What Is Best In Life? – 2020 Edition
A new decade – didn’t really start like we imagined, but I’m still gonna try and find the good amongst it all…somewhere. Here’s some list action: let’s roll!
Hmm, I’ve read some really bloody good comics this year, and it was a hotly contested run to the top of the pile.
Okay, so not from this year, but I did make time to read MISTER MIRACLE by Mitch Gerads and Tom King and I really did love it. It’s a superhero comic that plays with the intergalactic when it’s really just about the family unit, and fatherhood in particular. Completely up my alley, so that was cool. And at the very start of the year I read LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki and it’s a bloody masterpiece. It’s just a high school romance story about a young woman who keeps falling into a toxic relationship, and then she slowly starts breaking out of that. I read someone mention that it’s a lesbian story that isn’t about coming out or prejudice, and how refreshing that is, and that seems like a nice take on it. I also dug the book because it has some absolutely stellar pieces of comic work going on in it.
Oh, and I borrowed from my school library all of the “Sunny” series, and the third instalment is SUNNY ROLLS THE DICE, and it is really superb. The comic is about Sunny, a young girl in the late 70s just trying to figure life out. In this volume, she plays D&D, and thinks about where she fits in socially, and how she thinks she should operate, and finally how she wants to operate and what she wants to become. It’s got a lovely message, is a joy to read, and I really love this series a whole bunch.
Okay, but actually from this year: my good friend Paul Allor was doing the lord’s work with GI JOE alongside Chris Evanhuis, making the franchise feel fresh and epic, but also zooming way in on PTSD for one masterpiece of an issue. I dug the scope of Alex Diotto and Curt Pires [with his father Tony Pires] on the Kirby inspired OLYMPIA, and the world-building rule-breaking of Justin Osterling and Kurtis J. Wiebe on DRYAD. We got the completion of BLACK STARS ABOVE from Jenna Cha and Lonnie Nadler and it was a beautiful and emotive piece of fiction, which stood in quality contrast to another Lonnie book, this time with Zac Thompson and Sami Kivela, making a brilliant Western cerebral puzzle with UNDONE BY BLOOD, or THE SHADOW OF A WANTED MAN. HEDRA introduced me to Jesse Lonergan and his beautiful and intelligent page design, whereas FAMILY TREE reminded me what geniuses Phil Hester and Jeff Lemire are. Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber made me care about SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN for a minute in a 12 issue maxi series that was smart, genuinely funny, and the kind of thing that can make you a better creator just from having read it. Gerads and King reunited, with Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner, to tackle a personal fav, Adam Strange in STRANGE ADVENTURES – and the results so far have been very intriguing. Mike Huddleston and Jonathan Hickman intrigued and delighted me with the cerebral sci fi wildness of DECORUM.
Phillips and Brubaker released a new book, PULP, that’s naturally amazing, but is that rare chord where I can see the masters at play, and yet understand that this one just wasn’t for me. It’s better than most everything else from the year, but it’s not me seeing the two play at their peak while also being in my wheelhouse from them – I’m more of a Kill or Be Killed and Fatale guy than I am The Fade Out or Pulp.
I must cop to being thoroughly stoked that DAREDEVIL is a top tier book at present. Chip Zdarsky is a funny/goofy guy, but he writes painful really damn well. Pair him with Marco Checchetto and other artistic friends and the result is something that plays Matt Murdock exactly how I like him, down.
I really bloody enjoyed Elsa Charretier and Matt Fraction delivering more volumes of NOVEMBER. It’s a well thought out, intricate, delicate ode to women in crime fiction that feels pieced together just exactly right, in every single way. I love that this got pushed to four volumes because it means there’s just more for me to enjoy next year.
But the book of the year is from the same team that gets it most every year from me, and that’s RECKLESS from Phillips/Brubaker. A crime OGN about a criminal handyman that’s equally gorgeous as it is brutal is something I just need more of in my life. This book really tickled me in every possible way it should, and feels like something I’ll definitely come back to in the future. Not to mention they’re making this a series character, so the next OGN lands next year.
I don’t read with lightning speed, nor can I elect to only keep my reading current as there’s still a whole world of books I wish to catch up on, so this year I’ll have two top choices:
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
I’m slowly working my way through certain masters that I dig – I don’t want to rush them, so I drip feed them into each year. I finally got to this masterpiece and it really is a brisk and diamond tipped read. Sam Spade takes the case and from there the narrative hurtles along through twists and violent turns. By the time you hit the end, you barely trust anyone anymore, and you’re left exasperated and empty-handed, like many of the characters.
I can see why it stood out at the time, and has stood the test of time. Now I just need to make the time to watch the Bogart flick.
The Elder Trials: The Raven’s Prophecy by Marc Lindsay & James Lindsay
Yeah, my brothers, they’re novel writing superstars. I really enjoyed this young adult fantasy novel that puts our lead character, Astrid Mace, into a series of trials to prove her worth. The friendships forged, and obstacles overcome, made this an instant favourite for me from their immense catalogue.
An absolute banger of a year for quality TV, and I really struggled to make one choice, so let’s look at the short list first:
#BlackAF – now this was a show I did not see coming. My wife put us onto it, and I was hooked from the first episode. I think what I loved most was how much of it was them being parents on screen, in the open, like most of us are behind closed doors, or at least behind our kids’ backs. The brutal honesty of it, and yet still the immense love, was the truth that made me respect this show, and then there’s the fact it’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny stuff.
