Youtube and Me(tube)

At this point in my life I watch a lot of YouTube. I enjoy the conversational style of vlogs and video essays, and I can sit through some of the more esoteric gaming content for hours. Not to mention it’s the best place for short form comedy. So what follows will be two sections: my favorite channels/series I subscribe to, as well as some solid standalone videos I otherwise haven’t interacted with.

On Speedruns

I feel like it would be irresponsible of me to not mention speedruns when talking about YouTube. To be fair, at least one of the channels I’ll discuss in a bit focuses very specifically on them. But I don’t really follow any specific runner. I watch speedruns the way a lot of people watch sports: in the background, only really important a few times a year. With that said, I’ll link a couple channels for speedrunning events; feel free to peruse if you please. GDQ, RPG Limit Break.
All sections are ordered just in the order I copy-pasted the names from YouTube; no hierarchy or ranking is intended.

Channels

Summoning Salt

Starting off we have a YouTuber who started out posting his own speedruns of PunchOut! before he started instead looking at the history and progression of the world records for the same. Now, he focuses on that world record progression and other speedrun history videos, detailing what is honestly generally dry material in an engaging way.

Ceave Gaming

Ceave Gaming is the definition of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” While he also has pieces on Super Mario Maker and a few miscellaneous topics, my favorites are his videos detailing how to beat Super Mario Games (mostly the side scrolling Wii and Wii U titles) with absurd, impractical conditions. I almost don’t want to encourage him–these runs of coinless, jumpless, never pressing certain directions, etc etc games must take up an unhealthy portion of his free time–but he seems happy about it.

Folding Ideas

Dan Olsen deep dives into generally film, sometimes video game topics. Recent pieces include An American Tail’s video game adaptation, Annihilation, A Christmas Story and, as above, the movie adaptations of Fifty Shades of Grey. He’s well spoken, well edited, occasionally has great gags, and is generally pleasant to listen to. He has a strong understanding of film language that he presents to the viewer in an understandable way–you might not know how to frame a scene, but he can explain why a scene’s framing results in a specific emotion. He also streams on Twitch and dabbles in speedrunning because of course he does.

Lindsey Ellis

Originally I just knew Lindsey Ellis as the “Nostalgia Chick” on the “Nostalgia Critic”‘s shows, but since removing herself from Channel Awesome, she’s really blossomed into a much more interesting and much more watchable critic. She has a fantastic series teaching about different types of film criticisms via Michael Bay’s Transformers, as well as pieces like her three-part The Hobbit breakdown, linked here, which includes not only the movie’s missteps but information about the production and the legal ramifications of laws passed due to the same.

ProZD

Voice actor, board game reviewer, ramen eater and comic, ProdZD (SungWon Cho) has his fingers in a lot of pies, but my favorite bits are still his Vine style voice overs and skits, carried over from when he first gained popularity on the short video platform. He also just has a very soothing voice when he’s talking about his interests, and two adorable black cats with his wife, who all make appearances.

hbomberguy

Hbomberguy does a mix of “social justice” content, queer content, gaming content and just sort of mucking about. The linked video is one of his oddest–Serious Lore Analysis episode 3, CTRL+ALT+DEL, particularly the comic Loss. I would recommend poking at his videos and finding a video on something you know to start.

Binging with Babish

One of the fastest growing and most prominent food YouTubers, Babish (real name Andrew Rea) recreates foods from movies and TV shows, in addition to now having a sub series where he teaches cooking basics. He frequently collaborates with actors and other YouTubers, and his film background means the food generally looks really, really good.

Mark Brown

Mark Brown’s Game Maker’s Toolkit is likely the most well known channel on game design done by someone outside of the industry at this point. His soothing but analytical videos sometimes break down dungeon designs, or interesting mechanics, but one of his more recent series is, like linked above, specifically looking at how to design games that people with disabilities can enjoy as easily and fully as people without. He can’t speak for that community, as say, Able Gamers might, but he’s still a welcome voice in that discussion.

Cilvanis

Cilvanis is a bunch of really funny black dudes making skits. There really isn’t much else to say about them other than that they deserve more subscribers.

Specific Series on Channels

ExplosmEntertainment – News to Me With Chip Chapley

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Explosm every since I first started reading Cyanide & Happiness in high school. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s just offensive garbage. News to Me manages to fall squarely in the first camp, being a pastiche of the kind of news show that’s less about the news and more about the personalities presenting it, something fairly common in the representation of news media, if not that media itself.

Mother’s Basement – Public Service Anime

Mother’s Basement got his popularity mostly through breaking down opening theme song’s of anime, talking about the hidden meanings, editing choices, and other facets. His Public Service Anime series, however, is styled as an old-timey news announcer telling the children the things they need to know if they find themselves in typical anime situations. If you’ve ever needed to know what to do if you find yourself surrounded by willing, buxom suitors, or suddenly changing clothes and gaining superpowers, this is the show for you.

Bon Appetit It’s Alive

Bon Appetit magazine’s YouTube channel has a number of great shows, but It’s Alive starring Brad Leone is the one that won my heart. His show primarily focuses on fermented foods, though it has branched out over time. The big selling point is his personality–he’s one of the only people I could picture saying something like “bada bing bada boom” without it seeming farcical.

Game Grumps – 10 Minute Power Hour

Over time I’ve grown less and less interested in standard Let’s Play shows, so it was a good thing that the Game Grumps decided to branch out more. The 10 Minute Power Hour is basically themed goofing off for ten minutes a week, but the comedic chemistry between the two leads really keeps the laughs coming, especially in the early episodes.

Brutalmoose – Brutal Foods

More food! Brutalmoose normally does nostalgic media–games and cartoons–but he’s dabbled in other things, and Brutal Foods is my favorite of those spin-offs. Some episodes have him rating frozen foods, some have him cooking weird recipes, all have fantastic and silly editing that just keeps everything feeling friendly, casual, and fresh.

BuzzFeedVideo – Worth it

More food shows! Ok, I might have a problem. It’s fine because these gents (and later, gents and ladies) are here to not only try delicious food around the country (and the world), they’ll even tell me what foods are worth it to them at the price points they are sold at! Sometimes it’s the mom and pop $2 sandwich–sometimes it’s the artisanal masterpiece–everytime it’s a treat.

Polygon: Unraveled

Unraveled is what I would make given six typewriters and a lemon. It’s what thrums through my veins when I see spreadsheets of data just waiting to be crunched. It’s the most “me” show on YouTube I have every encountered and I just. Love. It. The host takes you through absurdly deep lore dives, like reading every book in Skyrim, or ranking every Castlevania monster by their level of fuckability, and it is a goddamn fever dream in the best way.

Individual Vids

Steamed Hams

Sometimes I fall in love with a meme even when I have no connection to its original source. Such was the case with Steamed Hams, a series of riffs on a scene from the Simpsons. I leave searching for the endless variety of them as an exercise for the reader but here is one of my favorites: Steamed Hams but it’s a Gorillaz song.

How to Make Slow-Cooked Russet Potatoes

What, you thought I was done with food videos? Hah. This video by The Onion is a gem, an absurd vegan take on a rack of ribs using potatoes that somehow, somewhy, have bones.

Morgan and Morgan

It’s just my name. Again, and again, and again, and again….

Egg Man – Big Bad Bosses

A music video for a song by the boy band Big Bad Bosses, this Egg Man video is a parody of a cooking show (I do have a problem don’t I…) when Dr. Robotnik sings about making eggs. It is way better than it sounds.

Fight Club: Cultural Fascism and the Colonization of Victimhood

I haven’t spent much time watching Maggie Mae Fish videos yet, mostly due to lack of time, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen. Another media-based video essayist, she doesn’t have that many videos up but her analysis of Fight Club is *chefs kiss* quite good.

Solving Pokemon Blue with a Single, Huge, Regular Expression

This is bullshit mathematics and I adore it. It’s one thing to solve Chess. It is quite another to solve a Pokemon game. If you’re a math nerd, take a watch.

How Gamers Killed Ultima Online’s Virtual Ecosystem and Why Dwarf Fortress stared killing cats

I couldn’t pick just one of these videos, both of which deal with the unintended consequences of the many many decisions made in the course of making a large (or even small) scale video game, once players are brought into the picture.

The Adventure Zone: Balance trailer

I should use this place to pitch The Adventure Zone, but I mean, just watch the trailer. If that doesn’t hype you up, well, I’m never going to persuade you to listen to the show.

12 Sips to Glory

This is the best six-minute documentary you will watch today. The tense, human story of one man, one brave, drunk man, trying to identify what type of orange soda is in twelve different cups with no preparation but his lifetime love of the beverage. Believe me, watch this, if nothing else on this list (helps that it’s one of the shortest videos I’m recommending.)

Conclusion

And that’s, well that. If you’ve been with me for the last ten days, wow, thank you. It’s been thirty thousand words of just absolute nonsense and I cannot wait to do it again next year. Happy 2019, and may you have as much success and you need to grow and prosper.

Twenty-eightunes

So I’ve kind of grown to hate genre labels in music. They can be super useful, but also a way to sort of scoff and look down on some artists. So Instead of typical genre groupings, I have kind of weird feeling/subject matter groupings. I don’t know, mileage will vary.
Normally I would have a section on albums but almost every album I really was listening to straight through was something I’d heard before 2018, so they were all disqualified.
Also, unlike in the other lists I’ve done, this isn’t ALL of the new music I heard this year–or even all the new music I liked–as that would be an unknown number and over 200 tracks respectively, and I just don’t have the time, nor should a reader have the patience, to read through all of that.

Warning: The song “Non Dairy Creamer” references school shootings. Several songs reference drug and alcohol abuse and “I Wanna Get Better” references suicide and self-harm.

Emotional

These are songs that are intended to pack an emotional punch–generally some sadness or catharsis.

Water Under The Bridge by Adele, 2016

‘Our love ain’t water under the bridge’. That refrain defines this piece by Adele, which boils down to a central point: the relationship she’s singing about isn’t a fling, isn’t something to be discarded. It’s real, and strong, and maybe that’s a little scary. Maybe it’s something to be embraced. Her strong vocal styling does her well here, and while it tends to be as repetitive as all of her works, it doesn’t grate on me over time the way that “Rolling in the Deep” or “Set Fire to The Rain” did.

The Ballad of Barry Allen by Jim’s Big Ego, 2003

I’m a sucker for well-written songs about things like superheroes or fantasy characters, or really any other established property. “The Ballad of Barry Allen” is of course about The Flash, referring to his civilian name, and about how isolated his speed makes him. He can’t form meaningful connections with other people as he simply moves to fast to deal with their emotions–a five-minute cry for us is basically an eternity for him. You can’t blame a speedster for not wanting an eternity of tears, and he in the end only blames himself and his speed.

Praying by Kesha, 2017

When I first saw the video for “Praying” I shied away from it and everything around it. It was kind of shocking to have what, from the five or so seconds I listened to, such a strong religious message coming from the party pop star. Then I learned what the song was about. Then I really listened to it. I don’t want or need to go into what kind of abuse I’ve encountered in the world–suffice to say, this song…this song has helped me to heal, if only a little bit.

Legally Blonde from Legally Blonde, 2007

Normally when I cling to a single track from a musical it’s one that I can use to describe myself in some way. “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” was certainly that, as was “Painting her Portrait”. “Legally Blonde” isn’t though. I’m not a smart yet attractive twenty-something law student. What I am is someone who’s wondered if I’m in over my head–if I need to withdraw and going back to the person I used to be. Times like those? I can sing “Legally Blonde.”

Car Radio by Twenty One Pilots, 2013

There are times in all of our lives when we just need to wallow in some dark, emo-y goodness. I listened to “Car Radio” for several days straight. It was a really good wallow.

Songs about Substance Abuse

I had a weird enough trend of songs about being an alcoholic in my list that I figured it was worth grouping some.

Sober Up by AJR feat. Rivers Cuomo, 2017

I’ve got really into a few AJR songs this year. They feel a little juvenile–not quite in subject matter, maybe they just sound young. “Sober Up” is basically about asking for help with not using alcohol to enjoy life, as the singer has hit the point where without drinking, he doesn’t feel like he is living. It’s an easy trap to fall in, and makes for a good song. Plus it has a fun string motif going on which is always fun.

St. Ides by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, 2016

“St. Ides” isn’t actually about alcoholism, though Macklemore does mention his issues with it–covered more fully in tracks like “Starting Over” and “Otherside”. Instead, what “St. Ides” gives us is a quiet track, reflecting on growing up, on making mistakes and on the world changing around him. I’ve always had a soft spot for the duo’s work, and it’s nice to have a newer track that resonates with me.

Drunk by Noon by The Measure [sa], 2008

Full of raw, punk sound, “Drunk by Noon” feels like it should be a takedown of people who are just that, but it’s a lot softer in reality. The driving guitar and sort of half-growled vocals mask the lines (as far as I can tell): “If you wanna be honest, confess about your habits, never one to judge, I’ll stand there unconditional”. The singer knows that the subject has a problem–and they want to help. Not to condemn, but to actually help. That’s not something we can all do, but maybe something we can all strive for.

Dance Music by The Mountain Goats, 2005

Every time I find a new Mountain Goats track I like I listen to it for like a week straight. It started with “No Children” a few years back, and currently has culminated in “Dance Music.” I love the way that they manage to just lay out a story, with bare emotions and easy to follow, if often depressing, plot points. In this case, escaping a cycle of abuse leads to drug addiction and some sort of run-in with the authorities, all to the cheerful sounds of a piano and acoustic guitar.

Humor

Sounds intended to make you laugh. Simple enough yeah?

Pork Chop Blues by The Alton Brown Trio, 2018

First off, yes, it is THE Alton Brown, star of Good Eats and all those other Food Network shows. He apparently has been playing in this blues-rock trio for a while, and they put out an album this year themed almost entirely around food, which makes sense. “Pork Chop Blues” is my favorite, but to be honest it’s on here more due to the novelty than the quality compared to the other songs of 2018.

The Gates by Da Vinci’s Notebook, 2002

A short, I wanna say hoppy a capella track about becoming so frustrated with your laptop crashing that you fly to Seattle to try to beat up Bill Gates. It’s super catchy and good for a laugh.

Bad Times by The Presidents of the United States, 2008

This is a song with the chorus of “Wish there were more bad times”. Now, the list of things they mention not happening is why it ends up in the humor category, including: “getting sick from leftover port”, “eating foil”, “losing all the air in your balloon”, etc. Then, you get to the rest of the chorus, and, spoilers. “You fell off a cliff so I buried you, I wish there were more bad times to see you through”.
It’s not a joke song–it’s a song about mourning. A happy sounding, catchy song about mourning a loved one.

Non Dairy Creamer by Third Eye Blind, 2008

This song feels like it was written by throwing darts at a dictionary on a dare. Just read the lyrics. I kind of love the absurdity, but also it seems to be really negative about breast implants in an odd way? It’s a weird song folks.

From Other Media

Songs that I first heard or that I most strongly associate with another type of media, like a movie, video, game, or TV series.

Hey Brother by Avicii, 2013  

The Adventure Zone animatic, Spoilers for the Balance Arc.

Sometimes a song wouldn’t really make a splash until you see it. The animatic above, putting “Hey Brother” to a series of often gorgeous still images about several important characters in the Adventure Zone, is such a sight. It’s not going to really matter much to people who don’t know what’s going on, but I almost cried rewatching it for this list.

Howling by FLOW, 2018

So I didn’t necessarily like The Seven Deadly Sins second season here, and I’m not even going to say that the opening animation is particularly interesting. The song is great though. FLOW is likely in my top 3 four-letter Japanese bands right now (with Coda and LITE). It’s, as the kids say, a banger. I also just appreciate how much more epic a lot of anime opening’s lyrics tend to be–something I’ve always chalked up to the lyrical flexibility of Japanese considering the rhythm and rhyme inherent in the language.

Sunflower by Post Malone, Swae Lee, 2018

So I closed out my movie post by basically just telling everyone to go see Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse. One thing I didn’t really go into in that writeup was just how great the soundtrack was–a soundtrack of songs largely if not completely written just for the movie. “Sunflower” is my favorite of them–I love it’s chill, nostalgic feel, and adored how human it helped make Miles in the film when he mumbled along and only sang the most discernable words in the song.

NAPAL BAJI by PSY, 2015

I was kind of stunned when I first saw the AMV for “NAPAL BAJI”. It’s only the second time I’ve seen such a heavily edited work, containing mixed characters and shots from so many shows. It isn’t quite as phenomenal as “Anime’s Got Talent“, but it’s still really, really good. Gosh I love action cooking.

