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Hugh Likes Video Games: 2020 Top 5

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Hello, readers! With not much else to do this year, 2020 was definitely a year for gaming. And gaming got a lot of attention this year, from the glossy spectacle of Final Fantasy VII Remake to the glitchy mess of Cyberpunk 2077. I tend towards a more indie bent in my gaming, but here are my top five games that caught my eye this year, as usual, in alphabetical order.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

Let’s start with the biggest truth of the past year. 2020 was a garbage fire of a year, and in a year where we couldn’t just go and visit our friends, games became virtual spaces to meet up and visit. And for me, that mostly happened in Animal Crossing New Horizons. There’s not much that I would call serendipity this year, but Animal Crossing dropping in mid-March, just as everything shut down became a haven. A game about building refuge became a port in the storm for millions, me included. I wasn’t a fan of AC before this, and I doubt I would’ve picked up the game otherwise, but it allowed some peace and comfort in my life, as well as the ability to visit friends’ islands when I couldn’t visit their homes. I have mostly dropped off, prompting my villagers to complain about how they’ve missed me every time I pop back in, but ti was a needed balm for a few months.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Fall Guys
Mediatronic
Played on PS4

Fall Guys made the obvious leap of combining great ideas into one package better than the sum of its parts: Online Battle Royale Gaming and Obstacle Course Game Shows. The alchemy of cartoonish costumes and padded foam rolling logs works up to an oasis of calm and joy, even as I get knocked out one more time.

Hades

Hades
Supergiant Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

Hades is one hell of a game. Loaded with challenging gameplay, intricate systems, and a compelling story full of rich characters, Supergiant has created a masterpiece of the Rogue-like genre. While games like Dead Cells and Rogue Legacy had flirted with the idea of narrative in a Rogue structure, Hades doubles down and commits to telling a story that not merely progresses between runs, but relies on the life-die-repeat structure as a meaningful and necessary component. The result is a satisfying gameplay loop that makes even a bad run feel meaningful as players claw their way out of The Underworld, one room at a time.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Omega Force
Played on Nintendo Switch

A prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the game is set during the Calamity one-hundred years before that game opens. While that game featured cutscenes that revealed glimpses of that conflict, this game shines by letting players fight out the epic war. Using Dynasty Warriors combat is a stroke fo genius, as that series lends an epic grandeur to the conflict, and we can see how mighty Link and the Champions really were. The game also lets players drive the Divine Beasts, essentially ancient elemental giant robots, for some even more epic destruction.The result is an engaging mix of fan service and mythic tragedy (plus some time travel nonsense) that makes this title stand out from others in the -Warriors series.

Merchant of the Skies

Merchant of the Skies
Coldwind Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

A delightful little indie game that didn’t see enough love this year, Merchant of the Skies is a steampunk airship trading game that sees you buying low and selling high across an archipelago of floating islands. Along the way, you upgrade your ship, set up facilities to harvest and refine goods from raw materials, set up a fleet to deliver them, and discover the region’s hidden secrets. This was a perfectly chill game with a lovely pixel art style. There is no combat to worry about, and as long as you can keep your ship powered, (or pay for a tow to a refueling station) the game keeps going. This friendly management sim hooked me pretty quickly, and had me playing for one more run to clear that next upgrade or uncover the next island. While the game did tend to want to autosave a bit too often for my taste, which left me cooling my heels at a loading screen, It was the perfect game to relax with in a stressful year.

Hugh Likes Comics: Top 5 of 2020

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This year was a rough one for Comics. Covid-19 forced a distribution shutdown, with ramification that were felt throughout the industry. But there were still a plethora of great books that came out this year, and while I don’t have enough space to expound on all the outstanding books I read this year, here are five of my favorites, in alphabetical order. Spoilers abound below!

Empyre
Written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott
Drawn by Valerio Schiti
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics

At first glance, Empyre is just another Marvel Comics alien invasion story. The Earth is pushed to the brink of peril, and then saved at the last minute by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, etc. etc. But look past the surface, and there is so much more going on.Empyre concludes with a same-sex royal wedding in space, with all the Avengers and Fantastic Four as guests of honor. It reaches to the roots of Marvel Universe history, both in-story and in publication, and embraces that past while stepping into the future. The status quo for superhero comics is typically dark, putting the heroes on a never-ending back foot, with another crisis just around the corner. The end of this book does acknowledge that nothing good lasts forever. But today, the Kree / Skrull War is over, and Comics Are For Everyone. Make Mine Marvel!

