By Jerry Chandler
I think we can all agree that to a very large degree 2016 S-U-C-K-E-D. 2016 seemed to be the year that a lot of people had a rough time of it on a personal level, and we all shared a series of what felt like crushing cultural losses in the form of Ali, Bowie, Prince, Wilder, Rickman, Vigoda, Fisher, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and so many others. Then there were… the other things that happened.
But, you know, there were actually some really cool things that happened this year as well. If you’ve been following Needless Things closely this week, you should have already seen the picks for the best that 2016 had to offer by the rest of the crew, and now you get mine. So here, for your consideration, are the things that I picked as my best of 2016 that will go their bit to keep the year from being remembered in the history books as a year that totally and unequivocally sucked. Oh, and for the benefit of people who have still yet to see some of the big deal movies and shows of 2016, I will be working spoiler free.
Since so much of the Needless Things daily posts are devoted to toys, I think I’ll kick this off by going in that direction.
The Best Toy Line of 2016
LEGO has always been one of the more fun toy lines out there with sets created around everything from Everytown USA types of sets to medieval knights and monsters to the far future in outer space. In the last two decades, LEGO started venturing into and mastering the occasionally tricky art of licensed merchandise. They’ve had a few misfires over the years based on either a licensed property not doing well (the Prince of Persia film) or not taking full advantage of what they had (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) with the sets they released, but 2016 has seen maybe their best year yet.
Some longtime licensed lines like Star Wars were looking better than ever. The DC and Marvel lines- in many years sticking largely to the films being released -are suddenly seeing a flood of characters from every corner of the comic universes appearing in sets to the great delight of minifigure fans both young and old. The obvious pairing of Minecraft and LEGO has resulted in numerous sets that both Minecraft and LEGO fans have been enjoying. But, wow… Some of their special edition sets this year have been amazing.
Announced at the end of 2015, launched in January 2016 as part of the run-up to the new Ghostbusters franchise; the Ghostbusters Firehouse Headquarters was a geek’s dream come true. This was a huge set filled with film accurate details and a large set of minifigures and ghosts. Whether the goal was just building it to look at it or building it for play, this was a fantastic set to start the year out with. Then they upped the nostalgia factor even more with another announcement for their 2016 releases.
They were already stepping up their game with the superhero sets as it was, but they went all out nostalgia geek-out with the classic Batman television show’s Batcave. They loaded this thing up as much as they likely possibly could and they made it a one stop shopping item for lovers of the classic show. The Batcave looks like the classic TV Batcave, it includes a part of the study in stately Wayne Manor and the Batpoles, an exterior wall of Wayne Manor, a plethora of old-school Batcomputer panels and boards, classic TV show vehicles, and a large set of figures that covers just about everyone you need to set up the average episode’s plotline. This is the set that everyone who loves LEGO bricks and/or the 1960’s Batman has to have.
As 2016 came to a close, LEGO announced even more sets to come that would have figures and bricks to complement this set. Some aspects of the sets for the announced LEGO Batman movie could fit right in with the esthetic of the 1960’s set. Then there was this last minute 2016 minifigure announcement for the first wave of minifigures for January 2017. Is that King Tut I see?
LEGO also covered the other end of fandom (with some obvious overlap in there) at end out the year. First they gave us a new series of minifigures that were all based on Disney and Pixar characters. Some were new versions of minifigures they’d released before like Buzz Lightyear. Some were totally new releases like Stitch. They were nice, but they were just the tease.
They released the Disney Castle. It is a beautifully done replica of the castle that anyone who has gone to the Disney parks and visited the Magic Kingdom has seen. Turn the castle around and you reveal a number of highly detailed rooms inside the castle with items and accessories that harken back to classic Disney films, classic shorts, and works like Fantasia. You get a nice set of minifigures with it as well. Having seen it on display in a LEGO Store, I can tell you that was made with an amazing number of details that Disney fans old and new would enjoy discovering in the building process or just looking at the finished product.
I’ve always been a LEGO fan. Next to G.I. Joe, LEGO is one of the few toy lines that I had a long-term attachment to. G.I. Joe as a toy line has seen much better days, but 2016 may have been LEGO’s best year ever between original sets, licensed sets, and the massively detailed sets like these. LEGO has been hands down for me the best toy line of 2016; maybe even of the decade.
