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Alex’s Best of 2019

Now that 2019 is in the history books, it’s time to have a look back at some of the comics, movies and events that really stood out for me during the year. Now this is all based on what I’ve read, and if your favourite comic isn’t here, it may be because I may not have read it, not because I didn’t like it.

Just like last year, we’re looking at comics (ongoing or miniseries) without focusing on single issues or breaking them into specific categories, I’m going for everything in one. If it came out in 2019, then it’s fair game for me. Below you’ll find Eight of them in fact, that for one reason or another rocked my socks off. Underneath that, you’ll find my list of comic book/nerd based movies and T.V. shows. Same general format as the comics, though the total number may be different.

I haven’t decided yet.

The Comics

I was playing with the order of these right up until I sent it off for publication. I’ve no idea why I only allowed myself the number I did because there were far more comics I read that I wanted to include here. Comics like X-Force, Batman: Last Knight On Earth, Crecy and X-O Manowar were tough to leave off this list, but at the end of the day the books below are the ones that had me the most excited.

For me, these were the very best books (whether miniseries or ongoing) of the year in a sea of high quality comics from all publishers.

8. The Last God (DC Black Label)

Recency bias? Possibly. But over the three issues of this book that I’ve read, I have become thoroughly enamored with how the twin narratives play into and off each other. I almost missed the comic, if I’m honest. It wasn’t until a coworker at my LCS put it in my hands and told me to take it home that I actually did. I haven’t regretted buying this book for a second as I devoured the three issues one after the other. I’m not normally one for fantasy in my comics, but this year that’s almost exactly what I’ve enjoyed the most.

7. Berserker Unbound (Dark Horse)

I had picked this book up purely because it was a new Jeff Lemire book, and Lemire is an author whom I’ll give his comics a chance without knowing what the story is about because I’ve yet to read a book of his that I don’t life. The four issue story about a barbarian thrown from the realm of fantasy into New York City tackles the loneliness and loss felt by those who have nothing left, and the hope that a new friend can shine upon your life. Plus, it’s brilliantly illustrated, with Mike Deodato Jr. using a fantasy inspired high art style that’s eerily reminiscent of the Conan magazines without ever feeling tired.

6. Dead Man Logan (Marvel)

The final send off for Old Man Logan before his younger counterpart is resurrected properly, this twelve issue series always had an ending that we’d expect. There was no secret that Logan would die in the comic, but Ed Brisson was still able to make you care about the death of an alternate version of a character many consider to have been over exposed for much of the first half of this century. I couldn’t get enough of this character’s story, and to finally see an end to Logan’s story left me feeling complete.

5. The Life And Death Of Toyo Harada (Valiant)

Man oh man. I don’t have enough space to rave about how much I loved this series. It is the culmination of Joshua Dysart’s work on the character which began with Harbinger #1 in the 2012 relaunch of Valiant. This series focused on one of the most complicated men in the Valiant universe, telling the story of his life and death (it’s in the title, it isn’t a spoiler), and we’re left wondering whether Toyo Harada was really the villain he’s often portrayed as or whether he was simply a misunderstood hero whose methods rarely aligned with what the world found acceptable in his quest of Peace – at any cost.”

4. Incursion (Valiant)

Perhaps one of the more underrated of Valiant’s miniseries this year, but but had been on my radar for some time given that one of the featured characters was the Eternal Warrior – easily my favourite character in the Valiant universe (as I type this, I am wearing a custom made Wrath Of The Eternal Warrior shirt), and so I knew I’d lap this series up. I didn’t expect to be so taken with the father/daughter dynamic between Gilad and Tama as they face off against the antithesis of all life in a very private battle for the lives of billions of people – but that was only a happy coincidence for Gilad – he was determined to save the young Geomancer at any cost.

