Comics

'Uncanny X-men #1' Is Twisted, Uncanny, Yet Intriguing

Brutal circumstances breed a harsh, yet compelling, narrative.


Greg Land

Uncanny X-men

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Publication date: 2015-01-06
Amazon

Nobody outside the O.J. Simpson crowd will admit the justice system is perfect. In every part of the world in every point in history, there have been guilty parties that have gone free and innocent parties that have been convicted. It's a harsh reflection of mankind's imperfect nature. We can only ever create imperfect justice systems.

However, there comes a point when the degree of that imperfect nature crosses that not-so-fine line from simply imperfect to overtly egregious.

This nature is the shaky foundation on which the X-men comics have been built upon since Secret Wars. It's not enough for mutants to just be a struggling minority anymore; they have to be the kind of minority that evokes terror not seen since the Salem Witch Trials.

To do this, the cracks in that shaky foundation are stuffed with a few extra pounds of dynamite and mixed with napalm. Any progress the X-men might have made with Charles Xavier, Cyclops, or the Jean Grey Institute has been discarded like an empty canister. The entire mutant race is now at a point where the demon-infested dimension is considered a safe location for a school.

The team of X-men in Extraordinary X-men and All-New X-men still cling to the classic approach that Charles Xavier championed for decades. But in Uncanny X-men #1, Magneto puts together a team of X-men that opts for a less passive approach. There's only so much peace, love, and understanding that can be inspired when mutants are associated with plagues, death, and Brett Ratner movies.

Magneto understands that egregious circumstances require disconcerting actions and Uncanny X-men #1 shows that these actions can create a uniquely compelling narrative. The themes in this series are not going to be confused with those of Extraordinary X-men and All-New X-men. They're not going to be confused with anything written by Chris Claremont or drawn by Jim Lee, either. These X-men are the Oakland Raiders of mutants, renegades who keep their goals simple and aren't above playing dirty. But like the Oakland Raiders since 2002, they're not exactly a championship team.

The team of X-men that Cullen Bunn assembles in this series are hardly boy scouts. They're the kind of crowd that would be barred from every gated community in Orange County. They don't carry themselves as heroes. In fact, they come off as downright villainous and not in the way Al Davis embraced. But when they get a chance to explain themselves, there's a sense of purpose. It won't win them a Nobel Peace prize anytime soon, but it does create intrigue.

This intrigue is built around an odd yet effective twist on the fundamental themes of X-men. As a metaphor for marginalized minorities, they inspire hope among those who feel oppressed and bullied. Magneto and his team of less-than-reputable mutants in Uncanny X-men are skipping the part where they inspire. He's basically grabbing mutants by the collar, slapping them a few times, and telling them to tough it out through these difficult times. Mutants survived Chuck Austin and Brett Ratner. They can survive this.

It's harsh, but it's reflective of the solemn state mutants find themselves in. They're being hunted like wounded cows in Ron Swanson's back yard, they've been sterilized by the Terrigen Mists, and they're being blamed for whatever off-panel antics Cyclops has done. So it's perfectly understandable that some would try to take the easy way out. In this case, that involves paying a company obscene amounts of money to put them in stasis until they wake up in a world where mutants are only spit on and not shot at. It sounds extreme, but it also sounds like one of Google's secret projects.

Understandable or not, Magneto and his team of renegade X-men basically drag these mutants kicking and screaming out of their despair. These are not the kinds of methods that Charles Xavier would condone, but he wouldn't outright condemn them, either. Even a pacifist has to be willing to slap someone across the face every now and then when they get overly dire.

While the overall narrative in Uncanny X-men #1 is intriguing, some of the finer details are lacking. Cullen Bunn's characterization is pretty spot on, but the voices of each character come off as somewhat dry. The dialog is not very conversational and at times, it sounds like the characters are reading lines from a Roger Corman movie. While Greg Land's art makes for detailed, gritty backgrounds, it doesn't convey much emotion beyond Monet flirting with Sabretooth.

There's still a sense of a larger story in Uncanny X-men #1. The company charging mutants obscene amount of money to sleep through this latest extinction / sterilization plot isn't a wing of Google or Koch Industries for that matter. They're conveyed as a more subtle version of the Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil games and unlike Sentinels, they're not the kind of enemy that the X-men can confront in an overtly heroic manner.

This story and its larger themes help make the case that Magneto's team of disreputable X-men are uniquely qualified for these challenges. They may be harsh, but one of the mutants they confront in the story actually responds to their tough love methods. It helps show that there is merit to having a team of X-men that'll do more than just beat up killer robots. It still won't win them any friends at Amnesty International, but it will give the mutant race a fighting chance.

Like the plot of a typical episode of CSI, the big picture is there, along with the violence and car crashes. It's the finer details that are lacking. Like the other X-men comics, Uncanny X-men #1 has to build a story on a shaky foundation. So many of these finer details transpire off-panel and it's difficult to make the story feel refined. Still, Cullen Bunn makes the most of the hand that he's been dealt. It isn't much, but it's enough to discourage anyone from inviting him to a poker tournament.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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