One show that very very nearly took the top spot wasn’t something I knew was coming, or existed…
Ted Lasso. Another show that’s hilarious, well structured, scripted, and just flat out honestly emotional. I never would have expected so much raw soul on the screen from the ads for this show, but what we get here is a deconstruction of a man, and many of the supporting characters, in a way which makes you examine your own life and path.
This was the sleeper hit of the year because I had no warm up to it, most others didn’t seem to watch it because it’s Apple+, and because it is so excessively good. I desperately want to rewatch this show, to study it, to feel those emotions again, and to laugh. That’s all I needed from 2020 – creative fuel, laughter, and the ability to draw out emotions and then stab them with a sword until I’d leaked them out everywhere.
And while I loved this show, I think it benefits from that new apple shine, which is why I couldn’t place it above the other emotional laughfest I spent the start of the year knowing would appear right here on the list:
The Good Place dropped its final season, and it wrapped up everything so perfectly. It did everything Lost thought it was gonna do, and I love this show for being absolutely perfect. Also; it hit right in the sweet spot of global Covid collapse and personal mental collapse, and as such the final episode just turned me to water. I hadn’t had a cry like that in a very very long time [if you are wondering which exact moment, it was the Chidi moment].
For a show that kept its quality at 100 the entire run, and actually maybe improved itself over that time, I couldn’t not place it here where it deserves to be in that final victory lap.
I didn’t get a lot of time to hit the cinema this year, but there were some things I caught in the home Netflix Screening Arena that I really enjoyed.
THE OLD GUARD
Genuinely loved this flick, and anyone digging on action flicks needs to get down on this, stat. That it’s build from a comic is gravy, and that comic scribe Greg Rucka got to write the screenplay makes me near on giddy, but the flick itself is the show, and it’s a good good show. Unkillable warriors, across time, taking on jobs to fix things in the world, when what they really need to fix is inside them all along.
This was the winner for me from the year. A Pixar flick that’s a take on fantasy/D&D world building and is used to tell a story about trying to get one more day with a deceased father – yep, totally my jam. I thought this flick had a lot of laugh, a lot of really clever and awesome moments, and a whole lot of heart. Another thing from 2020 that made me bawl. I think the script suffers from some underlying sexism – the mother isn’t named on screen, is she? And the boys don’t consider that the mother would also want to see her dead husband [though the fact she’s moved on and is dating Officer Colt says a whole lot about her mental health, which is actually kind of nice].
I really enjoyed SOUL, also, and the themes in that are spectacular, but ONWARD gets me for rewatchability, and for that specific dagger of emotion that got me right between the ribs. Which isn’t to say Soul isn’t probably the “better” flick of the two. It’s interesting because it’s got some laughs, but not as many as Inside Out, nor does it have that visual flare…in fact, this feels like the most adult thing Pixar has ever done. Which is probably a damn fine thing, because kids need to see content like this.
Give me every emotional Pixar flick over a Cars flick any day of the week – and I dig that franchise, but it’s comfort food for those who already eat pretty mushy food.
And I’m still trying to work out if THE MIDNIGHT SKY might be the “best” movie I saw all year. This George Clooney pieces sees him act and direct his way through an emotional sci fi concept where the world has already died, and he’s just about the last man standing, in an Arctic ice station, awaiting his own death, but not before he warns a returning space shuttle to turn around because there’s no point in landing.
The genre aspect of it is handled with erudite simplicity – more along the lines of Contact or Sunshine – and the emotional core is made of pure plasma. This is the kind of flick that’ll make you take as much stock of your life as Soul does. The themes about humanity, and quality of life, and what we do next are all expertly and deftly presented. The narrative is mostly pretty simple in its arc, but the way Clooney shoots most of it kept me captivated the whole way through. This is a beautiful movie that will haunt you long after it ends.
I think this year was a tricky one – ONWARD is the one I’ll watch the most, but SOUL might be the one with the best fuel in the engine, and then THE MIDNIGHT SKY is the one executed the best for what it’s going for.
Podcasts took a hit this year due to lockdown meaning I lost my commute for a few months, and from there my listening never truly recovered. There are some classics I’ve kept up with, Off Panel, Word Balloon, ComixLaunch, but I’ve also lost some steam with old faves like This American Life, The Constant, and DragonTalk. I don’t know why, some podcasts just weren’t grabbing me this year.
But there were two I put into my list that kept me going through morning exercise sessions and school trips on my own and they are:
YOU’RE WRONG ABOUT
A show that looks into history and the things we think we know about, but we only know the one sentence sound bite, and there’s so much more below the surface. It’s fascinating and I recommend the eps on The Stepford Wives, Sexting, The Challenger Disaster, and Alpha Males.
It also led me to realise that capitalism is the reason and the cause of all of life’s problems. Interesting.
And the other show I’ve really enjoyed having in my world is:
Aussies Tegan Taylor and Dr Norman Swan discuss Covid news daily, debunking things, fleshing out things, and helping me form opinions that I can walk into every day with knowing they’re better informed.
If this is what I’ve been able to excavate out of this cursed year, I can only imagine the quality that awaits us all on the horizon of the blessed 2021…