Monday, January 1, 2018

Phantom Troublemaker’s Best of 2017


I’m not gonna lie – I had a pretty darn good 2017. I started a little down and bummed out; somewhat directionless, but I made some decisions and some changes and the year just seemed to get better as it went on.

While I don’t want to rely too heavily on pop culture diversions, as variable as they are, I do think there was a ton of fun stuff to enjoy.

Every selection on this list is about my own personal tastes. I am not an objective party – it’s all about what I think is great and the varied criteria I use to judge greatness across pop culture. If there’s something missing from the list that you think is great and deserves acknowledgement, I either didn’t see it, know about it, read it, watch it, or like it. Comment here or on the Needless Things Podcast Facebook Group page and let us know what you liked most in 2017!

Best Television Show

Nominees – The Good Place, Better Call Saul, Stranger Things, Master of None, Rick & Morty

Winner – Stranger Things

2017 was a strong year for television. I started this category with about twelve nominees before whittling it down to the five I allow myself. It was tough to cut favorites like Game of Thrones and Gotham – or the “G-Whizzes” as I call them (I don’t really), but those five above were the shows that I binged or made a point of watching ASAP, depending on how they’re distributed.

The second season of Stranger Things landed with me in a way that the first season didn’t. It took a second viewing of the debut season before I really loved it. Granted, the second season was probably helped by being more familiar with the characters and the world, and with the recency of that second time through, but I still got on board faster than I expected and rewatched it immediately.

Best New Television Show

Nominees – The Punisher, Legion, G.L.O.W., The Orville

Winner – G.L.O.W.

I couldn’t even hit my five nominee max on this one, but the shows that made it were damned good. A big part of me wanted to choose The Orville, but as much as I’m enjoying that show it didn’t hit me as powerfully as G.L.O.W.

Featuring a skillful mix of humor and drama carried out by an incredible cast, this dramatically enhanced history of the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling television show hooked me from the start. On the surface it wasn’t really something that I would necessarily be interested in – my love of pro wrestling notwithstanding – but every element of G.L.O.W. was executed to perfection.

Also, it didn’t hurt that Marc Maron was on board giving the performance of a lifetime as Sam Sylvia, the shady but lovable director behind the show.

Best Animated Series (All Ages)

Nominees – Star Wars: Rebels, Teen Titans Go!, Voltron: Legendary Defender, Star vs. The Forces of Evil

Winner – Star Wars: Rebels

Rebels is actually one of the best shows on television, period. I just wanted to keep this category to give some other shows a shot.

As much as I loved parts of Clone Wars, it had its ups and downs. Rebels, on the other hand, is presenting a much tighter and more cohesive overall narrative. These characters – and their actions and stories – are now just as much a part of the Star Wars I love as any live action player. Remember – Clone Wars had the benefit of being about figures we already knew. Rebels has had to build relationships from scratch. And it has done so with a staggering amount of success and emotional connection.

Best Movie

Nominees – IT, The Shape of Water, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Logan

Winner – Logan

First I have to point out that there are a number of movies that I haven’t had the opportunity to see yet that I think could have made this list – The Disaster Artist and I, Tonya are among them.

Second I have to say that there are two movies I did see that I enjoyed to varying degrees – one quite a bit more than the other – that I think enjoyed more acclaim than they were due. I’ll leave it to you, gentle readers, to suss out which movies were omitted.

I haven’t watched The Shape of Water and IT multiple times because they haven’t been released on Blu-ray yet. In the long run, The Last Jedi could well end up as my favorite from this list, but my relationship with it thus far has been tumultuous. I enjoyed the others without reservation, but Logan is the one that stands out the most. It delivered everything I wanted and then some. The emotions were powerful, the performances were mesmerizing, and it looks incredible.

Yes, I'm still pissed about the Reavers being "un-comic-book-ized", but in the big picture it's a small complaint against such a great film.

Best Ongoing Comic Book

Nominees - Saga, The Walking Dead, Batman, Detective Comics, Black Hammer

Winner - Batman

Tom King has won me over so hard.

