Saturday, February 24, 2007

Thunderstrike #1

"Whosoever picks up this comic, if he be worthy, shall instantly regret it."

While my review of Youngblood #1 may have picked up on some of the clichés of the Dark Age of Comics (big guns, anti-heroes, heroes who kill, over-muscled protagonists, and the rise of the Independent publisher), there were still plenty of clichés that we didn’t quite hit, and so here’s a few more of ‘em. In this case, we have:

1. The replacement of a classic hero by an upstart wannabe.
2. Updating said hero’s look for to be more “extreme,” usually including a leather jacket.
3. Gimmicky cover.

In all fairness, Thunderstrike himself isn’t that bad a character, despite the insults I throw at him in this review (I write the introductions after I write the review), he’s an okay guy and certainly tries to do heroic things unlike many other Dark Age protagonists. My primary problem with the book is the overall writing, which is just plain dull and lacking in revision (sentence fragments aplenty throughout as well as comma splices). Plus the narration tries to make things sound more dramatic than things really are, constantly igniting my rage. Plus the villains aren’t all that interesting as you’ll see.

I guess my problem is that they’re trying to play this up as something grand and exciting when really it’s just something to shrug at. By the way, this review's going to be a wee bit longer than my usual fare since this "first explosive issue" is about 40 pages long.

I’ve got to say, that even though it was a cheap (well, not entirely cheap) gimmick to increase sales of a book, I really liked the foil covers used for a lot of Dark Age comics. Sure, it didn’t really contribute anything to the overall story, or to the fact that Thunderstrike here looks like he’s having a temper tantrum, but it’s nice and sparkly and really I think I’m going to need that after I’m done with this one.

Upon initially seeing the cover, I thought that this was the original Thor who decided to have a makeover (I’m not as familiar with Marvel characters as DC ones) but according to the blurb at the top of the first page, this is “architect Eric Masterson.” And that when he “stamps his wooden walking stick upon the ground, it is transformed into a mystical weapon called Thunderstrike! Armed with incredible powers (like what?), Masterson works to prove that one man must make a difference, because this world still needs heroes!” Not exactly ‘bitten by a radioactive spider and taught that with great power comes great responsibility,’ is it?

The (unintentional) hilarity begins right from the first narration box: “Carjacking!” I love how they need the triple emphasis on it (the original text has an underline on it, too, that I couldn’t duplicate here). “A national disgrace that has spread across this land like an unchecked cancer!” Well, first of all, no it hasn’t. Seriously, was there some sort of epidemic of carjacking in 1993? “Carjacking!” What, no italics or underline this time? I guess it’s not as bad as they make it out to be. “No one is safe! None are spared! To Carol Platt, the horror begins as her car door is brutally yanked open – and rough hands hurl her to the cold, cold street!” Actually it looks like it’s a fair spring day, so I’m not exactly sure why it’s a ‘cold, cold’ street. Furthermore, at no point do we actually see Carol here getting hurled to the street, it looks like from the artwork that the door has been opened and three guys (all wearing exactly the same hood masks, green jacket, and jeans) are trying to pull her out while she’s struggling for dear life.

“But that’s when the horror bursts from Carol’s lips --” Erm, I thought the horror was the carjacking itself? Does she have some sort of evil demonic tongue or something? “A cry full of desperation, fear -- and something more!” LUST! Okay, sorry, that joke was in bad taste considering the situation, but seriously, this narration is just terrible. If this is such a horrifying thing for the narrator, I can only imagine how much he’s going to be throwing up when we reach murder or bank store robberies or something. Anyway, the criminals get angry at Carol:

“Bad move, lady! Real dumb!
Yeah! You should have kept your mouth shut until we were outta(sic) here!”

Okay, seriously, what did they expect was going to happen? They just pulled a woman from her own car, did they expect her to just let it happen without even muttering a peep? Jeez, we’re not even past the first page and we’ve already gone through a few paragraphs... Anyway, they hear a “twump” sound indicating someone has landed on top of the car and they all look to the unseen hero who has shown up. And now we flip the page...

...And we see it’s Zechs Marquise! Okay, not really, but it’s easy to make the mistake, what with the weird mask/helmet and long blonde hair. This is the eponymous Thunderstrike. After reading Wikipedia, apparently Thunderstrike was temporarily merged with Thor or some such ridiculous thing but by this point they had gotten better and the mace in his hand is also named Thunderstrike while Thor’s hammer is Mjolnir. Also, by some bizarre coloring disaster, Thunderstrike’s right hand is yellow. As for the page itself, it’s a two-page spread going horizontally, so you have to shift the book to the side to read it. Rarely in comics is this ever a good idea.

Thunderstrike speaks in text that’s noticeably smaller than the other text and this’ll be the first of several instances where we see his masterful command of words, comparable only to Shakespeare himself: “Let her go!” WOW! That’ll show ‘em, Eric! Our oh-so helpful narrator helps us about why the text is small: “The words are spoken softly -- through gritted teeth -- but they strike with the force of a blazing thunderbolt!” Um, no they don’t, it seems like he’s trying to whisper while looking cool. It’s not helpful that he’s wearing Thor’s outfit here, making me shake my head in disbelief that the Norse God of thunder ever trusted this guy with his hammer.

The narration continues, saying that the carjackers gaze in awe and fear (more like amusement) at the “one-man strike force.” In case you hadn’t noticed already, the narration also seems to be speaking in sentence fragments, as further expounded with this little diddy: “A hero born of legend and bound for greatness!” More like bound for the quarter bin, but hey, what do I know?

The narration continues onto the next page in EVERY PANEL: “And then, with a suddenness that would surely leave these terrorists gasping in wonder if they were only permitted to breathe -- Eric Masterson springs forward!” My God, just shut up. Thunderstrike leaps forward and smothers two of them with his muscular arms (and making me wonder if Northstar wasn’t the only one trying to come out of the closet...) and he proudly thinks about how he managed to force them from the woman. And by the way, with the force necessary to drive them forward like that and still have them be in mid-air considering the distance of the car behind him, I have to assume he broke their necks in the process.

