Comic Shots #12 with Chris Neseman: Black Widow and ‘The Twelve’

November 6, 2008

Every couple of weeks Chris Neseman drops by to pass 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.


Welcome to the twelfth edition of Comic Shots! Sorry it’s been a few weeks. I hope it gave you a chance to catch up on some reading and in my case, dry out a little bit. Since this is the twelfth Comic Shots, it was a very obvious choice for my comic recommendation. Marvel’s The Twelve was an easy choice, and it offered up a ton of drink ideas. I could have picked any of the dozen characters in the series for inspiration, but it was the beautiful and mysterious Black Widow that caught my cocktail fancy. Luckily there is already a drink called a Black Widow. Unluckily I wasn’t a fan of it the first time I mixed one up. The problem is that Sambuco is one of the ingredients and due to a bad Jägermeister experience I don’t have much of a taste for anise (or black licorice) flavored drinks. So in the spirit of keeping with the theme and wielding the power of writing my own column, I’m modifying the recipe. I’ll give you both versions, and if you try both you can comment on which you prefer.

Black Widow ingredients (This version comes courtesy of Sandra Lee at

• 3 oz. vanilla vodka
• 1 oz. black anise-flavored liqueur (recommended: Sambuca)
• 1 oz. espresso
• Black licorice, for garnish

Black Widow ingredients (My Version):

• 3 oz. vanilla vodka
• 1/2 oz. black anise-flavored liqueur (recommended: Sambuca)
• 2 oz. espresso

In both versions of the recipe you combine the ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and serve the drink “up” in a martini glass. The difference in my version is that I cut the Sambuca by half, doubled the espresso and tossed out the licorice. I’m a coffee freak and I really like the combination of vanilla vodka with my favorite source of caffeine. Cutting down the Sambuca to a less overpowering level added a nice flavor without reminding me of that night in Minneapolis when I split a bottle of Jager with my best friend before a Dr. John concert. I love Dr. John and really wish I could remember that show. Because this is a caffeinated drink you may want to have one before dinner or earlier in the evening. You could also have one a little later if you want to have a cocktail and stay awake long enough to enjoy this week’s comic book recommendation…


The Twelve
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Chris Weston, Garry Leach and Chris Chuckry

The concept of taking golden age characters and holding them up to the fun house mirror of modern times is always fascinating to me. DC has done a fantastic job of this in the Justice Society of America, and the legacy characters of that series have become a DC cornerstone. The premise of The Twelve is that a cobbled together group of twelve heroes are defeated by retreating Nazis during the fall of Berlin and are put into cryogenic sleep awaiting experimentation when the Nazis return to power. Well, the Nazis never returned and almost seventy years pass before The Twelve are rediscovered. At the time of this article, seven issues and a hardcover of the first six issues has been released. I’m focusing on those first six issues. The crux of the story is how a group of lesser known WWII era heroes try to reintegrate themselves into present day society. The variety of characters allows for examinations of different ways that culture and society have changed since 1945. JMS (Straczynski) looks through their 1940s spyglass at racism, politics, homosexuality, justice, entertainment and more. JMS may be at his strongest when he is able to wrap social messages into his stories. Babylon 5 was filled with social and political issues, as were Rising Stars and my personal favorite, Midnight Nation. A staple of JMS creations is that they will often blur the lines of right and wrong and then snap them back into focus for you. He has an uncanny knack of showing you several sides of a situation and then getting to the heart of what is right and just. Don’t get me wrong, The Twelve is still a superpowered adventure book with plenty of explosions and fire for the kids, but there is a lot being said here as well.

With the exception of a brief appearance by the WWII version of The Invaders, The Twelve doesn’t rely on any current knowledge of the Marvel Universe. Strasczynski has mined Marvel’s and Timely Comics‘ history to find some relatively blank slates to build his story around. For those keeping score at home, The Twelve are comprised of: The Phantom Reporter, Rockman, Fiery Mask, Master Mind Excello, Mister E, Captain Wonder, The Witness, Laughing Mask, Blue Blade, Dynamic Man, Electro and the inspiration for this week’s cocktail, The Black Widow. The dozen heros and anti-heroes are a mixture of godlike super humans, mortal vigilantes… and a robot. I still haven’t figured out the robot, but there’s a ton of foreshadowing that it’s not going to be good. The Phantom Reporter is not only our guide through the story, he is The Daily Bugle‘s connection to The Twelve and the country’s new link to a different era. The Phantom Reporter, despite his human failings and limitations is the character that may exemplify most what makes a hero. Through the first six issues it is his humanity that has allowed him to reconnect with a world that is everything and nothing like it should be. It is his story that creates the centerline of The Twelve. The rest of the cast are everything they should be at this point. They are all unique and have different backstories that JMS has created to address his issues. There are moments of revelation about the characters in each issue that endear you to them or make you dislike them a little more. As much as I start to really hate the Aryan Dynamic Man, I challenge anyone not to choke up a little when Rockman’s true story is revealed. Mister E and Captain Wonder have the weight of seven decades of lost time and broken promises to live with, and the Laughing Mask learns that there is no time limit on some crimes. Not even seventy years of sleep will keep his chickens from coming home to roost. Our cocktail star, The Black Widow is maybe the most fascinating and mysterious of the bunch. She’s beautiful, dangerous and has a pact with the devil that makes for a tough social life. No woman is perfect, but this is definitely a beauty that kills. I guess what I’m saying is that all of the characters are interesting. The character development is fast and furious, and because this is a twelve issue series, you get the feeling that things aren’t going to end well for them.

