Thursday, September 27, 2007

Weekly comic round-up

Every week (roughly) Aaron goes to the Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio and spends far more money than his wife would prefer. He then comes back here and writes about the comics he reads that he thought were noteworthy. This isn't everything he picks up, just the things that he feels merit discussion - either for being really good, or for having something really wrong with them.

Avengers: The Initiative 6
The cover really gives this issue away. Someone has taken out “The Gauntlet” – and logically the suspicion falls on all of those recruits who have been abused by him for five issues straight now – especially the former New Warrior, Rage. (Justice gets implicated as well, despite being a part of the staff, for his own New Warrior connections).

S.H.I.E.L.D.’s investigation is interesting enough, especially considering my general distaste for that kind of story. And it’s fun watching Gyrich sweat that S.H.I.E.L.D. might discover his personal black ops team.

The continuing mystery about the death of MVP also rears its’ ugly head, and Hardball continues to communicate with his conspirator.

What’s most fascinating is that Gauntlet wakes up and lies about who his attacker was – to protect his soldiers, the way any good sergeant should. But the shocker of this issue is who the attacker was –someone who has previously been drastically underestimated. A nice compelling issue that goes a long way towards making us finally care about these recruits.

Teen Titans 51
The world of the future Titans is not one I would want to live in. The future visions of the team are brutal and unforgiving, and not terribly far removed from the Justice Lords from the Justice League cartoon.

I wouldn’t want to read an entire series about them. But they’re fun guest stars, in that “we’re really villains” sort of way. It’s fascinating watching them try to warp their younger selves into becoming who they are. The Titans are, obviously resistant to this to varying degrees. Some fight against it with all their will, while others (looking at you, Kid Devil) succumb to temptation from their future selves.

The first high point of the issue for me would be the fact that this world gives some credence to my hopes that Kon-El will return from the dead somehow, and that his relationship with Cassie will rekindle. The second would be the confrontation between the two Tim Drakes – The future Batman who carries the same gun which killed Bruce’s parents, and the Robin of today.

Ultimate Spider-Man 114
Well, Bagley’s art being absent is felt in this issue more than it had been in either of the issues prior – I really wanted his pencils for the fight between Electro and Spidey. It’s still fine art, but it just feels off somehow.

The issue mainly focuses on Peter’s attempts to get those he cares about out of the line of fire, now that Osborn has been released. Why? Because he’s Peter Parker and he does that. We also get a tease of future storylines, as we say May on a date with Miles Warren.

Once the family is safely sequestered, Peter goes on the hunt for Osborn, and instead finds Electro. They fight, unsurprisingly. S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up to end the fight – but the cavalry isn’t here to help Spidey. They take both villain and hero down, and the issue ends with Peter in custody of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’m thinking that the less-than-pleasant relationship between Peter and Fury is going to bite Parker on his butt next issue.

Justice League of America 13
We’ve been building to this – starting with the wedding special, and now that it’s here, it doesn’t disappoint. The Injustice League is prepared for the JLA, and the League is quite seriously caught with their pants down. With Luthor and the Joker as their masterminds, the Injustice League is well-prepared, and has set a series of ambushes for the League.

One by one, we watch each of the League’s heavy-hitters go down. Batman frees himself and attempts to free Wonder Woman, but presumably that goes poorly. Green Lantern, Hawkgirl and Red Tornado are quickly dismantled by Fatality, Shadow Thief, Killer Frost and Poison Ivy. And it is only due to the intervention of Black Lightning that Superman, Vixen and Black Canary manage to avoid defeat at the hands of Grodd, Dr. Light, the Cheetah and the Parasite. But waiting in the wings is a power-armor clad Luthor.

I am tingling with anticipation for the next issue.

A few books which don’t deserve an entire write-up, but are worth picking up if you get the chance. In Green Arrow: Year One 5 we finally get to see a bit of who Ollie is meant to become. It’s taken way too long to get here, and unless you are the most die-hard Ollie fan, I think this whole series could easily have been skipped, but it is starting to be good. Countdown 31 continues the saga, with a pleasant re-appearance of the Crime Syndicate (Society, whatever) fighting against Donna, Jason Todd, Kyle Rayner and the Monitor. Towards the end of the issue, they’re assisted by the Jokester – the only man crazy enough to fight the Crime Society, and who ends up following our heroes on their quest through space and time. (I’m beginning to think that Duella Dent is actually the daughter of the Jokester). Secondary character Holly Robinson continues her story, Mxyptlyx gets abducted through a rip in reality, Jimmy’s powers cause chaos for everyone at Cadmus, and Mary Marvel continues her descent into evil at Eclipso’s guidance. This issue might have earned a full write-up, but it loses points for the fact that the best part of it was the two-page bio of the Joker at the very end.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Listen! Up in the sky!

So, a while back we talked about old-time radio plays of superheroes. Well, three weeks of listening to them haven’t diminished my enthusiasm in the slightest. But there’s one little problem… they’re old.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing at all wrong with old stories. But it does remove the heroes from our frame of reference - Superman was a different character in the 1940’s then he is today. His relationships with Lex, Lois, Perry, etc. have all changed dramatically in the intervening sixty years, and the modern day listener can be somewhat confused when listening.

Fortunately, a great group of fans has come to the rescue.

The great people at Pendant Audio have been recording audio dramas for several years now. They started off with fan dramas, the first one being Star Trek, and then they moved into superhero audio shows, Superman: The Last Son of Krypton first, than Batman: The Ace of Detectives, Wonder Woman: Champion of Themyscira and Supergirl: Lost Daughter of Krypton.

They’re good stories, grounded in modern continuity, with a remarkably good group of voice actors working on them - all the more remarkable because they’re fans across the internet and not professionals. The different superheroes are also intertwined (no worries, they will provide you with a list of the stories and what order they should be listened).

I’m up to “issue” 6 of Superman: The Last Son of Krypton, and loving it so far. They’re not perfect, but they are a lot of fun.

4 masks out of 5

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Review: Hero (a novel)

Perry Moore is several things. He is a producer, having produced The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He is a director, having worked with Sissy Spacek on the upcoming Lake City. He is an author, having recently published the novel Hero. And he is also openly gay.

