I was lying when I said I’d stick to writing about singles from my collection. It’s hard to resist a good mini-series, especially when it’s about a particularly nasty villain. Who doesn’t love to hate a good bad guy? Larry Hama and Mark Texiera’s Sabretooth: Death Hunt delves into the backstory of one of Marvel’s worst.
As evidenced by #2’s missing cover, these were some of my favorite comics growing up. Besides being one of few complete stories in my collection, this mini-series introduced me to the art of Mark Texeira, whose work I’ve previously raved about in my Essential Wolverine post. All four covers sucked me in, and they still mesmerize me today. Inside, Texeira’s art is among the grittiest I’ve seen in mainstream super-hero comics. Some of the most disturbing panels actually remind me of Ralph Steadman with their violent lines and ink splatters. Tex’s style is perfect for a cruel evil-doer like Sabretooth. The foil sociopathic foil to Wolverine, Texeira’s frightening depictions of Sabretooth work wonderfully with Hama’s balance of absurd action and insightful character development.
In Death Hunt, Hama shows us Sabretooth at both his rawest and most vulnerable. Digging into Sabretooth’s past, Hama reminds us that even evil villains are still human. More importantly, by turning Sabretooth into a protagonist, Hama crafts a narrative in which the purest evil becomes a blend of unchecked wealth, power, and hatred. By the end of the story, I almost feel bad for Sabretooth, a ruthless thug caught in a world of even more ruthless oligarchs and spies. Unfortunately, Hama makes his story work by falling back on a tired plot device all too prevalent in the early Wolverine comics I grew up with: kill the woman to hurt the man. RIP, Birdy. You deserved better than to be brought to life only to be treated as collateral damage.
While this is a comic trope that needs to be put to rest, I don’t want to entirely dismiss Hama’s story. Usually, the Women in Refrigerators cliché is the cheap way for an author to hurt the hero. In this story, I’m not sure that’s the case. There are no heroes in Sabretooth: Death Hunt. The only good character removes himself before the inevitably ugly conclusion. Instead, Sabretooth 1-4 show the comic world’s seedy underbelly of masterminds and henchmen and reminds us the biggest evil isn’t always the thugs and murders: sometimes it’s the rich CEOs pulling strings behind the scenes. While this doesn’t make it any less tragic, Birdy’s death makes sense in a story where both the protagonist and antagonist are evil misogynists and the entire world is rotted through with hate and corruption.
Despite this lurid violence, or perhaps because of it, Sabretooth: Death Hunt subverts superhero comic tradition by injecting a hardboiled cynicism into the normally kid-friendly, idealistic X-Men world. At a time when today’s mutants were being reinvented, Hama managed to complicate well-worn “mutants vs. society” themes. Typical mutant stories depict their struggle from the lens of the Xavier-Magneto rivalry. While the X-Men fight for justice by protecting the society that hates them, Magneto and his cronies kill to overthrow that system. Sabretooth is apathetic to this struggle, saying of the X-Men, “I can’t keep track of that pack o’ goody-two-shoes!” By the close of Death Hunt, Sabretooth witnesses how prejudice and hate come to be and is forced to look in the mirror and live with the reflection. While perhaps not as enduring as a classic X-Men tale, Hama gives us something more realistic and disturbing: a story of how evil is born and why it never dies.
To fuel my latest journey into the comics that shaped me, I needed a drink as bold as Texeira’s covers and dark and bitter as Sabretooth’s heart. I found that drink at the taproom down the block from me and my wife’s apartment: Burning Brothers Brewing. Burning Bros. is a 100% gluten-free brewery, and as a baking enthusiast and gluten-freak, I must admit I was initially skeptical. Thing is, it’s hard not to get curious when the brewery is literally half a block from home. After trying it, I realized Burning Bros. makes good beer. Not good gluten-free beer, but plain ol’ good beer. Their flagship brew Pyro is a crisp, golden, pleasantly hoppy American Pale Ale with a hint of citrusy sweetness. The growler I sipped from for this post, however, is my favorite of theirs and a fixture in the taproom: Roasted Coffee Ale. As you might expect, it’s dark and rich, but with a crispness you can’t find in a thicker stout, allowing the toasty coffee bitterness to mingle with the floral citrus hops flavors. Burning Bros.’ Roasted Coffee Ale was a refreshing companion to the grim pulp darkness of Sabretooh: Death Hunt. The only possible better pairing? Martell VSOP, Mystique’s drink of choice, as seen on the cover of Sabretooth #2.