Bits of pop-culture goodness from 2007 that weren’t comic books or CDs

[Posted 01/09/08]

Other than comic books and CDs, I don’t really consume enough of other types of pop culture to warrant a comprehensive “best of.” So let’s close out the OtWP Blog’s Seven Top 5s of ’07 with a pop-culture potpourri:

5. “American Gladiator” reruns: A bit of cheat here as these episodes originally aired from 1989 to 1996, but the reruns on ESPN Classic are addictive like meth. The upside? The giant Q-tips of Joust and the human-hamster balls of Atlasphere only hurt the the contenders’ teeth.

Zap

(Photo from rayehollitt.com)
You’ve dreamt of Zap. Don’t lie to me.

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4. “300”: Director Zack Snyder gave Frank Miller’s ode to beefcake ’n’ martyrs the cinematic love comic-book movies so rarely receive. The best, unabashed guy flick I’ve seen in years. Added bonus: I can finally dare to dream that the oft-delayed “Watchmen” movie — which now has Snyder at the helm — won’t suck

“300” on DVD

Links: Buy from Amazon | “300”

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3. “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”: Jon Stewart is a funny, funny guy — but it’s his smarts that make “The Daily Show” sing. As good as the comedy sketches are, it’s Stewart’s well-informed interviews with political guests that makes me tune in. (On the other hand, his drooly schoolboy interviews with starlets are often painful to watch.) Here’s hoping “The Daily Show” gets its groove back when the writers’ strike ends.

Links: “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”

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2. Bowling For Soup live: BFS has long called itself “the happiest band in the world,” a claim I never quite understood. Their bouncy brand of pop punk certainly sounds cheery enough, but almost every song is laced with some bit of lyrical sadness or anguish. I finally became a believer when I saw them at the Central Washington State Fair in Yakima last October. Live, BFS cranks up the joy to another level. The band starts and stops on a dime, taking time out to crack jokes and play to the crowd. And the crowd freakin’ loves it; it’s one of the few concerts I’ve been to where the scene actually resembled the goofy-ass crowds in a music video. BFS was my then-8-year-old daughter Katja’s first concert. She won’t see many better.

Links: Bowling for Soup

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1. “Battlestar Galactica: Season Three”: I’ve said it before to anyone who will listen: BSG is the most fully realized work of post-9/11 art out there. The show is brilliant: smart, poignant and relentlessly dark. And season three’s allegorical overhaul — recasting the Cylons as an occupying army and the colonials as insurgents — ramped up the discomfort yet again. It pains me to know that there’ll be just one more season of BSG. Until I think of the X-Files.

“Battlestar Galactica: Season Three”

Links: Buy from Amazon | “Battlestar Galactica”


Favorite songs of 2007

[Posted 01/08/08]

I had every intention of spreading the best-song love around. But, when I sat down to compile this list, one thing became clear: Great songs are the lifeblood of good albums. So, really, it’s no surprise this year’s favorite songs all came from my top two albums of ’07 (check out my Top 5 favorite CDs of 2007).

5. “Conquest” by The White Stripes: Few bands own a cover quite like The White Stripes. Jack White’s musical showdown with trumpeter Regulo Aldama imbues Patti Page’s 1952 original with crackling new energy.

4. “A Martyr For My Love For You” by The White Stripes: Equal parts predatory and self-loathing, this sparse, swampland dirge hangs heavy with conflicted emotion.

3. “Icky Thump” by The White Stripes: Nothing says “Jack’s back” quite like this stripped-down sonic assault. Old-school rock rarely sounds so fresh.

2. “I-95” by Fountains of Wayne: Anguish to drive by. This wistfully sweet ballad gets its resonance from mundane, real-world details.

1. “New Routine” by Fountains of Wayne: Possibly the best song yet from the masters of power-pop storytelling. In just four minutes and fourteen seconds, FoW moves full circle through the lives of several richly painted characters; near-perfect songcraft keeps them in your head much longer.

“Icky Thump” by The White Stripes

Links: Buy from Amazon | The White Stripes

“Traffic and Weather” by Fountains and Wayne

Links: Buy from Amazon | Fountains of Wayne


Favorite CDs of 2007

[Posted 01/07/08]

That’s right, CDs. I’m so old school I might as well be analog. Next to buying comic books, digging through a used CD store in search of the next great album is one of my favorite pastimes. Here are the five discs that earned the most spins this past year:

5. “Can I Keep This Pen?” by Northern State: In a surprising turn, the ladies of Northern State veer in the direction of Luscious Jackson to drop a disc full of funky rap/pop fusion. With singsong choruses, old school raps, and improved beats, Hesta, Spero and Sprout step up their game significantly on their second full-length album.

“Can I Keep This Pen?” by Northern State

Links: Buy from Amazon | Northern State

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4. “Night Falls Over Kortedala” by Jens Lekman: The Sweedish songster delivers another collection of smart, carefully crafted stories, disguised as perfect pop. (See my review from earlier this year.)

