Monday, December 31, 2012

2012’s Best Stuff

Ladies and gentlemen and Phantomaniacs around the world! It is time once again for the Phanties! The non-existent awards that I hand out via blog post at the end of every year since 200… something. Probably “9”.
2012 was a great year. I don’t even really have anything snarky to say. Lots of good entertainment, lots of good toys, lots of good times. Probably one of my favorite years so far. This is the year I became the co-host of a podcast, I was on panels at TimeGate and Dragon*Con, I became the ring announcer for Monstrosity Championship Wrestling, and I hosted my own podcast for the first time. As I write this I am just a couple of days away from possibly even recording and producing my own podcast about Masters of the Universe. By the time you read this we’ll all know if that happened or not (it did).
            On top of all that I have the best wife in the world and a son who literally makes every single day better and more worth living. He was given the part of the angel, Gabriel in his preschool Christmas play. He said he had wanted to be the donkey. Too bad, son – this greatness will be thrust upon you your whole life. Get used to it. You’re gonna be a Big Deal.
Alright, time to take a look at how much awesome we got this year and what was the best of the best.

Best Movie – Avengers
It was this or Cabin in the Woods. Well played, Joss Whedon. I saw this movie three times in the theater and I haven’t seen a movie three times in the theater since… I don’t know when. I couldn’t wait to see it, I couldn’t wait to bring other people to see it, I couldn’t wait to talk about it. Every single second of this movie is just a bunch of awesome. Yeah, when you see it with a four-year-old you realize just how much talking there is, but Avengers is still nearly a perfect movie.
And no – Dark Knight Rises wasn’t even a close second. Or third probably. There are parts of that movie I absolutely love, but there are an equal number of parts that I hate with a passion.
Check out my reviews for both:

Best Ongoing Comic Book –
Wolverine & the X-Men
Jason Aaron has pulled quite a trick with this book. It’s one I almost wasn’t going to buy when it started because I am not a huge fan of (artist). Well, let me amend that – I only like his style on certain kinds of books. He’s awesome on Spider-Man or Power Pack or stuff that has a certain humor and can be a little silly. I’m okay with a certain amount of cartoonish-ness in that kind of book. But I’ve never liked it when he was on the X-books. I can’t take dark and angsty when the characters look like Looney Toons.
But then I bought Wolverine & the X-Men and found out it was one of those types of books. While it was addressing a lot of the same serious issues the X-Men always had, it had humor and a heart and was a lot more fun than any X-Men book I’ve ever read. So it became a “top of my stack” book every month.
And then Nick Bradshaw started trading with (artist) and they got me.
I’ve been following Bradshaw’s work since he was on Army of Darkness. I’ll be the first to admit that I hated his style for those books at first. But eventually his amazing attention to detail, fantastic characterization, and gorgeous backgrounds won me over. Seriously – I have spent longer looking at one page of Bradshaw’s work than I have with other whole comics.
Also, they just introduced Frankenstein’s Monster as a new villain who uses a circus to suck people’s souls out so he can remain alive long enough to murder every last descendent of Doctor Frankenstein.
Yeah.
Oh, and the image above is the cover for the second-runner-up for Best Single Issue.
Best Story Arc in A Comic Book –
Something to Fear” – The Walking Dead
I don’t want to go too in-depth for those that may not have read these comics, but Robert Kirkman did the impossible and delivered on the expectations built up around the hundredth issue of The Walking Dead. The issues leading up to it told a fantastic story that felt fresh and new despite building on themes Kirkman has been exploring for almost a decade now.
Best Single Issue Comic Book –
Saga #1
This is possibly the best first issue of a comic book that I have ever read. I was hooked immediately. There was no sense of, “We’ll see how this goes,” or “I don’t quite understand it, but okay,”. It was instantly engrossing and just fucking magical. Saga is the comic that kept me reading comics when I was looking at ways to cut spending a few months ago. I knew I couldn’t stop reading Saga, and I knew if I had to go to the comic shop I couldn’t stop reading comics.
