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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018 — Part Three!

Please click here for part one of my list of my Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018, and click here for part two.

5. Saga (by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples) — This wild and crazy, funny and deeply moving sci-fi fantasy adventure continues to surprise and delight me at every turn and just seems to get better and more emotionally rich with each passing year.  Mr. Vaughan is a Joss Whedon-level master at creating characters that we fall in love with, and then putting them (and therefore the audience!) through torturous hell.  There’s no other comic book out there that is anything like Saga, with its roller-coaster-ride style of storytelling, merging an overwhelming amount of stunningly original ideas and concepts with deeply affecting character arcs.  Saga is funny and weird and terrifying and heartbreaking.  Fiona Staple’s gorgeous artwork never disappoints, and is evidence, panel-after-panel and page-after-page, that she is one of the very best illustrators working in this business.  This Saga only gets richer and more emotionally wrenching with every issue.  I adore it.  (And the back-of-the-book letters page is the best in comics today.)  (The best place to begin is with Saga Book One, available on Amazon.)

4. Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses (by David Lapham) — I have been a fan of Stray Bullets since I first picked up issue #1 of the original run back in 1995.  The series went away for almost a decade in the aughts, but miraculously returned in 2014 for a new run that has been just as compelling and heartbreaking as those original stories.  This series is the greatest comic book noir I have ever encountered, filled with hard-luck cases for whom life usually goes from bad to worse.  This latest run is theoretically a mini-series, subtitled Sunshine and Roses, but it’s been going on for over forty issues and doesn’t seem to show any sign of stopping.  Which is fine by me!  This latest story has looped back in time to depict the adventures of Orson, Beth, and Nina, on the run after stealing money and coke from a group of criminals.  We already know their fates from the early issues of Stray Bullets’ original run, and I wouldn’t have thought there was any more story to tell.  Boy was I wrong!  This is one of the most brilliant, idiosyncratic books out there.  I am so glad it has returned from the dead.  I will have a much longer post about Stray Bullets to share soon!  (Click here for a much longer post in which I sing the praises of Stray Bullets!)  (Dive into the sage with the first, and still probably the best, … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018 — Part Two!

On Monday I began my list of my Favorite Comic Book Series of 2019!  And now, onwards:

15. Gideon Falls (by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino) — This mindbending story follows Norton, a lonely, possibly mentally-ill man living in a big city, collecting pieces of garbage that he is convinced can be assembled into something important, and Father Fred, a elderly Catholic priest with a secret in his past who has been assigned to the small town of Gideon Falls.  The two men are linked by the mystery of the Black Barn, an urban legend that both Norton and Father Fred gradually become convinced is very real… and very evil.  I don’t have any idea where this story is heading, but I am loving the ride so far.  Andrea Sorrentino’s endlessly inventive page layouts are dynamite.  (Click here to purchase vol 01 from Amazon, and click here to purchase vol 02.)

 

 

14. Star Trek: New Visions (by John Byrne) — I’ve been a fan of John Byrne since I first started reading comics in the early eighties.  It was always clear that he was a Star Trek fan, since I caught the various little Trek references and nods he’d work into his artwork, and I enjoyed the handful of Star Trekmini-series that Mr. Byrne has written and drawn in recent yearsfor IDW.  But he has created an entirely different beast with his New Visions series.  Each issue is a 48-page square-bound publication, and none of the artwork is hand-drawn.  Instead, Mr. Byrne has revitalized the old style of a “photo-play,” using still photos from the original Star Trek series assembled to tell an entirely new story!  As this series has progressed, Mr. Byrne has grown more adept at using Photoshop to manipulate these still-photos, so that he can get more adventurous with his storytelling.  The style works remarkably well, and I have been hugely enjoying these brand new adventures off Kirk, Spock & co. that Mr. Byrne has been crafting.  I am very sorry that the series ended this year!  (Click here to purchase the latest collected volume on Amazon.)

13. East of West (by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta) — How do I even begin to describe this super-weird series?  It depicts a dystopian future in which the Civil War never ended and what we know as the U.S. has been divided into several different still-warring territories.  It’s also about the reincarnated four horsemen of the apocalypse, and their efforts — along with their followers — to bring about the end of the world.  I love the sci-fi-meets-western vibe of the series.  Nick Dragotta draws the way I wish I … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018 — Part One!

