My 2021 Reading Stacks #1

Owen Books 2020!

Two different 2020 releases, each about a youngster named Owen who acquires great power that makes others jealous, but only one of them can handle it.

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read lately that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, give away one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my recent reading results.

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Best CDs of 2020 According to an Old Guy Who Bought 5

Five new CDs I bought in 2020.

Per tradition, my annual personal tiny album chart.

It’s that time again! The annual entry where I look back at the previous year as one of six people nationwide who still prefers compact discs to digital. I don’t splurge too much because it’s increasingly tougher for new music to catch my ear as I grow older and more finicky, and as my favorite acts of yesteryear die, stop recording, or turn toward musical directions that take them beyond my zones of interest. That usually means missing out on what the majority loves, thus further dragging me down the long plummet into total irrelevance. Story of my life.

Even in 2020, though, I tried my best to keep abreast of the latest in album-sized tune collections and found a handful of artists and labels releasing new distractions and rays of hope amid the pandemic. It took until September before I finally spent a dime on new music, but the feeling was one of relief that at least one aspect of life had found a way to proceed as normal, or a close approximation under duress.

The following list, then, comprises all the CDs that I acquired last year that were 2020 releases. None were bad, but we’re not into 5-way ties here on MCC, so somebody has to give. Curiously, the longest one clocks in at 42 minutes; the shortest barely saunters past the half-hour mark. I’ve never been one to complain about getting the most bang for my buck out of every CD, so I can deal with it. Part of me is pretty okay with bloated 70-minute albums being a thing of the past if it means we’re hearing more finesse than filler.

On with the countdown!

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Okay, Fine, NOW I Get Baby Yoda

life-size Baby Yoda statue.

Not mine, a coworker’s. But if he retires before I do and forgets to take it with him…

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife Anne and I subscribed to Disney+ a year behind the rest of the world and are doing our best to catch up on the content that matters most. So far that means Pixar’s Soul and the Star Wars universe. On a more inessential note I also watched Cars 3, which was better than the second one, which wasn’t too high a bar to jump.

But our primary objective has been Star Wars because for the past year everyone around us has been “Mandalorian” this and “Baby Yoda” that and of course they had to take turns asking us every ten minutes, “Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet?”

YES, WE HAVE DISNEY+ NOW. Um, finally. Sorry for shouting.

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Old Guy With a PS3, Year 6: There’s No Pandemic in Skyrim

Skyrim Claudia Christian!

Yep, that’s me in the dragon plate armor I forged myself, hanging out with my favorite blacksmith, voiced by Claudia Christian.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, at the beginning of 2016:

As a kid, I frequented video arcades regularly. As a parent, my son and I spent a good decade playing games together on his various systems. When he graduated and moved away to college, he took all his systems with him, leaving me with only my old Nintendo that won’t play cartridges unless you keep the Game Genie firmly inserted, and an Atari Plug-‘n’-Play Controller I got for Christmas a few years ago that interested me for about two weeks. On Black Friday 2014, I decided I wanted back in the 21st century gaming mode and picked up a used PS3.

Naturally I started off a generation behind the rest of the civilized world, but I didn’t care. After fifteen months without, holding a controller felt abnormal and rusty for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it again and figured out how to disable the “Digital Clear Motion Plus” feature on my TV, I could shake the dust off my trigger fingers, choose the games I wanted to play, sprint or meander through them at whatever pace I saw fit, and try some different universes beyond Final Fantasy and our other longtime mainstays…

…and it’s been a minor MCC annual tradition ever since. In an average year I would play three times per week, maybe two hours per session, and get through four to six games. Except for that time I spent thirteen months on Borderlands 2. Or that other time when when I spent nine months of 2019 on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Perhaps my definition of “average year” is stretching a bit.

And then there was 2020. Without conventions, family gatherings, friendly outings, work-related events, holidays, out-of-state vacations, or restaurants I could enjoy without terror or paranoia, I had a lot more time on my hands for hobbies. Especially this hobby, as it turned out.

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Yes, There’s a Scene During the “Wonder Woman 1984” End Credits

"Wonder Woman 1984" poster at AMC Perry Crossing.

A rare sighting of a movie poster in its deserted natural habitat.

Yes, we are going to stubborn lengths to avoid subscribing to HBO Max. Thanks for asking!

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Comics Update: My Current Lineup and 2020 Pros and Cons

Alphabetized piles of comic books published in 2020.

The annual photo of a year’s worth of singles in alphabetical piles. Curiously, no titles starting with C, N, T, Y or Z this year.

