Sunday, January 03, 2016

2015 In Review

Happy New Year, everybody! I've made it my resolution to write more, and while I don't know if that'll translate to more posts on this increasingly depressing blog, but it would be difficult to do less writing here. It's not for lack of trying; it's mostly for lack of time.

But enough excuses, I'm going to share some thoughts on the past year, in the traditional form: a best-of list. The major caveat here is that I haven't read as much of what came out this year as I'd like, so I may be overlooking some gems that I didn't get around to reading.

Best Ongoing Comic Series: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi.
This has not been a great year for my reading of comics. My to-read pile has been mostly just getting larger, and even books that I once would have read as soon as I got back from the comic shop have started gathering dust. Marvel's made that a little easier to get past with their digital copy codes, allowing me to read most Marvel books without having the physical copy present, but I still have to pick and choose what to spend my time on. And I always pick "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" when it's an option. North and Henderson are both great for their own individual reasons, and together they've made Marvel's most surprising must-read book. It's consistently fun and funny, using obscure Marvel characters and continuity in new and fun ways. It's an all-ages book that never feels like it's talking down to the audience or oversimplifying the shared universe. It's given us Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi. If you're not reading it, what are you even doing?

Best Superhero TV Series: The Flash
This has been a banner year for superhero TV. Marvel's Daredevil and Jessica Jones have been incredible character studies that do things like "grim 'n' gritty" and "street-level superheroes" ten times better than most of the comics and media adaptations which have tried those things before. Agents of SHIELD continues to be fairly watchable, and I hear good things about Gotham even though I lost interest. But holy cow, The Flash. Aside from a few missteps, The Flash is the first superhero adaptation since Batman: Brave and the Bold which doesn't feel like it's ashamed of the sillier aspects of superhero comics. Sure, they made Firestorm an acronym (a common trope we see in comics adaptations, though I'm hard-pressed to see how it makes things less silly) and made Grodd a government experiment, but then they dropped full-on Earth-2 and Gorilla City in like it's no big deal. This show feels like a breath of fresh air, and I can't wait to see where it's headed next.

Honorable Mention: Supergirl
Supergirl is just about everything I want from an adaptation of a Superman Family character, including the single best portrayal of Cat Grant in any medium in the last 20 years or so. I feel like it's still finding its legs a bit (that love triangle has got to go), but it's well on it's way to being not just a great, fun superhero show, but the best Superman-related media in well over a decade.

Best Superhero Movie: Ant-Man
This wasn't exactly a big year for superhero films, so of the two I saw, I thought Ant-Man was better. It was fun, funny, well-paced, and it introduced a bit of legacy into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, helping to better tie together the increasingly sprawling timeline. Hopefully the next film will give us Janet Van Dyne and give Evangeline Lilly more to do. That this movie wasn't just "The Wasp" is its biggest failing.

Best Superman Series: Superman: Lois & Clark
I honestly think this year's been a pretty good one for Superman, all things considered. He's had a rough time of it since before the New 52 reboot, but this year's stories have been pretty solid. The "Truth" arc is somewhat controversial, but like "New Krypton" a few years ago, I'm willing to give a shot to stories that try new things with the character (within reason, of course). The arc has been a nice, stealthy way to bring the spotlight back onto Superman's supporting cast, who have been rather ill-served by the last several years of comics storytelling. But it also raises rather uncomfortable questions of putting genies back in bottles, meaning either inevitable retcons or piecemeal nonsense like when Wally West and Peter Parker had their secret identities restored. It'd also be nice if they weren't still persisting with the Superman/Wonder Woman romance, which seems forced and cursory even in its flagship title.
But Lois & Clark, only a few issues in, is a nice breath of fresh air. While it's purporting to bring back the "old" Superman, the pre-New 52 married Superman, with wife and child in tow, it's doing precisely the kind of new take on things that I've been enjoying in "Truth." A Superman who's lost not just a world, but a universe, working in secret to ensure what went wrong in the old timeline goes right, now? It's a bit of Quantum Leap, mixed with a bit of what this Superman did way back in the Byrne reboot. It's also easily Jurgens' best writing in years. I've enjoyed quite a few of the New 52 Superman stories, but this comic felt like coming home.

Biggest Surprise: Star Wars
Not even just the new film. The beginning of the end of my Star Wars fandom in the late '90s, when I couldn't finish "Tales from the Empire" and had no interest in the Hand of Thrawn Duology. I was still pretty into Star Wars, mind you, reading older novels, running RPG campaigns, and seeing the movies in the theater. I really liked The Phantom Menace; I saw Attack of the Clones twice in the theater (once at the midnight opening). While Revenge of the Sith didn't exactly kill what remained by that point, it didn't leave me with much enthusiasm for that universe. It would be years before I actually engaged with Star Wars media again in any fashion.
But this year, I decided to revisit the movies, in preparation for The Force Awakens, a film I was actually optimistic about. For the first time, I felt like I could pin down exactly what were the problems with the prequels, and I actually appreciated what they got right. Moreover, I recognized that I liked the wrong two back in the day, and that
aside from some really dumb bits, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best of the three.
I also started in on Marvel's Star Wars comics this year, on the recommendation of my local comic shop guy, and while I was really skeptical at first, I've enjoyed it all so far. I've never been much of one for Star Wars comics; reading Dark Empire early on turned me off to the whole enterprise. But putting top talent on the books (not to mention sweeping away decades of dodgy Expanded Universe continuity) was the shot in the arm necessary to make this new Expanded Universe feel fresh and fun. As with Superman, I feel like I'm finally seeing new things being done, new stories being told, with these familiar characters, and that's really vital.
And then The Force Awakens hit, and I quite liked it. I'm hesitant to say that, since my track record on critically evaluating the Star Wars films is not great, but I enjoyed the movie and look forward to seeing it again, perhaps with a more critical eye. Honestly, though, just returning to practical effects made a world of difference.

Honorable Mention: Secret Wars
It's not quite over yet, but Secret Wars is easily the best crossover event comic I've read since...well, a good long time, anyway (I admit, I haven't gotten around to all those Convergence tie-ins, or the miniseries). This year, I went back and read Hickman's whole Marvel opus, from Fantastic Four and S.H.I.E.L.D. on up through Avengers, and it was truly amazing to see how early he was laying the seeds of this event. All the tie-ins I've read have been pretty good, but the main book is where the real meat has been, and I'm excited to see how it all ties up.

And I think that about wraps this post up, too. Only two more posts to beat last year's number.