Comics

The Anti-Victimology Dan Slott Uses to Reclaim Spider-Man

In "Boss Battle", the concluding chapter of "Spider Island", Dan Slott reclaims Spider-Man not from cynical naysayers, but from the limitations we've unquestioningly come to accept about the character.


The Amazing Spider-Man #672

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2011-12
Amazon

On the bus ride out from Mexico DF the idea finally hits and I know, when I get back home, I'll get my MA in Film Studies, no sweat. I'm remembering wrong at the time, but it's all about how Sam Raimi's just-released Spider-Man speaks to James Ellroy's My Dark Places. I know, when I get back home, I'll begin a solid dissertation on those two moving pieces. The giveaway clue is right there in the picture accompanying the first part of Ellroy's My Dark Places, "The Kid in the Picture". A young Ellroy stands by a counter with assorted childhood paraphernalia. On toy that stands out is a Spider-Man rag doll. That rag doll is a secret signature, linking the story of Spider-Man to the story of Ellroy.

But a month later it all falls to pieces. "The Kid in the Picture" isn't the first part of My Dark Places, it's the second. Worse yet, there're no toys, no baseball cards, nothing on the countertop that the young Ellroy is standing near. Nothing at all. I misremembered the entire scene. That wonderful story about personal fortitude and walking back from a nightmare you caused, that narrative that connected Raimi's essentializing of the pivotal Spider-Man mythos with James Ellroy surviving the trauma of his mother being murdered just evaporated.

I did get one thing write, though. The first part of Ellroy's book really does deal with the victimology of his mother. Who was Jean Hilleker and how did she come to be murdered late one Friday night and have her body dumped in the undergrowth near a baseball field? Ellroy's story is all about the impact of his mother's death on him, but simultaneously turns away from idolizing her. She was no saint, she was murdered the way she was because of a clear line of actions she took.

And that was the connection I saw with Raimi's essential Spider-Man. Peter Parker was the same as Ellroy. Walking back from a great tragedy that should define his life negatively, but ended up defining his life positively. But without that "secret signature" of the Spider-Man rag doll in that picture, the analysis becomes arbitrary. No matter how much Ellroy's story resembles Peter Parker's, without that rag doll there's innate connection between the two.

I push the Ellroy-Spidey analysis to one side and instead arbitrage my way through Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

And over time eventually even the Spidey-Ellroy story begins to whither. Raimi's emotional core to Spider-Man, "With great power, comes great responsibility", is so powerful it reads like an indictment, a final judgment. And it's an easy equation. So easy that the next Spidey flick (which answers the question, "Must there be a Spider-Man?") seems logical. Raimi's vision of Spider-Man definitely scans like the all-growed-up version of the Spidey cartoons I watched just a few years prior in the mid-90s.

And of course, because Raimi's Spider-Man is so formidable, what also withers is the Spidey I knew as a kid. No harm, no foul, right? This new Spidey is just the same Spidey, only it's bite-sized, easily digested. Contrasted with 80s-era comicbook Spidey that seemed perpetually out of reach because of its sheer complexity.

Except now, Dan Slott, the Spidey writer at the helm of the "Spider Island" crossover event, proves that it's the complexity that was really the enjoyable part all along.

"Spider Island's" premise is intriguing; what if everyone in New York woke one day with Spider powers? What would then distinguish Spider-Man? Early on in the crossover, things get so confusing during an all-out brawl with Spidered-up street thugs that Peter's teammates the Avengers "request he sit this one out". It's Spidey reduced to a second stringer. Or perhaps to the more cynical reader, "exposed for the second stringer he always was".

That's Slott's real genius. It's not that he engages naysayers. It's that he is able to expose an inherent limitation in the Spidey character and simply blow this limitation apart. That easy equation of power and responsibility is exposed as a farfetched mythology. And ultimately, a severe restriction on the character.

By the end of "Spider Island", Slott is able to reclaim Spider-Man. Not from the jaded, but from the limitations unwittingly placed by fans. Spidey saves the day despite there being millions of Spidered-up New Yorkers all over Manhattan. The words written for Kaine, the Spider-Man clone, ring out loud and clear. "You don't get it do you? I used a move he came up with. A suit he built. In a moment he provided. I struck down a monster at its weakest. He healed millions in their time of greatest need. It was the Spider-Man who won the day. And there is only one like him".

Dan Slott on Spider-Man inspires nothing but trust. A writer we can trust to carry forward a character older than ourselves, a character we love but fear we may have exhausted. In Dan Slott's hands, Peter isn't Spider-Man because he has great power. He's Spider-Man because he's Spider-Man. But the powers help.

And for me personally, and perhaps also for you, Slott has elegantly reclaimed Spidey even from the idea of victimology. This isn't a story about how we grow from trauma, and it never was. Spider-Man is a story about fortitude, and becoming what we were always meant to be, always would have been. In a singular moment, Spidey is a battle against "tomorrow". The kind of tomorrow that is a regularized idea of yesterday marching forward unhindered.

So what happens after "Spider Island"? Are any of the changes permanent? What about the other heroes who gained Spider-powers? The usual questions about crossovers seem simply to fall away. What matters is, through a long, cold dark we didn't even realize we were living through, we've gotten Spider-Man back.

7

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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