The art of Chris Weston, Garry Leach and Chris Chuckry hits the mark in every way. I’ll get to the interiors in a second, but the covers for The Twelve deserve some special praise first. Kaare Andrews and Paolo Rivera have crafted some of the best pulp flavored comics covers on the stands this year. They completely capture the spirit of the series in their antiqued comic book invitations. Each issue’s cover is a frame worthy spotlight on each of The Twelve. Now back to the interiors. The Twelve covers a lot of the emotional spectrum along with shifts in time, tons of dialog and some big action. For the book to be successful the art had to convey some serious emotional range. There are scenes where characters are completely broken and others where the anger and frustration of being thrown into a world turned upside-down have to be convincing The art does the job plus some. It’s also no easy task to pile up pages of dialog and keep the visual storytelling crisp and entertaining. It’s Weston’s ability to make these characters act that keeps the book moving. Chris Chuckry’s coloring helps set the tone to further capture the emotional weight of scenes, and his choices for each flashback scene never let the reader get confused about when and where they are. All together The Twelve looks like it should. It’s a modern comic book that’s been steeped in 1940s pulp. Mmmmm… Pulp.

Let me close by thanking Marvel. This is the kind of series they don’t really have to produce. It’s not important to continuity, and it’s not using recognizable licensed properties. This is a twelve issue series that by the end, should have a beginning, middle and resolute end (GASP). This is a really fun and smart book about golden age superheroes that has a lot to offer. Personally I decided to wait for the hardcover, and I’m glad I did. This is a series that I’ll grab off of the bookshelf for many a return reading. The complete package of writing, art, self contained continuity and awesome cover gallery would make this a perfect choice for an oversized hardcover at its conclusion (hint hint).


So there you go. Thanks for reading as always, and especially because of the gap in time since my last article. I feel like I’ve been frozen in a Nazi compound since the last time I wrote a Comic Shots. I hope you enjoy The Black Widow cocktail and take a well deserved chance on The Twelve
. I’ll see everyone in a couple weeks for another round of Comic Shots!


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 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 the comics that make you happy, and when they do, pass them on!



  1. For being such a part of a site like iFanboy, I sure am perpetually surprised by which books have been released lately. I had no idea The Twelve had a hardcover out until I saw your photo above. And your version of the Black Widow is the tastiest-sounding cocktail I’ve encountered in quite a while.

  2. Interesting review — I’m a little gunshy about JMS comics because I’m afraid they’ll disappear just when I was getting interested.  But I loved ‘Babylon 5’ and the beginning of ‘Supreme Power,’ so I know what the guy is capable of.  That first collection looks very tempting. . .

  3. Great article, interesting drink.  I am listening to 11 o’clock comics right now and you just mentioned you were drinking a Black Widow!!  Awesome.

  4. I love the Twelve!

  5. I started this article by comparing The Twelve and Watchmen. About half way through I decided to scrap it and start over. I still feel that there are some great comparisons that can be made, but it’s just not fair to hold any modern comic up to that. I in no way think this will have the lasting effect of Watchmen, but I do think it has some lasting value that will have folks reading it for a while.

  6. One of the most underrated series out there today. We all are wish washy on JMS, but this series right here. Mwah! One of the best things I’ve ever read in my life. Now I do wait for the trades in this but damn, I would easily switch to issues if I wanted too.

    I hope JMS does more with this in the future after his inital 12 issues are done.

  7. Glad you didn’t do the Watchmen comparison…I’ve been rediscovering Watchmen via the motion comics, and it really does have a much more ominous feel to it.  I love the review you did, especially because you waxed on about the interior art which is 10 out of 10 for clear storytelling.

    The Twelve is great!  If JMS can stick the landing, he’ll have made one of the best miniseries ever.  My understanding of the community who are not reading this reflect ohcaroline’s thinking, that the ending will disappoint.  I think if it ends well, the word will really get out and people will discover this book as a complete series.

    I can’t name my favorite character, they are all so good in their own ways.

  8. I’ve been loving this series from the beginning and I’m glad it’s getting some (more) recognition.

     I wouldn’t dare touch the cocktail, though. I hate licorice stuff and I hate coffee. *shudder*


  9. Thanks for the heads up on both the drink and The 12. Somehow I totally missed this, but as a big fan of Marvel’s Timely/Atlas characters, I’m anxious to pick this up. The only thing stopping me is the bad taste in my mouth from reading JMS’s Spider-man. 

  10. i loved the 12 it was good and innovative. the drink wasnt bad either

  11. The Twelve is my single favorite comic of the past year. All of you who have avoided this book due to dissatisfaction with JMS’s prior work should just imagine this as a clean slate. The Twelve has the potential to be an all-time great (assuming the last few issues are as strong as the prior books). It will be a book that many readers will revisit and others will discover years down the line.

    Chris, you have done a fantastic job of explaining why this is such a strong comic, but I suspect you are preaching to the choir. The sadness in the Captain Wonder, Mr. E, and Rockman stories is supplanted by the mystery of the Blue Blade, and the snappy dialogue of the Phantom Reporter. Excelsior!

  12. Thanks for reminding me about this drink, Chris. I’m a coffee freak too, a big fan of licorice and like vodka just fine. So I’ve always liked this one but hadn’t had one in forever – few bars in my area have the espresso capability – and just forgot about it.

    Now that I’ve got the constituent ingredients at home – Ouzo, homemade vanilla infused Grey Goose and a new-ish Krupps espesso machine I’m making one when I get home tonight. Woo Hoo!