Friday, January 24, 2014

Five Perhaps In Some Cases Somewhat Insufficiently Stressed Reasons We Should All Be Terribly Grateful To Miéville

When I looked around at the "best of 2013" material for comics I found one glaring omission: Dial H. Since I've never written a short list before, I figured what better way to show a deep and abiding love for a product than a hastily compiled thing that takes 30 seconds to read?

1. Traditionally conservative DC taking a risk.
In a relaunch that started out super weird, not only in terms of creator departures and editorial edicts, but also in that there was a no joke supernatural romance comic and a war comic (both concepts Vertigo would retry), Dial H was the strangest one of them all.

When my friends first heard about it, they thought "Oh, DC must hate Miéville. They gave him Dial H." Quite the opposite. He wanted Dial H. Before the relaunch, Miéville accepted a Swamp Thing gig, but that was aborted because the toys were being brought back over to the DCU and Geoff Johns needed a splash reveal in Brightest Day. There was a story in Hellblazer #250 as what I assume was a consolation. So, after the new 52, DC gave Miéville's pitch a shot.

I'm not aware of a higher profile creator relaunching a lower profile title at Marvel or DC recently. Mieville has won most if not all of the major science fiction/fantasy prose awards available to Westerners, and Dial H is best known as the butt of a joke, or as "what DC superhero team is not even D-list?"

2. Dial H was co-starred by a woman who was old and awesome.

Yes. I know. Usually old and wizened characters stand around, look stodgy and then occasionally when a big fight comes, show how they earned their beard. Dial H's lady (Roxie Hodder) did nothing of the sort. She was actively saving lives, appearing in the comic as a major character that did shit, articulated herself well, had opinions and kicked ass.

Also? Sex between two people that wasn't 30-something Bernini sculpture and 30-something Bernini sculpture.

3. Dial H stayed away from current DC continuity.

DC gave (or more likely outgoing Vertigo founder Karen Berger shielded the series from editorial edicts) Dial H enough rope to hang itself with and only checked in when literally every single new 52 comic had to have some major hero in it and even then Miéville made it work with panache.

For fans who wanted a "plays in its own corner and needs to read no other comics" treat, Dial H did that to the hilt.

4. Dial H had a story for adults.

Mainstream American superhero comics are read mostly by people over the age of 30. But hardly ever are comics written for them. There's things that don't insult our intelligence, by and large, but there are hardly ever comics that actually treat adult readers like adults.

Dial H did that. The story was confusing, presented themes like identity, paralysis and inspiration in a way that didn't explain everything at first glance and trusted you were along for the ride. It managed a neat trick of extracting a childish degree of wonder and inspiration out of readers who were supposedly jaded enough to know better.

5. Dial H #13

Dial H #13 is a jewel in the crown, though. I compared it, privately, to All-Star Superman #10, which is a high bar to clear and it probably doesn't.  What matters is that there's a bunch of tricks Miéville pulls in this issue that went largely unnoticed or uncommented on by comics criticism and this whole listicle piece is at best a flimsy veneer for drawing your attention back to it. The focus of the issue was the Dial Bunch (no really, that's what they're called) on the run, in a world with sentient graffiti. Now alone, the phrase sentient graffiti ought to be enough, but the way that these things interface with the story (and advances the plot) is genius. But that's not why I adore Dial H #13, if I'm honest. I adore Dial H #13 above any other comic released last year because of the following single panel origin of Unbled, the Demon.

The entire issue is a celebration of the inspirational possibility of superhero comics, but that single panel stuck out to me more than the constructing tricks, the earnest proclamations of heroism, and quick sketches of future possibilities we'll never see.

(The first two images are pencilled by Mateus Santolouco, the second two by Alberto Ponticelli, the fifth by David Lapham and the sixth by Alberto Ponticelli again.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Try Me, Oh God, Try Me

I write this to organize my thoughts and puzzle out how I feel. Patrick Kindlon was kind enough to show me the packaging, with an email chain from Deathwish Inc. founder and designer Jake Bannon at an October DRUG CHURCH show. This isn't a review.

