Comics

Trolling the Man of Steel: Superman #41

Superman #41 feels less like a blockbuster movie and more like a teaser trailer.


John Romita Jr.

Superman #41

Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Publication 3ate: 2015-06-24
Amazon

In the movie Coming to America, Eddie Murphy plays a disillusioned prince in Akeem Joffer, who kept a pretty big secret from the woman he loved. Granted, being the prince of a rich African nation is not the kind of secret that would upset most women, especially in the post-Jerry Springer era. However, Akeem kept this secret from his love for all the right reasons. He wanted her to fall in love with him for who he was and not just because he was a prince.

Superman maintained a secret identity in Clark Kent for a similar reason. He couldn't be the Superman he wanted to be without an anchor to the people he wanted to protect. So what happens when he loses that anchor -- along with a good chunk of the ship it was attached to?

That's the premise of whole "Truth" arc that starts to unfold in Superman #41. It's an arc that has already unfolded on other books, such as Action Comics, Batman/Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman. These books establish that Superman's identity has been revealed to the public, Lois Lane is primarily responsible for doing so, and he's lost a sizable portion of his powers. Even by Superman standards, this is the ultimate trifecta of a bad day. Even a collective attack by Darkseid, Brainiac, and Lex Luthor can't challenge him like this. Unlike his enemies, Superman can't punch this problem into submission or inspire it do good. He has to deal with it and he must do so in a weakened state.

It continues DC's ongoing theme of stripping Superman down to his core values, removing the powers that make him almost god-like, and putting him in situation where bench pressing a small planet won't help the matter. Time and again, these situations offer compelling reminders that Superman is not just defined by his powers, he's defined by doing the right thing, even when he has the power to do otherwise. For once, Superman will have to pay a price for doing what he does.

What does that do to him as a character? The answers in Superman #41 are incomplete, but they do lay the foundation for this dramatic upheaval in Superman's life.

The main conflict is fairly basic, but nicely refined in that it builds on a story that was established in previous issues. Somebody is selling some very powerful, very illegal weapons that even Ted Nugant wouldn't want to own. It's up to Superman and Jimmy Olsen to stop them and uncover the truth about where these weapons are coming from. It has many of the same themes as a typical Nicholas Cage movie, but there's one major complication that prevents this from being just another Tuesday for Superman.

There's this unknown mystery figure who happens to have footage of Clark Kent turning into Superman. We don't get a clue about whom it is. There's no ominous, Morpheus-like voice. There's no CSI style shadowy figure. There's just a series of text messages that attempt to blackmail Superman. It might as well be an overly ambitious internet troll. This just isn't the kind of troll that can be blocked or muted.

This feels kind of cheap on some levels, having somebody use text messages to blackmail Superman, of all people. At the same time, there's something oddly fitting about it. In some respects, it's the state of the modern world catching up with Superman. This isn't the era of phone booths and goofy disguises anymore. This is an era when lives can be ruined with a single tweet. Just ask Anthony "Carlos Danger" Wiener. Superman has always been able to navigate the times and keep functioning as he has since the days of FDR. This time, however, even he's not powerful enough to overcome the power of internet trolls.

This isn't immediately clear to him from the beginning. Superman doesn't really take this threat very seriously at first. This is one of the biggest weaknesses of the story. The tone is almost casual in how Superman deals with this threat to his identity. He gives the impression that he can deal with it, but the very first page, which briefly flash-forwards to the future, reveals that he fails. It's somewhat of a disconnect on the path to this final outcome.

This helps feed the second major weakness of Superman #41, which is that it feels incomplete. The end result is already spoiled, both on the first page and in other associated Superman comics. In fact, this issue is way behind the curve in terms of tone and theme. It's like watching Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines before watching the first two movies. This story only sets up for Superman's identity to be revealed and not in a satisfying way, either. We know it's coming, but then it just ends too abruptly.

It's disappointing in terms of what is promised by the reveal on the first page. There's no dramatic moment where Lois Lane gasps or Twitter explodes with the revelation that Clark Kent is Superman. This may still happen in the next issue. But at this point in Superman's narrative, it just limits the kind of dramatic impact. It obscures the perspective and undermines the substance of the story.

Without that first page reveal, there's less to obscure. On its own merits, Superman #41 feels like only three-fourths of an episode of The Wire. It has the right pieces in place. The characterization of Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen is spot on. Superman knows his identity is in danger of exposure, but that doesn't stop him from doing the right thing. And the plot surrounding these mysterious weapons is one that has merit, as well. It just fails to connect these pieces in a way that feels like a polished product.

Future issues may help fill in the gaps and make those connections. On its own, however, Superman #41 feels less like a blockbuster movie and more like a teaser trailer. And in this age of cat videos and internet celebrities, that's simply no longer sufficient.

6

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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