Movies I watched: Snowpiercer, by Bong Joon-Ho

SnowpiercerStill-thumb-630xauto-36253Due to the failed environmental policies of this guy, and this guy, and this guy, the nations of earth decide to inject a chemical into the atmosphere in a desperate gamble to counter the effects of global warming. This fails, and most life on earth is wiped out.

The only people left alive, are the rich folks that managed to buy a ticket on the Snowpiercer, an awesome train that is planning on circling the globe for the rest of eternity, as well as the poor people who manage to sneak on at the last minute.

17 years later, the poor people aren’t happy, and they turn to Chris Evans to save them.

imagesThat’s the premise of Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, an(mostly) English language film that has been a massive hit in Korea and other asian countries. It’s a premise full of promise & potential, and has been a bit of a cause celebre among film fans this year, as evil Harvey Weinstein had previously refused to release Joon-Ho’s cut of the film in North America. He has since acquiesced, but only in limited release.

I can see why.

Joon-Ho is so enthralled with his concept here, that he can’t seem to figure out what kind of movie to make around it. Should he make a balls-to-the-wall thriller? The bones for that are here, and one could see how Harvey Weinstein would have thought that’s what he was getting when he picked up the rights.

Or should he make a cerebral Brazil/12 Monkeys homage? Joon-Ho goes as far as to name one of his lead characters Gilliam, so his preference is fairly clear. But Snowpiercer is far too actiony, and it’s characters too one-dimensional, to fully take its place among such other dystopian classics like Blade Runner or Children of Men.

And it’s too preachy, and too sentimental, to be compared to other excellent modern thrillers like Looper & Source Code.

So what does Snowpiercer get right?

snowpiercer_tilda-swintonFirstly, it’s exciting. We know what the stakes are, and the desperation of Chris Evans’ crew is palpable. They are literally fighting for the future of the planet here. They’d rather die, than accept another day under the status quo.

Secondly, Tilda Swinton. Her role as the public face of the evil villain who is actually running the train, is absolutely inspired. Her character’s over-the-top fascism is probably the film’s strongest link to movies like A Clockwork Orange or 1984. The movie suffers every time she’s not on screen.

Thirdly, the concept of the piece. I’ve mentioned it before, but the concept is so strong, and so timely, that it really does make up for any other perceived shortfalls.

Quite frankly, this film is screaming for Showtime or AMC to turn it into a TV series. There is so much backstory left on the table here, and so many unanswered questions, that I found myself making up scenarios in my head to answer them.

There is plenty about this film that is entertaining and worth discussing, mostly having to do with the fact that we may only be decades away from a similar fate. However, all I could think about was how much the film left unsaid.

Rating: B-

 

 

Movies I’ve Watched: Captain America – The Winter Soldier by Joe Russo & Anthony Russo

Captain America: the Winter Soldier, is like the Raid: Berendal, in that it’s that rare sequel that overshadows the original, if not out right decimates it. This isn’t just the best Captain America movie ever made…it’s arguably best movie Marvel has produced thus far.

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a WW2 super soldier who spent 70 years in a coma, and is now doing captain-america-chris-evans-avengers-600special ops for SHIELD, a super spy organization run by Nick Fury (played by Samuel Jackson, in easily his best work as the character to date). Evans thinks Jackson is a fascist thug, and Jackson thinks Evans is a naive dilettante. They’re friends, but they’re the kind of friends that send pretty women to move in across the hall from the other person just to spy on each other.
They’re joined by the Black Widow, a Russian superspy played by Scarlett Johansson, and the Falcon, a former U.S. paratrooper played by Anthony Mackie. They, and SHIELD, are fighting against Hydra, a WW2 era deep science Nazi organization, that seems to want to free the world, by killing a lot of people. They never really explain their plan very well.

black-widow-posterThis is being compared to 70’s thrillers like Day of the Jackal and the Parallax View, though I think this movie is far too action-oriented to really compare it apples-to-apples to those classics. But there’s a conspiracy, and race against the clock to uncover it, so now it’s a John Le Carre movie, apparently.

