After reading Chirs Claremont and Frank Miller’s original Wolverine limited series, I was surprised to see Claremont’s name while sorting through my old collection. I vaguely remembering reading somewhere that Sovereign Seven was the first creator-owned series DC published, but never realized Chris Claremont was the writer behind it.
My love for Claremont’s work on Wolverine is well documented on CnC, but I have yet to read any of his extensive (1975-1991!?) Uncanny X-Men . Still, given his legendary work at Marvel, I find it curious I’ve heard so little about S7 over the years. How does a heavy-hitter like Claremont defect to DC without sending shockwaves of debate throughout the comic-nerd-world for decades to come?
My only hope was that Sovereign Seven #1 might give me a clue…
A quick, light-hearted read, the first issue of S7 didn’t pack nearly the punch I was hoping. It felt as much like the opening session of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign as the beginning of a comic series: Party of heroes transported to strange new place. Random encounter. Rest at the Inn. Random encounter followed by the arrival of a mysterious and powerful new character to drops the slightest hints of backstory. Break.
Even if Sovereign Seven #1 wasn’t the gripping first issue I was hoping for, it hooked me. It didn’t reel me in, but it did get me on the line. Whether or not I buy a collection of the 36+ (36 plus a few annuals and specials) issue run will depend on what happens when I revisit issues two and three. Like a good Dungeon Master, Claremont spun just enough story into the action to make you want to come back.
The other compelling thing about Sovereign Seven #1 is its self-conscious nod to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World stories. The opening page includes a prominent dedication to Jack Kirby:
Had I never been given the first three S7 comics, I still might not have known that Darkseid and the New Gods were Jack Kirby’s gift to DC after his own defection from Marvel. This discovery was particularly fun revisiting S7 after reading Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis and Batman run. However, there is a key difference between Claremont’s series and Kirby’s: Sovereign Seven has not been revisited in DC’s continuity. Even if it could, I’m not sure it would. Anything good enough to be immortal as Darkseid I expect to grab me right out of the gate. Sovereign Seven #1 doesn’t quite do that. It makes you curious in all the right ways and sets up an intriguing start to a story, but it isn’t gripping. It’s just good fun. That’s a damn great start, and I’ll definitely be finishing the issues of the franchise I already have in my collection: #’s 1-3, 9, and 12. Maybe it’ll be worth buying the trade paperback. If not, I can save the cash on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World omniubs. One way or another, Chris Claremont and Sovereign Seven have increased my knowledge of DC comics lore, and I can’t help but like anything that deepens my knowledge of comics.
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.
I don’t remember a time before I liked comic books. Probably the obsession started with Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series. I am certain my love of reading started with comics. When I was 9 or 10, I was given a family friend’s old collection. Frank had been collecting Spider-Man, X-Men, and Wolverine, but wanted to start fresh with the brand-new Sovereign Seven series.
Many of those original comics have since been lost or destroyed. But not all of them! I added to that collection since the day it was handed down to me all the way up through high school. I’m still adding to it today, but all my college and post-college comics have a separate box and much less nostalgia less mystery. My first collection has been sitting in a couple of boxes at my parents’ since roughly the summer of 2008 until Thanksgiving 2014. Now it’s back with me, and it’s finally time to begin the Great Comic Re-Organization of 2014. But what’s a comic collection if you’re not going to read and enjoy them? What can I say, I’m a terrible collector. It’s time to take that bottle of Adams’ Reserve from the back of the cabinet and crack it open. Every month, I’ll share a sip: one comic from my dog-eared collection. To start things off, let’s dip into the macabre. This murderous, malodorous, and malignant little page-turner is part of a line of re-prints of 1950s EC Comics. The company responsible for Tales From The Crypt, they also published Weird Science, The Vault of Horror, and Shock SuspenStories. Without further ado, this terrifying ghost of comics past is…
What makes these comcis so legendary? Judging by Tales From the Crypt #14, it’s a demented sense of humor. A prospector smiling his greedy murderer to death. An old uncle who turns out to be a cannibal. It’s melodramatic and the narration is redundant (or is the art?), but this comic still puts a smile on my face because it’s self-conscious of its own ridiculousness. The comic’s final feature, “The Witch’s Cauldron,” exemplifies this with the introduction to a story called “Mournin’, Ambrose…”
You know why they give me this spot? ‘Cause I’m the most horrible! Don’t worry! My idiot editors know a bad thing… The fire is lit under my you-know-what, and I’m ready to dish out another of my putrid portions of pulsating pleasentries! This little laddle of lurid loathsomeness will definitely whet your appetite!
