In keeping with the thread that included my Hip Hop^, METAL!, and Country. articles, I decided to do one that focused on a decade rather than a genre. I think the ’80s is a great decade to focus on primarily because it gets written off far too often by people who remember or think of it as containing only hair rock, death metal, post-disco pop, disco rhinestone-country and early gangsta rap. It was all of these things as well, of course; and before the complaints roll in, sure Madonna and Michael Jackson made a few great pop records, bands like GNR and Motley Crue despite being silly and over-the-top were often fun, and NWA served a purpose even if that purpose got lost along the way. But moving beyond that, there was a lot of great music bubbling underneath. College radio was born in the eighties and the alternative music and indie scene (sung about by the second band on this list in their “Left of the Dial” song) came about from that. There were a slew of great pop singles – “Your Love” by The Outfield, “Sunglasses at Night,” Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”…hip hop, goth rock, speed metal, art rock, post-punk, and a lot of other great stuff stirred up.

So here is my list of the 10 best popular music acts of the eighties.

1) The Smiths

For many music critics, The Smiths were the bookend to The Beatles; where The Beatles opened the door as the first truly great rock and roll band, The Smiths closed it by being the last. I won’t go that far, but I will go so far as to say they were the best rock group of the eighties. Lead Singer and songwriter Morrissey and lead guitarist Johnny Marr created some of the best pop songs of all time as well as a couple of the greatest records ever as well– The Smiths are good in both departments, singles and albums. Forgive them for being the inspiration for the generation that created and took emo worldwide–Moz’s lyrics were often so melancholy and Marr’s chords so mournful (combined with song titles like “Please Please Let Me Get What I Want This Time”) proved to be the fire that lit that whole movement, but where most of the emo groups failed in going beyond shallow disappointment and self-pity, The Smiths succeeded in capturing existential doubt and confusion that often got lit up with the highs of adolescence as well–the joyous first love in “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” the acceptance of self in “Hand in Glove,” the outright bounce of “Ask.” Sure they could bring you down–has there ever been a more sad song about simply living than “Never Had No One Ever” ?– but the humor was always waiting around the corner even if was a “Vicar in a Tutu.”  If “Abbey Road” was the greatest record of the sixties, “The Queen is Dead” was its eighties counterpart.

2) The Replacements

The Replacements were such a great post-punk band. Their earliest singles reveled in simplicity and noise – “Kids Don’t Follow,” Shiftless When Idle”–and their later singles were just perfectly crafted and produced rock and roll songs–“Alex Chilton,” “I’ll Be You,” “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Along the way they had room to work in southern twang (and lead singer Paul Westerburg took that as a launch point for his later often alt-country solo career) with songs like “Here Comes a Regular.” Their “Let it Be” and “Tim” records are perfect even when they drop into the gutter with what should be throwaway and  juvenile like “Tommy Got His Tonsils Out,” or “Gary’s Got a Boner.” They even made a great song out of a Kiss cover with their version of “Black Diamond.” The Replacements were the perfect band for eighties teenage life, even though I can only imagine since I was more than a decade away from that phase of my life in the midst of their  career!

3) Public Enemy

Chuck D boomed with baritone rhymes, Flava Flav ligtened things up with a little humor, Terminator X laid down fierce cacophonies of sound and samples as DJ, and the Bomb Squad Production made everything go boom. “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” and “Fear of a Black Planet” are two of the greatest albums in hip hop history, and much of their later work had moments that came close to living up to those highlights. Singles like “Fight the Power,” “Welcome to the Terrordome,” “911 is a joke,” and “Rebel Without a Pause” rank among the best to ever emerge from the genre. Politically conscious even if sometimes misguided, PE blueprinted what Hip Hop could be even if NWA unfortunately pushed things to follow the other route.

