Archive for May, 2011

Rage and Fire

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #6

This has been an extremely fun comic from the beginning, but I hate to tell ya, it falls all to pieces in this last issue.

When we last left our heroes, they were stuck in the Mojoverse, time-diamonds stuck all over them to allow them to fight the Czar and Big Murder, when Wolverine gets possessed by the Phoenix Force. And this issue starts out with… Spidey, Wolvie, and Spidey’s new girlfriend living quietly in the Old West. Oh, and we eventually find out that Spidey defeated WolverPhoenix by… talking him down. Then mysterious portals steal the bad guys away, and after a while of, again, living quietly in the Old West, the time portals come back and we learn they’re run by the Time Cops, and they steal the heroes away, stuff ’em back in the present day, make Spidey’s girlfriend forget him, and everything ends on a deeply depressing note, where everyone’s efforts were completely useless and the heroes are left alone and lonely.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Seriously, it’s amazing how a series that was so very awesome for the first five issues just turned into a bucket of missed opportunites, illogical wrapups, and pointless nihilism in the final ish. At least the art was gorgeous.

How to improve this series: Well, the series is over now, but I definitely would’ve started out with Spidey stopping WolverPhoenix in some way other than just talking his ear off. I also would’ve loved to see an ending that didn’t rely on deus ex machina like the Time Cops and maybe didn’t try to be so relentlessly downbeat.

Super Dinosaur #2

Derek Dynamo and Super Dinosaur head out after the evil Max Maximus, unaware that he’s tricked them into pursuing Tricerachops and her master, a masked maniac called the Exile. And because the battle is going to take place in the Arctic, SD has to wear his special cold-weather armor. There’s a great deal of fighting and punching and missile-launching and suchlike.

Verdict: Thumbs down. I hate to say it, but it bored me. I know, what the heck is wrong with me when a comic book about a talking, armored T-rex won’t entertain me?!

How to improve this series: Well, for starters, I’m already feeling weighted down by a bunch of new characters who I’m not real familiar with yet. This series started out with a pretty large supporting cast, for an all-ages comic, and they’re already adding more villains. Jeez, guys, I can’t keep track of the people who are already there!

Green Lantern #66

Hal Jordan is wearing a yellow power ring, and Guy Gardner is wearing a red one, because the rest of the Green Lantern Corps has been taken over by Krona and mind-controlled into a bunch of lunatics. And a bunch of the Guardians have become hosts for the emotional entities. Sinestro is trying to escape from the Book of the Black, but Hal and Guy have been captured already, and Krona plans to turn them into Guardians, too.

Verdict: I must not be in the mood to like anything today, because this was a big thumbs down. I’m just completely tired of Geoff Johns’ endless, senseless, long-running mega-series. Plus, I was absolutely bored the entire time I was reading it. Oh, and I found out they actually blew up Mogo, the awesome sapient planet that’s a member of the Green Lantern Corps, in one of the other Green Lantern series, so I’m not real happy about that either.

How to improve this series: Stop letting Geoff Johns write it. Get away from the unending focus on boring cosmic stuff. Don’t blow up Mogo. I doubt any of that stuff is going to happen, so I may be giving this series up.

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Tatters of the King

The Tattered Man

Interesting little horror/superhero story here by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with artwork by Norberto Fernandez. We start with a trio of junkies on a Halloween home invasion. They’ve picked out an old man’s house because they assume he’s got something valuable stashed somewhere, but he doesn’t — all he has is a box marked with a swastika and filled full of rags. He tells the junkies about the box — he was a Jewish boy during World War II imprisoned in a brutal death camp, and at the end of the war, the Nazis decided to kill all the prisoners. He was the only survivor, and all those deaths summoned a monstrous spirit, clothed in the rags of the prisoners, that killed all the Nazis. Of course, the junkies don’t believe him, shots are fired, and a rag-draped spirit of vengeance is released on the modern world.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good writing and excellent art. Palmiotti and Gray say they’d like to write more stories about the Tattered Man — hopefully, they’ll have the chance to make some more. Goodness knows, we need more worthwhile horror in comics.

