My favorite comic book, graphic novels reads of 2021

Captain Orion, longtime reader of comics and graphic novels, of strangerworlds.com, writes:

2021 was a quiet year for comic book stores and retail shelves, but the awesome new reads keep coming.

The impact of the ongoing global pandemic continues to affect the industry, creators, publishers. Yet, there the push to keep sequential arts remains perpetual in a forward direction, from and for folks who are passionate for its pure form of art and storytelling. Comic books and graphic novels will never die as long as there are intelligent creatures who can distinguish, interpret, enjoy visual storytelling. But in our present days, that may change in format, and how they are received.

For myself, I am well aware of the new trends of online comics as long form storytelling, particularly with WebToons, and scrolling comics. I do find that evolving form interesting, but found nothing yet that has grabbed me. There are many new webcomics series self-published as well, which I hope to explore in 2022. But for last year, it was all about print and what was available at comic stores, borrowed from friends and local libraries.

I’m often excited if a favorite writer or artist is involved, so there might be a bit bias for how much involved with a read I get. In 2021, I was especially excited to see many favored names prominent on shelves, especially Mark Russell, J.H. Williams III, Naoki Urasawa, Tom Taylor, and more. I also discovered new favorites for the years ahead.

Many of those, I will share below as my best comics and graphic novels of 2021, which I highly recommend for 2022…

BEST SUSPENSE SERIES of 2021

Stray Dogs

Writer: Tomy Fleecs Artist: Trish Forstner, Tone Rodriguez, Brad Simpson
Publisher: Image Comics (limited series)

It’s scary being the new dog. In this suspenseful new series, readers meet Sophie, a dog who can’t remember what happened. She doesn’t know how she ended up in this house. She doesn’t recognize any of these other dogs. She knows something terrible happened, but she just…can’t…recall…Wait! Where’s her lady? Now Sophie has to figure out where she is, what’s happening, and how she’s going to survive this. They say there’s no such thing as a bad dog—just bad owners.

Stray Dogs is an underrated hit and an exhilarating reading experience. By that, I mean looking at the old cartoons. mostly from Disney where house pets and street animals are humanized, to a point of talking and having there own lives. But, also with a realistic approach keeping in mind their physical limits. Stray Dogs brings it all to a creepy extreme, with grisly murder and dark turns where nothing is off the table for the fates of some very cute, talking animals. Throw in some many nail-biting moments, leading to an epic finale. And overall, Stray Dogs is an awesome read.

BEST FANTASY (and NEW) SERIES of 2021

ECHOLANDS

Writer: W. Haden Blackman, J.H. Williams III Artist: Dave Stewart, J.H. Williams III
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

In a bizarre future world that has forgotten its history, a reckless thief, Hope Redhood, holds the key to excavating its dark, strange past—if only she and her crew can escape a tyrannical wizard and his unstoppable daughter. But fate will send them all on a path leading to a war between worlds. Echolands is a landscape format, mythic-fiction epic where anything is possible—a fast-paced genre mashup adventure that combines everything from horror movie vampires to classic mobsters and cyborg elves, to Roman demigods and retro rocket ships. It’s going to be a helluva ride!

This series is a bold mix of magic, technology, world-building, but with a unique feel and presentation, bringing the reader on a dreamy, wild journey. Echolands delivers well with a landscape oriented pages, utilizing J.H. Williams III (which I know well from Batwoman, Promethea) inventive use of panels and transition. It’s all very fast-paced as we follow Hope and friends are in constant danger, but also for the reader to slow-down and really take in beautiful complexities of this strange, fantastic adventure full of interesting concepts. Also, love the extras every issue brings, expanding upon both the insights of the creators and the world of Echolands. This brings what true fantasy should be, without limits and breaking the boundaries of the fantastic.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SERIES of 2021

We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

Writer: Al Ewing Artist: Simone Di Neo
Publisher: BOOM! Entertainment (monthly Series)

Captain Malik and the crew of the spaceship the Vihaan II are in search of the only resources that matter — and can only be found by harvesting the giant corpses of alien gods that are found on the edge of human space. While other autopsy ships and explorers race to salvage the meat, minerals, and metals that sustain the human race, Malik sees an opportunity to finally break free from this system: by being the first to find a living god. But Malik’s obsession with the gods will push his crew into the darkest reaches of space, bringing them face to face with a threat unlike anything they ever imagined, unless the rogue agent on their trail can stop them first…

This is some crazy cool sci-fi fun, told with modern digital coloring, slick animated style, and fluid storytelling. There’s action mixed with moral reflection on our place in the stars, and the limits sentients ponder on breaking. But also, the story feel believable with space physics and engineering that doesn’t seem like made up nonsense. Our main hero, Captain Malik, is the cosmic romantic with an deep life-story bringing him to the edge of the known, and beginning of the unknown. It’s all a wonderful story unfolding in vibrant color and dramatic faire, giving this hard sci-fi a wicked sharp edge. I look forward to see where this all goes!

