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Hello internet! It’s been a wee bit since you’ve been blessed with the presence of Comic Book Media. 2018 was a taxing year for many people. Personally, I no longer maintain a presence on twitter (minus one brief occasion to show off my bitchin’ Halloween costume) which has drastically reduced readers to this site and, as a result, my interest in output. But thanks to the stellar showing of comic book movies and television in 2018, I felt that this yearly tradition couldn’t be left by the wayside. Joining me again is the incomparable Brian C. Baer as we dissect the best and worst of comic book media this year. Also, stay tuned for this year’s Golden Evans winner. Now, let’s dig in…

BEST MOVIE

Brian: Black Panther.
Was 2018’s Wakanda-hype what Burton’s Bat-mania must’ve felt like in 1989? Marvel’s overdue but pitch perfect live-action Black Panther film broke all sorts of barriers to become a true pop culture phenomenon. It expanded representation, introduced fans to great characters like Shuri and M’Baku, and showed just how fresh the MCU can be after a decade of superhero flicks.

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Colby: Avengers: Infinity War.
The first Avengers was a shot in the arm for comic book cinema. The second, a fun distraction. But the third? It’s a bona-fide cultural event. From the complicated villain to the story that never seems to miss a step even when juggling dozens of characters, this was an achievement on every conceivable level. The “snap” scene collectively shocked the entire world and created plenty of debate for the rest of the year. While it concluded poignantly, it also left plenty of reasons to get excited for 2019’s Endgame.

WORST MOVIE
Brian: Deadpool 2.
dp2.jpgThis past year was very good for comic book adaptations, which made this a difficult category for me. Personally, I felt Deadpool 2 misunderstood what makes the character fun and unique. While the first installment nailed the character notes and melodrama but focused on the goofy parody aspects, the sequel inverted that focus and suffered for it. There are enough superhero movies about a good guy grieving the death of a girlfriend after she’s killed by bad guys. There aren’t enough superhero movies like the first Deadpool.

Colby: Venom.
Despite a solid cast and a director with a decent track record in horror comedy, Venom came off as bland at best and a mess at worst. Painfully unoriginal in its storytelling and characterizations, it feels like a remnant of a time before comic book movies were popular. What may have worked in 2001 seems clichéd and boring in 2018. And that’s to say nothing of character decisions that come from nowhere and a first act that was wholly unneeded. Yes, the movie shows us Eddie losing his job and girlfriend and then 5 minutes later explains how Eddie lost his job and girlfriend. While a tighter focus and a better editor would’ve helped, that wouldn’t do anything to salvage its bland villain or boring climax. But more on that later.

BEST TV SHOW
Brian: Black Lightning.
While many superhero stories claim to be about “the spirit of a city”, that has never felt as true as it does in the CW’s Black Lightning. Freeland feels fleshed out and authentic in ways few on-screen locales do, and the same goes for the characters of Jefferson Pierce and his daughter Anissa. Extra points are given for tackling difficult racial topics without the benefit of a concealing metaphor, as used on Supergirl or The Gifted.

Colby: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
beeboLooking back at the first season, I wonder who could’ve predicted that this show would be as good as it’s gotten? The humor is tightly linked to the personalities of the characters that informs the stakes of their missions. As such, even the most ridiculous and hilarious situations still feel personal and grounded in the framework of the show. With a newly expanded cast (featuring Matt Ryan once again rocking the role of John Constantine) this is one of the few shows that feels fresh and fun every single episode even though it’s well into its fourth season.

WORST TV SHOW
Brian: Titans.
Titans CR: DCTitans revels in violence and ugliness to a suspicious degree. Every fight scene involves a gory image or two. Every set, no matter how otherwise pristine, requires at least one single filthy wall or door. In a year where Teen Titans Go! To the Movies charmed audiences with its cartoony, colorful cuteness, Titans seems to be lashing out from its insecurity with the association.

Colby: Cloak and Dagger.
I was all in with this show after finishing the pilot. I thought that it cleverly got the origin out of the way and the rest of the series would be about the two leads growing together and using their powers to fight the evil corporation that created them. But we never got to that point. It felt like the starting point was continually moved until the end of the season hit and the main characters still weren’t developed or comfortable in their powers. That would be fine if there was more complexity thrown in, but everyone was fairly one-note. Add to it that a character is literally “fridged” toward the end of the first season in what seemed like a horribly misplaced attempt at being shocking and I can’t think of a worse show that I watched this year. Granted, I stopped watching The Walking Dead and Gotham in 2018 so the competition was a bit more stiff.

