Monday, January 28, 2013

comics for the week of 01/23/13.

I'm starting the catch up on Daredevil. I might be posting some reviews separately when it comes to the trades I'm getting through.

Batwoman 16 - I feel like I say this with every issue of Batwoman, but: This is a clinic! God, this book is so good, the artwork is so exquisite. The page of Bones was awesome, the return of Flamebird was unexpected, but the page of Wonder Woman taking down the Hydra was the best of the bunch. It's incredible artwork, but I've raved about JH Williams for long, it feels trite to continue doing so. Instead, let me say this. I feel like he's learned a lot in a very short time about plotting and pacing. There were some previous issues where he was bouncing around the plot in a way that felt too much like whiplash. Here, it feels natural that every other page should be narrated in a different voice, and his writing seems to have not only a flow to it, but a grasp that it might have been lacking before. The best part of this issue is that it's not the last part of this arc, which I wasn't even that big of a fan of when it began. But the longer that Williams has to work on something, the better it becomes. I can't wait for next month's conclusion.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen 6 - "I figured I would go to Hell now. The way I was brought up, that's what happens to people who don't confess their sins. But my friends won't have to bear the burden of my guilt." And what a guilt trip this has been. Exquisite artwork by Darwyn Cooke mixed with a ridiculous level of sex, violence and revenge. The tale of Hollis Mason is the centerpiece of the Before Watchmen books, because he connects everyone in a way that not even the Comedian can match. And while we didn't get the sick reveal that I was hoping for about Hooded Justice, the truth, when it finally came out, was even worse in a way. The relationships that these people had with each other really proves that it must take a genuinely psychopathic person to put on a costume and go out there and think that you're a crime fighter. The best case scenario is that you get to speak the line above to yourself, retire as a broken, damned man, and hope that those who come after you can do better than you did. How sad.

Fables 125 - Well, that was different. After the story of the wolf cubs and the land of misfit toys, and last month's all-Oz finale, I'd forgotten what it was like to get a purely Fabletown type of story. Bigby leaves with Stinky to find his kids, Briar Rose is annoying, but willing to splurge on her friends, and we get a grand reveal at the end off the issue in regards to Snow White. We also have a new narrator (the older wolf cub from the two-parter?) who's prone to giving some things away in the best kind of tempting way for storytelling. Bigby's plan of flying through worlds until he catches the scent of his kids gets a laugh, especially when it comes to Stinky's rejoinder. Another solid issue of Fables all the way around, especially with the threat of Leigh lurking.

Green Lantern 16 - Yeah, Baz is a Green Lantern and B'dg is one too, he looks like a Squirrel and shows up to help Baz figure out things like the lantern, the messages that Hal and Sinestro left him, and to take him on a quest to find Guy Gardener. But...there's nothing here to care about. Baz's revolutionary use of the ring at the end of the issue felt so fake, and I don't care about him as a character, and the Epilogue is stretching even further and further out and Geoff Johns is just kind of...done with for me. I told Dave that I was going to give this book two more issues, but this'll do it for me. I don't really know why I was reading Green Lantern in the first place, much less why I've stuck with it for this long while it's been this bad, but this issue seems just as good as any other one to go out on. Sometime in the future, Johns will tell another story that's worth reading. But while he's padding his stats here, just killing time, I'm not going to be wasting mine reading this lackluster material.

Mind MGMT 7 - Matt Kindt continues to spin a masterpiece. There are some books that, even while you're reading them, you can tell they're going to be classics. Saga and Locke & Key belong to this category and so does the latest greatness from Dark Horse. Heere we have the start to a new story arc, with Meru reconnecting with Henry Lyme, the uncovering of something called an Assassination Letter, the death of an agent named Brinks and many, many more references to the past of the agency. The Immortals are still on the trail and we've got a new player, who's calling herself the Eraser. The references around the pages have been doubled, and they pay off in just as great a fashion as they did in the first arc. I love the sideline peeks at Meru's new book, and you know it's going to come into play as something super valuable. All that plus the artwork is incredibly gorgeous; owning a Matt Kindt page is a new life goal.

Wolverine and the X-Men 24 - Rachel uses her psychic powers well in this issue and we get to see Storm's re-introduction to the school. Wolverine is a universally hated character, perhaps, but he's also uniformly feared. Idie is making nice with Broo while Kitty is on a date with Bobby (that's realllllly weird, no matter how sweetly it ended) and Beast is still in his pseudo-relationship with the head of SWORD. The All New X-Men get some play in this book, too, which is incredibly refreshing, to see that this shared universe is in fact actually shared. Quentin's moves with Jean Grey seem to be a great tack to take, too. The cover will be the story that everyone's going to talk about, though. Sure, it's a kiss. I don't think it's going to be much more, if anything at all. The last page was fantastic, but it also brings me to the worst part of this issue, which I avoided talking about the whole time: the art was awful. Way too cartoony and a real dropoff insofar as this book's been for most of its run.

