4 critics share our favorite comics of the year. We’ve got all-ages comics any kid will love, comics about Watchmen, comics about sex workers fighting for their rights, comics about Archie vs Predator. Hear which series had the best endings and find out the books we can’t wait to read in 2020. You’ll leave with a big reading list (or gift list).
Nea aka Chingy L Gay is a writer, comedian, and critically acclaimed ex-girlfriend. She writes about queer identity, nerd shit, and her weird sex life and has been featured at MTV News, Out Magazine, Jezebel, and Autostraddle. https://twitter.com/TheGayChingy
John Arminio is a long-time comic book devotee and retailer who peddles his wares at Comix Connection in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Along with comics, another of his great passions is film, and you can hear him discuss that artistic medium on recent episodes of the podcasts Hellbent for Horror, Film ’89, and 26 Movies from Hell. https://twitter.com/QuasarSniffer
I go over the nominees that I chose and pick a winner and runners up for a bunch of different categories for the Best in Comic Books 2018. Let me know your favorites or who think should win in the comments!
Well, 2018 was quite a year. While I didn’t have a hard time picking my top five favorite films of the year, what I was surprised by was the “big middle” of everything I saw this year. Of the hundreds of movies I saw between theaters, film festivals, and originals thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, my average for everything I rated was a 3.461765 stars (out of 5). And while I only had a single 5 star movie (spoiler, it’s my #1), my most common rating for the year was a 4.5 (15 films) and a 3.5 (14 films). In terms of raw scores, my #36 isn’t that far off of my #6. That’s all to say we had a lot of really good movies– mixed with a few truly greats.
Because of that (call it indulgent, IDC) I’m giving you my Top 40, just like Casey Kasem back in the day.
The Top 40- 11: (if you skip these to get to the top ten I won’t be offended)
40. Operation Finale – Oscar Isaac leads a Mossad team to take down Adolf Eichman (Ben Kingsley) are you kidding me?!? Had to see this. File under: Jews kicking ass. 39. Overlord – the corollary to #40, but a black paratrooper taking out crazy Nazi scientists doing superhuman experiments. Reminds us Nazis are the bad guys. 38. The Rachel Divide-A Netflix documentary about Rachel Dolezal, mostly in her own words, the activist who claims she is trans-racial. It’ll make you think. 37. Ready Player One– This was my 13 yr old daughter’s favorite movie of the year. It reminds us that fun Spielberg is fun. 36. Ralph Breaks the Internet – It makes the list just for the Disney princess scene and “A Place Called Slaughter Race.” 35. A Simple Favor – Heavy on style, Anna Kendrick plays up the fun angle with director Paul Feig as a mommy blogger whose new best friend disappears. There’s a fun sort of “true crime” type mystery with the comedy here. 34. Mandy– this movie feels like a relic of another time — specifically, the 80’s with definite hints of Heavy Metal — and feels like it was made under the influence of a lot of drugs as Nicholas Cage takes revenge on a crazy cult who murdered his wife.
33. BlackkKlansman – I should’ve loved this movie more, but its weird tacked-on ending sort of blew it, and only in one shot in the entire movie did it feel like this was the same Spike Lee who gave us Do the Right Thing. 32. Quincy – Rashida Jones gives us the most intimate look at her father, master composer Quincy Jones. A great watch on Netflix. 31. Deadpool 2 – It’s a Deadpool movie. It’s great. 30. Widows – It’s a high stakes, high concept heist movie with an amazing female cast and political intrigue. It’s great. 29. Mary Poppins Returns – I love Mary Poppins. And Lin Manuel Miranda. It’s not as immediately classic as the original, but who expected it to? Emily Blunt is still amazing. And it’s great. 28. Hereditary – This is the movie that stuck with me the longest. Still, thinking about this movie makes me want to turn on all the lights in my house. Also, an amazing acting job by Toni Collette. 27. Number 37 – A movie you probably never heard of! I caught this gem at SXSW and fell in love. A South African slum gangland take on Rear Window by a first time black female director. Yes please. 26. RBG – This was a great year for documentaries. This one on the Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg checks all my boxes. 25. Incredibles II – This sequel to one of the greatest animated movies of all time (and one of the greatest superhero movies of all time) did some really amazing things thanks to director Brad Bird,, but the ending took it down a few notches. But the fact that this ended up at 25 tells you just how competitive this year was. 24. Blindspotting – Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal‘s tale of police violence, Oakland, and hip hop was a little too pat in its ending, but was otherwise masterful. A main reason Oakland ended up on my list of “Who won 2018?”
23. Searching – We’ve now seen several of these movies where they’re told only through what we can see on the screen of a computers. Like found footage, there are good and bad, and this is a good one. John Cho and Debra Messing deliver powerful performances in a story about trying to piece together the mystery of a missing daughter through her social media footprint, intertwined with a father losing touch with his daughter in the age of screens. 22. Bad Times at the El Royale – This might’ve ended up higher on the list if it had delivered more on substance over style, but this was still pretty amazing. And that soundtrack! 21. Minding the Gap – An amazing documentary about young adults growing up as friends in a rust belt town as skate punks and how life and domestic abuse has kept them back. Fascinating and maybe a bit too real. 20. A Quiet Place – Wow. Nothing quite shocked audiences as much as this, as well as exposed the worst theater-goers in America. Shut up or the monsters win! One of several reasons why I said Emily Blunt and John Krasinski won the year of 2018. 19. Leave No Trace – Props to writer/director Debra Granik and to amazing performances by Ben Foster and breakout star Thomasin McKenzie in this heartwrenching look at a dad dealing with PTSD who lives a solitary existence off the grid in the woods with his young teen daughter. Of course, when Child Protective Services finds out. . . well, you’re not exactly allowed to do that. And drama ensues. (18.- tie) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – There’s a debate as to whether this is a movie, as it is currently being presented by Netflix, or a tv miniseries, which was how the Coen Brothers originally pitched it. This is peak Coen in all their forms, but if this is a movie, this is where it would fall. 18. Mission Impossible: Fallout– Finally it feels like writer/director Christopher McQuarrie leveled up his directing to the level of his writing ability. The perfect summer movie, even if I liked a few other movies from the summer of ’18 a little more. 17. Annihilation – Along with Hereditary, this was the movie that stuck with me (in my nightmares). Astounding visuals and an amazing ending, and an amazing cast. 16. Avengers: Infinity War – We knew we’d get to this eventually, right? There isn’t much more to add. Bring on 2019’s conclusion and Captain Marvel.