BEST COMICS PANELING of 2021

The Body Factory: From the First Prosthetics to the Augmented Human

Writer: Heloise Chochois Artist: Kendra Boileau
Publisher: Graphic Mundi – PSU Press (graphic novel)

A young man has a horrible motorcycle accident. He wakes up in the hospital to discover that one of his arms has been amputated. Then a portrait on the wall of his hospital room begins to speak to him. The subject of the painting introduces himself as Ambroise Paré, the French barber-surgeon who revolutionized the art of amputation. From this wonderfully absurd premise, the two begin an imaginary conversation that takes them through a sweeping history of surgical amputation, from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Unencumbered by pathos or didacticism, this graphic novel explores the world of amputation, revealing fascinating details about famous amputees throughout history, the invention of the tourniquet, phantom limb syndrome, types of prostheses, and transhumanist technologies. Playfully illustrated and seriously funny, The Body Factory is sure to delight anyone interested in the history and future of medicine and how we repair and even enhance the body.

This read is both a wild story journey and a real look at the history, science, psychology of amputations and prosthetics. The story is also psychological, dealing with a protagonist dealing with the loss of his body part, and coming to terms with what comes next. It’s fascinating on that level where the situation can happen to us, what how we can understand, given it’s necessity to history and medical solutions. There are parallels of the fictional, the non-fictional, textbook information, mixed in a strategic placements giving the reader a broader understanding of the subject matter. The Body Factory gives much on this unfortunate situation that amputation brings, yet also giving an enlightened approach on the act of living through fixing ourselves. Telling this through expressive art, story mixed with information through this inventive, entertaining style, is awesome.

BEST SUPERHERO SERIES of 2021

Superman: Red and Blue

Writer/Artist: (Various)
Publisher: DC Comics (limited series)

Around the world, everyone knows that when they see a red-and-blue streak in the sky, it’s not a bird…it’s not a plane…it’s Superman. Collected for the first time in its entirety, this unforgettable anthology series showcases fresh new visions of the Man of Steel in his two signature colors!

A series of very diverse stories about Superman, sometimes from different perspectives, that give a fresh look at a character that some would think all has been done to. Those people would be wrong. There are some very interesting takes on Superman, his strengths and weaknesses, and what helped make him so iconic. All of these stories, with an artistic challenge where only red and blue colors used. I loved every issues, and excited to read about Superman again.

BEST CREATIVE STORYTELLING of 2021

Mawrth Valliis

Writer/Artist: EPK
Publisher: Image Comics (graphic novel)

During a skirmish with an opposing Martian faction, a fighter pilot disobeys orders to pursue a fleeing foe. Guided by her determination and curiosity, she is led into a dangerous chase through Mars’s forbidden valley where she will be confronted with the red planet’s darkest of secrets. A fast-paced, 128-page, full-color, pocket-format, sci-fi adventure through Mars’s mysteries all told in its original Martian form.

It’s a short read with a lot of heart. There’s a pursuit across a Martian landscape, leading to some fantastic twists and turns. But, also, there is no exposition of an Earth language. It’s all in “Martian.” giving the reader a more alien feel, and more reading of actions, reactions, and situation. There is more show, don’t tell, and I love that. The use of colors are fantastic, the choice of opposites of blank and white in our two main characters are brilliant. The end is haunting, leaving room for the reader to ponder its overall message and true nature of the story.

BEST SATIRE SERIES of 2021

Not All Robots

Writer: Mark Russell Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Publisher: AWA Studios – Upshot (monthly Series)

In the year 2056, robots have replaced human beings in the workforce. An uneasy co-existence develops between the newly intelligent robots and the ten billion humans living on Earth. Every human family is assigned a robot upon whom they are completely reliant. What could possibly go wrong? Meet the Walters, a human family whose robot, Razorball, ominously spends his free time in the garage working on machines which they’re pretty sure are designed to kill them in this sci-fi satire from Mark Russell (The Flintstones, Second Coming) and Mike Deodato Jr. (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Resistance).