Book of the week goes to Batwoman. There was some tough competition this week, as Mind MGMT probably always deserves the honor & Minutemen finished up, but I've gotta go with Batwoman's pure excitement. The penultimate chapter helps its case with the anticipation, and JH Williams' art puts it over the top.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

superbowl xlvii set.

On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Atlanta Falcons and head coach Jim Harbaugh booked his trip to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII. Less than a handful of hours later, the Baltimore Ravens beat the New England Patriots and Jim's big brother, head coach John Harbaugh, joined the family trip. Now, the brothers - and more importantly, their football teams - will meet up for a conclusion to a year of football that couldn't have been more perfectly scripted. The focus in the weeks before the actual game will probably remain solidly on the brothers and their path to this point in terms of their family, despite their claims that it's not about them. In fact, when it comes to San Francisco and Baltimore, there's plenty to say about each of these teams.

In making a furious comeback over the Falcons, San Francisco firmly established their young quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, as a foundational piece for the future. After recording a performance that tops the list of rushing yards for a quarterback in last week's game against the Packers, Kaepernick continued his hot streak, matching Matt Ryan in efficiency, if not in yards thrown. The 49ers got the all-important W, and coach Harbaugh's decision to switch Alex Smith out of the quarterback position at midseason in favor of Kaepernick seems validated. The 49ers will be appearing in their sixth Super Bowl, having won all five of their previous big games. They are the only team in NFL history to appear in more than one Super Bowl and still maintain an undefeated record in that last game of the season. It's a lofty record to rest on the shoulders of a young man who took over the team during their sixth game of this season, but he's proved himself to be more than capable.

In stark contrast to San Francisco's reliance on a young QB, the Baltimore Ravens showed that their defense still reigns supreme and their leader, Ray Lewis, having announced that this season is his swan song is just about set up to exit the stage on a perfect note. The Ravens smashed the Tom Brady-led Patriots, humbling the would-be dynasty with a smothering defense in the second half, leading to the Patriots' first ever defeat at home after leading at half. Baltimore is far from a one-note team, however, generating plenty of heat from the QB position, as they've gotten more from Joe Flacco than ever before. The 5 year veteran has hovered right around the same completion rate for each of his seasons, but he's played with a loose air this postseason that's reflected in this Super Bowl appearance. This mixture of Flacco's experience on offense and Lewis' veteran status on defense combines to make the Ravens a tough out, as the Patriots found out.

For now, the two teams will retreat to their respective corners and cede the spotlight to the Pro Bowl, while their coaches plot strategy. But next week, as media day approaches and the teams arrive in New Orleans, the bright lights will appear even more frequently as we all prepare for something unseen: brothers coaching against one another's teams in a Super Bowl. Fortunately, the teams match up well enough to justify all the hype it's going to get. The San Francisco 49ers get the early edge as 4-point favorites, proving that sometimes, the little brother can have an advantage.

Monday, January 21, 2013

comics for the week of 01/16/13.

I'm going to start adding Daredevil to this list, but first I have to get caught up. Expect a review on next month's issue 23.

All New X-Men 6 - This was the first issue of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed, but amazingly, it wasn't because of the art by David Marquez. I've noted before that I thought this was kind of a one-note story, but this was the first time that I've seen a more full potential. I don't know why it was this issue that hit me over the head with these facts, because there's nothing necessarily new (other than the awesome bit with Kitty as the new Xaiver [great cover!] and helping Jean) - this group is going to stay here, see and do some crazy things, and then go back and get mind-wiped. But I guess now I'm seeing some of the good potential. The bits with Jean figuring out her telepathy, Cyclops fighting Wolverine, Angel finding himself were great, but the highlight was (and always has been) Bobby interacting with Iceboy. I'm on board with this one for the time being.

Batman 16 - The Death of the Family story continues and I'm on board with what Snyder is doing, but it's becoming a bit...protracted? It seems like it's just stretching more than it should be. This probably has to do with the fact that it's an entire Bat-family story and I'm only reading the core book. I'm not getting all of the chapters, so what's happening here seems like it's moving more slowly than it should be. That's a fault of mine for not reading everything, but it's also a fault of the story for being stretched too thin. Here, we've been focusing on Batman and his infiltration of Arkham. He gets in, gets past the traps that Joker's set for him with relative ease and I never had a doubt that it was all going according to the plan that Joker had set up. He made such a big deal out of making Bats think that he'd arrived early that it wasn't possibly the case. The back-up chapter, with Jock on art, came across even better than the main story. I'll be curious to see how this ends up, but for now, I've gotta be honest and say that I feel like this story has lost all of its momentum and Joker has lost that scary-edge that he had in his return. Here's to hoping the finale can change my mind.

