The following post contains spoilers for season 2, episode 18 of The Flash, “Versus Zoom.”
My final year at Virginia Tech is coming to a close, so rather than face head-on the existential dread of becoming yet another graduate without a career in his field, I’m going to do what the past semester has kept me from doing: catch up on TV.
I started with The Flash, my favorite show and the best reason to sit and eat Oreos while people on screen exert themselves since The Biggest Loser. This particular episode caught some ire among fans, and I can see why now. Because dang.
“Versus Zoom” stays the usual Central City course for the most part, diverging a spell for what’s easily one of the series’ darkest moments in Zoom’s origin. It’s an appropriate bit of exposition, if a bit expected. And I can’t see why Barry wouldn’t be a bit excited to meet a Kryptonian, but that’s fine, I’ll just chalk it up to inter-network meddling.
No, what grinds my Grodd is the last 10 minutes, when all those fumes from the particle accelerator apparently began to have adverse effects on Barry and the crew. In order to get newfound brother and walking character tease Wally back, Zoom demands that Barry give him the Speed Force in his body.
And he does it.
There’s no contingency plan. No duplicate vial of Speed Force that will sabotage Zoom’s power. No trap to do anything other than ensure Zoom is the only player on the board. It’s infuriating, especially considering it comes minutes after Barry has Zoom in cuffs but lets him escape while Barry does his touchdown dance.
I get the frustration with the “deal with the devil” trope. It never pays off, unless you’re really good with a fiddle or you’re trying to impress the ladies with your holophonor skills. But this misstep is far more egregious, and it’s something that’s been plaguing The Flash’s sister show Arrow for its past two seasons.
The Flash completely forgot how to character.
There can be a pleasing frustration in seeing our favorite characters act like idiots. It’s how we get karaoke Caitlin or Red Kryptonite Kara on Supergirl. We see our characters be who they aren’t so we can more greatly establish who they are. The Flash, a show that lives and dies by its characters, went past that tipping point when it mattered most.
This is all the more frustrating when compared to Arrow, a series that began as The Flash’s springboard but has devolved into a warning sign for the Scarlett Speedster. As a fan since the pilot, I’ll always love Arrow, but its third and fourth seasons have suffered from this same issue.
“It’s not an episode of Arrow unless someone forgets their character development,” my friend and I send each other just about every week. The first two seasons found Oliver and company struggling with establishing themselves as a team and the threats that come with moonlighting as Robins Hood. Come season three, however, when characters only act how the story needs them to. Oliver is a loyal leader, until he isn’t. Diggle is the calm confidante, until he has to be angry. The only characters with any consistent voice are the ladies of the Arrow-cave, which makes season four all the more sinful for pushing them out of the spotlight.
The Flash doesn’t usually have these problems. Sure, Caitlin and Cisco are whatever kind of scientists they have to be, as long as it’s somewhat similar to their usual roles, but that’s fine.
If you need another example, let’s take a look at the source of many an inspiration: butts. The guys at Extra Credits broke down the recent Overwatch pose controversy with more class and thought than I ever could, and it’s from the point of an experienced animator. Take a look, it’s worth your time:
See, when a character’s actions don’t fall in line with what we’ve come to love or expect, it all feels unnatural. It feels gross. Not unlike a plucky superspy trying to recreate the “Anaconda” video.
The entire Flash team just stuck their butts out, and that’s gonna have to stop. Otherwise, it’s nothing better than the rear-end peep show called Arrow.
I’d like to say that 2015 was “The Year of Something-or-Other,” when in actuality the past year’s films were all across the board. We had plenty of franchises, sequels and reboots, some performing better (“Jurassic World”) than others (Hey there, “Jem and the Holograms”); let us not forget the several films with a 5, 6 or 7 attached to them. And yet, there were plenty of original ideas to supplement the rehashes.
As cynical as we’d like to be, for every “The Cobbler” there was a “Spotlight” nearby (or maybe that was just for Tom McCarthy). No matter what you enjoyed, 2015 had plenty to like. That in mind, here are my five favorite movies of 2015.
5. “The Martian”
Full disclosure, I thought this movie was going to bore me to death. The idea of “Man stranded on Mars makes potatoes out of poop for two-and-a-half hours” made me want to cry. I’m glad I was wrong.
Marketed as a serious survival drama, “The Martian” was pretty unexpectedly hilarious. Matt Damon brought the wit and charm we know and love, and he paired extremely well with the rest of the massive cast, all of whom were firing on every cylinder. Screenwriter Drew Goddard is quickly becoming one of my favorites, thanks in large part to his snarky, scientific, jargon-laced-but-never-confusing script.
