Comics

A Writer's Work...: Stan Lee's Starborn #1

James Orbesen
The Stories We Tell Ourselves: In casting an aspirant scifi writing as the protagonist in Starborn Stan Lee is able to deal with the complex themes of the paranoia-culture subgenre as popularized by the legendary Philip K. Dick.

Like the Silver Age he instituted at Marvel in the early 60s, Stan Lee conceives of Starborn as a superhero story that is as much about amazing powers, as it is about the very human point of view needed to wield them.


Stan Lee's Starborn #1

Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Chris Roberson
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2010-12
Amazon

The final ongoing series in Stan Lee’s newly minted comicbook universe, courtesy of BOOM! Studios, has finally arrived in the form of Starborn. The venerated comic book writer is attempting to duplicate his previous success as co-creator of most of Marvel’s vast pantheon of characters. Of all the recent launches from The Man himself, Starborn appears to be the most unconventional and non-“comic booky” of the whole lot. While the nitty gritty of the story stems from writer Chris Roberson and artist Khary Randolph, this book has the indelible influence of Stan Lee stamped all over it.

Starborn tells the story of struggling desk jockey and wannabe novelist Benjamin Warner. The erstwhile writer pines for a future vocation as a famous science fiction novelist, an occupation he’s worked towards since his childhood. While his passion is sometimes seen to border on obsession, Benjamin is a seemingly harmless, if not eccentric, loner. Nevertheless, one day his entire life changes in a bit of Stan Lee inspired hyperbole.

“My coworkers are sand skinned drones, and my childhood crush is a shape-shifting warrior-woman--all straight out of my made-up stories.”

The set up is quite effective and I found this Roberson penned tail to have the most engaging hook of the entire Lee-verse project. What I found particularly interesting about Starborn is how it portrays the writer within society. Benjamin, during a flashback sequence, is seen by his adoptive parents, a standard trait for many comicbook persons of power, as obsessive in regards to his writing. This feeling is strong enough to send young Benjamin to a therapist for counseling. Coincidentally, the therapist finds the young man intriguing; as if the writer’s itch is some new disease he can catalogue and publish a paper on.

I by no means can speak for writers. I can only speak for myself. Nevertheless, as I’ve bandied my trade in the short amount of time I’ve been active as a writer I have noticed a perceptible disdain for writers amongst “proper” business people. Those who have ever freelanced certainly understand where I’m coming from.

Writers, in my experience, are seen as a cheap commodity and as a result are marginalized. Unlike a painter or sculptor or singer, writers seem to get the short end when it comes to acknowledgement and compensation. Perhaps it is because the trade of the writer doesn’t rely on beautiful frescos or stunning statues of marble and bronze or lyrical ballads that tug at people’s heartstrings. Maybe many people don’t view writing as a form of artistic accomplishment. It could also be that writing is grounded in a particular language. Translations of foreign texts abound but so does the saying ‘lost in translation’.

Starborn highlights how writers can be looked down upon by other members of society. Benjamin’s coworker friend finds his writing interests to be a bit odd, perplexed that he rather slave over his keyboard than grab some beers. Benjamin’s boss, although not shown, is referenced as having a more hostile attitude towards the protagonist’s hobby. The aforementioned adoptive parents and therapist already compound Benjamin’s isolation from his peers. Even a fellow writer appears to be dismissive of his passion with a harsh critique.

Nevertheless, the story hones in on how powerful a writer can be. Benjamin doesn’t don a costume in Starborn yet. However, his power as a writer has transformed fantasy into reality. The stuff of his overwrought science fiction novel suddenly springs to life all around him. It makes perfect sense when you think of it. Imagine how much of the world is written. Most of society thrives on the written word even if it isn’t readily apparent. Great novels can impact people just as much as written safety instructions.

The dissemination of written information can change the entire world. Think of all the great documents that are written down. Would the Bill of Rights be the same if it was altered into a YouTube video? Even the earliest glimpses of human society hail from written sources in the form of cuneiform and hieroglyphics. Writing has more power than may be readily apparent. Stan Lee knows this with his commitment to bombastic statements and unapologetic hyperbole. However, Starborn helps the reader realize this with a heaping helping of super heroics and space opera.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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