It is a sad truth that the vast majority of characters in superhero comics are white, anglo-saxon, protestant men who are straight. This has been changing as time goes by, but not nearly as rapidly as it should be to have our heroes reflect our population.

Moore tackles that in this novel, as we follow the story of Thom - a young man who is the son of Major Might. His father was an unpowered hero, in the vein of Batman, until the fateful day that he "failed" to stop a world-eating alien menance from destroying a large chunk of the city. (He stopped the monster from eating the planet, but people weren't interested in this detail.) This failure also crippled his father's hand, and the combined failure and injury led to his father's retirement. Thom grew up in a house where one didn't mention superheroes and one certainly didn't mention the superpowered ones. Thom's mother left them both when Thom was younger, leaving Thom alone with his dad. Thom's father is also a homophobe.

This leads Thom to a problem. See, he has superpowers. And he's gay.

Hero is about Thom gaining acceptance and finding his place in the world. Both with his family, his teammates, and the world at large. It's the quest of a young man who knows that he wants to make the world a better place, even if he isn't quite sure how he's going to accomplish that.

Moore creates a fascinating cast of characters; Thom, his father, his rival and possibly friend Goran, the members of the League including Uberman, Justice and Warrior Woman, and his teammates - among them, Typhoid Larry, who can make anyone ill, Ruth, the octagenarian precog, Golden Boy, kid-speedster, and Scarlett, the flaming pizza-delivery girl. Every character we meet has secrets, many just as deep as the ones which Thom keeps.

The novel focuses on themes of loss and sacrifice, and the toll that keeping secrets can take. Ultimately, all works out for the best, but not until each and every dark secret has been laid bare.

If I have any complaints about the novel, it would be the extent to which Thom's homosexuality is rejected by the world at large. Not being gay myself, I will admit that I can't know exactly what level of prejudice homosexuals encounter on a daily basis - but in Moore's novel it seems that either you are homosexual, or you reject it violently. The only person who seems able to accept Thom's sexual orientation without it being an issue, or being gay themselves, is Ruth.

Still, this is a minor quibble. While I thought the message was a bit heavy-handed, it doesn't distract from what is otherwise a great read. Thom is likable and engaging, while still possessing human frailties that the audience can identify with. I have seen some reviewers describe this as a "young-adult" novel, or a novel "aimed at gay teens, struggling with accepting their sexuality". And they're not mistaken - the novel certainly is that. But the novel is also a story about heroism and being a human being struggling to find love and acceptance, which is something which any reader can identify with.

4 and a half masks out of 5

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Guilty superhero pleasures

Guilty pleasures. We all have them. For some of us, it’s that extra Snickers bar at lunch-time. For others, it’s staying up that hour beyond when you should go to bed while playing World of Warcraft. Others have far less innocent guilty pleasures, but in all cases we do something that we know we shouldn’t, just because we enjoy it.

A recent discussion reminded me of one of my own guilty pleasures, the short-lived Birds of Prey series from the WB. Not the excellent comic book, but the television show loosely (ok – really loosely) based on it. It was a weird blend of elements from the Batman mythology. Barbara Gordon was paralyzed, a result of being shot by the Joker. She used to be Batgirl. Batman has left Gotham (which probably had as much to do with copyright issues as anything else), and Oracle guides the Huntress (in this version, a metahuman and the daughter of Catwoman) and later on Dinah (a blonde teenaged girl with psychic abilities – very vaguely supposed to sugges Black Canary) as they try to stop metahuman crime in Gotham city.

The show wasn’t good – I won’t lie about that. Some of the choices made were nothing short of idiotic, and there were acting moments that made me cringe. But it wasn’t as terrible as some people tried to say it was. And I think that a lot of science-fiction/superhero television shows need a full season to find their groove – which Birds of Prey never got.

(Don’t believe me? Watch some of the first few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It wasn’t good. Had it not been for rabid Trekkies who were just happy to have any form of Trek on TV again, it wouldn’t have lasted long enough to get good.)

Anyhow, this made me think of some other superhero related shows (most of which are now available on DVD) which fit into the category of “guilty pleasures.” So, here’s a list of a few of my favorite guilty pleasures, which I sneak a peak at whenever the SciFi channel runs a marthon of them.

1. Birds of Prey - Already discussed above.

2. The Crow: Stairway to Heaven - Wisely the creators of this show chose to make this film a re-imagining of the film, rather than a sequel. (Yeah, I’m looking at you Highlander.) Marc Dacastos made an excellent Eric Draven, and the show managed to make a compelling case for the fact that Eric was trying to reunite with Shelly, but giving it enough story to last as a series.

3. Swamp Thing - Dick Durock may be the only man who can say that the superhero he played has appeared in multiple films and tv series, and has always been played by him. This is all the more remarkable considering the strikingly different tones of the two films, with the series edging more towards the first. Roughly half of the episodes of the show had little or nothing to do with the Swamp Thing, instead exploring another mysterious happening, but they were almost all watchable.

4. Robocop: The Series - The RoboCop movies are dark and gritty, with an extremely high bodycount. They’re awesome movies, but clearly meant for an adult audience. The series tried to shift the focus to a young adult/teen audience, and made Murphy’s aresenal less lethal. It also gave him a Virtual Reality-based ally. I prefer the films, and the later RoboCop: Prime Directive mini-series, but this is a much family-friendlier RoboCop, and one that I can watch an episode or two of any time.

5. The Greatest American Hero - It was goofy and featured a hero who never was able to get control of his powers. The premise was ridiculous – surely with all that the suit was able to do, the aliens could have made the instruction manual a part of the suit itself. But it was also a lot of fun. And the costume remains one of the more distinctive superhero costumes in existence. Stand the Greatest American Hero (never actually given a superhero name in the show, incidentally) next to Mr. Fantastic, Daredevil and V, and the average person on the street will identify only one of them. The show also gets points in my book for being goofy and making fun of superheroes, but doing so with the kind of gentleness that shows a love for the subject.

So, what are your guilty pleasures?

