Archive for the ‘Backlog’ Category

A friend of mine wrote an article about Mumford & Sons cover of “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel. In the article, he states that he prefers the cover to the original, to which I cried, “Bullshit! No one can prefer this cover-songsbanjo-laden Brit-folk version over the quietly understated hippie folk original!” Actually, I didn’t say that, but it was implied. Another friend of ours chimed in, siding with me that the original was the better song, though not simply because it was the original. This then prompted the article’s author to pose a question on Facebook as to whether or not a cover song (studio produced covers, mind you) can be better or as good as the original.

My answer: Yes, but it’s very hard to accomplish. Cover songs, by definition, are created because the original was so good that the cover artist wanted to create their own version. Or some studio producer forced the cover upon them. I’d like to believe it’s the former, but we’ve definitely seen the latter displayed often enough.

For a cover song to do well it really depends on if the artist brings anything new to the song. Those familiar with the Supertramp song “Give a Little Bit” are probably aware that the Goo Goo Dolls did a cover version. And that’s about all you need to know. They didn’t do anything else to the song except make it sound like a Goo Goo Dolls song, which made it very boring. It was about as straight forward a cover as you could get and it made very little impact. You also have radical departures like Madonna’s cover of “American Pie” by Don McLean. The song was for her movie The Next Best Thing, but the butchering of verses – taking the song out of its original context of honoring the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valenz, and The Big Bopper – and dolling it up with autotune and electronica made the song a hot mess.

On the other hand, there are cover songs that do right by the original, but showcase an aspect of the song that might have gone unnoticed before. One of my favorites is Nirvana’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World”. Originally a David Bowie song, Kurt Cobain’s raw vocal on the Unplugged album makes the song far better than Bowie’s snyth-style. Cobain makes the lyrics sound desperate and regretful, which feeds into the somber music led by a haunting guitar riff.

There’s also the Dixie Chicks cover of “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks that was a very popular cover song because they honored the original, but still brought their own style to the song that, to borrow the most over used phrase on American Idol other than “Yo Dawg!”, “made it their own.” Like the original, “Landslide” is kept very minimalist in the hands of the Dixie Chicks, but they still add their country twang without overproducing the song. Plus, the harmonizing of the three women make certain words and phrases pop, emphasizing the emotional resonance of a song Johnny-Cash-Hurtabout age, experience, and longing. And then there’s Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. Do I even have to justify how beautiful that song is sung by The Man in Black? Trent Reznor has gone on record saying that the song truly belongs to Cash and I completely agree with him.

Cover songs, however, can be tricky when one factors in time, popularity, and the artist. We all know “Respect” as an Aretha Franklin song, but it was originally sung by Otis Redding. The song just took on a different meaning when the words came from a woman instead of a man, which also made more of an impact during the 1960s with the Women’s Liberation Movement. The Animals had a big hit with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, but Nina Simone was the original recording artist even though the songs came out within a year of each other. Both are very good, by the way.

The songs of the fifties and sixties were especially nebulous in terms of who sang which song first and how a more well-known artist might make a particular song skyrocket into popular culture even as a cover. We have to remember that cover songs are not new things. Rock and roll was pretty much built on cover songs with white musicians covering black jazz and blues artists to make them more “palatable” for white audiences. Pat Boone made his career off of cover songs of black artists. There’s even a website ! Even Elvis Presley was a cover artist with “Hound Dog”, which was originally sung by Big Mama Thornton.

Hairspray has a great sequence in the middle of the film that shows how white covers of black music were utilized and retooled to present what producers thought was a more “wholesome” image. And, lest I forget, the Beatles did cover songs too. Their first few albums, while featuring plenty of songs written by Lennon and McCartney, had a lot of covers as well. However, once the Beatles moved into only writing their own songs, they, in turn, became a band that others tried to cover. Movies like the God-awful Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the much better Across the Universe created narratives around cover songs of the Beatles’ catalog.New girl in town

I guess what it really boils down to is preference and taste. I tend to go for originals over covers as the better version of a given song, but a lot of that is also based on which version I was introduced to and grew up with. It’s kind of like how some viewers, generally younger kids, think that the songs featured on Glee are original songs when they are, in fact, covers made specifically to sell iTunes. Hell, sometimes songs on Glee are covers of covers. Case in point, the version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles sung by Kurt in the episode “Grilled Cheesus” is actually a cover of the slowed down version made for Across the Universe. You can call it snobbery or being too much of a purist, but it’s my preference, which means I really can’t begrudge anyone else’s taste in music. I do like a lot of cover songs, I just don’t necessarily believe they’re better than the original. That doesn’t mean that I won’t debate the merits of one song over another. That’s part of the fun!

