This Column Has Seven Days #042 // Baby, I Hope You Like Funkin’ It Up

Happy Friday, everyone! I actually made a concerted effort to read a lot of comics this past week. So of course I’m going to spend the biggest chunk of my time talking about an album that came out last winter from one of my favourite bands of all time. Because I get to do what I want here, and I like that.

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First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate: An Excess of Excess

funkadelic_first_ya_gotta_shake_the_gate

I’ve been taking a few weeks to really listen to and digest First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, the first Funkadelic album of all-new material in over 33 years. I absolutely adore George Clinton, though my interests lie primarily in the 1970s P-Funk era. His wide-ranging musical tastes include doo-wop, rock and roll, soul, and R&B, and he’s influenced so many musical acts over the past 30 years that even if one has never listened to Funkadelic or Parliament, their music still sounds instantly familiar. The man is a huge inspiration and full of excess both musically and in real life, so I was both excited and hesitant to see what he could do on a triple album with all the production effects that have been developed since the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, at over 200 minutes of music, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but gloriously so. It’s very hip-hop and R&B-inspired, far different than the rock sounds of prime 1970s Funkadelic that I’m a fan of, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And yes, some of the album’s 33 tracks seem a little self-indulgent, but this is George Clinton, damn it, and if the man wants to be self-indulgent then I say let him, he’s earned it. There’s also a lot of auto-tune on the album, which I think Clinton overuses, but it’s a fairly new toy so I can see why he would be excited to play with it even though it really overwhelms some of the songs.

I’ve been taking a few listens through each of the discs before I make any judgements on the songs, as there are so many different sounds and genres that it can take me a little while to get acclimatized to them. The first disc is full of highs and lows, so I’m going to focus on the highs. I really enjoy the smooth “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” and the G-funk groove of “Radio Friendly,” which is a little cognitively dissonant — Clinton homaging a genre that is itself an homage to Clinton — but it works. “Mathematics of Love” is a long track with some nice soul touches, and “Creases” has a rap by Del the Funky Homosapien that references He-Man villains like Man-E-Faces and Trap Jaw, so I’m all in on that one.

The second disc is probably the most solid of the whole album, with a lot of tracks that make me want to shake it all over the place. “Jolene” has a great hard guitar riff as a backbone, a sound that reminds me of the old 1970s Funkadelic in the best way. “Dirty Queen” is a rap-metal song which makes me strangely happy, while “You Can’t Unring The Bell” is a hip-hop/funk number with a solid groove and some killer drum and horn samples. “Pole Power” is a stripped-down funky number with a sexy groove and killer hook, and “As In” is a cover of a Bootsy Collins song I’ve admittedly never heard, but it is sung soulfully and wonderfully by the late Jessica Cleaves. This disc also features the most unexpected track on the album: a cover of The Four Tops’ “Bernadette” that at first rubbed me entirely the wrong way but ultimately I found to be one of the album’s most re-listenable songs.

I’m just now starting to delve into the third disc of the collection but there are definitely some great tracks already. “The Naz” features a really cool little groove that never fails to get my tailbone a-shaking, but really, the majority of the song is just special guest Sly Stone rambling all over the place. Plus, just the idea of a Funkadelic track with Sly Stone on it makes me happy beyond explanation. Some of the guitar work and vocal additions remind me of Frank Zappa and The Mothers, which is definitely not a bad thing. And the next three songs in a row — “Talking To The Wall,” ”Where Would I Go?” and “Yesterdejavu” — sound just like they could have appeared on a ’70s P-Funk album, if one could strip away a few of the modern production touches.

I’m aware that I took four paragraphs on a comics website to talk about a funk album that probably appeals to nobody but me. And that’s why I’m so glad Brandon and James give me this opportunity. Because if literally one other person checks out even one track from this album, then it will all have been worth it. First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, and then you gotta go back to listen to Maggot Brain and Standing On the Verge of Getting it On and Let’s Take It To The Stage. At least, that’s what I’d recommend.

