It’s time! Our podcast is ending, and so is Marvel’s Ultimate universe! Jeff Loeb’s contentious ULTIMATUM serves as the Final Destination of our comic book critique, and we have a loooot of things to say about it—almost two hours of material! For this crossover event we pull our original host Joe out of the Speed Force to help us analyze this wacky, wacky story.
Thank you very much for supporting Divisive Issues all these years—we hope you’ve enjoyed listening to us as much as we’ve enjoyed stubbornly arguing with one another! Stay in continuity!
Our final Trade of Patreon episodes features mostly single issues of random modern comics that almost made it into our main show. Most of these were also released at the tail end of our Patreon’s lifespan so it’s only appropriate to end with them. We check out some weird holiday comics that were leftover from our previous holiday specials. We also check out a definitive Superman story and once again have a Superman debate with Darryl. On top of that, we also revisit Tom King not once but twice in this collection. Tom King finally produces something we like and it happens in the most unexpected book of all.
This Patreon collection features the episodes where we were too lazy to narrate comic issues. So we instead have talks about movies instead though some of these discussions are more general discussions about super heroes in general. We discuss Man of Steel, the Bleach movie, and more! We also have a fun skit from Darryl discussing the Titans trailer of “**** Batman” fame.
Our biggest and most successful Patreon collection appropriately features most people’s entryway into comics: a big event. Check out the DI crew experience a DC event in real time as they go through 2019’s Heroes In Crisis! This one focuses on superheroes going through therapy when a massive murder scene occurs. Ryan hates it right off the bat while Sly finds the premise intriguing. Check out who ends up drastically changing their opinion! Also check out Phil and Darryl and their unfortunate
The original column was published on February 10th, 2019 and can be found below.
And the record begins with a song of rebellion
Here we go. I’ve been putting off writing this one for a while. I’m going to try to keep the gushing to a minimum here, but Say Anything’s …Is A Real Boy has been called my favorite record more often than not over the last 6 or so years. I could go on about how “Alive With The Glory Of Love” is a perfect song, or how one of the best songs to cover with my high school band was “The Futile,” with it’s intro of SHIT, NOTHING MAKES SENSE. Or even how neither my wife nor I hesitated to say “I Want To Know Your Plans” had to be the first dance at our wedding. So instead of just talking about how flawless it is, I’d rather talk about why I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. I don’t plan on getting into the songs that mean the most to me, but what the record is trying to say as a whole. As an aside, you gotta admit it doesn’t get more precious than this, captured by Flying Machine Network host, Elle Riccardi.
So if this record is such an important part of my narrative, why am I writing about it now? This month, I’ll be doing a two part column about Say Anything’s first major release, the aforementioned …Is A Real Boy, and their most recent and allegedly final record, Oliver Appropriate. I’ll save most of the Oliver talk for next time, but the premise is that it’s a concept album that extrapolates the character set up in …Is A Real Boy and follows up on where that character would be 15 years on. So let’s take a look at that guy’s beginnings.
The general idea behind the record is that our narrator, an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole has been cursed that everything he feels and thinks just pours out of his mouth in a dramatic, musical way. Definitely not how I see myself in any way, I swear. But this character isn’t supposed to be our hero. I’ve been thinking a lot about the problematic lead style of storytelling and what it lets us explore. I’m a big fan of following the, I don’t want to say villains, but the characters we aren’t supposed to agree with, to help illustrate the flaws we all have. Seinfeld, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and Rick & Morty are prime examples of cautionary tales of letting your pettiness and ego get in the way of being a real human being. We also have characters like Han Solo, who we see develop from problematic asshole to hero in their own right. That growth is what makes them fan favorites. But I’ve also been thinking a whole lot about the role that these characters play when the wrong lessons are learned by the audience. Rick & Morty’s fanbase is one of the most toxic places around and they worship at the feet of a character that’s supposed to be the villain of the series; taking his narcissism as an ideal to strive for instead of seeing the damage he brings to the rest of the cast. People look up to Joker and Harley Quinn, a couple that was literally created to bring domestic abuse and mental illness to the forefront of the already traumatic and messy world of Batman. But does that mean we should abandon work with problematic characters, regardless of authorial intent? Personally, I think it’s more important than ever to showcase the problems these characters work through and help show their motivations and the impact they have. Fiction is a safer place to explore the problems of society, than let people just like our characters exact more harm on the people around them and get surprised by the fallout. But by bringing voice to problematic views that people define themselves by, are you doing more harm than good? As Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be,” after all.
So how does that relate to …Is A Real Boy? Max Bemis, the writer behind Say Anything’s catalog, has openly spoken about how often the themes of …Is A Real Boy were misinterpreted. Our character was never supposed to be Max, but the manifestation of what drives an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole who can’t control his own impulses.