The Best Movie (Theatrical Release) of 2016
There were better films out there in 2016 based on any number of individual criteria. Some were better written, some were better directed, some had more to say with their critique of life and society, some had fantastic actors doing some powerfully amazing performances, etc., etc., etc. But, and let’s be honest here, there were damned few theatrical movie experiences that surprised many of us as much as Deadpool did. Even a number of the people who were in full on whining mode about the “glut” of superhero films in theaters ended up admitting that Deadpool was one of the most fun times you could legally have in a movie theater to come along in a really long time.
From the opening credits to the final moments of the film, Deadpool was an absolutely hilarious rollercoaster ride of a movie. It also possessed a level of genius in execution that not everyone gives it the credit of having. In a very real way, Deadpool was 2016’s version of the original Scream. Just as Scream did back in the day with the tropes and clichés of the horror genre, Deadpool took the tropes and clichés of the of the revenge films, the romance films, and the superhero films and skewered them all mercilessly. But just as Scream did, Deadpool then used the very same clichés from those genres to pitch perfect effect in order to have the audience going along with them every second of the trope filled, cliché packed moment it was doing it in.
You can’t quite say Deadpool came out of nowhere, but it came out of almost nothing compared to most of today’s superhero films. With a budget and a cast of characters that were both much, much smaller than most of its contemporaries, Deadpool outperformed at the domestic box office (and in some cases in total worldwide box office) almost every other superhero film out there. It also proved that it provided an anywhere, anytime, any mood rewatchability factor that tops most other films from 2016.
A point of order for the Star Wars fanatics who are jumping through their screen right now to yell “Rogue One!” at me at the top of their lungs… As of the time of this writing, I haven’t seen it yet. I can’t judge what I ain’t seen.
The Best Home Video Release of 2016
The Exorcist III Collector's Edition Blu-ray
1990’s The Exorcist III has always held a special place in my horror loving heart. The second sequel to the legendary 1973 horror classic, it was criminally overlooked by horror fans and fans of just straight up quality cinema for years. Some of that came from John Boorman’s frankly atrocious 1977 sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic, poisoning the well while some of it came from people simply believing that no sequel could do justice to the original. This was unfortunate as this was truly William Peter Blatty’s voice (minus some heavy studio interference) on film to a degree that you weren’t likely to see anywhere else at the time. William Peter Blatty directed the story from his own script, and that script was based on his own novel, 1983’s Legion. That alone should have made it a worthy successor in the eyes of anyone, and the strong performances from the likes of George C. Scott and Brad Dourif among others only made it better.
George C. Scott’s Lieutenant Kinderman is a police officer still haunted by the death of his friend Father Damien Karras some 15 years earlier. As hard as it is for him to deal with the memories of the exorcism that took the life of Karras and shattered some of the beliefs about the world that Kinderman held, his “mundane” world is challenged once again by the reappearance of the Gemini Killer, a killer who was executed in the electric chair 15 years ago. Kinderman has to face the supernatural to solve a mystery that will shake him to the very core of his being.
It was a fantastic mix of mystery and horror with some very chilling and effective horror moments. But, again, it was largely overlooked by many and not the success it deserved to be. This resulted in its subsequent home video releases being bare bones, basic, and as cheaply done as possible. It almost felt like the releases were in the home video release afterthought pile. But 2016 and Scream Factory (an imprint of Shout! Factory) have changed that at long last. They gave us a beautifully remastered version of the film on Blu-Ray in 2016 that looks (with just a few minor issues) and sounds magnificent in all of its moments both subtle and over the top. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Scream Factory’s release includes a version of the film long believed lost- William Peter Blatty’s much talked about director’s cut. This has both upsides and downsides for longtime fans. I don’t know if the director’s cut is actually a better cut or not. There are differences, some small, some totally different, that make it a somewhat different movie. For someone who has been familiar with the film for over twenty-five years now, it’s a little hard to judge the director’s cut totally on its own merits from being at this point so familiar with the original theatrical version. I almost envy people who have been holdouts on the film or younger horror fans discovering it for the first time that get to experience each cut and judge the versions as new. But there is another slight drawback in there with the director’s cut.
A lot of the lost footage placed back into the director’s cut version was, as noted above, long believed lost and some of it apparently remained lost. What was found and deemed to be usable was taken from video tape. They did their absolute best to clean it up and make it worthy of the new release, but there are noticeable video and audio quality drops when the lost footage scenes are playing. Are they viewable? Absolutely. Are they worthy of release? Absolutely. But you will occasionally be made almost jarringly aware of which scenes are the lost footage scenes just based on those quality drops.