I love Mark Russell’s style at satire with Prez, Flintstones, God is Disappointed in You, dark but with a mix of wit and humor to it all. But here is a brilliant escalation in Not All Robots; to what happens when machines are made to be more human, with attitudes and status. There is a lot of back and forth with human elements/ That includes taken in all the insecurities are also inherited with both humans and machines that they create. But there’s also a lot of metaphorical moments, bouncing back to who we treat as machines today, who we take for granted, and groups we take in as cheap, willing labor. It’s funny, because we see the absurdities that Mark Russell loves to mix as cartoonish tropes brilliantly disguised as current, real human issues.

BEST IMPORTED SERIES of 2021

Asadora!

Writer/Artist: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher:
Viz (published in monthly volumes, 16 volumes)

In 2020, a large creature rampages through Tokyo, destroying everything in its path. In 1959, Asa Asada, a spunky young girl from a huge family in Nagoya, is kidnapped for ransom—and not a soul notices. When a typhoon hits Nagoya, Asa and her kidnapper must work together to survive. But there’s more to her kidnapper and this storm than meets the eye.

Asadora is a historical fiction, science fiction, and suspense mystery all rolled together. There’s much stroy to follow with multiple plotlines, but with memorable characters that we trust will eventually be more connected – a signature style to the storyteller that brought us Monster, 20th Century boys, Pluto – all great works but took time to develop. There’s only a few volumes in the US so far, and off to a big start. Asadora gives more in curiosity with real life events mixed in with science fiction familiarities; all rooted deep in Japanese culture. We also get some great developments, with some tense reactions. But Naoki Urasawa’s art style seems more detailed than ever here. I’m excited, and looking forward to reading more of this in 2022.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL of 2020

Monsters

Writer/Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Publisher: Fantagraphics (graphic novel)

In this pen-and-ink graphic novel, in 1964, Bobby Bailey is recruited for a U.S. military experimental genetics program that was discovered in Nazi Germany 20 years prior. His only ally, Sergeant McFarland, intervenes to try to protect him, which sets off a chain of events that spin out of everyone’s control. As the titular monsters multiply, becoming real and metaphorical, literal and ironic, the story reaches its emotional and moral reckoning. Windsor-Smith has been working on this passion project for more than 35 years, and Monsters is part intergenerational family drama, part espionage thriller, and part metaphysical journey. Trauma, fate, conscience, and redemption are just a few of the themes that intersect in the most ambitious (and intense) graphic novel of Windsor-Smith’s career.

Monsters is brutal, mean, and really putting the “graphic” into graphic novel. The art is amazing with a story that leads through the familiar territory of government experiments gone out of control, but then heads into darker territory into both physiological and psychological. It’s started as a Hulk story, then kind of mutated over time, with elements from Barry Windsor’s work on Conan and Marvel’s Wolverine story of Weapon X. There is amazing passion that comes from telling the grand story of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters, which comes out as an uncomfortable, emotionally-driven masterpiece.

BEST REPRINTING OF CLASSICs of 2021

Berserk Deluxe Editions

Writer/Artist: Kentaro Muira
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (published in volume compilations)

Not much else needs to be said about the amazing epic story of Berserk and art/storytelling of Kentaro Muira. His sad passing in 2021 has brought fans and new readers together to further appreciate his great work and what we will miss in the years ahead. But to best appreciate his work I believe, are these amazing deluxe hardcover compilations of his smaller sized manga volumes, all beautiful brought on larger, high quality pages. For myself in later years of rereading, this will be how I best enjoy the story of Guts and his many companions and challenges.

BEST HISTORICAL COMICS of 2021

The Comic Book History of Animation

Writer: Fred Van Lente Artist: Ryan Dunlavey
Publisher: IDW Publishing (limited series)

Incredibly informative and very entertaining. From the Victorian Era to the Digital Age, no bits of significant knowledge of moving art is forgotten and so well put together. Everything makes perfect sense, especially in the critical turn of my growing up with Saturday morning commercialized cartoons, anime binges through college, emotional Pixar masterpieces, and all in between and moving ahead. Much behind the scenes is explained, including many rough legal spots and bitter feuds, leaving the history of the industry as cartoonish and wacky as expressed through every chapter.

