Looking Back – The Best of 2018

Hooray! Huzzah! Finally! It’s so done! The year that has felt like a decade, 2018, has finally come to a close. It’s been a rough one for a lot of people and I’m not gonna lie, I’m in that particular crowd. This year hasn’t exactly been my favorite one. But it wasn’t all bad. I took the great step and started publishing my writing. It’s not a lot, but…it’s something. And in terms of the media we consume, 2018 might go down as an all time great one. Books, movies, video games, comic books and TV shows were thrown at us as if shot out of a cannon and a lot of it was good. Amazon created a reboot of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series and despite some misgivings, I enjoyed the entire series. Disney put out Avengers: Infinity War, an…excessive movie to be sure, but also an incredibly audacious one that was confidant enough to end on a deliberately tragic note. But what was the best? What reaches the highest limits in 2018? Well, I have some opinions on the matter. I want to reiterate, these are my opinions, I’m actually very much aware that in some of these instances, these individual properties weren’t the best in their particular category but they were my favorite:

Comics – The Mighty Thor by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman

I already spoke at length about my absolute favorite comic book this year. But while Mister Miracle was a self-contained story that began last year and ended in this one, the conclusion to Jason Aaron’s run reached the absolute heights of the serialized superhero comic. Jason Aaron is the best in the business these days at creating stories that effortlessly blend absurd spectacle and believable humanity. Perhaps that’s why his nearly 5 year long run with Marvel’s Thor has felt like such a perfect blending of character and writer. And it was that combination that gave us the utterly brilliant Mighty Thor series, in which Jane Foster (Natalie Portman’s character in the movies) picked up the hammer of Mjolnir and became the new Thor after the Odinson was made unworthy of wielding the weapon.

From the very beginning, The Mighty Thor felt special. In addition to balancing her secret identity and her superhero persona, Jane Foster was dealing with Stage 4 cancer. And every time she became Thor, the hammer’s magic purged her body of all “poisons,” including the medicine that is fighting the disease. It was a story about sacrifice, and a woman who was willing to destroy her own body to save not just our world but Nine Realms worth of living beings. Moreover it was a story about faith and the very idea of gods and faith. Why do we keep looking for gods? Why do we pray at all? These questions added a complexity and depth to the saga that was always welcome. It was also surprisingly funny right up to the end. Aaron is still writing Thor and is gearing up for a massive crossover called The War of the Realms that looks like it may wrap up his time with the character but The Mighty series will be remembered as the jewel in his crown. We may not see its like again for a very long time.

Honorable Mention: I’m usually not a huge fan of What If stories but Sean Murphy’s Batman: White Knight was a great little comic about obsession, desperation and the things that drive us. Also it was about the Joker briefly becoming a good guy, and that was kinda cool.

Television – The Venture Brothers Season 7

I don’t watch a ton of television. I don’t have cable, and there’s only so many hours in the day to work my way through the stuff on Netflix and Amazon. And while both of those companies put out absolutely amazing work this year, I have to give the nod to the continuing miracle that is Adult Swim’s The Venture Brothers, now in its seventh season. The Venture Brothers started out a long time ago as a parody of Johnny Quest and other pulpy, cheaply produced cartoons from the same era. But after 15 years worth of story lines, the series has grown so far beyond its original one joke premise that it’s kind of incredible. Today, shows like Rick and Morty or Bojack Horseman emerge fully formed as cleverly written satires but The Venture Brothers worked through seven seasons of stories, both comedic and surprisingly serious to finally get to where it is today and honestly, it’s so much better for it.

Jackson Publick and his team have managed to create one of my favorite fictional settings across any media and this season they’ve added depth to it in so many ways. What’s more, since its looking like the series is starting to wind down, the writers have begun to actually answer questions and advance characters in satisfying ways. Lingering plot threads are only tantalizing for so long and this season, Publick and his writers have wrapped up so many that it’s like they were fusing a rope (that would be a Boy Scout reference).

Honorable Mentions: Make no mistake, this is a list of favorite things, not “the best.” Objectively, Bojack Horseman continues to be the best thing that anyone is making on TV these days. But I think my favorite experience watching TV this year was watching the second season of Castlevania on Netflix with my friends. Listening to them freak out at one particular musical drop was absolutely sublime.

