Happy new year – 2023 is upon us. I got a lotta
problems with you people thoughts on this year’s media, now, you’re gonna hear about it! I love looking back and seeing what different and awesome stuff I got to sneak into my brain and enjoy.
I did a poor job of keeping tabs on what I consumed this year, and there’s every chance I’ve missed something pivotal. Que sera, etc. Okay, let’s spotlight what made 2022 a pretty good year for me:
It appears this past year was a big time for rereads of old favourites that reminded me of certain feelings and thoughts I had about comics when first coming back to the medium after a long hiatus through my university studies.
The first reread came to me because I got Covid and had to sequester in my office. I took the chance to finally dive back into a formative run I’ve been wanting to reread in years. The run on Daredevil by Michael Lark and Ed Brubaker might be my favourite, for my favourite character, and it really holds up quite well.
DAREDEVIL by Michael Lark, Ed Brubaker, and friends.
The craft on display – Lark’s atmospheric art for this noir run, Brubaker’s pacing of short term goals and ongoing plot threads – is a thing to behold. The comic is epically readable and I absolutely tore through these single issues one after the other. The overall story – that of Matt Murdock as a broken man being led down a noir spiral until he’s completely shattered at the end is my favourite kind of take on literature’s longest running terrible man.
There are elements of the story that have aged less well – the treatment of Milla Donovan, Dakota North, Lily Lucca; do you spot the trend? There’s an element that it makes sense that the women in Matt’s life swirl amongst chaos because that’s the best way to break Matt as a man [and his best friend Foggy also gets shivved, so you could argue parity, but it would be a weak argument]. The onslaught of troubles for the women, plus the way they are often discarded once their plot purpose is served is a very noir trope, but one we would hope to be subverted if written now to give them more agency.
The villains in the run are all great choices – the Mr Fear storyline still being my overall favourite. What a way to make a guy who seems pretty silly [he’s kinda like Batman’s Scarecrow and his Fear Toxin, but slightly more goofy] and give him some strange levels of power and influence and gravity.
Ultimately, this is Matt’s show – and the way he is broken down, and the terrible choices he makes along the way, make for an interesting character study. The man really isn’t much of a hero, he just has a compulsion to help, but no real weighted centre to naturally do it in the best way. He’s emotionally driven, and conflicted, and wrong, and it’s got all the trappings of a 70’s cinema leading character and the team here lean heavily into that vibe and morality.
If people want to read Daredevil, this is often the first place I’d send them, and to return reminded me of all the little reasons why.
The other comic I reread was…
THE WALKING DEAD by Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, and Robert Kirkman
This one actually started a while ago, but my brain went elsewhere. This year, while I was working through a stack of essay marking and then short story marking, I found my brain couldn’t process novel reading at night. The wall of text would make my head dip, and I found that frustrating, but I could read comics just before sleep. Maybe it’s the constant head movement due to needing to pivot around the page for each panel – yes, I do read comics like a bird hanging out on a street corner, my eyes fixed, my neck doing all the work, thanks for asking.
I initially, once upon a time as they were being released, read up to about Volume 23. Then I stopped, thinking I’d catch up, and just never did. Then the comic ended, and I realised I had a finite amount of trades to read, so it seemed like a good idea to claw back from the start and then slowly buy the new trades over the coming years through present-type events.
Rereading this, I found myself loving all of the old storylines from the first dozen or so trades. All stories I’d read more than once upon release – I used to reread from #1 each time a new trade dropped, but that soon ended as a routine.
Once past those trades, I could feel myself rereading these stories in a fresh way – it wasn’t all muscle memory. The book is good, I can confirm. Similar to my other reread, there are some problems when you read through a Feminist Lens. I wonder at which point I will be able to reread comics and not cringe at certain character elements that feel like they wouldn’t be written that way these days. Or maybe they still are written that way these days…I won’t do my due diligence and find out, not now. That’s a whole other post.
What I will say about TWD is that the longform character growth, change, and swerves are all quite effective. The idea no one is safe keeps the comic fresh, and while it does steer towards just being brutal for the sake of it, often it’s still in service of the story and the impact is not just on the reader, but also on the characters who survive.
Ultimately, I read to the end of Volume 25 and I’m excited to read beyond and to the end. Hopefully it doesn’t take me another decade or something.
Beyond rereads, I did read some new stuff, and I have been trying to think which comic would top this list and I’ve narrowed it down to two, each intriguing me and making me lean forward while I read it so I can study the story construction and the page layouts. Those books are:
LOVE EVERLASTING by Elsa Charettier and Tom King, and FRIDAY by Marcos Martin and Ed Brubaker
The thing I dig in both is that these comics play with old tropes and do something new with them. They want to bring a modern perspective and a different viewpoint to things that are very old. They want to surprise us. I like being surprised, as they often lead me to being delighted, and it means I read with no idea what is coming.
