Sunday, May 28, 2017

Flash (vol.5) #22 (2017)

Flash (vol.5) #22 (July, 2017)
"The Button, Part Four"
Script - Joshua Williamson
Art - Howard Porter
Color - Hi-Fi
Letters - Steve Wands
Assistant Editor - Amedeo Turturro
Editor - Brian Cunningham
Special Thanks - Geoff Johns & Tom King
Cover Price: $2.99

It's funny when I think about spoilers as though they actually matter.  Whenever I review a recent (or even a semi-recent) issue, I make sure to note that my piece includes spoilers when I share them on social media.

In the past two weeks, however, I feel as though I've been spoiled... just by the covers of these books!  We had the Cyborg Superman reveal on the cover of Action Comics... and hey, don't look now, but I think that's Jay Garrick on this very cover!

DC's kinda silly... just last month they were doing whatever they could to keep the Mr. Mxyzptlk reveal under wraps (though folks on social media had no qualms about ruining that for folks anyway)... and now, we're spoiled before even cracking the book open.

Oh well.


Picking up where we left off, Batman and Flash are chasing a button-holding Thawne through the timestream.  He refers to some old (pre-Crisis, even) events between he and the heroes, and threatens to remake time in his own image... sorta.  As they continue their run, a faint voice calls out to Barry.

Bruce can hear it too, however Barry writes it off as yet another "siren call of hypertime", like the voices of his mother and Iris.  Thawne decides to continue being an ass by threatening to change time so that he would be Barry's guardian... and raise him to be his acolyte.  The Cosmic Treadmill begins to fall apart just as Thawne reaches his destination.

And it's a good thing too... because where Thawne winds up, isn't very nice.

Back in the timestream/speed force/wherever, Barry and Bruce hear Thawne's final scream... and they continue to hear that whisper of a voice... which identifies itself as "Jay".  No sooner does Barry say "Jay" than...

Jay Garrick emerges and pulls the heroes through the stream and back into the Batcave.  He identifies himself as a friend... and a Flash, and implores Barry to remember him... just like he did Wally.  Unfortunately, this is one speedster Barry doesn't seem to recognize.  And so, Jay is pulled back.

We jump ahead to Barry and Bruce standing at the graves of the elder Waynes, considering the Thawne-Effect on everything that has gone down.  They also discuss Thawne's claiming to have seen a "God"... and weigh the possibilities of continuing down this path.

That night, the Bat-Signal hangs in the skies of Gotham... however, Bruce isn't quick to answer it.  He thinks about the last words his father said to him in the Flashpoint Universe... to have is own life, to find happiness, and to let Batman die with him.  I'm guessing this "down time" will be short lived.

Elsewhere... the Comedian's Button is picked up by a bright... blue... hand.

The issue, and story ends with a two-page epilogue featuring a pair of nine-panel grids in which the Button draws ever closer to the "camera"... when it draws back we see the familiar Superman symbol.  Looks like Clark's about to get dragged into this too.  Well, in about six months anyway.


In a word... underwhelming.

After so much build up... both in and out of story for this issue... and all we get is a tease for a story that won't even begin for six months.  I gotta wonder if this was always the intent... or if maybe Geoff Johns realized he could fit in some comic writing toward the end of the year, and things changed to accommodate him.  I'm not going to go in too deep about the Tim Drake stuff, as that was all changed between the time comps went out, and finished product hit the stands... but it stands to reason that there are many moving parts we're not aware of at play in DC's war rooms (nor, I suppose, should we be).

I guess it's hard to be too angry... this isn't the Marvel way of connecting crossovers or anything.  We didn't just waste upwards of $50-100 and six to eight months of our lives reading something that won't pay off until three crossovers from now... we just read a crossover between two titles.  If not for the incessant real-world hype, this would have been not unlike any other day at the office for Batman and Flash.

