It's 'Death Race 2015' in 'Ghost Racers #1'

Fast and furious! The demons take to the road! In Ghost Racers #1 the superhero genre is stretched to the limit.

Ghost Racers #1

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Felipe Smith, Juan Gedeon, Tamra Bonvillain
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2014-08
As the riders loped on by him, he heard one call his name.

"If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range,

Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride,

Tryin' to catch that Devil's herd, across these endless skies."

-- (Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend by Stan Jones

"She's gaining on us, mama, and she's got murder on her mind."

-- Fred Gandy as Herman the German in Death Race 2000 (1975)

On the outskirts of Doomstadt, the capital of Battleworld, stands the Killiseum. "Gladiator fights! Monster slaying! Executions! But no attraction so popular, exciting or dangerous as the Ghost Races!!!"

Marvel's Secret Wars summer crossover event is full of possibilities. In the aftermath of the destruction of the multiverse, Doctor Doom has created a new world where the heroes and villains of past worlds are merged together, folded together, into realms exotic and new. The premise of Secret Wars is that on Battleworld anything can happen. Combinations and settings that continuity would have never allowed are suddenly fair game. The superhero genre, at least for the summer, can be stretched to the limit.

Ghost Racers, by Felipe Smith and Juan Gedeon is a perfect example of the potential inherent in this premise. In this series, Marvel's Ghost Rider characters are thrown together to do what they do best – ride. And ride they do, around the track of the Killisuem, with blazing wheels and blazing hooves and blazing guns. The premise is simple – the demon riders are forced to race one another for the amusement of the masses and for the chance to escape from the hellish torments to which the losers are subjected.

These superheroes have been translated out of the Marvel Universe and dropped into a post-apocalyptic hellscape. It is Roger Corman's Death Race 2000, only this time the drivers' are demon possessed. In place of David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, we have Johnny Blaze, Robbie Reyes, Carter Slade, Daniel Ketch and Alejandra Jones, ghost riders all, demons behind the wheel, astride the machine, in the saddle.

Smith's story moves fast and furious as we are dropped immediately into the chanting crowds of onlookers and then, just as quickly, into the race. The engines rev and the crowds roar. The announcer draws us in and puts it all on the line. Then the demons take to the road.





Gedeon's work is marvelously good, bringing this static medium to motion, evoking speed and power and fury and vengeance with lines that seem both hurried and precise at one and the same time. Tamra Bonvillain's colors are equally fluid: brown and gray and hellfire orange against a purple sky.

The rendition of Carter "Satan Stomper" Slade is particularly compelling. In his human form, he is a quiet old man. When possessed by his demon, he is a blind cowboy zombie centaur. Six shooters in his hand, Gatling guns at his sides, the "undead throughbreed" is a revelation in Gedeon's hands. He is menacing, terrifying, hellish. Equal parts Frankenstein from Death Race 2000 and equal parts "Rider in the Sky."

And in all of this, the human hosts at the heart of this tale are not lost. We feel the losers' pain and their anger. We feel the winner's triumph and humanity. We also get a sense that Smith has something of a lesson to teach here, about the madness of crowds, the thirst for ever bigger and better thrills, the powerful interests that manipulate our desires and shape our destinies. It feels like Smith is setting us up for something even bigger than this riveting first issue, as if the charnel speed of the race track is itself a metaphor for the dangerous race that these characters are going to run, off the track as well as on, a race that those of us on our own planet may sometimes find ourselves running as well.

"She's gaining on us, mama, and she's got murder on her mind," Herman the German says to Matilda the Hun. These characters know what that means.

The fact that there can be so much of importance going on in a story about a demon race on a planet called Battleworld speaks volumes, both about the talent behind this book and the potential that Marvel has built into what is shaping up to be a Secret Wars series that is worlds better than any that have gone before.


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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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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