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The Pull List: Batman and Robin

The Dynamic Duo you’ve never seen before

The Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin, is one of pop culture’s most recognized team-ups. Often imitated and maligned but never duplicated, the pair is a readily established franchise with an entrenched, passionate fan base. Strangely, however, it has taken DC Comics almost seventy years to publish an ongoing series featuring the exploits of the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder. Spinning out of Grant Morrison’s prior work with the Caped Crusader, Batman and Robin launched last year and has easily carved itself out a niche among the crowded Batman publishing schedule.

Evolving into far more than just a fringe title, Batman and Robin is now the premier Bat-book to follow. Showcasing the talents of writer Grant Morrison and a bevy of artistic talent, with Frank Quitely at the forefront, the series is an eagerly needed gust of fresh air into a sometimes stagnant and stale franchise.

Batman and Robin is a needed shot in the arm to the entire Batman publishing catalogue. As a continuation of Morrison previous Batman work the series rewards long time readers with a continuation of the multilayered, often times surreal, exploration of the character and his mythos. However, the real trick with Batman and Robin is the absence of Bruce Wayne. Less of an absence, Wayne is gone entirely from the series, having been sent spiraling through time at the end of the Morrison penned mega tale Final Crisis.

In place of Bruce is former sidekick Dick Grayson, having donned the mantle of Batman after the disappearance of his former mentor. Filling Robin’s shoes is the hotheaded, impetuous Damian Wayne, the illegitimate child of Bruce Wayne. Together, this new Dynamic Duo takes to the streets of Gotham and carries on the legacy of their respective costumed identities while forging a new future amidst shadowy super villain conspiracies and a skeptical police force.

The true hook of this book is the role reversal between the two leads. Batman is often the scowling, crazed loner figure and Robin a more jovial, hero in training persona. Batman and Robin jumbles up this long running stable and presents a Batman that doesn’t take himself too seriously and a fist clenching, teeth gritting bad boy Robin. The interplay between the two characters is the star of the series. Beyond Morrison’s numerous talents the one in particular that entices and baits readers regularly is his ability to fine new angles to explore and new depths to mine.

A new take on one of comics’ most recognized institutions has been sorely needed. Morrison delivers this with wit, charm, action, drama and suspense in spades. Not surprisingly the book has shot up the sales charts, making Batman and Robin into one of DC’s premier flagship titles. To be at the forefront of the Bat franchise’s new frontier there is no better place to start than this series.

The Pull List: Invincible Iron Man

Iron Man’s solid gold suit

Iron Man has become a household name of late. However, before the hype and craze and CGI ensconced entertainment that both Iron Man and Iron Man 2 delivered, the adventures of Tony Stark were a secret left to comic junkies. Stark’s world never resonated with readers the same way Bruce Wayne’s or Peter Parker’s did. Perhaps the glitz and glamour of a billionaire playboy lifestyle was beyond personal relation for most comic readers. Never the less, shortly before the debut of Marvel’s Iron Man, hoping to catch part of the interest sparked by the feature film, a new comic series was launched. Labeled Invincible Iron Man, helmed by writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca, the series hopped on the Shellhead bandwagon. However, consistently excellent storytelling, coupled with deep characterization and nail biting plots have garnered the title an astounding amount of rightly due recognition.

It’s fascinating to observe the unbridled, almost overnight, success of the Iron Man franchise. Rewind the clock a paltry five years and a majority of the general public was unfamiliar with the character. Within the comic reading community, even within certain circles, Tony Stark was seen as a B-list character at best. Fraction and Larroca, with the timely help of Hollywood, were able to alter those perceptions. Fraction brought to Invincible Iron Man a deft grasp of accurate characterization. Understanding what makes Stark tick, Fraction is able to mine new depths left uncovered or untouched by the motion picture. While the silver screen adaptation was able to take liberties with the character, Fraction was restrained largely by the continuity of comics. Despite this, the writer was able to stay true, paying homage, to the past fifty years of Iron Man tales and lore while breaking new ground and adding new layers that enriched the character’s previously limited mythology.

