Comics

Marvel’s Avengers Initiative, Part 2

What does it mean to be an Avenger? The journey continues through Young Avengers and Uncanny Avengers.

Introduction

In the first part of this series, I asked the question “What does it mean to be an Avenger?” The question was designed to be broad in scope so as to allow a more in-depth look at the various titles that include the word ‘Avengers’ in the name to see how they earn that title. The most common answer is “To sell more books; it’s all about making more money.” That answer also happens to be the easiest, and the least intuitive. In fact, that answer—rather astonishingly—seems to be used for a plethora of questions pertaining to comic book happenings. Why did DC kill Superman, only to bring him back soon after? —To sell more books. Why did Marvel retcon Spider-Man’s unmasking during Civil War with a giant, epic, horrifying, grating reset to Peter Parker’s character history? —To sell more books.

That answers instantly cuts off any more discussion because it implies that any other answer is inherently wrong because money is the only reason why things change. Yes, Marvel is a business, so it’s somewhat about the money, but to imply that financial gain is the company’s only drive for creative direction undercuts the efforts of nearly every creative effort that goes into writing and drawing comic books. Superman came back from the dead because he’s a cultural icon and he couldn't be dead. Part of what makes Spider-Man such a compelling character is the constant struggle between Peter’s life and Spider-Man’s work. We cannot close ourselves off from looking at media through other lenses than the one draped in the almighty dollar.

Uncanny Avengers

The first volume of Uncanny X-Force is one of those series that stays with you months and years after you’ve put down the final issue. Almost out of nowhere, Rick Remender gave readers a series firmly rooted in dubious morals and questionable ethics. What made it special, though, is how Remender deconstructed those morals and ethics to serve as a look at how dark the world has become. In turn, it showed how our heroes also had to make incredibly tough decisions when faced with situations that have no right answers.

Uncanny Avengers is the spiritual successor to this series, as Remender has carried over a number of major plot developments and storylines from Uncanny X-Force. Even more so, Remender continues to use moral relativism as a core theme throughout Uncanny Avengers, giving it a similar dark tone. The idea behind the Avengers Unity Squad—narratively speaking—is that stories in Marvel comics are too often separated by trivial demarcations of mutant or human. If Magneto is attacking New York, the X-Men typically handle it. When the Kree show up, the Avengers are the first line of defense.

Remender seeks to erode these delineations because they only mean as much as we make them mean. One of the takeaways from Avengers vs. X-Men—for Captain America, if not readers in general—was that the Avengers had not done a good job fostering goodwill between humans and mutants. When the Red Skull cut Charles Xavier’s brain out of his dead body so he could weaponize it against the mutant race, it didn’t matter who stood up to the Nazi threat, only that someone stood up at all. Uncanny Avengers is about the idea that humans and mutants can work together to solve problems; not human problems, not mutant problems, just problems. This does not preclude the team from having it’s own problems, which happen to be entrenched in human-mutant relations.

The goal of creating a new paradigm between humans and mutants is a lofty one, even if you’re optimistic. On an editorial/logistical level, anti-mutant prejudice is a good well for X-Men storytelling, just as Loki is a good tool for Thor storytelling. In-universe, the constant threat from mutants—whether purposeful or accidental—has left even the most compassionate and accepting individuals a bit wary to the dangers of unchecked mutant proliferation. Even the Avengers Unity Squad members seem to always be at each others throats over matters of human/mutant politics.

But this is to be expected.

After Hope Summers shattered the Phoenix force and kick-started the mutant species again, the world changed. Through the eyes of an average Joe, his world has seen the mutants rise and fall twice in a generation, and that’s extremely jarring. Scott Summers was a mutant who, for decades, was a symbol of all that was good about mutantkind. Now, he is a terrorist responsible for the deaths of millions worldwide, along with his mentor and father figure, Charles Xavier. And this is just one of many, many differences and major changes that have come to the Marvel universe in the recent years. Now, Remender is using Uncanny Avengers to unpack all those built-up feelings, all the fears, insecurities, anxieties, and questions that come with a world that doesn’t have a dominant species, really.