Although not technically a “thriller”, Winter Solider is absolutely thrilling. It puts its boots to your neck the minute you walk into the theatre, and it doesn’t let up. The action and fight choreography is several steps up from the already considerable standards set by the first film, and it appears that a real effort was made into adapting the acrobatics seen in the late 80’s Mark Gruenwald run on the Cap comic book. The fight scenes between Captain America and the Winter Solider, who DEFINITELY ISN”T SOMEONE FROM THE FIRST MOVIE THAT WE THOUGHT WAS DEAD are really exceptional, and are easily the equal (and probably the better), of any similar fight scenes scene in the superhero comic movie genre we’ve seen to date.

55a6e3f3_4a4wxtwEven more so than usual, Marvel spends as much time on character development as it does on action scenes here, and at least 4 of the main characters end up significantly different people at the end of this film, than they are at the beginning. This isn’t an inconsiderable achievement in this genre, and you really get the sense that in terms of the continuity that Marvel is creating in their cinematic universe, that this one is a game changer. They will be building on the character and plot development from this one for a long time.
For the comic lovers among us, we get Batroc the Leaper (BTW, 12 year old me would like to sincerely thank Kevin Feige for making it possible for 40 year old me to see BATROC KICKING IN A MOVIE!), Arnim Zola going full Zola, Crossbones, a Doctor Strange reference, and some after the credits geekiness that I won’t spoil for you, but we finally see someone who comics fans know as the true leader of Hydra, as well as a sneak peak at some future possible Avengers that DEFINITELY AREN”T THE MUTANT CHILDREN OF MAGNETO.

On a related note, apparently I’ve been waiting my whole life for Robert Redford to play a Marvel villain, and I didn’t even know it. In this film, he sets the bar so high in the “Former critically acclaimed leading man who now plays the villain in action movies so as to lend credibility to said movies” category, that I’m not sure that even Michael Douglas will be able to catch up.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable action movie, and Marvel needs to be signing up the Russos to a long term deal, right quick.
Rating: A

 

Movies I’ve watched: Noah by Darren Aronofsky

Noah is the story of a prehistoric hippie (played by Russell Crowe, in a role that he is perfectly suited for, as he gets to scowl and yell a lot), who is told by his Kreator that the world is about to be destroyed. Everyone’s got to go, except for Noah’s family, and every animal on earth. And so the Kreator sends a supernatural monster with a face made of stone to help him.

But enough about Jennifer Connolly.

kaxtqrh-get-a-better-look-at-aronofsky-s-bizarre-noah-creatures-the-watchers

Jennifer Connelly, in Noah

I’ll never understand how any studio thought handing over the reins to one of the Bible’s (now available at that creepy Christian book store down the street that somehow stays open even though you never see anyone inside) most beloved stories, to one of modern cinema’s most sacrilegious directors (you can google Jennifer Connelly Dildo, for just a taste of the Aronofsky oeuvre), was a good idea.

But they did. And so we have Noah, a Clash Of The Titans for the bible set. But instead of a gorgon we get a rock monster, and instead of Liam Neeson we get Anthony Hopkins, who has played the “wise old man on the mountain” cliché so many times that Aaronofsky finally just decided to have him literally play a wise old man on a mountain. And instead of a great biblical epic, we get Noah.

It’s not that there isn’t some entertainment to be gleaned here. In fact, the second act of the film is fairly strong, as it’s essentially an hour-long tribute to the Rocky training montage, but instead of Talia Shire we get a million snakes, and instead of Burgess Meredith we get the Kreator. Aaronofsky means this to be a cautionary tale, using the mythology of our past to teach us lessons about our future. But everyone in the film is so utterly unlikable (with the exception of the deliciously campy Ray Winstone, which is unfortunate as he’s actually supposed to be the villain of the piece), that it’s hard to not to agree with the Kreator and root for him to wipe everyone out and to just leave the whole planet to the birds & bees.

article-2576912-1C18F1E500000578-346_634x449Noah in particular is to be despised, as he’s initially played as a prehistoric Jerry Garcia, but morphs quickly into a loathsome ideological martyr, so convinced in his species’ shortcomings that he’s not only willing, but eager, to sacrifice his entire family to his Kreator’s whims.

Oh, and can anyone remind me of the bible verse where everyone gets shotguns? That would be great. I’ll wait.

This is an easy film to mock, but it’s not terrible by any stretch. But if you want to learn about how to protect the environment, watch The Inconvenient Truth. And if you want to learn about the bible, read the bible. And if you want a somewhat entertaining, overblown special effects epic masquerading as a environmental puff piece, you can watch Noah.