What also makes this Blu-Ray worth owning is the absolute treasure trove of special features they packed into the two disc set. Scream Factory more than made up for the bare bones nature of prior releases with featurettes including vintage interviews and making of bits as well as a number of very detailed new featurettes including interviews and looks at what went into making the film, the film’s score, and the film’s excellent FX. The interviews with Brad Dourif in particular are incredibly interesting and informative to watch both as a fan of the film and likely for anyone looking to learn something of the craft of acting.
The Exorcist III is a movie that has long been unfairly ignored and overlooked by film fans in general and by horror fans in particular. Scream Factory has given everyone the chance to rectify that mistake in 2016 and beyond. It’s a home video release that a lot of people should be checking out at the first opportunity to do so.
The Best New Television Show (Network or Cable)
Okay, there are some shows out there that I’m sure are coming to the minds of others with lightning speed as they look at the above choice. Certainly Westworld has been the big, buzzworthy name in television talk and fandom as the year closed out. I haven’t seen it. I can only speak on what my schedule and my budget has allowed me to see so far, and out of what I’ve seen this year the best of the best was The Exorcist.
This was maybe the best show out there that (seemingly) no one was watching. This was a TV show that a lot of people unfairly wrote off as soon as it was announced, and those people missed out on a great season of television. I say that with no qualifiers or descriptors attached to that either. It wasn’t just a great season of horror television, but rather it was in fact just a great season of television.
It wasn’t a remake, it wasn’t a retelling, and it wasn’t really a sequel as much as it was a contemporary setting continuation of the world where the events that played out in The Exorcist happened all those years ago. The first season of the show told its own story while giving respectful nods to the mythology of the original movie as well as carefully connecting it to that mythology of the original movie in a way that made fans happy but wouldn’t lose new viewers who may have never seen any of the original films.
This series told its own story in 2016, and the season ended with as close to a good wrap-up to that story as you might find since the powers that be behind the show were likely worried about no new season forthcoming. Find it (by a legal stream so that it counts for the show) and watch it. Discover the show you may have overlooked this season in a format (binging) that only helps the enjoyment of it. It had a well-crafted story that unfolded in meticulous fashion on screen, some solid and captivating performances from Geena Davis, Alfonso Herrera, Ben Daniels, Alan Ruck, Brianne Howey, Hannah Kasulka, and others, and some truly atmospheric directing in many episodes. The Exorcist is absolutely television worth tracking down and viewing.
The Best New Television Show (Streaming Original)
When the trailer for the seemingly hush, hush Netflix original series by the Duffer Brothers first dropped, well… I was quite honestly not really blown away. The trailer for Stranger Things came across to me as (rather appropriately) just some show about mysterious events happening in a small town while being dressed up in nostalgia for the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe it was just a quickly done cash in attempt following the buzz around the return of the X-Files. Maybe it was just another less than stellar story dressed up in pseudo-nostalgia filmmaking as has been popping up over the last few years. Some of these, such as 2015’s Turbo Kid, have been enjoyable, but many just fall flat. While interesting looking, I wasn’t moved to watch it immediately from the trailer and the early peeks at it.
Watching the first episode when the series finally dropped honestly didn’t really help. There was a lot of mood and atmosphere (and music) lifted from the 1980s, and the feel of the show was of someone who learned their filmmaking craft by watching every genre b-movie and genre favorite that was on the shelves of my local Erol’s video rental store back then. I can’t knock that too much. I loved all of those back then and still do. But it just didn’t manage to hook me. Then a coworker told me to sit down when I had the time, rewatch it, and, no matter what else I did, make it through the first four episodes.
I’m pretty sure I was hooked by episode three. Episode four just reinforced the hooks that the third episode had set into place.
Similar to how I didn’t discuss details in the above bit on The Exorcist, I don’t want to get into details on the story seen in the (now officially) first season of Stranger Things. Stranger Things got more positive buzz and likely way more viewers than The Exorcist did, but there are still a lot of people out there who haven’t seen it. Well, for those of you who didn’t see it, you’re missing a great story. As for what I can talk about and remain spoiler free…
The Duffer Brothers pulled off a very delicate balancing act with Stranger Things. They crafted an amazingly satisfying story that could stand on its own, but then they wove into it piece after piece after piece of nostalgic nod and homage to the genre material of the 1980s in such a way that it felt like it belonged in with that material rather than feeling like they were simply trying to copy it or trying to cover up or distract from a lesser story by flooding the viewer with a wave of nostalgia. The result was a program that worked on many levels and worked in different ways for different generations of geeks.
