Thursday, 30 December 2010

Alan Moore's Miracleman - I want it!!!

Recently I was fortunate enough to be lent a disc containing the entire '80s run of Alan Moore's Miracleman.  I don't usually like to read pirated digital copies.  After all, no matter how much you dress it up, it's stealing. But for years the rights to this character have been famously wrapped up in a gigantic legal mess involving Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane.  The original comics and trade paperbacks are out of print and incredibly rare and valuable.  I had to grab the chance to read it.  I hope you'll forgive me.

Art by Garry Leach

Miracleman was originally Marvelman, a 1950s British knock-off of Captain Marvel.  Captain Marvel's comics had been cancelled in the States but the British reprints were selling really well.  As a result a writer/artist named Mick Anglo was hired to create a character who was close enough to Captain Marvel to retain his readership in Britain.  Cap became Marvelman, Captain Marvel Jr. became Young Marvelman and Mary Marvel became Kid Marvelman.  Their adventures continued until 1963, but in 1981 Alan Moore brought them back.  It wasn't long before Marvel Comics objected to the rather familiar sounding name, and so Marvelman became Miracleman and the rest is history.

The series is truly ground-breaking.  Before Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Dark Knight Returns and Squadron Supreme were to deconstruct the superhero myth, Moore had done it first with Miracleman.    As with Watchmen, Moore places a superhero with god-like powers in a 'real world' context and over the course of 16 issues, follows that scenario to a logical, and terrifying, conclusion.   And it's brilliant. Really, really brilliant.  The series has been hyped so much over the years and it's themes duplicated and expanded upon so much that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's lost it's impact.  Not a chance.  It really is one of the most powerful and affecting series I've ever read.  I hate reading comics on a computer screen but I could not tear my eyes away from the screen.   I read it a few days ago and scenes and dialogue from the series are still clinging to me.  I'm not going to go into detail on any of these scenes, partly because they've been discussed in so many other places on the internet but mainly because if you haven't read it you deserve the chance to go in as fresh as possible.  All I'll say is, issue #15 is the most expensive individual issue of the series on Ebay and is probably the most discussed issue of the series too.  This is not without good reason.  It's probably one of the most disturbing, affecting and powerful comics I've ever read.

After #16 Neil Gaiman took over until issue #24 when the series was cancelled half way through his story arc.  Gaiman's issues are a very interesting read.  There's plenty of evidence of the amazing imagination that made Sandman so great and they're undoubtedly very well written stories.  But they're ultimately a bit pointless.  Moore gave the series such a definite ending with issue #16 that there's nothing else to really say and Gaiman's just sort of playing around in Moore's sandbox, albeit in an intriguing way.

Marvel Comics have recently won the rights to the character and have been reprinting the old Mick Anglo strips.  As for the status of the Moore/Gaiman stuff, I have no idea.  All I know is, the second this series is reprinted in a new form that won't require hours of Ebay hunting and hundreds of pounds of my much needed cash, then I'll be there to buy it.  And I urge you to buy it as soon as it's possible to do so.  It really is as good as you've heard!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Fantastic Four Christmas


I've had a great Christmas involving much comic book goodness.  I've received all eight volumes of Essential Fantastic Four from various loved ones and I'm currently engaged in the extremely enjoyable task of reading almost twenty years of Fantastic Four comics back to back.  So far I've been struck by how much of an arsehole Ben Grimm is in these early stories.  He's generally portrayed as a loveable grouch these days but in those early Stan Lee/Jack Kirby tales the rest of the FF are treading around on eggshells for fear of setting him off on a super-powered temper tantrum.  It's also amusing to see how much Stan and Jack seemed to enjoy putting Grimm through the emotional wringer.  Every issue Grimm will randomly regain human form, only to turn back to the Thing after a few seconds, much to his crushing disappointment.  Lee and Kirby really were little stinkers!

Fantastic Four #8 by Jack Kirby

Still, it's all great stuff, and it's really got me interested in all things FF related.  I've been debating whether to get the ongoing for a while since I've been hearing great things about Jonathan Hickman's writing.  I'm already a fan of Steve Epting, thanks to his brilliant and much underrated  Aquaman run with Dan Jurgens.  I've been a bit put off by this 3 storyline they're currently engaged in, which is supposedly going to involve the death of a Fantastic Four member.  To be fair, the story may be brilliant for all I know, but FF members have been 'dead' before and it seems to me this story just means a character I really like will be absent for a while until they eventually get resurrected. Having said that both Batman and Captain America's recent 'deaths' resulted in some really interesting stories so I may be wrong.   I think I'll end up waiting it out and maybe get the trades.  After all, it's not as if I'm short of FF stories to read at the moment.

On a bit of a side note, while Googling for Fantastic Four stuff recently I came across the cover of Fantastic Four #375 (1993).



This cover embodies everything that was ridiculous about '90s superhero comics, to the point where I wonder if it was a deliberate parody on Marvel's part.  Sadly I don't think it was.  Note the presence of absurdly large guns, a skimpy uniform for the Invisible Woman, pointless jackets with multiple Rob Liefeld style pouches (even for the Human Torch ?!?!) and a hideous hologram foil background.  Note also the hilarious "This is not your parents' comic magazine" tagline, which makes Marvel come across like an embarrassing Dad trying to look 'hip' in front of his kid's friends.  I was going to let Thing's weird helmet pass, because believe it or not it was actually part of his original costume from Fantastic Four #3.  But it was abandoned in that very issue and he's only wearing it here 'cos Wolverine slashed his face up.  Why does the Thing care that his face is scarred, it's not as if he was winning beauty contests before Wolverine injured him?  


Fantastic Four #3 by Jack Kirby


On the other hand, I own Nobody Gets Out Alive a trade paperback of a story from Fantastic Four #387-392 which occurs not long after the above cover saw print.  It's actually one of my favourite FF stories.  It includes a team in disarray having to battle  a mysterious opponent who's travelling through alternate dimensions murdering different versions of Reed Richards.  It's really entertaining stuff, it features an alternate take on the FF's first battle with Galactus, the hatching of Johnny Storm's Skrull egg and a character called Raphael Suarez who gains the power of the 'Lazerfist' and then is never, ever mentioned again.  It's also worth mentioning that the artist on Nobody Gets Out Alive and FF #375 is Paul Ryan, who's really good and not your typical '90s artist at all.

