It’s annual list time where I share things I liked in the last year. I usually try to write about things I haven’t written about before, but the world is not what it was and perhaps next year I will be back to that or perhaps on to something else. As it is this year I share comics, games, tv and movies that involve, among other things: Time travel, regular travel, women coming into their own occult—and otherwise—power, opthalmology, cute animals, Kurosawa mode, groups of people doing the best they can.
Perhaps in these 10, well, actually 11, things you will find something you like, too!
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Paradise (Nintendo, 2021)
I cannot emphasize enough just how helpful Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been for my mental health during the pandemic and the rise of authoritarianism. Happy Home Paradise is a downloadable expansion for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons you set up your own island and interact with the little animal villagers who make homes there and you can also visit or host other players. In my case, I engage in many shenanigans with faraway friends. In Happy Home Paradise, you travel to another island and take a job there as a vacation home designer for little animal villagers looking for a home away from home. Happy Home Paradise is less social than New Horizons, though you can play New Horizons without visiting anyone, but you can theoretically build vacation homes for all the Animal Crossing critters—including NPC characters like Isabelle, Tom Nook, Flick the emo, insect-loving, artsy Chameleon, and even Wisp the Ghost. You also decorate pre-existing, but abandoned facilities such as a cafe, school, and hospital. And, eventually, you might, like me, create a Gritty Installation in a gallery above the cafe because you miss museums and it makes you laugh. While your friends can’t visit your Happy Home Paradise island, you do get a code that you can give them that allows them to come see whatever designs you’ve shared, whether a Gritty Installation at a gallery, a “A Very Normal Hospital” you designed for Tabby the Cat, or a chill Girl Gang Hideout where Tammy the Cub and Pashmina the Goat plan their next heist. It’s a nice mechanic that builds on ACNH’s dream addresses. Also, the “end” of the brief storyline in Happy Home Paradise is goddamn delightful. All the little critters dancing. It’s too much for anyone’s heart. And while in my case, I do wish my ACNH Cabal* could come visit my island in Happy Home Paradise, there’s always visits in the main game.
Black Magick, Vol. 3: Ascension (Image, 2021) Greg Rucka, writer; Becky Cloonan, art; Chiara Arena, colors; Jodi Wynne, lettering.
Black Magick is back! Or it was back in 2020, but I missed it. But it’s back! And it’s excellent! And goddammit now I want more and have to wait again. But you can get 3 collections now and enjoy them all until issue 17 comes out. Homicide detective and witch Rowan Black is making some bad choices. Or maybe not. Rowan is at a crossroads of worlds—occult and mundane; witches and witch hunters—and in her life. Lately Rowan has been tempted to use her power when she shouldn’t, and has started to use it in investigations. She’s conflicted, but she’s also getting tired of pretending to be who and what she is not in both worlds. And there’s a devil in her ear who looks a lot like Lucifer in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked & Divine. Literally, the devil whispers in Rowan’s ear while they ride Rowan’s motorcycle. Like all devils, she’s telling enough truth while setting things up for her own benefit, and probably not Rowan’s. I like crime comics and witchy stuff. The balance between them is handled so well in Black Magick. I always enjoy Rucka’s characters and there is once again some sweet, if messy, bi/pan woman representation. The Wicca is well-researched. And Nicola Scott’s art is beautifully rendered in atmospheric black and white with thoughtful color accents by Chiara Arena.
Supposedly, Black Magick is being developed as a television series. Most of the time, I don’t enjoy seeing comics made into live action series, but Rucka & Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown worked well. I would be okay if Doctor Aphra popped up in, say, The Mandalorian. I think Black Magick could be interesting.
Doom Patrol (HBO Max, 2021)
Speaking of comic book adaptations I do like, season three of Doom Patrol was fantastic. The series continues to be so smart, fun, thoughtful and daring. And even if you don’t like superhero shows, and I hear you on that, you might want to give Doom Patrol a try. This television series remains my favorite—and I think best—iteration of Doom Patrol and I love Doom Patrol, in almost every comics run. The third season is on par with the excellent first. This season, Doom Patrol deals with the recovery from trauma as Cliff (Brendan Fraser and Riley Shanahan), Jane (Diane Guerrero), Rita (April Bowlby), Vic (Jovian Wade) and Larry (Matt Bomer and Matthew Zuk) start to try to get their shit together. But, of course, their former friend and man who fucked their lives up in the first place, Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) manages to fuck things up, once again, even from beyond the grave. And guess, what? The Sisterhood of Dada is here! Michelle Gomez plays the time traveling Laura DeMille, aka, Madame Rouge. And yes, if you were wondering, the Brotherhood of Evil is back, too! Monsieur Mallah, the gorilla surgeon and weapons specialist, could have gone very wrong but was delightful. And they handled Niles Caulder’s nemesis and disembodied brain, The Brain, well, too. There are too many things I loved about this season to get into here, so I will content myself with: The chemistry between Michelle Gomez as Laura and April Bowlby as Rita is insane. And I love how Rita says, “Brains!” like the 1950s starlet she is.