BEST ACTOR
Brian: Rahul Kohli as Ravi in iZombie.
Mr. Kohli has been a highlight of the CW’s iZombie since the pilot episode. His comic timing is spot-on and his character’s occasional bits of soap-operatics are always pulled off nimbly, as well. But this past season, things were taken to another level. The episode “My Really Fair Lady” required him to portray a heroin addict, something the actor brought across with stunning intensity and sensitivity. While Rahul Kohli is a great comedic actor, I’d love to see him do more drama.

Colby: Sam Witwer as Agent Liberty on Supergirl.
libertySupergirl is a show that’s never been shy about getting political. This season pushes that to an extreme and the result is probably the most engaging its ever been as it grapples with present day issues like xenophobia, overt racism and the rise of the alt-right. With that comes Sam Witwer as an incredibly engaging and terrifying villain; Ben Lockwood. He shines brightest in “Man of Steel”, and episode that gives him an incredibly honest and relatable backstory. His slow descent into villainy mirrors so many of the real-life talking heads we see on the nightly news. Witwer is no stranger to comic book villains (he was Smallville‘s Doomsday) but this is the first he’s played that was so undeniably human.

WORST ACTOR
Brian: Aubrey Joseph as Cloak in Cloak and Dagger.
cloakA major weak spot in the otherwise decent Cloak and Dagger is the male lead, Aubrey Joseph, who plays Tyrone Johnson, AKA Cloak. While he has some nice chemistry with Olivia Holt and Noëlle Renée Bercy, he never seems to bring the quiet anger or despair in his character across. Nearly any opportunity for a standout performance is squandered.

Colby: Chris Pine as Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Alright, put down the pitchforks and torches. I really didn’t have any big issue with Chris Pine in the role. He did a great job, actually. However, I feel that he was pretty seriously miscast. The key to Spider-Verse‘s success is that it plays with expectations and public perception of the infamous wall-crawler. That’s mostly pointed out in the first act when the “real” Spider-Man gives a rundown of his various accomplishments which are actually just vignettes from previous Spider-movies. So while Chris Pine did a fine job, I just couldn’t stop thinking about how much more fitting it would’ve been had Tobey Maguire been cast.

BEST ACTRESS
Brian: Madison Wolfe as Barbara in I Kill Giants.
For about ten months, I was convinced nobody could beat out Danai Gurira for this top spot. That was when I sat down to watch I Kill Giants. Madison Wolfe’s role as a young woman in the midst of a mental breakdown was a stunning portrait of grief and false bravado. As moving and well-executed as it is, Wolfe’s performance is even more incredible when you realize she was about fifteen at the time of filming. I’m very excited to see what this young actress will do next.

Colby: Danai Gurira as Okoye in Black Panther and Infinity War.
okoyeOkoye could have easily been a generic sidekick or advisor character in the hands of a lesser creative team. However, like every single character in Black Panther, she turned into a well-rounded and incredibly interesting protagonist. Danai Gurira completely commits to the role and imbues the Dora Milaje leader with an amazing amount of depth and subtlety. She can say more with a grin or a scowl than most actors or actresses could with an entire monologue.

WORST ACTRESS
Brian: Shannon Purser as Ethel on Riverdale.
ethelFrom Stranger Things to Sierra Burgess is a Loser, Shannon Purser has carved out a niche for quiet, insecure characters with big hearts. Her inclusion as Ethel Muggs made her stand out on Riverdale amongst the “pretty white kids with problems” chicanery. That is, until this current season, when Riverdale’s quest to jump every shark imaginable turned Ethel into a starry-eyed, psychotic member of a Dungeons and Dragons cult. Besides being a generally odd creative choice, this character’s hard right turn no longer plays to Purser’s strengths. She deserves better. #JusticeForBarb

Colby: Amber Heard as Mera in Aquaman.
To say that she was better in the role than her inaugural turn in last year’s Justice League is probably the faintest praise that can be given. So yes, she was better. However, her one-note performance in Aquaman was still the worst acting in the movie and in a comic-based film this year. When we have so many multi-layered and nuanced performances from women in Black Panther, DC’s various television series and movies like I Kill Giants, posing in front of a green screen and reading your lines just doesn’t cut it anymore.

BEST TRAILER
Brian: Captain Marvel Trailer.
All hype for the upcoming Brie Larson movie aside, this is probably the best trailer Marvel Studios has put together yet. The intercut shots of Carol Danvers over the years rising back to her feet to try again, followed by the booming score and image of her in full Binary-power mode, makes this two-minute peek at Captain Marvel more impressive and inspiring than most full films.

Colby: Aquaman Sneak Peek.
manta.gifShortly before Aquaman‘s actual release, a 7-minute long trailer was released to show off the film’s action. The highlight was an uninterrupted look at the movie’s Sicily chase/fight scene. That was easily the best sequence in the film and this promotional piece showcased it without all of the needless and cumbersome exposition that surrounded it. Most importantly, it got me excited to see a movie that I hadn’t really cared about previously. While I didn’t have any huge issues with Aquaman, I’d much rather watch this piece than sit through the entire movie again.