Saga 9 - No surprise, really, that BKV knows how to layer a plot, even a mere nine issues in. His grasp of the importance of introducing characters who are going to be meaningfully important, his command of relationships and how we oftentimes don't know what we want, and the gifted dialogue...they're all on display in this issue. The focus once again is on The Will and his time on Sextillion that we saw previously, but the introduction of Gwen last issue pays dividends here, as does the running gag of the Lying Cat. The Stalk continues to make her presence felt, despite being dead, and Slave Girl is proven to be worth the bizarre introduction that probably threw more than a few people off. The relationships that all these characters already have with one another is only going to get deeper as we get further into this book. The Will is a complicated man, as seen in his daydream that opens the issue. Gwen is going to be with him on his quest now. And Slave Girl? She might turn out to be the most important piece. Incredible.

Willow 2 - I have no idea how I missed this when it came out, but it's so good. (Why are all the sideline Buffy books better than hers? Why am I only now coming around to the viewpoint that Buffy viewers have always yelled at me about??) The art is superb, the storyline makes complete sense for Willow, and we get to see her back on her magic game, without any real worry regarding Dark Willow coming back. I hope that's not an angle they try to go with because, while I know it's an important part of Willow's past, I feel like she's grown so much since then. There are so many more interesting approaches to inner conflict in the case of Ms. Rosenberg. Here, Willow gets to fight a baddie, gets pointed in the direction of the Emerald City, so to speak, and gets repeated advice from the hookah-smoking caterpillar - always advice worth taking.

Book of the week goes to Saga. With the focus on the other side of the story, Vaughn proves that this is going to be a sprawling epic and that he's got it in his hands.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

lance armstrong confesses.

It's official in all but the most limited capacities now: Oprah Winfrey has confirmed that Lance Armstrong confessed to her that he used performance-enhancing drugs, and the interview was so intense - or she wants the ratings so badly - that it's going to be split into two parts. The first half will air on Thursday night, as originally planned, but the second half will be shown on Friday, extending Lance's confession into movie-length territory. This is appropriate because Armstrong has always been a spectacle. When he was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently told that there was a significant chance he wouldn't live, he beat the odds. After that, he went on to win an unprecedented seven Tour de France races in a row. After retiring from the sport in 2004, he made a comeback that went better than anyone had a right to expect. He maintained his innocence all that time, despite the cloud of PEDs hanging over cycling in general, and the prevalence of other winners being stripped of their titles. He continuously flaunted his 100% pass rate of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's tests, despite claims from others that this wasn't so.

But last year, when news broke that the World Anti-Doping Agency and its US-based affiliate had finally accumulated enough evidence against Armstrong, he retreated. He said he wouldn't be hounded anymore. He said he wouldn't legitimize their witch hunt against him. And the general public started to doubt. They started to waver in their commitment to the man who made cycling a topic at all in America. And most of all, there were some who felt duped. Not just in the sporting accomplishments of Armstrong, but in arguably the biggest category of his life, the one thing conspicuously missing from his bio thus far: his super-successful charity, Livestrong.

It's hard to separate the story of Lance Armstrong, world-renowned cyclist and recently-admitted doper, from the story of Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and advocate. Some argue that it's impossible. Because of the amazing work that Armstrong did in raising awareness of the disease and the incredible funds his foundation has raised in fighting its spread, his doping case doesn't seem to be as clear cut as the baseball Hall of Fame voters seem to think their era's cloud is. There were claims, after the news broke last year about Armstrong's doping, that Livestrong donations increased. There were also individuals who said they felt cheated and they wanted their donations back.

And therein lies the rub in the case of Lance Armstrong. Some feel "hoodwinked" and others feel like his inspirational message trumps all else. Why is he confessing to Oprah now? We won't know until everything's out, and the show doesn't air its first part until Thursday. But as contrite as Armstrong may be, as much as he may want to focus on moving forward with triathlons or re-focusing on the good the Livestrong foundation does in its fight against cancer, there will be some who never forget or forgive. Armstrong himself doesn't always put his best foot forward and it will be interesting, to say the least, to see where he goes from here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

comics for the week of 01/09/13.

I'm still not going to talk about the Superior Spider-Man. I thought maybe I'd write up something on its own dealing with my feelings about it, but I think it's best that I just leave it behind.