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Weekly Comics Round-Up

Every week (roughly) Aaron goes to the Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio and spends far more money than his wife would prefer. He then comes back here and writes about the comics he reads that he thought were noteworthy. This isn't everything he picks up, just the things that he feels merit discussion - either for being really good, or for having something really wrong with them.

Countdown to Mystery 1
This book focuses on three of the major players in the mystic community of the DCU – the helmet of Dr. Fate, Eclipso and the Spectre. The rules of magic in the DCU have, after all, been rewritten following Infinite Crisis and the death of Nabu – something we also see this week in the pages of Countdown and Shadowpact. Though even with Nabu being dead, there must always be a Doctor Fate – and the helmet of fate finds a new Dr. Kent Nelson. This Nelson is a drunk, who has lost his wife and child and practice due to his own stupidity and depression. Nonetheless, he puts the helmet on when he finds it in the dumpster he was dumped in. The helmet fills him in on the history of the helmet, as well as reminding him of his own past – just in time for him to be attacked by a hell hound. He transforms into Dr. Fate and takes the hound out, and is then confronted by the beast’s master.

Meanwhile, the Spectre kills a serial killer – whose ghost then decides to follow the Spectre as he is drawn to another crisis. It’s a short story, all of two or so pages, but I imagine it’ll get picked up in later issues.

Finally we come to Eclipso. Jean Loring finds Plastic Man, and taunts him as they battle, eventually (probably) turning Eel O’Brian to the Dark Side. It’s an interesting little story, though I don’t really approve of Plas being so casually used. I think the character has a lot more inner strength then they let us see here. The issue ends with a flashback to Eclipso being drawn to Apokolips – where Darkseid tells us that he was the creator of the Black Diamonds. Interesting if true, and it means that Eclipso will no doubt be pulled into the ongoing murders of the New Gods.

A nice solid issue.

Captain America 30
The Winter Soldier has found the Red Skull in the body of Lushkin, and proceeds to beat the crap out of Crossbones and Syn while the Skull watches. Once the Skull finds out what he needed to know about Bucky, he uses an old Russian failsafe to shut him down – which leads to him torturing Bucky, probably in an effort to re-brainwash him.

As for the other folks who were a part of Steve’s life, we begin to see storylines come together as the Black Widow goes to find the Falcon and Agent 13 at Stark’s behest. Stark has begun to uncover Faustus’ involvement in S.H.I.E.L.D., and Natasha is there to check Sharon out. Of course, Sharon has an unexpected surprise as she finds a final “gift” left to her by Steve, which makes her perfectly receptive to another one of Faustus’ commands – one which bodes ill for the Falcon and the Black Widow.

Stark is on his way to the rescue in time for next issue, but before he leaves we get to see a final letter to Tony from Steve – one where Steve says that Captain America is bigger than he is, and that Tony shouldn’t let that die.

Personally, I’d still rather see Clint Barton take over the role, but it looks like Bucky may be wearing the mask of Captain America in a short time – provided the Skull doesn’t take him over first.

Penance: Relentless 1
I wasn’t thrilled with the last solo issue they gave Penance. I really like Robby Baldwin, and have ever since the first issue of Speedball. I felt like they didn’t quite know what to do with him following the transformation into Penance in the pages of Civil War. This issue, however, gets it.

Quite simply, Robby has lost it. He’s suffering from PTSD, and it has made him reckless, and obsessed with numbers. As one doctor observing him notes, the neurons in his brain were actually burned out by the stress, and so Robby is re-inventing himself. I have no clue what the deal with the numbers is, but I’m digging watching him throw off his handlers, and flummoxing the normally smooth Moonstone.

The big mystery of this issue, however, isn’t what the number patterns mean. It’s what Robby wants to get back from "the Leader of Latveria" – presumbaly Doom, but who can say?

Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Parallax 1
Kyle Rayner is possessed by Parallax. This is, clearly, a bad thing. There are any number of reasons why this is bad – as a symbol, Rayner represents the idea that the Corps will survive any disaster, he’s an amazingly creative artist which Parallax can now use against the Corps, and it means that Ion has lost his host (although he has since been rescued).

This issue lets us see how this is going on inside of Kyle’s head. He’s imprisoned in his own mind, and can see what Parallax is doing through him through a window in his mother’s house. Parallax comes in to taunt him, which leads to a fight – in which Kyle reinvents himself as a Green Lantern once again.

It’s really well done, and a nice reminder of the fact that Kyle has the will to be a Lantern, despite not being selected in a conventional manner. Kyle often gets the short-stick when compared to other Lanterns, but he has

World War Hulk 4
There isn’t a single thing bad about this issue. We begin with a battle between the possessed Dr. Strange and the Hulk. It seems the good doctor has drank the essence of a demon which fills him with rage and power. Enough power to hurt the Hulk, but enough rage to nearly kill a group of innocents – the same group of innocents who the Hulk saves. This is enough of a shock to Strange that the Hulk manages to defeat him, and is able to add Strange to the group of Illuminati who are no implanted with the same control discs the Hulk and his warbound once wore. While the Hulk puts them through the same trials he was put through, we see a flashback between the Sentry and Iron Man, as Tony tries to convince Robert that he needs to be the one to take out the Hulk – something which Robert fears to do, lest he lose control and the Void takes over once more. The issue ends with the Hulk signalling that the Illuminati in the arena must kill one another, which seems to be the trigger that Robert needs to decide that the Sentry must come into action.

It’s exquisitely put together, with great writing and amazing artwork. What amazes me, however, is how effective the scenes of ordinary humans watching and cheering the gladiator match are. Even more significant are the testimonials of Tom Foster and the others who believe (possibly correctly) that the Hulk is in the right here.

I still resent Planet Hulk for it’s length and annoyingness. But with how good World War Hulk has been, I’m beginning to forgive them for it.

