy comes home late, having purchased a ticket to LA. Joe, asleep in the living room, wakes, and Sammy asks whether everyone is all right. Joe nods, falling asleep again. Sammy covers him and goes to see Tommy.
During the trial, the prosecution made insinuations about Batman and Robin, assuming that their relationship is homoerotic. Sammy thinks to himself now that these insinuations are wrong. Theirs is a father-son relationship, with Batman standing in for the father that many American boys do not have. Sammy gets into bed with Tommy as he used to do. Tommy wakes and tells his father he thought he was “good” on television. After a time, Sammy gets out of the bed and goes to the master bedroom, where he begins packing his things. When he gets to the kitchen, Rosa is there, having burned a cake.
Rosa notices the case and asks if Sammy is leaving. She says that she would rather he stayed, at least “to prove a point” that nobody can tell others how to live. Sammy says there is another point he needs to prove.
Joe comes into the kitchen and tells Sammy he can't leave—Joe has bought Empire Comics. They convince Sammy he can’t go anywhere tonight, and he says he will sleep on the couch. He suggests that perhaps he can mail stories to Joe from LA.
When the household wakes in the morning, the couch has been stripped and Sammy is gone. Left behind is the card he and Rosa were given when they bought the house. Sammy has crossed out “the Clays” and written “Kavalier & Clay.”