The third carjacker gets in the car and decides he needs to run the Thor-wannabe down (even though he wouldn’t be able to build up speed necessary to actually cause any real harm to him). However, Thunderstrike overreacts to this, shoving the woman behind him and smashing her car with his mace and sending glass shards everywhere and, I’m presuming, killing the third hijacker too with as much collateral damage as he’s causing swinging that damn thing around. And barely a moment later (as expounded by the narrator), two policemen come running up. They say they “got a report of a disturbance here.” Um... from who and when? Sure, the carjacking was occurring in the open and in broad daylight, but there was no indication that there was anyone nearby who made a phone call or even knew what was happening. On top of that, if there were people in the area who could put in a call, why didn’t they try to help the woman?

Thunderstrike reassures the cop while holding the woman with this wonderfully sympathetic comment: “Everything is under control, officer!” Wow, it’s like listening to Winston Churchill – there’s so much emotion, so much power in everything he says! See? Even I could be a narrator for Thunderstrike. The policeman notes that these criminals belong to an organized gang that’s plaguing the city. Thunderstrike briefly wonders about the poor woman’s car that he just smashed: “Who’s going to pay for it? Will her insurance company cover her? Wish I could have avoided damaging it, but things happened too quickly!” Yeah, that car going 2 miles an hour really took you by surprise there.

Thunderstrike flies off by swinging his mace around in a circle and looking like a monkey while doing it. His worries about the poor woman’s car that he just trashed are forgotten as he thinks to himself about how he’s late for his lunch date with a woman named Samantha Joyce. Meanwhile a mysterious shadowed figure watches him fly from a nearby rooftop. Thunderstrike thinks to himself about how the cops keep calling him Thor. “That’s a big mistake!” Well, maybe if you weren’t flying around in Thor’s clothes with long blonde hair and smashing things with a weapon that sort of resembles his hammer, they wouldn’t call you Thor, you idiot!

Thunderstrike gives a little back-story on his relationship with Thor, featuring a section of the page showing what I presume to be some of Thor’s enemies. Why they’re being shown eludes me since they’re not even mentioned on the page, but hey, I’m not the writer. Thunderstrike expounds: “We ran across each other a few months back, and became close -- inseparable, in fact (Um, ew?) -- and I managed to help him out on quite a few occasions!” Yeah, I’m sure you were quite helpful what with your overreactions to slow-moving cars and subsequent smashing of them.

He exposits that Thor eventually had to go back to Asgard and gave him a parting gift of a walking stick (talk about your cheap gifts. “Happy birthday, Captain America! For you, I have this rock I found outside your house!”). Upon stamping it on the ground, the walking stick transforms itself into the trusty mace Thunderstrike and he realized, “that he had taken it upon himself to appoint me his successor on the planet Earth!” And what, he appointed other people to be his successor on other planets?

And actually it’s nifty that he can hide his mace as a walking stick like that, but seriously there are some flaws with this little arrangement. First of all, the walking stick looks like an old gnarled tree branch that wise men use in movies, which isn’t exactly inconspicuous. Next, he’ll need an excuse to actually carry the walking stick around with him, since there’s no indication that he needs it for a limp or something. And even if he did, the method for it to change into the mace is by stomping it on the ground. I can just imagine him walking along a street and accidentally brings the stick down too hard and it changes him into Thunderstrike. Speaking of which, when he does go into Thor mode, why does he have the beard to begin with? Did Thor think that this guy would need to look like a Viking if he was going to be taking his place?

Thunderstrike flies down into an alleyway to change back into Eric Masterson (albeit I’ll still refer to him as Thunderstrike) and he talks of how it doesn’t feel right to use Thor’s name even though he’s taken his place (Erm, doesn’t it defeat the point of being his successor if you take on a different name?). He says he’ll have to establish his own identity:

“Guess I’ll just pull out the old thesaurus tonight! After all, how hard can it be to come up with a cool-sounding name (yeah, THAT’S what’s important when carrying on a legacy)? Not very... Considering the Einsteins who usually write those hokey comic books that my son is always buying.”

Wow, the metatextuality is simply astounding. Grant Morrison would be proud.

Thunderstrike meets up with a woman named Samantha for lunch while the mysterious shadow continues to watch from afar. We get a little bit of exposition about the two, mostly that Thunderstrike gave up his old apartment and has been staying at Avenger’s mansion. Also, we learn that Thunderstrike is divorced and his kid is with his ex-wife (wouldn’t want to have a superhero with a direct family to shackle him, no-siree!). His friend Samantha here is apparently a lawyer (what is it with superheroes who have secret identity connections to lawyers?) and we also discover that Thunderstrike’s ex-wife is opening another health club, which we cut to in the next page (our helpful narrator has apparently gone on his lunch break).

Ms. Steele, as she’s called (and wearing a red dress that seems rather inappropriate for the time of day and for a simple opening of a health club), is filming an infomercial about the new club. The cameraman actually talks to her while filming, saying, “This will be your best infomercial yet, Ms. Steele -- especially with the front line of the New York Smashers signing autographs!” Well, it won’t be a particularly good infomercial if the cameraman is yacking about it while the film is rolling. Ms. Steele gets her husband (who looks suspiciously like a more muscular Burt Reynolds) to appear in a photo-op with her. By the way, this guy is also overdressed in a tuxedo, especially considering his teammates are seen in the background wearing rather comfortable attire.

The husband, Bobby, says that he hopes she doesn’t mind that he’s taking the guys out for a few beers after the festivities are over. Yeah, a bunch of drunken athletes with lots of reporters around, what could go wrong? Fortunately, we’re spared that as we seem to jump a few hours later to Bobby leaving and Ms. Steele giving us this cryptic thought balloon: “Bobby has been acting real moody the last few weeks (actually he seemed pretty reserved a second ago...) -- and he’s spending an awful lot of time with the ‘guys.’ I never faced problems like these with Eric!” Um, I think you need to reassess that statement – Bobby hangs out with ‘the guys’ and Eric was ‘inseparable’ from Thor. I hate to break it to you, lady, but I think your gaydar is waaaaay off.

Bobby excuses himself from the ‘guys’ and gives some mysterious hinting about how he hates to lie to his wife and friends, but that he’s doing the right thing. Suddenly, he’s attacked by carjackers who look exactly like the ones who Thunderstrike had dealt with and take Bobby’s car. Wow, those police were right; they are highly organized – they all have a uniform when doing carjacking! I wonder if they have good benefits.

