Jonah Surge: Chapter 3

The Incineration

Near Ambilobe, Madagascar, March 1995

The eight-year old child in the dirt, crying. “Mother! … Father! … ” The night soaking up his tears. The stars looking down indifferently, as if nothing has happened, but some of them covered by the black smoke coming out of the church.

A grey, hooded figure turned around at the crying noise, and John could see the dark chin and black lips of a strong and stern looking man beneath the hood. He cowered below the bush he was hiding behind, desperately hoping that the man wouldn’t see him.

But the strong man came rushing towards him now, so he was forced to make for the nearby precipice, under the cover of bushes and the night. Sliding down the slope on his backside, he soon lost his balance and continued the descent on his tummy. At the bottom, John was weak from sorrow and injury, but he pushed himself up using his arms and spat out leaves and dirt. He quickly threw himself behind a large tree.

Peeking up the slope, John could make out the grey cloak, dimly lit, the hood slowly turning while the man scanned the area with his evil eyes. John was certain that he couldn’t see him, but was afraid that his sobbing might be heard.

Before long, the sound of hooves on dirt. They must be sweeping the area.

With a final dose of courage, the little boy gave up his hiding place and, as fast as he could, dashed towards the Mahavay river which bent around the hill on which the church was located. In the background, he thought he heard voices calling and yelling, and gunshots. But all was a blur, and he didn’t care to hold back his sobs anymore. He cried aloud while running and diving into the rushing and pulling stream.

The cold water engulfed him, flooded his throat and lungs and choked him. He struggled for air but it felt coarse and dry to his mouth. On the shore, he saw mounted horses, dogs, and men with torches, and on the top of the hill the church which was now brightly burning and the fire ascending far into the night sky.

Mother! Father! … They were in there. I don’t know what happened to them … The smell of their ashes is in the air. John mourned loudly so that it was heard in the surrounding jungle, while more and more water entered his lungs and the cries slowly died out as he was swept in the direction of the city.

***

Todd, the former Satanist, and Pastor Mindy were standing outside Jonah’s hospital room and waited for the doctor to come out.

The sixth rib on his left seems to be fractured in two places, but that’s nothing we won’t have fixed up in no time”, the doctor said, exiting the room. “Don’t you worry about him. Now, is there anything else you need?”

No, but thank you very much”, Pastor Mindy answered.

Could I get something to eat, like, eh, a sandwich, or a bar of chocolate or something? I’m really hungry, I’m sorry to say”, Todd asked.

Sure thing, sir. I’ll have the nurse bring you a sandwich. Well then, I’ll leave you two here. Feel free to go in and sit by him, but”, and he put his finger to his lips and spoke quieter: “please be quiet. The patient needs to sleep and rest for the moment.”

With those words the doctor left Mindy and Todd alone, so they went inside the hospital room and sat down at a table near Jonah’s bed. Then Todd told her everything that had happened at the Satanist gathering near Maplewood. “… And then, he, he just shot fire out of his arms, or if he didn’t then I’m seeing things, but I swear to God I’ve been clean, eh, oh sorry, I know you told me not to swear to God anymore, eh, but I swear I’ve been clean for two months straight now. I ain’t seeing things, I know that. Or maybe somebody’s playing tricks on my mind. But I swear I saw him shooting some fire out of his arms. But it didn’t burn the other guys, the fire always went out again right after it hit them. And these guys, I mean, Jonah just swept them away like they were leaves in the fall, if you know what I mean, and they even had knives and stuff … Your friend here was fighting like, eh, I don’t know, a ninja I guess …”

Mindy looked astounded at the tale, but at the same time it was evident that she didn’t believe a word of it, or at least needed some kind of proof.

Anyhow”, Todd continued, “afterwards we noticed someone was buried underground, and we barely managed to free her, and it turned out to be a very skinny looking girl. At last when she was out of the ground, she turned out to be a witch or something. And Jonah was hugging her for whatever reason, which is when she revealed herself and almost squished Jonah half to death, and then she just disappeared.”

And that’s when you brought him to this hospital?”

Yeah, and after that I called you right away.”

Mindy didn’t quite know how to react to this extraordinary story. “Well, I don’t know …”, she started.

He shoots fire out of his arms, man! I don’t know myself yet if I believe it … But if it’s true, then who knows what else he can maybe do?”

I can do a great many other things”, a faint voice from the hospital bed sounded. “But fire is something I am permitted to use only in the utmost of emergencies, and it doesn’t always have the same form.”

Jonah!”, Mindy exclaimed, rose and went to his side immediately. “You’re awake. How are you feeling?”

I think I’m alright”, he answered and tried to sit up, but immediately sacked back down again. “Ow, my side hurts.”

Your rib is fractured in two places. But the doctor said you’ll be fine in no time. But for now you should rest.”

That’s a comfort.”

Pastor Mindy wanted to get to the bottom of Todd’s and Jonah’s nightly dealings, so she wasted no time in asking: “Todd’s been saying some unbelievable things about what happened this night. Would you care to explain what you two were doing?”

Jonah turned his eyes to the ceiling in a contemplative manner. “You shouldn’t have brought Mindy into this, Todd.”

Todd replied: “I … I’m sorry, man. You were unconscious and I, frankly I didn’t know who else to call … I … I thought she was in on the whole thing, I did.”

You thought wrong.”

Well, it’s all the same now”, Mindy interrupted, “I need answers.”

You’re right”, Jonah said and paused for thought. “I owe you some answers. To both of you.” Todd and Mindy looked excited. “But it won’t be easy for you to believe. Well, I’ll try. As you, Mindy, know, I was raised in a Catholic monastery in Madagascar.” Mindy nodded. “But there is something I haven’t told anybody until now: When I turned twenty, a Catholic monk, Lukasz is his name, turned up and confronted me with a destiny which I, unbeknownst to me and even to my Pater and to all of the priests, had been secretly trained to fulfil. Lukasz told me that I was destined to be one of the so-called Spirit Warriors, one of nine worldwide who are specially chosen to fight the realm of darkness, not just by word and prayer – but if need be also by physical force.

Now, I know this sounds strange to you, and I am aware that the Bible forbids killing and that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek rather than to fight back. But hear me out: I am not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and spiritual hosts … unless all other options have run out and the spirits and the body have become inseparable from one another. In those cases, sometimes physical weapons must be used.

However, I rejected my responsibility to become a Spirit Warrior and turned away from the faith. You, Mindy, know the rest of that story and how I ended up at your doorstep broken, hopeless, mistreated and alone. I spent three precious years at your Pentecostal church, but after that I received a vision from the Lord and was finally ready and willing to take up my calling. That is when I left you with such short notice and journeyed to Europe, and in Europe I have remained except for these last few days.”

I don’t believe it”, Mindy said in unbelief. She had never imagined that demons could possess people to such an extent that they became inseparable from them. “I have encountered many demon-possessed people, and without exception the demons were all driven out by prayer and fasting.”

Without exception?”, Jonah retorted. “Or were there some you were unable to drive out?”

Mindy looked down.

The vast majority, yes, can be overcome by saints who fast and intercede”, Jonah continued. “But once in a while there are people so power-hungry, so disillusioned, that they don’t want the demons to leave, not even if all the Christians in the world would pray for them. Some of them become as horribly disfigured as the demons themselves as a result of this. But that’s why we, the Spirit Warriors, exist. We try all means possible to free the possessed person, but if that proves unfeasible, we must protect the people around them, by all means necessary.”

That sounds horrible!”, Mindy exclaimed. “And where’s your proof of this anyway, Jonah? I trust you, Jonah, I really do. And I’m trying to now. But I am disappointed that you never told me about this secret calling of yours, even in all those years.”

I’m sorry, Mindy. I had to keep it a secret from everyone but myself and my mentor, because we are a secret order. And while I was with you I didn’t expect that anyone would believe me. Everyone would have thought I was crazy. Even I thought I might be crazy. And I must disappoint you: Unfortunately, I have nothing here with me that would prove my story. You would have to join me on my next investigation and see for yourself. But that would be a very bad idea.”

There’s no way out of this now, Jonah. I care about you. I am not leaving you alone anymore”, Mindy proclaimed.

I’m kinda curious about what the other stuff is that you can do, to be honest”, Todd added shyly. “And I would like to see it again, just to be sure, you know, to be sure I’m not out of my mind. What with the fire and the martial arts and things. I guess you oughta count me in, too.”

Jonah mustered the two of them, then burst out laughing, just to cringe with pain as his rib cage contracted. “A Spirit Warrior, a black preacher and a former Satanist, setting out to fight evil together. Well, I’ll be saved!”

His grin slowly turned to a contemplative smile. “Actually, you could be right. It might not be such a bad idea after all. I have some personal issues on this particular investigation which may cloud my own judgement, and a bit of additional backbone could prove useful.”