4) U2

U2 is more than an eighties band and arguably their best work came afterward–“Achtung Baby,” “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” and “No Line on the Horizon.” Yet if U2 had only done what they did in the eighties they would still be considered a classic rock band. Their alternative sounding early work, “Boy,” October,” “War,” and the live “Under a Blood Red Sky” were a lot rawer and younger than what came later but also produced some of their greatest songs: “New Years Day,” “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “I Will Follow.” They went global with “The Joshua Tree” and completely defined mainstream eighties without really selling out; and even with the sometimes borderline pretentiousness of “Rattle and Hum,” U2 managed to convincingly play the part of rock stars and still give lead singer Bono a platform to address the social issues he felt strongly about (and which he worked-and still does- tirelessly for in his own time).

5)New Order

Everyone always name-checks Joy Division; as sad as the tragic suicide of it’s lead singer is and as good of an album as “Closer” was, I prefer the music of New Order, the band that formed from their remnant,  most often over Joy Division. New Order made the best synth-pop of the eighties, which pretty much means of ever by default. The electronic dance and guitar rock fusion just clicked perfectly in their work and songs like “Shellshock,” “Blue Monday,” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” still sound excellent. Many of their albums were great, but the best way, in my opinion, to experience them first is with the 2 disc “Substance” compilation. Stretched out at around 2 hours you get the pop singles and the extended dance mixes which are equally important for getting New Order.

6)Prince

Prince is excellent and as amazing he is at playing pretty much anything and at catching perfect pop melodies in his head and recreating them for the rest of us to hear, he often is his own worst enemy as most know. When he’s on, though, he’s on in aces and he most definitely was on in his career high of the eighties with epic funk-soul-pop masterpiece albums: “Dirty Mind,” “Purple Rain,” “1999,” and “Sign O the Times” not to mention some of the best pop singles ever in “When Doves Cry,” “1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” etc. His eccentricity took over for most of his post eighties career even though superb 2000s releases like “Musicology” and “3121” reminded us all how good Prince really was.

7)Slayer

You can read my full survey of these guys in that above-linked “Metal!” article, so I won’t rehash it all here. I still refuse to excuse them for their ignorance or moral lapses, but the pure unhinged roar of work like “Reign in Blood” will forever catalog these guys as game changers and metal kings.

8)The Cure

The Cure, as well as I discussed with The Smiths, bear a bit of blame for the emo generation (less you think I completely castigate that genre, you can read my appraisal and appreciation of the genre here–a rather embarrassing and more heart-on-sleeve personal tone that I try and avoid in most articles). The Cure though, are best placed on this list for their perfect pop songs– “Friday I’m in Love,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Pictures of You,” “Love Cats,” etc. Those type of songs would be enough to make them worthy but above that they had the bouncy, bass line heavy post punk “Boys Don’t Cry” album and the gothic, emo-inspiring works of “Disintegration” and “Pornography.” Yet the sheer artistry of “Disintegration,” much like that of, say, “The Queen is Dead,” places it far ahead of any emo-genre item and into the land of classic rock albums. “Disintegration” packs weight and also had massively great songs like “Love Song” and “Fascination Street.”


9)Run DMC

Run DMC made hip hop viable and widespread; they made full classic Hip Hop albums (like “Raising Hell”) at a time in which rap had primarily been a singles game. They paid close attention to sound and production, crafting music that was clean in the audible sense and that could compete with any rock record in terms of production. They were stylish, had attitude, and would’ve been huge even without that over-hyped Aerosmith collaboration (which did more for Aerosmith than these guys, since Tyler and the guys had been in a slump at the moment that team-up occurred). Run DMC weren’t the end destination of the full consummation of what hip hop could or should be, but they were the next major step in that direction.

