Comics

Second Star to the Right… The Contextual Usage of "Fan Fiction"

Earlier on in the Batman storyarc "Death of the Family", we were introduced to the idea of the Joker as court jester, but this obfuscates seeing him for what he is: Peter Pan…

Several things struck me as I read Batman #15 from writer Scott Snyder and artists Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia: pacing can have various rhythms, but when done right, the speed or tempo doesn’t matter; Batman makes an interesting Wendy to Joker’s Peter Pan; and the definition of “fan fiction” needs to become even broader with notes on contextual usage. There are many other things that make this installment of Batman a tremendous issue, but those three points stick out the most as I reflect on it. That there are numerous points to think about underlines another point that this Batman, critically acclaimed and embraced by fans, overall overcomes any shortcomings with style and terror.

The Joker knows. The Joker knows who the Bat family members are behind the masks. Suddenly, the psychopathic clown becomes even scarier. He has already struck at the family in very personal ways and now he claims to know their identities. That personal terror, a hallmark of Snyder’s work, forces the various heroic players to confront their mentor. Batman himself is forced to show just a moment of self-doubt. It’s self-doubt that is the actual poison to Batman. Timidity is not a strength for the Batman, it opens a Pandora’s box that could undermine everything he’s worked for since his parent’s death.

To present this point, Snyder scripts an issue that relies on pacing and format. We open on the object of fear and an aspect of that fear. The eyes are windows to the soul, as the saying goes. That these eyes know nothing of dilation defines a soulless killer without saying it. This is a pure definition of “showing, not telling” in the form of comics. That it is part of a reflective narration, a narration that also closes the issue, points to a “bookended” chapter emphasizing the Dark Knight has doubts.

We’ve seen Snyder and Capullo work with pacing, format and presentation before. Batman #5 is an example of that--and clever design. This issue works differently. The tempo shifts from slow to thrilling to expository to chilling to dramatic--that last page leaning a bit melodramatic. This issue is also about exposition, about the family asking questions, looking for answers and creating tension.

I was critical of Batman #14 for the type of verbose, wordy dialogue that Batman #15 uses to excel. It’s about the context of dialogue--sometimes less is more and more is too much. Where appropriate, and necessary, lots of talking as it were can create the dramatic tension this issue needs to push the overall storyarc forward.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it,” writes J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan. As I said earlier, doubt for Batman is poison, and doubt of this magnitude, while contained in him, has a way of tearing down everything. The moment is, as Snyder has described it, that moment when you wish momentarily that the family you created would just go away. It would be easier to be alone, to eliminate worries. To be a kid forever.

In this scenario, this narrative, the Joker takes on that embodiment of Peter Pan that Barrie used to illustrate loss of innocence. Here, Snyder is not trying to directly address loss of innocence, but when dealing with a homicidal clown, how can you not even remotely consider it. He’s trying to address a loss of fidelity.

The “court jester’s ode to his king” dialogue is just a joke, a bit of demented of humor from the Joker. The joke is not very strong and confuses this Peter Pan subtext. It’s probably the strongest piece of criticism you could level at this issue of Batman and entirety of this story arc. The Joker just isn’t very funny. Maybe that’s the existential crisis promised by the Joker’s faceless existence?

“What are we going to call fan fiction now,” a fellow Batman reader asked me when talking about the current run? He was referring to numerous things, but mainly he was talking about how the current run of Batman references previous pieces of mythology (Year One, The Killing Joke, etc.) but is not bound or really defined by them. His question is also related to the New 52 reset and the confusion of what pieces of Batman lore still stand and which have faded from the pages of legacy. It’s seemingly shortsighted, reflecting on continuity obsession that endears and hinders comics, but it reminded me of something Snyder said to me a year ago.

“It’s almost fan fiction,” he said referring to his then current story “Court of Owls.” But, if we haven’t figured it out by now, Snyder is a fan too and he’s interested in writing things that matter to him personally.

Many of the writers currently writing our major superheroes are fans of the characters. They’re not the original creators of the character, so what’s the difference between fan fiction and what is being published today? Sophistication? Editorial endorsement and inclusion in canon? A paycheck?

“The writers write it [fan fiction] and put it up online just for the satisfaction,” writes Lev Grossman for TIME. “They're fans, but they're not silent, couch-bound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”

In those terms, in terms of the culture talking to them and they responding in its language, “Death of the Family” and Snyder’s Joker is not “almost” fan fiction, it is fan fiction and that’s something he should be proud of. While I have been wary about the amount of horror that has been injected into Batman, and concerned the Joker hasn’t to this point been very funny, and that each and every issue hasn’t been an ideal portrayal, I will always be appreciative knowing a fan is writing this cornerstone of comics.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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