Archive for Book Report

2020 Year End Honorable Mentions – Books/Comics

Posted in Blog Series, Book Report with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2021 by Paxton

YE Book Report

I posted my favorite books/comics of 2020 last week.  As usual, I had a few entries that didn’t necessarily make my favorites list, but I still wanted to talk about them.  Good and bad.

Let’s do books first, then I’ll do some comics.

Ready Player Two
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
– The long awaited sequel to Cline’s smash hit Ready Player One.  Yes, it came out in November 2020.  It came out, and then sort of just disappeared.  I didn’t really hear anyone talking about it.  But I read it over Thanksgiving break.  And it’s…good.  But there are like three asterix on that good.  I really like the premise.  There’s another quest in this book for Wade.  It’s well constructed.  Cline is great at that.  Where Clline has issues is characters.  I still do not like Wade.  He’s supposed to be complicated, I get that.  He’s the best when it comes to quests, but he’s a total mess when it comes to relationships.  But come on.  Almost as soon as the book starts we learn that Wade and Art3mis have broken up because Wade is an insufferable dick.  And it doesn’t stop until the very end.  Cline still layers on the pop culture references, and this time he varies it a bit so it’s not *just* 80s stuff.  But, there’s A LOT of it.  Especially in the beginning.  And speaking of the beginning, the first 80 pages is essentially Wade doing an exposition dump of everything that’s happened to the High 5 in the last five years.  So, yes, the book has problems.  BUT, that being said, don’t think that I didn’t enjoy jumping right back in to this world.  And the OASIS.  And the other characters besides Wade.  Cline creates an involving story.  It does get a bit bananas at the end.  Like I didn’t really see it coming.  And I’m not 100% sure what I think about it, but overall I would say that I liked the book.  I would love to see Speilberg mold this into a sequel to the first movie.

Anyone
Anyone by Charles Soule
– Soule is one of my favorite comic book writers.  This is his second novel.  I read his first novel, The Oracle Year, back in 2019, which I really liked, even though it didn’t make my favorites lists that year.  This is another strong entry for Soule.  A neuroscientist is looking for a cure to Alzheimer’s and discovers a way for people to switch their conscious mind into someone else’s body.  Realizing the implications and knowing that the people funding her research would take it for their own purposes, she tries to hide it.  And things sort of go downhill from there.  This is a good book.  As good as the last one.  A thriller.  A “woman on the run” type story.  And it plays with some moral ethics that I found fascinating.  It does sort of “drop you at the end” without telling you what happens, which normally drives me up the wall, but I kind of rolled with it here because I enjoyed the story.  But I still really want to know what happened.

Terror Castle Shark Reef Scar Faced Beggar
Alfred Hitchcock and the The Three Investigators – This was the series that got me into reading in the 5th grade.  It was the first series I remember reading multiple books and actually looking forward to more books being released.  A group of guys in my class would would run to the shelves during library time to check for new books and scream triumphant if we ever found any.  So, a few years ago, when my son was still a baby, I found some cheap-ish paperback copies (the three I list above) of these books on eBay and ordered them, with the thought that I’d eventually read them to him.  Thanks to quarantine, this was the year.  We read all three of the above books and he enjoyed them.  I did too.  I’m so glad they held up.  I would have been crushed if I had read them and been like, “Why did I like this garbage?”  When I knew we were enjoying them, I went back out to ebay to find more and dammit if this series hasn’t become collectible.  And prices are too damn high for the titles I want.

Now, how about some comic book honorable mentions?  So last year was a year I caught up on comics I had read and loved back in the 80s (The Flash by Mike Baron/William Messner-Loebs), and comics that I never read but was always curious about.

Booster Gold
Booster Gold
– Booster always seems on the fringe of being popular. He’s one of those heroes that is obscure enough that you can tell other comics people you love him and it has cache. I remember his series by Dan Jurgens back in 1985 but I never got around to reading it. So, I decided to give it a shot.  I had a collection of the first 12 issues.  I like Dan Jurgens and I like his art. I even like the initial premise of Booster Gold. He’s the other hero in Metropolis trying to feed off Superman’s criminal leftovers. We get snippets at first of Booster’s time travel background, but it’s not really served up right away.  I really had a hard time liking this series. Jurgens made Booster just a bit too smug for me.  He reminds me of Greg Kinnear as Captain Amazing in Mystery Men.  He has an agent, and is all about branding and image.  Booster’s agent tries to secure movie deals and sponsers.  That’s all a cool idea for a super hero, it honestly is, but for only one super hero in a group.  As the main hero in an extended series, that gets old real quick.  Booster also gets a serious inferiority complex through several issues about working in Metropolis the same time as Superman.  I was like, if it’s such a big goddam deal, Booster, then move.  I ultimately stopped rooting for him and just quit reading.  I had intended to read up to issue #12, but stopped after issue #7.