So tell me your favorite cover songs! Do you prefer covers to the originals? Start a dialogue, people! Share your music with us!

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I feel like I’m in a bad relationship with DC Comics. The kind my mother always warned me about avoiding. First it’s all wine and roses, whispered words of sweet nothings that, once you think back on them, really make no sense. Then, it’s the little things you start to notice. The lies to cover up the bigger issues, the promises of greater and better things that inevitably let you down, and the accusations turned around on you to make you look like the bad guy for ever questioning them. But, despite all that, you keep coming back, keep making excuses for them and hoping it’ll all turn out better in the end.

So, obviously, I have my hangups with DC’s New 52 (sexism and mysogyny, the disappearance of beloved characters, total disregard for the fanbase, etc.), but what really bothered me, what always ate away at the comic book portion of my brain, was the truncated timeline. Superheroes in the New 52 have only been around for five years. Okay, that’s reasonable if you want to youth-inize your characters for the purposes of grabbing new readers. But then why is Dick Grayson still Nightwing? Why is Damian around? When did Jason die and return? How could Batman have gone through four Robins in the span of five years and still maintain a fatherly/mentorish relationship with all of them? DC seemed to be on the ball regarding these questions. Dan DiDio stated that, though superheroes had been in the public eye for five years, Batman had been operating as an urban legend for at least five years prior, giving him roughly a decade to have gone from Dick to Damian. This seemed to be confirmed even in Justice League #1 when Green Lantern, upon meeting Bats for the first time, muses out loud, that he just thought Batman was an urban legend.

But even then, the timeline wouldn’t hold up entirely. Damian Wayne, the current Robin, is ten years old, so his conception would have had to take place in the same year Bruce became Batman. This doesn’t account for the time it would have taken for Bruce to build up enough of a reputation to attract the attention of Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia, Damian’s mother. You could probably play with this a little by going the Christopher Nolan route with Ra’s being one of Bruce’s many trainers whose daughter became infatuated with Bruce resulting in an affair – or something along those lines. And with Damian being ten and Dick Grayson confirmed to be about 21 that means Dick was 11 when Bruce became Batman. Giving Bruce about a year to get his feet wet in the suit puts Dick at 12 when he first becomes Robin, which is acceptable. Then again, when does he become Nightwing? When’s an acceptable age for Dick to stop being the Boy Wonder when he never transitions via leading the Teen Titans? At the least, he’d have to be 15 or 16, anything less would be negligible on Bruce’s part, but even then that’s pushing it since Dick is still a minor.

Okay, so Dick was Robin for three or four years before becoming Nightwing. Is he still operating out of the cave at this point or does he become an emancipated minor? Nevermind, moving on. We’ve now reached the five-year mark before Superman goes public as a superhero. Assuming Batman doesn’t announce himself (unless he’s written by Geoff Johns), we’ve still got five years to go and this is where Jason Todd shows up. Hmmm, it could work. Maybe Jason was only Robin for a year before he died. And then in the year of grief Bruce had to feel after losing Jason, Tim Drake comes into the  picture, which means Tim was only Robin for two years, tops, before Damian showed up.

It’s definitely a condensed timeline, but one that DC could have worked with and justified had they, ya know, gone through with it. Even then, it’s stretching credibility to think that Bruce could have gone through so many Robins and still built a family with his surrogate sons and his biological one. And so, we have the #0 issues, supposedly the answers we’ve all been seeking for the origins of our updated heroes and the settling of all matters concerning the timeline, specifically the Batman timeline.

Thus, I opened Batman #0 and proceeded to get my answer opening with:

Gotham City…

Six Years Ago…

Wait, what? Six years ago? Six? Bruce wasn’t Batman until six years ago? Apparently the people at DC forget that the readers pay attention to things like this because I can sure as hell tell you that if it was already a stretch to put Bruce becoming Batman ten years ago, it sure as shit makes less sense to reduce the timeline even more!

And for the record: Damn you, DC, you’re making me do math! I hate math!

