Archive for Book Report

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.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2020: Devilish origins for modern popular fiction

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, books, Classic literature, Halloween, holiday, monsters, pop culture, The Devil with tags , , , , , , on October 1, 2020 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2020

Welcome to Day 1 of AWESOME-tober-fest 2020!  I think this will be a fun month!  The theme for this year’s Halloween celebrations is The Devil! I’m going to talk about movies, comics, TV shows, and cartoons that feature Ol Scratch as a character.

There are many depictions of the Devil in popular culture and many of these depictions are based on very early writings.  Before I start digging into some of the more modern and fun versions of the devil in popular culture, lets take a look at some of the beginnings of his appearances.  These are the classic depictions of Satan or the Devil that many of the things I will be looking at this month will be based on.

One of the earliest appearances of Satan in popular writing was from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

In this epic poem, Satan was the original bad boy anti-hero.  He is the most beautiful of all of God’s angels.  It is here in Milton that Satan declares that it is better to “reign in Hell” than to “serve in Heaven”.  Satan and his followers are expelled from heaven.  Satan argues that God rules as a tyrant and the angels themselves ought to rule as gods.  He also argues that since angels are self raised, they deny God’s rule over them.  Satan is portrayed as very charismatic.  He continues to persuade angels to follow his cause even after his group is soundly defeated in the first Angelic War.  This particular Satan is a classic character and i really enjoy Milton’s epic poem.  This particular Satan could be considered to be the basis for much of what will follow.  Specifically, DC Comic’s version of Satan, Lucifer Morningstar, is based on Milton’s version.

The next classical depiction of the devil in fiction that I want to bring up is Mephistopheles from Goethe’s Faust.

Written in the late 18th Century, Faust is also a classic devil in fiction tale. It’s even become terminology for a deal with the devil (Faustian bargain). Many deal with the devil stories are traced directly back to this gothic tale.  German doctor Faust is unsatisfied with his life.  He wishes to possibly end his suffering.  Mephistopheles, bored with ruling Hell, asks God (yes, they actually have a semi-regular gossip session in the story), well, he actually bets God that he can corrupt Faust and make him turn away from God.  God says sure because he is absolutely positive that even someone so disillusioned with his life as Faust seems to be, wouldn’t turn their back on Him.  So Mephistopheles appears to Faust and makes him a deal; he will be Faust’s servant on Earth, but when Faust dies, he has to do the same for Mephistopheles.  In this story Mephistopheles, like Milton’s Satan, is also portrayed as very charismatic.  He is cunning and easily convinces Faust to go along with whatever idea he can think of until ultimately Faust can’t see how far he has gone down the path of damnation.  It’s a very good classic story, but if you’ve never read Goethe, it can be a little melodramatic.  Faust is kind of emo about his despair.  It gets a bit old and I’m sort of glad Mephistopheles comes in to put him through the ringer.  Many versions of this story exist.  FW Murnau, who directed Nosferatu, directed a movie version of Faust in 1926.

Next up is a story by Washington Irving called The Devil and Tom Walker from 1824.

The story was originally published in Irving’s 1824 Tales of a Traveller collection.  The story starts off telling us about the notorious pirate William Kidd who made a deal with the devil to protect a large treasure of gold. Kidd died before he could reclaim his riches so the devil has been protecting it ever since.

The story then shifts to Boston, Mass around the year 1727. Tom Walker meets this version of the devil, Old Scratch, in the woods. The devil tells Tom that he knows where Kidd buried his loads of treasure and he’ll reveal it under certain conditions. Tom eventually goes back out and strikes a deal with the devil for the gold. One of the devil’s conditions was it had to be used in service of the Devil. So Tom agrees to become a money lender and loan money for exorbitant fees. He opens a shop a few days later and becomes very wealthy off the backs of the people he’s lending money to.