Blue Devil
Blue Devil
– Next up I read the first five issues of Blue Devil by Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin.  I think I liked this a little better than Booster Gold.  Movie stunt man Dan Cassidy is fused to his special effects suit when a demon is suddenly freed on the island where they are shooting a movie.  Now Dan has to cope with the suit being a part of him and being the new super hero on the block.  This book was fun, had some interesting ideas, and for the most part, I enjoyed reading it.  It reminded me a lot of the great never-been-collected Roger Stern/Tom Lyle Starman series I loved so much in the 80s.  Starman’s Will Payton and Blue Devil’s Dan Cassidy are similar “everyday men” that are suddenly into the limelight as super heroes.  I like that premise.  I had actually reread Stern/Lyle’s 25 issue run on Starman a few years ago and loved it.  And I look forward to continuing Blue Devil, especially because in issue #6, we get the debut of one of my favorite obscure DC villains, Bolt.

New Teen Titans
The New Teen Titans
– This title was super popular back in the day. It helped that Marv Wolfman and George Perez were superstars when they did it.  But despite Kid Flash being on the team, I just never got around to reading it.  I got this collection which has their initial debut in DC Comics Presents, as well as the first 8 issues of their main title.  I read the whole thing.  It’s not bad.  The initial issues have the Teen Titans going up against Deathstroke the Terminiator (who would go on to be a major villain for them), Ravager, and the Fearless Five.  Those stories I very much enjoyed.  Then, it goes into a multi-issue arc where we learn the origin of Raven, we meet her demon lord father, Trigon, and lots of other stuff that I just didn’t care about.  As for the characters.  I liked Robin.  I loved Starfire.  Cyborg is so full of angst.  And Wally West.  Kid Flash is….well….he’s not great.  He seems a bit out of character.  He flies off the handle at little provocation and he’s kind of a standoff-ish jerk.  So, this doesn’t sound like high praise, I know.  I enjoyed about half the issues I read.  The thing is, I can see lots of potential.  So I’m probably going to read the next collection to see where Wolfman/Perez take them next.

Look for some movie honorable mentions later this week!

I Read Movies’ 2020 Year End Round up

Posted in Blog Series, Book Report, books, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on January 13, 2021 by Paxton

For those that don’t know, I host a movie novelization podcast called I Read Movies.  Every month I read a movie novelization and then on the podcast I talk about the differences between the movie and the novelization.  Novelizations are great resources for extra information on your favorite movies.  Extra scenes, plot points, missing characters, all can be found in a good novelization.

September 2020 was I Read Movies’ third birthday.  December’s Willow episode was episode 42.  On the main podcast, I covered 11 novelizations in 2020.  You can see the covers of the 11 novelizations above.  I say, “on the main podcast”, because I did cover a few extra novelizations on other podcasts.  Back in May I covered the novelization of Highlander by Gary Killworth for Cult Film Club.  I also talked about the novelizations of Pale Rider and Tombstone on the western podcast Hellbent for Letterbox.  For the last two, I covered those more informally and didn’t go beat by beat the differences with the movie.

So that makes 14 novelizations covered by me in 2020.  I was going to include some of these in my last favorite books article but I decided to just do a quick round up here and pick my 5 favorite novelizations that I covered this year on I Read Movies.  I picked really well this year.  Out of 12 novelizations, it would have been easy to pick 10 as my favorites.   But I really dug deep and narrowed it down to my five favorite novelizations.

So let’s see which novelizations I most enjoyed in 2020!

FYI, all images and links are to my buddy Shawn’s movienovelizations.com.

The Goonies UK
The Goonies (1985) by James Kahn
– This was the first novelization I did in 2020.  Written by James Kahn who also wrote the Return of the Jedi novelization (which I covered in 2018) and the first two Poltergeist novelizations.  There is so much to love about this novel.  It’s written from Mikey’s POV, but clearly after the events have already taken place.  There are extra scenes including the squid scene at the end, as well as a long drawn out scene of the kids riding a raft through some underground caverns.  There’s even an entire chapter written from Chunk’s POV where he takes over telling you the story.  It’s a lot of fun.  And you do get a type of epilogue at the end that shows you what happened after the movie’s last scene via articles in the local newspaper.  If you are a Goonies fan, this novelization is a must.