I love every story he’s told and his depiction of Bruce Wayne as Batman is a wonderful departure from what we see so much of. He’s still a tortured soul driven by a vow, but he likes doing what he’s doing. It’s not quite Brave and the Bold Batman – nor should it be – but it’s a nice, happy(ish) medium.

If you had told me a couple of years ago that DC Comics was going to have Batman and Catwoman get married, I probably would have thrown a nerd fit. But King has told the story and expressed the characters remarkably well and I am 100% on board.

Every time Batman comes out, it goes to the top of the stack, no matter how far behind I am on other books (and I am way behind on some).

I hate to use a stock photo instead of my own, but I've been busy you guys.

Best Action Figure

Nominees – One:12 Collective Shazam, Ash vs Evil Dead Ultimate Ash, Child’s Play Ultimate Chucky, Suicide Squad Harley Quinn (Bandai), Marvel Legends Thor: Ragnarok Hela

Winner – One:12 Collective Shazam

Before I get to the winner, I have to explain how one of Hasbro’s Marvel Legends made the nominees list.

While I’ve made my peace with Hasbro’s line and honestly feel they’ve made some improvements to quality and selection in 2017, very little they put out excites me beyond the level of, “Cool! I’ve got a figure of ­­­__________!”. But their movie Hela from the Ragnarok wave gave me everything I wanted from a figure of that character. The sculpt was tremendous and we got both heads. It felt to me like an “above and beyond” release.

Shazam, meanwhile, is the one 2017 action figure release that brings me joy every time I look at it. From the magnificent head sculpts (the smiling one is the best Mezco has released) to the accessories and incredible costume, this figure is one of the best ever, let alone just to come out in 2017.

I’ve told you guys plenty of times that while the One:12 figures are expensive, I feel like I get my money’s worth, but this one seems like an absolute steal.

Best Toy Line

Nominees – DC Icons, One:12 Collective, Reel Toys, Batman Animated

Winner – One:12 Collective from Mezco

Sure, very few of Mezco’s One:12 figures come out “on time”. But with only one exception, when they do hit the market they are the very best action figures available.

Superior articulation and sculpt, fabric clothes that defy conventional toy wisdom, and scads of functional accessories make these the action figures of my dreams. Whether Mezco is creating a movie likeness or one of the trademark amalgams that the line is known for, the execution is unbelievable.

The $70+ price tags on these figures probably makes them seem prohibitive, but there’s no other toy I buy that earns my money as well. I hate that I’m addicted, but I am. Not in a completist way, but definitely in a “I love that character and have to have a One:12 version” way. Or even a “I don’t necessarily love that character, but that figure looks badass” way.

NOTE: The one exception is Reverse Flash. I got four different samples that all had the same warped belt defect. I finally gave up. At that price, I’m not keeping a substandard product.

Best Individual Toy

Nominees – Ultimate Justice League Batmobile, DC Animated Batcave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi A-Wing, Madballs Buzz Off

Winner – Ultimate Justice League Batmobile

Mattel’s Ultimate Batmobile is nothing short of spectacular.

In the same way that Mezco’s One:12 Collective brings the action figures I’ve always dreamed of, this is the Batmobile I’ve imagined since I was a little kid. Maybe not design-wise (I’d prefer the 1989 version), but it certainly exceeds my wildest dreams in the functionality department.

It’s a remote control vehicle with lights, sounds, smoke(!), moving weapons, and a functional cockpit that’s compatible with twelfth scale action figures (though it’s listed as 1:10 scale, which is weird). It’s controlled by a downloadable app that works amazingly well and allows you to see at car-level using a 720p camera located in the cockpit. As you drive and use the features, effects will appear onscreen beside the various guns.

Depending upon where and when you bought this Batmobile it’s varying levels of “Really Expensive”, but it delivers on every promise. I have to say, if the Ecto-1 that Mattel was planning a few years ago was going to be this good I was wrong to scoff at the announced price.