Animal Man 16 - Yup. More good stuff. Buddy Baker grabs a Green Lantern, adds to his army to take on Arcane, but loses some good soldiers toward the end with the revelation of the Gate Keepers. I was semi-worried about this Green Lantern, but he seems legit and a great little nod would be to see him in the regular DCU when this arc is over, assuming that things get tossed back to a normal present. In fact, that's always one of my favorite aspects of time-travel stories is the ways in which those who have come back get to treat the people they've seen a bit differently. This is obviously going to be biggest when it comes to Maxine, whom we'll definitely see in the finale next month. Buddy should be pissed when he hears about the deal she made, but I'm sure he won't be. The art was better this time, I'm not sure if it just depends on how I'm feeling when I read or what, but it didn't strike me as so off-putting. Excited for the conclusion.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 17 - This book is finally getting there. Despite the presence of Billy, whom I still think is a bit of a waste, but he's mentioned in the letter columns as having a purpose, so I'm willing to bite my tongue for a while longer on that, we really get to see some core-Buffy action: the Siphon is back, he's being taken on by a Council of Magic, Dawn and Xander have some serious troubles and Illyria is taking no guff about her Fred impersonation: it didn't work and it wasn't good for anyone. Well said. Other than that, we get to see some more of the mainlined nature of vampires (or zompires, whatever you want to call them) in this world, which is a good thing. It's nice when there's some continuity between the actions and the consequences. Spike's mentioned a lot in this book and he's supposed to be wrapping up his own adventures soon (what a delay!) so hopefully he'll make his way back over to the core books, no matter how awkward Buffy thinks it will be. Things are always more fun when he's around. His surrogate (in behavior only, maybe I'm projecting a little bit) makes his return here, too, and we see he, Buffy and Illyria walk into a super-obvious trap. Cliffhanger.

Swamp Thing 16 - All right! This is more like it! Yanick is back, the arc is nearing the conclusion and Abbie's head has been torn from her body. Whoah. There's some serious turns that this arc has taken and even though I wobbled on Swamp Thing for a while, thinking it was the weaker of the two, I'm obviously going to stick with it. This has bee na great ride and I'll be interested to see how they get us back to the present, so to speak. I still don't believe Abbie's dead, but if she is then it's even more clear than ever that they've got to go back. Maybe we're going to see a turn like this is Animal Man, too, which I haven't read when I wrote this review. Regardless, Snyder's back on his game and things are going well. Loved seeing Barbara Gordon and, of course, Bruce Wayne had a plan. No surprise there at all. Loved the army of Robins, too. Good stuff.

Wolverine and the X-Men 23 - Good enough conclusion to a bad arc. Not Aaron's fault necessarily, you can't knock all of them out of the park, but I don't really see what the point was. I like that we're (maybe) figuring out the Bamfs, but I still don't like the kiddie Hellfire Club, so there's no bonus to any of the Frankenstein revelations for me. Kitty's obsession with her being dressed up as a cowgirl was annoying, but the art was gorgeous, as usual. Wolverine's quick triggers with the death penalty over in X-Force really stood out in this issue, and I hope that's something that all the X book authors have been told to really play with; the dynamic of his being a school teacher while still having these terrible impulses is one of the great quirks of this book. Eye Boy came along, Shark Girl is kind of funny, but the real focus here is still in Idie and Quintin, which isn't a bad thing. I can't believe Idie went back to Pastor Hail, and I'm disappointed that we still haven't seen much more of Broo. Here's to hoping we'll move forward after this offbeat.

Book of the week goes to Swamp Thing. Love when Yanick can hit an issue like this and hope he's around for next month's conclusion.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

NHL lockout is over!

Rejoice, fans of the NHL! Your lockout is, at long last, seemingly over. Though it's yet to be officially confirmed by the league or the players associations themselves - the key word in this headline is tentative - players are reacting just as joyfully as fans are.

Details will be spilling out as the week continues, as the board of governors will not meet to vote until Wednesday. However, the loose framework seems to consist of either a 50-game or a 48-game schedule, starting some time in mid-January. The last time there was a lockout-shortened season in hockey, the season began on January 20, 1995, and it consisted of 48 games. There are reports that the shortened season, though chaotic, was enjoyed by many players.

However, there's no denying that terrible damage has been done to the league, its credibility, and the ability of fans to get back in the frame of mind to get that pure bliss of enjoyment from their beloved sport. Some writers have even put forth the idea that they'll never look at the NHL in the same way again. Commissioner Gary Bettman has taken his share of abuse in the press, and has now presided over three lockouts during his tenure. The complications will continue through this season, as the NHL had been seeing record values and will now be desperately seeking to get back to that ground.

That frantic scramble, though, might not be as tough as some are predicting. The last time the NHL lost a season, in 2004-2005, Forbes claims that attendance improved the next season. With the lockout over, and the fans looking forward to a season where every game counts more than ever before, the NHL might be in a position to move forward in a more classy way than these commercials or simple messages that ran after the lost 2004-2005 season. The best way to do so? Put forward a great product as quickly as possible.

Monday, January 7, 2013

comics for the week of 01/02/13.

A solid start to 2013 and a definite uptick versus last week's solitary book. I'm going to look into balancing my books out. But for now, enjoy some good old fashioned Spider-Man, even if his name's not Peter Parker.

Invincible 99 - Another solid issue from Kirkman and Co. The way the issue is laid out, with all the single page splashes, really helped with the double page spread, but even more, it helped with the flow of the conversation between Invincible and Dinosaurus. I love the fact that they both seem so certain. I was really thinking that Mark was going to cave on his side and join up with Dino, and that we'd have a new status quo with him as a semi-bad guy. Instead, it looks like someone will definitely be dying next issue, and I'm honestly not sure who it's going to be. Comic book precedence, as well as the basics of writing, would seem to indicate the bad guy gets it, but Kirkman has never been afraid to go out on that ledge, and he's got several apt replacements who are all but lined up. I'm not scared either way, I'm sure he's going to tell a good story. I also appreciated all the nods that were contained in this issue: Robot going over the various heroic groups, the Viltrumites gathering and being told to back off, and the intelligence of Rex back home, plotting everything out.

