Reviews

They're Making a Movie About Ant-Man: "Ant-Man #1"

Ant-Man learns that living small (in his case, really small) can sometimes be better than living large if it means that you get to be with your kids, watch them grow, dry their tears, all that stuff.


Ant-Man #1

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 33 pages
Writer: Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas
Price: $4.99
Publication Date: 2015-03
Amazon

They're making a movie about Ant-Man.

I saw the teaser on TV. It came at the end of Agent Carter, which was really quite good. Agent Carter, I mean. It was fun and exciting, serious but joyful. I'm already hooked.

The teaser for Ant-Man, on the other hand, was kind of disappointing. I was looking forward to and had imagined it was going to be bombastic and fun, like the trailers for the original Iron Man or last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy. Instead, it was kind of quiet, predictable. Michael Douglas did a voice over as Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man. Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, the current Ant-Man, looked tired. He tried a couple of jokes but they fell kind of flat.

Sometimes the movie is better than the trailer. Maybe this will be one of those times, but I don’t know.

Ant-Man seems like a tough nut to crack. Edgar Wright worked on it for a long time and then went away. Apparently he couldn't crack it. I don't know what happened there.

I mean, it is a pretty silly concept – all Incredible Shrinking Man – all Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Plus, Ant-Man can talk to ants, sort of like Aquaman talks to fish. He can get them to do whatever he wants them to do. He rides on their backs, commands their tiny armies, flies the winged varieties through the air.

Pretty "ri-goddamn- diculous". (To gratuitously quote John Wayne.)

Scott Lang's character is, arguably, even tougher than Hank Pym's. Pym is, after all, a superhero of the brilliant scientist variety – part Tony Stark's Iron Man, part Reed Richard's Mister Fantastic. We've seen that before. Genius inventor, cool gadgets and super powers.

Lang, on the other hand, is a thief. He didn’t achieve superhero status through the brilliance of his own mind or through the hand of blind fate. He went out and he stole it.

Plus, his motivations aren't very superheroic. He's not driven by a sense of justice, or a sense of guilt, or a sense of destiny.

He's just a dad who's trying to do what's right for his daughter. Sometimes that means being a thief, sometimes that means being a superhero, sometimes that means being a "bit of both." (To gratuitously quote Star-Lord.)

There aren’t many superheroes who are superheroes just because they are trying to be good parents. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, superheroes hardly have any families at all, unless you count Thor's Asgardian family, but that's a little different isn't it?

Lang's Ant-Man is just an ordinary guy who happens to have a suit that allows him to shrink and command ant armies. He uses these powers to do the same kinds of things the rest of us ordinary shumcks do, without any power. He tries to make a little money to give his daughter a good life, tries to be there for her when she needs him. It's not about him. It's not about justice or vengeance or destiny. It's just about her.

This is why making a movie about him seems so hard. It's not just the ridiculous shrinking and ant control powers, it's the ordinariness of it. Using what comes your way, scratching out what little luck you can find to do what's right for your family isn't the plot of a superhero movie. Minus the shrinking and the ant control, that's just my life. Probably yours too.

That's why I love the first issue of Nick Spencer's new Ant-Man comic. He gets this about the character, I think. He gets that this Ant-Man's origin, and thus his motivation, are rooted in his parenthood. And, along with artist Ramon Rosanas, Spencer tells a story in this first issue that I am convinced would indeed make a fine film, even without all that bombast that we've come to expect from Marvel movies. This story has all the Ant-Man stuff, all the ridiculous shrinking, all the ant armies under mind control. It has snarky humor. It has action. It has fun.

What it doesn’t have is a super villain. (Well, it has one rather inconsequential one.) What it doesn’t have is a world-ending threat. What it doesn't have is some heavy sense of justice, right over wrong, vengeance is mine saith the Lord. It's just the story of a man, a dad, who needs a job in order to take care of his daughter.

I can identify.

Of course, other superheroes have children. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman have two. Batman, I suppose, has had a whole succession of them – and, like George Foreman, he gave them all the same name. But these heroes don't act like real parents. Reed and Sue hire a witch to take care of their offspring while they go off to save the world, or pack them up and take them along for the ride. Batman, well what Batman has done to his kids is just plain weird.

But Scott Lang, Ant-Man, in this story acts like a real dad. He bends the rules as far as he can to do what he needs to do for his daughter. He gives up his dreams, and a lucrative career, just to be with her. He learns that living small (in his case, really small) can sometimes be better than living large if it means that you get to be there by her side, watch her grow, dry her tears, all that stuff.

Nick Spencer's Ant-Man, shrinking power and ant control notwithstanding, isn't much of a superhero.

That's okay. It really is, because so far he seems like a pretty good dad.

I'd watch a movie about that.

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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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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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