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.

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.

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: 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.

SW reviews: Superman Smashes The Klan #1

Superman Smashes the Klan

Superman Smashes the Klan

  • Writer: Gene Luen Yang
  • Artist: Guruhiru
  • Published by: DC Comics
  • Pages: 79, Publish Date: October 16 2019, Price: $7.99
  • Notes: The first of three books, published in a glossy thin paperback, traditionally sized for younger readers.

Synopsis:

“The year is 1946, and the Lee family has moved from Metropolis’ Chinatown to the center of the bustling city. While Dr. Lee is greeted warmly in his new position at the Metropolis Health Department, his two kids, Roberta and Tommy, are more excited about being closer to their famous hero, Superman! While Tommy adjusts to the fast pace of the city, Roberta feels out of place, as she tries and fails to fit in with the neighborhood kids. As the Lees try to adjust to their new lives, an evil is stirring in Metropolis: the Ku Klux Klan. When the Lee family awakens one night to find a burning cross on their lawn, they consider leaving town. But the Daily Planet offers a reward for information on the KKK, and their top two reporters, Lois Lane and Clark Kent, dig into the story. When Tommy is kidnapped by the KKK, Superman leaps into action-with help from Roberta! But Superman is still new to his powers-he hasn’t even worked out how to fly yet, so he has to run across town. Will Superman and Roberta reach Tommy in time?
Inspired by the 1940s Superman radio serial “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints, The Terrifics, New Super-Man) presents his personal retelling of the adventures of the Lee family as they team up with Superman to smash the Klan…”

Personal Thoughts (minor spoilers):

Superman Smashes the Klan is a superhero story challenging and exposing of real-life racism-based terrorism. The story for which it’s loosely based on the old radio play, “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” exposed the growing white supremacist group to a wider audience for its evils and inner-workings, giving it a much-needed negative exposure throughout the USA during the Golden Age of comics.

But now, we have the revision of the story, which may not make as big of an impact, but still relevant to our time as racism is still a thing, with many sinister groups out seeking to carry on the original ideals of the KKK, and other hate groups inspired by such and similar.

Which brings about the question…what does Superman have to do with any of this?

And it’s not so much on the whole concept of Superman taking on racism, but his superpowered existence whose skin color and American face of the caucasian male. He lives that privilege of being more accepted in American society of the time. But, he also chooses to be the superhero that has to combat the evils in all its forms, including those who abuse that privilege and imposes it upon others as a symbol of nationalism, and genetic pride.

So, it feels great to have him start this story combatting a cartoonish Nazi villain, perhaps reestablishing the ideal of truth, justice, and the American way. And, he enjoys doing it.

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And that is the Superman I love.

Which, leads to a bigger story of where this goes, into the perspectives of the incoming Lee family, the newest immigrants to Metropolis of Chinese descent. They are like any new family moving into a big city, with two kids reacting to a new life ahead, and the father taking on a new job. Metropolis is well-known as this all-American city very similar to New York, and it’s where Superman lives. So here, sets up a dynamic of promise, that life will be exciting for the Lees.

And that’s where much of this story brings a smile to this reader, seeing Superman being more of a neighborhood hero to this large city. Eventually, we get to know the Lees through their perspectives on Superman, Golden Age Americana, and the immigrant reactions they face in Metropolis. This carries on the side story to the center, where the Lees seeks to integrate and become part of the American dream, which includes a typical suburban life and baseball. There is a fascination that what is real, and should be real.

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Meanwhile, the human side of Clark Kent deals with his own self of being somewhat a stranger from birth, feeling the inner conflict of being different. His reflection on his past, where the idea of an alien in a magazine is that of a scary monster. He looks to the present, seeing a reflection of might have been. Superman has the luxury of his appearance, but what if he did look more alien? How much would he have to hide, how much would society fear him before accepting him as the premier superhero?

So, the developing story leads to the Lee family being terrorized by the Klan, though their signature cross being burned on their front lawn. Its terrible act leads to elevated threats of lynching. This real-life horror cuts through this otherwise innocent setting of Golden Age heroism backdrop, as the Lees deal with this real problem. The stakes may not be as high as an evil scientist with world-domination plans, but there is a sense of urgency that Superman responds to.