A few books which don’t deserve an entire write-up, but are worth picking up if you get the chance. In Green Arrow and Black Canary: Wedding Special we have a generally fun issue, with nice characterization (if occasionally painted with too broad of strokes). My only complaints would be that it was generally predictable – even the wedding being crashed by villains. The ending irritated me, however. Dinah is better than that. Birds of Prey 116 is a good read, and lots of fun as we watch the Huntress chatting with Barbara via uplink while trying to stop a group of kids who are in danger of bombing the city because of being “fans” of the Aromic Skull. It was good, but ultimately unimportant as it did nothing to further any character’s story. Good filler, but filler nonetheless.

This particular week’s issue of Countdown was ok – but nothing terribly exciting happened. Stories are progressing as they should, but no major event happened this particular week. What I did find interesting was the new ad that DC is running to tease Final Crisis. The groupings in this double-page spread include A) The Trickster, holding a flute (presumably Piper’s) speaking with DeSaad and the Penguin. B) The Kingdom Come version of Superman standing besides the Cyborg Hank Henshaw, with a man who appears to be a version of the “back from the dead” Superman (long hair, and in all-black costume. His back is to us, but he wears a black cape with a silver “S” shield. C) The Joker whispering something into Catwoman’s ear, while the Martian Manhunter stands behind them both. D) A far too-excited Mary Marvel standing between Eclipso (Jean Lorring) and Granny Goodness, and finally E) Luthor, in the silver-age purple jumpsuit, wailing on the ground with blood on his hands. Interesting teases about what the future may hold.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Superheroes can talk like a pirate too!

Arrgh! I ‘most forgot that this day be Talk Like A Pirate Day! Well, lubbers, mayhap this be the place for superheroes, but t’day, the pirates be takin’ over! This blog been raided! And so, we be takin’ a look at some pirates what been superheroes or villains!

Psycho Pirate (DC Comics)
Arrrgh! This lubber be no kind of pirate a’tall! He has this magic mask, see, what makes him change how folks be feelin’. Ain’t got no right to the name of pirate, he don’t! I care not that he be one of the few men what know all 'bout the Crisis! He be a lubber through and through, and ne'er be a pirate any day of his life!

Captain Mako (City of Villains)
Shiver me timbers! This man look like he come straight from Davey Jone’s locker! A mutant who be a bit too much like a shark for me tastes, a life as a pirate was all that he could look forward ta, until Lord Recluse brought him into Arachnos.

Corsair and the Starjammers (Marvel Comics)
Pirates in space they be, and let not the fact that most folk consider ‘em heroes sway ye – they be pirates at heart. Aye, their cap’n be the pa to Cyclops of the X-Men, but they be pirates no less.

The Black Pirate (DC Comics)
Jon Valor be a working man’s pirate, he be. Sailed with a letter of mark from the King, he did, ‘til the curse’d day he been wrongly hanged for killin’ his own boy. Swore an oath, he did, that no body what died in that town would rest ‘till he been proved not a guilty man. A ghost he became, and haunted that town ‘till he met wit Jack Knight, the Starman, finally to be laid ta rest.

Ocean Master (DC Comics – Pre-Crisis)
Aquaman’s half-brother he be. Born wit no powers of his own, he grew ta be an angry man. Went to the sea, he did, and a pirate he was in th’ modern day, using machines ta make hisself a match for his brother.


Bionic Woman: An early review

We are still in the midst of a superheroic renaissance in film and television. It more or less started with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and The Flash on CBS in 1990. (Coincidentally, both were scored by Danny Elfman) This renaissance has continued on to the present. We’ve been treated to countless excellent animated shows. We’ve had some truly excellent superhero films, and we’ve even had live-action television series such as Lois & Clark, Smallville and Heroes, just to name a few.

It’s a good time to be a geek. And television producers are seeing the success that can be had with the superhumans – especially when the shows are treated with respect and given good writing and casting. This is even outside of licensed characters, as shown in the success of shows like Buffy, the 4400, Heroes, Medium and Supernatural.

So, with Hollywood’s trend to re-create anything that was good and remake it, it was inevitable that someone would start to look at past superhuman characters and series and re-invent them for the new millennium.

This fall television series we get one of the more promising ones – Bionic Woman, starring Michelle Ryan, who some of us were lucky enough to see on the excellent BBC mini-series Jekyll. Right now, you can download the pilot of Bionic Woman off of – and even have it download straight to your TiVo if you are so set-up.

Last night there was a significant lack of anything worth watching on tv, and I have a standing promise to my wife that I will take Tuesday nights off from playing City of Heroes, so we decided to give Bionic Woman a try.

The series is a complete re-imagining of the character, with little connection to the original series. (Most notably, due to licensing issues, there is no mention at all of Steve Austin – the Six Million Dollar Man. Jamie’s implants are also a lot more expensive due to inflation, she is told that there is roughly 50 million dollars of property installed inside of her.)

Bartender Jaime Sommers gets the bionics from her super-scientist boyfriend Will after a car accident nearly kills them both. After acquiring these abilities, Jaime is drawn into a world of espionage and super-soldiers, in which she encounters the original Bionic Woman, Sarah Corvus. Sarah was a “failed experiment” that had theoretically been killed years ago. Sarah is also the one driving the truck that nearly killed Jaime. We are also introduced to other characters who will define the series including the heads of the program, Jaime’s kid sister who she is a surrogate parent for, the scientist who originated the bionic process and is now in jail (and who just happens to be Will’s father), and a madman who is working with Sarah Corvus and releases the imprisoned scientist before the episode’s end.

It’s a lot of plot points to cram into a one-hour episode, and truthfully, the show does it with a little less elegance than I’d have preferred. I realize that a pilot episode has to show off enough of the plot for the season to convince execs to make it, but it felt a little ham-handed. Some elements could have been introduced later – Will’s father is mentioned early in the episode as the originator of the process – meaning that the scenes of him in the jail, and his release could have been saved for a later episode. And some of the elements felt really predictable to anyone who has been immersed in the genre. To use a term from superhero role-playing games, Jaime’s sister is clearly a Dependent NPC, worth an extra 25 character points. There’s also a scene where Jaime is mugged right after acquiring her bionics – a scene I called as soon as she left the bar and entered the alley.

It’s not perfect, but the pilot does show that a lot of thought has been given to the course of the series – or at least the first season. The acting is generally good, though a little stiff in some places, and the characters are interesting enough as a sketch – we’ll have to wait for the rest of the season to see if they’re fully fleshed out.

