Archive for comic books

2021 Year End Honorable Mentions – Books/Comics

Posted in Blog Series, Book Report with tags , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2022 by Paxton

YE Book Report

I posted my favorite books/comics of 2021 a few weeks ago.  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.

Starting with books…LET’S BEGIN!

Shadow & Bone Seige & Storm
Shadow & Bone / Seige & Storm – The first two books in the Grishaverse series.  This is what the Netflix show is based on, well the first book here, and another book in the series are mashed together.  I read the first two books in 2021.  I like a lot of what’s in them.  The world that’s set up is awesome.  This version of magic is closer to super powers than actual sorcery.  I like the main protagonist, Alina.  She’s got a nice arc through 2/3 of the first book, until she doesn’t.  The biggest issue I have with this series is Alina’s love interest, Mal.  He is the f**king WORST.  Completely worthless.  Shadow & Bone starts off with Alina being best friends with Mal and pining for him while he goes off completely ignoring her.  Typical storyline.  But then Alina is found to be Grisha, which means she goes off to a special school to learn about her powers.  At this school, she discovers that she can’t use her powers.  They refuse to work on command.  She has to work through her feelings about Mal, who isn’t Grisha, and realize that she was suppressing her powers and hiding them from Mal so he didn’t find out. because he was kind of anti-Grisha.  Alina ultimately gains control of her powers again because she gives up this weird attachment to Mal.  BUT THEN, Mal returns and completely destroys everything Alina had gained from the previous portion of the book.  And he’s terrible to Alina.  He says he loves her, but his actions say otherwise.  He treats her like garbage.  I hate him.  And I don’t know why he came back.  Alina didn’t need his love or his help in the climax of the book.  And he’s still there being a complete wet blanket throughout the second book.  So, these books are great.  The characters are awesome.  The world is interesting.  The one character of MAL is *very* close to being a deal breaker.  I hate him so much.

Nathaniel Cade
The President’s Vampire series by Christopher Farnsworth
– This series is so high premise I get vertigo just thinking about it.  One hundred and fifty years ago a vampire was discovered on a whaling vessel that had docked in Boston Harbor.  Thinking quickly, President Andrew Johnson has a voodoo witch doctor bind the vampire to the office of the President of the United States.  From then forward, the vampire, now known as Nathaniel Cade, is sworn to protect the office and the country from all unnatural enemies.  I love the idea of this series; imagine the series 24 but swap out Jack Bauer for a vampire.  That’s essentially what this is.  And it’s totally played straight.  They handle all the supernatural elements very well.  And along with all the unnatural goings on, we do get a bit of political intrigue as well.  So far it’s only these three books, but Farnsworth also wrote two novellas featuring Nathaniel Cade; The Burning Men and Deep State.  This is a fun series that I really enjoyed reading this year.

Recursion
Recursion by Blake Crouch – I love time travel.  Especially when a book does something different with it.  And this book sort of intertwines time travel, with memory, and alternate realities.  I really don’t want to give anything away, because there’s a lot of surprises here, but, on a high level, there is a doctor that is working on a cure for Alzheimers.  Her mother has it.  She is hoping to create a system that allows people to relive their memories in a fully immersive VR environment.  Needless to say, her work is picked up and sort of steered into a new direction and all hell breaks loose.  Like seriously.  This book gets BANANAS.  I really enjoyed it.  It literally just missed out on being in my “favorites” list.

Now, how about some comic book honorable mentions?

Maniac of NY
Maniac of New York by Elliott Kalan
– This comic is a *lot* of fun.  It takes the premise of…”What if Jason Voorhees were real, and nobody could stop him?  So city officials and the people in the city decide to make the best and just live with him.”  How would peoples’ lives change? This really puts forth some interesting thoughts.  Radio morning shows have a Killer Watch during the traffic report.  They let you know if he’s been seen on the subway.  And there’s a task force set up to stop him, but no one seems to be able to as he appears and disappears like a ghost.  I read the first 5-6 issues of this and really liked it.