The essence of many comic characters lies in their mythology, who they are, where do they come from, what’s their niche and who is associated with said character. Iron Man lacked a comprehensive mythology due to his sub-popularity. The most gratifying attribute of Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man revitalization is the incorporation and reinforcement of new and old character world building concepts. Fresh blood is added to bolster Iron Man’s supporting cast while familiar faces become even more prevalent. Going back to Fraction’s dexterity with character work, the real meat and potatoes of this ongoing series is the interaction between the cast. There are entire issues were the Iron Man armor is nowhere to be seen. The interpersonal drama, however, more than makes up for the spare action sequences. The dialed back explosions make way for iron tight plotting that is far more interesting than things going boom. While the two films may have shown the mass appeal Iron Man possesses out of the printed page, Invincible Iron Man is proof Shellhead still has plenty of room to expand. This title is indeed fitting for a now A-list character.

The Pull List: Secret Six

Wicked fun

Often it’s more fun to play the villain than the hero. As the villain, one is allowed, even expected, to break the rules and to be unpredictable. Being a villain is an indulgence in freedom. A hero, on the other hand, is routine and predictable, never straying from the prescribed social role heroes must fulfill. Gail Simone’s Secret Six is a textbook example of the bad guys being far more entertaining than their socially responsible and morally upright adversaries. Focusing on a largely unknown cast comprised of B and C list villains seems a questionable premise for a comic title. Comic book publishing is, sadly, a reactionary industry with a relatively small reader base. However, Simone injects such heavy amounts of characterization, humor and drama into the deep tissue of this book that undoubtedly makes this audacious premise a grand slam.

For all of her accolades and attributes, Simone first and foremost brings a snarky, somewhat dark tone to her work. Thematically this aspect fits Secret Six like spandex. Focusing on a, debatably, low profile cast, Simone has the keys to their respective kingdoms. If this book’s cast was comprised of Lex Luthor, the Joker or any number of instantly recognizable fiends a good deal of drama would have gone out the window. Those characters are well trodden icons. No way would the Joker meet his end outside of a Batman centric book. Conversely, the cast of Secret Six are fair game. Each month the ongoing drama progresses and each cast member’s fate is fair game. As a matter of fact, with a wickedly perverse crew such as this the shadow of death and betrayal isn’t very far off.

Simply put, Secret Six is one long game of shock and surprise with heavy doses of gallows’ humor for good measure. Each character oozes with disdain and contempt for each other, but, ironically, routinely relies on one another to make it in the highly competitive world of super villainy. Never the less, while villains, the cast of Secret Six are far from cackling mad men and women. Their chosen vocation is simply a job.

Playing the villain pays the bills. It isn’t about the thrill of dealing death or carnage but making it through the day alive. Again, while the cast is more often than not backstabbing each other, a true sense of community and friendship arises from their mutual association. While this title may lack the instant recognition of DC Comic’s more institutional books, it ultimately is a more satisfying read. Simone has free reign with these characters.

Unfortunately, many comic book characters are incredibly stagnant. The Batman fifty years from now will be relatively the same Batman as today. It’s due to his iconic status. However, Simone’s cast is far from a billion dollar property. These toys can be taken out, played with and broken if she chooses to do so. Walk on the wrong side of the law with Simone and grab a copy of Secret Six for one of the most engaging and scintillating reads on today’s comic stands.

The Comic Pusher: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

Cranking the absurdity to eleven

Comic books, despite bearing the unfair moniker of “funny pages”, are often sorely lacking in humor. The entire Batman franchise, an incredibly prolific and sizeable segment of the comic publishing pie, is devoid of lightheartedness or comedy. Sure, some titles may feature a glimmer of levity. Books such as Amazing Spider-Man, Deadpool and Justice League: Generation Lost, often dial back the seriousness but just as often become embroiled in plot drama or mindless shtick. However, 2006 saw the emergence of a comic that wasn’t afraid to explore satire and open up to self-parody. The book in question is Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen. A twelve issue long series, this title openly lampooned many of the more ridiculous aspects of comics, Michael Bay-esque explosions, adults wearing spandex costumes, super science mumbo jumbo to name a few, while also celebrating the absurd enchantment a stack of panels and pages can have on a reader.