Far Sector
Written by N. K. Jemisin
Drawn and Colored by Jamal Campbell
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comic Young Animal

This rare gem of a book takes place in a distant corner of the DC Universe, far from the crises of the regular continuity, and also, I suspect, from editorial interference. Given their own canvas to work with, Jemisin and Campbell have built a beautiful, wondrous and troubling world in The City Enduring, a sparkling artificial super-metropolis where three distinct alien cultures live in apparent harmony, until Green Lantern Jo Mullein is called upon to solve their first murder in centuries, and uncovers a chilling web of oppression and dirty politics whose exposure may tear a civilization apart.Jemisin’s writing on this book is consistently amazing. It’s difficult to believe this is her first jump from prose to comics. Propelled by Campbell’s dazzling art, this ongoing title is not to be missed.

Heist
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Published by Vault Comics

Gritty sci-fi crime dramas seems to be my jam this year, and Heist was another great one. After being set up by an evil executive and thrown in jail, Glaine Breld is out for revenge. There’s just two problems. One, the Dignity Corporation is so powerful it is completely untouchable. And two, everyone on the entire planet wants him dead. No big deal, because he’s got a plan to set everything right. All he has to do is get a crew together and steal the whole planet.
Full of twist, dark humor, and the blackest of cyberpunk high concepts, Heist is a hell of a ride.

The Ludocrats
Written by Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol
Drawn by Jeff Stokely
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

This book is weird, and also weirdly horny, for the sake of weird. Delightful and strange, Gillen and Rossignol don’t merely break the fourth wall, but stomp up and down and pee on it for good measure. Stokely’s art is intricate and full of clever sight gags, and the nonsensical plot, which follows a pair of Aristocrats on the case to stop the Hyper-pope from turning the world boring, is a mad-cap romp. This comic is chock-full full of axe-wielding maniacs, nefarious betrayers, and cannibalistic gastronauts, and those are the good guys! The funniest book I read this year!

Slaughterhouse-Five
Adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel by Ryan North
Art by Albert Monteys
Published by Archaia
Faithfully based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel of the same name, North and Monteys bring us along on Billy Pilgrim’s unstuck journey through time, from his capture in World War II and the battle of Dresden to his abduction to the alien planet Tralfamador and back. North’s script does justice to the story, capturing all the comedy and tragedy it evokes. Montey’s art is cartoonish and subtly colored, and is evocative and resonant. I knew going in this would be a book that I would either love or hate, and I’m glad it pulled off so ambitious an adaptation.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Top 5 of 2019

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Tetris 99
Published by Nintendo
Developed by Akira
Played on Nintendo Switch

If there’s one thing Nintendo is really good at, it’s teaching an old dog new tricks. This answer to Sony’s 2018 hit Tetris Effect takes the venerable puzzler into virgin territory: The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Fighting it out with 98 other online players is exhilarating. Starting with a free-to-play model that doesn’t gouge you at every turn and a bevy of paid and free DLC make it a game I enjoyed all year long.

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Dicey Dungeons
Developed and Published by Terry Cavanagh
Played on Mac via Steam

2019 was the year of the the indie deckbuilder, but this steam gem pulled ahead of the back for me with its charm and style. Playing as six walking dice trying to win their hearts desires, you hack your way through a variety of turn-based battles agains the cruel whims of Lady Luck herself in her ’70’s style game show. Dicey Dungeons wins by matching cute style with tough-as-nails gameplay that always offers something new.

Sayonara Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Published by Annapurna Interactive
Developed by Simogo
Played on Nintendo Switch

Essentially a mashup of arcade racing and pop music video album, Queen Latifah guides The Fool through dream-life levels to mend her broken heart. Just simple enough to get you to keep trying for that Gold Rank, this game throws everything from mecha-wolf haunted forests to rain-soaked highways. This is less a game and more of an experience, but it is well worth your time.

Untitled Goose

Untitled Goose Game
Published by Panic
Developed by House House
Played on Nintendo Switch

Sometimes you just want to sow some chaos. Untitled Goose game started as a joke and became an indie darling. As the Untitular Goose, you honk your way through a reign of terror in a sleepy English village in a game that is a bit short, but gives you plenty mayhem to try and accomplish after you beat the main game in a couple hours.

