Top 20 of 2016, Part Four

First I have to pour one out for the world’s best space mom Carrie Fisher, who died today drowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra. Truly, she was a peerless stone-cold badass who showed multiple generations of women that we could be both princesses and war heroes.

Second, let’s get into it: my Top Five Things I was all about in 2016. Read Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here.

5. The many comic stylings of Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh
They have brought us the delightful auto-bio comic Johnny Wander since 2008, during which they also introduced us to Cecilia (with her skeleton hand), the whimsical Death, Delilah and her friendly basilisk, and their wonderful cast of real-life friends. This year, not only did they publish their first (pretty sure this is true?) Kickstarted comic Lucky Penny, about a woman super into romance novels who makes her own luck, but also started two more projects that I can’t wait to invest in: Barbarous, starring a tiny angry girl and a large shy monster boy, and Is This What You Wanted?, a richly colored story about the dangers of summoning demons. If you know me, you know that I just gave you a checklist of things I am super all about.

4. Subversive social commentary in Zootopia
Let’s all agree that Zootopia has a bad name, and that the first trailers for it were dumb. Anthropomorphized animals do not usually scream “incredibly relevant social commentary” to me, so honestly, I’d written this movie off well before it hit theaters. Until the reviews started rolling in, and Twitter kicked up a storm about it, and I decided what the hey, I like going to movies! Let’s go check it out.

Zootopia was a game changer.

Not only was it breathtakingly beautiful in a way I had not expected, and not only were all the details utterly delightful (I deeply loved the fact that all the animals kept their own scale), but it was a commentary on internalized bias in society and the workplace that I don’t know has been braved in an animated movie directly marketed to children before. There is no way you can claim that Zootopia is an animated film geared to adults; and yet, Judy, Nick and the rest of the cast deal with “speciesism” in incredibly deft and sophisticated ways. What a wonderful message to leave children with.

3. “We Know the Way” from Moana
I truly did not know that Lin-Manual Miranda would be on the soundtrack for Moana – I knew he had helped score it, but when I heard his voice during the sweeping, uplifting voyager’s anthem I almost cried. I DID cry when I watched these sequences in the film (that I loved dearly and would have made a Top Ten Movies of 2016 list with no effort at all, had I deigned to make one). The music is expansive and joyful, and Miranda’s voice has a slightly scratchy quality that makes it feel a little rough-and-tumble; totally appropriate for travelers guiding by starlight. I have listened to this song about 187 times and have no intention of stopping any time soon.

2. Pokemon forging a new identity for itself
Not only is 2016 the 20th anniversary of Pokemon, but it was the year that Nintendo decided to completely redesign everything about the franchise – and made it into its greatest incarnation ever. Pokemon Go got gamers up and out of the house, and provided us the closest to a Pokemon MMO I think we’re ever likely to see. Not only that, but every update it goes through makes the game better, more immersive, and more fun.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, we got Pokemon Sun & Moon, where Nintendo threw the book out on what we’d all come to expect from our Pokemon games. No more gyms full of trainers to grind through; a more dynamic and easier to navigate world map; and no more juggling of HM workhorses with the monsters you actually wanted to be fielding, to name the most obvious changes. Other streamlined features have cropped up the longer I play, and the more I play the more I realize that we have something now that is truly unlike anything else Pokemon has ever offered us: a truly new game experience. The story mode has been the same for so long (a mode that has always been fun, I have played every one, don’t get me wrong), that getting something this new and this successful feels like the very first Red and Blue generation: utterly groundbreaking.

1. Women making horror comics (and women making comics in general)
In lieu of any coherent analysis, I’m going to assign you all reading homework.

Animosity by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre
Clean Room by Gail Simone, John Davis-Hunt and Quinton Winter
Constantine: The Hellblazer by Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV
Harrow County by Cullen Bunn, Carla Speed McNeil, and Tyler Crook
InSEXts by Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

It was a great year for comics. Particularly horror comics. Particularly horror comics by women. Check them out.