How to improve this series: First, I’m not all that thrilled with the Tattered Man’s origin — the rags and Jewish background ended up reminding me of DC’s Ragman character a couple times, despite the very obvious differences. So yeah, the Nazi concentration camps were some of the most evil and death-shrouded locations in history, but there have been plenty of other places around the world where injustice and genocide were blots on history — why not use Rwanda, Bosnia, or Darfur? All would make for an interesting twist. In addition, I’m not real thrilled with the idea of the character as a vigilante superhero — it tames the concept too much, for something that should be wild and uncontrollable. Still, it was good fun, and I’m looking forward to more.

American Vampire #15

The squad of military vampire hunters sent to Taipan have gotten ambushed by hordes of the native vampires — blind creatures far more savage and less human than any they’ve ever encountered. The squad member who has fallen has already been fully converted to vampirism — a process that normally takes hours. And even Skinner Sweet is in over his head. They’re barely able to escape into the hidden basements under the village. Their only chance is to make it to a Japanese base on the island where the vampires seem to be coming from. Meanwhile, Pearl, concerned over her husband Henry, has convinced the Vassals of the Morning Star to send her to Taipan to try to help out.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, Scott Snyder’s writing and Rafael Albuquerque’s art are killer. The Taipan vampires are pretty creepy — nice to see that there’s still something out there that can put the hurt on a super-badass like Skinner Sweet.

How to improve this series: Can’t think of much — this is still one of my favorite comics out there. Maybe more vampy goodness with Skinner and Pearl, but that’s really just nitpicking at near-perfection.

Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #3

While Anguirus tears stuff up in Texas, Godzilla makes his way into the Korean DMZ, and a Lady Gaga clone called Girly Yaya advocates for Monster Rights, most of the action takes place in France, where a couple of creepy telepathic twins nurture a giant monster egg of their own, eventually helping it hatch into Battra, one of Mothra’s siblings. Does humanity have secret allies in the Mothra priestesses?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m entirely in favor of giant monsters, and the heavy doses of political and pop culture humor that Eric Powell is plugging into this series is keeping the atmosphere fun to read. Love the creepy twins — hope they stick around for a while instead of just getting crushed under some monster’s oversized foot…

How to improve this series: There are still some weird writing quirks going on here. The way the UN representative just picked all the monsters’ names out of the air kinda yanked me out of the story. And I’m having trouble believing that so many completely normal people would think they have a shot at taking down a giant monster all by themselves.

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Lucky 13

Zatanna #13

Zatanna gets a visit from a magic cat with a crystal eye painted in the fur on its back. It is apparently a regular visitor to her home, as she knows it’s only there to deliver messages about the future to her. And the messages this time indicate that she’s about to have to deal with Brother Night and the Spectre. While Zee pays a visit to the Spectre to see whether he has some sort of grudge against her, Brother Night is making his magic-aided escape from prison, despite Detective Colton’s attempts to stop him. After mind-controlling prisoners, police dogs, and random commuters, Brother Night takes over his old headquarters, making plans for the future.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Brother Night is wonderfully creepy, Zatanna’s back-and-forth with the Spectre is better than I expected, and the revelation about Detective Colton’s past is pretty good, too.

How to improve this series: Believe it or not, less magic. What, less magic in a Zatanna comic? Listen, I really love Brother Night as a villain, but he’s been in almost every issue, and the ones he hasn’t been in have also focused entirely on magic-users. But Zatanna guest-stars in other comics, too — why not start bringing the rest of the DCU, magical, mundane, and superheroic, into this book, too? This book needs a connection to the rest of DC’s heroes.

Herc #3

A supervillain jailbreak sends Man-Bull, the Griffin, and Basilisk to New York, along with a mysterious amnesiac woman. As Hercules meets (and gradually gets frustrated by) his newest neighbors, the villains go rob a bank. Herc shows up to kick their tails — but he switches sides when Kyknos, Son of Ares, and the Ares-worshiping Warhawks show up. It’s not that he’s really on the supervillains’ sides — but Kyknos is willing to kill all of them. And what’s the amnesiac’s secret, and how does it tie in with Marvel’s “Fear Itself” crossover?

