Making a Living Selling Buggy Whips, Part 8: A New Chart Frontier

So someone wants to unseat Billboard, primary longtime maker of charts, as the primary maker of charts. This is very exciting to those of us that have blogs focused on things that are popular, and why.

Taking an interest in what’s popular took the form, for me, of an early obsession with the charts. It started out as just a generalized sort of fascination – knowing what was listened to alongside what the things I liked were listened to. Eventually, as I got older and realized that most of what what makes such charts is there because of concentrated marketing efforts, and only in the most tangential way represented what people actually wanted to listen to 1, it became a sort of exercise in trying to see what the marketing “handle” was.

As time has gone by, the record-selling industry has become less able to manufacture things directly, and while the charts themselves are still more or less a function of people being marketed to, there’s a much more accurate sort of idea about what is actually liked, since instead of the radio creating a sort of captive audience in terms of the casual listener, the existence of whatever given streaming service makes it possible for them to avoid the stuff they don’t want to hear while they’re driving to work, and therefore makes it more difficult for something to be “good enough” 2 for someone to listen to it a bunch of times.

In light of all this, charts are still something I have a passing interest in (if not with the fervor I had for them when I was a kid), but more as an empathy exercise. I can’t, for example, imagine listening willingly to an Ed Sheeran song even one time, but I do enjoy considering what it is that the people that listen to his songs many millions of times (collectively) are getting out of them. Non-focused, algorithm-abetted music listening, generally, is a pretty foreign notion to me 3, and so while the answer is sometimes apparent, it’s still worthwhile to me to get into the mindset of another person (a trait I think is valuable) and consider what it is that they are into. There are plenty of things I’m a casual fan of, so I get the idea that not everyone is specifically-directed about everything all the time as a general idea, but seeing a list of what is made popular by people who are doing something for a different reason than me is an interesting way of seeing what I could have in common with them as a listener.

So it comes as some interest that one of the reflexes of a record-selling industry that is painstakingly making its way into some kind of “progress” in terms of evolving to fit the times is that one long-running magazine (Rolling Stone) is currently taking on the current standard-bearing long-running magazine (Billboard) in terms of assembling music charts.

An editorial aside: I know that Rolling Stone comes up a disproportionate amount here, and I have no real reason for this, other than that their attempts to reframe their magazine repeatedly over the course of the last decade has meant that they do a bunch of weird shit, and I love when old-guard popular stuff does weird shit. Plus, I like Matt Taibbi, so I pay attention to it generally.

Anyway, the Variety article linked above cites the press release, which takes specific swings at Billboard, and positions it as a specific attempt to take on the role of chart-purveyor. It’s an interesting move, to say the least, given Billboard’s synonymy with the music charts in general – when people talk in terms of “hits” and “#1s” and whatnot, they are talking, generally, about the position inside the Billboard apparatus.

This is not something that is, inherently, a bad idea. Billboard itself is a pretty different animal from the one that was originally founded 4. At the outset of their chart-delineating (ca. 1940) they were just tracking sales of records, as well as records that appeared in jukeboxes. In the eighties they started to variegate their chart-making, but the data gathered was from self-reporting record-store folks. In the nineties, they partnered with the company SoundScan (a part of the Nielsen conglomerate), which tracked actual point-of-sale numbers. I jumped on shortly after here, but what this notably did was made just about any pre-SoundScan numbers somewhat suspect, as it was immediately apparent that certain things were being over- or under-reported, whether through malfeasance, marketing hijinx, or sheer memory loss 5. As streaming has become the dominant form of consumption, they’ve done some weird patched-in counting measures (“album equivalent streams” operating on a multi-tiered level and not taking YouTube into account at all) that make the whole new thing seem as unreliable as the whole old thing.

What all of this says, then, is that it seems perfectly reasonable that someone who wants to make better, more accurate charts would be able to see an opportunity to do so. To their credit, Rolling Stone has advertised their “transparency”, which is another major failing of the Billboard folks – nobody really knows how the things are counted, such as it is, despite it seeming to be pretty straightforward. They’re also going to update daily, which seems more of a canard than anything else – the week-to-week charts change precious little, and it’s unlikely to matter that the interval in between chart publication dates is getting smaller. But the point is that RS is willing to position themselves as a “real” chart that makes sense and is responsive to the audience as it exists. Or so they say.

It’s also impossible (for me anyway) not to notice that this comes after two things: the first is the news that the profitability of the record-selling industry is on the upswing, thanks largely to streaming, which is the thing that Billboard does the worst job (or the weirdest job, anyway) of tracking. This, presumptively, would make the idea of being a new chart-making service appeal to the parts of that industry who use said charts as a metric of their own efficacy – agents, publicists, label people, that kind of thing. These are the people whose jobs/livelihoods are most at stake, and being able to point to something and say “no see, we are actually more effective than it appeared previously” is probably a real boost to those folks. Since those are the people that also provide much of the grist that is milled in RS’s pages, it’s appears that it would be in everyone’s best interest to go along with it.

It’s also right after the Lil Nas X controversy, which the rapper released a song that was largely perceived, by the audience for it, to be a country song, and which Billboard removed from the “country” charts, proclaiming it not actually a country song 6. This was an unprecedented display of editorial shutting-out, and does leave a lot of us wondering just what, exactly, the role of the magazine that makes the charts thinks it should be exhibiting in terms of gatekeeping (i.e. it seems pretty obvious that the answer to the question “How much gatekeeping?” should be “None.” None gatekeeping.) So a new purveyor that says “we are transparent and daily and just reporting things as they are” would help the people that consume, or are interested in, such charts feel that they were looking at more “pure” data, rather than at a curated form of said data. Whether that’s true or not is up to the individual chart-gazer, and remains to be seen in any event.

What makes it more interesting, however, is that it marks a major philosophical 7 shift: the Billboard charts used to be an abstraction that was useful for the business. “These are the records that are selling,” they say, “so if you are someone that is involved in an aspect of the business for whom this data is useful – a record store owner, say, or a bar-owner who’s stocking a jukebox or something like that – you have this information now.” It’s a guide of sorts. Now, charts are more of a confirmation. Without the hidebound nature of radio playlisting and stuff like that, there’s a degree of remove between the direct application of the data (i.e. stocking the jukebox from earlier in the paragraph) and the assumptive application of the data (i.e. trying to figure out to whom you should point the “Ariana Grande singles-release cannon”).

All of this must be considered, also, alongside the knowledge that this isn’t being done altruistically for the health of the record-selling industry, this is a move by a magazine that’s currently trying to position itself as a greater cultural force in the name of profitability 8. I’m not a board-room dude, and I’d love to know what the general endgame goal here is, but it appears to be pretty directly trying to eliminate a competitor in a way that seems inefficient.

Of course, that’s all based on an assumption that I’m unsure if it could possibly be effective. I have no idea what part of the business is based on chart-gazing, and even though I can see (as detailed above) ways in which this could turn out well for many of the people involved, it all rests on some other portion of the record-selling industry adopting Rolling Stone’s charts as the new industry-standard ones. I guess we’ll see how it all shakes out.

Me, I’m just hoping that they get enough traction that I can start writing about the Rolling Stone Music Awards television broadcast. That’d be a real interesting one. Maybe I’ll start idly looking forward to it anyway.

  1.  that is to say, while it’s true that the things at the top of the charts are there because they are the most popular of the things that are on the charts, or that are attempted to be (pardon this verb construction, I’m thinking of taking lessons) on the charts, they are still of an available pool that is the direct result of the marketing concerns that put them there, rather than a stock of all available things, about which continue reading. 
  2. as it is, then, the marketing abilities that used to cause something to become a successful hit or what have you are now more likely to help someone hear about something in the first place, rather than just drill it into people by sheer numerical repetition. There’s a lot of things that come as a result of this shift in the causal music-listening fandom (such as it is), and I’m probably not going to get into them here. Maybe next time. 
  3.  i.e. I’m a pretty obsessive person, and I can’t imagine giving over my listening experience to someone else’s taste generally, outside of certain fairly-specific parameters. 
  4. of interest is the fact that Billboard stopped covering movies because Variety, whose link is above and who provides much of the information found herein, was too hard to compete with on that front. 
  5. Frederic Dannen’s excellent Hit Men isn’t specifically about the charts, but would give you an idea of the kinds of things people used to be willing to get into in order to make something a “hit”. 
  6. without getting into the muddy waters of intent or whatnot, I’m of two minds here – the first is that it probably isn’t a country song, as it appears to actually have its roots in playing Red Dead Redemption rather than in making country music. The second, however, is that the decision is much bullshit, since the dominant paradigm in country music is the “bro-country” nonsense that makes constant feints at appearing to be more hip-hop-ish with every passing year, which is made different by….well, it’s pretty obvious what makes it different, and it’s pretty obvious what Lil Nas X doesn’t have in common with, say, Florida-Georgia Line. 
  7. that’s not really the right word for it, but there isn’t a better one. I guess maybe “intentional”. 
  8. which is, of course, also what Billboard was doing. 

The 2018 Nebula Awards

Hey guys! The Nebulas are here! They’re named after the year all the books came out in, which is why the title looks weird! This is the first of the book awards I write about every year 1, which means it’s always exciting to look out upon the vasty expanse of finding the right things to say about all of these books, some of which I will address at least two other times over the course of the year.

This year, unfortunately, talk of the Nebulas is necessarily dominated by the accusations of slate-voting that are plaguing some of the nominees. The author Jonathan P. Brazee posted to the Facebook group 20booksto50k a list of indie authors that were eligible for Nebula awards this year, with special notation for the ones that were close enough to having enough nominations to actually make the shortlist.

Now, several of the nominees here below were on this list 2, and while there’s certainly things that one could surmise, given that the SFWA has allowed indie works into the Nebula nomination process since 2013, would eventually have bubbled up 3, it’s also true that some of the indies here promoted are in fields (military science fiction, mainly) that aren’t exactly commonly-trod (if not exactly impossible or unlikely) territory.

The accusations of slate-building, especially as it’s so close to the Hugos being basically completely turned aside for a couple of years there by slating antics 4, led to tensions running fairly high and people running fairly hot on the issue. The SFWA, for its part, says that it wants to take this sort of thing seriously and is looking into ways to try to keep stuff like this from taking over, without (as of the time of this writing) mentioning what steps it may be taking. I suppose that’s fine, but it’ll be interesting to see if anything is different about the nomination process next year.

Brazee himself, such as it is, insists that it was a SFWA-approved recommendation list that got out of hand and was phrased poorly, which I guess is a fair thing to allow for, except if that’s true, why would the thing go to such great pains in the first place to mention that it’s specifically not a slate? 5. The apology exists, anyway, so I guess there’s that. I’ll be interested to see how it goes forward, especially given how efficiently the SFWA dealt with the last time a slate-voting problem popped up.

Nevertheless, it’s a weird idea that became a bad one as it became more obviously a vote-influencing attempt, and turned into a rather ugly situation as tempers flared and the (reasonable, well-held) objections were met with a weird entrenchment and counter-arguments that seemed to be based more on an imagined idea of anti-indie prejudice than any actual situationally-appropriate counter-arguments 6. A bunch of books got nominated that wouldn’t, by any of the available secondary data, seem to fit into the general schema of the whole thing, and that means that it’s a weird, distortionary thing that has happened, whether it was specifically meant or just a side-effect of a poorly-planned outreach idea.

That said, there’s still lots of good work in here, and while there are some deserving works that almost certainly got squished out by this deformation, it isn’t quite the same rockslide-ruination that the puppies managed, so we can wade in and fish out the worthy winners from the pack without too much trouble.

Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book

I generally struggle with YA – I have no real natural head for it, but I read it when it’s here. I enjoyed a bunch of these (or at least a numerical majority of them, anyway), and have, as always, just chosen to evaluate them in the same way as everything else, since I pretty much can only come at things from my own perspective anyway, and trying to figure out how it fits into the picture of YA as it exists is basically impossible for me 7. I keep meaning to work on it. If I find my time-stoppage crystal and can catch up on everything I need to read to be more expert in things I’d like to give better due consideration, it’ll be near the top of the list. Sigh.

A.K. Duboff’s A Light in the Dark is one of the Brazee nominees, and it’s also the easiest one to discount. It’s the second in a series of books set in a universe where everything can be reset, so that the people doing the rest knows what’s coming. It’s openly inspired by video games and isn’t, in and of itself, a particularly bad idea. The book moves quickly and runs on its depiction of Cool Shit, but pretty well fails to dig into anything that would make the characters or stories vivid, moving from plot point to plot point almost like reading someone describe…a video game. If you’re interested in imagistic action-heavy space opera that’s all plot, then this is certainly some of that.

Rachel Hartman’s Tess of the Road is a spin-off of Hartman’s previous Seraphina books 8. It’s got a lot of society in it, and a pretty richly-developed world. It deals heavily with its cranky antiheroine, and spends a lot  of time in her head, with her frustrations and often short-sighted actions. It’s not my thing, but it’s well-rendered and the world is suitably complex, and a couple of the things that aren’t the lead character’s place in society (which especially dominates the early part of the book, perhaps necessarily) are really interesting.

Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Sword and Skate wins full marks for the weirdness/bonkers originality of the world it takes place in. It’s also funny, which is nice, and throws a bunch of stuff into its slight-fantasy (there’s some magic, and it takes place in a made-up place, but that’s about it, in fantasy-type terms) blender and manages to keep the story together. That the story itself is the sort of thing that comes out several dozen times a year isn’t necessarily a mark against it – clearly the “fish jumps out of water to go to fantasy school” story is popular enough to keep being retold 9 – but the lack of swords in a book with “sword” in the title definitely is. It’s not a bad read, but it’s too long, and it plays a lot of its fairly-standard beats as though they were a much bigger deal than they are.

Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time is part of the Rick Riordan Presents line 10, and deals in Hindu mythology. It’s well-written, a lot of fun to read, and also funny. If it isn’t a front-runner here, that says a bit more about it succeeding at a relatively-minor set of ambitions, and at lacking any real resolution, in favor of revealing itself to be a setup novel at the end. It’s the first in a series, so some of that is to be expected, but the remaining two books in the category are also setup novels for series that manage to swing an actual ending, so it’s muscled out of the way here.

Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation is a bit of alternate history that exist in a world where it was the emergence of zombies that caused the end of the civil war. The protagonist starts out at a school that exists to train black girls to be zombie-killers for rich people, and it goes from there. It’s a lot of fun to read, and deals with a lot of the things that you’d expect a post-Civil War novel about a black protagonist to deal with, and does so capably. It also runs pretty hard on Cool Shit, but earns its Cool Shit, which is always nice to see. Some of the imagery in the book is positively indelible (the last active scene – the scene after the climactic battle – is especially great, and I think of it often). You can probably consider me signed up to keep on reading however many of these there end up being. It’s only the presence of a veritable nine hundred pound gorilla in this category that keeps it from the top spot.

Tomi Adeyimi’s Children of Blood and Bone is a pretty unassailable work of god-magic-oriented fantasy 11. It tells the first part of what is clearly a huge, sweeping story, but also manages to end the first part successfully. The prose itself is wonderful, and conveys both the story and the sense of rage and agitation that seems to propel it 12. While it wasn’t the book that entertained me the most effectively, it’s definitely the one that said the most. But even in the entertainment sense, the way that magic exists and is used in the book is really good, and I look forward to seeing how it motivates the remaining books in the series.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tomi Adeyimi, Children of Blood and Bone

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

This is, I’m comfortable saying, about as good as this field has ever been. None of this is bad, and any of these could win and I’d be pretty happy about it. Of course, part of the reason I feel this way is that movies (and an episode of television) don’t really mean as much to me as books, so it’s easier for me to take it lightly.

Dirty Computer is a concept album by Janelle Monae, and is a pretty good album for all that. It’s less conceptually-sturdy than her other records, but also a bit better. All told it’s fun that it’s here, but I don’t think it’s the winner.

A Quiet Place is this year’s entry in the “cerebral horror movie that people go apeshit over.” It’s fine. The concept is good, John Krasinski clearly has an affinity for the form, and I’m, again, not sad to see it here or give it consideration as a potential winner, but I still don’t have much to say about it other than it probably shouldn’t win.

Sorry to Bother You is a fine comedy that makes its sff bones by being based on a (literally) fantastic premise, and is a strong plank in my platform for putting Lakeith Stanfield in absolutely everything. As a piece of sff it isn’t as good as the superhero/sitcom efforts, but it’s definitely up there.

Black Panther has only a few competitors for the best superhero movie ever made 13, as it actually grapples effectively with what voluntarily-assumed superpowers mean to the people that use them and the people that follow them, and what the responsibility (which is great, because it comes with great power, see) actually is to using it, and to using the mechanisms by which it is granted/implemented. It also has a first-rate villain, some amazing production design, and at least two first-rate action scenes. Great work, Mr. Coogler.

It’s difficult for me, in what might be the first time since the show premiered, to not declare an episode of The Good Place the rightful winner in one of these categories. “Jeremy Bearimy” is a phenomenal episode, and handles the time-weirdness aspects of The Good Place and is, thus, one of the more capable science-fictional things on television. It’s great, and I love it, and I’ll definitely watch it a bunch more times before I’m through.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, however, is the best super-hero movie ever made. It’s got everything one could ask for from a super-hero movie, from the best of all possible visuals to a hero learning how to behave heroically to defeat a villain. It’s got coming back from against the odds, it’s got a tremendously humanist message, and it delivers these things without weighing them down with “significance”/”import”. Without turning this into a very long missive about a movie, I will say that there is absolutely nothing that I have gone looking for in superhero stories that isn’t represented in Into the Spider-Verse. Literally not one thing. Plus, it delivered a bunch of stuff I didn’t know I was looking for in the first place. Salut, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, for you are made of great stuff, and I am very happy that you are in the world.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Game Writing

This was probably a long time coming, but man, you can multiply everything I said about YA up there by ten when I’m talking about my non-expertise when it comes to game writing. In a busy year, I play half a dozen games, and play a couple of them to anything like completion, and thus have no real idea. I’m generally listening to music while I’m playing them anyway. I am, in short, so wildly, hideously unqualified to write about this category that I’m going to declare a winner and move on in the interest of not embarrassing myself.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER (such as it is): The Road to Canterbury, which is really more of a sort of lightly-interactive story thing anyway, and thus has a better ability to guide the player through the narrative. Or at least to preclude people just listening to music while they shoot monsters or whatever.

Short Story

There is very little thematically or subject-matterly linking this set of stories, which makes it hard to write a headnote here. Pity poor me, who must then blather words into this sentence for the sake of consistency. WOE! WOE IS ME! OH WAILY WAILY!

Richard Fox’s “Going Dark” is another of the Brazee nominees, and boy howdy can I not imagine it getting as far as the ballot in a year without the unseemly boost. It’s about the way that post-human bodies might fail in a military context 14, and about the duties of the military and also about shooting guns at things in extreme detail.

Rhett C. Bruno’s “Interview for the End of the World” is a little better, if only in the sense that it tells an actual story and doesn’t just hint at one. It takes place in the run up to a planet-ending collision with an asteroid, and is a sort of prequel series to a set of books about a post-Earth space colony, which I haven’t read. It may have been more satisfying if I had – it felt like it was trading on a lot of “significance” that it didn’t really earn, and it really hammers its message home. I’d skip it 15.

Sarah Pinsker’s “The Court Magician” is mid-level Sarah Pinsker (which is to say that it’s great, but not as great as the stuff she’s done that’s really great), and is an extremely well-written bit of business about loss with an inventive magic system. It hits all the right notes, but it’s not as good as some of the other ones in the category.

Alix Harrow’s “A Witch’s Guide to Escape” is a beautiful story about literalizing the portal aspect of portal-fantasy, and about rules-flouting librarians. It’s very moving, and tells itself well, albeit by being fairly reference-heavy. It does contain a bit about developing a seemingly-inexplicable attachment to books that are less “good” than other, similar books that should ring true to anyone that reads a lot, which is nice. It’s a good story, but often feels like fan-service, so it’s probably not the best one here.

P. Djeli Clark’s “The Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” is a wonderful story about the personalities that still inhabit the teeth of slaves that actually real-life were incorporated to George Washington’s fake teeth. Or, well, his replacement teeth I suppose. The teeth are real teeth, they just didn’t start out in his mouth. You know what I mean. Anyway, it’s very good and is actually composed of several mini-stories, which is a device that I love. It also manages to use its grounding in history to tell real stories, through the stories about magic and possession. Good job, P. Djeli Clark.

A.T. Greenblatt’s “And Yet” is tops of this bunch – it starts out being about a weird haunted house, and ends up being about all sorts of other things. I say often that any given story is about “loss”, which is probably a weird thing to say 16, but this one is more about the way that the things we lose influence the things we gain, or perhaps the nature of gaining things that were once lost, or aw jeez just read it already. It’s great.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A.T. Greenblatt, “And Yet”


This is also a strong group for novelette’s, a story-length that I go on and on about every year when I write a headnote for these writeups. It’s a weird length for a story, and I think it works better as “teeny tiny novel” than as “extra-long short story”, although I also confess that the distinction there is almost certainly as arbitrary as it is idiosyncratic. Anyway.

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi’s “Messenger” is probably the worst of the slated nominees. It’s easy enough to appreciate an approach to invasion fiction ideas that beings with the premise “aliens would probably start by attacking the centers of population, i.e. Asia,” so I do admire that. The actual execution here is made up primarily of the worst parts of the most boring military sf, and the bits of it that are ok (some of the physical descriptions, and the general ending divorced of its execution) aren’t really enough to get through it. It might be an easier read if you’re into military sf 17, but I found it pretty challenging to invest enough in to get through.

Lawrence M. Schoen’s “The Rule of Threes” is a nifty first-contact story that also trades in non-standard ideas about the selection criteria for where an extraterrestrial would choose to start their earthbound work 18. It trucks mainly in its philosophy, and by the end takes a stand that is the exact opposite of the one it appeared to be working toward (which is nice, because I wasn’t real into where I thought it was going, call it a win for making it all the way to the end of the story). It’s nice, and clearly well-thought, but Schoen has created better work. There’s no way it would have worked as a Conroy story, certainly, but I would have liked a buffalito all the same.

Andy Duncan’s “An Agent of Utopia” answers the heretofore unasked question “what if Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was kind-of remade with the head of Thomas More? It’s funny, if nothing else, but it’s a little too long.

Jose Pablo Iritarte’s “The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” is a story about reincarnation, and manages to also be about revenge in a way that doesn’t make my stomach feel awful 19. It’s got a lot of romance-type overtones that aren’t entirely unwelcome, but that kind of drag it down more than I’d like. That, again, is a matter of personal preference and I can very easily see how it could be someone’s favorite in the category.

Tina Connolly’s “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” is also an excellent non-stomach-pain-inducing revenge story, about a baker who can bake magic feelings and memories into his pastries and such. The story takes place over the course of a banquet at which the pastries are consumed, and is comprised largely of the memories and feelings that are thus invoked. It’s fantastic 20 and beautifully-written, and loses out only because this is another category with a 900 pound gorilla. Or elephant, as it were.

Said 900 pound gorilla, or elephant, as it were, is Brooke Bolander’s peerless The Only Harmless Great Thing 21, which uses the real-life existence of both radium girls and Topsy the elephant to tell a story about constant, systematic oppression, and the reflex against it in the most tragic, moving, incredible way possible. If there were a Nebula award for “best thing in the whole entire field regardless of length,” it would probably be my winner for that, also.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brooke Bolander, The Only Harmless Great Thing


It’s not super-pertinent, but this is the one category in which I was familiar with all of the authors going into it. It was the most consistent category in terms of baseline quality 22, and it’s also the one about which I probably have the least to say about the entire field. The upshot here is that of all the rightful winners here declared, this one is probably the least-sure, and I could see just about any of them (except one, which I’ll get to in just a moment) winning.

James P. Brazee is the guy who started the whole giant controversy, and he’s also nominated here for Fire Ant, which is the one that I think is probably the least-likely to win. It’s more military sf, this time about a civilian who is plucked from poverty and terrible conditions to be a hotshot fighter pilot. The beginning bit, about the oppressive corporate structure that’s keeping the protagonist down, is fantastic. Once it gets decidedly military it’s still a relatively-good pilot story, and doesn’t manage to get too swamped out by its descriptions of dogfights 23. It’s pretty exciting though, and certainly not a waste of time to read, but it’s pretty outclassed in this field.

Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective is a clever detective story with a clever setting, and her usual flair for prose makes it a lot of fun to read. It is, however, at the end of the day, still a detective story, which is yet another of those things that make something not for me. There was a lot of that this year. Actually, there’s a lot of that every year. Turns out everything isn’t for everyone! More’s the pity.

P. Djeli Clark’s The Black God’s Drums is almost certainly the most praised entry here, and is probably the real actual front-runner if you’re looking for some prognostication. It takes place in a steampunk New Orleans, and does some cool stuff with old gods possessing folks. I’m pretty into any story in which saving the world is the stakes, even if it is steampunk alternate history, so I enjoyed it mightily, and I think I’m happy to officially declare myself a fan of Mr. Clark, even though he works in idioms I don’t usually go for. Read it, it’ll probably win, but it isn’t a time-travel story so it’s not at the top of the list for me.

Martha Wells’s Artificial Condition doesn’t have any time-travel in it either, but it does have Murderbot. The Nebulas don’’t have a best series category 24, but if they did the Murderbot series would be a shoo-in. This one is good (better than the first one, even!), and avoids the middle-book problems in and of themselves, but still doesn’t feel like a complete work. I can’t wait to read the whole thing to the end to see how it all hangs together, but each installment feels more like a part, even if it’s a relatively self-contained part, of a whole, so it’s not the best one for this kind of award.

Kate Heartfeld’s Alice Payne Arrives is a time-travel story (you see where this is going, right?), which is nice, and it’s also a story about people trying to prevent wars, which is also nice. It’s an extremely exciting, well-plotted read, and I really like the main couple of characters a lot. The only way I could like it more is if you threw in some eco-horror and some evil corporations.

So that leaves us with Kelly Robson’s amazing Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach which is a time-travel story with evil corporations, the grinding suck of academic livin’, eco-horror and also a squid-woman (that’s the main character there on the cover, see). The fact that it’s also a gripping, well-told, fantastically-thought-out story is like the reward for thinking the premise and outset are cool as shit. What a terrific book. Even the title is amazing!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kelly Robson, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach


So one of the things that’s true of this year’s Nebulas is that we’re in a kind of in-between, wide-open period, where the ongoing series that have dominated the category in previous years aren’t here because they either ended 25 or are, for some reason, not here 26. And a couple of these are first-time novels, which is pretty cool. All told this is another category that could go to just about anyone, and most of the differences here are down to personal preference.

R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War has a lot of things going for it. She’s writes fantastic prose, and the recasting of the Sino-Japanese war as an element a god-magic inflected invasion story is pretty great. It’s extra-super grim ‘n’ gritty, which is forgivable, but it’s also fairly predictable, which is rather less so. Still and all, the words and the character-building are good enough that I fully expect to someday be a fan of Kuang’s work. Just not this one.

CL Polk’s Witchmark is also lovely, and also contains some really first-rate writing, as well as an interesting world with some interesting social dynamics. I managed to not figure out a major plot thing was happening for the first two-thirds of the book, which is entirely my fault 27. The stuff that isn’t the primary plot is heavily romance-inflected, and the ending seems to all happen at once, as though Polk needed another 30 pages and didn’t have it. It’s not bad, and it’s worth your time if you want a story about wizards who fall in love, but it’s not the best thing here.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars is the first of two prequel novels to a short story (I know). It’s brisk and exciting, and deals well with the social issues of its setting. It’s elevated in my estimation by being largely joyful – it deals with its problems honestly and with clear eyes, but isn’t really a novel about the oppression, so much as the overcoming thereof – and not in the least bit meditative. It loses some points for containing tonnes of extra sex scenes 28, and by feeling a bit like half a book. Not a lot of points, just some points. Figuratively, I mean. I do not assign things points literally. But if I did it would lose some of them. Just not a lot of them.

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning is another plot-heavy, fun-heavy work of monster-hunting and god-magic. It’s also got some mysterious past stuff, and an eco-apocalypse that is mostly just backdrop for the actually-vivid world that it contains. It feels a lot like a cool Western, and if it’s a little too reliant on graphic violence and a gun-happy attitude, that’s just about its only problem. As the first book in a series, it’s terrific, though.

Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City is more of his excellent work, centering around the titular, which is one of the few places remaining that is hospitable to human life in an eco-apocalyptic future. It features a weird memory disease, a woman with an orca and a polar bear, and much chicanery in the name of taking back and/or destroying existing power structures to benefit the proletariat. While I think a couple of the books were better, this one was the most satisfying, and probably the one I’ll re-read the most. I’m already looking forward to re-reading it, in fact.

Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time 29. It’s a sort of evolution of her short story with the same title. It’s pitched as a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, which it mostly is, but it also hits all the notes I like fantasy novels to hit – it deals with responsibility, and what it means to have power over someone, and class imbalance, and the way that people take advantage of one another, and the importance of working to not do so, however unintentionally. It also has a cool fire demon in it. I’m pretty uniformly in favor of this sort of thing, and would happily read a hundred books just like it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver

That’s it for the Nebulas. I’ll write about the Locus Awards (kind of) in July, the Hugo Awards later in July, and the World Fantasy Awards in October. Stay tuned!

  1.  last year I wrote about four, which included the Shirley Jackson awards, but this year I won’t be writing about SJ’s for a number of very-boring but nothing-special reasons. I’ll be replacing it with the Locus Awards (kind of).  
  2.  Brazee is insistent that his intention was not to create a slate, and the original missive contains language to skirt the idea of it being one, but the effect is indistinguishable from if he had intentionally created a slate and put it out into the world as a slate. 
  3. Brazee’s own Weaponized Math, for example, was nominated for a Nebula last year with no such slate boost, so it’s not like it’s too far out of the question in at least one of the available cases. 
  4.  it is perhaps coincidental, but worthy of noting, that many of the authors who are included in the slated works, and a couple of the nominated ones, are associated with/previous nominees to the Dragon Awards, not to mention a specific publisher, which is the awards ceremony created by the puppies in their own image. There are a couple of reasons that this could be that are fine and non-sinister – the Dragon Awards tend to have a lot of indie writers in their ranks, as they deal in modes that aren’t particularly commonly found among trad titles, for example, but also this list was assembled by a military SF writer of folks that he knew enough about to make the list, which, perhaps necessarily, are military SF works themselves, which genre is richly and thoroughly represented at the Dragon Awards. There’s probably not actually any sinister chicanery here, is what I’m saying. I mean, none beyond the initial list itself. 
  5. not to mention that he feinted, or appeared to feint, at this last year. 
  6.  I’m pretty squarely on the side of Annie Bellet and J.A. Sutherland in the linked argument, in that slate-voting is gross and bad and makes the award less useful for posterity, in addition to less impressive even in the short-term. 
  7.  i.e. I read up to 10 YA books a year, between this and the other awards (there’s usually significant crossover), and have basically no idea what the rest of the field even looks like. 
  8. which I have not read 
  9.  and, hell, works often enough that it can’t even be said to be particularly played out 
  10. and, full disclosure, is the only one of them I’ve read, although I’ve read some number (7? 8?) of Rick Riordan’s books. I need that time-stopping crystal, see. 
  11.  there is almost certainly a better way to describe a sub-genre to which it belongs, but I don’t really know it. 
  12.  I should at least acknowledge the academic lit crit idea of the pathetic fallacy, if only to say here that I’m not one of those people, and I don’t really think that it should be discarded. We’re reading this stories to be communicated to, and the feelings that go along with the words are an important part of that communication. It’s not the only important thing, but it’s in there, and in a book like this, it’s definitely a big part of it. 
  13. one of them, however, is right here in this category. 
  14. it reminded me of Peter Watts’s much-better story “ZeroS” while I was reading it. 
  15.  this footnote doesn’t have a better place to exist, so I’m putting it here. The entries that come with the association to 20booksto50k are explicitly written by people who are writing books with the intent of making money – the founding thesis of the group is that if you write and publish 20 books, you can make an annual salary of $50,000. I don’t care why people write books, and I’m certainly not categorically opposed to people making money, or doing things to make money, but if you’re writing things with the goal of amassing a certain number of them to make a certain amount of money, your writing is coming from a place I don’t really understand, and the set of other things that are liable to go along with that approach/attitude are likely to also be things I don’t understand. I’m sure there’s good work in there – I’ll have some positive things to say about Fire Ant in a couple of categories, for example – but a lot of it is going to come from people whose interests and relationship with their work isn’t very much like mine, and that’s going to mean that it’s already starting from a fundamentally different place than I’m used to. It’s nice to branch out, and I suppose if there’s a positive take-away from the whole kerfuffle it’s that I read a bunch of stuff I would not have ordinarily been interested in, but most it really didn’t work for me, and I think that’s part of why. I feel I need to articulate it because otherwise it does come across as kind of anti-indie (which I’m not), when it should just come across as “this stuff really just isn’t my bag”. 
  16. almost every story includes at least one of the characters losing something, after all. 
  17. after all, it did get voted on, slate or not, enough to get it here, so somebody is into it. 
  18. it turns out to also be Asia, in fact, albeit for different reasons than those of Wijeratne/Virdi 
  19.  usually revenge stories make my stomach feel awful, see. I don’t think that’s come up before. 
  20. I’ve never made an official list, but Tina Connolly might actually be the most consistent producer of excellent fiction currently operating. Certainly up there with Maria Dahvana Headley, whose The Mere Wife was robbed in the novel category, and probably right above Sarah Pinsker and Sam J. Miller. 
  21. the rest of these novelettes were published in the manner of short stories, and so get quotation marks. I read The Only Harmless Great Thing as a free-standing book with pages and covers and everything, so it gets the italics. 
  22.  i.e. the worst of these isn’t bad, but the best of these doesn’t hit the heights of some of the other categories. 
  23. of all the things I don’t particularly like about military sf, descriptions of dogfights have got to be right up there at the top. 
  24. but the Hugos do, so I’ll get to vote for it there probably. 
  25.  i.e. The Broken Earth books 
  26.  i.e. Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers books or Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun 
  27. I’m trying not to give anything away here, but I’ll say that it has a lot to do with the fact that you can add “murder mysteries” to the list of things I don’t have the capacity to get. I’ll probably even skip them when I find that time-stopping crystal, because I’ve tried and tried and tried and can’t get there. 
  28. I am, if you haven’t caught on by now, a bit of a prude. 
  29.  the best fantasy novel I’ve read in a long time is Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife, which also came out last year, and was, as I previously mentioned, robbed. You’ll hear all about it when I write about the Locus awards. 

A Considered Look at Every Inductee Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 11

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2. So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10 of this series.

Class of 2004

Jackson Browne

WHO HE IS: An excellent sleep aid, at the very least. Probably at the very most, also.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he played ball and was able to get a bunch of hit songs through, which I guess accounts for something. The world looked up and cried “we need a different, shittier John Denver” and Jackson Browne was there for them.

AND….?: Hey guys! I don’t like his music! Not one little bit!


The Dells

WHO THEY ARE: A fifties vocal group. They had a hit with “Oh What a Night”.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because the people inducting people to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at this point would not rest until everyone who had ever been in a damn doo-wop group got their spot.

AND…?: “Oh What a Night” is a terrific song. They weren’t objectionable, just not special.


George Harrison

WHO HE IS: The third Beatle (the quiet one!) inducted as a solo artist.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he was a Beatle. There’s probably some ostensible reasons related to his willingness to bring in Indian music and stuff to his records, but it was probably an inevitability from the moment he joined the Beatles.

AND…?: I like George Harrison just fine.



WHO HE IS: A teeny-tiny guitar player and pancake enthusiast.

WHY HE’S HERE: He made a string of incredible records in the eighties that sounded great and sold a jillion copies, and then he managed to follow his weird little muse wherever it took him, which was largely down an increasingly-complicated tunnel of paranoia and self-indulgence. Whether this is an admirable example of using your capital to do whatever you want or a cautionary tale about what happens if you don’t ever stop to think about how what you’re doing would be received 3 as he is often painted in jokes and such is up to the listener.

AND…?: I used to vacillate on how much I liked Prince, for reasons that I can’t really articulate. I’m pretty into most of it full-time now, although I concede that there’s too much of it for it to work as a totality.


Bob Seger

WHO HE IS:A long-running rock and roll nostalgiast. Nostaliga-ist? Nostaligitast. Something.

WHY HE’S HERE: Boatload of records. He also played seemingly every single city in the country, and was, by all accounts, a tremendous live performer 4. It’s hard to call what he did “innovative,” in that he was pretty well just doing what a bunch of other people had already done, but he did it honestly and for a long time, so that probably counts for something.

AND…?: I can’t fault him for existing, certainly. I don’t think that this sort of thing needs to be in a hall of anything, and he wasn’t a patch on Meat Loaf, who did almost all of the same stuff but made cooler records, and also is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.



WHO THEY ARE: Uh…they’re the foremost organ-dominated band of the late seventies?

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because someone lost a bet? Because someone owes Steve Winwood money? Because someone made a Faustian bargain to get anyone else in? Because people wanted there to be a year of inductions that was clearly the worst year?

AND…?: Man, if you lab-engineered a band specifically to be “nothing-special middle-of-the-road nonsense” it would look an awful goddamn lot like Traffic.


ZZ Top

WHO THEY ARE: One of Texas’s finer power-trios.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were awesome in the seventies, and parlayed that into being mightily successful in the eighties. They did transition from just being an awesome band to being a band that traded fairly well on their image in the eighties without diluting their music too badly, which is a kind of admirable accomplishment such as it is.

AND…?: I like their first few records, certainly. I didn’t know that for a long time because I really hate anything they did after the advent of the music video, but those first few records are awfully good and buy a lot of forgiveness.


Jann Wenner

WHO HE IS: The founder of Rolling Stone magazine

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he founded Rolling Stone magazine, and also helped found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame itself.

AND…?: He’s an idiot, but I like Rolling Stone magazine well enough. I wonder if he’s also a big Traffic fan, and that’s why they’re here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: It’s hard to say no, but jeez I kind of want to. But yeah, he should probably be in there. He probably should have been in there before now, honestly. Unfortunately.

Class of 2005

Buddy Guy

WHO HE IS: An extraordinary guitar player who was also the guitar player on a wheelbarrowful of old Stax records.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was an extraordinary guitar player, who was able to play in half a dozen styles well, and generally stuck to making up his own styles, especially in his prime. He was the sort of monolithic talent that it’s almost impossible to not respect the hell out of, even if he’s written of almost exclusively for his ability to play the electric blues. And even then, his ability to play the electric blues was pretty much unparalleled.

AND…?: Oh, I don’t like any of his music. I like a lot of the records he played on, and I think his oeuvre is impressive in its breadth and consistency, but none of it is my cup of tea. I admire that he did it and I respect his ability, and it all stops just short of me ever wanting to hear it.


The O’Jays

WHO THEY ARE: The best doo-wop band ever to come from Canton, Ohio.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: So one of the things that’s happening as this goes on is that the stock of early performers is getting thinner and thinner. These are, as a result, getting harder to write about, because I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about the O’Jays, even in an objective, what-they-accomplished sense (see above w/r/t Buddy Guy for an example of this sort of thing). So they had some hits and I guess people wanted to get a vocal group in there every year, and here we are.

AND…?: I like the songs I know, which aren’t very numerous, and I don’t like them that much outside of “Love Train,” which is pretty good.


The Pretenders

WHO THEY ARE: They were one of the first of the trickle of new-wave bands to get in there.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they’re easy to like and talk about on the strength of Chrissie Hynde, who is a fascinating and tremendously entertaining person. People liked their records a lot at the time, and I suspect that most of the induction-people are of the age that liked them. I do sort of wonder what someone hearing them for the first time in 2019 would think of them, which is not something I always wonder, but I’m not entirely sure that’s significant.

AND…?: I don’t have much use for their music, but I’m glad Chrissie Hynde is famous enough to give interviews and star in amusing anecdotes.


Percy Sledge

WHO HE IS: He has some feelings about what happens when a man loves a woman.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was an awfully good singer. Somebody clearly liked him. Did you know that part 12 is not going to be from this particular set of two years and that this won’t be nearly as hard going forward? Seriously, this is a dire couple of years of inductions.

AND…?: He’s a good singer, I grant. So was the aforementioned Chrissie Hynde, and the O’Jays, and Steve Winwood. None of them are transformative, and none of them used those voices to do anything but sing songs loudly. I’ll pass on all of them.



WHO THEY ARE: Every attempt I’ve made at writing this line has dissolved into a bunch of incomprehensible podcast in-jokes 5, so: they’re a rock band from Ireland that are stupid huge.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They successfully subsumed a lot of the UK post-punk/new-wave thing into an arena-sized sound, in the process making records that were extraordinarily popular, and also pretty great by just about any measure. They also did so with no lineup changes over the course of going-on four decades (three and change at the time of their induction), which is pretty incredible.

AND…?: Oh I like U2 a whole heck of a lot.


Frank Barsalona

WHO HE IS: A booking agent.

WHY HE’S HERE: Somebody probably said “we need a booking agent in here” and this is the guy who is most qualified among other booking agent. Did you know there’s a documentary about this booking agent? Did you know that the world we live in is completely insane, and full of completely insane people?

AND…?: How on Earth would I even go about forming an opinion about a fucking agent?


Seymour Stein

WHO HE IS: The founder of Sire records, among other things.

WHY HE’S HERE: Sire was pretty awesome, and they’re clearly trying to make inroads into the post-punk bands that were, largely, on Sire.

AND…?: I have much less problem with a label dude being here than a goddamn agent, certainly.


  1.  also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3. For the record, I think it’s the former, and don’t think the latter is a consideration. 
  4.  The only Bob Seger album I’ve ever played of my own volition was Live Bullets, and that was a long, long time ago. I liked it then, though. It’s probably still fine. 
  5.  specifically the excellent podcast U Talking U 2 2 Me 

The Best Records of May 2019

Sunn0))) – Life Metal (I mean, every Sunn0))) album is great, but it’s probably not a coincidence that this is one of their best and it’s the one with Tim Midyette on it)

The Tallest Man on Earth – I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. (It’s bleak and miserable, but man is it an effective record)

Ryan Dugre – Humors (this came out of nowhere for me – I wasn’t familiar with him prior to hearing this, but this is some fantastic solo-guitar work)

Cocaine Piss – Passionate and Tragic (don’t touch her cake, guys. She seems upset about it.)

Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky Droneflower (I guess it was a good month for dark, moody music.)

The 2019 Billboard Music Awards

Every year that I’ve written about the billboard awards, I reference that they’re different from other awards shows, because of the means of their selection. Once I even skipped the awards completely in order to write about the performances. That was a good idea, and one I may revisit down the line, but the performances this year include Madonna, so that’s not going to happen this year.

This year I’m trying to prognosticate, for two reasons 1) this awards show’s recipients are determined algorithmically, even if the algorithm is crazy and opaque and 2) I run out of things to say about some of these people every year, and it’s worth doing something a little different with this incoherent, endless awards show.

It’s also got a couple of other things going for it (at the risk of reducing this list to a bunch of bullet points). The first is that the decision-making process of who gets these awards is, according to the Billboard folks, made with formulas and whatnot, even though (as I’ll mention many times) the set of things that goes directly into the formulas and whatnot isn’t always apparent. The other is that, as I mention basically every time I try to guess at something, I’m a bad foreteller of this sort of thing generally, and furthermore, I have a specifically really-bad sense of what is and is not popular, and how popular popular things actually are.

So this will be a useful case study for how bad I actually am at seeing the future! Here we go!

Top Gospel Song

The faith-music categories are the ones where my knee-jerk “Which one seems biggest?” question-answering here are both the easiest and the most fraught: I do not know anything about this music at all, and I don’t have much ability to appreciate it, so if something penetrates my veil of ignorance, it’s probably a big deal and is probably the winner, at least in respect to Billboard magazine.

WHO WILL WIN: Tori Kelly, “Never Alone” (f Kirk Franklin)

Top Christian Song

Same deal down here, except I can kind of get behind gospel as a form, because enough of it has moved me that I feel I have some ability, no matter how stunted. CCM is just not my thing.

WHO WILL WIN: Lauren Daigle, “You Say”

Top Dance/Electronic Song

Actually, to continue on in this vein, the nice thing about the way the categories are laid out here are, at least for the first five or so, in basically ascending order of how familiar I am with the music as it exists, so I feel smarter as I go along. That’s nice.

WHO WILL WIN: Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey, “The Middle”

Top Latin Song

Of course, in this particular one, my feelings about the music are basically moot, as shown here, where the worst song wins. Although I do kind of like the part where Selena Gomez goes “RRRRRRUMBA”. That’s pretty good.

WHO WILL WIN: DJ Snake, “Taki Taki” (f Selena Gomez, Ozuna & Cardi B)

Top Rock Song

So one of the things that merely trying to guess at which of these things will win offers me is an opportunity to absolutely not think of any of these songs in terms of their quality, which is awesome because they all suck real bad.

WHO WILL WIN: Imagine Dragons, “Whatever it Takes”

Top Country Song

This one is tough. I feel like “Meant to Be” was really everywhere for the first half of the eligibility period here, but the second half has very much belonged to “Tequila”. So I’m going to go with “Tequila” for recency, but it really could go either way.

WHO WILL WIN: Dan + Shay, “Tequila”

Top Rap Song

It brings me joy to state that my usual concern with Drake songs is moot here, as “In My Feelings” was a huge hit, but didn’t achieve the same sort of cultural/my unwilling headspace penetration as “I Like It”

WHO WILL WIN: Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, “I Like It”

Top R&B Song

This one’s almost as tricky as the rock one, as a couple of these seem to really stand out, but despite being particularly into R&B, I have basically no exposure to R&B radio, and I don’t stream it except purposefully 1, so I’m a little at sea. I think it’s the Ella Mai song, though, as that’s the one I’ve heard the most while never actually playing it.

WHO WILL WIN: Ella Mai, “Boo’d Up”

Top Collaboration

God, “Psycho” was everywhere, wasn’t it? It’s weird that I’ve forgotten about it except that 1) I don’t like Post Malone and 2) I don’t like Travis Scott and 3) I don’t like “Psycho”. What a blessed, short period of time it was in which I permitted myself to forget that it existed.

WHO WILL WIN: Post Malone, “Psycho” (f Travis Scott)

Top Radio Song

I only hear the radio incidentally, but every time I heard one (in a store or at the gym or in a passing car or whatever) for like months, there was a fifty/fifty shot at hearing “The Middle”. So I guess it’s got to be that one.

WHO WILL WIN: Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey “The Middle”

Top Selling Song

This is one, then, that seems to require some brain juice to figure out, because merely trying to gauge the popularity of something by its saturation isn’t going to work when someone is making the directed, conscious decision to actually purchase it. My inclination is to say that it’s “Shallow” that is most-purchased 2 and therefore top-selling, but this also may include factors I don’t know. It’s my best guess, anyway.

WHO WILL WIN: Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga, “Shallow”

Top Streaming Song (Audio)

This is almost always Drake, although I do wonder if XXXTentacion’s death got him up there. I know that he was removed from a bunch of playlists, and that Drake was popular enough that his picture was fraudulently applied to playlists on which he did not technically appear 3, but also all of this was right before/right at the beginning of the period of eligibility for all this, so who even knows? In terms of specific songs, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was XXXTentacion, whose song title seems to quote Donald Trump, thus reinforcing that there are like zero reasons to have liked XXXTentacion.

WHO WILL WIN: XXXTentacion, “SAD!”

Top Hot 100 Song

I feel that “Girls Like You” is due for one of these, and that maybe this is the reason why Billboard is so weird about telling people how they land at these decisions, so that they can fudge numbers around if they have to, for variety’s sake 4. So, because I believe this is likely, and because this seems like a good place to do it, I think Maroon 5 is going to get this one.

WHO WILL WIN: Maroon 5, “Girls Like You” (f Cardi B)

Top Gospel Album

Can we, as a culture, really afford not to reward Snoop Dogg for his gospel album? I say we cannot.

WHO WILL WIN: Snoop Dogg & Various Artists, Snoop Dogg Presents the Bible of Love

Top Christian Album

See above w/r/t my opinion here, and also ask me in person sometime about how board-shorted megachurches like Hillsong are Christian Scientology.

WHO WILL WIN: Lauren Daigle, “Look Up Child”

Top Dance/Electronic Album

Every year I see a category like this and I wonder who’s listening to these entire albums. Like, who is hearing these singles and thinking “I definitely need more of this?” Not dance music generally, I listen to plenty of that in many forms, but these specific albums? It’s one area where my usual ability to allow people to just have their tastes and not have to explain them fails me. Who is buying a Kygo record? Who is pulling up an entire Major Lazer album up on Apple Music and playing it through? If you are one of these people, feel free to let me know.

WHO WILL WIN: Probably The Chainsmokers, if only because even though they’re world-class awful, I can kind of imagine listening to an entire album after hearing one of their singles, I guess. This is probably my worst, most-unfounded prediction. Or, at least, this is the first of my terrible, unfounded predictions that may turn out to be the worst one.

Top Latin Album

At least we’re back into music I can understand. Kind of.

WHO WILL WIN: J. Balvin, “Vibras”

Top Rock Album

I do not admire much about the Dave Matthews Band, but I can sort of appreciate that their fanbase is big enough to get them on this list of nominations, even for a record I had literally zero awareness of, many years past the time when they were huge. Good job, DMB fans. Now shut up about your stupid band.

WHO WILL WIN: Imagine Dragons, Origins. I mean, I admire that the Dave People got the album up there, but I still don’t think it was in the same league, bigness-wise.

Top Country Album

One of the reasons that I chose to do this this way, as stated above, instead my usual decisions about which is the best is that I can say something different in some of these categories where it’s just hte same four people over and over again. It helps, but man, there are even fewer ways to say “Dan + Shay have a bunch of hits and they all come from one album, so that one”. I guess that’s the only time I’ve said that. I sighed anyway.

WHO WILL WIN: Dan + Shay, Dan + Shay

Top Rap Album

So it’s definitely the record-breaking Scorpion, which frees me to make the following observation: on Billboard’s website, they put album titles in quotation marks, instead of italicizing them, or even underlining them, as one would before italics were trivially easy to land on. This drives me crazy, and if anyone knows enough about the history of Billboard to inform me as to how their house style landed on “everything in quotation marks,” I would appreciate being educated in this regard.

WHO WILL WIN: Drake, Scorpion

Top R&B Album

Aw, hell, maybe this is the one XXXTentacion would get. I think it’s still Khalid, but this is harder than I thought it would be.

WHO WILL WIN: Khalid, American Teen

Top Soundtrack

So year-in and year-out one of the things that people can’t seem to stop loving is soundtracks, which actually makes this more difficult. Albums are a rare beast in the listening environment – lots of people don’t actually listen to them. So trying to evaluate which of these will have streamed/sold more copies than others is kind of hard. It’s probably A Star is Born, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was also Bohemian Rhapsody.

WHO WILL WIN: A Star is Born

Top Billboard 200 Album

I think it’s probably still Scorpion, even though it should be Invasion of Privacy. I’m inspired by this to see if there’s any way to examine singles-listening vs. album-listening business in 2019. I suspect that there is not, as if there were it would be touted, and we wouldn’t have the tortuous, ridiculous “album-equivalent streams” business, and it wouldn’t be so easy to game the tallies by releasing albums with a billion tracks on them. But I don’t know for sure.

WHO WILL WIN: Drake, Scorpion

Top Gospel Artist

Again, it’s got to be Kirk Franklin, right?

WHO WILL WIN: Kirk Franklin

Top Christian Artist

Since I’m just going to type “Lauren Daigle” after the colon here, I’ll use this space to say that the artist categories are the things I was thinking of when I decided to try to predict this tuff. Singles are easy – you hear them or you don’t. Albums are a little trickier, if only because you can try to aggregate how much the singles come together and apply it, but the acknowledgment should be made that people listen to albums and individual songs differently and for different reasons, even at the casual “just plug it in and go” level. Artist, though, that’s a pretty tough thing to figure out, and could very well involve parts of the catalog that aren’t directly under the umbrella of the current release window, which is interesting, if nothing else. Anyway, I don’t know anything about any of these people, so on to the scheduled proclamation.

WHO WILL WIN: Lauren Daigle

Top Dance/Electronic Artist

See, this is what I mean: I think it’s probably Marshmello, who has been responsible for/collaborative in many things that I have heard a bunch, even if they didn’t rise to the individual heights of some of the other people in this category, who are further nominated in other categories. So I think it’s Marshmello, despite him not having the same level of “hit” as, say, The Chainsmokers.

WHO WILL WIN: Marshmello

Top Latin Artist

The “artist” categories are probably also where they take into account features, which makes this more likely to be J Balvin than anything else.


Top Rock Tour

I think the only one that came through Cleveland was U2? This is a bad thing to base this on as 1) I have no idea if I’m right or not and 2) that probably doesn’t mean anything. But that’s what I have to go on here.

WHO WILL WIN: U2, although possibly also Elton John

Top Rock Artist

I will confess to not making purely prognosticatory gestures here – I’m sure that Panic! At the Disco is going to win one of these things, and they are the worst of the bands here by a significant measure. So I’m going to say this is probably Queen and hope that I’m right, because I flatly refuse to acknowledge the continued existence of Panic! At the Disco.


Top Country Tour

The tour categories leave me hamstrung, because even when I listen to the act in question 5, it’s not anything I go out of my way to see live, or even make any real attempt to notice. Like, never. So I guess it’s probably Shania Twain, because the nostalgia circuit is big money.

WHO WILL WIN: Shania Twain

Top Country Duo/Group

Poor Old Dominion. Are they here because Billboard has to nominate three people? I bet that’s why. Awww.

WHO WILL WIN: Dan + Shay

Top Country Female Artist

This one pretty much has to be Maren Morris, unless the Billboard folks somehow take into account critical acclaim and previous awards granted, in which case it would go to Kacey Musgraves. But they probably don’t, so it probably won’t.

WHO WILL WIN: Maren Morris

Top Country Male Artist

Given that it takes a pretty hard familiarity to even tell these people apart 6, I would wager that someone has gone to see one of these people thinking it was the other. That probably muddies the water somewhat, but I suppose it’s impossible for Billboard to have an “intent” metric. Ah, well.

WHO WILL WIN: Jason Aldean

Top Country Artist

So earlier I proposed that the artist categories included features for people that have feature credits. I don’t suppose that it matters to the artist in question if their most recent chart-topping dominance was as the result of a feature (i.e. Florida Georgia Line during the period of eligibility), but I myself think that it should matter. That said, much like with the Maroon 5 decision above, I feel that it’s likely that Billboard will see fit to honor Florida Georgia Line somehow, and that Bebe Rexha will probably be in attendance since she comes to seemingly every single awards show, so it’ll probably be them.

WHO WILL WIN: Florida Georgia Line

Top Rap Tour

There are some of these that are pretty open-and-shut, and thus don’t require much by way of commentary.

WHO WILL WIN: Beyonce & Jay-Z

Top Rap Female Artist

There are many ways in which the Cardi v. Nicki feud comes down in Nicki’s favor. Nearly all of the ways, in fact. Except this one, the measure of raw sales and popularity over the course of the last year or so.


Top Rap Male Artist

I actually find it hard to register the relative popularity of Drake vs. Post Malone. Part of the reason that I used to enjoy Drake’s music 7, and Post Malone is the most famous avatar of an idiom (the post-Young Thug post-soundcloud post-mumblecore emo-semi-rap thing that has taken over the radio) that I find literally impossible to enjoy. I have no idea why it’s happening or what people see in it. So it might be Post Malone, I guess, but I genuinely don’t really know.

WHO WILL WIN: Post Malone

Top Rap Artist

This one is made easier by the ubiquity of the music of Cardi B, so I don’t even have to try to engage with Post Malone. Yay for not having to engage with Post Malone!


Top R&B Tour

There are some of these that are pretty open-and-shut, and thus don’t require much by way of commentary.

WHO WILL WIN: Beyonce & Jay-Z

Top R&B Female Artist

I feel like someone is trying super-hard to make H.E.R. happen. I mean, I like the music just fine, such as it is, but I also feel a real marketing-push aspect of this whole thing that I think is kind of weird 8. Anyway, she didn’t sell as much or do as much as Ella Mai, so that’s probably where it goes.