That’s all my favorites for the 2021 year. I probably missed or overlooked some as I could only cover so much. I would love to read your favorites in the comments below.

Short Animated Film Find: Fuelled

Fuelled

KilledtheCat Productions
Sheridan Animation 2021 Group Film
Group MentorJason Par, Music Composer: Sebastian Reuten
Published: December 2021 on Youtube

Synopsis: Fuelled tells the story of a housewife on the path of revenge for her late husband.

Personal Thoughts:

What a beautiful, sad story this is. Fuelled is simple, timeless template of happiness to tragedy to revenge to madness to sadness.

Through it, these andromorphic characters express powerfully through emotional action and reaction. No word are needed, as the facial expressions tell enough. We feel, reflected on the beautiful postcard lives the housewife and husband had. We can be happy through them. The music, lighting, gentle animation of the past is sweet. Then soured by murder, and events of the present. It’s twisted, sad, and yet still emotionally driven. That ending left me haunted, though with a lesson on grief and resolution (or lack there of)

I love that animation is perfect and beautiful. Many animators/storyteller in the credits are attributed to this short project. Each involved should be very proud of this outstanding result, and likely elevate and branch off into bigger projects.

Short Animated Film Find: Burn Out

Burn Out

  • Director, writer, animator: Cécile Carre
  • Published: 2017 online and at multiple short film festivals

Synopsis: S​tella,​ ​a​ ​space​ ​mechanician,​ ​has​ ​broken​ ​down​ ​and​ ​ended​ ​on​ ​a​ ​desert​ ​planet.​ ​While​ ​she​ ​is​ ​in​ ​despair,​ ​a​ ​little​ ​girl appears​ ​out​ ​of​ ​nowhere.​ ​Following​ ​the​ ​child​ ​into​ ​a​ ​tunnel,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​depths​ ​of​ ​the​ ​planet,​ ​she​ ​discovers​ ​a​ ​big​ ​cave​ ​full​ ​of objects​ ​that​ ​belonged​ ​to​ ​her,​ ​reminding​ ​her​ ​the​ ​dreams​ ​she​ ​has​ ​left​ ​behind.

Personal Thoughts:

This full film is short, but says much on the current human condition, how many of us feel deep inside yearning for more. We feel trapped, bound to duty, ever-dreaming, never-quite reaching. There is a struggle that I feel in our protagonists dilemma. But, then a child’s voice brings us forward.

We figure it out, an imagination in the story and from the storyteller, clueing us on the real dilemma. Not the need to fix a spaceship but to fix the pilot and get back on real course. The one she dreamed of as a child, and eventually gave up on. The curiosity, imagination, and drive to return to that childlike wonder and push to something better, is what brings our pilot back to the stars. But not so much to work, but to something new and daring.

“I am afraid to give up my dreams when I grow up”.

That’s a great line, for those who indulge in their desire to explore, travel, see new sights should push that priority above simple mundane duties of getting by. I love the message here.

I also love the animation. Very fluid character movement with an awesome use of space, colors, shapes, taking us viewers away for about 4 minutes, and then beyond for what our memory captures. I love every second. The music also fits.

Director, animator Cécile Carre’s artistic style inspires and amazes. She has art prints you can buy at www.inprnt.com/gallery/carrececile. Check them out!

Captain Orion’s bestest comic book, graphic novel picks of 2020!

Oh 2020, what an unusual year for the comic book industry.

Sadly, there are less comic book stores, less retail book outlets, and those left are mostly now struggling to survive through the ongoing global pandemic. There’s also the freeze on comic cons, potential book signings, promotions. 2020 was a troublesome year for creators, merchants, publishers, and readers.

Yet, the sequential arts shall survive. Graphic novels sales are up by 29% since 2019! Also, there are many fresh reads throughout the year, and more time among the masses to catch up on these and past work with with the quarantines and lockdowns. Also, buying comics supports the industry, among the struggling creators, publishers, distributers, small business dealers.

So below, are my bestest picks released for 2020, based on what I have checked out.

BEST NEW SERIES of 2020

Inkblot

Writer: Emma Kubert Artist: Rusty Gadd
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

It’s a fun little series about a mischievous magical over-powerful cat. I love the worlds, characters, art, writing, and excited to see where it’s all going!