Best TV Series – Parks and Recreation
I watched all seventy-seven episodes of this show in about two weeks. It is amazing. The character growth and development is fantastic, the way that the multiple story arcs interweave with the overarching narrative over the course of a season is engrossing, and the cast is just wonderful. Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones are both tremendous comedians who are nice to look at. And Aubrey Plaza has some of the most subtle and interesting timing on TV. And is too young for me to say anything else about. Chris Pratt and Aziz Ansari play characters that I would have no tolerance for in real life but whom I have come to care about thanks to the actors’ characterizations. Adam Scott and Rob Lowe were both great additions and Jim O’Heir and Retta have taken background roles and made them indispensible to the tone of the show.
And then there’s Ron Fucking Swanson. Nick Offerman’s character was dangerously close to being an easily dismissed liberal caricature of a Libertarian, but has been fleshed out and shown to have a good heart and strong character underneath his iron will and bulldozing practicality. If I didn’t have such a genuine admiration for Leslie Knope he would be my favorite character on the show.
Parks and Recreation is clever and hilarious, but most importantly it is good-natured. There is very little cynicism or mean-spiritedness on the show. While good intentions and hard work often lead to mishap, they almost always win out in the end. There is a bright, shining positivity to this show that makes it stand out among the dark, jaded landscape that is modern television.
Best New TV Series – Arrow
Elementary was so, so close to winning this one. While I think Johnny Lee Miller may be my favorite Sherlock Homes, and I love the interaction between him and Lucy Liu’s Watson; the show isn’t quite fantastic enough for me to truly love. Something that firmly entrenched in the real world – no matter how implausible portions of it may be – will never be a favorite of mine.
Arrow, on the other hand, is plenty wacky enough.
I can’t honestly say that there is any one portion of the show that is great. The dude playing Oliver is okay, Dinah Laurel Lance is nice to look at, the action is very solid, Diggle is a different and refreshing character. And of course you’ve got Captain Jack as Tommy Merlin’s dad and the absolutely perfectly cast young lady that’s playing Huntress. Not to mention Lincoln Lee as Count Vertigo and Crixus as Deathstroke. These things all come together to make something very appealing, but the real magic is that the show runners are respecting the world of comics. Not necessarily the world of Green Arrow – I can’t speak to that. I’ve only ever read The Longbow Hunters and probably not more than ten other comics starring Oliver Queen. I know him better from Justice League Unlimited, Young Justice, and Batman: Brave and the Bold than anything else. So I may miss some little details like Speedy not being Ollie’s little sister (just kidding – that’s a pretty glaring change), but I know comics and I know this show isn’t simultaneously lifting from them and disparaging them the way some others do.
I think it was stated from the beginning that Arrow’s creators wanted to capture Nolan’s big-screen Batman magic on the small screen and I think they have succeeded. As a matter of fact, they may have done one better. The world of Arrow already feels slightly more fantastic and accommodating to comic book elements. The show has not gone out of its way to eliminate the possibility of the likes of Mr. Freeze or even Poison Ivy, but it has also established a more serious tone that comforts viewers with the soft words, “No, my dear fans – we aren’t Smallville…” and thank goodness for that.
Still, Ollie needs to just go ahead and wear a mask. That facepaint is silly.
Best “Reality” TV Series – Toy Hunter
I was all ready to hate on this Jordan dude when I first caught wind of his show. I figured he was just out to cash in on the collectibles craze (which, granted, has hit a fairly severe lull in the last decade) and wouldn’t know his shit. Not like I do, anyway. And while he does get stumped on the weirdest things from time to time (how do you not know a Bumblejumper when you see one?), the guy has legit toy cred. I bow to his knowledge, and that is not something I do lightly or easily. Being a toy expert is a point of pride with me and there are honestly not a lot of people out there that I would consider superior to myself. Plenty of equals, probably, but not a lot of betters.
