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: John Bernardy, Steve Wandling, Lindsay Stamhuis, Bryan O’Donnell, Rikki Robinson, and Tim Fuglei.
John: Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men’s 250th episode, “Minding the DNA, feat. Fabian Nicieza” is hands down my pick of the week.
This podcast is for anyone who started reading X-Men comics back in the ’90s because of the animated series on Fox.
You get to hear what it was like actually working behind the scenes of the most lucrative franchise in Marvel at the time, and how the proverbial bed of roses had its fair share of weeds.
Nicieza talked about his time working on X-Force and the main X-books. He owns up to being over-committed (writing six books a month at one point), explains how NFL Superpro is basically a favor to the company that has playfully given him grief for 25 years, and shares how his view of storytelling didn’t jibe with the editorial in the X-Office.
His long-game story planning process didn’t work well with Bob Harras and Scott Lobdell’s more-utilized improviser approach, so few of his characters panned out the way he initially designed. But he’s also very proud of what he was able to do with the blank slate known as Cable over about fifty issues. He also loves the arc he was able to do setting Cannonball up for a leadership role, and expressed his heartbreak when the next writers/editors ignored said progress. It was bittersweet, understandably so.
This podcast talked about the highs and the lows, and did a great job of exploring the nuance of Nicieza’s complicated feelings of the worst job and best job of his entire life.
You’ll also get different philosophies behind his X-Force team versus his New Warriors. You’ll get the intended story of Adam X. You’ll get how he learned he wasn’t just filling in for Chris Claremont.
This one is packed to the gills both at a story level and a meta level, and it’s as human as it is educational. You’ll be glad you listened to it.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify | RSS In which writer Fabian Nicieza joins us to talk ’90s crossovers, narrative legacies, and what Adam X’s word balloons really sound like!
Lindsay: In early May, an Eskasoni, Nova Scotia high school class released a cover version of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” translated into their native Mi’kmaq language. Sung by 16-year-old student Emma Stevens, the song hit viral status on YouTube and skyrocketed the Allison Bernard Memorial High School students and their teacher, Carter Chiasson, into the international spotlight. It paid off big time this week when Paul McCartney himself gave the Canadian kids a shout-out during a concert stop in Lexington, Kentucky.
EmmaStevens gets a shout out by @PaulMcCartney “There’s an incredible version done by a Canadian girl, see it on youtube, its in her native language.” See her play at the opening of the @unhabitat @UN #UNHabitatAssembly – https://t.co/CqMSgF1VuE #paulmccartney #blackbird https://t.co/WsuQaaczp3
Mi’kmaq is a language spoken primarily in Eastern Canada and the United States and counts only 10,000 people among its native speakers. The translation of the song, by two additional teachers at Allison Bernard Memorial (Katani Julian and Albert “Golydada” Julian), is a difficult one because of how many polysyllabic words had to be made to fit the simple melody and rhythm of the original song. Stevens’ version gets it right: it’s a beautifully moving rendition.
McCartney has frequently cited the Civil Rights movement as the catalyst for him to write “Blackbird”, which appeared on the 1968 album The Beatles (The White Album). So it’s fitting perhaps that this particular translation of the song into a little-known First Nation’s language comes about as indigenous communities around the world are seeking reconciliation and reparation for centuries of harm by colonizing nations, including the cultural genocide of residential schools and inquiries into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The viral video sensation also comes during the 2019 UN International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Bryan: Chicago-based band Dehd released their latest album on May 10. Water is a no-frill, stripped-down postpunk album. It’s also a breakup album—but not your run-of-the-mill breakup album, as the said breakup occurred between two of the three members of the band: bassist Emily Kempf and guitarist Jason Balla.
This dynamic comes across loud and clear when listening to the album, with Kempf and Balla sharing the vocal duties. Sometimes, like on the opening track “Wild,” the two sing very separate parts that snake within each other simultaneously, like two people thinking about two different but related things, but at the same time. In other songs, like “Baby,” Kempf and Balla sing as one.
