Daily Archives: February 24, 2011

Where Everybody Knows Your Name (But Hopefully Not Your Secret Identity)

16 Stories in Which the Main Action or a Significant Scene Takes Place in a Bar, Pub, Tavern, Saloon, or Similar Establishment

1. “Time Runs Like Sand” (Marvel Two-in-One #86, 04/83)
Sometimes you feel like a fight, and sometimes you don’t. Flint Marko, a.k.a. the infamous Sandman, was definitely not up for a fight at the start of this story, which takes places shortly after he has extricated himself from an embarrassing situation (hint: his team-up with the watery Hydro-Man against Spider-Man didn’t turn out to be one of his smarter ideas). Seeking nothing more than a beer and some time alone to think about his life, he had the rotten luck to choose a bar where the bartender recognized his most-wanted mug… and called the Fantastic Four’s headquarters for help. When the Thing arrived on the scene ready to do some clobberin’, Sandman’s response was a simple whatever, just let me finish my beer before you take me away. What followed this non-clash of the titans were some of the most sublime pages ever published in a superhero comic: two silicon-based super-beings who do nothing but commiserate over a couple of beers, talking about the choices they’ve made and the choices made for them by fate. Sure, you wouldn’t want every superhero mag to follow suit, but Marvel Two-in-One didn’t get much better than this issue, a standout story among the title’s usual trademark-renewal antics.

2. “Overkill” (Captain America #319, 07/86)
It was known as “The Bar with No Name” — which is silly, when you really think about it, since the very fact it was known by that name means it had a name, amiright? (Also, airline food: what’s up with that? I’m here all week, folks!) In any event, the super-villain hangout in Medina County, Ohio, was a place where costumed criminals could relax and enjoy a pint away from the prying eyes of Johnny Law or Larry Longjohns. It was also the site of a super-villain summit organized to form a united front against Scourge, a murderous vigilante who at the time was skulking the pages of various Marvel titles, picking off minor super-villains one by one. Alas, security at the meeting wasn’t as tight as one would have hoped, and the bartender (the only one not checked for weapons) turned out to be Scourge in disguise. Decked out in his “Muscle Beach” T-shirt, he wasted no time dispatching all 18 attending villains while shouting his trademark “Justice is served!” It’s unlikely anyone in the real world mourned the loss of the likes of Turner D. Century or Commander Kraken, but it was pretty shocking stuff at the time, and once Marvel realized the value of an occasional deck-sweeping bloodbath, no C-lister was safe.

3. “Small Wake for a Tall Man” (Punisher War Journal #4, 04/2007)
Wilbur Day, a.k.a. Stilt-Man, never really caught a break in life; as one of Daredevil’s early opponents, he was repeatedly defeated by ol’ Horn-Head and other Marvel heroes who had little trouble dealing with a guy who thought an unusually high centre of gravity gave him a leg up (ha!) in the super-criminal game. Despite an effort to go straight, his one tangle with the Punisher turned out to be his last, and his wake — held in another “bar with no name” — brought out many of his fellow has-beens and never-weres in Marvel’s costumed criminal community. This being a Marvel comic, a fight soon breaks out among the mourners, promptly followed by the Punisher (disguised as the bartender, natch) poisoning the attendees and blowing up the bar. Readers would later learn he was off his game, though, as the villains had their stomachs pumped and were treated for third-degree burns. Better luck next time, Frank! The lesson: when taking out a bar full of super-villains, don’t get fancy with tactics.

4. “Hardcore” (Daredevil #50, 10/2003)
A street-level superhero like Daredevil is no stranger to bars, since that’s where the lowlifes and snitches he deals with on a daily basis tend to be found. During his legendary run on the first Daredevil title, Frank Miller had a great running joke about the number of times DD busted up Josie’s, a fictional watering hole in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, in search of information. No surprise, then, that Brian Michael Bendis had Daredevil choose Josie’s for a pivotal moment during his tenure on Daredevil’s 1998 series; specifically, the moment at which Daredevil decided he’d had enough of the Kingpin mucking up his life and thoroughly thrashed the big tub of lard but good. When Fisk could take no more, Daredevil drove his battered and broken body through the window of the  bar and told the people inside that if they wanted a kingpin so badly, he’s applying for the job. First new rule: all bad guys stay the hell out of his territory. Say what you like about his methods, but the man knew how to make a point.

