Checkmate Means We Lost, Rhodey…: "Invincible Iron Man #515"

There'll come a time, soon enough, when critics will be saying, "It's a good Iron Man story, but it's no 'Demon'"…

Invincible Iron Man #515

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca
Price: $3.50
Publication Date: 2012-06

The thing to understand about Demon in a Bottle, the mythic ground that Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca's just-wrapped "Demon" storyarc roots itself in, is that the actual wrestling with alcoholism doesn't occur until the very end. By issue #128 of Invincible Iron Man (volume one), the actual issue titled "Demon in a Bottle", we'd already been through some eight issues of angst and Cold War incursionary heroics.

The long, slow arc which began to build as early as issue #120, saw Tony Stark's Iron Man team up Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, to interdict a conspiracy to dump chemical waste in the ocean. The arc saw a recap, and in some ways a reedit of Iron Man's origin story. And eventually, an international espionage thrill-ride that saw Tony Stark run a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. while he worked himself deeper and deeper into a trap laid by his rival corporate Justin Hammer.

Things would end badly for Tony Stark. And by the beginning of issue #128, by the beginning of "Demon in a Bottle", dark times already loomed on the horizon. Iron Man had successfully been framed for murder by Hammer. And Stark International wouldn't survive the coming skirmish with S.H.I.E.L.D., the security and intelligence agency had secretly bought up a controlling share in Stark International.

By the time "Demon in a Bottle" rolled by, Tony's alcoholism was exposed in perhaps the most elegant kind of way. It was revealed as something of a surprise ending, as a kind of lurking horror, there all along, but unseen. A brutal afterthought, a vicious punchline. Perhaps the issue had originally been intended by writer David Michelinie and editor Roger Stern as nothing more than a segue issue, a graceful epilogue to an unfortunate series of events in the life of Tony Stark. Perhaps it was history and audience that made a far greater impact than "Demon in a Bottle" had originally been intended for. Whatever the reasons, "Demon in a Bottle" would come to define a new character arc for Tony Stark, one that would last generations.

When current Iron Man writer Matt Fraction cooks up a storyarc called "Demon" one that follows right on the heels of Tony Stark having gotten drunk in years (years?, it's hard to tell exactly how long Tony Stark has been sober in comicbook time), there's an expectation. Fraction's not simply writing a story about Tony working himself free, he's writing himself into history. When "Demon" is measured, it must be measured against the full weight of the character since that initial landmark arc back in 1979.

At first blush, "Demon" seems entirely unbalanced. It follows roughly the same narrative arc as the original "Demon in a Bottle", at the opening there are extraneous circumstances that Tony must wrestle himself free of, and by the end a "Demon", the always-present, but unrecognized cause, is exposed. "Demon" sees an unholy alliance of Tony Stark's greatest enemies. The "Hammer Girls", Sasha and her mother, Justine, granddaughter and daughter of Justin Hammer have sought to undermine Stark Resilient's mission (Stark's successor company to the now bankrupted Stark International) of producing scalable clean energy. In a strange twist, Sasha Hammer is also the girlfriend of Zeke Stane, son of Obadiah Stane the man who stole Stark International from Stark himself in a hostile takeover. And in an even stranger twist, Sasha Hammer is also the daughter of the Mandarin, sworn enemy of both Tony Stark and Iron Man.

Much of the joy of reading "Demon" is the slow unease that builds with the dramatic irony of seeing the antagonists build their forces, refine their plans, while Stark himself is wholly unaware of even their having banded together. This is classic stuff; it's the moment Donald Sutherland makes his stirring monologue in Oliver Stone's JFK, it's Julius Caesar after Cassius has convinced Brutus to throw in his lot with the conspirators.

But all of that sublime tension dissipates all too quickly. That final page of issue #513, the two-page spread where Mandarin and Stane stand looking on the 12 Iron Man villains they've collected, that scene that seems laced with such dark promise, is also something of a last gasp. There'll be no more dark forces gathering in secret. "Phase Two" that the Mandarin refers to so gloatingly, is a strike that comes, and passes, all too soon.