3. Once And Future (BOOM! Studios)

This book took me off guard; when my Those Two Geeks co-host Joe told me to pick it up, I was expecting a pretty decent comic (he’s never yet steered me wrong). Instead I found a re-imagining of Arthurian legend with revelations that are teased out ever so slowly as our protagonist gradually becomes aware of who he is and his place in the world. Maybe because I have an incredible soft spot for Arthurian legends, maybe because Dan Mora’s art is right up my alley, or maybe it’s something else entirely, but I love this series.

2. Voracious: Appetite For Destruction  (Action Lab: Danger Zone)

I’m surprised that this series fell to this spot in my list; Markisan Naso, Jason Muhr and Andrei Tabucaru’s masterpiece of comic book story telling was among the very best of 2019 – and considering that my expectations were sky bloody high for this series, that it was able to exceed them still blows my mind. I can’t pick one aspect or creator of this series to single out – all deserve an equal measure of praise and credit. Whether it’s Naso’s incredible writing and grasp of dialogue, Muhr’s emotionally powerful art or Tabucaru’s way of breathing life into the pages… each and every aspect of this series was spectacular.

1. Rai (Valiant)

Every once in awhile there comes a series that takes you entirely by surprise. I always hope I’ll like any comic I read because who wants to read a bad comic? But with Rai, I have been consistently shocked. Not because it’s such a marked improvement over Fallen World (which itself was utterly phenomenal and narrowly missed out on this list), but because Dan Abnett has been able to tell such an interesting story with such a simple backdrop. His way of making us question our use and abuse of technology, the loss of our privacy and our seeming inability to distance ourselves from what should be a tool is both as subtle as a butterflies kiss and a sledgehammer to the gut. I’ve never read anything like this before.

(Disclaimer: this is based on having read the first three issues, even though the third issue won’t be released for at least another week at time of publication.)

The Television Shows

I didn’t expect to have so much great TV to watch this year, and I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t see it all. For that reason, given the relatively low number of TV shows to comics that were released (and that I’ve seen) I’ve gone with a list of three. If you’re wondering, I have yet to see Watchmen because I don’t have HBO.

3. The Boys (Amazon Prime)

Brutal, bloody and very well written, The Boys is a look at what happens when superheroes are as corrupt as the people they’re supposed to stop. But who stops the heroes? That’s where Billy Butcher (played spectacularly by Karl Urban) and his boys come in. Well worth checking out, but possibly not worth a long subscription to Amazon Prime to do so (unless you’re getting it for the shipping perks).

2. The Mandalorian (Disney+)

If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you haven’t seen this yet, then now is the ideal time to sign up for a free week’s trial of Disney + to get your fix in. This is one of the better live action offerings in the Star Wars canon, certainly it’s in my top two from what has been released this decade. It constantly surprised me how expressive the actor beneath the armour is when you can’t see his face (I say “the actor” because there are times when Pedro Pascal was unable to be on set due to scheduling conflicts and Brendan Wayne stepped in to fill the bounty hunters helmet), and how much emotion is conveyed in the scenes from the score, camera angles and body language.

The Witcher

1. The Witcher (Netflix)

I was waiting for this show ever since I first heard it was coming. 2019 was, for me at least, the year of the Witcher. It was the year I started and finished the books, and the year I invested over a hundred hours into the Playstation 4 version of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. I was ready for the live action adaptation of the books to be somewhere between average and good, but I wasn’t ready for Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra and Joey Batey to bring the characters I envisioned to life so well. I don’t think I have ever seen somebody convey so much emotion and gravitas with a single word as Cavill does so often and so well in this series. While there are some complaints that it feels disjointed, and I understand them, my only suggestion with that is to make it to the finale. Once you do then you’ll want to rewatch the season with a new found understanding of the events that you just witnessed. I don’t remember the last time a TV show left me wanting to reread, rewatch and replay as much as I could of the universe it comes from as The Witcher has. The sooner the soundtrack is available the better.