The Five-Floor Goodbye by Ryan Ike, 2012

Somehow the only track NOT available on Spotify in America, “The Five-Floor Goodbye” is from the soundtrack to Gunpoint, a stealth game released in 2012. It’s a standout track from an album of just really great jazz and electronica, generally mixed, that stands on its own outside of knowing that it is from a game. One of the things I always struggle with instrumental jazz is how meandering it can be. This track also manages to feel like it’s moving forward–driving by the piano, vibraphone, drums, and bass that make up the rhythm section. I will say it is designed to loop, but just ignore the last like ten seconds and you’re golden.

Tell That Devil by Sarah Darling, 2017

Another TV show’s opening song, this time Wynonna Earp. A strong female vocalist and plenty of references to devils and hellfire make it suitable for that show, but what I really like are the lines “I gave you all I got to give, and no that ain’t no way to live”. One-way relationships are toxic, and she’s cutting them out–telling the devil to take them back.

It’s Over Isn’t It from Steven Universe, 2017

It would hardly be a stretch to say that Pearl is my favorite character in Steven Universe. She’s also quite likely the character in the most awkward position; while Garnet chose to leave for love and Amethyst was born on Earth, Pearl lost the love she had…to Greg Universe, who in many ways is her opposite. She gave everything to someone, emptying and transforming herself in an obsessive love for Rose Quartz and then she lost her, twice. It’s been over a decade and she’s still struggling to move one–partly I would think because she is reliant on other people to pour her emotions into, and without Rose Quartz, she doesn’t have such a person anymore. It’s poignant and sorrowful and just a really, really well-done moment in the show.

Want You Back by HAIM, 2017

It’s a fun, song, if a bit generic in it’s message. The video is kind of great though–I like the idea of the background moving while the central idea stays the same.

HAVE A NICE DAY by World Order, 2014

Another great video, this one one that I watched in Tokyo about people goofing off in Tokyo, so it’s mostly a personal connection and less a “this is the best song ever.” I do like the song though.

Power Chicks

Songs that I didn’t want to slot into other categories with strong front women leading them.

DQ by Charly Bliss, 2017

I’m kind of super fond of really crunchy, kind of lo-fi rock music, and “DQ” (yes, Dairy Queen) fits the bill. I almost put it under humor instead, considering it has lyrics like “I’m four years above sixteen
I bounced so high, I peed the trampoline”. Like…what? It’s a good jam though, has great energy.

Harvard/Sixteen by Diet Cig, 2015/2017

So as a general rule for this list I tried to only pick one song per artist, but I ended up making an exception for Diet Cig. Another crunchy rock/pop group, they’re really good at pulling you into the moment they’re talking about in the lyrics, even if it’s rather mundane. I mean, “Sixteen” includes the lines “now I’m in the grocery store, wondering who I’m buying all of these hot dogs for” and manages to make that a moment. It’s good stuff.

Fuck and Run by Liz Phair, 1993

For someone who doesn’t typically sleep around, I have a weird fondness for one-night stand songs. “Fuck and Run” is one such, displacing my last favorite “9 AM” (by Midway). Probably because it’s a good singer/songwriter feel with a recurring line of “I want a boyfriend” and well, I am single.

Perfect, Dark by Sammus, 2017

Sammus as a rapper was introduced to me via her more game-centric pieces, like “Games and Cartoons” or “Power Up”, but “Perfect, Dark” quickly became my favorite. It’s a stubborn protest of the unbearable whiteness of popular media and the impact that that has on brown and black children. It’s a problem that has gotten a bit better over time, sure, but as she says:

“You prolly think I’m reaching/ But when I started sketching,
The first thing I could think of/ Was drawing yellow tresses,
Over pink-skinned faces/ Red cheeks, and painting,
Big tits in lace/ and I’m envious of her race”.

-Sammus, from “Perfect Dark”

These things impact people. Representation matters, and yes, I’m not black, but that, that I can get.

Love and Heartbreak

Single Mother by Lemuria, 2010

It’s a song about being nervous about a relationship, which isn’t in itself unique, sure. But as the title suggests, it’s a song about falling in love with a single mother–and not saying ‘no, I won’t date people with children’ but ‘I love her and I’m scared that I don’t know how to date a parent’ which frankly is a pretty normal fear for people who have never been parents.

Midway by The Bad Bad Hats, 2015

I’m pretty sure I had listened to this bad in 2015 because I was super into an EP that Bad Bad Hats had put out a few years prior. It just didn’t click. Fast forward to this past April. I’m in the back of a Lyft or an Uber or some such, heading towards the airport when a song comes on the radio. Or rather the driver’s phone, and I know the voice. And we have a moment of like “You know this band?” “Yeah, I’m from Minnesota.” Or where ever it is the band is from. And so I relistened to the song. And the album. And the next album. It’s funny how moments help us to remember things more than simply hearing things in isolation.

When Did Your Heart Go Missing? By Rooney, 2007

I don’t really have a lot to say about this one. It’s just a good jam. That’s all a song really has to be.

Singing In My Sleep by Semisonic, 1998

Most people just know Semisonic as that band who wrote “Closing Time”, and I was among that number. One day I watched Todd in the Shadows one-hit wonder video on them though, and that changed. “Singing in my Sleep” is a song about connecting to a distant love through her mixtape that she gave him. It’s the sort of song you cling to when in a long distance relationship or traveling. I’m I have it in my library now.

Coloring Outside the Lines by MisterWives, 2017

Just a good, full-bodied track about being in love, the kind that’s long-lasting and helps you to face the morning. We all hope to grow old–it’s good that the singer has someone to grow old with.

BRASS BRASS BRASS

Songs with prominent brass sections that don’t fit in another category.

Ghost of Stephen Foster by Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1998

I’ve described this as is Walter Sicket and the Army of Broken Toys teamed up with Speaker for the Dead to make jazz music, but that’s way too specific for most people. It’s like a carnival fed through New Orleans played only through slashed amps. Lo-fi, full of energy and mischief. It’s absurd and powerful and I love it.

Warriors by Too Many Zooz, 2016

Too Many Zooz is like the epitomy of a really good band of buskers. It’s music you’re unlikely to hear outside of a subway, all brass and drums, often clashing, often loud and proud. I’m a sucker for a good brass section, so I’m a sucker for a good Too Many Zooz track.

Army by Ben Folds Five, 1999

I like Ben Folds for a lot of the same reason I like The Mountain Goats–kind of rambling stream-of-thought feeling lyrics set to fun yet kind of repetitive instrumentals. “Army” has some fun brass and piano work to help it stand out, but it certainly fits that mold.

Miscellaneous (Mostly Rock & Pop)

Laid by Better Than Ezra, 2005

This song is like, super generic nineties rock, but I kind of love Better Than Ezra for that. “Laid” is a good example, with the kind of spitting in the face of societal norms with lyrics like “the neighbor’s complain about the noises above/ but she only cums when she’s on top”. And, to be fair, I’m kind of immature and get a kick out of lines like that.

Thief by The Fratellis, 2015

The Fratellis are just really good at making solid jams. I loved “Baby Don’t You Lie to Me” but this past year I jammed out to “Thief.” Again, it isn’t super game-changing in terms of lyrics, but they pack a ton of punch into their instrumentals, which carries the day.

Hard Times by Paramore, 2017

I like new Paramore. They’ve become a bit more mainstream, a bit dancier perhaps, but it’s still great to listen to. “Hard Times” is just a good listen, again, not too much too interesting to say here.

Do The Panic by Phantom Planet, 2008

One of my favorite things in songs in the slow addition of each instrument in a band coming back out of a breakdown, and “Do The Panic” does that. I also just have to respect a sound that tells you to panic which sounding manic.

Room by Shamir, 2018

Shamir is an odd artist, in that I either really like or absolutely can’t stand his songs. I have the vinyl of this single and I couldn’t even make it through the B-Side. This track is great though, kind of musing on trying to deal with the depression that keeps you trapped in your room, in bed.

After Hours by We Are Scientists, 2008

There’s a mood that’s hard to capture in music. That specific contentment of being out in public, insulated by friends, maybe a drink or two in and just, content. It isn’t partying, it isn’t revel. It’s that simple feeling that you’re in the right place, with the right people, even if that isn’t home. Time stops meaning anything, at least for a few hours. “After Hours” is that feeling.

Anthems

I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers, 2014

This is quite possibly my song of the year. It’s got driving piano, group vocals, huge energy and a message about being in a bad place, facing it and trying to reach for the next day, a better day. It’s a message I sorely needed early in 2018. It was a long, hard year, and yeah, I wanted to get better. Maybe I have.

Stay the Night by Jukebox the Ghost, 2017

Speaking of driving piano, this is a goddamn bop. It’s also basically a song about being “hey babe, we’re young, we’re hot, why don’t I stay the night”. And sure, why not, I’ve got room in my bed for someone with pipes like those.

(Fuck A) Silver Lining by Panic! At The Disco, 2018

I was extremely surprised by Panic! At The Disco’s newest album. I haven’t really followed their development over the years, so hearing this track in a car on the way to a LARP event was like being splashed with a bucket of cold water. Is every track they made a winner? No. But “(Fuck a) Silver Lining” was certainly a silver lining on that day.

Covers

I Ran (So Far Away) By Bowling for Soup, 2000

So everyone seems to know the Flock of Seagulls classic of “I Ran.” Bowling for Soup is a little less remembered–mostly for their version of “1985”, itself a cover. But every now and then I find a new cover (well, old cover) that reminds me how much I liked their sound from the first album of theirs I listened to. It’s just good poppunky rock.

Shiki No Uta by The Brotet, 2018

Mostly known as a theme song for Samurai Champloo, this is a jazz rendition of “Shiki No Uta.” It wanders through the theme, always coming back before it drifts too far, with some chill segments and some memorable solos and flair. It’s the kind of jazz cover I can get behind, and I want more from the quartet that made it.

Come On Eileen by Save Ferris, 1997

I don’t like the original “Come On Eileen”. It’s kind of boring to me, and I don’t really see why it’s a classic. Save Ferris’s edition injects adrenaline, guitars and horns and just rocks Eileen’s socks right off.

Cotton Eye Joe by The Sweeplings, 2016

You cannot dance to this rendition. It is mournful, almost haunting in tone, with the dominant quality just being a woman’s voice, clearly singing the words generally drowned out by the pounding of feet in a line dance.

Games. So. Many. Games…in 2018

I have been kind of dreading this one, talking about games. I have played a lot of games after all–I usually do. I’ve restricted this list to games I’ve beaten this year, sorted by the console (Or PC application) the version I played was for (so Virtual Console games are under their released console), and within that, roughly how I felt about them. Buckle up, this is a long one.

Where possible I link to a way to purchase the game, but not everything is readily available in stores.

Special Mentions

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Nintendo, 2018)

While I haven’t beaten the World of Light story mode, I would be remiss not to mention the newest Super Smash Bros., which has already led to at least one full day of festivities with my friends. There are so many characters that it’s honestly hard to keep track of what they all can do, but so far all of them are a blast to play, even if my main man Little Mac has really really bad recovery. A worthy successor to the king of party games.

3DS

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice (Capcom, 2016)

Continuing the trend set by Dual Destinies of focusing on a stronger narrative–at the possible expense of gameplay–Spirit of Justice manages to not only really deliver on an Apollo plotline, a character I haven’t super cared about since his debut, but to also keep me guessing at key parts of the plot. The gimmick of the title, the ability of a princess/priestess (new character Rayfa Padma Khura’in) to reveal the last moments of a departed spirit to use as evidence in court, brings a fresh take to the trials above and beyond the emotion assessment of the most recent new gimmick from the last game. While the characters do continue to rely on tropes to help establish them quickly, the game still managed to be gripping, to provide resolutions to long-running plots while bringing fan favorites back. It’s just a solid example of an Ace Attorney game and is not to be skipped.

BOXBOY! (HAL Laboratory, Inc., 2015)

In my opinion, the hardest type of game to create is a puzzle game with a new mechanic, one that even if it has been used before, your intended audience is unlikely to have encountered. That is exactly what Hal Laboratories pulled off with the BOXBOY! series. You play as an adorable, simple box that can create more boxes from their body, either launching them off of themself or wearing them attached to their body. These boxes are used to cross gaps, climb stairs, push buttons and much, much more. Possibly the game’s strongest feature is the variety of ways to use that one ability, which trickle in as you solve puzzles; slow enough to never overwhelm, fast enough to keep you interested. I have no idea what the story was supposed to be saying, but this simple black and white puzzler charmed me–I’m really happy there are two sequels to sink my teeth into soon.

Beat It and Forget It

Detective Pikachu (Creatures, Inc, 2018)

I am very much not the target demographic for Detective Pikachu, which is basically a point and click adventure game for young children. The game is set in the world of Pokémon in a way that most games in the series aren’t–one in which the Pokémon are truly characters inhabiting that world. They live in the parks, work in the businesses, and are all around just a real part of the characters’ daily lives. The game wasn’t difficult by any stretch of the imagination, but it was pleasant–sort of like watching a good cartoon for children while babysitting. I might not recommend it to the average adult–but I’m definitely going to see the movie adaptation.

I mean, how could I not want to go see the movie with that face.

Fire Emblem: Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (Intelligent Systems, 2017)

I liked Shadows of Valentia. It has some fresh(read: old) takes on how class changes and magic that made it feel unique amongst the Fire Emblem games I’ve played. The dual-protagonists helped with that (even if I didn’t really agree with them coupling up at the end) since the only other time we’ve really had that was with The Sacred Stones, and even then, you didn’t play each lord’s full path in that game.
That said, a lot of what I’ve come to love in Fire Emblem games are the character interactions, and Shadows of Valentia just doesn’t really deliver on that. They did add in support conversations, but everything felt more forced than in the other entries, more just hitting the archetypes and less having the units be people. You also get a lot of units that feel rather interchangeable–Celica gets three different mercenaries–and without the weapon trinity, there’s less strategy in who to use when, making it much easier to sort of let people fall by the wayside. I also continue to miss the old battle animation style of the Game Boy Advance entries, but I doubt we’re ever getting that back.

Android

Beat It and Forget It

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth (Capcom, 2009)

Can’t find any of my good screenshots, but this at least shows the art style for the segments that aren’t really in the core Ace Attorney games.

I’m going to start by saying I wish I had played this on DS, as the touch controls for moving around and selecting were constantly a little wonky with my fat little fingers. That aside, I rather like Miles’ first outing as the protagonist. The cases tie together in fun ways; the new characters are fun and interesting. Hell, the final confrontation is some of the best “all sides of the justice system banding together” that I’ve felt since the bonus case in the first game. It can be a bit contrived in its logic though, and while Edgeworth’s new mechanic of combining ideas to make logical leaps towards what happened is cool, I’m one of those people who often is leaping a step too far, which can make that feature more frustrating than fun.

Game Boy Advance

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

WarioWare. Inc,: Mega Microgam$! (Nintendo, 2003)

Microgames are kind of great? Like, boiling tasks down to only one or two button presses that you have to expertly time really ups the tension, and the absolute absurdity of the art and characters makes the WarioWare series a treat start to finish. It’s also almost terrifyingly difficult at higher levels and really felt like it was pushing me to be better at skateboarding and administering eyedrops without dying from lasers. It’s a game of just raw fun and I really need to pick up more entries in the series.

Congrats on Your New Frisbee

Yu Yu Hakusho: Spirit Detective (Sensory Sweep Studios, Screaming Games, 2003)

That building is the best looking thing in the game.

This game plays as poorly as it looks. Basically a two button brawler, Spirit Detective takes you through the first couple arcs of the manga it’s based upon, only with more filler combat, barely responsive controls and character models among the ugliest I have ever seen. Just skip it.

Game Boy Color

Beat It and Forget It

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (Nintendo, 1998)

While I may have gotten my start with the original Legend of Zelda, the first one I really sank time into was Ocarina of Time. Therefore, moving back to a 2D entry is always odd. I want to move in a way you just don’t, and I sometimes don’t manage to keep the map straight in my head or understand the perspective of the art. That said, it’s a good time. This is a classic Zelda title, with fun bosses, sometimes confusing dungeons and an overworld that feels like it naturally changes between the different terrain types even when they live next door. I had a good time, it just isn’t my favorite in the series by far.

Humble Store (PC)

Beat It and Forget It

Quiet City (increpare games, 2017)

A Humble Bundle published little game that provides a short, thoughtful look at the different activities taking place in a city. A perfectly reasonable way to spend fifteen minutes but hasn’t really left an impact on me. Also surprisingly NSFW, player be warned.

Mystery Series: A Vampire Tale

I have a fondness for hidden object games, but I recognize they aren’t for everyone. There isn’t really anything in here you wouldn’t expect from such a game, which has two protagonists in both a human woman…and a vampire. Oooooo.

