Monday, January 2, 2017

Phantom Troublemaker’s Best of 2016

By Phantom Troublemaker

As 2016 comes to a close it’s time to look back and choose all of the best things from the past twelve months.

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 2016.

Best Television Show

Nominees – Agents of SHIELD, Game of Thrones, iZombie, Gotham, Supergirl
Winner – Game of Thrones

Every single Sunday night episode of Game of Thrones is event viewing for me. I am caught up in the characters and storylines of this world more than any other setting on television. The writing, casting, and basically everything on HBO’s flagship show are top-notch and keep me engrossed for the few short weeks that it is on the air every year.

Do I wish there were more of it? Sure. But I’m also happy that the showrunners know exactly how much to give us of a good thing. I never feel like the seasons are bloated or that any episodes are filler.

Best New Television Show

Nominees – Westworld, The Exorcist, Preacher, Stranger Things, Luke Cage
Winner – The Exorcist

This was a tough call. The latter three were all very good, but they didn’t stand a chance against Westworld or The Exorcist. When it came down to those two, I really had to put thought not only into which show delivered a more fulfilling, memorable experience, but which one I would be buying the day it was released on Blu-ray and would eagerly devour again.

While I’m excited to watch both, I found FOX’s Exorcist series to be the most personally involving. Westworld probably holds more small details to uncover and subtleties to enjoy on a second viewing, but The Exorcist’s fast pacing and compelling characters keep it just a notch above HBO’s newest smash hit for me.

Best Animated Series (All Ages)

Nominees – Star Wars: Rebels, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, We Bare Bears, Gravity Falls
Winner – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Against all odds Nickelodeon has delivered one hundred episodes of a new TMNT cartoon that blows away everything that has come before while paying homage to aspects of all previous iterations. For five years now Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has delivered some of the best stories, voice acting, and consistent quality of animation on television.

The mix of humor, pop culture homage, and powerful storytelling is almost Pixar-quality and there’s no higher compliment I could pay to a family entertainment property. Nickelodeon put the right people in charge of this project. It wasn’t just about selling toys – it was about providing quality entertainment and extending the life of one of modern pop culture’s most significant franchises.

Best Movie

Nominees - Green Room, The Conjuring 2, Captain America: Civil War, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Winner – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This was a weird year for me, movie-wise. I saw a lot of good movies, but not a lot of great movies. I saw plenty that I liked, but not many that I loved. Even the five nominees are struggling a little bit in the love department. I had a hard time leaving Deadpool off the list, but it didn’t quite get me as much as the ones I chose. Your mileage, obviously, may vary. I even had Suicide Squad on there at one point, but I honestly think that the bloated and contradictory Extended Cut hurt that one a bit for me. I’ll be sticking with the Theatrical Cut, which I still genuinely enjoy. It’s just that the Extended one only served to illustrate just how much of a mess the production was and how there was no firmly guiding hand.

Rogue One wins for doing everything I wanted and more. As we discussed on Episode 140 of the Needless Things Podcast, the movie succeeded in almost every possible way. It’s the one I’m most eager to see again and as of now I feel like it will get the most repeat viewings. Not because it’s Star Wars, but because it’s awesome.

Best Ongoing Comic Book

Nominees - Saga, Darth Vader, Howard the Duck, Silver Surfer, Spider-Woman
Winner - Spider-Woman

My criteria for judging this category ended up being a little tricky. The two big publishers that produce most of the books I buy – Marvel and DC – have become so obsessed with the new #1 pop that they restart series all the time for no reason (see The Duck, Howard and Surfer, Silver) even if the narrative and creative teams stay the same. It’s effing goshdarn redonkulous and it is driving me crazy. My wife works in a comic shop and recently had to organize and alphabetize a few years’ worth of back issues and almost lost her damn mind trying to get all of the series in order because there’s no indication as to which of the exact same titled books starring the same characters come in what order. You have to open the books and look at the dates instead of just looking at the cover. It’s infuriating even if you’re just organizing your own collection.

If Detective Comics had been what it has been since Rebirth for a full year, it would be my winner. I am by far enjoying it more than any other comic. But it did not maintain that consistency for a full year.

While Saga did not technically do that either, what with the breaks the creators take (which I am fine with, by the way), it did stay the course that had been set from the start and continues to be the one of the best sources of monthly episodic entertainment I spend my money on.


Spider-Woman is excellent. I got caught back up after hearing that it was not as impacted by Civil War II as I feared it would be. I still didn't love the Spider-Women crossover, but it wasn't bad and it certainly didn't have a larger impact on the quality of the book. From January through December, Dennis Hopeless' story of Jessica Drew has been almost flawless and has brought me more joy than any other ongoing comic book. It does what comic books do best, but that so many seem to be failing at lately - tells stories about real life using the drama of superheroes.

