And you, readers of this blog, which 2014 post did you most enjoy? The one where I stood in defense of Steve Ditko's Speedball. Good choice!
I don't have much to say about new films except that despite all of my recent issues with Marvel, they do adapt themselves very neatly to the cinemas. I easily enjoyed Captain America: the Winter Soldier the most of the year's films because I felt it characterized the Captain very faithfully. Still, I have an enormous soft spot for X-Men: Days of Future Past because it struck a few nostalgic notes for 2000's X-Men (such as revisiting that film's score), reminding me of that bygone time when Marvel's venture into film was still unproved and where famous Hollywood stars appearing in their films would trash-talk them to reporters, as opposed to today's stars who plead for Marvel's table scraps. What a world.
Many of the titles I enjoyed in 2014 are still in-process, but I'm very pleased with Priest & Mark Bright's Q2: The Return of Quantum & Woody (valiant; review here), which has reunited them with their best creative property. Walter Simonson is still engulfed in Ragnarok (IDW) which offers his take on Norse mythos without Marvel's filter. Kurt Busiek & Benjamin Dewey have just begun Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw (Image), a great-looking fantasy series about animal people whose legendary hero turns out to be a human. Eric Shanower & Gabriel Rodriguez have been doing pretty well with Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland (IDW), although any comparison to the original Winsor McCay strips would be unfavourable; the very format of a serialized comic book presents difficulties in adapting a narrative told via single pages. My friends Alex Grecian & Riley Rossmo just launched Rasputin (Image; review here) which thus far has been an intriguing look at a mythologized Rasputin's beginning and ending. I haven't yet finished Wild's End (Boom!) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard, but the premise - Wind and the Willows meets War of the Worlds - has kept me interested. Dean Haspiel & Mark Waid's The Fox (Archie; review here) was a very pleasant surprise - the most enjoyable super hero comic I'd read since the last Mark Waid comic I'd bought; there will be more from the Fox this year and I'm in favour of it!
In returning titles, I've finally begun to catch up on the recently-revived Astro City (Vertigo) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson, which has been virtually on-target to the series' usual level of quality. Stan Sakai has fortunately returned to Usagi Yojimbo (Dark Horse) with his own War of the Worlds-inspired series Senso (review here) and with a Color Special (review here); 2015 promises to see the series itself resume, which I'm quite eager to see. Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson returned to Beasts of Burden (Dark Horse) with the one-shot Hunters & Gatherers (review here); hopefully 2015 will see more from them. A friend's recommendation led me to read the collected edition of Chuck Dixon's Winterworld (IDW) early in 2014; much to my surprise, the series resumed with new adventures later in the year after about a 20-year absence! I'm still following Larry Hama & S.L. Gallant's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero! (IDW) as well; the quality varies at times and the sci-fi plots never seem like a good fit for the series, but Hama's snappy dialogue usually wins me over. Sadly, Sergio Aragones Funnies (Bongo; review here) ended this year, though Sergio intends to bring it back with another publisher somewhere down the line. Batton Lash printed a new trade paperback Supernatural Law: Zombie Wife (Exhibit A) and I happily supported it on Kickstarter; I'm sure he has something new in the works for 2015.
In international comics, Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido's Blacksad: Amarillo (Dark Horse; review here) debuted in English and I quite enjoyed it, although it veered away from the series' usual mystery-detective trappings for a more straightforward tale of action. The French comic Peter Pan (Soaring Penguin Press) by Regis Loisel finally received a full English translation and I gave it chance; I enjoyed it, but it was quite a bit darker than I expected with some particularly disturbing material toward the end when Peter and his Lost Boys gradually forget Tinkerbell had caused someone's death. Finally, Sergio Ponchione's Ditko Kirby Wood (Fantagraphics; review here) was a very tight tribute to those three great masters of comic art with dazzling attempts to duplicate their styles.