Knight Rider 2
Knight Rider #2: Trust Doesn’t Rust (1984) by Glen A Larson
– I mostly cover movie novelizations for I Read Movies. However, starting in 2019, I decided I’d pick one TV novelization to do each year.  Last year I did a novelization of the original Knight Rider pilot episode, Knight of the Phoenix.  If I had done an I Read Movies year end round up last year, it would have been on it.  I had so much fun with that first book, that for 2020 I picked up the second book in Larson’s Knight Rider novelizations series, Trust Doesn’t Rust.  This book is based on the season 1, episode 9 debut of KARR, the evil rival to KITT.  I love this TV show, and the KARR episodes (there were two) were definitely some of my favorites.  This book, being based on only one of those episodes, certainly expands a lot on the action in the episode.  And Larson knows these characters well, so he’s the perfect person to do these novelizations.  However, there are two things about this book that surprise me.  First, these books were written a few years after the episodes.  So Larson had knowledge of later episodes in the series when he wrote them.  Despite this, he doesn’t normally incorporate this future knowledge into the story.  So some story beats of the book will contradict what comes later in the show.  Or not really even mention it at all.  The other thing I’m surprised about is that this book doesn’t also novelize the second episode featuring KARR.  They could have easily said, “1 Year Later” and continued on to tell that story.  But those are nit picks.  This book and the previous Knight Rider book is so much fun to read that I’m hoping to continue on in this series.

WarGames Hackers
WarGames (1983) and Hackers (1995) by David Bischoff – This is a two-fer because they are by the same author.  Like my buddy Retromash, WarGames is one of my favorite movies.  I had actually read the WarGames novelization back in high school when I found it in an old “garage sale store” back in Alabama.  I remember loving it.  So, I looked forward to a reread and to cover it on I Read Movies.  And it didn’t disappoint.  It fills in some pretty great story beats, has a few extra deleted scenes, some throwaway dialogue, and a completely different ending.  It’s a lot of fun, and Bischoff would also write another “techno” based movie novelization I read last year, Hackers (1995).  That movie is so much fun and the novelization preserves that fun while vastly increasing a lot of the context of the story.  There are one or two extra scenes, but what Bischoff does is add a lot of story beats to further flesh out the characters.  Plus, there’s a lot of techno jargon that is either wildly inappropriate, or wildly out of date.  I can’t recommend these two novelizations enough.

Jason Lives
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part 6 (1986) by Simon Hawke
–  Back for my blog’s AWESOME-tober-fest 2012, I covered a bunch of horror novelizations.  Many of the 80s horror novelizations have become extremely hard to find and very collectible.  I had a friend that had almost all of them and he let me borrow them to read and review for the site.  This Friday the 13th book was one of them.  It was released in conjunction with the movie, but lead to Hawke also novelizing the first three movies in the franchise.  I wish they would have let him complete it, because I would have loved to have seen Hawke’s Part IV adaptation.  Anyway, fast forward to 2019 and I lucked into finding a copy of this book at my local used store for $3.  So I decided to cover it last November.  This is such a great adaptation of probably my favorite Jason movie.  It’s lots of fun.  It does add some context to characters and even fills in a bunch of back story for Jason.  Plus, there’s an epilogue featuring Jason’s dad, Elias.  Like I said, it’s become really hard to find and it’s super expensive on the secondary market.  But if you get a chance, I recommend you give it a read.

Halloween
Halloween (1979) by Curtis Richards
– This particular novelization has picked up a sort of legendary status for novelization collectors.  Again, it’s an early horror novelization, so it’s highly collectible and very hard to find.  Plus, it adds *so much* to the story.  I was able to acquire a copy of this in digital form and covered it for I Read Movies’ Halloween episode last year.  And it delivers.  The book starts off talking about weird celtic cults in Ireland.  Then it downshifts into a scene with Michael’s grandmother and mother discussing Michael’s “unfortunate accidents” in school.  It takes a while before you catch up to the movie.  and even then, you get a ton of extra scenes of Michael and what his life was like inside the asylum.  This novelization is an exercise in why novelizations are great.  Actually, I could probably say that about all of my favorites this year.  They all added so much to their stories it made reading them a joy.

So those were my favorite this year. Let’s take a look at a few overall stats for I Read Movies.