Best Toy Company

Nominees – Mezco, NECA, Hasbro, Bandai, Mattel

Winner – Hasbro

If NECA’s customer service wasn’t laughable, they probably would have won this one. But when their toys break – and they sometimes do – I’ve had zero luck ever getting a response. The broken hand on my quarter scale Leonardo is the reason he wasn’t a nominee for Best Action Figure.

You could easily – and possibly rightly – assume that Hasbro’s customer service is no better, but I don’t know because I went all of 2017 without having any of their products break.

Hasbro is juggling a lot of toy lines right now. Too many, if you ask me. Their Marvel offerings seem as strong as ever, but at the same time we simply don’t get enough waves of anything to have good representation. Star Wars, on the other hand, suffers from that problem and often seems to receive a mediocre mix in the first place.

Sure, I was excited by the newest Force Friday launch, but it was under the assumption that we’d see a stronger second wave before the end of the year. Instead, we got the poncho collection. And as much as it has sort of settled out to be disappointing, I can’t deny that their The Last Jedi line was very exciting at first and that me and Phantom, Jr. have had a lot of fun with it. I just hope we get at least one more wave with some new and interesting characters before product for Solo starts showing up.

That being said, I still feel like Hasbro is doing the best they can given the current market and what seem to be confusing trends among collectors and kids. The quality of their products seem to be improving and the vanilla feel of the last couple of years of Marvel Legends seems to be mostly gone. I don’t think 2017 gave us more than one of those awful figures that was literally just a new head.

I realize this seems like faint praise for “Best Toy Company of 2017”, but it’s a tough  market with way too many IPs to deal with. Hasbro isn’t amazing, but they’re getting better and hanging on to my fandom.

Plus, Hasbro released the amazing set of toys pictured above as an SDCC Exclusive. Crappy version of Roadblock aside, it's a set I could have only dreamed of when I was a kid. It's not perfect and I don't love all of the represented brands like I do GI Joe, but just seeing all of them together in one box was tremendous. And as far as I can tell it was one of the easiest to obtain SDCC/online Exclusives Hasbro has released. Even I was able to get one, and I rarely score that kind of stuff.

Best Place to Buy Toys

Nominees – Target, Toys R Us,, Local Comic Shop,

Winner –

With their new $4 flat rate shipping and the immaculate care they take with their products, there simply is nobody better than BigBad. Sometimes their prices are a bit high, but chances are you’re going to get your toy long before most retail does and it’s going to be in perfect condition.

Their customer service has been prompt and on point the few times I’ve contacted them and that’s whether it’s a shipping question or simply an inquiry as to a product’s eventual availability.

BigBad isn’t always the best option for me and I do still love brick and mortar when it’s feasible, but I’m always happy to place an order with these folks.

Best Pro Wrestler

Nominees – Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, AJ Styles, Alexa Bliss, Roman Reigns

Winner – Chris Jericho

Yeah, I know these guys are all in WWE. It would take a whole post to explain why that’s all I watch, but that’s how it is.

At 46 years old Chris Jericho might have had one of the most memorable years of his career. The Festival of Friendship had the potential to tank just as badly as the This is Your Life segment with Bayley and Miss Bliss, but thanks to months of careful storytelling and character development and the involvement of two of the best in the business in front of the camera (and one of the brightest behind it in Jimmy Jacobs), it was a highlight of 2017.
On top of that, Jericho performed at a high level throughout the year when participating in actual in-ring action.

"Day One Is H"

Best Pro Wrestling Tag Team

Nominees – Sheamus & Cesaro, The Usos, New Day, Benjable, The Hardy Boyz

Winner – The Usos

I have always been a fan of the Usos, even back in their neon, face paint, whitemeat babyface days. I appreciated their skills as crowd/little kid pleasers and even at their most basic felt that they had skills on skills yet to be displayed. Sure enough, a heel turn flipped everything about the brothers and we got the absolute best heel tag team in recent memory (all due repsect to the seemingly snakebitten Revival).

