All posts by ijmadams

I play in a loud, fast, crazy band called Rotten Hotdish. I'm also a veteran of The Pine Box Preachers. When I'm not making roots & rock 'n' roll music I'm half-assedly writing or playing video games. In my labor-time I work at Twin Cities history museums.

Overture to a Classic

 

The Sandman: Overture is finally at an end. It was a long, agonizing wait—and now that it’s done I’m not sure what to feel. Part of me wants more, but the other half just wants to dive back into the original series. Gaiman has scripted an engrossing prequel that will feed The Sandman’s legend, and J.H. Williams III has depicted that story with incredible images that push the limits of what comic art can be.

At first, the series felt like little more than an Easter egg for Sandman fanboys. Considering the richness of The Sandman’s universe, that isn’t much of a criticism. Much like the original, The Sandman: Overture celebrates the power of stories to shape our world. In doing so, the series also celebrates comic books. As the Sandman’s realm encompasses all dreams in existence, its landscape is littered with the debris of childhoods spent reading comics. Dream’s librarian was first imagined in DC’s Weird Mystery Tales, his raven was once a man in the pages of Swamp Thing, and Batman can be spotted lurking in Dream’s library. With Gaiman’s previous nods to DC titles, it only makes sense that The Sandman: Overture should celebrate Gaiman’s classic title and add depth to its universe.

While Gaiman may have intended readers of The Sandman: Overture to be left itching to read the original, the story stands strong on its own; I can imagine it being a fun introduction  to The Sandman for the uninitiated. It also highlights the eye candy possible when a truly gifted writer collaborates with a uniquely talented artist. J.H. Williams III has been wowing me since Batman: The Black Glove, and each issue of the new Sandman takes eye-popping comic art to new heights. Fold-outs transport you through the universe, figures fluidly blend with the action, and panels coalesce into ethereal landscapes. Together, Gaiman and Williams revel in the medium’s interplay of language and pictures. It’s this willingness to play with form that truly makes the story fresh. The Sandman: Overture did not need to push boundaries to be good, it merely had to uphold the legacy of the original. Instead, it envisions new ways for artists to bring stories to life. Most of the series’ memorable cosmic action sequences eschew frame-by-frame formatting and complicate traditional comic art’s linear narrative approach. It makes for exciting storytelling that brings The Sandman universe to life like never before.

In the introduction to the special edition of The Sandman: Overture #6, Vertigo Executive Editor Shelly Bond suggests we “raise a choice glass of liquid” to this prelude to a classic. I concur, and might I suggest my new favorite cocktail recipe:

The Chancellor.

The Chancellor

2 oz Single Malt Scotch
½ oz ruby port
½ oz dry vermouth
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
Combine scotch, port, vermouth, and bitters in mixing glass. Fill glass with ice and stir well. Strain into chilled coupe.

I stumbled  upon The Chancellor in Food & Wine’s Cocktails 2014, but it all started with a bottle of Laphroaig Dale had collecting dust on his bookshelf. Scotch fanatics everywhere are sure to recognize the name of this single-malt and gnash their teeth at the idea of using it in a cocktail. Laphroaig, described to me by C’n’C co-conspirator Matt Chartrand as”the Scotchiest scotch Scotland could scotch up,” was my first experience with the spirit aside from Johnnie Walker, which I’d still prefer to avoid. Finding Laphroaig’s intense smokiness too abrasive, the bottle was gifted to me after I found myself asking for another taste every time I visited Dale’s. Slowly but surely, I warmed to its uniquely earthy and peaty flavors.

Food & Wine describes The Chancellor as “a nicely dry variation on the Manhattan.” Making the drink with Six Grapes Reserve Porto, the chocolate and cherry flavors of the port danced beautifully with the salty, peaty, and smokey character of the Laphroig. When I switched to Glen Moray, I found the drink quieter and much closer to the dry Manhattan description, but no less delicious. In both cases, the 50-50 mix of port and dry vermouth balance with the scotch and showcase its best flavors. I can imagine sipping this drink in Dream’s library enveloped by the musty smell of old paper and leather. The Chancellor begs to be explored with different scotches, ports, and vermouths, much likeThe Sandman: Overture invites readers to explore The Sandman and its influences.

And make no mistake: I will definitely be exploring The Sandman series a second time. While my first foray into Gaiman’s world was American Gods as a pre-teen (which showed me you can write great fantasy without setting it in a world of castles and dragons), reading The Sandman shortly after college rekindled my passion for comics and cemented my Gaiman fandom. Prose and poetry demanded most of my attention as an undergrad, and Dream’s adventures helped heal the rift between my inner English major and pre-teen comic book nerd by imagining a world where “literature” and comic books share equal footing. Denizens of The Dreaming not only include obscure characters from the pages of DC  comics, but myths, legends, and literary figures. While The Sandman reminds us comics can be every bit as rich and powerful as timeless fairy stories, The Sandman: Overture reminds us there are always fresh ways to read both. I’m looking forward to returning to The Dreaming of ’89-’94 with The Chancellor as my companion.