The Movies

Well… this was certainly a year for movies, eh? Whether it was arguably one of the best DC movies in their live action movie universe or some movie about a bunch of people assembling something, there’s no doubt that this year had a lot of great movies released that fell within our sphere. Now there are movies from this year that I enjoyed more than some of the ones below, but because Aladdin doesn’t really fall into the scope of this list I’ve left it and others off the list. Try as I might, I couldn’t justify putting John Wick 3 on the list either, so I shaved the arbitrary number from eight to five.

5. Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker

I seem to be one of the minority who enjoyed The Last Jedi despite its flaws, but even I’ll admit that movie paled in comparison to the finale of the Skywalker Saga. This was everything I hoped it would be and more. I cannot wait to see it again.

4. Captain Marvel

Part of me is surprised this movie came out in 2019. It’s hard to remember a time before Endgame changed the face of the MCU, but when I looked back I realized that not only did this film come out in 2019, but I enjoyed the shit out of it when I watched it.

3. Joker

I remember leaving the theater after seeing this being a little shaken. This wasn’t what I expected from a comic book movie. Much like Logan, Joker transcends the supposed limitations of comic book films and evolves into a thrilling story about one man’s descent into psychopathy. Now you and I are more than aware that comic book films are just as legitimate pieces of cinema as anybody, but for some reason Joker has pulled in critics looking to talk about Batman’s arch nemesis. While I don’t know if I’ll ever watch the movie again, I will always remember that feeling of watching something special as the credits rolled.

2. Spider-Man: Far From Home

It took me a long time to decide where to place this movie. I want to rewatch this more than any other of the movies on this list, but struggled to place it above Endgame because of what that movie represented in the culmination of the entire MCU up until that moment. But why do I want to watch this more than Endgame? Because Spider-Man: Far From Home has some fantastic acting from the entire cast, especially Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhal, and it also feels a lot more personal than the exhaustively epic scope of Endgame. At this point, I’m comfortable saying that this is my favourite Spider-Man film yet.

1. Avengers: Endgame

Well shit. What can I really say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? When you look at it as a movie, it’s really good. The journey that Thor, Captain America and Iron Man take in the film alone could easily be the basis of solo films, likewise with Clint Barton. The finale is breathtaking in its scope, with each character getting their moment to shine amidst the madness. But when you take Endgame as a whole, as the culmination of twenty plus movies over more than ten years, it is unparalleled. I don’t honestly think I will see another film like it ever again.

Review: Berserker Unbound #3

Berserker Unbound #3

In Berserker Unbound #3, the warrior known as the Mongrel King, trapped in a modern world with no one but a sympathetic homeless man to keep him company, finds himself confronted by new dangers and old threats from his homeland.

Berserker Unbound #3 is an odd comic. The majority of the issue revolves around the Mongrel King and a homeless man drinking at night in Central Park. Each talks to each other in a language that neither can understand. You would think that this would leave the comic a mess with little progression. The two men essentially have separate conversations with the other, making an assumption as to what the other is saying.

You’d think that this would lead to the comic taking itself in a circle. There’s an oddly endearing feeling to the two men’s dialogue. Jeff Lemire allows a natural flow to the two conversations. It does more to develop the characters than one would expect. The barbarian and the homeless man reveal their vulnerabilities to the audience and themselves. Though because of the language barrier, not to each other.

Berserker Unbound #3 rebounds from the slower pace of the previous issue as the story finds a direction. I’m not going to say “once again” because I don’t think it ever lost its direction. The direction wasn’t as obvious at the end of the second issue as it is at the end of the third. This brings me back to a point I made in last month’s review; that Jeff Lemire is one of the preeminent writers in comics. His ability to twist expectations with the way he commands a story and the dialogue used can be some of the most exciting things in a comic book – when he’s on form.

And holy shit, is he ever on form.

Mike Deodato Jr.‘s artwork captures both the feel of the Silver Age sword and sorcery comics without ever feeling dated. Put simply, this is a gorgeous book. But it’s also more than that; with the characters essentially talking to themselves for the entire issue, what we have, for all intents and purposes, is a silent issue. While the characters can’t understand each other verbally, their body language is plain as day, allowing the Mongrel King and Joe Cobb the communicate visually. Deodato Jr. is able to show his storytelling chops with a powerful scene near the climax of the comic that will hit you with an emotional gut-punch all with barely a handful of words on the page.