10) Tom Waits

Tom Waits was a great musician in the ’70s, so in that sense he’s not an “80s Artist”– not to mention that his work continued on through the ’90s and the 2000s, always evolving, always creative. His work in the seventies was more traditional in some senses, more nostalgic in others: albums like “The Heart of Saturday Night” were great piano balladry and Sinatra filtered through rock and roll-esque tunes that worked like drunken yearning soundtracks to old noir novels. Wait’s later work pushed the boundaries of noise experimentation yet would always stop to take time for excellent ballads driven by character. Yet Waits makes this list just for his ’80s work, specifically for his trilogy of underground masterpieces “Swordfishtrombones,” “Rain Dogs” and “Frank’s Wild Years.” “Rain Dogs was the centerpiece, a great noisy, noir, scary, exciting, eccentric work that stands alone pretty much uncontested as a combination of progressive alternative rock, folktale balladry, jazz nodding appreciation, with horror rock flourishes and pop melodies sung with evolved (or devolved) Waits vocals in which he now sounded like someone who had gargled with whiskey and nails for 5 years.

So that’s it for my picks and I know a lot of folks who were teens and twenty- somethings in the eighties who would definitely disagree with my picks, but that’s how I see it now looking back as an outsider to that generation! I’ll leave this article with a short, and by no means complete, list of classic eighties albums made by artists who didn’t make the cut for me but whose work deserves a mention.

Siouxsie & The Banshees: Hyaena; REM: Murmur; Kate Bush: Hounds of Love; Motley Crue: Too Fast For Love; Metallica: Master of Puppets; Guns N Roses: Appetite For Destruction; Erik B and Rakim: Paid in Full; NWA: Straight Outta Compton; Dwight Yoakam – Guitars, Cadillacs, etc.; Lyle Lovett – Pontiac; INXS – Kick; XTC – Skylarking; Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love; Husker Du – New Day Rising; The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy; Danzig-Danzig; Chris Isaak – Heart Shaped World; The Rolling Stones: Tattoo You *

– Many of these albums are by artists whose work before and/or after the the eighties place them for me far above anyone who made the list, but I tried to judge this list by the artists work in the eighties only.

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A story on CNN a couple of days ago stated that this year, political advertisements are expected to reach a cost of 4.2 billion dollars…and it’s a midterm election! The same story went on to report that despite the common protests people make about hating “negative” ads, it’s been shown time and again that those are the ads that work; they stick with people and influence more decisions than people want to admit.

I decry the lack of education on the issues in regards to making political decisions here on RATDOTL quite often, most recently here. In continuation with that, and thinking about that astronomical waste of 4.2 billion dollars, I’m taking the position that we as the general public have no need for any TV political advertisements. Perhaps that seems to contrast with my complaint that the public isn’t educated on the issues before making decisions; maybe on the surface, but not in actuality. When have any of us learned anything useful about a politician or a political issue from a television ad? Even the ads that aren’t “negative”–and give a campaign long enough and all ads turn negative in some way–still gloss the truth, are still hyperbolic,  are still misleading.

4.2 billion dollars! I keep coming back to that; that’s a lot of money to be wasted in one year. Of course, we can cherry pick a lot of “wastes” if we want to–I mean, “Vampires Suck” raked in 12 million in one weekend with, as Matt Stevens over at E! online called,  “lame, lazy movie parodies aimed at attention-deficient tweens.” But those were tweens spending their allowances on diversion, so we’ll let that slide. This 4.2 billion dollars, on the other hand, is being spent by “public servants” and those who want to be public servants. If making this country a better place were truly the goal of these nice folks, there are much better places to dump that kind of money. You can accuse me of naivety now, I do understand that if they want to be in this system as we have it they have to play the game to get in–no one’s going to elect someone they’ve never heard of and most people hear of politicians by watching TV, unfortunately. If the person running for office wants to make changes from the inside, they must first get inside and to do that they have to spend this kind of money.

So, that’s why I think all political TV ads should cease. The public should find other, better ways to learn about the issues before making a decision. The news should (and can) report on those issues and on what the politicians are proposing be done about them, but quick, snappy, vitriolic smears are not needed. The fact checker websites that dissect those ads keep very busy disproving those false stats and claims but only a small percentage of people who see the original ads ever go to such sites to find out which claims are actually true.