Honorable Mention: Tracer is a lesbian 
This snuck in under the wire as I was working on these entries, and I was too lazy to try and rework the whole list, but it’s 100% worth mentioning that Blizzard, a gigantic video game company, made the character who is the face of one of their largest console game and straight up said “Yup, she’s gay.” Not only did they publish a comic that shows the delightful, elfin Tracer macking on her super cute girlfriend, but they issued official statements confirming that yes, she is gay, no, that’s not just a very close friend, and guess what? Other members of the Overwatch cast are ALSO gay, so BUCKLE UP, NERDS.

Also I made a comment on Twitter about how I’ve made a hobby out of bathing in nerdboy tears, and a white knighter rose up from the ether to call me an SJW and make sure I knew that #notallmen where like that. I’d never been #notallmen’d before and I’d never blocked someone on Twitter before, so it truly turned into a wonderful learning experience.

Top 20 of 2016, Part Three

We’ve reached Top Ten territory, y’all. Read Part One here and Part Two here.

10. The depiction of magic in Doctor Strange
I would like to say that I loved Doctor Strange without diminishing all of its issues; the fact that I enjoyed Tilda Swinton in her role does not absolve the movie of its whitewashing, nor her of her behavior in this past week. The fact that this was the first role I sincerely enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch in does not forgive Marvel the lost opportunity to splash some color into its main lineup. But enjoy it I did, and thoroughly, and most especially the way they bring magic to the screen for the first time in the MCU.

Magic is its own thing, and it is treated as such – I don’t believe you’ll find the particular effect, almost a glowing band of fire drawn in specific shapes in the air, anywhere else onscreen in this world. It is distinctly different from Scarlet Witch’s manipulation, and distinctly different from what Vision and the Infinity stones project; it has a different source, different intentions, and it made me want to learn tai chi immediately. For Doctor Strange to be the foray into Marvel’s magical world, the effect had to make an impact; it succeeded, and then some.

9. The funeral and wedding sequences in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
My sister and I grew up on Gilmore Girls, so to say that we were a little bit emotional about the revival is a WEE BIT of an understatement. In regards to the revival of tv shows that have been laid to rest years ago, I feel very torn – on the one hand, it should be nice to get more of something that was enjoyable. On the other hand, I don’t think they ever truly live up to our expectations, and maybe we as a culture need to be able to say “This has reached its ending and it’s over now.”

Gilmore Girls has been tumultuous in this respect, egged on mainly by its creator and original showrunner, Amy Sherman-Palladino. Whatever the actual circumstances of the Palladinos departing the show after the sixth season, and however one feels about the quality of the seventh season (I myself didn’t actually notice a change when I watched it originally, and only as an adult, after being told, even knew the show had changed hands – I don’t feel there was a drastic dip in quality between seasons six and seven, and feel very strongly that the seeds of the things people dislike about seven were sown in six), ASP mythologized her “real ending” by waxing rhapsodic about what she would have done, given her druthers. Which she did for, like, twelve years.

ALL THAT IS TO SAY, could the revival ever have lived up to our myriad expectations? I don’t think so. Particularly the apocryphal “Final Four Words.” Better writers than me have discussed at length the strengths and weaknesses of the revival episodes, so I will leave you with only this: Richard’s funeral was stark, emotional, and raw in a way I had not expected, and Lorelai and Luke’s wedding was a lavish dream sequence that I adored. We can quibble over the stuff in between, but those two sequences were perfection.

