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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.

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2019

2019 was an interesting year for me comics-wise as I did not get to read as widely or deeply as I liked because of a variety of factors, including my final two semesters of graduate school, working two library jobs (Where ordering and promoting comics were part of my duties.), and an impending move. Also, I decided to catch up on some “classic” comics like Miracleman, Ghost in the Shell, Junji Ito‘s Tomie, and most of Brian Michael Bendis‘ and Michael Oeming‘s Powers, and Gail Simone‘s run on Secret Six.

However, I did have the opportunity to read some fantastic comics in 2019 as two of my favorite series of all time reached their conclusion. I also branched out a little bit, and this is the first time my year-end list has featured books from Ahoy and Harper Collins as well as a self-published comic.

Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion

10. Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion (Dark Horse)

Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, and Nick Filardi‘s Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion is as wild and anarchic as the Netflix show was tame and Muggle-friendly. Hotel Oblivion is a love letter to Silver Age supervillains while actually taking time to deal with the relationships between the Hargreaves siblings. Bá and Filardi’s visuals are a chaos magic-shaped bullet to the head and especially sings in the world and city-rending set pieces towards the end of the miniseries that I read in trade paperback format.

Dreamers of the Day

9. Dreamers of the Day (Self-published)

Ned Barnett‘s self-published graphic memoir-meets-historical biography Dreamers of the Day is one of the most unique comics I’ve read in recent years. It chronicles the author’s trip to England as he conducts research on a graphic biography about T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia and is educational while being emotionally compelling. If there’s one word to describe this comic, it is “enthusiastic” as Barnett’s passion for making art, studying history, and making it relevant to contemporary readers shines through in his iconic, Herge-esque art style and accessible prose.

Winter Soldier

8. Winter Soldier #2-5 (Marvel)

Kyle Higgins and Rod Reis create a redemptive narrative for the sidekick-turned assassin-turned superhero and occasional black ops agent, Bucky Barnes in their Winter Soldier miniseries. The comic’s beating heart is the flawed relationship between Bucky and RJ, a child assassin, that Bucky sees a lot of himself in. There is both humor and tragedy in their interactions. Reis’ lush pencils to color art style works for both the emotional breakdowns and action beatdowns.

Steeple

7. Steeple #1-4 (Dark Horse)

The fantastic John Allison (Giant Days) both writes and draws this miniseries about an Anglican priest in training named Billie, who is assigned to a parish in the kooky village of Tredregyn, Cornwall. Steeple has an “anything but the kitchen sink” tone as its plots include fights against sea monsters, a charismatic Christian cult connected to windmills, and an ongoing conflict against the Church of Satan. (Billie also strikes up an unlikely friendship with the Satanic priestess, Maggie.) Allison mines a lot of humor out of the idiosyncrasies of different religions and small town life as well as the melodrama of good versus evil, and his art is expressive as always with the help of colorist Sarah Stern.

Second Coming

6. Second Coming #1-5 (Ahoy)

Speaking of religious satire, Mark Russell, Richard Pace, Leonard Kirk, and Andy Troy do an excellent job of showing how the historical figure Jesus would be received in the modern world with the twist of having an “edgy” superhero named Sunstar as a roommate. Beginning with a retelling of the creation of the world, Russell and Pace walk a tightrope between reverence and irreverence touching on a variety of issues, including megachurches, homophobia, and Pauline theology. Another enjoyable part of Second Coming is Leonard Kirk’s inking when the story decides to be a traditional superhero comic for a second, or there’s a flashback to Satan tempting Jesus as he plays a complex role in the narrative.

Once and Future

5. Once and Future #1-5 (BOOM! Studios)

I knew Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillain‘s Once and Future would be my cup of tea when it featured Arthurian legends and the town of Bath where I studied abroad in summer 2014 as plot points as well as having a complicated relationship between a grandmother and grandson at its core. Once and Future is action-packed read steeped in Arthurian lore with dynamic art from Mora and a mystical color palette from Bonvillain. It’s a straightforward adventure/dysfunctional family/romance comic that also plays with the symbols (Excalibur, Holy Grail etc.) and tropes of these kinds of stories, and I’m glad that it’s an ongoing and not just a mini.

