Archive for pop culture

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.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2020: Silly Symphony Hell’s Bells

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, cartoons, Halloween, holiday, monsters, pop culture, The Devil with tags , , , , , , , on October 5, 2020 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2020

Welcome back to week 2 of AWESOME-tober-fest! Starting this week updates will be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Lots of good Devil content still to get through this month so why don’t we get started?

Today I’m looking at an old Disney cartoon from Disney’s Silly Symphony series.  The Silly Symphony series was created between 1929 and 1939.  The Silly Symphonies were separate from the story based Mickey Mouse cartoons.  As the name implies, the Silly Symphonies were created as funny visual companions to pieces of music. They were largely self contained, however a few of the shorts did have followups.  Donald Duck actually made his first appearance in a Silly Symphony in 1934.

The entry I’m looking at today is Hell’s Bells, which was released on October 30, 1929.  It was directed by Walt Disney and drawn by Ub Iwerks.

The depiction of the Devil we see in this cartoon is very simple; “the largest Devil who rules Hell”.  Since there’s no dialogue you don’t see him do anything like negotiating for souls, or anything else truly evil.

Let’s take a look at the cartoon.


Silly Symphonies’ Hell’s Bells from 1929. Title Card.


This is Disney’s version of Cerebus, the three headed dog that guards the gates of Hell.


There are lots of monsters creeping around this version of Hell.  And the music that’s playing for a lot of this cartoon is a version of the same funeral march that Alfred Hitchcock used on his TV show (which started in 1955).  It’s called Funeral March of a Marionette.


Here’s the Devil himself, sitting on his throne, listening to some sweet tunes played by his little devil band.  He looks similar to the other smaller devils, only larger.  He rules this underworld like a king, even sitting on a throne, and the other smaller devils serve him.


Here’s a closer look at that band. They are playing instruments that look to be made from human remains. Like skeleton bones. That bass player is using a spinal column.


At first I didn’t know what the hell to make of this.  This creature that looks like a cross between a dragon and a cow, stands up and the little devil servants MILK HIM into a bowl.  What they are milking out looks like fire.  Then that bowl of milked fire is given to the Devil who eats it like it was his last meal.  I swear, these early Disney cartoons go to some weird places.


one of the smaller devils revolts against the Devil.  The Devil chases him around Hell trying to catch him and punish him.  The smaller devil catches the Devil off guard and kicks him off a cliff.


While hanging off the cliff, flame arms grab at the Devil, pull down his…fur?…and give him a spanking.  I have to assume these flames are manifestations of the damned souls from below.  Ultimately they reach up and grab the Devil pull him down below.  This is very reminiscent of what happens to Hades at the end of Disney’s Hercules (1997).



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

Faust Movie Friday: Crossroads (1986)

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, monsters, movies, The Devil with tags , , , , , , on October 2, 2020 by Paxton

Faust Movie Friday

It’s Friday, guys!  Usually on Fridays during AWESOME-tober-fest I do movie reviews in what I call Fangoria Movie Fridays.  However, since I’ll be doing Devil movies this year, I’ve decided to rebrand these Friday movie reviews as Faust Movie Friday!

Today, I’m talking about Crossroads from 1986 starring Ralph Macchio, Jami Gertz, and Joe Seneca.

1986 was a sweet spot for Ralph Macchio. He was in two movies that year; Karate Kid Part II and Crossroads. So he was at the height of his mainstream penetration. And Crossroads feels like an odd movie to do during this time. But I’m so glad that he did.  I’m a big fan of old blues music anyway, but there’s a lot to love about this lesser known, underappreciated movie.  And yes, the devil makes an appearance, and he’s a *great* version of Ol Scratch.

Before we get to Scratch, let’s talk about the movie in general.  There’s always been this old American folk tale about blues legend Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil so he could play the blues guitar like no one else.  This movie takes that small urban legend and runs with it.  We even start with that very image.  Robert Johnson at the Crossroads making his deal with someone who is clearly more than he seems.  We later learn it’s the Devil’s assistant.