The last issue of the year, 14, brought all of the difficulties of Jessica's life into perspective and slapped her with a cold, hard truth - that as tough as her life was and as sympathetic and heroic a character as she has been, she has been outright using a close friend. It was a harsh, brutal moment when she realized this and there isn't likely to be any clean out. And yet, while this powerful story had some of the best drama of any book I've read, Spider-Woman is still one of the most fun books I've ever read. It's the balance that makes it so rewarding.

Side Note: If not for a Local Comic Shop in Wilmington, North Carolina I would never have picked up Spider-Woman. Support your Local Comic Shop and talk to those people about what they read.

Best Action Figure

Nominees – One:12 Collective Dawn of Justice Batman, Ash vs Evil Dead Ash, DC Icons Harley Quinn, Retro Action Weird Al Yankovic, GI Joe Zombie Viper
Winner – Ash vs Evil Dead Ash

The fact that I have only reviewed two of these excellent action figures is a reflection on my growing weariness with toy reviews, not with any lack of quality on the part of the toys. Obviously, considering I have yet to review the winner of this category – one of my favorite action figures that I currently own.

Mezco’s Batman is technically a better action figure and is yet another landmark in the history of toy production. Hasbro’s Zombie Vipers were more fun and I’m still to this day fiddling with them on my desk.

NECA’s newest Ashley J. Williams action figure not only sports the very best Bruce Campbell likeness that has ever been released (looking at my collection I have decided his mug must just be damned tough to replicate because there are tons of bad face sculpts, even on more recent releases), but it is also the most complete. The articulation is very good, the accessories consist of everything you need for Old Ash, and the paint is perfection. This is honestly one of the best action figures in NECA’s history. It’s a must-own for fans of Bruce Campbell and my personal action figure high water mark for 2016. After two months he’s still standing beside my monitor, threatening me with his dumb chainsaw hand. I just can’t bear to shelve him yet.

Best Toy Line

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

Mezco’s One:12 Collective action figures are, in my opinion, the best action figures ever made. But due to high expectations by Mezco and strict quality control, most of the releases that were supposed to hit in the back half of 2016 got pushed back to next year. While I fully support delaying product to ensure quality, they still missed their release dates and as such are disqualified. For 2016.

DC Collectibles’ Icons and Animated lines were both strong in 2016. Icons is one of the best lines I’ve seen in years, but it is treading ground that has been thoroughly covered before. If I didn’t already own all of these characters – some several times over – I’d be more excited. As for the Animated line, there are enough missteps and stumbles that I can’t call it a definitive winner.

NECA’s Reel Toys, on the other hand, has made up for the occasional error or sloppy job with a line that has consistently delivered exciting, high-quality toys throughout 2016. I don’t buy everything that NECA releases, but their success rate with me is so high that I have to acknowledge their efforts. They’ve had far more hits than misses.

Best Individual Toy

Nominees – Dawn of Justice Batcave from Mattel, Batman ’66 Batcave from LEGO, Deluxe BB-8 Big Fig from JAKKS Pacific, Madballs from Mondo, Batman Animated Batwing from DC Collectibles
Winner – Madballs Slobulus from Mondo

I don’t even know what this category is, any more. It used to be for what I consider “toys” rather than “action figures” – vehicles, playsets, more involved or larger scale figures with electronics or features. But since vehicles and playsets seem to be a thing of the past for collectors like me, I’m not quite sure what to do.

The first three nominees are all great. They’re superlative toys in every way and in terms of value and playability they deserve recognition. But they’re my son’s toys. I wanted to mention them because they’re awesome, but I can’t rightly award them from my own personal viewpoint. I will say that out of the three the BB-8 is the one I most want for myself. It’s really good, you guys.

DC Collectibles’ Batwing is almost perfect. The sculpt and finish are gorgeous. The light-up effects are beautiful. But it’s tainted by DCC’s double-dipping/poor planning. I have this incredible Batwing, but no figures that can sit in it. Sure – I could remove Batman and Robin’s capes like I did with the Batmobile, but even thinking about doing so is a reminder of the mercenary manner that DCC has treated collectors of their animated line. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and takes some of the shine off of what should probably be my toy of the year.

And then there are Mondo’s new vinyl Madballs. They’re more collectible than toy, but the incredible sculpts, flawless paint jobs, and updated designs brought me more joy than any other “toy” item I purchased this year. I can’t stop looking at them. These are pieces of art that far surpass the expectations I had for them. Yes – they’re pricey to be thrown around. But if you do want to throw them around, they can handle it. I picked Slobulus as my favorite because he just delighted me the most. Horn Head and Skull Face are excellent, but Slobulus stands out as perhaps the best example of what Madballs are all about.

