Category Archives: Marvel

Black Panther #1/The Mustachio

(Get a load a that bomb-ass title page!!)

It’s been way too long. I think Batman v Superman got my superhero juices flowing again, but this comic really sealed the deal. Tuesday morning MPR aired a story about women and people of color in sci-fi/fantasy fiction, and they kicked it off by mentioning that Atlantic columnist, author, and all-around smart dude Ta-Nehisi Coates is relaunching Marvel’s Black Panther series.

I first encountered Coates in the interview segment of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in July of last year, speaking about his new book Between the World and Me. This guy’s clearly got one hell of a journalistic acumen on him, but what really struck me about his comments and his writing at that time was his thoughtful, compassionate approach to the complexities of modern American life, especially at the intersections of race, social justice, and politics. The moment I heard Coates was writing a comic book, it took me only half a second longer to decide that I was going to buy that comic.

wp-1460124431993.jpeg

I’ve been craving some diversity in my comics lately, both in the creators and the characters. On that count, too, Black Panther delivers. The cast is entirely people of color, women, and even two characters of non-straight sexual orientation. Contrasted with the world of T’Challa, Batman v Superman‘s parade — or should I say funeral procession? — of angry, angsty white orphan boys feels almost unbearably dated, woefully behind the times. And while Marvel still stubbornly refuses to inject any genuine social or political commentary into their Cinematic Universe, they are killing DC in their representation of the diversifying faces of America.

Brian Stelfreeze (Shadow of the BatDomino) draws and Laura Martin (JLA: Earth 2Universe X) colors the first issue of the relaunch. Let’s fix ourselves a Mustachio and talk about the comic!


The Mustachio

1.5oz Kentucky straight bourbon (I use Bulleit)

1oz Cointreau

.75oz Campari

.5oz lemon juice

lemon twist

Shake all ingredients over ice; strain to a rocks/Old-Fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve.

So “The Mustachio” is the closest recipe I could find to the drink I actually make, which goes 2:1:1 on the spirits and omits the lemon juice. I’ll be trying it with this recipe soon enough, but so far I’ve been mixing it my way because that’s how it was first served to me at Bathtub Gin & Co., a speakeasy in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. I’m not sure why the “official” recipe calls for lemon juice; it’s already got the sour element in the Cointreau, rounded out by the bitter and sweet of the Campari and bourbon. In any case, I’ve been meaning to write this one up for a while, and this is what I was sipping on while reading Black Panther #1.

(On the one hand, it’s too bad we’ll find no mustachioed villains in this comic. On the other — we know we can expect much better from Mr. Coates!)


Black Panther #1

This comic was a breath of fresh air for me. I was completely unfamiliar with T’Challa/Black Panther going into it, and while I’d say that hasn’t changed a whole lot in the pages of one comic, I really enjoyed reading a “new” character for the first time and being able to recognize the personal and emotional distances between T’Challa and me.

Anyway, I do know a little something now about Wakanda, the African nation over which T’Challa rules — or fails to rule, as it happens. As the comic opens, T’Challa has returned to govern his country after the death of his sister, Shuri, who had ruled in his stead while he was off Being a Fucking Hero or some such whatever. Wakanda is one of the most technologically advanced nations on Earth thanks to its large deposits of “vibranium,” the fictional metal from which Captain America’s shield, among many other Marvelous things, are constructed.

wp-1460145450679.jpeg

Well… the people of Wakanda ain’t pleased. In the comic’s first panel T’Challa has been clocked on the noggin by some kind of projectile — presumably a Rock, the patented projectile weapon of Angry Mobs everywhere — and his honor guard of dudes with magic laser-spears start shooting back. Turns out Laser beats Rock, and so does Black Panther. We’re meant to understand that the Angry Mob is under some kind of psychic influence, as indicated by the Angry Mob With Glowing Eyes Effect(tm). More on that later.

In this comic, T’Challa seems completely uninterested in being king of anything. Coates alludes to this in his NPR interview with Audie Cornish, explaining that T’Challa is “in a position where he felt committed to do certain things, but in his heart was really not there, it wasn’t really who he was.” Coates relates to his protagonist on this level, feeling as though other writers and thinkers have tried to turn him into the “one person everyone should go to to know about all things black.” It’s always promising when a writer feels some insight into their characters, like they can get inside their fictional heads.

But the similarities between writer and hero seem to end there. Where Coates is humble and thoughtful, T’Challa is brash and even a little arrogant. He narrates in archaic metaphors with a haughty, detached air of entitlement reminiscent of characters like Boromir in The Lord of the Rings or Leonidas in 300. This is no criticism of Coates’ writing — on the contrary, it further signifies that T’Challa is merely playing a part he didn’t ask for.

He’s really only interested in being a superhero: he jumps, he punches, he runs really really fast — and he gets pretty much nowhere, story-wise. Coates has created some compelling tension between “soldier” and “king,” to use the comic’s own words — the guy who leaps into the fray, and the guy who should look before he leaps. There’s a sense that T’Challa occupies a strangely conservative position in relation to the other characters and to his country; he has grudgingly accepted his role as king, but doesn’t want to adapt to that role and its responsibilities. He’s stuck in the past — to a rather extreme extent that I won’t spoil for you here.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast — Ayo, Aneka, Ramonda, all black women — set up some familiar questions around law and justice. The “psychic influence” on the people of Wakanda comes from a woman named Zenzi, who seems to be in league with a surprisingly large band of dissidents. Her motivations are unclear so far, but she occupies somewhat of a populist position in relation to the unilateral power of T’Challa/Black Panther. Wakanda seems to be headed for a conflict between a populace with legitimate grievances but questionable leadership, and a ruler with (more or less) absolute power who has little experience with ruling (and apparently no desire for it, either).

To be sure, these are all questions that the superhero genre has been asking for decades, but something about the setting, the characters and the artists in Black Panther #1 seems to promise answers we haven’t necessarily seen before. I’m really looking forward to the next issue — I feel like I can trust Coates to treat these questions and these characters with the complexity and care I’ve come to expect from him in other media.

wp-1460143958929.jpegBrian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin are pulling their weight, too. Their collaboration really shines during an emotional moment between Ayo and Aneka, two of Black Panther’s elite royal guard. Stelfreeze draws the two women only as silhouettes while the light of a campfire dances behind them, and Martin’s coloring is bold, vivid without destroying the peace or intimacy of the scene. Coates’ dialogue is strong as always, but in these several panels the art leapt forward to perform the more meaningful storytelling.

Go grab this comic! I’m totally on board with this team of artists and their cast of characters. I’ll definitely be picking up issue #2 on the day it comes out, too.

— A

Advertisements

Black Panther #1 is here!

image

Behold! The very first Marvel comic book I have ever purchased: the relaunch issue of Black Panther!

I know only the most basic of backstories to the character, but he seems like the kind of guy who will appeal to me.

But really, let’s be clear — it was writer Ta-Nehisi Coates who convinced me to swing by Comic Book College tonight and pick up issue #1. Review plus a cocktail forthcoming; stay tuned!

In the meantime, here’s an interview with Coates from NPR correspondent Audie Cornish:

A Reluctant King: Ta-Nehisi Coates Takes On Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’

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.

 

“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!

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.