I hope you enjoyed my list of my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018, and my list of my Favorite Movies of 2018!

Here now is my list of my Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018!

This was an amazing year for comics, and I read lots of great stuff that didn’t make my list, including: Prodigy by Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque; the new series of Mark Millar’s Kick Ass and Hit Girl by rotating creative teams, Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s bonkers Batman: Metal; David & Maria Lapham’s new series The Lodger; the Star Trek anthology series Star Trek: Waypoint; Cemetery Beach by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard; Scott Snyder’s Justice League, Heroes in Crisis by Tom King and Clay Mann, and lots more.

I usually use this list to highlight continuing series (or at least mini-series), but I also want to note the terrific one-shot Dr. Horrible: Best Friends Forever (written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by Jose Maria Beroy & Sara Soler), the spectacular new Thanos graphic novel Thanos: The Infinity Conflict (written by Thanos’ creator Jim Starlin and gorgeously illustrated by comic-book master Alan Davis) and My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies (written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips — a beautiful stand-alone that made me hoot with glee when the last-page shocker revealed that the whole story took place within the world of their magnificent crime-series Criminal).  I was also really, really happy to see Chris Claremont back writing the X-Men, albeit very briefly, this year, with a short story about Kitty & Colossus in the X-Men Wedding Special and a tale about young Nate Summers in The Exterminated.  

And now, on to my list!

24. S.H.I.E.L.D. (by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver) — Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s magnificent series about the secret history of the Marvel Universe was abruptly cut off back in 2011.  After a long, long, looooong wait, I was delighted that the series was finally completed this year!  It’s crazy that we had to wait so long, but I am so happy that Marvel was able to ensure that this series was brought to its proper conclusion.  When read together as a whole, this is a fantastic story with connections to a lot of Mr. Hickman’s other Marvel work (particularly his runs on Fantastic Four and The Avengers)!  (Click here to purchase vol. 1 of this story from Amazon, and here for vol. 2.)

 

 

 

23. Fantastic Four (by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli)– Marvel hasn’t published a new Fantastic Four book for years, but the series finally returned this year in great form from Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli.  … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2018 — Part Four!

We’ve reached the end of my list of my Favorite Movies of 2018!  Click here for part one of my list, and click here for part two, and click here for part three.

5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? —  Like so many of my generation, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  The moral and life lessons of Fred Rogers’ television program for children have stayed with me, and are deeply woven into my being.  I knew this, but watching Morgan Neville’s incredible documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I was struck anew by the lessons that Mr. Rogers taught me and so many other kids like me.  The film is a heartwarming (and also, at times, sad) look back at Mr. Rogers’ life and his life’s work: using the medium of television to educate children.  The film allows us to hear from Fred Rogers himself, via archival footage (such as clips from his famous testimony before Congress in 1969) and generous helpings of scenes from the show.  Even better, the film brings together many of the men and women who knew and worked with Mr. Rogers, and they each have fascinating and insightful stories to tell.  Watching the film, I felt a profound sense that something important had been lost from our culture with the passing of Fred Rogers and his children’s television program.  Our world needs more teachers and leaders out there focusing on the values of kindness, of understanding, and of love.  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Mission: Impossible — Fallout I am sort of bowled over at how great this FIFTH Mission: Impossible movie is!  Writer-Director Christopher McQuarrie (returning to helm his second-in-a-row Mission film, the first time the same director returned for the next Mission film in the series) has crafted a triumph of fun pop action-adventure filmmaking.  It’s a delight from start to finish, filled with terrific characters, a tightly-woven plot (that actually, for the most part at least, makes sense), and some of the most outrageously bonkers action sequences I have ever seen.  Tom Cruise is tremendous as always, and I love how well this film allowed the IMF team (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin) to play together.  I was delighted that they brought back Michelle Monaghan, drawing to a close story-threads that were begun back in M:I-III.  Henry Cavill’s brute-force CIA operative was a fantastic foil for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.  But this film is all about the astounding action sequences: the halo-jump sequence over Paris; the brutal fist-fight in a bathroom; the prison-van breakout sequence; the motorcycle-and-car chase across Paris; and, of course, the gonzo helicopter chase in the film’s climax (in … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2018 — Part Three!