Over the course of the show I’ve covered just over 50 books and novelizations. That includes the 42 episodes of the main show, as well as the Apendix special episodes, and any other special episodes I did for Nerd Lunch and Cult Film Club. How about an author breakdown? Currently, the author I’ve covered the most on I Read Movies is a three way tie between James Kahn, Jeffrey Cooper and Craig Shaw Gardner with three titles each.

James Kahn – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, The Goonies
Craig Shaw Gardner – The Lost Boys, Batman, Batman Returns
Jeffrey Cooper – Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Nightmare on Elm Street 3

Then there are a bunch of authors where I’ve covered two titles; Alan Dean Foster, George Gipe, David Bischoff, Hank Searls, and Glen Larson. I have a few of these authors scheduled again in 2021 so we shall see who jumps in front next year.

Okay that’s my I Read Movies year end novelization round up.  Hope you enjoyed this past year of the podcast.  I picked a lot of really good choices last year and I think I have a lot of good novelizations coming up in 2021.  I typically take a break in January, but I might have a special episode for January and then I’ll be back in February covering The Last Starfighter by Alan Dean Foster.

Year End Book Report: My Favorite Books/Comics I Read in 2020

Posted in Blog Series, Book Report, books, comic books with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2021 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

2020.  Oh my god, guys, what a ride. I’m surprised, but I was able to get some reading done in 2020. It helped, sort of, that I was home most of the time. And, we read a lot more books as a family to each other. So that’s why you’ll see Diary of a Wimpy Kid on my list, and Little House on the Prairie, and Junie B Jones. These are book we read as a family or I read to my kids at bedtime. So it did seem we were all reading more together. I really liked that.

So, you can find my reading logs on Goodreads. I log everything I read there. My reading goal for 2020 was 105 books. And according to Goodreads, I read 170 books.

Reading 170 books certainly sounds impressive, but it’s deceiving as well. I had three books I did not finish, but Goodreads counts them in my “books read” and “pages read” totals.  There were also a couple large story collections that I only read one story out of, but Goodreads counts that whole book towards my totals.  Also, I read several comics series that weren’t collected into paperbacks so I had to list them as single issues. That quickly inflates my totals.  Plus, comics are super easy and quick to read. And I read a bunch of them this year.

Let’s look at some of my other Reading totals.

Here’s my shortest and longest book I read.  Both were read for AWESOME-tober-fest this year.  The short one is obviously a short story.  The longest one is a collection of the works of Stephen Vincent Benet.  He wrote The Devil and Daniel Webster.  I only read The Devil and Daniel Webster.  None of the other stories.  But that book is counted amongst my totals.

Here are my “most popular” and “least popular” shelved books.  I had read the first Harry Potter to my kids this year which started off a whole Potter obsession in this house that continues to this day.  We’ve watched all the movies, I’ve read the first three books to them, and they each have their own wands.  The least popular book I read is a comic from the Ultraverse: Prime comic series by Malibu.  I read a bunch of these Ultraverse titles for my apppearance on the podcast Wizards: The Podcast Guide to Comics.  These didn’t even exist on Goodreads.  I had to add them.

If you look at my Google Spreadsheet reading log, which I keep in parallel with Goodreads, you’ll see it listing 113 reads this year.  Minus the three aforementioned DNF books, which makes it 110 reads.  That number rolls up the single issue comics into their collected titles.  Still over my goal number of 105, so I’m happy with that.  Next year (or this year, I guess, 2021) I set my reading goal to 115.

Let’s move on with my recap of my favorite books I read this year.

Rules are the same.  Only books/comics I read for the first time in 2020 are eligible for this list.  No re-reads, of which I had a few.  You won’t find a lot of “2020” reads in here.  I don’t typically read brand new stuff the year it comes out, but it happens.  There was one big 2020 release that I did read.  Will it make the list?  Let’s find out.