And that’s what I love about this story. It’s Superman standing up for those in need, against a real-life threat to its time, that has changed and shifted into an evil that still festers today.

I also love the art, set for younger readers to enjoy with a slight manga appeal to it, but with solid coloring and traditional sequential art transitions. The facial expressions are defined, given a mix of liveliness and heart to Superman’s world missed in the most recent cinema incarnations. The settings of night and day, suburban and city, home life and work life, add a homely, identifiable nature to Metropolis. The contrast of the Klan presence as dark and fiery shows where the danger is, waiting for Superman to eventually expose it all, hopefully in upcoming chapters.

Superman Smashes the Klan is not a traditional comic book, in both its story and its format. Readers will find in a smaller paperback form similar to a young adult read, targeted for younger readers. There is less collector value and more reading value, and that’s welcome in any format and any age. Also, there is small yet very informative retrospect by Gene Luen Yang, with more a focus on the real-life history of organized racism in the US.

Overall, I like this short read and look forward to the next issue of this three-part series.

 

Appreciating the Spider-Verse movie soundtrack

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Yes, it is known, the animated Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse movie is an awesome masterpiece. It’s beautiful creative artful animation, combined with a gripping story packed with action, humor, laughs, and drama well-earned it an Academy Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Critics Choice Award for Best Animation film of 2018.

But, I felt a part of it went unnoticed by the big critic heads out there: that is Spider-Verse’s excellent movie score and soundtrack.

The vocal tracks are a mix of current music artists including Post Malone, Swae Lee, Nicki Minaj, Anuel AA, Juice Wrld, Lil Wayne, Ty Dolla Sign, Thutmose, Ski Mask the Slump God. The results are an excellent feed of the best examples of modern hip-hop and urban beats.

And wow, it’s two single hits are damn perfect for this film. The first being Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower,” a dreamy style, unlike anything expected based on past Spider-Man media, but really sets the mood and animated world centering on Miles Morales. Just listen to it!

And there is my personal favorite track, which I think is the best vocal ever set for a superhero film, “What’s up Danger,” by Blackway and Caviar. This piece exemplifies everything that one needs to know about the spirit of Spider-Man’s character. Listen:

There are many other great vocal tracks throughout the movie to gush about. But, the end credits with its mindbending animation, is heightened much further by its “Elevate” track by DJ Khalil with Denzel Curry, YBN Cordae, SwaVay, Trevor Rich. It’s adrenaline pumping, head thumping, body-energizing awesomeness. It’s a good track to put in your exercising playlist, to give that extra boost to keep going. Gotta go hard!!

So yes, great vocals…but now let’s move on to the cinema score of Spider-Verse, done by Daniel Pemberton, whose other recent work includes Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs and Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Here, his original work is masterful and sets a roller coaster of suspense, mystery, tension, raw emotions at perfect moments throughout.

Every track sets the mood, and in some parts really enhances the tension and drama. Some tracks tell a story just from its tone and progression. Visions Brooklyn 1,2,3 is a perfect example, and a personal favorite. But to truly appreciate, one needs to listen to the whole track…

Prowler’s theme is memorable, sending chills to the viewer as it perfectly signifies the stalker hunting its prey, closer and closer. You hear this, and you run!

The “Spider-Man Loves You” track feels like an addition to a legacy of Spider-Man films. It may not be as catchy as the iconic 60’s cartoon intro, but there is a feel to it that is special to this new expansion of Spider-Man towards a new generation of fandom; which I believe has done far more than the MCU live-action movie and tie-ins in the preservation of its original premise.

So yes, the Spidey-Verse soundtrack is amazing. I think it’s better than the Black Panther movie soundtrack, which did receive the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. Yet, I think with all the love for Spider-Verse from its fans, there will be many repeat viewings for decades to come, and the love and appreciation for its soundtrack will grow with age.  