I hope you’re enjoying my journey through my Favorite Movies of 2018!  Click here for part one of my list, and click here for part two.

10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs This latest film from the Coen Brothers consists of six short-stories, all set in the Old West.  I thought the film was marvelous — it’s weird and funny and heartbreaking… and did I say weird?  The film’s heart beats with the Coen Brothers’ uniquely off-kilter sensibility.  I can see how it might strain the patience of someone looking for a more standard, traditionally structured narrative film.  But I loved pretty much every minute of it.  Each one of the six stories surprised me, and I loved how easily the film shifted gear from whimsy to melancholy and back again.  The cast was amazing:  Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, David Krumholtz, Clancy Brown, Stephen Root, Harry Melling, Jefferson Mays, Tyne DalyBrendan GleesonSaul Rubenik, Chelcie Ross, and Jojo O’Neill each did fantastic work in their (mostly small) roles.  I love what a unique film this is.  I am thrilled that Netflix supported the Coen Brothers in following their vision to create it.  (Click here for my full review.)

9. Green BookGreen Book is a warm fable the likes of which is a little out of style these days, but I was captivated by this sweet, funny story of the unlikely friendship formed between two very different men of different races and different social strata: Mahershala Ali as the musician Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as his driver, Tony Vallelonga.  The film is anchored by the tremendous performances of its two leading men.  Mr. Ali embodies Don Shirley’s incredible core of strength and dignity as he struggles daily against vicious prejudice and pushes back against those ignorant attitudes.  Meanwhile, Mr. Mortensen bowled me over, yet again, with his incredible ability to transform his voice and his entire physicality to inhabit the role of the dim but well-meaning Tony.  There has been backlash against this film recently for misrepresenting who Don Shirley was and not involving the Shirley family in the making of the film.  I’d probably have ranked this film higher on my list if I felt it was more accurate to the true story.  These accusations, if true, are troubling, but even when I thought this film was based more strongly on a true story, it was clear to me when watching it that I was watching a Hollywood fairy-tale rather than historical fact.  I am OK with that.  The story depicted in the film remains moving and powerful, and with an … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2018 — Part Two!

On Friday I began my list of my Favorite Movies of 2018!  Onwards:

15. The Year of Spectacular Men Madelyn Deutch wrote and stars in The Year of Spectacular Men as an upbeat but somewhat lost young woman, Izzy.  The film co-stars Madelyn’s sister, Zoey Deutch, as Izzy’s far more successful and together younger sister, Sabrina, and it was directed by their mother, Lea Thompson (who also plays Izzy & Sabrina’s mother in a supporting role in the film).  I love that this film is a family affair!  But the joy of discovering that American treasure Lea Thompson is also a great director is only one reason this film is on my list.  I found the movie to be pleasingly endearing; a warm, good-hearted look at a young woman’s fumbling journey towards taking some control of her life as she steps into adulthood.  (Really, I should say the film is about three women’s journeys, because while Izzy is clearly the focus, the film takes the time to flesh out Sabrina and their mom Deb’s stories as well.)  I love how fully-realized all of the women in this film are.  And I also enjoyed that, while none of the many men who Izzy bounces between during the year chronicled by the film are worthy of her (the film’s title is, ahem, sarcastic), I appreciated that they, too, were fleshed out and presented as (mostly) three-dimensional human beings with strengths and weaknesses.  The film is very well-written (there are some very funny sequences!) and I was impressed by the strong acting of both Deutch sisters.  Emotionally honest but never too downbeat, I found the film to be an enjoyable, funny delight.  (My full review is coming soon.)

14. Incredibles 2 Fourteen years after the spectacular first film, we finally got a sequel to The Incredibles!  And while it doesn’t, perhaps, match the fierce originality of that first film, I was pleased by how effortlessly Incredibles 2 was able to draw us right back into this world and these characters.  The film is fast-paced and very funny, with lots of fantastic and entertaining super-heroic derring-do, along with a strong focus on these rich, complex characters.  It’s a delight to get to spend more time with everyone in the Incredibles world, and I was pleased that the film was able to find interesting ways to move each character’s story forward.  The animation is gorgeous, the cast is terrific, and Michael Giacchino’s score is top-notch.  Bring on Incredibles 3…!  (Click here for my full review.)