Rating: C+

Movies I’ve Watched: The Raid 2 – Berendal by Gareth Evans

Iko Uwais, in his earlier, rumplier days

Iko Uwais, in his earlier, rumplier days

The Raid: Redemption (what the lead character is redeeming is never quite explained) might be the best pure action movie ever made; a balls-to-the-wall non-stop thrill ride, blah blah blah. It was the story of Rama (played by my wife’s secret Indonesian boyfriend Iko Uwais), a rookie SWAT team member that gets stuck on a impossible mission to raid (that’s why it’s called The Raid) a crime-ridden apartment building and capture the ganglord that lives at the top of it.

It’s awesome. You should watch it.

I’ll wait.

A sequel was not only to be expected, but to be relished. Of course we want to see a repetition of the closed-system brilliance of the first movie. I can just see the studio executives relishing at the cash cow potential: Let’s put him in a bigger building this time! Or maybe a train? What about a plane? What if the whole movie was set in one of those little clown cars and Rama has to fight 256 circus professionals to win the day?

the-raid-2-hammer-girl

Hammer Girl. She has 2 hammers.

We’ll never know how my ideas would have worked out, as director Gareth Evans has veered so far away from the tone of the first film, that I’m not even sure he was ever involved with that movie in the first place. The lead character is the same, and he’s played by the same actor…and that’s about it.

We join him about 5 minutes after the first film. He’s congratulated on a job well done, and as a reward is given the worst assignment of all time: He’s got to go undercover as a Jakartan mobster, infiltrating an Indonesian crime syndicate that’s in a permanent state of détente with a Yakuza clan that’s set up shop in their country. Why a rookie SWAT team grunt with no undercover training is given this extremely difficult task is not explained, and SHAME ON YOU FOR ASKING.

311897_049

One of several dance sequences in the film

After 3 years in prison as a bit of a “get-to-know-you” mixer, Rama is ready for his new job: Protecting Ucho (son of the boss of the Indonesian mob, played smolderingly by Arifin Putra), as he shakes down pornographers for protection money. Ucho isn’t really satisfied with his lot in life, and spends the rest of the movie as a mutated Sonny Corleone (but without that character’s competency or loyalty), angrily bucking against his father’s complacent authority. Things escalate, and then everyone beats everyone else up.

The end.

Now, this is a still a kicking movie, as my wife likes to call martial arts films. Gloriously so, in fact. If you liked the incredible martial arts action sequences of the first film, then you’re set here, and are guaranteed to get your moneys worth. They are absolutely incredible, and there’s also a car chase that is so definitive as the new raised bar for that particular trope, that I almost expected them to dig up Steve McQueen’s corpse and pee on it at the end. Evans absolutely makes his bones here as the premier action film director of our time. How every studio on earth isn’t breaking down his door to direct their terrible franchises, is beyond me.

maxresdefault

Smoldering

But it’s a vastly different film from the first installment, both in plot, and in tone.

Where the Raid was contained, the Raid 2 is wide-open. Where the Raid was utterly simple, the Raid 2 is maddeningly complex. And since Gareth Evans opens up his plot, he leaves it wide open for the types of questions that the first film cleverly skirted:

1)   Why are there no police in Indonesia? These guys tear up half the county with nary a siren to be heard.

2)   Why do no professional gangsters in Jakarta seem to own or use guns? Do they not know how to use them? Is there a metal shortage? If a guy ran down the street at me with a baseball bat, I wouldn’t think “Ah, let’s engage this gentleman in fisticuffs”. I’d think “Ah, he’s dead, since I’ve already shot him in the head, and isn’t it silly to be a gangster with a baseball bat?”

3)   This is a follow-up to question 2: Where did everyone learn martial arts? Is there a massive school in Jakarta that just trains all potential gangsters to be Pencak Silat bad-asses? If I led an army full of martial arts masters, I’d like to think that I’d be a little more ambitious than shaking down karaoke bars for protection money, but that’s just me.