It struck me as being interesting enough to have earned a “Let’s give it a few episodes” reaction. After all, if we look at the first few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Star Trek: Next Generation, they’re similarly rough. It takes genre shows a few episodes to find their groove – and I think that Bionic Woman has the potential to be one of the really good ones.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Weekly comics round-up

Every week (roughly) Aaron goes to the Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio and spends far more money than his wife would prefer. He then comes back here and writes about the comics he reads that he thought were noteworthy. This isn't everything he picks up, just the things that he feels merit discussion - either for being really good, or for having something really wrong with them. This week was slightly delayed due to family celebrations for Rosh Hasshana.

New Avengers 34
So... the big secret about which one of the New Avengers is actually a Skrull? The answer is...

No one!

Actually, I more or less expected this. I figured that it was too easy a cop-out. Besides, we all know that the Skrull is over in the Mighty Avengers. Who are about to have Deathlok fired at them by the Hood.

This of course leads to the New Avengers being heroic and going to rescue - only to discover that New York City is being attacked by swarms of symbiotes.

No. I'm not kidding. And no, I'm not thrilled about this. After all, we know how much I love the symbiotes.

What made this issue really fun though was how they proved that no one was a Skrull. Dr. Strange used a spell which showed each person as they idealized themself. Some of these were no surprise - Jessica Jones really wants to be a superhero, Luke Cage really liked the Power Man look, Logan wants to be a samurai, Stephen Strange wishes he'd never had to give up being a surgeon, and Iron Fist is happy to be Iron Fist. But there were three that struck me as very revealing, if not strange.

The first was that Echo sees herself as a female Daredevil. Daredevil got her started, and they do oddly mirror each other, so that one isn't that odd.

Slightly odder, but no great surprise, is that Clint Barton sees himself as Captain America. Now, I know that, somehow, Steve Rogers will be back. And if he isn't, than the Winter Soldier will eventually take over the role. But I think that Clint Barton is possibly the most fitting successor to Steve Rogers of them all.

The really weird one was that Peter Parker saw himself as being 15-years old - before he became Spider-Man. Seeing as how much pain being Spidey has brought into his life, I'm not shocked by this one, but it was neat seeing it on the page.

Booster Gold 2
It stunned me last month by how much I enjoyed the first issue of Booster Gold.

But surely, I thought, It can't stay this good.

I was wrong. This issue feels like all of the best parts of the comics of the late eighties/early nineties, but with a modern sensibility. In his effort to pro-actively prevent continuity warping by an unknown enemy, Booster must go back to a time before Hal Jordan got his power ring, when Sinestro has been sent to Earth (by Supernova) with the warning that someone on Earth is going to become the Greatest of all Green Lanterns, a title that belonged to Sinestro before Hal.

In a twist, this is possibly going to be Guy Gardner, who according to modern continuity was equally worthy, but Hal was closer when Abin Sur died. Booster's task is to prevent this meeting from taking place.

But we all know that Booster can't beat Sinestro. So how does he keep the meeting from happening? By appealing to Sinestro's vanity and talking about how big of a fan of Sinestro's he is. It was hillarious.

Additionally, we get a reminder that Booster isn't going to play Rip Hunter's game without being able to save Ted Kord. We also get a flashback (and one of only a very few in DC continuity) to Dan Garret. The capstone to this issue, however, was watching as Supernova prepares to hire Jonah Hex to take out Booster.

I am now looking forward to issue 3, but I am starting to believe this title is going to remain top-notch.

Thor 3
Thor was led to believe that the other Asgardians still lived, though in most cases, hidden within mortal beings. And so, Thor begins his quest to find them, which leads him to New Orleans. Where he will find Hemidal, but not before being forced to deal with the city.

A New Orleans that was devastated by a hurricane, which Thor might have been able to do something about, had he not been dead. A New Orleans that should have been saved by other heroes, but wasn't. (And herein lies the problem with letting real-world tragedies come into comics - why didn't Superman save those trapped inside the World Trade Towers? Why couldn't Storm stop Hurricane Katrina? But I digress.)

It is in this frame of mind that Thor is approached by Iron Man. The same Iron Man who could have done something to stop this tragedy. The same Iron Man who was once Thor's brother-in-arms, but who led heroes against heroes, including taking down the single mortal man Thor admired most. The same Iron Man who cloned Thor, and whose clone is responsible for the death of Bill Foster. And now this Iron Man threatens Thor with the issue involving registration.

I would like to say it was an epic fight. It wasn't. Thor wailed on Iron Man. When Iron Man mentioned that Thor seemed more powerful, Thor replied "No. The difference is that in this time and this place I am holding nothing back." After the battle, once Thor has destroyed Stark's armor, Thor gives Tony Stark this statement: "Give your orders and ultimatums to those who choose to obey, or are too cowardly to fight, not to me. Or learn again the difference between a god of thunder and a mortal man in a metal suit."

It. Was. Awesome.

Trials of Shazam 8
Speaking of the differences between mortals and gods...
Freddy's quest to become the new Captain Marvel has been a thoroughly good time, right from the start. We've gotten to see as the gods who make up the power of Shazam have hidden themselves in the modern world. The rules of magic, after all, have been re-written.

In the new Magical Atlas of the DC Universe, Atlas still holds up the world. But not by physically hoisting it on his shoulders. Instead, Atlas is plugged into a computer that monitors everything, and makes a million little adjustments every moment to how the world is going, which prevents disaster after disaster. Not the real big things, those are beyond his realm, but the million little things that could butterfly effect into the end of the world.

When Freddy arrives, however, Atlas has been killed (or at least severely injured). He takes over for a bit, but it is too much for him. Captain Marvel arrives to take over, but lets them know that he can only remain away from the Rock of Eternity for 24 hours. So they must find a new god to take Atlas' place. They end up with Apollo, who is working as a doctor. He has a job, and a life, and doesn't want to go back to being a god, but is given little choice. So, he gives Freddy his trial to earn the "A" from Shazam. They will fight, if Freddy wins, he gets Apollo's power, and Apollo will take the place of Atlas. If Freddy fails, he dies, and Apollo goes back to his life.

