Reviews

Not Just a Comicbook: "The Multiversity #1"

In this story of multiple worlds, fiction is fact and comicbooks are true.


The Multiversity #1

Publisher: DC
Length: 48 pages
Writer: Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis
Price: $4.99
Publication Date: 2014-10
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In 1972, Doubleday published a book by science-fiction writer Philip José Farmer. The book was called Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke and it blew my mind. The premise of the book was that Edgar Rice Burroughs' famous tale of the great and noble jungle lord was based on a real person. Farmer's work was a careful analysis of all of Burroughs' Tarzan books with the purported purpose of distinguishing fact from fantasy. Like the scholarly tome it pretended to be, Farmer's book contained, as addenda, documentary evidence to support the central claims of the author. At the beginning of the book Farmer printed Tarzan's family tree, a two-page spread that I studied for hours at a time in the summer between the fifth and sixth grades. Not only was Tarzan real, but he was related to other famous "fictional" characters: The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sherlock Holmes, Professor Challenger, Doc Savage, Nero Wolfe. They were all a part of this illustrious family. They were all real.

This revelation was shocking. I could not sleep for a week. I had read most of Burroughs' Tarzan books, and his John Carter of Mars books as well, so I was well aware of the literary devices often used by that author to establish the veracity of the extraordinary stories that he told. Farmer's book was different, however. Looking at it now, I see that Farmer seized upon that particular literary device as the whole point of his book. He was taking Burroughs' own tendencies and expanding them, reshaping them into something grander. But when I first read the book, in that mid-70's summer, I believed every word of it and it shook me to the core. If Tarzan was real, and Sherlock Holmes too, then what of Moriarity? What of Mary Shelley's monster? What of Mr. Hyde? If heroes, why not horrors?

Before that, before I was even born, in the pages of Flash #123, way back in 1961, Silver Age-Flash, Barry Allen, accidentally traveled to Earth 2 and met Golden Age-Flash, Jay Garrick. When the two Flashes met, in the classic story by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, Barry Allen explained the he knew all about Jay Garrick's career as the Flash. He knew about the origin of his powers and about his secret identity. "You were once well-known on my world," Barry Allen explained, "as a fictional character appearing in a magazine called Flash Comics! When I was a youngster--you were my favorite hero! A writer named Gardner Fox wrote about your adventures--which he claimed came to him in dreams!"

Barry Allen's experience was the same as mine. His heroes turned out to be real.

With that the DC multiverse was born. Two worlds, Earth One and Earth Two, in time became infinite. There were new heroes, new worlds. There were new ideas, infinite ideas. Then came the crises. Barry died. The multiverse died. Neither would stay dead. While the Marvel universe remained mostly stable, the DC universe struggled and strained. In time, Barry was back and 52 worlds with him. But there were only 52, like the weeks in a year, mundane, repetitive, infinite only in their eternal return, their constant recurrence.

I read Grant Morrison's The Multiversity and I don't know what to think. It's like he swallowed Farmer and Fox and Infantino whole. It scares me, this story of multiple worlds, where fiction is fact, and comicbooks are true. In this tale, life is layered on top of life, world on top of world. How can the universe, multiverse or not, hold this many facts? Given the infinite time that has gone before, wouldn't they all be flattened by now, like flowers petals pressed between the pages of a book, like Frank Future, Marvel's Mr. Fantastic in the DC multiverse, flattened and stretched out of shape, beyond recognition, beyond hope? And, sure enough, in this real world of the DC multiverse, where comicbooks tell true stories about life and death on other worlds, things are amiss, the pressure is on, the horrors are on the march against the heroes, things are broken and dying, stretched to the limit. The last of the Monitors, Nix Uotan the Superjudge, is in jeopardy, both mortal and moral. The Gentry are coming, destroying world after world.

Against the forces of evil stands a bizarre mix of heroes, most notably President Superman from Earth-23, Barack Obama as we all want him to be, a character more reminiscent of the old-Superman than of the new, the Superman from before the Crisis, before Flashpoint, before the New 52. At his side is Captain Carrot - the Easter Bunny in a mask - and a diverse remix of heroes strangely familiar and yet new. (I want these heroes to be real. Don't you? Especially this Superman, especially this Man of Steel aboard Air Force One, off to save, not the country, not the planet, not the universe, but the whole god-damned ball of wax. ) And the thing is that it is all REAL. There are messages in this comic book for us, words from other worlds speaking to me, and to you, as we read.

So, I'm shaken again, scared like an eleven-year-old boy. I'm shaken because the evil here is complex and dark, and I'm shaken precisely because this evil seems so very real. Not that I expect the bat-winged herald of the Gentry to appear on our city streets in such obvious form, but because I am afraid that it already hides among us, is already banging at our door demanding our rent; demanding that we work longer hours for less pay; demanding that we can do without so that it can grow stronger, fatter, and richer; demanding that the corporate gentry that rule our world be given all the rights of real human beings while real human beings are left out in the cold; demanding that creativity and diversity and the infinitely wondrous be sacrificed for order and oneness and profit. Perhaps the bat-winged herald is an apt depiction for Morrison's own corporate masters, champions of the Bat above all else, content, it sometimes seems, to let corporate needs dictate order and sameness at the expense of the creative and the new, content to show us only 52 worlds, when we could have an infinite view. Yes, I'm shaken and scared; you should be too.

But, and this is important so I'm saying it again, just in case you missed it the first time. It is the most important thing that I have to tell you, a secret I learned one summer long, long ago, a secret the gives me hope and courage, a secret that I sometimes forget but that I was reminded of this week as I read this comicbook.

Tarzan is alive. Barry Allen, too.

9

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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