Warren Ellis brought to Nextwave a snarky attitude and wit few comic writers can emulate. Nextwave is packed full of instances where the conventions of the comic book medium are laid bare and open to derision. However, Ellis has no intention of destroying or needlessly criticizing the sometimes insular world of comic books. The closest approximation to what Nextwave strives for is a celebrity roast. All the snide comments and observations presented by Ellis are done with a smile, a knowing nod and a wink. As in a roast, after each speaker has savaged the roastee with insults and jokes, the roasters often have a heartfelt, poignant message regarding their prey. The intention of a roast isn’t to poke fun or insult simply to have a few laughs, but to drum up a few jokes while elaborating on the roastee’s good nature and the respect he or she deserves. Ellis does the exact same in Nextwave, having a few guffaws while ultimately celebrating a medium the writer works in and cherishes.

For example, the book contains a vast, comedic number of explosions. While it is true that comics can emphasize explosions over plot or character development, Ellis makes it clear that not only is this juvenile and preposterous but it is also part of the fun of superhero comics. It can be fun to indulge in mindless violence on comic pages because of the unlimited scope available. Comic pages have almost non-existent budget restrictions. The only restriction is the imagination, skill and creativity of the writer and artist. Between Ellis and Immonen the sky is the limit. Immonen matches Ellis’s satire with bombastic action sequences and plenty of non sequitur visual gags. The aforementioned scenes of mindless violence are not only hyper-kinetic but laugh out loud hilarious with a bevy of foes including rabid, airdropped koalas, broccoli men and giant, floating Elvis heads. For those who are interested in a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously, or for long time lovers of comics looking for breath of fresh air, grab all twelve issues of Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

The Pull List: J. Michael Straczynski's Superman

Follow in the footsteps of the Man of Tomorrow

As iconic as Superman is, he’s often handled in an ineffective manner that spoils his grand potential as the ultimate in individual achievement. Too often stories focus on the “Super” and less on the “man” aspect of his character. These tales involve Kal-El battling aliens, demigods, and other super humans in far out, fantastical tales.

However, Superman’s publication roots are far more humble than such extravagant adventures of derring-do. Superman, as originally conceived by creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, was a defender of the common man against big business, cruel landlords and corrupt politicians. Hailing from the Great Depression, Superman was a cathartic creation of working class America, setting right the wrongs many blue collared workers experienced in harsh and uncertain economic times. This aspect of his character, crusading for a liberal social agenda, has been largely lost over the intervening decades, replaced by otherworldly encounters and superhero slug fests. Until now that is.

Comic superstar J. Michael Straczynski is currently behind the wheel of the on-going Superman series. Straczynski’s debut in Superman #700 began a fresh new saga for the Last Son of Krypton. Building on years of lackluster stories, Straczynski does away with visceral adventure and super powered bravado. In its place comes a new direction called “Grounded”. Not only is Superman literally grounded, eschewing his most iconic super power, but he is taking the time to reconnect with the average human on a walk across America.

While the results have been mixed, with certain elements played exceptionally well while others appear heavy handed, the concept is never the less incredibly audacious. Straczynski is a master of reinvention. His past comic work with Spider-Man, Thor and the Squadron Supreme are abject lessons in franchise regeneration. Through a combination of poignant themes, long form storytelling and distilling a character to their essence, Straczynski has re-energized every property under his influence. His abilities are now at work in Superman.

While only three issues in, starting at #700 up to this month’s #702, Straczynski already finds himself in a unique position as a storyteller with the gravitas to bring Superman back to his more earthbound roots. Man of Steel writers and artists after Siegel and Shuster constantly strove to make Superman bigger, bolder and more expansive. Straczynski reverses this trend by boiling the Man of Tomorrow down to his core.