15. Upgrade – Done on a tiny budget, this movie packs a punch of a $150 million blockbuster. Brutal, fun, and thoughtful. 14. Vice– Dear Writer/Director Adam McKay, Don’t lie– you made this movie just for me to enjoy, right? Built to my tastes? The fact this isn’t in my top 10 (it would be in any other year) says a lot about the other films on this list. 13. The Favourite– Dear Writer/Director Yourgos Lanthimos, Same Question. Also, thanks for bringing back the fish-eye lens. 12. Crazy Rich Asians – I haven’t wholeheartedly loved a romantic comedy like this in ages. Just pure fun, and its stellar cast is amazing. 11. Won’t You Be My Neighbor – The movie most likely to make me cry in 2018. This is just sheer goodness. Again, how is this not in my top 10?
The answer is because those movies in my top 10 are just so great themselves. Here you go, without any further ado:
“We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.” A beautiful film by one of the best directors working today, Alfonso Cuaron. An ode to his maid, growing up in an upper-middle class house in Mexico City, this has some of the most beautiful and thoughtful cinematography of any film. The fact that it’s in black and white should also be telling. Even more importantly, the fact that Netflix is going to be in the mix for a Best Picture this year should have every movie studio quaking in their boots. If you watch this at home in your pajamas instead of in a theater, no one will think less of you, or at least I won’t. Just watch it.
9. Hearts Beat Loud
Without a John Carney movie musical around for me to adopt this year as one of my favorites, I went with this one. Nick Offerman owns a record shop and tries to connect with his daughter who is about to leave for college through playing music together, when she falls in love with her first serious girlfriend. She writes a great song, they put it on Spotify, it gets some notice… and more. Just beautiful performances, great music, and a movie about love and family. Also, Ted Danson as a bartender.
Wait, what? Who? This documentary about the women behind the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua is one of my favorite documentaries of the year in a year with amazing documentaries. (This isn’t the last one in my list) I first saw this at SXSW and fell in love. You will too if you can find a way to see this.
7. Paddington 2
There isn’t a better word for this film than just “charming,” or perhaps “nice” or “good.” This is comfort food you didn’t think you needed. It will heal your soul and fill you with good cheer. Also? Hugh Grant for Best Supporting Actor.
6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Dear Sony, THIS is what you should be doing with your extended Spider-Man universe instead of. . . well, Venom. Every single one of your spider-personas in the film was perfect, but especially Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales. Peter Parker means a lot to so many of us. But it’s great that there are others who can take up that mantle: Spider-Man isn’t an everyman unless literally anyone could be him, regardless of age, gender, race, or species. This new, fresh take is so important, but so so is this animation. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I can’t wait to see more. More Miles and Spider-Gwen please! And Spider-Ham and Spider-Man Noir. Ok, just all of them.
This was another movie I adopted as a favorite ever since seeing it at SXSW. I can’t state this enough: as a father of a 13 year old girl, this is the most true depiction of what her life is like that I have ever seen. The rest of my favorites don’t seem to be getting much notice for major awards, so I’ll be pulling heavily for writer/director Bo Burnham and especially breakout star Elsie Fisher.
4. First Reformed
I sadly missed this at SXSW, and only recently caught up with it. I wish someone had grabbed me by the lapels sooner and made me watch it. What I dreaded as homework and maybe another stolid but off-putting performance by Ethan Hawke I instead found a complex narrative about faith, pain, moral imperatives, and a Christian view of our responsibility to take care of the earth. That REALLY checks a lot of boxes for me. “Will God forgive us?” Not if you don’t see this movie, she won’t.
Here it is. The big kahuna. The mothership. The single largest, most important piece of pop culture phenomenon in America for 2018. I literally de-friended a few fellow critics on Facebook because they didn’t like this movie, and when I pressed them for why, their reasons were bull$#!t and a cover for racism. If you can’t appreciate the filmmaking prowess on display here by Ryan Coogler, you have no business calling yourself a film critic.No other Marvel film has ever felt so little like it came off the assembly line. No other feels crafted quite so carefully, so deftly, with precision in every shot, in the delivery of every line. And to that, we have to give credit to this amazing cast. Michael B. Jordan is the greatest Marvel villain, and when he demands to see the Wakandan sunset, and die rather than live in chains, my heart breaks every time. “Show them who you are!” You did, Black Panther, you did.
2. Three Identical Strangers
This documentary came out of nowhere and astounded me. Sold to me as a story of three identical triplets adopted by different families who reunite by happenstance seemed like it would just be a fun little romp. Oh, cool! Nature vs. nurture– look at all the similarities between these boys even though they were separated at birth. And then. . . you find out what’s really going on. There’s a crazy twist that I still won’t reveal because not enough people have seen this. But once you find out, it will challenge everything you think you know about nature vs. nurture, no matter which side of the debate you are on.