Flash 36 Flash 61
The Flash (1987-) #36 – 61
– Being a big fan of The Flash, I read this title as it was coming out starting with issue #3 in 1987.  Back then I probably read up to like issue 50 or so.  I only stopped about the time I went to college and stopped reading comics for the most part.  Back in 2020, I decided to start a reread of this title.  I read issues #1-35 in 2020, and then I continued through issue 61 in 2021.  Mark Waid started his storied run in issue #62, but my memories of this series are the first 61 issues before Mark even got there.  And I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of this series.  These Wally West issues are pretty great.  He loses his powers.  Gains them back.  He wins the lottery and becomes rich.  Then loses all his money and becomes poor only to get rich again.  It’s a roller coaster.  And there are more than a few issues that are weird and not great.  Linda Park is completely wasted in her run, even becoming possessed by what seems like an ancient Irish wizard, but turns out to be the Kilg%re.  Lots of weirdness and wackiness.  But most of it is really good.

So there are a few extra book/comic recommendations.  Look for some movie honorable mentions later this week!

Year End Book Report: My Favorite Books/Comics I Read in 2021

Posted in Blog Series, Book Report, books, comic books with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2022 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

2021.  What can I say.  I’m still working from home.  Things got a little better in some respects, a little worse in others.  But through it all I was able to keep reading.  And logging my reading.

So, as usual, you can find my reading logs on Goodreads. I log everything I read there. My reading goal for 2021 was originally 115 books. However, I reached that goal in like October.  So, I went in and readjusted my reading goal to 140.  And according to Goodreads, I finished out the year with 170 books.  I tied my total from last year.  Let’s take a look at some of GoodReads’ stats for my reading last year.

Reading 170 books certainly sounds impressive. And I did it twice.  It’s not all novels, obviously.  There are a generous amount of comics in there.  And several smaller kids books.  I actually didn’t even log *all* the books I read to my kids.  Only some of them.  The newer ones.

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

Here’s my shortest and longest book I read.  The shortest was one issue of The Flash (1987-).  Starting in 2020, I did a read through of the first 62 issues of that Flash series.  An issue at a time.  In 2021 I read #36 through #61.  That was a fun re-read.  The longest book as you can see is Stephen King’s The Institute.  That was a pretty good book too.  It felt like there should have been a small connection to Firestarter in that book.  But it never materialized.

Here are my “most popular” and “least popular” shelved books.  Most popular was Huck Finn.  I had started a re-read of the three Mark Twain books I’d read back in high school; A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huck Finn.  I read all three last year.  I hope to read the two other Tom Sawyer books he wrote that I’d never read; Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer Detective.  Again, one of the least popular things I read was an issue of my The Flash (1987-) re-read.

I’ve already set my GoodReads reading goal for this year.  I set it to 150.  I’m not trying to stress myself out with this goal.  But I am trying to up it a little every year.

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 2021 are eligible for this list.  No re-reads, of which I had a few (I think I mentioned most of them earlier).  I don’t typically read brand new stuff the year it comes out, but it happens.  This year I read 5 novels that were released in 2021.  I wonder if any of them made the list. Let’s find out.

Here are the top 5 books I read last year in no particular order.

Images and links are from GoodReads pages.

Books

Project Hail Mary
Project Hail Mary (2021) by Andy Weir
– I had wanted to read The Martian for years, and then the Matt Damon movie came out.  I loved it, and kind of thought, “Well, now I don’t need to read that book.”  Which is not true, I really should.  However, when Weir put out his next book, Artemis (2017), I checked it out and read it.  And promptly hated it.  So, when Project Hail Mary came out this year, I was a bit cautious.  This looked a lot more like The Martian than his previous book, so I gave it a shot.  And I really really liked it.  A guy wakes up on a spaceship.  He’s clearly not in our solar system.  He seems to have previously been in a coma.  His crew mates are dead.  And he can’t remember anything.  This is where you start in the book and we have to learn everything along with the main character.  The story goes into some surprising places.  I really enjoyed it.  The strength of this is making me want to read The Martian again.

The Tournament
The Tournament (2014) by Matthew Reilly
– I love Matthew Reilly.  His Jack West Jr books have made it onto my “best of” list.  I think his Scarecrow series has also made it onto my lists.  He’s a really fun action author and I really enjoy reading his books.  I think at this point, I’ve only not read maybe 2-3 of his books.  This had been on my “to read” list for a while, but for some reason Reilly’s Kindle books very rarely go on sale.  I typcially like to pick up Kindle books when they are $2.99 or less.  His rarely go there.  So it wasn’t until this year that I finally used a gift card to buy this book.  And I’m glad I did.  This book is GREAT.  It takes place in the 1500s.  Queen Elizabeth II is just a teenager.  Her teacher is Roger Ascham.  They travel to Constantinople to witness a grand chess tournament to determine the greatest chess master in the world.  But a murder during the tournament sends Roger Ascham, a smart, amateur detective, into the depths of the sultan’s palace to discover a murderer.  Lots of mystery and suspense in this one.