Jimmy and Jey have always been at the very least solid in the ring, but more often than not they were very good to great. Now, the kings of the Uso Penitentiary have been involved in more than a couple of Tag Team Match of the Year candidates.

On top of that, they own the mic. When they walk through the curtain, all ears are on them. Their unique promo style developed on the unfortunately canceled Talking Smack (canceling that show is one of the dumbest things the WWE has ever done), but has been shined to a perfect heat-getting polish on SmackDown Live!. The Usos are beyond a shadow of a doubt two of the MVPs responsible for that show being far more entertaining and watchable than RAW.

Best Bits N’ Pieces

This is a list of stuff that I want to acknowledge but that doesn’t fit any specific criteria.

There’s Nothing There – By Patrick Kindlon and Maria Llovet, this supernatural comic from Black Mask was compelling, weird, and different. The art was remarkable and the storytelling broke all kinds of boundaries. I think a trade is coming out soon and if you’re any kind of horror fan you should grab it.

The Toys That Made Us – I’ve been up to my neck since before this hit Netflix, but I finally got a chance to watch some and it’s far better than I expected. If you don’t know, it’s a documentary series about various toy lines from the past. The premiere Star Wars episode didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, but was still compelling thanks to solid interviews and an entertaining format. That one was followed by Barbie, which was bonkers, and then Masters of the Universe in episode 3, which is as far as I’ve gotten.

Waxwork Records – I hate these people. I had finally managed to quit collecting vinyl when they released the Evil Dead 2 score. Then, a succession of must-have records sucked me back in.

In all seriousness, this is an outstanding company making high-quality, super-cool products. I love following their Instagram account and seeing what’s coming next. And for what they offer, their prices are very fair.

Remington Shortcut Pro Self-Haircut Kit – I cut my own hair because I can’t deal with a hairstyle that requires any kind of maintenance and I won’t pay someone to do it for me (unless I’m in Walt Disney World). This thing is a MIRACLE. It’s light and easy to use and I get about five cuts out of a charge. If you’re a man that takes care of his own hair business, click that link and get one for yourself!

Mattel – The Ultimate Batmobile mentioned above blew me away, but Mattel had an awesome 2017 overall. I feel like they’ve really stepped up the quality and character selection on the still-new DC Multiverse line, though distribution issues remain. Heck, even their slightly underwhelming Wonder Woman movie line was actually very good.

I’m also a huge fan of what they’ve done with their lower-price-point kids line. My son and I love their Justice League toys. They do very cool repaints and still offer what counts as a decent selection of characters for a modern toy line.

If I’m being honest, we’ve had almost as much fun with the Talking Heroes and the Knight Crawler as we have the Ultimate Batmobile.

Mister Miracle – Written by the same guy that is doing such a bang-up job on Batman and illustrated by the incredible Mitch Gerads. I don’t totally understand what’s going on, but this miniseries is compelling as heck. It goes to the top of the stack every month.

Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time – This was more bittersweet, because there were things that I loved that reminded me of how much I love Doctor Who, and things that made me grind my teeth in annoyance, as I have been for the last few years of the franchise. But I am excited for a new era and a new Doctor, and am looking forward to 2019 or whenever new episodes start airing.

Side Note: I will always be sad that neither Matt Smith nor Peter Capaldi had the opportunity to work with a showrunner other than Moffat. I did enjoy most of Smith’s run, but as much as I love Capaldi as the Doctor, I found most of his stories to be just awful and near-unwatchable.

For me personally 2017 was a triumph. I can look back and see far more good than bad. Although it does give me a heavy heart to see so much hatred and anger in our country. We’re letting them win, and I don’t see a solution because people have allowed such a vast and artificial gulf to come between them.

Let’s get it right. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first.
Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never ever eat pears! Remember – hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise.
Always try, to be nice and never fail to be kind.

-The Doctor

(Though I do love pears. Maybe he said “pairs”…)

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