1. Sorry to Bother You
This is the best movie of the year and the only film I gave 5 stars out of 5 to. Is it, in fact, a perfect movie? No. But, it’s so audacious in what it is trying to do that I will forgive any small problems it may have. And what this tries to do is skewer the intersection of class and race, delivering a stunning repudiation of Bay Area neoliberalism and technocracy. This is about the closest we get to Terry Gilliam, Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry doing a woke black power narrative, and it is fantastic. I heard from a lot of folks that liked this movie ok, until the ending, which they hated. To me, the ending was perfect and what made this so audacious– I, usually silent in most movie screenings, literally gasped, “What the f@$%?!!?!” As crazy as it was, it fit with the film’s themes and made me love it even more. For being that willing to reach for it — no compromises — this was my favorite of the year.
So, that’s it. What do you think? You may have noticed some pretty big snubs in there. Some of those were intentional, some of those I never got around to see. Tell us what you loved and what you think I missed, overrated, underrated down in the comments.
Marvel’s Black Panther: A Comic Book Biography – In what is part analysis, part love letter and part essay what culminates to be a brilliant dissection of this epic character.
A Study in Emerald – Neil Gaiman and his collaborators remix Lovecraft with some help from Sherlock and Holmes in this captivating mystery with a touch of the supernatural.
Thrawn: Alliances – Timothy Zahn continues the story of Thrawn in this tale which finds him teaming up with Darth Vader, his rival for the attention of the Emperor, to investigate a threat may mean doom for the Empire.
Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History – In what could have been fodder for fans of this film franchise, we get the ultimate book about every film, from behind the scenes stories , including replications of scene sketches, to even press photos.
Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History – In this major compendium, fans get a history both visual and prose that pulls readers even if they’re not fans into a story more interesting than the fictional story it is connected to.
Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History) – George RR Martin gives fans the complete history of the Targaryens, as this book explores legends only talked about in the other books and the television show, and finally separates myth from fact in this fictional world.
Children of Blood and Bone – In what feels like Star Wars and Harry Potter came together in a glorious alchemy and was set in an African setting, is what Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel beautifully commences this saga
DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman – In what is essentially Batman’s blueprint for every Metahuman, we get a forensic look at some beloved and not so beloved characters.
Dread Nation – In a book which is both alternate and revisionist history in a dystopian setting filled with zombies, Justina Ireland, every page crackles with twists and turns that breeds new blood in the zombie genre and a female POC protagonist more badass than any on television.
Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down: The Official Behind-the-Scenes Companion – In another guide to a pop culture phenomenon, we get a behinds the scenes look of the first two seasons of this epic show.
Sorry To Bother You – In one of the most original movies this year, we get a debut movie form Boots Riley, which examines race, codeswitching, pharmaceuticals in a funky science fiction gumbo sure to entertain and provoke thought
Black Panther – In one of the best superhero origin movies to come out ever, we get a movie that has changed how seriously superhero movies are to be taken.
Ant-Man and The Wasp – In one of the better summer movies to come out this year, this movie does something only a handful of superhero movies have done, be better than the first movie.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse – In one of the best movies to come out this year, and let’s face it, the best Spider-Man movie yet, Sony has finally cracked the formula on this superhero movie business .
The Death Of Stalin – This movie based on the acclaimed graphic novel and directed by the creator of Veep captures all the absurdities of politics and power.
Annihilation – In this movie, an all-female team must find out what monstrous secrets lie in a jungle where evolution has taken a dangerous turn, one which will still scare the crap out of most.
The Predator – Although this movie had a ton of continuity problems, Shane Black’s dialogue is the saving grace including this stellar cast, which manages to keep the movie entertaining to the end.
Deadpool 2/Once Upon A Deadpool – As this movie only was better than the original by a slim margin, it’s a good thing Ryan Reynolds decided to re-release for Christmas and pull Fred Savage into it, doing a family friendly version which only made the movie funnier and better than the first.
Avengers: Infinity War – A movie that got all our favorite MCU superheroes into one movie, only to temporarily destroy them.
Overlord – World War II plus Zombies…. Enough said.
Luke Cage Season 2 – In what would be its “swan song”, the show comes into its own, telling a unique story, subverting a horrible stereotype, and giving the hero a transition, which fans were sorely cheated out of.
Iron Fist Season 2 – Just like Luke Cage, this series also found its way in its sophomore outing, fans can only speculate where the show would go with two Iron Fists
Timeless – Over its two seasons, the show has more than made fans worldwide, it has given the time travel genre, a few new twists
Daredevil Season 3 – Though the season started slow, it had a ton of revelations and pushed its titular hero to his limits, as fans got to enjoy the show at its zenith, before its cancellation
Sense8 Series Finale – In this show’s swan song, we get one last team-up that truly puts all other finales to shame, as this particular episode I watched three times just to catch all the things they put in it.
Krypton – Kudos goes out to SyFy for doing a prequel show right, despite one of their earlier attempts, Caprica, failing. They took those lessons learned and applied it to this show, where we get to meet Kal-El’s grandfather and a Back To The Future version of Adam Strange
Titans – In a fine fist season that will be ending soon, this series gives us a gritty yet fun version of the characters have grown to love and this shows properly ”adults” them up
Black Lightning – As the newest show to be part of the CW’s DC TV Universe, this show strikes the perfect balance between character development, superhero action and tackling relevant issues, even better than its counterparts in its freshman season
The Tick – As beloved the comic, the cartoon and the first live action version of the show are, this version more than sets itself apart, as this one finally gets the humor from the comic.