So, despite the cover, FF #375 might not be that bad for all I know, but it's still an amusing example of '90s comic book excess, and almost certainly not a patch on the wonderful Lee and Kirby stuff that I'm currently having the pleasure of immersing myself in. 

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Thanks for reading my blog this year.  Hope you're all having a fantastic Christmas!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Never Mind New Readers, Bring On The Confusing Comics!

Last Monday Timothy Callahan's When World's Collide column on Comic Book Resources featured Callahan and Matt Seneca discussing Grant Morrison's Batman run.  It's a very interesting discussion and I urge you to check it out if you're a Morrison fan or a Bat-fan.  Upon reading it, one point in particular stood out for me.  While discussing the aspects of the run that didn't work for him Seneca criticises the overly self-referential and continuity heavy nature of Morrison's writing and argues "if a new reader can't understand a comic, it's not that good."  He even gives an example to support this view:
Before you reproach me for saying that about these particular comics, let me tell you: today as a test I gave "Batman and Robin" #16 to someone I think is pretty smart who hasn't read any Batman comics since she was a kid, and she couldn't make heads or tails of it. That's a company's flagship book simply not doing its job.
This concern over the accessibility of mainstream superhero comics to the new or casual reader seems to crop up again and again on message boards and in comic shops, amongst fans and creators.  I would argue however that we should worry less about the new reader and more about enjoying having the opportunity to  immerse ourselves in the dense, convoluted and utterly fascinating worlds that DC and Marvel have created over the course of over seventy years.

You don't have to have read this story to understand Grant Morrison's Batman, but it sure helps!

Every now and again, especially when there's a comic related film to promote, DC and Marvel will trumpet the fact that certain books have reached a "jumping on point" for new readers.  In fact Marvel's upcoming series of "Marvel Point One" issues aim to do exactly that.  Other examples of these "jumping on"  points could be a new creative team, a new status quo, a return to the old status quo or even a complete continuity reboot.  The most famous example of such a reboot was of course DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths which spring cleaned every confusing corner of the DC Universe and pretty much started everything again from scratch.  Marvel have never had such a company wide continuity reshuffle but that hasn't stopped them from monkeying around with their character's origins in a bid to attract new readers.  Some of these attempts have been very successful (Ultimate Spider-Man) others have been less successful (Spider-Man: Chapter One).

I'm not saying that such attempts should never have been made.  From a business point of view it makes perfect sense for DC and Marvel to bring in as many new readers in whatever way they can.  Creatively speaking it's nice to have a shake up every now and again, although there's an ongoing debate among fans whether superhero comics get shaken up too much or not enough.  But despite this I do think that fans concern themselves too much with whether their favourite comics are attracting new readers or not.  How many online critics and commentators have you read lamenting, like Seneca in the aforementioned discussion, that a certain comic risks alienating new readers with its convoluted plot and self-referential nature?  I would say, never mind what these hypothetical new readers think.  What do YOU think?

When these "new readers" are discussed in blogs or in forums then a certain type of person is usually described.  We're usually presented with an image of a person who's never read a comic and goes to see The Dark Knight or Iron Man.  This person is so moved by their cinematic experience that they rush at the earliest opportunity to their nearest comic shop to purchase the latest Batman/Iron Man issue.  You'd imagine that the last thing they'd want to find is a load of impenetrable gobble-dee-gook referencing past issues and dead characters.  But think about it for a moment.  Do you actually know anyone who has suddenly started following a series after watching a superhero film, despite never showing any previous  interest towards superhero comics, or indeed any sort of comics?  I'm not saying it's never happened but I can't imagine DC or Marvel really getting a significant sales spike from this type of person.

The appeal of superhero comics to children is also usually a concern when discussing new readers.  Surely children, or rather the children's parents, are going to get put off by the adult themes and violent content of a lot of mainstream superhero comics?  I would put myself forward as counter argument against this reasoning.  I was born in 1981 and really started getting into superhero comics in  about '88 and '89, just in time for Tim Burton's Batman movie.  So I was a child getting into comics in the late '80s and early '90s, the period in which "grim 'n' gritty" were the comic industries' buzzwords of choice.  The writers were trying to be Frank Miller and Alan Moore and the artists were trying to be Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld.  Capes were out and guns, boobs and personality disorders were in.  I read Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham when I was ten years old.  I'd be hard pressed to find any comic on the stands today starring a mainstream superhero that had more boobs and guts flying out of every panel, but it certainly didn't put me off comics.

A gratuitous butt shot of Death's Head II and Tuck from Liam Sharp and Simon Bisley on the cover of Marvel UK's Overkill #50 (1994).  To me this really does embody early '90s comics at their most ridiculous.

In fact I would urge every comic fan concerned about the accessibility of modern superhero comics to think back to when you were a child getting your first taste of the genre.  Can you honestly say that everyone of those early comics that you read were completely self-contained stories?  I have to say that for me, part of the thrill was feeling that you were dipping into something huge.  These characters had adventures and experiences that were alluded to but never fully explained, just like real people.  Putting a comic down without the full picture but with a desire to seek out previous or subsequent chapters is not a bad thing.  It's probably this desire to find explanations and complete the story that propelled most comic fans into a lifetime of collecting.

Attracting new readers is of course an important concern.  There are many possible reasons for the fact that monthly pamphlet style comic books just aren't as popular as they used to be.  But we fans do ourselves no favours when we try and second guess what "new readers" want.  We were new readers once too!  Why do we feel that what attracts so many of us to superhero comics, the continuity and the sense of history, must be what's putting off all these potential new readers?  Is our self loathing so great?

I realise I've probably made a few sweeping statements and generalisations during the course of this blog post, but no more so than when fans discuss the ever elusive "new readers."  Let's forget about the new or casual readers, let's stop fretting about what "they" want, let's concentrate on what we want.  It doesn't matter if a story is confusing and dependant on seventy years of continuity, that's half the fun of superhero comics!  Hardly any other medium or genre has seventy years worth of continuity to draw on.  It's one of the things that makes superhero comics so appealing, even to "new readers."

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Check Out The Comics Cube!

