Some may hate them, but I love Best-Of lists. If only because they remind us that we wallow in tsunamis of hype on a daily basis for stuff that will be long forgotten after the year’s end, if not before. I compiled my favorites of 2010 for Wired, which happen to be challenging but accessible experiments in film, comics and television that will live on much longer than that. To the besting!
With Christopher Nolan’s defiantly labyrinthine mind-fry Inception, cerebral sci-fi finally scored a blockbuster this year to stand alongside pop corn like Iron Man 2 and, yeah, Tron: Legacy. (The truth computes, fanboys!)
Mashing genres and melting perspectives, Inception proved that cinema, sci-fi and otherwise, doesn’t have to worship at the limiting “altar of the 18-to-25-year-old male and his penis,” as the excellent Helen Mirren recently put it. Inception employed some heavy thematic coding, fluid possibility and less CGI than you would think, and still scored enough millions to become one of the highest-grossing films of the year.
Whoever thinks that animation isn’t for adults doesn’t realize the incontrovertible truth that adults have been watching, and creating, killer cartoons for all ages, for decades. This year, it was once again Genndy Tartakovsky’s turn to shine, which he hasn’t since his mind-blowing 2003 miniseries Star Wars: Clone Wars nearly outshone Revenge of the Sith. Tartakovsky’s new mecha-based American anime Sym-Bionic Titan has become one of the best television shows of the year, capable of delivering riotous satire, butt-clenching horror and action-packed sci-fi. Sure, it takes place in a high school, but so does the American Idol reboot Glee, which has no problem recruiting freaks and geeks across demographics.
“Animation has always had the problem of being perceived as purely for kids,” Tartakovsky told Wired.com in September before Sym-Bionic Titan’s stellar launch. “I think things are better than a few years ago, but the stigma still exists.”
For no good reason, given Titan’s sci-fi, anime and mecha roots. Unlike Glee, Sym-Bionic Titan thankfully annihilates its high school, and everything surrounding it, whenever a fearsome new monster flies through a space rift to try and assassinate the show’s interstellar refugees, Lance, Ilana and their shape-shifting robot Octus (the brilliantly restrained Brian Posehn).
The comics industry’s hardest-working visionary — alongside Warren Ellis, of course — went fractal with Batman’s bottomless mythology in 2010. In astoundingly ambitious and subversively clever series like Batman and Robin, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman: The Return and Batman, Inc., Grant Morrison dragged his Zen billionaire across time and space in search of uncharted territory.
In the process, Morrison made DC Comics millions of dollars, and cemented his status — alongside Warren Ellis, of course — as the next comics-based brainiac, after the controversial Alan Moore, primed for Hollywood adaptation. (Movies based on Morrison’s comics would nicely complement Patrick Meaney’s insightful 2010 documentary Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods).
That is, if Hollywood can step away from the Batman film franchise’s fake realism and shoot for the fantastic fringe, where all things strange and cool reside before the mainstream co-opts them for blockbuster cash.
Iron Man: Extremis
Iron Man 2 may have been 2010’s favored Shellhead spawn of the movie-going public. But its lightweight version of the decades-old villain Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke, doing time), was a trash-fab retread of Rocky IV’s Ivan Drago, while its blow-dried bazillionaire Tony Stark (hammed with cheese by Robert Downey Jr.) spent the majority of the film drinking and moping over daddy.
Comics true-schoolers were within reach of a much meatier, and more cerebral, man-machine experience in Marvel’s motion comic Iron Man: Extremis, written by Transmetropolitan brainiac Warren Ellis with vivid art from Adi Granov.
Extremis was based on the pair’s six-issue arc that, in a nice bit of circularity, influenced the design and themes of the Iron Man film franchise in the first place. From its creepy carnage to its deep philosophy on nanotechnology, terrorism and the often-blind ambition of doom science, Iron Man: Extremis exhibited more gray matter in its first few minutes than Iron Man 2 did in its entirety.