4)   Why did Iko Uwais cut his hair? He looked so cute in the first one. (Question 4 submitted by my wife)

This really is one of those rare sequels that outshine the original, but it’s kind of unfair to compare the two films, as they are incredibly different. The first is a martial arts film, with a brilliantly bare action movie framework. The second is a full-on gangster epic, which reminded me tonally of modern classics like Infernal Affairs, and New World, though it never quite matches up to those films in terms of character development, or in emotional complexity. It also happens to have a whack-load of beautifully shot martial arts & action scenes in it, which will probably mean boffo box office, but nowhere near the critical cachet of those movies. Fantastic film.

Rating: A

Best Comic Books of 2013

I’m a filthy cheater. After years of doing massive comic book best of lists, I cheated. I’m doing one list, and one list only this year. BUT, I’m cramming so many titles into this list that it’s going to hopefully FEEL like I did numerous lists, and so you hopefully feel like you’re getting your money’s worth (Which considering you’re paying nothing to read this, isn’t going to amount to much). You’ll notice that I did a lot of ties this year, mostly when a writer is responsible for more than one great book in the same year.

Here you go.

40. The Massive by Brian Wood & Kristian Donaldson (Dark Horse)

massive16cover

39. (Tie) Lose Vol. 5 by Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)

lose5

AND

39. (TIE) Very Casual by Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)

VC_front_1024x1024

38. (Tie) Change by Ales Kott & Morgan Jeske (Image)

comics_change

AND

38. Zero by Ales Kott & various artists (Image)

ZERO2COVER

37. (Tie) Julio’s Day by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

Unknown-1

AND

37. (Tie) Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez (Drawn & Quarterly)

a50f6e17bb8af0

AND

37. (Tie) Love & Rockets: The New Stories Vol. 06 by Los Brothers Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

comics-love-rockets-cover

36. Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends edited by Emi Gennis (Hic & Hoc)

unknown-origins-emi-gennis-2013

35. Copra by Michael Fiffe (Independent)

copra11-cover

34. The Black Beetle: No Way Out by Francesco Francavilla (Dark Horse)

2012-11-03-the_black_beetle_02

33. (Tie) Sheltered by Ed Brisson & Johnnie Christmas (Image)

sheltered05_cover

AND

33. (Tie) Comeback by Ed Brisson & Michael Walsh (Image)

comeback

32. The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni Press)

3114781-32

31. March Book 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydkin, & Nate Powell (Top Shelf)

9781603093002_custom-d7c19152953d96485ea56d07b8cb9102dc0186ed-s6-c30

30. 2000AD Edited by Tharg (Rebellion)

comics-2000-ad-1852-1

29. The 8th Seal by James Tynion & Jeremy Rock (Thrillbent, web)

3002192-1

28. Black Science by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera (Image)

BlackScience-01-Cover-A-Dressed-78ebd

27. Dark Horse Presents edited by Mike Richardson (Dark Horse)

24110

26. Demeter by Becky Cloonan (Independent)

541458af69ca5a59db1a9372702685e8

25. Fatale by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Image)

fatale17-cover

24. Nemo: Heart Of Ice by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neil (Top Shelf)

leaguenemo_lg

23. (Tie) Breath Of Bones:  A Tale Of The Golem by Steve Niles & Dave Wachter (Dark Horse)

1472519

AND

23. (Tie) Transfusion by Steve Niles & Menton (IDW)

3777793-transfusion-3

22. Six Gun Gorilla by Simon Spurrier & Jeff Stokely (Boom)

3163718-wboom_6gungorilla_005v1

21. (Tie) Daredevil: Dark Nights by Lee Weeks, David Lapham, Jimmy Palmiotti, & Thony Silas (Marvel)

detail

AND

21. (Tie) Daredevil: End Of Days by Brian Bendis, David Mack, Klaus Janson, and Bill Sienkiwicz (Marvel) 

Daredevil_End_of_Days_Vol_1_4

20. (Tie) Fury: Max by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov (Marvel)

detail-1

AND 

20. (Tie) Battlefields: The Fall & Rise Of Anna Kharkova by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)

FEB130939_2

19. (Tie) Baltmore: Infernal Train by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)

Baltimore-Infernal-Train-2-featured

AND

19. (Tie) BPRD: 1948 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, & Max Fiumara (Dark Horse)

18457

AND

19. (Tie) BPRD: Vampire by Mike Mignola, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)