So, as for the issue itself... whatta we got?  Well, like real-Wally before him, Jay Garrick fights his way out of the speed force... however, unlike real-Wally, Barry proves not to be his "lightning rod".  Was this just fan service... or is Jay still on the table?  I hope this isn't the last we see of him... and I sorta doubt that it will be.  Just as long as we don't see that New-52 Earth-2 version, I'll be cool.

I get the feeling that they thought the closing page with the blue hand picking up the Button was supposed to be some sort of epic reveal... but, c'mon... we're a year into Rebirth, and from day one... we all knew this was Dr. Manhattan... right?  I mean, that wasn't just me, right?  Definitely a let down... we didn't even get to see his face... not that it would have made it any bigger a "reveal" or anything.

The epilogue... hmm... well, it ends with an announcement of the upcoming Doomsday Clock storyline... with Superman front and center.  The sound you just heard was my stomach tying itself in a knot.  I mean, we just got Superman back... are they gonna screw with him already?  Please tell me they're not gonna screw with him already!  Just whisper it in my ear... I won't tell anyone.

Overall, this is a vital piece of Rebirth-reading, however, one that I feel doesn't quite deliver on the hype that proceeded it.  The writing here is great, really enjoy Williamson's dialogue and storytelling... and the art is fantastic.  Absolutely adore any collaboration between Howard Porter and Hi-Fi coloring.  It really makes any book they are on feel extra special.  Despite my reservations, I think I'd lean toward a recommendation.


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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Action Comics #456 (1976)

Action Comics #456 (February, 1976)
"Jaws of the Killer Shark!"
"Bail Out the Nutty Kid"
Writers - Cary Bates & Elliot S! Maggin
Pencillers - Curt Swan & Mike Grell
Inkers - Tex Blaisdell & Mike Grell
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.25

Wouldja look at that cover?  It's almost as though they're piggybacking paying homage to something... who says comics couldn't be (sorta) topical?

Whatever it is, I think we can all agree... This time it's Personal...


Well, blow me down... we're starting with our old friend Captain Strong.  He's enjoying a day at the Metropolis Aquarium with a few young people... or maybe he works there, that would be a bit less weird.  Anyhoo, his young pal Jayson appears to be positively enchanted by the sight of a tiger shark... though, some helpful exposition informs us that this isn't an ordinary tiger shark, it's actually The Shark... the lazily-named Green Lantern villain, regressed back into his natural state.  Jayson creeps ever closer to the glass, when... uh-oh, he's transformed into a puddle of jelly!

The shark then blasts through the roof of the Aquarium in a funnel stream of water.  We shift scenes to a ferry ride across the lake, where Lois and Clark are discussing a recent documentary the former had just seen regarding the ozone layer.  If you ever have a conversation with someone after they see a documentary, I'm sure you can relate to just how bored Clark is... luckily, the discussion is cut short by a giant waterspout appearing out of the drink.  Clark uses his super-suction to draw it close to the ferryboat so he might throw himself overboard to investigate the situation.

He's not the only guy to go overboard... several passengers are also making the leap of faith, because... the Shark has arrived on the boat!  Lois remains on board so she might snap a few cool-pix of the fish-face... but passes out due to her uncontrollable fear.  Now, this is probably not Lois' soft constitution at work... the Shark happens to have mental powers.  As the baddie kneels over the prone Lois, Superman arrives to slow his roll.  The Shark nonchalantly shoves Superman back into the wash.

A shocked Superman falls back before redoubling his efforts.  The Shark flees in another waterspout, and Superman winds up and throws one helluva punch... which misses the mark!  Not only does it miss, it causes a "liquid comet" to sour toward the city.  Superman is able to outrun it, and take its brunt with his chest.  At this point, he heads to S.T.A.R. Labs to confer with some nerds (including Captain Strong).  WGBS-TV is reporting that Superman was able to save Clark Kent... not sure how they figure this without a body... but we'll allow it.