That, quite literally, is being the Man of Tomorrow. Playing up Superman’s messianic aspects while having Big Blue interact with the populace in ways previously unseen, such as a scenic walk through South Philadelphia or Detroit, is a true breath of fresh air. The promise of Superman as a beacon of humanity and hope is on full display. Instead of battling alien conquerors, Superman battles poverty, depression and apathy, problems that certainly require a Superman’s help to solve. This new lesson in humility brings a sense of change to comic’s oldest creation. While this story is in its infancy, the journey will certainly prove to be enlightening.

The Comic Pusher: DMZ

Down and out in Manhattan

Can this generation, growing up on mobile devices, internet access and technological addiction, survive a full scale war? What about if the war was fought at home, a second American Civil War? Could today’s up and coming generation make the sacrifices and survive in the face of unspeakable hardship? Such are the questions posed by Brian Wood’s and Riccardo Burchielli’sDMZ, with emphasis on the first collected volume. In said title, another civil war has broken out on American soil. The two sides quickly ravage most of the nation before coming to an abrupt, tense ceasefire. The demarcation point for this sudden stopping of hostilities is right through New York City; the former metropolis now turned despoiled demilitarized zone. The appeal, at least to younger, college age readers, is that many of the book’s focal characters belong to the urban, college educated, twenty-something crowd.

The main focus is Matty Roth, a wide-eyed journalist who unexpectedly becomes trapped in war ravaged Manhattan. The scenes of devastation are poignant and brutal, courtesy of the exceptional Italian artist Riccardo Burchielli. Wood pulls back the curtain and presents the necessities and ugliness of modern warfare. While contemporary readers most likely have no illusions over the actual dirtiness and sheer terror open combat is Wood portrays all parties equally. There are no heroes or villains to clearly point towards. DMZ contains only shades of gray. It seems fitting that Wood chooses to do so. An environment with hundreds of thousands of individuals, only a small remnant of New York City’s massive population, scraping for survival is destined to contain hard choices. Would you kill for food if you were starving? Could you trust anyone if it seemed the entire world was falling apart? Wood, again, asks these questions and poses them to the masses of twenty-somethings who populate urban areas. In a sense, DMZ asks if today’s youth can make similar, perhaps further, sacrifices that the youth of World War Two made. Essentially, it is asked if the young, pampered and consumer classes can conceivably rise to a challenge of this magnitude.

DMZ’s first volume presents young Matty’s rapid maturation from naive novice to man about town. He has an exclusive position as the only journalist allowed in Manhattan, having been stranded there after his convoy was ambushed. As such, his uniqueness leads to instant celebrityhood. The reader is made to walk side by side with Matty and experience the gut wrenching suspense of an outsider existing in one of the most inhospitable locations in the world. It is immensely ironic to see New York City, the Mecca of urban conglomerations, reduced to a war torn landscape resembling some ruined Middle Eastern metropolis. Never the less, the true focus remains on the people who inhabit this environ. Their struggles showcases the lengths individuals go to for survival. Matty, similar to the reader, is compelled to leave distinctions and judgments at the door. While ultimately dour, the most uplifting aspect of DMZ is that people can survive without the luxuries of modern society. The will to exist hasn’t gone away just because the wonders of contemporary technologies and shopping malls cease to function. Perhaps this is Wood’s ultimate statement; people will live on no matter what.

The Pull List: SHIELD

SHIELD is most definitely up

Originally cloaked in mystery and solicited under strange pretenses, the details behind Jonathan Hickman’s latest title, SHIELD, have become more and more apparent. Instead of spotlighting the Marvel Universe’s favorite acronym branded agency, SHIELD opens the shudder and pulls the focus back to an astounding extent. Starting in Ancient Egypt with an alien invasion, moving to the Renaissance and Leonardo Da Vinci and finally coming to rest in 1950’s Italy, SHIELD’s scope is quite ambitious. Telling the tale of an ancient brotherhood of protectors slowly guiding and protecting humankind’s destiny through the eyes of Leonid, a young man with possible familial connection to said secret society, is a project few writers could ostensibly handle with efficacy. However, Hickman is a rare breed. The writer is known for his high concept romps and poignant storytelling abilities. Hickman is, more or less, a homegrown response to the influx of British writers moving in to American comics. He brings literary sensibilities to an often disparaged art form and reinvigorates the medium with a refreshing, distinct authorial voice.