It’s a great sequence and one of the many joys that readers of this series will get to experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this comic, with its mixture of fantasy and the modern world working together in a way that adds a unique twist to a well used trope. I’d expect nothing less from a writer of Lemire’s caliber.

Story: Jeff Lemire Art: Mike Deodato Jr. Color: Frank Martin
Story: 9.3 Art: 9.6 Overall: 9.4 Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse provided a FREE copy for review. I’ve added this to my pull list.

Review: Berserker Unbound #2

Berserker Unbound #2

Ripped from a savage world ruled by magic and dropped at the outskirts of a modern city, feared warrior the Mongrel King is found and rescued by a homeless man who guides him through a new land with new vices and hardships in Berserker Unbound #2.

There should be little doubt by now that Jeff Lemire is one of the preeminent writers in comics. His ability to twist expectations with the way he commands a story and the dialogue used can be some of the most exciting things in a comic book – when he’s on form.

Berserker Unbound #2 seems to be a comic where Lemire isn’t on form. It’s an issue that is almost completely at odds with the one before it. Whereas Berserker Unbound #1 had some balls-to-the-wall action and more gore than a horror convention, the second issue is basically two men talking at each other. I say at each other and not to each other because neither the Mongrel King nor the newly introduced Joe Cobb has any idea what the other is saying. It makes for some interesting moments, but ultimately the comic ends in almost the same place it begins.

Or does it?

Through the course of the second issue the homeless Joe Cobb introduces the Mongrel King to life on the streets of New York City, the struggle for food, safety and shelter (and alcohol) for the most unfortunate of the city’s inhabitants, with Cobb assuming that the Mongrel King is another lost soul like himself. Conversely, the barbarian is trying to find his way home, and having no idea what Cobb is saying, is trusting him to find the wizard he needs to transport him home.

The pace of this comic is glacial in comparison to the first issue, mirroring the frustration and impatience of the title character in a world he doesn’t understand.

Mike Deodato Jr.‘s artwork captures the essence of sword and sorcery comics and book covers from the Silver Age, and he’s able to give the giant Mongrel King a subtle gracefulness to his movements that belies his size. As the issue progresses, you can see the changes in the barbarian’s posture as his new surroundings confuse and anger him further and further. But perhaps the largest key to sussing out the Mongrel King’s emotions is in the coloring of Frank Martin. Shifting colors from a vibrant hue to a muted grey and blue tone as the characters move into a setting where their individuality is swallowed by the masses; where they become one with the masses for a brief moment. Two faces in the crowd.

When it comes to any story written by Jeff Lemire, I usually find there’s a slower start to where the writer establishes his setting – that wasn’t the case last issue, and with the slower pace in Berserker Unbound #2 I can’t help but feel that this is a deliberate choice to illustrate the mundanity and hopelessness of the Mongrel King’s new situation – Lemire is the kind of writer that has a long game in mind, and I have every intention of sticking around to find out what that is.

Story: Jeff Lemire Art: Mike Deodato Jr.
Color: Frank Martin
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.6 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse provided a FREE copy for review. I’ve added this to my pull list.

Around the Tubes

Berserker Unbound #2

It was new comic book day yesterday! What’d you all get? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Sound off in the comments below! While you think about that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web.

Newsarama – Image United Shelved Due to Todd McFarlane, According to Rob Liefeld – People expected it to return? It was clearly never going to be completed when it was first announced (we still bought it).

Newsarama – IDW Alum Returns as Direct Market Sales Manager – Congrats!

The Beat – A Year of Free Comics: Fake Gamer Girl Comics is very real fun – Free comics!

Reviews

Comics Bulletin – Berserker Unbound #2
IGN –
House of X #4
The Beat –
Something is Killing the Children #1

Around the Tubes

Berserker Unbound #1

It was new comic book day yesterday. What’d everyone get? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Sound off in the comments below! While you think about that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

People – Tyra Banks Announces She’s Casting ‘Real People’ for Graphic Novel Ahead of Her Modelland Opening – She’s doing a graphic novel!?