Literature – The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

A couple days after starting my second draft of this blog, I read an article on Vox about a movement in fiction called “Hopepunk” that seems to have reached an apex of sorts in 2018. In brief, Hopepunk is apparently a subset of fiction dedicated to militant optimism and idealism, mostly in genre fiction. I have some problems with this movement as an idea, particularly the poor choice of name and the Vox author’s willingness to appropriate pretty much everyone’s favorite stuff as part of this so-called genre. I’ll probably write about it more somewhere down the line, its been a while since I’ve had the chance to flex my Media Studies muscles. But if this genre is going to be a thing, then John Scalzi’s Interdependency trilogy deserves to be counted among its best examples.

The Consuming Fire is the second book in this fledgling trilogy and it was probably my overall favorite book of 2018. Like the first book in the series, it’s a story about facing the end of the world with a stiff upper lip and a can do attitude. Its also a story where the heroes are scientists, policy experts and other learned individuals dedicated to helping others. In these and so many other ways, its a thoroughly modern science fiction story. What’s more, I’ve always admired Scalzi for his efficient prose, earnest humor and clever deconstruction tendencies. This is a series where what looks like a centuries old space empire might actually be a bunch of backwater yokels with some really good PR. I can’t wait for the next book in this series which is almost certainly coming out in 2019.

Honorable Mention: I reviewed Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk earlier in the year and in terms of nonfiction I’ve read this year, it’s the one I can’t simply get out of my head. I find myself referencing it in conversation a lot too, which is always a good sign.

Film – Into the Spider-Verse

I was all set to hem and haw over what to put into this paragraph. 2018 has been a phenomenal year for movies. Black Panther is one of the best and most important pieces of genre fiction in years. Infinity War managed to somehow replicate the amazing sense of “my god, I can’t believe they did it,” thrill of The Avengers, by creating a diametrically opposed tone. Mission Impossible – Fallout continued to prove the raw thrills of realistic stunt work and good old fashioned film-making. A Star is Born was remade again, and updated one of Golden Age Hollywood’s favorite stories for a modern era. And Venom…is a movie that also exists….

But then in the last month of the year, Sony Animation released Into the Spider-Verse. Not only is Into the Spider-Verse the best animated movie of the year, it’s one of the best superhero movies in years, going back to at least the first two of the original Sam Raimi Spider-man movies. Its a movie that revels in its source material. The very first thing on screen is a stamp confirming that this movie is compliant with the Comics Code Authority, a nod that split my face in a huge grin both times I saw it. The animation is endlessly creative and constantly jaw-dropping. The story (penned by Clone High and The Lego Movie director Phil Lord and Hollywood scribe Rodney Rothman) is equally inspiring and witty. In many ways, Spider-Verse is a perfect version of the movie it wants to be. Peter Ramsey and his fellow directors deserve all the credit in the world for making this instant masterpiece.

Honorable Mention: I took a dig at Venom a couple paragraphs back but I have to put credit where it’s due. I have never seen a display of acting so brazenly weird as Tom Hardy’s performance in that film.

Miscellaneous:

Like I said, it’s been a really good year for media. Outside of traditionally popular media, I could talk about how some of my favorite YouTube content channels have had the best years of their work. In the often obscure realm of anime, Netflix’s Devilman: Crybaby was mesmerizing. If I had more experience writing about it, I could talk about my favorite story line in professional wrestling this year (that would be the feud between Johnny Gargano and Tomaso Ciampa for those who are interested). And if I played more video games or listened to more music, I could elaborate on those in some way. But in all seriousness the best part of my year was…well, this blog.

I don’t get paid for this blog, it’s strictly a hobby and maybe a resume point at this point. I’ve received my first review copies of several books, something I never thought would happen (reviews of which will be coming soon). But even beyond those successes, I am supremely proud of the fact that at some point in 2018 (321 times to be exact) someone said “I wonder what Tim has to say about this” and clicked a link to find out. The pride I take in this blog has been a fuel that kept me going through the hard times this year. So I want to thank everyone who has taken a few minutes out of their lives to read the words on this page. It means more to me than you can possibly imagine. I have no intention of stopping any time soon either. 2019 is a big empty void of possibility right now and I intend to fill it up as best I can.

As always, thanks for reading.

One thought on “Looking Back – The Best of 2018

  1. Tim, an excellent review of your favorites this year. Keep up the writing and keep pushing forward. Things in 2019 will look up.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s