Reviews (December 17th, 2014)
So, just reviews this week, because I want to open with music, as Seeming has a new album out called Silent DiscoVery, so let’s start with that.
It’s a discipline worth maintaining, I increasingly feel, to remain aggressively plugged into the rhythms and promotional cycle of pop media. Television and comics both work well for this, but given that the entire rhetoric of “pop media” comes from music, one really ought to have at least one. For me, it’s Seeming, for a variety of reasons. Yes, Alex is a dear friend, and Aaron’s a lovely bloke as well. Yes, it really does help with the “stay plugged into the immense nowness of pop” thing when Alex sends you a new demo every couple of weeks. (I’ve been rocking out to the lead single off the next release for months now.)
Also, I love it. I just unabashedly fucking love the stuff Alex is doing right now, and I want everybody to listen to it. It’s at once well plugged in to current pop culture concerns (it’s a wonderful time for eschatology and utopian nihilism) and vibrantly idiosyncratic. So, new album, very exciting, let’s talk about what it says.
Silent DiscoVery is the outtakes album from his brilliant Madness and Extinction. If you’ve not bought or at least listened to that album, please do. It’s streaming free on Bandcamp here. It’s worth checking out. And if you’ve not listened to it… well, Silent DiscoVery isn’t necessarily the place to start, although it’s worth checking out some of the songs.
But that’s outtakes albums for you – their entire conceit, in the end, is that they’re the stuff that didn’t quite work on the album proper. That doesn’t mean not good enough, certainly. But every track on an outtakes album, by its very existence, opens up a fan debate on “was this rightly excluded from the album?” Tellingly, the answer, for all ten of these songs, is “because they were great ideas that belonged on a different album” and not “because they weren’t good enough.”
So, for instance, the first track, “Everything,” is a great song. Brilliant, sweeping, epic, all sorts of fun. Only problem is that it’s not quite as good as “Everything Could Change,” and the two songs not only have similar titles, they have musically similar endings, and you just can’t put both of them on the same album. So to the outtake pile this gem goes. (I’ve been loving the line “do you see your reflection when my glass is dark” for years, though actually, at the time of writing, it’s “did you know birds and metal outlive the likes of you” that’s stuck on a loop in my head.)
Elsewhere you’ve got “Bayonet,” which is a great song for Alex’s previous band, ThouShaltNot, but that flounders ever so slightly as a Seeming song. And “Name Those Stars,” a peppy little number with a synth line that sounds uncannily like the bass hook from John Linnell’s “South Carolina,” and that, perhaps more importantly, is just a little too peppy and too upbeat for an album called Madness and Extinction.
The marquee track is undoubtedly “Silent Disco,” which has been clacking around for a while, and which already saw release as a single (backed by a glorious Tori Amos cover and a fun extended mix of “The Burial”). It’s one of two tracks you can fairly accuse of being jokes (the other, “Which House?” isn’t even arguable at this point), with the entire song built around a gloriously bad pun (“disco[nnect]”), but is a ruthless earworm in its own right.
For me, though, the standout tracks are “Muscle Memory,” a song I’ve known for years, and that actually played an absolutely massive role in the development of the Nintendo Project, and “Party to Say Goodbye,” a roaring anthem of adolescent terror.
With almost all of these, it’s easy to see why they didn’t make Madness and Extinction, an album that, from its title on, is pretty unrelenting in its aesthetic vision. And so it’s nice to see Seeming carve out a larger account of what it is and what it can do as a band – one that includes more than unrelenting apocalypse parties. And perhaps more importantly, it’s worth seeing what the rock that Madness and Extinction was chiseled out of consisted of – what other things that album could have been.
Like any good outtakes album, I guarantee you one of your favorite songs by the band will be on it somewhere. If you liked Madness and Extinction, this is a must-by. And if you didn’t get around to it, well, go check it out, and maybe click through on this one and give “Party to Say Goodbye,” “Muscle Memory,” and “Everything” a spin. Frankly, even if Madness and Extinction wasn’t your cup of tea, there’s enough secret histories of the album and the band here to entice, and you should still give it a spin.
On to the week’s comics. As ever, from worst to best, with everything being something I willingly, if not entirely sanely, paid money for.
Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #8
So, I want to say, this is a perfectly self-consistent creative decision on Bendis’s part. He’s been doing this style of retcon issue for ages. He’s good at it. It’s part of what he does. All the same, my reaction to this comic is one of immense and overwhelming irritation. The “next” tagline on issue #7 was “all of the cards on all of the tables.” This issue is nineteen pages of flashback featuring Miles’s father, a final page that’s the only place the title character appears, and a cliffhanger promising more revelations next month. All of this for $3.99. Which I do feel obliged to highlight, because twenty cents a story page is not a reasonable price point for an ostentatiously decompressed retcon that blatantly doesn’t deliver on the promise advertised last month. (Note that the biggest revelation in #7, that Kate Bishop’s entire family is Hydra, isn’t even touched in this.) I’m angry at this comic. I feel ripped off. I feel like this isn’t a fair or reasonable value for money, and like Bendis’s style, well-honed as it is, is simply fundamentally inappropriate for a story solicited and priced like this.
Man, this is one of my least favorite Grant Morrison comics in years. Also, the entire sci-fi plot is blatantly just The Book of Urizen with the serial numbers filed off. “Vada organizes, Vada imitates! Nomax creates!” Indeed.
Moon Knight #10
I have a fundamental irritation with comics that set up tremendously compelling moral cases for their villains before shrugging and saying “yeah, but extrajudicial assassinations that don’t support American power can’t possibly be the sort of thing good guys do” and moving on to something much less interesting.
Guardians of the Galaxy #22
Two issues into the “Planet of the Symbiotes” arc, there is no actual Planet of the Symbiotes in sight.
The fact that Bill Willingham’s basic worldview is morally repugnant to me is increasingly clearly going to be a major issue in how this resolves. “This is a lovely dream, but it’s a hild’s dream. I know some who’d argue the point, but I grew up long ago.” What an absolutely awful thing to say in the context of a book about fairy tales.
Ironically, given the five books below this in the rankings, I’ll be dropping this, as it’s just not grabbing me. It’s well put together and I see the appeal, but Jock’s art style, though very good at what it does, makes the basic storytelling here quite rough for me, and between that and the “more questions than answers” storytelling style, I just find the individual issues here to take a lot of energy and investment without actually giving much in return.
Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #2
This failed to pull a few weeks ago when it came out. The decision to focus on the non-inverted characters here made this much better than the rough start the book had at first, but man, I look forward to Axis being over.
Captain Marvel #10
Neat conceit and style to this – an issue focused on the earth-based side cast of the title, who have been neglected for eight issues as this went with being a space book instead. I really enjoyed this, which is good, as this book was starting to become a reliable let-down for me.
All-New X-Men #34
It feels like this arc has been going on forever, but this is a good issue of it. Love the Jean Grey meets Jean Grey bits. Not sure why there were pages of this comic focused on anything other than that, actually. But I had quite a bit of fun with this, even if, writing it up a few hours after I read it, the details are already rapidly sliding from my mind.
Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures
I’d just claim it as the best Shazam comic since Jeff Smith, but the level of competition for that title is so abysmally low that I don’t really think it would successfully communicate the charm of this. I just read some of the earliest Captain Marvel stuff as background research for Last War in Albion, and so this was a welcome treat. A real delight of a comic. There are many weeks where this and any of the four ahead of it would straightforwardly be my number one – hell of a good week, this one.
The Sandman Overture #4
You know, “the father of the Endless” sounds like it should be an outright disaster of a concept, but it manages to work. Williams is in absolutely screamingly good form here, and Gaiman’s story is starting to come into enough focus to feel like there’s actually a point to the exercise. Which, to be fair, you could always accuse Sandman of being a comic built for the trade, so there’s form here. There are numerous irritations in this book’s meandering release – a “wait for the trade” pace coupled with issues coming out months late is genuinely frustrating. But I have to admit, reading this, that I didn’t care about any of that and was just having a lovely time.
Brilliant issue of this, with everything you want from this sort of Rucka book. Great character moments, an unquestionably noble and unquestionably flawed protagonist, and the US soccer fandom texture continues to have a wonderful vibrancy to it. Good fun.