Adams’ Reserve #3: S7

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…

IMG_2728[1]

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:

IMG_2738[1]
The opening of page of S7 #1. Yes, that is an advertisement for a Batman vampire story opposite.

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.

Adams’ Reserve #2

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.

Sabretooth Death Hunt 1-4
Sabretooth Vol. 1, No. 1-4.

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.

Sabretooh #2, 1993. A prelude to Sabretooth avec cognac, en flambe.

 

Cracking open the Adams’ Reserve…

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…

FullSizeRender

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.

P.S.
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.”

“I’m the best at what I do…”

Wolverine Limited Series #1 (1982)
Wolverine Limited Series #1 (1982)

“…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.

P.S.
Just in time for your All Hallow’s libations, here’s a gorey variation of the above cocktail. I give you…

Wulf, of Bryan Baugh's Wulf and Batsy. Image from Baugh's website, www.cryptlogic.net
Wulf, of Bryan Baugh’s Wulf and Batsy. Image from Baugh’s website, http://www.cryptlogic.net

Werewolf’s Blood

Peychaud’s Bitters
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!

Icarus: Detective Comics 30-34

Let's be honest: in comics, you can and should judge a book by it's cover. Manapul's are gorgeous.
Let’s be honest: in comics, you can and should judge a book by it’s cover. Manapul’s are gorgeous.

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.

P.S.
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.

Send a Bracer Down the Plank: An Adventure with The Canadian X-Man

Growing up, the Marvel vs. DC debate seemed as basic as choosing between Coke and Pepsi. Today, most of my favorite comics are DC owned titles, but my first collection was hand-me-downs from an uncle, and most of those were Marvel. I loved those comics into fingerprinted, dog-eared pieces, and what remains of them live in a Comics Defense cardboard box at my parents’. Someday I’ll retrieve it. Either way, that earliest collection left me with a permanent soft-spot for Spider-Man and the X-Men. Wolverine, in particular, held on as a favorite character long after I defected to Batman, Detective Comics, and Nightwing.

I recently acquired a small collection of Marvel Essential trade paperbacks from an old friend: Doctor Strange vol. 2, Marvel Team-Up, Human Torch vol. 1, and Wolverine volumes 2 and 3. Between that and the movie release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, it seemed like a good time to dig up some nostalgia and reacquaint myself with the Marvel Multiverse, starting with my old favorite. I realize now Wolverine comics have a campy charm all their own. Larry Hama’s colorful dialogue brings ridiculous characters to life in a fun and believable way. The action sequences are over the top, and Logan’s tough-guy with a heart-of-gold persona is always good for a chuckle. Something the bluntness and colorful idioms feel like home.

It would be easy to dismiss the comics collected in Essential Wolverine 2 & 3 as juvenile and overly macho. They are over-the-top campy, often convoluted, and frighteningly full of Women in Refrigerators and problematic cultural stereotypes. They’re also witty, humorous, and heartbreaking. Despite the problems, many issues and story-arcs shine through. Great writers like Larry Hama and D.G. Chichester are able to bring Wolverine alive in ways that highlight his struggle as a survivor and his self-destructive commitment to justice. During Chichester’s three issue arc “Wonkeywrenching”, Logan rescues the daughter of a wealthy logging company owner from militant environmental justice terrorists. I was pleasantly surprised by an ending in which Logan refused to let the logging baron off-the-hook for deforestation profiteering.

So what did I get out of Wolverine? I’m really not sure, just like I’m not sure what I can get out of the Canadian Club whiskey I bought to go with him. There’s not much use to cocktails when you have a mutant healing factor: Logan’s body processes alcohol almost as fast as he can drink it. In Wolverine #31 he downs single-malt scotch. In #65, he pounds a boilermaker and chases it with a fistfight he wins by snapping his jaw and eyeball back in place after giving his opponent a free punch. Canadian Club doesn’t hold-up in cocktails—its bland flavor can’t standup to a quality bourbon or rye. But sometimes when I want to forget work with a stiff drink and a thrilling story, beer is really what I crave. Cocktails are novel, exciting, and challenging, but sometimes a shot and a beer is still the perfect drink. These classic Wolverine comics feel the same way: a tried and true way to escape. Seeing Wolverine tear through horde after horde of ninjas/military grunts/dumb thugs is supremely satisfying, especially given his tortured history. Wolverine is fun because he gets to unleash all of his character’s worst qualities in the fight to reclaim the bits of humanity that have been stolen from him. Sometimes, we all need to stop being so (self)conscious and live in the moment. Some of the best moments in my life have been savored with the strategic help of a shot and a beer, just like some of my fondest childhood comic memories come from poring over Wolverine’s outrageous and hyper-macho pages. For the first time in decades, I’m finding myself wondering what kind of adventures Wolverine is currently embroiled in. Today was my one day off before I get back to the hourly grind, and I still have Canadian whiskey to finish in honor of my old pal Logan. I’m going to down a boilermaker and find out what other joys I can dig up from panel-to-panel.