Full disclosure, I completely missed this in high school and couldn’t stand his vocal delivery and writing style until years later when it finally clicked. I thought it was celebrating his ego and lust for sex and acceptance (mostly the former), but it wasn’t. It was projecting what this guy, who was a hell of a lot more like high school Ryan than I’d like to admit, wanted more than anything in the world, but it wasn’t supposed to make you feel good and empowered. Revisiting it years later, it made a hell of a lot more sense why his style was so… sarcastic.
When I read Catcher In The Rye in middle school, it was on the recommendation of my 8th grade English teacher, two years before we read it as an assignment. She pulled me aside after class and said “You really should read this now. If you wait to read it with a class, you’ll hate it.” I don’t know what she saw in me at 13, but she was right. When I first read it, I was in disbelief at how much of myself I found in Holden Caulfield. I read it over and over again, every winter for the next several years and my feelings towards the book changed significantly every time I finished it. My senior year of high school, I realized, yeah, I was Holden and Holden really sucks. I was also convinced that the whole book serves as a farewell message to his therapist before an inevitable suicide. And, being an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole struggling with my own depression, I knew, deep down, that if I didn’t make a significant change to my cynical, spiteful, implicitly misogynistic self, I would end up there, too. I hated everyone around me and what did I have to show for it? A lot of hate. And nothing else. So I worked on it, went to college, and reinvented myself as a romantic optimist. Desperately trying to escape Holden Caulfield.
I still adore Catcher, don’t get me wrong, but much like …Is A Real Boy where I once took it literally, I finally realized that it’s supposed to make me uncomfortable. It’s supposed to challenge me to rise above this character. In “Every Man Has A Molly,” we have a break up song with more vitriol than you can believe. It’s about how his emotional honesty has pushed his girlfriend away and now he’ll never “have rough sex with Molly Connelly again.” Max has openly spoken about how he was a virgin till college and how there never was a real Molly. But in this character’s mind, there should have been one. In “Admit It,” a diatribe against the exclusive nature of liberal hipster culture, we see that same rage directed at “the same superiority complex shared by the high school jocks who made your life a living hell. And made you a slave to the competitive, capitalist dogma you spend every moment of your waking life bitching about.” It’s pretentious, it’s pissed off, it’s what I felt like as a teenager. All I wanted to do was scream at everyone I thought I was better than, which, of course, was everyone. But luckily, I used characters like this to address and start the process of exorcising the parts of myself that I see in these characters.
So what happens when the audience learns the wrong lessons from a cautionary tale? What does Holden Caulfield look like 15 years later? What kind of person grows out of someone like this if they never learn how to be better? I’ll be back later this month to talk about the sequel, 2019’s Oliver Appropriate.
For our second Patreon collection, we’re focusing on the Patreon mascot himself: Jimmy Olsen. For some reason Superman’s powerless sidekick had his own series in the Silver Age and it ran for over 100 issues. But is he really Superman’s Pal or something more sinister? Come and listen to our own unique interpretations to his stories. Also check out the progression as this lovable dork slowly worms his way into Darryl’s heart to become his favorite Superman character.
With the end of the Flying Machine Network, we’re releasing all our old Patreon episodes to our regular feed in bulk! Our first collection features random and goofy Silver Age stories we have covered. These stories include Superman meeting JFK, Batman fighting a frozen Caveman, and a gorilla’s plan to take over the world through his local public library. We also clarify the distinctions between the Silver Age and Golden Age for our comic newbies, Darryl and Phil.
The original column was published on January 15th, 2019 and can be found below.
Shhh. Peaceful. Silent.
Happy new year, everybody! It’s January, and while I’m generally not one to make resolutions, there is still something about changing out my calendar that gets me thinking about where I should go next. 2018 was a big year for me and I feel like I’ve grown a lot. But that always pushes me to think “Ok, so I did all that, now what?” And I found myself gravitating towards music that asks the same questions.
There’s something about Miles Davis. Every single time I hear his trumpet come in over any of his incredible rhythm sections, I can’t help but think “why the hell don’t I listen to more Miles Davis?” But for Davis’ In A Silent Way, it doesn’t even take that long. It takes this record 7 seconds to kick in and it does not let up until it’s over. It opens with Joe Zawinul’s low organ hum until Tony Williams’ hi-hats, John McLaughlin’s guitar, Dave Holland’s bass, and Chick Corea’s and Herbie Hancock’s electric pianos kick in and just like that jazz fusion was brought in to the limelight, all in 7 seconds. Rounding out the band is Wayne Shorter’s beautiful soprano saxophone. And then, there’s Miles. His trumpet is unparalleled here. Sure, most people prefer his deeper exploration into the murky waters between rock and jazz in the following year’s Bitches’ Brew, but for me, In A Silent Way is where it’s at.
