Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe
Garnish with your best Stan Lee or Jim Lee story
(Yes, I know that Jim Lee is at DC now )
* * *
You could see the fear in his eyes, as he lay paralyzed in the hospital bed while the crazed figure sat in the chair beside him, revolver in hand. The barrel of the gun was thrust against his brow, the trigger hurriedly pulled back – KLIK – on an empty chamber. At the best of times, Russian roulette isn’t a sport for the weak, but when you’re trapped – unable to move, unable to speak – while a madman forces turn after turn upon you – well, it makes you wonder who’s the hero and who’s the villain. Should it matter than the man in the bed, Bullseye, had killed Elektra? No, Daredevil was better than this – better than preying upon those who couldn’t raise a muscle to defend themselves. He was a protector of the city. But not tonight – tonight, he was attending to personal business, settling a debt. No, tonight was no night to be a superhero.
Point a gun to my head and ask me where and when I first got the bug the write, and I will kindly direct you to Daredevil #191, written and drawn by Mr. Frank Miller. I was thirteen, and up until that point – in those pre-Nintendo days – comics were little more than a way to pass the time because that was what boys did. Then came Miller’s Daredevil. Suddenly, comics broke from the Lee-Kirby mold and become something grittier, deeper, and with more emotional resonance. Quickly on the heels of Daredevil came Walter Simonson’s Thor, in which every curve took on Mandelbrot-like geometry. Not only was I hooked, unaware of what the future would hold (The Dark Knight, Alien Legion, Teen Titans), right there and then, I declared myself a Marvel man for life.
In 1939, pulp magazine publisher Martin Goodman decided to venture into the popular world of comic books with his Timely Comics banner and an initial book entitled “Marvel Comics”. It was this first issue which would introduce readers to a character called the Human Torch, and in the years leading up to World War II, Timely would also give birth to the comic legends Captain America and the Sub-Mariner. But the most important hero in Timely’s history would come in the form of a mild-mannered office assistant named Stanley Lieber.
When editor Joe Simon, who had created Captain America along with artist Jack Kirby (the comic world’s Babe Ruth), left Timely in 1941, Goodman appointed 19-year-old Lieber, who was writing under the pen name “Stan Lee”, as acting comics editor. Following a stint in the military during World War II, Lee returned to Timely and took over the full-time duties as editor.
The post-war years were not kind to the comic industry, particularly to Timely, which was then distributing under the banner “Atlas” and battling a plethora of distribution and back-catalog issues. Facing the dissolution of the company, Lee was charged with coming up with new ideas to reinvigorate sales. Rival DC was having success with superhero teams, namely the Justice League of America, and Timely recognized the opportunity. Lee, however, didn’t want just another team of perfect, flawless heroes; he wanted characters that argued, paid the rent, and got angry just like the rest of us. Adopting the name of Timely’s oldest book, Marvel Comics was launched in 1961, and that same year, the company’s cornerstone team of dysfunctional-yet-loving superheroes was let loose on the world. The Fantastic Four.
The Fantastic Four marked the real return of Jack Kirby (who had left with Joe Simon twenty years earlier) to Martin Goodman’s comics. Teaming with Kirby, Steve Ditko, and a handful of other top artists, Stan Lee used the Marvel banner to begin not only a new way to “tell” comics but also to change how they were created. The “Marvel Method” entailed Lee and the artist brainstorming the story ideas, with Lee laying out the basic story structure and then turning it over to the artist with no formal script. In this manner, artists were free to interpret the basic story and to enhance it as they saw fit. Once the penciling was finished, the word balloons and captions were added. Not only did this method allow Lee to juggle his heavy workload, it produced many of the most successful superheroes in history. Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, Daredevil, and the Hulk.