Books

Immortality Inc
Immortality, Inc by Robert Sheckley
– I’ve been wanting to read this for YEARS.  This is the book that the movie Freejack was based on, and I am a fan of that movie.  We even covered Freejack on Cult Film Club in 2020.  Robert Sheckley is a prolific sci-fi author from the 50s.  And yes, Immortality Inc was written in the late 50s.  The novel is very different from the movie.  The movie took a few aspects of the story and that’s about it.  I’m considering doing an appendix episode of this novel on I Read Movies, so possibly stay tuned for that.  But the book is good, it’s packed with interesting ideas, and I had some fun with it.  I’m now curious to check out more of Sheckley’s work.  He’s written a *ton* of stuff including several short story collections, and a novel, Dimension of Miracles, that was a precursor (and possible influencer) to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Brilliance Trilogy 1 Brilliance Trilogy 2 Brilliance Trilogy 3
Brilliance Trilogy by Marcus Sakey
– I forget how I found out about this series.  The basic premise is that at some point in the 80s it was discovered that 1% of the population is born “brilliant”.  Meaning that they have special abilities.  But we aren’t talking throwing fireballs, super speed, or flying.  It’s more grounded than that.  One man can read your intentions through your posture or your muscles tensing.  Another man can read the subtleties of the ever changing stock market to such a degree that he racked up billions and shut the entire NYSE down.  One woman can turn invisible, not physically invisible, but she inherently knows where people aren’t currently looking and can occupy those spots at the exact time to make herself functionally invisible.  And there are many other degredations besides that.  Sakey creates a pretty interesting world.  It’s definitely an X-Men pastiche type story.  Which itself is a thin alegory for racism.  This book investigates all of that.  The government that’s scared that Brilliants will take over world.  What they do about it.  And all the political intrigue and drama behind the scenes.  It’s really good and I highly recommend it.

Making of ROTJ
The Making of Return of the Jedi by JW Rinzler
– So, I finally finished this series.  It took me three years, but I finally did it.  I read the original Making of Star Wars in 2018.  Then I read the Making of Empire Strikes Back in 2019.  And this year, I was able to finish the trilogy with Making of Return of the Jedi.  These books are exhaustive.  Thousands of pictures.  Script fragments.  Behind the scenes stuff.  I had the Kindle versions and they also came with snippets of audio and video clips.  There is so much to consume with this series.  It’s an undertaking.  But it’s highly satisfying and worth it for a die hard Star Wars fan.  And to be honest, lately, I’ve been sort of “taking a break” on Star Wars.  These books sort of put me back into the mindset of, “Yeah, there’s a lot to like about Star Wars.”  Then add in watching season 2 of The Mandalorian with my son, and I may be somewhat ready to dive back into….well, if not all, then certain…Star Wars things.

NBA Jam
NBA Jam (Boss Fight Books) by Reyan Ali
NBA Jam is one of my favorite arcade games of all time.  This book is an oral history of how the game was made, how it became a global phenomenon, and all the drama that went on behind the scenes.  It’s a lot of fun and I love oral histories like this.  I read another pretty great oral history this year about Jaws called The Jaws Log.  It was written by one of the screenwriters, Carl Gottlieb, who was there almost every day of shooting.  Check it out!

Ninth House Time & Again
This last spot was pretty hard.  Several things could go here.  I didn’t have any one, clear winner.  So how about a two-fer?
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – This book is a part of the plethora of “Magical Schools” books that have flooded the market since Harry Potter. See Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  This one, though, doesn’t use a hidden magical school amongst our world, it takes place on an existing college campus, Yale, that has a whole hidden magical community inside the normal campus life.  I won’t lie, the book is a slow starter.  You are sort of dropped into this world with very few context clues to what’s going on.  But as I read and picked up more details about the magic in this world, I really liked it.  Life in this book is pretty much the same as our own, except magic exists.  The problem is, magic is dirty.  It’s gross.  And it’s not easy to do.  There’s a lot of ceremony and ritual that’s required, and not just anybody can do it.  And, it’s super dangerous.  I liked this approach to magic.  And the main protagonist, Alex Stern, is an interesting and complicated character.  I would definitely read any sequel Bardugo wants to write in this world.

Time and Again by Jack Finney – I love time travel books.  Especially ones that sort of try to take the material in different directions.  This is one of those “secret government experiment to make time travel a reality” type stories.  And it’s pretty good.  A shadowy government agency recruits Si Morley to their ranks.  They are attempting time travel.  But time travel doesn’t work with a device or a “machine”.  In this world, you have to almost will yourself into the past.  It reminded me a lot of the movie Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve.  And very few people have ever done it.  The way they handle time travel here is pretty great.  Si ultimately figures it out and travels back to the late 1800s New York.  Something goes awry.  He gets in trouble with a bad dude in 1880, but everytime he goes back to the future he notices small things are changing.  So he has to make a decision about what needs to happen and where is he going to wind up staying, in the future, or in the past?  This book was written in 1970.  There’s a sequel, but it wasn’t written until 1995!  25 years later!  I’m curious to read the sequel now considering some of the things that happen at the end of the first one.

I also read a bunch of movie novelizations this year for I Read Movies.  I wanted to place a few on this list, however, I think I may break them out and do an I Read Movies 2020 Year End round up.  And talk about the movie novelizations I read for the podcast there.  Stay tuned for that!