What truly shines in SHIELD is the extent and depths the title plunges in to within the first few panels. The breadth of the series is marvelous to say the least. While only three issues old, this young book has already leaped ahead of similar spring debuts. Featuring an engaging hook and a promise to detail the secret history of mankind’s protectors, SHIELD is very much in a league of its own. While Hickman begins spinning a multitude of plates right off the bat, hopefully offering up a few answers before spreading himself too thin down the road, he’s able to keep the reader only a step behind rather than leagues. Part of this comes from Hickman grounding his narrative through the eyes of Leonid. While Leonid, so far, is a somewhat ill-defined protagonist his wide eyed amazement mirrors what most readers encounter within the first few pages.

High concepts dominate in SHIELD. Casting historical luminaries, such as Imhotep, Da Vinci and Zhang Heng, as forerunners of modern superheroes, Hickman opens up worlds of possibilities. Galileo versus Galactus? Yes please. Immensely imaginative and wonderfully rendered, by artist Dustin Weaver, this series satisfies mentally and emotionally. As mentioned before, SHIELD is only three issues in. This, at first, may sound like a piece of cake to catch up on the unforeseen popularity of this title has caught the publisher unawares. The first issue sold out quickly with the second no too far behind. Never fear, however. Marvel was kind enough to authorize a number of reprints, meaning SHIELD should be available for consumption at your neighborhood comic shop. For an intellectual head-trip nab SHIELD.

Caught! Your Friend’s Cheating Lover

Your friend’s significant other is cheating on them. Should you spill the beans or keep your lips sealed?

Even if you’re not dating someone, you’re more than likely to be part of a romantic relationship.

Your best friend might start dating a guy and suddenly you’re seeing him every morning drinking coffee and watching TV. Or one of your buddies could start bringing a girl to happy hour and soon you’re looking forward to her summary of last night’s episode of “LA Ink.” Whether you realize it or not, you’ve formed a relationship with one another, albeit in a tangential sense.

So what do you do if you catch your friend’s lover with another?

Before you dive in and potentially destroy your friend’s world, find out if the cheating is actually real – that mysterious woman could really be his cousin, or even a young aunt. You don’t want to be the jerk trying to stir up trouble. Don’t assume you know everything about their life because, in all honesty, you don’t. Of course, if you catch your best friend’s boyfriend making out with a girl at the bar, you can be pretty sure that the chick is not family.

Next, you should consider your motive. Do you want to tell your friend the truth about the two-timing lover because it will make him or her feel better? Or do you want to tell them because it will make you feel better? If your confession will only benefit your conscience, then reconsider. You need to realize the situation is not about you, it is about your friend.

Sure, phrases like “bros before hos” and “chicks before dicks” come to mind immediately, but a situation like this is complicated. You’re attempting to uphold your friend’s reputation, integrity and respect, but telling your friend about his or her partner’s indiscretions could result in polarizing your friendship.

“One of my long-time friends told me my boyfriend was cheating on me, but I didn’t believe him. I thought he was trying to cause problems and break us up – I ended the friendship. After my relationship eventually ended, I found out he was telling the truth,” says Caira Wells, student.

Wells’ experience is one possible scenario: Your friend flips out, accuses you of lying, then de-friends you in real-life and on Facebook.

Is this fair? Well, maybe. In trying to be a good friend, it’s easy to forget that he or she is naturally really invested in the relationship. So bluntly bursting out that you saw their significant other making out with someone at the bar may be the last thing they want to hear from you. If you decide to tell, you should break the news gently.

Also, don’t make judgments or harsh statements like “She was too ugly for you anyway” or “She is just a skank.” Your friend might really be in love and might not actually end the relationship. Then you would be stuck dealing with your verbal vomit weeks later while they are still together.

A second scenario, on the other hand, has the idealized result we all desire: You spill the goods and your friend thanks you for letting them in on the details.

Fair? Again, maybe. Even though your intentions again lie in a wholly heartfelt place, you still run the risk of meddling without knowing all the ins-and-outs of the relationship. Even if they appear outwardly fine, no one handles a break-up perfectly and this is especially true if they really cared for the other person. Secretly, your friend’s heart is probably breaking, and they will need your support.