B.P.R.D.Vampire4cover

AND

19. (Tie) Sledgehammer 44 & Sledgehammer 44: Lighting War by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, & Jason Latour (Dark Horse)

23075

18. (Tie) Red Handed: The Fine Art Of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt (First Second)

1368032467

AND

18. (Tie) Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)

23541

17. Boxers & Saints by Gene Yang (First Second)

boxerssaintscover

16. Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)

Parker_Slayground-pr-CC-17

15. (Tie) Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra (Image)

themanhattanprojects_17-1

AND

15. (Tie) East Of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta (Image)

eastwest5-web

14. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge (Drawn & Quarterly)

WomanRebelMain

13. Science Fiction by Joe Ollmann (Conundrum Press)

Science Fiction GN-1

12. Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1 by Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)

HipHopFamilyTree_vol1

11. 47 Ronin by Mike Richardson & Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)

47ronin3cover

10. Catalyst Comix by Joe Casey (Dark Horse)

Catalyst-2-CVR

9. Daredevil by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee (Marvel)

daredevil-27-waid-samnee-cover

8. Trillium by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)

Trillium4Cover

7. Double Barrel by Zander Cannon & Kevin Cannon (Top Shelf)

13ABD75A9EB

6. Hellboy In Hell by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)

Hellboy_in_Hell_1reprint

5. (Tie) Lazarus by by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark (Image)

Lazarus-03

AND

5. (Tie) Lady Sabre And The Pirates Of The Innaefable Aether by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett (Web)

sabrewp_1660x1050

4. (Tie) Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin (Independent, web)

tpeye_02_big-600x363

AND

4. (Tie) Saga by Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples (Image)

saga14-cover

3. (Tie) Multiple Warheads: Alphabet To Infinity by Brandon Graham (Image)

Multiple-Warheads_Alphabet-to-Infinity_2

AND

3. (Tie) Walrus by Brandon Graham (PictureBox)

Walrus-Cover-low2

AND

3. (Tie) Prophet by Brandon Graham, Giannis Milonogiannis, & Simon Roy, and others (Image)

prophet36-cover-64e43

2. Battling Boy by Paul Pope (First Second)

comics-battling-boy-1

1. (Tie) Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, David Aja, & Annie Wu (Marvel)

tumblr_mw9kkzS4LT1rwk3plo1_500

AND

1. (Tie) Satellite Sam by Matt Fraction & Howard Chaykin (Image)

SatelliteSam_Main

AND

1. (Tie)  Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky (Image) 

sexcriminals3-cover

Best Movies Of 2013

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged at all this year. There’s a few reasons for that, most of which aren’t really reasons so much as they’re different ways to spell lazy. But I wanted to at least get a movie list out this year, as in my mind this is one of the strongest years in mainstream film that I can remember. Keep in mind that I haven’t seen everything this year, and this is just based on movies I’ve seen.

Here you be.

30. No directed by Pablo Larrain

29. The World’s End directed by Edgar Wright

28. A Field In England directed by Ben Wheately

27. Room 237 directed by Rodney Ascher

26. This Is The End directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

25. Big Bad Wolves directed by Aharon Keshales

24. The Battery directed by Jeremy Gardner

23. The Place Beyond The Pines directed by Derek Cianfrance

22. Blue Jasmine directed by Woody Allen

21. The Pervert’s Guide To Idealogy directed by Sophie Fiennes

20. Borgman directed by Alex Van Warmerdam

19. Mud directed by Jeff Nichols

18. Side Effects directed by Steven Soderbergh

17. New World directed by Park Hoon-jung

16. Dallas Buyer’s Club directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

15. A Band Called Death directed by Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett

14. Stoker directed by Park Chan-wook

13. Inside Llewyn Davis directed by Ethan & Joel Cohen

12. Prisoners directed by Denis Villeneuve

11. The Gatekeepers directed by Dror Moreh

10. Before Midnight directed by Richard Linklater

9. Upstream Color directed by Shane Carruth

8. Gravity directed by Alfonso Cuaron

7. Frances Ha directed by Noah Baumbach

6. Short Term 12 directed by Destin Cretton

5. American Hustle directed by David O. Russell

4. The Lunch Box directed by Ritesh Batra

3. The Act Of Killing directed by Joshua Oppenheimer & Christine Cynn

2. 12 Years A Slave directed by Steve McQueen

1. All Is Lost directed by J.C. Chandor

Worst Movie of 2013: Man Of Steel directed by Zack Snyder, though Elysium & 42 sure came close.