By the late 60s, Miles Davis was already an incredible musician and a huge force in the jazz world. In 1968 he had just gotten married to Betty Mabry, who introduced him to a whole lot of funk, soul, and rock throughout the New York scene, and as I talked about in my previous few columns on Prince and Bowie, newlyweds discovering music together is something I can really get into right now. But even though they were divorced the following year, her impact on his music was hardly a temporary thing. With 1969’s In A Silent Way, Davis had fully integrated the guitars, electric pianos, and organs of rock music into his jazz ensemble. There had been a handful of artists pioneering this mix of jazz and rock (eventually called fusion), but few had the jazz world’s respect that Davis had. As he continued to explore with dissonant and challenging mixes of genres throughout the 70s, he became so controversial and reviled in the jazz world, he went in to retirement for a bit, but very little of that strife is heard here.
The record is two acts, one on each side. Side A is an 18 minute suite of “Shhh” and “Peaceful.” As I said up top, this piece is one of my favorites. The bass, drums, and pianos hold a perfect rhythm while the leads go explore. Davis lets the guitars and keys explore for about two minutes before he comes in. This is the kind of improvisational jam you would later hear on albums like The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers or The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour, but here, it’s more… adventurous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking those fantastic records. But when rock bands jam, you feel the music building heavier and heavier and the focus is often on the dynamics, to give the musicians and the audience the release of an explosive crescendo. The exploratory jams are some of my favorite things in rock, for sure, but it’s a different vibe. You can feel the band’s energy as they push the jam bigger and bigger. But on this record, Davis grows the music sideways instead of up. The bass and drums never get more intense, they just evolve. The keyboards never start hammering away, they only add different kinds of texture. Just about all of my improv experience is through rock, so when I really listen to an improvisational piece like this, I’m always amazed at where the musicians choose not to go. When they choose to just stop and let someone else completely take over. Davis spends a lot of the song in the background while the guitars and keyboards complement each others. Every time the song builds up to just when I’m really feeling it, the band stops. Waits a second. And comes back in, just like before. With that organ hum, then hi-hats and bass. But this time, it’s somehow even better. I love a lot of Davis’ earlier work, but In A Silent Way is truly a whole other animal.
Side B is another suite, this time the Zawinul-penned titular track, sandwiching the Davis number “It’s About That Time.” “In A Silent Way” is a beautiful, soft ballad between guitar and keyboard that lets every note ring and flow just long enough to make me nostalgic for a time I don’t quite remember. But when Davis’ trumpet comes in with an overlaid melody, be still my beating heart, I feel like I’m falling in love for the first time again. But after a few minutes, the underlying harmonies start to get just a little darker and the melody starts to get a little more dissonant and just when I start to feel it, it ends and the funk-infused “It’s About That Time” kicks in. This one doesn’t have the same driving rhythms that “Shhh” and “Peaceful” had and it takes its time on the main themes longer than Side A, but the melody in the organ is just as strong, if not stronger. This is where Shorter’s sax really shines, too. The entire midsection of this piece is playing off a simple, but perfect melody that I never want to end, but of course, like all things on this record, it suddenly stops just when it really starts to hit its stride, going right back into the reflective and tranquil beauty of “In A Silent Way,” but this time closing out the record with a flawless reprise.
Miles Davis was never satisfied doing the same old thing over and over again. He could’ve easily kept cranking out albums derivative of some of his earlier masterpieces like A Kind Of Blue or Sketches Of Spain. But he didn’t. He pushed fusion into the mainstream, often up against the derision of both critics and audiences, and brought jazz into the world of so many new listeners. His entire “electric period” is brilliant, but my favorite is the one that really started it all. Yes, he hinted at a few of the things to come on the record or two before it, but In A Silent Way stands out as his testament to always push forward. Building from where he was, but never afraid to show just how far he was willing to go. Heading in to 2019, I think that’s as inspiring a message as I’m gonna find, and I hope for just a fraction of the creative bravery found on this record.
Like Kraven, we’ve gotten old! And also like Kraven, we’ve got Spider-Man on the brain! Come join us as we read one of the best Spider-Man yarns ever spun: J.M. DeMatteis’s “Kraven’s Last Hunt”! And stay tuned to the end for a discussion on the fate of our Spectacular Podcast.
The original column was published on December 29th, 2018 and can be found below.
In the event that this fantastic voyage Should turn to erosion and we never get old Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable But our lives are valuable too
Here we go! We’re at the end of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. We started with Low, continued with “Heroes,” and now we’re finishing up with Lodger. I’ll be back to monthly after this, so I’m excited to see where I end up in January.