Though, to be fair, I never know what’s coming. I don’t engage with the act of prediction very well in storytelling because I’m like a tourist on their first boat tour ride – I’m wide eyed, mouth open, just enjoying the ride. Yes, I’m an idiot.
As for the comics, Love Everlasting is this straight up romance comic. It has all the old tropes of the romance comics of yonder years – thought balloons, women pining for that right man – but then at the end of the first issue it takes this strange swerve. Massive respect for doing 95% of the first issue as a straight romance comic, though, and really nailing that vibe, before completely pulling out the rug. It was like the first episode of WandaVision levels of commitment.
From there, the series has continued to show us various situations of Joan falling in love through time, and then having her time come to a violent end. I admit, I’m so curious to see where this is going, and along the ride it’s interesting to see what perspectives and thoughts on love are dropped.
Beside this comic sits FRIDAY – a brilliant weird noir take on kid detectives as we follow Friday Fitzhugh, a kind of partner to a kind of Encyclopaedia Brown character who returns to the home town after a year away at college and finds death, conspiracy, and more waiting for her.
The story is an intriguing blend of genres as we see Friday intuit and think about situations, but then we also see a police officer shed their skin. It’s a wild ride. I love Brubaker’s writing as much as I can love anything on the printed [or digital] page, but Marcos Martin’s work on this comic has been absolutely brilliant. The characters think and fear and squirm in every moment, but I find myself drawn back repeatedly to the environments. The street lights, the cove, the buildings. The town feels lived in – by both nice people and arcane horrors – and I could spend many books just soaking up this atmosphere.
I also want to mention DEADLY CLASS has been one of my favourite comics of the past decade. Wes Craig took some really wild and innovative swings with his art in this strange hyperviolent tale of assassins that’s really just writer Rick Remender trying to work out where he’s come from and where he finds himself now. It’s a great way to show that memoir is in all [many] of our works, and that you don’t ever have to write yourself or in a realistic fashion to be able to tell some of the most personal stories. I liked the end of this comic, the final arc was bloody gripping and satisfying.
THE YIELD by Tara June Winch
At the start of this year, I read the latest novel from Winch that’s all about language and culture and Australia’s history with both of these things. The book is a staggering work of heart and genius mixed together on the page. The book weaves between 3 narratives: the death of Albert Goondiwindi whose story then goes on to live in the dictionary of his language that he’s writing for his family; August Goondiwindi who has returned home for her grandfather’s funeral and then discovered a mining company is going to destroy their land, and Reverend Greenleaf who is represented in his letters from over a century ago documenting his work with the local Indigenous people and attempting to care for them.
The story explores Australia as a country in various stages of dealing with Indigenous peoples of the land, and the changes through time are subtly shown through narrative perspective, character interaction, and structural choices. For my money, the dictionary entries are my favourite as they are this chaotic and wildly roaming account of language as it pertains to one man’s journey. Albert doesn’t set his meanings out in bland didactic form, his explanations are stories, they have heart and meaning and personal connection. They show language as a living entity that runs through a man’s life and holds the memories as much as expresses them.
The book makes you think, and understand certain elements, and is a powerful study of the past that should push astute readers into action. The ending of the book aims to do just that, force action, and I can’t think of a more brilliant ending line that I’ve read in a long time.
COVEN by Marc Lindsay
Nepotism be damned – I love reading a book written by my brother.
This one is a new character, and a new genre, and a new level of awesome from my big bro. Coven is very much written in the same vein as characters like John Constantine – roguish magicians in a world of violent, grey morality. What plays out is a story of a killer and an investigation that’s a delightful blend of Michael Crichton mixed with urban magic.
I really hope Marc returns to John Coven at some stage as I think this is a world he could continue to tell done-in-one stories for a long time.
Teaching Novels with ‘Salem’s Lot and The Road
I found it really interesting and awesome to teach these two novels this year, and for different reasons.
With Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, the students really looked into how style was used to build up the horror of the story, while also layering in more meaning. The long chapter ‘The Lot’ where the town is introduced through multiple characters over different hours of the one day was something that intrigued the students and showed that the focus of the novel isn’t the vampires, but is rather the lower case ‘e’ evil found in every small town.
With Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I sold the book on the promise it was about hope. Beyond all things, it is a hopeful text. I think at the end of the unit of teaching, many of the students believed me. The text is so crisp, and the visceral feeling of the visuals soaks into your bones, and McCarthy showed the students how to make a whole lot of something out of moments where there wasn’t too much, at first glance, but there was a world of emotion beneath it all.
Ultimately, I could ask students – “So, the boy is found by the family at the end, and they are going to eat him right after the book ends, right?” Every single student disagreed, and this was the final proof that the text was hopeful. For all the destruction and tension and depression in that world, nothing in the book sets you up to believe the boy dies as soon as you close the book. You have hope in your heart because you believe that family and you know the boy is safe.