13. Song of Back and NeckPaul Lieberstein (Toby from The Office) wrote, directed and stars in this wonderfully bizarre and idiosyncratic movie about … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2018 — Part One!

I hope you enjoyed my list of my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018!  (Click here for part one, click here for part two, and click here for part three.)

And now, let’s dive into my list of my Twenty Favorite Movies of 2018!

I did a lot better this year about seeing all the movies I’d wanted to see than I did in getting to all of the TV shows I wanted to watch.  Still, there were a lot of movies that looked great that I just didn’t get to, including: Operation Finale; The Other Side of the Wind; They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead; Love, Simon; Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot; The Sisters Brothers, The Front Runner, If Beale Street Could Talk, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and more.  So if you want to know why those films don’t appear on my list, now you do.

I also want to begin by mentioning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which would surely have made my Best of 2017 list had I seen it it time, but I didn’t get to see it until well into 2018.  Click here for my full review.

OK, here we go:

Honorable Mention: Annihilation — Alex Garland’s follow-up to the brilliant Ex Machina is flawed, but I admire its huge ambition.  I love that this film is a cerebral sci-fi story, one that is filled with tension without ever devolving into a shoot-em-up.  This is speculative fiction at its best, one that sets up an intriguing sci-fi mystery and then allows its characters to explore and investigate that premise.  I love the cast of female leads, each of whom is terrific: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.  (Oscar Isaac and Benedict Wong are also pretty great in the film’s two main supporting male roles.)  This is a film that is deeper than it might at first seem, as its story can be seen as an allegory for depression, self-destruction, and mental illness.  This film was mostly ignored this year (though it did make Barack Obama’s list of his favorite 2018 films!!), but it’s definitely worth a look.  (Click here for my full review.)

20. Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind Marina Zenovich’s documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, is a fascinating and funny look back at the life and career of Robin Williams.  The film is somber at times, as we explore some of the troubles Mr. Williams faced over the course of his life.  His too-early death hangs over the whole film like a shadow.  But the film is also very very funny, giving lots of time for … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018, and click here for part two.  And now, onwards to my top five!

5. Black Mirror: “Bandersnatch” (released on 12/28/18) — This was the most impressively surprising TV experience I had all year.  I’d never have dreamed that such a thing could be possible, but somehow, Black Mirror found a way to replicate the feel of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book as a TV show.  I loved those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid, and having that experience recreated by a TV show was extraordinary.  Every few minutes (and even more frequently at times), you are prompted on screen to make a decision as to what Stefan, the main character in the episode, should do.  You make your choice via your remote control, and then the film unfolds based upon that choice.  Just like in a real “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, sometimes those choices take you out of the story quickly, in which case you are allowed either to exit the film or retrace your steps and try again.  Apparently, there are many hours of footage that can be discovered based on the choices you make as Stefan during the film!  “Bandersnatch” is an extraordinary achievement in both technology and narrative story-telling.  I loved it.  (Click here for my full review of Black Mirror: “Bandersnatch”.)

4. Star Wars: Rebels: “Family Reunion — and Farewell” (season four, episodes fifteen and sixteen, aired on 3/5/18) — Star Wars: Rebels aired its final two episodes back-to-back, and together they provided a note-perfect ending to, not just this series, but all of the animated Star Wars adventures fans have been following since The Clone Wars began a decade ago, in 2008.  This finale successfully managed to maintain a sense of fun adventure that has always characterized the best Star Wars stories, while building to an extremely moving, heartfelt climax.  There were so many amazing moments: Ezra’s temptation by the Emperor (voiced by Ian McDiarmid, reprising his role from the films!); Agent Kallus’ final redemption; great stuff for Rex and the surviving Clone Troopers (including, at long last, confirmation of the fan theory that the old bearded guy on Endor in Return of the Jedi was Rex!!); some great villainous moments from Thrawn (a character created by Timothy Zahn in his amazing “Heir to the Empire” novels, who I was delighted to see brought to animated life on Rebels); hearing John Williams’ magnificent Jedi theme play when Ezra steps out of the shadows, Loth-Wolves right behind him, and silently ignites his green light-saber; and so much more.  But the reason this … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018 — Part Two!

