'Boardwalk Empire': The Secret Comic Book History

Boardwalk Empire

by Ethan Kaye

Comic books weave threads through all popular media. What once lived in attics and dingy strip mall stores are now headlining box offices, Broadway stages, and magazine covers. So how far do these tentacles stretch? This column looks at what’s popular, and uncovers some of the hidden connections to the comic world!

This week: HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Martin Scorsese's take on Prohibition-era Atlantic City gives viewers a ground-level view of America's greatest gangsters right as they're getting on their feet. With alcohol outlawed (and women just given the right to vote), politics and violence are the words of the day, and gangsters like Al Capone mix with bootleggers and presidents. And it has some pretty good comic connections!

Michael Shannon: As Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden, Shannon’s the goodie-goodie with a troubled soul. He tries to be a saint, but the veniality of Atlantic City gets to him. But expect some real evil from Michael in 2013 – he’s playing villainous General Zod in the upcoming Superman film "Man of Steel." But it’s not his first comic role – he played Doc Cross in last year’s "Jonah Hex."

Steve Buscemi: The whole Atlantic City bootlegging/politicking/murdering/electioneering business revolves around Steve Buscemi and his character of Enoch Thompson. He’s got a fine comic pedigree too. He did a voice in 2001’s "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," and the "FF" franchise has done some fine manga work. And in 2001 he had a starring role in "Monsters Inc.," which went to print by Boom! Studios and Dark Horse. His big claim to comic fame was in the same year as "Monsters Inc.": the adaptation of Daniel Clowes’s indie hit "Ghost World," as Seymour, the offbeat loser.

Kelly Macdonald: Irish immigrant Margaret Schroeder is the “everyman” character who acts as the entryway to the world of gangsters and graft. She’s had some great roles, but for our purposes? A small role in the "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy," a cult hit book that became a cult comic hit in the ‘90s from DC.

Al Capone: Stephen Graham’s portrayal of gangster Al Capone is one of the highlights of "Boardwalk Empire." And why shouldn’t he be? Not only is he a fine actor, but Capone’s such a classic American character. So classic that he showed up in “Superman Meets Al Capone!” in "Superman" #142, 1961. It’s kind of a stinker. Superman goes back in time (these were the days when a writer could make up Superman’s powers as they go) and poses as a gangster in Capone’s gang. Capone looks like a trigger-happy fool, which, to be honest, is kind of how he’s portrayed in the show.

Charles “Lucky” Luciano: Another big-name gangster in the show is Charles “Lucky” Luciano, played by Vincent Piazza. He’s synonymous with crime, which made him a perfect subject for “The True Life Story of Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano,” a tale from the classic Golden Age book "Crime Does Not Pay" #26 in 1943.

Weigh in on the secret comic book history of "Boardwalk Empire" in the comments section and on Twitter!