I also read WONDER BOYS by Michael Chabon and BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent and enjoyed both deeply. Chabon’s was one I thought maybe too navel gaze-y, but I really dug where it got to in the end and I think doing some more thinking about the book will only improve it. Whereas I enjoyed Kent’s Icelandic tale of bleak acceptance a whole lot from start to finish. I also want to do some more thinking about this one to isolate exactly what makes it tick so beautifully.
I am still thinking about this show. I don’t even think the high sell of the show would have gotten me to watch it, but rather it was the fact so many people I trust told me it was so damn good. It really is.
The idea of someone undergoing a procedure where they never remember going to work, which means that the version of them at the day job never has any memory of anything that happens after they leave the workplace is a good one. The idea that the working version just leaves work and instantly returns [in their mind] and their life is a terrible nightmare because of this is really fertile ground. From there, the show creates a company and a mythology that’s intriguing, worrying, and finally fascinating and insane the more the story spirals out and reveals the state of the game in which these people are caught.
The show has plenty of visuals and style to match the plot, and also the hidden meanings of the story. It pays to pay attention and it’s rewarding to slowly discover more and more beneath the surface of this show. It’s nice to have something smart on the airwaves.
The 3rd and 4th seasons both dropped this year and the whole experience proved this show to be one of the best things from the past decade. There are certain plot elements that continued to weave through the show – Earn managing the rap career of his cousin Paper Boi – but mostly this show became an anthology showcase of race issues in America, and in this regard it truly shined. The cultural commentary was great, but the fact it was so deeply steeped in weird genre ideas was what pleased me the most.
I really enjoyed the Snipe Hunt episode that was all about using the build of a camping horror story to deconstruct the relationship of Earn, Van, and their daughter Lottie. The coiled spring aspect of how this story was told made the stakes of every conversation and moment amplify completely, with a kind of twist ending that really made me smile.
Then there’s the final episode. One that left me really satisfied, despite the open ended nature of the closing moment. Hell, I think because of the lack of specific closure in the final moment I loved it all even more. It’s not about which way that moment turns, it could be either – what really matters is that friends are together and that it should be enjoyed in that moment. The world is chaos and stupidity and insanity and you need to hold onto what you can.
These 4 seasons have been a joy, and I’d love to write stuff this absurd and insightful.
I also watched all 4 seasons of BARRY, and that show is pretty titanic in the scope of how funny it can be and how hard it hits. Bill Hader has always been a boss, so it’s good to see him leave something this meaningful in his work now. I’m also nearly finished THE BEAR and am finding it a really fascinating exploration of grief and the tension and conflict it causes – and this is shown both through the plot, but also the storytelling tricks they pull: so many cold opens, that episode that’s one long shot [it was one long shot, right? I’m not on social media so didn’t see any response to this, but it looked like and definitely felt like one long drawn out breath].
There was a second season of ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING, and it continued to be awesome.
The original PREDATOR might be iconic and damn good, but I think this flick jumps in front of it in wholistic quality and for the fact it is far less problematic. Both films are great, and perhaps it’s reductive to pit them against each other, but if I had to suggest someone start in on a Predator film then Prey would be my choice easily and 100%.
The action in this one is well directed and tense, the storyline of the main character matters and shows growth and has something to say, and the tightness of the plot keeps it all in line.
I cannot think of other new films that need to be on this list. I cannot think of other new films I watched and enjoyed. Ugh, I need to keep a better list, or maintain my Letterboxd. I did see CRIMES OF THE FUTURE, and definitely enjoyed it, but it was mid-tier Cronenberg, which means it was better than most things, but just had me missing some of his other stuff.
I just caught GLASS ONION and thoroughly loved every minute of it. If Rian Johnson can create comfort food quality like this every time, then I’ll line up every time. It appears TURNING RED might have been this year, and there was a lot I loved about that flick. LIGHTYEAR was also pretty damn rad.
HOW OTHER DADS DAD with Hamish Blake
I already find Hamish Blake, the Australian comedian and presenter, a funny guy. He’s been great on radio, tv shows, and recently Lego Masters, and so I’d be inclined to give him a try in most things so giving his new podcast was an easy try.
But the fact his podcast is all about parenting, and not from an authoritative standpoint and instead taking an open, honest, and inquisitive stance, means I already deeply love this show. Hamish just brings on other fellas he knows and has a frank discussion about how they parent and how they view quality parenting. Every episode gives me multiple moments of reflection, consideration, and hope. It’s like all good professional learning – you hope to have some good things in yourself confirmed, and then you aim for at least one solid takeaway for the day. Getting a few solid laughs on the side is just the soupcon of flavour this whole dish needs to bring it home as a 10/10 recommendation for me.
Alright, that was the year that was [that I could remember, to the best of my ability, your honour]. All of these things have inspired me in some way, and will affect me as a person and a writer in some way, and I hope you also dug some, or found something new to dive into.
Here’s to what 2023 brings – and to me keeping some better lists :]