Kept Crusader: Why We Love the Bat

The obvious answer is... that Batman is us. Batman is a bigger than life adolescent dream. He's everything we wish we could be, including protector of the faith and righter of wrongs.

You can have your Avengers. You can moon over the various versions of Peter Parker's Webslinger and clamor for more of his comic book buddies to bank on the big screen. But in a world of clearly commercial concerns, the Bat is where it's at. Yes, Bruce Wayne, philanthropist and million/billionaire (depending on the era) raconteur and playboy has been the movie going publics fave rave for woe these last 40 years. He's been the subject of a successful funny book run, reinvented by famed writers such as Frank Miller, reimagined as a '40s serials icon and a '60s camp champ. Yet it was the high concept '80s, and the even more micromanaged millennium, that turned the masked vigilante known as the Batman into a pure pop phenomenon.

It all started way back before blockbusters and boffo opening weekends. TV executives were looking for a companion piece to the popular '50s take on Clark Kent's alter ego, aka The Adventures of Superman. That series, starring the George Reeves, was a huge hit among kids, and sensing a similar media splash, they figured the Bat would be best. Loathing the comics and going for a more potent pop art approach, ABC introduced Adam West as their wealthy warrior and Burt Ward as his faithful sidekick, Robin. With its plethora of guest stars as classic villains such as the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler, the show was an instant success. In fact, it was such a monster that it actually aired twice a week -- the first episode setting up a cliffhanger that the next installment would resolve a few days later.

In retrospect, it's not hard to see why this initial TV incarnation of the character was such a slam dunk. The producers hit on a formula which made every episode of Batman an event, from who would function as this week's scoundrel (no baddie was ever bumped off, instead, they rotted in jail until time to battle the Bat again) to the various kitschy catchphrases and optical effects ("Bop!" "Biff") they would use. In the middle stood West and Ward, each one acting as a dichotomy for the fledgling viewer. Bruce Wayne was always quiet, sober, and reasoned. Dick Grayson, aka Robin, was young, exasperated, and quick tempered. Together, they would pool their personal and physical resources to battle whomever showed up on menace marquee.

Like any splashy skyrocket, Batman barely lasted three season. It was sold as fun and frivolous, a combination which doesn't have a long social self life. As the Peace Decade began to slowly implode, a goof like this couldn't last. A movie was made in 1966, hoping to keep the series afloat overseas, but a less than successful run at home seemed to kill such chances. The film featured almost everyone from the TV show and a broader creative campus (Batman battles a combined criminal element made up of his four chief foes). Children used to their hero being plastered on a big, enormous 13-inch screen suddenly saw his paunchy polish 70-feet high, as well as the introduction of such action movie givens as the Batcopter and the Bat Boat.

For those who grew up during the time, this was the forever Batman. This was the event TV tale they shared with classmates over five cent cartoons of milk in the lunch line, or at heated if friendly debates on the playground. It was the concept of the Caped Crusader that carried them through the next two decades, with West and Ward frequently guesting on chat shows and variety hours in and out of their iconic garb. When they bought DC in 1969, Warner Brothers was already brainstorming a way to bring Batman back to the big screen. It would take 20 more years, and lots of backroom arguments, before a more serious version of the Dark Knight would arrive.

After the huge success of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, Warners hit on giving fledgling filmmaker Tim Burton the Bat reigns. As much a reintroduction as a reinvention of the character, this revamp was to be more serious, and would follow the original origins of the character. It would stick with the gloomy, brooding tone of the comic, turning the character from a deadpan goof into a troubled vigilante roaming the shadows of Gotham City, exacting justice. Controversial from the get go (few could see Burton behind the lens), things got even more dicey when the casting of comedian Michael Keaton in the lead role.

Sure, Oscar winner Jack Nicholson as the Joker more than made up for what many perceived was a bit of Burton nepotism, but Keaton was actually terrific as the dour, driven crusader. Even better, the cinematic novice brought his A-game to the production, piling on iconic elements that would eventually turn his version of Batman into the mainstream standard bearer. A massive hit with the popcorn crowd, it would spawn a sequel which saw Burton going overboard into his grand Goth designs. By the time a third installment was mandated, the auteur was off doing other things (like trying to reboot Superman). The control of this commercial goldmine was put in the hands of costume designer turned filmmaker Joel Schumacher.

Needless to say, without Burton behind the camera and Keaton in the lead, Batman Forever struggled. Yes, intense actor Val Kilmer filled the Bat suit out nicely, and there were intriguing additions like funnyman of the moment Jim Carrey as the Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face, but as with the '60s TV series, Schumacher seemed more interested in turning everything into a Peter Max nightmare. This was especially true of the George Clooney led Batman and Robin. By this point, the public no longer loved the cowl and the franchise was mothballed. While there were rumors of possible proposals for a fifth film (including combining the character with Superman and other members of the Justice League), it would take another newcomer to redesign the Bat for a post-millennial audience.

Few knew Christopher Nolan outside his indie hit Memento. Most recognized his name as attached to the unnecessary US remake of the Swedish thriller Insomnia (featuring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank). With Batman, Nolan wanted to take the character in a more realistic and pragmatic direction. Gone would be the outlandish costumes and whimsical villainy. In their place would be a sense of danger, a feeling of placing the otherwise outsized icon into a world which bled, which died, which reflected the mood and temperament of the times. With Batman Begins, Nolan initiated his plan, peeling back who Bruce Wayne really was to reveal his true tormented, tortured soul. Set against recognizable evils and institutional mandates, it would launch a revolution that would rewrite the Bat forever.

With the Oscar winning The Dark Knight and the upcoming, highly anticipated (and so far, well reviewed) The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan brings closure to the character is a way that argues against any future reboots (though you know one is eventually coming). His Godfather of Comic Books approach grabs audiences that wouldn't normally invest their time in such genre trappings while proving his proficiency as a filmmaker of the future. Yet none of this really argues for why we love the Bat, why we can't get enough of the character is any of his various personal permutations. Sure, entertainment value is something, but not the only reason this particular superhero has managed to survive as an impactful part of the cultural landscape since introduced.

Of course, the obvious answer is... that Batman is us. Sure, he's a high tech, insanely wealthy version of a normal human being, but he is still just that. He's not gifted with alien abilities or cursed by a bug's bite. He's not pelted by gamma radiation or mutated via any number of scientific strategies. Instead, he's a man lost in the psychosis of his past and the need for revenge. He's capable of being hurt, though this being a fictional universe, such injuries are almost always survivable. When not plastered with primary colors or pushed to be a harlequin for someone's idea of a joke, Batman is a bigger than life adolescent dream. He's everything we wish we could be, including protector of the faith and righter of wrongs.

And thanks to Nolan, he's been brought back down to the level we all live in. He's no longer battling hoodlums who hide out in daft, dramatic costuming. Instead, his Joker is a scarred specter who can't wait to reek his insane vengeance on an unsuspecting public. In fact, it's safe to say that the newest incarnation of the Dark Knight thrives because, for all the pomp and wealth provided gadgetry, we are still dealing with a troubled, tormented man. For you see, as much as we love the Bat, it's the second syllable that's most important here. He's not a Batmonster or a Batfiend. He's not a Batchampion or a Batmyth. He's a Bat-man, a truly Dark Knight... and that's why we are continually drawn to him.

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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