The real horror in Tales From The Crypt #14 ? No official author or artist credits. Comic books have come a long way since the 50s. The only credits I can find in are the pencillers’ loopy signatures hidden in strategic corners of each story’s opening page. Reading this now, it’s easy to see why comics were disparaged as trash throughout the 1950s: the short stories in this comic are clearly produced for the biggest shock value. That said, there’s a surprising amount of zany artistry here. The first story, “Gas-tly Prospects,” is extra bizarre thanks to the dialect of the hillbilly narrator. “Mournin’, Ambrose…,” drips with the florid prose you’d expect from one of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic-horror-pulp stories.
Predictable as the twists in these stories are, it’s worth the ride to see how the stomach-turning shocks unfold. Not only does the story whet my appetite, it makes me wish I knew more horror comics– I guess it’s time I ponied-up for the Walking Dead compendiums. Anyway, Lovecraft reader that I am, it’s fun to see how his influence plays-out in an early horror comic like Tales From the Crypt. It makes for a hilariously dumbed down read as the grotesquely descriptive narration eliminates most need for illustration. Upon re-reading, a final, terrifying question nags at the deepest, darkest recesses of my imagination: did the creators of these stories actually collaborate, or was the writing and art thrown together wantonly, with no regard for the insanity it would spread among mankind? This irreverant comic certainly helped corrupt my young mind. It no doubt helped send me down the path of pulp horror, midnight movies, and trashy rock’n’roll.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For your listening enjoyment, I leave you with another gloriously raunchy piece of art accused of causing juvenille deliquency in the 1950s: Link Wray’s “Rumble.”
“Crime. Despair. This is not how man was supposed to live. The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption for thousands of years… Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence, we return to restore the balance… You are defending a city so corrupt, we have infiltrated every level of its infrastructure.”
Ra’s al Ghul asserts Gotham City’s inefficacy and impotence to his former protegé Bruce Wayne while his agents begin their operation to terrorize and destroy the city. The scene evokes two warlords, verbally sparring over disputed territory: on one side stands the legacy of Wayne, bypassing (and even scorning) the official authorities of Gotham but also adamantly maintaining the city “isn’t beyond saving… There are good people here”; on the other, (allegedly) a far older and more violent cult of cyclical destruction, who believe they are a necessary evil akin to “a purging fire” that is “inevitable and natural” (Batman Begins).
Their conflict eventually comes to actual blows, but the fact that the fate of millions hangs on the outcome of this single conversation confirms, at the very least, that something is truly rotten in Gotham City. What kind of society gives rise to a figure such as the Batman, and attracts the deadly attention of an international terrorist organization? And why does the audience implicitly authorize the Batman’s use of force in the fictional Gotham, where they would likely condemn such actions in any real-world American city?
Max Weber (1864-1920) contends in his essay Politics as a Vocation (1919) that the monopoly on the use of legitimate force is the defining characteristic of “the state.” Though this argument is ethically problematic given that, without modification, it essentially boils down to “might makes right,” it has since been used as a key criterion of the “failed” state — that is, a government that has failed in many or all of its basic responsibilities and whose legitimacy is therefore called into question. Though the criteria and even the term itself have evolved over the 20th century, modern definitions of the failed (or “fragile”) state still prominently include “the monopoly on the use of legitimate force” (Fund for Peace). Further, the concept has expanded to accommodate the existence of failed governments at a regional or municipal level — including, in our case, failed cities.
In Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Gotham is a failed city-state according the Fragile States Index published by Fund for Peace. The failures of Gotham’s “legitimate” government have fractured the city into several warring factions — the primary combatants being the Falcone crime syndicate, the League of Shadows, and the Batman. As in the real world, the ordinary citizens, elected officials, and law enforcement of Gotham align themselves with every faction, but often have little real power in any of them. Though many of the FSI’s “Indicators” apply to Gotham, a few are especially relevant:
Economic Decline: Early on, Bruce’s father Thomas tells us “the city has been suffering. People less fortunate than us have been enduring very hard times” (Batman Begins). Roughly two minutes later in the film, both he and Bruce’s mother Martha are dead at the hands of Joe Chill, an impoverished, desperate gunman. Six minutes (read: fourteen years) later, assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes lectures Bruce on how little has changed since his parents’ death:
“Look beyond your own pain, Bruce. This city is rotting. They talk about the depression as if it’s history, and it’s not. Things are worse than ever down here. [Carmine] Falcone floods our streets with crime and drugs, preying on the desperate, creating new Joe Chills every day” (Batman Begins).
The film uses Chicago’s multilevel streets to great effect here, as Rachel drives she and Bruce down to a lower street where poverty and vice are painfully evident. Fund For Peace lists “growth of hidden economies, including the drug trade, smuggling, and capital flight” as one of the warning signs of a fragile state; this indicator will become even more important in The Dark Knight Rises (FFP).
State Legitimacy asks, “Are federal and/or local officials considered to be corrupt?” and “Does the government have the confidence of the people?” (FFP). In Gotham, corruption is the status quo. Judges accept bribes from convicted felons, even to the point of becoming an accessory to murder; police detectives steal from street merchants and moonlight as low-level enforcers for the mob; prominent psychiatrists perjure themselves for money and torment their patients to ensure the secrecy of drug trafficking operations. As for public confidence, Police Detective James Gordon quips, “In a town this bent, who’s there to rat to anyway?” (His partner is the mob enforcer mentioned above.) Near the film’s climax, when Dr. Crane’s fear toxin has poisoned the streets and Arkham Asylum’s inmates run free among the general populace, even a little boy (representative here of Gotham’s poorer classes) recognizes it is the Batman, and not the GCPD, who will set things right: “Batman will save us. He’ll come” (Batman Begins).
Finally, and most importantly, External Intervention. As applied to nations, this typically refers to aid received from other countries or organizations in the form of economic assistance or military support. In Gotham, though, it is the Batman who intervenes: he is “an external actor… responsible for many government functions and not at the behest of the government” (FFP). The Batman stops crimes in progress, he secures evidence against the perpetrators, and presses the police department and the district attorney’s office to prosecute; in short, he enables Gotham’s judicial systems to function as they are intended. He is also the only one capable of combating Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, who have “infiltrated every level of [Gotham’s] infrastructure” — especially, it seems, the city’s SWAT teams and riot police (Batman Begins). The legal authorities of Gotham are helpless against these invaders, while the Batman is not; in fact, he is the only one protecting whatever tenuous sovereignty Gotham’s legitimate government still holds. These factors seem to indicate that the “state” of Gotham City has effectively defaulted its monopoly on the use of force to the Batman, a state of affairs confirmed by the film’s final scene, in which Jim Gordon signals for the Batman from the roof of GCPD Headquarters.
Returning to the question of “audience authorization” — I believe most viewers would point to the above reasons for our implicit approval of the Batman’s actions, even if unable to employ the specific vocabulary; Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index simply gives us a framework for trying to explain Batman’s origins. Interestingly, the FSI seems to also strengthen the notion that Batman, more so than any other comic book hero, is as much a product of his environment as he is of his own personal trauma.
What the FSI clearly does not do, however, is give us any readings on the morality of donning cape and cowl and slugging it out with Gotham’s lawless underworld. “Legitimate” is already a slippery enough term without lighting the Bat-Signal. In subsequent posts I will examine Batman’s code of ethics, especially compared to Gotham’s police and judicial authorities.
“A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you… then you become something else entirely.”
“Legend, Mr. Wayne.”
Uttered within the first five minutes of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, these lines neatly summarize one of the enduring tensions through 75 years of Batman comics, films, and TV shows, as well as the pivotal question of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy: In appointing himself protector of Gotham, how can Bruce Wayne rid the city of the evil that took his parents’ lives and yet remain a symbol of hope — without becoming merely a police-sanctioned thug, an extrajudicial killer, or even the harbinger of permanent martial law?