This one’s for the pootatoes.
4. “Straight Outta Compton”
Before this movie, I had heard one, maybe two N.W.A. songs. They didn’t get a lot of radio play during my childhood – you know, in late 1990s rural Midwest. And yet, “Straight Outta Compton” captivated me as if I had grown up listening to the album. Musician biopic and summer blockbuster aren’t typically said in the same breath, but “Straight Outta Compton” took the country by storm almost as quickly as its subject, topping the box office in its first three weeks.
Director F. Gary Gray captured the drama and grit of the group’s rise to fame without relinquishing much of the soul and heartbreak. It’s a long film, but it’s one that keeps you engaged from the first few minutes with its smart script and its enthusiastic new talent.
3. “It Follows”
Horror movies seem to have had the same view of sex as Bush-era public schools or the movie “Mean Girls”: If you have sex, you will (get pregnant and) die. However, David Robert Mitchell’s excellent “It Follows” turns that trope on its head (named as such because “Ghost STD” didn’t test well).
From the opening scene, “It Follows” creates an atmosphere of dread like few films before it. It succeeds by showing us monsters both real and supernatural, while letting us decide which is worse. College girl Jay (Maika Monroe) takes part in what should have been a harmless sexual encounter, only to be knocked out by her date. In one of the most chilling, well-directed scenes of the year, Jay awakes for him to explain “The Rules.” There is this thing – could be a ghost, a creature, it’s never explained – and it is going to follow Jay. Only she can see it, and it will kill her once it catches up to her, just to move on to whomever passed it along to her.
With an almost complete aversion to cheap jump scares, “It Follows” relies heavily and efficiently on its creep factor, providing a tense, layered tale of losing one’s innocence. Coupled with a fantastic, synthesized score by Disasterpeace (also known for his work on the game “Fez”) that harkens back to horror of the 80s, “It Follows” has plenty to teach the genre about immersing its audience. Just don’t stop looking over your shoulder.
2. “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens”
It shares way too many beats with the original trilogy. There are more than a few problems with the script. It leaves so many questions unanswered in favor of a drawn-out chase scene with tentacle monsters. “The Force Awakens” is full of glaring errors, but that doesn’t stop it from being the most fun movie of the year.
I can’t remember another movie so simultaneously hyped while shrouded in secrecy, but that combination worked wonders for the experience. For the half hour sitting in the theater before that 10 p.m. showing on Dec. 17, I felt like a kid again. Once that John Williams theme boomed throughout the theater, I think I shed a tear or two. Star Wars was back.
This time, though, we had brand new characters, new worlds and a new adventure. There’s nothing quite as surreal as seeing your favorite childhood movies return in a new way, especially when they turn out well. “The Force Awakens” is pure cinematic joy – good thing I’m seeing it again tomorrow.
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Not having seen the original “Mad Max” films, I had no expectations going into “Fury Road.”
Then it proceeded to blow my damn mind.
George Miller’s post-apocalyptic Wasteland is twisted perfection, dropping the audience into a fully realized dystopia with dictators, disease, strife and righteous fury.
Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is, in my mind, still the best character put to film this year, if not the past few years. She’s strong but vulnerable, trusting but never over-reliant. Furiosa is a hugely progressive character, but the film’s effort in not focusing on these traits only helps her to seem more so.
Apart from “feminist action movie,” “Fury Road” has so much more to offer – it’s a film with real, challenging ideas. Its take on bio-capital and human usefulness encouraged me to write an entire research paper on the film, after all (which I will publish after further edits).
I can’t say enough about “Fury Road,” at least without rambling. Miller’s world is beautifully shot, scored, acted, written – it’s the full cohesive package. If there’s a more complete and challenging movie that came out in 2015, I’d love to see it.
Leave your favorite movies of 2015 below, and we’ll chat about how the artistic choice to have war boy corpses ragdoll around is actually a narrative choice to represent their role as human capital and abused ammunition. Sorry, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this movie.
If you appreciated the order and stability of the past two lists, boy are you in for a disappointment today.
I know I take every opportunity to complain about how I don’t have enough money to keep up with every single everything that comes out in a year, but games are something of a tricky case. I pick up one, maybe two new releases at launch per year, with most of my game buying starting at either Black Friday or around Christmas.
It’s also been an insanely busy year, meaning that I’m not finished with most of my games, some of which even made it onto the list below. Thorough and objective? Definitely not. But I have nothing to prove.
Lastly, know that there are plenty of games I haven’t even touched – most of this year’s major releases, actually. No “Metal Gear Solid V,” no “Fallout 4,” no “The Witcher 3.” Not even “Undertale!” But I see this as an opportunity! An opportunity for you all to read about some games you maybe haven’t thought about in a while, if at all. These are my (bold/italicized/underlined) top games of the past year.