The narrator returns from his break to tell us: “Sometime later, in a darker, grittier part of the city...” As opposed to the darker, grittier part of the comics industry we’re already experiencing? Anyway, the carjackers arrive at their base (wearing entirely different colored versions of the same outfit, I might add) and announce how proud they are of their recent acquisition, and we reveal the mastermind behind the “national disgrace that has spread across this land like an unchecked cancer.”

And now I’m just laughing my head off here. Our hero’s first villain he has to contend with has dreadlocks, a metallic mask with iron bars over the mouth, a huge brown trench coat, purple pants, and huge, ungainly boots and gloves. Essentially he looks like an adult Jakeem Thunder with a Dr. Doom mask. Oh, and the best part? His name is Carjack. Norse Gods beware, Carjack’s reign of terror will spread throughout the land like a cancer and- well, you get the idea.

To be fair, Carjack isn’t the main villain of this piece, but he’s still a pretty dorky-looking bad guy with an even dorkier name. He scolds the man who was proud of his capture for getting blood on the front seat, lessening the resale value. “We cannot continue to hold this city in a grip of true terror... without proper discipline!” Yeah, I mean look at how much the people of the city are in a grip of terror. Boy-howdy are they all terrified, what with their casual, friendly dinners and health club openings and whatnot. “We have already lost three of our brothers today! The time has come to increase the pressure... and turn up the heat! Wait a second, overestimating how really damaging a crime is? Sentence fragments in what he’s saying? My God, Carjack is the narrator!

On the next page, the narrator wonders, “Is it hours,(sic) or only mere minutes that pass before muffled footsteps are heard within a deserted locker room--?!” You have thirty seconds to answer! Anyway, our shadowy figure reveals himself to be a loser named Bloodaxe, who looks like a metal-coated Red Skull with big muscles, a huge axe, and a spike and skull motif on his outfit. Well, actually, I shouldn’t say ‘he,’ since as it turned out later in Thunderstrike’s run that Bloodaxe was actually a woman we’ll be seeing later named Jackie Lukus. Sorry if I spoiled anyone out there. Do not reveal the incredible secret of Bloodaxe! Bloodaxe has a few bits of scintillating thoughts and dialogue, including this little diddy: “Few would have the courage, the daring to seek vengeance upon those who are already held by the police!” Well, that’s because no one’s that idiotic. Once they’re in police custody, the vengeance is worthless since they’ve already been captured. Moron.

The narrator once again pipes up as we cut to the prison and suddenly I wish he’d go on break again. The three carjackers who are surprisingly not dead thanks to Thunderstrike’s assault on them (actually they look pretty good, especially considering one of them probably got tons of glass shards jabbed into him). Bloodaxe shows up, kills one of them, and demands to know where Carjack is from the other two frightened criminals.

Cut to next page, where Thunderstrike is soaring along at a rather bizarre angle considering he exposits how he just tosses the mace into the air and then hangs on while it shoots him in that direction (which I must say is a really inconvenient method of flight. What if you needed to stop or turn suddenly? Is this how Thor traveled?). He wonders if he should get involved in the ‘carjack nonsense.’ “Besides, it’s hardly the kind of crime you’d typically associate with one of Earth’s mightiest heroes, or whatever the Avengers are calling themselves these days!” But... But... Doesn’t he know how carjacking is a national disgrace that’s spread across this land like an unchecked cancer!?

“I suppose I could check in with the police, but... why should they share their info with me?! As far they’re concerned, I’m just some jerk with a big stick and a gaudy cape!” Dude, you’ve got the power of the friggin’ God of thunder, who the hell cares what they think? Thunderstrike hears police sirens and wonders for a moment what exactly his responsibilities are as Thor’s surrogate. I admit this panel does work pretty well, what with a normal guy having the power of a God on his side and not being sure which things he needs to worry about and balancing his personal life with his heroics and what part of his heroics (ordinary street crime vs. saving the world) he should worry about. Of course, everything else around the book pretty much sucks, so we’ll just assume this was a fluke.

Thunderstrike gets the rundown of Bloodaxe’s attack on the police station from a police Lieutenant. Thunderstrike says that there’s a wild chance he can track Bloodaxe. When the Lieutenant asks him how it’s possible, Thunderstrike gives this brilliant response: “It’s too... er... complicated... to explain!” Jeez, the guy’s a regular Cicero, isn’t he? Thunderstrike asks the police to follow him as best as they can while he flies off.

Flip the page and the narrator’s boxes are the only dialogue for the entire page again. Ugh. “It has been said that a well-organized chop shop can strip an entire car -- completely reducing it to its individual components (NO, is THAT what stripping a car means?! And here I thought it had something to do with Demi Moore!) -- in less time than it takes the average mechanic to attach a muffler.” Wow, got to give the criminals credit for efficiency. That’s fast. The side of the warehouse where Carjack is at blows open, revealing Bloodaxe. “And now, even as the side of the building erupts with flame and fury -- one is forced to wonder exactly how long it will take a certain axe-wielding vigilante to strip a chop shop!?” Actually I was wondering how long it’d take for me to strip the narrator of his throat so he couldn’t speak anymore.

Carjack and his cronies of course know that some serious ass-whooping is about to go down thanks to the visibly impressive Bloodaxe, but Thunderstrike suddenly tackles into him on another horizontal-flipped page. Thunderstrike thought-balloons: “My plan worked! I somehow managed to use my own enchanted weapon to trail Bloodaxe across the city!” Anyone want to bet this ability will either be lost by the issue’s end or just completely forgotten in the future when other criminals need to be tracked down?

Thunderstrike knocks Bloodaxe through a wall in order to have more room to maneuver. Bloodaxe easily recovers from all of this and starts laying the smackdown on Thunderstrike, knocking him around. Thunderstrike thinks to himself how he must not have the same power level as Thor and that he can’t summon a thunderstorm with his mace like he could with Mjolnir. Oh, gee, smooth move, Thor – you’ve got someone to take your place, but you didn’t even bother to let them be on the same power level as you?! How exactly was he supposed to be Thor’s successor? Did Thor think that Eric here would just show up at social events, kind of a mascot for the Avengers instead of an actual superhero? Bloodaxe lays down the standard, ‘vengeance against criminals, killing better than imprisoning, yadda yadda blah blah’ to Thunderstrke while he smacks him around.

