Category Archives: Adams’ Reserve

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…

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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:

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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.

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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…

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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.”