Let’s switch over to comics!

Comics

Flash 4 Flash YO
The Flash by Josuha Williamson
– This summer I went on a BIG The Flash read/re-read. First, I had gotten way behind on my current Flash reading. I had read the first couple volumes of Joshua Williamson’s Flash but stopped there. I wanted to catch up. So, I started where I left off, Volume 4, and read nearly straight through to Volume 12. And this includes Williamson’s take on Flash: Year One. There’s a lot of characters, and a lot of characters with super speed, which normally would bother me, but Williamson is able to handle that load. I enjoyed reading this run so much I actually went and read The Flash: Savage Velocity which is a collection of the first 18 issues of the 1987 Flash title.  That was the title I read back in the day as they were being released.  The first few issues are by Mike Baron and then William Messner-Loebs takes over.  Everyone always talks about Mark Waid’s Flash run, but he didn’t get on that title until issue 62, so there are 61 issues BEFORE him that are actually really good.  So I read the first 18 issues in Savage Velocity, and I happen to have a ton of these issues from when I bought them as they were coming out, so I pulled them out and read all the way up to issue #35.  Loved this full read.

Avengers MM Dr Strange MM
Marvel Masterworks
– I actually read several of these collected Marvel Masterworks books.  I read the first two Avengers volumes, as well as the first volume for Dr Strange, Iron Man, and Silver Surfer.  I really dig these high quality collections.  They are nice to read.  I’m going to call out the Avengers (issues #1-10) and Dr Strange (Strange Tales #110-111, 114-141) as my favorites.  I can’t express how much fun the Avengers books are.  They are mostly by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck.  These 60s stories are amazing and so different than what you expect out of these characters.  Iron Man has roller skates BUILT INTO HIS BOOTS!  And Dr Strange is exactly what you want it to be, these weirdly strange magical stories with TERRIFIC art by Steve Ditko.  I highly recommend reading some if you have the chance.  This year I’m hoping to bust into X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, and maybe even another volume of Avengers or Iron Man.  Or even Dr Strange.  Maybe all of them!

Paper Girls 1 Paper Girls 2 Paper Girls 3
Paper Girls (v1-v3)
– So I burned through the first three trades of Paper Girls this year based on people just *loving* this series.  I was curious, plus Brian K Vaughn is an awesome writer.  And there was talk about the 80s.  I thought maybe I’d get some sort of Stranger Things vibe out of this.  And that’s not wrong, but it doesn’t really do justice to what you get in this story.  There’s SO MUCH going on here, and at any moment, you probably are only aware of 50% of it.  There are constant revelations about things that already happened in the story that shed new light or change your perspective on the ongoing story.  It’s amazing how well this is written considering how bananas the story gets.  I mean BANANAS.  The art is great, the titular “paper girls” are awesome, and it takes place in the 80s.  I’m not going to spoil anything, just read it.

Calamity Jane
Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary by Christian Perrissin/Matthieu Blanchin
– I found this on a lark for sale and grabbed it to read for my western podcast, Hellbent for Letterbox.  And wow, it was super charming.  The art is terrific.  It’s black and white with some gray lowlights.  It reminds me of those Japanese paintings with ink and brush.  But the book tries to tell as accurate a story as it can from all the known facts about Mary Jane Cannary, aka Calamity Jane.  It takes from several books, and some letters Jane wrote to her daughter.  I loved this book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Infinite Kung Fu
Infinite Kung-Fu by Kagan McLeod
– This book reminds me a lot of the above Calamity Jane book.  The art is similarly fantastic.  Black and white with lots of brush strokes.  It felt like Kagan McLeod had found a lost 70s Kung Fu movie and illustrated it into graphic novel form.  An evil emporer, his evil kung fu master generals, kung fu gods, and lots of limb tearing action.  I really enjoyed this.

And those were my favorite books and comics I read in 2020.  Hope you enjoyed this article and found something new that you may eventually love.  Let me know if you do!

Lots more coming up, guys.  Expect to see an I Read Movies novelization round up, as well as my favorite movies of 2020 list.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2020: The Man in the Black Suit by Stephen King

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, books, monsters, pop culture, The Devil with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2020 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2020

I’ve been talking a lot about devils in movies and TV shows. So I want to throw another book into the mix. And I feel like I need to include something from Stephen King. And that something is going to be Stephen King’s short story, The Man in the Black Suit.