Comics collecting has been my primary geek interest since age 6, but I have a tough time writing about it with any regularity. My comics-judging criteria can seem weird and unfair to other fans who don’t share them. I like discussing them if asked, which is rare, but I loathe debating them. It doesn’t help that I skip most crossovers and tend to gravitate toward titles with smaller audiences. Whenever a larger company axes titles for the sake of their bottom line or internal politics, my favorites are usually first on the chopping block. I doubt many comics readers follow MCC anyway, so it’s really the best possible place for me to talk about comics unharmed, albeit all to myself. So far I haven’t had to ban myself for flaming or trolling myself, which is nice.

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2020 at the Movies at My House

Tom Hardy as Al Capone.

If Tom Hardy is determined to play only inaudible characters from now on, might I suggest he grab a corncob pipe and reboot Popeye?

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: I saw four (4) whole movies in theaters in 2020, the Purgatory That Only Pretended to Be a Year on the Calendar. For those of us who didn’t live cocky, selfish lives, home video was our best possible escape hatch into other worlds, a lifeline out of this farcical fiasco of a reality, and our safest way to take a scenic cross-country walk in other shoes. And walk I did.

I don’t usually rank my home video viewing. I’d stopped keeping track of all that years ago because my posts about home video arrive with stats DOA. In 2020 I felt moved to devote full entries to a few key works, but by and large I watched them, I processed my feelings, I shut up, and I saved it for later. At long last, later is now.

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My 2020 at the Movies, All Four of Them

Elisabeth Moss in "The Invisible Man".

Elisabeth Moss demonstrates the proper distance to sit away from other viewers at the theater.

It’s listing time again! In today’s entertainment consumption sphere, all experiences must be pitted against each other and assigned numeric values that are ultimately arbitrary to anyone except the writer themselves. It’s just this fun thing some of us love doing even though the rules are made up and the points don’t matter. Even when we don’t have much to list thanks to the decline of Western civilization. Every year I compile this list from every film I’ve seen in theaters that year and, well, you can imagine how that went.

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My 2020 Reading Stacks #13: The Finale

The Seeds and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Two of the best graphic novels of 2020.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

At the beginning of each year I spend weeks writing year-in-review entries that cover the gamut of my entertainment intake, including capsule reviews for all the books and graphic novels I’ve read. I refrain from devoting entries to full-length book reviews because 999 times out of 1000 I’m finishing a given work decades after the rest of the world is already done and moved on from it.

As time permits and the finished books pile up, I’ll be charting my full list of books, graphic novels, and trade collections I’ve read throughout the year in a staggered, exclusive manner here, for all that’s worth to the outside world. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text. Novels and non-pictographic nonfiction will pop up here and there, albeit in a minority capacity for a few different reasons. Triple bonus points to any longtime MCC readers who can tell which items I bought at which comic/entertainment conventions we’ve attended over the past few years.

And now…it’s readin’ time. Again. One last time for 2020.

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Yes, There’s a Moment after the “Soul” End Credits

22 and Joe's soul in an astral pizza shop in "Soul"

If you loved Jamie Foxx as a blue guy in Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Tina Fey playing against a blue guy in Megamind

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover back in May, when ruminating on our family’s adoption process for new streaming services:

Our family prides itself on not being early adopters of new technology or services. We prefer to let upstart projects and products get up and running, figure out their processes, work out their bugs, set a price point that’s worth the venture, and build up a reputation, preferably a favorable one. Then we might give them the time of day. Maybe. Sometimes. Streaming services are subject to the same vetting procedure. The internet’s Baby Yoda obsession notwithstanding, we have yet to pull the trigger on Disney+…

All that changed Christmas evening. Everyone does the post-Christmas thing where they wait until all gift-giving is finished, then buy themselves a little something to compensate for any oversights or disappointments, right? Mine was springing for an upgrade to our existing Hulu With Five Tedious Commercials Repeated Ad Nauseum subscription. Now we can access the wonder and whimsy of Disney+. One day in the future I can at long last stop worrying about pervasive spoilers for The Mandalorian.

And what better way to test-drive our new channel than with the latest Pixar production? Soul was among the hundreds of major releases relegated to the once-ignominious fate of a direct-to-video release thanks to pandemic pandemonium. Technically it’s cheaper for viewers this way who have the wherewithal to let the fees sink into the morass of their monthly credit card charges, but on the downside, the wildly inventive score by the Oscar-winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made me wish I could’ve seen this in a theater and immersed myself in the splendor of its music, apropos of the film’s own themes. Among other benefits, it might’ve better distracted me from a few things that bugged me as the film played on.

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