Well, the end of 2022 is upon us, so I thought it’d be neat to go back and write a few thoughts about some of the media I consumed this year. It’s the first year I’ve actively kept a diary, and if said shoddily-kept diary is any indication, it’ll probably be the last. But let’s not dwell on that; on to the micro-reviews!
Raid of No Return (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #7), by Nathan Hale. Doomed spy Nathan Hale returns in this edutainment comic by Nathan Hale. I’m not sure if the titular Hazardous Tales are the author’s or his namesake’s, but you probably won’t care when you read about the US counterattack on Japan after the Pearl Harbor strike. I love this series for its balance of lighthearted humor and thoughtful portrayals. Each book also has way more research than you’d think necessary for a kids’ book about a condemned man who delays his own execution Scheherazade-style by telling future histories he’s seen through time. Yeah.
A Short History of the World, by Christopher Lascelles. A more straightforward approach to history, this book starts back from as far as we can tell—the Big Bang—and works its way forward through time. This is a relief compared to the regionalized accounts of history I received in public school, and really puts things into context. It’s inspired me to read The Penguin History of the World, and inspiring the will to learn is something good books do.
The World According to Color: A Cultural History, by James Fox. OK, I haven’t actually finished this book yet. But like the previously mentioned A Short History of the World, it’s a well-researched and fascinating history of how cultures have interpreted—or completely ignored—the spectrum of ROY G. BIV that we’re familiar with today. With exhaustive citations, it’s a gateway to an entire aspect of history that gets overlooked even in standard art school education. Definitely worth a shot.
Punk Rock Jesus, by Sean Murphy. In an alternate world rocked by climate disasters, a media company inspires hope (and profits) by cloning Jesus of Nazareth. This backfires roughly 15 years later, when the teenaged clone disavows his lineage. While the premise is intriguing, the book is ultimately a character study about J2’s bodyguard Thomas, who seeks to atone for the murders he committed as an IRA member. The story and plot are a little uneven, as it really isn’t clear who the main character is until about halfway through the book, though you probably won’t have that problem because I just told you about it. I mostly like this book for the black and white artwork, which strikes a nice balance between tight rendering and painterly expression.
Films, Games, & Television
The Batman (2022), directed by Matt Reeves. I’m not a fan of three-hour movies, but this one was surprisingly tolerable. Good action, detective work, and some off-kilter humor as well. The only thing is that omitting the final story arc probably would have benefited the film. Still, something I don’t regret watching.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019). This adventure video game follows a lone Jedi as he navigates an Imperial-ruled galaxy. For the most part, this game offers a solid experience: challenging but forgiving gameplay, diverse environments, some cool storytelling devices and technology, and commonsense subversion of some established Star Wars lore. Story-wise, it’s a fun ride that doesn’t quite stick the landing, but the game as a whole is still a 9.5/10.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022). What if Fallen Order was a TV show, and instead of being good, it sucked? That’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. This show is heartbreakingly stupid. The performances are phoned-in. Choreography is bad. Old, established lore is ignored—hell, even the lore that the show introduces itself is ignored. The direction is nonsensical and confusing. The writing is exceptionally poor: tension is “built” through fake-outs, having characters contradict something they said or did (often mere seconds after the fact), and outright lying to the audience. One particularly egregious sequence hinges on hoping the audience doesn’t understand how tunnels work. A phenomenally bad show that I desperately wanted to like.
Bullet Train (2022), directed by David Leitch. A mostly-fun and refreshingly unserious action film. Good for people whose minds go off on tangents in the middle of discussions. Based on a novel by Japanese author Kotaro Isaka, the film apparently was accused of whitewashing its case of originally-Japanese characters. Complaints point to the success of Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, both of which rely heavily on Asian cultures, as proof that Asian actors can lead profitable films. (“Profitable” not meaning the same as “entertaining,” as I could at least stomach Shang-Chi, while I turned off Crazy Rich Asians about a third of the way through.) While it’s true that there’s no reason for the characters to be White (or Black or Hispanic, for that matter) there’s also extremely little about this film that is distinctively Japanese, other than the location and the use of bullet trains. Author Isaka has himself claimed that the characters are “ethnically malleable,” so I don’t really understand the criticism. Hey, I went off on a tangent! No wonder I like this film!
Floor is Lava. This is probably my favorite “stupid” show. Teams of three race each other in an obstacle course set in a room flooded with “lava.” It’s primal fun watching people trying to accomplish an apparently simple task, even as third-season contestants remark that “it’s a lot harder than it looks on TV.” This show is aware of how silly it is, which deserves more respect than some other shows I reviewed this year.
ARK: Survival Evolved (2017). Try to escape an island full of prehistoric creatures. That’s the simplest I can put the premise of this survival game. There aren’t many games where you can go from shivering in the dark naked for an entire night to piloting a 100-foot tall flying mech to attack a herd (flock?) of T-Rex, but it’s possible here. The one problem is that the grind is pretty punishing. Even with mods making the game easier, it’s still a lot of work to build your empire. Thankfully, it still manages to be fun.
Well, there it is. See you in the new year!