The Haunting Of Hill House – As a fan of Shirley Jackson, I could not wait for this show, as it more than delivered in spades, and happened to be scarier in places where I least expected it
While I also have a top and bottom list of the movies of 2018, I love things outside of movies, too. Indeed, so much of what has happened in 2018 has been outside of movies, or blurring the lines between what movies and television even are with Netflix bringing us things like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs or Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, the first of whach was originally planned as a tv miniseries, and the latter is just. . . well, what even is Bandersnatch?
So, regardless of medium, here are my Top 5 favorites of everything.
5. Educated: A Memoir
This book hit a lot of lists of the top books of 2018 (including culture critic Barack Obama’s), but it hit especially close to home for me because, like author Tara Westover, I attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Her story of growing up kept out of public education was too familiar to me, as survivalism and mistrust of public schools were something I encountered too frequently. This is the same anti-intellectual stew that spawned Glenn Beck and the Bundys’ ranch standoff/takeover of the Malheur Bird Refuge. But Westover’s memoir is a testament to what happens when this is taken to the extreme, to the point that as an adult she had never heard of the Holocaust. It’s a great read and my favorite book of the year.
4. Detroit: Become Human
Ok, there may have been “better” games than this in 2018. (God of War, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption II) But this story of a near-future where androids begin to gain sentience and their struggle for equality was my personal favorite. It almost wasn’t a video game– it was an interactive movie.
This is one of those games where the choices you make affect the outcome of the game, and you get to choose the fate of a revolution. Will your quest for equality for androids be violent, or non-violent? What are the consequences for the other characters you’re playing as?
This hit me right in my social-justice and robot-loving heart, and also had beautiful gameplay featuring a spectacular cast of actors.
3. Sorry to Bother You
Spoiler Alert: this was my favorite movie of 2018. First time director Boots Riley delivers a searing indictment of capitalism and racial expectations, exposing a sort of gonzo form of racial exploitation that is a perfect intersectional skewering of the nexus of race and class.
It’s very rare for a movie to surprise me, and this made me literally say to the screen, “What the f@#$?!?!“
This was the only film I gave five stars to all year, and it’s something you have to see to believe.
2. Hannah Gadsby – Nanette
I had never heard of Australian comic Hannah Gadsby before this year, so imagine my shock in watching a Netflix special in which she announces her retirement from comedy and then proceeds to deconstruct what comedy is, blow it up, and put it back together again– all told against the backdrop of a heartbreaking childhood story of coming to terms with her queer identity. I never thought anything could make me feel such a rainbow of emotions over such a short period of time. This wasn’t just a comedy special — in the same way Childish Gambino’s “This is America” wasn’t just a music videos. Those were pop culture grenades tossed into the heart of the beast that blew everything up.
1. The Good Place
More than anything else this year, The Good Place ruled my heart and mind. I have not anticipated a broadcast television show like this in a long time, and in between seasons and episodes so many binges of previous seasons.
The best thing about this show that is sorta about the afterlife but kinda mostly about ethics but really just about us dirtbags here on earth and how we treat each other is how it keeps reinventing itself almost every six episodes or so. The show’s writers seem to be laboring under the idea that at some point the network is going to figure out the scam they’ve been running and pull the plug, so we’d better get through as much of this plot as possible. Where most shows would drag out their premise, this races through multiple setups in a single season. It’s refreshing, it’s smart, but it’s also stupid.
This season’s episodes “Jeremy Bearimy” and “Janets” deserve ALL THE EMMYS, especially for acting from Janet herself, D’Arcy Cardon. If you saw them, you know why. If you didn’t see them, what are you waiting for?! To Netflix! To Hulu! Begin the binge now!
It’s the best show on tv– fight me. It’s the best thing from 2018– let’s be friends and watch it together, will you please? It will make you laugh and feed your soul. Also, it has its own official podcast, hosted by Marc Evan Jackson, who plays Shawn, who ends every episode asking, “What’s good?”
The Good Place. It is good. And the best for 2018.
So, Who Won the Year?
I also like to look back at the year look for threads, throughlines, trends that indicate something. Invariably there are big winners and losers in the year. I want to quickly celebrate the top winners.
Honorable Mention: Nicholas Cage
Despite being somewhere between an internet meme and a pariah, Nick Cage still gets some pretty amazing work this year. His starring role in Mandy is like a cocaine-fueled horror fantasy made in the 80’s and then set to age for three decades soaking in LSD. But then he also showed up in the cartoons in some of the most unexpected places: as Spider-Man Noir in Into the Spider-Verse and as Superman in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. We’re glad to see him working.
Other honorable mentions: Donald Glover, Streaming Services, Steve Carrell, Mahershala Ali, Dolph Lundgren, Michael B. Jordan
This was a good year for cults in movies and tv. Mandy, Bad Times at the El Royale, Wild Wild Country, and Hereditary. Also, the bizarre stories about real life sex cult NXIVM that involved Smallville‘s Allison Mack. So, way to go, cults? At least you have some diversity here– Jesus, Satan, new age, but all of them were big on sex, So, sex cults. Way to win 2018.
4. Emily Blunt and John Krasinski
These two not only had an amazing year, but they did it together. Blunt killed it as Mary Poppins, Krasinski brought Jack Ryan back, and then you have their on-screen duo in A Quiet Place. That movie was such a revelation– mostly about how terrible mainstream movie audiences are at making noise. But in a year when almost every top-grossing film was a sequel, franchise, or remake, A Quiet Place was a true original. Thanks to both of you. You won the year.
3. Comicsgate and the Alt-Right
Now hear me out. I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but the alt-right actually accomplished a decent amount this year, and it’s completely unacceptable. James Gunn is still fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3. Chuck Wendig was fired from Star Wars/Marvel comics. And, they raised a lot of money through crowdfunding for various ventures.