As much as the look and the style they used to film the series contributed to this, the music played a huge role in making Stranger Things work in the way that it did. It wasn’t even just the songs by Foreigner, Moby, The Clash, Joy Division, Cory Hart, and others from the era of the show’s 1980s setting, but rather the show’s score being heavily synth driven and reliant on analog synth sounds. Stylistically at least, much of Stranger Things feels like it actually came out of the era it was meant to be emulating.
It gave us a cast who could more than make the characters live and breathe on screen with names familiar to many (Winona Ryder and an oddly David Cronenberg looking Matthew Modine topping that group) as well as some new faces who made the main characters of the story both watchable and relatable.
If you haven’t had the chance yet to jump on the hype train with everyone else, take the first opportunity you can to watch this show. Just, take my word for it, let it unfold through the first three to four episodes. Do it soon, because the second season is on its way.
The Best Returning Television Show (Network or Cable)
- TIE -
I was skeptical when the concept for this year’s Christmas special was first announced. The early teasers and descriptions for Doctor Who Christmas special 2016: The Return of Doctor Mysterio made it seem like it was just a tad too ripe for Steven Moffat’s tendencies to get too silly or too full of himself. Injecting superheroes into Doctor Who seemed like it could be a very difficult trick to properly pull off, and some early snippets looked a little bit too much like the point of the hero of the piece was going to be to parody the superhero explosion on television and in theaters. Fortunately, none of that really happened to any large degree in the show itself.
The new Doctor Who made its one and only TV return in 2016 with a story that felt very much like a loving throwback to the best of the superhero television and movie moments from the 1970s and 1980s; maybe even with a touch of the 1960s thrown in. It worked as a nod to nostalgia, but it also worked on its own as well. A lot of how well it worked (outside of the writing) was due to Justin Chatwin’s performance as the superhero of the piece as well as his less than heroic seeming alter ego. Both sides of his character worked extremely well and, as any number of performers have proven in the past, that’s not always an easy trick to pull off.
The special also integrated the superhero concept into Who perfectly. It wasn’t overdone, it was explained (origin story) about as well as one could ask for, and it didn’t feel like it was a separate story concept or an outside genre simply being wedged uncomfortably into Who to follow a fad. The show still felt like Doctor Who, and that feeling was increased all the more watching Peter Capaldi absolutely shine in the role of the Doctor. Fans may have hated the wait we had for new Who in 2016, but this special was definitely worth the wait. Plus, a tease of more to come.
Ash Vs. Evil Dead Season 2
It may have had a weaker back end to the season than fans wanted to go out on, but it was still pure Ash craziness/fun through and through. Plus, Lee Majors as Brock Williams. What could possibly be better than seeing Bruce Campbell and Lee Majors on your TV screen together?
The Best Professional Wrestler of 2016
AJ Styles has been a face on the wrestling scene for just under two decades now, but it was 2016 that made him the face that runs the place. 2016 was the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice for AJ Styles, as well as being just the beginning of what is surely an amazing run in the WWE.
Styles had long been considered one of the best wrestlers in the world who never (other than a cup of coffee tryout run in 2002) wrestled for the WWF/WWE. He rose to national prominence in the early 2000s as a part of ROH and especially NWA: Total Nonstop Action (later simply TNA) having amazing matches with guys like Christopher Daniels, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Raven, Kurt Angle, and others. A lot of fans watching him around 2006 to 2008 already wanted to see him make the jump to the WWE back then, but it just never seemed to happen.
There were the naysayers of course. He was, they would endlessly say, the wrong size, the wrong “type” of wrestler for Vince, not charismatic enough on the mic, etc. A lot of fans felt the naysayers were wrong, but the more time that passed without a WWE debut, the more the naysayers felt justified in their opinion. Then 2015 happened.
Styles had been working in New Japan Pro Wrestling since 2014, working largely (in the eyes of many fans) against type by being the villainous leader of the Bullet Club. By the end of 2015 there were rumors swirling all over the internet that Styles was headed for the WWE. The WWE even started messing with the fans with “news” stories on their own website that had some fans sure Styles was coming while only making the skeptical fans even more sure they were screwing with the internet wrestling community and that Styles wasn’t coming in after all.
Then, in early January of 2016, the official word came out that AJ Styles had signed with the WWE. A few short weeks later at the 2016 Royal Rumble PPV, the roof blew off the place.