The Uncanny Avengers can simply be described as a team of Avengers working to better human/mutant relations—that’s the easiest way to put it. The beauty of this series is how such a minimal premise has become more than the sum of its parts. Remender focuses on an Avengers team, but one that has half it’s roster filled with mutants. The overarching narrative deals specifically with enemies and threats that bridge the human/mutant divide. Infighting amongst members comes down to perspective and accepting responsibility.

Young Avengers

The first volume of Young Avengers debuted in 2005 when Alan Heinberg and Jim Cheung had the notion to develop a team of teenagers based on Avengers. It’s a straightforward concept that had been in practice for years at DC with the Teen Titans and Young Justice. In fact, DC basically had the market cornered for teenage heroes, as Marvel had some younger characters, but not many, and they weren’t very marketable. Young Avengers Vol. 1 changed all that with the introduction of seven new characters that would carry the legacy of their adult counterparts while keeping their own, distinct personalities and charms. Heinberg and Cheung ended the original run after 12 issues and only returned to the characters in 2009 with Avengers: The Children’s Crusade which closed that chapter of the team’s book, yet left it open for new creators to come in and make their own mark.

Heinberg and Cheung’s Young Avengers was one of my favorite runs of all time. Now, Kieron Gillen is at the helm and he’s taking the Young Avengers into territory it’s never been before: adulthood. I say ‘taking’ because it’s a process, a natural occurrence that happens over time when teenagers get older. With Young Avengers Vol. 2, Gillen is exploring what it means for teenagers to grow up. He’s even stated in interviews that if the original run was supposed to be about what it’s like to be a superhero at sixteen, then this series is meant to be about what it’s like to be a superhero at eighteen.

Understanding responsibility for one’s actions, making smaller sacrifices for a greater goal, becoming more sympathetic to your peers and their suffering, doing what is right instead of what is easiest, and recognizing your place in the world. These are just a few of the experiences of growing up that Gillen is delving into with his Young Avengers, along with a big one focused on in the first arc: letting go of the security of parents. Because our relationships with our mothers and fathers—good or bad—are the first ones we have in this world, they mean quite a bit and greatly influence who we will become. For superheroes, these relationships can be even more significant. Gillen exploits the concept of parental security and uses it as a method to make these individuals stay together at the end of their first (arguable) victory as a team. They have to make the decision to do what is right instead of what they want, and that’s a sign of growing up.

The Avengers proper are all adults. Each of them has an idea about who they are and how they want to live their lives. This is not to say they can’t/don’t question their actions and convictions, but they still have a basis from which to start. Kieron Gillens’ Young Avengers are anything but sure of themselves. Wiccan doesn’t know if he’ll become a hero and a savior or blight upon mankind. Kid Loki wants so much to be better than he is fated to always be. Miss America is constantly fighting her own inner demons and expressing it through punching and being sarcastic. Hulkling wants desperately to make the love of his life happy, but has no idea how. Marvel Boy is conflicted over his love of Earth and his dedication to the Kree Empire. And Kate Bishop wants something more than even being a daring superhero can give her. Each one is at a crossroads to adulthood and Gillen aims to chart their progress with witty and subtly facetious teenage melodrama mixed with superhero antics and alien invasions.

Coda

Unlike Avengers Arena, which expanded the idea of what it means to be an Avengers, Uncanny Avengers expands the idea of what the Avengers stand for and what they fight to protect. Similarly, Young Avengers is less about changing how we see or experience the idea of the Avengers and more about expanding the idea of what it means to be a hero: learning who you are first. Rick Remender and Kieron Gillen are both known for amazing runs on less mainstream titles—Remender with Uncanny X-Force and Gillen with Journey Into Mystery. And in both of those series, the world building was less important than the emotional impact wrought by that world building and the effects it has on the characters. Uncanny Avengers has the colossal task of finding common ground in a world increasingly separated by narrow definitions, unwavering faith, and distrust in each other and our government. Young Avengers seeks to show how getting older is pretty much the same for everyone, it just happens to be a little more complicated if your depressing poetry suddenly becomes reality just because you think it.

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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