Comics

CEO Supervillains: Toyo Harada & Dario Agger

Matthew Derman

The businessman bad guy is nothing new. Lex Luthor and Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) both come to mind immediately as classic comicbook villains whose main source of power is their wealth. And they’re not the only examples…

The businessman bad guy is nothing new. Lex Luthor and Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) both come to mind immediately as classic comicbook villains whose main source of power is their wealth, though neither of them run entirely legitimate operations, Fisk in particular being more of a crime boss than a corporate one. And they’re not the only examples; Obadiah Stane (Iron Monger) is just one of several business-related foes Tony Stark has dealt with over the years, and Oswald Cobblepot (the Penguin) has owned many businesses in his time, be they legal, illicit, or some combination of the two.

What, then, sets Harbinger’s Toyo Harada of Harada Global Conglomerates and Thor’s Dario Agger of the Roxxon Energy Corporation apart from their various predecessors in the field of corporate supervillainy? For one thing, they’re both relatively new characters, and as such the companies they run are modeled on the modern mega-corporation, making them that much more influential and thus more dangerous. For another, they each have their own natural superpowers, making them significant threats in their own rights, even when removed from the context of their corporations. Finally, these two specific characters make for especially nice subjects to look at together because they represent opposite sides of a spectrum, or perhaps more accurately, they are two sides of the same coin. Both claim publicly to want to save the world through their companies’ actions, but for Harada, this claim is genuine, whereas for Agger it is a bald-faced lie. Harada sees himself as humanity’s last hope for survival, and uses his influence, wealth, and superhuman powers to try and force the world to course correct as he sees fit. Agger wants to ruin the planet as efficiently and profitably as possible, and even has ambitions of doing the same other worlds, too, if he can. While many of their strategies and tools are similar, their endgames could not be more different, which makes for, if nothing else, an interesting contrast.

Toyo Harada was as much the star of Joshua Dysart and company’s recently-concluded run on Harbinger as the title’s hero, Peter Stanchek. Though Harada was firmly placed in the role of antagonist, he was far from unsympathetic. In part, that was due to his origin story; as a young child, Harada lost both of his parents to WWII, his father a soldier and his mother one of the innumerable victims of the atomic bomb. It was when the bomb fell that Harada’s powers first revealed themselves, and he used them to cope with his loss and loneliness in the best way he knew how at that young age. Harada is a psiot, the Valiant Universe’s world for someone with superhuman mental capabilities, and he may be the most powerful psiot in the world, possessing near-limitless potential. Little by little, he discovered new ways to utilize his tremendous abilities, such as protecting himself, harming his enemies, and controlling the people around him. Having been so deeply affected by the horrors of war so early in life, he grew up to be a man seeking to bring peace to humankind. But because of how effective he knows they can be, Harada often uses the tactics of war to pursue this seemingly noble goal. He recruits and trains a secret army of young psiots, mercilessly kills those who stand in his way, and generally acts like a tyrant, unwilling to consider or even really hear any opposing viewpoints or criticisms of his decisions. His egomania trumps his altruism, and this is what makes him a villain, even if we understand why he behaves that way or support his ultimate aims.

Thus far, we do not know the details of Dario Agger’s background, which may contribute to why he comes across as wholly despicable. Then again, his complete lack of empathy or regard for life would be hard to get behind regardless of his history. In public, Agger claims to want to save the world in much the same way Harada does, but privately, Agger’s ambitions are considerably more destructive. He wants to use up all of the Earth’s resources, to manipulate and mess with nature in new, experimental, reckless ways so that he can make as much money as possible in the immediate future, and he has no concern for the long-term consequences of the moves he makes. On the contrary, he fully expects his methods and madness to eventually wreck the planet, and even muses about what he will do once Earth has been sucked dry of material and cash alike, wondering if maybe moving into space will be the best way to keep the machine going. He relishes the idea of being the person who finally makes the world uninhabitable, even gloats about it. Agger isn’t just uncaring when it comes to the environment and his company’s impact on it, he’s actively hateful and spiteful. It’s a nightmare scenario, a CEO who doesn’t stop at prioritizing profits but goes a step further, seeking out new ways to do damage not merely because of the money it’ll earn him but because he enjoys being the bad guy.