Top R&B Male Artist

It’s pretty much got to be Khalid.


Top R&B Artist

You know, Khalid is in the video for that one Ella Mai song. He’s not, like, pointed out or anything, and I don’t think he has anything to do with the song. I find that charming, although I don’t necessarily know why. Anyway, it’s probably Khalid again. That dude moved units.


Top Touring Artist

There are some of these that are pretty open-and-shut, and thus don’t require much by way of commentary.

WHO WILL WIN: Beyonce & Jay-Z

Top Social Artist

I say the same thing every year, in every awards show with this category, and it is still basically the only thing that I will say: BTS’s social media fanbase created the BTS phenomenon basically in and of itself, and that is impressive 9.


Top Radio Songs Artist

Oof. How the hell does anybody know what’s on the radio?

WHO WILL WIN: Ariana Grande, since I hear her most of the times I’m near a radio.

Top Song Sales Artist

Actually buying songs skews older, and Lady Gaga’s fanbase skews older, so my (admittedly very basic) calculus suggests that this one is Lady Gaga’s to go home with.


Top Streaming Songs Artist

I’m pretty sure it’s still Drake. Somehow, here in the darkest timeline, it’s still fucking Drake.


Top Hot 100 Artist

So the Hot 100 is for the performance of individual songs, which implies to me that the things that are taken into account related to the chart performance of every song that an artist has had hit the Hot 100 in the period of eligibility. That means it’s probably Cardi B, but it also makes this a real hair-splitter when taken against the “top song” categories and the “top artist” categories which, between the two of them, are probably measuring the same thing. I am left with the belief that Billboard somehow thinks it is more important to give away as many trophies as possible. This is a silly enough position that I find it entertaining. They should advertise this! “We gave away over three actual tons of hardware at the last awards ceremony!” It would be great.


Top Billboard 200 Artist

This one is for albums in the same sense as the Hot 100 one is for songs. It seems to make more sense, I suppose, but since each artist here only has one album in the eligibility period 10, I’m unsure why it has the same utility, which makes it actually make less sense, except if you subscribe to my “as many trophies as possible” theory.


Top Duo/Group

I don’t know anything about BTS’s sales figures or chart performance, which is interesting. I presume it matters, but they’re in this category and not any of the other ones, which seems to imply to me that there is a part of the decision-making algorithm that I just don’t know about. Nevertheless, they’re here, and not anywhere else, so the two options are that there is some sort of nebulous factor to this category that means they’re definitely going to win, or they’re just nominated so they’ll show up. Either way, it seems like they could win.


Top Female Artist

Halsey is in a similar boat to BTS, although in her case I come down more on the side of just getting her to show up to the thing. The same here is also true of Taylor Swift who had very little chart presence (relative to other periods in Taylor Swift’s career), but she’s announced some thing (or will have announced it later on the day this posted, if you’re reading it right away), and the Billboard awards might be an opportunity to promote whatever that is. Anyway, it’s probably Cardi B again, but the top artist categories are obviously a clearinghouse for getting names on the docket.


Top Male Artist

Maybe they can dump BTS, Taylor Swift, Halsey and Ed Sheeran into the “Top Artist Who Didn’t Actually Do Much But We Probably Owe Something To Anyway” category. That would give them another trophy to hand out! They love handing out trophies!

WHO WILL WIN: Post Malone

Billboard Chart Achievement Award

I have no idea what this means, unless it’s a “Miscellaneous” category, which would really give the lie to all the other explanations for all the other categories that don’t make any sense I’ve been forced to come up with. I will genuinely assume that this is here to catch anyone who didn’t, algorithmically, manage to qualify for any of the other awards in this here competition, but whom they wanted to present a trophy to anyway.

WHO WILL WIN: Dua Lipa, for reasons I’ll outline below.

Top New Artist

So the winner is probably Ella Mai, who had a giant hit and stuff. It might be Dua Lipa, but that’s why I think Dua Lipa wins the “miscellaneous” category above, since she’s only this and the previous category, and manged to have a whole slew of relatively-minor hits. That’s my prediction.


Top Artist

I feel like Ariana Grande is kind of being shorted here. In my predictions, I mean, not in the awards show. She’s probably due more of these than I think she is, because her singing voice induces panic in me and I can’t stand hearing it. So I’ll say she deserves this one, even though it’s probably the worst prediction I’m making, mainly because going back and reconsidering all of these to figure out which ones would be different if I didn’t actively choose to avoid this music at basically all costs seems like a lot of unpleasant work. I guess I can’t not bring my tastes to bear somewhat.

WHO WILL WIN: Ariana Grande

  1. that is to say, I play songs on both Spotify and YouTube, but I do so by choosing which songs, and very rarely let Spotify tell me what to listen to next. 
  2. although the Billboard people are cagey about that being the only requirement, which is why I’m not just going and looking at sales figures, although I did do so. 
  3. a tactic also used by Marvel comics with Wolverine in the nineties. 
  4. I mean, Cardi B is still on it, but hey, at least they’d get to say another name I guess. 
  5. which, in this category, isn’t any of them, but it applies to the other tour categories. 
  6. Except visually, I guess – they don’t look much like each other 
  7. or, stated more accurately, I do enjoy some of the music that Drake made previously 
  8. the word count of this thing is already pretty high, so I won’t take the opportunity to go into the situation of things being marketed and all that except to say that, yeah, I know that all of this is here because of and for the purpose of marketing, but it becomes apparent when the attempt to make the thing big so oustrips the bigness of the thing, and leave it at that. 
  9. it also gives support to the idea that ground-level support is still the best way to do things, and that it can still create a genuine phenomenon when it’s engaged, a thing that the record-selling industry manages to miss at pretty much every turn. 
  10. and I would imagine that circumstances that are otherwise are pretty dang rare 

How to Feel About Every Upcoming Superhero Television Show

So, every year I write about every superhero movie that is definitely coming out. This year, since things are probably about to change in a meaningful way 1, I decided to take a look at all the things that I could find that have been announced, no matter how nebulous the announcement or how troubled the production.

TV is in a similar boat. There has been success in the genre somewhat, but the Netflix slate of Defenders shows has been wiped out. Despite a wide variety of quality in the remaining genre shows (Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Supergirl, Gotham, Legion, The Gifted, Runaways, Cloak & Dagger, etc.), they all remain successful enough to keep them going. So it’s worth taking a look at some things that are going to happen.

Astro City

WHAT IT IS: An under-heralded masterpiece of superhero storytelling, and a very exciting proposition.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because I just said it was very exciting, duh. Astro City is great, and even though it can be hard to find all of, it’s worth reading any part of, which also means that any part of it that is adapted to television will be worth it, at least from a story perspective.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It’s got kind of a weird tone, and it’s definitely not for everyone 2. Plus it’s pretty sprawling, and while I asserted above that any part of it is satisfying, I’m perfectly willing to accept that I could very easily be proven wrong, especially given how much television, and especially how much adapted television, is complete garbage no matter the source.


WHAT IT IS: OK so, here’s the deal. Some of the television shows, especially, are based around properties that I have basically zero relationship with. The movies have less of this problem, which may be a coincidence, or may be the result of “marquee” super-types getting the full film treatment 3. All of which is to say: I know a little bit about what Batwoman is as opposed to, say, Batgirl, but not very much. It’s a lady in a batsuit.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: It’s coming to the CW, which has yet to majorly bungle one of their DC properties, so it’ll probably be the best possible version of Batwoman, in the same way that Arrow and Supergirl are the best versions of their respective heroes.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Again, I have no idea about Batwoman, and have no idea what I would even expect out of it. Also, while it’s true that the CW’s superhero shows are well-received, and I’ve liked the bits of them that I’ve seen, it’s also true that I don’t watch any of the regularly, and haven’t seen that much of them.

Black Hammer

WHAT IT IS: A bunch of superheroes get trapped in a weird pocket dimension place after they defeat a supervillain. I’m unclear on whether the tv show is, like the comic, going to take place largely after said defeat, or if it’s going to chronicle the initial defeat of the villain as well.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Jeff Lemire created the comic, and he’s a genuine actual genius, so there’s tonnes of good ideas and potential. It’s longish-running and episodic, which lends itself to tv pretty well.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Other than the general “television is awful” stuff that prevents me from getting terribly excited about any television adaptation, I’m not really waffling. I bet this will be pretty good.

The Boys

WHAT IT IS: A [sighs loudly] grim look at a world where superheroes….aren’t so super after all.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: People love it, so there’s clearly a lot to like there. It’ll star Karl Urban, and he’s pretty reliably great. The non-super-ness in this particular iteration of the “Garth Ennis writes about terrible people” mode has to do with them being changed by being famous, which I guess is an idea.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: call me a cynic, but I see this turning into a lot of “commentary” on the “state of celebrity” with “allegories” and oh god there’s no way this is going to be good.

Chronicles of Amber

WHAT IT IS: I’m stretching the definition again to allow it, but I did so for Bone, so I’m going to do so here, since this is about actual superhumans who fight other actual superhumans. There are a lot of pulpy epic fantasy works in the world, and The Chronicles of Amber are pretty much the best of them.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because it’s awesome? Because the world it draws has basically infinite potential, and there’s enough material in the first five books alone to make for an excellent television series 4

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: If it takes itself at all seriously, it won’t be as good. One of the things that make the books so great is the tacit tonal acknowledgment that the characters are behaving in ways that are, first and foremost, Beholden to Cool Shit, and while there are stakes and well-drawn characters and stuff, it’s still about awesome sword fights and super-cool magic and all that. If they try to turn it into another Game of Thrones, we’ll have a problem.

The Falcon & The Winter Soldier

WHAT IT IS: The MCU’s finest bromance 5 gets a television show.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: More Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie as these characters is more than welcome. It’s also a miniseries, so there won’t be much concern about it going on too long, which is nice.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The MCU doesn’t a great track record with their actual movie-tied-in tv shows 6, so we still don’t know if they can manage it.

Harley Quinn

WHAT IT IS: Harley Quinn gets back to her roots in an animated series.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The first time Harley Quinn was a cartoon character, it was in the greatest superhero cartoon ever devised, and she was a big part of why. The voice cast (Ron Funches! Natalie Morales! Lake Bell! Diedrich Bader! 7 Tony Hale! Christopher Meloni! Alan Tudyk! Wanda Sykes! Jim Rash!) is beyond compare, and the trailers look plenty cool.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Her legacy hasn’t exactly been untarnished by careless handling, and I have no idea how Justin Halpern (the Shit My Dad Says guy) is going to handle it here.


WHAT IT IS: It’s alleged to be a passing-the-torch tv show, where Clint Barton gives it up to Kate Bishop.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The last few years of Hawkeye’s comic books have been stellar, especially the Kate Bishop stuff. I also do genuinely like Jeremy Renner, for what that’s worth.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The last few years of Hawkeye comics are the exception to a lame, unspectacular career of superheroing. The MCU hasn’t done much with the character other than give him a family which could be imperilled (with which they have done basically nothing, in the process completely wasting Linda Cardellini), so this would be, basically, a first step for the character. That’s not super-promising.


WHAT IT IS: It’s the Robert Kirkman comic book that should have taken over the world in the manner of The Walking Dead, as it’s much better. It’s also a “superheroes maybe aren’t so super” revisionist take that’s also great, which makes it worth its weight in gold.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because it’s a complicated, well-rendered story about the burden of superpowers and family and real life, and it’s also zippy and fun and not overwrought and operatic.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I have no faith in the Television Powers that Be to allow it to continue to be not-overwrought and operatic.

Judge Dredd: Mega City One

WHAT IT IS: A television adaptation of the 2000 AD comic that has been a movie twice already.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because if it’s faithful to the comics, it’ll be an arch satire with a bunch of cool action scenes.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: That’s not going to happen? I mean, the movies have proven that people don’t really know what to do with it. Alex Garland did better than Danny Cannon, but the former was weird and action-y without being at all funny, and the latter was funny without meaning to be, and not-at-all smart 8


WHAT IT IS: The hunkiest of the MCU villains (or antiheroes, at this point) has adventures. That little scamp.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Tom Hiddleston is great.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I dunno, it’ll probably be fine, but this seems a little bit more like “we’ve got Tom Hiddleston so let’s just do the thing” rather than something with any real compelling reason to exist.

Marvel’s What If?

WHAT IT IS: An animated series based on one of Marvel’s weirder titles, in which famous events in the Marvel Universe are reimagined 9.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The comic was fun, and a way to think about comics history a little differently, and there’s enough history between one thing and another that they could stick only to the aspects that had been adapted and still have plenty of material to work with.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The comic book required a rather deep knowledge of the source material to really get the whole thing, and was a kind of reference-heavy bit of business that can be fairly irritating when it’s translated to the screen.


WHAT IT IS: A series about the city in which Superman did the bulk of his work, without Superman. Just…a big city. And the stories therein.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because Gotham was well-received, and people manage to like Krypton, so it stands to reason that shows about the places where things happen might be interesting.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, Gotham City is full of colorful characters even without Batman, and Commissioner Gordon is a pretty good character to follow. Krypton is about an alien planet full of superhumans, and so has some kind of interest there. Metropolis has, what, Jimmy Olsen? Lois Lane writing newspaper articles? I dunno, man, I don’t think this one has the same magic.


WHAT IT IS: This is a weird one, because it’s meant to include TV shows and movies, some of which are already in development, and some of which are possible. It’s in this cateogry because I didn’t know where else to put it, but it’s a series of Netflix Programming Blocks that are based on the comic-book work of Mark Millar.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Man, people love Mark Millar. Some of it is arranged well for episodic telling. It’s a pretty wide array of things that they’re dealing with, so some of it is likely to be good.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There’s a lot of work in Millarworld, and some of it is inspired, but a lot of it is kind of pointless, and even the best of it never manages to get its head above the pack. I dunno. Maybe the cast(s) will be incredible or something, but I’m not really spending much of my time looking forward to this one.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

WHAT IT IS: A little girl and her pet dinosaur make the world a better place.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The current run of the comic book is quite good, and it’s a pretty great premise for a tv show.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It could easily run to the cutesy.

