Reviews

Poseidon Invictus: “Swamp Thing #32”

Gregory L. Reece

Charles Soule does an excellent job with the Swamp Thing/Aquaman conflict, managing to make them both seem menacing as they battle, not only against their common enemy, but also over the watery “turf”.


Swamp Thing #32

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Charles Soule, Jesus Saiz
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2014-08
Amazon

Whenever I read something from DC’s New 52 (which isn’t so new at this point) I must fight against the temptation to compare plots and characters with what has gone before. There is something about the break with the past, the “reboot” I suppose I should say, that seems to demand these comparisons. I think this means that, at least for me, the reboot has yet to fully take on a life of its own. It's as if the only way that I can understand these new characters is to see how they compare to what came before.

This is a tricky business because these are not meant to be the same characters; they have not lived those lives, battled those villains, learned those lessons. The tendency to look back is especially strong when I read Swamp Thing. After all, under the hand of Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben in the mid-'80s, this character was part of one of the greatest runs in the history of comic books, a storyline of brilliant characterizations, vibrant art, and real horror. (I happen to think, though I know many will disagree, that Moore’s work on Saga of the Swamp Thing is his best work to date.) With all that in mind, however, I have to say that the latest issue of Swamp Thing does manage to hold its own.

This is the second of a two part series that started in Aquaman #31 and plays out like we expect the first meeting of two characters to go, that is, according to the Marvel pattern that was established in the '60s and '70s which demands that the heroes, who obviously both want the same thing in the end, must first have a misunderstanding that leads to conflict and battle. There are certain things that have to happen in a story like this, and in this one they do. It is a better story than it sounds, however, more nuanced and original than a battle between Aquaman and Swamp Thing has any right to be.

Charles Soule does an excellent job with the Swamp Thing/Aquaman conflict, managing to make them both seem menacing as they battle, not only against their common enemy, but also over the watery “turf”, a coral reef off the shore of the Philippines. Soule’s Aquaman is magisterial and frightening, and, surprisingly, this comes off in a way that doesn’t make him seem like a second-rate Prince Namor. Swamp Thing himself, as he does in Soule’s best writing, walks a fine line between his role as the Avatar of the Green and a normal man, a dichotomous status that was also emphasized in Moore’s work on the character. Swamp Thing’s inner monologues are reminiscent of those penned by Moore, though less melodramatic and, honestly, a bit more fun. The character is not as deeply felt as was the Swamp Thing devised by Moore’s pen, but is plenty three-dimensional in his own way.

The heroes’ common foe is a brilliantly rendered algal entity that has managed to break free of the green and thus of Swamp Thing’s command. This has happened as a result of Swamp Thing’s decision to destroy the Parliament of Trees. This means that the threat is more than just a one-issue evil; it is, rather, a consequence of Swamp Thing’s actions that promise to have implications for the character down the road. It is a good story with solid characterizations. Perhaps it doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by Moore, but what story could?

The real joy in this issue, however, is found in the artwork of Jesus Saiz. His renderings, particularly of the underwater scenes, are stunning. Swamp Thing, Aquaman and the ominous Kreuzblütler are as beautiful as the underwater coral reef that is the backdrop for the battle. Swamp Thing looks as at home underwater as he does in the heart of the Louisiana swamp. The characters float on the page, move with the currents.

In addition, the colors by Matthew Wilson are exceptional. Aquaman shimmers like a golden fish. Swamp Thing is a deep and watery green. I find myself flipping through the pages just to enjoy the artwork, something that I don’t find myself doing often enough. And Soule does not weigh down the pages with narration, as Moore was wont to do. He allows Saiz to tell much of the story through pictures alone, something he is very capable of doing. (As were Bissette and Totleben, for that matter.)

This is the New 52, a new Aquaman, a new Swamp Thing, a new universe. I miss the old, from the time before, but I like it here too. I like Aquaman’s menace. I like Swamp Thing’s ambiguities. I like the way the colors pop on my new high resolution tablet screen: Aquaman in green, yellow and gold; Swamp Thing in green and black, with hints of blue. I miss the old days, but I like it here, too.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image