Also, the guy is just sweet. Seeing him protect sellers from their own ignorance is always great (insisting somebody take more money for an item or offering to broker it for them) and he truly is a great made-for-TV host. I’ve become totally addicted to the show and a genuine admirer of Jordan Hembrough.
Best Wrestler – CM Punk
I guess maybe some might disagree, but I didn’t hesitate or think for a second on this one. I don’t see how there can be any doubt that CM Punk is truly the best in the world right now. He is the best on the mic, he does not have matches that are less than great, he has held the WWE Championship since (whenever), and in 2012 he was the recipient of one of the amazing biography/retrospective/best-of DVDs that WWE does so well when they sit down and try. Punk’s DVD set ranks right up there with Dusty’s, Flair’s, and HHH’s and those are some of the best DVDs (wrestling or otherwise) I own.
Punk is one of the masters. He has already cemented himself as one of WWE’s Chosen Elite in his short time with the company.
Biggest “Holy Shit!” Moment in Wrestling – Austin Aries defeated Robert Roode for the TNA Heavyweight Title
(That picture may not actually be from that night, but you get the idea)
 I didn’t believe for a second this was going to happen. Mat “Sex” Sells and his lovely wife Jen hosted Wrestling With Pop Culture’s Jonathan Williams’ birthday party at their home and it was a viewing of TNA’s Destination X pay-per-view. I had been ignoring TNA for over at year back then, but had tuned in when Impact went live at the beginning of the summer. There was still a lot of garbage I could have done without, but overall the show seemed streamlined and featured some great matches.
Destination X was a great pay-per-view overall, but the Main Event was outstanding. I have been a fan of Austin Aries’ work for a long time now and was impressed just with the fact that he was even in a title match. As for Robert Roode, I was fine with him when he was in Team Canada as Bobby Roode, but I had never bought into the guy as a convincing singles competitor, let alone as the top Champion. But from that first Impact I tuned back into Roode had been carrying himself like the top guy. He looked and acted like a Main Eventer and I bought into it. Going into the PPV I knew Aries didn’t have a chance, but I was very interested in the match. When Aries actually defeated Roode – cleanly, no less – I was ecstatic.
Best “Holy Shit!” Moment in Wrestling –
Demigod” Mason defeated Shane Marx to unite the Empire and PCW Titles
I did the same thing here last year, where I had a “Biggest” holy shit moment for televised wrestling and a “Best” holy shit moment for wrestling in general. The “Best” moment is technically better than the “Biggest” moment.
This was a Big Moment. I thought for sure that the Empire was going to gain permanent control of Platinum Championship Wrestling. The odds were in Empire Champion Shane Marx’s favor. Mason didn’t seem to have a chance in hell, regardless of his talent and determination. But after an amazing match that saw Mason receive the most gruesome wound I have ever seen at a live wrestling event, the Demigod emerged victorious and unified the PCW and Empire Championships. It was an outstanding match and a truly historic moment.

 
Best Album –
Dayglo Necros – Calabrese
Calabrese just keep cranking out exceptional albums. Every single one is a must-have and Dayglo Necros is no different. From the opening riffs of"The Dead Don't Rise" to the final 13th track "Sea of Dirt", this whole album is one big singalong. 

Best DVD/Blu-Ray –
CM Punk: Best in the World
This slot was taken by the Prometheus Blu-Ray until I finally sat down and watched this Punk bio disc. It’s excellent. It covers every aspect of his career from the backyard days to Ring of Honor to WWE (no mention of TNA, though). Punk isn’t shy about discussing his disdain for WWE management and his difficulties adjusting to a career there. The bio portion – as is usually the case with these releases – is fantastic, but the included matches are also great. There are also interviews with Ace Steel, Colt Cabana, Joey Mercury, and many other people from Punk’s life and career. This is the first Blu-Ray I’ve actually sat down and watched every single minute of in a long time.