New Warriors

WHAT IT IS: A comedy television show based around a fairly-obscure team led by current Marvel Universe delight Squirrel Girl, as played by current regular universe delight Milana Vayntrub.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: My complaint about many of these adapted properties is that they aren’t funny and they should be, and this one is supposed to be funny, which is just ducky. The cast looks pretty good, and the potential is definitely there.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It will probably never come out – its planned existence on FreeForm never happened, and Marvel was shopping it around, but also have not announced any plans to put it up on Disney Plus, like many of the other shows here. So it’s probably never going to exist.


WHAT IT IS: A movie about the background of Batman’s butler.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…….maybe it’s an elaborate prank? That’d be kind of funny I guess.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It’s a television show about Batman’s butler, tho.

Project 13

WHAT IT IS: Probably a procedural based on a psychic crime investigator person.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Psychics! Procedurals! Wee!

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I am a fan of basically none of the nouns in the above sentences/exclamatory clauses.

Swamp Thing

WHAT IT IS: Well, the comic is a pretty incredible examination of humanity and the responsibility of power, and of something inexplicable finding its place in the world.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Swamp Thing is a lot of things, but at its best it’s a sort of reverse-Lovecraft story 10. The fact that in the hands of capable writers (it’s one of the best things that Alan Moore ever wrote, for example) it’s nothing short of a miracle of comics storytelling also leads me to be excited for it, if only because the source material is so great.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Eh. Alan Moore’s stuff doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to adaptation. The jury is still sort of out on Neil Gaiman adaptations also, although the record there is less dire. Also at its best it’s wildly unvisual, and the things that make it cool are unlikely to lend themselves well to televisual storytelling.


WHAT IT IS: A prequel (I think) television series based on Alan Moore’s (see above) finest hour.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Watchmen itself is one of those things that it’s almost impossible to overrate, so there could be something there, I guess.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Oh, it hasn’t survived anything beyond its original run in the eighties. The movie was whatever the movie was, the Darwyn Cooke-led sequel series was pretty bad, and there’s no reason to believe this is going to be anything other than an embarrassment to all involved.


WHAT IT IS: A spin off series about the totally dead Vision and his presumed wife, the Scarlet Witch.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen are very charismatic performers.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: If the titling was done by the same people doing the writing, we’re already in trouble. Plus there’s basically zero chance this is going to adapt Tom King’s masterpiece run, so I’m already starting out double-disappointed. That stuff aside, I guess this could be fine.


WHAT IT IS: Also not entirely a superhero thing, although it has all the visual and storytelling grammar of one, this is about a demon-hunting swordstress who doesn’t wear a lot of clothes.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, the comic book’s charms were largely prurient, so if that’s the sort of thing you’re into, then you’re in luck. For anyone else uh…the sword is kind of cool?

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Oh come on, there’s no way this is going to be good.

And that (finally) wraps it up for the forthcoming superhero properties. Tune in next year when I pare it back down to the essentials, and sometime in the distant, nebulous future, when I forget how much work this all is and decide to try to do it again!

  1. The Disney/Fox merger is going to change the way those two studios, or that one studio as it is now, release movies, and the end of the current version of the MCU is also going to shade that, in addition to the fact that DC’s movies are moving away from the enforced-shared-world concept into a more free-form individual-picture concept. 
  2. although I do wonder if that’s because of the time that it started existing, and if it wouldn’t be more “for everyone” now that the average person’s conception of what can come with superhero entertainment is a little more elevated than it used to be. 
  3. I’m willing to believe the former, but I also notoriously have a terrible barometer of how popular something is, so have no actual idea what “marquee” could even mean, contextually. 
  4. There’s also five more books that aren’t as good, but that are probably more telegenic, as they would lend themselves to a procedural-style drama a little better. 
  5. I’m discounting Thor + Rocket, because Rocket isn’t a human, and so it’s more an Interspeciesmance. Come at me. 
  6. Agents of Shield has dragged along admirably, and they cut down Agent Carter too soon. 
  7. Side note that Diedrich Bader is rarely involved in television shows that aren’t great. It happens, but it doesn’t happen that often, and as a voice actor, he’s top-flight. 
  8. NB however that I like both movies, and would happily watch them again right now.  
  9. i.e. What if the Punisher had killed Spider-Man?, or what if Rogue had the power of Thor?, which are both actual issues. It was weird, I’m telling you.  
  10. i.e. an inexplicable thing from beyond the natural world tries to integrate into the world, and rather than wanting to destroy it, just wants to find a place in it, and in the process to become explicable. 

How to Feel About Every Upcoming Superhero Movie Part 2 – The Nebulous Maybes

It’s that time of year, when summer movie season (which is now just the last nine months of the year, and covers all the parts of the year that aren’t horror-movie season, and which tapers off a bit during prestige-movie season. As someone who remains the sort of dude who has a background in the field, and also who doesn’t particularly care about movies but feels compelled to write about them anyway, this sort of thing is catnip.

This year I’ve included movies that are announced (be it by studio, director, producer or what-have-you) without a clear intention about when or how they’re coming out, which films comprise part 2 here. Since these are more nebulous, I have also added a field to discuss the likelihood of the movie in question actually coming out.

Aquaman 2

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Aquaman.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Aquaman wasn’t bad, and perhaps with the origin and world-building a little more out of the way, they can focus on, y’know, making it a compelling story, rather than a series of exposition-heavy conversations each of which is punctuated by an explosion and the entrance of a villain  1.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Aquaman was fine, but not great, and there wasn’t a lot in there that made me feel like there were a bunch more stories involving this character that I needed to see.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Sure. The first one made shedloads of money, and it’s not like DC has shown any willingness to give up on any of their franchises here.


WHAT IT IS: For awhile it was the definitely-happening project that was meant to be Joss Whedon’s entre into his DCU-running career. He was cancelled, and I haven’t heard anything about it since.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Batgirl has a devoted fanbase, and if you are among them, you know a great deal more about why this is exciting than I do. I am not among them, and I have no idea what there would be to look forward to here.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I mean, in this case I’m waffling in the “toward-excitement” direction, since I don’t have any enthusiasm for the thing in my natural state. But she does inspire a truly impressive level of fandom, so there’s got to be something there, and it would probably something that could make it into a movie.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: I don’t believe that it will.

Black Adam

WHAT IT IS: The Rock’s passion-project-attempt at making a big-time superhero movie.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because who doesn’t love The Rock?

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, Black Adam sucks real bad, and this movie can’t apparently generate enough of its own momentum to actually move any closer to being finished. Also he’s traditionally a villain, so expect some revisionist antiheroing, which is one of the worst things about superhero stories in general.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Oh, probably, But it almost certainly won’t actually be any good.

Black Panther 2

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Black Panther.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because Black Panther was great.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I’m not really waffling, this will probably be good. I suppose the fact that it isn’t actually on the calendar is something. And there probably be any Kilmonger, and that’s kind of a bummer. But only kind of, and not enough to dampen my enthusiasm.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Of course it will.

Black Widow

WHAT IT IS: Proof that the characters of the original MCU aren’t all going away, mostly.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Scarlet Johannsson is reliably pretty good, and there’s a lot of potential in a superhero spy movie, if that’s what it ends up being.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: We know next to nothing about it, really, but there isn’t a lot to the Black Widow character as drawn in the movies, so it might be disappointing in its scope, if not its execution? I don’t really know.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Yes, especially after Captain Marvel made all the money in the world.



WHAT IT IS: What if Wolverine’s backstory and powers (minus Canada and the claws, respectively) was actually the backstory of a soldier-guy with a bunch of guns? WHAT THEN?
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: I’m going to go ahead and say that you shouldn’t? Bloodshot wasn’t quite the dumbest of the grim-n-gritty guns-n-grimaces grimdark nineties comic book uh…”heroes” 2, but he was way up there. Once again I come at this as someone in the younger range of the target audience for this kind of nonsense the first time around 3, and can only say that of all the things we could try to bring back from the nineties, this should be way at the bottom of the list, if it indeed needs to be on the list at all.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I guess because Vin Diesel is attached, which could lead to an agreeably-daffy bullet-hell mayhem-fest. If it’s got a sense of humor and manages to be fun, it might work out.


Blue Beetle

WHAT IT IS: One of the throwbackier former-Justice League-ers could be getting his own movie! Blue Beetle is a dude in a suit 4 with gadgets, whose appearances in his own series and others’ were genuinely pretty fun, sometimes. This is meant to be the alien-robot-suit version of him, which makes him a little more like Iron Man than he ought to be, but also is the version that most people know.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: He very easily could be like a lighthearted Batman, which would be nice. Or, alternately, a wackier Iron Man.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The track record of superheroes who need to be lighthearted actually being lighthearted is pretty bad. It’s getting better, though, especially on the DC end, so maybe there’s hope!

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Almost certainly not, which also makes it easier to be optimistic about.


WHAT IT IS: One of the finest achievements in all of comicsdom, an epic fantasy story with a lot of visual flair and an appeal across all sorts of genres. I love Bone, you guys. It’s adorable and very funny, and exciting and parts of it are even scary. Great stuff. All-time great stuff, in fact. I’m reeeaaally stretching the definition of “superhero” to include it – it isn’t in any appreciable way, it’s pretty much high fantasy – because I love the comic so much and want to praise it publicly again.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because it’s great, and it has a super-clean story that moves linearly and should be a snap to film. It’s being promoted as a trilogy, which is heartening, as it means they can leave all the good stuff in there.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It would also be super-easy to tone down one of the aspects that makes it so great 5, not to mention that its pace is a part of its genius, and that would be very easy to botch in a movie environment.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Well, it’s been rumored to be near happening for, oh, twenty-five or so years, so it seems pretty unlikely at this point.


WHAT IT IS: Somehow distinct from Bloodshot, Bloodstrike, Deadpool, Deadshot, Deathblow, Dethlok and Death’s Head, Deathstroke is a super-soldier (so also like Captain America, and not entirely unlike, say, Bloodshot) who I think wants revenge or something on the army.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because he’s going to be played by Joe Mangianello, which is something I guess.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I cannot think of a reason that this movie should exist, let alone a way in which it would be good. Maybe if Joe Mangianello is playing his character from Magic Mike, and this is what happens to him after the events of Magic Mike 2.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Actually, I really don’t think it will. Especially if the rest of the Gun Superhero movies that come before it don’t work.

Doctor Doom

WHAT IT IS: A colossally terrible idea, unless it’s a comedy.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: uh…at least a botched standalone Doctor Doom movie isn’t as bad as another botched Fantastic Four movie? Maybe you like Noah Hawley, who is the guy who claimed to be making it? I don’t know, man.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: What if it is a comedy? Like what if we’re not getting the classical Doctor Doom from Fantastic Four, but instead the wacky absurdist Doctor Doom from Squirrel Girl? That would be rad.


Doctor Strange 2

WHAT IT IS: Another Doctor Strange movie. Guess he was right about giving Thanos that time stone, then.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Benedict Cumberbatch is reliably charming, and the first one was fine.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: They burned through the more interesting Doctor Strange villains (all both of them) in the first one, and who knows where it goes from there? Plus, the first one wasn’t that good.


The Eternals

WHAT IT IS: A movie based on one of Jack Kirby’s weirder contributions, specifically his most self-cannibalizing 6 contribution to the Marvel Universe.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, it’s going to star Angelina Jolie in some capacity. That’s something. The current MCU has a pretty good track record for figuring out how to make compelling stories out of characters who don’t exactly have super-well-known storylines (see specifically Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man).

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I was as into goofball-ass cosmic Marvel as anybody, and The Eternals were still never that compelling. The best character it yielded was Thanos, who I’m going to imagine is going to be off the table here, since his story will have been completed. So we could have a movie about…Ajax? Interloper? Cybele? Who even knows?

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: It’s already started being cast, so the likelihood isn’t non-existent, but man, I don’t know.

Extreme Universe

WHAT IT IS: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Hoo. It’s a Rob Liefeld shared-universe thing, presumably starring a bunch of teeth, a bunch of bulging muscles, many, many pouches, and zero feet.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, to his credit, Rob Liefeld seems to have a pretty good sense of humor about himself these days (see The Pouch), so it might be funny. It’s interesting to note how many of these tertiary-market superhero movies are saved by the notion that they could potentially be funny. More superhero movies should be funny in general, is what I’m saying.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Self-awareness and sense of humor aside, everything that would be pulled from as source material here (Youngblood, Brigade, Bloodstrike, etc.) is dumb dumb dumb. It’s going to be developed for Netflix by noted terrible-movie-abettor Akiva Goldsman. There’s no way it’s going to be good.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Netflix is going to find itself bereft of superhero entertainment soon, or at least with it stock of superhero entertainment greatly diminished, so I’m sure it’s going to happen, if only so they have something to stick up there. They need to make their quota or whatever.

The Flash

WHAT IT IS: The solo movie version of the guy who was the other other not-bad part of Justice League 7.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Again, Ezra Miller isn’t bad. It’s going to be a time travel movie, as far as we know. So that’s something. I’m really kind of scraping for this.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The Flash just isn’t that interesting. The tv show does good work with the character, but that just necessitates the movie being even more significantly different from it, and there just isn’t that kind of depth of field for the Flash. That said, I’m not an expert, so I’m willing to be wrong.


Green Lantern Corps

WHAT IT IS: Another swing at a Green Lantern movie, this time the entire Corps, so a weird team-up movie based around a character that didn’t work the first time around 8. Wee!

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, CG has come a long way since the last time they made a Green Lantern movie, so that’s something. This is another movie based around a title (and even more specifically this set of characters) that people love deeply, even if I’m not among them. So if it gets handled responsibly and treated fairly, it could end up a movie that a lot of people like.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, that “handled responsibly and treated fairly” thing is the real rub, and since its charms elude me even when the book was in the hands of John Broome 9, it’s something that is liable to elude me no matter what.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: It’s probably about 50/50, to be honest.