Where is the line between the vigilante and the legend?
Batman has always been a character of contrasts. Bruce Wayne is the playboy billionaire “Prince of Gotham,” the hot topic on every gossip talk-show and in every tabloid by day; by night, he is a “weird figure of the dark” that preys upon the criminal underworld as the mysterious, terrible Bat-Man (Detective Comics 1937 #33). Known and unknown; light and dark; hope and fear; these contrasts have kept the character vital through the decades.
But the duality present Ra’s al Ghul’s words to Bruce Wayne — the merely mortal vigilante versus the immortal legend — has nowhere been illuminated more clearly than in Christopher Nolan’s films Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). The tension between these two figures, these aspects of the Batman, drives Bruce Wayne’s saga while elucidating his relevance: his is the dramatization of an ordinary human being’s search for an ethical, meaningful response to a world plagued by apathy, senseless tragedy and willful acts of evil.
The word vigilante derives from the Spanish for “one who is vigilant”; a guard, or watchman. In modern parlance it describes an individual who pursues and punishes wrongdoers without legal authority to do so. Vigilantes, bounty hunters, and lynch mobs all cast long shadows over American history and fiction, from the fanciful (such as Zorro) to the pseudo-historical (Wyatt Earp, “Wild Bill” Hickok and other mercenary lawmen of the late 1800’s) to the completely real and despicably violent legacy of white supremacy in the American South.
Much of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s inspiration for Batman can be traced to Zorro, the dashing pulp hero of the early 20th century, and the Scarlet Pimpernel before him; DC Comics writers have often acknowledged this lineage by writing that Thomas and Martha Wayne took their son Bruce to see The Mark of Zorro (1940) on the night of their murder.
On this basis, “vigilante” means at least this much: he or she takes action against injustice (real or perceived) where legal authorities can not or will not, employing some degree of violence. Contextually speaking, a vigilante may also violate alleged criminals’ due process and be subject to legal action themselves.
Though comic writers’ characterization of him has differed wildly over the years, the Batman always fits these criteria neatly. He relies on martial arts training, detective work and technological superiority to bring his personal vision of justice to Gotham’s criminal underworld. The vigilante ignores due process, violates suspects’ civil rights, and in Nolan’s trilogy he resorts to increasingly unethical methods as his campaign against Gotham’s organized crime escalates. This Batman forever lingers in the shadow of his parents’ death, locked in an ultimately futile struggle to prevent others from suffering similar pain and loss. According to Brooker, this crime-fighter extracts “a merely personal catharsis from beating up petty thugs like the one who killed his parents, rather than attempt[ing] to alter the society which produced those criminals” (27).
The other aspect of the Batman is less tangible. Until now we’ve referred to him on Ra’s al Ghul’s terms: a legend, “an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.” While this also quite accurately describes the character, it isn’t necessarily very helpful for our purposes. If Bruce Wayne was interested in fame or notoriety, he’d announce on national television that he is the Batman. And yet if he desired complete anonymity, he would not have chosen such a distinct and theatrical guise.
In terms of setting up Bruce Wayne’s vision of this legend in the making, the following scene seems most relevant:
This aspect of the Batman, the symbol, strives to save a city strangled by its own lawlessness and corruption, to inspire in its citizens a revival of the civic engagement and altruism he learned from his parents before their murder at the hands of an impoverished, desperate mugger. This Batman believes without reservation that the people of Gotham City are basically good; they just need “dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy” (Batman Begins). The symbol is “incorruptible, everlasting,” hiding behind anonymity to imply that “Batman could be anybody” (Batman Begins; The Dark Knight Rises). The symbol’s function is to transcend the individual’s limitations — “as a man… [he] can be ignored… destroyed” — while dramatizing the individual’s will to act against injustice (Batman Begins).
Following the films’ lead, I will continue to refer to these alternate personas of the Batman as “the vigilante” and “the symbol.” Both address separate and sometimes conflicting concerns of their unifying alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, but they also rely on each other; frequently, the vigilante creates the dramatic examples on which the symbol thrives, while the symbol inspires Gotham’s law enforcement officers and public officials to pursue the city’s crime syndicates more actively, despite fear of reprisals.