Again, let’s work this out. In Batman #0, Bruce is still working the kinks out in his plan to become Batman. He doesn’t even have the suit yet, just some standard ninja outfits and a lot of gadgets and equipment. He even screws up an undercover mission infiltrating the Red Hood Gang because he didn’t pay enough attention to the guy he was impersonating. All well and good. Even the World’s Greatest Detective has to have a learning curve. Cut to a year later and Commissioner Gordon turns on the bat signal for the first time to be observed by three out of four of the future Robins and one future Batgirl. Wow, it only took him a year to get the city to fork over the cash for a signal? Well done, Batman. Well done, indeed. Okay, Batman has only really been in operation for five years, which means Dick Grayson is 16 when he first sees the signal. Given his origin as the first Robin in Nightwing #0, Dick can’t have been Robin for more than a year, which would put him at about 18 when he decides to become Nightwing. While that mostly works for Dick’s story, it makes Jason’s and Tim’s even less plausible. Jason had to be Robin for less than a year to account for his death and resurrection with Tim getting maybe two years before Damian shows up.

Which brings us to the most egregious error in the Batman zero issues. Damian’s origin is so out of synch with the rest of the books it makes me wonder if the editors and the writers are even talking to each other anymore. I imagine they’re all surly teenagers asking each other questions about the next issue through third-party mediators or issuing passive aggressive notes to each other just to get the books out on time. This would probably explain most of the “drama” occurring in their storylines as well. In Batman and Robin #0 we’re presented with Damian’s drive to discover the identity of his father as he’s trained by his mother and The League of Assassins. The issue begins with the opening, “A Year and a Half Ago…,” which puts Damian at about nine-ish. In a series of panels, we see Damian celebrate five birthdays trying to best his mother in combat to learn the identity of his father, putting Damian at about five years old when he first inquires about Bruce. What’s so infuriating about this whole thing occurs in the midst of a rather adorable scene. Five year old Damian wanders into his mother’s room and finds Bruce’s cape and cowl in a trunk. He dons the oversized attire and proclaims himself a bat to Talia. But if we’re to follow the timeline, as presented by DC, Bruce has only just become Batman, so how the hell did she get a hold of that costume? When did this happen? Explain, DC! Explain!

And while you’re compiling your half-assed answer, let’s talk about the “Red Robin” issue brought up in Teen Titans #0. Really, DC? Really? Not only are you disregarding and retconning an already established fact that Tim was a former Robin (see Batman #1) within a year of rebooting your whole universe, but you have the audacity to make Tim Drake into the most precious little snowflake on top of being an outright jerk! He calls himself Red Robin out of “respect” for Jason? Why? Did he know Jason personally? Remember that whole “Batman needs a Robin” line that basically defined Tim when he was first introduced? Calling himself Red Robin doesn’t respect the mantle of Robin, it just makes Tim look like an arrogant little prick trying to “forge his own destiny.” You’re not fooling anyone, DC. This is just lazy writing to get around Batman having four Robins, which in and of itself doesn’t make any sense when Tim still has “Robin” in his name. Damian doesn’t seem to have a problem with using the title. He sees it as his birthright, as a title that deserves respect. Way to go, DC, you managed to make Damian morally superior to Tim.

You might get the impression that I didn’t like any of these books based on the amount of ranting and math (MAAAATH!!!) I’ve had to do to justify my complaints. On the contrary, story wise the writing and the art on all of the Bat books were solid. I particularly loved Nightwing #0 purely based on my love for Dick Grayson but also because his origin fit the most. Had DC bothered to actually reboot Batman, this would have been a fantastic retelling of Dick’s story. The reasoning behind using Robin as a name is fine and the little nod to Nightwing’s former blue color scheme made me smile. If you’re going to return your characters to their “iconic” state, then this is the way to go. Even Jason’s story works. It’s streamlined by establishing his resurrection via Lazarus Pit instead of reality punching and the emotional core of Jason’s actions make him a far more sympathetic character. I don’t know if I buy the “created by the Joker” angle in the final pages of Red Hood and the Outlaws #0, but we’ll see how that plays into the upcoming “Death of the Family” arc.

After Jason, it just doesn’t work for me. As much as I love Damian and used to love Tim, their presence doesn’t work within the truncated timeline. It’s excessive and confusing despite the brilliant storytelling and art. Believe me, I loved “Court of Owls” and was especially entertained by “The War of the Robins.” I understand not wanting to get rid of fan favorites like Damian and Tim but DC was okay with getting rid of other fan favorites without shedding a tear, so why not put the younger Robins on the back-burner as well?

Like I said, it’s not a healthy relationship between me and DC. I wish I could tell you that it’ll work out in the end. I wish that the next time Dan DiDio assures us they have “plans” for other characters that those plans actually made sense or followed through on the promise. But I’ve been burned a lot by DC, more times than I care to admit. Maybe it’s time for us to take a little break.