Reviews

Fantastic Four: First Family

Jeremy Estes

Sue sums up the thrust of the series, saying, "We're not born heroes, but we can learn."


Fantastic Four: First Family

Publisher: Marvel Comics
Contributors: Artist: Chris Weston, Colors: Chris Chuckry
Price: 2.99
Writer: Joe Casey
Length: 32
Formats: Single Issues
First date: 2006-05
Last date: 2006-10
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Amazon

You know the drill: the Marvel Age of Comics was typified by super heroes with everyday problems. Anger (the Hulk), social ostracism (X-Men) and even allergies (Spider-man) were all problems facing Marvel's growing roster of stars in the early 1960s, and by giving their heroes the flaws and foibles of the readership, Marvel began to dominate the marketplace.

Of course, Fantastic Four was the first comic of the Marvel Age, a weird sci-fi/adventure book about four people fighting off giant monsters and galactic menaces. At their core, though, the FF were -- and are -- a family, and it's the family dynamic that makes them interesting. Sure, most peoples' brothers and sisters can't turn invisible or catch on fire, even if we sometimes wish they would.

In First Family, writer Joe Casey (Uncanny X-Men, Wildcats 3.0) and British artist Chris Weston (Swamp Thing, Ministry of Space) tell the story of the Four’s earliest adventures, and the growing pains that plagued them as they learned to live with their newfound powers.

First Family is the kind of origin redo that comes along every so often to reinvigorate both the readership and the franchise, as well as rewrite the history books. In a sense these stories are all the same: Man of Steel, Year One, etc., update, rearrange and revise stories from the past to make them more palatable for modern readers, erasing any Cold War overtones for the sake of staying current. The stories that stand out not only make sure there are computers in every panel, they also focus on the human stories that just weren't possible, even during the early Marvel Age. Of course for all the updating and explaining, it's refreshing that readers are still asked to suspend their disbelief when it comes to Sue and Johnny being on Reed's experimental flight.

Casey doesn't try to reinvent the wheel: Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben all are bombarded by mysterious cosmic rays during an unauthorized space flight, and they are all granted -- or in Ben's case, cursed -- with fantastic powers. The series immediately feels like a better draft of the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, covering all the same bases but with a stronger focus on characterization than on product placement and Jessica Alba's backside.

As Reed waits in quarantine he is telepathically visited by Dr. Franz Stahl, a scientist exposed to cosmic rays during experiments months before. Stahl attempts to recruit Reed to help bring about "a new evolutionary aesthetic" using the cosmic radiation that altered the Four.

Though there is never any doubt that Stahl's plans will be stopped at the last minute, he is still an appealing villain. Weston renders him as plain man, a nerdy scientist-type with a bow tie and bad suit. He is a perfect balance of menace and power, with the Joker's eerie grin and twisted, ruthless view of the world of a maniac like Hitler.

All this is a maguffin, however, as it gives Casey license to test the heroes, to get them to interact and experience the dysfunction every family must face at one time or another. Casey works on the themes of family and togetherness, including the usual FF elements -- Reed's tendency to pour himself into his work and ignore Sue; Johnny and Ben constantly fighting; Ben's anger over his transformation. Though adding such strong characterization to any form of storytelling adds to the experience, there is a certain degree of danger that can arise when injecting too much realism into characters like the Fantastic Four. Instead of explaining the science behind their transformations, Casey uses the real world to add believability. The team's introduction to a suspicious New York serves the story as much as the break down of Reed and Sue's relationship and Johnny's drive to be liked by everyone. In issue 5, Sue sums up the thrust of the series, saying, "We're not born heroes, but we can learn." More than telepathic villains or giant monsters, it's this experience that drives Casey's tale.

The Fantastic Four have been depicted by their fair share of talented artists during their 40-plus year history, including the King of Comics, Jack Kirby. With this series, Chris Weston has earned a place among that distinguished group. His art is gorgeous without being flashy and has the feel of classic comics. His Thing recalls Kirby's and looks solid and rough. Chris Chuckry (She-Hulk, FF/Iron Man: Big in Japan) beautiful colors combine best of today with the warmth of the 1960s.

First Family wraps up in a way many super hero tales do: the good guys win. But that is never the point of a Fantastic Four story. Whether it's hokey or not, what's important is that they do it together. That's what keeps the Fantastic Four relevant, even after all these years.

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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