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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1

January 29th, 2015
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I hope you’ve all enjoyed by Best of 2014 lists!  I’ve listed my Top 20 Movies of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, part three, and part four), my Top 15 Episodes of TV of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three), and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three).  Now we arrive at my final list, the Top 8 Blu-Rays of 2014.

Top eight?  Yeah, top eight.  While this year I have expanded most of my lists (my Top 15 Movies list became a Top 20, and my Top 10 Episodes of TV list became a Top 15), I found I had a hard time coming up with 10 truly great DVDs or Blu-rays.  I think there are two reasons for this.  The first is personal: though I suspect I still buy far more DVDs & blu-rays than the average person, I found that I bought far fewer discs this year than I had in years.  Partly this was to save some money.  But also because of reason number two: that after a golden age of awesome DVD sets with extraordinary special features, great special editions of movies or TV shows are much scarcer these days.  I find myself unimpressed with the behind the scenes features on most blu-rays these days, even the movies that were the biggest hits.  Most studios are trying to save money by cutting back on providing special features for their home video releases, which is a big shame in my opinion.

But still, there were eight blu-rays that I wanted to praise, and here they are:

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes This film was number 5 on my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, and it looked absolutely spectacular on blu-ray.  And while I wouldn’t say that the special features are phenomenal, they are pretty good, certainly head-and-shoulders above the special features found on almost any other big 2014 release.  There’s about an hour of fun behind-the-scenes featurettes (it’s particularly cool to see Andy Serkis, Terry Notary, and several other familiar faces from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit behind-the-scenes documentaries, appear in these featurettes) and a great commentary track from director Matt Reaves.  (Click here for my original review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.)

7. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution For decades I have been reading or hearing about this film that was written by Star Trek II and VI writer & director Nicholas Meyer (adapting his novel of the same name), but … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2015 — Part Three!

I love reading comic books, and it has been fun writing about My Favorite Comic Book Series of 2014Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part two of my list, numbers ten through six.  Let’s bring this home, shall we?

5. Avengers/New Avengers by Jonathan Hickman & Simone Bianchi, Rags Morales, Valerio Schiti, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca & others – For three years now, Jonathan Hickman has been crafting his enormous Avengers epic, and it has been building and building and building.  Now everything is coming together and, for the second half of 2014, it has been one awesome payoff after another, as years of stories and subplots have all reached a climax.  This is an Avengers story but it’s much larger than that, with characters from across the Marvel Universe playing critical roles in this saga.  As an example: the Fantastic Four comic book might have been cancelled, but Reed and Sue are hugely important in this story.  I can’t believe the things that have happened in this saga so far.  (I hope to heck this isn’t going to end in a huge magic re-set button.)  The Marvel universe has been split in two with the discovery that a group of heroes (including Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, the Beast, the Black Panther, and Namor the Sub-Mariner) have, in secret, made a terrible moral choice in their efforts to save the world.  Captain America, horrified by what they have done, leads a group of heroes — including Reed’s wife Sue — to hunt them down.  Meanwhile, the Avengers have shattered, pulled apart by crises across the cosmos.  A.I.M. continues to plot, and a villainous cabal led by an unleashed Thanos is gleefully destroying entire worlds.  Oh, and did I mention that the Black Panther recently murdered Namor?  This is super-hero comic book story-telling at its best.  Mr. Hickman has spun a wonderfully complex yarn, ably assisted by a talented array of artists.  Mr. Hickman’s lengthy story looks to be coming to an end in the next few months.  If he can stick the landing, this will be one for the ages.  (Mr. Hickman’s run began with a bang in New Avengers vol. 1: Everything Dies.)

4. Velvet by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting – Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Epting previously collaborated on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the defining Captain America story of the past two decades and the inspiration for Marvel’s recent film.  (I wrote about their Winter Soldier story-line here, and click here for my review of the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)  So I … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2015 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of my Fifteen Favorite Comic Book Series of 2014.  Let’s continue!