BTTF Ultimate Visual History
Back to the Future Ultimate Visual History (2015) by Michael Klastorin with Randal Atamaniuk
– I’ve mentioned before I love oral histories.  I previous read all three of JW Rinzler’s “Making of” Star Wars books.  I want to read Rinzler’s Indiana Jones “Making of” book.  Last year I read one on Jaws and one on one of my favorite video games, NBA Jam.  I’d also many years ago read one on Saturday Night Live.  I’ve even read a Back to the Future “Making of” book before.  And I didn’t love it because, honestly, I already knew all the stuff in that book.  So, while I bought this newer Back to the Future Ultimate Visual History, I was worried I wasn’t going to like it because I thought I would already know everything it had to tell me.  But I was wrong.  This book is so well laid out.  Lots of great info.  There was even a bunch of stuff I didn’t know.  They dig into many aspects of the production of the movie.  Even the whole Eric Stoltz debacle.  And it tackles both sequels, as well as Back to the Future The Ride, and Back to the Future The Animated Series.  So it’s comprehensive.  And very readable.  Thoroughly enjoyed this.

Director Should Have Shot You
The Director Should Have Shot You: Memoirs of the Film Trade by Alan Dean Foster
– By Subterranean Press.  Being a movie novelization junkie, and host of a movie novelization podcast, I was super excited to discover Alan Dean Foster, the godfather of movie novelizations, wrote a memoir.  And it’s not just a memoir.  It’s a deep dive into all of the movie novelizations that he’s written, including one that was never published.  He goes through each book one by one in chronological order and gives anecdotes about the writing of the book.  It’s a lot of fun, super informative, with lots of good pictures.  Highly recommend this, especially to novelization fans.  Unsigned copies of this book are still available.  Click the image of the book above to go get one.

Six of Crows Crooked Kingdom
Six of Crows Duology (2015/2016) by Leigh Bardugo – This is by the same author that started the Shadow and Bone series that is now a series on Netflix.  Technically, these two books are a part of that Shadow and Bone series.  In fact, the Netflix series adapts part of Six of Crows in its first season.   Anyway, I was aware of the Shadow and Bone series and wanted to read it.  But then I was searching “heist” books and Six of Crows kept coming up on people’s lists.  So I went ahead and read it.  And loved it.  THEN, I figured out that Six of Crows takes place a few years after the three Shadow and Bone books.  The timeline here is complicated, but in the books, Shadow and Bone is the first trilogy.  Then chronologically comes Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom.  Then taking place a few years after these books is another trilogy.  But I enjoyed Six of Crows so much I just read these two books first anyway.  And they are amazing.  Great characters.  Lots of fun intricate plans.  Good dialogue.  Really enjoyed this.  I also read the first two Shadow and Bone books after these, and I can see where I may have spoiled myself on a few things by doing it this way, but I don’t care.  Reading these two first were worth it.

I’m going to throw in one extra. Call it a “Baker’s Five” of books.

Devil and the Dark Water
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
– This book was on this list until literally the last 5 days of 2021.  I read Turton’s first book in 2019.  It was mostly good, but sort of went off the rails towards the end.  However it was written engagingly enough that I was interested in his next book.  And this was it.  It is sort of a Sherlockian setup.  Takes place in the 16th century on a sailing ship.  Murders start happening.  The “Sherlock” character is locked up in the brig as a suspect.  And the “Watson” character has to solve the mystery on his own.  That’s a very basic setup.  There’s a lot going on in this book.  But it has a great atmosphere, I loved the mystery, and I really enjoyed the characters.  There are a couple of Macguffins in the story.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As usual, I also read a bunch of movie novelizations this year for I Read Movies.  However, I don’t include those in this list.  I do a separate write up for I Read Movies year end.  Check it out here.

Let’s switch over to comics! Here are the top 5 comics I read last year in no particular order.