P.S.
Research tells me that Wolverine’s very first solo adventure was a four-part run written by Chris Claremont and pencilled by Frank Miller in 1982. I dunno about you, but I think I have the newest addition to my “Must Read Comix” list.

P.P.S.
I enjoyed my boilermaker(s) for this re-introduction to Wolverine with ShinerPremium and Canadian Club Whiskey. I suppose if you’re really crazy about the Ol’ Canuckle Head you might want a cheap Canadian brew like LaBatt Blue.

 

Perfectly Strange: Mixology History & Variation

It’s been far too long, dear readers.  Working at history museums during the spring field trip season sapped my desire to write over the past few weeks.  Fortunately, it’s also helped me realize I love studying history, be it academically, occupationally, or in this case, alcoholically.  Since joining this adventure I’ve researched, mixed, and sipped five types of drinks: the Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, gin & tonic, gin martini, and Sazerac.  All five drinks have competing origin stories stretching back to the 19th century, and all have the numerous variations you’d expect from recipes with a century-plus of history.  Reading these origins and spin-offs online has been almost as much fun as enjoying the drinks.  Almost.

In the comic book department, I’ve been slowly progressing through Marvel’s Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 2.  The more I read, the more I knew Dr. Strange needed a cocktail to go with him: something intriguing, exotic, and full of history and lore.  That drink hit me taking in the menu during happy hour at The Sample Room a few days back: the Sazerac.  Rye whiskey (or if you want the chronological progenitor, cognac) sugar, Peychaud Bitters, and a lemon twist (squeezed into the glass then discarded, according to purists) strained into a chilled glass washed with absinthe and ice.

Problem is, Peychaud Bitters are hard to find.  They’re definitely not stocked at my three main liquor stores.  Neither is absinthe.  I finally found the closest thing on my 3rd try: Absente Absinthe Refined.  Made with real Artemisia Absinthium Wormwood, Absente is the right proof (over 90) for real absinthe, but boasts additional sugar and coloring, presumably in lieu of more complex traditional distillation methods.  Besides that, I’m not sure the Sazerac is the right drink to capture/pair with Doctor Strange.  While absinthe has the legendary history you’d expect from a figure like Strange, I’m not sure he’d be a big absinthe drinker.  He’s a modern American doctor, not some 19th century bohemian artist.  What’s more, he’s a New Yorker: Manhattan has been his home both before and after becoming Master of Mystic Arts.  But that’s too simple for an illustrious Master of Black Magic.  Surely Stephen Strange’s tastes must be more refined, more exotic, than the basic Manhattan.

Enter David Wondrich, cocktail historian and author of Esquire Magazine’s the Wondrich Take.  Classic cocktails, much like comics, have long histories complete with reboots and spin-offs.  And according to Wondrich, the Manhattan has plenty of spin-offs, including the Sherman.  The Sherman is a Manhattan, much like Dr. Strange, but modified with only one dash of Angostura bitters, a dash of Orange bitters, and three dashes of absinthe.  Just enough of the mystical powers of the over-proof green fairy to unlock its flavors. The Sherman feels right with Dr. Strange, but it’s still a Sherman.  Lucky for us, we haven’t varied from the traditional Manhattan vermouth formula.  To turn our Sherman into a Dr. Strange, cut your amount of sweet Vermouth in half and replace the other half with Dry Vermouth.  Now you have a Perfect Sherman, or better yet a Perfect Strange.  Garnish with a lemon twist if you can, but if you love Maraschino cherries knock yourself out.  Half of the fun of comics are the twists, and cocktails were made for improvising.  And yes, this drink does use every bottle currently in my cabinet.  So what?  What makes Dr. Strange Vol. 2 so interesting is its combination of superhero comic cliché, surreal art, and florid cosmic horror prose.  It’s the perfect amount of Strange: both the comic and cocktail are mutations on familiar traditions.  Enjoy responsibly, for as Lovecraft (Or perhaps Roy Thomas? Stan Lee?) warns on the opening page of Dr. Strange #183, “We live on a placid island of ignorance, in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far…”

Why yes, that is a lime you see garnishing this Perfect Strange. I used all my lemons in prototypes of this drink before I got to taking a photo. I was getting Strange and improvising, so sue me.