Comics Reading Recs: Steller, Volume 1

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Stellar, Volume 1

Writer: Joseph Keatinge
Artist: Bret Blevins
Letterer: Rus Wooten
Published by: Image Comics, SkyBound Ent.
Published Release Date: January 16, 2019 Pages: 123
Notes: Created by Robert Kirkman, Marc Silvestri. Monthly ongoing series. This volume collects the first six issues

Synopsis:

“Stellar was taken as a child and transformed into the ultimate weapon, one that would end an intergalactic war. She succeeded… at everything except finding peace. Reduced to working as a bounty hunter, she scours the worlds she’s broken, searching for redemption. But there are other weapons loose in the galaxy, and some just can’t leave the war behind them. JOSEPH KEATINGE (SHUTTER) and legendary artist BRET BLEVINS (New Mutants, Sleepwalker) will transport you to another dimension, filled with crashed spaceships, fast-talking aliens, and ageless wonders. Collects STELLAR #1-6”

Personal Thoughts (with spoilers):

Stellar is a mix of old school Heavy Metal magazine classic style, gritty spaghetti western feels, and unhinged fight opera.

The artwork here is a beautiful thing, mixed with gorgeous imaginary settings, weird creatures, far-out space-tech that enough to understand, but gives off grander aesthetics to appreciate. Just look at it!

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The story of Stellar is not simple or spoon fed to the reader. It’s a heroine’s journey not only in a straight circle but in a twisted cord, where the reader needs to go through and unravel until the linear path is revealed. It’s not a bad thing, as much of it is solid action, some violent gore, and badass posturing.

Meaning, you can really enjoy Stellar for that it is; a good old-fashioned mix of pulp and fantasy set in something that is less science than fiction.

The character of Stellar reminds a bit of the classic early Marvel Silver Surfer tales by Stan Lee with Jack Kirby, and John Romita, Sr. Stellar starts out simple, but harsh circumstances bring her to a journey of many stages leading to a present-day solitary survivalist life until the past comes back. Then come new conflict and challenges, which is very epic at times. She may make a friend or two as well…

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Eventually, a grander tale is revealed with a conflict that becomes very personal. It’s awesome, but not for everyone. There are revelations and flashbacks, coming back to a violent confrontation for Stellar to move on. This becomes a guilty pleasure for those wanting their comic book reading to be primal and full of escapism. Stellar gives plenty of that.

So, I really enjoyed Stellar for being something different, but not overly highbrow or pretentious. One can enjoy it for what it is if they love old spaghetti westerns and wrestling smackdown melodramas. The art with awesome colors makes it all better.

However, some of that action results in some gory, violent results. If thrilled by that, then dig in for a good helping. It’s not constant, but such moments can be special.

So, if looking for science fiction that feels more adventurous and action-packed, with a great visual style, do pick up Stellar.

 

Short Film Find: Untogethered by Ryan Chatfield

Untogethered

  • Director, Writer: Ryan Chatfield
  • Producer: Amy Rockman
  • Published: Jan 17, 2019 via the DUST Youtube channel

Synopsis: “A hacker named Quinn infiltrates a cult, who are slowly killing off its members, in order to save her estranged sister, Harper. Untogethered is a sci-fi/action/drama about a hacker named Quinn who seeks to rescue her terminally ill sister, Harper, who is deeply involved cult named Sacred Paradise, who claim to grant their who claim to grant their members access to the mythical paradise called Evila. Quinn infiltrates the cult and ventures into a virtual reality world to find her sister. With difficulty, Quinn convinces Harper to follow her as they traverse the fantasy world while being chased down by virtual security and the cult leader, Mother, in order to find their way back to reality.”

Personal Thoughts:

I love little stories of the extent of total immersion technology could take us, which are usually never good. So, they become weird cautionary tales, but sometimes saved by a hero like Kevin Flynn, James Murdoch, or Neo.

Which brings to mind this short, which could have taken an entire movie length, but shortened to some decent action and key plot points towards a somewhat satisfiable end for the protagonists. I like the production for its use of VFX, colors, and music. But, I felt it could use a little more story. But that would take more time, and away from the “short.” Perhaps, I was thinking more than I should here…

While watching, I ponder on how far will technology giants in the future go in promoting immersive tech, towards the control of consumers into these special “cults.” Some video games are starting on this now but not quite VR. Take the game Fortnite, for example. It’s initially a free game that takes users into this paradise of fun, expansive usability, leading them to want more and sacrifice piles of earned money in the real world for “V-Bucks”, into more involvement of the artificial life. Fortnite has made for than 2.4 billion US dollars in 2018. The collected hours of its many users, from both the time earned into purchasing the V-Bucks and the game itself, can be put into many lifetimes now.