And though these two Batmen seem to mesh fairly well in Batman Begins, the vigilante becomes increasingly problematic and unethical in The Dark Knight, damaging the Batman’s symbolic power almost beyond repair. As a result, one of the primary aims of the trilogy’s finale The Dark Knight Rises is the restoration of Batman as an icon of individual commitment to moral action; after abandoning the vigilante’s questionable motives and methods, the Batman returns to the role he devised for himself early in the first film: a hyperbolic, theatrical display of the “ordinary citizen standing up for what’s right” (The Dark Knight).
Whether Bruce Wayne, the billionaire “Prince of Gotham” counts as an “ordinary citizen” is also a question we must address, especially with The Dark Knight Rises, which incorporates contemporary American perceptions of economic inequality and class warfare into its narrative. Can anybody be Batman? Of course not. But we should also be careful of applying a purely Marxist lens to a film (and character) whose background and ambitions are significantly broader than merely a reprised version of ATale of Two Cities with Batman thrown into the melee.
Over the course of many posts I will examine Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy with a focus on not only the tensions between “symbol” and “vigilante,” but also the ways in which these aspects of the Dark Knight intersect with issues such as corruption, mass surveillance, terrorism, and class warfare.
Batman Begins. Warner Home Video, 2005. DVD.
Brooker, Will. Batman Unmasked: Analysing a Cultural Icon. London: Continuum, 2000. Print.
Finger, Bill, and Bob Kane. “The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom.” Detective Comics 1.33 (1939). Print.
Miller, Frank, and Klaus Janson. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. New York, N.Y.: DC Comics, 2002. Print.
The Dark Knight. Warner Home Video, 2008. DVD.
The Dark Knight Rises. Warner Home Video, 2012. DVD.
“…But what I do best isn’t very nice.” Wolverine announces this at the beginning of his first solo adventure by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. “I’m here on business,” he tells us. “To hunt. To kill.” The opening two pages of this comic remind us immediately that Wolverine is a different breed of super-hero: he is a killer and he makes no apologies. But from this stark opening, Chirs Claremont and Frank Miller immediately contrast the familiar image of Wolverine as warrior-wild-man with Wolverine the lawman. Before we see him take on any evil ninjas, assassins, or samurai, we witness him take a beer mug to the face from a drunken poacher. We’re spared the details of the ensuing fight, and instead told of the poacher’s subsequent arrest. Wolverine not only spares the reckless the hunter’s life, he skips bragging about the violent details.
Marvel’s 1982 four-issue Limited Series Wolverine is without a doubt the best of the character’s stories I have ever read. It’s a tightly crafted little tale of love, betrayal, and honor. Wolverine’s monologues lend a distinct flim noir vibe, and between that and the kung-fu flick backrop I can’t shake the feeling that Quentin Tarrantino read this as a young man. Frank Miller’s sequences of Wolverine cutting down ninjas have the look and pacing of a melee from Kill Bill. Claremont keeps the dialogue smart enough and short enough to depict Wolverine as a thoughtful, vulnerable man searching for his place in life. It breaks up the machismo action sequences and creates a more vibrant, realistic character.
What sets Claremont and Miller’s Wolverine apart from others I’ve read is simplicity. Unlike the monthly and later twice-monthly Wolverine comics, there was no need for filler to meet the publishing schedule. Instead, you get a story that examines Wolverine’s natural berserker tendencies and asks how they fit the noble super-hero mold. The story provides Wolverine numerous chances to prove his control, cunning, and honor. The berserker may be useful as Logan goes up against swarms of assassins, but when threatened by more ambitious and merciless enemies like Lord Shingen, it’s Wolverine’s restraint that proves his most powerful weapon. Leading up to the final showdown in issue #4 (titled “Honor”), Wolverine does his best work without killing. Instead, he exercises more creative and stealthy modes of combat against hoods and henchman, reserving his full skillset only for his tormentor and the story’s arch-villain.
