Latin summer

Four recommendations from an array of Latin American dance, music and culture on its way to the UK.

Over the next two months, Britain will play host to a variety of Latin American performers. Ballet dancers, platinum selling artists and Lucha Libre stars will jet over the Atlantic for your entertainment, most of them for one night only. Performers from all over the continent are set to play in London and elsewhere - the summer of 2011, it would seem, is a Latin one.

Things culminate with the annual Carnival del Pueblo in Burgess Park, south London, in August, as well as the CASA Latin American Theatre Festival in October.

To make things easier, here are four artists that come highly recommended:

Juan Luis Guerra

The giant of Latin American music is yet to appear in the UK. Despite selling thirty million albums worldwide, winning two Grammy awards and fifteen Latin Grammys for good measure, this week's performance will be Juan Luis Guerra's first in London.

The Dominican giant's sound is a product of his birthplace and he only ever composes songs himself. Initially using the rhythms of merengue and bachata, he struck out in all directions folding in salsa, son, Latin pop and even recording mash ups with African artists like Congo's Diblo. The artist himself describes his music as 'full of energy [...] romantic, danceable and made for reflection'.

When we spoke to Juan Luis Guerra he raved about his debut in the country of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. As well as playing to an English crowd for the first time in his twenty-five year long career, he is looking forward to having a pint of ale in a proper English pub, followed by a session in Abbey Road studios.

Asked whether he was concerned about the British and their two left feet, he replied that the 'Latin Americans in the audience will take care of them', and that even in Japan last year he found an unlikely community of bachata aficionados (so much so that he wrote a song about it ).

Como No will be hosting Juan Luis Guerra y 4.40 on Wednesday 22 June at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo. Tickets can be bought from the HMV call centre, on 0843 221 0100. They are also available from Ticketmaster twenty-four hour Ticketline, on 08448 44 47 48. Visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk for further details. Doors 6.45pm

Carlos Acosta

Carlos Acosta is one of the most recognized Latin Americans in London. Haling from Cuba, he won a string of international awards before he joined the Royal Ballet in 1998 and became a Principal in 2003.

The rags to leotard story goes that Acosta was a young rebel who danced to Michael Jackson on the streets of La Habana. Then, at thirteen, he saw a Cuban Ballet performance that would focus in his mind his future profession.

Nowadays he is known for being able to pull of that leap, and for choreographing increasingly biographical work. This year's offering, Premieres Plus, features new creations and collaborations with renowned international dancers and musicians. The pieces have been devised by Acosta, combining his classical training with more contemporary styles.

It has been reworked from the 2010 project of the same name and will be performed in three separate venues. Collaborating with dancers from Rambert Dance Company, Ballet Boyz graduates and an overwhelming number of other international movers, this is one not to be missed.

Carlos Acosta will be performing at the London Coliseum from 27 - 30 July. He will be at The Lowry, Salford Quays, Manchester, on 24 and 25 July and Birmingham Hippodrome from 18-20 August.

Calle 13

Calle 13 is much more than just a band. They are poets, satirists, political activists even, whose unique sound has far surpassed the reggaetón scene they were associated with in the past. They combine Latin American folk music, Afro-beat, ska, polka, salsa with blunt political messages that have earned them the reputation of being some of the most innovative music makers going.

The group is made up of the fraternal Calle 13 ('kai-yay tray-say'), René Pérez Joglar (Residente), and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez (Visitante). The trio's music is a call to action: a torrent of passionate rants about anger, political disillusionment, and international inequality. That said, the obnoxious base line and beats behind each song means that for every crowd there is a floor-filler, whatever their musical bent.

Calle 13 is renowned for giving infectious, raucous concerts, captivating audiences with the range and quality of their music. With an eleven-piece band behind them, this promises to be a powerful, witty and memorable show.

Calle 13 will be hosted by Como No in association with the Barbican, and will be performing at the Hackney Empire on Saturday 8 July 2011. Tickets can be bought from the Box Office 0845 120 7550 www.barbican.org.uk/blaze. Doors 8pm - 2am.