Meanwhile, Carjack and his followers take off their masks to try to fool the cops and we learn that Carjack’s dreadlocks are actually attached to his mask and he’s actually a white guy with blonde hair, which is even dumber than just having a loser villain named Carjack who has dreadlocks. Bloodaxe closes in for the kill and I suddenly realize that the skies are quite red, either indicating that the sun’s setting or that the Crisis on Infinite Earths is about to begin. Suddenly a deus ex machina in the form of a red energy beam fires and Bloodaxe is knocked away from Thunderstrike. The police Lieutenant from earlier comes running up to Thunderstrike (now sporting Scott Summers-like red sunglasses) while Bloodaxe dashes off.

Thunderstrike speculates about who saved him, running through the two options, both of whom he disregards as not being possible. He then realizes that his main problem was that he was completely unprepared for the fight and that everyone keeps mistaking him for Thor when he is most clearly not. As such, he goes to a shop called ‘Spotlight Costumes’ and we can see Captain America and Spider-Man inside. This makes me wonder if it actually was them (which wouldn’t make sense, since Captain America’s suit was designed by the government and Spider-Man made his own and wouldn’t risk his secret identity by going to a costume shop) or if they’re just mannequins (which would make even LESS sense given the above considerations). The woman there says she’s been, “following his exploits in the newspaper.” What exploits? ‘Thunder-God wannabe breaks spines of three criminals before getting his butt handed to him by Red Skull wannabe?’

By the by, in a Liefeld-esque moment, Thunderstrike here has on a huge black trench coat and his shoulders are bulging out as if he had huge padding underneath them (even though we can tell he’s wearing normal clothes at the moment). Thunderstrike shows the woman some sketches of alternate costumes, which include a rather Thor-like design with some alternate color highlights and another one that looks like his normal outfit sans cape and with sunglasses. The woman has some opinions of her own:

Interesting! You’re obviously going for a look which combines the classic with the contemporary! But a cape is too 60’s -- mind if I make a few suggestions?” Well, thanks for insulting the Vision, Scarlet Witch, Moon Knight, Dr. Strange, Sentry, and all the other heroes who wear capes. Thunderstrike asks what ideas she has and we have THIS stellar costume suggestion: “Well... I’ve always thought an earring can be sooo sexy on the right man!” Yeah, and that man’s name is George Michael, not Eric Masterson, lady.

Cut to outside a courthouse where Carjack is being released and *sigh* the narrator has decided to interject what he’s learned from his Creative Writing class. “Needles of cold prickle the air outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse some 24 hours later...” Carjack’s lawyer advises him to lay low, but our braintrust of a supervillain announces, “We’ll be hitting the streets harder than ever... After we party!” o/ I’m going to a paaaaarrtaaaay! Party at midnight... o/ And, as ever, our narrator keeps us on the edge of our seats: “Laughter, colder than the air, begins to echo.”

Everyone with me now? 1...2...3... SHUT UP!

Meanwhile, Thunderstrike returns home from a date with Jackie Lukus, AKA Bloodaxe. Jackie thinks to herself how she’s excited that dinner is only the start of the evening (so Bloodaxe isn’t getting any? THAT’S why she’s a homicidal maniac?) She says she’s going to turn off the TV, but it’s the news and Thunderstrike tells her to leave it on as the announcer reports: “The District Attorney’s office has confirmed the release of the man the newspapers have dubbed Carjack!” This has been plot convenience news; thank you and good night! Wait a second, it was the newspapers that gave him that dumb name? Now I REALLY have a low opinion of the mass media...

Thunderstrike tells Jackie that he wants to borrow her phone so he can call Marcy. Jackie rightfully thinks with shock, “He’s calling his ex-wife -- in the middle of my date?!” You know, after going out with someone as moronic as that, I have to safely say that I’d become a psychotic loner with a demonic axe if I had to deal with that, too. Thunderstrike’s wife tells him that Bobby ran out on a rampage and their son says that his dad has to call Thor. How exactly the kid thinks that his father has a red phone for calling Thor escapes my knowledge, but even better is his next line: “Only Thor can help Bobby now!” Um... What about the fifty or sixty other heroes who operate out of New York? I’m sure they can deal with a loser wearing a dumb mask whose superpower is apparently throwing people out of cars and making threats against his own cohorts.

Thunderstrike goes running out on Jackie with his walking stick in hand (and it looks really stupid when he does it, since again a walking stick is supposed to help people walk and he’s clearly running out of there unaided). The narrator comes chiming in as we close in on Jackie’s face. “Questions blaze within Jackie’s mind!” Like how many licks does it take to get to the tootsie center?!

“Is it some misguided sense of responsibility, some macho jock ethic which drives Eric on this fool’s errand?” Or is he just an idiot? “Or, does Marcy Masterson-Steele hold even greater sway than Jackie ever feared?!” No, since it was his son who was demanding him to get Thor. “Tonight could have been... would have been... so special!” Jeez, the narrator’s awfully bummed that Jackie isn’t getting laid tonight. Maybe he’s some perverse voyeur?

Cut to the streets, where Carjack and his crew are drinking Wild Turkey and generally not doing anything that disruptive other than being loud. Bloodaxe arrives and makes Carjack’s cronies run away while she grabs Carjack. Thunderstrike’s mace slams into Bloodaxe’s back and we get our big reveal and hero moment as Thunderstrike comes and utters these immortal lines that will go down in the annuls of great comic moments:

“No one dies tonight! Not if I can help it!” Oscar Wilde, eat your heart out. By the way, Thunderstrike is now wearing the outfit from his cover, with a ponytail, the Thor “four circles on his torso” shirt, and a brown leather vest-jacket. I can see no signs of the earring, but it must be there, since it’s on the cover.

Thunderstrike slams into Bloodaxe, sending her careening back while Carjack orders his men to get their guns ready and a silhouetted form watches from the background (whom I’m presuming is Bobby). Bloodaxe echoes my sentiments as he says, “Your ridiculous attempt at a heroic entrance was as pathetic as your new uniform!” Thunderstrike quips back, “Yeah... well you should check a mirror before you start dispensing fashion advice!” Ah, such witty banter could only- ah, you get the idea.

Bloodaxe talks about how the law doesn’t work and that criminals have to be killed and Thunderstrike naturally responds about how it doesn’t give him the right to be judge, jury, and- my goodness, I’m getting bored just typing this stuff. Carjack agrees with me when he says that he can’t believe that the two are talking philosophy while trying to beat each other’s brains out. Subsequently, he and his men open fire. Now, I will admit, I’m guilty of interjecting philosophy during a fight into my own webcomic, but any kind of usefulness here is undercut by the fact that so far these guys have been pretty dull. We have no real reason of why Thunderstrike believes in heroics or why he chooses not to kill and Bloodaxe is just your standard-issue ‘kill-‘em-all’ Punisher-style vigilante and we have no back-story about why she’s the way she is... but maybe that’s explained in a later issue.