The two are communicating with each other through music in this very raw way, and it’s just such a treat. I enjoy the entire album a great deal, but I’m pretty much obsessed at the moment with “On My Side,” which falls right in the middle, and at the heart, of the album. The song comes across as a conversation, with Balla saying “Let me know if you’re gonna be my friend. Let me know when to go.” Kempf’s response is chilling. I’m not even sure what she’s singing—I know I could look it up but I almost prefer just thinking of it as a pure vocal emotion expelled into the air.
In an interview with Chicago’s WBEZ, Kempf said: “On that song, particularly, I was sobbing between every take and like falling to the ground, just totally, like, ‘I can’t do this, this is so hard.’” I can believe that; I can feel the beautiful sadness in her singing and it’s very powerful. If you’re looking for a good, simple, moody album. Look no further than Dehd’s Water.
Rikki: After an ad campaign that focused on its amazing cast, Perpetual Grace LTD premiered on June 2, on Epix. Now, television shows don’t usually catch my attention, but this one not only seemed to have an amazing cast—including, among others: Sir Ben Kinglsey, Jimmi Simpson, Jacki Weaver and Luis Guzman—but it appeared to have the dusty, gritty feel of an old western, which happens to be one of my favorite genres.
The show is described as being “a 10 episode modern noir drama which follows James (Jimmi Simpson), a young grifter, as he attempts to prey upon Pastor Byron Brown (Sir Ben Kingsley), who turns out to be far more dangerous than he suspects. The pastor and his wife Lillian (Jacki Weaver)—known to their parishioners as Pa and Ma—have used their religion to bilk hundreds of people out of their life savings.” This description, although dead on, does little justice to the amazing acting and character development of Perpetual Grace LTD.
One can now find two episodes on Epix of this character driven show and I could not recommend it more. I cannot wait to see where these terribly flawed, yet terribly interesting characters are headed now that the original plan has gone awry—and now that Pa’s evil side has been more than adequately revealed to the audience.
And as Pa would say,”Get the rhythm. Get the rhythm” and watch Perpetual Grace LTD on Epix. “There we go. There we fucking go.”
Tim: Thomas Harris became something of a household name after a couple of modestly successful thrillers led to The Silence Of The Lambs: a seminal work of serial killer suspense that launched the fictional feminist icon Clarice Starling and continued the dark journeys of everyone’s favorite cannibal, Hannibal Lecter. The book, as concise and flawless a procedural as you’re likely to find, spawned an Oscar winning film, a bloated sequel and, finally, a prequel. The stories didn’t have the punch of Silence (or the epic sprawl of Red Dragon, the novel that introduced Lecter to the world and ended up being adapted to film twice), and it appeared Harris had finally exhausted the character, and perhaps was exhausted with writing itself by the time Hannibal Rising came out—that was in 2006, and he hasn’t released a work of fiction since until this month.
Jettisoning the cast of characters that provided his meal ticket for four novels, he’s crafted a quick read centered around another strong female lead, the titular Cari Mora.
Inspired by a United Nations report on girl child soldiers as well as his adopted hometown of Miami, FL, Harris makes Cari a smart, strong young woman shaped by a rough Columbian childhood filled with violence, committed on and by her, who’s trying to make a go of it in Florida. She’s struggling with her visa status in Trump’s America and keeping her head down doing several odd jobs, as she is hopefully on the way to a career as a veterinarian.
One of these jobs is particularly odd; she’s the caretaker for a mansion once owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, filled to the rafters with the random memorabilia of a super wealthy criminal, and sitting atop a vault full of gold bars.
Several factions converge on this place throughout Cari Mora to figure out how to get their hands on this $25 million jackpot, but it’s submerged in the water underneath the oceanside estate with a variety of challenges set up to deter anyone from getting their greedy hands on the treasure.
Not the least of them is the story’s primary antagonist: a twisted, hairless German named Hans-Peter Schneider who deals in human trafficking and gleeful sadism. He takes an immediate and wholly disturbing interest in Cari, despite that fact that she rapidly exits the job once the criminal nature of Schneider’s plans become clear. Her loose friendship with several members of a local gang sets up the action for the remainder; all Cari wants to do is keep a low profile, but she’s too capable an ally for all sides not to want her help getting their hands on the prize.