Best Toy Company

Nominees – DC Collectibles, Mezco, NECA, Hasbro
Winner – Hasbro

I feel like Hasbro did the best job of representing the brands it produces and offering a wide variety of products for the collector and for kids. They’re in a tough spot now where it costs a ton more to produce toys than it used to, but consumers aren’t willing – or able – to spend more money on those toys. As much as I might complain about Marvel Legends or about what Hasbro has done with Star Wars, the truth is that they’re doing a damned fine job with every license they have. Just because there’s a lot that isn’t for me doesn’t mean that Hasbro isn’t still satisfying a tough market.

Best Place to Buy Toys

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

After improving their website, reducing the price gap with their competitors, and seemingly doing a better job with distribution to stores, Toys R Us has made a surprising comeback. For several years Target was where I was getting most of my mass market toys because they had them cheaper and sooner, but TRU had a leg up in many ways this year. Amazon lost because despite their frequently cheaper prices the packaging on their shipped products was unacceptable. I received many collectible action figures packed in nothing more than a bubble envelope.

I love BigBad and still do some shopping there, but their shipping prices are a bit high (of course, they also pack toys like they’re Faberge eggs).

I also love my Local Comic Shop and recommend you get as much as you can from your own. This is my biggest source of non-mass-market toys.

Best Pro Wrestler

Nominees – Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, AJ Styles, Bayley, Samoa Joe
Winner – AJ Styles

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

Despite being saddled with James Ellsworth at the tail end of the year, AJ was on fire for the whole of 2016, from his Rumble debut to his strong victory over Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler on the final SmackDown Live of the year. His matches were always compelling and top-notch and his character work has been – as all of us long-time TNA fans knew it would be – excellent. Whether he was working as a heel or a babyface, AJ has been more over than 99 percent of the WWE roster since he showed up.

Best Pro Wrestling Tag Team

Nominees – American Alpha, The Usos, New Day, Team DIY, The Revival
Winner – The Revival

Best tag team in years. They work as a unit, they’re believable, and they are pure heels. They aren;t winking at the crowd or trying to get chants - I believe that they believe what they're doing, and that makes them not just the best tag team, but two of the top talents in the business.

Best Video Game

Winner – The Last Guardian

Finally, I'm going to close things with a category that I don't really have any right to even include.

I barely play video games at all. But my family got me a few for Christmas and in my time off before I had to go back to work I became thoroughly engrossed in The Last Guardian. It's from the same folks that made ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, two of my all-time favorite games. This one tops both of those for immersion and emotional investment. I'm not done yet, but I know it will end in tears.

The gameplay revolves around controlling a young boy and interacting with a huge, cryptid-like creature. Over the course of the game you literally train this willful, independent creature to not just obey your commands, but be your companion. It has been a powerful and moving experience with moments of such heightened emotion that my breath has literally been taken away several times.

Best Bits N’ Pieces

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

The Tick – Amazon’s pilot was fantastic and compelling. I can’t wait to see more of this show.

Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday – Far exceeded expectations. I never got over being let down by Big Top Pee-Wee, so I wasn’t sure about this one going in. IT IS A DELIGHT.

Dave Chapelle and A Tribe Called Quest on Saturday Night Live – An episode that was nearly perfect from beginning to end and was sorely needed. If they made just this one episode available for sale I would buy it.

Saturday Night Live’s Tribute to Prince – A powerful compilation and fitting tribute.

Galavant – A fun, ridiculous show that will be missed.

Mythbusters – One of the most reliably compelling television shows I have ever watched. The finale episodes were fitting and even though I would have watched it forever, I feel like it went out strong and at the right time.

House of Lies – I just discovered this amazing show. Kristen Bell is just one of the best ever in everything, but Don Cheadle is blowing my mind. His performance is making me feel like James Rhodes is being criminally underused in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I want a War Machine movie. I’ve always loved Cheadle and was quite pleased when he replaced Terrance Howard, but House of Lies is a revelation.

Maron – A show that only got better with every episode and reached creative heights that I never expected. A benchmark of television. I’ll buy the series if they ever do a Blu-ray set.

The Good Place – Finally, me and the missus binge watched the first seven episodes of this new show starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. Besides Bell being the most perfect human being in all of creation, the show is excellent. From the first episode the characters are solid and the writing is great. There was no adjustment period for the show to find itself. If we'd had time to watch every episode I feel like it would definitely be part of the "Best New Show" nominees.

2016 was tough. We lost a lot of inspirational and popular people. America seems more divided and full of hate and intolerance than I’ve ever seen. Let’s all try a little harder to listen, to understand, and to love.

If you enjoy movies, television, comics, toy collecting, or Needless Things, you might enjoy

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