Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Daddy's Geek Top 10 of 2014 (Part 1)

To wind down 2014, I wanted to present a "Top 10" list of some of my favorite geek things from the year. Lists like this are always difficult to cull down to only 10 things, and of course the definition of "geek" varies widely, depending on the audience. I've always maintained that "geek" is simply another way of saying "passionate," so it's possible, therefore, to be a "wine geek", "beer geek" or even "sports geek" (I definitely qualify for the first two). However, for the purposes of this list, I'm going to stick to the more conventional terminology and cover science-fiction, fantasy and horror-themed comics, TV shows, movies, and games.

My list is in no particular order but rather just grouped by topic. I'm going to cover five today and return back later for five more.

Games
My actual gaming was a bit lighter this year than I would have liked, mainly due to work and child obligations, but also partly because my co-gamers have many of the same work and/or child-care related issues. I did get in some sessions of my long-running 3E/3.5/Pathfinder "World of Samoth" game (which I'm sadly behind on recapping here on the blog) as well as some fun Labyrinth Lord games using the old AD&D Module S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (and which again, I'm behind on recapping here on the blog).

In terms of new games, the one for me that takes a spot on the Top 10 list is D&D 5th Edition. I don't have either the Monster Manual or the Dungeon Masters Guide yet, and I'm only about halfway through reading the Players Handbook. More importantly, I haven't even had a chance to actually play the game yet. However, many of the rules I've seen thus far seem to fit into my current gaming mood. The system really seems to be built to essentially "get out of the way" while still providing enough rules so that the game doesn't just become DM fiat. I particularly like the concept of Advantage/Disadvantage so much more than systems from earlier versions of the game that used a variety of bonuses or penalties depending on the circumstance that became almost impossible to track. I also like the lower power-scaling versus something like Pathfinder. Time will tell, for me, how much I actually incorporate 5th Edition rules into future campaigns, but I do foresee that my net campaign might be a hack of 5th Edition with some of the fun story elements from 13th Age thrown in. Ultimately D&D 5th Edition made my list because, despite some of my complaints about WotC in the past, it really does seem as though they tried to create a game that appealed to a broad spectrum of player types and did so without watering things down so much that it became useless. I've seen blog posts by both die-hard OSR types and new 4th Edition gamers that both seem to enjoy the system, and that says a lot. I'd love to hear comments below from people who have actually played the system and get their thoughts, though.

TV Shows
Quite a few new shows debuted in 2014, including three DC Comics related properties. While I actually enjoy Constantine, it looks like it's going to be canceled soon. And Gotham seems to be the darling of the critics, but for me it's just not the show I was looking for. I'm still slogging through it (I've got the last three episodes on my DVR and people keep telling me "it gets better" so I'm holding out hope). But the show that I've really enjoyed has been Flash on CW.

I really never though I'd ever watch another show on CW after Buffy and Angel wrapped their series. I never watched Smallville and I even held out on watching Arrow until it was announced that they were creating a spin-off from that show featuring my all-time favorite superhero, the Flash. This past summer, I binge-watched the first two seasons of Arrow on a combination of Netflix and Amazon and discovered that it was way better than it has any right to be, especially considering the network it airs on. I really just can't stand most shows on the CW. They all feature dark, brooding super good looking youngsters with perfect skin. You never see any characters on their show that are representative of the way people are in real life. And they're all way too young. That's probably my biggest complaint about Flash - the actor they cast does a great job, but he's way too young to play Barry Allen the police forensic scientist. From reading the comics, I always got the impression that Barry was older, like in his early 30s. The CW Barry Allen looks like he's about 22 years old. It's very distracting for me. The same goes for the two young S.T.A.R. Lab scientists, Caitlin and Cisco. For the type of work they are doing, it just seems like they should be older.

But let's talk about the things I do like. The main things are how Flash takes stories out of the comics rather than relying on Hollywood script doctors to mess things up, and also the incredible amount of DC Universe building that's happening in the show. Right off the bat in the very first episode, we are introduced to the "yellow streak" whom we come to learn is the Reverse Flash, which is a story and origin out of the comics. They've also introduced Firestorm, S.T.A.R. Labs, and at least three other characters who haven't yet developed super powers, but almost certainly will over the course of the series. The series creators have also embraced one of the Flash's most interesting concepts which is Barry's ability to travel through time. The ending scene of every episode features Dr. Wells (a new character created for the show, but a really interesting and intriguing addition to the Flash mythos) sneaking into his secret lab and viewing media (e.g., digital newspapers) from the future to see how the headlines are changing based on current events. There's just so much happening in the series and it's done in a manner that is reflective of the character. These storylines wouldn't work with the more street-level heroism of Arrow but work perfectly with the super-speed powers of Flash.