Dr. Glaucomflecken Videos (Tik Tok / YouTube / Twitter)
These last two years, I have spent quite a bit of time in an opthalmologist’s office. And so I suppose it is fitting and right that I should be compensated with short comedy videos made by an opthalmologist. They are mostly about the medical profession and stereotypes within medicine about specialties and the experience of medical school. But, you know, they’re still funny even if you’re not in healthcare, because Dr. Glaucomflecken’s comedy is also absolutely grounded in character. And the recurring characters are performed with few props by one opthalmologist / comedian during breaks in his day, because as I have learned from these videos and the comments below them, the work/life balance of an opthalmologist is amazing. And even if I don’t understand the nuances of an encounter with a neurologist, I feel at least a shadow of the terror health care workers must in his presence. You can watch on Tik Tok, YouTube, and Twitter.
Ghost of Tsushima (Sucker Punch, 2020)
Ghost of Tsushima is a gorgeous game. The Mongols have invaded Tsushima island and the samurai defending it have all fallen, been captured or have betrayed their people. You play as Lord Sakai, the last samurai standing and must defeat Khotun Khan, rescue your disapproving uncle and prevent the Mongol invasion of the rest of Japan. It’s very pretty and feels a lot like Assassin’s Creed: Medieval Japan would if there were such a game. Ghost of Tsushima leans heavily into the idealized honor and bushido of the samurai and has some game mechanics that try to introduce tension into choices to play “dishonorably” without punishing those choices. Personally, I did not have many qualms about sneaking around in the grass or sniping from the top of farmhouse roofs, especially in a game that reveres Akira Kurosawa’s movies. Those movies are pretty damn critical of samurai and the bakufu, or military dictatorship. But if you want to play the honorable ideal and face your enemies square on in the open, you absolutely can. I like a game that allows for multiple play styles. And I like a game that has a black and white option called, “Kurosawa Mode.”
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (BioWare, 2021)
I also played Mass Effect: Legendary Edition this year. It includes Mass Effect 1-3, with some updating of the visuals, the game play and such like, making a game that was first launched in 2007 look and feel a little more contemporary. Mass Effect is a science fiction role-playing game with shooting and Force-like biotic abilities. And because it’s a BioWare game there are heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual and gay romance options with non-player characters. And, just so you know, Kaidan Alenko was always bi / pan You play as Commander Shepard in a Milky Way roughly united under a galactic council where everyone uses technology left behind by the Protheans, who are all now long dead. When one of the agents of the council goes rogue, you gather allies and go after them. And then you discover that the beings that destroyed the Protheans are threatening the galaxy again and everyone has decided it’s your job to save the galaxy again, but without a lot of support. The story arcs through all three games and choices you make in one affect the others. I played as a female Shepard, and I have to say it seems like if we have to have “canonical” gender in a game that allows you to choose male or female, then I think a female Shepard would have been a better choice. if only the gaslighting Shepard endures from people who endlessly rely on her to clean up their messes.
Monstress, Vol. 5: Warchild (Image, 2020) and Monstress, Vol. 6: The Vow (Image, 2021) Marjorie Liu, writer; Sana Takeda, art; Rus Wooton, lettering.
In an Art Nouveau-inflected fantasy world full of alien Old Gods, Ancients, Arcanics, Cats, Foxes and plain old non-magical humans, Arcanic teenager Maika Halfwolf survives the terrible destruction of a city, enslavement, and experimentation during a war between humans and those they consider “demons,” like Maika. Maika discovers that she shares her body with an Old God and that the Old God is hungry, using her body to manifest and devour anyone to live. But the god shares a history with Maika and Maika can use his power to survive and to protect herself. In the latest volume she does as the conflict between human Federation and the Arcanic courts finally becomes a war. And Maika begins not necessarily embracing her power and body-sharing situation, but accepting it. While I am often all about character-driven stories, I want to note that Marjorie Liu’s plotting is exceptional, especially in a fantasy story that focuses so much on diplomacy and intrigue. They often get messy. And Sana Takeda’s art is excquisitely ornate, which isn’t always my thing but is perfect for a fantasy story that is, well, full of diplomacy and intrigue among courts. Takeda’s cats are fierce and adorable, too. Returning to Montress after a long hiatus of my own, I was happy to see some of my favorite characters, too, including Lord Corvin and Ren the Nekomancer.
