Comics

Body-Swapping Superhero Slapstick in 'All-New Wolverine Annual #1'

A body-swapping story that is high in entertainment value, but shallow in depth.


David Lopez

All-New Wolverine

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $4.99
Writer: Tom Taylor
Publication date: 2016-08-31
Amazon

When it comes to teenage superheroes, there's a certain set of assumptions that tend to limit their story. They have to be awkward. They have to be inept. They have to be whiny, goofy, and immature to the point where they'll fight guidance counselors as hard as any super-villain. In some respects, Peter Parker is responsible for creating this template and it seems every character is trying to copy him. The problem is such efforts leads to one too many Clone Sagas and time travelers.

It's because of these flawed assumptions surrounding teenage superheroes that X-23 is such a remarkable success story. She spits in the face of those assumptions that doom many teenage superheroes trying too hard to be another Peter Parker. Yes, she is a teenage girl. No, she is not inept, immature, or whiny. In many respects, she's more mature than some adults. Then again, in a world with Deadpool and Tony Stark, that may not be saying much.

X-23's ability to function as a well-rounded character is just part of what makes her story so compelling. Since taking the mantle of Wolverine, she keeps proving in every possible way that she's worthy of this title. Tom Taylor even spent the first few issues of All-New Wolverine having her fight a secret organization that was trying to make living weapons. It may as well have been X-23's graduation ceremony. Now, All-New Wolverine Annual #1 acts as X-23's graduation party of sorts.

Like any aspiring hero, there are certain types of conflicts that X-23 must face before she can belong in the same conversations as her predecessor. These conflicts are like initiation rituals at a club. She already passed the ritual that involves getting cloned. All-New Wolverine Annual #1 throws another at her in the form of a classic body-swapping story.

It's not a new idea. Body-swapping stories are the subject of countless superhero stories, sitcoms, and Saturday morning cartoons. Logan, during his illustriously violent life, endured this situation in a few memorable stories, most notably in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man. These stories aren't as common as clones or time travels, but these days that may actually work to their advantage.

In this case, X-23 swaps bodies with Spider-Gwen, another teenage superhero looking to graduate into higher ranks as well. Taylor's approach to the story is very similar to the one told in Ultimate Spider-Man. There's no elaborate setup. Both characters wake up in different bodies with no clue how it happened. This leads to some confusing, but funny moments.

Cars are damaged. Drum sets are broken. Rock concerts are cut short. It's laughably chaotic. That's to be expected of teenage characters who aren't body-swapped, let alone swapped with someone in an alternate universe. Once the hilarity wears off though, there are a lot of questions that need answering. This is where the slapstick humor of body-swapping undermines the actual story.

Naturally, X-23 and Spider-Gwen have to find each other and team up to fix this. Even when alternate universes are involved, that's surprisingly easy. It leads to some more standard body-swapping antics. They have to explain to one another how their powers work. They have to adjust their tactics in a fight. It makes for some clumsy action and David Lopez's artwork here does a nice job of depicting that. The problem comes when the source of these body-swapping antics is revealed.

These answers to the burning questions that kick-started the story end up being overly bland. The forces behind this mind-swapping, multi-verse hopping conflict aren't exactly rubbing elbows with Dr. Doom, Thanos, and Mephisto. In fact, the main culprit in this case ends up having such a weak stomach that X-23 and Spider-Gwen don't really have to defeat her. What happens is basically an elaborate misunderstanding combined with misplaced emotions.

While this keeps the tone of the story light-hearted, it makes the impact of the overall story feel somewhat inane. Throughout All-New Wolverine, X-23 regularly deals with forces trying to shoot, stab, eat, or clone her. Along the way, there are various elements, such as the addition of her clone-sister Gabby, to balance the tone with a sense of heart and melodrama. In this case, however, there's nothing to really balance.

Gabby and her pet wolverine don't get to play a role. Spider-Gwen doesn't get to do much other than get caught in the crossfire. X-23 doesn't even get overly mad at being body-swapped. That's somewhat appropriate, given how often she gets shot and attacked in this series. Being body-swapped may actually be a reprieve of sorts, but the story behind it is too flat to have an impact.

There's still value in the story overall. All-New Wolverine Annual #1 is a fun, light-hearted narrative that gives X-23 a chance to interact with another aspiring teenage superhero who lives in the shadow of another. Given how Logan crossed over with pretty much every team in the Marvel universe at some point, along with more than his share of alternate versions, it's safe to say that X-23 continues that tradition here.

The story still lacks in some key components, but it still has all the overplayed features we would expect of a body-swapping story. Two characters swap bodies, they fumble around hilariously, and they come together to fix this mess. It's a simple formula and All-New Wolverine Annual #1 sticks to it for the most part. It doesn't try to overachieve beyond its worth. It doesn't lower the bar either. Overall, this issue acts as another step in X-23's evolution as the new Wolverine. So long as she can avoid Clone Sagas and avoid falling in love with redheads, it's safe to say she's on the right track.

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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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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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