Or maybe, this is just a short and cheesy sci-fi film warning us of nothing.

My favorite video games of 2018

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2018 was a year of many small, yet very shiny gaming gems.

Which, I think is something the industry needs, for just being good games without a ton of DLC, loot boxes, virtual currency, adware, and other deceptive practices disguised within what would appear to be a good game. For me, such as a big turn off. I just want to play a good, challenging game with maybe a story or some visual element I can get deeply involved in.

Still, I did play some games in 2018, but also avoided the popular overly large-world games like the Red Dead Redemption 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, God of War. I hear those are good, but I didn’t time to get deeply involved. And, much of that involving additional currency to enhance the game, ended in a huge turn-off.  I also avoided the newer mobile games and multi-player out there for much of the above reason.

Meanwhile, I did have time for some especially great games that made its debut this year. So, here are my favorites for 2018, and the special awards I give them…

BEST ART DIRECTION IN GAME OF 2018

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GRIS

Developer: Nomada Studio    Published by Devolver Digital
System: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Mac

I played this at PAX West and was instantly captivated. Not just with the gorgeous hand-drawn, animated visuals but with the fluid poetic gameplay. It feels like every moment is a work of art, backed an amazing soundtrack. Gris made its recent release debut, and I now find myself falling into its allure all over again.

BEST ROLE PLAYING GAME, and BEST SHOOT-EM-UP of 2018

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CROSSCODE

Developer: Radical Fish Games    Published by Deck13
System: Linux, Microsoft Windows, MAC

It’s a role-playing game, and a shooter, and a puzzler sometimes. It’s a beautiful game with old-era graphic done with heavy care and attention, and a fun story added in. While much of it feels like a throwback to the RPG games of the early 90s with anime influences and a large cast of characters, its approach of being a fast-paced shooter throughout gives the style a fresh approach.

BEST RETRO STYLE THROWBACK of 2018

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THE MESSENGER

Developer: Sabotage    Published by Devolver Digital
System: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

Here is a little throwback to the classic Ninja Gaiden run and slash games. The pixellated graphics remind me of the later NES games which really pushed what it could do back in the day, making it feel timeless, and lost for a time (tired of some “retro games” looking to retro). The Messenger brings that back with some classic gameplay and 8-bit music as well, but with the more solid challenge for aged game players.

BEST NARRATIVE GAME OF 2018

Captain Spirit

THE AWESOME ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN SPIRIT

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment    Published by Square Enix
System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Cool little free game with no strings attached, set in the Life is Strange universe. You play the role of a young boy living out his superhero fantasy while dealing with real-life problems. Lots of decisions and some moral questions are raised. There is no need to familiarize oneself with the Life is Strange games, which is nice. I will get around to eventually.

BEST EXPLORATION GAME OF 2018

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SUBNAUTICA

Developed and published by Unknown Worlds Entertainment
System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh

I played a little bit of this and fell in love with its gameplay, story, deep world that feels like an awesome dream, mixed with tense moments. The underwater feel, playful colors, and use of deep ocean physics has me coming back, looking for more and discovering interesting things at a pace I can control.

BEST REBOOT OF A CLASSIC HERO in 2018

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MEGA MAN 11

Developed and published by CAPCOM
System: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

It’s the comeback we long-time Mega Man fans deserve. With fluid animations and modern designs without losing all the best parts about the classic games. I love the bosses, silly voice acting, the Double Gear gimmick. It’s awesome, the game is way too short in its final stages. Still, it did well and I hope this will be the standard for more Megaman games to follow.

BEST FIGHTING GAME OF 2018

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SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE

Developed and published by Nintendo
System: Nintendo Switch

Of course! It’s almost cheating with a roster and winning formula updated with the power of the Nintendo Switch.