These guys aren’t playing around. And as long as they keep weaponizing things like offensive tweets, we will lose great creators from our favorite genres.
2. Asian Movie-going Audiences
Look, America, we need to understand that most movies aren’t being made for us anymore. We can decry as braindead anything like The Meg, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Skyscraper, Aquaman, Rampage, or Venom, but those movies kill overseas. There are very specific motifs and types of shots that work there that we as American audiences just aren’t picking up. This is going to have reverberations for years to come.
What’s the major difference? You can make a strong argument for diverse casts and female leads — giving us hits like Black Panther or The Last Jedi — but those movies generally just sort of do ok overseas while overperforming in the US.
That says something comforting about our country and culture at this time. But it says some things that should maybe be concerning that we won’t get complex stories like these in the future while we spit out more Venoms.
Perhaps the biggest irony in all of this is the alt right crusaders who don’t want diversity in our movies, shows, and comics will find common cause with the globalists who will continue to churn out lots of braindead action movies starring heroic dudes. Sigh.
But let’s talk about Black Panther for one moment. It’s arguably the most culturally salient and important piece of pop culture of the year, with Infinity War not far behind. For all their evils as a corporate overlord, we got something truly important for a lot of people to see — an authentically black superhero story that deals with identity, a history of violence and oppression towards the African diaspora, and that leaves us remember that “in times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers.”
When the box office receipts went off the charts, you gave back– founding an actual charity to do the work of STEM education and scholarships like T’Challa and Shuri wanted. Thank you, Disney. For an evil corporation, you sure gave us a lot of what we loved this year. You win.
[tie] 1. The City of Oakland
Speaking of Black Panther, one of the most important pieces of the film is how director Ryan Coogler brought his Oakland roots into the film. That moment when you realize the voiceover from the beginning of the film is of young Erik and his dad N’Jobu (“Tell me a story of home.”) and the entire basis for Killmonger’s wrath is based on the economic oppression of being raised in poverty in Oakland and what he had to do to escape it. It ends with a hopeful note in the same building, that future children will not have to face such hardship. “Who are you?”
I already mentioned my love of Sorry to Bother You, but that film is not possible without Oakland as a backdrop. The same is true of another of my favorites, Blindspotting, which takes a similar look at poverty, gentrification, and violence. And then we have Bodied, the rap battle movie produced by Eminem, which plays a major part in the film, but whose setting is split between Berkeley, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Still, Oakland as a force is in that film.
And then there’s real life. The Golden State Warriors win the NBA Championship. A white woman calls the cops on a black family having a cookout at an Oakland city park at Lake Merritt and becomes known as “BBQ Becky.”
And then heartbreak. The Oakland Raiders plan to leave for Las Vegas looking for more corporate pork and handouts.
To understand what is going on in Oakland in film and culture is to understand a microcosm of what is happening in so many cities across the country facing gentrification and economic pressures that are displacing historically black populations. It is why I recommend to everyone they see each of these films I mentioned here and think about what is actually happening.
Vietnamese Memories – This series by Clement Baloup is not only timely but tells stories that rarely get the time of day, even in comics
Tao Te Ching – The creative team behind this book does more than an adaptation of this important tome, they make it understandable to every reader
The Prince and The Dressmaker – In probably one of the most heartfelt stories I have read this year, Jen Wang, proves to be a master storyteller in story and art, in a story that proves that people are more than meets the eye
X-Men: Grand Design – Ed Piskor has proven himself to be one today’s premiere creators with his Hip Hop Family Tree series, and he shows his love for the X-Men in this series that packs so much in in one panel, it puts most creators to shame.
Old Man Hawkeye – Although this series is meant to be a precursor to Old Man Logan, I found this story to be even more compelling than the story that follows this, as we meet many old faces, as well as new ones, giving fans a dystopian world very much like Walking Dead, but with superheroes.
How To Read Nancy – Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden give comic book fans a treasure trove of information in what really is a textbook but also a graphic novel, as this book both entertains and educates fans on the history of this comic strip and how one should deconstruct a comic strip in the first place.
Abbott – In what is part thriller/ supernatural romance, we get a tale of an investigative reporter in Detroit searching for the truth about some ghastly unsolved murders that the police have ignored, one of them being the death of her husband.
Sleepless – As a fan of historical medieval stories, like The Tudors and The Borgias (both series) this series begins with heartbreak as the protagonist, Lady Pyppenia, is the sole heir to the throne, one currently occupied by her uncle, who sees her as a threat, as the series antes up on “ palace intrigue” as she navigates the scary waters of being a royal, as well as romance, as she starts to fall for her guard, the Sleepless Knight, Cyrenic.
Shards Volume 2 – As one of the best upcoming comic studios in the past few years, we get another collection from this talented collective, with their wide array of stories and characters that leave readers engrossed in these worlds, leaving nothing to chance.
Power& Magic: Immortal Souls – In an excellent collection from this small press company out of Oregon, we get a second volume of stories about witches who just so happen to be LGBTQ or POC or both, in what is a pure joy to read from such interesting voices
Destiny, New York Volume 2 – In the continuation of this excellent series, we drop back into the world of Logan and Lilith, and the mysterious magical underworld that lies in plain view, as they face controversy , secrets and ultimately, loss.
Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation – In this fantastic adaptation, we finally get to see Anne in all her complexities, as the heartbreak will get the reader even if you know what will happen
Without further ado, these are my favorite comics of 2018. This was the year I fell back on series that I had been checking out for years and found some new faves in the worlds of newspaper comics, symbiotes, gamma irradiated beasts, and maybe even a choose your own adventure game. Marvel seriously did a 180 this year, and I went from picking zero of their comics on my last year end list to three so well done on their part, and Donny Cates and Al Ewing should receive hefty bonus checks. But, honestly, this list should show you that visual humor, character driven narratives, and weirdness are my things, and I can’t wait to read more comics in that vein in 2019.
