Beer & Batman #31: We Can Be Heroes (A Reprise)

 

B&B

This is Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story, working my way through the Batman canon in a loosely chronological manner (albeit disregarding most retcons and reboots, and indulging the occasional out-of-continuity detour). If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

I’m sure everyone has heard the familiar aphorism, “The night is darkest before the dawn.” In any literal sense, it isn’t true, but it is certainly a helpful refrain in the context of Batman comics. Recall The Long Halloween – the story which corrupted Harvey Dent into Two-Face, it also marked the first definitive and irreparable failure in Batman’s crime fighting career, putting an end to the naïve notion that Batman could ever actually “win” his crusade. Its follow-up, Dark Victory, found Batman in that grim new status quo, and ended with him lifted, given new hope and purpose in the form of a new partner: Robin. Dick Grayson breathed new energy and life into the Batman narrative, but since the dissolution of that partnership, Batman has got darker still. In a quick sequence of violent classics, Batman has definitely earned the moniker of “Dark Knight.” If the night is actually darkest before the dawn, then a bright new dawn is just about the only place Batman’s story could go next.

Discussing the sunrise after The Long Halloween‘s darkest night, I wrote, “it isn’t enough to just beat the bad guys – a real hero does actual good, instead of just preventing bad.” This notion of Batman as not just a vigilante or benevolent boogeyman, but as a bonafide hero, is again placed at the center of Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, and Jim Aparo’s A Lonely Place of Dying. Heroism, too, is what has inspired the folks at Toronto’s Southpaw Beverage Company to brew Heroes blonde lager. This beer, the can proclaims, “recognizes ordinary people doing something extraordinary,” and even does some quiet heroics of its own by donating proceeds from the sale of the beer to support Wounded Warriors Canada, a charity which provides support to veterans. Continue reading

Beer & Batman #30: We’re All Mad Here

B&B

This is Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story, working my way through the Batman canon in a loosely chronological manner (albeit disregarding most retcons and reboots, and indulging the occasional out-of-continuity detour). If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

The great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once observed: “It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.” Many would (and have tried) to apply this sentiment in regard to Batman, and it’s easy to understand why: after a childhood trauma, Bruce Wayne was damaged to such an extent that the only way he could cope was to dress as a bat and fight crime. Which, frankly, is insane in any realistic context. Speaking about his current run on the character’s comic book, Tom King referred to Batman as “psychotic,” a turn of phrase which Panels contributor Alice W. Castle took some exception to. In one of a series of thoughtful and insightful tweets, Castle observed, “batman is a story of the intersection of trauma and mental illness and making yourself into the hero that you never had.” I don’t know a summation of 75+ years of comic books could ever be expressed in less than 140 characters, but Castle comes pretty damn close. Which, if we accept that as the central premise at Batman’s core, means that Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s clunkily titled Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth might just be the single most significant entry in the Batman canon.

Of the staggering number of monumental Batman classics released between 1987 and ’89, Arkham Asylum is undoubtedly my favorite, and, arguably, objectively the best. I’ll confess some bias, however, as my entry point into comics as an adult was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman opus, and Dave McKean’s art provided a stunning through line between Gaiman’s mythic storytelling and the conventional super-heroics of Batman comics. Bias aside, Arkham Asylum is better and more sophisticated than most superhero comics and is certainly more visually striking. McKean’s hallucinatory visuals provide the perfect accompaniment to Morrison’s core question: is Batman crazy?

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Beer & Batman #29: An Adequate Adieu

B&B

This is Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story, working my way through the Batman canon in a loosely chronological manner (albeit disregarding most retcons and reboots, and indulging the occasional out-of-continuity detour). If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

Every craft brewer owes some intangible debt to Ken Grossman and his Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. A homebrewer throughout the 1970s, Grossman recognized an absence of homegrown, hop-forward beers, and took it upon himself to brew them. He was such a pioneer that he couldn’t even acquire the equipment required to brew beer at his planned small scale – brewing systems were only built to suit large commercial breweries, and he had to cobble together his own brewery from repurposed dairy equipment. Sierra Nevada practically invented the craft beer movement in the United States, and to this day, their pale ale is trumpeted as the standard against which all other pale ales are held.