Lucha Future

Recent comments from BBC TV's Top Gear presenters regarding Mexico and its people have been responded to by the stars of Mexico's finest, Lucha Future. The legendary Queen of the Ring, Cassandro, has challenged Clarkson, Hammond and May to a bout in the ring at London's Roundhouse, "If they want to know what Mexico is really like, I'll let them know in five minutes flat".

Lucha Future will see luchadores like Blue Demon Jr., El Paso's lip-locking Cassandro and the acrobatic Magno run, fly and muscle their way across a London ring this week.

Bursting with heroism and villainy, the masked athletes clad in leotards and latex will be putting the hurt on each other, with feats of agility (and slapstick) that the perma-mulleted WWF fights of the past could not even hope to emulate.

To add yet more spice to the mix live music will be served up courtesy of Tijuana's Bostich & Fussible (Nortec Collective) and their Mexican gumbo of Norteño, electronica and techno.

Lucha Future will be on at the Roundhouse, Camden from Friday 24 June - Sunday 26 June. They will also be at The Sage, Gateshead, on 28 June, and Brighton Dome on 2 July.

Mark Maughan writes for Candela magazine

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Defining The Defenders: the long history of the superhero team-up

Netflix's new show draws on an established traditon of bringing together disparate characters.

Today Marvel’s The Defenders dropped worldwide. It’s the culmination of Marvel Studios’ interlinked series for Netflix, and all episodes will be available simultaneously as is the streaming services’ wont.

The Defenders, and the Netflix series that have preceded it, seem modelled on how the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have worked in multiplexes. At least superficially. Characters get their own solo films/series, which become increasingly interlinked over time, before all featuring together in an onscreen ‘team up’. Here, they combine against a threat greater than any they could plausibly win against on their own, sparring and generating alliances, friendships and even enmities in the process.

This structure, of course, is Marvel’s film and TV projects aping their source material. Marvel’s comics, and superhero comics more generally, have long relished the "team up" and the "super team". The use of this approach by Marvel’s other media ventures is intuitively right, allowing the mass audience for film and television to experience one of the specific pleasures of how superhero comics work in the characters’ new medium.

The concept of the super team goes back a long way. The Justice Society of America, from Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, is usually considered the first. They debuted in All-Star Comics #3 (1940) and the team consisted of the Flash (the Jay Garrick version, Flash TV fans), Green Lantern, Hawkman, and now lesser known characters like Hour-Man, the Sandman (not the Neil Gaiman one), the Atom, The Spectre and Doctor Fate. Within a few issues Wonder Woman would join: as secretary. Because it was the 1940s.

What’s interesting about this initial super team is that half of these characters were published by All-American Comics (who actually published All-Star) and half by DC Comics themselves, making this an inter-company crossover. (The companies would later merge). It also used to be claimed as the first example of characters created separately, and with no intention of them being connected, interacting. It isn’t. There are countless examples in the pulp fictions of the late nineteenth century, but the claim stood for so long because it felt right that the original super team should be the source of such meta-fictional innovation.

The Defenders were created much later in comics history and first appeared in 1971’s Marvel Feature #1. The team, though, had its origins in the "Titans Three" an informal grouping of heroes who appeared in a three part story serialised across Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), and The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970).

All three of those comics were written by Roy Thomas. Caught on the hop by the sudden cancellation of Doctor Strange (#183 was the final issue), he wrapped up ongoing plotlines from the cancelled comic in other series he scripted, bringing the now title-less Strange into those other series in the process. A couple more appearances of the group together followed, before the team was formally named in the aforementioned Marvel Feature #1.

