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Pop Culture

Folks: this past week was the longest week of my year so far. Coming down off the high that was Spring Break 2016 and all the funtimes that involved, this week was like a five day hangover. Now that it’s Friday again I feel like I can just about make it through…wait, it’s the weekend again! Never mind, everything’s fine, forget I mentioned it. Let’s just go through a quick summary of the great things that helped me get through the past week.

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I had been looking forward to this week’s New Comic Book Day with a lot more anticipation than normal. I mean, I am a fan of New Comic Book Day in general, but this week was the debut of the new Black Panther series, so my excitement had hit extreme levels. As long-time readers of this column may remember, I love the Black Panther, and this new series has a very impressive pedigree. The writer is Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist, author, and 2015 MacArthur Genius Grant winner, making his comics debut. The artist is Brian Stelfreeze, whose work on the Catwoman/Demon story in Wednesday Comics was one of the highlights of a series that was chock full of great comics art. And the colours are by Laura Martin, who has worked on titles like The Authority, Planetary, JLA, and Astonishing X-Men, and whose name is basically a guarantee of quality. With a roster like that working on one of my favourite Marvel characters, the book had a lot to live up to.

If this message reaches you, gentle readers, know that I have been enjoying the gentle retreat known to the rest of the world as Spring Break. For the past seven days I have surrounded myself with only the very best people and things, and it has been glorious. But all good things come to an end, and so too does my Spring Break. But I am left with memories of good times that will last me, well, a couple of weeks at least. I have a pretty bad memory. Here’s a quick sampling of what I got up to this week.

Dear Creature

It’s a strange comparison to make, but Jonathan Case’s 2011 comic book debut Dear Creature reminds me of Mike Allred’s Madman. The art styles and stories are wildly different, but both books are so very clearly the work of a passionate creator with a variety of influences on their sleeves. Dear Creature is about a mutant sea monster in the 1950s who can smell hormones in the air and kept himself alive by killing and eating young lovers in the sleepy beachside community he calls his home. Lately, though, his cannibalistic bloodlust has been tempered by a series of messages in bottles that have been making their way to him, excerpts of Shakespeare plays that have broadened both his heart and his mind, which makes his best friends — a group of wise-talking crabs — anxious. Eventually, he decides to venture out into the town to find the person who has been sending the messages, and then the book becomes something even stranger — a love story.

(NOTE: this was originally drafted and intended for publication on Friday, but due to technical difficulties — i.e., me pushing “Save” and not “Publish” — you get to read it today. Happy Monday!)

This week I am going to focus on two very different offerings: a independent comic about a brutal time in American history from a modern comics master, and a musical potpourri from one of my favourite musical discoveries of the last few years. The shift halfway through the column might be a bit of a hard left but hold on, I promise to try and make it worth your while.

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Kyle Baker has been making comics for over thirty years now, and he’s a kind of polarizing figure among readers. I’ve been a fan for years, though, from his early work on DC Comics’ pulp revival series like The Shadow and Justice, Inc. in the 1980s to his own original work on titles like Why I Hate Saturn, You Have Killed Me, and The Cowboy Wally Show. He’s a tremendous visual storyteller and character designer, who’s not afraid to take big artistic risks to make an emotional impact in a story. His 2005 four-issue series Nat Turner is a comic book adaptation of the life story of enslaved African-American Nat Turner, from just before his birth through the slave rebellion that he led in Virginia in 1831. Turner is an important and controversial figure in American history and race relations, and Kyle Baker’s graphic novel is an immediate, gripping, and emotionally charged retelling of the man’s story.

Greetings, all! By the time you read this I will be on my way to the Rocky Mountains for a weekend of skiing and celebrating the anniversary of my youngest brother’s birth. I am told there will be a lot of “shredding” in some very “sick powder,” as well as a generous supply of delicious adult beverages if I know my brother well (and I think I do). It’s going to be a good weekend for me, and I hope for you as well. If you’re curious about what you might be able to add to your weekend to make it even better, well then, you’re in luck, as I have a handful of pop cultural recommendations for your approval!

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I’m sure I can’t be the only person who does this, but sometimes when I’m reading a book or watching a movie and I’m really invested in the story, I seek out other stories that share themes and tones without realising that I’m doing it. It’s not until I’m well into the stories that it hits me that I’ve subconsciously started curating my own collection of, say, dystopian science-fiction stories that focus on social inequality. That was the case when I found myself alternating between chapters of Futureland, Walter Mosley’s collection of nine short stories about a not-so-distant future, and V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. These two stories are excellent counterpoints to each other, though I might not recommend reading them simultaneously and then thinking about the state of international politics during an election year in the United States. Though I will say from firsthand experience that I definitely started viewing the first few presidential primaries through a very distinctive lens.