BEST ONGOING STORYLINE of 2020

Excellence

Writer: Brandom Thomas Artist: Emilio Lopez, Khary Randolph
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

This series keeps on surprising, with twists and turns while presenting a secret world of Black magic that feels more intricate and responsible than your typical Hogwarts melodrama.

BEST COMIC BOOK COVER of 2020

Amazing Spider-Man #55 (latest series)

Artist: Patrick Gleason
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I don’t know if the story is good, but the cover is just too awesome to ignore!

BEST COLORING of 2020

MTSYRY: Octobriana 1976

Writer/Artist: Jim Rugg
Publisher: AdHouse Books

The black light colors are truly eye-popping, with this modern take on an old Russian superhero from the early Bronze Age. To further the color even more, Jim Rugg also put out a 1970s style coloring issue, and colorless version as well. Masterful stuff!

BEST INSANITY of 2020

Dark Nights: Death Metal

Writer: Scott Snyder and others Artist: Greg Capullo and others
Publisher: DC Comics (monthly mini -eries and crossover one-shots)

Also the best guilty pleasure of 2020. As a big DC fan since the late 1980s, the is the most ridiculous and over-the top crossover event yet. Everything has gone wrong in the DCU as an army evil Batman from the Dark Multiverse take over, and things just get crazier from there.

BEST SUSPENSE SERIES of 2020

Something is Killing the Children

Writer: James Tynion IV Artist: Werther Dell’Edera
Publisher: DC Comics (monthly series

If you enjoy horror, mystery, stronger and darker content than Stranger Things, than Something is Killing the Children is waiting for you to turn its pages. It’s different, not as spoon fed in pacing, full of mystery, and has a unique protagonist.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION of 2020

Planet Paradise

Writer/Artist: Jesse Lonergan
Publisher: Image Comics (Short graphic novel)

I love this story, which feels like a mix of old fashioned pulp, mixed with grit and light campy elements. Great survival story revolving around adventure, danger, friendship. Also love the alien landscapes, designs, and space tech – simple yet escapist pleasure for sure!

BEST CHARACTER STUDY of 2020

DARTH VADER Vol. 1 – Dark Heart Of The Sith

Writer/Artist: Greg Pack, Raffaele Ienco
Publisher: Marvel Comics (#1-5 of the latest series, collected in trade paperback form)

This is an interesting read as it delves deeper into the inner conflict of Darth Vader since the events of Empire Strikes Back (but before Return of the Jedi), searching his feelings. This leads to a startling revelation, that you should read to find out. The result, gives more sense to his transition and actions in Return of the Jedi, yet also plays upon his cruel, corrupted nature.

BEST WRITTEN SERIES in 2020

John Constantine: Hellblazer

Writer: Simon Spurrier Artist: Matias Bergara, Arron Campbell, Marcio Takara 
Publisher: DC Comics (Black Label) (monthly series)

I freakin love Simon Spurrier’s writing from past work and here, also with great respect back to the Vertigo socio-political days of Delano and Ennis!

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL of 2020

Under Earth

Writer/Artist: Chris Gooch
Publisher: Top Shelf (graphic novel)

This was really, really good, and fitting for a pandemic time for themes of lonliness and isolation turning to friendships and communications through restrictive times. In this case, a prison system in a surreal future or alternate present. The artwork is perfect, with a masterful use of blacks and whites…check it out!

BEST REPRINTING OF CLASSIC COMICS of 2020

Mermaid Saga Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1

Writer/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz

Many fans of Rumiko Takahashi will know her best for the grander Inu-Yasha anime and manga series. But for me in my older days of when manga felt more fresh to comic books stores, Mermaid’s Saga captured my heart way more. Seeing it all complete, but this time better edited and and presented, is a treasure to behold.

BEST COMICS HISTORY BOOK of 2020

Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books

Writer: Ken Quatro
Publisher: Yoe Books

An large book full of lost history detailing the stories and lives of many obscure Black cartoonists and comic creators during comics Golden Age around the Second World War. Full of rare panels, pictures, fascinating facts on multiple genre contributions (some are very surprising!) what would have been lost if not for this book.

And, that’s all my favorites for the 2020 year. I probably missed or overlooked that might have been better. Please if so, let me know in the comments. I don’t want to feel left out on your best books.

