Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Silver Sable #21

Silver Sable #21, "Home of the Body Bag," Cover Date February 1994
Written by Gregory Wright, Penciled by Steven Butler, Inked by Pam Eklund

Silver Sable 21 Cover

For those that only have dim memories of Silver Sable, she's the European mercenary that works primarily as a Spider-Man ally across various media. Her serious disposition and willingness to take money for her work put her at odds with Spider-Man, who frequently ends up being tempted by Sable's financial incentives but always ends up turning them down. Because it was the early 90's, Sable was given her own comic, completely separate from Spider-Man (although, not surprisingly, he guest-starred in the very first issue).

In Sean Howe's excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, he tells an anecdote related to the publishing of Silver Sable: “When we got the orders in on Silver Sable,” said Lou Bank, “and they came in at only half a million units, Tom DeFalco said to me, ‘That’s it, that’s the beginning of the end!’ I thought, ‘Goddamn, half a million units!’ At that point we were canceling titles that came in below 125,000, but it wasn’t so long before that we’d never seen a comic sell half a million. How could Tom say this? It didn’t sell the million you wanted, but . . . half a million units! But he was sure right. That was the beginning of the end.”

Silver Sable 21 smack
The Wild Pack are not role models.
Before we go any further, I should admit that I absolutely love this series, and I wish there was still a place for Sable and all her paramilitary allies. The premise is that Sable is the primary bread-winner for her country of Symkaria, a small nation bordering Latveria. The Wild Pack began as Nazi hunters post-WWII, and evolved into an elite mercenary unit with a conscience, recruiting reformed villain Sandman, U.S. Agent's "Bucky," Battlestar, and a group of elite regular humans to engage in dangerous missions across the globe.

Now to the actual issue: Silver Sable has been sent to Beverly Hills, where a suddenly united army of street gangs has seized control of the small city. Sable opens the issues trading blows with a huge black man wearing an NWA shirt who stupidly  has a chain wrapped around his wrist, as he punches a woman in the face "hard enough to kill," according to Sable. Fortunately she's pretty tough, as she breaks his jaw with a "KRAK" that leaves him out cold. Meanwhile Battlestar is called an Uncle Tom, which makes him really mad, as he points out that these teen's actions "only serve to make it harder on other blacks in this country!" Latino Wild Pack-er Quentino laments to his colleague that things have gotten worse, but secretly he misses the life, thinking "how can I fight those who may have been my homeboys," and casually wishes he had some heroin.

Silver Sable 21 Latisha
Of course, like the villain in all blaxploitation, Latisha is being paid-off by a rich HONKY.

At the Beverly Hills PD, we get the apparent leader of this united gang takeover. It's "Latisha," an evil Pam Grier type who explains that this isn't a racial issue, it's all about getting paid. Elsewhere in Beverly Hills, another team of mercenaries, this one a super-powered group called "The Intruders," is beating up local youths. They are Fin, a huge, Tiger Shark type guy, Sandman, "Lightbright," a Somali woman with powers similar to Darkstar, and a tiger man by the name of "Man-Eater."  We get brief scenes of each member of the Intruders pummeling gangbangers. My favorite is probably Fin, who just strolls up to the men shooting him, says "Give up," and then picks a car up over his head, as fleeing teens shout "dag, man, we gonna get served!"

Silver Sable 21 Fin
"Dag, man, we gonna get served!"

The Wild Pack gets to the police department, where Powell, the team racist, says he doesn't need guns to pound these "animals back to the jungle where they belong." Amy Chen points out that he always makes her feel like she's fighting for the wrong side.

Silver Sable 21 Powell
A Vietnamese former assassin feels bad about working with a racist.
Latisha's enforcer knocks down Battlestar, pointing out that he'd never let some white guy call him Bucky, but when Quentino hits him in the back, the brother recognizes Quentino as "G-Wiz." The distracted Wild Pack-er gets attacked, as the big goon laments G-Wiz "selling out" to the man. Latisha, realizing things aren't going well, calls her employer, Justin Hammer, whose on his super-villain yacht. He gets upset that he wasn't notified immediately, as he has an assistant call in a team for "Insect Removal." Back at the station, Sable and the Wild Pack wonder what happened to everybody, but Sable hears a noise. Suddenly, Beetle and a bunch of low-level Iron Man villains burst through the wall, as Beetle states that he owes Sable some "payback from way back!" to be continued!

Silver Sable 21 Sandman
Typical 90's L.A.P.D. in action!
We also get a brief back-up feature detailing Amy Chen's origin, which is a pretty by the numbers O-Ren Ishii thing. She was sold into slavery by an evil American in Vietnam as a baby. We see her getting beaten in the fields, and then we get text that says "the daily beatings were nothing compared to what was expected after the work in the fields," along with an image of a man taking off his belt. She murders the man, and we cut to Bangkok, where she works as a bar girl. She meets a well-dressed man, who offers to put her to work as an assassin. She loves it, but eventually gets tired of being "owned" by her new employer. The last image is her on a boat to America, on her own, as we see she is wearing her former employer's ring, presumably because she murdered him. As a reminder, this comic was approved by the Comics Code!


I already mentioned that this series is a guilty pleasure for me, but let me tell you, I love this issue. It's mostly just 20 some pages of super heroes fighting cartoonish gang-bangers, but the action is well-staged, and there's just enough hammy Chris Claremont-y characterization through action (Quentino's craving for heroin is obviously the best), and I really like Steven Butler's pencils here. Latisha is a fun, campy villain. Her proportions are obviously exaggerated and 90's-y, but unlike Liefeld's weird bird-creature, Butler draws something that resembles a human being. Butler is best known as a long-running Sonic the Hedgehog artist, but he also drew Web of Spider-Man through the mid-90's, and was maybe the best artist that book ever had. His style is somewhere between Bagley and McFarlane, and I really enjoy the clean lines and dynamism he gives the book. Also he's one of the few 90's artists that can draw attractive women in a way that makes them look attractive.

Gregory Wright is primarily a colorist, but he did work as a writer for Marvel in the early 90's, co-writing Deathlok with Dwayne McDuffie, along with runs on classics like Silver Sable, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1989 volume), and Morbius, the Living Vampire. I love how different Wright makes the voices of all of the Wild Pack, from Sable's stoicism to "The Crippler"'s masochism to Powell being a super racist with stars  and bars on his kneepads. I love reading about characters who kind of hate each other but still work together, and introducing characters like Battlestar and Powell on the same team is just asking for tension. And unlike Wolverine, the scumbag who won everyone's hearts, Powell is in such an unimportant book that he never has to be revealed as an honor-bound ronin who is also a racist. All in all, it's a fun, over-the-top action book full of people getting punched and outrageous comics-approved versions of 90's slang.


  1. I agree with you on Steven Butler. I loved his Spider-Man work. I usually like Silver Sable and I've always wanted to check this series out, but never got around to it. Maybe someday.

  2. It's incredible to me that the book got a 3 year run, but I really enjoyed it more than most Marvel C-level books of the time.