Of course this would only be a first step in cleaning up the immoral waste of capital that campaigns go through. Needed even more than this is drastic campaign finance reform–it’s far past time to end situations in which companies and special interest groups can finance a victory and then get repaid with votes and favors…but hey, it’s the US and money is king. Money’s the blood that flows through the machine.

In Defense of Criticism

August 22, 2010

How’s that for a title?
The type of criticism that is the subject here isn’t some lofty form of political protest either, but just regular ole pop culture criticism, primarily of music and film.
As someone who reviews albums, concerts, books, movies and even releases end of year “best of” lists, I notice comments that friends and folks make regarding “critics,” because I realize that by discussing and occasionally ranking pop media I am a freelance critic of sorts, and even though I’m not on anyone’s payroll for being one that’s just because no one’s made an offer! Doing it for free certainly isn’t just a noble venture or an attempt at not “selling out.”

Now, I can’t say why everyone that writes and ranks pop media does it, but I know why it’s a facet of my blog: I love music tremendously, and good books, movies, comics, etc are just a notch or so below music for me in terms of my favorite forms of escapism.  Here on my blog I drift in and out of the rotation of topics, depending on my mood I might post about religion, politics, news, comics, or whatever, but music always comes back around because something always happens with music that excites me enough to want to write about it, whether it’s a new album or song, discovering a new artist, seeing a great live performance, etc. At the end of each year I love narrowing down my top 10 albums and top 20 songs (among other such lists); it causes me to go back over every great album or song that made my running list of contenders over the course of the year and devote more time to studying them in depth to try and adaquately rank and review them. Doing so these past few years has been a lot of fun for me and those posts tend to get the most hits year in and out but I’d do them even if it were only for my benefit (and I have doubts that many out there come to my site first to see what new music they should pursue).

I realize that any ranking of “best” artists, albums, movies, or songs is somewhat arbitrary and opinion-driven. Any time a famous publication like “Rolling Stone” or “Spin” release a “Best of the Year” (or Decade, or Century) list, the reader feedback always consists of at least a few fans yelling out that their favorite didn’t make the cut and going on to say that ranking and reviewing music is pointless because there are no factors outside of opinion that can truly measure the greatness of a pop song.

But really there are; sure, opinion comes down to being the primary factor that affects a decision in such a matter (if the critic is honest and not being paid to “like” something as was the case in the golden “Payola” days of decades past). Yet there are things that help determine greatness beyond that. Well written lyrics are easy to seperate from recyled and cliched ones; variety and technique is easy to detect; how well a person or an ensemble play their instruments can be pretty easy to figure out. Then there’s relevance of the material, originality and uniqueness of it and its presentation, how well it does what it’s meant to do (whether that’s make you want to dance, protest, think or cry). There are a whole host of issues that can be taken into consideration for a music critic who is ranking the “best.” And of course, everyone can be a critic as the internet is fast showing; yet those that do it the most, those that I myself  keep going back to again and again, have an edge over most of us because they get to do this for a living. If you are listening to music  all day, day in-day out, when something really sparks you and gets your rave, and then there’s a lot of other folks doing your job suddenly feeling the same way, odds are you’ve stumbled onto something pretty great that the public should take note of if they’re interested in music. The best music critics have a way of writing about the material in a way that puts a glimpse of what they feel when they listen to a song they love onto paper (or screen) that intrigues a reader out there to seek it out for themselves.

So, yes, in defense of “criticism,” I’d say that music and film critics do a service by pointing out what might go under the radar otherwise. There are  times when popularity and critical praise line up– in music that has happened with The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen very notably–but often the bands and films that are trumpeted by the best critics get overlooked by the masses. In those cases, it’s great for the music and film lovers who happened to notice the critical praises and ventured out to discover something they otherwise may never have.