The only truly new graphic novels I tried out were Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew's The Shadow Hero (First Second; review here), a very pleasant super hero romp with history first truly-Asian-American costumed hero. I also found much to enjoy in Box Brown's Andre the Giant (First Second; review forthcoming), which relates incidents from the wrestler's life as a series of vignettes.
It took me a very long time but I finally obtained the movie The Crowd, which proved to be a fantastic silent film (some thoughts about it here). My interest in early cinema (especially Warner films) also paid out as I enjoyed Heroes For Sale, The Life of Emile Zola, Wild Boys of the Road and Million Dollar Legs. And while it's sad that Maximilian Schell died last year, at least through his obituary I learned of his pseudo-documentary Marlene, which proved to be very interesting - a real tension between the filmmaker and his subject.
Speaking of documentaries, I enjoyed The Unknown Known even though - as everyone seems to have pointed out - it was not like Errol Morris' earlier Fog of War in terms of capturing a public figure pouring out the conflicts from within their soul. Rumsfeld's lack of self-awareness is fascinating in its own right, but it's not as comfortable as the earlier film's apologetic McNamara had been.
Time spent on airplanes last year gave me many opportunities to view recent releases and 12 Years a Slave and Her were easily my two favourites. I also discovered Ordinary People and quite liked that too. Finally, I viewed Felidae because the very concept of an animated film about a mystery-solving housecat which indulges in both sex and violence is an oddity all its own.
Ishmael Beah's The Radiance of Tomorrow was a fine novel about post-war Sierra Leone; I didn't find it as involving as Beah's non-fiction, but all the same it gave me more insight into the country, insight which I'll need if I keep visiting there (which at present time is a hard thing to consider). I also read Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun and quite liked it, although it left me feeling disturbed more than a few times. I read another Charles Dickens novel: Dombey and Son (most of it while I was in Sierra Leone) and while its happy resolution came together a little too neat for me, I always enjoy reading Dickens' casts of characters.
I poured through quite a few books whose film adaptations I'd already enjoyed; setting aside the films, I found much to like in The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes, The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler, Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, Good-Bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton, Psycho by Robert Bloch and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It's always interesting to discover where the versions diverged. I was particularly surprised to find that Psycho has quite a few scenes from Norman Bates' perspective when you wouldn't expect them, and to find just how tightly-constructed Jackson's Haunting of Hill House is, from the dialogue to the characters to the rising tension.
I delved a little into the pulps last year and dug out some short story collections, most notably Bloch's The Opener of the Way (review here) and two of Nelson S. Bond's: The Far Side of Nowhere (review here) & The 31st of February (review here. As a personal triumph, I also read the last two Sax Rohmer novels I hadn't previously experienced. My best pulp experience, however, has to be discovering The Black Ace by George Bruce in an issue of Argosy (review here; what a magnificent tale!
Finally, I enjoyed a few books of humour, which is not normally something I try. Bob & Ray's From Approximately Coast to Coast was almost as good as hearing them on the radio and Robert Benchley's The Benchley Roundup brought a few smiles to my tired old face.
My interest in Africa (and in particular Sierra Leone) led me to two great books in 2014: Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, telling the story of the abolition movement in England (which turns out to be much less-inspirational than you'd suppose) and An Imperfect Offering by James Orbinski, which relates the author's experiences offering humanitarian aid with MSF in the midst of some of the worst crises of the last few decades.
My love of films brought me to Frank Capra's excellent autobiography The Name Above the Title and Buster Keaton's My Wonderful World of Slapstick. There were also some great interviews with film directors to be had in Peter Bogdanovich's Who the Devil Made It? and interesting stories about why some films failed to materialize as they were first conceived in Tales From Development Hell by David Hughes. Charles Drazin's In Search of the Third Man held virtually everything I, as a tremendous fan of the film, could ever wish to know about how it was made and what its impact has been. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood by Todd McCarthy was one of the better filmmaker biographies I've read as it took its time to explore the personality in question, delved into his films themselves and generally avoided the type of armchair psychology most books of that ilk indulge in.