On Wednesday I began my list of my favorite episodes of TV of 2018!  Let’s continue…

12. Star Wars: Rebels: “A World Between Worlds” (season four, episode thirteen, aired on 2/26/18) — Star Wars: Rebels developed into a magnificent show, a super-fun expansion of the Star Wars universe.  The entire fourth and final season was terrific, but this episode from the final run of shows was a standout.  Reeling from the death of a major character, the young Jedi-in-training Ezra discovers an ancient Jedi Temple hidden somewhere beyond space and time, where those who enter are somehow able to access all of time at once.  This was a huge leap into new territory for Star Wars, and for our understanding of the Force.  The look of the Temple was striking (I loved the stark black and white, and the designs of all the doors/portals).  The sound-design in this episode was incredible, seeding in dialogue from not just all of Rebels but all of the Star Wars movies, including the new films.  It felt like the entire Star Wars saga came together in this gripping episode.  We got to see a major emotional moment in the growth of Ezra, we got to see the Emperor (voiced by Ian McDiarmid, who played the Emperor in the movies!)… and, of course, the biggest delight was the return of Ahsoka Tano.  Ahsoka was introduced in the very first episode of the animated Clone Wars series, but her ultimate fate was left hanging when that show was cancelled before its timeline could meet up with that of Episode III as had been originally planned.  I was delighted when Rebels brought Ahsoka into its story, but I thought we’d seen the last of her after witnessing her climactic duel with Vader in “Twilight of the Apprentice.”  Seeing her return here was shocking and emotional.  (Click here for my full review of Star Wars: Rebels season four.)

11. Star Trek: Short Treks: “Calypso” (season one, episode two, released on 11/8/18) — Wow, a Star Wars episode and a Star Trek episode, back-to-back on my list??  This is a great time to be a sci-fi fan!  As readers of this blog well know, I was very disappointed by the first season of Star Trek: Discovery.  But I was surprised how much I enjoyed the four Short Trek short films that were released in the run-up to the start of season two.  My favorite was this one, the second of the four, written by Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay!  It was super-cool to have as talented and high-profile a writer as Mr. Chabon involved in Trek, and even more gratifying … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018 — Part One!

Ok, here we go!  I’m a bit later that usual launching my annual Best of the Year lists (I’ve been working on some illustration projects that have been taking up all of my free time — click on my updated portfolio page for a few teases, with more news hopefully coming in the next few months), but I’m here now and ready to go!

This annual list began as a Top Ten list and last year ballooned to a Top Twenty-Five!  This year it’s a Top 19.  What can I say, that’s a weird number, but there were 19 shows/episodes that I wanted to highlight!

I always begin these lists with a list of the shows I HADN’T watched but wanted to, and this year that list of shows I missed is longer than ever.  I mean, insanely long.  I keep a running list of shows that interest me and that I wanted to watch, and while I watch a lot of TV, I nevertheless wasn’t able to get to: Atlanta, Barry, Homecoming, Killing Eve, A Very English Scandal, Bodyguard, Bojack Horseman, The End of the F***ing World, Counterpart, American Vandal, Maniac, Patriot, Altered Carbon, The Expanse, and The Romanoffs.  Then there were the returning shows whose latest seasons I still haven’t found time to watch: Black Mirror season four (I watched the first few episodes but never finished), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season two, Legion season two, Westworld season two, Iron Fist season two, and Daredevil season three.  Aargh that is a lot of fantastic TV that I wasn’t able to see in 2018!!  I’m hoping to catch up with some of those shows in 2019… even though there are lots of new 2019 shows already out and/or coming soon (True Detective season three, the final episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, etc.)!!  Sigh.  The joys and pain of “Peak TV”.

But, OK, enough moaning, there WAS so much great TV that I DID see in 2018 and am so excited to celebrate.  Here we go:

19. The Simpsons: “My Way or the Highway to Heaven” (season thirty, episode three, aired on 10/14/18) — Wow!  For very first time since I started writing these lists a decade ago, The Simpsons makes an appearance!  I started watching The Simpsons a few episodes into season one, and I watched it religiously through around season 15, but then I drifted away.  I started watching again after The Simpsons Movie (which I loved) and watched for about half that season, but it didn’t hold my interest.  I’ve dipped back in occasionally over the past decade, but it wasn’t until this past year that I watched several episodes in a row that made me … [continued]