The Death of Captain America

"The Iconographies" is a series of weekly features focusing on iconic moments, creators, characters or publications in the ongoing 'biography' of graphic literature. This edition looks at the 2007 death of Marvel superhero, Captain America.

"He came to us wearing the flag", Mark Millar observes of Steve Rogers' Captain America in Ultimates: Grand Theft America. Pithy but also cutting, this observation allows Millar to subtly suggest that perhaps the most visible part of Captain America, his patriotism, fails to fully exhaust the range of the character's iconography. Beyond the hyperrealist machismo of "Ultimate Cap", beyond the character's ultra-conservative political leanings, Millar paints a Captain America in the throes of an impalpable despair. Cut off not only from loved ones, but also from his entire life and culture, Rogers shoulders the burden of being a national icon without complaint.

What Millar exposes is not so much a Captain America as father figure to the national psyche (this seems to be the most reductive and most common portrayal of the Captain America character), but Captain America as the nation's granddad. Blue-collar tough, retired, honest and kind, but also cantankerous, harsh and shrewd. Millar's Ultimate Captain America comes to epitomize the retiree; isolated from his peers, but also alienated from the everyday tasks that once gave his life meaning.

The 1960's decision of then Marvel Editor-In-Chief Stan Lee, to return Captain America to the company's active publication schedule (after the character being "retired" at the end of World War II) would mark the character as one of the most engaging and richly-textured creations in popular fiction. First published by Timely (later to become Marvel) in the 1941, wartime Captain America was a character study in patriotism. Along with his fellow Invaders, Captain America infiltrated Nazi-occupied Europe and completed counter-insurgency missions. But by the end of the War, Captain America's publication was discontinued. It was Stan Lee who then resurrected the character for the 1960's in Avengers issue #4. To provide logical continuity, Steve Rogers was discovered to have been frozen in ice at the end of the War, only to be brought back to life two decades hence.

Lee's decision would also mark a radical shift in the character's iconography. No longer simply the story of a spirited American overcoming great personal odds and confronting global tyranny, Captain America in the 1960's equally became the story of the alienation (both from community and the meaning given by a working life) experienced during retirement. Little more than a teenager himself, Stan Lee would give a voice to fears of the Baby-Boom generation. Fears that would only be confronted decades hence as Baby-Boomers themselves began to prepare for retirement. It was Lee's vision that would prove indispensable to Millar's richly-textured portrait of Ultimate Captain America. Millar's vision of Captain America in Marvel's Ultimate publication brand, would also emphasize the futuristic nature of the character.

Millar would show how Captain America was not a meditation on anachronistic lives. Whether an image of the retiree who finds themselves awash in a world without personal meaning, or a proponent of dated political values, Millar would convince readers that Captain America does not yearn towards the past. The rustic caricature of Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle drinking with ghosts and falling asleep in the Catskills only to rise a generation later is not the proper fit for Captain America. Instead Captain America, particularly Millar's Captain, is better articulated by a pulp character like Buck Rogers. As an astronaut, Buck Rogers represents the pinnacle of technological sophistication, only to find himself catapulted forward in time to an era of scientific wonder even he can barely comprehend. In the 1940's Captain America proves to be a technological miracle. Like Buck Rogers, it is the human condition he encounters in the future that proves science-fictional, rather than he himself being anachronistic. It is this subtle inversion, that it is our own world that is garish and out-of-time, that better writers have frequently developed as part of their vision of Captain America.

Even with the science-fictional elements in place, Lee's resurrection of Captain America in the 1960's proves something of a double-edged sword. Lee's infusion of the man-out-of-time theme into the broader Captain America iconography, opens the character to a discourse of corporate values and opens the debate on the postwar corporatization of American society. Captain America as retiree, retirement as divorce from the responsibilities and duties that gave a life meaning, and the invariable collapse back into working life.

Millar again would touch on this theme of corporatization by presenting our own world as a gaudy media-circus. In it superheroes are paraded as A-list celebrities while serving the collusion of interests of national security (embodied in Nick Fury), corporate ideals (Iron Man), military deployment (Captain America) and radical environmentalism (Thor). But Millar's articulation of the themes of corporatization in Captain America represents only one possible engagement. Time and again, Captain America would be dubious of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel's fictional intelligence-gathering and security outfit. Although cooperating in S.H.I.E.L.D. missions, Rogers would not fall into blindly following orders. In his relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D., and in the wake of the Watergate affair, Captain America would become the dissenting voice of national ideals in the face of encroaching government or corporate interests. Yet, after 40 years of publication, the portrayal of Captain America living out a grandfatherly retirement from corporate life in a garish, science-fictional world loses its cultural impact as the generational perspective of the Baby-Boomers grow more distant.

With the "Death of Captain America" event in 2007 two writers offer radical innovation on the Captain America mythography while revitalizing the themes of corporatization, retirement and the extension of familial roles into the public sphere.

In Fallen Son Jeph Loeb eulogizes the assassinated Captain in a five-part story where each chapter deals one of the five stages of grief. Recounting Denial, Anger, Bargaining Depression and ultimately Acceptance through the eyes of other superheroes who lived through and were deeply affected by Steve Rogers' death, Jeph Loeb mourns the loss of his own son Sam Loeb, lost to cancer in 2005. Just as he lost his own son, Loeb wanted to painted a portrait of Captain America as everyone's son, he tells NPR's Talk of the Nation. Painting Captain America as a child of national interest evokes a compassionate responsibility to nurture Captain America seldom seen in the character's depiction.

Ed Brubaker, who wrote the fateful issue #25 wherein Captain America was fired on by a sniper, comments on the constraints of Captain America's patriotism dominating his public perception. In a New York Daily News interview he suggests, "What I found is that all the really hard-core left-wing fans want Cap to be standing out on and giving speeches on the street corner against the George W. Bush administration, and all the really right-wing fans all want him to be over in the streets of Baghdad, punching out Saddam Hussein".

With the assassination and subsequent death of Captain America, Brubaker passes the mantle on to James Buchanan Barnes, Rogers' wartime kid sidekick, "Bucky". Captured by postwar by Soviet military intelligence, Barnes was brainwashed into becoming their deniable assassin, the Winter Soldier. In the 18 issues that follow on from Steve Rogers' assassination, Barnes as the new Captain America must confront the corporatization of American life for himself. The Red Skull, Rogers' chief adversary and the man ultimately responsible for Rogers' death, has infiltrated the US economy and has caused a collapse of the housing market, in turn causing an economy-wide downturn. While confronting his own dubious corporatization as hired killer (an occupation his brainwashing prevented him from resisting), the new Captain must also confront evolved villains who have weaponized the free-market system itself. Just as with the original, Brubaker constructs a Captain America that must confront corporatization just as he must his own alienation.

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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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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