Comics

Borderland Speakeasy #17: "Annoyed as hell and dead"

Oliver Ho

Two giants in the field of horror comics collaborate to produce a wild pastiche of hard-boiled crime and B-movie horror (and throw in a 1974 colouring book for good measure).

Detective Joe Coogan remembers the man who shot him last night: "He was a cheap crook...but I still liked the guy. Too bad he killed me. It would definitely put a strain on the friendship."

Blending macabre humor and bizarre noir, Dead, She Said is the second project that brings together the legendary horror comics artist Bernie Wrightson (co-creator of Swamp Thing, illustrator of Frankenstein and collaborator with Stephen King, among many other famous projects) and acclaimed writer Steve Niles (perhaps best known for 30 Days of Night). It was the duo's first project for IDW, who published the comic over three issues in 2009.

Dead, She Said riffs on the 1950 film noir D.O.A. and to a lesser extent the 1988 remake. The movies and comic book each follow a hard-boiled main character who is "dead" from the story's opening (a victim of poisoning in the films, and of somewhat stranger circumstances in the comic book).

David N. Meyer called the 1950 film "the single most brilliant idea in noir," in his guide to the genre, A Girl and a Gun, and it's still a strong enough concept to carry Dead, She Said. There's also a science fiction element that's relatively minor in the original film, and that Niles and Wrightsone take to another level in Dead, She Said.

In the film, Edmond O'Brien's character ingests a "luminous" poison, the potency of which his doctor demonstrates by showing him a vial of liquid taken from his body, then turning off the lights.

"[T]he tube glows like a nuclear reactor. O'Brien recoils with his eyes bugged out like the good citizens fleeing gorilla-aliens in Plan 9 From Outer Space," writes Meyer.

Niles and Wrightson combine this dash of 50's sci-fi weirdness with a classic mad scientist, an undead-yet-decaying hero and some giant bugs (reminiscent of the 1954 creature feature Them) for a thoroughly wild hodge-podge of horror and pulp fiction. Doing so, they recall Noel Carroll's description of a seminal type of monster, from his classic study, The Philosophy of Horror:

"One structure for the composition of horrific beings is fusion," writes Carroll. "On the simplest physical level, this often entails the construction of creatures that transgress categorical distinctions such as inside/outside, living/dead, insect/human, flesh/machine, and so on. Mummies, vampires, ghosts, zombies...are fusion figures in this respect. Each, in different ways, blur the distinction between living and dead."

In this regard, Dead, She Said is all about fusion. Early on, when Coogan assesses his situation, his words blend the hard-boiled, bizarre and darkly comic: "I danced around the obvious. I didn't want to admit what was right in front of me," he says. "I was dead. Annoyed as hell and dead."

Unfortunately, in another connection between 1950's D.O.A. and Dead, She Said, the critics were not kind to either project. Despite loving the premise, Meyer blasts nearly every other element of the film in his book, and in a June 2009 review (washingtonpost.com), the renowned and often brilliant critic Douglas Wolk wrote of Dead, She Said:

"[D]espite the battered fedoras and Venetian-blind shadows that parade across the page, Niles's story lacks one crucial component of a resonant noir: He never blurs the line between his righteous, if stinkily decomposing, hero and the inhuman bad guys, or suggests that the terrible decay might really be lurking in his readers' sympathies."

Setting aside the question of whether "resonant noir" requires the elements Wolk highlighted, it seems like the stronger resonances in Dead, She Said involve playfulness, not only in creating a wild pastiche of classic 1950s horror and pulp fiction, but also between two masters of comic book horror.

As in much of his work, Wrightson's iconic style often recalls that of E.C. Comics legend Graham Ingels, whose "horror tableaus were swampy, oozing, decaying, and fetid, and in the depiction of the rotting, shambling corpse he was second to none," as Grant Geissman describes it in Foul Play: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics. There are also similarities to Jack Davis, about whom (and apropos of Wrightson) Geissman writes: "[H]is scratchy, cartoony style proved to be the perfect foil to the often gruesome E.C. horror stories."

"I'm a direct descendant of Frank Frazetta and Jack Davis, most of the E.C. guys, and I think there is a progression and a chain of influence,” Wrightson explained in a 2008 interview (with comicbookresources.com). That lineage also seems to have been one of the biggest draws for Niles.

"For those who don't know this already, I have been a huge fan of Wrightson since I was a kid. And by fan I mean I was obsessed," he writes on his website. "For a kid tooling around in the 70's loving nothing but horror and comics, there was no better creator then Bernie Wrightson. He not only embraced horror, he embodied it."

(As a bonus, for like-minded fans of horror comics from that era, Dead, She Said includes various artwork, a classic story from 1972, and a worth-the-price-of-admission, full reprint of a Bernie Wrightson horror-monster colouring book from 1974.)

Describing this series in the 2008 interview (with comicbookresources.com), Wrightson was cryptic: "It's about a dead detective and, um, giant ants. That's all your going to get out of me."

The way Niles describes his process with Wrightson, it sounds as if they followed a mischievous and almost free-associative flow of ideas, which oddly enough also centred around the giant ants.

"It's an odd combination of elements; horror, crime, noir, 50's b- movies," Niles writes on his website (steveniles.com).

"I guess it's important to note here that Bernie and I collaborate one hundred percent. Nothing is written that hasn't been talk through over some nachos or a game of Scrabble. I love working from images Bernie creates or wants to create. Dead, She Said started with the notion of a private detective waking up dead and having to solve his own murder, as well as figure out how he's still conscious. To make things worse the detective has figure out how to stop his flesh from rotting off the bone before he solves the case. Then Bernie says he wants to draw giant ants. 'Not huge like the ants in Them, but pit bull size.' Sure. Why the Hell not?"

Over the course of several projects together, it appears that Niles and Wrightson are creating a linked universe. On his website, Niles describes how characters from various stories will turn up in each other's comics, including a welcome return of the memorable Detective Coogan. As he tells the big bad at one point in Dead, She Said: "It'll take more than dead to stop me, chump."

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Borderland Speakeasy appears every other week and explores classic and contemporary horror and crime comics.

#1: Echoes of Vengeance

#2: "They Found The Car"—Gipi's Inverted Noir

#3: Needle in the Eye

#4: In Praise of Modesty Blaise

#5: Mirror Image Murders

#6: Moral Bankruptcy and the Smell of Fear

#7: Creepy's Cabinet of Wonders

#8: Arnold Drake's Secret Identity

#9: Call Off the Thriller

#10: Time to Join the Demons

#11: The Strange Case of Igor Kenk

#12: Beelzebub and that Other Devil: Mezzo and Pirus' "King of the Flies"

#13: "Look down, or look hard"

#14: The No Wave Noir of "La Pacifica"

#15: "Nothing is as lost as I"

#16: Sherlock Holmes and the Public Domain

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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