WORST TRAILER
Brian: Venom Teaser.
venomEarly 2018 gave us our first glimpse of Venom. Not the symbiote, though. It didn’t show up. Instead, we were given a vague voice-over in Tom Hardy’s latest accent and various shots of the actor running or riding a motorcycle. The joke at the time was the teaser was cobbled together by some fan-editor from different Hardy movies and could act as a trailer for any movie starring the actor. I’m still not convinced this wasn’t the actual case.

Colby: X-Men: Dark Phoenix Trailer.
I didn’t hate this trailer, per se, but I was left very confused by it. Sure, the X-Men and a hint of the overall conflict were clearly displayed, but there are far too many other questions about it. First of all, what is the movie’s title? X-Men: Dark Phoenix? Just Dark Phoenix? Dark PhoeniX? I haven’t found a clear answer yet. Also, when is it even coming out? When this trailer first dropped, the release date listed had already been shifted (one of about four times it had changed). So I’d like to get hyped for this movie but when the end result seems like it’s never going to arrive, the trailer just seems frustrating instead.

BEST FIGHT
Brian: One-shot prison riot in Daredevil.
ddThe first season of Daredevil introduced the Marvel-Netflix trope of hallway fight scenes, and this year’s 10-minute sequence took things to a new level. What begins as a long, brutal slog of a fist fight through an infirmary turns into a prison-wide riot, with Matt Murdock staggering through cell blocks and punching his way through prisoners and armed guards, and even managing to get a crucial piece of information from an incarcerated crime boss. All this in one take! With no hidden cuts! It’s a brilliant cinematic achievement rivaling anything Alfonso Cuarón did in Children of Men, but let’s face it, it’s still no Vasily struggling for a pistol in Death of Stalin.

Colby: Vasily attempting to procure a weapon in The Death of Stalin.
While a critical darling, I don’t know that The Death of Stalin got much notice from audiences this year. And I think of those who saw it, few even realized it was based on a comic. The film is a darkly funny look at the power vacuum that was born in Soviet Russia in the wake of its leader’s death. This tone is best demonstrated with a brief scene of Vasily (Stalin’s son as played by Rupert Friend) attempting to wrestle a pistol from a guard to protest his father’s autopsy. The scene is short, uncomfortable and absolutely hysterical. There were some amazing and beautiful fight scenes in films this year but the sight of two visibly exhausted men haphazardly wrestling while a room full of diplomats attempt to ignore them has stuck with me in a way that no other fight in any movie has.

WORST FIGHT
Brian: Venom Vs. Riot in Venom.
At the tail end of Venom’s rushed second half, the two symbiotes battle in a swirling, goopy CGI blob. The sequence brought to mind the incomprehensible battle scenes of Michael Bay’s Transformers films or, Crom help us, whatever exactly happened at the end of Ang Lee’s Hulk.

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Colby: The final battle in Venom.
Really, just about any fight in this movie could qualify. There’s never any sense of danger or adventure in any of them. Generic bad guys hassle Eddie, the symbiote kills them, repeat. The final battle, however, focuses on bland action but with the added element of messy camerawork and overdone CGI. A gray blob slapping against a black blob while a camera swirls around it is not the best way to conclude a story, especially when everything that came before it is so rote and unexciting.

And that was 2018 in comic book media. 2019 seems to have a pretty solid lineup as well. With Avengers: Endgame wrapping up the current status quo in the MCU and all sorts of new and returning television series, it looks like next year will be just as difficult to come up with what’s the best and worst of the year.

That brings us to the annual Golden Evans award winner. This year had some heavy competition for new and returning creative forces in all forms. However, toward the end of the year the choice became incredibly clear. The winner of the 2018 Award for Excellence in Comic Book Media is…

Stan Lee.

stan
Aside from the huge amount of work he put into creating characters and selling the Marvel brand over the last 60 years, Mr. Lee was unmatched in the world of adaptations. Characters such as Spider-Man and the X-Men were among the first in this golden age of comic book movies and he reveled in their expanded popularity. While Stan has been a household name for decades, he became a cultural phenomenon with his cameos in Marvel movies. He popped up in numerous Marvel movies starting with 1989’s Trial of the Incredible Hulk all the way up to his death and beyond (he filmed a few appearances for upcoming films prior to his death in November). 2018 contained two of Mr. Lee’s most notable cameos. The first was a humorous aside in Teen Titans Go! To The Movies as a movie-lot janitor in what is his only appearance in a DC film. He then showed up in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to deliver some sage advice about heroics to the new Spider-Man. Stan Lee left an undeniable stamp on the world that transcended both comics and movies but where the two mediums met is when he seemed to have the most fun. Goodbye Stan and thanks for everything.

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