Since that moment, Styles has had a (not quite) year in the WWE that looked like someone strapped a rocket to his back. He had a series of highlight matches as a tag partner to Chris Jericho (together known as Y2AJ) facing off against the New Day before entering into a feud against Jericho. From there he entered into a feud with Roman Reigns that saw matches that some were already holding up as match of the year contenders. From there he teamed with his old Bullet Club stablemates Gallows and Anderson for a feud against John Cena and Enzo Amore and Big Cass that would later turn into Cena vs Styles. From there it was off into the brand split, a feud with Dean Ambrose, and a WWE World Championship win less than nine full months after his Royal Rumble debut.
When AJ Styles walked out during the Royal Rumble back in January, a lot of people were thrilled to see him finally make his way to the WWE. But there were still the naysayers- supposedly even in the WWE’s power structure –who saw AJ Styles as a just good enough to be an upper middle card player at best. AJ Styles took 2016 by the horns, had a- pardon the term –phenomenal year of match of the year contender performances, and proved to any and all of the naysayers that he belonged at the very top of the WWE food chain and was deservedly placed there in fairly short order.
Few wrestlers can point to a year like the 2016 AJ Styles had, and damned few likely ever will have a year like his 2016. For walking in the door and taking the WWE by storm while being entertaining as hell while doing it, AJ Styles earned being called the best pro wrestler in 2016.
Bonus – Check out the ESO Pro guys getting a late in the year interview with AJ and then discussing the year he’s had HERE.
The Best Career Resurgence of a Wrestler in 2016
Broken Matt Hardy
When it comes to fan opinions about Matt and Jeff Hardy, Matt has long gotten the short end of it in fan discussions. That’s really a shame, because Matt has always had a good brain for the business, and he’s always had a talent for adding both little and large flourishes to a character. Whenever he’s allowed to really run with something and pour himself into it, you usually get something entertaining. Yeah, he’s had periods where he could be his own biggest stumbling block, but Jeff has been no slouch in that department either and most fans have seemed more than willing to welcome him back into their favor whenever he gets his act back together. Sadly, they haven’t always seen fit to cut Matt the same slack.
But 2016 saw Matt Hardy come up with a character and a gimmick that even many of the most jaded of fans who had given up on him had to give him his due over- Broken Matt Hardy.
From the interesting character quirks he came up with to taking over most of TNA’s focus for Final Deletion, Broken Matt Hardy (and later with Brother Nero joining him) became one of the most buzzworthy and entertaining things in wrestling in 2016. Fans who had given up on TNA and/or Matt Hardy in the past found themselves drawn back to the show (or at least tracking down the videos online) just for the spectacle of Broken Matt Hardy. Even the WWE arguably swiped a little bit from the Broken Matt Hardy story during a feud between the Wyatt Family and the New Day.
You know someone has hit that sweet spot with a character or a gimmick when fans who have given up on a wrestler are starting to talk about how that wrestler needs to be given one more WWE run as that character. Broken Matt Hardy did that for Matt in 2016. He made himself feel bigger than the company he was working for in the eyes of a lot of fans, and now they want to see him back up on an appropriately larger stage. With a little luck, we’ll all see him on that stage sometime in 2017.
The Best MMA Fighter of 2016
The Notorious Conor McGregor
You can love him, you can act indifferent about him, or you can hate his guts, but you have to give the devil his due. Conor McGregor showed the world in 2016 that he could talk the talk and then back that talk up by doing what he says he’s going to do.
The fighting Irishman capped off a hugely successful 2015 with a title fight record setting 13 second win over José Aldo, a fighter who had been undefeated since 2006, for the UFC Featherweight championship. The speed and ease of the win shocked the MMA world, and even those who stood behind McGregor and his mantra of “precision beats power and timing beats speed” had to admit that the nature of the win caught even them flatfooted.
McGregor followed that win by announcing his desire for an MMA superfight in 2016 where he would move up in weight to challenge Rafael dos Anjos for the UFC Lightweight Championship. This was certainly an interesting prospect for fight fans. Two champions facing off wasn’t something that was seen very often in MMA, and the last time a champion had held two belts in two weight classes simultaneously for a major promotion was back in the bygone days of Pride FC in Japan. While the UFC had fighters who held belts in two weight classes in the past, they had never had a fighter hold them simultaneously. For McGregor, 2016 offered the chance to make UFC history.
At the last moment dos Anjos had to pull out of the fight due to an injury. McGregor accepted a substitution to keep a fight on the card, facing Nate Diaz at welterweight. To understand the jump in size for those out there who aren’t rabid fight fans, here’s a listing of UFC weight classes so that you can understand the jump up in the weight/size that McGregor would be facing.
