Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.

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By Scott Southard. Romance is primarily absent from comics as a medium. Not “make-out, fall-in-love” romance, but the “mysterious, strange artist-y” kind of romance that hovers over American road trips, alcoholic authors, and rainstorms watched from a dimly lit room. The warm smoke of this ambience remains mostly absent from comics, and that’s a damn shame, especially when something like The Golem’s Mighty Swing exists, proving the full capacity that pictures and words can have to tell a story we can all fall in love with.

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It helps that the content focuses on baseball, scientifically proven to be the number one nostalgia-inducing pastime in America’s young history, but the story of a struggling family business and the erosion of the things we hold sacred can yank at the tendons of any living reader, sports drama or not. James Sturms lovingly explores the groupthink hatred of America’s past (and present), the love and disappointment a familial relationship can experience, the basics of the Midwest’s farmtown economy, the forever-tethered strain of personal religion, and the goddamn beauty of the game of baseball.

The book speeds along as a baseball team travels from town to town, but the scenes within are paced methodically. Sturm draws out full innings, illustrating the moments we all notice at a real game (the wind in a flag, the dugout chatter, the dynamics between the crowd and the players, etc). It’s a tumbleweed approach to storytelling, and a very thorough and engulfing method of displaying this baseball drama. It takes the rose-colored theatrics of Tinker to Evers to Chance and blueprints them onto a larger scale, with greater stakes. Much of The Golem’s Mighty Swing reads just like Ken Burns’ Baseball. It almost comes off as if narrated by James Chancellor, and you can hear the swaying saloon piano playing in the background.

But without the backstory, a game of baseball can have little to offer than the superficial effort given from a clip-on tie. It needs the narrative of good versus evil, us versus them, or at least a group of people with hopes and pains versus another group of people with hopes and pains to reach the deistic level of sanctity it holds in the hearts of fans. We’re given The Stars of David, and we follow the manager, Noah Strauss, as he tries to hold the team together by whatever means are necessary. We watch him compromise his religion, his career, and his family throughout the book, but the elegance lies not in the characters or plot points, but in the overall lack of judgement.

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Strauss makes his choices after weighing options, and the final decisions are always for the good of those around him. But more than that, none of the compromises are portrayed as massive crossroads moments, rather they’re presented as things that happened in the progression of a life that requires constant decisions from its inhabitants. It’s the way real life works. At the time, we didn’t have the knowledge that the choices we make are monumentally life-altering. That perspective comes only after the fact, when we can look back at the divergent moments and see the map of what got us to where we are. The Golem’s Mighty Swing gives us this perspective with small, wonderful flourishes, giving us a glimmer of hope that’s not unlike witnessing a grounder to 3rd in the bottom of the 9th.  

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