Fear of Dystopian Futures and Apocalypses as Perspective: All-New X-Men and The Massive

Interior artwork from All-New X-Men #8 and the Massive #7, splash art juxtaposition of same.

What were the Mayans really getting at with the ending of their 5,126 year long calendar that ended this past December. As All-New X-Men and the Massive show, maybe the fear is more universal than we recognize…

"I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.”

-- “Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

The end of the world is a matter of perspective, one person’s dystopian future is another’s utopia, and some apocalypses are just another bad day. You have to wonder what the Mayans were really hinting at when their 5,126-year-long cycle long calendar ended in December 2012. Was it the false end of the world or just something we today would call an inconvenience? A minor event now, such as flooding from a coastal storm system, causes problems for us, but for a society like the Mayans it could have spelled unimaginable disaster. It’s a matter of perspective, a matter of degree.

I find myself thinking about perspective, degree, dystopian futures and apocalyptic literature as I read Marvel’s All-New X-Men and Dark Horse’s The Massive. While on the surface the main thrust of All-New X-Men -- the original X-Men brought to the present -- is a fish(es) out of water story with a self-confrontation chaser, there is this rather strong subtext of a dystopian future for Cyclops, Beast, Jean, Iceman and Angel. The dream of a better life for mutants is seemingly dead and what the five have gone through is so much more terrible than they could have imagined. By comparison there is nothing “sub” about the text of The Massive. The ongoing struggles of an environmental activist group in a post environmental crash, post economic crash (post everything crash) world is just as horrible as it sounds, reflecting a path many experts would suggest we are heading down. The narratives of these two books offer us different takes on the idea that the future might turn out to be a very bleak place. They reflect a fear for a future that is very different from our hopes and desires.

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.”

-- George Orwell

Fear of totalitarianism is the main reason behind George Orwell’s 1984, arguably the most well known piece of dystopian literature, something the author experienced firsthand during the Spanish Civil War and World War II. While we cannot be certain of All-New X-Men writer Brian Michael Bendis’ fear, The Massive writer Brian Wood’s fear of environmental catastrophe is well documented.

“When I was writing the pitch [for The Massive] it was right in the middle of the BP gulf oil accident,” Wood said to me at New York Comic Con 2011. “That was definitely on my mind. Then there were the Japanese Tsunamis. There’s definitely stuff that keeps happening.” Much of Wood’s work can relate to fears over the military–industrial complex, to varying degrees Channel Zero and DMZ among others, and his tendency to personalize apocalyptic fear, whether rooted in urban strife, censorship or the slow destruction following ecological disasters, brings prominence to activist based sub-cultures. Just as steampunk and cyberpunk have categorized various literary and cultural identities related to technology, Wood’s apocalypse punk or dystopian punk has brought voice to the comicbook world of a 99% perspective. A perspective rooted in fear of (and anger over) the present and the possible future.

This is not to give credence to any notion that climate change, global warming or other environmental concerns are a matter of perspective, it is to say that the degree to which they will affect us in the future is a matter of perspective. The environment is at risk, especially if concerns are not addressed immediately, but the matter of whether it is as awful as Wood details in The Massive is certainly a perspective on the present course of geo-politics.

"Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it."

-- George Orwell

Just as world-views shape belief in perceived media bias, generational conflicts and political disagreements, perspective shapes notions of apocalypses and dystopian futures. As I mentioned, we cannot be sure of Bendis’ fear in All-New X-Men. There is certainly a fear for the present as illustrated by Beast indirectly addressing Cyclops’ most recent actions by bringing to the future his past self. But that conflict, according to Bendis, is more rooted in facing the truth.

“I’m a big fan of these kinds of stories, ‘Pleasantville’ or ‘Peggy Sue got Married,’” said Bendis during a Marvel Q&A last August. “Where a character faces the truth about themselves and what their life can mean versus what it does mean.” The juxtaposition of past and present versions of a character in a face-off is fundamentally complicated in the sense that they are of course the same person, but somehow different for whatever set of circumstances have befallen them. It’s an interesting place to begin a compare and contrast. And while that is the basic foundation for All-New X-Men there is this sense of dystopian perspective.

The mutant predicament of the present for the original five X-Men is a vastly different place from where they were and what they hoped to achieve. The road to the future is paved with compromises and consequences, and these teenagers are certainly discovering that facet. This is a terrible future for them, a dystopian future, where their dreams for mutantkind have been squashed by conflicting agendas, war, otherworldly events, personal strife, clones and so much more. It’s also a heavy burden for the teens to bear, lacking the wisdom we can gain from experience. They are shocked and afraid, just as Angel’s actions at the end of All-New X-Men #8 illustrate. Jean’s actions represent something else entirely, as there is a heavy amount of generational conflict subtext, but that’s an argument meant for another day. In terms of reaction to their future, if they didn’t see the present as a nightmare or dystopian future that would be the more provocative story…and perhaps the most existential ever attempted by mainstream comicbooks.

“Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.” - George Orwell

What we all dance around, what we all try to ignore, is that our future may be completely disappointing, if not wholly disastrous. All-New X-Men and The Massive are addressing this possibility head-on, much as 1984 did so many decades ago. The Massive shares a much heavier burden, just as 1984 did, but the generational issues, metaphors for prejudice that the X-Men books have always addressed are not to be regarded as less than. They are part of the ongoing struggle that will always infect humanity. While the fight against totalitarianism will always have its place, the historical context of the work, similar to the context of The Massive, gives both works a weight beyond their narratives. Their perspectives on the direction of humanity, the dystopian futures and apocalypses, are the fears born from our present, the degrees of each future nightmare rising with the stakes.

Cyclops was right. So was Callum Israel.

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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