Comics

Infighting With Underdogs in 'Civil War II: X-men #4'

The X-men battle each other, but leave a minimal impact.


Andrea Broccardo

Civil War II: X-men

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Publication date: 2016-09-21
Amazon

A balanced conflict goes a long ways towards crafting a compelling narrative. While it's possible for an arm-wrestling context between the Hulk and Howard the Duck to be entertaining, it's not a struggle that's going to be all that interesting. Civil War II goes to great lengths to create a conflict in which the divisions between characters are genuine, understandable, and intriguing. It's as balanced as any conflict can be and it doesn't even need time travel, magic, or deals with Mephisto.

Creating a balanced conflict in Civil War II: X-men is already a challenge. Before Civil War II even begins, the X-men and the entire mutant race are stuck playing a rigged game while handicapped. They're on the brink of extinction yet again. They're despised, sterilized, and a good chunk of their top characters are either dead, time displaced, or holdovers from an apocalyptic universe. Even by underdog standards, the X-men are depleted in terms of what they can bring to a conflict.

This makes the tone of Civil War II: X-men so distinct compared to other tie-ins. The X-men already lost one war against the Inhumans. Now, they have Ulysses, whose precognition powers may as well be cheat codes. Cullen Bunn goes to great lengths drawing the lines between the X-men, crafting some level of balance between those who want to work with the Inhumans and those who feel they have one too many advantages at this point. Civil War II: X-men #4 maintains that balance for the most part, but doesn't take it far enough.

There's nothing elaborate or subtle about the narrative. This final clash between Magneto's team and Storm's team is effectively streamlined into a single, simple clash. It's light on drama, but solid on details. Andrea Broccardo's art makes this clash visually engaging and well-organized. Mutant battles tend to get chaotic, but since this one doesn't involve time travelers, it's a lot easier to follow.

While the infighting makes up the bulk of the story, it's Magneto who gives the narrative some personal dimensions. More than any other character in this tie-in, he establishes himself as a hardened realist. He now operates on a level that's several steps beyond the debate between his vision and Charles Xavier's dream. He sees the mutant issue as a struggle for survival now and the Inhumans are actively undermining that survival. Giving them an advantage at this point would be tantamount to running up the score.

This emphasis on survival and fighting those who undermine it isn't knew for Magneto. What Civil War II: X-men #4 does is frame it in a new context, one that makes the infighting among the X-men feel somewhat misguided. In this context, Magneto's approach is actually more understandable than Storm's in a backwards sort of way.

Storm wants to work with the Inhumans just like Charles Xavier wanted to work with the human race. However, the conflict with the Inhumans is a bit more specific. A cloud that they unleashed is killing an entire race and they refuse to do anything about it. Working with them has produced little to no tangible results. This makes Storm's efforts to coordinate with them seem misguided. Her heart is in the right place, as it often is, but it disrupts the fragile balance of the conflict that makes the Civil War II narrative work.

This balance is somewhat restored once Magneto gets a chance to interact with Ulysses. This ends up being far more meaningful than any interaction he could have with Storm. The discussion they share is significant in that it forces Magneto to re-evaluate his tactics. However, this meaningful interaction ends up leading to a bland and inconsequential conclusion.

There aren't any meaningful changes that emerge from this clash between Magneto's team and Storm's team. Once Magneto meets Ulysses, the battle just ends. There are no major scars. There are no serious injuries that can't be treated with off-panel magic and bed rest. There aren't even any major consequences to lies, betrayals, and deception. The characters just shrug it off, as though it happens every other week.

What makes this outcome somewhat palatable is the context behind it. Magneto, being a cold and callous pragmatist at heart, sees how this conflict will play out and quite literally. The only way to make sure that he's in a position to protect his people and take on the Inhumans again down the line is to just swallow his pride and leave. It's an inglorious way to end a conflict, but it's perfectly in line with who Magneto is and why he does what he does.

That's not to say there isn't some kind of meaningful impact in Civil War II: X-men #4. It does add more bricks to the foundation on which the X-men and Inhumans will clash down the line. It also supplements some of the ongoing tensions within the teams, such as Magneto and Psylocke. These bits and pieces of progress aren't enough to give the overall story enough weight. It still feels like an overblown round of infighting that doesn't amount to much.

In the ongoing debate between aiding the Inhumans and fighting them, the balance may very well be too fragile to function. Civil War II: X-men #4 only reinforces the inevitability of another clash between these two teams. It also further proves that such a clash may not be a balanced one. At the end of the day, one side still has its movie rights. The other is tied up with another studio. Even with X-men being the ultimate underdogs, it doesn't feel like a fight that'll benefit them in any way.

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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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