The fight resulted in McGregor’s first professional loss in the UFC. A rematch was quickly arranged because (A) the PPV superfight drew a huge number of buyers and a massive gate and (B) McGregor insisted that with the proper training and game plan (as, remember, he was training for a different fighter) he could beat Diaz. It was the first step towards making McGregor 2016’s best fighter, as he did something that many fighters don’t often do.
A number of critics and commentators blew off McGregor’s chances in a rematch. Lots of fighters say that they’re changing up their training, working on a new game plan, and fixing perceived holes that a fight exposed. Few fighters do more than show that all they did was talk a lot about doing these things when fight time rolls around. McGregor came into the August 2016 rematch with Diaz with a different game plan and ended up winning a five round unanimous decision victory.
From there he set his sights back on becoming a duel-weight champion. One month earlier Eddie Alvarez dethroned Rafael dos Anjos for the UFC Lightweight Championship with a brutal first round TKO victory. The PPV fight was set for November, and all eyes were on the man who stood to make UFC history. Just over three minutes into the second round of the five round championship bout, McGregor ended Alvarez’s run as the UFC Lightweight Champion and became the first UFC fighter to hold two belts in two weight classes at the same time.
Fight fans can (and will) argue over who is the greatest of all time, who is the pound for pound best in MMA, and who should be the best based on any number of points of consideration. But the fact is that McGregor had one hell of a year, he put on some great fights, and he made UFC history. He deserves being named the best MMA fighter in 2016.
The Convention of 2016
Dragon Con’s 30th Anniversary Celebration
Come on, did you really expect me to pick any other convention here? Dragon Con’s 30th Anniversary shindig was five days of absolute geek nirvana. It was their biggest show ever, it was their best show ever, and they really upped their game on multiple levels this year.
This year’s convention was the biggest in more ways than one. With 77,000 members in attendance this year, there were more bodies coming and going throughout the convention’s hallways and floor space than ever before; and that doesn’t even count the guests and the volunteers. (Oh, and full disclosure moment; I’ve been a volunteer in 2014, 2015, and 2016.) This could have been problematic, but some strategic rearranging of the convention floorplan and the addition of the AmericasMart Building 2 really made a difference in the congestion issues that some were having issues with over the last few years. There were a lot of moments at this year’s con when it felt like there were less people rather than more.
The dealer area was not really one of those “moments” this year. But, hey, can’t have it all.
The Dragon Con Parade saw some growth in exposure this year as well. The annual event was carried live (and rebroadcast in primetime) by the local Atlanta CW affiliate. This meant that for the first time the event could be seen as it happened by people who couldn’t find a place to watch it along Peachtree Street and didn’t have access to DCTV from being in an official Dragon Con hotel.
Speaking of DCTV, they grew in an unexpected but incredibly welcome way this year as well. 2016 saw DCTV go streaming on the web for anyone who had a membership to the convention. For very reasonable price tag, members could order the streaming service through the official Dragon Con Store. What they got was internet streaming access to some of the best of past conventions before the big weekend arrived, internet access to DCTV during the convention, and several months of access after the convention where DCTV programming from 2016 was added in to enjoy after everyone was home again. A huge hats off to the guys and gals at DCTV who worked their butts off to get this up and running and kept it running so well this year.
The Dragon Con charities had a great year as well. Dragon Con raised about $98,000 for its official charity of 2016, the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency. Around 6,000 units were also collected for the annual Robert A. Heinlein “Pay It Forward” Blood Drive.
This year’s Dragon Con was also the “biggest and best” for me on a personal level as well. After ten years of harassing some friends of mine to go, go, go, some finally did. It was great finally getting to see really good friends be magnificently and joyously overwhelmed by the sensory overload that is a first time journey to Dragon Con. That was made cooler still by some of my friends getting to enjoy their first Dragon Con as attending professionals; coming in as a part of the Horror News Radio crew. Plus, hey, I got to enjoy being a panelist for the first time at Dragon Con talking The Blind Dead in the Horror Track.
So, really, after all of that, there’s no way any other convention stacks up in 2016; at least not for my list.
The Best Book News of 2016
Peter David’s Sir Aprapos Returned
After a bit of legal wrangling and a long time away from the his popular Sir Apropos of Nothing series, Peter David brought the character back home with a reprint of the first story and then the release of the first new adventure for Peter’s bastard scoundrel, Pyramid Schemes. The adventures of Sir Apropos were a joy to read, and my wife and I had gotten a number of others hooked on the original stories. When the stories looked like they would no longer be coming due to the vagaries of the publishing industry, it was more than a little disappointing. Seeing the return of new stories was a welcome addition to the better things in 2016.