True to Lee’s vision, none of these characters was a nearly invincible alien (Superman) or a billionaire detective (Batman). No, they were semi-regular people that had to cope with daily life on top of super villains. In 1971, Lee was asked by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to create a story in which a friend of the webslinger succumbs to the perils of drugs. The Comics Code (the industry’s Hays Act) refused to allow the books to be published, so Lee convinced publisher Martin Goodman to release the books without the sanction of the Comics Code. “The world did not come to an end,” Lee recalls. “We had really the greatest mail from parents, teachers, religious organizations praising us for that story.” It was from this foundation that later writers and artist such as Frank Miller and Walter Simonson were allowed to take their stories into more visually dramatic and emotionally compelling realms.
It’s been ten years since I last visited Comic-Con, loosely working at the time as part of an artists and writers agency, but since half my friends are down there (the other half are in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail), I thought I might vicariously join them in a drink. Though you may not believe it, we didn’t make up the Marvel Cocktail; it comes from the Savoy Cocktail Book, circa 1930. The recipe calls for the esoteric but well-worth-the-making Sirop de Citron, which is nothing more than citrus macerated in sugar for a few days. As with all things Savoy, we turned to friend and Savoymeister Erik Ellestad (who know his way around a kitchen as well as a bar) for our syrup recipe. While the below differs slightly from the version found on his Savoy Stomp (formerly Underhill Lounge) site, the changes come from subsequent improvements Erik himself made following his original post.
Sirop de Citron
2. 5 Lemons, thinly sliced
500 g Sugar
Slice the lemons and toss them in the sugar
Let stand in a non-reactive bowl for 2 to 3 days
Add the mixture to a saucepan and bring to a low simmer
Stir until any remaining sugar is dissolved
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve
Discard the solid or use them elsewhere
Optional – if syrup is too thick, thin with a little water
The resulting syrup is beautifully yellow and deliciously deep in its tartness, with nice bitter edge bring up the back note. I concur with Ellestad in recommending a nice, light natural sugar here, but as I only had white baker’s sugar on hand when I made my recipe at 1:30am, I’ll confide that it works just fine. If going through the trouble of making syrup isn’t your thing, feel free to use fresh lemon juice in its place.
The original drink proportions given by the Savoy are 3/4 part rum, 1/8 part Sirop de Citron, and 1/8 part , which I’ve translated for our wacky measurements above. Obviously feel free to fudge a bit (those quarters are a bit annoying, I know) but know that if you adhere to the perfect proportions, you get an absolutely lovely drink. Whereas I tend to be of a different mindset than the “add only enough sugar to take off the edge” proponents, in this drink, that mantra truly shines. It’s a very Rum-forward cocktail, with the two syrups playing background harmony – just taking off the edge, exactly as they say.
I had planned to add a section on how lemons and citrons are two different things, but as citrons can be difficult to find, will not produce the same results with this recipe, and lemon makes for a brilliantly lovely syrup (and subsequent cocktail), I’ll skip it. If you must have this information, Google is just a click away, but be forewarned that most Sirop de Citron recipes out there are, as you might expect, in French. Instead, let’s close out by returning to our friends Daredevil and Bullseye, as they reach the last of the revolver‘s chambers and the end of their game of roulette…
The question lingering before both men is one of consequences – for exactly how much collateral damage is a superhero responsible. For Daredevil – by day, lawyer Matt Murdock – the world isn’t black and white, good versus evil. It’s a collection of mistakes, regrets, and heroes who will always let somebody down. But right and wrong do exist, and right must be upheld. It’s with this sentiment that, five rounds of Russian roulette later, the Man without Fear levels the six-shooter at his arch enemy’s temple and says:
“That’s what it all comes down to, Bullseye… when I fight you and beat you, and know deep in my heart that I’m right in what I do… when I hate you and your kind so fiercely I could cry… when I can see that you are black and evil and have no right to live… when, at last, at long last, I’ve got you set squarely in my sight… and I smell your fear, and it is sweet to smell… when it comes to that one final, fatal act of ending you… KLIK!… my gun has no bullets. Guess we’re stuck with each other, Bullseye.”