Verdict: I think I’ll thumbs this one up. Good dialogue and several wonderful jokes getting tossed off here — the last couple of issues have been much too serious for a couple of writers as wonderfully funny as Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente.

How to improve this series: More humor, for one thing. And fer cryin’ out loud, give Herc all of his powers back. There are more than enough street-level heroes in the Marvel Universe — why add another when Herc makes such a great world-beater?

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Wanna Be a Kroc Star

Tiny Titans #40

The series’ brutish antihero gets his chance to shine, as Kroc eats the erasers at school, milks the cows, brings a burping pet lizard to class and causes a panic, eats everything he can in the cafeteria, causes havoc in the Fortress of Solitude, and leaves a… present… in the janitor’s closet.

Verdict: Thumbs up. So very, very crazy, and so very, very funny.

Avengers Academy #14

While the Avengers are taking care of a volcanic eruption in Italy, a report comes in about an attack by Electro in France. Reptil is convinced that the team is ready to handle more work in the field, and he lobbies to let the Academy take care of the villain. Unfortunately, once they teleport in, they discover that Electro isn’t alone — the entire Sinister Six is on hand, including Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Rhino, Mysterio, and the Chameleon. And while the kids make a decent showing against the bad guys, they still get stomped, and Doc Ock uses the Avengers’ teleportation technology to complete their heist in France.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The Academy taking on the Sinister Six kinda comes out of nowhere, but it makes for a good story. Several of these guys have gotten serious upgrades recently, particularly Doc Ock and the Chameleon, and they serve to give a nice reminder that, for all the Academy’s recent success, they’re still very inexperienced. And it’s interesting to see how well the team dynamics of the Sinister Six are depicted — many of them don’t like each other, but they’re all seasoned professionals who manage to play the Academy and the mostly-absent Avengers like well-tuned fiddles.

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Friday Night Fights: Flipping the Finger!

Now looka here, it’s been another rough-and-tumble week, and I think we’re all needing what little break we’ll be getting from this weekend. Hope y’all are going to spend it wisely — and no, that doesn’t mean catching up on your doily collecting, cooking up tons of rutabagas, or sitting around on Saturday waiting for the world to end. I mean getting down and dirty, starting with… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes from March 1966’s Fantastic Four #48 by Stan “the Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby, as Ben Grimm gets into a slight disagreement with a fellow New Yorker and settles it in the traditional Big Apple way — by giving him the finger!

Now I do expect y’all to be polite to folks you have a disagreement with this weekend and refrain from rude gestures. We do all want to be polite, right? (hands out the stabbin’ knives for everyone)

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Rocketeer Adventures #1

Dave Stevens‘ “Rocketeer” comics were great retro-cool stories. They had excellent action, beautiful artwork — especially his acclaimed good girl art — and simple but cool stories. He died much too young in 2008. And IDW — bless their hearts, rapidly becoming one of my favorite comic book publishers — is starting a short series of comics paying tribute to Stevens’ stories.

What we’ve got here is three short stories about the Rocketeer and his friends — a spectacular little number by John Cassaday and Laura Martin, in which Cliff Secord has to save his Bettie-Page-lookalike girlfriend Betty from getting shot into space by, ironically, trying to shoot her into space; a story by Mike and Laura Allred focusing on Cliff and his supporting cast; and a tale by Kurt Busiek and Michael Kaluta that puts the emphasis on Betty — while Cliff is fighting the good fight overseas during World War II, Betty works on keeping spirits high stateside by performing in patriotic shows on Broadway. Plus there are pinups by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart and by Jim Silke.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great high-flying adventure. My lone complaint about this issue? No reprints of any of Stevens’ classic stories. One of the covers features some of Stevens’ artwork (the one pictured above is by former Lubbock resident Alex Ross), but this is the kind of project that would benefit from letting us see the man’s storytelling for ourselves. Nevertheless, despite that one little quibble, it’s a great comic, and you should go grab it up.