New Avengers 1 - Well, I have no idea how to review this. I tried it because it's Hickman and at this point, I think I would follow him anywhere, but this was...weird. I read all the Illuminati stuff while it was coming out and I'm well-versed in Marvel history, so it's not like any of it was unfamiliar but it was all...so...weird. Not normal Hickman-weird. But...seriously strange. I'm not a huge Black Panther fan, so that's a first of all, but in spite of all the curiosity and the angles that I didn't care for, it definitely had that epic Hickman feel. I can see that there's something happening here that's got a definitive plan, and that Hickman's been given pretty free reign, which is super comforting to know, but I'm not yet a believer in this title. I'll continue to roll with it, given my newfound love for the writer, but I'm not backing this book 100% just yet.

Ultimate Spider-Man 19 - Right off the bat, the first couple pages felt hilarious. This is what people used to love about Spider-Man: he's an ordinary kid, webbing along, running out of fluid, reacting like a normal person would. Then, we get the supporting cast, where Ganke is a superb addition and another small glance at that girl who clearly knows Miles' secret. I like that this has been a slow burn angle. Shows that there's some planning going on in this book, which is rare in the case of the Big Two. They say there are plans, but their writing rarely reflects that. Here, I feel like it's actually the case. The Jefferson versus Hydra angle is interesting, especially since there's so much that he's keeping secret and that's clearly why he's not interested in the news making a big deal of his story. The Venom last page cliffhanger is good, but I'm more interested in Maria Hill going to clean up the Spider-Man/Betty Brant mess. It's not like SHIELD doesn't know that Miles didn't do this, so why's she there talking to JJJ? She should be tracking Venom, who is in front of Miles' house! Good stuff.

Book of the week goes to Invincible. While Ultimate Spidey gets my anti-616 biased nod, it's not like I can sit here and realistically try to convince anyone that the Ultimate Universe Miles did a better job this week than Invincible. Plus, he's got his huge anniversary coming up next month. Congrats, Kirkman!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

the best and worst of 2012.

Best of 2012 – As is custom, I've made up a list of things I enjoyed (and a few that I didn't) in the last year. You can read more, if you'd like.

Books – I read more books this year than any year since I was a kid. This was a continued concerted effort, and I'm happy that it's kept up as well as it has. I'm not sure how much more it can improve next year, but as long as it maintains, that's the important thing. As usual, this isn't a list of the best books of 2012, since I didn't read many new releases (with a few notable exceptions, and that's one area I'm going to attempt to improve next year) but just the best things I read over the course of the year. My list below does not include To Kill A Mockingbird, even though I reread it for school again this year, nor any of the other so-called kid books I read, with one exception. There is no order to this list at all, until the very end, where my top five are very clear.

Worst/Most Overrated

The New 52 – More than a year in, this has proved to be a bad move insofar as actual comics being produced. Maybe they're selling more, so they consider it a success, but they're wrong. Even the good titles that we were impressed by have largely fallen off. At this point, I'm reading about a third of the DC books that I was pre-DCnU.

Marvel NOW! - On the other side of the Big 2 aisle, things aren't going much better. With relaunches being proved to be all the rage by DC, Marvel quickly ran with the idea and finished up their arcs with Avengers vs. X-Men which, sure, seemed like it had been semi-planned out, but there was more lost than was gained. It's still early, so I'll give it the same chance I did the New 52, but I'm far from optimistic.

Spider-Man 700 – As I said above, the Marvel Now initiative has been lackluster thus far. But a particular lowlight came out just last week with the pile of shit that was the end of the road for The Amazing Spider-Man. I was considering buying a copy of the issue, despite my post-Brand New Day boycott of Spider-Man, for the collector in me (and because I loved that cover>) but after I read the story, I knew I could not contribute my dollars to this epic fail. I'm sure they'll make plenty of money on this issue and on the debut of Superior Spider-Man, and my measly 8 dollars won't truly hurt a company that's underwritten by Disney, but I've got to stand by my morals.

On Other Lists, I Haven't Read Yet, But I'm Planning To

The Casual Vacancy - I'll get to it eventually.
Telegraph Avenue - The next book I'm reading, promise.

Not Quite Making the List

The Book Thief – I finally read Zusak's heavily lauded book and it was good. The approach to narration was great, and there were some lines in the novel that made me weep like a baby. But, overall? It wasn't one of the best books I've ever read.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - One of my baby brother's favorite books, I'm glad I've finally read it. It was a lot of fun and I'm glad to have it under my belt, but it didn't quite live up to the classic status that I'd been dumped over the head with.

