One month ago, my good friend and colleague Jay Yaws released a beautiful article on the Little Caesars’ Batman calzony. One of many promotional items for The Batman, Jay managed to get his hands on two of them– and through the fearsome fireworks of savoury flavour he experienced, the man managed to write what can only be described as a work of art. Not only was it an informative review, but it managed to be so much more: a beautiful love letter to pizza, calzones and Batman promo material. God, you guys remember Kiss from a Rose? There’s a lot to love about the world of Batman and merchandising.
This… is not a love letter.
This is a story of rage. Insanity. Cranberry, and a middling distribution of sauce. For unbeknownst to Jay, the Batman News team, and the entire population of the United States… another promotional food was made.
These are the “Black Ghost Chili Chicken Wings”, found in every Papa John’s across the United Kingdom and priced at £6.79 ($8.99 USD). There’s no other way of saying this: they look like the most disgusting wings you’d ever put in your mouth. My coworkers seemed to agree – yet who among the team truly had the knowledge to warn the people of the world? No one on this team lives in England. Hell, I live in Australia, which is on the other side of the goddamn planet!
Yet duty called. And, like a moth to the flame, I was compelled to answer. With that, a quest had begun.
I want to emphasize how insane it was for me to do this. Australia had closed borders for two years: beginning with the onset of the COVID crisis, the country finally opened up on the 21st of February, allowing people to (somewhat) freely come to and from the country.
I left for England at 12.30am on the 21st.
I have only travelled internationally once, and never alone. Flying for 24 hours was not an easy venture in any respect, but it did mean I was able to get in some required viewing before watching The Batman. That would be Zodiac and Twilight, of course.
The view on the flight, meanwhile, was lovely. Clear skies all the way from Singapore (where I’d transferred from my Australian flight) and a wonderful view of mountains, seas and cities spanning two entire continents. Truly, a view where you have to be there to truly appreciate it.
Descending into England, a fog began to surround the plane – and while the weather in London was shockingly nice for the week I was visiting, the clouds certainly set a particular mood upon my arrival. When I finally landed at Heathrow airport and made my way through customs, I fully expected to embark on my quest effective immediately… but I found myself halted before I’d even left the terminal.
You see, there was another promo for the film.
The Batman Hot Chocolate
This is Caffé Nero: to my understanding, an incredibly popular chain of cafés across England. Pretty much every street I walked down would have this store nearby, and I walked down many streets during my time in London.
The décor was quite nice, with a lovely staff and nice seating arrangements for me and my friend to relax in. The promotion they were running was a “guess the flavour” campaign for their promotional hot chocolate. As you’ll soon see, Riddler’s puzzles are all over the marketing for this movie. To that end, I will say that the added detail atop the drink itself is an excellent touch.
But as for the hot chocolate itself, I’d hesitate to call it hot chocolate at all. I suppose it’s true on a technical level, but the “mystery flavour” that the café was so excited about promoting spoiled the taste I actually like from such a drink, replacing it with a flavour I find difficult to identify. My friend Olivia described the mystery flavour as “cranberry.” I would describe it as “not worth trying again.”
Finding Papa John’s was, more or less, quite simple. It’s not the middle ages, and I was not operating with a topographical map and a compass like my orienteering days as a kid. I’m a big boy now, and I have Google Maps– but what Google Maps did not show me is where the promos for these wings were hiding. That, I had to find in Whitechapel.
Walking down the streets of the historic city (and avoiding the expensive Jack the Ripper tours) was a lovely experience, and one of the many things I did while bonding with one of two friends I’d previously only known online. The beauty of the internet allowing people to connect and bond beyond the borders of countries was only slightly overshadowed by the fact that I was too busy admiring a giant glow-in-the-dark poster to pay attention to her. I mean, look at this thing.
The worst part is, I did this to two friends I was meeting up with. The first of my friends had stuck with me for the hot chocolate, but I have to imagine my ruining a late night walk to snap photos of a Papa John’s advertisement was enough for her to bail. Soon, I was with another friend, and ignoring her in equal measure for the sake of finally tracking down a godforsaken fast food joint. I found one situated in Camden – which I thought appropriate, what with it being named after my wonderful friend and collaborator on the Catwoman: Hunted review.
The Papa John’s was a small, narrow takeaway store situated to the left of a KFC. It was clearly not intended for people to dine in, but there was a little counter to the right-hand side where my friend and I could sit as we waited for the both of our meals. As we waited, I picked myself up some vouchers for The Batman, which included a version of the movie’s poster that I need to find in high definition.
By the time I was done taking more photos than a Papa John’s really deserves, the wings had arrived. The moment of truth… and boy, it certainly was something.
You know what? I can do more than just describe the wings to you. In fact, here’s a recording of my first reaction. Best to watch with the captions on.
Sure, they didn’t come in a special Batman-themed box– which I’m told Papa John’s has– but the wings were there all the same, vapor billowing off the hot meat like it was still cooking. As the aroma of the meal floated into my nostrils, it occured to me that I’d accomplished my quest! I’d travelled all this way, journeyed far and wide to finally lay my hands on the precious wings that would finally give me closure.
And they were… fine?
Son of a bitch, they were just fine.
I think the saddest part about the wings were how thoroughly whelming they were… which, considering you’re hyping these wings up as a promotional item, makes them all the more underwhelming. For those who don’t know, ghost chili peppers are often touted as some of the hottest chilis in the world! Logically, you’d expect the tang these wings provide to be more than just a barely noticeable warmth on your tongue. To suggest these wings are spicy is to suggest that Robert Pattinson doesn’t look good with eyeshadow: a bold claim at best, an outright lie at worst.
To my understanding, these are not ludicrously expensive chilis either. While I don’t expect the fine folks at Papa John’s to literally be incinerating their customers’ taste buds, I was hoping for a little more spice than what I’d get if I put a dash of salt onto some stale bread. It certainly had the threat of spice for a moment… but the moment passed like the low tide of a beach, unable to even reach me before retreating into the sea.
What I presume happened is that Papa John’s– not wanting to spend too much money on spice and wanting to spare their customers the horrors of actual flavour– decided that the Ghost Chili Sauce didn’t need much of the Ghost Chili at all, spreading a limited supply of the pepper across the entire distribution line. I’m sure they’re not going to feel bad about it. It’s a Batman promo food, it’s going to sell either way. But let me be perfectly clear: These are just regular chicken wings with a little extra spice and some buffalo sauce for good measure. They’re fine, and I’d eat them again, but that’s all they are.
I flew across the world for regular chicken wings.
Return with the Elixir
And with that, it was over. There were no more barriers to cross.
My journey was complete: concluded with an even more agonizing 24 hour flight than the first, a completely destroyed sleep schedule, and a midnight showing of The Batman (which I loved, to no one’s surprise).
But what did I gain from this? A disappointing plate of chicken wings, ridiculous jet-lag, and a decimated wallet thanks to London’s public transport system? Nay, I cannot stew in this mediocrity by myself. In fact, I want my pain – and the taste of these thoroughly boring chicken wings – to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis; my punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. No new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.
Except that I am a damn stupid journalist.
The Batman is out today, starting March 4th. Watch it, and go to hell.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch
(Please follow me if you have any sympathy for the things I do for attention.)