Tag Archives: Wolverine

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.

 

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“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.