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Pokemon Sword
Published by Nintendo
Developed by Game Freak
Played on Nintendo Switch

The first main entry for the series on Nintendo Switch, Pokemon Sword and Shield evoked controversy by not featuring the full eight-hundred plus roster of monsters. But the game still boasts a satisfyingly huge number of collectable monsters in full 3D, and the ability to camp and play with them as well as battle in a huge open world.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Top 5 of 2019

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Die

Die
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Stephanie Hans
Published by Image Comics

Gillen’s story of a group of adults returning to the magical world they escaped as teenagers is a mix of It and the ’80’s Dungeons and Dragons Saturday morning cartoon. Hans brings a unique, painterly style that makes the world feel as strange for us on the readers. The comic itself is a deep, emotional examination of trauma and the rules we live and play by. But as the characters move across the fantasy world, Gillen repeatedly pulls off the trick of exposing the bleeding heart of what Fantasy is and why we make it.

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Fairlady
Written by Brian Schirmer
Drawn by Claudia Balboni, Shari Chankhamma, and Marissa Louise
Published by Image Comics

An intriguing mix of mystery and fantasy, Fairlady mixes a modern sensibility with pulp stylings to great effect. A sort of fantasy private eye, Jenner Faulds solves mysteries, bickers with her co-worker at her day job protecting an absent wizard’s tower, and gets bailed out of trouble by her seven-foot tall cat-man bestie. Each issue is a single mystery, and they’re all clever and interesting. Unfortunately, the book was canceled after issue 5, but the trade is available, and this isn’t a book to let pass you by.

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House of X / Powers of X
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by Pepe Larraz and R. B. Silva
Published by Marvel Comics

House of X and Powers of X were a big gamble, and it’s safe to say at this point that it’s paid off. After years of protecting a world that hates and fears them, the X-Men are trying something new, and approaching their enemies as a new force. The idea of a mutant nation has been tried and failed in the Marvel Universe, but this one has a lot of new, big ideas going for it. I can’t wait to see what Hickman and crew get up to next.

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Invisible Kingdom
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Drawn by Christian Ward
Published by Berger Books

The incisive writing of G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, Air) and the art of Christian Ward (Black Bolt, ODY-C)is a heady mix. And the intertwined story of a cargo ship captain working for a monopolistic space corporation and an acolyte in a religious order with dark secrets is a little bit Alien and a little bit Star Wars in all the best ways.

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Lois Lane / Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (Tie)

Lois Lane
Written by Greg Rucka
Drawn by Mike Perkins
Published by DC Comics

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen
Written by Matt Fraction
Drawn by Steve Lieber and Nathan Fairbairn
Published by DC Comics

I couldn’t pick between these two standout books, both of which came out around the same time, but are only slightly connected. Both are deep studies of neglected characters that are very different in tone and style from D.C.’s usual fare.
Lois Lane is a hard-boiled story about the world’s greatest investigative reporter as she delves into a conspiracy that cost one of her colleagues her life, with help from Renee Montoya, AKA The Question. It plays the Journalist as superhero part to the hilt, and it is something worth cheering for.
Jimmy Olsen is a more comical and surreal update of the silver age teen sidekick, as he goes into hiding after thinking Lex Luthor put out a hit on him. But this is also the comic where Jimmy Olsen finds himself in a prank war with Batman. Fraction is writing at the height of his Hawkguy powers here, and it’s strange, fascinating, and hilarious.

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Hugh Likes Comics: 2018 Top 5

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Eternity Girl

Eternity Girl
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Drawn by Sonny Liew
Published by DC/Young Animal

After losing control of her powers and being suspended, superhero Caroline Sharp, A. K. A. Chrysalis, has become suicidally depressed. Unfortunately, her powers make her functionally immortal. But the shade of her greatest nemesis appears with a solution: If she destroys all of reality, Caroline can finally be at peace. Eternity Girl starts out as a meditation on classic trope but quickly blossoms into something much more extraordinary. The surreal, shifting story is both personal and grand in a way few comics manage to pull off, and Liew’s art steals the show, including a breathtaking sequence in which reimagines the characters in a multitude of comic styles, from Peanuts to Watchmen. If you liked Into the Spider-Verse but wished it was more philosophically meaty, this is the comic for you.

Immortal Hulk

Immortal Hulk
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Joe Bennett
Published by Marvel Comics

Superheroes get reinvented all the time, but this new take on Marvel’s Angry Green Giant is the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time. By day, Bruce Banner wanders the back roads of America, hitching his way across the country. But night belongs to The Hulk. Ewing uses Marvel’s latest death and resurrection of the character to tell a clever horror stories about guilt, secrets, and self-delusion.