Batman: Gates of Gotham #1

Looks like I’ll be taking a break from the “Batman and Robin” title, ’cause DC done gave that hack Judd Winick a shot at writing it, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s that hack Judd Winick. So here’s a Batman miniseries to keep us all happy ’til the hack’s gone again.

Someone’s stolen a heck of a lot of explosives and smuggled them into Gotham, and before Batman (in this case, Dick Grayson) can find out where it is, someone uses it to blow up three bridges in the city. Dozens of people are dead, despite the best efforts of Dick, Red Robin, Damian Wayne, and even Cassandra Cain, much beloved former Batgirl. In time, Dick learns that the Penguin probably had the explosives brought into the city for another buyer — but Oswald Cobblepot says he had no idea what the explosives for — and if he had, he wouldn’t have let the bombings happen, as one of the bridges was originally named for his family. In fact, the three bridges were once known as the “Gates of Gotham,” and the second bridge was once tagged with the Wayne family name. The third bridge’s original name, however, ties it to someone even more dangerous than Cobblepot.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Scott Snyder does some pretty good superhero mystery writing. My least favorite part of this is the end, when we bring in a villain I’ve never much cared for.

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Animal (and Human) Cruelty

Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One

Awright, lookit this here. It’s a colossal 400-page graphic novel that pretty much came out of nowhere last year, by a guy named Adam Hines, who has little formal art training — and he’s planning on making another half-dozen or more parts of the story over the next quarter century.

Man, where to start with this? The scope of this story is dauntingly huge, especially for a guy like me who’s used to doing light-speed reviews of single-issue comics. But the story, plotline, characters, and artwork on this are all amazing — and the moral questions raised by the story are really a little bit terrifying. How the heck to deal with the entire thing…?

Let’s go with the general background of the story — namely, talking animals. The story is set in a world much like our own, but animals — all animals — have human-level intelligence and can speak. You’d expect some massive changes to the world, right? And there are some — one of the main characters is a wealthy gibbon named Voltaire who runs a megacorporation and lives with his human lover. Animal rights legislation is hotly debated in Congress, and the leading animal rights terrorist organization is, appropriately enough, run almost entirely by animals.

If you’re a sci-fi fan like me, you go into some kinds of stories with certain expectations. We’ve all watched “Star Trek,” right? When the Enterprise encounters a new sapient life form, what do they do? They recognize that it has certain rights and privileges that it gets just because it’s able to think and reason intelligently. But things don’t work like that in the world of “Duncan the Wonder Dog.”

There’s a scene early in the story that I saw reprinted elsewhere, and it really sold me on getting and reading the book. It’s just a short vignette with a human fisherman and a water bird who are working together. The bird is upset because the fisherman isn’t upholding his end of the bargain. The deal was that the fisherman would get the big fish and the bird would get the small fish. The fisherman says, too bad, I need all the fish today — you can have the small fish again tomorrow. “I’m one of the only fishermen who will work you without a snare, but I can put one on if I need to.” The bird knows he’s beat, and he says, “I want… I want to eat today.”

Just that little bit — just five panels all together — completely tore my heart out.

This isn’t a world where humans accept that animal sapience entitles them to equal rights. This is a world that operates almost exactly the way our world works normally — just with the added cruelty that they know their hamburgers came from someone who can think the way they do. In fact, there’s another scene where a couple of men try to persuade a cow on a trailer to go walk into that building over there — all your friends are in there, they say, it’s not like we’d feed you and take care of you and then just send you into a building to be killed, would we? And the cow eventually reveals that she noticed lots of hoofprints going in and none coming out, so she knew it was a slaughterhouse. That’s a sharp, deductive mind in a freakin’ cow — and people in that world valued her only as a steak.