Comics
I'll state right off the bat that I'm not currently reading Marvel, so don't take this as a slam against the House of Ideas. I just had to cut way back on my monthly comic purchases (I was at one point collecting over 60 titles a month and that was just too much for me). Here are three comics I really enjoyed in 2014.

Justice League, post-Forever Evil. From Fall 2013 through Spring 2014 DC did another one of their big cross-over events called Forever Evil that was... just okay. There were some interesting elements to it, but it lasted too long and had way too much set-up for the ultimate point to the story. Despite of that, one of the most interesting things that came out of the event was that, through a series of circumstances, Lex Luthor is now working alongside the Justice League as one of the "good guys," even though the JL don't really want him. Toward the end of Forever Evil, most of the heroes had been transported off-world to a parallel universe, leaving super villains like Lex Luthor and Flash's Rogues as the only hope to save our world. Lex, of course, has very mercenary reasons for doing so, but acting as a hero is good for his image. By teaming up with the Justice League, Lex gets good publicity and a chance to redeem his name in the press, and the Justice League themselves are able to keep an eye on Lex - the whole "keep your enemies closer" mentality. The story opportunities this has created, though, are so much fun to read, especially the interactions between Batman and Lex Luthor (being the only two non-powered members of the League as well as, in their civilian identities, being two of the wealthiest people on the planet). The monthly Justice League comic was floundering a bit before this new arc, but for the past six months or so it's been really great and one of the first comics I want to read on the week it comes out.

Multiversity. This is a comic series I've been wanting to read for years. It's by one of comics most interesting, and polarizing, writers - Grant Morrison. I happen to love Grant's work. He can be a little self-indulgent at times and can try a little too hard to incorporate so many different elements into his stories, particularly when he relies on mysticism and other things that he believes in. But, Grant's knowledge of comic history is nothing short of amazing, and he has an uncanny ability to weave in past elements of characters that other writers have forgotten about and make them relevant and, above all, fun to read. When I first heard the concept of "Batman: Incorporated" I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard of. Then I ended up reading the first Pre-New 52 trade collection and the 13-issue arc that he wrote for the New 52, and I had a new found respect for Morrison.

Multiversity is Morrison's most ambitious DC work to date and it's been absolutely fantastic month-in and month-out. The series involves telling stories of other DC worlds, many of which haven't been seen since pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths (which came out in 1985) and most of which, in theory, don't really "exist" any longer in the New 52 continuity. So far we've been given stories on Earth-23 featuring the President of the United States who in this world bears a strong resemblance to Barrack Obama and who also happens to be Superman and who teams up with Captain Carrot and the Thunderer. Other stories involve a pulp-era Justice Society of America on Earth-20 fighting against villains from Earth-40; the "legacy" offspring of heroes on Earth-16; the Charlton Comics characters of Earth-4 (whom you may know are the inspiration for Alan Moore's Watchmen characters); and most recently, a fabulous story on Earth-5, which is the original Fawcett Comics earth populated by the Captain Marvel family. All of the stories are interconnected in a meta-story way by virtue of a comic book that all of the characters in the story are reading about each other. It's a very clever concept that draws upon the very first cross-world DC story which featured the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, who was inspired to become the Flash by reading a comic book about the original Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, only to eventually meet Jay in person and discover that all of the Golden Age heroes from our comic book stories actually were alive on their own parallel world. If you're a fan of DC's characters, you should definitely check out Multiversity.

The Fade Out. This is a wonderfully illustrated and written comic by Ed Brubaker (author of the "Captain America: Winter Soldier" comic on which the movie was based) and Sean Phillips (a long-time Brubaker partner, particularly on the Eisner-nominated Fatale). It's a period-piece noir murder mystery in post-war 1948 Hollywood, and the research that has gone into the story is top-notch. It's got references to the Communist scare of the era, a blonde bombshell, a dead actress, and plenty of "set decorations" of famous Hollywood clubs and bars along with visits to other Los Angeles area sites like Pasadena (a personal favorite of mine). If you liked the movie L.A. Confidential and enjoy noir-crime fiction, you'll really love this comic.

That's it for now - I'll post my second half of my Geek Top 10 of 2014 in a few days. But I'd like to hear from you - what are your favorite "geek" things from 2014? Post them in the comments below, or you can always tweet me, leave a Facebook post, or comments on G+. Links to all options are off to the right.

Until then, have I wish you a safe, happy, and healthy 2015. Cheers!


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "There's Frost on the Moon" by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra

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