The Best

American Gods - I'm shamefully behind on Gaiman's fiction and this is where I chose to start. I'll get to more, and some people have told me this was their least favorite of his, but I found it intriguing if not particularly unpredictable. Wednesday was great as was the cellmate Low Key. The mythos of the book was what made it clear that Gaiman is a true student of history.

Ender's Game – Another one from baby brother that I'd been painfully ignorant about. My students talk to me about this classic every once in a while, so it was good to get it done. Highly recommended.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – As good as billed and totally different than I was expecting. I didn't get it at first, I thought there was going to be some grand battle with some Big Bad, but when I finally resigned myself to the historical nature of the text, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Ready Player One - An attempt to get current, I know this came out last year, but it was damn good. Full of in-jokes for nerds and geeks, it was close to what I think the future is actually going to be like, so that was fun.

Gone Girl – My first real current attempt, and I'm glad it was here. This almost made my top 5, but it felt like kind of cheating with how much fun it was versus the seriousness of the top 5. Flynn weaves the tale of a disappeared wife with expert narration from many points of view and the twists never stop coming. Even the ending has both a twist and a chuckle. It's also meta in a fantastic manner, with tons of references to the TV shows that she's emulating, although they're thinly veiled for obvious reasons.

5. Readicide - Look, I'm not going to get into much detail here, but I am going to say this: If you are a teacher and you haven't read this book you need to do so. It was depressing and enlightening all at once and I can't imagine going any further in my profession without what I've learned here.

4. The Fault in our Stars - This was the year John Green broke through to the mainstream. As a longtime nerdfighter, I couldn't be happier. The fact that it was with this book, which served up some clearly semi-autobiographical material just made it all the better. A cancer book that isn't a cancer book and stands more tall for the blatant ways in which it deals with unpleasant truths, the love story of Gus and Hazel is refreshing in its frankness, both in regards to illness and how intelligent young people can be.

3. The Marriage Plot - Heartbreaking. The title maps on to the plot and we can see the poor choices that Madeleine is making while she's making them. This came out last year, and if you haven't read it yet, it should jump to the top of your list - with 2 exceptions.

2. Freedom - Just a tiny bit more heartbreaking. Franzen knows how to take a simple thing like a family unit and just expertly break them down. All the plot points have stayed with me, despite the fact that it was the first book I read this year, and many of the pet causes of Walter Berglund have become things that I am passionate about discussing. He is my favorite and least favorite protagonist that I encountered this year and my love for The Corrections was only enhanced by the fact that this novel was so clear cut and down to earth. It never got too self-obsessed with the language of itself and always put the story ahead of pretentiousness. Read it.

1. Cloud Atlas - Easily the novel that I spent the most time in 2012 obsessing over. Because of leaving America, I still haven't seen the movie (which I'll discuss in more detail below) but I finally got to cross this one off the list, which it'd been on for a while, because I knew I had to read it before the movie came out. Thank God I did. I think that this is one of the most ambitiously sprawling, epic in scope books that I've ever read. It's incredible the way the stories seem to weave together and the differences in writing style that David Mitchell masters in the course of this book will give anyone who thinks they're a writer a serious case of envy. Unbelievable that it sat on my list for as long as it did. If you haven't read this book yet, give it a go. I'm not sure that it's for everyone, and the first section is intensely difficult to get through, but if you do, I think you'll be hooked.

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Movies – The order of the films, for me, is easier than music, so these are pretty firm spots, other than the second section where I acknowledge that I haven't seen some of the things that people thought were really amazing, and that, if I had seen those, my list would probably look a bit different.

Worst/Most Overrated

Moonrise Kingdom – Maybe it was watching it on a plane that didn't allow me to give it the attention that it deserved, or maybe Wes Anderson is just slowing down. I thought The Darjeeling Limited was terrible and while this wasn't nearly that bad, I don't think there's a lot more to be said about his telling the same type of story over and over.

On Other Lists, I Haven't Seen Yet, But I'm Planning To

The Master
Argo
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty
Life of Pi
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Lincoln

Not Quite Making the List

Looper – It was good, but it wasn't grand. I thought it was going to be more intelligent, and I'm OK with the fact that it wasn't, but it could have been so much more.

The Hobbit - I knew going in that it was going to end before we got to really see Smaug, and I knew that I was more excited for him than anything else so, while the movie was great fun, it wasn't what I wanted. I don't fault the movie for that, I fault myself, but I also won't give it a spot on the best of list, even if that list is ridiculously small.

The Best

3. Avengers - Not the best superhero movie, as some are claiming (that still goes to Iron Man) but it proved that we can do team movies and they'll work and, even more importantly, it proved that Joss Whedon is the guy to do that. The Avengers was so much fun, not just because I got to work on it (cough cough) and it will hold up for a long time. The fact that they've got such immaculate plans for the future cinematic universe bodes well, too.

