Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 2012 Not-a-List Rundown

author's note:  2012 is a year I have been looking to put behind me for quite a while for any number of reasons.  Obviously the events in my personal life marked a very sad end to the year for us at our house.  Perhaps we should declare 2012 Annus Horribilis and move on.

With recent events weighing so heavily on me right now (and with this post started a long, long time ago), I'm going to stick to pop culture and the original, intended tone of the post - and this blog - and take a look back instead at...  yeah, I guess comics and whatnot.

here we go.

The 2012 Not-a-List Rundown

My Totem for Everything About my Pop Culture Hobbies in 2012

My relationship fundamentally changed with my hobbies and past-times, and superhero comics have begun to dip below the horizon to the same place Star Wars went circa 2002.  Because of travelling and the fact I was sick a lot this year, I also didn't really make it out to the movies very often.

In Movies:

I'll be doing a movie post later to discuss what it was like blogging every single  movie I watched over the course of 2012, and I'm mostly concerned that it's now a trained behavior and that I'll have an inclination to blog every film in 2013.  But, no, I won't.  In fact - late edit - I've watched a movie already, and I'm not posting on it even though the film is well worth discussing*, but you have to break habits sometime.

I got to attend the Film Noir Fest early last year in San Francisco, I saw some terrific films here in Austin at the Paramount and Alamo, and was handed a terrific indie feature made my by a co-worker.

And, of course, I made personal contact with Audrey Totter, so that's kind of an amazing year in movies.

I will do a full post or two on Movies in 2012, so we'll talk about my favorite and least favorite movies then, I guess.

In Comics:

What can I say that I haven't already said?  This was the year I moved on from what had been a lifelong comics habit of reading and supporting superhero comics from America's Big 2 publishers.  Many of you came to this site or to the prior site to read about those comics, and - to you - all I can say is that I'm sorry.  I have possibly given you inspiration to move on from reading The Signal Watch.

The more I see of what bloggers and pundits are hyping as "best of 2012 in comics", the more obvious it seems that I'm so out of step with the needs of the audience, the content generated by the companies and everything out there that's happening that...  whatever it is I'm now doing as superhero comics reader and as a nostalgia reader is different from my mass consumption of DC and Marvel and seems to work much better for me when it comes to the Big 2.

And it's not just superheroes that are leaving me a bit cold.  NPR did a story on what they saw as great comics, and one of them was Drama, which I am sure is good, but I am so, so tired of comics and comics culture dwelling in childhood and "mean girls" and extending a pitying hand to their imaginary, spunky-but-vulnerable younger selves... be it creator or reader.  Look, I'm sure the book is great, but it's for an audience that - in 2012 - didn't include me.  I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with what it says about comics that we seem to want to wallow in these formative years, or that so many comics from bio comics to Scott Pilgrim, stew on the young adult in arrested development.  And while the phrase served it's purpose in pushing comics out of True Romance, Westerns and capes and tights, there's a reason we might need to reconsider what it means that "comics aren't just for kids anymore".

This probably means I need to start looking harder at Fantagraphics' offerings.  Man.  It's come to that.

Whether my tastes have so radically changed (and maybe they have) or using the change in status quo of DC to reconsider exactly what I was getting for my dollar - I genuinely want something more and better, and I'm not willing to put anymore money into hoping it gets better.  Comics are too expensive, provide too little value for the dollar, and, frankly, riff on the same topics too often.  And, what makes me saddest, is when they try to emulate what movies and television do much, much better and often with none of the attention to detail or research to make me buy the stories their selling.

I know, I know.  I've been the champion of comics and superhero comics for a long time here.  Things change.  Glancing back over my posts of the last year, you can see the old habits crumbling, bit by bit.  I've had you guys tell me that whatever has happened with my reading habits makes you sad.  Hey, it's not been a tremendous source of joy on this side of the server, either.  But I guess when I think of how we all shed the past as things change and event warrant, and I think I'm just doing it with a bit more of a public platform.

In the meantime - I also bought a computer that finally made reading digital comics not just-doable, but pleasurable, and I suspect my purchasing habits in 2013 will change as a result.  I'm still reading comics and finding things I like (Atomic Robo, stuff from MonkeyBrain), but I'm over thinking that stuffing comics in a longbox is a good idea.  Bold new direction!  This time, everything changes!