8. Will Patton reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys books, specifically The Raven King, which is the one that was published this year
I am a new convert to the world of audiobooks. I’ve tried a handful in the past and mostly felt impatient that the narrators read slower than I would have if I’d been reading to myself (which: duh). Once I started commuting 2-2.5 hours every day, however, they became pretty integral to my sanity, and I’ve been devouring them along with a huge number of podcasts. The Raven Boys was one of the first series I sprinted through on audio, and they are everything I want in a YA fantasy series: lovely writing, the right amount of magical realism, characters that are weird and prickly and sassy and funny and emotionally broken. Will Patton’s sleepy, dreamy southern drawl is the perfect narrator for this story, and I cannot recommend these books highly enough.

7. Misty Knight and Claire Temple in Luke Cage
As a whole, I was not as unabashedly devoted to Luke Cage as I was to Daredevil; of the Netflix Marvel shows, I think it is technically the best and also the one I connected to the least. The visuals are wonderful and the music is unreal; the actors are great (Alfre Woodard in particular is a special kind of sublime) and the show does some really interesting things with place and tone. I don’t find Luke that compelling as a main character, even while I enjoyed watching him solve the conflicts of the show. (Slight spoilers, but I was also deeply disappointed that we lost Cottonmouth as the main villain about halfway through, as the revealed big bad was nowhere near as interesting.)

However. However. MISTY KNIGHT, Y’ALL. And CLAIRE TEMPLE, the best cross-element to the Netflix Marvel universe. These two women could take down the whole damn world if they wanted to, and I would have a VERY STRONG DESIRE to see a procedural starring Misty where she fights crime and gets stitched up by her smart-ass roommate, Claire. Simone Missick and Rosario Dawson consistently upstage the superheroes they share screen time with, and they do it without superhuman abilities. They’re simply the best.

6. Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa
The Captain America films are consistently the best that Marvel makes and I will hear no disagreements – Winter Soldier continues to be the best and most relevant film of the entire MCU. Civil War was not as strong, perhaps because we’ve seen the fracturing of this team already so that doesn’t punch as hard as it might, but it’s still a feat of storytelling and character development, handling an expansive cast with aplomb while also ensuring that new players get just the right amount of attention and material. I was pleased to see a Peter Parker who, I feel, is bringing something new to the table, and impressed that one did not have to have seen Ant-Man to be instantly smitten by Paul Rudd (I mean, I did see it, but I don’t think you had to).

The brightest star of our expanding cast is without a doubt Chadwick Boseman, whose T’Challa gives you everything you need to know within three seconds of meeting him. The things he does with his face at the summit scene, and when **SPOILER** his father dies, are unreal: you can see him becoming the king of Wakanda in front of your very eyes. His arc in the film is complete, and satisfying. He’s magnetic and I cannot wait for his solo film, I think it will be spectacular.

Top 20 of 2016, Part One

Hello, everyone. It’s been a while and I’ve been quite busy! As per usual, I don’t feel like I saw enough movies, read enough books, or engaged with enough media that was specifically released this year to do a Top Ten List of any one thing – so instead, I’ve put together a list of my Top 20 Things of 2016, which range from my favorite new tv shows, things that happened on my twitter feed, concepts that I feel gained particular strength this year (even though they are definitively not NEW this year), and other odds and ends that I think were particular highlights of 2016.

One of the reasons I wanted to make this list was because, in general, 2016 was a pretty terrible year for a lot of people, especially the last few months. But there were also some exceptionally great things that happened, and I think it’s important to remember that, and not be ashamed to be able to think back and say “You know, maybe bits weren’t all that bad.” I’ll be releasing this list in four parts of five, so I don’t feel guilty about how much I’m about to say about the stuff I loved.

So, to steal phrasing from the inimitable Guy Branum of Pop Rocket (a pop culture podcast I have been devouring and cannot recommend highly enough, find it here), here’s what I was all about in 2016:

20. High concept folktale retellings in comics
Specifically, I’m talking about Klaus by Grant Morrison and Dan Mora, and Toil & Trouble by Mairghread Scott, Kelly Matthews, and Nichole Matthews; this also includes the lovely Snow White: The Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, the newest Hildafolk addition Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson, and to a lesser degree Panther by Brecht Evens and Michele Hutchison, and The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. The folk and fairy tale genres really lend themselves to rich, luxe art and writing, and all of these are simply gorgeous books. I particularly appreciate the way that Morrison on Klaus and Scott on Toil & Trouble use the elements of the story we’re already familiar with (the Santa Claus myth and Macbeth, respectively) as a skeleton to hang new embellishments on – I can enjoy to comfort of a story I already know, while still being surprised by what I’m reading.