Good times, and brilliant artwork.

Ultimate Spider-Man 113
It's funny that Bendis is at his absolute best when we see little of Spider-Man. It's true, however, and this issue reminds of it as we see into the mind of Norman Osborn.

Osborn is, needless to say, a little pissed off. He's been denied by Nick Fury, and been stripped of everything. His money, his influence, his work and his son.

And so he escapes. Not only does he escape, but he releases the others trapped by SHIELD. Doctor Octopus picks a fight with him, but then Electro fries Doc Ock, which I found oddly satisfying.

But then we see the masterstroke of the Goblin. Norman calls on someone who owes him a favor, and is given some money and clothing befitting a man of Osborn's station. And then Osborn gets himself booked on National TV, where he tells of how SHIELD stole his work, experimented on him, and kidnapped him.

Peter Parker was thoroughly shocked, obviously, when he saw the news report.

I miss Bagley's art, but this book remains a must-read.

Black Adam 2
I don't want Black Adam to become a hero. But he is a fascinating villain. His willpower is astounding - he almost makes Hal Jordan seem wishy-washy.

Isis' resurrection is a failure. There is magic in her amulet that is missing, and so Adam must seatch elsewhere. He does so, but not before a battle with a Yeti that involves the most amazing combat-application of someone else's intestines I have ever seen.

He comes to Fate's tower, where he encounters the trapped Felix Faust. The whole time, he is trying every word he can think of in order to remember how to transform, but to no avail. Faust offers to help both with Isis' resurrection, and with a temporary transformation for Adam using the magic in her bones. Adam can transform, by saying her name, but each transformation leeches some magic from her bones, and will eventually cause them to disintegrate.

I know this will end in tragedy, but it's like a Greek play. You know how badly things must end, and you know it is due to the hubris of the main character. But it remains fascinating, and you can't look away.

If you're not reading this title, and have any interest at all in the Marvel family, then go out and get it. Now.

Two books who don't deserve an entire write-up but are worth picking up if you get the chance. In Green Lantern 23, the Sinestro Corps war continues. Some good explorations of the power of the yellow rings, and what this war will mean to the Guardians in the future. Also worth checking out is the JLA Wedding Special. The Bachelor/Bachelorette parties are meaningless, though kind of fun. But this has the formation of the new Legion of Doom, complete with their own Hall of Doom (since the JLA now has the Hall of Justice back in-continuity, it only makes sense for the villains to get one.) It also has a nice flashback to Justice League of America 1 where Clark, Diana and Bruce examine possible members, with Luthor, the Cheetah and the Joker doing the same thing in almost an exact panel-by-panel mirror.

It was a good week for comics.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Superheroic Radio Plays

We've gotten fairly maudlin on here of late, so let's shift gears, shall we? Now, we all know that superheroes are primarily creatures of visual media. Superheroes mainly exist, and thrive, in the brightly colored pages of comic books.

Other superheroes have successfully (sometimes) made the transition to film and television, and we've discussed many of these endeavors, both good and bad, here on this blog.

But imagine, if you will, superheroes you never got to see - but instead only heard?

Ridiculous, you say, but I tell you it's true. Batman, Superman, the Blue Beetle, the Green Hornet and the Shadow all had lengthy careers in radio.

I've spent the last few days at work amusing myself by listening to old episodes of these radio dramas on my iPod. And I thought you, my gentle readers, might enjoy them as well. There are many places to find these old recordings, including through iTunes, but here is a link to get you started.

Botar's Old Time Radio
On this site, you will find archives for many heroes, including the Blue Beetle, Captain Midnight, The Green Hornet, The Shadow and Superman.

But wait! There's more! Modern-day superheroes have made the same endeavor. The winner of Season One of Who Wants to be a Superhero?, Feedback, has his own radio play.

One last exploration of superheroes through the auditory media is the Kingdom Come Audiobook. I can't provide you a link to it (and in fact, haven't been able to find a copy of it on CD for my own purposes), but if you can locate it, it's a blast.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering again

Reposted from 9.11.06
When I started this blog, one of the first things I wrote about what was what makes a superhero. For a blog that is going to be about Superheroes, I figured that was the place to start. Today, it occurs to me that I ignored a key part of that definition. The hero. What makes a hero

A hero isn’t a hero because of their abilities. It isn’t the strength of one’s arms, or the speed of one’s legs, or the amazing devices one can build, or any paranormal power that makes someone a hero. A hero is someone who recognizes that there is a problem in the world, and who does their utmost to correct it. You don’t have to be a costumed crime-fighter to be a hero. You don’t have to fight monsters, dragons or demons. You don’t need to be sent on a quest by the gods, and you don’t have to struggle against a curse.

You can be the teacher who stays long hours in an inner-city school to make sure that those students get the education that might make the difference in their lives. You can be the fireman who rushed into a burning building to save just one more person caught inside. You can be a musician who speaks truth to power through your words and music, expressing ideas that are unpopular but true. You can be the young soldier who signed up for their tour of duty following a national tragedy. You can be the entertainer who put aside their own feelings of pain and hurt to perform for people in desperate need of a distraction.

You can be a parent.
A friend.
A mentor.
A colleague.

In the words of Edmond Dantes, Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout “Do your worst, for I will do mine!”

That’s what it takes to be a hero. The willingness to shout back into the storm. The ability to see a problem, and the willingness to do something about it, no matter the cost to yourself.

Today, I salute those heroes whose sacrifice began six years ago, and continues to this day. The passengers of Flight 93. The workers in the towers and the Pentagon. The rescue workers who tried to save them. The soldiers who fight in their memory.

I do not approve of the choices made by the current administration. I feel that they’ve squandered much, in terms of international goodwill, and in terms of the lives of our young people. But regardless of how one feels about our government, whether you believe they’ve done everything right, everything wrong, or something in-between, the people of this nation have shown countless acts of heroism since that day. And it is to them that I dedicate this entry.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

A Marvelous Weekly Comic Round-Up

Every week (roughly) Aaron goes to the Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio and spends far more money than his wife would prefer. He then comes back here and writes about the comics he reads that he thought were noteworthy. This isn't everything he picks up, just the things that he feels merit discussion - either for being really good, or for having something really wrong with them.