It’s settled then”, Todd ventured.

Indeed it is”, Mindy closed.

***

The three of them approached the concert hall on the third night after the hospital. No stars were visible, if because of cloud cover or light pollution Jonah could not tell.

So, what else can you do?”, Todd asked.

I can sometimes see into the spiritual world, if God wants me to”, Jonah replied.

And then you see demons and angels and everything?”

Of course.”

Are you like John Constantine?”

Not exactly. And the spiritual world isn’t like in the comics.”

Ok, and what are the physical weapons you talked about?”, Todd followed up.

Well, I usually have my Sword, but at the moment it is lost. Apart from that, bread and wine – and my golden Book. And any other powers the Holy Spirit chooses to bestow on me.”

I would love to believe you”, Mindy said. “But I can’t. It doesn’t match my theology.”

They slowly closed in on the building and already heard the bass pumping inside. “So, eh, this is that popular meeting place for Satanists during the night”, Todd reminded them. “Chances are high we’ll meet one of them that we fought in that forest, eh, but it just as well might be a fool’s errand.”

Before we go in”, Jonah said, “we need to be clear on one thing: We are here only for Melchek.”

Huh, that’s the evil half-brother you mentioned, right?”, Todd remarked.

Exactly”, Jonah replied. “Everything else is secondary. If we see one of those Satanists, we will only question him. But we won’t rouse any suspicion, and we will do our best to blend in with the people.”

That’s gonna be hard”, Mindy said under her breath as two young and muscular skinheads with tattoos and piercings and leather all over their bodies entered the building.

When the three arrived at the door, the security guard briefly mustered them, but let them pass without further inspection. They had indeed chosen their disguises well enough – lots of black and lots of leather. They paid the entrance fee inside as the music grew ever louder. Mindy already felt pain in her ears, but Todd had no problems in this environment.

Jonah purchased beers for all of them, and they marched into the hall.

Lights flashing. Bodies vibrating. Smoke, heavy rock riffs and the stench of sweat in the air. Beer spilled on the floor. A voice growling like thunder from the stage. Stan Tanasa was written in bold red letters across it – a double anagram of “Satan” as they quickly noticed. According to the poster it was a local band.

The concert hall was about twenty times thirty metres large – a not too spacious local, but more than big enough to host the relatively small circle of habitués. That night, the concert was well attended, yet it was not packed.

At the far end of the hall was the stage, which offered ample space for probably up to ten musicians with their instruments, and the five people currently playing were jumping and running around as if they had a whole football stadium. At the rear end was the bar, and a fan shop which merely consisted of a few tables and a cashier, and of course the entrance. But on the sides of the hall were two narrow aisles with small round tables and circular lounge couches which were attached to the walls. At these tables many dubious figures were seated.

Todd noticed him first. A thin bald man sitting in the rear right corner with two pretty women and a person in a grey, hooded cloak. They couldn’t see the face of the person under the hood, but the bald man was clearly the one who had poured the blood into the other’s cups at the Satanist gathering three nights ago. Todd inconspicuously pointed him out to the others. Jonah noticed that the two women were probably slaves. An instant urge to free them came over him, but he cooled down quickly, not wanting to blow their cover, at least not yet.

The three of them bode their time for about half an hour and acted as if they were enjoying the concert (Todd was the most convincing), until the hooded figure finally departed from the bald man and they saw it no more. After about another fifteen minutes they were confident that the bald man was alone apart from the two women that were sitting with him. They quickly but quietly made their way to the table where he sat.

The bald man noticed them when they were only two or three metres away, and gave a short surprised shriek when he recognised Jonah, but he was already encircled and could not flee.

Jonah, Mindy and Todd sat down with him. “Make a sound and you will regret it”, Jonah warned him.

The man swallowed empty, the memory of his beating at Maplewood still fresh in his mind. “W… W… What do you want from me?”, he asked, shaking.

Firstly, I want you to calm down and not rouse any suspicion. Here, take another sip from your, ah …”, Jonah picked up the glass in front of him and smelled, “vodka martini?”

The man reached for the glass and took a sip.

Now”, Jonah continued, “I already crashed one of your parties. I’d hate to repeat the favour. For now there is only one thing I want to know: Where is your boss?”

The bald man first was still intimidated, but then gradually relaxed, and after a while began to giggle softly.

What’s so funny?”, asked Mindy harshly.

Now the man laughed out loud. “Haha, my boss? You are no match for my boss, hahaha. Not even with your fancy fighting skills or that flamethrower trick of yours. Hahaha, you will all die when you face her!”

Her?”, Jonah inquired, getting angry. “Quit with the games, I know that Melchek is your boss, and that his name formerly was Leon! Tell me where he is.”

Melchek? Oh, yeah he was our boss alright. But she has taken over now. And she will kill the three of you, hahahahaha!”

Why do you hesitate to tell us where she is, if you want her to kill us so badly?”, Mindy pressed on.

At that, the man burst out into full laughter, and his eyes began to tear. He pointed behind them, and then sank his head onto the table, laughing in quiet sobs.

Jonah and his companions immediately rose and turned around. There the cloaked figure from before was standing. From underneath the grey hood two pale red eyes glinted in the flashing light.

Jonah stumbled backwards into the couch. “Who are you?”, he asked weakly.

You know me”, a coarse, resounding, female voice answered from beneath the cloak.

Jonah was suddenly taken back twenty-three years to that day in Madagascar. The strong man was standing before him in his grey, hooded cloak, scanning the area for him with his evil eyes. In the background, a large fire rising into the sky.

Yet this here was different. The figure was smaller, more slender, and the eyes were glowing eerily. “My mission is to drive back …”, Jonah stuttered, but at once a fist catapulted him away across the concert hall.

The music stopped at once. The grey figure was immediately in front of him again and, even though she was shorter than him, she grabbed his chin with one hand and pulled him up into the air.

Everyone was looking at them now. The grey figure looked around herself and said, in a deeper, almost male sounding, thunderous voice to everyone: “This one here is an enemy of us. Any who want a part in his demise may stay and watch!”

Hey, over here”, Todd shouted from behind, and both Todd and Mindy started throwing chairs at her.

The grey figure didn’t budge. “Seize them!”, she shouted. Six of the nearest people took hold of them while others stared and watched. But about half of the people present slowly and quietly made their way to the exit, not wanting any part in this quarrel.

The cloaked figure removed her hood and revealed a once pretty, yet now oddly disfigured and partly decomposed face. It was Azel, the girl they had dug free in the forest near Maplewood. Their help had come weeks too late for her.

It’s her!”, Todd exclaimed to Mindy. “It’s that girl we dug up and who turned into a witch! What do we do? What do we do?”

We can’t do anything now but pray”, Mindy answered, closing her eyes and bowing her head. Todd did the same.

At that moment, Jonah’s fists and eyes filled with fire, and there was a sudden firmness in his voice again: “Azel, my quarrel is not with you. I am here for Melchek. Just tell me where he is and I will leave you be for now.”

The witch grunted and chuckled, but was visibly confused by Jonah’s change of attitude. “So you wish to escape? It is denied!”

Jonah spoke again: “It is you who would have escaped! But I will speak to whoever is still buried underneath your mask. I cannot imagine that the girl you once were still lives, but if she does, I address her now: I offer you the chance to be free from this demon possession once and for all!”

Azel laughed. “You come too late, there is nothing of her left except this rotting body!”

Then it is as I thought”, Jonah said, and with that both his hands and eyes shot fire at Azel, and she was hurled to the other side of the hall. The fire extinguished itself as quickly as it had burst out.

But Azel had magic of her own, and she had followers. From all sides Jonah was attacked by strong, muscular men, and some of them had knives or other weapons.

Two of the band members jumped off the stage to join the fray, but two of them made their way backstage where they hoped to escape. Only the singer remained on stage and grinned menacingly while giving strange comments and vague commands. “Get him!”, he shouted, and then gave a deep growl. “Oh, he’s jumped up to the spotlights. Woo-hoo! Stilton, throw your knife at him!”

Jonah evaded flying knives and broken bottles with a few swift movements, but then Azel shot a red beam of light at him. It caught him unaware and threw him onto the ground.

Strong kicks from the surrounding men almost incapacitated him, but he released fire from his hands and created an impenetrable burning wall around him.

Jonah got up, for a short moment he felt safe, but soon enough a black circle formed in the wall and the witch entered through it unscathed. Jonah drew a golden Book out of his mantle.

The witch stretched out her fingers and shot red light towards him, but it reflected off the golden Book and splayed into all directions.

Azel shouted and reinforced her attack, so that a strong beam of light now came out of each one of her fingertips. “Die!”, she cried out.

Jonah was pressed back and fell down by the sheer force of the red rays. Azel jumped on top of him and pressed her hands against Jonah’s face. His visage was soon covered by the red spells, and he cried out in agony, eventually passing almost into unconsciousness.

