Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wire presents Drill: Seattle at Barboza, The Crocodile & Neumos: Nov 21 - 23


The third week of November brings three nights of post-Punk legends, Wire as hosts of their very own marathon Drill: Seattle. Enlisting contributing performers for their 'Pinkflag Orchestra' and opening acts as Earth, Helmet and Chastity Belt, this is going to be a thrilling recreation of some of the highlights from their Drill: London of last year, including a night of the aforementioned Pinkflag Guitar Orchestra, the collaborative realization of their album "The Drill" and Wire's secret 'unannounced' opening bill for another undisclosed band. The venue/theme  lineup looking something like THURSDAY at Barboza: Earth, Pillar Point, Wire/Drill. FRIDAY at The Crocodile: Helmet, By Sunlight, FF. SATURDAY at Neumos: Chastity Belt, Vestals, Wire/Pinkflag Orchestra. Any one of these evenings having the potential to do some legendary rocking, particularly Thursday and Saturday's realizations! For as much as groundbreaking work like 1977's "Pink Flag" and 1978's "Chairs Missing" are three decades removed, Wire continued to both innovate, warp, mutate and play with pop music's parameter's, creating through the 80's and 90's unclassifiable post-Punk/electronic fusions like "154" and such striking achievements as my own personal (absolutely unprepared for) introduction to their sound, 1987's "The Ideal Copy" and the gorgeously lush orchestrations of "A Bell is a Cup". To then later move into early IDM pop fusions as WIR with "The First Letter" and it's companion the "So and Slow It Grows" EP featuring collaborations with LFO and the Orb, all the way back around to the present day, as a rocking trio on albums like the 2001 - 2007 "Read & Burn" series. Rounding out their massive, influential corpus are abundant solo works, some of which the pinnacle of the whole discography, Bruce Gilbert's brilliant "Music for Fruit" comes to mind, as does the DaDa inspired experimental pop-Concrete of Dome's "1-2" & "3-4". Theirs is a legacy that's beyond quantification. It's safe to say there'd be no opening of the floodgates of music's mathy post-Rock revolution like we saw in the 90's without them. And that's the least of their achievements!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Image Comics delivers Jonathan Hickman's "East of West", Brian K. Vaughn's
"Saga", Joe Casey's "Sex", Mark Millar's "Jupiter's Legacy", Brandon Graham's
"Prophet" & Ed Brubaker's "Fatale" as a bumper of creator-owned works in 2013


I come from a generation of readers who saw the launch of Image Comics as a continuation of the flashy, surface and largely empty late 80's/early 90's Marvel Comics work under a creator-owned banner. To give a sense of Image's original position in the comics' landscape during that decade, they elicited the chapter in Grant Morrison's history of the superhero genre, "Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human" being titled; "Image vs. Content". This is particularly appropriate considering the criminally woe-begotten behavior of Image's co-founder, Todd McFarlane, in the years since. I'm going to spare you the details, but for just one example of many, see Neil Gaiman's blog for reference. Two decades later they are a very different entity altogether. 2012 not only marked their 20th Anniversary but a striking chain reaction of new books, heralded by a new ownership team under the aegis of "Walking Dead"'s Robert Kirkman and executive director, Eric Stephenson. This new direction has produced a cornucopia of new works by some of the current-greatest names in both mainstream and indie comics.

Of special significance among these, Jonathan Hickman, straight off his exceptional four year run on "Fantastic Four" over at Marvel, (where he wrote the most advanced, cosmological and heartfelt story Marvel's 'first family' has seen in three decades) has brought along his collaborator on that book, Nick Dragotta. Think a Moebius style pre-Apocalyptic Western set in future America with massive landscapes, the ultimate of anti-heroes, metaphysical influences jostling with high-technology and a prophecy unfulfilled, and you'd have "East of West". Which now on it's seventh issue, already shows promise as being the book of the year. Brian K. Vaughn who many of you know from his lengthy post-Societal Collapse gender-epic "Y The Last Man" for the Vertigo imprint is back with a Universe hopping, interspecies love, technocratic, Joss Whedon-like in tone, space "Saga" with award winning artist Fiona Staples. Joe Casey's newest book with Euro comics artist, Piotr Kowalski, depicts a urban megalopolis, where our hero has hung up his mask and cape, retired from public life and adjusting to being a regular citizen in a world of crime, corruption, sin and "Sex". Casey digging deep into some of the costume/play/fetish involved in that world paradoxically juxtaposed with it's puritanical vigilante-ism. For anyone who's ever given thought to the weird, warped world of those who dress up superhero and act out being arbiters of justice, and found it a bit 'off', this one's going to be fun.