With all that historical context established now, I will proceed to state an unpopular opinion: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, though undeniably well-balanced, is a timid, if not outright unremarkable, pale ale. As a homebrewer like Ken Grossman myself, I want to heap praise upon Sierra Nevada, because I have the privilege of walking every trail which Grossman has blazed. Objectively, though, I have to admit that I find their pale ale dreadfully uninteresting. It boils down to that perennial tug-of-war between importance and actual merit, and that is why I have paired Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with Batman: A Death In The Family. Continue reading

Beer & Batman #28: Better Days

B&B

This is Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story, working my way through the Batman canon in a loosely chronological manner (albeit disregarding most retcons and reboots, and indulging the occasional out-of-continuity detour). If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

This was supposed to be a different post entirely. Following up The Killing Joke in continuity, I ought to be writing about A Death In The Family. While I will discuss that controversial classic next week, I am not talking about it now, because I want to talk instead about Darwyn Cooke, an unparalleled titan of comics storytelling who passed away on May 14. But I haven’t suspended continuity only because I want to eulogize Darwyn Cooke by discussing his 2000 Batman graphic novel Ego – no, I don’t want to write about A Death In The Family, because, like The Killing Joke preceding it, it worked to push superhero storytelling further into a relentless grimness to which Cooke’s work was a welcome antidote.

Darwyn Cooke’s visual stylings evoke a bygone time – his art is like the Golden Age perfected, with all the same wide-eyed wonder and bombast, but with a more dynamic understanding of human figures and a more sophisticated knowledge of visual storytelling. Like any master of a given craft, Cooke made comics look easy, achieving more with fewer lines than most draftsmen could accomplish with near-photorealism. Somehow, he accomplished a similar result in his writing – spare and concise, he nevertheless possessed an uncanny understanding of any character he wrote. Consider his superhero opus, DC: The New Frontier – juggling an enormous cast of DC’s superheroes, he managed to capture each character at their best and most iconic, crafting the single greatest Justice League story ever committed to paper. In that book, and in Batman: Ego, he understands that the core of the best superhero stories is as deceptively simple as his art: hope. Continue reading

Beer & Batman #27: You Must Be Joking. . .

B&B

This is Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story, working my way through the Batman canon in a loosely chronological manner (albeit disregarding most retcons and reboots, and indulging the occasional out-of-continuity detour). If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

Sometimes, a thing can grow much bigger than itself.

The Killing Joke, a Batman comic by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland published in 1988, is a perfect case in point. Never absent from any list of essential Batman reading, it is shocking and controversial, inspiring countless tracts and endless debate far outpacing the comic’s own 46-page length. The mere suggestion of the book inspires intense reactions, and the discussion over some of the book’s more problematic plot points dogs it wherever it goes. At this point, the simple question, is it good? is pretty much irrelevant. Like The Dark Knight Returns, at this point The Killing Joke is such a significant entry in (and influence upon) the Batman canon, it scarcely matters if it’s good.

Moosehead Breweries, Ltd., would seem an odd pairing with such a controversial classic, then. For most of the brewery’s nearly 150-year history, Moosehead occupied a comfortable, if unusual, position as an independent brewery, but just a little too big to be considered a craft brewery. Though inoffensive and catering to popular tastes, it is a Canadian institution, as is the family that founded it and continues to operate it today: the Olands. While the history of the brewery boasts plenty of dramatic moments, Moosehead finds itself discussed most these days in relation to the longest and most expensive murder trial in the history of Saint John, New Brunswick. Though presently in appeal, Dennis Oland, cousin to the current Moosehead president, was convicted in December of last year for the violent murder of Richard Oland, his own father. Though both Dennis and Richard Oland were just peripheral to Moosehead’s operations, it has nevertheless cast a pall over the Oland (and thus, the Moosehead) name – one can’t openly drink a Moosehead lager right now without getting embroiled in a did-he-or-didn’t-he discussion. Continue reading