5. “A Beer with the Devil” (Daredevil #266, 05/89)
In between Miller’s run and the Kevin Smith reboot, Daredevil went through a couple of phases, each one characterized by a different writer trying to get a handle on the whole Catholic lawyer boy/devil-suited vigilante thing. Most writers handed in tales of supremely generic fisticuffs (ask me about DD’s armored black costume phase; better yet, don’t), but Ann Nocenti deserves some credit for taking the basic premise and running with it to the outer edges of sanity. In this story, a battered and costumed Daredevil spends Christmas nursing a beer in a bar while the other customers, lost in their own conversations, appear to leave him alone. A beautiful woman saddles up next to him and ruminates on how unfair life must be to someone like him: “Despicable people sit at home surrounded by love and families. Heroes sit alone.” As she continues to talk about how rotten the world is and why there’s no point in trying to stop it, a fight between two brothers turns deadly right behind Daredevil’s back. It’s only then that he realizes he’s talking to none other than the Prince of Lies, Sata— er, that is, Mephisto, the infernal trader of souls in the Marvel universe. His identity exposed, Mephisto sheds his disguise and goes biblical on Daredevil’s butt, tossing him like a rag doll and reveling in the hero’s inevitable corruption: “The thing I love about heroes is that they’ve so far to fall.” The story ends on a hopeful note, though, with two of the bar patrons helping Daredevil up out of the gutter and inviting him to a soup kitchen for Christmas dinner. So… God bless us everyone, then?

6. “Tell Me” (Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #1, 01/98)
As mentioned above, many people go to bars to escape from something, and John Constantine — who has seen the inside of many a pub in his time — is no exception. In this story, the foul-mouthed occultist is visiting New York City during Christmas and, seeking respite from an especially saccharine family gathering, he excuses himself and heads for the nearest bar to get himself “thoroughly and utterly shitfaced” before heading back. He then meets a fellow refugee from the holiday season who’s there to drop off a present for someone else, and he advises Constantine to go easy on the Christmas hate because there are worse things than having to deal with the holidays. Without giving away too much of the plot, let’s just say the man has good reason to feel that way, and by the time he finishes telling his tale Constantine is aware of the real reason the man showed up at that bar. Or maybe he knew from the moment he stepped inside; to be honest, it’s always hard to tell what that guy knows and when he first knew it.

7. “Men of Good Fortune” (Sandman #13, 02/90)
The real reason most men spend all hours in bars? The camaraderie, of course. It’s as true now as it was back in 1389, when an Englishman by the name of Hob happened to be out for a pint with his medieval mates. When talk of taxes and impending wars turns to death and mortality (as one would expect during the Middle Ages), Hob says death is a choice and he plans to live forever simply by choosing not to die. This, of course, prompts much laughter and joshing from his drinking buddies — but they may not have been so quick to do so if they had known that Death and Dream were in that bar that very night (they occasionally walk among humans to better understand life from a mortal perspective) and overheard Hob’s bold declaration. At Dream’s request, Death agrees not to come for Hob, and Dream and Hob then agree to meet once every 100 years in that same spot — a spot that remains a pub in one form or another throughout the centuries. In 1989, as the pub patrons grouse about taxes and wars (plus ça change, etc.), a nervous Robert Gadling (he accidentally insulted Dream in 1889 by suggesting their arrangement came about because of Dream’s loneliness) is relieved to see Dream approach. “I… I wasn’t sure you’d be coming,” he stammers. “I have always heard it was impolite to keep one’s friends waiting,” Dream replies. Indeed.

8. “Comfort and Joy” (Justice League, original airdate 12/13/2005)
Justice League was pretty sophisticated for a superhero cartoon, with most storylines taking place over several episodes and more than a few continuing subplots, like the blossoming romance between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern, stretched over the course of entire seasons. The Christmas episode “Comfort and Joy” is the series’ sole stand-alone episode, and it represents an important milestone in the heroes’ relationships with each other. The story follows various members of the Justice League as they deal with typical holiday challenges — finding that impossible-to-find toy, feeling lonely during the holidays — in their own unique ways. More importantly, the episode featured Green Lantern and Hawkgirl getting to know each other a lot better; he introduces her to the joys of snow angels and snowball fights, while she takes him to her favorite intergalactic dive and purposely starts a bar fight to demonstrate how her Thanagarian people like to celebrate. After the fight, when Stewart is passed out, she kisses him on the cheek and wishes him a Merry Christmas. Aw.

