Reviews

The High Cost of Living in 'Secret Wars #5'

Like Yahweh of old, Doctor Doom walks through the Garden of Eden that is his own creation, himself more a tempter than any serpent.


Secret Wars #5

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Price: $3.99
Author: Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic
Publication Date: 2015-10
Amazon

Another Fantastic Four movie has come and gone, another chance to capture the majesty and menace of Doctor Doom wasted. Way back when, in 2005, Julian McMahon's Doom was theatrical and campy (while Michael Chiklis' Thing, if right in spirit, was more Muppet than Marvel). This time around, Toby Kebbell's Doom was annoying and unnecessary (while Jamie Bell's Thing was undeveloped and pantsless).

But now, in the latest issue of Jonathan Hickman's and Esad Ribic's Secret Wars, Doctor Doom is sheer perfection. Their Doom is complex and fully developed, menacing and powerful—a character worthy of his role as the central figure at the heart of Marvel's summer mega-event and as the god of Battleworld. Hickman and Ribic make it clear that Hollywood's failure to make Doom interesting is not the fault of the character. That failure rests on the shoulders of Hollywood alone.

Ribic's Doom is a study in pencil. He is gray and ever changing, like a storm cloud on the horizon; he is beautiful yet menacing, fluid yet solid as a stone. The shadows of his cape are cast in graphite lines. His terror mask gleams and then absorbs the light. Ive Svorcina colors Doom in white and gray, blue and orange, green and black so that Doom is like a thundercloud against the sunset, a rainbow in the heart of a storm. For a face that is hidden behind a mask, Ribic makes Doom appear truly alive, more alive than any human actor that ever donned the mask, that is for sure. Now Doom's mouth is agape; now his eyes are unblinking and wide.

Ribic's imagery is sustained, if not surpassed, by Hickman's story. His Doom has taken on the burden of godhood and it shows. This Doom has killed his partner and friend and has thus forced himself into a web of his own lies and half-truths. Like Yahweh of old, he walks through the Garden of Eden that is his own creation, himself more a tempter than any serpent.

His daughter has doubts to which Doom responds with threats. "Undying love and eternal patience are not the same thing, child. Do not confuse them," he says to her in a moment of coldly menacing anger. Yet, when she seeks to comfort him in his grief over the loss of his friend, we feel his wearying sorrow just a clearly. "We live our lives defined by the choices we make. And in the end, the high cost of living is death". That's what he says to her. And then, in a way that drives the point home—the point of his own brokenness, his grief, his need for confession—he says something else. He says, "We all deserve better".

He repeats those words later, at least the first of them, in a revelatory scene with Molecule Man. It is a scene that sheds much light on the mysteries of Secret Wars, on the death of the Marvel multiverse and the birth of the Battleworld. It is more interesting for the light that it sheds on Doom. Like the gods of mythology, this deity known as Doom trucks in half-truths and in aphorisms disguised as wisdom. But Molecule Man does not allow him his self-pity, does not allow him his grief nor his self-deception.

"Stephen Strange is dead", Doom says, and that at least seems to be true, though one can never tell.

"Well, well, now. Isn’t that a surprise"? Owen Reece, the Molecule Man, responds. "Was it cancer? It's always cancer".

"No," Doom replies. "It was inner decay of a different sort. His doubt killed him".

And that of course is true, in one way but not in another. It was his doubt, for sure, but it was also his faith. Strange how those two opposites are sometimes really one and the same.

Doom has come here to Owen Reece like a sinner seeking a priest. He confesses and some of what he says is true and some of what he says is a lie—like a sinner before a priest

"I want you to know", Doom says, his eyes looking away in shame. "I want you to know that it was me who put him there".

But nothing is lost on Owen Reece, the one who died for the sins of the worlds. "I know. You think I couldn't smell the guilt on you? You reek of shame, God".

Yes, yes he does.

Hickman and Ribic have given us something that we probably don't deserve. Here, in the very heart of what is arguably the biggest crossover event in Marvel Comics history, they have given us a character study. In an issue that serves to advance the plot and elaborate the cosmic events at the heart of this big, world breaking, storyline, Hickman and Ribic take us to the heart of the matter and tell a story of pain and grief, of truth and lies. Just when I was expecting sound and fury they give us quiet conversation. Just when I was expecting gods and superheroes, they give us real people cowering before the majesty of faith and of doubt.

Hollywood, are you listening?

9

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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