2. Django Unchained - Sure, there were plenty of times where I felt uncomfortable and, yeah, there were some over the top bits, but if you didn't think you were going to get that in a Tarantino-helmed take on slavery and its terrible ramifications, you're shitting yourself. The movie was great, the soundtrack was hilarious, and the overall message...? Well, I'm not sure there was one. And if you're projecting one on it, you're probably doing that more from your own experiences than from the movie itself. I enjoyed it.

1. The Dark Knight Rises – I don't care if you didn't like it, it was damn good, and all the things that you thought were bad about it, I didn't really see, and I think you're not looking hard enough or you're looking too hard. Seriously. I can't believe that it's come to the point where I have to defend this movie as best of the year. It was so, so, so, so good, but it just seems that, as the year's gone by, more and more people have felt emboldened to say that it wasn't good. It was. And Chris Nolan is a damn fine filmmaker.

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TV

Just a quick section here to say that the Newsroom was better than the haters want you to believe, Homeland was amazing, Game of Thrones is great, Breaking Bad is going for the glory with its finale, and Community was the king but will probably never be the same.

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Music – As usual, this is in loose order, counting down from what I thought was good to what I thought was the best.

Worst/Most Overrated

Chief Keef – Inside this year, this kid was poised to take over the world. Words cannot express how glad I am that he did not. I don't really understand people who continue to defend him but, on the other hand, I'm a bit old. Maybe I'm not supposed to.

Mirage Rock – Not sure how it's ending up on so many lists, this was the weakest album from Band Of Horses ever. Really bummed by how bad it was.

Danny Brown – I don't get it. I can't go with his voice. I've never enjoyed anything I've heard him on (notable exceptions for “Black and Brown” on Black Milk's Album of the Year, all of which stays on repeat, and “1 Train”) and I can't see why people want to fall all over themselves to crown him.

On Other Lists, I Haven't Heartd Yet, But I'm Planning To

Sean Price – Mic Tyson – I have no excuse for not listening to this album yet, but I'm going to and I'm sure I'll love it.

Not Quite Making the List

Cat Power – Sun – It was good, but only halfway there.
Passion Pit – Gossamer – This was a fun album, but I didn't go gaga over it like others apparently did.
G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer – 5 good songs don't make an album, even if they were some of the best songs of the year. (Spoiler alert.)

The Best

The Shins – Port of Morrow – I thought Wincing The Night Away was their weakest album thus far, so I was really pleased with this return.

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, maad city – The album that everyone thought was the best album of the year almost didn't even make my list. “Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe” is great and “Swimming Pools” was fantastic, but the comparisons to Illmatic are insanely overblow. Come on. Just because he has skits? In that case, give Album of the Year to Big Boi! Nah, it's good, but it's not the best. Also, I don't know why this isn't a bigger issue in everyone else's estimation, but it's a mistake to sequence 2 Dr. Dre features back to back. “Collect Calls” is insanely underrated, it's too bad it got relegated to bonus track status.

Beach House – Bloom – Loved it. Perfect chill music.

Meg Myers - Daughter in the Choir - A great, great album that you can get for free. If the world was a just place, we'd know for sure that she's going to be huge someday, but as it stands, you should grab it just so you can know something that your friends don't.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist – Although I'm glad that “Thrift Shop” is getting radio play and the video is admittedly hilarious, it's definitely one of the two worst songs (along with “Castle”) on the album. This is not up for debate, nor is the fact that part of the reason both of those songs suffer is their blatant pandering for radio play. It worked in the case of the former and I kind of hope that it does for the latter, just so more people will be exposed to the album. But I mean, those are some seriously bad songs. Fortunately, the rest of the songs on the album are incredible. We can start with “Same Love” but it's so much more than that. The crazy love he's got for Seattle (“My Oh My”), the sequel-of-sorts to “Otherside” where he confesses that he's relapsed (“Starting Over” - way better Ben Bridewell than on the Band of Horses album), and the instrumental (“BomBom”) show the diversity of one of the best new white rappers. Anyone who tells you it's overly sentimental is crazy.

Progressive Era - Joey Bada$$ is the best sure, and 1999 was great, but this whole crew is good! The SECC$ Tape was one of the better downloads of the year, more worth your time than anything from Ross ("Triple Beam Dreams" aside) or Weezy, for sure. Get on them now, cuz it's almost too late to claim you were early.

The xx – Coexist – I have a complicated relationship with The xx. I thought the "Intro" track on their last album was a failed promise, one of the best songs I've ever heard, and that the rest of the album could never live up to that brilliant 2 minutes. This album, then, weighed pretty heavily on me when it came out. I was relieved to hear "Angels" as the first track, since I'd already heard and loved it, and the rest of the album, at least in my opinion, more than lived up to that track. For my money, the album continues to ramp up as it moves through its tracklist, culminating at the end, with perfect precision in the shoegaze fashion.