On a related postmodern tip of examining the superhero genre from a as-yet unexplored angle, Mark Millar has come upon one of his rare quality ideas, that of the next generation of youth. After mom and dad (analogs for Wonder Woman and Superman) have saved the world innumerable times in the 20th Century, what kind of lives could they lead that would possibly compare? Celebrity media events? Charity balls? Fashion shoots? Product endorsements? The superhero youth of today lack their own cause when faced with "Jupiter's Legacy". Frank Quitely illustration work being about 70% of this books euphoria factor. It's been much, much, much too long since we saw the majesty of his art on a semi-monthly basis. If ever there were illustrative/fictional worlds positioned somewhere between Hayao Miyazaki's "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind", Ridley Scott's first "Alien" and (again, here's this point of reference) Jodorowsky's weirdo organic Cabalistic space epics, Brandon Graham and Simon Roy's "Prophet" would be it! Lastly, there's the book that brought me over to Image in the first place. Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips award winning Noir/Detective/Crime/Pulp renditions on "Incognito" and "Criminal" have been further expanded to include Weird Science, Ritualistic Magick and... yeah, well... Nazis, as "Fatale" keeps digging deeper and deeper into the 20th Century's most disturbed and disturbing historic fringes. From Hollywood's underbelly, to the Method Church to corrupt Cops and Mobsters and now back around to Nazi metaphysical divisions and the book's unexpected exploration of the 16th Century and Pioneer era America, they've created a prefect-pitch nightmare of Lovecraftian noir.

That these works have all issues from he Image imprint, is both surprising, and welcome. Especially with DC and Marvel in the course of this past year choosing flash-in-the-pan commercial gimmicks and redundant reboots over the benefits of trusting in their creative teams to build substantial storytelling within their fictional universes. Their loss. Readership will go where talent, creativity and the rich rewards of artists who are invested in the depth and value of their work is not only appreciated, but the desired objective. The 'big two' have sacrificed this in a illusory market grab that will temporarily (at best) only reward their pockets. Me? I'm glad to have no part in it at all with the completion of both Jonathan Hickman's familial Cosmic Odyssey spanning the whole Marvel universe and Grant Morrison's seven year plumbing of the depths (and heights) of the world's most popular comic franchise. Thank you Image for boldly stepping into the forum of even higher quality graphic arts storytelling! Your timing has been perfect.

Marvel to reprint Alan Moore & Neil Gaiman's "Miracleman" in 2014


Straight from New York Comic Con! Easily the biggest news in the world of comics in a decade? Two? Marvel will be reprinting Alan Moore and Neil Gaimain's groundbreaking 1980's-90's superhero book, Miracleman in 2014! First published serialized in the pages of the UK's Warrior Magazine, then reprinted in the US via independent publisher Eclipse Comics finally sees the light of day after decades of being relegated to the obscurity of then small print runs and the current labyrinthine legal morass (see below) that it's been mired in since Eclipse's bankruptcy in 1993. The book significant for not only being Moore's first work published stateside concurrently with his run on Swamp Thing for DC at the time, but also Neil Gaiman's 'big break' as it were, after being personally selected by Moore to follow his 16 issue run. Lending the book even greater significance, it is regularly cited as the first postmodern superhero book, all the self-awareness, real-world realism and socio-political consciousness that implies. A startling, inventive approach at the time for it's meta-recycling of the original 'Golden Age' material from the 1950's into a contemporary, epic re-contextualization. Without this book, the ground it broke and the raising of both it's author's profiles within American comics, there might not have been a "Watchmen" or a "Sandman". Certainly not as the late-80's 'British Invasion' and the founding of the Vertigo imprint and the creative revitalization of comics as a medium they enabled. It's that important a comic. What makes this announcement even that much more notable, not only will "Miracleman" be restored from original art negatives, and printed to higher standard than it was originally published, but Neil Gaiman has announced he will complete his then-unfinished story with original artist Mark Buckingham. Ideal points of entry into this work include Julian Darius' meticulously researched "Why Miracleman Matters" and the immensity of his methodical ongoing re-read, analysis and annotations project for SequentialArt. As a companion piece, sci-fi publishing giant TOR, have a series dedicated to the same endeavor, Tim Callahan's The Great Alan Moore Re-Read: "Miracleman" - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3  - Part 4. These both touching on the genuine groundbreaking graphic arts adventure and exercise in narrative innovation more readers will now be able to partake in for the first time in almost two decades!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Claire Denis' new film "Bastards" & Andrei Tarkovsky's "Nostalghia" at Northwest
Film Forum: Nov 15 - 21 | Edward Nikolaevich Artemiev, "Solaris" & The ANS


Two essential pieces of cinema come to Northwest Film Forum this month, the first a classic by a 20th Century master, Andrei Tarkoysky's "Nostalghia", the second a contemporary classic-in-the-making, Claire Denis' "Bastards". Thematically all over the place, from libido monstrosities gone amok, to male camaraderie in the French Foreign Legion, to post-Colonial aftermath in both Africa at at home in modern day Paris, one of the only constants of Denis' filmography is that it all navigates the space between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. At times not quite hitting the balance between these two forms, such as 2005's "The Intruder" she just as often nails it in a manner exceeded by few in all of modern filmmaking, like that of 2008's near-masterpiece on class, race, urban life, light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think Lynch, McQueen, Pen-Ek) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, "Bastards" brings it's audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with it's contact with power, corruption and an immoral elite. Making for what Eric Hynes amusingly calls "Family Films of a Very Different Sort", the atmospheres of tension, suspicion and threat alluded to by the trailer are mined to mind-altering effect. This is a film more than just a tale of what Manohla Dargis calls "Families, and Money, With More Than One Complication", and instead a richly atmospheric, complexly structured neo-Noir thriller of the first rate. These themes explored through the abundance of words lavished on and about the film in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview, Max Nelson's review and Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week pick for Film Comment.


More difficult to codify, the later masterpiece by Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky, probably best known for his mid-period allegorical science fiction films, "Stalker" and "Solaris" the latter a fairly true, yet more yearningly romantic and metaphysical adaptation of the novel by Stanislaw Lem the former's screenplay written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, loosely based on their novel "Roadside Picnic". But beyond these few genre-film vehicles, Tarkovsky's cinema was a deeply personal exploration of the question of existence itself, from the semi-autobiographical "Mirror" to later works like "Nostalghia" which was made in exile, with Tarkovsky leaving Russia for what he then hoped were more conducive climes for his work in mainland Europe. Even then the Soviet influence was strong on his work, most apparent in 1983 when "Nostalghia" premiered at Cannes, Soviet authorities prevented the film from winning the Palme d'Or, the Cannes committee in response awarding the work both Best Director and the FIPRESCI Prize. Tarkovsky's later-life battle with these influences, even in exile, documented in Peter Lang's "Border Crossings: Mapping Identities in Modern Europe". This new restored print thanks to Kino Lorber screening to great praise in last year's New York Film Festival 50th Anniversary Retrospective and earlier this year as part of BAM Cinématek's Russian Cinema Now series. An overview of his films defining role in modern cinema and the indelible effect of these works probably best conveyed by Senses of Cinema's Great Director's feature on Tarkovsky.

For those looking to explore his work further, the Nostalghia site hosted by the University of Calgary being one of the deepest and most well-maintained archive of essays, images, criticism and related media to the the Russian director's work. And with Kino, Criterion and Artificial Eye seemingly in competitive overdrive to release, refurbish and represent his staggering decades-defining works, this is a very good time to discover these films indeed. Criterion also playing host to a series of essays by some of the world's foremost film critics, including Phillip Lopate's "Solaris: Inner Space", J.Hoberman on Andrei Rublev and Dina Iordanova's, "Ivan’s Childhood: Dream Come True". The new century also seeing a number of significant works in print related to the Russian auteur, Black Dog Publishing's substantial "Tarkovsky" and more recently the hauntingly beautiful collected Polaroid work of the director himself, Thames & Hudson's "Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids".  Image, space, time and narrative making up the larger substance of the body of Tarkovsky's work, but their distinct audio design, aural atmosphere and soundtrack scores are essential, defining elements of the whole. Almost exclusively composed and designed by Edward Artemiev and sometimes collaborator Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, one of their most memorable works, that of the "Solaris" score, constructed on the technological/cultural obscurity that is Evgeny Murzin's ANS Synthesizer. Currently housed in the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture Moscow, this Photoelectrichesky Sintezator Muziki named after Murzin's favorite composer, Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin even among the rare and few ‘graphical sound’ synthesizers built in the 20th Century, the ANS is a genuine one-of-a-kind... or more accurately, one of two-of-a-kind. There's no better a overview on it's wonders, creative history and strikingly anomalous nature than Max Cole's piece of last year, "Synth-Aesthesia: Soviet Synths And The ANS". This Fall sees the first-ever official sanctioned release of the "Solaris" score on LP in the west. Sourced from the original masters and authorized by the estate and Tarkovsky's son, on the justly-named Superior Viaduct label.