10. All-New X-Men/Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Mahmud Asrar, Chris Bachalo, & Kris Anka – A few years ago Brian Michael Bendis took over the two main X-Men books, giving the series a huge shot in the arm and getting me to start LOVING the X-Men again and desperate for the next issue in a way that I hadn’t been since the Chris Claremont/Marc Silvestri and Claremont/Jim Lee issues of my youth.  All-New X-Men follows the original five X-Men, who have been transported to the present-day Marvel Universe, only to be horrified that, to them, the present-day Marvel universe is as terrible as the Days of Future Past alternate future.  Meanwhile, Uncanny X-Men follows terrorist/mutant revolutionary Scott Summers and a motley crew of on-the-run new mutants.  The two books could be read separately, but read together they present a gloriously entertaining and sprawling X-Men epic.  These series tell big stories, filled with outer-space adventures and alternate-universe craziness (the recent crossover between the All-New X-Men and Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, is tremendous fun) and X-Men-versus-S.H.I.E.L.D. throw-downs, but what makes Mr. Bendis’ work stand out is his tight focus on the characters.  Seeing how each of the original X-Men has responded to their time-travel in a different way, and seeing how quickly those innocent characters have already changed and evolved, is wonderful.  Seeing the way Mr. Bendis continues to torture Scott Summers is wonderful.  And good lord to I love the focus on Kitty Pryde, my favorite X-Men character ever since I read the original Excalibur one-shot (by Chris Claremont & Alan Davis) as a kid.  Peter Quill + Kitty Pryde = genius.  (Start reading here: All-New X-Men vol. 1: Yesterday’s X-Men, or jump into the middle with Guardians of the Galaxy/All-New X-Men: The Trial of Jean Grey.)

9. Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra — What if, beginning in the 1950′s, Robert Oppenheimer’s Manhattan Project was just the tip of the iceberg of secret government projects overseen by Oppenheimer’s insane twin brother Robert, an evil Albert Einstein from an alternate universe, a cybernetically-enhanced German engineer, an alien disguised as an Italian physicist, a warmongering U.S. army officer, Yuri Gagarin and his super-smart space-dog, and the computerized mind of F.D.R.?  You’d get this gloriously insane sci-fi epic, a delightfully weird alternate history of the U.S. that is filled to overflowing with staggeringly original characters and situations.  From month to month I have absolutely no idea where this bizarre story is heading next, and I adore it for that.  (Don’t dare start reading this from the … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2014 — Part One!

I love comic books, and 2014 was a fantastic year for comic books.  I read many more great comic books than I could fit on this Top 15 list.  Other books that I enjoyed, but that didn’t make this list, include: Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers, Warren Ellis & Jason Howards’ Trees, The X-Files: Season 10, Mark Millar & Goran Pavlov’s Starlight, Mark Millar & Duncan Defredo’s MPH, Grant Morrison’s Multiversity (especially his collaboration with Frank Quitely on the crazy-good one-shot Pax Romana), Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Batman, Geoff Johns & John Jomita Jr.’s Superman, Cullen Bunn & Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Magneto, the Greg-Rucka scripted first few issues of Cyclops, Brian Michael Bendis’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Warren Ellis & Tula Lotay’s Supreme Blue Rose, and the final issues of Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips’ Fatale (which really should have made my list, but multiple other Ed Brubaker books did instead, so something had to give, but know that Fatale is magnificent).

I also have to give honorable mentions to three books that I am way behind on.  First is Brian Woods’ The Massive, which I fell behind on last year and decided to wait until it wrapped up to re-read from start-to-finish, which I look forward to doing soon.  Then are two of my very favorite comic book series: Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson’s Astro City, and David Lapham’s Stray Bullets.  I decided over the summer that I really wanted to dip back into my long-boxes and re-read both series from the beginning before enjoying the latest issues.  Unfortunately I have been so busy that I haven’t yet had the time.  I look forward enormously to diving deeply back into both series this spring.  I know that if I was up-to-date that both of these series would have made this list, likely in the top five.

OK, enough caveats, let’s go.  Here are my Fifteen Favorite Comic Book Series of 2014:

15. Miracleman by The Original Writer (cough Alan Moore cough) & Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Chuck Austen, Rick Veitch, & John Totleben – The thing that we thought would never happen actually, miraculously, happened this year.  Miracleman, the hugely influential series written by Alan Moore, has finally been reprinted.  (And, if all goes well, the unfinished series will actually be completed in the coming years!)  Originally called Marvelman, the character began life in a kids comic from the fifties.  Alan Moore reinvented the silly character in a series that was initially published in short installment in the U.K., in Warrior Magazine.  The publication of Marvelman (which would eventually become Miracleman due to a not-surprising-in-hindsight legal situation with Marvel comics) was extremely sporadic, being published … [continued]

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The Top 15 Episodes of TV in 2014 — Part Three!