You can also support your friend in a non-intrusive way with either scenario. Just remaining available to talk, hang out or do anything to keep their mind off the situation can really help in the long run. And remember, don’t offer unsolicited advice or recommendations on how to handle the cheating. Unless they ask for your opinion, keep your thoughts to yourself. Be sensitive and do not pressure your friend to quickly make a decision. At the end of the day, the greatest friends are the non-judgmental, supportive ones.

But the question still remains: What if you can’t tell your friend about the dirty deeds going on behind their back? What do you do then?

This is a difficult predicament. On one hand, you don’t want them to find out later that you knew about the cheating, but, on the other hand, you also don’t want to remain silent either. With this conundrum in mind, student Erik Rodriguez advises College News on the best course of action.

“Confront [your friend’s] boyfriend or girlfriend about the cheating. Say you know about it and recommend they stop, tell your friend, end the relationship, etc. Perhaps you will ignite a spark to better their relationship or end it… I don’t consider this getting too involved, [but rather] just [being] confrontational in a good way.”

Carefully evaluating the state of the relationship helps as well. Is this person one you expect to be around for just a few weeks or someone to be around for a while? The answer may help inform your course of action.

Also, consider yourself in the opposite position. While hearing about this awful situation from a good friend is better than finding out from the class gossip, some issues are best kept private. Most people would rather hear the bad news from their partner and handle the situation out of the public view. If this is the case, then do not let them know you knew beforehand unless, of course, they bring you up in conversation.

Still feel uncomfortable with these options? Just keep one thing in mind. The power of suggestion, such as dropping hints and capturing cheating behavior in picture messages, can go a long way.

Is it cheating? Not sure if what you see is cheating? Here are a few sure-fire cheating signs:

 

1. He or she is touching another person in an intimate way or kissing.
2. If you approach the couple, they both seem very nervous or don’t bother to introduce the “friend.”
3. The suspected cheater immediately starts to give excuses as to why he or she is with the other person.
4. You happen to see a flirty text or photo on his or her phone that does not belong to your friend.
5. You see recent photos on Facebook or MySpace of him or her behaving badly.

Is grad school worth it?

With tuition skyrocketing and jobs hard to come by, is the investment worthwhile?

It is a boom year for graduate and professional schools. From Cornell Law’s unprecedented 52 percent increase in application numbers, to Brown and Princeton University’s graduate program double-digit applicant jump, it is safe to say that college grads both old and new are seeking refuge from the economy and lagging job market in the safe haven of academia.

On the surface, the reasons for hopping on the education train look good: You get a temporary break from the economy, you can take out loans to finance your schooling and living expenses, which in turn makes it easier to temporarily make ends meet, and you get an education, which can make you a more attractive employment prospect once the market picks back up.

However, what many aspiring graduate students fail to realize is that eventually they will be done with their program and they will be back out on the workforce trying to find a job—except this time they will be saddled with loan payments and they might still be trying to navigate uncertain employment waters.

With all this in mind, graduate and professional school applicants must ask themselves: Is grad school worth it?

The answer to this question, as it turns out, is “Yes.” It is, however, a qualified “yes.” Education, in and of itself, is always beneficial. Nonetheless, whether it is beneficial for a specific person is another matter entirely. Applicants must do a lot of thinking and soul-searching before making this choice in order to ensure that the decision is the absolute best path for them.

The answer to this question, as it turns out, is “Yes.” It is, however, a qualified “yes.” Education, in and of itself, is always beneficial. Nonetheless, whether it is beneficial for a specific person is another matter entirely. Applicants must do a lot of thinking and soul-searching before making this choice to earn a Masters education in order to ensure that the decision is the absolute best path for them.

Why do you want to go back to school?

Although it is certainly tempting to escape a bleak employment landscape by diving into an advanced degree program, that alone is not really reason enough to make the plunge. The most successful graduates are those that have a concrete reason for applying to and attending graduate school.

The reason must be more than simply, “I can’t find a job right now,” “I don’t know what to do with my career,” “I’m bored,” or “I heard attorneys/people with Masters/Ph.D.s make more money.” Think about it: You are about to spend at least two years of your life and thousands of dollars getting this degree. You need to make sure that it will not only fulfill and complement your professional ambitions but that it will also fulfill and complement you.  More money, boredom or a convenient escape hatch from reality is not enough to make the stress and sacrifice of getting an advanced degree worthwhile.

Can you handle the financial burden?

It has been mentioned before but is worth mentioning again: Grad school and professional school are not cheap endeavors. Even at the most inexpensive level, you will still spend tens of thousands of dollars on tuition. If you also take out loans to cover your living expenses, that is even more money added to the bill.

At the most basic level, you need to consider if you are credit-worthy enough to be able to take out all this debt; at the most complex, you need to consider if taking out all this debt is even a smart thing for you to do. Although it may seem a little like “free money” when you are in school, once you have graduated and the students loan bills start coming in the mail it might be that very freedom  that gets taken away. 

Have you thought about what you will do with the degree?

Ideally, the degree should be a necessary pathway to something you have already thought about thoroughly and considered attaining. It should not be a hoped-for catalyst to jumpstart a lagging career.

Many graduate students suffer from “academic blinders:” They only see as far as graduation, and have not really considered what lies beyond it. If you find yourself applying to graduate school “by default,” or “to see if it makes things better,” then seriously consider if it is really for you. You might be better served spending your time and money elsewhere.

Are you willing to make sacrifices?

You will not be able to live like a lawyer during law school. You also will not be able to live like a tenured professor during graduate school, or like a dot-com tycoon during business school. Your life during grad school will be frugal, sleep-deprived, and stressful. Is that something you are comfortable with?

Perhaps you are someone that cannot imagine not being able to travel, eat at restaurants or live in large homes or apartments. That will most likely not be your life while you are in school. Living like a pauper is the de facto state for graduate students. If that is not something you can live with, perhaps it is not the smartest choice for you.

Have you thought about what will happen if you cannot find a job after you have graduated?

And thus we come full circle. You attained more schooling so you could get a better job and better money. What happens if you graduate and are unable to find a job (again)? You will still have to make student loan payments and find the means to pay your rent, utilities and food. Do not think that graduate school is a magical solution that guarantees employment at the end.

As thousands of recently-minted, unemployed J.D.s can attest, that is certainly not the case. Ask yourself: Even if you cannot find a job after you graduate, will you still be happy you went to school? Will you still consider yourself lucky to have that education? If all you will feel is angst, then graduate school may not be the solution you are looking for.

Graduate and professional school is a certainly attractive, stable prospect in what can be an unstable world. However, is the investment worth it? For some, very much so. But it is not for everyone. Carefully weigh your options. Make sure you are doing it because of your aspirations, and not in spite of them.

Robyn’s electro-pop comeback

How the Swedish singer learned to stop worrying and love the beat

Most pop aficionados and aging Gen Y-ers know Robyn for her late teen-queen nineties smash “Show Me Love,” a reality which is deeply unfortunate because the Swedish pop singer has a deep repertoire of infectious, smartly-crafted electro-pop – including 2005’s self-titled comeback effort. Label woes kept Robyn from reaching the U.S. until 2008, but those who did hear it praised it rightly as the profoundly exciting statement-of-purpose that it was intended to be. Even though Body Talk Pt. 1, the first of a three-part record suite that’s set to release in whole in 2010, is the first full-length Robyn effort in five years, the driving enthusiasm in her music has not waned even in the slightest. Tracks like “Fembot” and “Dancing On My Own” should become club staples in no time, due to their insistent beats and Robyn’s cool, but passionate, vocal delivery. Right before she set to go out on a tour which included stops at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, amongst other high-profile gigs, Robyn spoke with College News via email, answering our questions about Body Talk’s unusual release concept, her advice to anyone starting a record label, how technology has influenced her music-making, and the current state of electronic music.

College News: It’s been five years since the release of your last full-length, Robyn, but in the meantime, you released The Rakamonie EP in 2006, and The Cherrytree Sessions in 2009. What was the importance of those EPs? Did they in any way help keep you prepared for creating a record of new material?

Robyn: Not really. For me, the writing I’ve done in between records with [producer Andreas] Kleerup on “With Every Heartbeat,” which wasn’t on the first release of Robyn in 2005, and “The Girl and the Robot” with [Norwegian electronic duo] Röyksopp, have been more important in that way. I like to keep writing in between albums and that’s the biggest reason for why I’m releasing this new album in three parts.

CN: How did you start the songwriting process for Body Talk?

Robyn: I went back to Stockholm, where I live, at the end of 2008 to come down from a hectic touring period and got my [songwriting] focus back. [Swedish songwriter] Klas Åhlund and I started writing again in July last year. I learned how to use Logic, the music computer programming software, and started a club night in Stockholm with my friend Louise Sondlo that we call “Konichiwa bitches goes Tutti Frutti.”

CN: What was your goal with Body Talk musically?

Robyn: To continue to explore what I had figured out and liked about the last album. Like Robyn on steroids.
CN: Why break it up in three parts, as opposed to release it as one whole? Is it meant to be a concept album spread over three parts?

Robyn: There is no concept for Body Talk. The three-album idea came out of me trying to find a practical solution to not being able to be in the studio as much as I would like to while I’m touring. I decided to release the first eight songs I had finished as soon as I could so I could get back on the road sooner, but also have a reason to get back into the studio sooner. But then, it also started to make sense to me in other ways like how people consume music in a new way, how I myself am actually a fan of shorter albums and how most albums were shorter if you look back 20-30 years.
CN: How do they differ from the first parts?

Robyn: Most of the songs where written around the same time, so they are connected in some way, but because they are recorded in different periods, the albums will naturally have different characteristics. But it’s not because of a concept: It’s because it just happened that way. If there is any concept, it is that there is none.

CN: In an interview about Body Talk Pt. 1, you described the theme of this record as being “technology versus humanity,” specifically how one integrates with the other in the present day. What was the inspiration for this theme? Do you see any upsides or downsides to technology in its current form?

Robyn: I’m fascinated about how technology affects our everyday lives in ways that it hasn’t before. Our needs and wishes still are very primal: We want to be loved, connect to other people and want to discover new cool things – but you can do it so much faster and bigger on the internet. It’s like our new feathers or face paint.

CN: In 2004, you famously broke away from your label, Jive Records, to start your own record label. What are some of the challenges of running Konichiwa, both long-term and day-to-day? Have you ever considered an alternative business model? (Like doing what Radiohead did with In Rainbows)?

Robyn: I’m happy with my set-up. It’s small and I get to be involved in the details, but still have the chance to reach a broad audience. The most important thing for me is to be able to do it in a genuine way, and that kind of dictates everything else for me. I work a lot though.

CN: You’re in a unique position. You’ve had both artistic and commercial success since the late 90s, and have witnessed a lot of sea changes in terms of how the industry is run. What advice would you give to a young person (say, a college student) trying to run their own label?

Robyn: I don’t want to give advice. I think everyone has to figure it out for themselves. But I would say you won’t be able to do it all by yourself and, if anything, have fun.

CN: As a music observer, 2010 seems to be a great year for electronic-based music, with releases from Caribou, Four Tet, Flying Lotus and Pantha du Prince. Then going back to past years, you have bands and artists like The XX, the Knife and yourself all releasing well-received material. What are your thoughts about the state of electronic music in 2010? Where do you see yourself fitting in, and what has been inspiring you musically lately?

Robyn: Club music has inspired me mostly lately, old and new. I think what’s going on now is reminding me of a lot of the unexpected mixes of genres and culture that happened in the 90s with the rave scene, pop music and hip hop mixing. Artists like Neneh Cherry, Dr Alban in Sweden, the Technotronic and The Prodigy were a big influence on me, and they still are.

CN: “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” – based on the title alone, I have to ask what the inspiration for that song was.

Robyn: It’s just a song about coming off of tour and just being tired of having people in my face and not really being able say no or prioritize.