Human Resource Machine (Tomorrow Corporation, 2015)

The main view of the game, sans the list of commands to be run.

Human Resource Machine is a game about algorithms and programming told via the never ceasing toil to the top of a skyscraper in a game with a very similar theming and art to the studio’s prior title, Little Inferno. It’s kind of fantastic for some basic visualizations– the floor of the room you work in represents the actions you are doing–but the actual list of steps can quickly grow out of control, and optimizing the functions is much, much more difficult than expected. Most people will probably get a few floors in and give up and I can’t really blame them.

HunieCam Studio (HuniePot, Inc., 2016)

This is one of those resource management games that are kind of a dime a dozen–but you are running a porn studio. If that joke won’t carry you through a couple hours of gameplay, skip this game. If it does, you’ll find a setup that has put a decent amount of thought into that premise, though mechanically it isn’t anything super new.

The sexual themes in this game are mostly for fun/humor and don’t make for particularly great fapping material.

–HuniePot, Inc.

PC

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

DELTARUNE Chapter 1 (Toby Fox, 2018)

I mean, a follow up to Undertale was always going to have high expectations, so I can’t pretend to be unbiased here. DELTARUNE is really good though. An evolution of the bullet hell meets RPG combat of the prior game brings more party members into play, and others moving around with you helps enforce the character interactions that the first game was so good at without relying only on the cutscenes between battles. The plot has plenty of twists and sets up further chapters nicely, and the central questions remain to be answered. I still love the idea of non-violent RPGs, and you can bet that I’ll be awaiting the next installment eagerly.

Congrats on Your New Frisbee

Game of the Year 420 Blazeit

I kind of hated this game? I downloaded it for free forever ago and just…it’s a vehicle for loud, abrasive, memes and effects. That’s it? It feels like the joke could have been served just by screenshots that they mocked up. I hope whoever made it at least had a good time doing so cause I certainly didn’t have one playing it.

DS

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

Elite Beat Agents (iNiS, 2006)

Gotta love that pompadour.

A trio of suited men saves the day in missions of increasingly escalating stakes that start as humbly as assisting a babysitter. A rhythm game that plays similarly to Osu!, which circles to tap and drag across the screen in time with the tunes that the agents dance to. Both of these statements describe Elite Beat Agents while failing to convey just how fun the game can be. It’s a campy trip through a collection of “dance” tunes that honestly surprised me in their selections. It’s fun, not much longer than a typical album takes to listen to (unless you fail) and definitely easy to pick up on the cheap.

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (Square Enix, 2006)

This is a game about stretching and then flinging the titular Rocket Slime at enemies, items, switches, mine carts, other slimes, whatever’s in your way. It was great to play with all the Dragon Quest monsters with no pesky heroes in sight to worry about, and the mech fights that intersperse the stretch-and-smash gameplay are fun–if a bit repetitive, especially towards the end. I never really got sick of seeing the little slime launch first a pillar, and then himself, through a cannon, and I doubt you would either.

Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 (Atlus, 2008)

Under the Knife 2 iterates just enough on the first game to stand above, with some new diseases to fight and a difficulty that just seemed fairer. I think the narrative of the first game might be a little tighter, but I definitely had a better time with the sequel.

Beat It and Forget It

Trauma Center: Under the Knife (Atlus, 2005)

Speaking of Trauma Center, the first Under the Knife is a pretty good game too. The series is a mix of visual novel segments and an arcadey-surgery game, where you not only patch up internal bleeding and remove tumors, but also burn, cut, freeze and extract giant viruses known as GUILT. It’s intense, difficult to the point of being unfair, and downright elating to complete.

Trace Memory (Cing, 2005)

Trace Memory apparently holds the honor of being the first DS game that utilizes the fact that the machine closes as an element of a puzzle in the game (at the time of writing, I could not find proof of this), but otherwise it’s a mostly pretty standard puzzle adventure game, with a healthy dollop of mystery and ghosts and possible memory manipulation thrown on top. It’s pretty short, which works in its favor as it doesn’t drag with completely obtuse puzzles like some of its contemporaries would have.

Feel the Magic: XY/XX (Sonic Team, 2004)

A series of minigames strong together with a nonsense plot about trying to date a girl that results in kidnapping, being stranded on an island and more. It’s a weird, weird game, released early in the DS’s lifespan, making it one of the first to really embrace the hardware’s functionality, including the microphone, to, in my opinion, disastrous effect. Worth a bargain bin price these days, but other games just do the minigame fest better.

Congrats on Your New Frisbee

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

Sometimes when a game series has a number of entries on handheld games, it means that the developers had some ideas they wanted to use but couldn’t work them into the scope of their console titles.
Sometimes it’s Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. It’d be easier to say what this game does well–a variety of playable characters in a multiplayer mode is a nice touch. Some peak behind the villain’s curtain is always appreciated. And…I’m out.
This game is surprisingly bad. The combat is stiff; the camera fights you at every turn. Almost every area is a rehash of already seen things from other games–and you revisit each area so many times you could probably memorize the layout of every brick and blade of poorly rendered grass. The story doesn’t really say anything besides “they were friends” and introduce the character of Xion, who is yet to really matter outside of this game, so it’s not worth the effort. It’s just so bland and repetitive. It could be half as long and still be too stretched out and repetitive. Not worth it, even for a Kingdom Hearts fan.

Switch

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

Golf Story (Sidebar Games, 2017)

Pitched to me as a successor to the Mario Golf games I never played, it won me over with it’s, well, story. The tale of a washed-up wannabe golfer climbing the ranks until he’s the winner of every tournament nearby, Golf Story pulls you in with quality pixel art, a strong soundtrack and just good golf gameplay. It’s also just wacky enough, with a mystery segment, absurd animal obstacles and even a section where you have to defeat a group of necromancers’ skeleton army by hitting them with golf balls. It’s worth a play if you have a Switch and just want to relax on the green. It also makes good use of the HD rumble that the Switch offers. Not in a game-changing way, but still nifty.

Beat It and Forget It

Fire Emblem Warriors (Omega Force, 2017)

The second of the Nintendo/Omega Force crossover games brings the hack and slash Musou gameplay of the Dynasty Warriors to a crossover heavy universe filled with your favorite Fire Emblem characters from like, 5 of the games. While it does have more characters than Hyrule Warriors, the individuals don’t feel as unique. Similar to complaints about the Fire Emblem characters in the Super Smash Bros. Series, the characters that share a class tend to share a lot of the same moves and feel. Even characters of different classes but the same weapon suffer from this. The weapon trinity implemented in the game is a great way to encourage the player to switch up fighters mid-combat, and the game does look and sound great. It just didn’t wow me the way that I really wanted it to, both from neglecting some favored games in the series and by having so few characters really feel both useful and unique.

Cat Quest (The Gentlebros, 2017)

I bought Cat Quest because I needed a game where I would just get to watch my stats increase and the numbers all grow. The game gave me an action RPG where I got to watch my stats increase and the numbers all grow. I rate it a set of cat’s whiskers out of ten; would watch the numbers go up again.

PlayStation 2

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (Atlus, 2008)

Dojima is bae, fight me.

For a game I put over a hundred hours into, I am quite conflicted about Persona 4. On the one hand, it’s a mystery romp in a quiet town full of character interactions, memorable scenes, and some engrossing grinding and Persona fusing. On the other, some of the characters are extremely frustrating, to the point where I wouldn’t use them, leaving them severely underleveled. There’s some other minor nitpicks, but I swear overall it’s a great game. I would expect a larger piece on it from me at some point though. I have…feelings.

PlayStation 4

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep: Final Mix (Square Enix, 2010)

Terra in his boss battle for Lilo & Stitch

After how disappointing 358/2 Days was, this was a goddamn miracle. While I never really grew to love any of the protagonists in the way I would have wanted to, they still used managed to clearly convey who they are. More impressively, even though you’re going to every world three times, they still felt fresh one each visit. A lot of that comes down to the fact that each protagonist reaches the worlds at a different time–you are most often dealing with the causes or results of what the other two routes did. The combat is also really dynamic, with the command deck, D-Link, and shotlock systems all just working together to make up a system that gives you a lot of viable options for taking down foes. The storyline still has some of the baffling choices that Kingdom Hearts is known for now but at least it could be followed start to finish, which is more than I could say for some other games in the series. Overall I can see why it’s sort of codenamed Kingdom Hearts Zero as it certainly deserves to stand up alongside the other main entries.

Beat It and Forget It

Never Alone (Upper One Games, 2014)

There’s nothing wrong with Never Alone–it’s yet another puzzle platformer, but this one with a focus on co-op play and with a rather unique look how and theme of Native Alaskans, with ice and snow and all that jazz. I did enjoy playing through it with a friend but I I don’t feel myself going back to it and I wish I would. You don’t get games focusing on native people–especially native people from that part of the world–in an authentic way very often. I just wish it was a game that gave me more reason to stay in that world.

I realize the ‘ice and snow and all that jazz’ is rather reductive but I don’t really know how to talk about the tribe–I didn’t watch all of the extra material and so I worry I would be even worse if I tried to be better.

Steam

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

Kero Blaster (Studio Pixel, 2015)

Just seeing the name Kero Blaster makes me want to play it again. By the same studio that made Cave Story, the game stars a frog that works for a vague corporation as some sort of battle janitor on likely the worst day ever of his job. Run and gun gunplay with great visuals and music that just feels good to play commences, and while the game isn’t long, it also makes the most of what it has. Ribbit ribbit.

Squidlit (Squidlit Ink., 2018)

Keeping up the theme of animal games, Squidlit is a Game Boy-inspired platformer where you play as a…squid. It’s adorable and playful and just made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Or I guess squishy.

Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure! (Game Swing, 2016)

I feel like I could link the trailer and it would tell you everything you need to know about this game. In fact, I think I will.

Gunpoint (Suspicious Developments, 2013)

I started Gunpoint because it was short, not really knowing what to expect. It gave me a rockin’ jazz and electronic soundtrack, full stealth levels full of rewiring switches and jumping vast distances, and just an all around good time.

The Beginner’s Guide (Everything Unlimited, Ltd., 2015)

A game about taking a tour through a bunch of games made by one person who doesn’t themself appear, guided by a narrator who is obsessed with the creator to the point of altering the games he made to try to find more meaning behind them. A treatise both on the relationship between audience and creator and the simple questions “Is it me? Am I the problem?”

Cosmic Star Heroine (Zeboyd Games, 2017)

An early boss battle, before you have multiple aliens to use in combat.

Zeboyd Games finally gets to work with their own IP again after doing the 3rd and 4th Penny Arcade game, giving us a love letter to Phantasy Star, Chrono Trigger and, in some ways, Suikoden. Playing as an interplanetary secret agent, you recruit a number of humans and aliens to deal with threats both within and without your civilization. The combat system emphasizes strategy with its build-up “Style” system and emphasis on status effects, and every character feels quite different. Some of them so different I didn’t find them useful, sure, but different. A great play for someone itching for a SNES/Genesis-era JRPG.

Beat It and Forget It

Final Fantasy VIII (Square Enix, 1999)

Most people would say that Final Fantasy VII is far better than Final Fantasy VIII. After finally playing both, even as much as I don’t really like VII, they’re kind of right. VII definitely has the edge when it comes to the soundtrack, and characters, and world building. I think VIII has a better protagonist, and honestly, both of their plots are kind of terrible, but VIII has a more interesting (to me) combat system, even if it is far more exploitable. It isn’t my favorite Final Fantasy (Crystal Chronicles ❤ ) but it’s still worth playing–at least a couple discs worth.

140 The Game (Carlsen Games, 2013)

It’s just so bright and clashy.

A fun platformer with kind of abrasive graphics. Pretty short, and kind of frustrating towards the end, but still, I had fun.

Eets Munchies (Klei Entertainment, 2014)

A puzzle game where you guide these rabbit things to eat the foods you want and then exit the level. A little bit Rube Goldberg in terms of setting up chains of events, but ultimately I found it forgettable.

An Octave Higher (Kidalang, 2015)

A visual novel in a, I guess mage-punk world? Magitech world? Not sure I have the right noun, but in any case a visual novel where you follow three protagonists–a wealthy noble, a student of magic and a poor factory worker–who become entwined in a political revolution. Your point of view switches between the three as the story unfolds and I did like the magic system of elements being combined with different emotional forces to make things happen. I feel like the narrative suffered from wanting to be replayable though, with too much locked away behind playthroughs that would, at the same time, be too similar to each other.

Emily is Away (Kyle Seeley, 2015)

There’s someone that resonates with me at watching a relationship, be it friends or something sort of more, fall apart in chats. I’ve been through that before. It sucks. You’re left wondering how much things would have been different if you had tones, facial expressions, or just the ability to share a space and understand through proximity without understanding why you do. Emily is Away captures that, in pure America Online Instant Messenger.

Journey of a Roach (Kobold Games, 2013)

Going up a curving pipe is a pretty normal occurrence in this game.

A post-apocalyptic point and click adventure where you play as a large cockroach in a human-like society underground, looking for your friend after he falls down a hole or something. The art and feel are nice and cartoony, and the puzzles generally make sense, but the mechanic of being able to walk up curved walls to the ceiling, while nice and thematic, mostly just left me disorientated and nauseous.

Thoth (Carlsen Games, 2016)

A sort of puzzle/bullet-hell where one shot forces you to start the level over. Simple and colorful and a lot of fun, if challenging. Not going to win any awards for story, but a nice change of pace from the usual planes and mechs and witches that dominate that genre.

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below (Omega Force, 2015)

Another Omega Force crossover game, this time with Square Enix’s Dragon Quest series, with all of its RPG trappings. Magic, crafting, level ups, classic Dragon Quest monsters and plenty of protagonists from past games make it clear that the developers cared about recreating the feel of both series when making this entry. And it is a lot of fun for a while. Then it just. Keeps. Going. And I don’t know what end user they were thinking of when designing the ingredient drops and alchemy system, but it certainly wasn’t me. I don’t even want to think about how much time it would take to make everything it wants you to. Fun hack and slash gameplay though, with well-differentiated characters and some varied and expressive locales and foes.

Epistory – Typing Chronicles (Fishing Cactus, 2016)

I kind of love typing games, ever since I first was learning to type in a copy of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Epistory scratched that itch, with a papercraft tale of a girl riding a fox and restoring a land challenging me with the sheer ferocity with which I had to type in order to defeat the giant bugs plaguing her journey. My biggest complaint was that the game tends to chug, no matter what system I played it on, sometimes during big combats, sometimes for no reason at all.

Fearless Fantasy (Enter Skies, 2014)

Not to reference Osu! twice in one list, but Fearless Fantasy is basically a short RPG where special moves are clicking in circles and dragging through lines, similar to Osu! or Elite Beat Agents. It’s kind of bland in its setting and characters and the forums complain of it being a mobile port of shoddy quality, but I had a decent time with its nonstandard combat.

I’m realizing how many times I’ve used “play” and “fun” and really just a lot of words to the point where they’ve lost meaning.

Me, the night before posting this list.

Planet of the Eyes (Cococucumber, 2015)

A game in the same rough vein as Limbo and other “move right to win” puzzle platformers, Planet of the Eyes puts you in the role of a robot on an alien planet, trying to find out what happened to the humans that brought you there and hoping to survive the hostile landscape you’ve found yourself in.

Unmechanical (Talawa Games, 2012)

Another puzzle-platformer, again with a robot, but this time a dirtier feel, more lasers and caves then creepy monsters. Had about the same amount of fun with it as I did Planet of the Eyes.

Hero of the Kingdom (Lonely Troops, 2012)

Hidden object games strike again! This time it’s a fantasy title where you rise up from being a peasant to being a knight, mostly by doing fetch quests where you collect firewood from trees and eventually fighting goblins and swamp frog things and the like. It’s more fun than that sounds, I promise.

8-Bit Bayonetta (Platinum Games, 2017)

A promotional game for the Bayonetta series that has you jumping and shooting a never ending series of enemies that come at you from the right hand side of the screen. Fun for what it is, but it isn’t much.

Super Daryl Deluxe (Dan & Gary Games, 2018)

The game’s art just screams fun and also well-made Flash game.

The art and first few hours of humor and gameplay in Super Daryl Deluxe are great. Unfortunately, rather than simply tell the story of a world that fell apart due to a self-help book in the time it wanted to take, they drew it out. It’s more grindy than needed, the story has extra twists that ultimately mean nothing but simply exist to extend the runtime,  and, of course, contains a healthy amount of backtracking. It was still fun–don’t get me wrong. But I started to feel like it was wasting my time, and that’s not really a great last impression for a game to make.

Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter (Croteam, 2009)

A fun first-person shooter that has aged surprisingly well, with effective, sometimes delightful weapons (I particularly like The cannonball) and insane looking enemies. The final boss was more of a gauntlet than the rest of the game had been, so I remember it clearly which is always a nice touch. It isn’t a sub-genre I tend to play often (I like my shooters to have a little more story, a little more progression), still fun.

Torchlight II (Runic Games, 2012)

So Torchlight 2 is hard for me to rate. Partway through I glitched out and got dozens of extra skill points. I then proceeded to use them. I had been playing a modded class–one that was designed to be comparable to the existing ones–and somehow in a level up I screwed something up and then, well, I had maxed out passives for the rest of the game. It didn’t make it completely broken, but it did mean that for most of the game my experience was hold down the left mouse button and just sort of walk around and enjoy the show. With that as the core experience, I had a good time. It wasn’t what the designers had in mind but it was still fun.

VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh, 2010)

Every screen has its own name which is worth a few good chuckles.

So I saw this game at a Games Done Quick a while back and thought it looked fun and so I checked it out. the principal idea is that it’s a platformer where instead of jumping, you reverse gravity’s effect on you. While it is great to sort of blast through space upside down and also to navigate those tight quarters by bouncing between the floor and ceiling, it also was very easy to get lost and not to know where I was supposed to be going. The game is only a couple hours long and I still had to look up a map and a guide which was rather disheartening. If you’ve got an afternoon to just sit down and figure it out though, it is worth your time.

Narcissu 2nd (stage-nana, 2007)

A sort of sister story to the original Narcissu, it follows the point of view of a woman who used to volunteer at a hospital before falling ill herself. Eventually, is on the path to the long term care reserved for those who aren’t going to survive much longer–similar to the deuteragonist of the first story. It didn’t feel as poignant as the first half did, though that might just be my own distance from that concept at this point. It, however, remains a sad story of living with the keen awareness that you are running out of time and the challenges that that brings to your faith and your dreams.

NightSky (Nicallis, Inc., 2011)

I do love me some bi-bride sky gradients.

So I had to look up the game to remember what it was, but now that I have I remember actually having a lot of fun playing it. It’s got some great color palettes in the levels, some tricky platforming segments and a nice sense of identity due to being a platforming game where you control a ball rather than a person.

No Time To Explain Remastered (tinyBuild, 2015)

A side-scrolling shoot-’em-up platformer where there’s a lot of time-travel and tricky platforming to figure out with weapons like rockets and lasers being your primary methods of movement. The game doesn’t take itself seriously, which is good considering the tone it’s going for–an irreverent comedy of sorts that starts that each level with a parallel universe version of your protagonist trying to go ‘There’s no time to explain!” before getting killed, leaving you to pick up their weapon and move to the right, into whatever danger just arrived. It’s fun, but hardly the kind of game that makes you feel something, which is a lot of what I was looking for this year.

Silver Creek Falls – Chapter 1 (Sapphire Dragon Productions, 2015)

The first chapter in a very Twin Peaks inspired mystery story, Silver Creek Falls is a visual novel seemingly made in RPG Maker. There isn’t anything wrong with that; it’s just pretty descriptive of how the game functions. You just sort of walk around and talk to people and occasionally investigate crime scenes. Some grizzly things are definitely happening in town, and the mystery had me interested, sure, but it isn’t really clear what the quality of the full game would be, considering that this was only the first chapter of an episodic title.

Dyscourse (Owlchemy Labs, 2015)

I want to like Dyscourse more than I did. It has a unique art style and the concept of making choices for a plane crash full of people hoping to help as many of them to survive as possible is kind of intriguing in our post-Lost world. I just didn’t find it that engaging, for whatever reason. Possibly because every event just felt so sudden when it happened; possibly because a lot of the characters are kind of shitty. In the end, I never went back to play through the story a second time, short as it is, in an attempt to save different people. It just didn’t feel worth it.

Congrats on Your New Frisbee

hack_me

I wanted to like hack_me. I like the idea of a really kind of practical, almost boring feeling hacking game. The problem is that you don’t really do much? It’s basically just “follow these instructions to win” and that’s it.

Mandagon

Absolutely gorgeous art. I didn’t get at all the message it was trying to tell me though, hence being this low on the list.

Dear Esther

I don’t understand why this game seemed to make a splash when it came out. It doesn’t have the humor of The Stanley Parable, or even the interesting premise of something like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. It’s just a kind of whiny protagonist wandering a wet, miserable island and writing a letter to someone who may or may not already be dead, before basically committing suicide? I just didn’t like it one bit.

Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta – Episode 1

I mean it’s just an Uncharted knock off. I don’t believe an episode 2 exists, which sort of tells you everything you need to know about the quality of this game.

Aaru’s Awakening

A story of a creature rolling around trying to like restore the balance of dawn vs. dusk, with the predictable twist of dawn being as evil as dusk is. I don’t remember why I didn’t like it; I just didn’t.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything

You are given a button on a table and told not to push it.
There are 18 endings.
It’s the sort of thing that I think would be really great as a physical experience at a convention or even as a high-end board game, but as a video game it boiled down to just clicking around until stuff happened. It’s hard to know what is clickable though, so you sort of waste time until you look up a guide and then there’s not a whole lot of point to it. Kind of a let down, even if it had some fun Easter eggs.

Ancients of Ooga

Another puzzle platformer, though at least this one isn’t just ‘move to the right’. The problem with this one is that it feels kind of offensive? I’m not one who can decide if a depiction of a native people is indeed offensive, but having these characters, these quasi-human things that sometimes have mystical powers–which include being stinky–just left a bad taste in my mouth. I only really finished it because I could play it on both my work computer and my desktop and that sort of portability was important to me at the moment during which I picked the game up out of my backlog.

Vita

Beat It and Forget It

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows (Yacht Club Games, 2015)

Getting some air off of explosions like a boss.

Of the three existing Shovel Knight campaigns, Plague of Shadows is my least favorite. That doesn’t by any means mean it’s bad–it still has the same great art, level design, and soundtrack sensibilities that Shovel Knight was known for I just never really got into how Plague Knight himself moved. It was an interesting thing, throwing the bombs to gain height and adjust your falling speed, holding down to explode around for a burst of speed, but it just never felt like I had the control that I had with Shovel Knight or later Specter Knight that made the core moving and fighting feel so good in those campaigns.

WiiU

Beat It and Forget It

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut (WayForward, 2010)

My experience with playing any Shantae title boils down to not liking them as much as I liked the first game I played in the series-The Pirate’s Curse. For those who know the series, that means my favorite game is the one that is most unique in how it plays, as it is the only one that lacks transformations and magic, instead focusing on items and pirate-themed equipment. Risky’s Revenge certainly isn’t bad–it’s a competent Metroidvania–but it just didn’t win me over the way Pirate’s Curse did.

Xbox 360

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (Crystal Dynamics, 2010)

Once you get past the idea that this is not a Tomb Raider game, but a completely different experience starring that series’ protagonist, The Guardian of Light becomes a great time. Basically a puzzle-platformer take on the Gauntlet series, this co-op dungeon crawler might have some possibly poorly handled mysticism based on cultures I haven’t studied much, but it’s a solid time for folks looking to scratch that isometric action itch.

Beat It and Forget It

Deadlight (Tequila Works, Abstraction Games, 2016)

There are a lot of zombie games out there. Deadlight doesn’t try to compete with them in terms of combat, or even lore. Instead, it focuses on escaping, on platforming and long search towards to right side of the screen to find out what happened to the protagonist’s family. I liked a lot of the set pieces–particularly one segment where you’re trying to avoid another survivor’s death traps–but overall the game is just sort of fine.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War (Signal Studios, 2012)

A strange mix of tower defense and third-person-shooter, Toy Soldiers has you playing as well, toy soldiers from a toy box, fending off against waves of foes using turrets, vehicles, and squads of soldiers, which you can either direct or assume direct control of. It works, and was rather fun, but has all of the control difficulties of any RTS on a console–having a mouse and keyboard really does help when trying to deal with an entire battlefield.

Congrats on Your New Frisbee

Rayman Raving Rabids

A collection of mostly functional, mostly dull minigames that you have to play through multiple times for the “story mode”. Less a Mario Party clone and more an example of how shameless cash grabs happen to once beloved mascot characters.

Xbox One

Worth Its Weight in Quarters

A Way Out (Hazelight, 2018)

This isn’t the screenshot I wanted, but they’re both so intense and I love it.

I could talk about A Way Out for hours. It’s just such a good heist movie, prison escape movie; just a good story of two people from different walks of life coming together on a mission to take someone out that has wronged both of them. The gameplay really strongly informs that bond you are building between the characters and the voice acting and dialogue were fantastic. The actual mechanics are fairly simple which could turn people off, and the reticle really, really should not have been yellow, but that’s nitpicking. I really want to do a longer analysis of the ending that doesn’t fit in this context, but I don’t think it is a stretch to say this likely my favorite co-op game of 2018–hands down.

Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics, 2014)

So I had played the original Tomb Raider and bits of Angel of Darkness before, but this is the first time I looked sat down to a Tomb Raider game and played at start to finish. I picked it back up because my roommate had started playing it and it was just a lot of fun to explore caves and mountains and forests and to hunt with a bow and arrow–even eventually basically trying to only do combat with said bow and arrow. The platforming felt great, the combat was intense without feeling unfair, and overall it just was a really good experience. I mostly wanted the survival elements to be played up more, which seems to be the case in the next game in the series. From a narrative perspective I liked the step back to a young, unproven Lara, and bless her little gay heart I hope things work out for her in the end. It was also nice that she had crewmates along for the ride–it helped establish human stakes rather than just one woman against the wilderness, which she has done again and again before.

It also bears mentioning that a lot of the death scenes are unnecessarily graphic. If you are squeamish or otherwise adverse to violence, be aware of that if picking up this game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition + The Descent + Trespasser (BioWare, 2015)

This game, including DLC, took me around 150 hours to beat. Add onto that the 80 or 90 hours I’d previously lost in a save file and you have likely one of the games I’ve spent the most time with in my entire life. So I definitely enjoyed the game. It’d be foolish for me to have put that many hours into something I didn’t enjoy. It has flaws: it’s buggy; combat, especially in the DLC, can shift very quickly from going very well to whoops, you just died; the choices could be a little bit too morally black and white; etc, but it has all of the elements that made me really like a Dragon Age game. The characters are well-fleshed out, and for lack of a better word, very human. You like to like them and hate to hate them, as it should be. The world is well developed, taking the player to areas only glossed over by previous games, like Orlais, that help to make the entirety of Thedas feel more cohesive. The combat is generally satisfying, giving you enough options to try different ways of approaching situations, but does get repetitive after 150 hours, and I can’t really imagine any combat not doing so. I wasn’t a huge fan of the actual climax of the game, though the Trespasser DLC felt like a really good like end of TV show movie that sort of wraps up loose ends while giving you fan service, which was nice. In the end, I don’t know if it was worth quite the amount of time put into it but I had a really good time and I keep saying I had a really good time in this list and it’s lost all of its meaning as a phrase.

Oxenfree (Night School Studio, 2016)

Oxenfree details a group of teenagers that go to a nearby island to goof off and drink and just not be home for a while when some really messed up stuff starts happening. There’s some stuff with ghosts, radios playing strange messages, characters being possessed and even potentially aliens–you’ll have to play the game yourself to find out. It also has a really dynamic conversation system where you can interrupt other characters, as well as simply not respond in most cases. That gives two more variables to how a dialogue tree unfolds along with simply the actual words, and it feels really natural in practice. I’ve really been meaning to play through the game a second time and make some different choices, but I might settle on just playing the studio’s next game, Afterparty, when it comes out.

Superhot (SUPERHOT Team, 2016)

The art in Superhot is striking yet functional.

“Superhot is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years”. Phrases like that pepper the landscape of reviews of this game, and not without merit. This game’s tactical take on a first-person shooter where you can really plan out your moves–because nothing is moving when you’re not–was really engaging. It gets a little too hectic towards the end where because you don’t have more of a field of vision, just having time slowed to almost a stop just doesn’t give you enough information to make the correct choices, and so you end up dying a lot. But until you hit that point its just so satisfying to look into a room, figure out what’s going to happen, lineup your shots, and take ’em out.

Beat It and Forget It

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus (Square Enix, 2016)

As much as I loved Final Fantasy 15 and as much as I love Gladio, I just didn’t find that much in this DLC. It tells how he got his scars when he vanishes for a time in the main game, but it’s just in a fight. It’s a fight against this big ol’ spirit dude representing Gilgamesh during Gladio’s intense mission to prove he’s worthy of defending the king, yes, true. But it’s still just a fight, without any of the grandiose scales that so defined the end of the core game. It’s a shame because it was kind of a nice change of pace to play as a party member that you normally just order about, but it wasn’t enough of a nice change.

Saints Row IV (Deep Silver, 2015)

Saints Row III was a goddamn gem of the game. Saints Row 4 is good, but you can tell they were trying to follow up a game that was just not easy to follow. In this installment, you acquire superpowers, including extremely fast running and building clearing jumps, which fundamentally altered how you traverse around the city. The problem is that with all the superpowers you sort of stop using all of the other features in the game. I stopped driving cars, I stop shooting guns–I just used superpowers and punched people. It was still fun, but it seems a shame that the game deprecated so many of its own features like that. It does have a great opening, and I like that they really were like “there’s nowhere for us to go by aliens” and so they go for it. The result just didn’t have quite the level of character that the third game of the series had, and that kept it from being one of my favorites this year.

Board Games

I didn’t play that many new board games this year. Hopefully I address that next year since there’s a new gaming pub opened up a mile away, but for now the new games is a short list.

Visitor in Blackwood Grove (Resonym, 2017)

Visitor combines nostalgia for 80’s alien films like E.T. and that innate desire inside all of us to finds patterns in what’s around us. One player controls the game as the alien, who mans a spaceship guarded by a forcefield that follows some rule. One player takes the part of a small child as you try to befriend the alien, and all other players are field agents of various government agencies, from the FBI to the Department of Energy, trying to study the alien and their tech. How do you try to get through the forcefield? You have cards with objects on them and you throw them at it (metaphorically) to see if they go through. It’s great fun. Of course, that pattern finding is both the game’s biggest strength and weakness–the included examples can be too easy, but coming up with your own can become a frustrating exercise in set theory.

Hexadecimate (Subaltern Games, 2018)

The art by Jess Taylor and Filip Velkovski 

I Kickstarted this game on the grounds of its concept and the fact that it was at least partially by the designer of a game I’d played that I thought was interesting but never got into (No Pineapple Left Behind).  A cooperative card game in which the players are a coven of cyber-or-maybe-techno witches fighting the alt-right; Hexadecimate mainly relies on the mechanic of throwing ingredients into a pot and hoping you can chain together enough effects to not lose. The flavor and art are fantastic, but I found it a really uneven experience. We lost, very very badly the first time, added one more player and won so handily we basically were able to put the whole deck in the cauldron at once–something that might not have been allowed by the rules but the rules were a little light on describing edge cases. It was fun, but that balance has made me hesitant to play again.

Someone has Died (Gather Round Games, 2018)

In a series of lists in which I try to avoid picking favorites, I can likely say that Someone has Died is the best new game I played this year. One player is the executor of an estate, and the others are all people somehow connected to the deceased trying to convince them that they deserve the inheritance. To that end they are given cards saying who they are and how they’re connected to the deceased — and not like “a banker and the deceased’s son” more like “a talking dog who used to read their mail”. From there follows several rounds of structured improv where players make their cases and answer questions and ultimately someone takes home the prize–whatever it happens to be. Not a game for all groups due to its reliance on the players’ more theatrical performance, but I’m not going to forget the first time I played any time soon.

The Haunting House (Raven Distribution, 2004)

The Haunting House is a straightforward game of navigating through a grid of tiles where tiles can have walls and/or paths, and each player’s actions are decided partially by choice and partially by luck and include rotating tiles, moving across the board, switching tiles and getting lost in a hall of mirrors and doing nothing. It’s a simple game, but it was a good thing to play while munching at the pub.

Secret Hitler (Breaking Games, 2016)

Games with unknown roles are nothing new to games, or to me. I’ve played Coup more times than I can count, Mafia or Werewolf or any variation on that game. What Secret Hitler does is throw a level of reality that darkens every action, increasing the tension as you creep closer and closer to fascism. Fascism is easy, almost inevitable if the person playing Hitler is crafty enough. You can’t trust each other’s words; you can barely trust each other’s actions. How can you trust that anyone you are playing with isn’t just playing the long game? Telling the truth as they pass you fascist policies to pass saying “I only drew these, sorry”?
Perhaps I’m thinking about it too much, but I haven’t felt such tension and relief as I did playing Secret Hitler in quite some time, and I hope I take a long break before playing again.