Best Comics of 2012: Best Web/Digital Comics

Me, finishing this post.

Me, finishing this post.

Ugh. Doing these lists almost killed me this year. This is the last of the comic book “Best Ofs” but there is still my list of the best movies of 2012 to come. Maybe. If you’re lucky. Anyways, here are the web/digital comics.

This category seems to be evolving every year, and I think that next year I’m going to have to revisit how I look at these things. The line between “digital” and “print” seems to be shrinking, but there still seems to be a big gulf between “digital” and “web”. Several comics on this list could have easily come out as print comics (Cow Boy, Saga Of A Doomed Universe, the Monkeybrain titles), but I still included them here, competing for space with true web comics like JL8 & Sin Titulo. While it might be the last time I do this, I decided that for inclusion this year a comic must have seen published for the first time online or in a digital format. Also, I used some of the synopsis I wrote for last year’s version of this list, as a) I am really tired of doing these lists, and b) much of the info remains the same.

20. Moonlighting by Emily Wernet

2012-07-30-MoonlightingMoonlighting stars Billy, a normal teenaged girl when she is awake. But in her dreams, she’s a costumed superhero, fighting villains and monsters for the betterment of humanity. When her dreams start to seep into her waking life, she has to juggle monster fighting with the inanities of high school. Werner shows a knack for combing her raw, indie sensibility with the tropes that the superhero genre demands, and making it work.

19. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

nimona3_4newI’m not sure why there seems to be so many more strong female leads in web comics compared to their print equivalents, but Nimona is just one of several strips on this years list that features a woman as its star. She’s an aspiring villain, who applies to apprentice with Balister Blackheart, the biggest name in supervillainy. Their unconventional partnership is the heart of this cute, yet meaningful story. Fans of Adventure Time who yearn for something a little more grown up should enjoy this.

18. Cura Te Ipsum by Neal Bailey & Dexter Wee

2012-12-28-Page-328Imagine that you’re not alone in the universe. Imagine that you discover that there are numerous versions of you, in numerous permutations of what you consider to be reality. Then imagine that one of those versions is the worst villain in the history of the world, and that he wants nothing more than to destroy the very fabric of the universe as we know it, and it’s up to you to stop him. That is the premise of Cura Te Ipsum, and it’s a great one. Intrigued? Of course you are. Ambition is the watchword for this strip. Bailey and Wee have created a large, epic canvas on which to tell their alternate reality-hopping adventure, and it’s one that seems to be only growing in scope with every panel and page. It’s an action-packed sci-fi thriller, in the truest sense.

17. Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Osterag

sfp-3-6-for-webSFP is the story of a super powered young woman who decides one day that her role as a famous costumed hero isn’t fulfilling her anymore. Not only that, but she’s questioning whether or not she has ever done any actual good.

It’s a character study  and one that asks some interesting questions. But at its heart SFP is still an entertaining superhero story, with plenty for open-minded fans of that genre to sink their teeth into.

16. You’re All Jealous Of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld

tumblr_md0e31h97P1rwkrdbo1_500Part Hark! A Vagrant, part The Oatmeal, Gauld’s work for the Guardian makes me laugh, and then makes me feel smart for getting his clever short-form visual jokes about everything from poetry to Tom Waits. And sometimes, both. Plus, Feminist James Bond. Gauld has an impeccable sense of timing for this sort of humour.

15. Darkness by Boulet

EN-Ténébreux11Boulet produced a lot of great quality strips this year, but Darkness might have been his very best. And the fact that he was able to put together such a fully realized social commentary in 24 hours is all the more impressive. It’s ostensibly the story of a struggle between roommates. But in actuality it’s about the vagaries of perception, and they way they can influence our lives. Boulet manages to make us laugh & think at the same time.

14. Sarah And The Seed by Ryan Andrews

winter_seed02aSarah And The Seed is a sweet and fun short story about an elderly couple that can’t have children, but there’s an unnerving darkness around it as well. That’s probably not surprising, as the woman herein literally gives birth to a plant. That’s not quite as creepy as it sounds. I think we’re going to see a lot from Ryan Andrews in the future, as he’s proven here that he can both draw and write emotionally evocative comics.