Needless to say, things don’t end well for good old Tom.  The end of the story tells us that people often see a spectral rider on a black horse in the woods of Boston.  I originally wondered if that was a call out to Irving’s Headless Horseman, but Sleepy Hollow arrived four years after this story.  As for Irving’s Old Scratch, he appears as a woodsman, or lumberjack, chopping down trees.  He’s also called “The Black Man” in the story, which I believe is referring to all the black ash on his skin from the fires of Hell.  He’s cunning and persuasive, as he needs to be, to convince people to do his bidding.

One last story I want to talk about today.  It’s actually inspired by the previous story, but it’s very well known by it’s own right.  I’m talking about The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet.

This story was first published in The Saturday Evening Post on October 24, 1936. It takes place in New Hampshire.  The story opens up by telling us about Daniel Webster.  Benet’s Webster is based on an actual lawyer named Daniel Webster.  The story’s version of Daniel Webster is made out to be this hugely hyperbolic man.   It says that when he spoke, “..stars and stripes came out of the sky.”  When he walked in the woods with his fishing rod (of course named KillAll), trout would jump out of the streams into his pockets because they knew it was no use putting up a fight with him.  On his farm, the chickens were all white meat down to the drumsticks, and he owned a big ram called Goliath that had horns that could butt through an iron door.  It’s really funny how much the story builds up Mr Webster.  It reminds me of those Saturday Night Live skits about the exploits of the greatest salesman alive, Bill Brasky.

Anyway, the story is about Jabez Stone, who’s farm is not doing well.  One night, after being so frustrated he yells that he’d sell his soul to the devil for good luck, he is met by a polite, refined man in a dark suit going by the name Old Scratch.  Jabez makes a deal with Old Scratch for good fortune for the next four years after which, the black suited gentleman will return to collect.  For the next 3 years Jabez enjoys fabulous wealth and luck, but during the fourth year, he becomes so anxious about the end of his deal, he can’t enjoy his fortune.  He writes to noted New Hampshire attorney Daniel Webster who visits Jabez, listens to his story and agrees to take his case.  Webster tells Jabez that “…there’s a jug on the table and a case in hand. And I never left a jug or a case half finished in my life.”

This is when Old Scratch arrives, and Daniel must use all of his lawyerly wits to argue for Jabez’s, and ultimately his own, soul.  To combat Webster, Scratch calls in a murderer’s row of jurors to try the case including  Blackbeard the pirate, an American Indian scalp hunter and a judge from the Salem Witch Trials.  It’s a fun story, I enjoyed the tall tale and the ultimate conclusion.  The Devil is a soft spoken but cunning adversary in the story.  You’d be surprised how many other stories, movies, and TV shows are based on this particular tale.  Most recently in Shortcut to Happiness, Alec Baldwin did a turn as the Jabez Stone character, Anthony Hopkins was Daniel Webster, and Jennifer Love Hewitt was the Devil.

So these stories are the bedrock of fiction featuring the Devil.  We will come across many stories, movies, and books this month that are based on or derive inspiration from one of these stories.



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

Super Blog Teamup: Jumper and the creation of a multiverse

Posted in books, movies, pop culture with tags , , , on June 24, 2020 by Paxton

Well, I decided I needed to write more, and I haven’t really found a time to do it.  Keeping up work, podcasting, and several “real life” things during the quarantine have kept me pretty busy.  However, I still have that urge to write more on the blog.  So when Charlton Hero gave me the opportunity to join the latest round of Super Blog Team-Up, I thought that this was a perfect chance to do that.  And the topic of expanded universes in pop culture was a perfect fit for me.

So let’s talk about Jumper.

