Comics

In 'John Carter, Warlord of Mars #4' a Warrior may Change His Metal

Marz and Malsuni manage the difficult task of remaining true to the legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs while producing a story that seems fresh and new.


John Carter, Warlord of Mars #4

Publisher: Dynamite
Length: 23 pages
Writer: Ron Marz, Abhishek Malusni
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2015-04
Amazon

The latest issue of John Carter, Warlord of Mars opens on a battlefield in Manassas, Virginia; it opens on a field of blue and grey. It is a marvelous opening, one that we are not used to seeing in a science fiction superhero comicbook. Swords clash; rifles fire; horses charge; soldiers fall; flags of north and south fly in the smoky breeze.

There is violence and there is blood.

Captain Joshua Clark of Pennsylvania -- soldier of the Union, defender of the nation, champion of emancipation -- faces his foe, Captain John Carter of Virginia.

Carter, it seems, fights for no lofty ideals, fights neither for southern pride nor for the rights of the slaveholding aristocracy. "I would see no man in bondage. But if Virginia fights . . . so does John Carter."

In most other cases, I would frown on this flippant excuse, reject this attempt at making a hero of a character who was on the wrong side of history, who fought so valiantly, so ferociously, for a cause that was so wrong. But in this case, I will accept it. I have a long history with John Carter, so such things can be excused.

They can be excused because, of course, it is this Virginia soldier who finds his way to Mars where he manages to do what had never before been done; he unites the tribes, connects the races, brings the nations together. John Carter, Warlord of Mars is friend to the red, the black, the yellow and the green. I know that his allegiance is to justice and, yes, to the sword.

But what if John Carter's Earth life somehow followed him to Mars? What if the soldier in blue somehow followed the soldier in grey to his beloved Barsoom? What if the battles fought in the lush and green American South found their way to the red and barren Martian desert?

That is precisely the story that Ron Marz and Abhishek Malsuni have been telling in the latest iteration of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic character, the original superman. The familiar supporting characters are all in place: Tars Tarkas of the savage Tharks; Woola, Martian dog and loyal companion to our hero; and Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium and John Carter's bride. And into this mix they have added this Union soldier, now the leader of an army of space faring warriors bent on conquering planet after planet and on brining vengeance upon the head of a certain Confederate captain who fights no more for Virginia but for Barsoom, for Mars.

Thus far, there is nothing especially bold or innovative in Marz's and Malsuni's version of the story. They stay pretty close to the original in many ways. Their story, "Invaders of Mars," could have been written by ERB himself. There is violence and sentimentality. Our heroes seem pure and uncomplicated. The villains are malicious and evil. Bringing another Earth soldier to Mars, and making him a long-time enemy of Carter, is a new twist but one that fits well into the accepted canon of possibilities. Malsuni's designs are true to the characters and to the planet that Burroughs created. Though, like Marz's plot, the artwork manages the difficult task of remaining traditional and true while also being fresh and new. (Colorist Nanjan Jamberi deserves a fair amount of credit for the great look of this book: uniforms of blue and grey, skin of red and green. Wow!)

All in all, I really like what is going on here. I am a fan of Burroughs and of John Carter. I don't need anyone to change things up to make them more appealing. And I can't wait to see how all of this is resolved, how John Carter along with Dejah Thoris, Tars Tarkas, Woola, and their new companion, a great white ape, manage to save their world from the invading hordes of the Kahori and the madness and vengeance of Captain Joshua Clark, Union soldier and veteran of Manassas, and Sherman's March, and Appomattox, and the Indian Wars.

Not that I'm worried. John Carter always wins. He can't possibly lose -- not with the armies of Thark and Helium at his back, not with a fleet of airships at his command, not with radium rifles in his armory, not with raw steel in his hand and Martian gravity in his step, not with Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas and Woola at his side.

After all, a warrior may change his metal, but not his heart.

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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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