Also, it’s really funny to see how fat Punk was when he came out of OVW. “Skinny fat ass”, indeed.
Best Show to Watch With Kids –
Adventure Time With Finn & Jake
For the second year in a row Adventure Time wins. The show just keeps getting better and deeper. I never imagined we would get an ongoing narrative involving world-building and character development from this silly show, but that’s exactly what is going on. It’s one of the most complex shows on television. Honestly – a smarter person than me could probably make a convincing argument that Adventure Time is richer and more cerebral than Fringe, resulting in what is ultimately a more fulfilling episodic experience. Plus, it has fart jokes.

Best Toy Line –
Reel Toys by NECA
I don’t want to call it a comeback because NECA has been steadily cranking toys out for years now. But 2012 is the year they snuck in with new licenses, new figures, and new techniques to snatch a whole lot of money out of my wallet. Their ever-expanding Reel Toys line has produced some of the most remarkable figures I have seen in my thrity-plus years of toy collecting. Not only are the sculpts spot-on and full of detail, the methods of articulation get more complex and effective with every release. The company’s proficiency with toys has grown to the point where I am anticipating new innovations even more than the character itself. Sure, I’m excited about the new ALIENS figures, but I’m even more excited to see how NECA has made them awesome.
Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line gets an honorable mention, but the amount of effort they’re putting into things varies a good bit. The Turtles themselves are fantastic, but the paint and articulation on the rest of the line is questionable. I was very disappointed that the new van doesn’t even have an actual interior – no seats or anything. I also just realized I never reviewed it. I need to correct that.
Best Online Store – BigBadToyStore.com
BigBad take it again this year, mostly due to their Pile Of Loot system. You can preorder and order products, then wait until everything arrives and have it all shipped at once to save on shipping. Also, BBTS seems to have come down just a hair on their prices. All in all I have an excellent experience every time I buy from these guys and they make collecting what might otherwise be expensive and difficult-to-find toys easy.
Best Website – TheSWCA.com
I only just recently found this site and it is amazing. Not necessarily something you’re going to visit frequently after your first stop, but it is loaded with awesome pictures and information on the original Kenner Star Wars line. There are shots of prototypes, mock-ups, Kenner’s Toy Fair booth from the time, and much more. It’s a fascinating and interesting look at the greatest toy line of all time.
Best Live Event –
Platinum Championship Wrestling
Sacred Ground Chapter III
This is the single best live wrestling event I have ever seen. Every single performer on the card gave everything they had to make this the biggest night of the year. I was a wreck all weekend from having to work days and then go to the show in Porterdale on Saturday night, but it was worth it. I want a DVD of this event in its entirety so bad. Until then, we’re all just going to have to live with my recap.
 Hey… I just remembered – I never got my shirt! Dammit!
Best Individual Toy –
Imaginext Eagle Talon Castle by Mattel
I have to do something I don’t normally do here and give the award to something that I didn’t even review. I don’t do reviews for Lil’ Troublemaker’s toys because, quite frankly, I just don’t have the time. Plenty of his toys are more fun to play with and more innovative than mine – most of them, actually – but I just can’t photograph and review every toy that comes into the house.
But this thing is fucking amazing. It might be one of the best toys I have seen in my life, let alone in 2012.
First of all, it’s huge. Once this thing is folded out you have enough castle to house a small army of Imaginext figures. And it’s three stories at its highest level, so it definitely looms over the rest of your toy collection. There’s a jail, a drawbridge, a treasure chest, a secret place to hide the treasure chest, ladders that can be used inside or propped on the outside for the invading army, doors that open and close, switches that activate castle defenses, and tons more. The front castle defense consists of two panels that flip up to protect the walls, talons that rotate to lock the drawbridge, and an eagle head turret that flips down and can shoot Imaginext’s trademark discs at the enemy.