Honorable Mentions:Sex Death Revolution (Black Mask), Runaways (Marvel), Assassinistas (IDW/Black Crown), Punks Not Dead (IDW/Black Crown), That one really good issue of Peter Parker, Spider-Man that Chip Zdarsky wrote and drew (Marvel), Gideon Falls (Image)
10.Modern Fantasy (Dark Horse)
Modern Fantasy is a miniseries about a data entry worker named Sage of the Riverlands, who secretly wants to epic hero or maybe just a curator at a cool museum, and has a penchant for smooching handsome elves. Did Rafer Roberts and Kristen Gudsnuk have access to my most secret thoughts while writing this book? In all seriousness, this comic marries millennial angst and struggles (Dead end jobs, mooching friends, annoying co-workers) with all kinds of fantasy tropes, including urban, high, and good ol’ Lovecraftian. Gudsnuk’s art is both humorous and touching and filled with background details and jokes that reward a close reading. But what makes Modern Fantasy a great comic is the awkward friend group dynamic that Roberts and Gudsnuk craft filled with drama, jokes, a touch of romance, and a final showdown with a fire demon.
9.The Wicked + the Divine (Image)
Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson’s story of young gods and fandom hit some dark bits in 2018 and had plenty of surprises to go with the formalism and “glimpse behind the curtain” of the “Mothering Invention” arc. However, at its best, WicDiv is the story of the girl, who thought she wanted something, and then painfully realized that she didn’t really want it. That girl, of course, is Persephone whose personal journey along with McKelvie’s amazing facial expressions, Gillen’s clever quips, and Wilson’s majestic color palette keeps me returning to this series as it is about to hit its fifth year. Also, the specials were spectacularly glorious in 2018 from the illustrated prose story/murder mystery in 1923to 1373’s dark piety. Then, there was the absolute bonkers nature of The Funnies where we find out the origin of Laura’s cracked phone and the Pantheon gets to solve a Scooby Doo mystery courtesy of Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris.
8. Nancy (Go Comics)
I’ve been doing year end comics lists for five years, and this is the first time I’ve put a newspaper strip on one. However, Olivia Jaimes’ work on Nancy is one of the most hilarious things to come out of 2018. There are her “millennial” gags (Even though Nancy and Sluggo are definitely Generation Z.) about Nancy’s overuse of the Internet or swapping streaming service passwords with Sluggo, who is also “lit”. But she also has a firm grasp on meta-gags and the uniqueness of the comics medium like playing with panel layouts, lettering styles, reusing panels, and then having Nancy make a joke about it. Nancy is truly a ray of sunshine in a dark landscape while still being sarcastic and self-deprecating as hell and shows that even the proverbial old dog of the newspaper comic can learn some new tricks.
7. “Milk Wars” (DC Comics/Young Animal)
“Milk Wars” really brought the best of DC Rebirth and Young Animal together and was the only Big Two crossover I kept up with in 2018. The series brings together the Doom Patrol, Mother Panic, Shade the Changing Girl, and Cave Carson to fight warped versions of DC Comics heroes, who are under the control of the Retconn corporation. The story is a literal metaphor for how corporations sanitize characters and go for the retread instead of taking risks with iconic characters as Wonder Woman becomes a submissive housewife in her tie-in story from Cecil Castelluci and Mirka Andolfo. “Milk Wars” shows that it’s okay to be a little weird as milk goes bad if it’s left in the bridge past its expiration day. It also features some gorgeous layouts from Aco in the crossover’s first chapter, which was co-written by Gerard Way and Steve Orlando, and he and the artists did an excellent job of melding an indie and mainstream sensibility throughout “Milk Wars”. Also, the story had a real effect on Mother Panic, Cave Carson, and Shade in their solo titles and introduced Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew’s wonderful, yet depressed Eternity Girl character.
Donny Cates, Ryan Stegman, and Iban Coello’s Venom ongoing series is filled with all the fun excesses of the 1990s (Especially in the Venom Annual where James Stokoe shows him going toe to toe with Juggernaut.) and none of its toxicity. The first arc of the series is about Eddie Brock and his symbiote going to war against Knull, god of the symbiotes and a symbiote dragon. This has a terrible effect on him, and Cates carefully uses the symbiote as a metaphor for PTSD while freeing Stegman to draw unhinged heavy metal battles. And this series wasn’t just a one arc wonder as Cates, Coello, and Stegman explore the after effects of the battle with Knull on Eddie’s symbiote and have him confront his father. Plus one of the most underrated Marvel villains, Ultimate Reed Richards aka the Maker pops up for a little bit. This series work because it explores the psychological effects of the symbiote as well as the oozy, shoot-y violent bits.
Crowded is a wicked bit of satire with a side of mismatched buddy adventure from the beautiful minds of Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, and Triona Farrell. It is about an obnoxious woman named Charlie, who has a $2 million price on her head on an app called Reapr that is basically crowdfunded murder. Luckily, there’s an app called Defendr where Charlie hires a badass, meticulous, and noble woman named Vita to protect her. Stein and Brandt fill each page with oodles of panels, but you are able to follow every action scene, conversation, or Charlie ending up at the club or a bachelorette party even if she has a price on her head. The bounty hunting drives the plot while Sebela uses the quieter moments to develop the personality and relationships of Charlie and Vita as well as some of the “professionals” hunting them. Crowded is a thrill ride, but also looks at the dark, not so altruistic side of human nature through the Internet and constant connectivity.