Man in the Black Suit Everything's Eventual

I think the story has been published in several places, but I know it from King’s short story collection Everything’s Eventual. I love King’s short story collections; Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, Different Seasons, Four Past Midnight, Nightmares & Dreamscapes. They are some of my favorite of his writings.  There’s just something about the stories being more concentratedly powerful and creepy.  Many years ago, say 2004-ish, I picked up the paperback version of this collection and started reading it.  I was traveling a lot at the time for my job, flying across the country.  I got about 3 stories in and accidentally left the book on the plane.  To this day I’ve not continued reading it despite the fact that the first two stories in the collection were terrific.  The Man in the Black Suit is the second story.  And it’s stuck with me all of these years.  When I decided to do The Devil for AWESOME-tober-fest this year, this was one of the first things that popped into my head.

The story is told in flashback.  Gary, old and dying in a nursing home, has decided to write down a story that he has never spoken to anyone.  Ever.  It happened back in the 1920s, when he was 9 years old.  He went fishing one day several miles from his house down Castle Stream.  He falls asleep waiting for a bite and is suddenly awoken by and sees what looks like a man in a black suit.  But upon closer inspection, it is so much more.  They start off having a conversation.  During this conversation, Gary comes to understand that this man is The Devil himself.  And the rest of their conversation Gary is trying to not let the man know that he has figured out that he is the Devil.

Yes, this story is creepy, but I’m bringing this story up because of King’s depiction of the Devil.  It’s one we don’t see that often.  The truly monsterous version of the Devil.  This Devil is pale and tall with skinny arms and legs.  He smells of burnt match sticks.  Gary notices claws at the end of his pale, thin hands and his mouth is filled with sharp fangs.  And where the man’s eyes should be, are flames.  Like a blast furnace with no door.  This Devil is truly terrifying.  He doesn’t speak in an English accent, say pithy lines, or make bargains or deals.  This Devil makes it clear to Gary that he intends to eat him.  For he is mighty hungry.

Since the story is told in flashback, you know that ultimately Gary escapes.  But it’s a harrowing escape.  I love this story, and I highly recommend you checking it out.  It’s available out there in several places by itself or in other collections.  And now that I’ve reread this story and it totally holds up, I think I may pick back up Everything’s Eventual and finally finish it.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2020: Satan and the Incarnations of Immortality

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, books, monsters, pop culture, The Devil with tags , , , , , , on October 14, 2020 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2020

Let’s continue my “Devil’s Walk” this month with a look at another fascinating incarnation of the Devil. And this one is a literal “incarnation” from an 80s fantasy series.

My senior year in high school, I had an awesome English teacher named Mrs West. She had a reputation as being tough, and she was, but she was also an awesome English teacher. At several points in the curriculum she would give us book choices and actually let us vote on the ones we wanted to cover which is why we ended up talking about books like Stephen King’s Eyes of the Dragon and Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  I was introduced to several things that year that I wound up loving that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise thanks to Mrs West.  One other choice that we talked about that year was a fantasy book by Piers Anthony called On a Pale Horse.  We only talked about that one book, but come to find out, that book was the beginning of a fantasy series called The Incarnations of Immortality.

On a Pale Horse was the first book, and it was released in 1983.  It takes place on an alternate Earth in the near future.  Humans have developed magic alongside science.  You can do things with magic, but it’s hard, there are a lot of rules, and sometimes it’s just easier to flick on a light switch.  Or light a match.  So both exist simultaneously and both are ubiquitous on this Earth.  We meet poor, down on his luck Zane, who has a bad experience trying to purchase a magic “wealth stone” that we ultimately learn only finds pocket change.  Despondent, Zane, with no prospects, decides to kill himself, but as he does, a giant black robed figure enters the room.  Zane, without thinking, turns the gun he had on himself, to the black robed figure and pulls the trigger.  Yes, Zane kills Death.  We are then thrust into the crux of the series.  Zane learns that by killing Death, he must assume the office of Death.  We learn here that the afterlife runs just like any government office.  And each aspect of the afterlife is headed by an Incarnation.  We learn that the main Incarnation offices are Death, Time, Fate, War, and Nature.  All the offices are held by people that have assumed that aspect of the office and they are the ones that carry out its duties.   There are also Incarnations for Good (God) and Evil (Satan).  It’s discussed, but you don’t really see the Good Incarnation until the end of the series.  However, the Incarnation of Evil is the antagonist for pretty much the entire series.  He’s constantly popping up and causing problems for each incarnation.  In fact, each Incarnation has to have their own confrontation with Satan after they take over the office as sort of a rite of passage.  So, this version of the Devil is heavily involved in the entire series, even getting his own book.