Red Dragon Inn (Slugfest Games, 2007)

I completely forgot I had played this game for the first time this year until I was writing the conclusion–which I suppose normally would say the game is rather forgettable, but really just speaks to the fact it was six months ago and I played it at the tail end of a convention. A game of drinking and gambling where each player takes on a character who — particularly with the expansions–has unique mechanics to keep track of. It was fun, but in order to have the complete experience would take buying all expansions and many plays and I doubt I will do that anytime soon.

Most years I play far more new board games then this–it wasn’t a good year for playing new things at conventions for me for instance–but still had some standout titles.

2018 — I Was Going to Make A Love in the Time of Cholera joke but Read that last year.

Books. Ahh, books. My first love in media, just words on a page and the impact they have on neurons firing in the brain. I read like…ten. Arguably less. All year. That’s probably an all-time low, brought on by being able to bring portable game systems onto the T and the increased amount of comics I was reading, but still. Pitiful showing me.

That said, what I did read did have a few gems, so let’s talk about ’em.

In No Defined Order, my ‘books’ of 2018:

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious (A Squirrel Girl Novel) (Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, 2018)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is an American, nay, a global treasure. The comics by Ryan North and Erica Henderson et al are what really got me into the character, but Shannon Hale and Dean Hale’s novels are a joy to read start to finish. 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious picks up shortly after the first novel (Squirrel Meets World) left off, with Doreen Green adjusting to her superheroics and her daily life after a climactic fight with Hydra in the last book.  Soon a new threat emerges in town in the form of a rivalry between cats and dogs fueled by a new, nearby mall that not even Thor’s semi-regular appearances to visit Doreen’s best friend Ana Sofia can’t dissuade. Full of friendship, text-messages and fighting for what’s right, I heartily recommend 2 Fuzzy 2 Furious to basically anyone that enjoys having fun and understands that sometimes even heroes aren’t sure if their best friend is ignoring them or just forgot to turn her hearing aids on.

Ain’t No Place for a Hero: Borderlands (Pop Classics) (Kaitlin Tremblay, 2017)

A book of essays about the Borderlands games, most enjoyable for people like me that enjoy the stories around games as much as the games themselves. Notable on the internet for having one on the body positivity of Ellie, the overweight mechanic that is introduced in Borderlands 2. The book isn’t going to convince someone that doesn’t believe in pop culture critiques, nor is it going to fly off shelves, but it is one person’s in-depth look at the game’s themes, representation, narrative, and character growth while also acknowledging the game’s problematic takes on mental health(among other things.) It made me want more adult criticism of games–something I’ve been struggling to find more than a few examples of on say, YouTube. There’s just a lot of room for more reflective and academic writings on one of the world’s most lucrative art forms, and as gaming becomes something even more part of even more people’s every day, I hope it’s something we really see a surge in.

Baccano: The Rolling Bootlegs (Ryohgo Narita, 2016)

Baccano is one of my favorite anime — a rollicking good time of alchemy and mafia members and hapless thieves in New York City. The light novels, of which The Rolling Bootlegs is the first, are the same in written form. I do think that the anime is the superior way to experience the story, as the soundtrack and visuals really do add to the chaos of the scenes in a way the words alone don’t, but if you pick it up off a shelf, you won’t be disappointed. I was going to say I hadn’t noticed any issues with the translation, but in trying to info about the translator found multiple reviews pointing out some glaring flaws, so it’s more that they didn’t impede my enjoyment of the work rather than that they didn’t exist.

Life of Pi (Yann Martel, 2001)

Life of Pi is one of those “modern classics” that I’m not sure is entirely worth some of the acclaim. Is it a good book? Sure, it’s got reasonable pacing and a few, Gary Paulson-esque survival on a backdrop of Indian spirituality and a boy’s attempts to understand the religions around him.

It was also written by a, to quote Wikipedia, Spanish-born Canadian, which does put a bit of a damper on what is frankly the most prominent Indian protagonist I can think of in a modern piece of literature. (Also known as more recent than say, The Jungle Book).

I actually only found that bit of info out as I was writing this list and I’m really not sure I would rate this book highly if I had known that at the time…I guess in the end it was a generic survival story with enough fantastical elements and non-generic characters that it was an enjoyable read.

I have not seen the film, so can’t compare them.

Worm (Wildbow, 2013), Web serial

Worm is something.

Let me try that again. Worm has been described to me as infectious–you can’t read it without recommending it to others; without wanting them to read it. I would say I didn’t bend to that, but I am writing about it here Published in twice-weekly installments over roughly two years, the saga of Taylor, a teenager who can control insects in a dark tale of superheroes, supervillains, and the traits that define them is vast. It’s hard to describe it in any other way–the story takes place over several years and is (again, thanks to Wikipedia) 1,682,400 words long.

Despite that length, it rarely felt like it was dragging, or bloated. Taylor and her fellow parahumans (people with powers) are fully realized characters, and the powers themselves might as well be, going being simple things like super strength to “can make any blade/edge infinitely long when swung” or “unable to lose” and really drilling into what those powers do to a person and how they can really use them. Likely it’s biggest draw within the genre is just that: the powers and how they interact. I want to go into detail but also feel like if I did it would ruin those moments of cleverness and impact that Wildbow really deserves praise for.

It has a sense of scale that’s almost hard to grasp, with a Game of Thrones style cast size–and body count. It’s a must-read for fans of the superhero genre, or of science fiction in general. It’s a dark read, and honestly, I didn’t like large parts of the ending–though it is difficult to say how much of that was the impossibility of meeting expectations when you’re that deep into a story.

Plus it can be read online for free. And for people who like such things, has a pretty flexible power-classification system in-universe you could apply to Marvel, DC and the like for fun conversations with your friends.

Books I read that didn’t make the cut but I still have something to say about and you’re still reading this so I guess I didn’t waste my time writing it.

For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday (Sarah Ruhl, 2016), Drama

Sarah Ruhl is one of the only living playwrights I have multiple works by on my shelf–and the only one of those I’ve never seen a  production of. I read Dead Man’s Cell Phone in college and loved its oddity, so when I found Peter Pan in a bookstore a few weeks back I eagerly picked it up and read it within a day.

It’s fine? Like, it isn’t bad but I can’t help feeling it just didn’t resonate with me due to a) being younger than the characters (and intended audience) and b) not really having an emotional connection to Peter Pan and Neverland. That said, it’s very likely that if I saw a live performance I would be far more enamored with it–plays are meant to be seen after all.

The Sun and Her Flowers (Rupi Kaur, 2017), Poetry

The only book of poetry I read this year, sort of included for that reason alone. I enjoy Rupi Kaur’s poems, but I really enjoyed her first collection, Milk and Honey, where her journey through a relationship was charged with raw emotion that resonated with me. The Sun and Her Flowers I remember liking–but also can’t remember a single poem from it a few months later.

Lies that Bind Us (Andrew Hart, 2018)

I own Lies that Bind Us due to Amazon Prime free book things and read it at the recommendation of a co-worker after reading some synopses from books sitting on my Kindle unread.

I am not sure I should trust either of those sources again.

Lies that Bind Us is a thriller about a group of distant friends that meet back up after five years to go on a vacation in Greece. It starts out fine, but a couple chapters in the protagonist reveals she’s a compulsive liar.

And that details within the book up to that point have been lies.

Now I’m not against unreliable narrators, but it is presented in such a way as to make literally every sentence possible untrue, which is an exhausting and aggravating way to read a book.  The plot doesn’t really go anywhere that interesting, and all the weirder Minotaur references the book keeps making in the flash forward segments (oh, half the book is told in flashbacks, the other flash forwards) are just…a mask and carbon monoxide poisoning. Not good.

Also, the author through a weird racism thread in that goes nowhere and is definitely a man writing about women considering how he describes people in terms of their breasts.

Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984)

The granddaddy of cyberpunk did not age well at all for me. There were some good ideas, but I just couldn’t gel with how Gibson wrote the prose. Or the characters. Or the basic tone.

If I want to delve into some transhumanism, I think I’ll just watch Ghost in the Shell again. Or look in a mirror. The book was a gift and I’m not upset I read it, but I don’t think I’ll ever pick it up again.

Hard In Hightown (Varric Tethras, Mary Kirby, 2018)

Hard in Hightown is a weird book–basically a slightly embellished telling of a series of codex entries in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s not bad, it’s just a short pulpy fantasy story. Worth checking out if you’re a huge Dragon Age fan, but I found myself wanting more.

MOVIES MOVIES MOVIES MOVIES MOVIES MOVIES MOOOVIES

I might have set a record for the number of times I went and saw a movie this year, excepting perhaps the year I saw The Two Towers on three separate occasions. The fact that there was a glut of superhero films certainly contributed, though I really need to make a more concerted effort to get out there and see non-blockbuster films in theaters.
Also, I wanted to note director, principal actors etc but that list quickly becomes very very unwieldy to do with any justice, I stuck to the director and year.

Special Mentions

Train to Busan (Sang-ho Yeon, 2016)

This movie is frenetic and charged, full of motion and tension and such a remarkable physicality in the actor’s that my jaw stayed dropped the entire time I was watching. A South Korean zombie film focusing primarily on a father and his young daughter stuck on the bullet train heading to Busan with the infection onboard, the movie doesn’t let up, doesn’t let you rest, rips your heart out and beats it up in front of you. It was fantastic.
And I think I might have watched it in 2017 instead of 2018. Not sure though, hence special mention.

Available on Netflix.

Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017)

I really liked Baby Driver — the acting, the directing, the fantastic driving, the inspired soundtrack– but I can’t really justify telling people to spend money watching it due to the numerous sexual assault accusations directed at Kevin Spacey.

Available through Amazon’s Showtime Channel.

Tokyo Godfathers (Satoshi Kon, Shogo Furuya, 2003)

Tokyo Godfathers is a really good film–and frankly a phenomenal film to watch on Christmas. It has humor, heart, family and even miracles.
I don’t know how to rate it though, as I’m conflicted about one of the central three characters, a woman named Hana. While she seems to view herself as female — a central plot thread even being about her wish to be a mother — her companions seem dismissive of the same. The movie even ends on a joke about her being treated in the men’s ward after being injured. 2003 isn’t 2018, and Japan isn’t America, but it still sits in a weird spot in my gut watching things like that.

Was available on Crackle, but appears to have been removed.

The Good

Anything in this section is definitely worth watching if given the chance.

Cook Up a Storm (Raymond Yip, 2017)

So there I was, on an international flight surrounded by older Chinese folks, watching, Jumanji or some such, and slowly, this movie starts making the rounds. It started a few rows ahead of us and worked back until the couple next to me was watching it–this theatrical, over-the-top cooking movie.
So I watched it. And by gum it was good. The tale of two restaurants, of two chefs with competing philosophies about food and cooking, from differing backgrounds and training going toe to toe for the fate of the street both operate on. Its bones are nothing you haven’t seen before, but the style and heart showed through clear. I don’t have a stronger recommendation than that I sought out the Blu-ray even though I had to import it from Hong Kong.

I own it on Blu-ray, it does not appear to be streaming anywhere in America.

Coco (Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, 2017)

I’ve fallen into this trend of getting really teary-eyed over films focusing on family, particularly ones with shitty or absent father figures. Coco is no exception, a well made visual treat of a children’s film focusing on The Day of the Dead and the power of music, which I think works out all right. The villain wasn’t the strongest, but I loved all the family members. Another good airplane watch.

Available on Netflix.

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)

Black Panther is a singularly important superhero film. It stars black people, is about black people, is about that very blackness and the relationship between the prosperity of few and the pain of the many, victims of colonialism and slavery. It has the most compelling villain in Marvel movies–quite likely the only one that is worth sympathizing with, debating the goals of. The movie ends with T’challa embracing his foes goals, if not his means–to use the might of Wakanda to help those in need, those left behind by the systems that benefit white people. I could go on longer about how it represents Africa, how it represents America, that fantastic opening scene in the museum, but others are far, far more qualified. If you haven’t seen Black Panther, you should.

Available on Netflix.

Megamind (Tom McGrath, 2010)

When I saw the trailers for Megamind it didn’t really interest me. It didn’t seem like a compelling movie, it felt like a forgettable kid’s comedic flick.
That’s doing the movie a huge disservice.
Megamind is about nature vs. nurture, about redemption, about what defines a hero and what drives a villain, wrapped up in, yes, a children’s comedy movie. Worth a watch if you want some heroics but are tired of the grimmer fair often offered.

Available on Amazon’s HBO channel.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)

It’s hard to describe the plot of Arrival without spoiling part of what has kept it dear to me since I watched it. The story follows a team of scientists trying to figure out how to communicate with aliens that touched down in a number of places on Earth, causing widespread panic. The aliens seem to have a circular language, the secrets to which drive Amy Adams’ character to places she never knew, yet always was going to reach. It’s a movie about struggling to understand the unknown and standing up for that unknown against forces that fear it.

Available on Amazon Prime.

The Babysitter (McG, 2017)

If you’ve ever just turned on a movie to fill some space on a quiet day, you’ll understand how I came to watch The Babysitter, which hit Netflix in time for Halloween, in early January. Pitched in the trailers as a kind of B-movie about a boy who’s babysitter is trying to sacrifice him to Satan, the movie actually is exactly that–while also containing memorable characters, a tone that never, in my opinion, drifted too far from the absurdity of the premise, and actually touching scenes about the friendship between the boy and his babysitter who genuinely cares about him. And sacrificing his soul.

Available on Netflix.

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016)

In TV there’s this concept of a bottle episode, where you take the cast and put them in a small set, say, an underground bunker with only a couple rooms, to reduce costs and focus on character. This movie proves just how well that works on the big screen. Connected to the found-footage film Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane shows what happens when three people are stuck in a bunker together as the world has ended. The question really remains though–did it really? Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who does a great job) woke up in the bunker after a car crash, and John Goodman’s (again, a downright fantastic performance) character is her only source of information. To say more would diffuse the tension of the film–quite possibly my favorite horror/thriller.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes A nderson, 2014)

I bought this movie because I was buying a new TV that was supposed to be good at color, and I knew the Grand Budapest Hotel was full of color. I knew nothing else about it and hadn’t seen a Wes Anderson film to my knowledge, so wasn’t sure what to expect, and ended up loving it. The pacing, the palettes, the edits the magical, awe-inspiring sets–it was a treat through and through. The plot follows the growing companionship between a concierge and his assistant through a time of war in the country their high-class hotel is located in, a plot that takes them across the world, to prison, and eventually, to the framing device of a writer detailing how that hotel became barely a footnote in history.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, 2018)

I read a review by Howard Taylor about Into the Spider-Verse where he describes it as a comic book movie, rather than simply a superhero movie. What this film does visually to bring the actual experience of the pages of a book to life–the panels, the thought bubbles, impact lines from sounds, just the way that things move on screen–is beautiful to see and leads to a movie I find difficult to describe. I don’t have the vocabulary to talk about what Sony Picture’s animation team managed to do with this film. I get the impression it’s going to be studied and we’ll have a multitude of failed imitators in the next few years, trying to capture the magic of the piece.
And that’s ignoring the difficulty in introducing a new version of a character to the screen with an ensemble cast of six spider-people (and one Action Aunt May) and associated characters without feeling crowded or bloated. Not as impressive as Infinity War to be sure in that respect, but still well done.

Still in theaters! And trust me, I’m planning to see it again.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Ray Hill, 1969)

Classic Westerns are classics for a reason–they’re really good. The tale of a few bandits who draw too much heat and have to flee the law split between their time in America and later Bolivia, Butch Cassidy is funny, adventurous, flavored with a bit of Robin Hood and a healthy amount of gunplay and horse riding. It is also a great example having the pacing and tone of a movie change over time as the characters change locations, as America and Bolivia are basically two distinct halves of the larger story.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

Slow West (John Maclean, 2015)

If Butch Cassidy is the classic Western, Slow West is what happens when you pull back the glamour of those films. The violence is sudden. Actions have consequences. The naive protagonist’s slow quest westward to find his love often leads to disaster because he isn’t competent; he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s a dreamer, and dreams don’t work like reality. Sometimes, films don’t need happy endings.

Available on Netflix.

The Bad  The Average

These next films aren’t bad, but either haven’t stuck with me well or didn’t reach the heights of my faves. I liked ’em enough to not judge you for watching, but I’m not going to preach ’em.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Jake Kasdan, 2017)

A far more enjoyable movie than “a reboot of the first one but it’s a video game” had any real right to be, Welcome to the Jungle is a perfect film to watch on a plane or on a weeknight when you want just a good popcorn flick.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

The Disaster Artist (James Franco, 2017)

Having finally seen The Room late last year, I figured that I would enjoy The Disaster Artist on the grounds of wanting to know how the hell that movie happened. This dramatized account of it didn’t really give me resolution on that though–sometimes a bad film is made, and all the wrong choices happen on set, and we don’t need to dwell on it for the sake of performance, but to prevent. I think I just wanted a documentary instead of a recreation–a “me” problem I will admit.

