Category Archives: sweet vermouth

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.

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.