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The Long Con
Written by Ben Coleman and Dylan Mecconis
Drawn by E. A. Denich
Colored by M. Victoria Robado
Published by Oni Press

Five years ago, a disaster convinces the attendees the world’s biggest comic convention that the world had ended, and the world thought the convention center had met the same fate as Los Spinoza, CA. But the Long Con is still going. When proof of survivors surfaces, reporter Victor Lai, one of the last reporters to escape the city, is sent back in. But without protection, and more importantly, without a badge, how long will he survive? This comic is a delightful skewering of post-apocalyptic, nerd culture, and sci-fi tropes.

Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk
Written by Delilah Dawson
Drawn by Matias Basla
Colored by Rebecca Nalty
Published by Boom! Studios

Art, the illegitimate daughter of an English lord, has always lived at odds with the world she was raised in. But when the Faerie Queen switches places with her in a plot to take over the human world, she’ll have to try and save it anyway. But little does she understand what that will cost her, and every choice has devastating consequences in Faerie. Gorgeously illustrated and dream-like, Sparrowhawk is a Victorian portal fantasy with modern sensibilities.

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West Coast Avengers
Written by Kelly Thompson
Drawn by Stefano Caselli and Daniele Di Nicuolo
Published by Marvel Comics

Sometimes you just need to read something unabashedly fun! This relaunch feels less like The Avengers than a new take on the themes of classic Excalibur. As the title suggests, the series is set in Southern California, far away from Marvel’s NYC, and is more than willing to embrace sillinessess. The first volume stars best Hawkeye Kate Bishop and friends as they form a team to save Los Angeles from B.R.O.D.O.K. and his army of 200-foot tall monster women.

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The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang: The first of a pair of fantasy novellas, Yang crafts an elegant tale about family and responsibility in a gorgeous Eastern fantasy world that is quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s a beautiful jeweled puzzle of a book, with characters that come alive in just a few sentences.Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher: Christopher returns to his post-post-singularity alternate 60’s L.A. for another mystery staring Ray Electromatic. The robot detective turned assassin solves another brilliantly noir science fiction mystery that is a unique delight for fans of either genre.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: Saunders spins a single tragic event, the death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son WIllie in 1862, into a strange portrait of America, populated by selfish ghosts unaware of their true nature, mixed with conflicting accounts of the events leading up to the boy’s death. The novel is by turns clever, sad, and hopeful. The audiobook version further elevates the material with a stellar full-cast read that includes Saunders himself.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Cathrynne M. Valente: A brilliant metafictional take on women in superhero comics, Valente builds an entire universe of superheroes and tears them down again. The women and their stories are all instantly recognizable and totally fresh. This is a love letter to comics that cuts it to the bone at the same time, and is well worth the time of any pulp fan.

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey: Gailey’s inventive alternate history gives us a rollicking river-boat adventure staring queer, hippo-riding cowboys. It was exactly the novella I didn’t know I needed this year.

Hugh Likes Podcasts: 2016 Top Five

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: 2016 Top 5

In no particular order, here are my five favorite narrative podcasts of 2016. I listened to a lot this year, and there seemed to be too much to really judge, but these five stood out as gems in the podosphere.

Six Stories Told at Night
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K T Bryski and Blythe Haynes are a dynamic duo of podcast fiction. The writer/narrator pair have worked together on a variety of projects, from the audiobook Heartstealer to the Nightvale-esque Coxwood History Fun Cast. I think this is the apex of their collaboration. A six episode podcast about Canadian Folklore, “Six Stories” blurs the line between myth and reality, story and storyteller, and history and the present. It is an amazing work, commissioned by the Ontario Arts Council.

Gosh-Darn Fiasco
GDF Podcast
A live-roleplay podcast of Bully Pulpit’s Fiasco which started in 2015, this is a mix of roleplaying and improv that works just right for podcast. The episodes are a bit on the long side, with each running at least an hour and often running longer, but hosts Angela Webber and Richard Malena, as well as their recurring guests, are always surprising and hilarious. The playsets are well chosen, and lots of fun. Where else are you going to hear about secret muppets and Antarctic rock bands? No place, that’s where.

Alice Isn’t Dead
Print
From the creators of “Welcome to Night Vale,” Alice isn’t dead is a one-woman audio drama about the long, strange gaps of rural America, the things that inhabit them, and what, precisely, makes us human. The narrator’s search for her presumed-dead wife, and the strange and terrible things she finds along the way are the stuff of American nightmare, compelling and frightening.