The groundwork had already been laid. A disruptor blast during a seemingly mundane attack had caused the Iron Man to short out. This in turn gave cause to Justine Hammer and her crony the corrupt General Babbage, to subpoena system logs from the Iron Man, and assert that Stark had been drunk while piloting the Iron Man. And suddenly we're in PR nightmare country. The second phase of the attack on Stark and Stark Resilient is simply Hammer and Babbage showing up at Resilient and demanding that Stark install a governor switch on the Iron Man. A switch that will allow them off-site override protocols.

It's during a coordinated attack on a California wind farm and on downtown Los Angeles that the trap of "Phase Two" finally kicks in. Stark himself is neutralized, given a "mandatory cool-down" by Hammer. Pepper Potts, Stark Resilient COO, is publicly humiliated as "Rescue" (her self-assigned moniker for the MK-1616 armor she wears). And Colonel James Rhodes, "Rhodey", Tony Stark's longtime friend and moral compass, is left for dead. That's it. That's where "Demon" ends, and it seems, at just about the bell for the third quarter, that that old, sinister dramatic dread that Fraction had been building so carefully, just sputters out and dies. Never quite as formidable as the promise it seemed to invoke just a few issues earlier.

Expect of course, that's not quite the end. That last quarter of the final issue of "Demon" is just sublime.

Rhodey's not dead. Deus Ex Machina-ly he'd been equipped with the Stark Resilient Lifevest, a high-tech anti-ballistics under-armor sheath that had been tested earlier in "Demon". They've got the upper hand now, with no one knowing Rhodey's still alive. Stark really can't get the governor off, but now at least he's aware of the conspiracy around him. And "Demon" ends exactly as "Demon in a Bottle" did; with Stark and a friend driving off into the future, things in the present already as dark as anything.

In "Demon" then, there's almost no battle with alcoholism. From "Fear Itself", where Tony Stark first got drunk, to "Demon", went from drunk to sober without a hitch. The irony was, that Tony wasn't out of control. Or at least he didn't seem to be. So how does Matt Fraction write himself into the fertile bed of myth, if there's no harrowing of the character as there was in the original "Demon in a Bottle" issue. That issue saw an out-of-control Tony cause a toxic chlorine gas leak from a derail freight train, a situation that had already been safely resolved by authorities. That issue saw Tony beat down an unarmed office worker, while piloting the Iron Man. So where's the out-of-control? Where's the crazy? Where's that all-too-familiar demon in the bottle?

You'd have to go back nearly all the way to the beginning of Matt Fraction's run on Invincible Iron Man to 2008's issue #1. It was in that opening arc, "The Five Nightmares", that Stark showed the length's to which he'd go to ensure that achieve a victory on terms of his own making. In order to defeat Zeke Stane the first time, Stark destroyed his own company. After that he put himself into a persistent vegetative state just to ensure Marvel villain Norman Osborn (Spidey antagonist, the Green Goblin), not get his hands on the Superhuman Registration Database.

In fact, you only really need go back as far as the beautifully-crafted standalone issue, Invincible Iron Man #500.1. The issue's title says it all, "What it was Like, What Happened, and What it's Like Now". In a single issue, Tony Stark retells his entire life story as a kind of fable of corporate life. Friends who died become people who moved on to other projects. Giant space dragons become unbelievable deadlines. But the big surprise ending is that Tony's trouble was never about the alcoholism. The alcoholism was another effect of a deep-rooted anxiety. A fear of failure that Tony would never entirely overcome, and one that he would take great and unnecessary risks to attempt to assuage.

The "Demon" is that older, deeper insecurity that Tony feels. Something that drives him to greatness, by driving him to lose control. For Matt Fraction to have reframed the character in this way, he's clearly tilled the fertile soil of myth himself. There'll come a time, soon enough, when critics will be saying, "It's a good Iron Man story, but it's no 'Demon'".


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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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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