Incidentally, Agger is also a minotaur, or at any rate he can turn into one. Exactly where this power comes from, or if it’s his natural state, or whatever the deal is remains unknown, part of that backstory I mentioned that has not yet been explored. It’s a fittingly horrifying form for him to take, a monstrous exterior to go with what’s inside. The strength and horns of the minotaur are also perfect for Agger’s destructive streak, allowing him to physically devastate the world around him with his own hands just like he does with his company. I imagine that his origins as a minotaur probably have a lot to do with Agger’s hatred of this world and all who live on or protect it, and perhaps once we’ve seen where he comes from, Agger will have a sympathetic side like Harada. His introduction, however, was pure darkness, evil, and self-importance, and he’s only gotten worse with each appearance, diving ever deeper into his heartlessness and insanity.

If the results they’re after are what distinguishes them from each other, it is their arrogance that most closely ties these two men together, along with, of course, their positions as the heads of major corporations. They both have so many people working under them in various capacities, and those massive staffs, combined with equally massive funds, are sort of a superpower all their own that Harada and Agger have in common. Neither of them needs to get their hands dirty in order to produce widespread wreckage; they can accomplish that by giving an order, and watch the chaos unfold from the comfort of their isolated and heavily fortified offices. They have superhuman influence, which is just as frightening as their individual powers, if not more so. The whole concept of the corporate supervillain is terrifying because each of those things, corporations and supervillains, are scary on their own. They can both get away with atrocities because of how hard it is to stand up to them, assuming anyone is even in a position to do so. So a supervillain CEO is doubly challenging to defeat, since even if you get past all the financial, legal, and physical defenses of a huge corporation, you’ve still got superpowers to deal with.

That’s why Agger and Harada make such compelling foes for the heroes of their respective series. It’s not enough to win against them in a single fight, or even to thwart any one of their evil schemes, because their companies’ other gears will just keep turning. They can be slowed down, maybe, stalled or held back, but stopping them outright is an immeasurable feat. In Harbinger, Peter Stanchek and his team, after great struggle and personal loss, did manage to dismantle Harada Global Conglomerates, and to expose Toyo Harada as the superpowered megalomaniac he really is, but even that did not shut him down entirely. Though he no longer has the same reach or protection as he once did, Harada still has his psiot army, his experience, and his immense personal power. Indeed, though Harbinger ended in the wake of Stanchek and crew’s victory, Harada is coming back in February’s Imperium, enough juice left in him to carry a second series even after the first one reached its conclusion. Stanchek’s story may be over, or at least put on pause, but Harada’s is still ongoing, the villain outlasting the hero despite a significant loss.

As for Agger, he’s barely been beaten at all yet, even on a small scale. Initially, Thor and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Roz Solomon did put an end to Agger’s plan to have Roxxon sell ice from one of Jupiter’s moons as a new source of clean water, but ever since then he’s pretty much been kicking their asses. He laid waste to Broxton, the town Asgard had been floating above for a good while, and which had become a kind of home for Thor. Agger has teamed up with trolls, unearthed the skull of a former ice giant king, and bred bears genetically designed to eat themselves to death, all without paying any kind of price so far. He’s had some difficulties here and there, as both Thor and Solomon are fiercely persistent, but Agger keeps winning nonetheless. He has no end of contingency plans, and the means to pull them all off easily, so he stays perpetually one or more steps ahead of his opponents.

Villains like Harada and Agger can’t simply get pummeled and thrown into jail, only to bust out later and try again, falling into the all-too-typical cycle of super-criminal. They are the kind of baddies that need to be defeated once and for all if you ever want them to be taken off the board for any amount of time; it’s an all-or-nothing situation, because they’re too well-protected and the scope of their villainy is too huge to be resolved with violence alone. They commit their crimes on multiple fronts, and must be battled across them all. To date, neither Agger nor Harada has been fully neutralized, even if they’ve taken a few big hits. Can they ever be eliminated? That’s certainly the expectation whenever any new supervillain is introduced, but I wonder if the final fates of these two characters might not end up being more complicated than that. Wherever they land, the trajectory of their rise and fall is bound to be impressive and terrifying, just like everything else they do.

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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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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