Dr Strange. The Sub-Mariner. The Incredible Hulk. It’s quite likely that anyone reading this who is only familiar with the publicity for Netflix’s The Defenders would be surprised by that roster of headline characters. (And that’s assuming they’re even familiar with Namor the Sub-Mariner, a character of 1939 vintage who has not yet reached the MCU.) This is a radically different group to Daredevil, Jessica Jones (a character not even created until the 21st century), Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the stars of the current TV series. None of the telly team are characters a Marvel zombie would associate with The Defenders, although Iron Fist has been a very occasional member of the team’s roster, as has Luke Cage. (In which context, it’s unfortunate that Iron Fist has been the least liked of Netflix’s series, with a mere 17 per cent approval on Rotten Tomatoes.)

The complete absence of all three of the original Defenders from its television incarnation could be seen as an odd decision. Neither Benedict Cumberbatch’s Steven Strange nor Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner are expected to turn up, even for cameos. Marvel Studios has policed a strict division between its Netflix series and its cinematic outings, despite announcing them as being set in the same "continuity". The fourth "classic" Defender is even less likely to turn up. The Silver Surfer (who joined the team in 1972, less than a year after it was formed) is, due to some bad deal making in the 90s, off limits to the MCU. His film rights sit with Fox, who utilised him in the rightly all but forgotten Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007). 

One of the reasonably consistent features of previous incarnations of The Defenders is that the characters have generally faced mystical threats. They first teamed up to fight monsters from HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and generally their antagonists have operated on that kind of scale. With Stephen Strange in the gang, that makes sense. You don’t need the sorcerer supreme to take out organised crime. But organised crime is largely what you’d expect Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist to take on, especially based on the Netflix versions of the characters. All four are "street-level" heroes, operating in New York, interacting with characters like murderous vigilante The Punisher and Kingpin of Crime Wilson Fisk. Perhaps splitting the difference, their team up series will see them take on The Hand. This is a ninja organisation, with mystical origins, that is nevertheless involved in organised crime and can be presented, as it has been so far for Netflix, within the context of crime stories.

Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada has defended The Defenders being The Defenders by pointing out that the original team are largely unknown outside comics fandom, and their name means nothing to the public at large. (Although they have, of course, heard of all three of its constituent members.) Of course, for some this might sensible provoke the question "Why use it then?" What is this series called The Defenders at all?

The (original) Defenders were seen as a "non-team", a phrase occasionally used in the pages of their appearances. There was something deconstructive about this kind of team up. It was the pairing of characters who were unsuited to working, even to appearing, together and who would really rather not. (They had, after all, been brought together in the first place simply because Roy Thomas happened to write their separate titles.) The stories told with the group in some ways challenged and confronted the cliches of the decades old form that had begun back in All-Star Comics #3.

The line-up, and tone, of Netflix’s Defenders more resembles that of another, deliberately slightly interrogative non-team, that of the short-lived Marvel Knights book of 2000-2001. This did share The Defenders somewhat abstract definition of "team", featuring characters who didn’t like each other and didn’t want to work together, albeit without any mystical element to how they were brought together. Marvel Knights was also, in theory, the flagship of the line of the same name, at the time edited by... Joe Quesada. Hmm.

In recent years, Marvel have frequently cheerfully remodelled their comics - the original medium for almost all their characters - in order to incorporate changes and innovations pioneered as part of their film and television projects. Remixing their characters and the way they are grouped together in response to the success of their screen empire. The Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, have become more prominent in the comics, while characters whose film rights lie with film companies other than Marvel’s own, such as the aforementioned Fantastic Four, have been pushed to the margins. Accordingly, this August sees the launch of a new The Defenders title, featuring the lineup of characters from the television series.

Some loyal comics readers see this a case of the tail wagging the dog. Others might like to take notice of the metaphor used by comics writer Grant Morrison in his 2011 book SuperGods: Our World In The Age Of The Superhero. There, Morrison argued that comic books, while the medium in which these characters were created, was essentially the discarded booster section of the rocket in which they had been fired into the public consciousness, reaching vastly greater audiences in the process. 

“That’s not The Defenders,” commented a friend of mine on seeing a publicity photograph for the series a few weeks ago. It is now, mate. It is now.