I hope you’ve all been enjoying my journey back through the great TV of 2014!  Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part two of my list, numbers ten through six.

And now, the conclusion.  Here are my five favorite episodes of TV of 2014:

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5. Sherlock: “The Sign of Three” (season 3, episode 2, aired on 1/5/14) – Each hour-and-a-half-long installment of the BBC’s brilliant Sherlock series is an event in and of itself, as each episode is really it’s own movie.  All three episodes of the show’s third season (or series, as those in the U.K. prefer) were strong, but it was the middle one, “The Sign of Three,” with which I was particularly taken.  The set-up is pure gold: it’s John (Martin Freeman) and Mary’s wedding, and Sherlock Holmes is the best man.  Combine Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)’s usual discomfort in normal polite society with a mystery regarding an attempted murder and you have a classic episode.  I love the structure of the episode.  Almost the entire run-time is structured around Sherlock’s bizarre, weird, funny, awkward, rambling Best Man toast to Watson.  In addition to the main mystery, we get tantalizing glimpses into a number of Sherlock & Watson’s other cases; we get an oh-so-brief return of the wonderful Irene Adler; we get suspense and comedy (I adore the flashback reveal of Sherlock’s intimidation of Mary’s friends and family) and so much more.  I was pleased by the balance between mystery/suspense and the show’s joy in exploring its characters and watching them play.  This episode leans more strongly towards the latter, and it works because of how sharply written the show is, and the incredible talent of all the performers, most particularly, of course, the incredibly talented duo of Mr. Freeman & Mr. Cumberbatch.  Gold.  (Click here for my review of Sherlock series three.)

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4. Game of Thrones: “The Lion and the Rose” (season 4, episode 2, aired on 4/13/14) – Game of Thrones episodes usually jump all over the fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, usually only spending a few minutes at a time in one location, and with a certain set of characters, before leaping elsewhere.  As the show has gone on and its cast of characters has grown ever more sprawling, this narrative structure has begun to chafe with some fans.  I’m not one of them, but I do nevertheless cherish the show’s habit of using the penultimate episode of the season to tell an important story in just a single location.  (This was most notably done in season two’s “Blackwater,” though this season’s “The Watchers on the Wall” was also … [continued]

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The Top 15 Episodes of TV in 2014 — Part Two!

I have expanded my usual end-of-the-year list of the Top Ten Episodes of TV to a Top Fifteen list for 2014!  Yesterday I wrote about numbers fifteen through eleven, discussing stellar episodes of Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, Fargo, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Black Mirror.

And now, let’s continue!

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10. Family Guy: “The Simpsons Guy” (season 13, episode 1, aired on 9/28/14) – In this hour-long special, the Griffins leave Quahog and travel to Springfield, where cartoon universes collide.  I never ever thought that a) I would actually see a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover, or that b) it would be made with such obvious love for both shows.  This crossover was made by the Family Guy team, and the first few minutes (in which Peter gets into trouble for his controversial political cartoons) are pure Family Guy.  But once the show heads to Springfield, I was delighted by the clear love and respect on display for The Simpsons, and also by the depth of attention which the Family Guy creators brought to their exploration of the Simpsons universe.  There are obvious pairings that are mined for a lot of fun (seeing Homer and Peter drinking together, and comparing Duff Beer to Pawtucket Patriot Ale, is of course a hoot), but we also get to dig deeper into both cartoon universes as, for example, Carl meets Cleveland and Mayor Quimby meets Mayor Adam West, and the Simpsons version of James Woods meets the Family Guy version of James Woods.  Is the epic Homer/Peter Chicken Fight way longer and more violent than it needs to be?  I suppose it is, but that’s part of the joke, isn’t it?  It certainly worked for me.  Throw in Kang and Kodos in a rare non-Halloween episode appearance and a callback to Homer’s skateboarding over the Springfield Gorge (a classic early Simpsons gag) and you have a terrific love-letter to both of these animated shows.  (Click here for my original review of “The Simpsons Guy.”)