‘Night Falls Over Kortedala’ by Jens Lekman

Links: Buy from Amazon | Jens Lekman

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3. “Volta” by Björk: Icelandic elfkin Björk hooks up with Timbaland and other beatmasters to create some of the best, most bizarre booty shakers of the year. Her most accessible album in at least a decade.

“Volta” by Björk

Links: Buy from Amazon | Björk

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2. “Traffic and Weather” by Fountains of Wayne: FoW follows up the surprise success of 2003’s “Welcome Interstate Managers” (home to the inescapable “Stacy’s Mom”) with another collection of power-pop gems. Smart storytelling and catchy hooks continue to be the band’s hallmarks; “New Routine” is a superlative example of both, and might be FoW’s best track yet. (See my review of an FoW concert from earlier this year.)

“Traffic and Weather” by Fountains and Wayne

Links: Buy from Amazon | Fountains of Wayne

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1. “Icky Thump” by The White Stripes: Going into 2007, it appeared The White Stripes were in trouble. Jack was busy with The Raconteurs and Meg was off somewhere modeling. Were the curtains dropping on candy-cane land? “NO!,” the band answered, with the snarling, in-your-face retort of “Icky Thump,” the Stripes’ fiercest album to date. Stripped down and more primal than the eclectic “Get Behind Me Satan,” “Icky Thump” was a caterwauling collection of blues-infused rock.

“Icky Thump” by The White Stripes

Links: Buy from Amazon | The White Stripes


Favorite comic-book collections of 2007

[Posted 01/04/08]

Last year was the first time I spent almost as much on TPBs and other collections as I did on floppies. The biggest reason for this is Marvel’s Essentials line; I just can’t get enough of those hefty black-and-white reprints, especially the Bronze-Age volumes. But I bought lots of other collections, too — so many, in fact, that I haven’t been able to read them all yet. (If I had, I’m guessing “Amazing Fantasy Omnibus” and “The Mammoth Book of War Stories” would have been in the running for this list.) Of what I read, here are my favorites:

5 (tie). “Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1” and “Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2”
(Marvel): Bronze-Age goodness from the pen of Chris Claremont and others. “Spider-Woman” is probably the better book overall, thanks in part to artist Steve Leialoha. But “Ms. Marvel” has done-in-one appeal, plus a couple of issues with Dave Cockrum art. Both books are products of their time — and are all the better for it. It’s good to be 10 again.

Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1

Links: Buy from Powell’s | Buy from Amazon

Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2

Links: Buy from Powell’s | Buy from Amazon

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4. “Showcase Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1” (DC): The Legion was one of the few Silver Age features from DC I really loved as a kid, and I’ve been waiting for an affordable reprint collection like this for years. To be honest, the stories in this first volume aren’t the strongest, but it’s still kitschy, good fun. I can’t wait for the next volume, coming in April, which should include stronger stories — and the debut of a then-teenage Legion writer, Jim Shooter.

Showcase Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1

Links: Buy from Powell’s | Buy from Amazon

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3. “Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 5: Dr. Death and the Night of the Butcher” (DC [Vertigo]): The latest edition of this series collecting one of my all-time favorite titles features not one but two classic story arcs. Guy Davis is the artist on both of them, and his work remains perfect for this series. If you like pre-World-War-II era fiction combining suspense, big action and romance, be sure to check out Sandman Mystery Theatre.

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 5

Links: Buy from Powell’s | Buy from Amazon

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2. “Essential Defenders Vol. 3” (Marvel): Includes David Anthony Kraft and Keith Giffen’s Scorpio run, which are some of the best Defenders issues ever. And it’s always a treat to see a Terry Austin ink job in B&W, especially over artists like Giffen and Michael Golden.

Essential Defenders Vol. 3

Links: Buy from Powell’s | Buy from Amazon

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1. “Y: The Last Man Vol. 9: Motherland” (DC [Vertigo]): This one makes it to the top of the list almost by default, as it’s the only new series I’ve been reading first in TPB form. I came late to Brian K. Vaughan’s series about a male survivor of a plague that killed almost all of the men on Earth, but it’s one of the best stories out there. The “big concept” carries the book, but strong characters, political intrigue and cliffhanger pacing make it special. I haven’t been able to put any book in this series down, including this latest volume.

Y: The Last Man Vol. 9

Links: Buy from Powell’s | Buy from Amazon


Favorite comic-book floppies of 2007

[Posted 01/03/08]

While many comic-book readers have abandoned the monthly “floppy” format, I’m still a big fan of the serial fix. Not all that many titles seem concerned with delivering that any more. With many books now paced for the inevitable collected edition, the following series stand out for delivering bang for the buck each issue:

5 (tie). Girls/The Sword (Image): It’s a bit of a cheat listing both of these, but whatever book the Luna brothers are putting on the shelf quickly finds its way to the top of my read pile. Girls was a claustrophobic ensemble piece with identical naked women filling in for zombies. The Sword is more focused on a single heroine, Dara Brighton, but the back story is showing signs of epic mythology. Both titles share strong characterization and cliffhangers that demand you come back for more.