Why won’t you die?”, complained Azel.

Fire sprang out of Jonah like a fountain in his defence, but the witch now seemed immune to it. She drew a long, curved, green knife and aimed it at his heart.

With his last bit of strength, Jonah deflected the stab with the Book, and the knife whirled away into the dark.

That’s it”, she cried out. “If magic can’t kill you, the building will!” She pointed at the bar, and bottles came flying towards them and smashed to the ground around them. The alcohol caught fire, and with the help of Jonah’s fire, it quickly spread across the room. Azel aimed more red bolts of light at the walls, pillars and ceiling to destabilise the building. After a while she let go of him and disappeared, but now everything was on fire and Jonah was weak and hurt. Apart from him, only Mindy and Todd were left in the building, and they had been knocked out and tied to one of the tables.

When Jonah came to himself again, he was blackened and weakened from the smoke and heat and barely managed to roll away from some falling wreckage at the last moment. That witch! She used my own power against me!

Then he spotted his two tied-up friends. “Mindy! Todd!”, he cried and crept towards them. He untied them as quickly as he could, fighting against his own advancing drowsiness. He pulled out a small wooden box and flask from inside his mantle. He opened the box, grabbed a small piece of bread and ate it. After unscrewing the lid of the flask, he took a short sip of red wine. “May this bread and this wine give me the strength I need”, he muttered under his breath.

Mustering up his newfound strength, he bore Pastor Mindy under his left arm, and Todd under his right, and standing up he carried them towards the exit. Just as he had passed through the opening, it collapsed behind him.

Jonah sacked to the floor and watched the rest of the building gradually tumble to the ground. Fire engines could be heard in the background. He turned to his friends and forced a piece of bread and a sip of wine down each of their throats. Slowly, their strength returned to them.

Where am I?”, moaned Todd. “What happened?”, groaned Mindy.

But Jonah did not manage to answer. He looked only at the fiery pyre burning high into the night sky, and remembered the burning church and the deaths it had caused. The strong, grey, hooded man crept into his mind again and tormented him. I hope those two slave women managed to get out, Jonah caught himself thinking. He closed his eyes and cried.

Ah, there you are, my brother. Why are you so sad?”, a familiar voice rang behind him.

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Jonah Surge: Chapter 2

The Investigation

It’s good to have you back after you’ve been so long gone”, Pastor Mindy said. “How long has it been?”

Three years”, Jonah answered. “Well, I’m glad to be back. I’ve got to tell you, so much has happened since I went back to Europe.”

Isn’t it strange for a European to talk about ‘Europe’?”, Mindy asked laughingly.

Not if you’ve travelled all around the continent”, Jonah replied and smiled. “And especially not after being around you Americans for so long.”

Mindy chuckled.

A few churchgoers passed by them and thanked Mindy for the excellent sermon. As they went their way, Jonah could hear one of them praising the worship band.

I’m glad to see the congregation has grown”, Jonah remarked. “Pentecostal churches are seeming to do well in this crime-ridden part of town.”

Well, we try to focus on the good in every person.”

I see.”

Well, Jonah, why don’t we sit down with a cup of coffee and catch up? What would you like?”

An espresso, please. Black.”

After Pastor Mindy had prepared the drinks, they relocated to her office. She closed the door and they sat down.

So, what have you been up to, Jonah?”

The truth is, my reason for visiting you is not a very happy one.”

Mindy raised an eyebrow.

I came here because I’m tracking down a group of occultists, and I believe their headquarters are here in New York.”

Her shoulders sacked downwards as she looked at him puzzled. “Wow, you’ve changed, Jonah. Are you fighting crime now?”

In a way”, he answered, unperplexed. “But I don’t really have the time to explain right now.”

Well, I am interested. I need to know more about this business you’re into.”

You wouldn’t believe me.”

Try me.”

Mindy, I mean it. You know you can trust me, right? I think something serious is going to happen here in a few days, and I don’t know what, but I need to know if you can give me anything on the occult scene in this area.”

Well, in that case I guess we will have to discuss this new crime-fighting thing another time. But it just so happens that I would trust you with my life, no matter what you have been up to these last three years.”

Thanks.”

Anyhow, you do have a lot of nerve to come to my church asking for intel on Satanists. But you might be in luck. It just so happens that we occasionally get the opportunity to reach out to Satanists, and we have been able to bring a few of them back into the Kingdom over the past years … So how about this occult sect. What do they call themselves?”

They go by the name Pluto. I don’t know their real name.”

Alright, that’s already something. Haven’t heard about them though. But we have a former Satanist in our congregation who just recently converted and who might be able to help you out. I guess you would like me to arrange a meeting?”

 

***

 

That night, the moon shone brightly and reflected in the cold windows of the buildings below. The moonlight glimmered off of the ripples in a nearby creek, the moon peered through the silvery clouds like a curious child into the night. The occasional spot of light, passing car or distant bark gave the reassurance of nearby civilisation.

Why are we meeting at midnight, and why here on this hill?”, Jonah asked the approaching man.

He was big and thin, had long, dark orange (almost brown) hair, and was full of tattoos on the exposed parts of his arms and neck. Two large black ear plugs decorated the sides of his face. He was clothed in dark jeans and a black woollen sweater. “Pastor Mindy told me about you”, he said in a hollow sounding, scratchy voice. “Heh, she said you’re gonna fight them. Said you’re with the police or something.”

I’m not with the police.”

Well, where’s your proof?”

You can search me if you want. I have neither a gun nor a badge.” Jonah continued: “But it is true that I will fight them, if all else fails.”

You-eh, you know, I trust Pastor Mindy. She’s the one who brought me back on the right path after all these years of, well … but I guess you don’t care about that. But I’m still healing, you know, from all of those years of … ah, you don’t care anyway. The thing is, I’ve been backstabbed a heap of times. But Pastor Mindy said you’d have a message. To prove you’re legit and stuff.”

Yes, she told you something that only she and I would know about, to prove to you that I am who I am: Six years ago, Mindy put me on the right path also, when I was in a similar place you were in three months ago. She told me these simple words, yet they had a profound effect on my life: ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.’

That’s the verse she told me about alright. Okay, I believe you.” The man came closer. “I’m Todd. I, eh, already know your name.” They shook hands.

Pleased to meet you”, Jonah replied.

So, the reason we meet here is because I want to show you something, you know. I was never part of Pluto. I don’t know their real name neither. They were a level higher than I was, you could say. Guess I could have joined them in a few years time. Probably would have … but ah, never mind about that. But I was told they meet here on the outskirts of New York, here on the hill at Maplewood. A friend said to me that they meet here every Tuesday and Friday exactly at midnight, for exactly one hour, and that sometimes they do terrible things …”

What kind of things?”

Well, my friend, eh, incidentally he didn’t want to tell me that. So I don’t know nothing.”

Maybe we’ll find out tonight. I already know that something important is set to happen only a few days from now.”

Well, you know, I don’t actually know the exact location where they meet. So we will have to stroll through these woods. Perhaps we can follow their sounds. But we will need to be extra careful and stuff. If they notice us they’ll grill us alive before you can say KFC!”

Jonah agreed that they should keep themselves as stealthy as possible, and immediately they set out to sift through the woods. They started on the south end of the hill and gradually made their way north. About half an hour later, after almost two kilometres of quietly drifting through the forest, they finally started to hear the sound of rushing water.

A waterfall”, Jonah whispered.

It would make sense for them to meet there. The sound of the water drowns out their voices”, Todd replied.

Let’s go to it.”

The duo moved towards the sound of the waterfall and found a small lighting in the trees, but no one was there. On the other side of the lighting, there was a vertical rocky surface with a thin bundle of water running down it into a small pool beneath. They peered into the lighting, making use of the moonlight to spot any clues or muddy footprints. Then, very faintly, they noticed a small light shimmering through the trees above the waterfall.

Todd and Jonah quietly and as unnoticeably as possible made their way around the lighting towards the light. They started to hear murmuring voices which grew gradually louder. Then dark silhouettes started to appear before them. They were about ten, gathered in a circle around a small lantern that gave out the faint yellowish light. Todd and Jonah kneeled down behind two trees and peered through the undergrowth at the occult circle.

Todd pointed at Jonah and sign-languaged him to be silent and to quietly observe. Jonah noticed that Todd was slightly shaking, as if he was fighting some presence or past memories. In turn, Jonah motioned to Todd to remain calm.

The figures in the circle were dressed with black hooded robes, but the hoods were removed and their faces plainly visible, although they had a pale tint. In the silvery moonlight they almost looked like vampires. They were all white, and exclusively male, except for one female whose robe was dark red, like decades old dried blood, and who looked older than the rest. Leon, Jonah’s half-brother, didn’t seem to be among them.