Ever wondered who the most influential comics writers were?  Check out Duy Tano's The Comics Cube! where Duy is currently counting down The Top Ten Most Influential Comics Writers.  It's a very surprising list, for example I initially expected Alan Moore and Stan Lee to be a lot higher, but it's difficult to disagree with Duy's well reasoned arguments for each writer's position.  It's also a very informative list and it's left me wanting to check out more stuff by writers such as Will Eisner and Carl Barks.  Duy's currently reached Number 3 on his list and I'm eagerly awaiting Number One.  Check it out!

Superman and The Spirit by Will Eisner from Superman #400 (1984)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Justice League of America Vs. The Beano

This pic is completely drawn by me, unlike my previous post, Justice League Vs. Eastenders, which was half my drawings and half the original cover.  It's based on the cover of Justice League of America #21 (1963) by Mike Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson.  Calamity James, Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, Plug, Baby-Face Finlayson and Minnie the Minx are all the property of D.C. Thomson & Co.


I've discussed my fondness for The Beano in a previous post.  The Beano pretty much got me into comics.  I picked up a recent copy a couple of weeks ago and I'm pleased to say it hasn't lost any of its wit and charm after all these years.

I also checked out The Beano's sister comic, The Dandy and it's new look.  I was very impressed.  Previous attempts to make The Dandy appeal to a modern audience have felt very forced.  At one point it was called Dandy Xtreme and asked the reader 'Can you handle it?' on the cover of every issue.  Yeah, thanks Grandad, I probably can.  The latest makeover is much better.  The numerous references to celebrities gives it a distinctly modern feel and there seems to be more fart gags than when I was a kid.  But the humour is very British, very silly, very recognisable as The Dandy, and most importantly very funny.  Desperate Dan is actually funnier now than when I was a kid.  If you get a chance, check it out.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Justice League of America Vs. Eastenders

Ever wondered what would happen if the U.S.A's mightiest superteam met the stars of the U.K.'s most miserable soap opera....?


This was originally the cover of Justice League of America #21 (1963) by Mike Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson.

Dot Branning, Ian Beale, Phil Mitchell, Pat Evans, Patrick Trueman and Heather Trott are all drawn by me.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Superman Vs. Skyline

I saw a trailer for Skyline the other day, this trailer in fact....



I can't really tell if it's going to be any good or not, but it did get me thinking about the new Superman movie.  Imagine a trailer similar to this one.  It starts with a group of ordinary people like you or me, waking up and gradually realising that their lives have changed overnight.  Huge ships are appearing in the sky and abducting people in columns of light.  Metal behemoths are striding across the city, stomping everything in their path and plucking people at random off the street with huge tentacles.   All this is interspersed with news footage and scenes of the alien menace attacking every major city across the globe.  The enemies' faces remains unseen, their motives a mystery.  Panic reigns as people desperately try to flee the cities any way they can.  News readers are weeping, people are kneeling and praying in the street, shops and homes are looted.  Lovers are torn away from each other, parents scream desperately for their children.  All hope is lost.  Amidst all the chaos there is one man slowly walking against the flow of terrified people running for their lives.  His pace quickens, he removes his glasses and the camera closes in as he rips open his shirt to reveal a familiar symbol.  John Williams' Superman Theme begins to play.....

I would love to see Zack Snyder do something like this with his Superman movie.  One of the great things about The Dark Knight is that Christopher Nolan doesn't seem to have set out to make a superhero movie.  He made a crime thriller and stuck Batman and the Joker in it.   We then got to see how the world of the crime thriller was changed by the presence of these two larger than life characters.  I reckon the same could be done with Superman.  Snyder needs to make the best sci-fi/invasion thriller he possibly can, and then stick Superman in it and see how that kind of film is changed by his presence.  At the very least it'll give Superman the chance to face the kind of threat he's never faced before on screen, and give us the chance to see a kind of Superman film we've never seen before.

What do you think?

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Stewart Lee, Alan Moore and Comics

That's not Stewart Lee with Alan Moore, it's my pal Mike.  He got to meet Moore and I didn't! Lucky git.  Photo by Rosie Reed Gold.
Stewart Lee is the best British comedian around today, FACT.  He's probably most famous for co-writing Jerry Springer the Opera but he's also a massive comics fan.  In fact he's even pitched ideas to Marvel, including one about the teenage years of Agatha Harkness that sounds awesome.  Five years ago he interviewed beardy comics legend Alan Moore for BBC Radio 4.  The interview can be found here on Lee's website.  Moore discusses his influences, how he got into comics and his various great works such as From Hell, Swamp Thing and V For Vendetta.  They also talk a great deal about superheroes and the various goofy aspects of Silver Age comics that first drew them to the medium.  Moore remembers Ace the Bat-Hound, "Batman's dog had a mask, in case any of the other dogs recognised him", while Lee fondly recalls the classic Legion of Superheroes story,  The Super Moby Dick of Space, much to Moore's amusement.  It's really fascinating stuff and very funny so I thought I'd share it here.

The interview can be heard by following this link.

There's also an unbroadcast snippet where Moore talks about Superman and Mort Weisinger and another where he discusses The Killing Joke.

I had a ticket to see Stewart Lee performing a few weeks ago but a family illness meant he was forced to cancel.  I'm looking forward to the rescheduled gig in March and I hope the family illness wasn't too serious.  Here's a clip of his comedic might from the ol' Tube of You.  It's NSFW with lots of swear words,

Listen out for the Marvel Comics reference....



And here's part two of that clip...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

YOU can vote for the next leader of The Legion of Superheroes!

DC Comics are giving fans a chance to vote for the next leader of the Legion of Superheroes! Here's what the DC Comics blog, The Source had to say about it...
LEGION’s esteemed writer Paul Levitz revives the traditional fan poll to elect the Legion’s leader—just as the Legionnaires themselves vote within the series. But it is the fan’s vote that counts, and not, say, Dawnstar’s (sorry, Dawny). Legion elections energize and empower readers in that they can directly participate in the direction of the series, and who knows, it might pique the interest of folks not yet reading the series. Where else can readers have direct interaction like this?
And the results can have some very interesting consequences. A reader poll throws us a potential creative curveball. I recall during the 1980s, the readership elected longtime Substitute Legionnaire Polar Boy—an unlikely turn of events, given the illusion that the Legionnaires themselves were voting. But Paul, who wrote the series at the time, just rolled with it and crafted some very clever and entertaining stories around it.
 Voting ends November 10, and the victor stands revealed in LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #8, hitting stores December 22 (a holiday treat for certain!).
Sadly my favourite Legionnaire, Matter Eater Lad, is not currently a member and so is not eligible (BOOOOO!), but there's still twenty five cool Legionnaires to choose from.   I had a bit of a hard time choosing who to vote for. After much consideration I narrowed it down to a final four. But which one should ultimately get my vote?

