It just seems like yesterday when 2016 lay stretched before us like a two-lane highway, leading off to a vanishing point on the horizon to an unknown future. Anything was possible; it was just waiting for us to drive down the road and take in the experience. Here are some highlights – a mix of news, events, and lots of popular culture – that I remembered this year.
In a year of some mind-bogglingly good television series, few find a way to bring a common trope into new territory. In simplest terms, Dirk Gently is a detective show, as the name might imply. But anyone familiar with the source material would know that this is no ordinary detective. Based on the series of novels by the incredible Douglas Adams, the series brings the titular Dirk Gently to Seattle to solve the mysterious death of a wealthy industrialist named Patrick Spring, and with the case comes one of the most interesting and absolutely ridiculous shows on television.
We love genre mashups. Like Joss Whedon’s Firefly (a western about pirates in outer space), Stranger Things successfully mixes popular genres, becoming an '80s sci-fi kids' adventure/thriller that’s not really meant for a youth audience. When The Goonies meets The X-Files and lasts for 10 hours binged in one weekend, you get an entertaining and engaging series.
The ‘80s revival that has been steadily gaining momentum in the pop culture arena since the mid-2000s (post-Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) reached a new and impressive zenith in 2016, no doubt capstoned by the critical success of the Netflix original series, Stranger Things. This television show (which will be explored in a different retrospective at Fanbase Press) encapsulated all the trademark hallmarks of the decade: Cold War fears, slasher-horror elements, youth-centric stories, period piece music and nods to vintage advertisements, hair styles, and fashion. The show was a perfect example of homage-as-genre, a type of cinema pioneered by Tarantino in the '90s with Pulp Fiction. Other directors and producers attempted to mimic the homage-as-genre style to mixed results. This scenario has plagued the '80s resurgence as well, as the failure of the live-action version of Jem and the Holograms in 2015 illustrates; however, it is the true artisans and crafts folk, the ones who lived in the era and have come of age (late Gen-Xers and Millennials) that truly see the value and potential of the decade, and have been successfully mining it. Stranger Things may be the most prominent example for 2016, but beneath it a whole '80s world flourishes across different medias.
Comics have a way of redefining themselves in order to keep up with the changing tide of time itself. Heroes who first came into existence when the clutch was the standard in automotive instrumentation still exist during a time when fax machines are considered out-of-date technology. Villains who are known for using the latest chemical compositions and radiological yields suddenly find themselves being outshined by a teen who can hack into the DoD’s mainframe. But the one thing that has never changed with comics, even though the companies themselves have, is that they love to bring about events and changes that attempt to attract readers.
Many tributes have been pouring out over Facebook and other social media. I understand why. First, 2016 has taken a lot from us. Not that every year doesn’t do its fair share of reaping, but this year’s “in memoriam” looms larger than most, I suspect because those of us who are Gen X (the original fanboys and fangirls, thank you) are seeing our childhood literally pass away. We are used to seeing the elderly pass, those whose achievements we have collectively filed in “the past.” But this year seemed to take those still very much present who also shaped our lives. George Michael, Prince, David Bowie, and Glenn Frey - whether or not you cared for their music, they were the soundtrack of childhood and early youth. Nancy Reagan, first lady for most of the eighties, passed away, as did Gene Wilder - the only Willy Wonka for a certain age set - Florence Henderson (C’mon - Mrs. Brady?), and even Kenny Baker - R2-D2 himself. Alan Rickman hit many of us hard - raise a glass to Professor Snape, one of the bravest fictional characters I have ever read. And now, to lose Carrie Fisher right at year’s end seems wrong, somehow - just cruel.
As the world waits to see if Daniel Craig will reprise his role as James Bond for a fifth time, one thing is certain: His legacy will be that of a darker, more emotionally volatile Bond, which we were introduced to in Craig’s debut outing, Casino Royale (2006, Martin Campbell); however, amongst all the hype for Craig’s more "realistic" and "gritty" portrayal, it is often forgotten that we have, in fact, seen Bond portrayed this way before. At the end of the 1980s, Timothy Dalton was swearing and fist-fighting as part of a vengeful, wayward, and sometimes anti-heroic interpretation of the secret agent in his second Bond film, Licence to Kill (1989, John Glen). The tone and content of the film were darker to such an extent that it was the first Bond film to be rated "15" by the British Board of Film Classification, and it is still the only installment in the series to have this rating. Licence to Kill takes us on an emotionally charged manhunt, as Bond disobeys his boss, M, and seeks revenge on those responsible for the dismemberment of his friend, Felix Leiter. Looking at the Vesper Lynn storyline in Craig’s films, one can draw some similarities, but unlike its more modern counterpart, Licence to Kill produced less than impressive box office takings and isn’t particularly well regarded amongst the other films of the series. In the Eon Productions documentary, Everything or Nothing (2012, Stevan Riley), Executive Bond producer Barbara Broccoli suggests that the audience at the time just wasn’t ready for the gritty Bond of Licence To Kill, but now that it seems that they most definitely are, it is worth revisiting this thriller and appreciating its darker elements, which contributed to a more complex Bond character and storyline a long time before Craig arrived on the scene.
Silver Plane Films and Kingfisher Media rounds out casting of the noir thriller, D.O.A. Blood River, with Christa B. Allen (“Revenge,” “13 Going on 30”) as Jessie, Scottie Thompson (“Skyline,” “NCIS”) as Bonnie, Christopher Rob Bowen (“Marauders,” “Heist”) as Deputy Billy Renee, Tyson Sullivan (“Banshee,” “Quarry”) as Officer Walker, Stephen C. Sepher (“Heist,” “4 Minutes”) as Vince Valenti, and Lillo Brancato (“A Bronx Tale,” “Crimson Tide”) as Frank Zanca.
Earlier this year, award-winning sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin released two new short story collections, THE FOUND AND THE LOST (Simon and Schuster/Saga Press) and THE UNREAL AND THE REAL (Simon and Schuster/Saga Press). Le Guin and Simon and Schuster/Saga Press have been very generous to the Fanbase Press staff, as we are now able to share a preview of the short story, "Dragonfly," from THE FOUND AND THE LOST!