Reviews

Antigone Tomorrow: Darkwing Duck #1

Let's Get Dangerous... On Our Coffee Break: With Quackwerks doing away with the need for a Darkwing Duck, Drake Mallard finds himself awash in corporate culture.

Series writer Ian Brill strikes a deep vein, plumbing the depths of postwar America and the superhero genre.


Darkwing Duck #1

Publisher: Boom Studios
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Ian Brill
Price: $3.99
Contributors: James Silvani (artist)
Publication Date: 2010-07
Amazon

Honestly, it was never about the guy not in the pants.

Pirates Gold or not, Christmas on Bear Mountain or uncovering the Old Castle's Secret, Donald Duck was just a platform, a fictive launch-pad for the legendary Carl Barks' development of an entire world, a fully-developed setting. Donald Duck was a gateway. To Uncle Scrooge and his perennial rivalry with Flintheart Glomgold. To the nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, and their continual fascination with The Junior Woodchucks. To John D. Rockerduck, Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone Gander and even Magica de Spell and the Beagle Boys. Barks' evolution of a Disney property, his shaping of the world of Duckburg, was an appeal to the shaping of postwar America. Duckburg feels like a beginning, and Barks could be understood to be a cultural equivalent to Japan's "God of Comics", Osamu Tezuka.

If Superman at its inception was the fictive FDR, righting wrongs and securing popular support for a new kind of government with a New Deal, then Duckburg and all its residents, philanthropist, kooky genius and social malcontent alike, was a flash of postwar optimism. The dying embers of a dream that all elements of society, no matter how aberrant, might still find a place in society. Duckburg is what we thought we could be, before Joe McCarthy, before Fred Wertham, before the assassinations of Kennedys and Dr. King.

Boom Studio's Darkwing Duck then, despite carrying a "Boom-Kids" label, is very much a unique challenge to adult readers. Can writer Ian Brill and artist James Silvani find the same charisma of composition that Barks did? Will St. Canard, the usual haunt of Darkwing and his alter ego Drake Mallard, be a mashup of West Coast cities in the same way that Duckburg was of Midwest cities? Will the supporting cast, Launchpad, Gosalyn, Honker, develop the fictive world in the same way that Duckburg's cast did?

While the expectations are substantial, Darkwing Duck is also a completely different character. One that is structurally different, at a more basic level. Rather than focus solely on articulating the world that might have or perhaps even should have been, Darkwing Duck is a second-tier optimism. As a character, Darkwing Duck is itself the resurgence of the superhero. It is a last gasp of a genre, in the same way the original Duckburg extended a pre-McCarthyist chagrin. With Darkwing and his supporting cast and his town, readers come up against the idea of the superhero at its most basic. It is a glimpse of the genre before Watchmen, before Sandman.

And like the world of Duckburg, the new Darkwing Duck is the site of a secret sociological drama. Like Barks before him, in relation Disney's ownership of Donald Duck, Brill wrestles with what journalist Malcolm Gladwell defines in Outliers as the Power Distance Index in cultural production. Cultures with a high PDI find themselves reliant on established traditions and specific social hierarchies to navigate the world. Low-PDI cultures however, nurture their heirs on the notion that the world is awash in ambiguity, complexity and that meaning can be made rather than existing as predetermined.

The drama of a culture's PDI haunts human literature like a specter. It can arguably first be seen in Sophocles' classical Greek tragedy, Antigone the conclusion of the Oedipus trilogy. Antigone's quest to bury her brother's desecrated remains, only to herself be buried alive, and thereby break the Theban social system, is itself a statement on the organizational capacity of a society to determine the individual. Whether with Duckburg, tilting at the better tomorrow hoped for immediately postwar, or with titular hero as a recursive for the superhero genre as a whole, Darkwing Duck feels like another kind of tomorrow.

Brill's deliberative, meditative reworkings of popular superhero microgenre (the psychological meltdown of superhero identity from Mark Waid's The Return of Barry Allen, or the sociocultural crises arising from robotic policing as in Frank Miller's Robocop 2) seem very much like the writer's picking up of the gauntlet. Brill it seems, is ready to confront the construction of the superhero directly, on its own terms.

But far and away from the Antigone Tomorrow, that is shaped by overarching cultural dramas, you'll read Darkwing Duck because it's fun. Because you'll share it with your kids. Because there is an interminable lightness of spirit to the book. Because there is a cultural sheen that for a moment sets aside the grim realities. Not because it's a celebration of what the world, and the superhero should have been, but because it's not.

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Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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