BRAINIAC 5


Brainiac 5 is the descendant of the original  Brainiac, a major Superman baddie.  His only power is his massive intelligence.  Brainy is probably my favourite Legionnaire, next to Matter Eater Lad, and my reasons for liking him are down to the same factors that would make him a very interesting leader.  Brainy's a hero, but he's also a complete arsehole.  While he's undoubtedly a super-genius and a valuable asset to the team, he's also extremely arrogant, incapable of admitting he's wrong and prone to occasional bouts of insanity.  For example, during a period when he was feeling particularly unappreciated by the rest of the Legion, Brainy created Omega, the gigantic physical embodiment of universal hate, in order to destroy the Universe.  I only wish I could do something similar every time I was feeling under appreciated at work.  Having an emotionally unstable super-genius as Legion leader could make for some interesting stories.


MON-EL


Mon-El is an alias of Lar Gand of the Planet Daxam.  He has all of Superman's powers but also a fatal weakness to lead.  I never used to see the point of him.  Superboy could do everything that he could so why did the Legion even need him?  My opinion was completely changed by Mon-El's stint as the lead character in Superman in 2008/2009 during the period that Superman was on New Krypton.  I thought that some aspects of the New Krypton arc were very enjoyable while others were not so great (Nightwing and Flamebird, I'm looking at you).  Mon-El's adventures definitely fell into the former category.  Reading about Mon-El living in Metropolis, making friends, losing his virginity and trying to fill Superman's shoes really made me warm to the guy.  But the biggest reason I think Mon-El might deserve a shot at being Legion Leader is that he's just so damn unlucky! Mon-El endured a thousand years of isolation in the Phantom Zone waiting for a cure for his fatal lead poisoning to be found. That's pretty bad for a start, but that's still not the worst thing that's ever happened to him.  While Mon-El was filling in for Superman during the New Krypton arc  he got kidnapped by the baddies and got experimented on by an evil super-intelligent gorilla scientist who seemed particularly keen on taking a scalpel to his balls!  Not only that, but currently in the Legion of Superheroes comic Mon-El's girlfriend has given him the elbow and appears to be shagging Earth Man, a fascist, xenophobic nutbar who's just joined the Legion.  After going through all that maybe Mon-El deserves a lucky break.



TYROC


Tyroc possess reality warping screams and is the only superhero of the dimension hopping island of Marzal.  For a futuristic team full of aliens, the Legion fared pretty badly on the whole ethnic diversity front during the first few years of their existence.  Amazingly, Jim Shooter had intended Ferro Lad to be the Legion's first black member in 1966, but the idea was vetoed by editor Mort Weisinger who feared that such a move would alienate readers in the Southern States!  And so it came to pass that Ferro Lad was killed off without ever having removed his mask and Tyroc eventually became the first black man to join the Legion.  Sadly he was was a white guy from the '70s idea of a black man and as such he bore little resemblance to anyone who has ever existed ever.  For one thing his home, Marzal, was an island inhabited completely by black people who had decided to separate themselves from the rest of the world.  When you consider Marzal along with Vathlo Island, the place where all the black Kryptonians lived, you have to wonder what the deal was with DC Comics and racially segregated Utopian societies?  The concept was so offensive that Mike Grell, the artist on the issue in which Tyroc first appeared, deliberately designed the most ridiculous costume he could for the character.  Hence the disco collar and silver medallions.  As a result of all this Tyroc hasn't been used much since the '70s.  That is until now.  Writer Paul Levitz has given Tyroc a much more prominent role than he's ever had before in the current Legion series.  It makes me wonder what Levitz has planned for the character and it would be intriguing if this seldom used character was suddenly thrust front and centre as Legion Leader.  Don't worry, he's been given a better costume.



GATES


Gates is a large, hoodie wearing insect with teleporting abilities.  He is also a socialist who views the Legion as inherently fascistic.  You can see where I'm going with this right?  I don't think the Legion's had a non-humanoid boss before and his socialist views and objections to the Legion's militaristic nature could mean some unusual methods of leadership.  Also, Gates was originally a member of a Legion from another dimension and has only recently joined "our" Legion.  As a result he is only familiar with alternate versions of his fellow Legionnaires and may not know the team as well as he thinks he does.  



In the end I voted for Brainiac 5, since he is my second favourite Legionnaire, but I believe any of the above characters as leader would make for stupendously interesting reading.  But what do you think?  Who would you vote for? Don't just think about it, go on over to legionelection.com and VOTE!  Let me know in the comments below who you voted for.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Three Comics That Shaped My Life

I've always disliked it when critics and bloggers describe a piece of pop culture as important. Once in a while a piece of work may come along that changes the way we think about a particular medium, but to dub that piece important just seems like pretentious hyperbole to me. For example, Revolver's a great album, but it hasn't cured any major diseases yet. And yet the following three comics are important, at least they are to me. I can honestly say that more than any other piece of pop culture, these three comics have helped to shape me into the person I am today.

The Beano #2354 (1987)




The 29th of August 1987 is a very important day for me. It's the day my old Nan bought her grizzling six year old grandchild the latest copy of The Beano in an effort to get him to shut up for five minutes. It was a gesture that was to begin a lifetime of comic collecting! The Beano introduced me to the joy of regularly following a comic and looking forward to 'comic day'. It also introduced me to the wonderful concept of a group of characters sharing their own universe. But more than anything else The Beano was very, very funny and helped to shape my sense of humour.