9. Superman III (1983)
Oh, I quite agree. Why would anyone want to see an iconic hero perform superhuman feats of strength when they can look at a zany comedian playing an idiot savant computer programmer out to corner the world’s coffee market for his evil boss? To put it mildly, there was a noticeable dip in quality between Superman II and Superman III, but one thing S3 had going for it was the titanic battle between Superman and… Superman? Long story short: Superman is exposed to a form of Kryptonite that affects his personality, turning him impulsive, selfish and downright mean. At his lowest point, Superman (complete with five o’clock shadow) ends up in a bar getting drunk and smashing bottles by flicking peanuts. Of course, all it takes is the faith of a child to rouse him from his downward spiral, and what follows is some pretty impressive camera work showcasing a battle royale between Evil Superman and Good Superman. So for that scene alone, the movie wasn’t a total waste, but still… can Superman even get drunk?

10. “It’s My Party and I’ll Fight If I Want To” (Guy Gardner: Warrior #29, 03/95)
Introduced as the aw-shucks gym teacher who was almost Earth’s first Green Lantern, Guy Gardner later morphed into an arrogant member of the Green Lantern Corps who tended to punch first and ask questions lat– actually, he usually skipped asking questions. Still later, when DC updated many of its characters for the grim-‘n’-gritty ’90s, Gardner found the chalice of the “Warrior Water,” which activated the alien DNA that was implanted in his bloodline a millennium ago by a space-traveling race called the Vuldarians. (No, really.) It was during this time that Gardner opened Warriors, a superhero-themed bar that served as a source of income and a place to hang out between adventures. Opening night, of course, is a swanky affair, with pretty much every DC character ever created stopping by (a back-page contest even offered one lucky reader the chance to appear in a future issue for correctly identifying every character depicted on the cover). Hell, even Darkseid directs his minion to keep an eye on the event, as he’s certain having that many superheroes in one place can only mean “some sort of conspiracy.” There isn’t much of a plot to the story, just plenty of familiar faces coming together in the spirit of a good time. And really, what more can you ask from a night out at a bar?

11. “Bar Stools” (X-Men Unlimited #5, 12/2004)
For some people, it’s just not a night out at the bar unless you pick someone up, or get yourself picked up. In this short story, a trio of young ladies are scoping out the men in a bar so that Polly, the group’s blonde, can find a new “boy toy” to cheer her up. After a few disappointments, they notice a strong-looking fellow who’s a little on the short side… and you know where this is heading, don’t you? Yes, it’s Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, who is definitely not there for the same reasons as Polly. This doesn’t deter her, and she tries her best to charm him until he tells her he’s a mutant and the last guy she wants to get mixed up with. Apparently, this is a common brush-off line in the Marvel universe, and she walks away in a huff. Another fellow then attracts her attention, and they are about to leave together when Logan taps the man on the shoulder and tells him the lady is heading home alone. One mutant-on-mutant fight later, Logan tells Polly to be careful: this is New York, after all, and people aren’t always what they seem. A few moments later, Polly composes herself and smiles: “X-Men, huh? Wonder if any of them are available…” Oh, Polly.

12. “Good with the Bad” (X-Men: Manifest Destiny #2, 12/2008)
It’s 6:42 p.m. at the Dirty Pig, a small roadside bar in the middle of Nevada, and two men are in the middle of a conversation. Nothing unusual there, except for the fact that one of them is aiming a musket at the other, while the other is none other than Cain Marko, a.k.a. the Juggernaut. “I don’t mean to change the subject here, Bernard, but… can we go ahead and put that musket away?” he says. It appears the immensely powerful mutant is trying to decide whether he should continue to be a super-villain or try to do some good, and so he chooses the (somewhat terrified) patrons of this bar to help him figure things out. Some of them say he should be a good guy good because that’s where the real rewards appear to lie (“the X-fellas seems to get all types of cool stuff, crazy space planes and whatnot”), while those who come down on the side of bad say both heroes and villains act the same and do whatever they want, but at least the bad guys don’t have to pretend to follow the rules. “What about you, old man? Good guy or bad guy?” Juggernaut asks an elderly man at the bar. Doesn’t matter to him: “Either side you pick, you still got a big bucket on your head.” True, that. By the time the police arrive in response to one customer’s text message, Juggernaut has made his decision, and no cookies for guessing which way he goes.