And of course, sometimes what you love might be widely panned by those critics and it’s not going to make you love it any less (nor should it). For every high-brow and praised movie, book, album, or comic that I love I have a guilty pleasure or genre-item that no one in the critical world would own up to also enjoying. That’s fine too, because there are some great things to be said for sheer big, dumb fun also.

Well, recent news reports that the site for the much debated “ground zero mosque” might be moved to another area in New York, a move gaining support from inside and out of the Muslim community.

I find it very strange that where a faith group in America decides to build a place of worship can become such a social hot-button issue–so much so that those outside of the faith itself can rant and rave enough to coerce a move of the planned spot for building the place of worship on even. Afterall, though the mosque was planned to be built near the spot where the towers fell, it wasn’t being built on the exact spot! The planned building site was in the area, over from the site of the tragedy but close enough to have been littered with debris during that horrible time.

As other reports and op-eds have pointed out, a major overlooked part of all of this is that nothing else is being actively built and renovated in the area. At least a place of worship complete with a youth and community center for people of all or no faith(s) would be a spot of renewal and growth in an otherwise vacant area. If this spot is sacred ground, as so many are keen to point out, then isn’t it far past time a memorial and a true marker of rememberance is built?

But back to the mosque. The spot where this particular Muslim community wanted to build was private property and the decision to build there should have been no one’s but their own and the only consultants at any time should have been the proper zoning and building authorities. A lot of attention by certain outlets has pointed to angry and over-blown messages from Sarah Palin and New Gingrich via Twitter and other social networking sites early in the Mosque planning stages that led to this becoming a matter of national debate.  Now we have those on one side screaming horrific sterotypes, much of which are rooted in pain that they have gone through and mourning they are still going through that prevent them from looking at things objectively but we also have those on the other side assuming race and religion based prejudice can erupt at any time as a result, so warnings to avoid that are prevelant. Which in turn makes those decrying the mosque already even more angry becasue they feel the Left assumes any disagreement over an issue is based on the Right’s bigotry.

Such are the times of modern American politics. For any who truly thought the issues of race, religious tolerance, and overt public prejudice were a thing of the past, think again.

Yet at the center of all of this still stands a community of faith seeking to build a place of worship now that they’ve outgrown their smaller building. If they truly seek to build elsewhere now, and if they feel this will ease the public outcry, then that is what they should do. Yet if they feel that building a place of peace and worship that is consonant with their religion near a spot of horrific tragedy where terrible acts of politics were given the stamp of religion falsely and in distortion is what they are led to do, then that is what they should do. The bottom line is, it’s no one in America’s business where a church or a temple is built as long as no one is threatened or coerced in the process. I hope that issues like this can lead to a wider discussion of interfaith values, but sadly real Faith and true religious service to peace are topics not popular enough to draw the ratings in here in the US.

We like to rewrite our own history and spin it fresh with our own agendas; not just in this country, in most others as well, but the focus here is on my own country since I observe it everyday. I’m far from the first to point out the prevalence with which the US has done this, and a great way to see it handled bluntly and sadly is by reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” which vividly depicts how things like imperialism, colonialism, genocide, slavery, and apartheid can become seen as “Manifest Destiny,” and how even in the midst of some of our nation’s most immoral and unethical actions we can still see ourselves as being the “city on the hill.”

The other night I was flipping the channels and caught a portion of the “Hannity” show. I should have kept clicking past it, I always know I’ll be angered at even a slight pause on the Fox “news” channel, but occasionally I stumble and get sucked in. Fox News viewing does no one a bit of good, but I suppose it’s important to at least know what misinformation they are spreading. Commenting on anything seen there from an outside  rational viewpoint does little good, though—the audience for the drivel filling that station already have mentally assented to buy whatever lies they see when they become a regular and committed viewer. Commenting about it here can easily slip into vitriol, with me ranting about what I’ve seen. Yet the piece I saw tied in with other things I am working with here, so I’ll mention it as a puzzle piece of this article and I’ll try to keep my own vitriol to a minimum.