Their prayer-like mumbling came to a halt, and one of the men, who had a bald head, produced a liquid container made of animal skin from inside his robe. “May the power of this blood strengthen us today and in the coming time”, he declared.

The other members produced golden goblets from their robes and held them out while the bald man poured the contents of the container into them.

R.O.V., one three two nine”, they spoke out in unison and drank.

Jonah thought he saw the ground within the circle tremble.

There was a muffled cry, unnoticeable had it not been for Jonah’s heightened level of alertness. Only now did he notice that a patch of ground inside the circle was a bit higher than the rest, and that there was no moss or grass on it.

Another muffled cry, this time even fainter.

It dawned on Jonah. Someone had been buried alive! At once he sprang out from the shadows and made for the circle of devil-worshippers. “In the Name of the Almighty, stop this now!”, he cried out.

The Satanists looked startled, and some of them spilled blood on the ground. But they quickly gathered their wits, put their hoods back up, and produced knives from their cloaks. The knives all looked alike – golden hilts with a red and a green gem set in each of them, and a sharp silvery blade that seemed to glow in the moonlight.

The first stabbed at Jonah, but Jonah ducked under the blade, grabbed his arm and threw him on his back.

The second tried a back-hand slash, but Jonah blocked the assault with his own underarm and kicked the offender in the gut. The attacker flew five metres and landed in a tree.

The next attackers were more coordinated. Four of them surrounded him and lashed out, but Jonah jumped into the air and held on to a branch. With two quick movements each of the assailants was left with a boot imprint on the forehead.

Jonah used the branch to swing and land right next to the dirt mound. More attackers were quickly on the move towards him. Holy Spirit, fill me with your fire!, Jonah prayed, and suddenly fire shot out of his hands.

He pointed it towards the Satanists, who were burned and injured by the blows, but the fire extinguished itself immediately afterwards.

The Satanists started to flee in terror from this new, unknown power, but Jonah made a wall of fire between him and them as a precaution. He noticed the ground beside him moving, now more vehemently, and began digging with both hands as fast as he could to free the innocent victim.

The cries became more audible the deeper he got, and he could feel someone digging from the inside. Before long, Todd was also beside him to help.

Finally, a grey, slender hand reached out from under the soil. Jonah grabbed the hand, and it clung to him immediately, sharp fingernails digging into his skin.

Jonah pulled at the hand while Todd shoved the dirt around it free. Jonah felt the hand tearing at him strongly, so he rose to his feet and in a crouched position began pulling at it with both his arms.

Gradually, the dirt beneath them lifted and revealed a dirt-covered young woman. She was as skinny as a cartoon figure, but once may have been very beautiful, and had waist-long, pitch-black hair.

Jonah took off his coat and wrapped her in it, seeing that she only had a thin dress on, and took her into his arms, assuring her that all would be fine.

Then he suddenly felt his upper body being compressed, and the force quickly became too much for him to bear. He gasped as he felt one or two of his ribs cracking.

He looked into the eyes of the victim they had freed. They glowed red, and a devilish smile was curling into her famished cheeks. “No …”, he began.

Todd obviously noticed it too and backed away. “No, we just freed you, man. They buried you alive. You can’t be one of them!”

A short burst of laughter from the woman before she rose out of the ground and let Jonah fall to the floor like a curled up spider. “The woman you think you freed has been dead and buried here for over two weeks. I am Azel, and I have been resurrected by the blood sacrifice and the communion of my followers!”

With those words, Azel soared away through the night, leaving Todd to tend to his new-found accomplice.

Jonah Surge: Chapter 1

The Initiation

Close to Wicklow, Ireland, November 1992

It was a dark, foggy night. Cold, silver slivers of dampness traversed the gentle hills of the countryside and glowed eerily in the moonlight. A wolf’s howl rang over the plains, causing a conspiracy of ravens to scatter away in fear.

Back in the farmhouse, the little boy noticed nothing of these nightly dealings, covered in his warm blankets and dreaming of sunny days and green grass and lemonade.

John”, a faint voice sounded, as quiet as a whisper.

The boy opened his eyes at the sound of the voice, but there was no one in the room.

Hello?”, he said quietly, in a squeaky voice because of his dry mouth. “Is anyone there?”

There was no answer, so John thought it had been a dream and closed his eyes again. It didn’t feel like a dream, he thought … the voice had sounded so near, so intimate …

John”, it called out once more, this time louder.

John opened his eyes at once. It was definitely not a dream this time. Maybe it was father’s voice, thought John. So he rose, put on his slippers and walked down the corridor and upstairs to his parents’ bedroom. But why would father call me at this hour?, he asked himself.

When he arrived at the bedroom, he slowly pushed open the door and asked in a low voice: “Father? Father?”

It sounded like someone waking up. “John, is that you? What are you doing here?”

Did you call me, father?”

What? No, of course not. Go back to bed.” And then, in a somewhat softer voice: “I didn’t call you, son, I’m sorry. It must have been a dream. Why don’t you go back to sleep?”

Okay, father”, John answered and went back to his bed. He didn’t give the voice another thought, turned to his side and closed his eyes.

JOHN”, the voice called a third time, echoing from the walls of his bedroom. This time it was unmistakable. John leapt out of bed and nearly galloped to his parents’ bedroom.

Father? Was it you this time, father?”, John blurted out, not even trying to keep his voice down anymore.

Mother and father were still awake, so the reply came quickly: “No, John, I didn’t call you. What’s going on?”

Is it a bad dream?”, his mother asked anxiously.

I keep hearing a voice that’s calling me”, John replied. “But there’s no one there!”

It’s a dream!”, father exclaimed.

Are you scared?”, mother asked.

No, it’s not a dream!”, John retorted. “And I’m not scared. It’s a friendly voice.”

Then, after a moment of silence, father asked him: “How many times has that voice said your name now, son?”

Three times now.”

Another moment of silence followed while father contemplated.

Then, slowly, John’s father sat up in his bed and motioned to his son to come near. “John, if it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t your mother, and you know it wasn’t a dream … and no one else is in the house … then there is only one other explanation.”

What is it, father?”

When you go to bed again, John, and if the voice calls you a fourth time, just say: ‘Here am I, Lord.’”

John stared at his father.

Now off to bed, son. We need to rise early tomorrow, there’s a lot of work to do on the farm.”

Ok, father, I will”, said John before closing the door to the bedroom, careful to be as quiet as possible, and trotting back to his own room. Could it really be God? He felt uncertain.

When John got to bed again, he was too excited to try to sleep, so he just waited if the voice would call him again.

John”, the voice sounded, now more quietly and faintly than any of the previous times. John answered with the words his father had told him.

Suddenly, there was a mighty thunder and a growling as of a pride of lions, and John saw a purple sky illuminated by scores of lightning bolts, and he felt like the room was pressing in on him from all sides, and like the earth was shaking and breaking apart, and a burning sensation throughout his whole body.

But as suddenly as the vision had come, so did it vanish. And there was nothing left save an oh so slight breeze across his forehead, barely noticeable but soothingly cool, and a very small flame at the end of his bed, as of a candle.

John looked around his room, intimidated, but saw that everything was as it had been, and he began to feel peaceful. The tiny flame, although almost unnoticeable, illuminated his entire bedroom with a warm glow.

I AM NOT IN THE THUNDER OR IN THE LIGHTNING OR IN THE EARTHQUAKE”, the voice said, very quietly but somehow with a thunderous quality, deep and energetic, and John was sure it came from the flame, “BUT IN THE GENTLE BREEZE AND IN THE WHISPERINGS OF THE NIGHT”.

John dared not speak. But his eyes were focused on the light at the end of his bed and his heart paced.

YOU SHALL NOT BE CALLED JOHN, BUT JONAH. THE TIME WILL COME WHEN I WILL SEND YOU TO THE NATIONS. I WILL MAKE YOU A HOLY WARRIOR to DRIVE BACK THE FORCES OF EVIL AND DEFEND MY KINGDOM. AND YOU SHALL DO GREAT THINGS IN MY NAME. BUT YOU WILL SUFFER HEAVILY BECAUSE OF ME, AND FACE BITTER TRIBULATIONS AND TEMPTATIONS. YOU WILL KNOW WHEN THE TIME HAS COME.”

With that, the flame extinguished itself, a last pulse of warm light moved across the walls, and then it was dark. As if the voice had forgotten something, a distant echo sounded in John’s ear: “DO NOT LOSE YOUR WAY. RETURN TO ME. REMEMBER YOUR MISSION.” … mission … mission.

And then it was gone.

 

***

 

My mission is to drive back the forces of evil and defend the Kingdom of God!”, Jonah shouted, as he recalled his first memory of encountering the Lord.