So what can we talk about?
  • I appreciate what Grant Morrison is doing in Action Comics, but it's going to take the series completing for me to really feel comfortable with saying much about it.  It's that pitch-perfect Morrison characterization tied in with the inherent madness that infects his work - which is such a great fit for Superman.  Something, I argue, that nobody else at DC seems to understand.
  • Garth Ennis' Shadow was as close to a superhero book with an adult-ish perspective as anything I can point to.  It understands the history of Asia and what was happening around WWII and treats it with honesty.  For a comic steeped in nostalgia by virtue of starring The Shadow, it's less self-referential or dully inward looking at most books on the shelf rolling out ninjas, zombies or whatever meme you can find in your average comic.  Of course, it's Dynamite Comics, so after the first arc they handed the writing chores off to another writer with none of Ennis' nuance and the title became immediately droppable as a Batman-with-guns third tier comic.
  • I wrote about The Green River Killer, and I'll restate that it was one of the best graphic novels I'd read in years.  Of course this mean that the book didn't get much press from the comics community itself, but that seems to be the state of the industry.  Meanwhile, this graphic novel is one I would pull off the shelf for a non-comics reading friend looking for a solid graphic novel that doesn't delve into self-aggrandizing/ pitying autobiography or one of the usual three or four favorite other topics of indie-leaning graphic novels.  What it does manage to do is tell a very human, very real story about the detectives who captured and eventually obtained confessions from one of America's most notorious murderers.  Stunning, heartbreaking work.
  • Monkeybrain Comics launched and has reshaped how the industry should be thinking about comics in the digital world.  Chris Roberson continues to work in print comics (Masks, etc...) while acting as co-publisher and middle-man for creator owned comics (with his wife, Allison Baker) which are delivered via Comixology.  The comics are inexpensive, well presented and break from a lot of the bad habits and models of the past in no small part thanks to the freedom allowed by MonkeyBrain.  There's a wide variety of stuff out there, so chances are at least one title will appeal to you.
  • Mark Waid has been blowing my mind on multiple fronts, be it his work on Daredevil, the conclusions of Irredeemable and Incorruptible, or the launch of Thrillbent and the transformative approach to comics I've seen in their delivery and presentation (even if I don't understand how anyone is making money).  He's been hitting on all cylinders for a few years now, and it's completely worth watching Waid just to see what he does next.

In Television:

I didn't pick up any new fall series, really.  I guess I've been watching The New Girl with Jamie as it's light, fluffy, often hilarious and features Zooey Deschanel, who, it turns out, can often be absolutely hysterical in a way that I'm not sure scripted shows usually want to make room for when they're on a major network.

But, yeah, I just sort of got busy and didn't really watch some of the shows I like, such as Game of ThronesTreme, Boardwalk Empire or American Horror Story.  I've always said I'm terrible at watching series TV, and this year really proved it.

I'm trying to think of disappointments, but I didn't try any new shows based on their ads.  This is the part where you start recommending shows to me so I will watch them and thank you, but...  Let me stop you right there and assure you - I'm not going to make time for your show.  I appreciate the assistance, but...  let's save us both the trouble.

My pick for best show of the year is probably, again, Louie, which moved even further out of straight comedy territory (if it ever lived there) and into a far more uncomfortable and challenging place this year.  It may not have the appeal of shows about gangsters or meth cooks or the incredibly appealing women of Mad Men, but it's such an amazing feat that the show is on the air, produced the way it is, and every episode has something to chew on when the credits roll.

And, yes, of course, I give Mad Men my other pick.  It may be soapy, but I still contend it has some of the smartest writing to ever make it onto TV and it does it all within the context of basic cable.

And I have to give the following something like an honorable mention:

  • Archer
  • Parks and Recreation
  • The League
  • Black Dynamite on Cartoon Network
  • Kaitlin Olson on Sunny, if nothing else on that show
  • Mythbusters continues to e very watchable all these years later
  • Adventure Time
  • Young Justice
  • History Detectives
  • American Experience

One of the most surprisingly satisfying experiences of last year was making it through all 14.5 hours of the PBS broadcast of the The Met's 4-opera performance of Wagner's Ring Cycle, which I talked about here.

When the power of television was first conceived, it was seen as a way to bring education, culture and information into households in a way that the market demands of the cinema and limitations of the reel, projector and seats in theaters couldn't accommodate.

I am thrilled to have had opportunity to watch the opera (for free, no less).  It may not have a been a series, a traditional bit of television or even had very good ratings, but of everything I watched this year on TV, it's probably the experience that I'll recall most vividly and appreciate the most.

In Sports:

Re: UT Football -  gaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh........    I'm not even sure I want to talk about it.  Even the Alamo Bowl win was a little hollow as UT only really showed up in the 4th quarter, and OSU fans felt their team was off all night (I usually only focus on UT and what they're doing during a game).

Had UT lost the game, in the wake of what sounds like possible legal problems for some key players, I have no idea what UT's coaching lineup would look like by April, but I suspect next year will be more of the same.  I miss having confidence in my team.

Re:  UT Volleyball - Apparently we won the National Championship.  So, hats off to the UT Women's Volleyball team!

Re: Pro sports:  I did not watch you.  Everything about pro sports makes me sadder with each passing year. I tried to watch an NBA game this winter break, and it was like watching grown men run in molasses for an hour.  Pro football is a series of bad ideas with Marley-like chains of moneyboxes tied to the players.  And I don't really care about baseball all that much, but I had a fantastic time at Wrigley Field this summer.  That, I'll never forget.