Captain Strong shows the lab-rats his puddle of Jayson.  Superman deduces that the Shark... get this, "extracted the human evolving factor" from young Jayson.  Is that a thing?  Do we all have that in our bodies right now?  Is Jayson a radioactive mutant?  Anyhoo, Superman knows he's gotta catch that Shark and make things right.

And so, Superman vows to fly the skies of Metropolis non-stop until he finds the baddie... and he does!  During the next round of battle, Superman blasts the Shark's water funnel with heat vision... and, again... misses!  The heat beam refracts through the funnel... and, again... soars toward the city!  Poor form, Supes.  He has to race away from the fight to grab the giant refracting mirror from the Mount Olympus telescope to reflect the blast into orbit.

He rushes back into battle, and the two engage in wet and wild combat over the Metropolis skyline... bashing through an abandoned construction site to boot!  At the Daily Planet, Lois notices that everyone suddenly appears to have a Sunburn.  Hmm.  Anyhoo, after a time, Superman seems to have beaten the Shark soundly.

Back at S.T.A.R. Labs, the Shark is fitted with a fishbowl-type helmet, and it's explained that Superman was keeping the Shark inside the water-spout in hopes that they would use all of the oxygen in it... oof.  Anyhoo, The Shark is wearing his helmet... and is threatened with suffocation, unless he gives Jayson back his "human evolution thingimabob".  The Shark agrees... and is later dropped into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Superman leaves to deal with the damage to the Ozone Layer the Shark did.  Ya see, The Shark breathed up all the Ozone over Metropolis... hence the Sunburns.  Yeah, sure pal... I'm sure the Ozone damage had nothing to do with you sending your heat vision blast into space!

Our back-up story... or, as the cover puts it "Action-Plus" features Green Arrow and Black Canary.  At this moment, Ollie's held up at a telethon being hosted by Jerry Lew... er, Danny Harris.  A group of clowns have infiltrated the studio, and demand people continue to pledge money... only it will go in their pockets instead of to the needy... or disabled... or whoever this telethon is for.

Dinah Lance is watching the telethon, and despite Ollie's words to the contrary, suits up to perform a daring rescue.  She zips over to the station on her motorcycle, and delivers one helluva kick to a guard-clown.

At that very moment, Ollie tricks the clowns into letting him go into another room by faking a panic attack.  Seems silly, right?  I mean, is that all ya gotta do to get away from armed hostage holders?  Anyhoo.  He Arrows up, and leaps into action for some emerald justice... or something.

The clowns attempt to escape to the helicopter they have parked on the roof... however, when they lift off they learn that their driver is actually... Black Canary!  The chapter wraps with Dinah staring down the barrels of a few guns.


Well, this was kinduva dud wasn't it?

You get the feeling that it wasn't Lois Lane, but Cary Bates who just watched a program on the Ozone Layer... and he really wanted to tell people about it.  I get that... there are times I learn about stuff, and really want to share it... but, I don't.  Especially when all I know is the inch-deep/mile-wide version.

Such a waste of Captain Strong, I mean, what was even the point of including him here?  It could've been any aquarium employee/passerby.  Don't get our hopes up that the Popeye stand-in is going to do something fun and not deliver.  All he does is scoop the Jayson protoplasm into a beaker... if he brought him over in an empty spinach can, all would be forgiven.

The Shark is probably the poster-boy villain for what kept me away from DC Comics as a kid.  Just so lame, and interchangeable with any other animal-themed baddie.  I usually use the example of "nameless lizardmen" as my go-to generic DC villain, but The Shark fits the bill.

I will say that I thought it was cool when Superman goofed by punching the water stream into a liquid missile and had to outrun it so it wouldn't destroy the city.  It's not often he makes such a mistake.  When it happened again a few pages later, however, it really didn't have the same impact... just felt like they needed to kill a page or two.

The back-up felt much shorter than they usually do.  So often the back-ups are a plodding drag... however, this one was relatively breezy... I'd almost swear it was a few less pages than they normally are, but I neglected to count.  The story here was pretty neat, and featured some early Grell-Arrow, which is always neat to see.  He also contributed the cover, which is perhaps the high-point for this issue.

