It’s that time of year — the days we writer types wax nostalgic about the last 300 or so days and attempt to guess what your loved ones will want for presents.
So here’s my combo quasi best-of list for 2012 and gift guide. There was a lot of cool stuff this year, so it’s hard to narrow it down. Most of it is stuff I didn’t write about earlier, generally because I didn’t get to it in a timely matter around the release dates, so I’m glad to have somewhere to plug it.
“Cardboard” by Doug TenNaple (Graphix, all ages): I enjoyed but wasn’t completely wowed by TenNaple’s “Ghostopolis” and “Bad Island,” so I didn’t immediately jump on “Cardboard” when it arrived. That was a mistake. “Cardboard,” the story of a boy who’s laid-off dad gives him a box that turns out to be magical and how things spin out of control when the neighborhood bully steals a piece and inadvertently creates an army of cardboard monsters. It’s a story of love and loyalty with a powerful message of compassion told in a fantastic story with expressive art. Definitely TenNaple’s best. Fox has picked up the animation rights. Fingers crossed.
“Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X” by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener (Red 5, 12 and up): There’s a newer collection of “Atomic Robo” books, “Real Science Adventures,” but that was an anthology series I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as the real thing. So I’m suggesting “Ghost of Station X,” which came out earlier this year. But, really, you can’t go wrong with any of the “Atomic Robo” trades. The books follow a sentient robot created by Nikola Tesla who now runs a multinational R&D company filled with the brainiest of the brainy and the most adventuresome of the adventurous. In any given story, you might run into the ghost of Thomas Edison, tentacled monsters from other dimensions, Carl Sagan with a big gun and/or a mad scientist dinosaur. In this volume, a house in London disappears, and someone is trying to sabotage Robo and his company.
“Drama” by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic, all ages): This one I did cover earlier, and it’s great — the story of a girl who loves theater and is a whiz backstage at her junior high school. Like a good play, it’s got drama, comedy and everything in between. It speaks directly to theater fans, but I think it has wider appeal.
Honorable mentions: “Teen Boat,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “Supurbia,” “Hypernaturals,” “Aquaman”
“I Say, I Say … Son!” by Robert McKimson Jr. (Santa Monica Press): This hefty coffee table book looks at the legacy of animators Bob, Chuck and Tom McKimson. Bob McKimson is probably the best known of the three, having created beloved Looney Tunes characters such as Foghorn Leghorn, Tasmanian Devil, Sylvester Jr. and Speedy Gonzales. They also worked on the “Pink Panther” and “Mr. Magoo” series. If nothing else, the book is fun to look at, with tons of art not just from animation, but from comic books and other consumer outlets. I knew Bob, but the lives of Chuck and Tom were new to me.
“Super Grammar” by Tony Preciado and Rhode Montijo (Scholastic): Since I’m an editor with a love of comic books, this fun book has a soft spot in my heart. It covers the basics of grammar, punctuation and more by assigning each topic (nouns, verbs, periods, comma splices) a superhero or villain identity and then illustrating examples with heroic artwork. It’s one of those “makes learning fun” things, but it doesn’t try to hide that it’s a grammar guide, and it’s not presented as a comic book or graphic novel. It just tries to pep up those dull lessons we remember from our childhood with some super help.
“ParaNorman” (Focus Features/Universal): With two creepy, stop-motion features this past fall, my money was originally on Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” but I have to say I enjoyed “ParaNorman” more. Norman is a boy who sees and talks to ghosts, and he discovers it’s his family legacy to protect the town from a witch’s curse that threatens to bring back the dead to terrorize the town. But little is as it seems, and the movie is filled with great moments and creative one-liners, though definitely for older kids. With a strong message for love and acceptance, it has emotional heft and well as big laughs. It’s a winner all around from the makers of the off-beat “Coraline.”
“The Avengers” (Paramount/Disney): This is a no-brainer, really, but since I didn’t write about it earlier, I feel it’s worth mentioning here just in case. With a perfectly in-tune cast and a master director, this movie hit on all cylinders and was one of the greatest highlights of my summer. It was just so much … fun. And far more enjoyable than “Dark Knight Rises” — if not as deep. I can’t wait for “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers 2″ in the next few years, though “Iron Man 3″ does look a little overblown from the trailer.
GAMES (from Mike)
“Journey” (thatgamecompany, Everyone): Originally a PSN exclusive, this incredible piece of gaming is now available on a disc with thatgamecompany’s other two titles, “Flower” and “flOw.” While those two titles are great, and “Flower” in particular is stunning in HD, “Journey” is the real reason to get this collection. A game that tells a compelling story through visuals, music, and inspired design, “Journey” is an unforgettable experience.
“Guild Wars 2″ (NCSoft, Teen): Absolutely gorgeous, with equal parts action and storytelling, “GW2″ is a solid entry into the MMO genre. The nonsubscription model means that you can play as much as you want, without a monthly fee, after you buy the game. There are micro-transactions available for various perks, if you desire. The crafting, however, takes the award for “Most Convoluted and Confusing” from the previous holder, “Aion.” The world of Tyria is expansive and varied, and “Guild Wars 2″ has taken over as the source for my MMO fix.
“Borderlands 2″ (Gearbox, Mature): Oh. My. God. So much fun. The writing is hysterical, the voice acting is superb, the action is great, and the number of weapons is mind-staggering. Gearbox took all the good things about the first game and built on them. The cooperative play is, like the first game, where “Borderlands 2″ shines. Grab some friends and explore Pandora, you won’t regret it. And Tiny Tina may be my favorite character. Period.
“A Christmas Story — The Musical” (Sony): I many not have gotten the direct-to-video sequel movie, but I did get a copy of the score to the Broadway musical version of the movie, which stopped here at the Fisher last Christmas and made its debut on the Great White Way this year. The score is by University of Michigan grads Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and it was a delight from start to finish, not a clunker to be had. “Ralphie to the Rescue” was probably my favorite number, but there are also lovely quieter numbers, such as “What a Mother Does.” This recording is a studio cast, not the current Broadway one, and is a repeat (minus one song) of the disc that was on sale in the lobby last year. Some things were different even at that point, but it’s still a great CD.