One of my favourite strips was Tom Paterson's Calamity James. James is the world's unluckiest boy. He is constantly followed around by his own personal rain cloud and each week finds himself the victim of some disaster or other. His only friend is his pet, Alexander Lemming, who is always looking for things to plummet from. The great thing about Calamity James wasn't just the bleak humour surrounding James' adventures but also the weird little things going on in the background of each panel that would usually go by unnoticed by the main characters. For example one panel might depict James stepping obliviously over bags of cash or gold bars while another panel might have a fly buzzing out of James' trousers carrying away his underpants. One of the best recurring background gags were the Little Squelchy Things. These were little blobs with faces that appeared in a variety of different guises, from Scottish Squelchy Things in tartan berets to cheeky Squelchy Things showing their bums.

The Beano 2316 (1986)


Calamity James wasn't the only Beano strip to display this unique humour however. There were jokes and situations that were just as surreal to be found in strips such as Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger and Baby-Face Finlayson (a baby dressed as a cowboy who would commit crimes in a motorised pram). I believe the following panel from The Bash St. Kids sums up everything I loved about The Beano more than anything else.



Many thanks to Zeg The Dalek and the members of The Beano Project for their help in tracking down my very first Beano.


Batman Monthly #1 (1988)




The following year my dear old Nan was once again forced to dip into her purse in order to silence her moany grandchild. This time her purchase opened my eyes to the wonderful world of superheroes! The first issue of Batman Monthly contained a reprint of the first two issues of The Untold Legend of The Batman a story that covered every detail of Batman's world. The origins of Batman, Robin, Alfred and a whole bunch of villains and supporting characters are found in this story and I absolutely loved it. It introduced me not only to superhero comics but also to the wonderful experience of laboriously poring over the backstories of fictional characters in a slightly obsessive manner.

It was quite a while however before I fully embraced the world of superheroes. My dad had a pile of old DC and Marvel comics that I'd always been too scared to read. I must confess that I was rather a sensitive/wimpy child. I once burst into uncontrollable tears of fear at a screening of The Shaggy D.A. on a wet afternoon in primary school. As a result of my sensitivity/wimpiness, I was always too scared to read my dad's comics for fear of seeing something that might upset me. I even taped the last few pages of Batman Monthly #1 together so I could read the issue without fear of seeing the images of Joker and Two-Face that lay at the end of the comic. The day soon came however when the love of the story overcame my fear and I cut the tape binding the these pages. Once I had confronted my fears I realised there was nothing to be scared of and it wasn't long before I was digging into my father's comics. A lifetime of superhero fun followed.

Two of the pages that frightened little ol' me

Batman Monthly #1 taught me that confronting my fears can lead to a world of wonderful experiences. Unfortunately only this week I read Garth Ennis' Crossed and learned that I was right to be scared. Comics are terrifying and traumatic and can leave you with scars that will never heal. Oh well.

Crossed #9 with art by Jacen Burrows

JLA: New World Order (1997)




It was ten years after my first Beano, and I'd drifted away from comics and superheroes somewhat. It was for a variety of a reasons. Firstly, there was a lot of crap out there. I'd never really been a fan of the whole Image Comics style over substance approach that was so influential back then. Even as a kid I wanted more from my comics than guns and pouches and boobs. The last trade paperback I'd bought had been DC's Zero Hour in 1994 and, as I've previously discussed on this blog, it had left me scratching my head in bewilderment. But it wasn't just comics that had turned bad. I had too. Like many young men in their teens I had transformed over night into a complete arsehole. Being generally unpleasant to people took up most of my day, leaving me little time to enjoy comics.

That was the case until the day I found myself with a bit of spare cash and bought a CD, Kula Shaker: K and Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA: New World Order. Crispian Mills' opus has long since been donated to some charity shop where I imagine it probably still remains. New World Order on the other hand is still one of my favourite comics to this day.

In the mid-eighties DC began to populate the Justice League with second stringers such as Blue Beetle and Captain Atom rather than the big guys like Superman and Batman. Initially the exploits of the new line up were very entertaining but by the mid '90s the original writers, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis had left and characters like Nuklon, Bloodwynd and Triumph were roaming the halls of Justice League HQ. There was nothing really wrong with these characters and there were still some great stories to be told (Dan Jurgens run on Justice League America stands out as particularly good). However, none of it really felt like proper Justice League. I had grown up on my dad's copies of Satellite era JLA and by the time Zero Hour came out I was yearning for some big names to join the League.

That was exactly what Morrison gave us with New World Order, the return of the seven founding members, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter. Not only that but Morrison gave us the return of the 'punch-the-air-with-joy' moments that had long since disappeared from mainstream superhero comics. It seemed that everyone was so busy trying to copy the success of Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Claremont and Lee's X-Men #1 back then that they'd forgotten that comics were occasionally supposed to be fun. New World Order seemed different. As I read Batman taking on a bunch of Martians, Flash defeating an evil speedster with a Flash-Fact and Superman inspiring the entire world to fight off a Martian invasion I was literally punching the air with excitement. I remember telling a friend at the time "I didn't know they made comics like this any more!"



After New World Order I was back into comics in a big way and have remained so ever since. This may sound a bit wanky but reading that comic was also the moment I began to remember who I was before the horrors of puberty and comprehensive school. I began to get further away from Paul the Teenage Bastard and closer to becoming the sort of person I wanted to be. I'm not saying I'd still be a git if I hadn't bought that comic, and I'm not saying that I'm a perfect, well adjusted person now. But reading New World Order was definitely the beginning of a period in which I did a lot of growing up. With this new found maturity came the realisation that being deliberately unpleasant to people is bad, comics are awesome and Kula Shaker are shit.


So what about you? What are the comics that have shaped your life? Leave a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Director of Morrissey video to direct Superman movie!

Bleeding Cool have just made it known that Zack Snyder is directing the new Superman movie!  This is fantastic news.  Snyder is just what Superman needs.  While I'm a fan of Superman Returns there's no disputing its faults.  A Superman movie in the 21st Century has got to be more than just feelings and crystals.  In 1978 Richard Donner made us believe a man can fly, a modern Superman film has to do more than that.  Superhero movies are ten a penny these days, Superman should be taking the genre that one step further.  A modern Superman film should be showing us things we've never seen before.  I believe Snyder is the man to do this.