I was a bit disappointed that the telethon host wasn't Jerry Lewis... especially seeing as though Jerry Lewis very clearly exists in the DC Universe.  I dunno, probably rights issues got in the way.  Too bad though, it's a missed opportunity to show the Nutty Professor Kid back in action.

Overall... this is a skippable issue, though one with a very fun cover.  It doesn't look like this issue has been collected in trade, nor has it been made available digitally.  I'd say this one isn't worth any sort of hunt... however, if you happen to stumble across it for a buck or below, you'll probably get your money's worth.


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Friday, May 26, 2017

Justice League of America #173 (1979)

Justice League of America #173 (December, 1979)
"Testing of a Hero!"
Writer - Gerry Conway
Penciller - Dick Dillin
Inker - Frank McLaughlin
Letterer - Ben Oda
Colorist - Jerry Serpe
Editor - Ross Andru
Cover Price: $0.40

Jive Turkeys... Man, maybe I should'a saved this for Thanksgiving...


We open with the Justice League huddled atop a building looking down at a prospective new member... Black Lightning!  They watch as he easily takes down a trio of sleazy pawn shop robbers.  Green Arrow thinks he'd be a great new member because he's cool... smart... brave... and... and... black!  He sounds like a contemporary Marvel Comics editor (hey-yo!).  Anyhoo, the Flash takes exception to Ollie's suggestion that the League takes on a "token black".

The discussion becomes heated, with Flash suggesting that Oliver is too blinded by his liberalness to be objective.  It doesn't quite come to blows... but it gets close.  Zatanna is surprised by Barry's short-tempered behavior, and Hal reminds her (and the reader) that we're not too far removed from the murder of his wife, Iris.  Superman steps in to break up the debate, and posits that they could give Black Lightning a test to see if he's worthy... and the League agrees to let him be the judge.

Elsewhere, a costumed geek called the Regulator is summoning hundreds of rats so he can take care of everyone who has deserted him in his civilian life.  I don't suppose this is the fella that Nate Dogg and Warren G were singing about in 1994.

At the Metropolis Police Headquarters, Black Lightning is chatting up Inspector Henderson about the three losers he just turned in.  Henderson cautions him that the City Council is considering a new law regarding costumed vigilantes.  Pierce isn't worried seeing as though there's no way Metropolis would ever do anything that might also hinder Superman.  He leaves and thinks to himself how difficult it is for him to talk "street jive"... he must, however, to keep people off the track of his real identity.

As he walks, two villains jump out from a darkened alley and a fight is on.  Black Lightning takes them both down with ease, throwing the big hairy one (Primak) into an electrical pole and dousing the electricity-themed one (Human Starburst) with a fire hydrant.  Inspector Henderson and a few street cops hit the scene to make the arrest.  Henderson notices something a bit... weird about the baddies, but doesn't share his thoughts with Lightning.

Meanwhile, the Regulayyy-tor and the rats break into S.T.A.R. Labs.  It's not entirely clear, but the rats may have eaten a guard.

We return to Black Lightning... who is being watched by an impressed Superman.  Pierce descends into an alley, where he is struck by an invisible foe... the Trans-Visible Man!  This begins a fight that Pierce is unlikely to win... in fact, he gets pummeled pretty soundly by the invisible man.  Just to rub salt in his wounds, a Musketeer-looking fool saunters up and starts waving a sword in his face.  Now this being a baddie that Lightning can see means we're in for a more competitive fight.  Pierce pounces and wraps his hands around the Musketeer's neck... but stops himself before he can inflict any lasting damage.  The relieved Musketeer unmasks revealing himself to be... Green Arrow!

In fact, all of the baddies Pierce has fought tonight were, in reality, members of the Justice League.  Black Lightning is confused, and I gotta say... I don't blame him one bit!

