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 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!

Kid-Friendly Comic Books

You may remember my lament over the death of a truly excellent new comic that I posted here some time ago (A PSA About Comics).  Well, since then I’ve been spending a lot more money at my local comic shop on monthly issues and trades – and enjoying the heck out of following books from month to month.  There’s a slew of excellent titles on the shelf right now, so I thought I’d share some of my favorites that I’m reading right now.  In this post I’ll be talking about titles that are 100% kid-friendly (some of which I’ve already pre-ordered for my J Graphic Novel collection!).

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Abigail and the Snowman by Roger Langridge, published by Boom!Studios

Abigail and the Snowman is a charming short-run comic (it’s at 3 out of 4 issues, with the fourth one due out this month) about Abigail, a young girl who lives with her dad, and the relationship she develops with Claude, a yeti on the run from a secret government organization.  It’s a book that deals with issues real kids face – Abigail and her father struggle with money, Abigail struggles with making friends because they move so often, etc. – but couched in a sweet, fantastical story as Abigail helps Claude find his real home.  Recommended for ages 6-8, but really, everyone’s going to enjoy this one.

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Feathers by Jorge Corona, published by Archaia

Feathers is a steampunky adventure that’s also a short-run (six issues, two of which are currently available) about a young boy named Poe who runs around at night with goggles on and is covered in feathers.  In contrast to Poe is Bianca, a wealthy girl from the privileged part of the city, who runs into Poe while running away from her controlling family.  So far, Feathers is a fun Victorian romp with a message about classism and judging books by their covers, but it has the promise of developing into a bigger fantasy story full of prophecy and adventure.  Ages 8-10, and anyone who enjoys a good steam engine in their fiction.

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Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl, published by DC

I’m really excited to see DC exploring the city of Gotham outside of Batfamily stories (for adult readers who are also horror fans, I can’t recommend Gotham by Midnight highly enough), and also developing stories inside Gotham that are accessible to younger readers (the new Batgirl of Burnside is another example of this).  While Gotham Academy doesn’t escape the shadow of the Bat completely, it doesn’t need to – nor should it.  Rather, it shows us what goes on in a different environment that’s still effected by the hero and villain mythology Gotham encourages.  Olive Silverlock, Maps Mizoguchi, and their supporting cast of characters are students at Gotham Academy, a prestigious prep school – while the boarding school setup could invite a lot of cliches and tired tropes, GA embraces them and moves on, developing its characters past their archetypes and giving its heroine, Olive, a remarkable amount of room for her own development past “self-exiled loner.”  Lots of great female characters and a wonderfully diverse cast make this book a great tween read.

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Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, and Carolyn Nowak, published by Boom!Studios

I don’t know that it’s possible for me to say enough good things about Lumberjanes.  Set in a girl scout-type camp, where the campers hunt supernatural creatures, solve ancient prophecies, and eventually save the world from tricky mythological figures, Lumberjanes still finds room to show you the amazing friendships between the core cast of five, their fellow campers, the camp counselors, and so on.  This truly is a book that trumpets “Friendship to the Max!” while celebrating hardcore ladytypes of all creeds and ages.  Personally, my favorite scene is when Ripley, the spritely and energetic clown of the group, ends up riding a velociraptor into camp – a velociraptor she eventually befriends and shares a tearful goodbye with. Recommended for all ages.