Back in 2008, a movie named Jumper was released. It starred Hayden Christensen from the Star Wars prequels, Jaime Bell, Rachel Bilson, and Sam Jackson (also from the Star Wars prequels). It looked like a fun, big budget, high octane, genre movie.  It’s about a kid, Davey Rice, that learns he has the ability to teleport.  And he also learns that there are others like him and a shadowy government agency is out to control them, and their ability, for themselves.

jumper movie

The movie is…pretty good. There’s lots of interesting ideas throughout.  I love the idea of teleporters.  And Davey discovers this whole group of people who can teleport just like him, and then also discovering Sam Jackson’s character and his agency are after him.  Ruthelssly.  No holds barred.  I like that.  But the movie isn’t as good as the sum of the parts.  Christensen isn’t great as Davey.  He’s a bit like Anakin Skywalker in Episode II, rather whiny.  I like Rachel Bilson, but she isn’t really given a lot to do.  Jamie Bell is awesome as Griffin who introduces us to the wider world of Jumpers and their battle against Sam Jackson’s Paladins.  This movie, for the most part, sets up a cool world that I would have liked to have seen continued.  But it went no further than this despite rumors that they are trying to start up a TV show featuring Jamie Bell returning as his Griffin character.

But I’ll admit, I’ve always been a sucker for teleportation as a power.  I was always a big fan of Nightcrawler.  There were several DC Comics villains that could teleport or “warp”.  I just thought it was a great power and not utilized enough.  In fact, if you ask me today what super power I’d like to have, I would say teleportation or “warping” powers.  Imagine rolling out of bed, showering and “popping” into work 5 seconds later?  Or, time to drive the kids to the grandparents’ house 5 and a half hours away?  Ok kids, grab your suitcases, think about Gramps’ house.  BAMF.  We’re there.  No yelling in the car.  No “are we there yet”s.  None of that goddam nonsense.  Ok, see you in a week, kids.  BAMF.

Anyway, after seeing the movie, I did a little research into the story.  I discovered that it was based on a book.  A book about a kid that can teleport.  Needless to say, I was intrigued.  That book was from 1992 and it’s called Jumper by Steven Gould.

Jumper Book 1

So a few months later I picked up a used copy of the book and started reading.  And clearly I didn’t research the story enough, because the whole time I was reading it, I was waiting for Sam Jackson’s Roland character or Jamie Bell’s Griffin character to make an appearance.  I had no idea that the movie was rewritten to be so different from the book.  None of the movie characters show up and, as a matter of fact, the entire concept in the movie of Paladins, and legions of people with the ability to jump, and this huge war going on between them is not even mentioned.  The movie created a whole alternate universe for Jumper that essentially just shares the characters of Davey and Millie and that’s about it.

The book’s story focuses on Davey and Millie, and their relationship, as well as Davey’s strained relationship with his father and mother. The entire story is more intimate and, honestly, works a bit better in many respects. In the book, Millie is a girl he meets at a party, not his elementary school crush.  Davey is the only person in the book we ever see that can teleport.  And the government is, in fact, after Davey, but it’s the NSA, not some shadowy government branch with agents called Paladins. Also, it’s more clear in the book that Davey is supposed to be very immature and whiny due to his poor relationship with his family, and the fact that he’s been on his own since he was 14 or 15.  Which somewhat explains Hayden’s whiny performance in the movie.  Also the ability to jump is explored more, which is nice.  But it’s not explained how it really works.  The reader is learning about jumping as Davey learns about it.  We see him test out his powers.  Learn how they work.  And how they don’t work.  The book is also really good about exploring many issues not apparent in the movie version.  It explores a little more realistically about Davey and his responsibility to use his power and not let it be abused.  And there’s some extra stuff about his mother that is really explored in the book that is only touched on in the movie. So while I enjoyed the movie, it was technically a terrible adaptation of the book.  The stories are completely different.

Then, I discovered, that in 2004, Gould wrote a sequel to Jumper called Reflex.