Hey, true believers! (I have always wanted to say that). This past week books were delayed for Labor Day, and it was a light week, with almost no DC titles to speak of. More than that, my store got shorted by Diamond, so I missed half of my pull anyhow. So, we're just going to get to the Marvel books this week that seemed worthwhile.

She-Hulk 21
She-Hulk’s own title has always kind of floated out on the fringe of 616-Marvel continuity. It breaks the fourth wall routinely and makes self-referential jokes about being a comic book. It’s also light, fun, and doesn’t depress you to read, which is why I read it.

In this issue, Jen gets her powers back due to a P.L.O.T. device that brings people from another reality (one where no one has super-powers) to the mainstream 616 universe, where they are temporarily transformed into a duplicate of their 616 counterpart. It’s an extreme vacation, of sorts. And before they arrive, they’re given a copy of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, so that they know what it is they’re supposed to know in this reality.

But of course, they don’t always pay that much attention.

And in one fell swoop, they have explained away every continuity glitch in all of the Marvel Universe. Carnage shows up in X-Men, even though the Sentry ripped him in half? It’s actually Cletus Cassidy from Earth A on vacation.

I love this book.

Hulk 110
Is the Hulk a monster, or a hero?

It’s a question that has never been definitively answered in Marvel Comics, and rightly so, I think. But I never thought I’d see it pushed to quite this level. Genius kid, Amadeus Cho, puts forth the argument that Banner’s brain sees the world in numbers, the same way that he does. For that reason, the Hulk has nearly always avoided killing, except when brainless or in the most extreme circumstances.

This is Cho’s argument for why the Hulk won’t go through with making the Illuminati fight to the death against one another.

I’m not sure I buy it, and I’m not sure that it was needed, really. I was willing to accept that the Hulk had caused a minimal loss of life simply as a convention of comic books. Still, it made an interesting argument, and one I look forward to seeing how it plays out in the conclusion of World War Hulk. What I do wonder though is why we needed a new, and really annoying, character to fill the role of Cho. I’d have preferred to see these arguments put forward by an existing member of the Marvel Universe. Now, it’s true that most of the “big brains” of the Marvel Universe are a part of the Illuminati, but not all of them. How hard would it have been for Rick Jones and, in a surprise move, the Leader, to put forth the same observation? Still, a fun issue, with a lot riding on the edge of “Will the Hulk kill or not?”

Amazing Spider-Man 544
“One More Day” is here, as Peter makes a last ditch effort to save Aunt May’s life. A doctor who feels that he owes Spider-Man something has made it possible for May to stay in the hospital, so long as there is some way to pay for it. “Insurance would be good. A bottomless checkbook would be better.”

Which leads Mr. Parker to pay a visit to Tony Stark, a man who has a bottomless checkbook. The physical fight between Iron Man and Spidey is short, and ultimately not the important part of their confrontation. Instead, we get to see Peter crack into Tony’s “whatever we do is justified” armor, and ultimately this forces Tony to send Jarvis over with a check for 2 million dollars, to take care of his “cousin.”

Sadly, medical care may only be enough to keep May comfortable until her final hour, which sends Peter off to find someone who can help. In the circles he travels in, death is routinely cheated. Why can’t May be saved as well?

JMS is a great writer, and takes what might be a cliché in other author’s hands into a deeply moving story. I think that May is not going to make it through this, and while that saddens me, I think I’m ok with it too. Just so long as we don’t see the Clone of Aunt May with spider-powers two years down the road. Let her death mean something, in the way that the unmasking has, and I’ll remain interested.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Who Wants to be a Superhero? The Defuser, that's who!

I'll try not to gloat, I'm just happy that I got it right.

Go Defuser!

Now, I want to see the Defuser/Feedback team-up comic.

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Real-life superheroes

Due to Labor Day, comics have been delayed a day, so the round-up won’t be going up until tomorrow. In the meantime, I thought I’d talk about real-life superheroes.

Now, I’m not talking about the contestants on Who Wants to be a Superhero? (which has its’ finale tonight. The Defuser for the win!), though they’re awesome in their own right. But they’re creating a fictional superhero character, a new superhero for film, television and comics. And that’s admirable, certainly. Heck, I want to be one of them someday.

I’m not talking about the actors who portray Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four or any other pre-existing superhero character, although that’s a nice accomplishment too.

And I’m not talking about the real-life “costumed heroes” either. Individuals like Fantastica, Superbarrio or Metrowoman do amazing things, and I find them deeply inspirational. But they’re not what I mean either.

No, I’m referring to people who endure the impossible. People who fight for what’s right, even when no one would expect them to. The everyday heroes, who don’t often get the attention they deserve.

I’ve got two examples – the first is a new initiative by the ACLU. The ACLU have recently made their own forays into comic books – comics which celebrate everyday heroes who fight for civil liberties. These comics are going to be available online and through viral marketing campaigns. I think it’s a nice idea for how to get people to think about civil liberties.

The other example is on a more personal note. My wife now stays home with our two daughters, and I know it’s a struggle for her. Our eldest daughter, while a delight and a joy in many ways, is also difficult and challenging to deal with. She wrote this yesterday, and it brought tears to my eyes – both because of seeing the pain my wife suffers through, and seeing the love she has for my daughters.

I know my wife is not the only person who fights this “never-ending battle,” she is simply the one I know best. But so now I wish to publicly applaud her and all the other real-life superheroes.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Five superhero films no one should ever watch

Ever, ever, ever.

This weekend, some friends and I got together to watch movies. We had three genres, and the group picked the best and the worst in each. One of the genres was "superhero," and the consensus of the group (though not one I personally agree with) was that X-Men was the best, and that Superman IV was the worst (which I do agree with, mostly.)

But it occurred to me that, while The Quest for Peace is pretty much only watchable with either a lot of alcohol, or good friends to mock it with, there are lots of other terrible superhero films. So, here are five of the worst offenders, in chronological order.