Leon spat blood out of his mouth as he turned again to face Jonah. Any semblance of demonic possession left his eyes for a short moment. He looked scared, helpless, a victim of the night that surrounded them.

But in an instant the evil smile deformed his face again. “Well, what if I don’t want to be set free? The power Melchek gives me is unparalleled. And I want it all!” His eyes returned to a blood-red colour as he sunk his brass knuckles into Jonah’s chest, who went sailing through the rain into a brick wall.

Lying on the floor, drenched to the bone by the rain, Jonah spotted a short steel pole in the corner of his eye. It was from a parking meter that Melchek had unearthed.

If you can’t be saved, I have no other choice than to kill you”, he said as he sprang up and seized the pole. God, please forgive me for what I’m about to do.

A duel of metal ensued, Jonah lashing out at Melchek with the 1-metre-long pole, Melchek deflecting and hitting back with his brass knuckles and exceeding physical strength. Stick against fists.

Jonah struck at Melchek as fast as he could, top left, bottom left, bottom right, top right, but Melchek deflected every blow with his iron fists.

Determination showed on both of their faces. Jonah started to slow. Suddenly Melchek was able to grab the pole with his left palm. He looked up fiercely at Jonah, smiling hauntingly.

Jonah could not move his weapon out of his adversary’s grip as hard as he tried.

Then Melchek clenched a fist with his right hand and aimed for his chest a second time.

Jonah was able to turn left at the last moment so that the fist only brushed him, but had to let go of the metal pole.

Then he received a hard blow from the pole to his back and sunk to his knees.

Melchek raised the pole again and struck Jonah’s back again.

Jonah fell on his face. Blood mixed with the rain and flowed down the drain. Melchek repeatedly used the pole to hit him.

Jonah, Jonah …”, Melchek chuckled as he paused his assault. “Oh, you were so stupid to think you could stop me.”

Jonah turned to his side. “No, I could never stop you …”, he muttered, as Melchek bowed over him for the finishing blow.

A flash of lightning illuminated the dark and rainy alley.

Jonah used the split-second distraction to kick at Melchek’s shin, which sent him howling to the floor.

With the last of his remaining energy, Jonah sprang up, picked up a small trash container and thrust it on his enemy upside-down. He jumped in the air and kicked the container with both his feet, sending it skittering towards the scaffolding of the apartments.

Melchek cried out in anger and boxed and kicked at the container from inside. Finally, it gave way to his enormous strength and flew off of him like the lid of a not well enough fastened steam pot.

But Jonah was ready and pulled down a metal ladder built into the scaffolding.

It landed hard on the back of Melchek’s neck and forced him to the floor again. He was trapped under the ladder.

Jonah held one end of the metal pole against Melchek’s neck. The severed and irregular ending drew a little blood, but Melchek didn’t seem to notice. “Don’t move!”, Jonah commanded, breathlessly.

Melchek’s face twisted and turned in anger, but his neck remained very still. The wound only opened a little more due to the minute movements.

When he had calmed down, Melchek started to chuckle again as the familiar smile contorted his visage. “You wouldn’t kill me, John. You wouldn’t, John, would you? You can’t kill your own brother.”

Half-brother!”, Jonah spat out too quickly. “Spawn of an affair I didn’t even know about until yesterday. Why you showed yourself to me now I have no idea. But the sins of the fathers often come back to haunt their children.” Jonah paused. “As for killing you, unfortunately you’re right.” He sighed and then gave a loud cry. “I can’t do it.” And he lowered the pole that held Melchek in check.

The prodigal half-brother bent the ladder away from him with ease and stood up. He looked intently at Jonah, but Jonah refused to look back.

I would have pity on you, big brother”, Melchek began. “But right now I can only feel disappointment. I thought you would see that the dark will triumph over the light. I thought you would admire my power!”

I cannot kill you now, Leon”, Jonah said quietly, still looking at the floor. “But the night will come when I will be forced to.”

Now, now, don’t get your hopes up.” With these words, Melchek disappeared into the night like a fleeing shadow. When Jonah looked up again, he was nowhere to be seen.

Demons may have no honour, Jonah thought, but at least they acknowledge defeat. Over the blocks to the East the sky started to dawn. Another rainy morning in New York.

A Game of Thrones Review

A while ago, I read the first book in the series “A Song of Ice and Fire”, called “A Game of Thrones”. The series contains four more novels, and an additional two are planned. The books were limitedly popular until it spawned a TV series called “Game of Thrones” that premiered in 2011. Since then, “A Song of Ice and Fire” has become the most famous modern piece of fantasy.

1. Introduction

Written by George R. R. Martin, “A Game of Thrones” has over 700 pages and is hence one of the larger fantasy books that I’ve read. So large, in fact, that the German translation had to be split up into two separate books (and so for all the sequels as well). It was first published in 1996, when it was relatively unpopular and overshadowed by other great fantasy works of fantasy such as “Harry Potter”, “Eragon”, or the film versions of “The Lord of the Rings”. It only became widely popular once the TV series came out.

It would be adequate to say that the “Game of Thrones” TV series not only propelled the books into a new level of popularity, but essentially revived the fantasy genre itself. Of course, there were other fantasy products around at the same time, like the film versions of “The Hobbit”, which didn’t convince the public as much as it should have. Or the book and film versions of “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games”, but those belong more to the Horror/Romantasy and Science Fiction genres, respectively. And right at the moment, Game of Thrones is the only good fantasy product around, although that might change later this year with the movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”.

Game of Thrones, both the books and the TV series, is the first massively popular fantasy product since the Harry Potter novels, and it has even been compared to the greatness of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” books, which are seen as the foundation of modern fantasy. Personally, I don’t think Game of Thrones is as good as The Lord of the Rings, but there are many areas where it triumphs over The Lord of the Rings in the eyes of modern society, and could even lay the foundation for a new subgenre of fantasy:

  • GoT has much rounder, more thought-through characters than LotR. LotR only contains characters that fit a certain role or purpose and act accordingly. In GoT, the characters drive the plot and not the other way round.
  • GoT is much more honest and realistic concerning human nature and motives. It portrays everyone’s dark and selfish desires, while LotR only gives us ideals and stereotypes.
  • There is no clear distinction between good and evil in GoT. Everyone is evil in his heart, although there are some characters who stand out through their honesty and bravery. In LotR, we simply have evil versus good, whereas GoT gives us deeply personal conflicts which look completely different from both sides.
  • The plot is entirely unpredictable. In LotR, we know that the good side will always win in the end, whereas in GoT, because there is no good side and because the characters drive the plot, literally anything can happen.

I’m not saying that Game of Thrones is better because of these points. I’m only saying that it appeals more to the today’s readers (especially adult readers). I think it is very important to have both types of fiction, those that put good against evil in an epic story to save the world (called “High Fantasy”), and those that put individuals in conflict with each other to defend their own interests (called “Low Fantasy”).

Game of Thrones also differs from The Lord of the Rings in other ways which I don’t necessarily think are better, but which may appeal more to some audiences.

  • The fantastic is not at the core of the story. There are fantastic creatures, but they only start appearing at the very end of the first book and never become more prominent than the desires of the individual characters. In contrast to LotR, the fantastic elements are portrayed more as a “crack” in the natural, whereas LotR plays fully and entirely in a fantastic world.
  • The style of GoT is much more graphic and vulgar. People use swearwords, are violent and bloodthirsty, are killed like animals, get drunk, and go to brothels. Make sure you are over 16 if you read these books or watch the series!

2. Spoiler-Free Summary

Like I said, I’ve only read the first book in the series, namely “A Game of Thrones”. I probably won’t read the sequels, not because I’m not interested in them, but because I’ve come across too many spoilers already and because I would like to read some other books first.

In the first book, we are introduced first to the Stark family, Ned and Catelyn with their children Rob, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon, and Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow. Ned is the Warden of the North and Lord of Winterfell. In a letter from her sister, Lady Catelyn is informed that the Warden of the East, Lord Robert Arryn, was murdered instead of dying of natural causes, as was previously thought.

Because of this information, Lord Stark accepts King Robert Baratheon’s offer to become the new Hand of the King in place of the deceased Lord Arryn. He does this in an attempt to find out why Lord Arryn died and who might have killed him.

In an entirely different part of the world, Viserys Targaryen and his sister Daenerys Targaryen are the last surviving descendants of house Targaryen. Their father Aerys II, the former king, was slain and overthrown by Robert Baratheon thirteen years ago, and they had to flee to an island called Pentos. Viserys offers his sister to a wealthy warlord named Khal Drogo in exchange for command over Drogo’s army in order to reclaim his rightful throne.

At the same time, we are introduced to House Lannister, who’s head Lord Tywin is the Warden of the West and who are the wealthiest of all houses in the land. Tywin’s children, Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf, Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer (he killed Aerys II Targaryen), and Cersei Lannister, the queen and wife of King Robert Baratheon, all have their own plans in the game of thrones.