Hello and happy Friday everyone! I am going to admit, I skipped watching Groundhog Day this past February 2 for the first time in over a decade, and I feel like my entire week has been off-kilter since then. Hot dang, I love that movie. But sometimes purposefully avoiding one's routine and rituals is necessary in order to get a new perspective. So that's where I'm at right now, a little on the back foot but hopefully more appreciative of the things around me. And I've definitely encountered some pop culture offerings that have been worthy of appreciation this past week or so. Let's get...

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Greetings, all! I know last week was a little heavy and I was looking forward to turning things around a little with this week’s column. And then I read a book that hit me in a very deep, personal place. So I’m going to write a little about that book, and do a little more self-disclosure than I am generally comfortable with in these columns, but that’s how much I liked the book. The column gets lighter towards the end, so don’t fret too much; this isn’t going to become “Devin-Talks-About-His-Feelings-And-Maybe-A-Comic-Boo-If-He-Feels-Like-It Weekly” or anything. This week, though, I’m going to start off with a little Canadian content from the man who invented the term “Generation X.”

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Sometimes, I read a book and I feel like it’s written just for me. Something about the themes, or the writing style, or the sense of humour, or something a little more ineffable, just resonates, hitting me right in the gut. It’s as though the author were speaking directly to me, cutting through the time and space and speaking right to the heart. It’s happened to me a quite a few times in my reading life, when a book goes from “great” to “transcendent” simply because I read it at just the right time. Life After God is just that kind of book. And the beautiful thing is, it did it twice.

I was so looking forward to talking about Blackstar for this edition of 7Days, because I've been a David Bowie fan for over 20 years. It was going to be just one of the highlights of the column, one thing to touch on in the middle of an array of my popular culture offerings. And then. And then. I was absolutely rocked by the news. I walked around in a daze for part of my work day, and broke down crying on more than one occasion. It knocked the wind out of my sails and the one thing that helped me get through it was...

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Happy David Bowie’s Birthday everybody! Yes, today The Thin White Duke turns 69 years old and also releases a new album, which means that later today I have an album purchase to make. But that’s for the future. What about the present?

I’m coming off an illness that wiped me out for the past few days, so I thought I’d ease into the second full week of 2016 with a brief review of some of the best things that I discovered or rediscovered over the past three weeks.

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Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits TPB cover by

Cover to Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

Over the break I’ve delved even further into my Hellblazer trade paperbacks and have read nearly all of the Garth Ennis run on the series, and let me just say: it’s still good. One of the things that I love about John Constantine is the malleability of the character, the way he can become what the writer needs him to be by shifting slightly without losing the continuity of being. Ennis was the first writer to do that for an extended run, taking the reigns of the series after the brilliant Jamie Delano’s departure, and he cranks up John’s cynicism and rage without losing any of the character’s humour or heart. Whether he’s introducing Constantine to the King of the Vampires, celebrating his 40th birthday, having him cut a deal with the Devil, or having him fall in love with a beautiful Irish girl, Ennis handles the character with bite and charm. And as this is Hellblazer after all, when things start looking good for our boy John, the table gets flipped and everything crashes down around him. Ennis’ run is probably one of the most accessible jumping-on points for Hellblazer, whether the stories are being illustrated by the underrated Will Simpson or long-time Ellis collaborator Steve Dillon, so starting a 300-issue series from the beginning seems daunting this is a fairly good place to dip one’s toe into.

I'm back! And better than ever! Well, maybe that second part is hyperbole. But I am back, which means that I have a few pop cultural artifacts all shined up and ready for your approval! Movies, music, podcasts, and comics. It's a bag of treats with a little something for everyone. Especially if "everyone" includes people who like horror comics, melodramas, and experimental electronic music. * * * * * Hellblazer is a comic with a hell of a pedigree (no pun intended). For 300 issues — plus annuals, specials, and miniseries — John Constantine as a character was fertile storytelling ground for a...

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And then suddenly, it was the end of November. I swear it just started last week, but the state of my apartment and the state of my mind testify to the fact that that is not the case. I have actually had an embarrassment of pop culture riches this week, as for the first time in a long time I had significantly more things that I wanted to write about than I had brainspace for. So here are the highlights: two long-overdue revisits and an injection of musical adrenaline. * * * * * [caption id="attachment_14766" align="aligncenter" width="312"] Cover to Daredevil Vol. 2:...

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