Greeting and salutations! I am comic book creator Ian Sharman and this is The Ragamuffin Speaks! The wonderful people here at Fandom Wanderers offered this column a new home after the sad demise of Comics Crux, so I’d like to say a big hello to any new readers and a hearty welcome back to those of you who have followed me over from there. Now, for a while I’d been planning a big “Best of 2013” article for my Christmas column, and while it might seem odd to start off this new incarnation of The Ragamuffin Speaks with a column like this it’ll at least bring you all up to speed with what I’m into and my particular fandoms. Well, some of them, at least…
So, without further ado, I give you The Ragamuffin Speaks’ Best of 2013!
Top Three TV Episodes of 2013
No 3: Agents of SHIELD Episode One – Pilot
The Marvel Cinematic Universe made the big leap to the small screen this year with the launch of Agents of SHIELD, the first TV show to be set in the shared universe that Marvel Studios have been developing since the release of the first Iron Man movie. It’s easy to forget now, after what has been an incredibly patchy and lacklustre first half of a season, just how good the first episode was. A snappy script, great effects and a guest appearance by Cobie Smulders saw this show set out its stall in bold fashion. It sent out a signal that this wasn’t going to be just another genre show, but was going to be something different and special. Sadly, episodes since then have struggled to live up to that promise but more recently the cast has begun to gel and the show is starting to display signs that it might just realise the potential that was so evident in the pilot.
No 2: Almost Human Episode One – Pilot
In many ways Almost Human is incredibly formulaic, a buddy cop, police procedural show, it ran the risk of something we’d all seen before. However, JJ Abrams has mixed in a heavy dose of Phillip K Dick, Issac Asimov and a dash of Robocop, to bring us the sci-fi show we’d all been jonesing for since Battlestar Galactica went off the air. Not that it’s anything like Battlestar Galactica, but if you’re a sci-fi fan who was looking for a weekly dose of quality sci-fi, you really haven’t been well served since Starbuck and company left our screens. Almost Human also sets itself apart by having a witty, intelligent script and two exceptionally good actors playing the lead. Karl Urban finally gets to show us what we all knew he was capable of as the gruff Detective John Kennex and Michael Ealy is a revelation as the android with human emotions, Dorian. Unlike SHIELD, however, Almost Human has continued to be consistently good, with episode four “The Bends” particularly standing out as it gives recurring character Rudy Lom, played by Mackenzie Crook, a chance to take the spotlight. Add in a smattering of strong female characters in the supporting cast and this show looks set to become a classic.
No 1: Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special: The Day of the Doctor
This year saw the 50th Anniversary of, arguably, my favourite TV show – Doctor Who. I’ve already written at great length about The Day of the Doctor, and the amazing minisode that preceded it, The Night of the Doctor, on my blog. What’s the best way to summarize my thoughts on the episode? It was perfect. I’ve read criticisms and complaints about the episode online since it aired, all I can say is that those people were wrong. The Night of The Doctor gave me everything I wanted from the 50th Anniversary celebration in eight short minutes, The Day of The Doctor, over eighty five minutes, gave me everything I hadn’t realised that I both wanted and needed from the 50th Anniversary. In one carefully crafted swoop Steven Moffat skillfully redefined Doctor Who for a new era in which it no longer needs to find an audience in a world largely unfamiliar with who and what The Doctor is. I can’t begin to scratch the surface of just why The Day of The Doctor was, quite simply, the best Doctor Who story in the show’s history, so I won’t even try. Maybe that’s something I can cover in a future column…
Top Three Movies of 2013
No 3: Thor: The Dark World
The first Thor film was the surprising hit of Marvel’s phase one movies; that the second Thor film not only managed to live up to the first, but actually surpassed it, is simply amazing. After all, the first film had Kenneth Branagh’s not inconsiderable directing skills behind it, whereas The Dark World had Alan Taylor at the helm, who until now had done little directing work outside of TV. Yet this second Thor movie succeeds in every area, right down to Chris Hemsworth’s much improved wig. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, as ever, steals much of the limelight, and one of my few complaints is that this leaves the story’s actual villain, Malekeith, as played by former Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, very little to do. Which is a shame, because we know how good Eccleston can be when given the opportunity. Personally, I’m rooting for a Loki free Thor 3, although I suspect that Marvel will see a Hiddleston free outing for their Norse god as a big risk, considering his popularity with the fans.
No 2: Man of Steel
I’ve already written a whole column on this movie; I’d link you to it but sadly the archives of this column during its time at Comics Crux were lost when that site left us. Many people disliked this film, mainly because (spoilers!) Superman kills General Zod…you know, just like he’s done several times in the comics…most notably in that series by John Byrne…what was that called again? Oh yes, Man of Steel. It would seem that this movie’s cardinal sin was to not be like the Superman that people have in their heads, and to instead be more like the Superman in those pesky comics that it was adapted from. “Doesn’t Zack Snyder know that Superman never kills?” people raged. Except that’s Batman…and nobody seemed to mind Batman slaughtering countless bad guys in the Tim Burton Batman films. But Superman, a character who does, actually, kill people when it’s necessary, kills someone when it’s necessary in the movie, and the fans lose their minds. People are odd. This movie was the first Superman movie to make me actually understand why anyone would be interested in Superman beyond the age of eight. Also, my nine year old adored it, and so did my sixty nine year old dad.