Adam Hines is certainly interested in animal rights, but he doesn’t go and make all humans the villains and all animals the heroes. The story’s most prominent and frightening antagonist is Pompeii, a Barbary macaque who leads the terrorist group ORAPOST. She bombs a university and murders multiple humans in cold blood. In a flashback, after a human ally of ORAPOST is killed, she declares that she wants to cut out the dead woman’s unborn baby to keep for her own. She later discovers and reads a woman’s diary detailing a loving and complex family life — including great amounts of compassion and love for the family’s pets — Pompeii destroys the diary, unable to deal with any evidence of humans and animals living together cooperatively.

To be honest, I see a lot of what drives the story forward — and certainly affects how readers respond to it — as being less about animal rights and human rights, and more about simple empathy. If you have empathy, it’s easy to put yourself in the, um, paws of creatures that have the intellectual capacity of humans but are considered, at best, property. If you don’t have empathy, you don’t see what the fuss is about.

In a way, it’s a story about human slavery and cultural conflicts. We can be a heartlessly cruel species to each other — it used to be you could own and sell people, and there are still people who think other kinds of people are worth less than others. There are countries where the under-privileged are as crushed, as abused, as exploited as valuable pack animals. Are the humans in the story who are comfortable owning and eating sentient creatures really all that different from the rest of us?

I could go on and on about this forever, but suffice it to say — the philosophical and moral background of this story is absolutely fascinating to me.

Art-wise, what’re we looking at? I gotta say, it’s definitely something else. In places, the art is cartoonish — not a bad thing, as we’ve discussed before. Simple cartooning often does a better job of communicating emotion than detailed artwork. But the detailed artwork is also in here. There are deeply beautiful landscapes here, abstract images that go on for page after page, and portions of the story told through typography. And again, this was all created by one guy, over the course of several years, just because he wanted to tell the story and draw the artwork.

Verdict: I think it’s fairly clear this is a thumbs up. Great art, great story, and mind-expanding philosophy? Go pick it up.

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Sorceress Apprentice

Love and Capes: Ever After #4

The Crusader may be the most powerful superhero on the planet, but in his civilian identity as Mark Spencer, he’s an accountant — and tax season is driving him nuts. His wife Abby, meanwhile, has found herself in charge of the Merchant Association, and she has big plans for special events. Plus Amazonia is about to meet Darkblade’s parents for the first time — and both are profoundly nervous about it. Can everyone get through these low-key crises with their sanity intact?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nothing real earth-shattering here, but we get some fun art, good jokes, and nice story.

Batgirl #21

Batgirl is fighting the Reapers’ newest high-tech assassin, the sonic-powered Harmony, and she’s doing a pretty good job of it — but she has to rescue the Grey Ghost, her completely unwanted and useless sidekick/stalker. Wendy Harris is having deep conversations with her dead brother and decides to travel to Nanda Parbat to see if there’s an alternate method to get her walking again. And the Grey Ghost, convinced that only he can keep Batgirl safe, works up a dangerous plan of his own.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Loved Bryan Q. Miller’s story, as always. Loved Dustin Nguyen’s artwork. Loved the dialogue, loved the action, loved everything about it.

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A Cloud of Bats

Batman Inc. #6

The global underworld is plenty alarmed by the presence of Batman Incorporated — Bruce Wayne is recruiting new Batmen left and right. He puts Red Robin in charge of the newest version of the Outsiders, uses a bunch of sockpuppets to spread doubt about his true identity, and informs everyone that they’re going after a multinational crime ring called Leviathan. We catch glimpses of Batman Inc. associates like Nightrunner (nice to see DC didn’t get run off by the short-lived controversy over that character), Batgirl, Huntress, Oracle (her online avatar now has its own bat ears), Blackbat (Cassandra Cain, the much-missed former Batgirl), Australia’s Dark Ranger, North Africa’s Batwing, a new Wingman, Gaucho, and much more. But Leviathan has plenty of tricks up its sleeve…

Verdict: Thumbs up. So very many awesome things here, particularly the return of Cassandra Cain. I just love the way the story and all of these characters are coming together.