The Wicked and the Divine #6
It’s back! It’s brilliant! Innana’s a great character, but it’s the flashback scene with the asshole snob fan that really makes it. I think “I’m not sure whether there’s any chance of this being a vintage pantheon like in the 1920s or 1640s” may be one of my favorite lines of all time, simply for all the careful layers of parody involved. It starts to become very clear where this comic is going, most obviously in the line “I know I have this thing inside me, but however hard I work it just won’t come out.” Like, there’s Laura’s entire remaining character arc in one line, ennit? Some great texture on the bedroom page as well (glad to see them going back to this technique), although I will probably go to my grave wondering if the L was deliberately omitted from the diagram. (Nah, I bet Gillen will explain in the writer’s notes, actually.)
Ms. Marvel #10
I love when these two books come out on the same week, because it means I spend half an hour rereading one, then the other trying to decide who the winner is. I feel like I give it to Ms. Marvel more often than I give it to WicDiv, although I think that’s probably just me overcorrecting – I’d say WicDiv is the better book, or, at least, the one I’m more invested in. But this really charmed me – both in how well I remembered the plot details two months after the last issue, and in its general approach. I read a Gillen interview recently where he bemoaned the fact that Marvel isn’t willing to let the teen heroes be right and the mainstay adult heroes be wrong very often. Well, here’s G. Willow Wilson getting that perfectly right, with a kind of beautiful “the kids are all right” vibe. Yes, the critique of youth is a ridiculous strawman, but there’s an absolutely gorgeous ridiculousness to it. This may be my favorite villain scheme in recent memory, actually, just for the way it mixes being completely bonkers with a spot-on ideology.
December 17, 2014 @ 7:00 pm
Ah, so the L wasn't there. I was beginning to question my sanity – but I know it was real, etc, etc, reference.
December 17, 2014 @ 7:51 pm
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December 17, 2014 @ 7:53 pm
I know who the parents of the Endless are! The clues were in plain sight in Sandman Overture #2 and #4 all but confirms my theory!
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
The Endless are the offspring of Time and Night.
ISSUE 2, PAGE 1
DANIEL: But even I cannot argue with time.
LUCIEN: Where are you going?
DANIEL: It is TIME, Lucien. As I said.
ISSUE 2, PAGE 14
ANCIENT DREAM: We are the heirs of Night and Time.
ISSUE 2, PAGE 22
STARRY BLUE WOMAN: In *TIME, it will be mine again. Speaking of WHICH… has HE sent any word?
December 17, 2014 @ 8:45 pm
I just figured it was their eighth older sibling: Decision. Damn that Harry Potter fan fic.
December 18, 2014 @ 5:04 am
I haven't read Multiversity at all yet, but I really enjoyed Mike Kunkel's short run on Billy Batson & the Magic of Shazam, the ongoing series that followed after Jeff Smith's series. The bulk of that series ended up being written (but not drawn) by Art Baltazar & Franco, and those issues were just okay.
But the first four by Kunkel were terrific – a worthy successor to Smith's story.
December 18, 2014 @ 6:46 am
Absolutely loving Ms Marvel, the only complaint I have is that I want more every time (comics are too quick to read). It continues to be one of the things I look forward to every month and leaves me desperate for the next moth to race by. The writing continues to be excellent, and the art remains beautiful – something about the sheer simplicity of this issue's themes really resonated with me. The scene where Kamala talks the teens round in to helping her was the highlight for me.
December 18, 2014 @ 6:49 am
"Yeah, we've gotta do something drastic. But not this. This is not saving the world. This is admitting the world is over. This is saying our generation will never matter. But we have to matter. If we don't, there is no future worth saving."
Just… yeah, just incredible.
December 18, 2014 @ 10:03 am
I finally figured out that Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel are two different comics. Now that I've read both, I understand why everyone was raving about Ms. Marvel — it's awesome. Captain Marvel, not so much, but I can see why some people might be into it.
December 18, 2014 @ 10:22 am
Am I the only one who, when reading about "inverted" characters, takes a minute to remember the premise of Axis, and briefly thinks this is an archaic and possibly offensive way of saying they're gay?
I am? Okay, then.
December 18, 2014 @ 12:22 pm
It's sort of interesting in that when Billy transforms – the line could be taken as an "out" to the villain and in line with the modern idea that billy and Captain Marvel are one and the same or that (as in the original) they are different people entirely… and that is sorta confirmed with the subway line later.