Bloodaxe uses some sort of magnetic force in her axe to repel the bullets back, killing three of Carjack’s forces. Thunderstrike has what I will now be referring to as ‘heroic spaz attack’ since “NO ONE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET HURT! NO ONE WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE!” and starts laying it on Bloodaxe, swinging like a madman. Bloodaxe boasts that she possesses the greater power and greater strength, but Thunderstrike gets his mace under her axe and disarms her, telling her back, “Raw power is never enough, my friend! Power without responsibility, compassion, and intelligence is merely a defeat waiting to happen!” And while I agree philosophically with that, I’m still bored out of my head. Oh, and somehow they’re now inside a warehouse even though we never saw them leave the streets.

Thunderstrike talks about how it was the height of stupidity for him to try to be like Thor (and what was the idea of being his successor, then?), but now he’s his own man. Bloodaxe gets knocked into a support beam and Thunderstrike exposits that Carjack and his crew left in the melee and he hasn’t seen any sign of Bobby. And then the narrator pipes in again: “But, even as Eric scours the rubble -- Bloodaxe rises from the wreckage like some terrifying phoenix of legend!” Shut up. Shut UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP! SHUT! UP!

Bloodaxe lifts a car over his head and proclaims, “No battle with Bloodaxe is ever truly over, Thor!” Thunderstrike raises his mace up and somehow it shoots out a beam of energy that slams into Bloodaxe. Thunderstrike responds, “That’s what you think, pal -- And please stop calling me Thor!

Thunderstrike announces to himself in shock that the mace has powers that he didn’t realize, but then the building collapses on top of him. Bloodaxe gets away, swearing vengeance and all that. The narrator, finally speaking without sounding stupid, announces that the police arrive a few minutes later and we see they have apprehended Carjack along with evidence of drugs and illegal weapons (so, wait, wasn’t his whole deal about carjacking? Where did the drugs and weapons come from?) He declares that there’s no sign of the thunder guy when someone yells that they see some movement in the rubble. Much to our sadness, Thunderstrike rises from the debris holding both his mace and Bloodaxe’s axe.

One of the policeman cries out, “It’s him! It’s the Mighty Thor!” Thunderstrike proclaims, “No. He’s the other guy.” Standing in a heroic pose in the rubble, Thunderstrike announces (in his standard glorious, poetic voice), “My name!” And then I think to myself, ‘Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!’ Oh, wait, that’s actually Thunderstrike thinking that. “But it’s better than Sparky -- The Lightning Kid [?!?!] -- and I’ll never get around to that thesaurus the way I’m going. The name was an easy problem, but where’s the real Bloodaxe?” Maybe you should use that tracking thing you did earlier, idiot! “Whatever happened to Bobby Steele? And what am I supposed to do with this dumb axe?” And when will this series be canceled?!

Anyway, Thunderstrike says he must’ve been hit in the head too hard because it actually seems to be whispering to him and, of course, it is. Later on in the series, it’s revealed that Bloodaxe’s axe actually communicates with its wielder and makes them go nuts and- wait, no one cares. Sorry. The issue ends with a promo for Issue 2, featuring a bout with the unstoppable Juggernaut!

Well, that’s it for this review! And what about this brave, wonderful new hero and his heroic exploits? I think I’m going to let the words of Hercules to sum up Thunderstrike #1:

Well said.

Read more!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Youngblood #1

The Next Generation of Zeroes!

For those not aware, back in the 1990s, a group of artists at Marvel (including Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and others) left the company out of dissatisfaction over payment policies and ownership rights. They banded together under a new company, calling itself Image Comics, and devoted themselves to having a place where creator-owned properties could flourish with more of a focus on artwork than on writing. A lot of them were met with varying successes or failures and some have managed to survive even today.

However, a lot of them really tanked, including the subject of today. Youngblood #1 was the first comic to be released off of Image’s line and while I haven’t read many of Image’s titles, I think it’s fair enough to say that it’s probably one of the worst. Even forgiving the artwork of Rob Liefeld, the story itself is poor and its characters are a bunch of unlikable, generically pissed-off individuals who embody pretty much the entirety of the Dark Age of Comics. They killed, they used guns, they didn’t have strict moral codes, and they all had the same perpetual scowl throughout their tenure as ‘heroes.’

Now, I will tell you that I have a love/hate relationship for Liefeld. From what I’ve read about him, the guy’s a really enthusiastic, upbeat person who can be a real pleasure to work with. But on the other hand, his artwork really sucks. Sure, he’s got a basic idea of proportions and shading and all, but when he tries to apply it to superheroes, it just leaves one with a bad taste for what they’ve just seen presented to them. As such, while I will be insulting the artwork throughout this review, please know that I don’t hold it against Rob that much.

Youngblood was heavily criticized in its time for its extensive use of profanity, gore, and general bad writing, bad artwork, and complete lack of connection between the reader and the character. I don’t know if Liefeld expected these guys to really be the next Superman or Captain America in terms of their legacy on the American public, but really their tagline should’ve been ‘The Next Generation of Zeroes!’

The cover’s one of your dime-a-dozen group shots, except the composition leaves much to be desired. Even ignoring Liefeld’s tendency to feature all of his men as over-muscled bodybuilders or his women as busty, spineless sex objects, the coloring on our ‘heroes’ has them blend into one another, making it sometimes difficult to see where one begins and the other ends. Also, it should be noted that you can’t see the eyes of a single one of the ‘heroes,’ as if they didn’t have any at all. And boy do I envy them for that.

Right before the first page, there’s a cardboard “profile box” featuring the only female hero of the Youngblood “Home Team” Vogue. Here it is revealed that underneath her patriotic [!!] and independent skin beats the heart of a Russian defector. Because, you know, when I think patriotic I think a purple and white bodysuit, clown face makeup, and huge shoulder pads, too. Also, we learn that not only was she a world class gymnast by the age of 13 [!!!], but in her civilian identity she runs a successful cosmetic company [!!!] AND she is adept in most major forms of martial arts! Take THAT, Keanu Reeves! I wonder what exactly is her “civilian identity” since the profile box says that her real name is “not revealed.”