Comics

Red Hood 1
Red Hood and the Outlaws (Rebirth) by Scott Lobdell and Dexter Soy
– So, as I do, I sort of got on a Jason Todd kick this year. I was always curious about the Red Hood, so I decided to check out Lobdell’s Rebirth series.  And loved it.  I read through the whole thing.  Jason Todd as Red Hood, Artemis, and Bizarro make a great team.  And they were like a family.  It was such a good dynamic.  And Lobdell brought the humor.  Jason Todd’s relationship with Batman and the rest of the family is so sardonic.  But it’s clear that he appreciates them.  His whole sardonic attitude is great and it belies the fact that he’s great at what he does.  He’s usually as prepared as Batman is.  This is a great series and I wanted to delve more into Jason Todd’s adventures, so next I read…

Under the Red Hood Red Hood Lost Days
Batman: Under the Red Hood/Lost Days by Judd Winick, Doug Mahnke, and Jeremy Haun – These books are two different runs separated by 5-6 years, but I’m putting them together because they are by the same author and they are mirrors of each other.  Under the Red Hood was the original run where Winick had Jason Todd return as the titular character.  It’s a great story, told from Batman’s POV that involves the Joker, Talia al Ghul, and Nightwing.  I loved it.  Red Hood: Lost Days is a follow up to the original run, also written by Winick, but many years later.  Essentially, it’s Under the Red Hood, but this time it’s from Red Hood’s POV.  So we get a lot of what you didn’t see in the first book.  This one is also excellent and I highly recommend it.

Fire Power 1 Fire Power 2
Fire Power by Robert Kirkman and Chris Samnee – I’m a fan of Robert Kirkman.  Unlike others, I don’t worship at the altar of Walking Dead, but I love Kirkman’s work on Astounding Wolf-Man, Invincible, and Marvel Zombies.  I’m also a big fan of Samnee’s art.  One of my all time favorite things is his Black Widow run with Mark Waid.  So combine these two on a kung fu tale and YES PLEASE.  I read the first three volumes of this which goes up to about issue 12.  It’s about an ancient shaolin temple that seeks to rediscover the art of throwing fire.  And one man comes to the temple to learn.  Then, the story shifts like 15 years, and we see the man with his wife and kids, and his days at the shaolin temple come back to haunt him when a rival temple comes to attack his family.  It’s really good, I really enjoyed this title.  Great art, of course.  And the story really picks up during the “15 years later” part.

MM Mighty Thor 1 MM Hulk 1 MM: X-Men 1
Marvel Masterworks (Thor, Hulk, X-Men) –  Continuing my journey reading through some of these old Marvel issues.  I had set a goal for myself earlier this year to read all the Marvel Masterworks volume 1s featuring the original line up of the Avengers; Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Captain America.  Yes, Captain America wasn’t in Avengers #1, but he showed up in #4, and he’s so linked to the group at this point I’m including him.  I’ve done all of those now except Captain America, Ant-Man and Wasp.  Captain America has two, the Golden Age archive, and the Modern Age archive (essentially before and after “frozen in ice”).  I’ll probably just do both.  Anyway, this year I tackled The Mighty Thor (Journey into Mystery), The Incredible Hulk, and in a break from my Avengers challenge, the original X-Men.  I loved all of these.  In X-Men you see a ton of firsts including Cerebro, Magneto, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver.  And everyone is in love with Jean Grey.  Hulk’s is super weird.  Originally he only changes at night.  Then, he has an accident where in order to change into the Hulk, Banner has to bathe himself in Gamma Rays with a radiation gun.  EVERY TIME.  And Thor’s is a lot of fun too with appearances by Loki and Odin.  And Thor has his Doctor Blake secret identity.  And his nurse Jane Foster.  OMG.  So much drama.  I really recommend reading these early adventures of your favorite heroes.  They are so much fun.  Like I said, this year I hope to do Captain America, Ant-Man/Wasp (Tales to Astonish), and maybe Uncanny X-Men.

Black Widow 1 Black Widow 2
Black Widow by Kelly Thompson – Kelly Thompson is the best.  I originally discovered her on Kate Bishop: Hawkeye.  Then I followed her to West Coast Avengers.  Which I loved and was sad it didn’t continue after issue #10.  Now I’m reading her Deadpool series and this, her Black Widow series.  This is so good.  The first collection has Bucky and Hawkeye, the second collection has Yelena and Spider-Girl.  I love Thompson’s voice.  Her dialogue is so great.  The art is by Elena Casagrande and Rafael de Latorre.  And it’s *also* fantastic.  This is a great series.  Love it.

And those were my favorite books and comics I read in 2021. I’ll maybe have a followup article to this talking about some Honorable Mentions.  You know, things that maybe I liked that almost made the list, but also things I didn’t like and really want to talk about.