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9. Mad Men: “Waterloo” (season 7, episode 7, aired on 5/25/14) – What a powerhouse of an episode.  The political machinations in the office run thick as Don receives a letter stating he is being fired for breach of contract, only for Don to call a meeting that turns the tables on Jim Cutler and Lou Avery.  Roger then negotiates with another agency, McCann Erickson, to buy SC&P as an independent subsidiary of McCann, but has to get Don and an increasingly depressed Ted Chaough to agree.  The show finally arrives at the dramatic events of July 20th, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walks on the moon.  At the last minute, Don decides that Peggy should give the … [continued]

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The Top 15 Episodes of TV in 2014 — Part One!

A few years ago, I had a hard time writing my list of the Ten Best Episodes of TV for that year.  I felt I had a hard time coming up with ten truly great episodes, and I was also discouraged because I was way behind on much of the TV that everyone else seemed excited about that year.  Well, this year I still feel like there is so much great television that I have not had a chance to watch.  I still haven’t finished Breaking Bad (my wife and I are currently in the middle of season three), and I haven’t had a chance to watch any of Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards, The Americans, Hannibal, and several other shows that sound amazing.

But, for all the probably-great TV that I HAVEN’T had a chance to watch this year, there is so much great stuff that I DID have a chance to see.  So much so that, just as I felt the need to expand my usual Top 15 Movies list to a Top 20 this year, I have expanded my usual TV Top Ten list to a Top Fifteen.

And so, without further delay, here is my list of the Top Fifteen Episodes of TV of 2014!

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15. Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper” (season 4, episode 8, aired on 6/1/14) – I keep waiting for Game of Thrones to slow down or to loose some of the intensity that was so intoxicating when the show began, but that hasn’t happened yet.  Thank goodness!  Season four was incredibly strong, and almost any episode could have made this list.  There are a lot of great moments in “The Mountain and The Viper.”  Arya’s explosion of disbelieving, cathartic laughter when she and the Hound arrive at the Eyrie only to discover that her aunt, Lysa, has just perished, is amazing.  I loved Tyrion’s conversation with his brother Jamie about their slow-witted cousin.  It was incredible to, FINALLY, see Sansa Stark take control of her destiny for the first time on the show, as she puts on a magnificent act in front of the ruling council of the Eyrie in order to convince them that Littlefinger, who murdered Lysa, is in fact innocent of the crime.  But the reason this episode is on my list is because of this episode’s crazy cliffhanger, a standout even for this show that excels for its crazy cliffhangers.  After a season of build-up, Tyrion’s trial by combat begins as Oberyn Martell and the Mountain do battle.  It is an incredible action sequence, one that had me on the edge of my seat as I wondered just what the heck would happen.  I … [continued]

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What fun this has been, looking back at all of the amazing movies from 2014!  Click here for part one of my list of the Best Movies of 2014, numbers twenty through sixteen.  Click here for part two, numbers fifteen through eleven.  Click here for part three, numbers ten through six.

And now, at last, it’s time to draw this list to a close with my five favorite films of 2014.  Here we go:

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5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I dearly love every film in the Planet of the Apes series, even the terrible ones.  (Though the least said about Tim Burton’s disappointing entry, the better.)  But I was bowled over by the greatness of Dawn, the eighth Planet of the Apes film and the second in the rebooted prequel series.  What a rare thing it is to see a sequel with such ingenuity, such creativity, such narrative power.  Director Matt Reaves has come in and crafted an astounding piece of speculative fiction.  Ten years after the events of the last Apes film, a plague has wiped out most of humanity.  Caesar and his apes have crafted for themselves a utopian civilization, deep in the woods of San Francisco.  But when a small group of humans wanders into Caesar’s community, the struggling human community and the developing ape community find themselves on a collision course, and Caesar’s belief that the apes are naturally superior to the flawed humans leads him to the precipice of a disastrous misjudgment.  Yes, this is a film that features talking apes, but Dawn is a rich human drama with Shakespearean levels of emotional complexity and power.  When everything goes to hell in the third act, it is tragic.  Andy Serkis does some of the best work of his career as Caesar, bringing such pathos, such richness of feeling to this ape character.  The mad geniuses at Weta Workshop and all the countless visual effects artists and crafts-people who brought the visual effects of this world to life have outdone themselves, creating one of the most impressive visual effects achievements I have ever seen.  Those apes look so real it is staggering.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a spectacular achievement, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes from here.  (Click here for my original review.)

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4. Guardians of the Galaxy What was it I said back when writing about Captain America: The First Avenger about Marvel Studios making it look easy?  They took a comic book team fairly obscure even to comic book fans, one that has not been able to ever support its own comic book series for very … [continued]