If gamers love anything, after all, it’s challenging their ideas and being open to change.
5. “Batman: Arkham Knight” (Rocksteady Studios)
If you read my initial thoughts on “Arkham Knight,” it’s safe to assume this would be higher up on my list. I’ll admit, the game makes a great first impression. However, once the initial luster wears off, you find a game defined by its peaks and valleys – its subpar DLC- and Bat-Tank-ridden valleys (Who makes a Deathstroke boss fight involve stealth tanks? Really?).
But those peaks, though. Combat is better and more challenging than it’s ever been, and there’s nothing more satisfying than dropping into a crowd of goons only to beat them senseless and then soar off into the gorgeously rendered night (if you’re on console, at least). Getting from point A to point B in the Batmobile is a blast, and the new Dual Play feature is a great addition to the gameplay. Whoever designed that Professor Pyg side quest knew how to terrorize some players. Well done.
4. “Lara Croft Go” (Square Enix Montreal)
I know it isn’t the obvious pick for Tomb Raider game of 2015, but don’t let the mobile platform fool you: This is the puzzle game at its finest. “Lara Croft Go” is beautifully complex in its simplicity: you swipe up, down, left and right, but that leaves plenty of room for some of the hardest and most satisfying challenges to shine.
You’ll move the eponymous tomb raider throughout the cavernous labyrinth on what equates to a turn-based board game (it makes more sense in motion). You’ll evade giant spiders and spear snakes as you traverse the landscape looking for treasure. The game is broken up nicely into short checkpoints, so if you fail (you will fail), the next try is just a momentary respawn away. Always tough but never unfair, “Lara Croft Go” is the best way to ignore your loved ones sitting right next to you.
3. “Until Dawn” (Supermassive Games)
Full disclosure, I’ve only played the first three or so hours of “Until Dawn.” But man, what a rush those first three hours were. I’ve loved the past few Telltale games (“Tales from the Borderlands” is still on my to-do list), and the thought of pairing that game style with the horror genre felt like a perfect match. Like the Telltale games, this one is great when played in a group setting. “Until Dawn’s” focus on story and choice lends itself fantastically to spending a Friday night playing it with your friends, half of them yelling at the character to run and the other half screaming to stand and fight the horrors of the night.
I guess you could say “Until Dawn” is my favorite game I’ve barely played this year. But the game has left me craving more – I’d say that’s a very good sign.
2. “Rocket League” (Psyonix)
The revving of the engine. The audible “whoosh” of the boost. The satisfying “thunk” of the ball bouncing off your car. “Rocket League” is a total rush, and it’s exhilarating from the start.
If you’ve missed the biggest overnight hit in gaming of the past year, “Rocket League” is soccer, but with cars instead of players. You wall-drive, flip and boost your way around the field, working as a team to score goals. It’s so simple, yet oh so satisfying. Developer Psyonix has put an insane amount of polish into this little sport(?), and it’s enough effort for this one to stick around in everyone’s minds for a few years to come.
1. Hungry Cat Picross (Tuesday Quest)
Wait, what? This game didn’t even come out in 2015! Heck, I tried to look it up but I couldn’t find when this game was released. Then why is it my number one?!
No game defined my past year like “Hungry Cat Picross.” My friend Molly recommended it to me back in the summer, and my life hasn’t been the same since. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into this free little download. I play “Hungry Cat” on the bus, when I’m waiting in line – you better believe I play it on the toilet. When the weekly Tuesday Grids show up, I do nothing else for the first hour of my day.
“Hungry Cat Picross” does a wonderful job getting you acclimated to the puzzle’s rules, introducing gameplay elements on a small scale until you’re eventually conquering massive 30×45 grids. The game gives you hundreds of puzzles with new ones released periodically, all at no charge to you. Most of all, the game is just so, so, so fun.
It’s not a deep, detailed world like “The Witcher 3.” It doesn’t have the flashy explosions of “Just Cause 3.” It isn’t even an original idea. It’s just a simple concept crafted to perfection. With all the hours I put into this game, I can’t think of another title at the top of my list.
Please leave your hate mail below, and let me know what I need to catch up on. I just started “Destiny,” so if you want to find me there, I’ll be the green Ultron with a mohawk.
Peak TV? Yeah, whatever. It’s the time of peak comics. When I sat down yesterday for my look back on television in 2015, I immediately knew which shows I’d want to write about, which ones I could gush over in numerical order.
