Comics

Living in a (Fleeting) Moment With 'All-New, All Different Avengers #4'

A new era of Avengers brings a new and fitting narrative.


Mahmud Asrar

All-New, All-Different Avengers

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Mark Waid
Publication date: 2015-01-27
Amazon

There's a reason why the YOLO (You Only Live Once) meme became annoying quicker than a failed American Idol audition. As a concept, it's not inherently wrong. Despite what some world religions might claim, we only know for certain that we have one life to live. In the Marvel Universe, however, the concept becomes a bit more flawed and a lot more complicated.

It's not just because death in comics is a revolving door. Because of retcons, reboots, and clones the concept of living in the moment might as well come with an asterisk, *live in the next moment, too, and the next, and the next... That still doesn't stop some characters from embracing the concept in a completely non-hipster type way. It's the primary lesson conveyed on All-New, All-Different Avengers #4, and it's conveyed in a way that even the cynical and the jaded can appreciate.

Mark Waid was tasked with assembling a new team of Avengers in the post-Secret Wars world. It sounds like a simple task, but when billion-dollar movie franchises are built on these teams, the stakes are a bit higher than merely placating fickle fanboys. Waid still rose to the occasion, creating a team of Avengers that includes familiar faces, rising stars, and a solid mix of diversity. While Glen Beck hasn't complained about it yet, it's a team that reflects a fitting and appropriate sentiment for 2016: diversity matters.

The first three issues of the series was a standard coming together story. It wasn't nearly as epic as one of Kevin Fiege's big-budget blockbusters, but it still offered the same heroic themes, minus the bloated price of a movie ticket. All-New, All-Different Avengers #4 offers the first real insight into how this new team of Avengers functions and it does so in a way that never feels like a bad reality show or a '60s-era sitcom.

There's a real insight into this new team that feels genuine and balanced. It's basically the complete antithesis of the team dynamics we see in Lethal Weapon movies. There are very different personalities with characters like Nova, Ms. Marvel, and Vision. However, those personalities find a way to mesh in a manner that never feels forced. They don't need a drill sergeant or football coach to whip them into shape. They're not the Cleveland Browns. They're the Avengers.

When they get a chance to demonstrate their competence as Avengers, they pass the test. They don't necessarily pass with flying colors, but when the enemy involved is Cyclone, the test is graded on a curve. He's no Red Skull. Even Hugo Weaving couldn't make Cyclone an intimidating threat. However, he does give this new team of Avengers a chance to shine. While the scope of their efforts are as generic as a traffic jam on the Jersey Turnpike, the battle against Cyclone reflects the new normal for this era of Avengers.

It's not just the diversity that makes this new team of Avengers feel appropriate. It comes back to those sensibilities that we, the society of 2016, have developed in recent years. It's no longer enough for the Avengers to show up, fight monsters, punch the Red Skull in the face, and tell kids to eat their vegetables. As the backlash against movies like Man of Steel have shown, modern audiences care about civilian casualties. Indeed, in an era when the failures of our heroes are more scrutinized than ever, society is much less forgiving of missteps and oversights.

The Avengers in this conflict go out of their way to protect the civilians caught in Cyclone's attack. It takes up a good chunk of the fight. While Cyclone eventually gets knocked out in the same tradition as the Red Skull, the emphasis on protecting civilians adds an important dynamic to what would otherwise be the superhero equivalent of a typical Tuesday.

Beyond the new dynamics of a diverse, civilian-focused Avengers, there is another moment that adds weight to an otherwise typical clash in the new Prime Marvel universe. It comes in the form of a kiss between the new Captain America, Sam Wilson, and the new Thor, Jane Foster. In this case, the cover isn't an elaborate form of trolling in the tradition of Action Comics #600 or Astonishing X-men #14. This kiss does happen, but it's not the kind of kiss that will appeal to the Twilight crowd.

This moment between Sam Wilson and Jane Foster is another keen reflection on 2016 sensibilities. It comes after both characters get reminded that they look nothing like Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth. There are fans, even within the comic itself, that whine about Captain America and Thor not being the "classic" versions. However,, Sam and Jane deal with it in the best way possible and it doesn't involve whining to a moderator.

The two characters kiss. They do so after Sam laments about living up to the high bar set by Steve Rogers. Jane, whose true identity is still a mystery to everyone on the team, understands that these are unreasonable standards set by unreasonable people who make unreasonable comments on the internet. The kiss is just a good way of reinforcing her point and shutting him up.

At the same time, however, it isn't conveyed as a kiss that will create Marvel's next big power couple. This is not their response to DC's efforts with Superman and Wonder Woman. At the very most, this is rather like an awkward kiss at the end of a junior prom. In the context of the story, this is probably for the best.

This kiss and the dynamics built around it give All-New, All-Different Avengers #4 just the right impact. There's a sense of hope, albeit fleeting, that this team can function in 2016 in all its unique sensibilities. Mark Waid has taken a diverse cast with iconic names and made it feel genuine. Glen Beck may still protest at some point, but that would only confirm that this new team of Avengers is doing something right.

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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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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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