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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DC’s Future Quest series is the combination of Hanna-Barbera’s sci-fi/adventure characters in one giant New Frontier-esque crossover series. It’s a way of reintroducing classic cartoon characters such as Johnny Quest, Space Ghost, Birdman, The Herculoids, and more to an audience that might be unfamiliar with the nearly 50-year-old properties, as well satisfying readers who grew up with the characters with a team-up of epic proportions. To someone like me, whose personal tastes were coming into bloom at the rise of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, most of these characters are not adventure heroes but hilarious punchlines. In my mind, Space Ghost is a talk show host and Birdman is an inept lawyer. This makes the first volume of Future Quest a strange read for me, as every twenty pages I have to recalibrate my expectations when another “familiar” character shows up. All this setup is to say that if even someone like me can enjoy Future Quest on its own merits, then I think it must be a pretty entertaining comic book.
A very large part of that is thanks to the creative team. Writer Jeff Parker has shown that he’s extremely capable of exciting action and adventure writing with his work on series like Agents of Atlas, Flash Gordon, and Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. In Future Quest he has a huge cast of characters to juggle and he still manages to tell a cohesive story with a light touch that befits these characters. The artists on the series are also a great fit, including Parker himself as well as the great Steve Rude (Nexus), Aaron Lopresti (Wonder Woman, Death of Hawkman), Karl Kesel (Harley Quinn, Fantastic Four), and Craig Rousseau (The Perhapanauts, Impulse) bringing their own flair to the stories. The book’s biggest draw for me is the clean, elegant line of main artist and Parker’s Flash Gordon collaborator Evan “Doc” Shaner. His style is perfect for the series, combining classic comic book aesthetic with modern “widescreen” comics storytelling. Whether it’s the square-jawed heroes or wide-eyed children, dinosaurs or robots, Shaner never hits a wrong note. Future Quest sometimes struggles to contain its huge and expanding cast of characters but it’s got charm and talent to spare, and I can’t wait for the second collection.
Aesop Rock has been making hip-hop music for 20 years. In 1997 he released his debut album Music For Earthworms as an independent, self-distributed CD-R; since then he’s released six other full-length albums, as well as a handful of EPs and mixtapes. He was a part of the supergroup The Weathermen (along with another of my favourite rapper/producers, El-P), and was even commissioned to make music for Nike’s iPod running system. He’s also got the largest vocabulary in hip-hop, thanks to a statistical analysis from writer Matt Daniels. My introduction to the man has only come in the last few weeks since I acquired his 2016 album The Impossible Kid. It’s a complex album that weaves killer synth samples and grungy guitars with crisp beats, and lyrically alternating small personal anecdotes with reflections on society on the whole. Rock’s delivery combines the rapid-fire flow of his former bandmate El-P combined with the husky, contemplative style of Buck 65. And he puts his vast vocabulary to good use. Nearly every song he combines rhymes and rhythms that bubble up to the surface and connect unexpectedly. In “Blood Sandwich” he combines two vignettes about his brothers, one about the unexpected carnage at his younger brother’s Little League game and the other about his older brother’s teenage angst about not being able to go to a Ministry show. In “Dorks” he tries to explain his desire to remove himself both conceptually and physically from what he sees as the slick veneer of the modern music industry. “Kirby” is a tribute to his beloved cat; “Lotta Years” is a short but clever track about feeling out of touch with modern society. In each song he layers his lyrics and his beats in an effort to complement each other, never letting one overwhelm the other. The Impossible Kid is heartfelt and intelligent, art that you can dance to. It’s a good introduction to Aesop Rock’s and makes me want to slowly wander back through his catalogue and see what other gems there are.
Five episodes into the second season of The Detour I started to realize that I was watching something special. Co-created by star Jason Jones and Samantha Bee, the premise of the first season involved a road trip gone wrong (hence the title of the show). Nate Parker Jr. (Jones) takes his family including wife Robin (Natalie Zea) and his twins Delilah and Jared (Ashley Gerasimovich and Liam Carroll) on a road trip from New York to Florida. Along the way there are a number of setbacks, including medical emergencies, traffic jams, a stop at a disturbing bed & breakfast, and a small case of industrial espionage. The first season combined a clever and slightly metatextual framing device with flashbacks and fast-paced, crass humour, and it became a surprise hit for TBS. When it was announced that the series would be getting a second season, I wondered how the show would work without the “family road trip” structure to play off. Turns out, even better than the first go around. The creators decided to amp up the show’s self-referential tendencies without becoming bogged down in a “this is so meta!” vibe. The writers also give more focus to Natalie Zea’s Robin, which given her acting chops and comedic timing is a real blessing. The humour remains incredibly crass, which might turn off some viewers but ultimately throws the characters’ relationships and story stakes into crisp relief. So far The Detour has managed to outdo itself in its second season, and its smart, sick humour deserves a wide audience.
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That’s it for me this week, my friends. Until next time, embrace adventure and eschew the ordinary. It’s the only way to get through life, in my humble opinion. I’ll see you in seven days.