In this land called Westeros, summers can last decades and winters a lifetime. The summer has been very long and is slowly coming to an end, and long summers are usually followed by very long and cold winters. Winter is coming, and with it sightings of a strange, ancient, hostile race of superhumans simply referred to as “the Others”.

3. Personal Experience

George R. R. Martin is a very talented writer. Admittedly, the beginning of the book is quite confusing because it introduces a ton of characters and complex relations, and I was tempted to put the book down and stop reading. About the first third of the book is also unspectacular and uninteresting. But after you get through that part, the story becomes extremely intense and compelling. I just kept and kept reading and couldn’t put the book down for hours.

“A Game of Thrones” surprised me in different ways. For one, I was surprised how a story can change from uninteresting to completely interesting so drastically. Then, how realistically the characters were portrayed, and how the story worked despite not having a clear sense of good and evil nor a clear direction in which it was heading. A character wanting to achieve something can be killed right before he does. Seemingly important characters can be killed and the story remains interesting. Or how a fantasy book can cope with so few fantastic elements. Or how successful a fantasy franchise directed towards adults can be.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it yet and doesn’t mind the occasional swear word or gore. You don’t even have to be a big fantasy fan to like this book, as it contains close to no fantastic elements at all (except for the map and the names of places and people).

4. The Main Theme

It is hard to distinguish a main theme in this book, as it deals with so many characters and their different interests. Naturally, many areas are touched: upholding a family’s honour, the virtue of being honest, the perks of being dishonest, the life of an outcast (dwarfs, bastards, and cripples appear), political and personal relationships, etc.

But if I were to pick a main theme, it would have to be the issue of pride. Almost all characters have their own type of pride which sometimes keeps them from making sound decisions, forming alliances with each other, or being compassionate. And there are different types of pride: There is Lannister pride, the pride of the Arryns, the pride of Viserys Targaryen, Khal Drogo’s pride, and even Stark pride. And in many cases, it is ultimately pride that causes the downfall of people. “A Game of Thrones” can essentially be reduced to the old proverb “pride comes before a fall”.

The Lannisters are the family most prominently described as prideful. They are the wealthiest of families and as such look down on everyone else. They think they are superior, are arrogant beyond measure and thus despised by everyone else. They make enemies very easily. Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf, is the only exception to this. Instead of being prideful, he uses his cunning and his wealth to get himself out of every thinkable situation. He can make friends just as easily as enemies.

But the pride of the Arryns is probably the most repulsive. Lady Lysa, the widow of Robert Arryn, is so full of pride that she distrusts everyone else and completely destroys the childhood of her son Robert while thinking she is only doing what’s best for him. Even when Lady Catelyn Stark, her own sister, talks to her about it, she won’t listen. She continually exclaims how impenetrable her castle is and how no-one could ever win a war against House Arryn.

Beyond that, we see a number of other characters who are completely taken with pride. Viserys Targaryen is so full of pride that he is disillusioned, thinking that everyone should look up to him as the rightful king of Westeros, but instead everyone ridicules him simply as the “beggar king”, a king over nothing, who has no army and no money. Khal Drogo’s pride keeps him from seeking medical attention when he needs it, insisting that his wounds are only scratches. Ned Stark finally, the head of the only house that doesn’t think only of itself but has a genuine sense of justice and honesty, is incapable of seeing through the schemes of the dishonest people he is around. He has a good sense of what is right, but is confident about it. He is not open to advice and thinks that if you do the right thing, everything will turn out well for everybody. Sadly, this is not true.

I see this book as a lesson in humility. Pride leads to false security, disillusionment, makes unnecessary enemies, and can cause one’s downfall. It makes you arrogant, self-obsessed, and unhappy. If I already hated pride before, I hate it even more!

Challenge: Don’t go the way of the Lannisters, Lady Arryn, or Viserys Targaryen. Stay humble, stay compassionate. Don’t look down on others. When someone needs your help, bend down to help them. When you need help, swallow your pride and get help. Be open to advice and correction. Hate pride! But at the same time, be smart in what you do and how you do it. Don’t trust the wrong people.

If you’re interested in my own attempt at some literature, check out my page Short Stories and Poems, where I have a collection of some of my own, well, short stories and poems. And as always, feel free to write a comment below!

Which Is the Best Cinematic Universe?

Warning: This is the longest post I’ve ever written!

Everyone’s writing about them and now it’s my turn. I have been occupying myself with cinematic universes for quite some time now because I’m a real fan of them, and it’s about time I got my views out into the open.

This article is going to be about the four major cinematic universes there currently are: Star Wars, the X-Men, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Each of these have recently experienced an important new movie release (within the last half year…), so I feel the timing is right for this article. We had X-Men: Apocalypse just at the end of May (and still playing in some cinemas), Captain America: Civil War at the beginning of May, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in March, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens last December. Additionally, another X-Men film named Deadpool was released in February.

All of these movies are still fairly present in our minds, but sufficient time has passed so that most people have already seen them. This article contains no spoilers, but does contain my opinions on the movies of said universes. In case you haven’t seen one of the movies yet and don’t want to be influenced, you might want to avoid this article for now.

First, I’m going to define what a cinematic universe is, and then go into their good and dark sides. Afterwards, I’ll narrow down my own definition by adding some additional criteria in order to evaluate similar cinematic universes against each other.

1. Definitions

What is a cinematic universe anyway? Any official definitions have eluded me, which leads me to believe that there are none. A cinematic universe is loosely thought to be a series of connected movies. According to Wikipedia, a fictional universe is a set of imaginary stories written by different authors, but which are consistent with each other and take place in the same universe or world. A shared universe on the other hand is a series of stories about different main characters that take place in the same universe or world. Thus, a fictional, shared, cinematic universe would be a defined number of stories that are written by various authors, deal with the adventures of different protagonists, play in the same imaginary universe or world, and are shown in the form of full-length movies in cinemas. The person who defines which stories are included in the universe is usually the writer of the first story, although some definitions allow universes to continue after that author dies.

The prime example of a cinematic universe is the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), which started with Iron Man in 2008, really came to fruition in 2012 with Marvel’s The Avengers, and became the highest grossing movie franchise of all times in 2015 with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since the MCU, everyone else has been trying to build up a cinematic universe, for example the DC Extended Universe which started in 2013 with Man of Steel or the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe which started in 2014 with Dracula Untold. And many more universes are in the making as we speak (or write? or read?).

However, Marvel Studios wasn’t the first company to build a “cinematic universe”, although it was the first to call it that. The X-Men are older than the MCU, although they probably changed their strategy significantly after the success of 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers. Star Wars is of course much older than both of these, but again it can’t be ruled out that Disney was inclined to buy Lucasfilm and produce an Episode VII because of the MCU’s surprise hit. The oldest shared cinematic universe was the Universal Monsters which started in the 1930s, although there are older universes in literature.

2. Pros and Cons

Cinematic universes are a subject of heavy debate. Some people are absolutely crazy about them and have to watch every single property of every universe. Other people are extremely annoyed by them because they don’t want to remember a dozen movies in order to understand what the next one will be about. In any case, they have become an invaluable source of money for film companies, which means they must appeal to a great many people.

Personally, I love the concept of cinematic universes, so the following list may be biased. Here are some pros and cons that I can think of:

Cons:

  • Cinematic universes force you to sit through a gazillion movies you’re not interested in to watch the one you are interested in.
  • Because they make so much money, any film company that doesn’t create a one will be irrevocably outrun by its competition.
  • This leads to cinematic universes being constructed on insufficient material by people who are forced to do it without having a real passion or commitment for them. Which leads to bad universes (examples: DC Extended Universe, possible future Ghostbusters universe).
  • They destroy good standalone films, because filmmakers get the idea that every successful movie now has to be turned into a franchise (examples: Independence Day: Resurgence, Bladerunner 2).
  • The value of standalone films is downgraded. Nobody wants to do standalone films anymore because they don’t make enough money.
  • This in turn is a real threat to people who just like to watch good movies that stand on their own. If every successful movie has to be turned into a franchise, then future standalones will probably be reduced to the bad movies that had no hope of spawning a successful sequel. In the worst case, standalone lovers will no longer have any interesting movies coming their way anymore. I’m pretty sure the worst case won’t happen, but there will certainly be fewer standalone films in the future.