The first page opens up, according to the comic, in Washington D.C. at 12:17 PM. A man and woman are out shopping and the woman, revealed here to be named Shelly, is in shock that she’s shopping on her lunch hour with her boyfriend. We get a smattering of tiny bits of exposition as we learn the man is named Jeff and that Shelly “Wouldn’t believe the reports we have to fill out!” Yeah, those TPS Reports are a bitch. We learn that Shelly works as an assistant D.A. Oh, and as you can see here, just like on the cover, Jeff has no eyes. Look out, Dr. Mid-Nite – there’s a new blind superhero on the block!

On the next page we see the first example of Rob Liefeld’s incredible artwork as a supposed thief runs past several mall walkers down the escalators and Jeff leaps down to apprehend him. We can see that a black hole has opened up right at his crotch, since all the lines appear to be sucking down right into it. His hips are pushed out at odd angles while he leaps from an implausible side angle, only for the next panel to see him tackling thief from a straight angle at the thief’s back. While Jeff berates the thief with this splendid dialogue: “‘Tis the season for giving, not stealing!” (Even though from the establishing shot and your clothes it looks like it’s mid-July!), a voiceover box reveals that, “A good hero can never let a crime go unpunished.”

We cut up to an assassin lining up a rather bizarre looking gun that looks more like it’s designed for caulking than long-distance shots. A voice warns Jeff of the danger and I’m sure it was meant to come from Shelly even though the dialogue balloon seems to indicate that it came from the assassin himself. While Jeff’s body now looks like it’s ballooned so he can be an extra in Weird Al’s “Fat” music video, he grabs a pen from his pocket and tosses it at the assassin [!!]. This somehow hits the assassin back with enough forces as to knock him off of a ledge (and making physicists’ heads explode around the world) and into a pool of water below. A bunch of onlookers reveal that our friend Jeff here is Shaft (SHUT YOUR MOUTH!) and Jeff begins to search the body. And by search, I mean he holds out his hand towards the body and says, “No I.D. No pulse. No answers.” From what I’ve read, Youngblood came about because Liefeld had been interested in doing a Team Titans book for DC and that Shaft here was supposed to be Roy Harper. As such, it’s quite a shock to learn that Roy Harper can search bodies by just looking at them.

A reporter suddenly appears, revealing he had been following Shaft with his cameraman. He asks Jeff (now to be referred to as his codename Shaft), “Are the rumors true that Youngblood has been sent overseas to deal with the Crisis?” And suddenly we cut to the Anti-Monitor laughing as he stomps on each member of the ‘next generation of heroes.’ Well, not really, but we can dream, can’t we? Before Shaft can answer, he gets a call from ‘HQ’ and apologizes to Shelly as he runs off. Shelly looks dreamily at her boyfriend and says, “Go nail ‘em!” And if that means nailing our skulls with the artwork, trust me, he’s already done.

We cut to “Baltimore, Maryland. 12:32 PM” as we meet Bedrock, the grey momma’s boy who’s eating a lunch as he gets the call to come in to the HQ, as well. He even asks to be excused as the mother says how proud she is of him. And by the perpetual smile on her face I’d think The Stepford Wives had been made into a comic book if not for the fact that even though it’s the ‘90s, she has a head of ‘80s hair.

We then cut to “Arlington, Virginia. Underground. 12:44 PM” and I start to wonder what the hell’s taking HQ so long as they appear to be calling their agents in ten-minute intervals. Anyway, in ‘Underground,’ we meet the next Youngblood member – DIEHARD – WITH A VENGEANCE. Okay, it’s just Diehard, but seriously, did Rob even think about these names as he was planning this? Oddly enough, Diehard here speaks his thought captions with <> bars, as if they were being translated. And what is this oh-so-useful dialogue we get from this mysterious, eyeless character laying on a multicolored slab? “I am needed. This time, I must make better use of my freedom.” …WITH A VENGEANCE! Okay, I promise to stop now.

Cut to almost half an hour later in the same location, only “Aboveground” now, where the buzz-cut Youngblood member Chapel is in bed with a naked woman as he gets his own call from HQ. He tells her to leave and that she should leave her number. The next page suddenly shows Chapel in his ‘iconic’ costume, a leather jacked, red pants, skull facepaint, and a gun right out of Men in Black. His inner monologue gives us this insightful wisdom – “You gotta give ‘em hope. As Shaft would say, ‘it’s good PR!’” Is it too late to hate these guys? No? Good.

Cut to five hours later [!!!] as we see Vogue hopping around rooftops of Washington DC, revealing she knows she got the call a few hours ago. “Shaft’s probably pacing the halls by now. They think I’m at their beck and call. Let ‘em wait!” Jeez, can you imagine if a member of the Avengers pulled something like this? “Yeah, Captain America, I know Galactus was attacking, but I’m not at your beck and call!”

We finally cut to what I can only presume is ‘HQ,’ since there isn’t an establishing caption box to reveal this. Shaft’s coming in and we see him walk up to a huge-ass computer console where a normal-looking woman and a person with a much better costume than the rest of the Youngblood team named Photon stands. Shaft suddenly acts like a complete asshole as he says for no particular reason, “Oh, so we get the pleasure of your company tonight, Photon?” On the next page, the rest of the Youngblood team shows up and Shaft berates Vogue for being late. Before they can get in a good little dialogue about what exactly our fearless team leader will do if she shows up late again, the woman at the control chair reveals that there’s a request for assistance coming in. And suddenly I’m tilting my head and wondering what the heck it was that required Youngblood’s presence five hours ago that they were all called in for.

Shaft asks what the situation is and the woman at the console (who also is apparently suffering from the same disease that affects the eyes of our heroes) reports that one of the Youngblood’s transport vehicles is under attack. She says it’s “Strongarm and Gage!!! The Four!” Erm, it’s actually only two, and why the need for three exclamation points? While Vogue tries to cover up that bit of idiotic dialogue by asking, “Didn’t we put two of them away?” Diehard and Chapel say that Strongarm and Gage are attempting to make an escape attempt. For what, themselves? Sure, we find out in the next page, but still, the way they say it in these pages makes it sound like they’re escaping, themselves, by attacking a- ah, screw it, why am I giving this more thought than the makers of this comic did? We do get an EXTREME!!! close-up of Shaft’s face where we can see that he does in fact have eyes.