“Ronald Reagan was never bigger than his country,” said one of the Stepford-Wife looking blonde neo-con “analysts” that Fox loves to trot out to parrot its Murdoch gathered misinformation to which Hannity nodded heartily in agreement. Hannity and his friends proceeded to bash Obama for his health care plan, his tax plan, and every other activity he has attempted since taking office all as proofs that he “was acting bigger than his country,” that he was running his own thing and ignoring the good folks at home who in return would punish him at the polls. Of course to contrast Obama these “news”-casters had to invoke Reagan. Reagan (read my piece here from two  years ago trying to puzzle through this whole problem in detail) is approaching Saint-status for the Republican Party, an occurrence that even a basic student of history anywhere should question. Reagan never went and acted “bigger [above?] than his country?” Really? I had just been reading Robert Lacey’s “Inside the Kingdom” which documents the history of Saudi Arabia” when I heard the Hannity segment. Lacey’s book is a great read which details the bulk of Saudi’s entire modern history in a very readable fashion. Lacey has lived in Saudi for years on separate occasions to document this book in a way that is located from within its borders but from an “outsider’s” perspective. Lacey doesn’t seem to have any particular agenda to push, other than that of a historian who probably wants to sell a few books and do good academic work. In the book (on page 79-77 if you wish to check), Lacey writes that, “when Congress explicitly blocked such ventures as U.S. funding for the anti-Marxist Nicaraguan contras,” Reagan went to work himself: “Following a personal request by Ronald Reagan to Fahd [Saudi Arabia’s ruler at the time] over breakfast at the White House in 1985, Bandar [Fahd’s nephew] set up the channels to get funds wired to the contras to the tune of $1 million and later $2 million a month, using bank account numbers supplied to him by Reagan’s national security adviser…when the Iran-contra scandal broke, the Walsh Report revealed that Saudi Arabia had secretly channeled a total of $32 million to the contras on Reagan’s behalf.” This money was dispensed to Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad and of course, Afghanistan. Reagan is quoted as saying about these paramilitary groups, “You are not alone, Freedom Fighters.” The group in Afghanistan, funded and trained with US dollars included a young Saudi leading the forces there – Osama bin Laden.

There are many things Reagan can be criticized heavily for, but even if it were just the Iran-Contra scandal, it should be enough to keep him from acquiring sainthood for the GOP—a party who can’t let go of the sexual indiscretions of Bill Clinton but seems to think that funding violent groups secretly with US dollars isn’t an incident of a President “acting bigger than his country.”

The thing that hurts me the most is the way facts are white washed and then ignored. I blame not only the outright fabrications of FOX news but also the sensationalism of CNN and the partisanship of MSNBC. I blame the rise of the cable 24 hour news networks in large part for the growing political ignorance of the average voter. People simply are not educated on issues anymore—people read nothing credible before making a political decision. People really can’t even handle facts—the closest we have to pure and “un-spun” news in the US is NPR and PBS and the average conservative thinks of those avenues as being liberally biased. It’s gotten to where people want a filter which interprets the news and hands them a preformed opinion so much so that when they are faced with an actual fact they can’t recognize it. If historical scholars can look objectively at criteria and rank Presidents from best to worst (a thing that is admittedly subjective in some ways) with results that place Obama at 15th best President in US history and George W Bush near the bottom at 39 yet the general public still seems deadset on making Obama a one-term president, and voting in Bush twice (and there’s even a move to “reshape and reclaim” W’s memory by some young conservatives)–it leaves little hope for an increase in popular political intelligence: facts and scholars can point one way all they want and still have little sway on popular opinion.

