Reviews

Specters of Marquez: “Iron Fist, the Living Weapon #1”

Writer-artist Kaare Andrews shapes an entirely new mythology for Iron Fist—not so much “like unto a thing of iron,” but “when offered life, he chose death…”


Iron Fist, the Living Weapon #1

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Kaare Andrews
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2014-06
Amazon

For the longest time Kaare Andrews’ magnificent first issue of Iron Fist, the Living Weapon just lingers on my iPad and I just don’t know what to make of it. It’s magic, sure, magnificent. But beyond that, what is it? I’m a critic. I work in the popculture appreciation industry. I enter the world by making things that are obvious explicable and accessible, first to myself then to others. And just a handful of years before the one decade anniversary of Spider-Man: Reign, Kaare Andrews has me stymied. So I reread Iron Fist, the Living Weapon #1 a couple of times and it’s good each time. And then I set aside the iPad, and don’t write this review.

Then, I read Bello’s Economist blog post, an obit for magical realism founding father and Literary Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and everything changes. As it would. The magic of comics is often the magic of the lived-in, everyday world. And very often the immersion in one, the lived-in, everyday world say, will allow for a rush of new insights in the other. This interplay between comics and the lived-in, everyday world is crafted into the very engine of comics; with the juxtaposition of two information streams (word and image), and the narrative moment fractured between these two streams, comics always looks to readers shaping coherent meaning by reaching outside of the confines of any one particular system.

The opening chapter of “Rage,” the first storyarc in the Andrews relaunched Iron Fist title, mimics the internal magic of comics perfectly. Andrews unfolds two story-modes, both quintessential the telling of Iron Fist stories. The first, is the story of Danny Rand, billionaire son of a multimillionaire, pseudo-playboy trapped as much in the family business of Rand Corp as he is trapped in the family legacy of Himalayan exploration and the seeking out of the mystical city of K’un Lun. The second quintessential tale is that of Danny becoming the Iron Fist, the “living weapon” that protects K’un Lun, the “pilgrim,” as the Duke might have put it who goes native in a magical Himalayan city (one that can only be accessed by intense mystical training), only to return to the modern world and take charge of a multibillion-dollar transnational corporation. The second is a story of a man of immense power posing as a superhero, because “superhero” is an easy enough concept to understand in the world he now meets head on.

What Andrews does with the first story is nothing short of profound. He reimagines the character’s ‘70s-era kung fu-movie sensibilities as a reaching back farther in time into the pulp tradition. The mountain scenes where Wendell Rand, blinded by zealotry to the dangers of the Himalayas, leads his family onwards to K’un Lun are just purely beautiful in the execution. With their Ben-day dots and their painted folds and creases that mimic old, yellowed paper, these pages evoke a sense of how comics from the ‘80s and earlier actually evoked the pulp tradition. But the real beauty of that first story, the Danny Rand trapped in traditions not entirely of his own making, can be found in how Andrews traces that pulp tradition into neonoir.

In the opening half of the issue we encounter a Danny Rand who’s near-suicidal, at least apparently so. The mundane trappings and moreover the mundane routines of other people’s traditions have grown burdensome over the years and ultimately eroded any sense of meaningfulness and value. Andrews deploys a shocking juxtaposition of close-ups and crane shots to evolve this story of Danny Rand—a visual framing pattern that is immediately reminiscent of both kung fu and noir cinema. When we finally see the empty shell that is the now-decimated, former skyscraper HQ of Rand Corp, the blasted building becomes a powerful visual metaphor for pure mundanity that threatens to inundate Danny Rand.

But of course there’s a second story to be told about Danny Rand. The story of a man “when offered life, he chose death,” the tagline on the cover of Iron Fist, the Living Weapon reminds us. It’s the story of the true source of Danny Rand’s vitality—his ability to master death and employ it as a weapon against his enemies. Beginning with Danny Rand’s apparent suicide by launching himself out from a penthouse window, Andrews frames the Iron Fist’s asymmetrical death-dealing beautifully. There’s no use of the now industry-standard motion-blur or multiple-afterimage technique in Danny Rand moving through the sky and along the sides of skyscrapers. From our static POV when reading, Danny Rand simply appears in multiple places. But an even deeper and more profound insight is driven home after reading the Marquez obit.

Simply put, the Marquez obit allows for an insight into the inner unity between the two halves of the issue, and between Danny Rand’s two stories. The violence that allows the Iron Fist to flourish, and the mundanity that saps the vigor from Danny Rand’s life is exactly the same. In the space of just 22 pages, Andrews has demonstrated a profound and hauntingly beautiful argument for the Iron Fist being of a very different genre of story to either Spider-Man or Wolverine or Green Arrow or the current cinematic shibboleths of Iron Man or Batman. In Andrews’ skilled hands, Iron Fist is given an entirely new and radically thrilling creative vision, one for which only one issue per month is far, far too little.

10

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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