Sandman Overture #1

The second issue of Neil Gaiman’s new Sandamn series hits stores today. I must admit, when I first heard talk of a new Sandman monthly, I was skeptical. How do you revive one of the most imaginative, innovative, and memorable comics of our time? As both a Gaiman and Sandman fanboy, I had to pick-up up the first issue to find out. I was rewarded with an answer to my question as soon as I turned to the first page: Dream is Endless. Gaiman’s mythology allows for infinite variation. As long as there is consciousness in the universe, Dream of the Endless will shape the unconscious imagination.

J.H. Williams III’s art shines in this first issue. His work is some of the most vivid and intricate I’ve ever seen in a monthly comic. It’s the perfect eye candy for this sprawling story. If you’ve never read the full Sandman series, do it. There’s never been a better time to start. Then make sure to pick-up the first two issues of Sandman: Overture. Judging by #1, they’ll be worth every penny. If you really need any extra motivation, check out this sneak preview of issue 2 here: http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/25/showbiz/neil-gaiman-sandman-overture/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

Up Next: Gaiman and Batman Surrealism!

P.S.
While I’ve never known Morpheus to be much of a drinker, I enjoyed his latest story with a Beefeater gin & tonic. Why? Because even though Dream is more immortal than any God, he’s also British-as-fuck.  And so are gin & tonics.  I’ve always taken my G&T’s with a lime, but Beefeater recommends lemon for their brand, so why not mix it up?  Lemon makes for a brigther, crisper cocktail–just enough tartness for a pleasant pucker. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, limes are the classic garnish for a reason. Or you can get crazy and try an Evans ( that’s lemon and lime). What’s most important is the gin: next time you’re craving a G&T, skip the Seagram’s. You don’t have to go top-shelf, just grab a London dry gin. London gins don’t have any extra sweeteners or colorants, so you know your gin will have that fresh, pure, juniper berry character. Mmm.

Ike Joins the Party! Wild Turkey 101 & Batman Black and White

First thing’s first: it has recently come to my attention that those of our readers who don’t have hillybilly folk in their bloodline may not be familiar with my bourbon of choice.  Wild Turkey 101 is a 50.5% alcohol Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey.  This spirit comes with the kind of bite you would expect from any 101 proof liquor, but it balances that with a rich, oaky-vanilla flavor and is surprisngly sippable.  It’s great on the rocks or with a splash of water, and it also comes in a cheaper and more polite 80 proof version.  It certainly isn’t the best bourbon, but I’d take it over Jack Daniels any day of the week, and for my money it’s just as good as Maker’s Mark.  Now on to the comics.

Mr. Andrew Dale, the creator and spiritual leader behind this blog, recently invited me to be a regular contributor.  I guess he knows I’m both a lush and a comic nerd myself.  We met for an outing at the Source Comics and Games a couple weeks ago with our buddy Matthew Sharktrain, and the final issue of DC’s new Batman Black and White mini-series was one of the two comics I walked away with.  This review is kinda like my Issue #0.

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This is an impressive compilation of Batman stories.  Couldn’t you tell by Bat’s evil scowl on the cover?  I paired it with Wild Turkey 101 on the rocks, mostly because it was the only booze I had in the house, but we’ll say the unadulterated burn of the bourbon goes well with this comic’s stripped down (but no less striking) art.  The issue balances five stories which all highlight often overlooked aspects of Batman mythology.  I bought it for Olly Moss and Becky Cloonan’s “Bruce,” which opens with “mystery blonde” Ms. Price’s “walk-of-shame” from Wayne Manor after a one-night-stand.  Cloonan’s art keeps the story relevant and dramatic: her style feels fresh in the Batman universe and is more expressive than dialogue or narration ever could be.  Moss and Cloonan touch on Batman’s sadistic side by highlighting his lust for crime fighting and juxtaposing it with the womanizing implicit in the mask of “billionaire playboy.”

Other standouts in this issue are Adam Hughes’ “She Lies at Midnite” and Dave Johnson’s “To Beat the Bat.”  Both stories again deal with comic book portrayals of women.  Hughes’ also highlights Batman’s sadistic side, this time by playing off his feelings for Selina Kyle and Barbera Gordon.  Does Batman really care about these women, or is he more concerned with revenge?  “To Beat the Bat” is problematic in its portrayal of the story’s only female character, but its final question is compelling: how many criminals are truly brave enough to face the Bat?  The story is all the more powerful for leaving the answer to that question (and how it might weigh on Batman’s conscience) up to the reader.

Up Next: The Sandman Overture #1!