We then cut to Eugene played by Ralph Macchio. A gifted classical guitarist who is studying at Juliard, but really only wants to play the blues.  He’s studied the blues, read about them.  Learned about all the legends and the tales.  So he thinks he’s tracked down blues legend Willie Brown, the last person to play with Robert Johnson before he died.  And Eugene hopes to talk to Brown to get the fabled “lost song” of Robert Johnson.  Willie says he’ll give it to him if Eugene breaks him out of the old folks home and takes him back to Mississippi.

So Eugene gets a part time job on the maintenance crew of the home.  You, know to help him “case the joint”.  And because it’s Ralph Macchio, he has to pop the collar of his coveralls while mopping the floor. Eugene then uses his maintenance access to break Willie out the home and they hit the road back to Mississippi.

And cue all the normal road trip events; they don’t have enough money, they get in trouble in a bar, they meet a wayward teen girl, steal a car, get harrassed by small town cops.  All the stuff you expect to see on a roadtrip movie but I’m thoroughly enjoying the trip.  The whole time we think Willie just wants to get out of the home and live the rest of his life back in Mississippi, but we later learn he has alterior motives.  Willie apparently made a similar deal to the same man as Robert Johnson, and Willie wants to go back to the Crossroads where he made the deal to get out of it.  And he’s using Eugene to get there.  However, along the way, Willie winds up teaching Eugene what it means to be a real blues man before the big final confrontation with Ol Scratch.

And here’s Ol Scratch.  Played by Robert Judd.  I don’t know where this guy came from, but he is an AMAZING on screen Devil.  Looking at his IMDB he’s only done 2 movies; one back in 1977, and then Crossroads.  But he is awesome as Scratch.  Like an old, friendly small town southern preacher.  But underneath, you can feel a bit of menace.  I’d forgotten how good Judd is as the Devil.  Anyway, Scratch won’t let Willie out of his contract unless he has something to bargain with.  Eugene offers himself.  Scratch suggests a contest between Eugene and his man, guitarist Jack Butler.  Winner take all.

Eugene agrees, and suddenly they are transported to what looks like a small barn being used as a blues bar.  And Eugene goes up guitar to guitar against Jack Butler, played by the awesome Steve Vai.  This final battle is really feast for the eyes and ears.  I love it.

Check it out for yourself.  But honestly, if you haven’t seen the movie, just watch the whole movie.  You won’t be disappointed.



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.

The Devil Comes to AWESOME-tober-fest 2020!!

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, comic books, Halloween, holiday, pop culture with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2020 by Paxton

So here we are. We are about a week away from October. I know Matt over there at Dinosaur Dracula has started his epic countdown to Halloween, so I want to inform you that, yes, I will be doing AWESOME-tober-fest this year and that it will start next week!

And the topic is going to be THE DEVIL!

Awesometoberfest 2020

I’ve always been fascinated by the depiction of the Judeo-Christian “Devil” or “Satan” in popular culture. I presaged this as a topic for AWESOME-tober-fest back in 2017 when I did an article for that year’s final week of AWESOME-tober-fest on my favorite movie and TV devils.

So, now I’m going to do the Devil as a full-on Halloween topic. There’s lots of pop culture to mine when it comes to the devil. I’ve been planning this since before the COVID crackdown and I’ve asked a few people what they think. I got several suggestions like Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, etc.  You know, the absolute classics, but low hanging fruit nonetheless.  The problem with those is that they don’t deal directly with the “devil” as a character.  They deal with other demons (I don’t see Exorcist’s Pazuzu as the traditional Devil) or the Devil’s offspring (aka, Anti-Christ), but not really the man himself.  What I want to do this month is showcase different depictions of the devil, or Satan, or Scratch, as a character in popular culture and sort of see how a particular writer deals with the “Father of Sins”.  How does he get characterized?  Is he scary?  Charming?  Sexy?  There are lots of ways to go and I love seeing what way is chosen for a particular adaptation.

As usual I’ll be looking at movies, books, TV shows and comics for my topic.  Plus a few other surprises.  Updates should start happening next Thursday and Friday (Oct 1-2), and every week after that will have updates Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through to Halloween.

So hopefully you’ll join me for another month of AWESOME-tober-fest!