Reviews

If We'd Never Had to Fight a War: "The Multiversity: The Society of Super-Heroes #1"

Tell your people, your super-people, that it won't stop here. It's coming your way, too. And if you have no super-people, may the lord have mercy.


The Multiversity: The Society of Super-Heroes #1

Publisher: DC
Length: 39 pages
Writer: Grant Morrison, Chris Sprouse
Price: $4.99
Publication Date: 2014-11
Amazon

Another 9/11 has come and gone. This year, as on every 9/11 for over a decade now, I went through the ritual that Americans all over the world go through. Everybody asks the question. Everybody has an answer. "Where were you when the towers fell?"

Like almost everyone else, I saw it on the television news, stood slack-jawed in my pajamas, hugged my wife, kept my child out of the room. Then, for the rest of the day, I was overwhelmed with emotion, with fear and grief and bewilderment. When my head had cleared just a bit, I drove to the record store to purchase Bob Dylan's Love and Theft, which was released on that very day. I remember that I called ahead to make sure that the store was open, wondering if anything could possibly be open after something like that. I played the album over and over and over again. On every 9/11 since, I have done the same. To this day I still wonder how Dylan could have gotten it so right, how he could have anticipated the anguish, how he could have known ahead of time that he should sing about death and tragedy and pride and war, about a "sky full of fire, pain pourin' down."

I had something of the same feeling this week as I read the second installment of Grant Morrison's Multiversity. Like Dylan's record, this story hits me hard. After the decade of war that followed the September 11 attacks, after twice electing a president who pledged to get us out and keep us out of war, after getting so much so wrong, the U.S. seems poised to do it all over again. U.S. bombs are falling in Iraq. Horrors have returned to the television news: terror, disease, war. The country is on edge. And, as if he saw it all falling apart, as if he, like Dylan, could see the future, Morrison tells this tale.

This issue details the struggles of the newly formed Society of Super-Heroes as they do battle on a 1940's style alternative Earth against invading forces from another dimension. The Society is led by a version of Doctor Fate, "Doc Fate" he wants to be called, who is an amalgam of DC's helmeted sorcerer, the pulp-fiction hero Doc Savage and the Rocketeer, and who is arguably the most interesting version of the character to ever see print. It is a good story. Sprouse's character designs and settings, from airplane battles to jungle warfare, are near-perfect. Morrison seems to relish the opportunity to tell stories about alternative versions of established characters, twisting the familiar to make us look at it as if we had never seen it before. His Immortal Man is an undying force for good; his Black Hawks are a strong squadron of women; his Green Lantern, Abin Sur, is a horned demon; his Mighty Atom is a also a bit Doctor Manhattan. (And a bit Superman?)

These heroes are tired; they are tired from years of war. They are already weary when the guns of war begin to sound anew, when reality itself is threatened by an enemy at once both foreign and familiar. They watch America fall; they resort to torture; they compromise their morals; they see their fears realized, see their fears play out right before their eyes. Their actions come back to haunt them; their efforts to end the war and to right the world unleash something even worse.

And then, to drive the point home, Morrison gives the warning, makes the threat seem even more real, lets the reader know that the events on that Earth are not that different from the events on this Earth. A desperate Immortal Man puts out the call, the SOS. "Tell your people, your super-people, that it won't stop here. It's coming your way, too. And if you have no super-people, may the lord have mercy."

Well, we have no super-people. Not on this Earth. Not a one. No Immortal Man, no Black Hawk Squadron, no Mighty Atom, no Green Lantern, no Doc Fate.

May the lord have mercy, indeed.

This is how I feel as the world falls back into turmoil, as if it ever found its way out. This is how I feel with all that death on my television screen, as I stand slack-jawed in my pajamas, hug my wife, try to explain it all to my children, play Love and Theft one more time.

"I sometimes wonder," says the Immortal Man, "how we all might have turned out if we'd never had to fight a war."

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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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