THE OTHER BEST FIGHTING GAME OF 2018

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Lethal League Blaze

Developed and published by Team Reptile
System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

Wow, what a crazy reinvention of the fighting game genre, where much of it revolves around dodgeball like physics. Add some crazy music beats, wacky character designs, and wickedly fast, unexpected gameplay and this is a game that will gain more notice and respect in time.

BEST RESTORATION OF A CLASSIC GAME

Zone of the Enders 2nd Runner: M∀RS

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ZONE OF THE ENDERS, THE 2nd RUNNER: M∀RS

Developer: Cygames   Published by: Konami
System: Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows

A beautiful re-render of Hideo Kojima’s awesome PS2 game that doesn’t have Metal Gear in the title, and far more polished than the HD Ps3 version, and also formatted for virtual reality. The story, characters, mech-designs, physics is full of originality and brings out a special uniqueness for those looking for more than great gameplay. The original I feel still isn’t appreciated enough, and now it’s built better for a new generation to enjoy, while fans can enjoy it further.

That’s all the freshness for 2018 from me. If there was something else I should have played, please share in the comments below!

Comics Reading Review: Farmhand #1

Farmhand #1

Writer and Artist: Rob Guillory
Colorist: Taylor Wells
Published by: Image Comics
Publish Date: July 11, 2018
Notes: Monthly series, first issue.

Synopsis:

“Jedidiah Jenkins is a farmer—but his cash crop isn’t corn or soy. Jed grows fast-healing, plug-and-play human organs. Lose a finger? Need a new liver? He’s got you covered. Unfortunately, strange produce isn’t the only thing Jed’s got buried. Deep in the soil of the Jenkins Family Farm, something dark has taken root, and it’s beginning to bloom. From ROB GUILLORY, Eisner-winning co-creator and artist of Image Comics’ CHEW, comes a new dark comedy about science gone sinister and agriculture gone apocalyptic. Nature is a Mother..”

Personal Thoughts (with spoilers):

With the Chew comic series gone from my monthly pulls, I have missed the unique, stylish work of Rob Guillory’s expressive cartoon art. His work made John Layman’s writing stand out, and gave the world of Chew a special, twisted feel. I look back, and still felt nothing like it since. Until….

Farmhand, a new series with art by Rob Guillory, and writing by….Rob Guillory!

That, is an interesting next step for Guillory, with him putting twice the passion of creativity by balancing both feats. Through that, something I feel much more wicked this way is coming. We look to his soil and the seeds planted for Farmhand, where he lays out a strange mystery afoot, involving dark science and the stuff of nightmares; meeting a mix of campy fun characters and unexpected plot twists.

Through the first pages, I am already unsettled by an escalated dream sequence…where I feel a prophecy of a dark truth is coming. The stuff of nightmares, indeed…

Well, this means some character buildup, with a family that we can already relate to and care about; definitely the heroes I can dig. I feel family togetherness in dark stories aren’t nearly  as utilized as they should be (and when they are, it involved single parentage with a focus on a single child…so cliche). But here, something a little different is given here..a wholesome approach, innocent to the big secrets that lie beneath. Enter Zeke, a regular man, and his family; including a supportive wife and smartass kids.

Then, we enter their visit to the grandpa of the family. A humble farmer once, now working in a grander operational lab. It’s a bit comical, and a true return to elaborate style for Guillory with sight gags and double-take inducing prop elements. The overall setting for , feels like Jurassic Park meets the Wizard of Oz.

Here is half of an amazing 2-page spread, that is pure Guillory:

So, that being said, it’s got all the dark and disturbing feels of Chew, which brings me back to thinking on that classic series..how much of its dark and twisted nature was Guillory, and how much was Layman? Or did one learn from the other? Either way,  I feel there is a work of twisted genius within growing in the work of Farmhand, especially with a story development in the end. But, I kind hope it won’t be too much like Chew, and this all leads to an ending that’s not as…abrupt.

But with moments like this, I’ll likely enjoy and see it all grow:

Which leads to ask, what’s next?  The first issue serves as a brilliant sprouting of something ready to bloom. I’m exciting, but also anxious for the unknown; which for this series will likely be very entertaining.