I was watching a music special about Bruce Springsteen, a favorite musician of mine, and in an interview he was looking back on the whole “Born in the USA” brouhaha. If you remember, the lyrics to that song criticized problems Bruce saw in modern America but because of it’s upbeat and energetic chorus, right-wingers initially co-opted it, causing Bruce at one point to fight off Reagan campaign commercials from using it. Bruce said something along the lines of “this is my country too, my flag too,” in regards to his thought-process while writing the song. He saw the “voice” of mainstream America praising America, but the things they were praising as being “American” had little or nothing to do with the America Bruce felt like praising and a lot to do with what Bruce felt like protesting.

Well, this is my country too; my flag too as well. Yet I’m saddened by the chances we have in making true progress. I don’t praise all that Obama has done; I don’t think he’s flawless. I do think he has consistently tried to do what is best for America and has often conceded to the brick walls in his way that have been put up by the other side. For every progressive thing he does he also has to water down a good idea to make it semi-palatable to the other folks and they still try and block it out of sheer spite. I worry about the possibility of getting and keeping real candidates with the power to make change in the areas where it is needed. I worry of the potential nightmares that could take Obama’s place and reverse every decent attempt he has thus far made if the public has it’s November way.

I can’t help but drift to a political “what if?” in closing. Looking back on the chain of events that have manifested in American politics ever since Reagan, I wonder: What if Ted Kennedy had beaten Jimmy Carter and been the candidate to face Ronald Reagan? What if Kennedy had won and been president for 8 years? Now I like Carter, I like his post-presidency work and character. I also am well aware of Ted’s troublesome past. But in sheer politics, what if? Kennedy was a staunch supporter of health care reform. Were he in during the eighties, would he have successfully pushed through a good universal health care package that would have gotten us on par with most other industrialized countries, thereby ensuring the US a better WHO ranking and attainable medicine and treatment? Ted would almost certainly not have funded the contras; maybe the Taliban wouldn’t have even been trained and armed then cast aside and angered at us, thereby preventing 9/11. Possibly. There likely wouldn’t have been a George H.W. presidency which almost certainly would have kept W out of politics. Trickle-down economic theories would probably not have emerged at that time and the market crash might never have happened. AIDS research would have occurred earlier in all likelihood. A lot to consider, but a lot that can never be known for certain. Who knows what type of candidates would have emerged as backlash when the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, though.

I’m sure I’ve offended some folks who’ve stumbled onto my blog and I honestly swear that my goal was not to simply anger those with other political opinions. Most of all, I mourn the loss of vigorous political education and intelligible discussions. I mourn the predominance of faux-news from every direction distorting what we all need to learn. Peace.

I’m a student of religion and philosophy and I’m also a medium-grade comic geek. These two loves rarely overlap in my writing, but this particular article unites the two interests (which means fewer readers are likely to be interested!). In this particular article, I’m not even talking about the big, literate, “artsy” comics either– a lot of religious parallels can be found in the work of Gaiman, Moore, Ennis, and the like– read my Preacher book review for a stab at that. No, this is continuity-traversing, in-universe superhero comics here: Max Lord, affiliated with the Justice League International in the DC comics universe to be precise.

The retcon (“retroactive continuity” to be precise)  is a common tool in the mainstream superhero comic medium (I wager that it is in daytime soaps as well). Basically, the retcon takes a character that has been around and used in various prior ways and starts them on a new path with a different past– a famous modern example is what’s going on over in Marvel comics with Spider-Man. In the pages of “Amazing Spider Man,” Peter Parker made a deal with the devil of the Marvel universe (Mephisto) to save his aunt’s life and as a result his past marriage to Mary Jane Watson never occurred. Thus, the story recast Parker as a single guy juggling dating with all the other facets of his life to make him more relatable to unmarried readers, I presume. Currently an arc in “Amazing” is dealing with just what did happen on the what-would-have-been-wedding-day and filling in the gaps of the changed history in the Quesada-penned “One Moment in Time.” In many ways, though, what’s occurred in “Amazing” is incongruous with most ret-cons. Most ret-cons would have simply started off with a new story arc, possibly with a new numbering system, and have Peter single, never having been married, and nothing would be mentioned about this glaring change– readers would simply shrug and move on with the story if the writer did his job well enough. Of course, Spidey’s a bit of a big-name, his history was to in-depth and prominent for such a move. But that’s not the case for Maxwell Lord over at DC.