The Hidden Almanac
hidden-almanac
A micro-cast written by author and illustrator Ursula Vernon and produced by her husband Kevin Sonney, The Hidden Almanac is a look into the hagiography and domestic garden life of a world not our own. But more precisely, it is the adventures of the long suffering Rev. Mord and his saintly and drunken companion, Pastor Drom. This year they braved the dangers of a library catacomb, fought off an inter-dimensional invasion, and covered a fraught local judiciary election between a revenant used car salesman and a charismatic chicken.  Five minutes a week shouldn’t be this effective, but it is.

The Voice of Free Planet X
rbbs_cast
Jared Axelrod continued their run on this highly polished spec-fictional version of This American Life by visiting a city with amnesia, covering a funeral for a pulp heroine, and helping to preside over a rap battle for the fate of the Earth. Jared is an incandescent wit and talent, and I’m just glad they’re on our side.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Top 5 of 2013

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#5: Batman ’66: I like stories that go all-in. No pussy-footing around, not Super-Heroes-but-no-tights, which seems to be de-reguer, particularly at “The Big Two.” That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by this outing from writer Jeff Parker and artist Jonathan Case. They’ve returned to the source material of the ’60’s Batman TV show, complete with dancing and giant sound effect bubbles. The digital versions have a few more tricks up their sleeves to evoke the classic series. Batman ’66 embraces everything the New 52 disdains, and soars because of it.

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#4: Saga: Vaughan and Staples continued to knock it out of the park this year with Saga. The story of an ancient interstellar war cut with family drama, mercenaries, and the ways art can change a person make for a heady mix. The art remains evocative and controversial. Saga doesn’t pull its punches, but it isn’t crass, either.

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#3: Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur: There was little chance for Clevenger and Wegener to escape this list as well, with this nail-biting installment that puts Atomic Robo at the site of an impossible underground city, with shadow military agents storming his headquarters, and completely unstable velociraptor mad scientist Dr. Dinosaur sitting on a stockpile of stolen nuclear warheads. Atomic Robo remains funnier and smarter than it has a right to be.

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#2: Sandman Overture: We only got one issue of Neil Gaiman’s return to his seminal Byronic Dream King, but oh boy, was it ever a doozy. Filled with all of the gothic-horror elements that made Sandman great, and with exceptional art by G H Williams III, This comic is a rare treat for Morpheus fans. Hopefully, we’ll get to see it a bit more frequently in 2014.

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#1: Young Avengers: Sadly ending in early 2014, Young Avengers is a comic that knows exactly what it wants and goes right for it. Under the direction of comics super-team Keiran Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, the Young Avengers bring a little bit of their indie hit “Phonogram” into the Marvel Universe. “Young Avengers” pits focuses less on what it means or takes to be a superhero than it does the trials and tribulations of modern teenagers. After a poorly planned bit of magic use, a group of teens find themselves fighting against an magical parasite that draws power from how parents don’t understand teenagers. It is a fantastic high-concept very well executed. Unfortunately, for a teen book, there is a lot of backstory for these characters that just isn’t given. I’ve felt in over my head a few times, but I’ve loved the ride. Another plus in this comic’s favor is that it has possibly the highest collection of LGBTQ characters anywhere in ‘the big two,’ and handles them with then same excellent touch as earlier Young Avengers installments.

2013 No-Prize: Dan Didio continues to be comics’ greatest super-villain. He spent the year making sure no DC Comics characters have any fun on his watch. After denying the upcoming marriage of Batwoman Kate Kane, he went on to say that none of DC’s heroes should have a stable home life, and seems to be making certain of it. His crowning achievement this year: Creating an art contest for Harley Quinn #0 which included drawing the beloved children’s TV character naked, despairing, and about to commit suicide. After much outcry, the panel did not appear in the final version.

Honorable mentions:

X-Men: Teenage Mom Jubilee, enough time-travelers to stage a production of “Les Mis” and other crazy nonsense. Marvel seemed to focus on their movie-friendly characters like the Avengers in 2013, but there was still a ton of mutants out there, including an all-female team!

Edison Rex: Artist Dennis Culver gets the nod for designing not just a new set of comics characters, but an entire major publisher’s line-up of heroes and villains. My personal favorite: ROFL, an omnipotent extra-dimensional being using the form of a muppet Grant Morrison.

Subatomic Party Girls: Simms and Bowers had the stones to use the line ‘Do you realize we’re floating in space’ unironically. Props.