Giant Days

4. Giant Days #46-54, As Time Goes By (BOOM! Studios)

Esther, Daisy, and Susan finally go their separate ways in the final issues of John Allison, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar‘s Giant Days plus a reunion one-shot where Daisy and Susan tag-team and rescue Esther from the clutches of Type A London publishing types. The final year of Giant Days had a lot of pathos to go with its usual comedy with several issues focusing on the strained relationship between Susan’s boyfriend McGraw and his father and his reaction to his sudden death. There is also all the usual college shenanigans with moments of reflection to show that these women have come a long way from randomly sharing a room back in far off 2015.

House of X and Powers of X

3. House of X #1-6, Powers of X #1-6 (Marvel)

In their ambitious twelve-issue House of X/Powers of X “event”, Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva, and Pepe Larraz made the X-Men relevant again thanks to a heavy dose of speculative fiction, geopolitics, and good old fashioned superhero soap opera. Hickman gave B-list characters like Goldballs, Doug Ramsey, and of course, Moira MacTaggert and the sentient island of Krakoa pivotal roles in his story of a rise of a mutant nation as well as the usual suspects like Magneto, Professor X, the Summers family, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost. He created a fantastic sandbox for these fan-favorite characters to play in as well as leaving some intrigue open for the spinoff stories. (The whole Moira X thing, Kitty Pryde being unable to enter Krakoa, Apocalypse and Sinister’s intentions.) I haven’t been this excited to read the X-Books as a line since Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen were writing Wolverine and the X-Men and Uncanny X-Men respectively. Plus the Hickman designed diagrams add great depth to the story and area visual treat.

New Kid

2. New Kid (HarperCollins)

New Kid is a middle-grade graphic novel by cartoonist Jerry Craft that was recommended to me by my supervisor at the public library I worked at. Itis about an African-American teenager named Jordan, who transfers from a diverse public middle school to a less diverse private one. Over the course of the book, Craft fleshes out Jordan and his relationships with his old friends from his neighborhood to his new ones at the private school as he navigates playing soccer, racial microaggressions, crushes, and bonding over art and video games. The comic deftly navigates race and class issues while being an enjoyable slice of life story with Craft adding some fun visual flourishes like making the title page of each chapter a pop culture homage. New Kid‘s clear storytelling and a relatable storyline about not fitting in at a new school make it a book that I would recommend to kids and adults, comics and non-comics readers.

The Wicked + The Divine

1. The Wicked + the Divine #41-45 (Image)

Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson really stuck the landing in the final arc of The Wicked + the Divine, which was titled “Okay” and followed the surviving Pantheon members as they gave up divinity and lived normal lives. Basically, they grew up, and so did I. The last issues of WicDiv are peppered with powerful moments as Gillen and McKelvie connect flashbacks of the millennia past to the Pantheon’s reality and let Ananke/Minerva be a manipulator, Luci be wicked, Baal be a protector, and Laura be human one last time. The final issue is an epilogue set in the future and filled with love and emotion with McKelvie and Wilson nailing the look of the elderly, former Pantheon members. It’s sad to see WicDiv go, but it had a beautiful ending and was my favorite comic, both of 2019 and of the decade as a whole.

Review: Once and Future #1 is a Rollicking Adventure For Our Dark Times

Once and Future #1

Even before cracking the opening pages of Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillain‘s Once and Future #1 seemed tailor-made for my own personal interests. It’s set in the beautiful English county of Somerset where I studied Jane Austen and Edgar Wright’s Spaced for a semester and has some deep dive Arthurian lore (The Questing Beast makes an appearance!). It also seeks to interrogate and apply those legends to the current state of the U.K., namely, Brexit, Boris Johnson, and all that white nationalist nonsense.

It’s set in the beautiful English county of Somerset where I studied Jane Austen and Edgar Wright’s Spaced for a semester and has some deep dive Arthurian lore (The Questing Beast makes an appearance!). It also seeks to interrogate and apply those legends to the current state of the U.K., namely, Brexit, Boris Johnson, and all that white nationalist nonsense.

However, Once and Future isn’t a political treatise, but the latest adventure in a line of magical quests, armed knights, and killing monsters that began with the Epic of Gilgamesh and were probably best represented in 20th popular culture by the two of the four Indiana Jones films. But what sets apart Gillen and Mora’s story from this previous ones is the team-up between the constantly flustered/audience surrogate Duncan and his grandmother Bridgette, who has a dry wit and is even sharper with various gun/edged weapon and knowledge of the supernatural forces of the British Isles that are illustrated in an almost twilight palette from Bonvillain.

After a Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Nigel Farage’s wet dream MacGuffin establishing cold open, Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora use humor to establish the characters of Duncan and Bridgette and their relationship. Duncan is the handsome, kind, yet klutzy one so he gets introduced wide eyed with his hands out after accidentally splashing his date with red wine. It instantly establishes him as the equivalent of Level 1 Dungeons and Dragons character, but he’s not an utter joke as he does an okay job later on with the Questing Beast and his car is the 21st century version of him and his grandmother’s knightly steed.

In contrast, Bridgette is introduced making killer quips about breaking her fellow old folks’ home residents’ fingers when they want to change the channel from local news stories about archaeological dig thefts/murders to the more pleasant Great British Bake-Off. Gillen and Mora subvert the “crazy old lady gets lost and freaks out” trope by making her walk in the woods discover a cache of weapons. Bridgette might have lost a step, but she’s still a total badass. Honestly, her take on Arthurian lore like Excalibur’s heal-every-wound scabbard being more valuable than the sword itself and wariness about the return of Arthur is just as cool as her action scene.

Sure, Once and Future has funny lines and hilarious reactions courtesy of Gillen and Mora, but it has a noble, earnest band together against the forces evil tone that makes it super endearing. Or, at least, that’s how energetic, if a little naive Duncan sees the world. Bridgette reads between the lines, and her dialogue about the iconic hero Arthur’s return maybe not being the best thing is a classic example of reading against the grain. It also connects to white nationalists/fascists in the real world using legendary imagery like Thor’s hammer to make their hate-filled movement cooler.

Once and Future #1 modernizes and humanizes the classic Arthurian legends by making the protagonists of the story that kind of nerdy, cute guy who says smart things in the back of a college class and his tough, no-nonsense grandma that’s been through some stuff. Kieron Gillen bolsters his quest plotline and monster fights with character-based humor and sociopolitical commentary while Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain bring an infectious energy with just a touch of darkness to the visuals. To cut it down to its core, Once and Future #1 entertains as just as well as it enlightens and uses myths and legends to bring hope to a world in need of salt of the Earth heroes like Bridgette and Duncan.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Dan Mora
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.8 Overall: 9.4 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora Bring Once and Future to BOOM! Studios

BOOM! Studios has announced Once and Future #1, an extra-sized issue kicking off an all-new limited series from New York Times bestselling writer Kieron Gillen and Russ Manning Award-winning artist Dan Mora exploring the mysteries of the past, the complicated truths of our history and the power of family to save the day…especially if that family has secret bunkers of ancient weapons and decades of experience hunting the greatest monsters in Britain’s history!

When a group of Nationalists use an ancient artifact to bring a villain from Arthurian myth back from the dead to gain power, ex-monster hunter Bridgette McGuire pulls her unsuspecting grandson Duncan, a museum curator, into a world of magic and mysticism to defeat a legendary threat. Now the two must navigate the complicated history of the McGuire family and combat the deadly secrets of England’s past that threaten its very future.

Print copies of Once and Future #1, featuring a cover by Dan Mora, will be available for sale on August 2019.

Once & Future #1
Once & Future #1