I'm basing this opinion mostly on 300 and WatchmenWatchmen definitely has its faults, mainly a script that contains far too much exposition and a godawful sex scene!  But these are balanced out with some great moments, such as the excellent opening montage and just about every scene Rorschach's in.  300 has a few morally dubious scenes, in fact it's fair to say that anyone who takes the film at anything other than face value is going straight to hell.  But who cares when a film is this much fun?! Watching 300 was one of the most fun movie experiences I've ever had.  Every single gory, homoerotic, over the top scene is just beautiful.

I usually refrain from using words like sumptuous to describe films for fear of sounding like a wanker, but it's a very appropriate word for Snyder's films and its exactly the quality that needs to be brought to a Superman film.  When I think of Superman Returns, despite some of the beautiful sets on display in the film, all I can bring to mind are the muted, dull colours of the Fortress, the muted, dull colours of Luthor's Island and the muted, dull colours of Superman's weird burgundy cape.  A Superman film needs to stand out and burn itself into your brain.  Superman's world is a world of robot duplicates, gorillas with laser vision, cube shaped planets and tyrant suns.  Superman has one foot in reality, the other in a '50s sci-fi wet dream.  Based on the look and feel of 300 and Watchmen, I think Snyder's the man to provide us with this vision.

There is however, one more reason that I'm thrilled with the decision to let Snyder direct the film.  In 1992, Zack Snyder directed the music video for Morrissey's Tomorrow.  He's directed the living music god that is MORRISSEY and now he's directing Superman! Sounds good to me!


Morrissey - Tomorrow
Uploaded by samithemenace. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Should Spider-Man Age and Die?



I recently got involved in a conversation on the Bleeding Cool forums regarding Spider-Man: One More Day. Being the only bugger on the internet who actually likes that story I occasionally feel obliged to stick up for it (I've even written a post doing just that) but as usual I was soon crushed by the weight of popular opinion. My puny arguments were no match for the legions of comic fans out there who believe that Joe Quesada is motivated by a personal dislike for each and every one of them and that producing a comic that they don't like is the moral equivalent of drowning kittens in acid.

Actually I'm being more than a little unfair. My own arguments actually were quite puny and didn't amount to much more than "but I like it" (imagine that said in a Droopy voice). Quite a few of the posters on the thread had many valid criticisms of the story and many compelling arguments as to why Spidey should have remained married. The thread itself is in response to a passionate and very well written essay by a fan who's dismayed with the current direction of Peter Parker's adventures. True, the thread now seems to have descended into nerdy number-crunching of the sales figures and personal criticisms of Mark Millar and Chuck Austen (for some reason), but for a while there it was intriguing stuff.

There was one particular point that was made by several posters that really got me thinking. They argued that Spider-Man should have been allowed to age and mature throughout his adventures and eventually the series should have come to a natural conclusion. The absence of the character would then create a vacuum that would have to be filled by new heroes for each new generation of fans. The specific examples that were given of this practice in action were Dragonball and Judge Dredd although I'm sure there are more.

This really got me thinking. Obviously it's very unlikely that the adventures of characters such as Spider-Man, Superman or Batman will ever be allowed to come to a finish. Spidey will forever be in his early twenties and Batman and Superman will always be in their thirties simply because they're not just characters, they're brands. The characters in the comics have to have at least a passing resemblance to the characters in the cartoons and movies, or on the lunchboxes. This is perfectly understandable, but is it right?

Financial concerns aside, can a character's story truly be of any worth if it's never allowed to finish? Robin Hood was killed by a treacherous prioress and King Arthur was clobbered over the head by Mordred. Aren't their adventures made all the richer because of these inevitable endings? It's very telling that Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow and Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns provide non-canonical endings to the adventures of Superman and Batman respectively and are two of the most critically acclaimed comic book stories of all time. You could also argue that allowing a character to age and mature makes him easier to identify with than a character who's perpetually going through the trials of a twenty year old. There's also a larger scope for telling different kinds of stories. A forty year old Spider-Man could have adventures that a twenty year old Spidey couldn't. Creatively speaking there's certainly an argument to be made for this approach to the characters.

But I'm very much playing devil's advocate in the above paragraph. I don't want to see Spider-Man, Superman or Batman age. I don't want their adventures to end. I'd go as far as to say that I enjoy the cyclical nature of the character's adventures. There's something very comforting in the familiarity. That's not to say that mainstream superhero comics are completely repetitive. Grant Morrison is a good example of a writer who will always find an interesting and unfamiliar twist to an old formula. But when all is said and done Clark Kent will inevitably return to the Daily Planet, Bruce Wayne will come home to Wayne Manor and Peter Parker will probably never celebrate his thirtieth birthday. And I quite like that.

So what does all this mean? Is allowing their most popular characters the chance to finish their stories really the answer to all of DC and Marvel's problems? Am I part of the problem? Have the demands of fanboys like me sent mainstream comics up a creative cul-de-sac? Will this creative bankruptcy inevitably lead to the comics' industry's demise?

I don't know.

Probably.

Sorry.

I feel a bit guilty now.

What do you think?

Friday, 10 September 2010

Superman: Secret Origin is the Mutt's Nuts!

This is an updated version of a post I wrote last year after the first issue of Superman: Secret Origin was released.


Last month DC Comics published the final issue of the six part Superman: Secret Origin, a retelling of Superman's early years by writer Geoff johns and artist Gary Frank.  Every time I see this series mentioned on the web I notice that there's always someone complaining "Oh no, not another Superman Origin revamp, Superman continuity is a mess blah, blah, moan, moan, bitch, bitch". I never understood the "mess" accusation. DC could put out a new Superman origin every year for the next 100 years and everyone of them would involve Krypton exploding, raised by the Kents, going to Metropolis and meeting Lois Lane etc, etc. DC will never reveal that Superman is really a reincarnated Egyptian Prince or the son of an Ancient Wizard. You want messy origins, try being a Hawkman or an Aquaman fan. As for the accusation that there's too many origin stories, how many is too many? Because in fact, while Supes' origin is perhaps the most retold origin in comics, there have only been two other official origin revamps in the past quarter of a century, Man of Steel and Birthright.