Fan Film Find: Neon Genesis Evangelion in Five Minutes, from Mega64

Neon Genesis Evangelion In 5 Minutes

Published: December 21, 2020 by Mega64 on Youtube

Synopsis: The complete anime of Neon Genesis Evangelion done in more than 5 minutes (about 10), in live action but very low budget, abridged comedic fashion by the wonderful Mega54 crew!

Personal Thoughts (from Captain Orion):

I’m a huge fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion since its VHS release. Though there are many deep philosophical insights and discussions on the original anime and manga out there, it’s still something that gives plenty of room to not be taken too seriously. Neon Genesis Evangelion is may things – a visual masterpiece, a game changer for mech and giant robot genre of its time, an emotional roller coaster with complex characters and development. It’s also silly and absurd at times. The gang at Mega64, who I am also a huge fan has brought about the more fun side of Evangelion perfectly in this brilliantly done love letter to its fandom. Tons of in-jokes poking fun at its strange plot devices, weird foreshadowing, and melodrama. I also love the low budget, yet inventive and practical practical effects, costumes, sets. Just awesome, and perfect entertainment for at least 5 (10 minutes) of my time.

Captain Orion’s bestest video games picks of 2020!

BESTEST

VIDEO GAMES

OF 2020!

2020 was a great year, for video games releases!

A lot of great games were released for this year. Many of them, I wish I got around to or had the consoles including Ghosts of Tsushima, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Doom: Eternal, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and more. We deserved fresh entertainment for this ongoing global pandemic crisis with the quarantines and social distancing shadowing much of 2020. Meanwhile, the interactive industry thrived with consistent sales, new consoles selling out, and plenty of new content for every player of all types.

Many of these fresh screen games set out to be enjoyed alone and/or socially online. We have more advanced gaming technology and means for online downloading, connecting, streaming, social discussing, cheering, and complaining. They all provide great distractions from the current time stresses as we may build upon new and renewed friendships with our shared love of gaming. Or, just pass the time and our best modern remedy for boredom with some single player escapism!

But for me, I’m a little bit of both types. I enjoy gaming alone, and with friends. Such depends on my mood and state of mind. Though, I steered more toward budgeting with big sales in games and freebies. There was plenty out there for those with the thinnest of wallets. I meanwhile, stayed mostly on my PC and Xbox One, no new consoles for me yet. I do want a Nintendo Switch, with time to play the many past games I missed for it.

Anyway, here are the games I personally present as the most important game awards to for 2020!

BEST NEW GAME OF 2020

HADES

Developer and published by Supergiant Games
System: PC, Nintendo Switch

This is the BEST game of 2020, for many reasons that go back decades in what I ask for in a a best-tier video game. Make it challenging, story-deep, visually awesome, sensible controls, gratifying, constant surprises, great music, unique style, and heart. Hades has all of this and more, with aspects reminiscent of other personal favorites – Disgaea, Diablo, Dark Souls, Smash TV. But with Hades, the more you die, the more the game is revealed with more story and gameplay elements. There is so much more I would like to say, but just go play it if you’re into something that feels both old-school but also super modern in its approach and complexity.

BEST COOPERATIVE?! GAME OF 2020

AMONG US

Developed and published by Innersloth
System: PC, Mobile, Nintendo Switch

A surprise that was released in 2018, but earned a huge boost in popularity thanks to its fans, developers, its very affordable price, online streams, and all around fun this game holds; all perfect for this time of mass quarantines and social distancing. Among Us is that connects us, as each game has its own story creating tension on just who Among Us is sus.

BEST KICKASS GAME OF 2020

STREETS OF RAGE 4

Developer: Dotemu, Guard Crush, Lizardcube  Published by Dotemu
System: All the current consoles and PC

HELL YES!!!! I freakin love the old Streets of Rage games for the Sega Genesis (and later mods, fan-made remakes). Streets of Rage 4 is THE damn great, official successor to all of that, including all that made the game great – action, complexity and variance to the button mashing, awesome musical tracks that your fists can dance to. The graphics are perfect with expressive visual style, vibrant colors, detailed backgrounds, and hella fun for co-op action too.

BEST PLAY AND CHILL GAME OF 2020

TOWNSCAPER

Developed and published by Oskar Stålberg
System: PC

It’s not really a game, but it should be someday. It’s hard to explain. Just watch the trailer, and from there, explore the crazy insane possibilities and let your imagination figure out the direction. The more you tinker and discover new aspects of the game, the more more awesome your wierd little world. I love the animation, sound effects, every little detail no matter how small; making Townscaper worth checking out.