Hope you enjoyed this article and found something new that you may eventually love.  Let me know if you do!

Okay, that covers EVERYTHING I’ve read.  Next up…MOVIES!  Stay tuned.

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!

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: Marvel’s Mephisto!

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, comic books, Halloween, holiday, monsters, pop culture, The Devil with tags , , , , , , on October 7, 2020 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2020

Here we are, the Wednesday entry for the first full week of AWESOME-tober-fest 2020.  I can’t believe we made it this far guys.  HIGH FIVE!  I’m still looking at the Devil and today I delve into the realm of comic books!

Each of the “Big Two” comic companies have their own analogue for “the devil”.  DC has Lucifer Morningstar, and Marvel has Mephisto. Mephisto is the personification of all evil in the Marvel Universe. He performs a lot of the duties of a traditional devil figure.  Temptation being the main one.  His name is even a shortened version of Mephistopheles.

Mephisto

Mephisto first appeared in Silver Surfer #3 in 1968 and he’s still appearing in Marvel Comics today.  The depiction of Mephisto throughout his existence hasn’t changed much. He looks like the typical depiction of a demonic devil. Red skin and hair, fangs, sometimes horns, sometimes not. He’s immortal and a very powerful magic user. He’s been around at least as long as the Marvel Universe. He lives in a “hell dimension”. And he’s a collector of souls. Marvel is very cagey about calling him the traditional “Devil”. The character does admit that he may be the inspiration for the concept of the devil, and I know he’s referenced several times that he is the demonic figure in the Faust story.

Mephisto has had his hands in many different events in Marvel history.  He’s butted heads with Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Doctor Strange, and even Thanos.  I wanted to cover a good story for AWESOME-tober-fest featuring Mephisto, and I have many choices, but there’s one I never got to read and I decided to take a look at it today, it’s Mephisto’s 4 issue mini-series from 1987, Mephisto Vs.

Mephisto 1 Mephisto 2
Mephisto 3 Mephisto 4

Mephisto Vs was written by Al Milgrom and drawn by John Buscema, and as I said, it was released in Spring 1987. It was mostly a standalone mini, but it did acknowledge a few things that happened within the books of the teams it crosses over with.

Overall, this is a pretty great story, and the art is classic Marvel.  Mephisto kicks off a long game plan by attacking the Fantastic Four and snatching the soul of Franklin Richards, the son of Reed and Sue.  This leads him to trade it for Sue’s soul, which then leads to X-Factor getting involved and Mephisto trading up different heroes’ souls from the X-Men and the Avengers.  And it’s clear that Mephisto has an endgame in mind, we just don’t know what it is until the very end.  It’s really cool too see that plan unfold throughout the books.

The story really leans into Mephisto as a soul collector.  And that he isn’t interested in just more souls, he views different souls differently.  He values some souls over others.  He makes it clear that while human souls are desirable, he covets super human souls more, and Homo Superior souls more than that.  Yes, Mephisto GRADES his souls like a comic collector!  Milgrom continues to draw this parallel between Mephisto  and readers collecting comic books when he reveals that Mephisto has a system in place for storing souls, and to some of you it may sound familiar.

Mystic Mylar Mystic Mylar

Mylar bags!  Mephisto stores his valued souls in double Mylar bags to protect them!  And Mephisto goes on to mention he needs to take inventory of the other souls he recently acquired.  Is Milgrom trying to say comic collectors are like “the devil”?  Ha, no, he’s not.  It’s just a funny metaphor.

This Mephisto business gets serious.  Serious enough that we get an appearance by The Living Tribunal.

I love the big, ethereal, cosmic entities in the Marvel Universe.  Eternity, Chaos, Living Tribunal…these guys were always a fun, unexpected appearance in books like Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange.  Only a few people in the Marvel Universe even knew they existed.  Look at that guy, he is *awesome*.

Ultimately, we get the final showdown with Mephisto taking on the current roster of Avengers in a fight for one of their members’ souls.  This roster of Avengers includes Black Knight, Silver Centurion Iron Man, She-Hulk, Tigra and Dr Druid.  Oh, and the West Coast Avengers show up as well to help out.  It’s a pretty epic battle.

This was a pretty great little mini-series.  I really enjoyed the writing but especially the art.  I would definitely recommend it if you have access to it.  Lots of fun.



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