There is a major conceit to Try Me. The conceit is this: Try Me revolves around the early life of Angelique Bernstein, or as she now calls herself, Jeanna Fine. 

It is told primarily through two interviews which focus on her life before she came into the porn industry. These interviews speak frankly about the multiple times she was raped, the oppression she faced after having sex with women and her life choices. The interviews are not, in my opinion, salacious.

Put crudely, her life's been rough and hearing her speak about it is compelling and depressing. Try Me is easily the most brutal thing Deathwish has put out this year, last year, next year or perhaps in any year the label will release music.

To anticipate the snark:

-Yes, I'm aware that the devastating nature regarding frank discussion of rape (a sadly common experience) speaks volumes about the castles in my mind about the place of aggressive music in this world.

I step around those interviews in my repeated listening, like landmines. You ought to hear Try Me once, straight through. It will not be a pleasurable experience, but you will talk about it. For better or for worse, my thoughts of Try Me are in the shadow of those interviews.

- - - - - - - - -

I should talk about the music.

 Try Me is 11 tracks, of which two are interviews and nine are songs.

Of the nine songs, three are over five minutes. Of those three, one is "Dingo Fence", a 10 minute song where a double-vocaled Patrick mostly yells "All the dumb cops, they get what they want." "Apport Birds" is six minutes and feels like 20.

The nine songs on Try Me are fairly divergent in terms of length. Three push past five minutes, two hit four and the balance are three or less.

 SELF DEFENSE FAMILY indulges their shoegaze and drone influences on all of these songs, to greater and lesser effect throughout. "Turn the Fan On" is technically four minutes, but the song part ends at about 3:15, with the rest being a guitar riff repeated and the sound of a dripping sink. It's effective, and while the game of spot the influence becomes tedious (and reveals how narrow my comparisons are), I remember BLACKLISTED employed a similar trick on No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me. This is not to say BLACKLISTED invented it…

"Mistress Appears At Funeral" sung by Caroline Corrigan is an unexpected highlight. Her voice, as the lead, is a surprise and the cooing harmonies help everything glide along. It's about the discomfort of a mistress at a funeral and being unsure what to do with the emotions and the prying eyes and judgments of the other mourners.

I understand how to process the shorter songs, so I therefore believe I like them more. I prefer "Weird Fingering" to "Aletta," but I know better than to think SELF DEFENSE will play "Weird Fingering" live. 

There is also the sound of a cell phone notification going off somewhere on the record that takes me out of the experience.

I cannot listen to Try Me like a traditional Deathwish record. It is ugly. It is uncomfortable. It is worth a $6 digital download, I believe. It is worth something more than money: your undivided attention.

- - - - - - - - -

I ought to talk about the packaging.

It includes photos of Angelique Bernstein or Jeanna Fine at different stages in her life, one as a fifteen year old girl, others as the woman she is today. Both show nipples. 

After hearing the interview, I understand why they are there.

I am made uncomfortable by the inclusion of the photo of the fifteen year old Angelique Bernstein or Jeanna Fine with her visible nipples. I'm aware discomfort and an absolutely bare projection of personhood is the point of Try Me. I wince and cringe at it. I avoid looking at Try Me's packaging for that reason.

As for the ethics of the use of the interview, I have no idea. Angelique Bernstein or Jeanna Fine is credited as a SDF member, the interviews are not catty, and what's said is direct. Her voice appears to be authentic. Given how centrally she figures to the art, is she entitled to whatever meager royalties Try Me will generate?

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Try Me is a good record, where good means effective. I can think of nothing like it in what I listen to. Deathwish Inc. owners Jake Bannon and Tre McCarthy are right, I won't listen to the interview more than once. But Patrick and guitarist/producer/engineer Andrew Duggan are also right, I won't listen to that interview more than once because I am scared of the interview's power.

In short: Try Me is the first Deathwish record to inspire genuine fear and actual panic.

Try the song, "Turn the Fan On." It can work as a single. It's very, very bleak, but it gives you very much the tenor of the record.

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