Killer Mike – RAP Music – Personally, I'll take this over Kendrick Lamar's album. I know that might (probably does) put me on the outside looking in, but I'm OK with that, too. Southern rap plus production by El-P is better than West Coasters every day, in my mind.

5. Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangers Rumors – Sir Lucious Leftfoot was slept on. This one came out earlier than we had any right to expect, but it still didn't get the respect it should have. All over the world, kids are clamoring for the return of Outkast, but while 3K seems to have no interest in rapping whatsoever, Big's been holding it down for rap fans for years. He's consistently overlooked, which is ridiculous. This album presents a great circle (beginning with "Ascending" and ending with "Descending" gives the whole thing a sense of intention that's missing from a lot of rap albums) where, admittedly, things get quite a bit scatter-brained. The album wanders at times, but that's going to happen when you've opened yourself up to as many avenues as Antwan Patton has - he's still the guy who looked at Andre and thought he'd make a great partner, after all! But for all the wandering, the songs are pretty great most of the time, and even when they go off the rails ("Shoes For Running") they do so in spectacular fashion. "Tremendous Damage" should be a single, it's a winner in the department of songs that can be on the radio and not suffer for that.

4. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel... - Listening to it again gives it a depth that you might miss on your first go-through. However, this album suffers from one of the worst endings I've ever heard in a near-masterpiece. If she'd left “Hot Knife” off this record entirely, or replaced it with something else, it might have been top 2 material. As it is, there's an R&B singer below who took her spot for sure.

3. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange – It took me about five listens to really appreciate it, but once I did, it stayed in my head forever. On first listen, I dismissed it as not nearly as good as Nostalgia, Ultra, but there's so much more going on with this album. I think it might have been overshadowed (and I know that's probably the wrong word, but...) by his orientation letter on Tumblr, and maybe I was distracted (again, wrong word) by that. But, honestly, if it didn't hit you over the head right away, go back and listen to it. We all know “Pyramids” was epic and “Thinkin Bout You” was (and is) a personal favorite, but there's so much more to the whole record.

2. Nas – Life is Good – The album that we've been waiting for as hip-hop fans: someone has finally grown up and made a real-ass record about it. Nas never could have made Watch the Throne, for a variety of reasons, but this album trumps that one in so many ways. It's not an album of excess, but it's not a record of depression either. It's simply an accurate reflection of the way most of our lives go: we get a little older, we still feel like we did ten years ago, but we can't do a lot of the same things. Nas isn't out of touch with the common man and that's never been a better thing than here.

1. A$AP Rocky – Long Live ASAP – So much better than so many other things that got five times as much hype. “1 Train” deserves all the praise it's getting, but there are so many great songs on this album. Remember when “Goldie” dropped and we all thought it was the best thing we'd heard and that it put “Peso” to shame? Well, then the album came out and “Goldie” was (is) a highlight, sure, but it's nowhere near the best thing on the album. The A$AP Mob has lived up to all their hype and that's one of the most rare things in our current era. Rocky succeeds in repping the East Coast in the way that everyone is tripping over themselves to declare that Kendrick has done for the Westerners. In this case, though, the hype doesn't overshadow the product and we'll be listening to this album for a long, long time. Head and shoulders above everything else, with the exception of Nas, who would have grabbed album of the year if this hadn't leaked. Sorry God's Son, there's a new King of NY.

Songs

Worst/Most Overrated - I don't listen to the radio much, so I don't have much to say here. As always, no hate is intended, but if you loved these songs, we're probably not friendly anyway, so to hell with it.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” It's cute the first time, and maybe it's my Kanye-love, but give me a break already with this BS, TS. It's old.

“Okay Cupid” Annnnd, I lied when I said no hate was intended. This never should have been released and if John Green isn't honestly trolling with his affection for this song I just don't get it.

The Best - Pretty firmly in order.

“Call Me Maybe” - Sure, it's pop music, but it's almost perfect pop music. Infectious, fun to hum and ultimately meme-worthy.

“Some Nights” - Way better than the first single and an authentically fun song (honestly, no pun intended, although I'm sure they're nigh-unavoidable).

“Stay Schemin'” - I can't believe this song came out this year. It was clear it was going to be one of the best immediately and it's incredible to see that it holds up a year later.

“Mercy” - Cruel Summer may have been a disappointment, but that's only because we'd heard the gems a million times before it dropped. Of all the great music to come off the album (the first half is solid), this got the most press and had the video that everyone loved. "Swerve!" gets tons of love, as it should, but the fact that Kanye continues to (successfully) push 2 Chainz is probably the most remarkable thing.

“New God Flow” - While "Mercy" got the love, "New God Flow" got the hip-hop heads' attention. It's an incredible song and it's got the best in the game doing their best work. Kanye is inspired by Pusha the way Jay used to be inspired by Kanye. Ghostface getting in on the album cut just made the song even better, as Kanye's always been pretty good about acknowledging where things come from. If you didn't get Cruel Summer, you missed out on the best version of the best song of the year.