Online Film Festivals
This year I was lucky enough to get press credentials to Nightstream, the Brooklyn Horror Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and Hong Kong Filmart. I saw some of my favorite movies this year: Alien on Stage (2020); Are You Lonesome Tonight (2021); Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020); Black Stain / La Mancha Negra (2020); Dug Dug (2021); Hellbenders (2021); I’m Your Man (2021); Nelly Rapp, Monster Agent (2020); Rose (2020); Saloum (2021); Silent Night (2021); To Kill The Beast / Matar a la Bestia (2021); What Josiah Saw (2021); Vengeance Is Mine All Others Pay Cash (2021); You Are Not My Mother (2021); and, Zalava (2021), for example. (If you are curious you can read about them at Soldier of Cinema, at Monstrous Industry, and here at the Gutter. I absolutely recommend attending online festivals if you can. Especially if you don’t go as press, it’s a great opportunity to see films you might never have another chance to see. A lot of films at festivals never see theatrical release and if they do, it’s likely to be a limited release in a few theaters in a few cities. Some might show up on streaming services like Netflix, Shudder or Amazon, but a good number never do and it has nothing to do with their quality. So yeah, see a few films online if you can. You might find something you love.
Reservation Dogs (Hulu, 2021)
Taika Waititi has a creative credit on Reservation Dogs and it mostly seems like him using that sweet Academy Award and Marvel Cinematic Universe director clout to help get more shows by Indigenous creators and about Indigenous people made. Showrunner Starlin Harjo and his writers’ room tell the story of four Indigenous teens, Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Pauline Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor), attempting to get out of Oklahoma and move to California. They pull small scale heists, like stealing a snack delivery truck, selling it to the local dealer in his junkyard and then selling bags of chips by the side of the road, to make money for their plan. But mostly they hang out, eat catfish, and try to live their lives in the face of bullies, drivers’ ed, and the death of Daniel (Dalton Cramer), Willie Jack’s cousin and a friend of all of them. Reservation Dogs is smart, funny, and it has a nice balance of drama and comedy that reminds me of shows like Justified and even Doom Patrol. It assumes primarily a Native American viewer, while welcoming me to along if I want to join in enjoying an episode involving the Deer Lady or a pixelated owl eyes, which I do.
We’re Here, season 2 (HBO Max, 2021)
alex wrote about We’re Here more in depth, but I wanted to include it in my list because it is a thing I liked this year. We’re Here is a reality tv show in which drag queens Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela Laquifa Wadley and Eureka O’Hara travel the USA putting on shows and helping out people who want to perform drag for various reasons. It’s heartwarming and the drag performances are generally wonderful whether technically or through their heart. I like that We’re Here goes places, not only to help people but also to show people outside that queer people exist everywhere and that queer communities exist everywhere. The help and education is going both ways. I would also like to single out this performance by Bob the Drag Queen as one of my favorite drag performances ever.
Most Wanted Santa (Tubi, 2021)
Finally, I am adding an 11th thing I liked this year, because I was going to talk about this Christmas romance movie with Emily Intravia as a “Stocking Stuffers,” The Feminine Critique podcast’s annual tradition of discussing the wonders and madness of the slew of Christmas-themed romance movies airing from November through Christmas every year. But there are been some difficulties with the Stocking Stuffers this year. So in case they remain on hiatus till next year, I’m going to write about it instead. Emily suggested I watch Tubi’s (!!!) Most Wanted Santa and the synopsis and the first few minutes had me. Santa is a Black catburglar planning heists to steal art from entities like Capital Finance Group at swank wealthy people parties! That’s right, Santa heists! Well, Christopher North (Donnell Turner) isn’t really Santa. He is a tech millionaire with a sense of justice. But still! And the only one on to him is Special Agent Harper Winslow (Denyce Lawton) from the FBI’s Art Crimes Unit. I assume she was previously attached to the FBI’s Fashion Unit because she is fancy as all get out. There are winter outfits. There is interesting cinematography. There is an evident affection and good humor about the genre. Best of all, Special Agent Winslow is not a terrible person who uses baking to hide her poor behavior as in so many mass-produced Christmas romance movies. No, she uses baking to befriend co-workers.
*Obviously, this is a joke. There is no cabal. Ha ha!
Carol Borden wishes everybody the best this holiday season and expects to be engaged in even more shenanigans next year!