Speaking of discs, the castle comes with six to shoot from the eagle turret. It also includes four more discs that shoot out of two included catapults, two knights, a king, various pieces of armor and weaponry, a cannon, and two different colors of pennants that plug onto the walls to denote which army is occupying the castle.
Then there are the electronics. The torches on the front light up and flicker and there are a ton of different phrases that emanate from within when you use a switch. But that’s nothing. This castle is also interactive with many toys and accessories from the Imaginext line. The included cannon (meant for use with the invading army) triggers cries of, “Incoming canon fire!”. But the castle also responds to proximal use of a catapult, a battering ram, a dragon, and an ogre. And by “proximal” I mean within five feet or so. So a good distance. The extremely stereotypical Scottish-accented voice will yell things like, “Look out for the ogre!”, “Incoming boulders!”, “Don’t let the dragon bite you!”, and such. You get the idea. Each separate toy prompts three or four random phrases.
Santa dropped one of these magnificent items off for Lil’ Troublemaker and we spent the whole day playing with it. It generally retails for about fifty bucks and it is worth every penny. I still don’t understand how toy manufacturers can claim there is no market or retail interest in playsets when wonderful things like this are being made.
Best Podcast – WTF
Obviously anything from the Earth Station One Network is the best podcast ever, but it would be a conflict of interests for me to award my own podcast. So instead I’ll mention the podcast that got me listening to podcasts and also gave me a desire to do my own podcast (not that I ever will).
I’ve been hearing about Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast for a long time now.
Hottest Chick of 2012 (Aside from Mrs. Troublemaker, of course)–
AJ Lee
This little nutjob was one of the most entertaining characters on WWE TV all year. I often tell people that I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to RAW or Smackdown unless CM Punk or Daniel Bryan is on the screen, but I realized a few weeks ago that AJ got my attention as well. She was involved in most of the pivotal angles of 2012 and was entertaining and competent in every single instance. She’s a great actress, a physical athlete, and quite nice to look at. Nine times out of ten Divas come off as fake and ridiculous when they’re acting to the camera, but AJ sold everything. Regardless of how ridiculous or unbelievable the situations she had to portray might have been, she made them work. Even the GM situation – which by all rights should have been a disaster – worked perfectly. AJ is an outstanding sports entertainer and I hope WWE does everything they can to not only hang onto her but to continue to challenge her and use her properly.
Best T-Shirt – The Tick DKR parody
Good job, Tee Fury contributor whose name I can’t remember.
Best Action Figure –
Masters of the Universe Classics
Fisto
Fisto was the most perfect figure that came out in 2012. He came with every accessory you could possibly want out of a Fisto and represented the vintage and 2012 aspects of the character. Read more here if you like. Fisto is great.
Best Restaurant – Ted’s Montana Grill
I don’t know how the general public feels about Ted Turner’s chain of Bison-oriented restaurants, but I love them. We only ate there twice during the year, but it was great both times – food and service-wise.
Best Dragon*Con Costume –
B.A.T.
Once again I was tempted to give it to a lady for all the wrong reasons. And I do have to give an honorable mention to Moira the Ghost Maid since that's the costume I most wanted to see:
But in all fairness I have to go with the guy who was dressed as one of my favorite action figures of all time, COBRA's Battle Android Trooper:
That guy looked fantastic. There was also a Jungle B.A.T. That looked great:
But I have to say I just like the original a little more. Personal taste.
Best Moment of the Year –
Joey Belladonna Knows Me
Hey, man – you’re the blogger guy, right?”
That’s what Joey Belladonna said to me when we met Anthrax back in February. Since then I’ve been offered (and taken) a co-host spot on a podcast, offered (and taken) a job as ring announcer for a wrestling promotion, and just generally had a whole lot of people express appreciation for the things I do in one way or another. It’s been an amazing year for me. But man – Joey Belladonna. That was crazy.
-Phantom

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