Comics

Divisions in a Dystopian Present in 'Civil War II: X-men #1'

A bad situation brings out a different kind of drama within the X-men.


Andrea Broccardo

Civil War II: X-men

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Publication date: 2016-06-15
Amazon

It's an unspoken rule that no superhero team can say they've arrived until they experience a dystopian future. By that standard, the X-men are seasoned pros. There are so many dystopian futures that the Watcher probably gets migraines keeping track of them. Another dystopian future for the X-men at this point has about the same impact as shooting Deadpool in the head. It's so routine that it's downright boring.

That's what makes the setup for Civil War II: X-men #1 so intriguing. This isn't a dystopian future for the X-men. This is a dystopian present. Granted, the present is rarely ideal for the X-men. Killer robots attack at least once a week and the Xavier Institute gets blown up every couple of months, it seems. However, the current status quo for the X-men and the mutant race as a whole is as dire as any future that doesn't involve a Brett Ratner movie.

Between the off-screen death of Cyclops and the spread of M-pox, the X-men's present has a lot of room for improvement. That makes their role in Civil War II more meaningful than most. They have reasons for improving the present beyond preventing another Thanos attack. The ethics, context, and consequences of utilizing an Inhuman who can accurately predict the future remain central to the themes of Civil War II, but those themes take on new dimensions with Civil War II: X-men #1.

The sequence of events and the ramifications of these events closely mirror those of Civil War II. The conflict is built around a threat that is resolved with stunning efficiency by Marvel standards. This efficiency is due to the foresight provided by Ulysses, an Inhuman who can predict the future in ways that stock brokers can only dream of. It's not on the same level of a renegade Celestial, an vindictive Thanos, or drunk Juggernaut, but it's a conflict that sets the right stage.

Cullen Bunn even makes the conflict relevant to ongoing struggles in recent X-men comics. The Terrigen Mists are still circling the Earth, poisoning and sterilizing mutants in ways that can't be blamed on Wanda Maximoff's mental health this time. Bunn's team in Uncanny X-men and Jeff Lemire's team in Extraordinary X-men are both major players in this struggle, but they've never crossed paths or coordinated until Civil War II: X-men #1. It's overdue, but Bunn makes it worth the wait.

The coordination between teams is friendly at first, at least as much as any team-up where one side employs Magneto and Sabretooth. They work together to do what X-men have always done, protecting innocent mutants from a looming threat. They succeed in this. Bunn even takes time to show that characters in both teams still have close connections with one another. It's a small, but vital detail because it adds weight to the argument that forms.

Once the innocent mutants are safe and Magneto's team starts asking questions, the friendly team-up ends and another civil war within Civil War II begins. It happens the moment Magneto's team learns about Ulysses, thanks to some psychic insight from Psylocke and Monet. What he learns concerns him and for once, Magneto's concerns are actually valid. For a character whose concerns usually revolve around terrifying the entire human race, this is pretty striking.

Bunn utilizes the same dynamic that Brian Michael Bendis is using in Civil War II. There are two sides to a difficult issue. Both sides make a valid point. Only circumstances, luck, and tragedy can vindicate one side over the other, as the friends of War Machine can attest. In this case, the argument isn't just about using Ulysses' foresight to predict the future and avoid further sterilization efforts. It builds on the nature of the dystopian present the X-men now operate in.

It's very reflective of the classic conflict between Charles Xavier and Magneto. Storm favors cooperation with the Inhumans to improve the current situation for mutants. Magneto favors any other approach that won't aid the very group responsible for unleashing the Terrigen Mists. While the conflict lacks the natural charms of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, it remains very relevant and incurs a dramatic impact.

Unlike the Xavier/Magneto dynamic, both sides come off as reasonable. One side doesn't seem more inclined to hijack nuclear missiles or crash a metal asteroid in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It's the key ingredient to the chaotic concoction that makes the concept of Civil War II so dramatic. Both sides have a point to make. Both sides have a reason for fighting for their side of the argument. It's destined to pit heroes against heroes and friends against friends. In that respect, Civil War II: X-men #1 is right on schedule.

Bunn doesn't waste time creating disagreements between the two teams. He doesn't waste time having some characters question their allegiance, either. It's a messy situation that feeds off the dystopian circumstances surrounding the X-men. It gives the divide between teams a level of dramatic weight that isn't possible in a setting where the mutants aren't being sterilized and current members of the X-men aren't time-displaced.

Civil War II: X-men #1 succeeds at achieving its primary goals. It effectively injects the primary conflict in Civil War II into the X-men's current predicament. Some of the secondary goals fall somewhat short. Aside from Magneto and Storm, few other characters get a chance to say or do much. In addition, the interactions between the two teams feels muted in some areas. While their arguments are meaningful, the instigating conflict never feels like too great a spectacle.

It's the early stages of Civil War II. Characters are still choosing their sides, weighing the benefits, and wondering how likely it is that Tony Stark can win two Civil Wars in a row. In Civil War II: X-men #1, the stakes are a bit higher for the X-men. Their entire race is already sterilized, exiled, and marginalized. They really can't afford to make things any worse, lest their dystopian present become overly apocalyptic.

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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