“Apropos is a product of a violent childhood. Estranged from his prostitute mother, fatherless since his unfortunate conception, Apropos makes his living as a thief. But when the death of a young girl rattles his conscience, and when he forges an unlikely alliance with a hero of true nobility, Apropos finds himself confronting for the first time in his life the selfish nature of his maverick, every-man-for-himself ethos. At times a loyal friend, at others a ruthless betrayer, Apropos is fast approaching the moment when he must choose between honor and safety, between the core of nobility residing in his heart and the shame that has haunted him through life.”
“He’s back. Despite absolutely no requests at all, Sir Apropos of Nothing—he who was spawned from the violent assault of a tavern wench by a group of drunken knights—has returned. This time his voyages take him to the land of Rogypt, a surprisingly ancient realm where the tragic people known as the Shews labor endlessly in building pyramids for their masters. When Apropos inadvertently interferes with he who is destined to be their savior, no less than a deity reaches down and points His fickle finger upon him, informing him it is now his responsibility to liberate the people. All that stands in his way? An unpredictable young ruler, his insanely duplicitous sister and, oh yes, an ancient mummy’s curse. So basically, just a typical day for the roguish Apropos.”
Best Ongoing Comic Book
The Walking Dead
Fans of both the television show and the comic book know how different the book’s story can be and how far ahead of the television continuity the book is. So take any “spoiler” here with a grain of salt as the show tends to follow a general template from the comic but completely switches around characters, events, and even key deaths.
In the comic series we’ve seen the world of our survivors bottom out miserably and rebound to a level that was the closest to normalcy you could possibly find in a world where the dead walk and present an ever looming threat. But nothing, least of all peaceful times, last forever. 2016 gave fans of The Walking Dead comic series a threat- indeed a war –that combined the worst of all possible worlds. Our survivors have faced threats from the living and threats from the dead, but the Whisperers combined the worst of both threats, and the result has been one of the biggest, nastiest fights for survival seen so far in the book’s 161 issues.
You knew all hell was going to break loose when Negan escaped from his cell and to make his new home among the Whisperers, but few realized how getting there would unfold. Negan killing the leader of the Whisperers was not totally surprising. I and others thought he was looking for a new army to get even with Rick and crew, so taking over the Whisperers rather than working the angles made as much sense as anything else. But when he instead returned to Rick and the other survivors with Alpha’s head in a bag as a sign that they could trust him… That was unexpected.
What wasn’t unexpected was the fallout of his actions. You knew from that moment on that the war with the Whisperers was coming sooner rather than later. Once the war began, it felt like all bets were off.
The book’s pacing has been strong in 2016, and the issues of confusing the concepts of cliffhangers with jerking fans around that have started to plague the TV series have not arisen in the pages of the book. The Whisperer War has really set the book on fire again, and it has me looking forward to both the resolution and the aftermath in 2017.
The Personal Highlight of 2016
Getting to Do More Geek Stuff
2016 was a year that made me feel really lucky and privileged when it came to getting to play in the geek sandboxes of the things I liked. After trying out in 2015 and then becoming a regular (or irregular) on the team, 2016 was my first full year as a Needless Things contributor. I was also able to expand out and away from the written word and into the spoken word early in the year when I was a guest on the Decades of Horror The 1970s podcast to discuss the Blind Dead. I got to sit in on an Earth Station Who podcast episode discussing The Curse of Fenric. As I mentioned above, I got to be a panelist at Dragon Con’s Horror Track. I’ve recently started contributing pieces to the Gruesome Magazine website- run by the same people behind Horror News Radio and Decades of Horror.
But the most fun I’ve had playing in someone else’s sandbox this year has been getting invited to sit in on multiple episodes of the ESO Pro Wrestling Roundtable podcast and talk wrestling- classic and contemporary –with a group of guys who love wrestling and the history of and around it. I’m a huge fan of the Earth Station One podcast, and I’m a huge fan of wrestling going all the way back to being a young kid in the 1970s. As such, I loved it when the ESO podcast devoted several episodes (in what ultimately turned out to be pilot episodes) to wrestling over the decades. I loved the early original versions of the ESO Pro as well. So getting invited on an episode was great. Being continually invited back is fantastic.