19. “Sorry” from Beyonce’s Lemonade
I was tempted to put the whole album on here, but honestly that felt kind of predictable – so I’m listing my favorite track as a stand-in for the album that came out of nowhere and changed the conversation around pop music. As a whole, I find the album breathtaking. The musical experimentation and sheer variety of things that Beyonce plays with is just wonderful to listen to, even when I didn’t particularly care for a specific track. “Sorry,” however, is just…it’s the best, you guys. I love the juxtaposition of the gentle vocals telling a guy to fuck off, I love the sneaky power anthem nature of it.

18. The way The Jungle Book re-imagines the music from the original animated version
I haven’t been crazy about the live action versions of classic Disney movies that have been rolling out (I watched the trailer for Beauty and the Beast recently, and was remarkably underwhelmed), mostly because I don’t understand the need for a shot-for-shot remake of something that already exists in a beautiful state. So I was pretty surprised by how much I loved The Jungle Book – both because of that, and because I have always been underwhelmed by the original. But the new live action version is vibrant and dark and kind of scary, and different enough that I get why someone would want to reinterpret it. And the best part, in my opinion, is how the music from the original (particularly “Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You”) was incorporated into this new version. It’s very organic, and says something very definitive about the characters doing the singing: Bill Murray is very laconic and daydream-like in the opening strains of “Bare Necessities,” while Christopher Walken turns King Louie’s “I Wan’na Be Like You” into a psychological nightmare. It’s wonderful.

17. How hard the cast is trying in Suicide Squad
Listen, Suicide Squad was a bad movie, and there’s really no way around that fact. It’s poorly constructed, makes less than no sense, and no one remembered to cut Jared Leto out of the final version. But the one thing you can say about it is that the main cast is trying so hard to make lemons out of lemonade – Margot Robbie and Will Smith in particular are wringing their terrible material for all its worth, which in the end did make for an enjoyable viewing experience. It makes me sad for the version of the movie that could have existed, with writers less concerned about giving Leto any attention or trying to cram 10 pounds of ludicrous story into a 3 pound bag, but I have to appreciate the enthusiasm and effort the main cast put forward and I truly look forward to watching the music video recuts that YouTubers will undoubtedly give us.

16. Pitch
I don’t remember when I saw the first article about Pitch, the new Fox drama about major league baseball’s first woman pitcher, but I’m not ashamed to tell you that I was super punk’d: for about three heart-stopping moments, I thought Ginny Baker was real and I thought a major league sport had actually decided to let a lady play in the big leagues. Alas, this was not the case, but the fledgling drama is so delightful that I’m willing to backburner that for a few more years. I love absolutely everything about Pitch: Kylie Bunbury as the unsure firecracker new pitcher of the San Diego Padres, Ali Larter as her acidic agent, Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the jaded, burned out mentor figure; the unabashed feminism of the show (the pilot is riddled with little girls holding up signs saying “I’m Next!” and I cried so much); the earnestness of the storytelling; the way the producers have gone out of their way to make all the game sequences look like actual sports tv. It wobbles in some places the way a new show will, but I am desperately hoping it finds the audience it needs to keep it on the air. I’m a sucker for inspirational sports movies, and this is the long form version – I cannot get enough.

Part Two of my list will go up in a few days!