13. “The Miracle” (Adventures into Terror #8, 02/52)
In a bar one night, a stranger is wowing the crowd with his magical powers of levitation and telekinesis when a criminal pulls a gun and demands to know how he’s doing it.  The stranger says that if he wants these powers for himself, then all he needs to do is agree to exchange places with him. And just like that, the criminal finds himself in a new body. He commits various crimes with his new powers during an all-night crime spree, but come the next morning, he feels drawn to a cemetery and realizes that he has exchanged places with a ghost.  All right, couple of questions: (1) What kind of idiot would go along with a “switch places with me” deal without knowing what he was signing up for? (2) Is this switcheroo thing a common scam among ghosts looking for a return to a carbon-based lifestyle, and if so should we re-evaluate the whole Casper the “Friendly” Ghost thing? (3) When Marvel reprinted this story in its 1973 Dracula Lives magazine, whose bright idea was it to rename the story “Ghost of a Chance” and reveal the twist at the end right in the title?

14. “Homecoming” (G.I. Joe #14, 01/2003)
So, you’re out with your freedom-fighting buddies in search of some much-needed R&R and you come across a nice, out-of-the-way bar that suits your chillaxin’ needs, only to find out it’s a front for the colorful global terrorist group that you’ve sworn to take down. Hey, it happens. When a couple of Joes stop at a bar named Old Clyde’s in a small town to catch up and talk shop, they can’t help but notice suspicious activity around them, like the gaggle of black-suited men who enter the bar and head for a room in the back. Or the fact the bartender is wearing a ring that identifies him a member of COBRA. And the old lady and little kid pulling guns and tasers on them — well, that was a dead giveaway. Turns out the town they’re in is part of COBRA’s plan to rebuild strongholds in the American heartland by creating puppet communities that they can control. And yeah, I guess if I wanted to do that I would start with the bars, too.

15.  “Psi-War” (Uncanny X-Men #117, 01/79)
Before his headmaster days, Charles Xavier was a young man traveling the world and trying to forget a recent heartbreak. In this flashback issue, readers learned that it was during a trip to Cairo that Xavier met a local crimelord and telepath by the name of Amahl Farouk. Using a bolt of psionic energy to catch Xavier’s attention and direct him to a nearby tavern, Farouk said he intended the mental bolt as a warning to Xavier to stay away from his territory. He then rebuffs Xavier’s argument that their gifts should be used to help humanity, and he challenges Xavier to a duel. So while both men sit motionless at opposite ends of the room, their psychic forms engage in a brutal battle on the astral plane until Xavier defeats Farouk, a shock that kills his physical form. It was this first encounter with an evil mutant that inspired Xavier to form his X-Men team, by the by, so it’s a pretty big deal in the Marvel universe chronology. It also means we can hold Farouk personally responsible for the nightmare that is the Summers/Grey family tree, for which he deserved much worse than death by thinking.

16. DC Showcase: Jonah Hex (2010)
Hell, just find a Western story that doesn’t feature a scene in a saloon. In this animated short, the badass bounty hunter (voiced by Tom Jane) is on the trail of a wanted man, unaware his quarry stumbled into a seedy saloon and ended up dead courtesy of Madame Lorraine (voiced by Linda Hamilton). You see, Lorraine earns extra cash by seducing, robbing and murdering the drunks who come through her establishment — and everyone in the place is in on her scheme. Hex tracks his quarry (who was their most recent victim) to the saloon and soon learns he has to get some “private time” with Lorraine to find out where his man went; trouble is, that’s when this particular black widow likes to bite her prey. In just 12 minutes, the film packs more action and thrills than the entire Jonah Hex live-action movie, and also teaches us a very important lesson: bars kill, people. So if you must drink, do it at home. Or under the bleachers, at your local high school. Whichever.