Now I’m stumped. There have been so many consistently great comics, both new and ongoing, that I’ve only been able to read a fraction of them. It doesn’t help that the publishers no longer “draw the line at $2.99.”
With the prices getting so high, I’ve had to drop a few of my usual reads to make room for new ones. Although I have been profiting off the comic addictions of my friends, so thanks, everybody.
That being said, here are my top five comics of the past year. Plus another honorable mention, because I’m an edgy rule-breaker.
Honorable Mention: “Saga” (Image)
Consistency deserves to be rewarded, especially in comics. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ “Saga” deserves special props for that exact reason. Now in its sixth volume, “Saga” continues to surprise and entertain month after month. It’s still funny, it’s still tense, and it continues to provide eye-widening pages you can’t look at in public month after month. Vaughan had a pretty alright year with the okay “We Stand on Guard” and the fantastic “Paper Girls,” but “Saga” is still not only his, but perhaps the, most imaginative book on stands.
5. Superman: American Alien
The Man of Steel has gone through some big changes the past couple years, with some working out better than others (I won’t stop complaining about the neck-snapping thing until Warner Bros. stops making me remember). But it’s always nice to see a new take on Clark Kent that isn’t apologizing for the character.
That’s exactly what we get with Max Landis’ “Superman: American Alien.” Structured as a seven-part miniseries capturing vignettes from Kal-El’s Kansas upbringing, “American Alien” so far has brought in artists Nick Dragotta (“East of West”) and Tommy Lee Edwards (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) to give their respective issues the appropriate tone. Issue 1 is a fun, heartwarming story on Clark’s first flight. Issue 2 is a gritty first foray into vigilantism for the young hero. Both are wildly different, but both are wonderful one-off reads. I can’t wait to see where the next chapters go.
4. “Archie” (Archie Comics)
When she wasn’t pencilling alien genitalia for “Saga,” Fiona Staples was lending her artistic hand to the excellent “Archie” reboot. Writer Mark Waid superbly bypassed the usual pitfalls of “let’s make this old character relative to the young teens,” instead giving us a grounded, humorous spin on Riverdale.
Enough can’t be said about Staples’ work this year. She put just as much detail into her three-issue run on “Archie” as any issue of “Saga,” but I’ve gushed about that before. The classic “Archie” stories collected at the end of each issue are a nice touch, too, to let us see how far the characters have come.
3. “Secret Wars” tie-ins (Marvel)
The main “Secret Wars” series has turned out to be something of a disappointment. After a great start and a strong premise, the crossover event has been spinning its wheels for four or so issues. That’s only made worse by the addition of a ninth issue – you know, for all the action-packed speeches that were happening – and loads of delays (because art takes time).
But the tie-ins, on the other hand, have made some great showings. Titles like “Thors,” “Old Man Logan” and “Civil War” took interesting or pre-established premises to new and intriguing places, like having Odinson solve a murder mystery. Honestly, “Thors” and “Old Man Logan” are two of my favorite books from this year, but I would’ve felt guilty taking up extra spaces on the list.
2. “Star Wars” (Marvel)
If the loss of the expanded universe and Dark Horse comics left a void in your heart, I’m sure Jason Aaron’s “Star Wars” can help. I’ve read and loved both this and its sister series, “Darth Vader,” but this one has a certain charm that puts it over the top for me.
Thanks to some astounding art from John Cassaday and then Stuart Immonen, Aaron gets the tone of the original movies and their characters absolutely perfect. The time is long gone for us to have more time with Luke, Leia and Han the way we remember them, but this series is just as much a time capsule as it is an adventure series. It was also incredibly smart to set the series between Episodes IV and V. Why couldn’t Luke have a blind fight with Boba Fett? No one said it didn’t happen.
1. “Ms. Marvel” (Marvel)
I can’t think of a series I’ve had more fun with in recent memory than “Ms. Marvel.” Comparing Kamala Khan to Peter Parker is an easy target (I mean, the alliteration’s right there), but she feels like so much more than “female teenager Pakistani Muslim Spider-Man.” Writer G. Willow Wilson gives every character such a strong and unique voice, especially Kamala, who’s just so gosh-darn delightful.
There have been several artists on this series the past few months, but they all amount to a cohesive look for the book, rather than confusing readers like so many other artist shake-ups tend to do. There’s a storybook quality to “Ms. Marvel’s” art that contributes to its sense of joy, making Jersey City feel like a great place to be (there’s a first time for everything). Special consideration goes out to the series’ willingness to embrace crossovers and tie-ins and make them organic to the main storyline. This is a fun, fun book, and I’m kicking myself for waiting on it so long.
Let me know what I missed, and comment below with your favorite comics of 2015. Let’s discuss!