Available on Amazon Prime.

Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

For the first half hour of Annihilation,  I mostly felt like I was watching a thematic and mood rehash of Arrival, just worse. It did grow on me as time went on, and I always appreciate an interesting sci-fi film, I just didn’t find it to be as strong.
I haven’t read the book, so while I think the idea of adapting a book’s theme instead of its content is acceptable as a practice, I can’t really speak of it in this case.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

Real Steel (Shawn Levy, 2011)

I just wanted it to be Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots the movie. It wasn’t a bad flick–what family is, fun robot rights, cheering for the underdog and all that, but it wasn’t a career launcher or anything.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

The Muppets (James Bobin, 2011)

To be honest, this movie is really good and deserves to be in the good section, but thinking about it just reminds me of my ex which dampens the mood, and therefore its placement. The Muppets is funny, star-studded and meaningful when it’s easy to have only two of those three.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

Cargo (Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke, 2017)

Cargo is unique among zombie flicks for its reliance on slow, plodding travel as opposed to constant action and tension. It works, surprisingly enough, mostly on the back of the lead characters’ strong performances. It is a remake of a short film with the same name/plot, that I have not seen so can’t really comment on.

Available on Netflix.

The Loft (Erik Van Looy, 2014)

I entirely watched this movie because it had James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, and Karl Urban in it and I just wanted more of Miller after his glorious campy Captain Cold in the CW DC Comics shows. It’s a perfectly serviceable mystery thriller whose key selling point is that all of the principal characters are horrible people. It doesn’t deliver enough to really recommend, but I liked it well enough.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

Fullmetal Alchemist (Fumihiko Sori, 2017)

Fullmetal Alchemist isn’t the game-changing anime to live-action conversion the industry seems to think we want, but it was serviceable enough. It also gave me footage of Gluttony waddling forward with his big ol’ mouth open and I just can’t hate it after that.

Available on Netflix.

Deadpool 2 (David Leitch, 2018)

I keep forgetting Deadpool 2 even came out this year. It isn’t a bad film, sure, but it for me wasn’t as good as the first, even some great stuff like all the cameos of the new team and a great final fight. A lot of my issues sort of boil down to how it treats both the love interest, who was great in the first and fridged almost immediately in the sequel, and some lingering doubts about Yukio, who cool, yes, lesbians good but also, maybe give the stereotypical Asian girl with purple hair some actual, I don’t know, character and dialogue? Maybe? That’d be cool David.

Available on Amazon Prime.

Colossol (Nacho Vigalondo, 2016)

Colossol is a really strange film. The film focuses on Anne Hathaway being able to control a giant monster on another side of the world, but the actual conflict in the second half of the film is more about alcohol and domestic abuse. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it has to basically rewrite a character partway through to make them work as the villain and it just felt so forced.

Available on Hulu.

Pacific Rim Uprising (Steven S. DeKnight, 2018)

It is very difficult to follow up a film like the original Pacific Rim.  It always felt like a passion project–like someone had an idea that was actually really good that they couldn’t shake and finally got the funding. Uprising is someone else taking that and trying to just milk it for more money. The acting is fine, the new characters are fine, the new robots are fine. The villains actually do make a decent amount of sense. The film just doesn’t hit the same pure notes of fun and the bond between people that made the first one special. It does seem to want to shake off as many characters from the first film as possible, which was a weird choice considering how much of the first film was about the bonds that form between the drift-compatible pilots.

Available on HBO’s Amazon channel.

Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, 2018)

Part of my problem with Infinity War is how it throws out all the character growth I loved from 2017’s Thor Ragnarok, and part of my problem is how with a capitalist machine like Marvel, the character deaths felt hollow and reversible. Am I going to see the next one? I mean, yeah. But as much as I respect all the character juggling this film did and the sheer scale of what it set out to and largely did accomplish, I was left unsatisfied. That may be unfair with the sequel basically being a second half, but I guess time will tell.
Addendum: So I just watched it again while working on my lists and while I still stand that in reflection the deaths are hollow, I forgot how well they sold that moment, and remain impressed by how the film juggled the sheer number of characters and plots while still feeling well paced.

Available on Netflix.

Cloverfield Paradox (Julius Onah, 2018)

I think Cloverfield Paradox‘s biggest flaws are twofold. The first: by being part of the Cloverfield universe it inevitably will be compared to 10 Cloverfield Lane, a much tighter film. The second: at one point the main character is just going to sacrifice an entire reality to maybe see her family again even though they won’t even be her actual family but the versions from the other reality and it just doesn’t track with any of her prior actions we’re shown so hinging the story on it seems contrived. The film is fine, but would likely have been better if it was its own thing–or maybe an episode of Outer Limits.

Available on Netflix.

John Wick (Chad Stahelski, David Leitch 2014)

I heard John Wick get talked up for years before finally seeing it, and while it wasn’t bad or anything it just didn’t impress and hold my attention in the wake of those expectations.

Not currently available for free/no additional price streaming at any of the usual suspects.

Chronicle (Josh Trank, 2014)

Another film I watched just because of the actors (in this case, a young Michael B. Jordan), this time a found footage sci-fi about teens getting telekinetic powers from some glowy rocks in a field. While I liked the central conceit of the found footage being very diegetic–every shot is reasonably from a camera you have been shown–the plot itself is a pretty straightforward one hero, one victim, one villain formula when you have a trio gain power. The real failing is that all the adults in the villain’s life have failed him and he needs therapy, then goes mad with power because he no longer actually cares about humans. The film works, I just have no desire to watch it again.

Was available on Crackle, but appears to have been removed.

The Ugly

Star Trek Beyond (Justin Lin, 2018)

While the first of the rebooted Star Trek films was at least a fun sci-fi action thing even if not really a good representation of Star Trek, the later ones have been worse and worse. I don’t think I liked a single minute of the film and I hope they’re done making them.

Aeon Flux (Karyn Kusama, 2005)

This sat in my Netflix queue for years before I finally watched it and I feel somewhat emptier inside now. It’s got some imaginative imagery, and the actual plot, once revealed, does have some interesting moral quandaries to debate, but the acting is bland, the dialogue is bland, the science is confusing and overall I just couldn’t bring myself to care.

Sharknado (Anthony C. Ferrante, 2013)

Tara Reid deserves better. The sharks being flung through the air deserve better. Maybe if I watched it without the knowledge there’s like, five of these things I would have tolerated it more, but there’s some pure existential dread in knowing this made bank.

Conclusion

I actually watched way more movies than I thought I had which uh, kudos to me I guess, but for next year, I’m gonna take notes the next day instead of trying to remember what happened in, say, Fullmetal Alchemist more than six months after watching.

Spider-man is really good though, y’all should all go see it.

Across the Web – Comics in 2018

Webcomics were how I really got into the medium of comics. Once I had a laptop, I had access to this vast world of new media to consume. While I’ve definitely fallen off on many of the things I started reading back then, I still have a couple dozen RSS feeds keeping me up to date on some great, some not-so-great comics. Divided into Favorites, Others that are still Good, and Things I’m Not Up To Date With; links to the comic in the headers for each.

Special Mentions

Unordinary

I’m placing Unordinary under special mentions not because it isn’t good, or it isn’t a webcomic, but because it is the only comic I’m currently (or as of 2018 was currently) reading on LINE’s Webtoon platform. I’m unsure how that app makes money to be fair, but what it provides (on phones at least) is a centralized place to read A LOT of comics, of which Unordinary is one of the most popular. The central theme of all of the comics is an emphasis on vertical space, allowing for the scrolling of the phone screen to be the natural way to read, and the app’s ability to add sound and other flavor to the posts.

As for Unordinary itself, it is a comic about teenagers living in a society that is extremely stratified based on how strong everyone’s superpowers are. This isn’t a treatise on power use in the way Worm is, more Mean Girls than X-Men, it focuses on a character lacking powers and one that is high enough tier to ignore most of the people around her, and their friendship. If I had to make a complaint it would be that the powers aren’t in general very creative, but they aren’t really the point of most updates, serving as a reason for the drama rather as the focus of the moment to moment (excepting, of course, a few larger fight scenes.) It has a reasonable high school anime feel, but sometimes they shoot beams of light at each other for cutting in the lunch line. Good stuff.

Favorites:

Dumbing of Age

Dumbing of Age is quite likely the slowest comic I’ve ever read. David Willis’s 3rd longform ongoing comic follows versions of the same characters he used in It’s Walky and Shortpacked but in a college setting, pairing them in new ways as new permutations of themselves. It’s full of melodrama and the other struggles of young adults.
It also takes an entire “chapter” of the comic to convey about a week in “real time.” So a LOT happens in a very short period of their lives. I’m pretty sure they’re still in their first semester and we’re like, 8 books in.
Also gets points for having queer characters/couples, something that has sort of emerged in Willis’s work overtime as he grew to realize the world wasn’t the insular religious upbringing he constantly riffs off of on social media.

Extra Ordinary

Basically, the most adorable thing you’ll ever find on the internet. Extra Ordinary is a loosely autobiographic (in that it stars representations of the author and her partner) weekly comic where the main characters explore nature and the mundane alongside sometimes fantastical elements and friendly adorable animals. Worth subscribing too just for that little burst of dopamine every Wednesday morning.

Something Positive

Another long-running fiction piece, though not a daily like Dumbing, Something Positive started as the story of a few friends in the Boston theatre scene, took a detour to an anime convention that descended into a madness that still feels like a fever dream before settling into a story about, well, people. About growing older, having a family, maintaining friendships as adults and struggling to build a career. It really has felt like reading about the lives of these people–that they’re human, in a remarkable way. The comic has spent a lot of time in the last couple of years on the main character, Davan, being a father to a kid his ex had with someone else, and how that relationship has helped both of them. He’s an asshole, but he wants what’s best for his son, up to and including being supportive when the now teenager came out to his as pansexual in the current arc. I will warn that if starting from the beginning–the artist has had something like seventeen years for the art to get better, and it does.

How Baby

How Baby is about being a mother. That seems straightforward enough, but it isn’t just “#blessed” or “babies vomit everywhere” and such, but focuses as much on the mother herself. On not knowing if you love your child yet–a common issue with postpartum depression. On watching them start to grow up and be a person.
On worrying about how easily you can screw up the real human person you’ve created.
Parenting isn’t easy, no one’s being trained how to do it, and sometimes we all need to ask “How Baby?” The comic isn’t going to teach you how to change a diaper, or choose a preschool, but maybe it’ll help when you need reassurance when your child just won’t stop crying because they’re sick that you haven’t made a mistake. That might be enough.

Laws and Sausages

The most educational comic you’ll read this week, Laws and Sausages is a collaboration between Zach Weinersmith (of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal) and his brother, a law professor that talks about how government works–how the sausage gets made so to speak. While not a completely unbiased work, it is an attempt at giving the reader a more informed position to start from in the days of modern American politics. If it’s ever collected in physical form it’ll probably be a good thing to leave lying around in history classrooms to give more visual folks a different way to absorb the info in their texts, which would be pretty rad.

Others I Keep Up With

Questionable Content

Another slice of life type, though in a world where AI controlled robots coexist alongside humans and robot limbs aren’t common but are accessible and there’s a space station for some reason? It’s not a bad read but not as fulfilling as the favorites above. I’ve heard some complaints about a lot of the art feeling like it is bit cut-and-paste, but it’s nowhere near what CtrlAltDelete used to do so even if it is generated (which I have not confirmed) it doesn’t bother me. Gets some bonus points for having a trans character in a relationship and so far not talking about her anatomy which is nice.

Order of the Stick

A fantasy/Dungeons & Dragons comic that’s been running for quite some time, Order of the Stick  is one of those properties that’s gone on so long the only thing that they can tackle are literal fights on between gods around the existence of the world/universe, which for me just tends to be a bit too much. It’s a very aware comic, with spell slots and saving throws being open parts of the dialogue as opposed to hidden conceits, which honestly ends up feeling more like an authentic campaign’s table talk in my experience.

Manly Guys Doing Manly Things

A great webcomic about a mix of original characters and video game beefcakes trying to find work/interacting with the real world/running gags; I mostly can’t recommend it as the author has a TV gig on Ben 10 and doesn’t really update it very much these days. The archive is an entertaining ride though, for those of you that haven’t’ read it before.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

A classic comic of stupid science and math jokes mostly this low as the ads on the site have become almost unbearable making it hard to justify a recommendation.
And no, I’m not just going to install ad block. Independent blogs still depend on ad revenue to scrape by.

Awkward Zombie

Video game themed comic. Generally focuses on games that didn’t just come out these days, though always hangs out in Smashville for a while whenever a new Super Smash Bros. comes out.

xkcd

Not one of the most sciency ones but worth a chuckle.

Quite frankly THE stick figure science webcomic, xkcd is generally enjoyable but I’ve drifted as the years have passed. I did really enjoy the What If? column and book that has been put out though, which uses the xkcd style of writing and art to answer absurd science questions.

Buttersafe

Just a nice little comedy comic. I don’t really have a lot more to say about it beyond that–it’s funny and inoffensive.

Oglaf

Started out as a porn comic, still often uses that flavor of humor in a fantasy setting. NSFW. The author knows that most people wouldn’t commit to the sheer level of fantasy-sex punnery and just the weird jokes that most people can’t make, and so they make them. Very equal opportunity. Better in my opinion once it drops most of the recurring characters and focuses on one or two update arcs.

Motherlover

By the same author as How Baby, the story of two single mothers that I assume will fall in love? It’s still very early. I like it for many of the same reasons I like what I’ve played of Dream Daddy–wholesome love stories can be about adults and they can definitely be about adults with kids.

The Perry Bible Fellowship

Perry Bible Fellowship is the comic you share with no one because you can’t explain away how disturbing it can be. It’s drawn in a way that’s almost colored pencil in feel, which is s startling contrast–sometimes. Sometimes it’s just one-panel gags. Mileage will definitely vary on this one.

Poorly Drawn Lines

Another pretty standard comedy comic, mostly starring animals, similar to Buttersafe in being less about arcs and more individual updates, but tends to be a little meaner, a little more real in its jokes.

Things I Haven’t Kept Up To Date With

Oh Joy Sex Toy

An extremely informative comic that both reviews sex toys and discusses sexually taboo topics, even going as far as to have guest writers when needed. It even covers health topics you might be too nervous to Google. It is, of course, very NSFW, which is largely why I constantly fall behind.

Schlock Mercenary

A space opera spanning possibly literal decades at this point, Schlock Mercenary has been updating daily for so long that it seems almost impossible to catch up on, but you can always do what I did–one book at a time.

Goodbye to Halos

Written by the colorist that helped bring the magnificent Octopus Pie’s final few arcs to life, it’s a story of a trans woman in a fantasy world that I just kept not actually reading but still get RSS updates for and really should just, like, read.

Standup for What – Comedy Specials in 2018

I’m not an aficionado of stand-up comedy by any means. I’ve been to a handful of live shows–mostly small venues back in college and in New York City. There’s something inherently appealing about them though. They are (perhaps altered) autobiographical musings that aim to make the audience laugh–think as well–but primarily laugh. While the old adage of “laughter is the very best medicine” doesn’t mean you should hand a terminally ill friend this list as a cure, it’s hard to deny the comfort of being able to laugh.

In making this list I also realized just how hard it is for me to explain what I like about comedians without just rehashing their jokes–a goal for me to work on in 2019.

Hilarious

Hasan Minaj: Homecoming King

It takes a special standup special to not only make you laugh until it hurts but also make you feel like you’ve taken a journey with the comic, learned who they are and how they got to where they are now. Homecoming King is that kind of special. It is Hasan Minaj laying his heart on the altar of comedy, and it’s really, really funny.

Available on Netflix.

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City

I saw Kid Gorgeous at Radio City while sitting in a mall in Kyoto, killing a bit of time before a movie at the tail end of a very good vacation with a close friend, on a phone outside of a store where I bought a very good pen. So I’m a tad biased towards it, but John Mulaney is really funny without being overly crass which is something I can always appreciate.

Available on Netflix.

Funny

The Comedy Lineup (part 1 and 2) & The Standups Seasons 1 and 2

I’m lumping these together as they follow roughly the same formula and it’s really that I want to talk about. Both shows are basically a series of short standup acts by a variety of comedians. Most are pretty decent, and they have a good variety to the people in them, and while I don’t have time to go into them all (there’s like, two dozen people total between the two shows) I did very much enjoy Aisling Bea and Aparna Nancherla, among others.

