Comics

Revealing Strengths and Vulnerabilities

Superman reveals his identity and spends a day without his powers, but he still finds a way to be a heroic ideal.


Superman #39

Publisher: DC
Price: $3.99
Writer: Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr.
Publication Date: 2015-05
Amazon

The concept of a secret identity is a lot harder to contemplate in an era where identities are only as secretive as a botched instagram post. It was probably a lot easier decades ago when only the CIA, the DEA, and George Lucas utilized elaborate camera tricks. So someone like Clark Kent could get away with having a secret identity, especially with all the skills and powers that come along with being Superman. Over his history, he’s had to elaborate and creative. He’s not like Batman, who has enough money and gadgets to make most of his identity issues go away. But in this era, elaborate and creative just isn’t enough.

This creates a logistical problem of sorts for Superman. He lives in an era where phone booths are as extinct as eight-track tapes and everyone has a camera in their pocket. Yet somehow he’s still able to keep his identity secret from his friends, his family, the NSA, and Fox News. It’s one of those issues that’s easy to shrug off because it’s been part of Superman’s mythos since the 1940s, a time when a camera cost a mortgage payment. But after discovering a new power and keeping all his secrets solely amongst the Justice League, he’s taken a chance and revealed his identity to someone.

It’s overdue and it lacks impact, but it’s still an important development. Superman #39 explores that development in wake of the conflict surrounding Ulysses. It’s a development that didn’t have much of a transition, but it still counts as a pivotal moment for Superman. It even ends up being more than pivotal. It offers a refreshing insight into what makes Superman the ideal by which all heroes are measured.

The revelation itself isn’t the center of the story. It essentially starts a conversation that ends up going way beyond the merits of a secret identity in the 21st century. Jimmy Olsen’s reaction is fairly predictable. It’s not overdone or overly dramatic. For a character like Jimmy Olsen, that’s appropriate. He’s still this wide-eyed kid who sees the world from the perspective of someone whose spirit hasn’t been crushed by mortgages, bills, and the IRS.

To Jimmy Olsen, his best friend being Superman is like finding out his best friend just bought a Ferrari. It’s shocking, but in a good way. Nobody faints. Nobody gets mad. He doesn’t whine about his friend lying to him all these years. He just accepts it and embraces this revelation. It might come off as bland, but it’s not callous. He doesn’t shrug it off or get overly worked up. And it’s because Jimmy’s reaction is so healthy that Superman can offer some perspective about what he’s going through.

In addition to revealing his identity, Superman is also dealing with not having his powers for a day. It’s one of the unfortunate side-effects of his latest DragonballZ derived ability to generate a solar flare. But not having his powers doesn’t cripple him. He doesn’t tremble with fear and he doesn’t carry himself like he’s not Superman anymore. He actually embraces the opportunity to be fully human and having someone like Jimmy Olsen to share the experience with makes it meaningful.

It’s probably the most mature way anyone has ever responded to a loss. Most people have a nervous breakdown whenever they drop their cell phone in the toilet. Superman lost the power that makes him Superman. That’s a lot more serious than simply not being able to Tweet from an elevator. But this loss doesn’t cause Superman to curl up into a fetal position and pray to Rao for the strength. It doesn’t even stop him from being Superman and this is where the true impact of the story shows.

Even though he’s fully human and completely vulnerable, Superman still doesn’t hesitate to help people in need. When a girl falls out of a tree, he helps her. When a crazed gunman takes a hostage, he does something about it. He does it when he’s just Clark Kent in normal street clothes. He also does it while he’s wearing his Superman armor. Not having his powers doesn’t change that in the slightest. He’s still Superman. He can still be the hero everyone needs him to be without his powers. In that sense, even other heroes who might complain about not being able to lift a freight train have no excuse.

The story doesn’t contain much in the form of style, nor does it offer anything decidedly epic like Superman’s final battle against Ulysses. But it does offer a beautiful reminder of why Superman is so iconic. It shows that Superman doesn’t do what he does because of his powers. In fact, his powers wouldn’t even rank in top five in terms of reasons why he’s the ideal by which all heroes are measured. He does the right thing, regardless of whatever power he may or may not have. That ideal is and always has been Superman’s greatest power.

This underlying theme is the greatest strength of the story. It’s a theme worth reinforcing. It’s easy to forget in between clashes with Lex Luthor and battles against alien warlords that Superman is more than the breadth of his powers. There will always be some satisfaction to the stories where he decks Lex Luthor and flies off with Lois Lane into the sunset. But there’s a different kind of satisfaction in stories that show why Superman embodies the ideals of so many heroes before and since his creation. It could be argued that him punching out Lex Luthor is more satisfying, but reinforcing those ideals is definitely more meaningful.

The story in Superman #39 isn’t overly epic. Revealing his identity to Jimmy Olsen doesn’t make for an overwhelming narrative, but it still does so in a meaningful way. It just ends up becoming secondary once Superman gets a chance to be Superman without his powers. It’s easy to be inspired by a man who isn’t afraid to do the right thing even when he can’t punch through a brick wall. But with or without Superman’s powers, it still doesn’t make glasses a viable disguise.

All art including from Superman #39 by Johns and Romita, published by DC.

8

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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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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