Hellboy: Being Human

Mike Mignola reunites with superstar horror artist Richard Corben for a new story from Hellboy’s past, this time co-starring the late Roger the Homunculus. The story is set in 2000, when Roger hasn’t been alive long and is still wracked by guilt because he accidentally (but only temporarily) killed Liz Sherman when he was brought to life. Hellboy brings him along on a minor haunting in South Carolina. Someone keeps digging up a long-dead family and moving them into the ruin of their old family home. When the witch who raised the family to torture them returns, she immobilizes Hellboy with a mystical Hand of Glory — but will Roger stand a chance of freeing his friend and stopping the witch?

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, Mignola and Corben are a combo that can’t miss. Lots of awesome zombies, demons, and horrors, beautifully illustrated by Corben and beautifully humanized by Mignola.

The Unwritten #25

Tom Taylor finally returns to Earth after a few months of getting knocked around inside literature itself. Lizzie Hexam and the newly vampiric Richie Savoy are planning on breaking into an auction house to steal a lot of items originally owned by Tom’s father, Wilson Taylor — and Tom’s new mastery over the crystal doorknob will allow them to march right past the security. But will Tom be able to resist exploring his memories inside the auction house? And will they be able to deal with their enemies inside?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice start to a new storyarc, with Tom finally in more control of his magical abilities and the search for the truth getting taken to a higher and more dangerous level.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • A “useless machine” is basically an engineer’s joke. You switch it on, and a mechanical hand emerges to shut itself back off again. Most are pretty simple. This one is pretty epic.
  • This recipe for vegan pad thai is the most metal recipe for vegan pad thai ever.
  • There’s something about these “My Little Pony” mashups that I just can’t get enough of.

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Give Me the Brain

iZombie #13

Gwen, Ellie, and Spot are on top of the world — they’ve solved a Scooby-Doo-esque case and have been invited to dine with Amon, the wealthy mummy who’s taken an interest in Gwen’s welfare. Amon tells them about Galatea’s dire plans for the world, Horatio ends up stuck on his own as the lone monster hunter in town, and Spot gets stuck in a bad place during a zombie outbreak. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a new group of characters called the Dead Presidents — government operative with their own strange supernatural abilities.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The entire story was great, but I really enjoyed the Dead Presidents. I suspect they’re being prepped for a mini or ongoing series of their own…

B.P.R.D.: The Dead Remembered #2

Pyrokinetic teenager Liz Sherman is on her first “mission” with the Bureau — basically tagging along with Professor Bruttenholm while he investigates a low-level haunting. But she’s stumbled onto a much more terrifying haunting in the woods. Liz meets a local boy she likes and remembers how her new powers ended up killing her family. So what’s the secret of the haunting in the forest, and why does it react so strongly to Liz?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m loving the artwork here. The dialogue is good, the story is advancing nicely, but I really am jazzed about the work Karl Moline, Andy Owens, and Dave Stewart are doing with the art.

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #4

Sir Edward and Morgan set off to find an abandoned mine that Edward has dreamed about. They argue along the way about Edward’s hard-headed attitude about magic, but as they explore the mine, they discover that Eris has left a nasty surprise for them — a bunch of missing — and dead — churchgoers who have been raised by the witch as zombies. While they escape, Eris has more trouble in mind for them. Can they escape — and do they have allies they weren’t expecting?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The best thing about this series has been the outstanding characterization. Sir Edward, Morgan, and Isaac are all very strong characters, and it makes reading about them great fun.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Just one link today — haven’t had a lot of time for websurfing lately… But I thought this was a really excellent essay on the severe racial problems afflicting both DC and Marvel. The folks in charge think diversity gets in the way of reviving the Silver Age characters that few modern readers really care about — and ultimately, their lack of commitment to any kind of diversity puts the comics industry way, way in the back of the pack. And as long as the people running DC and Marvel feel free to claim that that 99% of superheroes should be white, there’s not going to be very much progress made.

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