What makes these shows work is that no comic dominates the special, and they largely have different styles, viewpoints and of course jokes. If the comic currently on stage isn’t really doing it for you, wait ten minutes and it’ll be someone new. (Or skip ahead, I won’t tell.) It’s a nice emulation of going to a comedy club where there isn’t really a headliner so much as a bunch of people trying to break through, trying new material and putting themselves out there. It’s like a super dressed up facsimile of discovering new talent–that’s you know, already obviously been discovered.

Available on Netflix and on Netflix.

Dara O’Briain: This is the Show

A good-natured Irishman that got me some great laughs when I watched it with my ex, I couldn’t tell you that much about his routine at this point due to time that’s passed other than a reoccurring heckle on a teenager recording the show from the audience, who didn’t stop even when called out by O’Briain.

Watched this as an illegal stream on Youtube…

Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable

It was, oddly enough, a very relatable routine considering I don’t think I’ve ever watched a single episode of any show Ellen’s been on. My primary exposure to her is through Finding Nemo. Still, it was funny enough.

Available on Netflix.

Dreadful

Jimmy Carr: Funny Business

I’ve watched dozens of hours of shows that Jimmy Carr has hosted and never had a problem with him, but I just could not get through his standup. It was just…rude instead of funny.

Too Much TV in 2018

In general, I don’t want to put things on a list that I haven’t finished, but that can A. become complicated with shows that don’t have finales yet and B. some of these shows weren’t worth finishing. I also am a little scarcer on details here and there on this list, but there’s a lot of ground to cover so buckle up.

Note: I’m including links where possible to how I watched the shows, but they may be available in other places.

Animation

Good

For most people, things in the “Good” section are must-watches unless you happen to hate a particular genre or style. Highly recommended by me.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

If you only watch one anime maybe it should be this one. It’s a phenomenal treatise on humanities interactions with technology, the kind of show that doesn’t really happen twice, no matter how much Psycho-Pass tries. Taking the world that the original movie established and making it breathe and exist in a way that the run-time of a film just doesn’t allow, Stand Alone Complex is the kind of show that sometimes just has some good set pieces and fights sure, but mostly just really, really makes you think.

Available on Hulu with the Starz add-on, but I watched physical DVDs.

My Hero Acadamia Season 3

Continuing the trend of the prior season of building on the concept of heroes in its world while delivering some powerful character moments, My Hero Acadamia further proves that it deserves its place as THE shonen anime to be watching right now–and in my opinion while being a way better show than most of the big 3 from back in the day. (Bleach, Naruto and One Piece). No show is for everyone, but if you enjoy scrappy kids, fun powers and some good old-fashioned heroism, check this out.

Available on VRV.

Castlevania Season 2

The first season of Castlevania I found to be unexpectedly gory, well choreographed, but once you got past Dracula’s backstory, not particularly compelling. The second season solves that by giving both Dracula and Trevor more characters to bounce off of. Alucard and Sypha both being around to interact with Trevor lets him become more than the two-note drunk-slayer. The other vampire lords really helped give some personality to the villains, as Dracula was mostly just angry and murder-y after the death of his wife in season 1. It also gave us this lovely, lovely exchange.

Available on Netflix.

Voltron: Legendary Defenders Seasons 4, 5, 6

I feel like I only watch Voltron in odd binges, but it continues to be a fun anime romp about freedom and companionship and an odd focus on the role of heritage in one’s place on the good/evil spectrum. It’s often a beautiful show, very very expressive with its animation, full of enough twists and turns to keep you invested. I know there are some queer-baiting issues in season 7, but I haven’t actually gotten that far.

Available on Netflix.

Gravity Falls

I’m not saying this show is perfect, (Dipper can be a bit much with the awkward being in love stuff), but no, actually, this show is kind of perfect. It’s so precisely assembled to have all the clues around the mysteries of Gravity Falls right there in the episodes without managing to tip off the viewer as to what was really to come. Also a masterclass in how to end a show definitively, in a planned, impressive way. I don’t really want to go into details about Dipper and Mabel’s summer vacation at their Gruncle Stan’s tourist trap of a cryptid museum — it’s just that worth watching.

Available on Hulu.

Steven Universe Seasons 1,2,3,4

I slept on Steven Universe for way, way too long. I watched the four seasons that were available on Hulu in like, two weeks, just gobbling up the queer familial energy of it all. The world is a better place for this show–for having queer women and women of color being heroes in a children’s show that’s as charming as it is narratively interesting. It is a very musical show, and if that isn’t your jam I can see that being a problem, but I love tunes in shows and some of them are just…real good.

Available on Hulu.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 1

Another treasure of a children’s show, She-Ra takes the broad strokes of the original franchise and makes it into something far more, not a show to sell toys but a show to win hearts. The character designs are great, the voice acting is great, the show is just great.

Available on Netflix.

Average

“Average” shows are worth watching, but also fine to skip. Like a bowl of mashed potatoes, they’re comforting and filling, but they aren’t the cream of the crop, like, cheese or chocolate.

Bojack Horseman Season 5

There’s nothing wrong with Bojack Horseman’s fifth season. It’s a good show. It has a couple of standout episodes and more of my favorite character and yours, Todd. But it didn’t stick with me the way the third and fourth seasons did, and I don’t really see a sixth season doing so either. Though perhaps that’s the point of it–no matter how resolved things are, how much growth is done, we aren’t done growing, and time moves on.

It’s funny, I went to find an image from the season to spice up this list and mostly was hit with reminders of what I’d forgotten–including the continuing plot of Princess Carolyn trying to adopt after finding she likely can’t have children, something that on a visceral level I get.

Available on Netflix.

Kaiji Season 2

The first season of Kaiji is the most fun you can have while being stressed out of your mind. The second doesn’t quite live up to that, taking the bitter ending of the first season, and while again putting the titular character through hell, it removes a lot of the risk of failure that was so prominent and so essential in making the first season work. At least now I can watch Tonegawa, aka middle-management the anime since I’ve finished it.

Pseudo-notable for aggressive use of the onomatopoeia “zawa” (ざわ) which means ‘uneasy atmosphere’. So tense scenes are full of hushed voices going “zawa zawa zawa zawa zawa” etc. It’s a nice kind of unique thing.

Available on VRV.

Seven Deadly Sins: Revival of the Commandments

Seven Deadly Sins is a perfectly fine show that continues to be perfectly fine. I don’t really have anything more to say in the context of this list, other than Goether sucks. Like seriously, messing with people’s memory to “make them happy” is a great way to make a villain. Of yourself. Be better Goether. Be. Better.

Available on Netflix.

Food Wars! The Third Plate

After dragging a bit in the second season, Shokugeki no Soma reminded me why I loved the show so much in the first place. It’s an anime cooking show. The end. I’ve mostly placed it in the average section because it’s a bit rough to get to season three and the author’s background in hentai definitely influences the art. That said if you stick it out you have a show that takes a simple enough premise: cooking competitions, and still manages to reinvent its format and stakes every season, to good effect.

Available on VRV.

Bob’s Burgers Season 3 (Unfinished)

I really enjoyed the first couple seasons I watched of Bob’s Burgers but just kind of fell off over time. The show doesn’t really change and grow much–at least not enough to keep me invested for the long haul.

Available on Hulu.

Camp Camp Season 3

Camp Camp is a funny show, Rooster Teeth has a practiced hand at comedy, particularly juvenile flavors of it. I enjoy watching the various campers deal with the absurdity of their camp that is illegally trying to be all types of camp, I just don’t love it.

Available on VRV, and on YouTube.

Bad

Shows that I really found disappointing, unwatchable or bland. I will not include watch links for them.

Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas (Unfinished)

A dude becomes horrendously evil like two episodes in and it just isn’t clear why and it wasn’t for me.

Disenhantment Season 1

I really liked Futurama. I really wanted to like Disenchantment. But when one of your principle characters (Elfo) is just obnoxious to watch, the jokes are tired and the plot doesn’t go anywhere for most of the season, it just isn’t worth it.

Live Action Fiction

Good

Brooklyn 99 Seasons 1-5

I will posit unequivocally that Brooklyn 99 is the best comedy on television. It has a stellar cast, real character growth, actual deals with issues the police both face AND cause, and even manages to do all of that while being not only diverse but in an approachable way. It’s just so gosh darn funny that there’s no way I can describe it without quoting the show itself. Enjoy.

Available on Hulu.

The Expanse Season 3

What started as a roleplaying game on a forum became a series of books become quite possibly the best show SyFy has put out since they changed their name to such a spelling. Gritty, compelling, raw and imaginative, The Expanse is must-watch TV for any science fiction fan. Season 3 if anything increases the quality of the content through the well, expansion of the cast and world. It’s a show that really changes season to season, where the characters grow over time and the stakes shift. I’m hoping they can keep up the momentum, cause if they can, Babylon 5 might have to move over as THE sci-fi space show for me.

Available on Amazon. Note: Season 3 is NOT included with Amazon Prime.

Hannibal Season 1,2

Dark, disturbing, convoluted and gory, Hannibal shocked viewers when it first aired, and when I watched it that was still the case. It’s oddly compelling though, the murders, creative and terrible, and the cooking, which is just the same. The character motivations could use a bit of work though, with anyone helping Hannibal seeming to do so out of, for lack of a better guess, being hypnotized.

Available on Amazon Prime.

A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1, 2 (Unfinished)

To say that the books of A Series of Unfortunate Events were formative for me would not be far from the truth. They influenced how I write, how I view prose, how I use dark humor. This show does them justice, far more than the movie from a few years back ever could dream of. Do yourself a favor: watch this show. Remember what it is to be a child encountering something so new it opens your eyes; watch this show.

Available on Netflix.

Black Lightning Season 1

A fantastic example of how the viewpoint of the characters not in costume is what really matters to a show, not the powers or what they do wearing the costume. Jefferson is a high school principal, a family man, a good person, and the Black Lightning persona is an extension of that, not a foil or antithesis. The supporting cast is amazing, and like Steven Universe above, gives us butt-kicking queer women of color, which is something mainstream media still needs a helluva lot more of. Black Lightning is the best of the CW DC Comics shows.

Available on Netflix.

Glow Season 1

I originally placed Glow under average, and yes, I didn’t like it as much as many of the shows above, but it was a well-made show with some great acting and a unique premise that quite frankly could function as a gateway drug to the world of wrestling if I wanted to indulge. It’s also genuinely funny which helps, while actually dealing with problems, or at least starting to deal with them.

Available on Netflix.

Average

Anime Crime Division Season 2

Rocketjump and Crunchyroll have made a love letter to anime and its fans, I am anime or its fans. This is a good show, but it is very specifically for that audience. I really liked it, but it is not for everyone for sure. It’s a show about two cops in the Anime Crimes Division, which is like a Special Victims Unit but for body pillows and gunpla. As much a series of references as it is a show, it is a bit of a tightrope to walk, but I think the cast and crew pulled it off.

Available on VRV and YouTube.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 7

Even a great show can just go on too long, with too much being the same. I loved The Next Generation, but by the end, I’d lost track of when things happened, what the state of the universe was. There are still standout episodes, but the show would have been better if it was shorter and with a little more bake time on average per idea. It’s still fantastic, but maybe not worth the time investment to get to the very end.

Available on Netflix.

Flash Season 4

After I found season 3 to be just not very good, it was nice for season 4 to feel a bit more fun again, but it still isn’t as good as the first couple seasons and mostly is good to watch if you are already invested. If you are still watching you don’t need my opinion, if you’re not, this season isn’t the place to start.

Available on Netflix

Jessica Jones Season 2

It kind of bothers me how much I didn’t like in Jessica Jones’s sophomore season. The new landlord wasn’t a bad addition to the cast, and I liked the subplot with Trish and substance abuse, as it helped to show that part of what brings her and Jessica together is their shared baggage, but I didn’t find the core plot to be anywhere close to as good as the first season–not a worthy followup to David Tennant’s Killgrave at all.

Available on Netflix.

Supergirl Seasons 2,3

Before Black Lightning came out, Supergirl was my favorite CW DC Comics show. Her hope and idealism is just infectious and was such a welcome change from the tone set by Arrow that I couldn’t help but fall for her. It hasn’t really managed to maintain that love though, in part because the enemies don’t tend to have the development they need to be compelling (where in season 3 the actual big bad just doesn’t even really matter in the end?) but I will say this: the show actually deals with the fact the relationship Kara gets into in season 2 was shitty, and she has to accept that in order to grow. It’s a good look going into season 4, and I’m hoping that that season can bring me back to how season 1 made me feel.

Available on Netflix.

Legends of Tomorrow Season 3

Three words: Embrace the Camp. The show is not good per se. But it realized that of all the superhero shows, no one else was going to lean in and be as campy as can be. They’ve made Adam West proud with this season, with an unforgettable final boss and some fantastically stupid situations along the way.
And a well-handled character death that hurt more than I expected it to, even if it was foreshadowed maybe a bit too obviously.

Available on Netflix.

Wynonna Earp Season 2

I can be a bit of a sucker for the type of messy protagonist that Wynonna is in her eponymous show. Her character and the show’s actually rather fun banter got me through season 1. Season 2 didn’t quite have the same level of polish and quality episode to episode, but I am still curious where it will go next.

Available on Netflix.

Bad

Agents of Shield Season 5

How is this show still on air? What started as a show meant to sort of live alongside the Marvel Cinematic Movies morphed into basically just laying the groundwork for an Inhumans show before jumping literally every shark in the sea with a matrix season followed up by time travel and world ending prophecies and at this point I’m not sure if I finished the show or dreamed it while feverish. Hard pass.

Arrow Season 6

How on God’s green earth is this show still going? Does anyone watch it for more than the crossovers with the other DC shows? There’s so little left for Oliver to do without the context of a team and setting the show just doesn’t give him week to week. It’s tolerable in the background, but not if I’m actually trying to watch.

Z Nation Season 4 (Unfinished)

The mighty have fallen hard, having become as convoluted and poorly paced as the worst of the zombie flicks it riffed on it its heyday. What a shame that SyFy doesn’t know how to end TV Shows–Z Nation needs to be mercy’d.

Nonfiction

Good

Great British Baking Show – Seasons 5 and 6

While I do still dearly miss the original hosts, the show is still quality. It’s wholesome competitive baking with lovable contestants that pull off some amazing feats. Watching it reminds me that there is good in the world, and makes me want to be a better baker.

Available on Netflix.

Salt Fat Acid Heat Season 1

I can’t think of a better way to recommend a show than to say that both I and a colleague both watched it and immediately bought the host’s cookbook. An exploration of four facets of food via cuisines known for embracing them, Salt Fat Acid Heat is a delightful four episode exploration of flavor and the love of food.

Available on Netflix.

Ugly Delicious Season 1

Another just love letter to food, Ugly Delicious isn’t about things looking good, as fancier shows are. It’s about the food we love to eat, and eating it with other people who love it. It’s another just great wholesome food show.

Available on Netflix.

Big Fat Quiz of Everything, 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown (Various)

I tend to not be in to talk shows and other late night setups where you just have some comedians chatting it up and I think these two shows (which are grouped together cause I watch them haphazardly on YouTube) explain why–I want them to be doing something. Just like I tend to try to pull out a game when I’m hanging with friends as sort of social grease, I would rather see people interacting together then just trying to string together endless jokes. Bonus points: it gives them something to riff off of. These shows (both hosted by Jimmy Carr, the man with the horrible laugh) have also helped me to find a bunch of comedians that I follow on twitter and occasionally see in other things that I otherwise would never have appreciated.
Oh also the Big Fat Quiz always has one question based on a short play put on my elementary school kids and it is SO PRECIOUS.

Only watched on weird sketchy uploads so….

Average

MasterChef Season 9

MasterChef is a perfectly good show, but it feels like a bit of the drama behind shows like Hell’s Kitchen is starting to leak in, and I want it to just go back to that and let these home cooks become chefs in peace. 

Available on Hulu.

Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back

Of the show’s so heavily focused on Gordon Ramsay (Hell’s Kitchen, The F Word, Kitchen Nightmares), 24 Hours to Hell and Back isn’t the best (The F Word is pretty good y’allbut it wasn’t as angry as most of the work he’s known for, making it much more watchable, if a bit still too reality television in how it approaches drama and shots.

Available on Hulu.

Final Table Season 1

Lots of great cooking, but also very very formulaic. Also seems geared towards those who already know who a lot of famous chefs and critics are, which I don’t really, so lacked the impact as they brought out big names.

Available on Netflix.

Great British Menu: Season 7 + 13

A forty+ episode season as twenty-four chefs around Britain compete to have dishes in a four coursed themed menu, the Great British Menu isn’t my favorite cooking show, but it has been great to sink my teeth into and see what shakes out. Mostly too many foams and gels in dishes for my liking.

