Comics

Roots Run Deep in 'Guardians of the Galaxy #16'

This is a grounded and compelling story that shows why Groot is so lovable.


Valerio Schiti

Guardians of the Galaxy

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Publication date: 2017-01-11
Amazon

There tends to be this understandable yet misguided sentiment that the best traits of a character only show when they're in the worst of circumstances. It's certainly the case that iconic moments in a character's legacy come from harsh, often tragic narratives. Whether it's Jean Grey's sacrifice at the end of The Dark Phoenix Saga or the Captain America's death at the conclusion of Civil War, these are powerful moments that reveal why these characters are so iconic.

These moments are memorable and all, but they often present a simplistic and incomplete insight into a character. Most comic book readers don't need to be reminded constantly of Jean Grey's propensity for dying, Superman's boundless idealism, or Deadpool's deplorable toilet humor. That's why insights into less dire moments tend to reveal other layers to these characters that often go unnoticed.

Brian Michael Bendis makes a concerted effort to craft these moments in Guardians of the Galaxy. It's a remarkable change of tone for a series that involves talking raccoons, talking trees, and blowing up a planet at least once a week. Throughout his run on this series, he highlights some of the most memorable traits of these characters. However, in the ongoing Grounded arc, he does this from a whole new angle.

For once, the Guardians aren't caught up in some exotic, cosmic struggle that requires them to outwit Thanos one week while stopping a Shi'ar civil war the next. Instead, Bendis has the Guardians stranded on Earth, a direct result of their involvement in the events of Civil War II. It forces the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy to find new ways to be iconic.

Guardians of the Galaxy #16 presents the most challenging part of that process to date by putting Groot in unfamiliar, uncomfortable territory. For a character with such a limited vocabulary, but near-limitless likability, it's a challenge that requires a wholly different approach. It's one thing to flesh out a nerdy high school kid with spider powers. A giant talking tree requires a different approach.

Remarkably, Bendis finds a beautifully functional approach and artist, Valerio Schiti, makes it work to the utmost. This approach involves telling Groot's story as though it were a children's story (although it's intended for adult readers). Being a talking tree, this works beautifully. It's an unusual format, if only because it doesn't rely heavily on Rocket Raccoon's overuse of pseudo-profanity like "krutacking". Given the context of the story, it has to be unusual and Bendis embraces this concept.

Guardians of the Galaxy #16 gives Groot a chance to be more than just the linguistically challenged muscle of the Guardians. He gets to explore a world where trees flourish, provided they aren't in the path of logging companies or a Hulk rampage. Even in big cities like New York, there are parks where Groot can fit right in. If anything, he seems more at home in a situation like this than he is in the cold vacuum of space. Being a tree, it almost makes too much sense.

Beyond the more favorable conditions, the story involves more than Groot enjoying a sunny day at the park while Rocket complains. He does get a chance to be a hero, albeit on a very basic level. This leads to a colorful and well-crafted clash with Armadillo. He's a fairly generic villain, one whose personality doesn't even match a standard Doombot, but that makes him an ideal threat for Groot. This story is intended to flesh out Groot and not a villain dumb enough to rob a bank in broad daylight. When talking trees are involved, tact is wholly unnecessary.


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During this clash, we get to see Groot carry himself in a world where people aren't used to talking trees. Big green Hulks and killer robots are one thing, but talking trees strain a population that is already too used to the occasional Skrull invasion. Naturally, Groot doesn't generate many fans at first, even after he takes down Armadillo. This is where the children's book style of the story really shines.

Along the way, Groot gains an important fan in a little boy named London. This boy, who carries himself like any typical prepubescent protagonist from a Disney movie, stands up for Groot at the moment when misguided adults are still overly inclined to shoot something that may or may not be one of Dr. Doom's failed experiments. Since compassion for children tends to override a desire to shoot things, it works and Groot now has a friend.

It makes for a simple, but uplifting conclusion to the conflict. At a time when superheroes just finished fighting another Civil War and Captain America is a Hydra agent, it makes for a uniquely satisfying story. As Stephen Spielberg revealed years ago with ET, a lovable alien befriending a young boy has undeniable appeal.

That appeal may make readers feel warm and fuzzy inside, but the overly simple nature of the narrative may also limit the depth of the story. More than anything else, Guardians of the Galaxy #16 reaffirms the traits that make Groot who he is. It doesn't add depth to those traits or provide greater insight. It's primarily a story where Groot gets to be himself and shines however he can.

This basic, but effective approach makes Guardians of the Galaxy #16 one of those issues that fans of a specific character can cite when they want to explain why a particular character is so lovable. If Vin Disel's voice acting in the movie didn't do it for some, then the story in this comic should finish the job. He may be a giant talking tree with an exceedingly limited vocabulary, but he's as lovable as any furry animal that isn't armed with a machine gun. Rocket Racoon would do well to heed his friend's example.

7

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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