Reviews

CBR – Absolute Carnage #1
Comics Bulletin –
Berserker Unbound #1
Newsarama –
Berserker Unbound #1
Comics Bulletin –
Coffin Bound #1
Geek Dad –
Dear Justice League
Newsarama –
House of X #2
CBR –
House of X #2
The Beat –
Over the Garden Wall: Soulful Symphonies #1

Review: Berserker Unbound #1

Berserker Unbound #1

In Berserker Unbound #1, a merciless sword and sorcery warrior finds himself blasted through a wormhole to a modern-day metropolis where he must protect those around him from an evil wizard determined to send him to hell. 

There were two or three main reasons I picked this book up. One was because it was written by Jeff Lemire, one of the most exciting writers in comics today, the second was the premise of a barbarian warrior being dumped in our world in the present day really interested me and the third was simply the cover. It is wonderful. It told me everything I needed to know about the comic in all of five seconds. It’s also very indicative of the art style within the comic, as Mike Deodato Jr. provided the art for both the interior and exterior (though Dave Stewart provides the colors on the cover, with Frank Martin taking care of the interiors). I’m always happy when the interior artist also produces the cover art because it helps avoid a cover selling a book to a customer based on the art style only to have a totally different artist on the inside.

Berserker Unbound #1 opens with a fairly standard fantasy trope as the Mongrel King trudges across a barren badlands-esque landscape reminiscing over past battles and revealing his reason for the continuous fighting; his wife and daughter. Lemire crafts a compelling tale and weaves a lot of characterization into the Mongrel King during the first issue, helping him stand apart from the inevitable comparison to Conan and others of that ilk. With this being a Lemire book, my expectations were already high going into this series. Lemire took an axe to those expectations and left them bloodied in the dust. The story seems simple enough as a premise, and indeed the first issue ends pretty much where you would expect it to so there’s little surprise plotwise, but it’s how Lemire takes you to his destination – the narration, the pacing – and the way he toys with how you expect things to turn out? It’s wonderful.

Speaking of wonderful things, the artwork of Deodato Jr. is another such thing in this issue. The bleakness of the world, the savagery of the inevitable action.. everything about the artistic presentation of this book is phenomenal. Credit also should go to Martin’s coloring work, of course, which elevates the already great visuals to the next level. Colourists often get the short end of the stick when it comes to the credit they deserve. They shouldn’t. Berserker Unbound #1 is a prime example of a comic where both artists’ work elevates the book a step above anything else I’ve read so far.

When it comes to any story written by Jeff Lemire, I usually find there’s a slower start (though that doesn’t mean I’m not normally hooked within the first issue or two), but that’s not the case here. The opening salvo to this story grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and screamed: “READ ME!” So I did. And I’ll continue to read this series until it’s over.

Join me, won’t you?

Story: Jeff Lemire Art: Mike Deodato Jr.
Color: Frank Martin
Story: 9.1 Art: 9.6 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse provided a FREE copy for review. I’ve also added this to my pull list.

ECCC 2019: Jeff Lemire and Mike Deodato Jr. Deliver Urban Sword-Wielding Adventure

Writer Jeff Lemire, artist Mike Deodato Jr., and colorist Frank Martin are joining forces once again, this time to bring a modern twist to an epic fantasy in Berserker Unbound. Dark Horse Comics will release this action-packed new series, with covers by both Mike Deodato Jr. and a first issue variant by Hellboy’s Mike Mignola!

Berserker Unbound kicks off with a merciless, sword-wielding warrior thrown through a wormhole to a modern day metropolis. Our hero quickly realizes that he must protect this new world from an evil wizard who will stop at nothing to send him and this new world to hell.

Berserker Unbound #1 (of four) goes on sale August 7, 2019.

Berserker Unbound #1