Cut to some random street in what I can only presume is Washington, D.C. since again, the establishment captions have completely vanished on us. We do get captions of a few bits of dialogue, albeit they’re all colored white, so we have no idea who’s saying it unless they say the other person’s name:

“Let’s make this one quick, team! The Four have never really been that tough.”
“I want Strongarm this time.”
“He’s all yours, Die Hard (sic).”

Strongarm and Gage turn out to be more genuine Liefeld creations, with Strongarm being an overly-muscled guy who appears to have no joints for his arms while Gage resembles a combination of Deadpool from Marvel and Gizmo from D.C. (albeit with more guns). Both also, sadly, have been afflicted with what I’m going to be calling Youngblood’s disease, where eyes are either nonexistent or just poorly drawn. We see four completely identical cops running at the two, but nothing ever comes of them. Gage calls out to the truck: “Deadlock! Starbright! Stand back! Stand back!”

Strongarm rips off the door of the truck, revealing Deadlock and Starbright and I have to say, they actually have semi-decent outfits, albeit Deadlock seems to have an inexplicable ponytail coming out of the back of his mask that’s suffering from Dilbert’s tie syndrome by defying gravity. Of course, this brings up the question of why the heck these two are even still in costumes if they were in custody. Starbright asks if there’s any sign of Youngblood, to which Deadlock replies, “Dah! The mere mention of that name boils my blood!” Oh no, mein blood, ack! Help, comrades, I’m vaguely European and my blood is boiling!

Starbright tells him to “keep it in check” [??] and that their plan depends on it. Gage gasps and calls out, “Four o’clock! Four o’clock! They’re here! They’re here!” There is no way out of here. It’ll be dark soon. There is no way out of here. Three arrows hit the ground. Okay, Shaft can kill a guy standing a hundred feet away with a pen using his free hand, but he can’t hit a couple of guys with a bow and arrow?! Okay, admittedly, his bow doesn’t have any string (as indicated by the cover and a page that’s coming up), but still...

And in the panel below- oh my goodness. I can’t believe this. My mind hasn’t been this blown since Mr. T punched a shark in the nose on his cartoon. Diehard has flown down and from the angle of the shot, the way his arms and legs are inexplicably behind his body (thanks to the superb pencilings of our good Mr. Liefeld), by the way Strongarm has suddenly been knocked back with a trail of blood from his mouth, and by the way Diehard’s package has been drawn so that we can tell it’s bulging out, I can only come to the conclusion that DIEHARD JUST SMACKED STRONGARM IN THE FACE WITH HIS CROTCH. Diehardcock proclaims, “This makes us even!” and suddenly I understand fully what Diehardbody did with his freedom the last time. And now I really want to have Liefeld cut out my eyes like those of the Youngblood.

Diehardon punches Strongarm (this time with his fist) while shouting, “I’ve been waiting for this day! And this time you won’t be as lucky!” I don’t think any of us want to be THAT lucky. And finally, we cut to a two-page spread of the other members of Youngblood rushing out at the Four. Oh, and check out the cops in the lower-left corner who have oversized legs and arms that for some odd reason are extended out away from them like stiff boards. Perhaps they’re imitating what one of Liefeld’s men would look like if they had muscles like that in real life?

Whew! That issue just lasted forever, didn’t it? Well, at least it’s over and- oh, no. Turning the page, we see some upside-down pages. Yes, folks, in a rather bizarre bit of page construction, what we saw on the first front cover was actually just the Home Team of Youngblood and now we have to FLIP THE COMIC OVER and read it from the back to see the rest of this exciting tale.

Diehard, please kill me now with your mega-crotch.

Okay, in theory, this is a neat idea – two teams that alternate whenever there are missions on the home front or missions that take you away from the immediate area. The problem is that this can also be a radically stupid idea.
1. It’s hard enough to balance a team book, what with ensuring that each character gets some spotlight time and making sure that each has a unique characterization. Usually teams of 5-7 are best. But Youngblood gives us TWELVE characters and puts them all in the SAME book. That means there’s only so much time that can be devoted to any one character, since there’s limited space on each flip-side of the book to tell the story in a 22-25 page comic.
2. It’s a bad idea to put both stories in the SAME BOOK. It’s possible to have two different teams with similar names, like having a Justice League America and a Justice League Europe running at the same time, or a The Avengers and a West Coast Avengers running at the same time. But with Youngblood, the two teams mean that the missions are going to be really short and, again, little time for characterization. Back-up features work because they’re short supplements, a small story within a large story, but these are both of equal size and we didn’t get any resolution on the Home team of Youngblood. The story just stopped.
3. It’s especially bad to do this for a first issue. First issues are supposed to get the reader acclimatized to these characters and their situations, give us some idea of what their deal is and why we should like them. But this book just has the characters thrust into one action situation to the next without any real chance for substance. Are the Youngblood a government organization? Are they the world’s only superheroes?

Anyway, with all that in mind, let’s move into the Away Team section of Youngblood.

The cover on the back is a little bit better off than the Home Team’s, with a little more uniqueness to the characters and even some symbols for them. The colors don’t seem as subdued.

Inside, we have yet another cardboard profile box, this one for the Home Team’s leader Shaft (wahki-chicken, wahki-chicken). Apparently he’s an experienced FBI agent who was chosen to replace an unseen character named Battlestone as leader of Youngblood (Say, Rob? Why not have an ORIGIN STORY for your entirely new universe and characters, eh? No? Fine...). It says that his weapon of choice is a “specially-crafted bow and arrow,” which makes me think it must be special if it DOESN’T HAVE A STRING.

The first page of the other side of Youngblood starts off with six television screens displaying a news report. I’m reluctant to call it ‘talking heads,’ though, since every time a person is on the screen, they look like they’re sleeping! Yes, not only do they have their eyes tightly shut, but their mouths are clamped firmly down even though there are both speech bubbles AND caption boxes that indicate that people should be talking! The speech bubble for the news announcer doesn’t even have an arrow connecting it to him! For all we know, they’re just putting Bob Squarebody there on the screen while he took some NyQuil and someone else is trying to make it look like they’re actually talking.

