Each week, the iFanboy “Comic Shots” staff passes along a tasty drink recipe and an even tastier comic book recommendation. The cocktail and the comic can both be enjoyed independently, but they have a common theme and when served together they can make for the perfect reading experience.
Happy New Year to all of the Comic Shots readers out there!
This year we’re kicking off Comic Shots with a beer and comic pairing that is all about working in the extreme. For the beer part of the selection we’re going to talk a little about IPAs and how the craft brew industry has become a little obsessed with producing hop intense beers.
IPAs or India Pale Ales date back to 19th century England and were a wildly successful export beer to the East India Company, hence the name. They are known for they’re heavily hopped taste profile and ability to be stored for long amounts of time, therefore making them ideal for export. IPAs are very popular, and often the flagship product for many of today’s craft brewers. In a lot of ways they are the “economy class car” that every producer rolls off the assembly line. On the plus side, IPAs are usually a great entry point to try different brewers and get acquainted with their products. If hops are what you like in the beers you drink, then there is an ocean of IPAs to keep you in good spirits. Just about every brewer makes an IPA, and that seems to have started a braggin’ rights war for who can make the hoppiest pale ale.
Enter Dogfish Head Brewery’s 120 Minute IPA. Weighing in at a mammoth 18% ABV, the 120 IPA is not the kind of beer that you throw down while watching a football game. No, this is a sipping man’s beer. The 120 is available (when you can find this limited brew) in 12 oz. bottles, and the asking price is usually around the $10 price point. That sounds a little crazy for a single bottle of beer, but you have to keep a few things in mind. The 120 IPA is only produced a couple times a year, and the brewing process uses over six times the amount of hops you’re likely to find in most other IPAs. That’s a LOT of hops. A 12 oz bottle is also more than one person should drink in one sitting. It’s much better to split with another hophead as you can both experience one of the most intense and complex pale ales in existence.
The 120 Minute IPA is a fantastic beer, and it’s drawn a line in the sand that most other brewers probably won’t attempt to cross. It’s an extreme beer that shouts out “TOP THAT” to the rest of the IPA world. As IPAs have grown in popularity, it was only a matter of time before the envelope was pushed to the extreme. Dogfish Head did just that, and did it with their trademark craftsmanship and passion. It’s extreme done extremely well. Which brings us to our companion selection from the world of comics…
Mark Millar & Frank Quietly’s THE AUTHORITY
note: This reviews the contents of The Absolute Authority Vol 2 which collects The Authority #13-20, 22 & 27-29
The 1990s comics industry was the Wild West for making extreme comics. They were bigger, bolder, bloodier and hoppier… er, well, they were extreme. What was lacking in a lot of the comics of that era were the subtleties in storytelling that gave depth to the big action and rippling muscles. This wasn’t always the case, but it was a large part of the landscape. When Warren Ellis evolved his Stormwatch characters at Wildstorm into a new team called The Authority, things started to change. This was a book with big ideas as well as big action. He and Bryan Hitch’s “widescreen” style of comic storytelling moved the medium , for better or worse, in a way that is now so common it’s hardly even noticeable when you see it. When DC made the decision to shutter Wildstorm last year, there was much lamenting from fans who remember the late 90s and early 00s era of Wildstorm. The Authority is one of the biggest reasons that Wildstorm was so beloved.
When Ellis & Hitch concluded their 12 issue run on The Authority it wrapped up not only their story, but in a lot of ways it put a period on the 90s. If you don’t believe it, go read those issues, they’re awesome. What came next could have been yet another quiet fall of a loved 2nd tier title. Instead, the reigns were handed over to Mark Millar & Frank Quietly and they ran with it. To go back to our beer comparison, if the Ellis/Hitch run was a 90 Minute IPA, this was the 120 Minute.
The larger, almost cosmic ideas were pushed farther to the back, and the pure intensity of the series was pushed into overdrive, but all the right ways. The action was bigger. The themes were more controversial. And the art was breathtakingly bloody for the time.
To really understand the comic, you have to place it in the context of the day. When Millar and Quietly took over the title it was still a pre 9/11 world. The appetite for violence in comics wasn’t frowned upon, and in what would turn into a trademark for Millar penned stories, the violence was ramped up to 11 in The Authority. That’s not to say it was brainless violence, or just there for the spectacle. The stories were still smart, and the characters had a depth that still resonates when revisited over a decade later. The groundwork of the previous run served as the foundation for Millar & Quietly’s work in what felt like a well orchestrated passing of the baton.
Before the attacks of 9/11 and the Columbine High School massacre (1999) made everyone in the entertainment industry think twice about the level of violence in their products, the more taboo subject of homosexuality was being handled in The Authority. Imagine that. Having a gay couple in a comic book was pushing the bounds of what some people would accept while there were heads exploding and limbs being ripped off in most other mainstream comics. But there was The Authority, with two of it’s most prominent members in a loving same sex relationship. And not just any two members, this was Apollo and Midnighter, the Wildstorm versions of Superman and Batman! What was so amazing about those characters at the time is that they were exactly the opposite of how homosexuality had been addressed (or not) in comics to that point. They were the most powerful and badass characters on the team, and not the secondary characters (Northstar) that had been used to tip toes in the water of a controversial subject.
In what would become a more controversial subject in later days, The Authority appointed themselves as the police of the world. Tired of sitting on the sidelines and watching those in power dictate how people lived and died, The Authority took it upon themselves to level justice onto those that would profit from the pain and suffering of others. No politician, dictator, chieftain, or military was beyond the reach of The Authority. Other books like Cla$$war from Com.x would take a deeper look at super powered heroes waging wars on governments, but The Authority beat the 9/11 bell. Millar & Quietly began their attack on the modern world an eyelash before such fare would have to sit in the “too close for comfort” bin at publishers. The timing of The Authority is what helped make it an extreme book.
While Millar was writing some extreme stuff, Frank Quietly was throwing down some staggering visuals. It was one of those rare and perfect writer/artist collaborations that define what good superhero comics are all about. Quietly’s characters look… unique. His ability to draw people that somehow fit in the area between grotesque and beautiful is amazing. Millar’s writing felt fresh and in-step with how people viewed the world. Together they made The Authority a book that people actually talked about.
Millar and Quietly accomplished what not enough comics are able to do. They created a world that that was exploding with imagination and had no restraint. They took chances and shouted “TOP THAT!” to the rest of the comics world. The Authority was an extreme comic, but just like the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, it was extreme done extremely well.
Chris Neseman is the host of The Around Comics Podcast and a co-host of the 11 O’Clock Comics podcast. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and suggest a cocktail or comic of your own, because good drinks and good comics should be shared.
Please obey the law and only drink if you are of age. Drink responsibly and never drink and drive. Buy only the amount of comics that you can until your wife or significant other threatens to throw things away.