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Comics: I have read a lot of comic books in the past week, but most of them have fallen around the “acceptable” range, give or take a few points, which makes it hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone. (The really good ones were sadly recorded for an upcoming Scotch & Comics episode, which is actually happening, no joke, but I don’t want to pre-review them here.) One chunk of comics that I can nearly wholeheartedly recommend are the first three volumes of Ultimate Fantastic Four. The story collected in the first volume, “Fantastic,” written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar with pencils by Adam Kubert and inks by Danny Miki and John Dell, is extremely skim (or skip) worthy. It sets up the Ultimate origin of the FF and their first encounter with the Mole Man, a story that takes six issues to do when it could probably been much more exciting to read over three. The art is okay, with a few really interesting passages, but otherwise I feel the real meat of these issues is in the “Doom” storyline, in volume two. This is the jewel of the series, written by Warren Ellis and art by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger. This team really gets a handle on this younger and more vibrant take on the Fantastic Four: all the characters talk in more or less Ellis-toned dialogue, but it works for these young brash people, especially Ben Grimm. Honestly, Ellis’ take on The Thing is so fantastic it makes me wish he could write another FF story with the non-Ultimate versions of the characters. “N-Zone,” the story in the third volume, is once again illustrated by Kubert and a host of inkers, and while I don’t think his art is nearly as good a fit for Ellis’ story, it’s got a fantastic Ben Grimm, so I’m willing to overlook it. Maybe it’s just because I have an Ellis soft spot, but the second and third volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four feel youthful and vibrant even though they were first published over 10 years ago.

Books: Sometimes a book ends up being both more and less than I think it’s going to be. Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted was initially billed as combination memoir and travelogue, as author Eric Nuzum examines his youth, where he believed he was haunted by a ghost and started mentally falling apart, by exploring the ghost subcultures of modern America. It’s a little less complicated than that, actually. Nuzum does technically explore both of those ideas, but they’re not terribly well integrated. His accounts of his visits — to a highway that’s the centre of dozens of ghost stories, meetings with spiritualists, and a ghost tour through a haunted prison — are faintly interesting but don’t really lend much colour or depth to the exploration of his past. About three-fifths of the way through the book he drops those adventures entirely, and when he does the book becomes a far more gripping beast. His past is the much more interesting story, and the reason to read the book. Nuzum did not have an easy youth, whether it was being haunted by repeated dreams of a dead girl whose ghost lived in his spare room, or his tragic relationship with a young friend, or his substance abuse problems and subsequent mental breakdown. That’s the story that I appreciated the most, a man opening up and being raw and honest (as honest as he could be) about the horrors he’s lived through and how long he’s been haunted by that past. It gets extremely bleak and melodramatic, but that’s what being an adolescent was like for Nuzum (and many others), and when he finally gets to his lowest point I realized that his bleak and melodramatic tone may have been under-selling it. That’s when the book became more than I expected — the depth of emotion and exploration Nuzum dedicates to this horrible time in his life made that story so much more compelling than I had imagined it would be. Giving Up The Ghost would have been a much shorter book if he had done away with the framing device and it was just a memoir, but I’m sure that would have been a much harder book to get published, so I appreciate that I got to read the story at all.

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That’s all for me this week. Until next time, try to get a little funk on you. It’s a good look, I promise. I’ll see you in seven days.

This Column Has Seven Days #041 // Boys in Sicktime Want to Write

What a day it has been, what a rare mood I’m in; why it’s almost like I have been recovering from a chest cold. That’s right, earlier in the week I had some kind of weird chest thing which made me hack and cough so much that one of my co-workers told me my voice sounded “sexy like Vin Diesel.” I of course ruined that by immediately saying “I am Groot,” which none of my other co-workers understood, but at least I was pleased by it. Here’s what else I was pleased by this week.

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This Column Has Seven Days #040 // Get Low

This past week has been one of the busiest I’ve had in a long time. It’s all good things, I assure you, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself, but it has wreaked havoc on my ability to sit still and dive deep into my to-read or to-watch lists. Still, I did manage to find a few hours to read and digest things, and it was time well spent because not only did I manage to check a few things off those lists, but one comic book in particular made me sit up — literally, while I was lounging on the couch — and take notice.