BEST VISUAL NOVEL GAME OF 2020

QUANTUM SUICIDE

Developer and published by Cotton Candy Cyanide
System: PC

This particular Japanese anime style visual novel sets itself off apart with a very unique story, and choosy situations that center around mechanics that are very science fictiony, flirty. with deadly sub-games that take a bit more thinking than I would expect. I much enjoyed this all as I watched and chimed in for some very entertaining Twitch streams from a gamer friend that you should follow (twitch.tv/aechonex).

BEST PUZZLING PUZZLE GAME OF 2020

HELLTAKER

Developer and published by vanripper
System: PC

A fun puzzle-adventure with dating and cooking themes game? Helltaker is that and so much more. It’s very unique, with catchy beats, and a whole lot of fun. It’s also free!

BEST FINALLY GOT AROUND TO IT GAME OF 2020

FINAL FANTASY XV

Developed and published by Square Enix
System: All the current consoles and PC

Final Fantasy XV came out a little over 4 years ago and has been in constant development all the way until 2019 with tis final DLC. This open-world game is freakin massive, giving its players much homework into other media for a wider complete experience. I found the 19.99 price for the Royal Edition (main game plus mostly all the DLC) the best I can get for my single-player RPG Final Fantasy loving needs. I enjoyed this far more than expected, delve deep into worldbuilding, and will forever treasure what it brought in this tough pandemic time.

BEST DEMO GAME OF 2020

THE LIFE AND SUFFERING OF SIR BRANTE

Developer by Sever published by 101XP
System: PC for the demo

A surprise treat among I discovered among the PAX Online demos. It’s a visual novel that reads like a lifetime biography, but with choices that do indeed tell a story of about the life and suffering of (you can choose his name). It’s a series of very unfortunate events, where you do your best to make the best out of it, and find deeper meanings though it all. It’s different and worth checking out for visual novel fans, and something to watch out for when it’s fully released.

BEST GAME OF 2021, MAYBE..

CYBERPUNK 2077

Developer: Playstation, Xbox, and PC

The game I was most excited for its delayed release. And, I still am. But after seeing (and laughing) the glitches, problems, frustrations that seem to be a trend for these big, crazy games where play-testing continues with the player after its release…not playing or judging this until the final product is done with enough updates, patches, DLC, whatever it takes to experience as intended. Maybe it will be awesome as its hype. I will remain excited, and wait till the finished product.

That’s all the game awards for 2020 I got. If there was something else I should have played, please share in the comments below!

Short Film Find: Laws of the Universe

Laws of the Universe

  • Director: Chris Mangano
  • Writer: Adam Aresty
  • Published: June 25, 2020 as a short film exclusive from DUST

Synopsis: An inmate is trapped in his prison cell after an extraordinary circumstance happens beyond his prison walls. With outside forces threatening the ones he loves, he will do anything it takes to escape.

Personal Thoughts:

A most interesting story about a young man serving his time, but looking to make a change, biding his time for the future, excepting his isolation in the meantime. But, he doesn’t seem to be a cold-blooded killer, and has a kind heart with humane prospects, as we see though aspects of his room decor and phone conversations. He killed someone, but for reasons that suggest his own sense of justice, but he lives with the guilt in a system that judged him.

But a much bigger story in the outside world changes the conditions of his small room within, by too much. I love the contrast of those outside his micro prison, seemed to be affected less. He is forgotten, and you see his agony through a low deprivation of food, electricity, contact.

But he sees on chance for a way out, though someone who seems to care less for his plight, but with the means for an escape. He goes for his one chance through alien tech, and its gratifying when he takes advantage. The tech at the same time, is a tool of a different system, granting him that much needed extra chance. But to get that, he uses the one thing he does have to his advantage, and that’s the fear he conveys as an imprisoned Black male. That works very well.

What happens is the important resolution of this story, just be his freedom, and that’s enough. But, I also like how he holds on to the alien tech, as a sense of newfound responsibility, likely will put it better use than the former user, who I think probably stole it. Still, there’s much potential for more story with this odd new tech. Many problems can be solves, and created with this.

