America: God, Gold, and Golems is an interesting trilogy of graphic novels. Far from the standard entertaining fare of the genre, these volumes force the reader to face the reality of human nature while informing them about little-known events from American history. Originally published independently, this compilation draws more significance from each novel by its proximity to the others, bringing out some overarching themes such as greed and discrimination.
The first story, "The Revival," is set in Kentucky during the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, which was a large-scale religious event with many charismatic preachers that impacted a large number of people on what was the American Frontier at the time. In this story, the Bainbridges bring their daughter to this revival in order to ask Elijah Young, a well-known preacher famous for healing, to bring her back from the dead. Their intentions, however, are mainly selfish, and Elijah declares that the child will only rise again on Judgment Day
Furious, Sarah snatches the child back and screams at God, begging Him to bring her back, but he does not. This event demonstrates Sarah's faulty theology: what she wants for herself is not necessarily what's best for her. These days, though tragic, show Sarah her error and give her the opportunity to start a new life in Missouri. While this story could be seen as a criticism of charismatic Christianity, it is perhaps better seen as a critique of blind, selfish faith and a tribute to the necessity of trust in God in a broken world.
"Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight" is a longer, darker story. Acting purely out of Machiavellian self-interest, white men kick the Chinese out of the mine in Solomon's Gulch, hanging and torturing their men until they leave. This greed does not abate when the Chinese leave; instead, the men desperately search for gold in the mines in order to satisfy their lust for wealth. This greed leads to terrible things; Weeks tries to steal Skinny's money during his illness, and eventually, he loses his mind and shoots Skinny, Mae, and himself. This tragedy is a shocking reminder that there's more to life than the acquisition of money.
"The Golem's Mighty Swing" is perhaps the most nuanced, and certainly the longest, of these three graphic novels. It is the story of a Jewish baseball team called the "Stars of David" who tour America and play local baseball teams to earn a living. Its themes are varied and complex: it deals heavily with discrimination, which the team faces from the white baseball fans and townsfolk, who act with a clear bias against the Jews (even leading to physical abuse during some games). It also deals with greed: in order to boost profits, the team agrees to go along with the scheme of Victor Paige, who wants to dress Hershl up as the mighty Golem, a figure from Jewish myth, in order to attract more of a crowd and increase revenue from each game.
Golems, however, have a habit of causing more trouble than they're worth, as they are given life by kabbalists despite the fact that only God should give life, and this Golem is no exception, causing a riot during the baseball game and nearly resulting in the death of the Stars of David. Finally, this novel includes the specific issue of marketing and showmanship in the sport of baseball; as Strauss thinks near the end, having a baseball game play out more like a theatre production than a sporting event "makes a mockery of the sport. It's pathetic."
In all, each of these novels deals with specific time periods, areas, and issues, but all three are sobering accounts of real-life events from minor eras of American history, and they are wonderful teaching aids for those who are unfamiliar with these conflicts. They manage to both grieve the tragedies of injustice and celebrate the goodness of man, which is a feat rarely accomplished by so sensational a genre as the graphic novel.