No 1: Frozen
Things you wouldn’t know from watching the trailer to Disney’s Frozen: 1) It’s a musical, with wonderful songs and amazing music, that god awful song playing in the background of the trailer making the movie seem like a jaunty comedy doesn’t feature in the film at all. 2) It’s a film about the relationship between two sisters, and not, as the trailer presents it, a film about a guy who sells ice for a living, his comedy reindeer and an unfunny snowman. 3) It’s not a comedy, while there are some very amusing moments, the film will make you cry more than it will make you laugh, and the opening ten minutes or so of the film are almost completely and unremittingly sad. 4) The snowman, Olaf, is actually funny and sweet and not the single most annoying thing on the planet.
The trailer makes this film look awful, the film itself was, far and away, the single finest movie of the year. The music is outstanding, the characters and plot are deeply moving, and the snowman is actually wonderful and not annoying at all. If you’ve avoided this movie because of the trailer, because of rants on the internet about Anna and Elsa looking too much like Rapunzel (they don’t look like her when you actually watch the film…) or for any other reason…just…just go see this film. It’s amazing…and you will never be able to hear the words, “Do you wanna build a snowman?” again without tearing up.
Top Three Comics of 2013
No 3: Guardians of the Galaxy
Somehow Brian Michael Bendis managed to take one of Marvel’s most obscure books, about a team of space faring adventurers that boasted a talking raccoon and a living tree amongst their numbers, and turn it into a book that outsells the likes of New Avengers and Wolverine and the X-Men. Of course, much of the credit should go to the amazing artists who’ve contributed to the series so far, such as Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli. If you like science fiction and you like comics then you really should be reading this book.
No 2: All New X-Men
Yes, it’s another Bendis book, I like Bendis, so sue me. I’ve always been a huge X-Men fan, but it had been obvious for a while that the franchise needed a big shot in the arm. Who knew that what it needed was for the original five X-Men to be brought forward to the present day and then study under the tutelage of Professor Kitty Pryde? Apparently Bendis did. And he was completely right. Jason Aaron’s excellent Wolverine and the X-Men had previously set the bar for what the X-books could be in the second decade of the twenty first century, showing that you could maintain the spirit of what made Claremont’s run essential reading while still taking the concept forward in a fresh and modern way. The addition of Bendis’ Uncanny X-Men and All New X-Men took that further, creating, with Aaron’s book, the strongest line of X-Men books we’ve ever seen. Why have I particularly singled All New X-Men out amongst the other X-Men titles? It’s that jaw droppingly gorgeous Stuart Immonen art. That man is simply the finest artist working in comics today.
No 1: Hawkeye
What more do I have to say than that this was the comic that gave us an entire issue told purely from the perspective of a dog. And it worked. This is the comic to give people when they tell you that mainstream super hero comics are boring and formulaic. This is the antithesis to the stereotypical 90s comic book. This book proves that super hero comics still have something new, something relevant and something valid to say in 2013. If you’re not reading Hawkeye then you’re just wrong.
Top Three Songs of 2013
No 3: The Fox – Ylvis
I know that music may seem like an odd category to include in this, especially as this column’s new home focuses specifically on fandoms, but, hey, music has fans…and, besides, not commenting on the soundtrack to the year would just seem odd. This was the year that everyone else became as obsessed with Norway as I am, and the world discovered the genius of Ylvis. Some of us were already more than aware of this due to their homage to the mystery of Stonehenge, but it was their deep, emotional and moving pondering of the vocal qualities of the fox that hit a universal nerve this year. Norway looked on bemused and Ylvis returned to what they do best, writing songs in honour of Norwegian politician and human rights campaigner, Jan Egeland.
No 2: Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus
So this is what I wrote about this video when I first saw it – “So, yeah, just watched this…actually found it rather powerful…amazing song, amazing voice, and in the video she seems to be using her body and her sexuality like the titular “wrecking ball” in such a way as to smack you in the face with it and, well, unsettle the viewer. It doesn’t seem to be designed to titillate, it doesn’t feel exploitative, it feels like a young woman who has been packaged and sold as a product since she was a child taking control of her own body. Haven’t really seen any other commentary on it beyond the “OMG! My childhood is ruined”…which I find disturbing, as if child stars are supposed to preserve their innocence eternally for your benefit.” On top of that, I want to say that it is a damn powerful song, and that Miley has a simply incredible and, at times, haunting voice. I’m by no means a fan of hers, but both this song and the video make a powerful statement. If this video makes you feel uncomfortable, then good, that’s clearly what it’s designed to do.
No 1: Let It Go – Idina Menzel from the movie Frozen
My number one song of the year is from my number one movie of the year. This song isn’t a sad song, yet I find the power and emotion of it (accentuated by its context within the movie) always leaves me in tears. This song strikes at the heart of why I love Frozen so much…Elsa is not a villain, she remains a completely relateable and sympathetic character throughout the film and we are just as happy to see her find freedom and release as she is. This song is, quite simply, wonderful. And so is the Demi Lovato version…
And thus ends my first Ragamuffin Speaks for Fandom Wanderers. Don’t worry, they won’t all be this long, and usually I’ll be sticking to one subject (and there’ll generally be significantly less Miley Cyrus), but hopefully this will have served as an introduction to who I am and some of the fandoms that I’m part of and feel passionately about. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Fabulous New Year!
Ian D Sharman
Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Fandom Wanderers.