I love the acting, done very well by the star, Sidney Lawrence Brown, Jr. The use of light, angles, spacing with much of the film being restricted to a very small. And, then the refreshing contrast at the end, to a beautiful, very open world where the alien ship places little less.

SW Video Channel: Opening the Mars Attacks Uprising sample cards pack

Here’s an awesome look from our developing Stranger Worlds Youtube channel at some sample packs of the Mars Attacks Uprising trading cards, currently in Kickstarter development, and eventually released for public consumption. Here, our host, Captain Orion, opens a pack sent in from SideKick Labs, of which we send our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for. Captain Orion loves Mars Attacks, and was quite excited to check these out (but new at this whole YouTube thing). And now, watch the results and share in the excitment!

For more on the Mars Attacks Uprising trading cards, check out www.kickstarter.com/projects/sidekicklab/mars-attacks-uprising

Also, please subscribe to the channel if you like the video, or would love to see more (and better) videos from us. That would mean a lot. Thanks!

Short Film Find: Contact: An Animation About Connection in Space

Contact – An Animation About Connection in Space

  • Director, Designer, Animator: Katy Wang (www.katywang.co.uk)
  • Writer: Gabriel de Bruin (Gabriel Greenough) and Katy Wang
  • Sound and music producer: Ambrose Yu
  • Published: Kingston University/Kingston School of Art 2017
  • NOTE: Originally a graduation project by Katy Wang, now featured in on a few video streaming pages

Synopsis: Stranded on a distant planet, a lonely astronaut sends out a signal in search of human contact.

Personal Thoughts:

Beautiful presentation, especially with the visuals and sound design. Also, I think there is a deeper meaning about loneliness, feeling lost, trying to connect in space where we many of us might as well be on Mars. We use our computers and online connections to reach out, hopefully eventually a stranger from some other world, and then connect. Then, even in the vastness of space, we feel that connection of finding each other. And that’s the best kind of contact!

Short Film Find: Kenobi – A Star Wars Fan film

Kenobi – A Star Wars Fan film

  • Director: Jason Satterlund (JasonSatterlund.com
  • Writer: Rob Harmon
  • Producer: James McLean & Jamie Costa
  • Published: Dec 24, 2019
  • NOTE: This is a fan film with no official affiliation to Lucasfilm/Disney.

Synopsis: Set before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV, a New Hope, an old Jedi Knight resides on the desert planet of Tatooine. His final duty, watch over, protect a special young boy, from a distance in secret. Agents of the sinister Galactic Empire arrive, to impose their presence and scout the area. What follows, is a danger for the New Hope, perhaps forcing the Knight to reveal himself.

Personal Thoughts:

Hello there!”

I’m a sucker for anything with the Star Wars label on it. All of it stems from my love of the original movies, and then the immense amount of world-building done via the expanded universe entertainments, then the Prequel trilogy movies…which I have a love/hate relationship too. I would have almost grown tired of it since the overhyped newer movies, if not for the wonderful books, games, TV series spinoffs (huge shout out to the Clone Wars, and Rebels animated series).

But the fan films, and dedication by fans to tell Star Wars stories in their own special way, has kept the spirit of the Rebellion alive. It’s the homegrown nature of it all, that I love and feel open to surprises. Kenobi – A Star Wars Fan Film fits with that tradition, making another memorable piece of many since the days of Troops and Dark Redemption.

Actor Jamie Costa as Kenobi, surprises with a performance that have Sire Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor nod in appreciation. There shows his stoic character with gained wisdom, resorting to non-violence until the tense last minute, where he carefully weighs the stakes. The Empire, as represented here continues to show the true villainy of a fascist, oppressive regime (though a little of it feels cartoonish). There also shows the relationship between Obi-Wan and the Lars…strained and conflicted on the life of Luke, and also well-acted. All resulting in action, and tension, and that when added to the relationship of characters, is what Star Wars is half about.

The other half is cool mechanical and creature/alien designs, and related details not quote shown in Kenobi. For the elements in Kenobi, and the totalness that is the Star Wars universe is shown well with the Disney+ hit, The Mandalorian (which to me comes off as another great fan film with each episode, if I didn’t know any better).

I enjoyed this Kenobi film, especially for its pacing and build. The film directors and writers of the recent films could learn by watching this film and others, where dedication and love for the franchise could inspire better overall construction. This is a pleasant reminder, that the Force of the galaxy is strongest, with its fans.