 
Man of Steel by John Byrne is the reason that I'm such a big Superman fan. Before reading it I preferred Batman and always thought that Superman was a bit of a pompous douche-bag. Byrne trimmed down Superman's power level and emphasized the importance of the Clark Kent side of his personality. At that point in my life I don't think I had ever read a version of Superman that was so easy to identify with. However despite it's awesomeness it's worth remembering that Man of Steel came out in 1986, 24 years ago. There's as much time between Secret Origin and Man of Steel as there is between Man of Steel and this version of Superman....


My point is, as great as Man of Steel is, a lot of time has passed since then. What's wrong with updating the myth a little bit?

Which is what happened in 2003 with Superman: Birthright. There's a lot to admire about Mark Waid's version of the origin. Interesting Silver Age aspects such as Lex Luthor's childhood in Smallville are placed back in continuity while new additions to the myth are added as well. For example, Superman has a new power, a sort of soul vision. This ability to see the life literally leaving a dying body led to Superman's decision to become a vegetarian. Familiar characters are given intriguing twists. For example, Pa Kent is initially resentful of Clark's developing powers, feeling that they are driving a wedge between him and his son.

As entertaining as this origin is however it never seemed to take. Perhaps it was because of the lack of appropriate advertising. When the first issue came out it seemed to come out of nowhere. DC dropped Birthright on us without commenting on whether it was "official canon" or not. This was later confirmed by Waid nine months after the first issue came out. Personally, it was Lenil F. Yu's art that prevented me from warming to the series. While Yu is a fantastic artist I feel his style is inappropriate for Superman. It's too dark in tone and lacks that iconic, timeless feel of Byrne's art. This is no more evident than on the cover of the first issue where Superman is drawn without pupils in his eyes. This happens a lot with Yu's Superman, it pops up once again on the cover of the trade paperback. While removing the pupils from Superman's eyes can be a most effective image when drawing angry Superman, generally speaking he has lovely big blues that radiate kindness. Batman is the guy with eerie white slits.  Despite this I do like Yu's art.  He's currently working on a Superman analogue called Superior with Mark Millar for Marvel Comics, which I'm looking forward to greatly.



Which brings us then to the latest attempt, Geoff Johns' and Gary Frank's Secret Origin.  I've argued that, at least in my opinion, there is a place for another Super-Origin tale, but is this one actually any good?  The answer is yes, yes, yes!  Rather than dump this one on our lap DC have wisely spent the past five years weaving the changes wrought by this origin into continuity and teasing fans as to what this new origin might involve. And it involves everything great about the origin from the past 70 years. Secret Origin contains aspects of Man of Steel and Birthright, for example the way Byrne let Lana Lang in on the secret identity and the way Waid returned young Luthor to Smallville. It contains aspects of the Silver Age, for example Clark's indestructible glasses, Superman's indestructible costume and the Legion of Superheroes. It brings in fantastic touches from other tales of Superman's youth.   Clark flies for the first time rescuing Lana from a tornado, just as he did in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Superman For All Seasons.  Perhaps most obviously Secret Origin uses a lot of imagery from the 1978 Richard Donner movie.  Frank's Superman is the spitting image of Christopher Reeve and Lois meets Superman for the first time while being rescued from a helicopter falling over the side of a building.
 

This isn't just a collection of greatest hits however.  Johns brings lots of new touches to the Superman myth.  The Parasite and Metallo are both given much needed updates.  Rudy Jones has always beeen depicted as a faceless nobody before he was transformed into the Parasite.  Johns depicts him as a parasite by nature even before his accident.  This new version of Rudy Jones is a chubby spunger who mooches sandwiches from Clark Kent and his transformation into the Parasite seems very fitting.


John Byrne gave Metallo a great update shortly after Man of Steel.  Byrne wrote him as a petty criminal who was rescued from a near fatal accident by a mad scientist who placed his mind in a robotic body in order to defeat Superman.   This is a perfectly good super-villain origin, but I was always disappointed that Byrne's Metallo design made him look like a Terminator rip-off.  In Secret Origin Johns returns the character to something resembling his classic look whilst simultaneously updating his backstory.  Metallo is now Sgt. John Corben, a military bully who was jilted by Lois Lane.  Whilst battling Superman on behalf of the military he is fatally wounded and subsequently revived and upgraded by Lex Luthor.  I like that Luthor's now involved in his origin, after all if you're gonna use a mad scientist, use the best.  I also like how Metallo has more of a personal grudge against Superman, it always makes for more interesting villains.


There's plenty more to admire about Secret Origin.  The inclusion of Lois' dad, General Sam Lane as an early adversary was particularly interesting as was Johns' depiction of Superman's relationship with Lex Luthor.  The final confrontation between the two of them in issue six is absolute gold.  But one of my favourite aspects of Secret Origin is the relationship between Lois and Clark.  Lois is not an idiot and she sees right through Clark's meek and clumsy act straight away.  Okay, she doesn't quite figure out he's Superman, but she understands that he's not a man to be underestimated and she's fascinated by his efforts to make everyone do just that.  Johns gives us an interesting new twist on Clark and Lois' relationship.  Clark is meek and mild but Lois doesn't just dismiss him out of hand as she did in the Silver Age comics or the Donner movie.  This Lois is clever enough to see that there's more to Clark than meets the eye and it's easy to believe that her curiousity will one day turn to admiration and then love.

One of the biggest stars of Secret Origin is the city of Metropolis.  Johns' Metropolis is a grubby, cynical place before Superman shows up.  It's as if Lex Luthor has poisoned the city from within.  Of course Superman changes all that just by being Superman.  His presence inspires Metropolis to reject Luthor and become the greatest city on Earth once again.  Johns understands that Superman's greatest power is his ability to inspire.  He can't save the world by ending all poverty and overthrowing dictatorships.  If he heads down that path he's just an alien imposing his will on mankind.  Through his example Superman inspires people to change the world for the better themselves.  For me, this is what Superman's all about.  The following speech that Superman gives in the final issue sums it all up for me. 


There's countless more reasons why I love this story.  It's filled with large, iconic images and beautiful small moments that all absolutely nail the characters and their world.  I haven't even mentioned the art of Gary Frank yet.  Frank's art is clean, clear, timeless and iconic, just as it should be. A lot of people have complained about his Superman looking like Christopher Reeve but I say, who the hell else are you gonna make him look like? Dean bloody Cain?!