Wolverine has become my new obession since reading this four issue series. I’m still startled how dumbed down Wolverine seems to have become since his solo beginnings. It’s possible this impression is an unfair and baseless assumption formed from Marvel’s recent X-Men movies (and I must admit I haven’t watched the Wolverine Origins movie). IMDB reviews, and more importantly, friends and fans of the comic, tell me it’s neither worth watching nor faithful to the source material. Either way, what I’ve read of the comics so far and what I remember of them growing up is that they were never as intriguing or well-written as Claremont and Miller’s. I suspect this has something to do with the business of comic book publishing: after releasing something as badass and action packed as the original Wolverine Limited Series, Marvel must have had a huge demand for the character by the time they launched his first ongoing series in 1988. Filling that void with stories twice a month must have been a huge challenge, and it shows in the character’s slow unraveling throughout the 2nd and 3rd volumes of his original series. Wolverine was allowed to grow only gradually between churning out new adventures for the grueling publishing schedule. His history is revealed so slowly Marvel eventually spawned yet more Wolverine titles. Today, the Wolverine section of the new comics shelf is an overwhelming jumble. It’s enough to drive a fan away, but now I’m hooked on what a good Wolverine story can be. The character’s checkered past (both in his own universe and his publishing) makes him all the more interesting. You can bet you’ll be reading more of my Wolvie readings in the future. In the meantime, I’m sure all this criticism has made you thirsty.
Ever since my past Wolverine post, I’m stuck on beer cocktails. But since boilermakers hardly count as a cocktail, I was happy to find a recipe like Aisha Sharpe’s Beggar’s Banquet on Liquor.com. It’s a more creative take on the always effective whiskey+beer combination that pairs flavors in truly complementary ways. The syrup, lemon juice, and bitters bring out the best in the bourbon without smothering the unique maltiness of the Old Speckled Hen. The recipe originally calls for Maker’s Mark, but I prefer the cheaper, stronger, and more interesting Wild Turkey 101. I’ve stuck with Old Speckled Hen because I love it, and because it’s beautiful color and biscuity, yeasty flavor provide a nice complement to the sweet vanilla notes and bite of the Wild Turkey. It’s intoxicating, a little bit mean, and deliciously infectious–it tastes something like (one of) the best Rolling Stones’ album sounds.
Another beautiful thing about this drink: even with the 11.2 fl. oz. bottle, you have to flip the record (or open a new comic) to finish the beer. You get slightly more mileage with the pint cans. You get some bang for your buck with this drink–not unlike the Rolling Stones’ discography. Similiarly, I’m excited to try this drink with different bourbons. American blues has many flavors. Perhaps it’d be just as fun to try this recipe with different English ales, eh Bub? The Beggar’s Banquet is a well-balanced, velvety drink with a bubbly bite.
Just in time for your All Hallow’s libations, here’s a gorey variation of the above cocktail. I give you…
0.25 oz. lemon juice
0.75 oz. honey
2 oz. rye whiskey
Newcastle Werewolf Blood Red Ale
1 orange half-wheel or wedge for garnish (preferably blood orange)
Just as with the Beggar’s Banquet, add all ingredients except beer to a shaker and fill with ice. Use as many dashes of Peychaud’s as you like. Shake, then strain into a highball glass filled with fresh ice. Top with your Werewolf, then garnish with an orange. If you’re really a gorehound, use a blood orange–they’re just starting to come into season by Halloween.
Werewolf and rye are good buddies ’cause Werewolf is brewed with rye malt instead of barley. Together they make for a funky-sweet, slightly musty character. Peychaud’s was made for rye (well, really it was made for brandy, but we can skip the sazerac history lesson), and it adds to the drink’s bloody hue. Honey provides the sweetness without the strong maple flavor, keeping the rye flavors up front. Ultimately, this drink is sweet, complex, and every bit as balanced its bourbon-based, non-spooky progenitor. Happy Halloween!
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the arduous wait for the next issue in a monthly story-arc. I have been following Snyder and Capullo’s Batman: Zero Year arc, but as Dale pointed out in his last post, that story was hardly one to have you counting down the days until the next issue.
