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

Gin & Joker #4: No Laughing Matter

B&B

This is usually Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story. Throughout the month of April, however, the Clown Prince of Crime is co-opting this space for Gin & Joker. April Fools! If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

No two creators influenced the tone of comics from the ‘80s onward as much as Frank Miller and Alan Moore, and many comics fans continue to regard their works as the high watermark of superhero storytelling. See, fans are usually quite serious about their fandom, and as such, both Miller and Moore’s comics were enormously validating for many dyed-in-the-wool fans, because they, too, took superheroes very, very seriously, telling very adult stories which considered more realistic ramifications of all those super-heroics. In their hands, costumed villains weren’t larger-than-life mischief-makers, but were instead dangerous, violent, and sadistic criminals. I really don’t have a problem with that, per se, and while both auteurs have some severely problematic tendencies in their storytelling, I do actually think that The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen are really quite good and would never refute their status as classics of the genre (and the medium as a whole.) But boy, do I ever hate a great portion of what their work inspired.

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Art by Lee Bermejo, from Joker.

Which takes us to Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Joker. This graphic novel was published in 2008, concurrent with the release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which featured Heath Ledger’s jaw-dropping turn as the iconic Clown Prince of Crime. Surprisingly, the graphic novel was evidently not influenced by Ledger’s performance, as it was written and drawn prior to either of its creators ever seeing the film, though it is remarkable how closely Bermejo’s rendering of the Joker resembles the film’s. Both the graphic novel and the film, I think, reached similar conclusions in terms of how to visualize the character in a realistic context, a treatment which Bermejo also extends to other characters such as Killer Croc and the Riddler. I have little nice to say about Joker, but before I go much further, I should make it clear: Bermejo’s work on Joker is, as always, fantastic. Inked by Mick Gray, the art is not as painterly and beautiful as Bermejo’s later graphic novel Noël, but Gray’s harder edges and heavier shadows lend Joker an appropriate grit and ugliness. Finished by Patricia Mulvihill’s bleak and washed-out color palette, the art as a whole is stunning and perfectly suited to the book’s overall tone. Continue reading

Gin & Joker #3: That Old Routine

B&B

This is usually Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story. Throughout the month of April, however, the Clown Prince of Crime is co-opting this space for Gin & Joker. April Fools! If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

The Joker’s history is almost as long as Batman’s own – created by Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson (though, as Robinson was working as a ghost-artist under Bob Kane at the time, Kane received the official credit), the Joker debuted in Batman #1, released in April 1940, not even a whole year after Batman debuted in May 1939’s Detective Comics #27. The two are interminably linked. As discussed regarding Going Sane, some comics creators even postulate that one wouldn’t exist without the other. That their conflict will never cease is taken for granted; the Joker won’t stop until Batman kills him, and on principle, Batman never will kill him. Thus, their ceaseless fighting is reduced to routine.

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Art by Simon Bisley, from Batman: A Black & White World.

When reading Sam Kieth’s Batman: Secrets, I found myself thinking about an eight-page Batman comic written by the legendary Neil Gaiman, and not just because Gaiman and Kieth were onetime collaborators (Kieth illustrated the opening salvo of Gaiman’s Sandman epic). With art by Simon Bisley, the story was entitled A Black & White World, and it conceptualizes Batman and the Joker as actors, playing their parts – they run their lines in the green room and bemoan their corny dialogue. (“I’m the Joker, for Chrissakes. Roseanne’s funnier than me.” “I think her writers are better paid.”) It reduces this at-times almost mythic struggle to a daily grind, a literal role to play. (“Hey, that splash panel where you came through the window, that was just the coolest. I never get panels like that.” “So? You get to make speeches. I don’t get to make speeches.”) Though Secrets, unlike A Black & White World, keeps the fourth wall entirely intact, it nevertheless invokes a similar sense of routine, even inserting interludes in which the two adversaries discuss their dynamic. The trouble, though, is that I’m not entirely sure that Secrets is doing this on purpose. Continue reading

Gin & Joker #2: Knock ‘Em Dead

B&B

This is usually Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story. Throughout the month of April, however, the Clown Prince of Crime is co-opting this space for Gin & Joker. April Fools! If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

I’ve done a little research since my last installment. As the name might suggest, tonic water was originally used as a medicine – it was (and many tonics, including the Schweppes which I am mixing with my gin, still are) derived from quinine, which itself is extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree. The indigenous peoples of Peru used the bark to treat and prevent “fevers,” which are now better identified as malaria. They helpfully shared the treatment with the Spanish conquistadors, who exported it back to Europe. It became common practice among British colonists to drink a daily preventative dose of Schweppes’ “Indian Quinine Tonic.” I don’t know that it is documented as to who first started spiking their medicinal tonic with gin, but it was a practice that continued through both World Wars, leading Winston Churchill to proclaim, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”

This is not the reason that Wisconsin’s Death’s Door Distillery has named themselves as such – it takes its name from Death’s Door Passage, the Lake Michigan strait separating Washington Island from mainland Wisconsin. Nevertheless, it’s a neat coincidence which ties nicely into Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty’s Joker: Last Laugh. In this 2001-2002 story, a prison physician diagnoses a fatal tumor in the Joker’s brain, and the Joker takes the news of his impending death . . . rather poorly. Instead of drinking a gin and tonic or looking for some other a cure, the Joker accepts that he will die, but only if he gets to deliver one last punchline. He orchestrates a massive breakout and sets loose a horde of Joker-ized supervillains to cause chaos across the world. Continue reading

Gin & Joker #1: April Fools!

 

B&B

This is usually Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story. Throughout the month of April, however, the Clown Prince of Crime is co-opting this space for Gin & Joker. April Fools! If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

April Fools!

For the entire month of April, Beer & Batman will be co-opted by the Clown Prince of Crime himself: the Joker. To preserve the semblance of alliteration (though obviously not the actual alliteration), these stories will be paired with gin in place of the usual beer. Now, I know a fair amount about beer. I brew it myself, I enjoy it often, and I’ve developed a good palate for it. I know what beer I like and what beer I don’t like, and I can usually pinpoint precisely what I like and don’t like about each one. Regarding gin, however, I am a novice. I know very little about gin, other than it is a distilled grain alcohol which is infused with juniper, and sometimes other botanicals, and then distilled again. It is designed to be mixed and is popularly enjoyed over ice with tonic water. That is how I will be drinking my gin over the course of April.

Regarding the Joker, I know a great deal more. I have discussed him at length, first when discussing the story in which Batman first encounters him, and then again when discussing his multiple origin stories. He is Batman’s counterpoint, chaos to his control. In a city crowded with iconic villains, the Joker is both the most iconic and the scariest. He is completely and utterly insane, past the point of any chance at redemption. The popular sentiment, both within the comics themselves and among the fans, is that the only way Batman can ever beat the Joker is to kill him, which unto itself would be a violation of Batman’s values to such an extent that it would still qualify as a defeat. Thus, the two are stuck in an eternal struggle, neither willing to make that definitive move to end it. Continue reading