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Incoming // New Releases Shipping December 10th, 2014

The following titles are scheduled to ship on December 10th, 2014. As always, not all books will get into all stores, and depending on the region you’re in, certain books might have come in a week earlier, or will come in a week later. For reasons, I guess.

This list is pulled from the good folks at Wizard’s Comics and Collectibles – as such, it only features the books they ordered. Head over there where you can see me telling people what to do and how before my last day on December 31st. Also, you can buy comics there, I guess.

Best of the Week // A Fear of Penises

The Best

by Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey and Jordie Bellaire
by Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey and Jordie Bellaire

The presence of a penis in a comic will tell you a lot about a man’s maturity level. For some, it’s just another image, another fact of life. For others, the reaction varies from the shocked to the slightly uncomfortable to the blatantly homophobic and beyond. What I’m saying is, a lot of men react to cartoon penises differently, and that’s a strange thing to know. Such is the life of a comic shop manager.

Best of the Week // Pulling the Trigger

Award 02

Men of Wrath #3
by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney

While Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips diligently populate the industry with crime comics influenced by pulp novels and old Hollywood, Jason Aaron’s been putting together a solid string of tales himself in a slightly different arena. When you hear Aaron talk about his influences, you can sense a certain amount of cowboy in them. I’m not just talking southern influence (though clearly, that is there), I’m talking about tough-as-nails stoic protagonists and tension ratcheting silent stand-offs.

Men of Wrath approaches this type of crime from a decidedly wrong side of the law. It concerns the Rath family, and the seeming fact that the family has just gotten meaner over the years. Aaron and series co-creator Ron Garney take great pains to depict a generational souring that culminates in a confrontation between Ira Rath and his son, who put himself in a bad position by making the right choice at the wrong time. The tension in the comic not only comes from the situation that’s currently unfolding, but from the history of shocking actions the various generations of Raths. You’ve already been shown depictions of men doing the unthinkable, and so you’re left waiting for that trigger to get pulled. In equal measure, you’re wondering what this inherent meanness means for Ira’s son, and if that part of his family history will take root in him in order to survive. A hard crime story about being caught between a choice to be good vs. a history of evil. This series has earned itself our Crime Me A River Award for this week, as I eagerly await the final two parts to get into my hands.

Soon.

Best of the Week // Your Weekly Batmans

Award 01

by James Tynion IV and Fernando Blanco w/ Scott Snyder, Raw Fawkes, Jyle Higgins & Tim Seeley
by James Tynion IV and Fernando Blanco w/ Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins & Tim Seeley

We stopped doing Best of the Week posts right around the time that Batman: Eternal started hitting the shelves. In hindsight, that was probably for the best, as I’d probably be talking about it every week (in some capacity), and I would have lost steam at this point.

Batman: Eternal is one of DC’s best books right now. While it remains mired in an aesthetic that doesn’t suit me personally, the storytelling has been incredible, and resembles something close to my platonic ideal for a weekly comic series. Over the past 35 issues, the writing team (and the ever-rotating series of artists) have taken the monthly serial and optimized for a swifter pace of release. What you get isn’t a typical monthly comic – it’s a story that lets plots bubble for issues at a time without having to wait six months for payoff. It lets different plots come to a boil at different moments, ramping pressure as each week offers progression and payoff. As a result, you get something like this issue, where a perceived victory mingles with some of the book’s slower moving plots in order to produce a bit of a nightmare for the titular character. So far, Batman’s been winning, but it’s cost him each time, and the price is starting to strip everything away from him. It’s gotten to the point where I am deliriously happy to read the Batman stories to come after this book concludes, as I’m sure the paradigm will have shifted. With the amount that’s happened in here, things can’t help but be different – and even though we all know things will go back to an equilibrium at some point in the future, for now (and the very near future), we’ll be getting some pretty strange and wonderful tales.

This is great. This is what superhero comics should be doing, experimenting with the form and building something interesting. A great job by the whole team, who has earned their Crazy Like A Fox award.

They know why.