I honestly can't write enough good things about this story.  As much as I love John Byrne's Man of Steel I honestly believe it was time for a new origin story.  Superman: Secret Origin is an origin story that will endure, hopefully even longer than 24 years.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Links and Chains

I've had a very pleasant week!  This has mostly been due to Rich Johnston who runs the brilliant comic news and rumours site, BleedingCool.  He very kindly showcased my Amalgam Age of Comics blog and as a result the blog was also covered on io9.com! This has brought me more internet attention than I've ever received before and I'm very, very grateful to Rich Johnston.

Check me out on BleedingCool here.

Check me out on io9 here.

Rich has also very kindly featured a few Photoshop Amalgam thingies done by me on the theme of Vertigo's characters returning to the DC Universe.  Check them out here.

Also, if you haven't already done so, check out and bookmark BleedingCool.com right now!  It's awesome!

Just so this post isn't just me promoting myself in a shamelessly self indulgent fashion, there now follows several pictures of Superman busting out of chains.  I leave you with a question; who the hell keeps chaining him up?









Saturday, 21 August 2010

Superman's Secret Identity: In Defense of Those Glasses!

Superman #330 art by Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte

Fellow blogger and internet chum X-Man75 has written a great post on his blog discussing which cities of the DC and Marvel Universe contain the dumbest residents.  He argues that the residents of Metropolis must be among the dumbest, particularly the journalists of the Daily Planet and Lex Luthor, because of their failure to recognise Superman and Clark Kent as one and the same.  After all, how can a pair of glasses make you look like a different person?  This is one of the main observations that most people have made regarding Superman over the years, it is however one I would dispute.  In fact I would go as far as to say that pulling off such a disguise successfully would be perfectly possible in real life.

DC Comics have attempted to explain away the apparent flimsiness of Superman's disguise on a number of occasions.  Lois Lane's attempts to confirm her suspicions regarding Clark's secret were a staple of Superman's Silver Age adventures.  Perhaps this was the writer's way of saying "Look, she at least suspects, she's not a complete idiot!"  By the end of each story however Superman had put Lois' suspicions to rest (at least for another month) usually through the aid of a Superman robot.  Sometimes Batman put her off the scent by wearing a rubber Superman mask, which he of course wore over his own bat-eared mask.  In Action Comics #597 (1988) Ma and Pa Kent confronted Lois' suspicions by telling her that they raised both Clark and Superman at the same time.  Frankly I find it easier to believe that Lois would be fooled by Batman's magic chin putty than by the Kents' unlikely tale.

Action Comics #650 art by Curt Swan

What about Lex Luthor?  Why would the cleverest man on the planet be taken in by a pair of glasses.  John Byrne gave us the definitive answer to this in 1987 in Superman #2.  Lex built a super computer and hired a team of scientists to work out the secrets of the Man of Steel.  The computer's conclusion was one simple sentence.  Clark Kent is Superman.  Lex refused to believe it.  Apparently Lex is such an arrogant bastard that he refuses to believe that a man with such power would want to pose as as a mere mortal. Grant Morrison took this one step further in All Star Superman.  During this series Clark actually takes his glasses off and shouts in Lex's face.  Lex is so blinded by arrogance that he literally can't see what's right in front of him.  Amusingly this series also contains a scene in which Clark reveals his secret identity to Lois and she also refuses to believe that meek, clumsy Clark could be the super-man of her dreams.

All Star Superman #5 art by Frank Quietly

Possibly the least satisfying explanation for the success of Clark's disguise came in 1978, in Superman #330.  In this issue it's revealed that Clark is unwittingly hypnotising everyone he meets to see him as a skinny wimp whenever he wears his glasses.  This effect also works on photographs of Clark and assumably on Batman's latex rubber Clark Kent masks.  The hypnotic effect lingers for awhile, even when Superman loses his powers.  I find the notion that someone as powerful as Superman is wandering around messing with everyone's perception of reality without even realising he's doing it quite disturbing.  Even in that really dodgy bit in Superman II when Superman hypnotises Lois into forgetting they'd had sex, Superman is at least in control and responsible for his actions.  But in the comics Superman could accidentally lobotimise you just by putting his glasses on!  Unsurprisingly this aspect of the Superman myth has been completely ignored over the years. 

Superman #330 art by Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte

In my opinion all this apologising DC Comics have done over the years for the glasses disguise is completely uneccessary.  I have no problem accepting that a man could disguise himself from even those closest to him simply by wearing his hair different, changing his posture, body language and voice and putting on a pair of glasses.

Let's put it this way.  Imagine you worked with me in a London office.  Imagine I looked exactly like Prince William except I had a beard.  You may have noticed these similarities when observing pictures of him in the press.  You may have met William on several occasions and noticed these similarities up close and in person.  You may even have noticed that I've never been around during all the royal visits the young Prince has made to our hypothetical office.  But would you really seriously consider it likely that the heir to the British throne puts on a fake beard and comes into work every day and inputs data into spreadsheets and drinks his coffee white with no sugars and has a crush on the office temp and discusses last night's episode of Doctor Who with you over his lunch of marmite sandwiches and so on and so on.  Of course you wouldn't!  Why would Prince William do that?! Why would anyone?!  Now take this hypothetical scenario and replace me with Clark Kent and Prince William with Superman.  See what I'm getting at?

Just for the record, I don't look like Prince William and I don't work in an office.

This post is ultimately unneccessary however.  The most compelling defense of Superman's secret identity has already been argued successfully by one man.  Christopher Reeve, with his brilliant performance as Clark Kent/Superman in the Superman movies.  Take for example the scene in the first movie where Clark almost reveals his secret to Lois, or the scene in Superman II where Clark actually does reveal his secret to her.  Reeve doesn't just take his glasses off (Dean Cain please take note).  He takes off the glasses, broadens his shoulders, deepens his voice and seems to grow a foot in height!  If I was working alongside Reeve's Clark I'm confident that I'd be living in complete ignorance of his double life.

Christopher Reeve- Better than Dean Cain

So what do you think?  Never mind 'You will believe a man can fly'.  Have I convinced you that a man can fool the world with a pair of glasses?  Or am I letting my love of the character blind me to the bleedin' obvious, much like Lex Luthor's hatred and arrogance blinds him?  Leave a comment and let me know your opinion.

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