Apparently the situation as they describe it is how a radical leader of a terrorist group named Saddam Hussein- erm, I’m sorry, that’s Hassan Kussein (who’s also sleeping, by the way) has taken control of several Israeli territories. The President is sending in a specialized task force to deal with it. We switch to live feed from a reporter on the field and despite the fact that his mouth is actually open, this poor reporter’s eyes are just as shut as the others, indicating he must be sleeping, too.

The next page is a double-page spreading featuring the arrival of the Away Team of Youngblood, which features a character not seen on either cover – Combat! Well, actually, in all fairness, he DOES appear on one of the covers – the one with the Home Team. But he’s not wearing the ridiculously goofy and huge helmet he’s sporting here that makes him look like a giant tuning-fork. Additionally, he’s holding a huge pink gun in his hands and while I’m sure it was meant to look cool or badass, really it just makes me wonder if it’s just a giant frosting dispenser. To make matters worse, while the other members of Youngblood are leaping down from helicopters in relatively the same direction, Pinky the gold salad fork here is dropping down facing the wrong way plus scrunching his body as if he were sitting on a toilet.

Cut to the next page and now Combat’s gun is like three times smaller than it was in the previous page (but still Pink). Combat announces shock that there were more than what the Briefings said there would be. Cougar, who is of course not Wolverine at all, has a brief conversation with Combat (who’s sporting childbearing hips in a couple of these panels) about how he treats war like a game:

“Got more toy soldiers to play with!”
“War’s just a game to you?”
“Yup. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be fun, Coug!”
“I gotta admit, this gets me pumped!”

And suddenly we’re in a Jane Fonda video. Thanks, Cougar. Well, actually that would explain why all of these losers are so muscle-bound. Must be really tough to keep up that figure. On the next page, the de-facto team leader Sentinel (who is obviously not Iron Man) explains that this is only the first wave and that and it’s revealed that Combat wasn’t paying attention during the Briefing. Oh, and his gun has turned into another size, this time about 2/3 of the original size. Let’s see – he doesn’t pay attention to briefings, he has a size-changing gun, he’s got to be uncomfortable to be with in an elevator due to his size, and he treats war like a game. The next generation of heroes, ladies and gentlemen!

On the next page we catch up with the other members of the Away team. Psi-Fire just kind of floats in the air with his hands by his side as he flies alongside Riptide, who is herself riding on a wave of water. He ‘cleverly’ quips, “I should’ve bought this land! I’ve always wanted beachfront property, babe!!(sic)” Riptide, echoing the sentiments of every human being on the planet, responds, “Shut up, Psi-Fire!

Following along is the other team strongman Brahma, and he- OH MY GOD, THERE’S A BLACK HOLE FORMING IN HIS MOUTH! Well, okay, not really, but it sure as hell looks that way. He complains, “These soldiers are worse than flies!”[??] and Riptide responds that she needs him to keep swatting them since it’s taking all of her concentration to form waves in the middle of the desert. And already I like Riptide, even in spite of the fact that her outfit (while somewhat appropriate given her powers) is a bathing suit and she has no eyes. Not only did she tell another guy on the team to shut up, but her powers are actually decent as she even uses the water stream to punch some enemy soldiers.

They close in on their target, a small building without much security (to help obscure Saddam- er, Hassan’s location). The group leaps in close to the building only to be stopped by an energy field that’s being fired upon by a group of large robots[!!!]! Psi-Fire is fine, however, and he creepily exclaims that he can take Hassan out from the states. The energy field doesn’t affect him and he looks up at the camera, reveling actually quite frighteningly with his lack of eyes and exclaims that he “wanted to do this personally!

Meanwhile, Combat and Cougar have suddenly engaged with other high-tech robots and Cougar asks, “Is your little brother beating up on you again?” Huh? Oh, I get it, Combat’s a robot... or a cyborg. In any case, Combat gets all pissy (probably because he lost is helmet) and starts laying the smackdown on the robot. Sadly, it’s a rather unimpressive battle, since instead of seeing the robot get dented or mangled, we instead just see him getting hit with a couple hard ‘punch’ starbursts that could’ve happened had this been an organic opponent. Cougar stops Combat from killing the robot (Or is it a mech? We can’t actually tell), and tells him it “isn’t Katella.” It would’ve been nice to know just what the hell Katella is, but I’m sure that was supposed to be part of the ‘mystery’ that draws readers back for more of these ‘exciting’ adventures.

We cut back to Psi-Fire and Kussein with the would-be dictator pleading for his life. To Liefeld’s credit, Psi-Fire actually looks pretty normal here, with the buff Psi-Fire having realistic muscle proportions. However, since I’m sure Liefeld was trying to get the effect of Psi-Fire focusing more on his psychic abilities and not his physical prowess, the effect is sadly lost. To make Psi-Fire even more unpleasant, he proclaims, “I actually admire what you’ve done here in this backwards country. It’s just that mine pays me more.” Kussein tries to say he’ll give him more money, but Psi-Fire isn’t interested. Instead, he gives a little psychic attack to Kussein’s brain and much to the surprise of every reader of the book, we get a close-up shot of Kussein’s eye – wow, it actually exists! But then we cut to the next page of Kussein holding his head in pain while Psi-Fire says that he does this kind of stuff for free (then why was he talking about how he’s better paid in the USA?) and with pleasure, allowing Kussein’s head to blow up off-panel and shoot blood everywhere.

Combat and Cougar enter, saying with rather mild annoyance, “he did it again!” Combat says it’s impressive as the other members of Youngblood wake up and also express their eye-rolling disappointment over the fact that he killed him. Brahma just stares at the body as if Gary Coleman had slapped him in the face while my favorite character Riptide sums it up with an irritated, “Oh, way to go!! Brilliant!” Iron Man- er, Sentinel says it’s time to leave and they should call the clean up crew.

And the final page? A shot of US (sic) Today saying that Kussein’s terror ended in his suicide. The newsprint says that he apparently unpinned a grenade in his mouth and that a suicide note was found nearby. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen – they’re murderers, liars, and support other killers. Isn’t it just the stuff of legends? Also on the page is a hinting that the former leader of Youngblood, Battlestone, is still at large with private “Brigade,” possibly hinting at future things to come, while a side-story on the newspaper features a little jab at Marvel, the company that produced such a fine, fine artist as Mr. Liefeld.

Well, there you have it, folks – heroes that will no doubt live on for decades to come! Take that, Teen Titans! Take that, Avengers! Hell, take that, Defenders!
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