Top Ten Female Comic Characters – 5 Through 1

Here we are – my (current) Top Five Female Comic Characters (that is a super clunky list title and I’m sorry about that).  You may have noticed that there are some traits and characteristics that will quickly endear a character to me – supporting other women, being pragmatic, being problem solvers, having flaws, but being smart about them.  These women largely encompass all of these things and more, and are written by people who are just as amazing and admirable as the characters themselves.

Without further ado:

5. Dee

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Rat Queens is everything I’ve ever wanted from fantasy comics, you guys.  It’s fun, dirty, clever, and features a cadre of bloodthirsty women.  The Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder allusions push it in front of Red Sonja for me (although I am also VERY MUCH enjoying that book right now), and the clever way those allusions are incorporated into the story make it tops (ever wonder what a glut of adventuring parties in the same town would do to that town? Wonder no more!).  Of the four main ladies, all of whom I love, Dee wins ever so slightly because of the dichotomies in her character. She’s a cleric! Who’s an atheist. Her parents are cult members! Who worship a squid. She’s an adventurer! Who kind of hates being around people. She’s also the sanest member of her crew, the mother hen to a bunch of crazies, and the way she takes care of Hannah, Betty and Violet is just so wonderful (women supporting women is going to be a theme of this list).

4. Snow White

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There are a couple of female-centric tropes that I am incredibly partial to: Bitches Get Shit Done, very classy ladies being secret badasses, and monster boyfriends, to name just a few that are embodied in Snow White of Fables fame.  She’s one of the main forces that keep Fabletown together, she’s instrumental in their defense and upkeep, she becomes a wife and mother without sacrificing one iota of her identity, and she tames the Big Bad Wolf.  She’s beautiful and a princess, but she can take care of herself – Bigby may come to her defense a few times, but she’s always the first to remind him that she can solve her own problems (one of my favorite scenes between the two of them has them arguing over who gets to kill the evil prince who kidnapped her).  She has seven kids and keeps on rolling, even though they end up being shape-shifting demi-gods.  If I can be half as capable as her when I finally become a grownup, I will consider myself lucky.

3. Kitty Pryde

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My favorite female X-Man, by a lot (I think the one who comes close is Emma Frost).  I like Kitty because I relate to her; in the comics she’s been the shy newcomer to the boys’ club, earning their respect through her abilities and leadership until she’d worked her way up to headmaster of the Xavier school.  She’s sweet and thoughtful, but pragmatic, and her relationship with Colossus might be my true forever OTP.  I love that she’s friends with a dragon, that she’s pretty much the most powerful X-Man alive but hasn’t let that go to her head or overpower her common sense (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, CYCLOPS).  She’s a leader and a problem solver, but she’s also very human; she can let her personal feelings overwhelm her common sense, she gets afraid, she makes mistakes.  And then she fixes them because she’s a boss.

2. Kamala Khan

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Kamala. Kamala. Smart, fearless, overly brave; can I tell you how much I adored it when Lockjaw, this giant mutant dog that makes no sense, barrels into her life and her first reaction is to fling herself around his neck?  Kamala FEARS NOTHING, except normal teenage things like upsetting her dad.  She loves her family and doesn’t want to disappoint them, but knows she has this thing now that can help other people.  She meets Wolverine and fangirls over him.  She does the right thing because it’s the only thing she can imagine doing.

1. Barbara Gordon

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Look, guys, she’s a librarian (or she has been in some iterations).  As Oracle, Babs knew everything and what she didn’t know she knew how to find out.  Gail Simone’s Batgirl arc for the New 52 is what got me hardcore into comics.  She’s joyful, she’s funny, she’s smart, and reading her book made everything else feel more accessible.  Getting to know her as Batgirl made me seek out stories of her as Oracle, and there are few things as satisfying as watching her crush people with knowledge (except watching her kick people in the face, but I love that we can see both). I’m not as in love with the Batgirl of Burnside, but I love that DC is using her to welcome a younger, more diverse audience.  She’s cute, she’s earnest, I love everything Barbara is and chooses to be.