In books about comics, Art Spiegelman's Metamaus gave me new reasons to re-read Maus and for that alone, I'm happy I read it. Super Boys by Brad Ricca did a terrific job with the lives of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, although I felt it skipped over a lot of material and indulged in the type of armchair psychology I've previous mentioned a distaste for; still, I read a number of Siegel & Shuster's comics I hadn't sampled before because of this book.
I avoided James Stokoe's Orc Stain (Image) for some time because, despite all of the good word about it, I didn't think I could get on board with his art. After his Godzilla: The Half-Century War disbused me of that impression, I happily read all of Orc Stain this last year. I was also very pleased to find Stan Sakai's other anthropomorphic-fantasy-adventure book Nilson Groundthumper & Hermy (Dark Horse) in its new hardcover collection; it's much more comedic than Usagi Yojimbo but equally as clever. I also decided to finally give Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse (Fantagraphics) a try and bought the first two volumes of the newspaper strip reprints. Although I enjoyed it, I don't think I'll sample any more of the series - the series' actions are so overwhelming as to be underwhelming when read in sequence.
On some strange impulse, I decided to get all of Adam Warren's Dirty Pair (Eclipse/Dark Horse) comics; it's not just the beautiful women or funny dialogue he creates (and I certainly like both) but his love of odd science fiction concepts (especially the transhumanism) keeps bringing me back. I was also very impressed with the first issue of The Destructor (Atlas; review here) by Archie Goodwin, Steve Ditko & Wally Wood - but then, how could a creative team like that one misfire? I've also bought most of Joshua Quagmire's Cutey Bunny (review forthcoming) and the graphic novel biography Bogie (Eclipse; review here) by Claude-Jean Philippe & Patrick Lesueur was a brief, but interesting look at Humphrey Bogart's life.
Perhaps the biggest thing which happened to me comics-wise in 2014 was my involvement in promoting Nelvana of the Northern Lights (CGA/IDW) on behalf of the University of Calgary; it was fun to be interviewed for print & radio and do a little to help get people interested in the project. Preparing for the interviews certainly helped me hone my own knowledge regarding the Canadian whites!
Finally, the non-fiction comic The Photographer (First Second) followed Didier Lefevre in his journey through Afghanistan with MSF and held some interesting depictions of culture clash, such as one doctor's irritation with western people's reactions toward the chadri.
I certainly don't purchase many video games, but when I do find one I want I tend to play it for several years. With the Xbox 360 being phased out and me unwilling to upgrade to the X-bone at this time, I decided well in advance that I'd give Bungie's Destiny a try. Heck, I enjoyed Halo and I'm going to need something to play on the 360.
I'm mostly satisfied with the game; for the number of hours of enjoyment it's given me, I can't complain. The story is pretty bare (probably because as a mass-multi-player online game the story has to be open-ended) and you find the limitations pretty quickly. I also can't say I enjoy their player vs. player mode (the Crucible) at all; while I might still put in a Halo game and play in versus mode for a few hours, I avoid the Crucible - it seems as though it consists of about 30 seconds of running to find a fight, about 10 seconds of combat, then death and starting the cycle anew; not fun.
Unfortunately, the game's raid mode seems to be intentionally designed to keep out people like me - the casual gamers. There's no matchmaking system for the raid mode and because I can't play with my X-bone friends (re: pretty much everyone I played Halo with) that leaves me unable to form a party to attempt the raid. Irritating. It's interesting to see the communications from Bungie as they address the ways gamers are trying to exploit loopholes in the game. Every message from the developers has a barely-restrained irritation, as though they want to say, "you're playing the game wrong, guys." So far they've said they have no interest in matchmaking, so... I'm shut out. Consequently, there's no point for me to chase down their DLC - I won't be able to use it. Regardless, I enjoy Destiny as it stands.