Pros:

  • Cinematic universes make tons of money, meaning there is a wide audience that likes and appreciates them.
  • They offer interested viewers a whole world to delve into rather than just a single product.
  • Often, it’s still possible to watch each movie on its own and understand most of it (there are always nuances that only fans will understand, and yes, occasionally a completely uninformed viewer will have major blind spots, for example in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or in Captain America: Civil War). This is bound to remain that way because those movies that spend too much time building their universe rather than striving to just be a good movie are usually also the ones that receive the worst reviews.
  • If a company is forced to create a cinematic universe, it is usually bad and not very well received (examples: DC Extended Universe, possible future Ghostbusters universe). In the future, once the hype about cinematic universes is over (say after 2020), this will probably lead to bad universes dying before they really start.
  • Cinematic universes are essentially the next evolutionary leap in filmmaking, just like sound film, colour film, and special effects were. They offer so much more than a standalone can. They integrate multiple heroes into single movies and have them fight alongside each other. What has been around in comics for decades is now finally coming to the cinemas. Cinematic universes are the change that moviegoers need.

3. Criteria for Qualification

In order to narrow down the amount of cinematic universes for my evaluation, I must add some more criteria. The goal is to have a small number of popular, well-known, and well-developed cinematic universes that can be compared to each other.

The criteria for qualification will be the following:

  • The universe has to be actively developing at the moment (sorry Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Harbinger/Bloodshot…)
  • It has to be fantasy or science fiction, including the superhero genre (sorry James Bond, Mission: Impossible, Bourne Identity,  Tarantinoverse…)
  • It has to consist of standalone movies about separate characters AND movies that bring these individual characters together (sorry Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, The Amazing Spider-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fantastic Four,  Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Transformers, Divergent, Jurassic Park/World…)
  • There has to be more than one film already released (sorry Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe, Godzilla-Kong Cinematic Universe, LEGO Movies…)
  • The universe has to be live-action, i.e. not cartoon or animated.
  • It has to consist primarily of movies and not series (sorry Game of Thrones, Arrowverse…)
  • The universe has to be popular and well-known.

In my opinion, these criteria together make up a good definition of what most people understand under a cinematic universe nowadays. To summarise, we have two definitions of a cinematic universe, a simple and a narrow one:

Simple Definition: A cinematic universe is a set of connected movies. The criteria of having contributions from different authors and of being about multiple protagonists can be added.

Narrow Definition: A cinematic universe consists of a multitude of connected movies about different protagonists with their own adventures, but has an overarching story that sometimes brings these protagonists together. In addition, they have to be live-action, be well-known, and belong to the fantasy or sci-fi genre.

For the evaluation below, I will use the narrow definition. Of course the definition itself must be timeless, but I will only consider universes that are developing currently, with at least two movies already out.

4. Evaluation of four cinematic universes

To my current knowledge, the above criteria leave us with four major cinematic universes: The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), the DCEU (DC Extended Universe), the X-Men, and Star Wars.

Star Wars seems to be a bit out of place here since it’s the only universe not in the superhero genre (if you count mutants as superheroes). The reason I’m still including it is because it fulfills my criteria: It’s massively popular, part of both the sci-fi and the fantasy genre, every trilogy is about a different protagonist, but there are also important characters that appear throughout more than one trilogy (like Darth Vader, Darth Sidious, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2), and there is even an overarching story.

There will be five categories for evaluating each of these four universes:

  1. Overall feel and experience
  2. Quality of the individual movies
  3. Quality of the overarching story
  4. Internal consistency
  5. Innovation

This choice of criteria is completely subjective, however appropriate I may think it to be. Every universe will be awarded between one and five points in each of these categories, a score of 5 being “excellent”, 4 being “good”, 3 being “mediocre/ ok”, 2 being “bad”, and 1 being “terrible”. The maximum score is thus 25 and the minimum score is 5.

Without further ado, here is the ranking and the final score of each universe:

#1 Marvel Cinematic Universe. Score = 23

Hands-down. The MCU is the best cinematic universe of all, and both the box office and the critics agree with me. So far, it includes thirteen movies (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Captain America: Civil War) as well as series, one-shots, and comics.

Overall feel and experience = 5. The Marvel universe feels phenomenal in almost every respect. After watching all of the films in chronological order, I didn’t get tired of them at all, but rather wanted more. It’s extremely varied with respect to the style of the movies, the different main characters, the soundtrack, and more. It’s bright and humorous but can also be serious when it needs to. It’s simply a really fun universe to follow.

Quality of the individual movies = 5. There is a good reason why Marvel is so successful. Almost every movie is also an absolute killer on its own. At the moment, Marvel Studios is actually defining the standard for the entire film industry. Sure, they’ve had a few pitfalls too (Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk were bad, although even they have their moments, and Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor: The Dark World didn’t quite live up to the expectations). But most of the movies are truly great and trend-setting.

Quality of the overarching story = 5. The overarching story of the MCU is about the so-called Infinity Stones. There are six of them, and four have thus far made their appearances (the Tesseract from Captain America: The First Avenger and Marvel’s The Avengers is the Space Stone; the Mind Stone is located in Loki’s spear in Marvel’s The Avengers and is placed on Vision’s forehead in Avengers: Age of Ultron; the Aether from Thor: The Dark World is the Reality Stone; and the Power Stone is the Orb from Guardians of the Galaxy. The Time and Soul Stones are still waiting to be introduced). Furthermore, the Infinity Gauntlet which enables a supreme being to hold all the Infinity Stones is in the possession of the villain Thanos, who has yet to make his grand appearance. Although I personally would have liked to see a little bit more of this overarching story in the movies so far, I think the script writers did an exceptionally good job. The saga is just epic.

Internal consistency = 4. There are a few minor logical inconsistencies (How can Thor suddenly travel to earth without the Bifrost?, why didn’t Hydra prevent the recruitment of the Avengers as they had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.?, etc.), but they are never striking or blatant. Sometimes they are brushed over by an all too simple explanation (e.g., Odin apparently used dark matter to transport Thor). There are no contradictions between the movies that I’m aware of, just a few logical glimpses. Because consistency is very important to me, I’m awarding the MCU a 4 in this area, even though many people might have given it a 5.

Innovation = 4. Many people might give the MCU a 5 here as well, because it certainly did bring a lot of original stuff into the movie world. However, most of the “revolutionary” elements have been done before, Marvel simply perfected them. Star Wars was the first large cinematic universe. The Universal Monsters were the first to have a shared universe in the 1930s and 1940s. X-Men (from the year 2000) brought back good superhero movies to the cinemas and was also the first good movie to feature multiple superheroes fighting side by side.

#2 Star Wars. Score = 22

There is no question that Star Wars deserves to be right up here. The Star Wars Expanded Universe is probably the largest fictional universe of all (if you include the hundreds of books and comics). In 2014, the Star Wars Expanded Universe was split into the Star Wars Canon (which is much smaller) and the Star Wars Legends (which includes everything that is now no longer canon). In order to avoid the confusion, I will refer to the universe simply as “Star Wars”. Keep in mind that I’m only evaluating the movies anyway, which have always been canon and always will be.

The official Star Wars Canon includes eight movies (Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the animated movie The Clone Wars, and Episode VII: The Force Awakens) as well as series, comics, and novels. There are even more spin-off movies, series, comics, and novels under the Star Wars Legends banner.

Overall feel and experience = 5. As the most iconic piece of fiction ever, Star Wars is great to watch. I watched all of the seven saga movies in chronological order and the experience was very enjoyable. Some people might give Star Wars a lower score in this area because they don’t like the prequel trilogy or the sequel (or even the original trilogy, shame on them). I genuinely like the whole saga, even when watched as a whole, and am therefore giving it a 5.

Quality of the individual movies = 4. The original trilogy is entertaining, funny, and enticing, although it was limited by its time with respect to special effects and landscapes. The prequel trilogy has a less enticing story (Episode II barely has any story at all), but offers more landscapes and better action sequences. Episode VII finally has the overwhelming special effects worthy of the saga, although the story is still not as interesting as it could be. The average quality of the movies is good, with some of them being excellent and others mediocre.

Quality of the overarching story = 5. The overarching story of Star Wars is the history of the Skywalker family. The prequel trilogy is about Anakin Skywalker becoming a Jedi and being seduced by the dark side of the force. The original trilogy is about Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi and striving to bring Darth Vader back to the good side. We don’t know what the sequel trilogy is overarchingly about yet, but it is definitely also about the Skywalker family. This is a very unique type of overarching plot, and seeing how the different movies are intertwined is extremely interesting.

Internal consistency = 4. The Star Wars movies are generally consistent with each other, although there are a few contradictions that are mainly caused by the prequels. For example, in Episode VI, Princess Leia says she remembers her mother, while in Episode III, her mother dies in giving birth to her. The explanation that she “lost the will to live” is extremely lame and illogical. Also, Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn’t remember the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO in Episode IV despite them playing an important role in the prequels. And there are more inconsistencies when you include The Clone Wars.

Innovation = 4. No question, A New Hope was one of the most innovative and different movies of its time, as were the other movies of the original trilogy. The prequels were also quite fresh and different, but by far not as much as the original trilogy. The Force Awakens felt like an exact copy of A New Hope, even though it was still enjoyable and also had some new elements. It is mainly the original trilogy that pushes the score up to a 4 in this area.

