Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
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As a humour series crammed full of visual and situational jokes, starring a cartoonish buffoon and populated by satirical caricatures, it would be easy to write Groo off as a simple gag strip. But the films of The Marx Brothers or Buster Keaton can be art while embracing all of those things, and Groo rises to the same level more often than not. Originally created in 1982 by artist Sergio Aragones, co-writer Mark Evanier, lettered Stan Sakai, and colourist Tom Luth, Groo is a parody of sword-and-sorcery heroes like Conan the Barbarian or Kull the Destroyer. As one of the finest and bravest warriors the world has ever seen, Groo is able to tear through whole armies armed with no more than a pair of swords and his grit and determination. Groo is also dumber than a sack of hammers and anyone who finds themselves allied with him often gets off much worse than they started off. Numerous running gags and recurring characters have cropped up through the thirty-five year run of the character’s many series, and The Groo Houndbook establishes one of Groo’s best-loved supporting characters: his loyal dog, Rufferto.
The basic plot of the four issues collected in The Groo Houndbook are as follows: a queen’s royal dog goes missing, wearing a collar full of priceless diamonds, and she puts out a reward to anyone who can find him. Not knowing about the rewards, Groo finds Rufferto and figures he would make a half-decent supper. Other people try to take the dog away from Groo, who defends his would-be meal with all his might. Rufferto, thinking that Groo is the greatest warrior he has ever seen, and the kindest master he has ever had, pledges his loyalty to the warrior for life. Other hijinks ensue.
What struck me the most while reading The Groo Houndbook was how complex the issues were. Not in terms of multiple running plot lines or well-rounded characters, but rather all the moving parts that the creators establish to make the gags work. Groo is more than a satire of Conan with a hero who loves cheese dip and doesn’t know what a mendicant is. He’s the center of a huge farce. The brilliance of Groo the series is that Groo the character might actually the most straightforward and well-adjusted person in the whole series. He might sometimes come across as chaos personified, but he has a few simple rules that would actually make interacting with him pretty simple. The other characters he runs into, those that try to scam or attack or manipulate him, are the ones who suffer. Groo just wanders into a scene, inadvertently fouls everything up, and walks away practically unscathed. It’s a good formula, but it takes a crew of amazing creators to elevate it to great art. The Groo Houndbook is one of the best examples of this creative team firing on all cylinders, and an excellent introduction to the character.
On the one hand, Mastodon’s Emperor of Sand is a concept album about a man exiled to the desert by an angry sultan and his revelations about life as he slowly succumbs. On the other hand, it’s an album that uses dystopian sci-fi imagery and heavy metal riffs as therapy for the band members as three different family members struggled with or succumbed to cancer. It’s certainly not a breezy listen. It’s also my favourite Mastodon album since 2009’s Crack The Skye, a heartcrushing soundscape of pain, anger, and hope.
Emperor of Sand isn’t exactly a groundbreaking work chock full with new musical ideas. For the most part, it sounds like a Mastodon album, no more, no less. But not every album needs to be a musical departure or creative reimagining. Emperor of Sand shows off the talent of the band as musicians, songwriters, and lyricists. It’s sonically multilayered and crystal clear (thanks to producer Brendan O’Brian), so musically dense I got lost trying to follow all the separate parts more than once. It’s got a couple meandering numbers that rely a little too much on the band’s tendle to noodle and riff, but it’s also got the radio-friendly-rock number “Show Yourself,” the anthemic fist pounder “Word To The Wise,” the cryptographically complex “Clandestiny,” and the symphonic opus of the final track, “Jaguar God.” It’s Mastodon sounding better than they have in years, with a palpable energy that bleeds out the speakers. I just love it.
I finished up the second season of Netflix’s Love this week, and it’s a triumphant return after a first season full of inspiration and promise. It’s a deceptively generic title that might lead the casual observer to think that it’s nothing much more than lightweight fluff. It’s not. Love is messy and complicated, with two main characters that are by turns both likeable and awful. Paul Rust plays Gus, a nerdy aspiring writer who works as a tutor on a cheesy CW-esque supernatural drama series. Gillian Jacobs plays Micky, an incredibly hip radio producer who behind the scenes can barely keep her personal life together. Micky is by far the best part of the show. Jacob really gets to sink her teeth into the role, an anti-pixie-dream-girl, and it’s her that holds the whole show together during weaker episodes.
In the first season the viewer gets to see each character works on their own as they slowly make their way towards each other, and in the second Micky and Gus stumble through a slowly developing relationship, however it is or is not labelled. It’s refreshing to watch how they interact with and grow closer towards each other because it’s not simple or straightforward. They are two flawed characters with emotional baggage, and their journey together isn’t easy. There are times where I wanted to shout at the screen “If you would just talk to each other/stop doing this thing/open your eyes to the truth of this situation, then this problem wouldn’t be a problem!” But that’s the point of Love: people aren’t logical, and they don’t always do the “right” thing. And besides, the “right” thing might not be obvious even to the outsiders. I appreciated how the writers expanded the roles of some of the supporting characters in the second season, especially Claudia O’Doherty as Bertie, Micky’s roommate. Love doesn’t promise happy endings (or even happy middles), just an unflinching and sometimes sweet look at relationships that goes beyond the sugary sweetness of the average rom-com.
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That’s about it for me this week! Until next time, I encourage you to embrace and elevate the silly and strange things in your life. Heck, you should probably do that all the time, just to keep everyone else honest. I’ll see you in seven days.