Incoming // New Releases for December 3rd, 2014

The following titles are scheduled to ship on December 3rd, 2014. As always, not all books will get into all stores, and depending on the region you’re in, certain books might have come in a week earlier, or will come in a week later. For reasons, I guess.

This list is pulled from the good folks at Wizard’s Comics and Collectables. Head over there where you can see telling people what to do and how to do them before my last day on December 31st.

 

Recommendation: Batman – The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga

by Jiro Kuwata
by Jiro Kuwata

The Pitch: Batman ’66 by way of Japanese pop influence

What It Is: This series of Batman stories ran for just over a year across the Pacific from April 1966 to May of 1967 in an attempt to capitalize on the big Batman craze that had hit during that time. While the series didn’t last long, it’s filled to the brim with crazy Batman stories that are quite unlike those we are used to today. Hearkening back to the period they were created, these stories reflect the crazy style of silver age comics (and the Batman ’66 TV show) while retaining the clear influences of a different style of comics entirely.

Recommended if you like: Fun Batman stories, B-movies, and absurd humour.

Currently Available:

  • This series is being serialized on ComiXology in single issues (the first issue is just 99 cents!)
  • Three collections are currently planned, with the first on the stands right now for just $14.99

More Information:

(If you’ve read Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga and would like to give your personal recommendation or help populate our “Recommended If You Like” section, please comment below!)

It’s Hard to Rock A Crime To Rock A Crime On Time

Catwoman #36 full coverCatwoman #36
by Genevieve Valentine, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, Sal Cipriano and Taylor Esposito

Synopsis: As Selina attempts to find sure footing as the new queen of organized crime in Gotham, many plot against her.

01. My kingdom for a time machine, and some form of editorial control over at DC Comics. Actually, scratch that last part. I’m not one for politics, and the environment seems a bit poisonous with it these days. Just give me the time machine, please. And a basket of kittens. My wife would be very pleased if we could do the whole time and/or space thing with a basket of kittens. What was I supposed to be talking about?

02. The second issue of this new status quo is quite stellar. For the longest time, Catwoman hasn’t been the book for me. I would check up on it every now and then to get the shape of what was happening, but would always fall away and let the customers who enjoyed it read in peace. As always, I decided to drop in again when the new creative team hit, and I’m very glad I did. The book seem is a completely different animal from what it was when it began. Selina has relinquished her costume, and has traded in her life of disorganized crime for the organized variety, and has risen to the top of the Gotham underground. As is natural in these kinds of stories, enemies abound from within and without. Good guys think she’s gone bad. Bad guys think she’s no good. The balancing act is quite precarious, but Selina takes everything in stride, making moves and countermoves in turn, all in service of her own goals. While new to the medium, Genevieve Valentine has hit the ground running with a story that doesn’t feel like prose or a teleplay mashed into the form of a comic. The medium is utilized beautifully with a steady pace, and I’m left wanting more – which should always be the goal of serialized storytelling.

03. The contributions of Garry Brown can not be overstated. As always, comics are the result of words and pictures working together to form narrative. Brown does exceedingly well here, bringing in shades of Tommy Lee Edwards’ sure hand and staging. Colourist Lee Loughridge compliments this with a muted palette that runs through different prevailing shades as lighting and locale change. Action scenes break out into a kinetic pace and layout while the more conversational set pieces remain compelling, camera angles and scene panel breaks building a tension that holds just below the surface.

04. This is an incredibly strong book that has been lost among the twelve different books DC launched or relaunched last month. With the marketing budget stretched a little thin, many of the books were left to sink or swim on their own accord. The teams behind Batgirl and Gotham Academy did some Herculean self-promotion to really put their book on the map, but Catwoman was stymied by the fact that cards had to be kept close to the chest, as the inciting events had yet to be revealed elsewhere in the line of comics. It’s a shame, because this book could have done a whole lot more if it had disappeared for a couple of months and returned with a brand new number one. (Time machine, please!) As it stands, it should hold its own with this level of quality. People will surely come in as those who enjoyed the previous iteration of the character find themselves reading something new that might not be for them. I hope this team gets a lot of room to move, and gets to play this story out to a conclusion. I’m itching to see where this goes.