“…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!