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Kanye West = Batman? Five Perfect Broadway Superhero Musicals We'd Like to See

Maya Frank-Levine

If only the creators of the Spiderman musical had chosen Elvis Costello instead of U2 to create Spidey's soundtrack... While we're at it, here are some ideas for Broadway's next pack of superhero shows.

It seems like not much has gone right with the Spiderman musical. Between the injuries that have led some to say the production is cursed, the behind-the-scenes conflict that led to the firing of director Julie Taymour and the critics who say the show is terrible, it has been hard to pinpoint any one reason for the trouble. But now that reason has become clear. Spiderman is Peter Parker, a dorky kid who had the dumb luck to get bit by a radioactive spider and whose powers brought a host of problems he hadn’t bargained on. Bono and The Edge are larger-than-life rock stars who believe in wearing their sunglasses at night, indoors. Their brand of overblown anthemic rock is entirely wrong for a musical about Spiderman. So who should have written the music for Spiderman? And who should write the music for the inevitable forthcoming musicals about other superheros?

Broadway, take note!

 

Spiderman - Elvis Costello

Why it works: If the similarity in glasses isn’t convincing enough, how about the fact that Peter Parker himself was an Elvis Costello fan? In the Marvel Team-Up Annual #4 (August 1981), Spidey encounters a mysterious purple man who orders him to recite Shakespeare. When Spidey’s Shakespeare knowledge proves inadequate, Purple Man allows him to sing Oliver’s Army instead.

Possible plot: Forget about rehashing the too-familiar Spiderman origin story. With the inclusion of Gwen Stacy in the forthcoming Spiderman movie reboot, it would be timely to focus on the famous comic book arc "The Night Gwen Stacy Died". Gwen Stacy’s plunge off the tower of the Brooklyn Bridge at the hands of the Green Goblin would add a new meaning to “accidents will happen".

 

Wonder Woman - Neko Case

Why it works: Wonder Woman is a princess of the Amazons, an ancient race of female warriors, so she needs a tough lady with a big voice to tell her story. And, like Wonder Woman, Neko Casehas found lasting success in a male-dominated industry.

Possible plot: Diana’s Themysciran roots, Nazis, and talking gorillas: The Circle arc (Wonder Woman volume 3 #14–17) really has it all. And a song like "I Wish I Was the Moon" expresses Diana’s loneliness as she walks the streets of the city, an exile from her country of birth, missing her mother, and wishing she was reunited with her lost Amazon sisters. At the end of the song, the four Amazons who tried to kill baby Diana would join in, singing “I’m so tired / I’m so tired / And I wish I was the moon” as spotlights illuminate them in their prisons at the north, south, east, and west ends of Themyscira, with Diana adding the final mournful “tonight” that ends the song.

 

Batman - Kanye West

Why it works: Kanye perfectly encapsulates Batman’s combination of talent, relentless hard work, and crippling self-hatred. Plus, he’s got Bruce Wayne’s obscene wealth. Perhaps Kanye’s bratty narcissistic behavior is just a ruse to distract us from the fact that he fights crime at night, a la Christian Bale’s spoiled playboy Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.

Possible plot: Adopting the structure of Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, the show begins at an empty funeral parlor that slowly fills with Batman’s gallery of rogues. One by one, they arise and sing their memories of the deceased Batman, at which point the funeral set clears from the stage and the actual scene plays out in front of the audience. Picture Catwoman and Batman calling to each other “You’re my devil you’re my angel / You’re my heaven you’re my hell” as they dance across Gotham’s rooftops. And since Kanye is already writing the music, he might as well play Batman too.

 

Promethea - Janelle Monáe

Why it works: Alan Moore’s Promethea features a young female character named Sophie Bangs who is in the process of transforming into a centuries-old hero who exists in reality because she exists in story. Janelle Monáe's albums feature a young female android who is on the run for the crime of having fallen in love with a human. Moore’s comic jumps between mystery, action, and philosophical treatise as rapidly as Monáe's music jumps between neo-soul, electro-pop, and show tunes.

Possible plot: Beginning the musical in the same place as the comic series starts, with Sophie Bangs becoming the new Promethea, is an obvious choice, but Promethea is so rife with plot and mythology that it’s also a smart choice. As Sophie Bangs discovers what it means to be Promethea, the audience learns along with her about her new powers of sorcery, and the enemies and dangers that come along with them, without getting lost in Alan Moore’s metaphysical haze. Sophie Bangs faces her first threat as Promethea, singing “This is a cold war / Do you know what you’re fighting for?” as she battles a group of demons who have fought Promethea over the centuries but with whom Sophie, a newbie to the Promethea role, is completely unfamiliar. Or, throwing loyalty to the original series out the window, Cindi the Android could be inserted as an omniscient narrator. Alan Moore is bound to be pissed about the adaptation either way, so why not really go for it?

 

Superman - Bruce Springsteen

Why it works: Bono and The Edge would work much better for Superman than for Spiderman, but let’s not do that to the big guy. Instead, Supe gets another larger-than-life rocker: The Boss. Bruce Springsteen and Superman both work to ensure America upholds its own ideals of democracy, one through writing songs about the struggles of everyday people and the other through feats of strength and heroism.

Possible plot: Superman’s greatest asset (aside from super strength and invulnerability) is his moral certainty. Take that away from him and he crumbles, which makes for a great dramatic arc. Perhaps a combination of the original Death of Superman (Superman #149), an entry in the “Imaginary Stories” series in which archnemesis Lex Luthor pretends to reform by finding a cure for cancer, and episode 20 from season 1 of Justice League Unlimited, in which presidential hopeful Lex Luthor tricks Superman into discrediting himself. As Superman walks through the smashed remains of Lexor City, Luther’s low-income urban development, he sings "My City of Ruins", with the original round of “Come on, rise up” as a desperate exhortation to the devastation he sees around him. In a cameo, Batman runs onstage just before the end of the song to reveal that Lex set Superman up, and the last round of “Come on, rise up” becomes a mantra through which Superman gathers his shattered pride in order to take on Luthor once again.

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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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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