Available on Hulu (Season 13). Season 7 was on Netflix.

Fake or Fortune Season 4

A show about verifying paintings, with lots of research. Very dry, but a good thing to listen to–I almost would just want it as a podcast to have as I walk or commute.

Available on Netflix.

The Fix Season 1

The only Jimmy Carr-hosted show I’ve legally watched, The Fix has a panel of comedians I sometimes have heard of shooting the breeze and then proposing absurd solutions to the world’s problems. It isn’t as good as the other shows I talked about that he hosts, but it did, well, give me my fix.

Available on Netflix.

Bad

Let’s Get Fat

I’m not even sure this show is bad I just literally don’t remember anything about it. Only included for completeness.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

I think I just don’t like Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy. Like at all. I tried a few episodes with various other comedians I like and none of them helped.

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

I didn’t like Tosh.0 back in the day so not sure why I thought I’d like this. Perfectly fine in Community, not a fan as the driving force of a show.

Zumbo’s Just Dessserts

Who is Zumbo? Why is Zumbo? Where is Zumbo and should I be concerned? I ask myself these questions every day of my life. It’s a dessert cooking show thing that should be right up my alley and yet it always just felt so chaotic and slightly…off. I just couldn’t get into it.

Words with Pictures on Pages — My 2018 in Comics

This year, I tried to step up in my efforts to drift from my Marvel and superhero roots and read more diverse stories in comics. In doing so I found some duds, sure, but also some of the most genuine works I’ve read yet. I must have read the comic this year, it does NOT have to have been released this year to be on this list, which is sorted by rough genre as well as whether I recommend reading it.

Gender and Sexuality

Recommended:

As the Crow Flies (Melanie Gillman, Iron Circus Comics, 2017)

As the Crow Flies is the sort of story I wish I had been able to read as a child, as a teen, even as a younger adult. A self-contained story of a black kid at a religious, female only camp, as they try to navigate their identity and the relationship they have with religion, nature, and female-only spaces. It’s poignant, beautifully drawn, and like all of the entries for “Gender and Sexuality”, very human.

O Human Star 1+2 (Blue Delliquanti, 2017)

O Human Star is a sci-fi story about a man who wakes up as an android built by his ex-partner, quickly meeting the partner’s last attempt to make him an android–who has since transitioned to female presenting. Delliquanti spins a tale of finding who you are in a world where you don’t belong when presented with a reflection of who you might have been, as well as diving into the specific troubles of a gay relationship where one partner has been unable to rid himself of the shame around homosexuality society imbued in him. Not perhaps as cohesive as As the Crow Flies, but then again, there is a third volume on the way.

My Brother’s Husband volume 1 (Gengoroh Tagame, Pantheon, 2017)

I picked up My Brother’s Husband on a whim off of the pride month shelf at my local comic book shop and then sat on it for a while. When I finally read it, I was pulled into the straightforward tale of a Japanese single father who’s life is shaken when his brother’s Canadian widower comes to visit in his journey to understand the country his husband had loved and grown in. At times a tale of found family and at others a critique of the homophobia within Japan, Tagame’s work is heartwrenching, and I cannot wait till I read the next volume.

Sex Comics aka mostly P0RN

Not Recommended for Children:

Crossplay (Niki Smith, Iron Circus Comics, 2018)

Crossplay is a playful look at how gender expression and cosplay can collide–in sexy, sexy ways. Isn’t going to change how you view comics, but will probably knock your socks off.

Isabelle & George (Jess Fink, Top Shelf, 2017)

Told without text blocks and speech bubbles, Jess Fink’s sequel to Chester 5000 tells a tale of industrial revolution era lovers with charm, style, and a whole lotta sex. A very specific niche to be sure, but not one to pass up if that sounds at all enticing.

Not Recommended:

Sex Criminals: Fourgy (Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, Image Comics, 2017)

Fraction and Zdarsky’s original volume of Sex Criminals remains one of the funniest comics I’ve ever read. As it progressed, it started dealing with some real issues often ignored by media due to their relationship to sex and bodily functions. Four volumes in, it almost feels like the story, has, well, already blown it’s load. There’s still new ideas, fun scenes, strong art and characterization, but it doesn’t grab me the way that it used to.

Superheroes

Recommended:

Ms. Marvel: Mecca/Ms. Marvel: Teenage Wasteland (Sana Amanat,Stephen Wacker,G. Willow Wilson,Adrian Alphona, Marvel Comics, 2017-2018)

One of the most challenging things to do with a superhero story–or any longstanding comic really–is to keep it going; to hold momentum as issue 1 becomes issue 10 becomes issue 50. Ms. Marvel has come from a character expected to last for a few short issues to a cross-media franchise, particularly potent in the young adult market. Kamala Khan’s biggest strengths remain her heart and her friendships, and the most recent volumes center around her trying to pick up the pieces of both, through her literal pilgrimage to Mecca and return home. Hard to recommend to a new reader, but still the strong, consistent quality the team has been churning out since issue 1.

Strong Female Protagonist 1,2 (Brennan Lee Mulligan, Molly Ostertag, 2014-2018)

There’s an old joke about Superman, which can be summarized as “wouldn’t he do more good powering the world via hamster wheel?” Strong Female Protagonist is what happens is Superman himself realized that…and is also a college age girl. Or rather, is what happens when a hero realizes how much damage the heroics are causing through their very existence, and tries to walk away while still dealing with the pain that they have caused. It’s a sobering take on heroics and on what it really means to be a hero–and a person. Also available on the web.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: (I’ve Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You/My Best Friend’s Squirrel) (Ryan North, Erica Henderson et al, Marvel Comics, 2018)

North and Henderson’s Squirrel Girl may have been the book that made me fall in love with superheroes again. Not with deconstructions and realistic takes–with superheroics of the classic kind. They did so with humor, with color, with a strong moral compass and the resolve to be Unbeatable.

As of the end of My Best Friend’s Squirrel, Henderson is leaving the book for other projects, and the send off arc, as is traditional, is around characters that she helped originate: specifically, Squirrel Girl (Doreen Green)’s roommate Nancy, and the friendship between the two women. To be fair, I’m ignoring the first few issues in the trade to focus on the final, but that final issue is what truly matters. It’s like one of those art films that starts out funny and charming and leaves you sobbing and changed forever. It’s a simple, preposterous tale that can really only happen in mediums like comics; time travel and heroics and growing old together with someone you cherish, only for all of that to be wiped away.

I haven’t read on in the comic, with a new artist. I’m not sure I can. I left my heart on the pages of that issue and no other comics in this section can claim that prize.

Hawkeye:Kate Bishop: Masks/Family Reunion (Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Julian Tedesco, Marvel Comics, 2018)

Kate Bishop’s solo series comes off as the team’s attempt to redo Jessica Jones for a different audience. Kate establishes herself as a superhero/private investigator in a new town, away from the Young Avengers and the other Hawkeye. The premise lets us see a more rough and tumble Kate, forced to improvise constantly and other bearing the bandages of her recent exploits in true Hawkeye fashion. It also ends up dealing with, as the title would suggest, Kate’s parents, a ‘loose’ plot thread from the Young Avengers comic she was introduced in, as well as tangles with Madame Masque, who is basically her nemesis at this point. I really enjoy the Kate character, and I appreciate that she ends up building a posse of sorts around herself, even if the characters aren’t as realized as the ones she left behind.  I’m left feeling like I wanted something more, but I’ve had trouble articulating exactly what. Hopefully we get a follow up one day that answers that for me.

America: Fast and Fuertona (Gabby Rivera, Joe Quinones et al, Marvel Comics, 2018)

America Chavez kicks butt. There’s just no way around a bisexual dimension hopping Latinx not being a badass. Her book is colorful, full of flavor and energy and I want more work from the team. Like Kate Bishop I do feel the book suffers from the lack of the supporting cast that had made her shine in Young Avengers, but hey, at least Prodigy is here at superhuman college with her. Strong themes of family are always welcome in my book, and America really carries that through as she tries to find somewhere to really call home after previously losing kind of everything. It was good, but not my favorite for the year.

Not Recommended:

Runaways: Find Your Way Home (Rainbow Rowell et al, Marvel Comics, 2017)

Runaways was the first series I really, really got into. I have every volume. I read it cover to cover in high school, and so when I saw it was being rebooted I was excited–and nervous. It’s very hard to make lightning strike twice. Doing a “where are they now” makes a lot of sense given all of the major Marvel Comics events in the years since the last true issue but making one of the main story elements be the resurrection of a lost member felt like a misstep–like a true-to-comics removal of the narrative point of the team losing members in the first place. It’s something I’ve struggled with in comics over time, and honestly I need to give this whole volume a reread without that hanging over me to really give it its due.

Sci-Fi

Recommended:

Habitat (Simon Roy, Image Comics, 2016)

Habitat reads like a lost late-night sci-fi animated film, the sort of thing that was dubbed without really knowing if there was an audience, cherished by the few that found it. The story of mankind living in a derelict space station years after a disaster, stratified by class and role in that societies survival. The art has a lovely pencil feel to it, and it is one of the rare comics that is predominantly people of color, which is a welcome change from some other mainstream works..even on this list. It’s also nice to read something standalone — half of the sci-fi and all the superheroes entries on the list are longer series after all.

Saga 8,9 (Brian K. Vaughn, Fionna Staples, Image Comics, 2018)

Saga has helped to catapult Image to a spot at the table with DC and Marvel in terms of table space at comic shops at least, a not-undeserved honor it shares with The Walking Dead. An epic space opera, spanning years, a saga so to speak, of inter-species romance and family, war and magic, prejudice, pain and really really vivid imagery. It has the same addictive qualities people would associate with works like a Song of Fire and Ice, while being much, much harder to put on the silver screen. Still a good read nine volumes in.

Star Power: Star Power & The Lonely War (Michael Terracciano, Garth Graham, 2018)

Star Power is basically a yearly tradition for me at this point. I go to Connecticon, I buy the new volume and get it signed by writer and artist. I read it a few months later, forget about it, and then go to Connecticon and do it again. It isn’t that the comic isn’t good, but that it was basically popcorn sci-fi–colorful, competent, but not necessarily saying anything I’d never seen before.

The Lonely War changed that. It was the first volume that sat with me, that weighed on me. Perhaps even the first one that hurt.

Terracciano and Graham’s goal was to put their heroine (wielder of the titular Star Power) somewhere she had never been–and they did. After the last volume had been a cross planet treasure hunt this was just the brutality and isolation of being a lone, super-powered peacekeeper in a war in which there were no good guys and bad guys, just soldiers and victims.

This isn’t by any means a unique message. Others have been anti-war–arguably more competently I’m sure, and I’m not commending them for inventing the tragedy of war; I’m commending them for understanding what it is that their heroine can’t fix with lasers and flight, and forcing (passively) the reader to understand that too.

Motor Crush (Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr, Image Comics, 2017)

I read Motor Crush on one of the first days of the month, so my memory is hazier than I would like, it was fun, full of color and danger. I should have reread it before writing this list.

It Came (Dan Boultwood,Titan Comics, 2014)

A tongue-in-cheek B movie or a Sci-Fi comic, It Came leans into tropes and characterizes to deliver a fun, short and crisp adventure. I liked the style of it move than the substance, listing the author as the Director, casting the characters in the preface, etc.

Surface Tension (Jay Gunn, Titan Comics, 2016)

Surface Tension is another standalone graphic novel. A thriller about a large chunk of humanity committing suicide by drowning and subsequently turning into horrific sea monsters, Gunn’s tale was visually strong but very much one of those stories where the central concept were all the author truly seemed to care about–characterization etc was second string to the creep of the sea.

Kaijumax: Terror and Respect (Zander Cannon,Oni Press, 2016)

Kaijumax wasn’t what I expected. It’s wiggly, neon and gritty all at once. A story of an ultramax prison for Kaiju, giant monsters of a variety of kinds, trying to live while also dealing with the pains of being in the prison complex. Some of them are ruthless, some are killers.

Some just were trying to feed their family. It’s an obvious way of trying to humanize people in America’s prison complex, with just enough fresh ideas related to their very monstrous to keep you turning the page. I really need to read the next few volumes and see where Cannon takes the story from here.

Slice of Life

Recommended:

My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1 (Nagata Kabi, Seven Seas, 2018)

Kabi’s first book, My Lesbian Experience with Lonliness was a smash hit of raw emotion from a protagonist I wasn’t used to reading about — a single, basically out of work, adult Japanese woman who WASN’T STRAIGHT. Her follow up is just as autobiographical, with the same charming loose linework and pink, white and black color scheme. The narrative is more of the same–an exploration of her life without really taking a step back, but sitting in her depression, her fears, her awkwardness. It reminds me of a good romantic poet with how it builds that connection between writer and reader, where you really understand the mindset behind the words. I plan to follow Kabi’s work for years to come.

Blue Monday: The Kids Are All Right ( Chynna Clugston Flores, Image Comics, 2016) (Note, Oni Press also published this in 2000)

Reading Blue Monday was like watching a cartoon like As Told By Ginger or maybe even Rugrats: All Grown Up. Mostly just kids being kids. Maybe they’re weird, maybe they have problems, but mostly they’re just living their colorful little lives and trying to get to a concert for their favorite band. It’s nice to just read something that’s so grounded in reality without it being about something dark in our world.

Anthology

Recommended:

Immortal Souls (Power and Magic Press, 2018)

A lovely collection of short stories of witches and magic and many, many queer people and magic. I’m not super comfortable doing a larger pitch as I have known several of the contributors for years.

pinoy komiks (biguglyrobot, 2015)

A mishmash collection of comics by Filipino artists, pinoy komiks was if nothing else refreshing as a different viewpoint. I don’t know much about the Philippines, the place, the people, the culture, none of it really, so it was nice to have a little glimpse. I need to give it another read, pick some favorites and look into more work by them. But that’s a 2019 endeavor at this point.

Non-Fiction

Recommended:

March vol 1 and 2 (Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, Top Shelf, 2018)

March is a comic with a noble goal–educate the reader about the Civil Rights Movement and one of the members of it–now Congressman John Lewis. It’s informative, well constructed and deeply, deeply troubling to think about how recent it was and the problems still faced by black Americans today.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Randall Munroe,Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

I’m unsure if What If?  should count as a comic, but considering it did start as a secondary update for the popular webcomic XKCD, here it stays. A collection of frankly absurd science questions answered in a straitlaced manner, I loved just the humorous application of mathematics alongside the stick figure art that XKCD is known for.

Fantasy

Recommended:

Monstress: The Blood (Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, Image Comics, 2017)

As Saga is for Sci-Fi, Monstress has become Image Comics acclaimed Fantasy comic, a twisted tale of magic and monsters, old gods and new wars. The Blood continues the story with a dangerous trip across the sea to an island where the bones of an old god lie. It’s as dark as the first volume, and as hard to put down.

Thrud the Barbarian(Carl Critchlow, Titan Comics, 2013)

Just good fun–a satire of Conan the Barbarian, starring an extraordinarily strong, mighty, dense as bricks hero who manages to always come out fine despite having no idea what he’s actually destroyed with his muscles.

Anne Bonnie: The Journey Begins (Tim Yates, Blue Juice Comics, 2014)

A pirate romp with magic and magical technology and sea monsters that are people too, Anne Bonnie was a great read cover to cover.

Not Recommended:

Damsels in Excess (Vince Hernandez, Mirka Andolfo, Aspen Comics, 2015)

Damsels in Excess is kind of forgettable, so much so that I started writing a blurb on a completely different comic before I checked the shelf and realized what it was actually about. A companion piece to some larger world within Aspen Comics, the story follows a group of five princesses at often violent odds with each other, soaked in complexities not really covered within the scope of the work. While it was a fascinating read at times in terms of just how much seemed to be going on, I can’t really recommend it as a work in and of itself.

Other

Recommended:

Baking With Kafka (Tom Gauld, Drawn & Quarterly, 2017)

The only newspaper strip format on this list, Tom Gauld’s work is always charming. Simply yet artfully drawn, wittily written and sometimes just poignant enough–you’ve probably seen his work circling the internet, and you should probably read more.

Not Recommended:

Satellite Sam (Matt Fraction, Howard Chaykin, Image Comics, 2014)

As much as I enjoyed Fraction’s work here, I don’t really want to discuss further as learning how much of a trashfire Howard Chaykin is. (See: The United States of Hysteria).

Crogan Adventues: Catfoot’s Revenge (Chris Schweizer, Oni Press, 2008)

Framed as the first in a series of tales that a parent is telling his kid about their ancestors, Catfoot’s Revenge is a tale of a sailor turned pirate that I probably should have more to say about. If you want a book about a pirate/sailor, Anne Bonnie above was much more memorable to me.