Girls No. 24

The Sword No. 1

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4. X-Factor (Marvel): Speaking of cliffhangers, few writers deliver them as well as Peter David has on X-Factor. In general, David is a master of nailing story beats. Combine that with compelling characterization, the series’ noir tone, and strong art from Pablo Raimondi, and this incarnation of X-Factor is even better than David’s first run in the early ’90s.

X-Factor No. 14

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3. The Immortal Iron Fist (Marvel): Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction combined to make Iron Fist interesting for the first time since the character’s solo title in the ’70s. Intricate plotting, a strong supporting cast and the development of an interesting back story have all been key to this surprisingly excellent title. Add to that list wonderfully expressive art by David Aja and signature coloring by Matt Hollingsworth. Iron Fist is an example of the assembly method of comic-making at its very best.

The Immortal Iron Fist No. 6

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2. Strangers in Paradise (Abstract Studios): I summed up my feelings about this series when talking about creator Terry Moore in yesterday’s post. To sum up: SiP was a wonderful part of my life for 14 years, and I’m going to miss visiting with Katchoo, Francine and David every six weeks. If you haven’t read this series, treat yourself right and check it out ASAP.

Strangers in Paradise No. 90

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1. Astonishing X-Men (Marvel): I feel a bit guilty putting this book at the top of the floppies list, as only four issues carried a 2007 cover date. But all four went straight to the top of the stack, thanks to Joss Whedon’s exceptional dialogue and strong character moments, and John Cassaday’s perfect super-hero art. This series is a love note to everything good about the X-Men franchise.

Astonishing X-Men No. 22

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Note: I’m guessing Y: The Last Man should be somewhere on this list, but I was a latecomer to the series and have been picking up the TPBs. More on Y tomorrow when I pick my favorite collected editions of the year.


Favorite comic-book creators of 2007

[Posted 01/02/08]

Because there just aren’t enough year-end best-ofs out in the blogosphere, I give you the first of the OtWP Blog’s Seven Top 5s of ’07.

The first four will be comic-book-related, so patience all you non-comic fans (I’m talking to you, Rochelle). My first two posts next week will tackle tunes, with a pop-culture potpourri rounding out the mix midweek.

Today’s offering: favorite comic-book creators of 2007. These are the names most likely to get me to drop money on a project sight unseen thanks to their track record:

5. John Cassaday: The best super-hero artist of his generation, Cassaday’s work on Astonishing X-Men has been simply stunning (though slow in coming out). Expressive characters, clear action, clean design — his work on Marvel’s mutants is second only to John Byrne’s classic run in my heart (that someone has passed both Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith on that list is astonishing.) His chapter of “Fallen Son – The Death of Captain America” was beautifully executed, too.

Panel from Astonishing X-Men No. 21

Kitty Pryde making bedroom eyes at Colossus in Astonishing X-Men No. 21. One of my favorite panels in recent years, thanks to the beautiful art by John Cassaday.

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4. Terry Moore: The conclusion to his opus, Strangers in Paradise, hit both stunning highs and lows. The ending was probably a little too up for my liking — and I wish the “inevitable conclusion” Moore shared on his blog had been part of the book — but I’m guessing it will be a long time before a creator tugs my heartstrings so consistently for 14 years. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to Moore’s many post-SiP projects in ’08, especially his next creator-owned book, Echo.

Strangers in Paradise No. 90

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3. The Luna brothers: I summed up my view of their work in a post late last year:

“The Luna brothers might be the most consistent creative talents working in the comic-book field today. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you plunk down coins for one of their books: great pacing, strong female characters and cliffhangers that will bring you back for more.”

Brothers Joshua and Jonathan Luna started 2007 with a solid conclusion to their second creator-owned series, Girls, then replaced it with an even better title, The Sword. They’re only a few years into their career but they haven’t served up a dud yet.

The Sword No. 1

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2. Ed Brubaker: Daredevil continues to be a consistently good read post-Bendis, which says a lot. But Brubaker’s work on The Immortal Iron Fist is what really sucked me in (more on that series tomorrow). I’m guessing if I’d been reading Captain America — which I’ll be checking out soon — and his creator-owned title, Criminal, Brubaker might have had a shot at breaking a certain writer’s stranglehold on No. 1.

The Immortal Iron Fist No. 6

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1. Brian Michael Bendis. My favorite comic-book creator for the past several years running takes the top spot again. I don’t think his body of work for ’07 is as strong as some years past: Ultimate Spider-Man was a little slow, Mighty Avengers and Powers were slow to come out, and Halo: The Uprising left me, a nongamer, feeling a bit slow myself. But there was still plenty to love —New Avengers: Illuminati (another slow-shipping title) and the monthly New Avengers were both good rides, and Powers, when it shipped, was as strong as ever. Bendis hallmark has long been quality and quantity — and that didn’t change in ’07.

New Avengers: Illuminati No. 5

Links: Brian Michael Bendis | Ed Brubaker | The Luna Brothers | Terry Moore’s blog | John Cassaday






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