The Batman (1943)
I don’t quite know where to begin with my critique of this movie. There are so many wonderful things about it, really, that I’m not sure which to start with.

Perhaps it’s the racial epithets Batman uses to describe our Japanese villain – I mean, really, don’t we all want to see the Dark Knight call someone “a filthy Jap”? Of course, there’s also the fact that this Japanese villain is played by a very Caucasian looking man. We’re not even talking Max Von Sydow as Ming level here, but just a clearly white man. Of special note, there’s Robin’s afro – a classic look, and one which I can’t figure out why they never included in the comics. This coordinates beautifully with the baggy tights which both Batman and Robin sport.

But really, the thing that I find most remarkable about this serial is the fact that, in an effort to end every episode with a cliffhanger, Batman and Robin each seem incapable of fighting off a single thug each. Really, why is this? I can forgive special effects of this era being primitive, and I’m even willing to grant them license for the racial epithets in light of the U.S. preparing to enter the war. But fist-fighting hasn’t evolved all that much in the past 60 years. Simple combat choreography should have been manageable, even then. If you want to inflict a racist, bad-looking Batman on us, so be it. But couldn’t he at least be competent?

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
In the late eighties, we were obsessed with worrying about a possible nuclear war. It only makes sense that someone would ask “Wouldn’t it be nice if Superman could take care of this for us?” And that’s what the makers of this film did. But oh boy, did they do a terrible job of it.

First off, it was about the preachiest movie I’ve ever seen. There are nuns in Catholic schools who could learn something about trying to make you feel guilty from this film – if you felt like torturing them in order for them to learn. But even getting past that, it’s just bad. Neither Hackman nor Reeves can save this one, though Reeves is really trying to. He delivers the worst line I’ve ever heard and makes them sound… well, like he means them. Hackman’s performance is phoned in completely, and the movie can’t even be consistent with its’ own rules (Nuclear Man enters a volcano to make it erupt – but he gets depowered without sunlight. And Luthor cuts through Superman’s hair with bolt cutters.)

Which really is what the worst part of the film is – the Nuclear Man. Who is created wearing a cape. Who has a mullet. Whose Lee-Press-On-Nails-of-Doom are what cripple Superman. And who forces us to endure one national monument after another be used to illustrate “Ooh, he’s a bad guy.” And Mark Pillow (yes, that’s his name) doesn’t even get to deliver his own lines! His voice is Gene Hackman’s.

I appreciate the fact that they tried to give Superman a supervillain to fight, but just say no to Nuclear Man.

The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)/The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)
(I know I’m cheating by including both of these together – bear with me. That's how they're packaged if you buy them - which you should not, but I did.) Lou Ferigno wore a false nose and a wig, in addition to being painted green, in order to play the Incredible Hulk. This only added to how ridiculous he looked – but somehow it worked. And the series was entertaining, in a 1970’s kind of way, probably due to the incredible acting skills of Bill Bixby.

I remember watching re-runs as a kid on Saturday mornings, and really digging them. So when they announced made-for-tv movies with the Hulk returning, I was ecstatic and forced my parents to let me watch them. I owe my parents a lot.

Every single part of these movies was deplorable. The “ninja-costume” Daredevil. Thor, the ancient Viking warrior (not god) who is summoned by (but not transformed into by) Donald Blake. Bill Bixby with a beard. John Rhys-Davis as the Kingpin. It’s just a lot of pain. The even more remarkable thing is that each of these were intended to also be pilots for a Thor or Daredevil series. Obviously, these never came to be.

They were followed up with The Death of the Incredible Hulk, which was a decent enough film, except for the very ending. (Because a fall from a helicopter is enough to kill the Hulk. Really.) A Resurrection of the Incredible Hulk was promised, but never came to be, largely because Bill Bixby passed away before it could become a reality. Of course, frighteningly, these might have been used as pilots for a She-Hulk or Iron Man series.

Ang Lee’s Hulk wasn’t good, but it was a lot better than these two turkeys. Gamma bomb them from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

Captain America (1990)
(singing) When Captain America (in his rubber costume complete with artificial ears) throws his mighty (made of hard, ridged plastic) shield…

We cringe. A lot. The costume was atrocious, right up there with the bat-nipples from Batman & Robin. The shield looked like a toy, not the mightiest weapon available to the U.S. A heat gun could’ve destroyed it – so much for an unbreakable shield.

For reasons that will never be known to me, they also decided that the Red Skull shouldn’t be a German Nazi. Instead, he’s an Italian fascist. And his face doesn’t actually look like a skull – it just looks oogie. When Captain America re-awakens in the modern era, the Skull has disguised his appearance by painting the red flesh colored. So, he looks marginally less oogie.

And once more, we’re treated to an incompetent superhero. This movie is only 17 years old. I know for a fact that there were movies made before this film that had good fight-scenes. But “the Living Legend,” the pinnacle of human achievement, the most highly trained warrior produced by the US army – he fights like a drunken seventh-grader.

Catwoman (2004)
Do you remember seeing Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar or Michelle Pfeiffer playing Catwoman? They did so in the 1960’s television series and movie, and then in Batman Returns. Each of them was sexy, cunning and dangerous, and played a marvelous rendition of Selina Kyle.

I remember when they announced that the woman responsible for wasting the role of Storm (and she did) was going to be playing Catwoman in her own feature film. And I thought, Well, this is a waste. Why didn’t they do this ten years ago when Michelle Pfeiffer could have starred in the role? Then they further announced that she wasn’t going to be Selina Kyle, she was going to be Prudence Price. Ok, I thought, well at least this atrocity won’t be connected to the character of Selina Kyle. She’s just some other crazy cat-lady.

And then I saw the preview images from the film. There was a reasonable costume for her to wear, which she began off in. And then there was this one. To which I could only think to myself, Well, I have now seen the only thing in this movie that could possibly be worth seeing – namely a mostly-nude Halle Berry.

Little did I realize how right I was. That image was the only thing worth seeing. Save yourself, and look at the screen-shots, but avoid this film.

So, which terrible superhero films are among your favorite (or most hated?)

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