But before I get there, the original series included 7 books that started in 1983 and finished in 1990.  Anthony did write an 8th book in 2007, but I haven’t read it, and I’m not entirely sure I’m going to just yet.  Ok, I say that, but I’ll probably fold like a deck chair and read it.  If I haven’t already.  Like I said, I read the first book back in high school and I liked it so much I picked up the second book, Bearing an Hourglass, and read it that year as well.  For some reason I stopped there, and I’m not sure why.  Then, in 2001, a co-worker heard I’d never finished the series and said I should get on that.  So, thinking back fondly on those first two books, I decided to re-read the first two, then I continued to read the entire series through book 7.  The overall concept of the series is GREAT.  The entries themselves are mostly hit with some misses.  So, when thinking about using this series’ Satan as one of my AWESOME-tober-fest picks, I didn’t want to re-read the *entire* series, so I picked a few of my favorites to re-read before reading Satan’s book.  The books I decided to re-read in the series are Books 1 (Death), 2 (Time), and 4 (War).

Death Time War

Aside from Book 6, which was all about Satan, these are the three books I remember liking the most (the last time I read these were back in 2001).  The concept, again, is really good. Satan is the antagonist in all three. He’s a schmoozer, a wheeler and dealer. He is the Father of Lies, so he is always speaking in half and veiled truths. But he’s very charismatic and in many cases, on the surface, he makes a lot of sense. It’s why this Satan works. He greets new incarnations, he never shies away from his bad reputation, explaining it away as misunderstandings, and tells his version of things in an engaging way. It’s only after the new Incarnation has gained some experience that he sees Satan for what he is. These three books are great setups for that, and it sets the expectation that Satan is the ultimate antagonist for the series.

Then you get to book 6, For Love of Evil.

This is the book that focuses on the office of Satan.  After having been conditioned through five books to see the Incarnation of Evil as the villain, this is the book that shifts things around a little and adds all of this unexpected context to the idea of Satan, as he pertains to this series.  This book starts hundreds of years before the first of the series.  We meet Parry.  The book follows the established formula of the series.  You start off and meet the human characters before they become incarnations.  Some more than others.  Zane from On a Pale Horse, we only meet for a few pages before he becomes Death.  Norton, who becomes Time, we see a LOT of him before he becomes Time.  Same with Mym before he becomes War.  And especially Parry.  There’s nearly 100 pages before we even get to the point of him taking the office.  That time is well used, though.  He starts off as the son/apprentice of a powerful sorcerer.  He meets and courts a woman.  There is a sudden attack on his father which puts Parry on the run.  He realizes he has to hide and stop using magic as his pursuers have another powerful magician waiting for Parry to use magic so it can be tracked.  So Parry hides in an order of dominican monks.  He becomes a very canny searcher of evil and increases the influence of his monk order many fold.  It’s in this position Parry is approached by Lilith, a minion of Lucifer, the current office holder.  She is there to tempt him, and this is where the story really begins.  Parry winds up taking the office, becoming Satan, and ruling for hundreds of years.  We see his domain of Hell and how, when he takes the office, disorganized it is.  While Parry is the Incarnation of Evil, he does seek to make the punishment and redistribution of souls a more efficient process.  He even creates a mini-Heaven within Hell to hold souls who have been mis-classified and are awaiting release to Heaven.  ‘

We also see many of the events of the previous books from Parry’s point of view.  His confrontations with the previous Incarnations Zane, Norton, Mym, which I just reread, as well as his interactions with the other incarnations I didn’t reread; Orb (Nature), and Niobe (Fate).  Like I said, the events in those other books are addressed here.  I really like how we see this whole series from a new perspective.  Parry isn’t evil.  He runs an office that is evil, but he himself is not evil.  There’s even a point where he goes to meet with Heaven to stop the ridiculous race for souls between the two of them.  It’s inefficient and it harms more souls than it helps.  This was a really good book and I really enjoy how it absolutely fits within the framework of this whole series, but also sort of turns it all around and looks at it from behind.

If you remembver up top, I mentioned that an eighth book was released a few years ago, and that I never read it.  It was a small printing and it’s hard to find.  The character in that book is Nox, the Incarnation of Night.  She appears in this sixth book.  A few times, actually.  I really enjoyed this reread.  I enjoyed it enough to say that, yes, I’ll probably wind up reading that eighth book, just to see how it ties in.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.