4. You Are Deadpool (Marvel)
Al Ewing and Salva Espin’s You Are Deadpool was some of the most fun I had reading a comic book in 2018 beginning with Kieron Gillen showing up in the “tutorial” brandishing a sandwich as a weapon. It’s a combination spoof of different eras of Marvel Comics along with a pretty damn fun and addictive Choose Your Own Adventure Game. In some cases, you don’t even read the issues in order. Ewing and Espin also take cues from some not so table top RPGs and have the moral choices that Deadpool makes effect your reading and playing experience. Having Deadpool interact with both heroes and innocent passerbies during the Silver Age, horror/kung fu/blaxploitation, the edgy 80s, and of course, the good ol’ 90s is hilarious and shows Espin’s versatility as a cartoonist.
3. Archival Quality (Oni)
Archival Quality is a spooky graphic novel by Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz about a young woman named Cel, who gets a job as an archivist at a medical museum. The comic tenderly explores Cel’s anxiety and depression and unexpected connection with a woman named Celine, who was a patient at the sanatorium that preceded the museum. It isn’t caught up in a fast paced thriller plot, but slowly unveils the mystery while focusing on Cel’s interactions with her boss Abayomi, super rad co-worker Holly, and her declining relationship with her boyfriend Kyle. Archival Quality has real atmosphere, and Steenz creates some fantastic spaces as Cel begins to explore her workplace with its skulls and lack of cellphone service. It is a fantastic story about mental health and relationships through the mystery genre.
2. Giant Days (BOOM! Studios)
Giant Days continues to be one of life’s true blessings thanks to John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Julia Madrigal, and Whitney Cogar. At this point, we know the characters and their quirks are on fully display, especially when Sarin draws the title because she is a real pro at expressive eyes and touches of surrealism to break up the slice of life. 2018 was full of drama to go with the Giant Days’ comedy as Daisy broke up with her a little too footloose and fancy free girlfriend Ingrid, and Esther missed her shot at being in a relationship with Ed when he begins a romance with Nina, a girl he met while recuperating from a pub related injury. Nina being Australian is the subject of this year holiday’s special, which was a special treat drawn and written by Allison as Ed fends for himself Down Under. Giant Days shows that it’s one of the pre-eminent slice of life comics as it enters its fourth year, and Esther, Daisy, and Susan’s relationships continue to ebb and flow.
1. Immortal Hulk (Marvel)
I will preface this by saying that the Hulk is one of my least favorite Marvel characters because he’s often used as a simplistic Jekyll/Hyde metaphor. Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Lee Garbett, Martin Simmonds, and Paul Mounts blow that up in Immortal Hulk, which resembles an intelligent horror story rather than a superhero beat ’em up. It’s a road story with Bruce Banner on the run from the monster that comes out, wrecks, and kills when the sun goes down before morphing into a government conspiracy thriller and something more malevolent towards the end. Through cutting narration, Ewing reveals exactly what is going through Banner’s head while Bennett’s art shows the often gruesome effects of his rages. I also like how Ewing humanizes the supporting players from Walter Langkowski, who is struggling with his own monstrous nature to honest reporter Jackie McGee and even his opponent the Absorbing Man.
Immortal Hulk is the best comic of 2018 because it has a compelling plot, is a searing character study of an American pop culture icon, and is an homage to Jack Kirby and Bernie Wrightson while breaking new ground. (See issue 10’s final page.)
One of the things I found most interesting about 2018 was it actually seemed like there were a lot fewer bad movies. Instead, we had a big middle of mediocre, forgettable fare.
So several of these I wouldn’t say are “bad,” but merely disappointing. As with my lists from previous years, I’m trying to keep this away from merely being a slam dunk contest, and to ignore films for whom I am not the intended audience. There’s also a large number of films that were never screened for critics and I had zero interest in seeking them out on my own. So I have no opinion on, for example, Insidious: The Last Key, Holmes and Watson, or The Week Of.
However, I’m going to stray from my principles in a few places here because these film are so egregiously, aggressively awful that I can’t help but say something. But I like to think of this more as an exercise on what went wrong in movies in 2018 and what we can do so much better in the coming year that I hope we can learn from.
There are, actually, worse films out there than this sequel, but it was just so egregiously bad that I had to start the list here. How do you take such a surefire premise as giant robots fighting monsters and make it bad? Step 1: don’t bring back director Guillermo del Toro or star Idris Elba. Step 2: Make Charlie Day the bad guy for some reason. Step 3: End your film with a snowball fight!
It’s not all bad. There is, in fact, a decent amount of enjoyment to be had here if you don’t pay too close attention. Just turn the sound down and pretend you’re watching a better version of the movie.
9. Take Your Pills
Netflix brought us some great things in 2018. One of them was not this documentary, which premiered at SXSW, which was where I caught it and was immediately enraged. Hey kids, did you know that if you’re being treated for ADHD, you’re basically just doing meth? This film takes the overly complex issues surrounding treatment of attention deficit and basically makes the case that not only are we over-prescribing medication, but it’s being used as a party drug, and drug companies are evil and everyone should just stop taking their medication.
This is a complex subject and this documentary offers no solutions, but shames people for having ADHD and suggests we’re better off not being treated at all. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Does The Rock really just say yes to every ridiculous movie they pitch him? This film was not at all based on the 1980’s arcade game involving a giant ape, lizard and wolf attacking the city because that game was fun and this was a tedious mess. This film had a great cast — Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris, Malin Ackerman, Jake Lacy — all of whom are just wasted here. As are a giant effects budget and a premise that might have been interesting if they’d done it properly.
PS- Watch the first five minutes of this movie and the first five minutes of Venom and tell me they aren’t the exact same movie. Mysterious goo on a satellite causes a malfunction and it crashes, infecting people while the evil corporation tries to control their discovery. It’s the same. damn. movie.
