Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week’s entries come from: Will Johnson, Ali Sciarabba, John Bernardy, Bryan O’Donnell, and Caemeron Crain.
Will: You, me, myself, I, and all of our parents know we live in a superhero world now. And while most people at least accept the existence of a multi-media world of capes and quips, some people don’t like it, screaming at the sky that comics and superheroes are the end of culture. And while I won’t go on a rant about how much Bill Maher needs to just go sit down somewhere and not worry about his lawn being tread on by us geeks, I would like to give him, and many other doubters, a copy of Grant Morrison’s Supergods.
Like his comic writing career, Morrison uses his incredible ability to spot a trend before it hits big by essentially predicting the world we currently live in. Supergods was originally published in 2011, when the MCU was only two or three films in and the Nolan Batman films were celebrating victory atop the zenith of pop culture. Morrison, as one of the most successful comic writers of the modern era, not only put together a very academic history book on the rise, fall, and rise again of superhero comics as seen through the lens of politics, social change, and the evolution of fan culture, but also showed the evolutionary road map of where superheroes were going to be now, in 2019, not to mention 2039 and 2099.
Separating comics into four time periods (Golden, Silver, Dark Ages, and the Renaissance), Morrison goes micro and macro, focusing on two or three specific titles that defined an age, as well as showing fads, generalities and oddities that survived pop culture’s natural selection. This was all wrapped around then current events of the United States, where comics took form.
Morrison, a native Scotsman, is well versed in the American history he uses as backdrop, applying an impressively vast bibliography ranging from straight history to philosophy and just about any -ism you can think of, to weave a compelling tale of how superheroes started, what they became, how they destroyed themselves, how they were reborn and what they would become. That last bit is what makes this book, now already seven years old, the page-turner it is: Morrison gets so much correct about what superheroes would be, not to mention how fan culture itself and the then-burgeoning social media of 2011 would dominate pop culture, and everything else, seemingly forever.
Though Morrison does take bizarre side roads into his own life, including drug induced journeys into mystery, late-night interactions with the real Superman, and how Morrison himself might be responsible for post-punk…I think…when Supergods stays on track and gives us a glimpse of our comic past and our comic future, it can’t be denied as a master work.
Bryan: One of my favorite bands, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, released a new single on February 1st: “Cyboogie.” The 7-piece band from Australia put out a whopping five full-length albums in 2017. Last year felt a little empty without any new King Gizzard music, but it looks like they’re kicking things back into high gear for 2019. The band makes music of many different styles, from prog/psychedelic rock to jazz to folk, and has concept albums that tell fictional stories on topics such as a human/beast hybrid known as Altered Beast, a battle between the Lord of Lightning and the Balrog, a cyborg that destroys the universe, and a fantasy land called Polygondwanaland. With their styles all over the place, it’s no surprise that “Cyboogie” would be something new-sounding for King Gizzard. The new single is a synth-driven disco-robot tune that gets in your head and won’t leave. And the music video (see below) looks like something out of a cheesy 1970s science fiction movie. King Gizzard on February 6th announced a U.S./Canada tour for this summer, promising new songs and visuals. So something tells me “Cyboogie” might just be the tip of the iceberg for new music from the band this year.
Did you know that YouTube star Jenna Marbles is a gamer? I didn’t, at least until recently. Jenna and her boyfriend, Julien Solomita, have a shared Twitch channel where they stream most evenings. Julien is the one on camera most of the time, but Jenna pops in and out to interact with viewers in the chat. Jenna and Julien play a lot of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (aka PUBG), a battle royale game that I find endlessly entertaining (although they do play other games from time to time). I tried at one point to get good at PUBG and failed miserably, so I like watching players who are actually good at the game but don’t take themselves too seriously.
What sets Jenna and Julien’s channel apart from many others is that they are great players but they also love to goof around while they play. So many communities in the gaming world are incredibly toxic but Jenna and Julien have a community (called the “dink fam”) who are incredibly kind, funny, and welcoming. Jenna and Julien also have a great group of (equally non-toxic) friends who they play with, and the result is a lot of hilarious goofs and banter. It’s perhaps not a stream for the super hardcore gamer, but if you like watching funny people play games with friends, with an equal amount of serious gameplay and screwing around for laughs, JennaJulien is for you. They also have three amazing dogs who frequently make appearances on stream and, for me, dogs, games, and goofs is a winning combination. This clip is just one example of the kind of shenanigans they get into.
John: Last week’s Laser Time Podcast (#366) is titled “The Complete Saga of Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show,” and boy howdy is it ever. Anyone paying attention to the late night scene ten years ago had something to say about the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien battle that should never have been, and this podcast captures a ton of those moments (Jimmy Kimmel absolutely destroying Leno to Leno’s face on Leno’s own show is a particularly fond can’t-believe-that-happened memory I was glad to relive). The podcast hosts look into everything that led up to Leno’s announcement that he’d hand over Tonight Show to Conan in five years, and how that hand-off only lasted for seven months. Main host Chris Antista loves Conan like Kimmel loves Letterman, so you know this is well researched and sources were cited all over. The whole show hit me in the feels (both negative and positive). It’s memorable and bittersweet, and well worth two and a quarter hours of your time.
Caemeron: Like many of you (I hope), I watched Russian Doll this week. It probably should have been released a day later, to fully embrace its Groundhog Day vibe, but we can forgive it that.
The premise is simple enough: Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) keeps dying and living the same day over again. But she doesn’t wake to an alarm clock, as is so often the case in such things; rather she always resets to a particular moment in the bathroom at her 36th birthday party, where Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” is playing.
That doesn’t really matter, except for the way the song got stuck in my head, tinged with a certain dread of death. It is a good song, though!
The point is that Russian Doll is all that you might want out of a good time-loop narrative, and more. And I’m a sucker for a time-loop, from Groundhog Day to The X-Files to Supernatural to Star Trek Discovery last season…Oh and movies like Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code, even if the latter disappointed me a bit. (That episode of Supernatural was dope, though, and maybe the most direct parallel to Russian Doll I can think of.)
But Russian Doll doesn’t just give you that time-loop goodness; it gives you something deeper about the human condition and our need to connect with one another. So often these stories are about a hero needing to stop something very bad from happening, but here it is something else; this is a story about finding oneself through the repetition. I have seen interesting reflections relating it to the structure of addiction and/or coping with trauma—there is space to interpret this work in multiple ways. And while it deals with some heavy existential issues, it is also a lot of fun.
Give it a watch, if you haven’t already, and then check out our more in-depth coverage. I’ve enjoyed reading it, so I hope you do too!
And let us know what you recommend! You never know, we might check it out and write something!