It’s obviously a sequel to Gould’s novel and not the movie as it was published a few years before the movie was released.  It makes the odd choice of jumping 10 years in the future after the first book.  At this time, Davey, who is now working for the NSA as an agent, is finally captured by a secret criminal organization and is tortured and conditioned into working for them. Millie must work with the government to save him. I really do recommend reading both Jumper books, even if you didn’t like the movie (but especially if you did).  What happens to Davey in this book, how the criminal mastermind tortures him and “conditions” him to obey his commands is terrifying.  Millie gets a lot to do because it’s up to her to save Davey.  You could almost see how this story could be modified to be a sequel to the movie Jumper.  Just change the shadowy criminal organization to Sam Jackson’s Paladins and you’re set.  You’d have to omit the part where Davey is actually working for the government, but maybe not, maybe there’s a rogue element in the government allowing it to happen.  Speaking of, in the beginning of this book we learn that Davey did ultimately agree to start working for the government.  When we get to the beginning of this book, which is, like I said, 10 years later, we see he’s about to get out of it.  I’m surprised we haven’t gotten any stories from Gould about the 10 years Davey spent as an agent for the government.  I bet there are some really good stories you could do with Davey as a teleporting secret agent.  That could have been a lot of fun.

So, at the time of the movie’s release, we had two Jumper books by Steven Gould to support the movie.  There wasn’t a separate novelization of the movie, which honestly would have made sense to do because the movie is just so different from the original novel.  No, instead, to confuse everybody, they just rereleased both Gould Jumper novels with brand new movie poster covers.   And, along with the rereleases, instead of a new novelization, Gould wrote a new Jumper book.  It was called Jumper: Griffin’s Story.

And again, to completely confuse everyone, this book is written as a prequel to the movie.  So now, with the movie release, we have two Jumper books by Steven Gould that honestly have *nothing* to do with the movie except a cover with the movie poster.  And also a new Jumper book, written by Steven Gould, and also with a movie poster cover, that has nothing to do with the original novels.  Complete madness, guys.

As the title suggests, this book tells us the story of the Griffin character before the events in the movie.  Honestly, it’s a pretty good book.  The only character from the movie other than Griffin to show up is Sam Jackson’s Roland, but that was only briefly. I was also hoping that towards the end of the book we’d see an appearance or cameo by Davey.  However, in an odd decision, the book ends years before the movie is supposed to begin.  So it doesn’t really connect to the movie at all.

After this book and the movie was released, not much really happened with the Jumper universes.  No new movie ever happened and no new books were released.  Nothing, that is until 2013 when Gould released Impulse, followed by Exo in 2014.

These two sequels jump ahead a few more years and focus on Davey and Millie and their daughter “Cent” (actually, Millicent, like her mother).  It continues on in the same novel universe as before.  Impulse is actually really good.  I was concerned when I realized it was going to focus on the daughter going to school and her parents being all paranoid and weird, because I wanted to hear more about Davey and Millie.  However, the way it builds on how they live.  Totally off the grid.  They teleport to several places on Earth.  Davey is paranoid for a reason.  Almost to a fault.  All Cent wants is to go to high school like a normal person.  I really enjoyed it.  Exo is currently the most recent sequel.  It’s…okay.  It jumps a few more years.  Cent is much older now.  There’s a WHOLE LOT more experimentation in this book with the ability to teleport.  Like, they really try to break down how it works what with the air pressure differences and the differences in elevation between two supposed jump sites.  It’s almost a bit too much.

There was also a prequel comic book that was released around the time of the movie.  It was called Jumper: Jumpscars.  It followed Davey’s mother before the events of the movie.  That’s the one thing with Jumper that I haven’t read yet.  It’s become kind of hard to find for a good price.  No one I guess bought it when it came out.  It’s not even on Comixology.

So, as a stand alone movie, Jumper is good. When compared with the source material, it is a very bad adaptation. However, since the movie makers made an interesting enough story, I’d say it balances out to a win. I mean, the movie got me to read the entire Jumper series by Gould, so it must have had something there.

Check out some of the other awesome entries in this Super Blog Team Up Expanded Universe series:

Michael May: Treasure Island Universe

Super-Hero Satellite: M.A.S.K.: The Road To Revolution.

Between The Pages Blog: Fantastic Forgotten Star Wars Characters

Comics Comics Comics: The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones

The Source Material Comics Podcast: TMNT/Ghostbusters

DC In The 80s: The TSR Universe

Pop Culture Retrorama: The Phantom Universe

The Telltale Mind: Archie Andrews – Superstar

The Daily Rios – Little Shop of Horrors