Full disclosure, right up front. I don’t have nearly as much of an attachment to Lodger as I do Low and “Heroes.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album. For sure. It just doesn’t have as grandiose of a thesis as the last two. It kind of wanders and is a bit all over the place. But that’s why it works for me. When you’re going through a transitional period, you can’t always end up in a clear, concise, and obvious place of growth. You usually just end up “here.” And you usually can’t tell where here is until you’re already… somewhere else. But it’s important to remember how you got “here.” Even when that trip was a rough one, it’s still, as Bowie calls it, a “Fantastic Voyage.”
But any sudden movement I’ve got to write it down They wipe out an entire race and I’ve got to write it down But I’m still getting educated but I’ve got to write it down And it won’t be forgotten ‘Cause I’ll never say anything nice again, how can I?
We’re learning to live with somebody’s depression And I don’t want to live with somebody’s depression We’ll get by, I suppose
There’s a lot of interesting directions Bowie and Eno choose to take on their final (for now) collaboration. Songs like “African Night Flight” and “Yassassin” pick up where the final song on “Heroes,” “The Secret Life Of Arabia” left off, with Bowie and Eno experimenting with world music. These serve as the most diverse songs on the record, which doesn’t feature any of the ambitious atmospheric instrumental pieces the last two albums featured. I don’t have a whole lot to say about them, but these serve to define the eclectic and meandering style of the record. Coupled with the German influenced “Red Sails,” this record really feels like Bowie wandering around the world trying to find the next musical outlet to call “here.” In case the diverse styles aren’t enough to convince us of this, here’s Bowie on “Move On.”
Sometimes I feel the need to move on So I pack a bag and move on Well I might take a train or sail at dawn Might take a girl when I move on
Somewhere, someone’s calling me And when the chips are down I stumble like a blind man Can’t forget you
The second side of the album is more focused and thematically driven. After establishing that Bowie can do whatever he wants on Side A, Side B is all about expectations and what those restrictions can do to people. Now that Bowie has broken out of the standards he’s set on his own records, it’s time to explore just what that kind of pressure can do when you *can’t* break free of it, in four different acts.
First, in “Look Back In Anger,” we see the set up. No matter where the pressure is coming from, we can so often only get mad and just wait for it to reach a tipping point.
Then “Boys Keep Swinging.” What about privilege? Can these societal pressures benefit some of us? Is it fair? What’s the downside to that?
Heaven loves ya, The clouds part for ya, Nothing stands in your way When you’re a boy Clothes always fit ya, Life is a pop of the cherry When you’re a boy Uncage the colors, Unfurl the flag, Luck just kissed you hello When you’re a boy Learn to drive and everything, You’ll get your share When you’re a boy
Well, the downside is for the people that tell those boys no. Nothing’s ever their fault, everyone else is just getting in their way. When someone is expected to be handed everything, over and over again, how does that person confront people that say no? Usually pretty poorly, as he lays out in “Repetition.”
He’ll get home around seven ‘Cause the chevy’s real old And he could have had a cadillac If the school had taught him right And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse And the food is on the table But the food is cold (Don’t hit her) “Can’t you even cook? What’s the good of me working when you can’t damn cook?” Well Johnny is a man And he’s bigger than her I guess the bruises won’t show If she wears long sleeves But the space in her eyes shows through And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse Shows through
And finally, he concludes the album, and this theme with “Red Money.”
Oh, can you feel it in the way That a man is not a man? Can you see it in the sky That the landscape is too high? Like a nervous disease And it’s been there all along It will tumble from the sky It’s been there all along Project cancelled Tumbling central Red money Can you hear it fall Can you hear it well Can you hear it at all
Lodger is a complicated album. Sure, it’s use of world music, and hooks helped influence so many musicians for decades to come, but at the time it was met with a pretty middle of the road response. But I think that’s fitting. After the masterpieces of Low and “Heroes,” expectations couldn’t be higher for a listener going in to Lodger. And what do you find? Wandering through different styles, grasping to see what works or what resonates with an artist in limbo. I’ve heard it described as a thesis-less album, but what if that’s the point? Aren’t we all unfocused, thesis-less people until we move on and someone decides what our “defining” thesis was? Sometimes we get the honor of deciding, but more often than not, it’s just the imprint that we left on someone else that actually matters. We’re all just different stages of put together as we fall sloppily through someone else’s idea of a narrative. If Lodger is about anything, it’s about the struggle of finding the balance of who you are, how society helped create that person, and how hard it is to overcome those expectations. There’s no clear answer, within the record or within ourselves, but at least the record ends with a hopeful: