'A-Force #1' Is Gender-Neutral Awesome

How to make an all-female team of heroes awesome for all genders.

A-Force #1

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writers: Marguerite Bennett, G. Willow Wilson, Jorge Molina
Publication Date: 2015-7

There was once a time when the epitome of girl power was the Spice Girls. Take the same pre-packaged, heavily processed concoction that created boy bands and use women instead. Somehow that’s supposed to celebrate all things feminine. To be fair, that was the late 90s. It was a time when Nicholas Cage was still considered an A-list actor and the concept of strong female characters was limited to characters played by Sigourney Weaver.

Now the concept of strong female characters has become a mainstream concept and A-Force #1 is put in a position to capitalize on that concept. The timing couldn’t be better. Marvel has been the championship surfer riding the wave of female characters that have risen to prominence in recent years. Characters like Batgirl, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, and Kamala Khan have shown that they can carry their own weight without having to dress like Emma Frost. With Secret Wars in full swing, there’s enough chaos and confusion to do something different that doesn’t involve just flipping the boy band formula.

Battleworld has created a new environment for female characters from multiple eras to come together for a singular struggle. It’s an environment where every character is free of baggage, reduced to their purest form. It’s like taking football players from multiple eras and putting them on the same team when they’re playing at an all-pro level. It has every conceivable detail to work with. And in A-Force #1, the result is rich in substance yet incomplete in scope.

The domain of Arcadia is by far the most appealing locale in Battleworld to date. It’s a land that is devoid of zombies, killer robots, or evil clones. In the context of the Marvel universe, it might as well be an endangered species. It feels like a world that might actually be worth living in and not just because it’s protected by a team of beautiful women. In fact, the concept that Arcadia is protected by a team of women is almost secondary. The story never focuses on it or uses it to make a statement of sorts. It’s just how Arcadia functions. It may upset the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world, but few others will really notice it.

This in and of itself is an important accomplishment. By not focusing on gender, the story isn’t about a domain that’s protected by a team of superpowered women. It’s about a domain whose protectors just happen to be superpowered women. Their gender is a non-issue. They don’t do anything that a team of male heroes wouldn’t. They police their world, look out for one another, and develop close friendships. And they do this without coming off as a Sex in the City re-run.

Beyond the accomplishment, the story has the same themes and conflicts as other domains of Battleworld. It doesn’t matter that Arcadia is peaceful and protected by a team of women. It’s still subject to the same rules imposed by Dr. Doom. That means that when one of them breaks a rule, they suffer the same consequences. In this story, it’s Miss America who runs afoul of Dr. Doom’s rules. And when it comes to his rules, Dr. Doom practices strict gender equality. That alone puts him above 90 percent of the countries on Earth, which is a disturbing thought.

Like other residents of Battleworld, Miss America learns the hard way that Dr. Doom doesn’t like it when one domain encroaches on another. It’s not just for invasions either. Miss America threw a dead shark over the shields dividing their domains. That counts as an extreme version of littering and Dr. Doom is as strict as Singapore when it comes to that policy.

It leads to an emotional struggle within A-Force. They know the rules like everyone else. They try to protect their friend from the consequences. They don’t succeed. They don’t get special treatment. They don’t even try to flirt their way out of it. Miss America still has to pay for her crimes and it weighs heavy on her friends. It’s a toll that’s actually more compelling than a giant shark attacking Arcadia. It’s a nice change of pace, but it’s also part of the primary flaw in this story.

The conflict is triggered by an attack from a giant shark. It’s a conflict that is only slightly more engaging than the last Sharknado movie. While it does give A-Force a chance to show what they can do as a team, it lacks the kind of epic scale that has helped make Secret Wars feel like a multi-dimensional royal rumble. It’s practically glossed over. It’s basically a teaser trailer to the emotional struggle involving Miss America, minus the bad one-liners and annoying voice-overs.

That’s not to say the shark attack was completely without merit. It’s an issue that A-Force seeks to investigate. It’s an investigation that also coincides with the unexpected arrival of another female character. However, the connections are limited and the flow of events gets somewhat choppy. It’s like watching the Godfather on cable with poorly timed commercials interrupting the narrative.

Flaws aside, A-Force #1 creates an appealing, engaging world that’s worth exploring. It’s not some grand utopian vision where women rule the world and all is well. It’s not some dystopian horror where an army of Don Drapers rule either. It’s a world that offers fertile ground with which to explore these female characters, minus convoluted romantic entanglements and radical feminist undertones.

This is also a world where the strength of women takes center stage and they do it without denigrating men. On paper, it shouldn’t feel like such a novel concept. Maybe it says something about both genders when something so refreshing also feels so unfamiliar. It’s not that the idea of strong female characters not having to beat up arrogant male characters is new. It’s just that someone finally took the time to tell that story in a way that all genders can appreciate.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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