See, Maxwell Lord has had a quite twist-and-turny sort of history; he started the Justice League International and caused the death of a villain he had set up in the first place to publically prove his new groups mettle. Then he shifted from being outright evil to simply being an unscrupolous and greedy businessman. Later, he was a cyborg–then he came back and the turn to cyborg was written out as if it never occurred. His back story gradually became one that played all of his past motives in a much more sinister light to set him up as the villain in the OMAC debacle which resulted in Wonder Woman snapping his neck, an event that had ill effects on her public reputation to say the least, but it was a move she felt had to be made to save the world. Now, the glaring retcon is the cyborg issue–seriously, a character becomes a cyborg, operates as a cyborg, then returns later and the whole cyborg thing is neglected to be mentioned?

….I do realize I’ve lost most rational people at this point, but hey.

All of this fails to matter for what we have with Max Lord now, other than these few facts: A) He was/is evil  B) He formed the JLI  C)Wonder Woman killed him…but now with this only-in-comics-or-daytime-soaps addition…D) During a DC mega summer event (“Blackest Night”), Max was resurrected and only the members of the team he formerly created have any idea who he is.

That’s the premise of “Justice League: Generation Lost,” a bi-weekly title from DC that is entertaining, funny, exciting, and a worthy read twice each month. JLI was originally penned by superhero yet comic (in the humor sense) writer Keith Giffen, who appears now only in the breakdown department. Judd Winnick is the current scribe, pulling out the humor touch he employed so well in his creator-owned career-starting work “Barry Ween Boy Genius” (non comic fans might know Winnick from MTV’s “The Real World,” some early season of it) as well as his knowledge of the DC Univese gained from writing dozens of its titles over the past couple of years. JLI was fun in that it was the b- and c-listers who populated its ranks–the Justice League had always been Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. JLI gave readers Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom…and it worked in unconventional ways that was fun to read. Now, JLI: Generation Lost,” under the “Brightest Day” banner gives readers a mystery, a thriller, a comedy, and with issue 6 (the best so far), a futuristic Twilight Zone-esque tale.

So what does this have to do with the Bible? I’m certain to offend all sorts of folks by drawing any comparisons from the pop-stew mess above to scripture, but when thinking about the retcon I thought about the Bible.  I remembered a paper I worked on about King Sennacherib of the Assyrians in my first-year OT Exegesis course. There are three major sources on Sennacherib: the book of Isaiah, the book of 2 Kings, and the annals of Sennacherib which Assyria recorded. Taking just the Biblical text, since that is the focus here, there are three conflicting accounts of  King Sennacherib’s military siege of Judean land. Dating the text is a debated issue–some scholars posit the story to have first been in 2 Kings and then recounted in Isaiah, tweaked to reflect the theological position of that particular author(s). Others posit that it was first written in Isaiah and then retrofitted into later versions of 2 Kings.  If the story was first written in 2 Kings (and that account matches closest with the Assyrian version) King Hezekiah paid tribute to the Assyrian King Sennacherib to halt the siege of Jerusalem. The author of Isaiah retcons the story– Hezekiah does not pay tribute to Sennacherib and instead trusts in God for deliverance. In Isaiah, this works, and Sennacherib suffers for his siege.In the context of Isaiah and for the reason this story was being recounted, this version works. Readers of “Isaiah” might have been well aware of the earlier version but understood the reassurance this “tweaking” served in their context and under the oppression they found themselves in.

So yes, I think scriptural scribes might have been some of the earliest employers of the retcon tool. If you’re like me, a geek with an interest in religion and comic books, I recommend reading “Justice League: Generation Lost,” as well as Isaiah Chapter 36 and the book of 2 Kings. All 3 are good reads–tell me what you think.