#3 DC Extended Universe. Score = 16

This is the smallest universe in my evaluation. It officially consists of the two movies Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as a few short comics. I am convinced that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises) also fits into the timeline, but it hasn’t officially been declared as canon.

Overall feel and experience =4. Many people would disagree with me here. There has been lots of criticism against both of the movies. Personally, I liked liked watching them, and I especially liked how they felt when watched directly after each other. The movies themselves weren’t as good as expected, but they’re still ok and the universe as a whole feels consistent and intriguing.

Quality of the individual movies =3. Here’s where it gets a bit worse. When looked at separately, the movies feel less inspiring, but are still ok to watch. Man of Steel is at most a good movie, but not more. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is quite enjoyable, but plot-wise a complete mess. Almost nothing happens in the first half and then too much at once in the second. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I still liked it. And it was better when I watched it for the second time. If you include Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the score would climb up to at least a 4.

Quality of the overarching story =1. There is no overarching story that has been revealed. So far, the main theme of the DC Extended Universe is the world’s mixed feelings towards Superman. Is he a hero? A saviour? A god? A fraud? Or a threat to all of mankind? But I doubt that this will become the overarching story of the whole franchise, if ever there will even be one.

Internal consistency =5. Although the plot is sometimes a mess, I’m not aware of any inconsistencies or contradictions. The individual movies may not be very good on their own, but at least the universe as a whole is thoroughly thought through so far. This is one point where the DC Extended Universe triumphs even over the Marvel Cinematic Universe (slightly).

Innovation =3. It is no secret that DC only pushed their cinematic universe forwards because of Marvel’s immense success. Everything that DC is doing is basically only because of Marvel. However, DC did break a few unwritten rules and bring some fresh wind into the movie industry. Most prominently, they made their universe a lot darker and more serious, as opposed to Marvel’s bright and funny one. Portraying Superman not as a stereotypical moral ideal but as a multilayered, flawed being is also quite revolutionary. I like that DC is going into a different direction than Marvel.

#4 X-Men. Score = 14

I still love the X-Men, even if I’m giving them the lowest score among of the four. The majority of the movies are a lot of fun to watch. The X-Men universe started out really well, but then made a few mistakes and went down some dark paths. But I feel that they are recovering and emerging, at least since the last three movies, and that they are going to get better again. To date, there are nine movies (X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, and X-Men: Apocalypse) as well as a few comics in their cinematic universe.

Overall feel and experience = 3. The original trilogy was really good (although many people don’t like the third film), but when I watched all of the X-Men films in chronological order, it actually got stale and boring at some point. It felt like none of the films brought something new and fresh into the universe anymore and that there was no direction in which it was heading. The X-Men are very enjoyable for a certain time, but too much at once is frustrating. The main reasons for this are the numerous inconsistencies, the lack of a good overarching plot, and individual bad movies interspersed with the good ones.

Quality of the individual movies = 4. In general, the individual movies have a very high quality. There are only a few movies which don’t live up to the standards, namely the two Wolverine standalones and, depending on who you ask, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class. But largely, they are very good.

Quality of the overarching story = 2. The overarching story is the struggle of the mutants to be accepted into society, with Professor X and the X-Men taking the path of diplomacy while Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants try to make humans fear and become subordinate to them. This concept worked very well for the original trilogy, but when a whole universe is about that theme, it’s just not enough. The overarching story becomes boring and the viewer thinks “we’ve been there, seen that, now bring something new already!”

Internal consistency = 1. Of all of the universes, the X-Men by far are the worst with respect to consistency. X-Men: Days of Future Past tried to rectify some of the inconsistencies and actually did a good job, even though the result made the whole universe more confusing than it already was. X-Men: Apocalypse tried to further harmonise all of the movies by referencing each of them (except The Wolverine and Deadpool), but at the same time it also created new inconsistencies. There are no really bad contradictions (by that I mean that you can usually find an explanation if you try hard enough), so some people might give the X-Men a 2 here. But since consistency is important to me I’m going to stay strict and only give them a 1.

Innovation = 4. The first X-Men movie from the year 2000 was probably one of the most revolutionary movies ever. It started a new era for the superhero genre by showing that superhero movies can be good. It also spawned the first shared superhero movie universe by allowing many important superheroes to be in the same movie together and to fight side by side. However, the following movies failed to be something genuinely new to the world, although they still contained some fresh ideas. The big exception of course is Deadpool, the first R-rated X-Men movie (and one of the very few R-rated superhero movies together with Kick-Ass, Watchmen, etc. (and Deadpool is even entirely different from those)). The rest of the original trilogy as well as X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse also bring enough new ideas to gain the X-Men a score of 4 in this area.

So, there you have it. According to my completely subjective ranking, Marvel has the best cinematic universe in almost every respect, followed by Star Wars, then DC, and lastly the X-Men.

If you’ve read this far, please check out my Superhero and Jedi Corner, where I’ve put together detailed chronologies for all of the above universes as well as a calendar of important movie franchises that includes all the past and upcoming movies of current fantasy or science fiction franchises. The Superhero and Jedi Corner is worth a visit! There’s also more information on the individual movies, reviews, explanations of the timlines etc., so go ahead and take a look.

Do you agree with my ranking? Where do you differ? Do you think I should have included the Transformers? Or Star Trek? Or Jurassic Park/World? Let me know in the comments!

Title picture credits: Theincrediblejake on deviantart.com

New Products are online!

Hello everyone.

“The Lampstand” has recently been updated and has received an additional FOURTEEN new products. Here’s what I mean by “products”: They include anything that I’ve recorded or written and are divided into five different areas: music, creative writing, theology, geology, and the superhero and Jedi corner.

You may not want to read all fourteen documents, depending on your interests. But if one of the above areas interests you, checking out that particular area might be good for you.

#1: Music

There are no new products in this section, however I have added an additional link.

  • Go to the music page to see all of the products.
  • Click on Late for Dinner to listen to the song “Heart of Stone”, which I newly added to the page but was recorded way back in 2011.
  • Click on Keepsakes to listen to and download fifteen beautiful songs that were recorded in Australia.
  • Go to my Soundcloud page to listen to some of my own (bad quality) recordings.

#2: Short Stories and Poems

There is nothing new on this page either, but if you didn’t get my (free) collection of short stories and poems yet, go ahead and click on the page or directly go to Lions and Dragons: A Collection of Short Stories and Poems.

#3: Theology Essays and Study Tools

This page is completely new and contains two essays as well as four study tools.

  • See all of the products on the theology page.
  • The first essay is about Cryptozoology, a very interesting but not so well-known branch of the natural sciences.
  • The second essay is about the band AC/DC and the allegations that they are Satanists. Check out my essay Are AC/DC Satanists? for more information about this mysterious claim.
  • Also take a look at the Chronological Bible Reading Plan if you’re interested in reading the Bible in chronological order.
  • Have a peek at the list of Bible Books Ordered by Size. This list includes basic instructions on how to do an Inductive Bible Study as well as on how to use the RWSSP method of studying the Bible.
  • Did you know that the Old Testament prophesies the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Look at my in-depth list of Prophecies about the Crucifixion.
  • Have you ever wondered about hell? Me too! That’s why I put together a list of Bible Verses about Hell.

#4: Geology Essays and Study Tools

This page is also completely new. There aren’t any study tools just yet, but I have added three essays on topics which may or may not interest you.

#5: Superhero and Jedi Corner

The last page in the category “products” is meant to be a fun zone and has little to do with the rest of my website. But if you’re as interested in superhero and Star Wars movies as I am, there might be something for you. This page is also completely new.

  • Click on the page to see every product at once.
  • Look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe Chronology for a timeline of all the events in the MCU, including upcoming movies.
  • Check out the Star Wars Chronology to get an idea of the Star Wars timeline. I’ve listed everything that is presently in the Star Wars Canon plus all material that was ever released on-screen. Also, you will find out which are the five most successful film franchises of all times.
  • See the X-Men Chronology, where all of the events of the X-Men timeline are listed, as well as an overview of the history of the franchise, a review of each movie, a glimpse at upcoming movies, and a list of inconsistencies along with possible explanations.
  • Get a feel for the DC Extended Universe Chronology. I know there’s not a whole lot of material to work with yet, but there’s a ton of upcoming movies, as well as a heap of DC series and even some past movies. I have composed an overview of how each of these might fit into the overall DCEU timeline.
  • Last but not least, peek at the calendar of important movies. Here, you’ll find a list of all upcoming movies that are part of a current fantasy, sci-fi, or superhero franchise. All the past movies of that franchise are also listed in case you missed one.

Hopefully, you’ll find at least something that interests you. Of course I’d be extremely glad for some of your thoughts on any of the above. My next post is coming soon!