13. The Fox Sister by Christina Strain & Jayd Ait-Kaci

4Christina Strain deftly weaves elements of horror, romance, and historical docudrama into this delightful supernatural mystery set in late ’60′s South Korea.There’s a compelling horror story here, albeit one with plenty of character development and depth. I worry that this strip won’t be finished before it’s creators get snapped up by the big leagues. Just a fantastic combo of story and visuals, with Jayd Ait-Kaci on my “going to be a star” list.

12. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

medievalfilmsmStill the strip that makes me laugh out loud the most. Rather than a continual serial story, Hark! is a series of unrelated strips, ranging from one panel to several pages. The subject matter ranges from pop culture, to politics, to literary fiction, but the main focus here is on history. Or if you’d like, making fun of history. Kate Beaton’s got a knack for finding the humour in pretty much everything, or to put it more accurately, creating humour out of pretty much everything. Although a lot of the work is slightly absurdist in nature, there’s an intelligent grasp of the inherent silliness in how seriously we take our selves, and how seriously we take our history. What I love most about Beaton’s work is how much it demands of the reader. If you don’t know the historical events she’s lampooning, or if you haven’t read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, you won’t get the joke. There were a lot of great Hark! strips this year, but my personal favourite might be Beaton’s take on a typical Canadian’s way of looking at the war of 1812.

11. Max Overacts by Caanan Grall

2012-11-26maxCalvin and Hobbes is probably the most obvious influence on this fairly traditional strip about a young thespian with an exaggerated imagination. But Max is hardly a copycat, with its lead character being as dynamic and original as any in comics today. Grall is in it for the long haul here, often choosing poignant character moments over easy punch lines.

10. Old City Blues by Giannis Milonogiannis

redesign_ocb2012_01If you’ve been impressed by Milongiannis’ stint on Prophet this year, Old City Blues is an excellent primer for his work. As a futuristic big city cyberpunk police-thriller, Old City Blues is hardly original in concept (see I Robot, Judge Dredd, Blade Runner). But in execution, its first rate. While the writing and plotting have definitely improved in the 5 digital issues he released (FOR FREE!) this year, Milongiannis’ beautiful black and white action art is the real star of this show. You may find more original web comics out there right now, but you won’t find many that look this good.

9. The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi

ab187The Abaddon starts with a man named Tea. He knocks at the door of an apartment, looking for a new home. He’s welcomed graciously by the residents, but we find out quickly that mystery abounds. Not only do the residents not seem to know anything about the place they are living in, or how they got there, but even Tea himself doesn’t have any recollection of how he arrived, or even what his real name is. To create real mystery, you must create real tension, and Shadmi weaves tension like a spider. Every panel strengthens the characters, and every line of dialogue enhances the mystery. The art is bold and unconventional, and it’s absolutely perfect for setting the tone that Shadmi is going for here. If you love a great mystery, this needs to be a regular stop of yours.

8. Lady Sabre & The Pirates Of The Innaefable Aether by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett

2012-12-13-Chapter-08,-Part-Eighteen---Away!-494183d0Pirates. Steampunk. A beautiful, intelligent lead. I doubt you need more than those three things to create a great comic, but to Lady Sabre Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett also add great characters, smart tension, and some of the best art you’ll see in comics at all this year. We’re starting to see more comic veterans follow Warren Ellis’ Freak Angels business model (give away the web comic for free, then charge for the collections and merchandise), and Lady Sabre is proving to be an excellent example of what A-list talent can do with the burgeoning sub-medium of web comics. I can honestly say that there isn’t a better looking web comic out there right now. Burchett seems to be relishing the opportunity to show what can he do to a new audience, and every new page of this strip is a revelation in how to build an evocative fantasy adventure.

7. The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kershl

2012-12-12Part talking animal comic strip, part fantasy epic, Charles Christopher seems destined to be part of these types of lists a long as Kershl keeps making it. Charles Christopher is a meandering fantasy, and a beautiful one at that. The Charles Christopher that we’re talking about here, is in fact, a sasquatch. Or a yeti. Kerschl never actually says, and that’s ok. He lives in a forest with a multitude of talking animals, who all have their own dramas and subplots. The strip jumps between the adventures of Charles himself, the denizens of the forest, and flashbacks involving Vivol, a bear that serves as an elder statesman of sorts for the strip. Although Kerschl is taking his time at unraveling some of his secrets, the journey he takes you on while getting there is the real reason I love this strip as much as I do.

6. Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

prv12862_covMonkeybrain got a lot of attention this year for their new platform of digital-first comics, and the best of the comics they published was Bandette. It’s a stylish, vibrant thriller by the veteran team of Tobin & Coover (Gingerbread Girl) about a Parisian master thief who actually helps the police when she isn’t busy making them look like idiots. There’s a nice mix of humour and action here, and this is one of those digital comics that I think will be well served by a physical collection. Colleen Coover has really developed into an incredibly well-rounded artist, and I think Bandette is a high point for both her and Tobin.

5. JL8 by Yale Stewart

47The best indicator of the current creative state of DC Comics is that the best DC superhero comic currently being produced isn’t actually being done by DC Comics. It’s JL8, a re-imagining of DC’s greatest heroes as 8-year-old children. Children with costumes and superpowers to be sure, but children nonetheless.

And so they have child-size problems: Crushes on their classmates, schoolyard bullies, and of course, Darkseid. Mr. Darkseid, that is. He’s their new gym teacher. But this is far more than gimmicky opportunism.

It’s fun, funny, sad, and sweet. And that’s often in the same strip. In fact, there’s more heart in one average four panel strip by Stewart than in any every DC comic released this year. Combined.

4. Saga Of A Doomed Universe by Scott Reed

SAGAOFADOOMEDUNIVERS_COVER3_SMALLThis, my friends, is 170 pages of the best pure superhero comic that you’ve never read. And best of all, this is a superhero comic by someone who LOVES superhero comics. Gone is the snark that embraces much of today’s post-Miller, post-Moore superhero world. There is no false pretense of realism here, and no attempt to turn this into something that it’s not.

It’s also one of the most ambitious comics I read this year, and one that truly deserves more attention. “What if Alan Moore wrote Secret Wars?” was the original tagline for this book, and it’s probably the best way to describe it. If you think 1985 was the highpoint for superhero comics, this really is a must-own.

3. Double Barrel by Zander Cannon & Kevin Cannon

page001_lgThis was probably the most entertaining adventure comic I read in 2012, and at less than 2 bucks for almost a 100 pages, it’s a hell of a deal. Each digital issue contains new chapters of original comics (Heck by Zander Cannon, and Crater XV by Kevin Cannon), as well as shorter comics, extensive letters pages, and how-to articles. And it really is all good. My personal favourite is Heck, a comic starring a former football hero who has a portal to Hell in his attic. Both features are adventure stories of the highest quality, and as a total package Double Barrel really delivers everything I love about comics.

2. Cow Boy by Nate Cosby & Chris Eliopoulos

COWBOY004006_0This is Jonah Hex meets Dennis The Menace.

And believe it or not, it works. Really, really well.

Cow Boy is about a 10-year old bounty hunter, traveling the old west with only one goal: to put his family in jail for their crimes.

Eliopoulous’ colourful yet straightforward approach to pencils belies the utter seriousness of Cosby’s script, which allows for an emotional engagement with its audience that few strips enjoy.

For pure emotional impact, Cow Boy ranks among the very best comics I read in 2012.

1. Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart

2012-10-16One of the greatest serial web comics ever ended in October. Here’s the plot: When going through his estranged dead grandfather’s personal belongings, a man discovers a picture of his grandfather with a beautiful young woman who he’s never seen before. Intrigued, he goes to his grandfather’s grave, only to see the same woman there. And the mystery begins. What ensues is one of the most compelling, complex, and sometimes convoluted mysteries I’ve read in comics. Stewart has said that his prime inspiration here was the TV series Lost. He wanted to create a narrative that had numerous seemingly unsolvable mysteries attached to it. He accomplished that, in spades. One of the greats.

Honourable Mention:

Nathan Sorry by Rich Barret, Legends Of The Dark Knight by various writers and artists, Army Of God by David Axe & Tim Hamilton, Masks & Mobsters by Joshua Williamson & Mike Henderson, Monster Of The Week by Shaenon Garrity, Axe Cop by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle