Following The Incomparable’s year-end episode in which each panelist ran through his/her favorite movies, books, etc. from ’17, I thought I’d do a bit of the same. Here’s a recap of some of the media I enjoyed over the year. Particular recommendations are in bold.
To my horror, I realize I read very few books over the year. Ack. Caledonian Gambit by Dan Moren is a cool space adventure. Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey was good but I felt it was much more a continuation of the previous book where others in the Expanse series have each had their own flair to them. As part of my work on the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons, I read through The Art and Invention of Max Fleischer: American Animation Pioneer by Ray Pointer. Also I reread The Gunslinger because the Dark Tower movie got me excited again about that series (though I ended up skipping the film).
The main reason I didn’t get to many novels last year was that I had a huge backlog of comics sitting in a pile that I worked through.
Picking the best book of the year is easy. It’s Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Liz Fleming. Giant Days is a sort of sitcom featuring three women attending university in Sheffield, UK. It won House to Astonish’s “Best Ongoing Series” award where Al pointed out that not just every issue is funny, often every page is. It’s available on Comixology’s Unlimited service.
My personal favorite ongoing comic is Transformers: Lost Light. I didn’t pick it as the year’s best only because it’s regaining momentum after the conclusion of its second major act. I wrote about Lost Light’s predecessor series, More Than Meets the Eye before here and here. I do recommend you read it. I didn’t have much interest in reading a Transformers comic before but this one is special. Don’t start with Lost Light, though. Read MTMtE first. The full reading order for that series is here. When you’re done with that, you can move on to Lost Light 1-current.
I’ve been working my way through The Carl Barks Library, Fantagraphics’s collection of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics by the series’ most important creator, but if I had to recommend a Duck book, it’d be volumes four and five of the Don Rosa collection. Rosa’s intent was to set his stories firmly in the world that Barks, specifically, had created, often making sequels to the earlier stories and/or rigorously incorporating the tiniest details from the Barks canon. Those two volumes comprise Rosa’s “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” and are, I say without exaggeration, some of them best comic books you can read. Here’s volume four, The Last of Clan McDuck, and five, The Richest Duck in the World.
Other older books: I’m working my way through Tintin and Asterix, which delight with every volume. Staying with the “European comics” theme, I read the first three in “Valerian: The Complete Collection.”
Jason Aaron’s The Mighty Thor series continues to be excellent. As with Lost Light, it’s not at a good “jumping-on” point; he’s about 75 issues into his saga at this point. Here’s a piece I wrote on it earlier this year, going over how Marvel’s constant renumbering and relaunching of the book make it very hard to keep track of: The Unreadable Thor. The book has been great for its whole run (as have Thor comics in general for quite some time), but it’s annoying I can’t just point to a specific volume number and say, “start reading from there.”
Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer book was a beautiful piece of work on that character, with more than a dash of Doctor Who sprinkled in, in both the obvious ways of making it a space adventure with a female companion along for the ride, but also in the way the book gives you a warm feeling when you see how the story comes together. It’s not quite as hard to read as Thor: read a short story in All-New Marvel Now! Point One #1 (yes, that’s the title), then volume five from start to finish (15 issues), then volume six (14 issues).
Tom King’s work on Batman is very good, but his Mister Miracle, currently on issue six of a planned 12 issues, is probably the best book DC Comics is publishing right now.
Other mentions: The Unbelievable Gwenpool is unbelievably fun. I just tracked down the issues of that I’d missed and it’s remarkable how the book builds over time. It isn’t just a one-off joke about a hero who is or isn’t a Deadpool wannabe. Somehow The Flintstones is totally worth your time. Saga continues to be strong. I want Black Panther to be a little better, but it’s good and I’m hyped for the movie.
I was surprised at how many movies I saw in the theater last year when I started typing them out, yet realize I missed a few crucial offerings, namely Get Out and The Big Sick. I’m planning to catch both soon at home. I wanted to see Murder on the Orient Express but didn’t manage to, and I’d totally forgotten T2: Trainspotting exists despite being a big Danny Boyle fan. (I even saw his Frankenstein play!)
Moving on to movies I did see, I of course loved The Last Jedi. It’s not at all the movie I expected it to be, and it’s stayed with me over the weeks since I’ve seen it. I’m move on lest I go on and on about just that one movie.
Superhero-wise, there were a lot of good ones this year, right? Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 were all quite good. Oh also Logan, which I’d sort of forgotten about but was unexpected and great. On a hunch I avoided Justice League (as I have the other Snyder DC movies) and nothing I’ve heard has made me question that decision.
Baby Driver was superb.
I didn’t see Arrival in theaters when it came out but it was, also, superb.
Bladerunner 2049 was a thoughtful, cool sci-fi movie. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets wasn’t. I was very hopeful for the latter, given a wealth of cool source material and my love of Besson’s The Fifth Element, but this one just didn’t work. I want to think there’s more to Alien: Covenant but I wasn’t moved to think about it much after I saw it.
Coco was beautiful and touching.
Other kids’ movies: if the first Lego Movie was much better than it should have been, The Lego Batman Movie was fun but about as good as I expected, and The Lego Ninjago Movie a little less so but still enjoyable. I adore My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic but found the movie didn’t live up to the quality of the show (though I’d say the show hasn’t been as good as its first few seasons in a while). Boss Baby and Despicable Me 3 were mostly dreck, as expected. I typically try to avoid taking my kids to that sort of stuff but their swim team does group movies and it’s either take them to that or actually be an active parent and come with with a constructive activity for them to be doing. The live-action Beauty and the Beast has its moments but was ultimately pointless. The original film is wonderful as it is.
Other good movies I took my kids to: we caught favorites My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service at the local Studio Ghibli film festival, I took the older one to see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (oh, and I read that manga finally!), and I saw Whisper of the Heart. Porco Rosa and The Castle of Cagliostro are the remaining Hayao Miyazaki films I haven’t seen.
I think The Good Place is probably the show I look forward to most each week. The entire first season is on Netflix. Do not watch the second season until you’ve seen the first. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin are also wonderful.
Twin Peaks, sort of like The Last Jedi, didn’t give us what we expected but was wonderful all the same. I think it and Bladerunner sort of belong in a similar bucket of works where the creators were clearly given tremendous leeway to tell the stories they wanted and what they produced was not for everyone but if they’re your bag, you got a treat.
Over at HBO, I thoroughly loved Westworld. Game of Thrones is winding down but had some super great moments. Silicon Valley and Veep continued being funny. I’m told Leftovers is excellent but I’ve let my HBO Now subscription lapse, so I’ll jump on that whenever I resubscribe.
Stranger Things is obviously right up my alley, though I’m still only partway through the second season. (I’m savoring it!) Marvelous Ms. Maisel is next on my list.
I watch the CW’s entire slate of superhero shows, and they range from fine to guilty pleasure to good. Agents of SHIELD, likewise. Iron Fist had a few redeemable moments but it really didn’t live up to what it could have been. Luke Cage did much better, and I thought The Defenders was, again, fine. I haven’t gotten to The Punisher yet. Probably after I watch the new Black Mirror episodes, which is incredibly hit and miss but I’m still blown away by the “San Junipero” episode.
Somehow I missed Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I know it’s good and the few I’ve seen were funny, but it’s only return on Hulu and after paying for Netflix and HBO I can’t justify another streaming subscription. Thus, I also haven’t seen The Handmaid’s Tale. I’d also like to watch Legion, and the first bit of The Expanse is on Amazon Prime so I’ll get to that soon, too.
I started out the year seeing Hamilton on Broadway. I have a hard time even writing about it. Is it okay to say I think it might be the greatest work of art in my lifetime? It seems outrageous to make that sort of claim. I’ll say seeing it live was one of the very, very few things in life that exceeded all expectations. It’s, like, you’ve listened to the cast recording dozens of times and you think you know what Hamilton is, but then you realize, “oh, I get to see them act and dance, too?”
While in New York my wife and I also caught Wicked, which I liked a lot and want to take the kids to when they’re just a tiny bit bigger.
At the National Theater in DC we saw Fun Home and Means Girls. I liked both. Fun Home did one of the best stagecraft tricks I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen, like, ten plays!) but I don’t want to spoil it.
I don’t know how to write about music. I don’t keep up with stuff as it’s released. Today I’m listening to David Bowie non-stop to celebrate his birthday. Here’s my collection of links to things about Bowie you might enjoy. Aside from that right now I’m into musicals, film scores, proto-punk, and just recently, new wave.
The Baby Driver Soundtrack was wonderful.
I discovered that there are six volumes of music from Batman: The Animated Series on Apple Music. Here’s the first.
In March I saw Green Day in concert for probably the fourth or fifth time. They always put on a good show and were on fire that night. This Rolling Stone interview was conducted the day I saw them.
I liked this article about John Williams’s score for The Last Jedi, A Field Guide to the Musical Leitmotifs of “Star Wars”. Rogue One: a Star Wars Legacy covers how, like the movie itself, Michael Giancchino’s score tries to strike its own path while referencing the original saga lovingly. Unrelated to music but I’ll drop in How Star Wars Was Saved in the Edit here because it’s a splendid look at how that movie was almost awful.
I’m sucker for non-movie media where the author compiles a soundtrack to accompany the writing. Here’s something I wrote about music from the Dark Tower books. Here’s an Apple Music playlist for Transformers: Lost Light that I compiled and one for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther.
House to Astonish continues to be the only comics-related podcast I listen to. There are other good ones, but HtA is the only one I’ve been able to stick with.
The West Wing Weekly facilitates a rewatch of The West Wing, which is reason enough to listen. I will most likely drop it when after the fourth season, though.
The Adventure Zone finished its years-long “Balance” story arc last year. The ending was powerful, emotional, and perfect. It’s a little hard to recommend that you listen to a story that’s well over a hundred hours long, but you’ll be rewarded if you do.
The Incomparable always produces good stuff. I dip in and out of many of its sister podcasts.
I continue to play Heroes of the Storm regularly. I climbed to Platinum 2 in Hero League and was pretty proud of that, but my last season was awful so I have to put in some more work. I like how the game has grown but a few recent character releases have made the game less fun to play (Genji, Garrosh). It’s a little hard to pull apart the distinction between an enemy hero presenting you with a challenge to overcome and one who just makes the game worse. Recent nerfs have fixed it a little bit and I’m giddy to get the new mecha skins.
Mostly, though the Nintendo Switch took over game time this year. I finished up the last of The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild’s the second expansion just before New Year’s Eve. Super Mario Odyssey is a blast. I’ve finsihed the main story but have lots more to explore. I love Splatoon 2. Mario Kart 8 is always fun. A lot of people skipped 1-2-Switch, correctly deeming it overpriced, but I got to play the game in a proper party atmosphere with family over the holidays and it was a blast. The key is not to think of it as a video game but more a party activity. Still, it should probably be included for free with the console. Jackbox has been a big hit, too. I like ARMS a good deal but somehow it never captures my attention for too long. I just got Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and am eager to spend more time with it. I haven’t done all of Snipperclips Plus but I’m a big fan of that game.
What still amazes me with the Switch is how successful it is at being what it was supposed to be. It really, truly does work equally well as a home console on the TV as it does as a portable gaming machine. You might have expected one mode to work well and the others to lag behind, but every setup is great. Over the weekend my kids and their cousins were all gathered around the TV playing Minecraft and Mario Kart together, then it entertained them in the car on the way to my aunt’s birthday party, and then we played it with assorted family in tabletop mode. I have a wishlist for where I think Nintendo should take the system, but so far it’s a home run.