Reviews

With 'Civil War II #1' Marvel Is Hoping to Succeed Where Vanilla Ice Failed

Capturing success in a sequel is even harder than capturing lightning in a bottle a second time, but Marvel makes a fearless attempt, here.


Oliver Copiel

Civil War II

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $5.99
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Publication date: 2016-06-01
Amazon

There's a reason why some one-hit wonders are destined to fail in any effort to recapture their initial success. As Vanilla Ice and everyone whoever did the Macarena can attest, it's easy to get burned out on something when it's overdone and overexposed. Capturing that same success is even harder than capturing lightning in a bottle a second time. At least lightning obeys the laws of nature. Those that consume media tend to scoff at those laws in ways that frustrate every marketing department that ever existed.

This same dynamic applies to major crossover events in comics. Sometimes, the time and place is right for such an event. Mark Millar's work on Civil War couldn't have come out at a better time. It was a time when issues like the Patriot Act and pre-emptive war actively shaped the mindset of the American public. It's hard to determine whether the time and place is right for Civil War II, but Marvel is rolling the dice, hoping it can succeed where Vanilla Ice failed.

Civil War II #1 ignites a conflict that promises to divide Marvel's iconic heroes every bit as much as the Superhero Registration Act/Sokovia Accords. It's a conflict that, much like its predecessor, reflects real-world issues in maintaining a safe and just society. It's all built around the prospect of punishing crime before it occurs. It's an untenable concept outside of a North Korean court, but in a world where there are enough psychics to start their own baseball team, it's a legitimate issue to discuss.

Brian Michael Bendis makes it a point to make this discussion the main driving force of the narrative, but it's the spectacle built around that driving force that gives Civil War II #1 an impact that rivals its predecessor. The story doesn't actually start with the debate. It starts with a full-fledged, unambiguous triumph. It's the kind of triumph usually reserved for the end of a crossover story after every effort is made to make the heroes the underdogs. Bendis effectively flips that script in the best possible way.

A rogue Celestial invades, the heroes of the Marvel universe unite, and they win the day with less collateral damage than a mild Hulk rampage. At a time when every major superhero clash incurs enough damage to bankrupt Stark Industries, this feels like a refreshing novelty. However, it's the context in which this battle occurs that gives it a unique weight.

It centers around Ulysses, a recently-formed Inhuman who has the ability to accurately see the future. He's the reason why every hero of the Marvel universe was able to effectively coordinate against a Celestial attack. He shows that with enough warning, prep time, and access to Tony Stark's credit cards, there aren't many threats that Earth's mightiest heroes can't deal with. In the grand scheme of superhero dynamics, it makes perfect sense. Many devastating attacks are built on the element of surprise. Take that away and even Thanos on his best day can't win.

It's a rarity in modern comics, the heroes being so competent and effective in their efforts. It's rare because on paper, it makes for a boring story. There's not much drama behind Superman rescuing a cat from a tree or Captain America telling children to eat their vegetables. In some respects, it's that rarity that makes this epic battle against a Celestial so impactful. It establishes just what Marvel's greatest heroes can accomplish when they have sufficient foresight, effective coordination, and no hindrances from competing movie studios.

This easy, efficient victory leads right into the dramatic debate that echoes the conflict that gives Civil War II the impact it needs to make the narrative work. Carol Danvers and Tony Stark draw the lines and establish the sides. On Carol's side, there's the idea that they should use Ulysses' power to prevent crimes from ever happening. On Tony's side, there's the idea that the punishment shouldn't come before the crime. Both sides make valid points. Both sides make passionate arguments. Both sides are sure to divide fans and inflame message boards, but for all the right reasons.

This argument captures the most important component of the original Civil War. It creates a conflict in which both sides make valid arguments. This isn't a matter of democracy versus fascism, truth versus deceit, or The Phantom Menace versus The Empire Strikes Back. There's a case to be made by both sides. By establishing this important dynamic, Civil War II #1 succeeds at achieving its most critical goal.

With this success, the foundation for the conflict is effectively set. The two opposing sides form and the stakes are established. In terms of the big picture, Civil War II #1 checks all the right boxes. In terms of the little pictures within that big picture, however, the details are lacking. Like Deadpool at a shooting range, the narrative does jump the gun in some areas.

The pacing of the story, as well as the sequence of the events, is poorly organized and disjointed at times. It made sense to rush the battle against the Celestial because of Ulysses' impact. However, the subsequent battle against Thanos that incurred major casualties lacked the necessary context. While this didn't take away from the heavy emotions and high drama, it does come off as contrived to some extent.

Despite the disorganization and inconsistencies, Civil War II #1 hits the ground running in all the right ways for all the right reasons. Brian Michael Bendis succeeds in capturing the same spirit that Mark Millar captured with the original Civil War. It doesn't try too hard to be exactly like its predecessor. It doesn't try to radically reinvent the concept either. Civil War II strikes a perfect balance between the fresh and the familiar. It succeeds where so many one-hit wonders fail.

It may be too late for Vanilla Ice, but the timing is perfect for this latest Marvel spectacle.

8

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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