I just want to know what the hell was going on with this movie. Who told them to make this movie this way? Not only is John Travolta’s hair and makeup somehow even more ridiculous in every single scene he’s in (begging the question. . . why?) but this movie seems like it was made by someone whose only exposure to organized crime or the mafia was by watching The Godfather and Goodfellas. It’s like that fresco painting of Jesus they tried to restore and it turned out looking like some weird deformed monkey. It’s like the cooking disasters you see on Nailed It or Cake Wrecks. Oh, it was written and directed by Kevin Connolly from Entourage. Nailed it.
For a film with so much voice-over exposition and cutaways to the news to explain what was happening and long car rides explaining the structure of the Gambino crime family, this film doesn’t actually make any sense. There’s also no bigger story or theme. Am I supposed to feel some way about John Gotti other than I please want this movie to be over now please? At least Vice made you feel some things about its characters– and managed to coherently explain recent events.
There’s also this weird soundtrack which tries to remind us we’re in the 80’s and 90’s by playing The Bangles and Duran Duran but also this weird hip hop that samples what sounds like the Nina Rota / Carmine Coppolla scores for The Godfather movies.
It’s a testament to what a slog 2018 was that this movie from January feels like it was from eight years ago. Or maybe that’s just because it was so tired and hackneyed it felt like that watching it. Cops and robbers, but maybe we’re rooting for the robbers because the cops are bad guys, too? By the end, I wanted everyone to die and I mostly got my wish. Too bad it took two and a half hours to get there.
5. Sicario: Day of the Soldado
As disappointing a sequel as Pacific Rim: Uprising was, this was far worse. The original Sicario is such a taught, gripping film. And prior to this, I felt like Tayler Sheridan could do no wrong in writing scripts. This, apparently, is what you poop out when the dollar signs are right. The film misses its moral compass in not including Emily Blunt, but it also perpetuates some ridiculous ideas about ISIS terrorists coming across the Mexican border to blow up a Wal-Mart. This is like the fever dream of someone who’s been watching way too much Fox News and doing a lot of cocaine.
And then we get the conflict between Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro, and also Brolin bristling at government bureaucrats who won’t let him do his job! (More coke + Fox News)
We deserve better from our movies. We deserve better from our Sicario sequels. (Note: I saw this movie back to back in a double feature with my #1 movie of the year, putting an even better comparison on just how terrible this was.)
I almost feel sorry for how bad this movie was. A teenage girl is so deathly allergic to sunlight that even a few errant ray can kill her. Spoiler alert: they do. This tragic teen romance is made even more ridiculous by Rob Riggle trying his best as the dad role here.
A movie that glorifies violence against women, has multiple rape scenes, and actually had potential to be the Black Widow movie we all really wanted? It was just terrible, maybe even worse than Jennifer Lawrence’s Boris-and-Natasha Russian accent. In the era of #MeToo, maybe producers would’ve been wise to let this sit on a shelf for a while, instead of explicitly showing on screen how sexual violence is used to subjugate and control women, how their agency is stripped from them in a government-run spy program that is essentially state-sponsored sex slavery where failure to comply means a bullet in your head. It was also incredibly long, which is even more unforgivable, especially given how boring it was.
Normally I make an exception for the Fifty Shades movies because I’m just not the intended audience. But this year? This abomination came out right in the middle of the #MeToo movement and showed an incredible tonedeafness on the part of the film’s producers. These are a lot of the same problems I had with Red Sparrow, but at least that had a spy storyline going on as well. The best thing I can say about this is I will never have to review another one of these films again.
1. Death of a Nation
Again, I normally wouldn’t include this because I am not the target audience, but convicted felon pardoned under corrupt circumstances by Trump likely in an attempt to suborn perjury or obstruction of justice from his associates Dinesh D’Souza has produced his masterpiece of alt-right agitprop. His major contention is that Donald Trump is basically Abraham Lincoln, and just like Lincoln, those mean ol’ Democrats are going to use violence (including civil war) to overturn a legitimate election.
Except a) it wasn’t legitimate, you buffoon, or perhaps you haven’t noticed the increasing number of indictments around Individual 1 (or maybe Dinesh doesn’t think campaign finance law matter, since, after all, that was what he was convicted of breaking) and b) after all of those marches like the Women’s March, March for Our Lives, People’s Climate March, March Against Family Separation we have yet to see any violence from them, but yet we have alt-right violence in Charlottesville (covered in the far better film, Alt-Right Age of Rage) pipe bombs, politically-motivated attacks on synagogues and mosques. If this is a proto-civil war, it is a war of right wing aggression.
And then there’s the weird fascination with Trump being like Lincoln. This is just so baffling on multiple levels.
As a movie, it’s also just garbage. I was not kind to Michael Moore’s latest earlier this year (in fact, if this were a top 13 worst movies list, Fahrenheit 11/9 would be on it), but at least the guy knows how to make a movie. D’Souza loses his narrative so many times, it’s like he’s piecing this together from an underground bunker wearing a tinfoil hat.
But, none of this happens in a vacuum. Whenever I see a movie, I ask myself, “What is this trying to say? How does that add to the cultural conversation we’re having as a society?” This throws gasoline on the worst types of fires, including the beliefs of people who also believe in QAnon and Pizzagate. D’Souza’s films in the past have been terrible and wreckless, but never dangerous. This gives crazy people the fuel they need to commit future acts of violence– in the belief that they are fighting a new civil war.
The First Amendment protects his right to make this movie, and it also protects my right to say this is the worst piece of garbage to be shown in cinemas this last calendar year.