Guardians of the Galaxy 3

WHAT IT IS: It’s the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The first two are great, and after much hoopla, James Gunn is re-hired as the director, with the additional show of faith of delaying the filming until he’s done making Suicide Squad 2.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It’s probably going to be sans Gamora, who is probably dead for real (given that she died before the snap), and at the current pace with which Chris Pratt is losing his damn mind, it’ll be well into his case of the brain worms. Still and all, it’ll probably be fine.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: After all that hoopla, it would be super-weird if it didn’t.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

WHAT IT IS: It’s a uh…reboot of the movie that ended Sean Connery’s career.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because it can’t possibly be worse than the original.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The source material is some of the most unjuustly overhyped work in all of comics, and I can’t imagine that there’s a way to even get a quality movie out of it in the first place.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

WHAT IT IS: It’s a uh…reboot of the movie that ended Sean Connery’s career.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because it can’t possibly be worse than the original.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The source material is some of the most unjuustly overhyped work in all of comics, and I can’t imagine that there’s a way to even get a quality movie out of it in the first place.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Now this is where things are at least mildly interesting. This was announced a couple of years ago as a thing that Fox was doing to reclaim the series, but Fox has since been bought out. Now, this almost certainly means that this movie is as dead as Bram Stoker himself, but it would be interesting to see Disney put their weight behind it. The rights, however, if it doesn’t get made, might revert to WildStorm (and therefore DC, and therefore Warner Bros), which might make it more likely that it happens, and less likely that it will be worth talking about. I’m pretty sure, however, that this thing is just straight-up not happening.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Now this is where things are at least mildly interesting. This was announced a couple of years ago as a thing that Fox was doing to reclaim the series, but Fox has since been bought out. Now, this almost certainly means that this movie is as dead as Bram Stoker himself, but it would be interesting to see Disney put their weight behind it. The rights, however, if it doesn’t get made, might revert to WildStorm (and therefore DC, and therefore Warner Bros), which might make it more likely that it happens, and less likely that it will be worth talking about. I’m pretty sure, however, that this thing is just straight-up not happening.


WHAT IT IS: Jared Leto is going to play “the living vampire,” who sets out to cure himself of some kind of blood disease 10 and ends up, y’know, a vampire or whatever.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: I think that Jared Leto has the capacity for goodness in him, if he can get over his “method acting”-borne harassment issues. Morbius actually had some cool comics moments, although they were mostly when he was on a team with Ghost Rider and Blade, so there’s potential there. One of those two even had a couple of good movies.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Ghost Rider is a much better and more cinematic character, and has had zero good movies, for starters. Also there are a paltry handful of good vampire movies in the world out of the hundreds of attempts, so that precedent is also against our boy here. Plus, I think Jared Leto has done good stuff, but not much of it. The batting averages involved here on all fronts are pretty low. But hey, it’s its own thing, so it might work out after all.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: I think it will, yes.

New Gods

WHAT IT IS: Jack Kirby’s completely unhinged creative-control-granted superhero madness party, this time on film

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Ava Duvernay is going to direct it, which is exciting 11. There isn’t much else to know about it, but if it’s as visually distinctive (and one of the things that can absolutely be said about Duvernay’s last great big genre movie, A Wrinkle in Time, was that it was visually distinctive) and utterly bonkers as the comic book, then we could be in for a real treat.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It’s not the most coherent thing that was ever published, and Kirby was always more of a drawer than a writer, so there’s a lot of visual flair and not a lot of actually-engaging plot stuff. A bone-simple plot can sometimes be an asset in a situation like this, but it isn’t necessarily encouraging in and of itself.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: I hope so! It’s got a director but no cast. Darkseid and Steppenwolf are already established presences in the DCU that are originally from New Gods, so we may have already seen some ground laid. Of course, who knows how connected DC is going to try to keep its movies anymore, so we may not have actually seen any of this as it will eventually be conceived, and this therefore could, in fact, not happen.

Plastic Man

WHAT IT IS: One of DC’s more joyful comedy-based superheroes. He’s stretchy and bendy and whatnot.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: If there’s any justice at all, he’ll be played by Ben Schwartz, which would be awesome.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Plastic Man’s comics are hell of dumb, and as much as I like Benny Schwa, he’s not actually been cast, so who knows what’s going on with it. If it happens, it’ll have to get a tone pretty specifically right in a way that’s very difficult, and I haven’t seen any evidence that that’s going to happen.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Probably not, thankfully

The Sandman

WHAT IT IS: Another one that stretches the definition of superhero pretty hard 12, this is sort of the Velvet Underground & Nico 13 of the comics world – it changed everything that it touched, and is generally part of the bedrock of serious comics fandom.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Individual storylines – A Game of You, The Doll’s House and Brief Lives 14 among them – are well-written and highly-filmable, despite the unwieldy nature of the whole project. Oh, and it doesn’t have Jared Leto involved with it anymore. That’s got to be a plus, right?

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Sandman is huge and lumpy and unique to comics, and adapting even the more adaptable parts of it will still leave huge whacks of necessary table-setting and exposition. It’s meant to be a serial story, and it’s meant to be read, and I don’t see how it would survive translation.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Probably not. It really is a lot to chew, and I don’t know that there’s any real benefit to it, given that it doesn’t have a tonne of people clamouring for a film version.


WHAT IT IS: The first superhero movie anchored to an Asian-American lead. Shang Chi is the son of Fu Manchu, and himself a master martial artist.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Here we have both an opportunity to tell a story about Asian-Americans but also a nifty idea where the missing father of the protagonist is actually a villain. Also, I think he would be a cool addition to whatever the stable of Avengers is shaping up to be.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Disney has generally done well by its characters, which has surprised me 15 as often as not, so it will probably be fine on that front, but who knows what Marvel movies will look like by then?

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: I think it’s all but official – it’s got a director and a writer and stuff.


WHAT IT IS: One of the more ridiculous nineties artifacts is getting another movie, this time directed by Todd McFarlane, the guy who wrote and drew the original comics.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because people like Spawn, I guess?

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Spawn was awful. Also, the Venom movie wasn’t very good, and Spawn is just Venom 16 with a hell-based back-story, and, presumably, without Tom Hardy.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: It seems to be making progress, but I still kind of can’t believe that it’s going to happen.


WHAT IT IS: Superman’s cousin comes to the big screen!

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: People really like the currently-running tv show, and people also like the movie from the eighties, so it’s clearly possible to tell Supergirl stories on the screen that people like.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, a big part of what makes the tv show work is the casting, and they’re not going to use Melissa Benoist, so that’s kind of a problem. Plus, as with The Flash, the tv series is good enough that it’s not exactly leaving people begging for a re-interpretation, you know?

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: I’m dubious, but it probably will. DC has to keep shoring up their properties somehow.

Venom 2

WHAT IT IS:The sequel to the aforementioned Tom Hardy antihero vehicle.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Uhhhhhhhhh…..Tom Hardy sure is handsome?

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The first one was straight-up garbage? It was a dumb idea in the nineties that is officially out of non-dumb executions? I don’t know, there’s a whole lot of reasons to not be excited about this.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: Sony doesn’t have a lot of hits as a film studio, and the first one made money, so it most assuredly will.


WHAT IT IS: I’m presuming this would have been Deadpool 3, or a spinoff thereof, about Deadpool, Cable, Domino, Firefist, and possibly Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Yukio.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The Deadpool movies are pretty good. Seemed like a sure bet.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Oh, who knows what parts of the X-movies are going to survive the purchase.

WILL IT ACTUALLY COME OUT: I have no idea. On the one hand, it’s a huge money maker and would seem to be dumb not to release. On the other hand, I don’t know how things work at what is now the biggest movie studio in human history.


WHAT IT IS: Again, operating under presumption, it’s probably a movie about the young lady from Logan, whose corresponding comic book character was named X-23.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: It’s a neat character.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: We know nothing about anything. The X-series has flirted with teasing Mr. Sinister as a big bad, and there’s some of that in Logan, and that would be cool,, but it isn’t happening, and there’s also a very high likelihood that that could be super dumb.

That’s it for the movies that may or may not ever exist, and tune in later in the week for an attempt to do this for television. Three parts is a lot of parts! This is a lot of words, guys!

  1. no, but seriously: nearly every scene in Aquaman ends with something blowing up, and the heroes being chased and/or having to punch something. It’s weird. 
  2. Here is a true story: my original writeup for this entry confused Bloodshot with Deathblow, who might actually have been the dumbest of the grim-n-gritty guns-n-grimaces grimdark nineties comic book uh…”heroes”. 
  3. I was nine when Bloodshot was introduced, and thus still spent most of my comic-book time reading Thor, Ghost Rider and Daredevil (two of which, now that I think about it, avoided unnecessary grimdark by heaping on the catholicism. Who’d have guessed?). 
  4. historical fun fact, he was a part of the Charleston Comics lineup, and thus was set to be one of the characters in Watchmen until DC decided that the Charleston characters were too valuable to burn off in that series. The Night Owl is, then, an expy of the Blue Beetle, and their metiers are the same. 
  5. e.g. lessening the humor to amp up the action, lessening the scariness to amp up the cuteness 
  6. The Eternals were basically a palette swap of his own New Gods series for DC, which yielded Darkseid, the current overvillain of the Justice League movies, and his own actual original version of Thanos, about which see below. Or, well, above, since this footnote is at the bottom of the page. 
  7. i.e. not Gal Gadot or Ben Affleck. NB that this opinion rather requires that you agree that Ben Affleck isn’t the problem with Justice League 
  8.  i.e. one of the Green Lanterns in question would be Hal Jordan, the one that nobody liked when Ryan Reynolds played him.  
  9. who also, now that I think about it, wrote issues of The Flash that were pretty good 
  10. it’s worth noting that Morbius started out as a (rare non-animal-themed) Spider-Man villain, and a whole bunch of those were driven to deformity and madness by accidents with science, often medical (see also: Doctor Octopus, The Lizard, The Vulture usually). It makes me think that if you were a sociopath and wanted a bunch of internet attention, you could really pitch Spider-Man as some sort of anti-medicine crusader to the anti-vax/anti-science crowd. I hope no one actually does this, that would blow. 
  11. she turned down Black Panther, so it would seem that this project was more appealing to her than Black Panther, which has got to mean something. 
  12. Although in a way it doesn’t – the run of comics includes a bunch of bottom-tier DC people, and the character himself is a sort of elaboration on a pre-superhero crime-fighter comic book hero. 
  13. by extension, Watchmen is its Fun House, riding the bike so hard the wheels come off, and The Dark Knight Returns is the Kick Out the Jams, managing to make the same destructive, power-trip ideas accessible. This metaphor does not extend to any of the creators, I’m afraid. It also doesn’t hold up in regards to their chornology. I make no apologies for my sloppy comparison.  
  14.  if the movie were to only adapt one of the collections, and that’s probably what would happen, I think Brief Lives is the most likely. Also this list of likely culprits does not include Season of Mists (too much religious weirdness, and also too many one-off characters, although it is amazing) or The Kindly Ones (which is actually the best of the collections, but comes at the very end of the story and sort of by its necessity precludes a sequel, which seems like something that isn’t going to happen). 
  15. You can, for example, in the history of this very column, see my trepidation about Black Panther develop and be assuaged over the years. 
  16.  Todd McFarlane created Venom first, and then decided that since he was moving to his own self-published creation, he could just do it again, this time with a cape and the devil and stuff. 

How to Feel About Every Upcoming Superhero Movie Part 1: The Definitely-Being-Released

It’s that time of year, when summer movie season (which is now just the last nine months of the year, and covers all the parts of the year that aren’t horror-movie season 1, and which tapers off a bit during prestige-movie season 2. As someone who remains the sort of dude who has a background in the field, and also who doesn’t particularly care about movies but feels compelled to write about them anyway, this sort of thing is catnip.

Ordinarily I only write about the movies and such that have a definite, confirmed release date so that the level of excitement (or non-excitement, as it were) can definitely be said to exist. But superhero movies are in a state of flux. Marvel and Fox have merged, meaning there is one fewer studio making the damn things, and a lot of the people who are interested in telling more interesting superhero stories have moved to television 3. On top of that, the DC movies have entered a weird state where it’s unclear if they’re still trying to maintain a single universe, or if they’re going to continue to let them drift apart into their own things.

I’m not good at prognosticating 4, but I will say that this is probably evidence tha thte cracks are starting to show in the hegemony of the superhero movie – the MCU as it stands is coming to an end in a couple of weeks, and while The Powers That Marvel have clearly laid down their breadcrumbs to keep going, it’s unclear how well this will work, and how well this sort of thing will continue to dominate.

But hey! I could be wrong and we could still be in for eighteen of these goddamn things a year! Who knows! Anyway, this year I’m writing about every superhero (or strongly superhero-adjacent, as there are some non superhero works below that seem superhero-ish) movie I can find positive evidence of the existence of.



WHAT IT IS: A reboot of Mike Mignola’s eternally-running comic about a demon that wants to kill monsters and crack wise.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, the trailer makes it look cool, as does all the stuff we’ve actually seen in terms of costume and set and whatnot. Neil Marshall has an excellent track record, having managed to prove that he can juggle a bunch of characters (Doomsday), absolutely handle horror comedy (Dog Soldiers) 5 and create a genuinely terrifying atmosphere (The Descent), as well as putting nifty monsters in all three 6. David Harbour’s got charisma to spare, and there’s very little about Hellboy that isn’t wildly entertaining, so it’s probably got a good chance.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, the original movies leave some very big horns to fill. David Harbour seems good and all, but he’s probably not Ron Perlman. Hellboy lends itself to some deeply strange magic-inflected weirdness, and Marshall’s horror bona fides are more based in close-up grounded tension. But honestly, I bet it’ll be fine.

Avengers: Endgame

WHAT IT IS: The proverbial it 7. What the eleven years and twenty two movies have been building up to. The snap is undone, time is traveled, Captain Marvel Captains Marvellously and saves the universe, Captain America Captains Americanly and then probably dies. Thanos goes away. A magic glove is rendered merely an unusually heavy accessory.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: I mean, it’s pretty hard not to be. The dominant force in pop culture reaches its climax. That’s a big deal. Even mechanically, the fact that Marvel managed more-or-less to sustain this story over however many dozen hours of movie time is impressive mechanically, and if they can manage the landing even reasonably well, it will be a heck of an accomplishment.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There’s always some trepidation about the landing – superhero stories are easier to keep in flight than to bring down to the runway – and this has some sky-high expectations. It’s also three goddamn hours long, and the first one was already overstuffed and had an awful lot going on, so the odds of everything ending satisfyingly seem a little low. Also, there’s like a dozen more Marvel movies in the pipeline (see below), so it’s hard to maintain much tension. I’ll probably still see it more than once.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

WHAT IT IS: The end of the current X-Men movie continuity, and, if Kevin Feige is to be taken at his word, the last X-Men movie for awhile (although, again, see below).