Harris, long more of a storyteller than a wordsmith, brings his usual tight pacing and direct voice in narrating Cari’s adventures here. Freed of the constraints of his own Hannibal-verse, there’s a lightness to the proceedings that’s a switch from most of his oeuvre; one gets the sense he’s glad to have escaped Quantico VA and is enjoying doing his best to capture the LatinX rhythms of Miami, a feat he generally accomplishes throughout.
Cari is the primary character given anything approaching an internal dialogue as we receive dollops of her backstory here and there to inform the various present day actions and her decisions on how to deal with them. Law enforcement, so often the center of the story in previous tales, barely registers here with a brief third act appearance of a well meaning cop.
Schneider is a totem many will recognize as a Harris staple: a man who delights in doing evil things to his fellow men, and especially women. He’s no Hannibal, though—something of a pale imitation in fact. For a writer who’s famous for classic killers such as the Red Dragon, Buffalo Bill and Dr. Lecter himself, this one seems like he’s trying too hard at times.
That said, Cari is a character Harris may well revisit, and readers will want to see where she lands next. Really, there are plenty of familiar elements for fans to recognize, between the depraved baddies, tough women, and a man-eating creature popping up here and there.
The writer manages to hold off for 207 pages before, yes, a dash of cannibalism is thrown in for good measure. Ultimately Cari Mora is a beach book; it is a fun and fairly frothy return to the land of fiction from one of our premiere thriller writers. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 13 years for the next one.
Steve: James Ellroy is one of the most prominent voices in crime fiction. His novels have their own kind of rhythm that’s driven by short, staccato sentences that read like machine gun fire. His “LA Quartet”: Black Dahlia (1987), The Big Nowhere (1988), LA Confidential (1990), and White Jazz (1992) helped set the tone for all modern crime fiction and also ushered in a specific vision of a classic Hollywood that is beyond subversive.
Behind the bright lights and promised dreams of James Ellroy’s Los Angeles, lies a sinister underworld full of the toughest of crime. Gangster and dames fill the pages of his work. In Ellroy’s “city of angels,” what we see is the world’s filth run amok.
The novels are filled with corrupt cops who see brutality as just another part of the job; serial killers that create as much sensation as the celebrities living on Sunset Boulevard. No one is to be trusted, and one always has to watch their back in a James Ellroy novel. There aren’t that many good guys, and his style is the very definition of hard-boiled.
James Ellroy’s “L.A. Quartet” has been adapted to the big screen; most notably in Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential (1997). Led by an ensemble cast of Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, and Kim Basinger, the film was an absolute tour-de-force that brought back all the elements of classic noir cinema and hard-boiled crime fiction that Hollywood was known for.
Based off of that film’s success, Brian de Palma took a stab at The Black Dahlia (2006) but that film didn’t quite capture the spirit of Ellroy the way LA Confidential had. Now the author himself has returned to the dark, smoke-filled alleys of Los Angeles with his new novel–the second in a new prequel “L.A. Quartet” to his interconnected previous works. Not surprisingly, in his new historical novel This Storm (2019), L.A. has never seemed bleaker.
Diving back into the systemic racism of the LAPD in 1942, Ellroy drops the reader into a world full of crime and filth. The book’s central character is none other than a younger version of the corrupt LAPD Sergeant Dudley Smith. It’s January of ’42, which means America had just entered WWII and was still reeling from Pearl Harbor.
Anyone that has read enough Ellroy to get to know Dudley Smith shouldn’t be surprised to know that he’s just as conniving in This Storm as he was later on in life. He gets by on the side, making what money he can from war profiteering and working for army intelligence. On all sides, he feels surrounded by radical communists that seem to be be a much bigger threat than the Nazis and their American sympathizers.
This is a crazy thing to say, but a simple murder investigation in the chaos of January 1942 Los Angeles would have seemed a relief to any detective, even the sly Dudley Smith. As all things Ellroy, nothing in This Storm is as it seems, however. Revolving around a chaotic world that shines light on Japanese internment post-Pearl Harbor much the same way LA Confidential shined a light on the horrific way the LAPD treated black people, This Storm is James Ellroy at his finest: telling noir driven hard-boiled crime stories that shed light on the uglier aspects of life in the golden age of Hollywood that draws parallels to the ever-growing fear based world we live in today.
Those are our recommendations this week! What are yours? Let us know in the comments!