This was a random, wonderful discovery at my local comic shop, and one of the advantages of and reasons for local comic shops.
Barnum tells the story of P.T. Barnum, who gets drafted as a special agent to stop a mad Nicola Tesla from assassinating President Harding in a bid to take over the world. And P.T. uses his circus performers to do it.
It’s wild. The performers run the gamut from a diminutive strong-man to a young punk acrobat to a wily female hypnotist. They’re all…well, they’re all geeks, really, which is part of the appeal. These are social outcasts who Barnum hired, and have formed something like a family.
And they go on a rollicking adventure across America, involving all sorts of then-state-of-the-art technology, from dirigibles to a calculating engine. Fortunately for the reader’s suspension of disbelief, P.T. Barnum’s incessant collecting bug provides a reason for much of this technology to pop up: he’s either actively pursuing it, or his enemies are deploying it against Barnum’s formidable forces.
But, ultimately, this is a fun, light action-adventure story. One could easily compare this with The X-Men, Barnum serving as a manic Professor Xavier and his sideshow freaks as real-life mutants, minus energy powers. And while Barnum delves into a little social commentary about society’s outsiders (and the irony that they now do very well for themselves by highlighting the very attributes that make them outsiders), it’s still mostly the story of stampeding elephants, high-speed chases, and charging pygmy warriors.