Manapul and Buccellato had me doing exactly that with this 5 issue run. I like my Batman stories like my OJ and eggs: pulpy and hard-boiled. The Icarus story-arc delivered, and it was exactly what I needed to pull me back into a series I haven’t followed since well before the New 52. In fact, the story was so damn good I had to re-read all 5 issues immediately after finishing the conclusion. The story treads very little new ground (though I thoroughly enjoyed getting a new look at Detective Harvey Bullock; for once he was more than just a caricature), but it’s perfectly executed. The art is gritty, vibrant, and memorable. Better yet, the mystery kept me guessing until the final issue. Manapul and Buccellato crafted a detective story that fulfills all the requirements of a thrilling super-hero action comic: Giant squids? Check. Knock-down-drag-out sumo fights? Check. Radioactive-human-explosions? Check.
True to the Detective Comics title, the best part of this story isn’t the detective work, but the detectives themselves. The mystery of Elena Aguila’s murder and Gotham’s most dangerous designer drug feel almost secondary to the friction between Bats and Harvey as they race to solve the mystery. If that sounds very backwards and a little grim, it is. Manapul and Buccellato use their inaugural run on this title to reminds us of the contradictions which make Batman my favorite super-hero: he stands for justice only because he is willing to break the law. As the story unfolds, they reveal the same impulse in Bullock’s own police-work. The cop and The Detective clash not because they’re different, but because they’re so similiar. The line in the sand is little more than a badge, which is exactly why they can put aside their disgust for one another to catch a murderer. Thankfully, Manapul and Buccellato’s colorful portrayal of both characters keeps their new angle on this familiar theme from feeling stale. A two-page spread of Bullock at home in his apartment melted my heart, as did a scene of Bruce repairing Damien’s old motorcycle. It’s details like these that kept Icarus from being just another dark, gritty, DKR-riff. Also compelling were the story’s numerous references to other events in The New 52 Gotham. Without distracting from the plot, Icarus connects to Zero Year (particularly fun for me as I was reading the stories simultaneously) and Batman Eternal. This is how you get people hooked on comics. I’m not ashamed to say that it’s working.
My only gripe with Icarus: who is he, and why doesn’t he loom larger in the plot? The answer lies somewhere in the bittersweet denouement. Despite Batman’s best efforts, true justice slips through his fingers. Batman can’t be everywhere, and as Alfred regretfully reminds him in the final installment, “That’s the job…picking up the pieces.”
Enjoy this story with a Negroni. This drink started as a relative unknown to us here at CnC, but over the past few months it’s captured our hearts. It’s a classic cocktail, and one of the simplest and most versatile. It’s elegant, well-balanced, colorful, and just bitter enough to make you take notice. All you need is equal parts gin (so far my favorite is Norseman), Campari, and sweet vermouth. Garnish with an orange twist. Lemon twists are acceptable too.
It’s amazing how many different characters you can get from this drink by simply trying different gin and vermouth combinations. The Negroni is a drink that’s just as challenging, rich, and complex as any good Batman story.
If you like easter eggs, pick-up Detective Comics Annual #3 to round-out this arc. Besides being a fun one-shot, it’s a great tie-in to the Icarus storyline.
I had given up on Futures End. I had decided it was just going to plod along, repeatedly zooming in for close-ups on boring third-stringers about whom I give zero fucks (*coughFirestormcough*) and generally just being a high-effort, low-reward series on which to keep up.
Then DC sent me Batman: Futures End #1. When I got home today, I poured myself some home-brewed Irish draught ale, took the dogs outside to run in the yard, sat down on the stoop and cracked the seal on this sucker (mine doesn’t have the fancy hologram cover like in the .gif below).
This Futures End one-shot appearing in the monthly Batman title resembles Futures End #0 from Free Comic Book Day this year: it’s exciting, action-packed, and yet story-driven in a very media res kinda way. And most importantly, it takes place “five years from now.” (“Now” being the date in DC’s current New 52 continuity). Why’s that important?
Because when you set shit in the future, you (mostly) don’t have to give a shit about continuity.
That’s why The Dark Knight Returns is so fucking good, that’s why Kingdom Comeis off-the-chain amazing, and so on for dozens of DC’s Elseworlds tales (DKR and Kingdom aren’t technically Elseworlds, but that’s beside the point).