Now if I can only figure out a way to sneak back onto Decades of Horror when they inevitably get around to doing an episode about The Keep...
The Best Gimmick to Part You From Your Money Twice of 2016
Mad Max: Fury Road Black & Chrome Edition
If there is one thing I hate about the modern home video market, it’s the tendency for the studios to do everything they can to get you to double dip, triple dip, or quadruple dip on the same film within the first 24 months of a film’s home video release. Some films (I’m looking at you Army of Darkness) abuse the gimmick more than others and most aren’t worth the money to double dip on or worth the wait after the initial release, but occasionally you get one that feels like it’s worth it. Mad Max: Fury Road Black & Chrome Edition is one of the ones that are worth it.
Fury Road itself was a huge surprise in and of itself. The last few years have seen more than a few attempts at making modern remakes/reboots of iconic, low budget genre films birthed in the 1980s, and they’ve all been pretty much run the gantlet from miserably bad to absolutely god awful. Fury Road could very easily been one of those films, but it turned out instead to be one of the best adrenaline fueled thrill rides of 2015.
Word started circulating of the “special edition” to come after (maybe actually before) the first Blu-Ray dropped. The hook here was going to be a little different than most films- it was going to be rereleased in black and white. Now, I don’t have the aversion to black and white that some people I’ve known over the years do. Even so, the idea of a black and white version of a modern color film didn’t sound all that appealing. It can work with some films like The Mist, but I wasn’t sure that the black and white treatment was going to enhance Fury Road all that much. Let’s just say I was wrong.
I won’t go as far as some have by calling the Black & Chrome Edition the ultimate version of the film, but it is absolutely worth viewing and owning.
Now, there are some downsides with the Black & Chrome Edition. The color palette for Fury Road wasn’t exactly brimming with a variety of exotic and contrasting hues, but there were scenes (and characters) where the color was vivid and really popped on the screen. This added something to the visual of the film. Some of that is lost with the Black & Chrome Edition. But you will find that there are far more upsides than downsides with this version of the film.
Giving Fury Road the high contrast black and white treatment has the effect of making the bleak landscapes feel even more bleak than before. Some of the action scenes with debris flying everywhere somehow look fuller and crazier than before. Plus there’s the grittiness. There’s a grimmer feel in some scenes as the dust and sand covering the characters and the machinery looks far more noticeable. Tense scenes with heavy shadow and darkness on the screen are also affected by the treatment.
I still prefer the color version as my primary version to watch, but I can see the Black & Chrome Edition having repeated viewing value for myself and others. If you’ve not already purchased Fury Road on Blu-Ray, this is edition containing both standard and Black & Chrome versions is the way to go. If you have already gotten Fury Road, this is one of the few special edition releases that is absolutely worth getting; especially if you are a film geek of any level.
The Best Goofy Meme of 2016
Picking on Roman w/ AJ’s Rumble Debut
I shouldn’t love this like I do. I will be the first say that Roman Reigns has been unfairly criticized over the last year. I will be the first to say that Reigns really stepped up his game in 2016 as well. The other thing that Roman gets knocked over is something out of his control. He’s an employee. His boss tells him to go do ‘X’ and to be in ‘X’ position on the show and he more or less has to do it. He doesn’t call the shots or run the booking on the show.
That being said… His fault or not, it felt like Reigns was being pushed for the top spot way too early, and fans can be vocal about that kind of thing. As such, the fans at TV tapings had been… shall we say… less than supportive of Reigns in the weeks and months running up to the 2016 Royal Rumble. As Reigns was clearing the ring and on his way to what almost everyone felt was his inevitable, “Vince pushed” title shot the audience reactions were about on par with what we’d seen in the months prior.
Then AJ walked out and the place exploded. Almost immediately after the Rumble was over, several variants of this meme hit the internet. It shouldn’t have been (and still is really) as funny to me as it was, but it is.
The Best Thing About 2016
It Will Shortly Be Over
2016 felt like a year when death was everywhere, and far more so than with many other years that have come before it. Both in my personal life and the personal lives of many people I know as well as on the level of the shared pop culture consciousness, 2016 was a never ending series of painfully hard punches to the gut. Here’s hoping 2016 was the anomaly, and 2017 doesn’t continue the trend.
Jerry Chandler follows geek stuff. When not found writing here he can be found writing for Gruesome Magazine and his own blog. He has a Twitter. He can also occasionally be heard talking pro wrestling with the amazingly talented crew at of the ESO Pro: The Pro-Wrestling Roundtable podcast.