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The X-Men movies have gotten progressively more cartoonish and bizarre. This one appears to feature Sophie Turner as a haughty full-on villain for most of it, which is nice. The Dark Phoenix story is one of the stories that really put the X-Men on the map, although this version will be without Mastermind 8, so it has a lot of extremely likable crowd-pleasing history.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, I was the only person that liked Apocalypse. So that’s not a reason I’m waffling, but it’s a reason to waffle. Also, the Dark Phoenix story worked for selling the comics, but was the worst part of the X-Men United a bunch of years ago, so has already failed once as a movie. Plus, even with the willingness to get even stranger, the X-Men movies are still missing some of the elements (outer space! Mind control! Weird magic clone things!) that made the comic book version so cheerfully weird.


WHAT IT IS: The still-somehow-scheduled Channing Tatum Gambit movie! Gambit was the guy in the purple body armor and the trench coat from the cartoon. He has a cajun accent and makes things explode (largely playing cards) when he throws them. Lizzy Caplan is somehow in it. Hopefully not also doing a cajun accent.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Um. So. Gambit is a very popular character, certainly. People of a certain age liked him. Those people were alive and very young in the nineties, when the character was designed. No seriously, look at this fucking dude. He has, like, zero stories that are worth experiencing. But Channing Tatum is very charismatic, certainly. So maybe that’s the reason? Maybe it’s funny? I don’t even know, guys.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It’s a Gambit movie in 2019. That’s a bad idea. It would have been a bad idea in 1999. I’m not even waffling. I am straight-up dubious, guys. Straight-up dubious. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that there’s basically no way this movie is going to actually come out, let alone this summer.

Spider-Man: Far From Home


WHAT IT IS: Mainly it’s the thing destroying the tension of Infinity War. If it’s not just two hours of swirling ash, then obviously things are put back to normal. If it is two hours of swirling ash, I’ll be pretty happy about it anyway.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, the first one was the best Spider-Man movie ever made for about eighteen months 9. It was as good as it could have been, and Tom Holland is a fantastic Peter Parker. It’s also the first MCU movie after whatever happens in Endgame, which means that it’s going to be our first glimpse into a world where half of everyone has died and come back. It’s also meant to be explicitly about the aftermath, which is neat.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There’s only been one good Spider-Man movie sequel ever, and this isn’t that. I’m not super worried about it, but there’s also the fact that it’s a double unknown quantity, and it seems like a logical place for the ball to be dropped.

The New Mutants

WHAT IT IS: Formerly an X-Universe spinoff movie, now it looks to be on of the dwindling relics of the end of the X-Universe films. It’s a horror movie about a new set of mutants (hence the title).

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: An x-mutant-themed horror movie sounds great, and the trailer looked fantastic. The comic book The New Mutants managed to look at some really interesting aspects of mutant-ness 10, before eventually morphing into the much less interesting, but way more tuff-nineties-goulash-y X-Force.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The trailer came out a long, long time ago, so clearly the studio doesn’t have a lot of interest in actually releasing it, especially in this post-merger world. It’s directed by the guy who directed The Fart in Our Cars, and that movie sucked big time. It was probably meant to set up a series and now almost certainly is not, which could lead to some ending weirdness. Still, though, it’s a horror movie!


WHAT IT IS: The Hangover guy is making a Joker movie with Joaquin Phoenix.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because at least Joaquin Phoenix is not Jared Leto

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: This looks like it was written by the worst kind of edgelord committee. The least-interesting part of the Joker is how he became the Joker, and we keep trying to tell that story, and it keeps not being very good. Even in the Tim Burton Batman, the parts where Jack Nicholson is not yet the Joker are not the good parts. I just can’t fathom being excited for this one. Although, again, at least Joaquin Phoenix isn’t Jared Leto.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

WHAT IT IS: A spin-off/sequel to Suicide Squad

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because Margot Robbie was the best part of Suicide Squad. The cast is rounded out by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who’s great in everything) and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (who was great on Friday Night Lights), which is pretty cool. DC had good luck with their other female-led superhero franchise, so maybe lightning will strike twice.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There’s still a lot of potential for it to be pretty awful, given that the source material was rarely particularly good, and it’s still DC, which has only recently started to shake their propensity for making over-serious, overstuffed movies full of bad ideas. Still, it’s probably fair to be cautiously optimistic.

Wonder Woman 1984

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to the only unmitigatedly good DC movie so far 9

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Eh. I think that the DC movies are on something of an upswing, Joker-based decisions notwithstanding. This could be fine. Steve Trevor is coming back somehow, which is something, and Chris Pine is always delightful. Gal Gadot is still just dandy, the whole thing is probably going to work out.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The first one did have it’s third-act problems, and while it’s true that they’re similar problems to just about every big superhero movie (there’s got to be a showdown with a CGI villain, after all), it’s also true that in Wonder Woman it seemed especially pronounced, given the difference between most of the conflict in the movie up to that point and the final conflict. That’s a pretty minor concern, though, given that that hasn’t happened as often in the last couple of years, and also that even though that was the first movie’s problem, it wasn’t enough to make the movie less good in any appreciable way.

Suicide Squad 2

WHAT IT IS: At this point, this is the most out-there thing to try to predict about. It’s the movie that snapped up James Gunn in between him being fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy 3. It’s also the sequel to the most mixed-bag of the DC movies so far. The announcements about it have made it seem especially murky who might be coming back, but it appears that Jai Courtney and Margot Robbie are among them.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Guardians of the Galaxy was an unlikely success story, and James Gunn did a bang-up job with that. There are things about Suicide Squad that could be fun, we just aren’t seeing a lot of “fun” in general from DC to this point. Viola Davis is also rumoured to be coming back, and she was also good. Idris Elba is going to be involved, and I like him also.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, Will Smith was the other best part of the first one, and he’s not in this one. I like Idris Elba (who is not replacing Will Smith as Deadshot, but is instead playing a so-far-unnamed character), but his presence in a movie is….not a reliable indicator of quality. Suicide Squad seems like it could work in theory, but even the original comic book source is not particularly good, so it’s always been better on paper than in practice.

The Batman

WHAT IT IS: The guy that directed Cloverfield and the two most recent Planet of the Apes movies is going to take on the masked detective.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Cloverfield is, if not great, then at least an excellent tight-action-in-a-big-city movie. The latter two Planet of the Apes movies are genuinely great, so Matt Reeves has his bona fides.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It currently doesn’t have a star? Ben Affleck has left the project, and while Reeves says filming began a month or so ago, there’s still no word on who is actually going to don the suit. There’s also reports that it’s going to have a bunch of villains in it, which has never once helped any superhero movie ever. Not even once.

Alright, that wraps it up for the movies that are definitely going to come out. Tune in in a couple of days for the movies that might, in fact, not exist. It’s very exciting!

  1.  which just ended 
  2. AKA Awards-Season, which also overlaps with horror movie season, because there can only be two types of movies I guess? 
  3. in the interest of word-count, I’m saving the tv stuff for part 3, with the not-confirmed movies comprising part 2 in a couple of days. 
  4. a thing I say literally every time I try to prognosticate 
  5. it’s not germane here, but he also proved that he could handle horror comedy for a budget of, like, whatever money he had in his pocket at the time of filming, which is also encouraging. 
  6. he may have also proven something with Centurion, but I haven’t seen it. Mea culpa.  
  7. yes, yes, there are no proverbs about “it”. Shut up. Also it’s not the literal It, which comes out at Halloween times and isn’t a superhero movie. Well, it kind of is with all the psychic whatnot, but I’m still not including it. Shut up again. That’s a double shut up. 
  8. who, for whatever reason, was not included when they made First Class, which included many of the other Hellfire Club characters. True story: when the X-Men cartoon did this story, they included the character, but never referred to him as Mastermind, which makes me wonder if there’s a weird rights thing I don’t know about. I can’t help but think that they’re related. 
  9. although they are getting better – Aquaman wasn’t so bad, after all.  
  10. a character who had powers that were useless in a fight, a displaced alien techno-virus, an artificially-aged witch person who had the powers of a demon and a magic sword and a werewolf comprise many of the members of the group. 

The 2019 ACM Awards

You know, we really give out a lot of awards. If you are a successful country music artist, especially, there are just piles and heaps of opportunities for you to win award after award. What do you suppose, say, Carrie Underwood does with all of them? Has she used them to build a shed 1?

Anyway, you get it. Another awards show. I’ve talked previously at great length 2 about how the problem with writing these things about country music is that there’s precious-little turnover, especially when compared to other genres, so I’ll not get into the whole thing here except to mention it for any first-time readers that happen across it.

Anyway, this awards show has a bunch of awards I’m not going to write about, because I have zero opinions about casinos or venues that I don’t attend. Oh, and I’m skipping songwriter of the year because even though it’s in my wheelhouse, more or less, I still find it difficult to deduce what the songwriters in question are nominated for, and in country music the songwriters generate a lot more material than in other genres/sub-industries.

Furthermore, I’ll be going through these quickly, so as to minimize the amount of time I have to spend getting frustrated at my own inability to come up with more words to say about each of these artists, especially as time goes by.

Music Event of the Year

I don’t know why this is called this, and it drives me crazy every time I write about these awards. I suppose I’d call it “team-up” in my head, but that’s what a childhood of comic books will do to you. Anyway, I kind of like “Drowns the Whiskey,” which surprises me somewhat, as I generally don’t like Jason Aldean. I suppose even a blind squirrel finds a dog’s butt sometimes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jason Aldean, “Drowns the Whiskey” f. Miranda Lambert

Video of the Year

None of these are particularly interesting or inspiring, but at least the Brothers Osborne look like they’re having fun.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Brothers Osborne, “Shoot Me Straight”

Song of the Year

At some point I may have to talk about “Meant to Be,” but the powers that be have allowed me to continue avoiding that for yet another awards ceremony, which is great. Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos” is a fine song, and an honorable nominee. But Kacey Musgraves is super-great, and “Space Cowboy” is especially super-great, and it’s the winner.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, “Space Cowboy”

Single of the Year

This is a pretty dire situation. I sort of like “Down to the Honky Tonk,” and it is, by the rough rubric we have here, the least bad song. But I do want to say this about “Most People are Good”: it is terrible. Like, it’s a melodically-dumb song with a chorus that never really kicks into gear, and the less I say here about the lyrics the more likely I am to be able to get through the rest of my life without trying to chew on my own eyeballs, but I appreciate how earnest it is. This is sort of how I feel about Luke Bryan in general. It’s pandering and terrible pabulum for middle-of-the-road mush-listeners, but goshdarn it it feels pretty genuinely all that. And something that sucks honestly and without pretense is the best of the things that suck. I mean, it’s not a winner, it’s a terrible stupid song, but I rather appreciate the attempt in and of itself.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jake Owen, “Down to the Honky Tonk”

Album of the Year

I’ve sort of come around on Eric Church. I still don’t listen to him of my own volition, but I’ve softened on what it is he’s doing, and I don’t hate it. I like Chris Stapleton well enough. He’d be praised a bit higher if he were in direct competition with anyone but Kacey Musgraves.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour

New Duo or Group of the Year

I still only like LANCO of these options. I like their all-caps name.


New Male Artist of the Year

I am sad that Mitchell Tenpenny’s music doesn’t move me more, because his name is awesome. I mean, it’s not a very country-music sort of name, but it’s an all-time great name anyway. Shame, really. He should try to be as good as Luke Combs. It would make him better.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Luke Combs, who isn’t actually that good. But who also has a pretty good name, for all that.

New Female Artist of the Year

This one is actively the most difficult for me to decide on. I genuinely have no feelings. Like not even a “Well Luke Combs is a little better than the curve here” type of feeling. I guess Carly Pearce doesn’t actively put me to sleep. I guess.


Group of the Year

LANCO’s incursion is fine, but I still like Lady Antebellum more. Still and all, there have been several categories with more than one viable choice in them, and that’s kind of nice. Makes me hopeful, even.


Duo of the Year

There are definitely not two viable candidates in this category, and also I am concerned that LOCASH is trying intentionally to interfere with LANCO’s all-caps fanbase. Actually, given that one of them is “new” and the other is not, it’s probably the other way around, but LOCASH suck real bad, so I’m blaming them. Good job, Brothers Osborne! At least you seem to be having fun in that one video I mentioned earlier!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Brothers Osborne

Male Artist of the Year

I’ll say this: I spend most of these writeups whining about how terrible this all is. No one in this category is anything I’d call a favorite, but none of them are that bad, such as it is. It’s still a matter of “acceptable by degrees”, which isn’t great, but by the lax standards that this awards show generates within my heart, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches.


Female Artist of the Year

The female artist category isn’t necessarily better than the male artist category, but the highs (Kacey Musgraves) are much higher, even if the lows (Maren Morris) are also much lower. It’s nice, though. A relative pleasure to work through. I’m pretty happy about it, even though it was pretty much a foregone conclusion anyway


Entertainer of the Year

It is dumb nonsense that there are no women here. It is especially dumb nonsense that one of the women who isn’t here is Kacey Musgraves. That said, the winner is non-musical, because Luke Bryan is a delightful addition to American Idol and has, therefore, entertained me more than the rest of these people. He will, of course, not be present, because the ceremony airs directly opposite an episode of American Idol, but that would make it funnier anyway. 


And there you have it! We’ll be back in November to look at (I’m sure) this exact same basic set of people once more!

  1. by which I mean she probably can have built a shed out of awards, in which to keep all of the awards that were not directly used for construction materials.  
  2. and in many, many different writeups 

Best Records of March 2019

Solange – When I Get Home (In turning down and making quieter, more intricate music, Solange has once again made the most surprising record possible)

William Basinski – On Time Out of Time (it’s made of the sound of black holes consuming each other! It’s so cool!)

The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (Shabaka Hutchings continues to make the best jazz music for dancin’)

Ex Hex – It’s Real (Most garage bands go hilariously radio-metal and it’s a reason to hold them in disdain, but not this time. No really. I promise.)

Wander – March (Sometimes some on-the-nose post-rock is just what the doctor ordered)