And technically, this comic is part of continuity, so the storyline they’ve introduced here will probably end up a lot less cool than it seems right now, but that doesn’t detract from the fun of this one-shot.
So waaay back when the passage of time was still at least kind-of a thing in the DC Multiverse, there was this big crossover event called Final Crisis. Among a lot of other trippy mind-bending story threads Grant Morrison wrote into the series, there was this one where Batman gets captured by Darkseid’s goon-squad. They’re all like, “Holy shit, we just bagged the most bad-ass motherfucker on planet Earth, what should we do with him?”
Rather than just, you know, kill him (which you probably should if you’re just a lackey of the story’s primary antagonist) they decide to clone him like a million times, steal all of Bruce Wayne’s memories, and implant them in the clones to make a Batman-army — all of whom would for some reason decide to work for Darkseid, the incarnation of evil in the DC Multiverse. I dunno, maybe Apokolips has really good unions.
Anyway, Batman totally fucks that plan (“What kind of man can turn his own memories into a weapon?”) and then shoots Darkseid with his own supernatural bullet. Cue Omega Effect and Bruce Wayne tumbling through time, buckling some swash with pirates and riding off into the sunset of the Wild West and such.
Back to Batman: Futures End #1 which, despite the Flashpoint event and the New 52 relaunch, still takes place after Batman’s experiences during Final Crisis.
And so, being the goddamn Batman, he mulls these experiences over a bit. He reflects. He considers his overarching strategy. He examines his weaknesses, and recalls the fact that, bad motherfucker though he is, someday he will die. Pff, stupid death. And then he’s like, “Eff that. BATMAN CAN NEVER DIE.“
So he starts researching how to create stable, programmable clones and implant them with all of his memories up to and including that one night in his father’s study:
Hence, the cover of Batman: Futures End #1 — an army of Batmen.
So that’s the premise; the comic’s timescale and scope are actually much tighter. Batman breaks into the only lab in the world with the cloning technology he needs, and naturally the lab belongs to Lex Luthor, so there’s, I dunno, I guess like some high-end security systems or something, but Batman’s like “bitch please” and strolls in like it’s a revolving door convention.
He discovers something* that causes a minor inconvenience during his egress from the facility, but he manages to grab the tech he needs and bug out before Luthor’s security activates “the B-Zero Contingency.” Yes, Lex Luthor built a special contingency into his security program, because Batman.
So you can tell I really liked this comic, and it makes me mad because now I want to start reading Futures End again. And here’s me thinking I could just ride it out until the collected hardcover dropped.
*Luthor’s trying to clone Superman. Again. So there’s an army of Bizarros trying to stop Batman from escaping. Like I said — minor inconvenience.
So I finally got around to reading Zero Year‘s final issue, sipping on a coffee cocktail instead of a boozy one. (Buttered Ice from Butter Bakery in Mpls — cold press, vanilla syrup, and cream. Delish.)
I’m relieved it’s over. There were some cool moments, like Batman zooming around on a motorcycle in an overgrown, jungle-like Gotham City, or when he fights off a pair of hungry lions with a well-timed gasoline fireball.
But it’s still a story about the Riddler, by whom I’ve never, ever been impressed. These days he alternates between hapless “private eye” and arrogant shitbag, neither of which should by any stretch of the imagination give the goddamn Batman even the slightest pause.
But Bats does break his stupid face, just like I hoped, so there’s that.
Further, Zero Year retcons a lot of details from Batman’s early career. As in it completely invalidates the events of Batman: Year One, which is pretty much universally regarded as one of the seminal works in the Dark Knight’s history.
I’m okay with change, but I need it to advance or complicate the characters somehow. With the exception of some fairly under-explored tensions between Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne, I don’t see that happening in Zero Year.
I’ve got another year of Batman coming; I’m hoping Snyder and Capullo return to the present tense of the New 52 and start adding to the Dark Knight’s history, rather than rearranging the past. Their work in Court of Owls was excellent, as was Snyder’s previous run in ‘Tec and Batman which resulted in the collection titled The Black Mirror.
For now I’ve got a 9-day overdue copy of Preacher Book One on my shelf, so I better get cracking.