In Superman:

In 2013 we'll receive a reboot of the Superman franchise in theaters with the Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel.  I suspect that if the movie is decent, it could generate interest in Superman in the mainstream media and have pundits explaining how this take on Superman is fit for our complicated modern tastes, but we'll have to see.

We did get the first trailers, and that was something.  We don't need to worry that Snyder and Co. didn't take the movie seriously, and it removed some sense of doubt I may have had.

2013 is also the 75th anniversary of the first publication of Superman in Action Comics.

In 2012, we also received Superman Vs. The Elite on Blu-Ray, which was actually a very enjoyable Superman action film and possibly the last we'll see of Superman in the red shorts in his own feature (he'll be appearing on Dark Knight Returns Part 2 in 2013).

The lawsuit rages on between DC/ WB and the Siegel heirs.  I wonder if we'll have a resolution in the next year, but it seems that even a resolution will just result in another lawsuit.  It's beyond me.

Cleveland's airport added an exhibit detailing how Superman was birthed by two Cleveland kids and the ties back to that city.

In comics - well, it wasn't a good year for me.  I did thoroughly enjoy Superman Family Adventures, but I dropped Superman as a title and both Superboy and Supergirl.  Eddie Berganza, an editor whom I feel is sorely lacking in vision, was named as editor for the Superman Family titles, and we'll have to see what that means in 2013.

We also received the fairly awful Superman: Earth One - Volume 2, which features great art and a breathtakingly inept story by J. Michael Straczynski.  It sold through the roof, so look forward to more of that, I guess.

DC's partnership with Mattel Toys meant a few toys aimed at younger kids - who will have no context for who this "Superman" person is, and the DC Universe line seems to have shut down after putting out the same Superman figure twice, but one had shiny paint.  DC Direct will release their Superman-in-a-collar figure in January, I believe.  And, we're all basically waiting for the Man of Steel related toys to start getting solicited in the spring.

I've slowed on picking up back issues as I've amassed quite a few that I haven't read yet.  I'm sincerely hoping that in 2013, life re-adjusts and I can find time again for digging through my comics.

In Books:

I read and listened to more books last year than I usually squeeze in.  I appreciate all the recommendations, by the way.

You can see a list I keep online.  I don't know how informative you've find the list.

At that, I know of at least one book I failed to add to the list, so there's possibly more.

I didn't read anything this year I found disappointing or tossed across the room when I was done (which has occurred upon occasion).  But it was a fun year of almost entirely fiction, be it crime books like The Handle or science fiction like Solaris or catching up on genre classics like At The Mountains of Madness.

Here's to reading more books in 2013.

In Music:

I attended a few shows thus year, but the stories of the year for me was more or less watching the Amanda Palmer Kickstarter campaign blow the doors off all expectations, then the album arrived with all the various "premiums" such as an art book, vinyl, etc...  All gorgeously presented under the "Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra: Theater is Evil" banner - and the music wasn't half bad, either.

It was an amazing thing to watch the story continue to unfold, right up through a story on December 31 in the Washington Post where an Afghani prisoner at Gitmo has asked Amanda Palmer to write him a song.

Palmer's model of "pay what you like" for the album as a download seems in step with how the youths are consuming music, and her accidental run in with musicians unions, the differences between gypsy rock star lifestyle and session musicians, the misunderstanding and viral firestorm directed at Palmer - it all made for a bizarre and interesting narrative.  Not the least as she bowed out of the Australian leg of her tour set for 2013 so she could stay home with a friend ill with cancer.

And ended in 2012 with a show during which her band played the entirety of "Purple Rain".

The other story for the year is probably the year I lost track of how one is expected to consume music via web services like Spotify, and I didn't get the memo.  I tried Spotify three times an was never certain what I was supposed to be doing with it or how it worked.

It was also the year hardware, software, web application and other technology moguls quit playing well together which meant I sort of panicked and moved all my music up to iTunes Match on iCloud, I guess.

I sort of also am beginning to wonder if the death of the album explains why when I go to shows these days, why everyone stands around talking or looking at their phone and only seems to pay attention during the hit single.  I'll float that one like a beachball at a concert and let you bat it around.

I don't know if I have any specific albums or singles picked as "best of" in 2012.

In Science and Stunts:

Even as Americans place fists firmly on hips and continue to declare science, scientific processes and evidence as something for "eggheads", we had an interesting year in really wild stuff happening.

This year humanity:

Landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars and immediately began getting terrific data back from our neighboring sphere.
We chucked a man out of a space capsule and managed to get him to land without so much as a twisted ankle.
We have further evidence of The Higgs-Boson.

Don't take my word for it, here's a day-by-day listing of scientific breakthroughs, great and small.

So that's it

I'll start on the movie post sooner rather than later and we'll talk about blogging every movie over the course of a year and why I'll never do that again.

In the meantime, that's 2012 from a Signal Watch perspective in a nutshell.  

Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments.

*Watch on the Rhine, 1943

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