Superman gleefully informs Pierce that he'd passed their test.  Pierce tells the League to pound sand.  Well, he actually tells them to get "another boy".  The story ends with Superman suggesting that they might see him again soon... and a shot of the (partially eaten?) S.T.A.R. Labs security guard.


What a weird issue...

While highly enjoyable, it's still kinda strange to see the League running an unknowing Black Lightning through a rigorous examination to see if he's worthy of joining.  I mean, what would it have hurt to ask him beforehand if he had any interest in coming on board?  Would've saved everyone a bunch of time and pain at the very least.  It's a good thing he didn't break poor Ollie's neck when he had him pinned down... I'm not sure the League could have stopped him before he "cricked" one way or the other.

With that said, I really do appreciate the concept of testing potential new members... especially in this day and age where nearly every member of the DC Universe is or has been a part of a Justice League and every member of the Marvel Universe is or has been a part of an Avengers team.  I miss teams being a bit more choosy about their number... and each member feeling somewhat elite for having made the roster.

One thing I've come to find during my dip into the pre-Crisis League is just how irritating Ollie can be.  Such a pain in the ass, he seems hardly worth the hassle.  Him having found his inner-liberal makes him wildly sanctimonious and quite grating.  His thought that Black Lightning would make a good member, and giving his skin color as one of the reasons seems a bit "out there" reading with 2017 eyes... I actually had to read the panel more than once... I didn't think he'd actually "went there".

It's funny that Hal frames Barry's outburst as being a result of having just lost his wife, ya know... rather than pinning it on the fact that Ollie might have chosen his words poorly, and Barry's reaction... while overblown, wasn't terribly out of line.

Overall, this was a decent introduction to the character of Black Lightning.  Of course, we know him better as a member of the Outsiders... but it's neat to see him going solo.  I really appreciated the idea that his "jive talkin'" was nothing more than an act.  I like the attention to detail used here.  He knew it would be the best way to keep his Jefferson Pierce identity secret... and perhaps, by playing into stereotypes, he would make it harder to identify overall.

If I'm not mistaken, Pierce wouldn't officially join the Justice League until post-Infinite Crisis in the mid-2000's... so, it was a long time coming.  This issue is available digitally, and is well worth checking out.


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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Xenobrood #0 (1994)

Xenobrood #0 (October, 1994)
"Strange Brew"
Writer/Co-Creator - Doug Moench
Artist/Co-Creator - Tomm Coker
Inker - Keith Aiken
Letterer - Dan Nakrosis
Colorist - Tom Luth
Editor - Kevin Dooley
Cover Price: $1.50

While we were researching for our Zero Hour episode of the Weird Comics History Podcast, there were a handful issues that neither of us had.  For those, we used various online resources for summaries and informational tid-bits... however, there was one book we couldn't find anything about.

We were nearly convinced that the book never even released... and it's only now that I'm holding the thing in my grubby hands that I can be sure that it was!  Today we're going to discuss the riddle wrapped in an enigma that is... Xenobrood.


We open on location in Kuwait, where a busty GBC news anchor interviews our bemulleted star, Professor Zecharia Leight.  He's in the midst of an archaeological dig in hopes of uncovering information about ancient Sumeria.  As luck would have it, as the cameras roll, Leight's team are just about to hit the mother lode!

Leight hops in the hole, to help retrieve the dozens of discovered clay tablets.  While down there, something catches his eye... and so, he brushes away the loose Earth only to discover... an odd metallic rod.  He refers to it as an OOPA, or an Out-of-Place-Artifact... which, is a very interesting subject, even on our own Earth-Prime.  

He refers to it as a "Machine-Tooled Chrome-Tube", which is good enough for me.  Remember, this entire affair has been televised... and one such viewer is a sinister-looking fella with a mohawk-mullet (mullhawk?).

We rejoin Zech (which I will likely refer to as Zach at least once in this piece) as he jots some notes into his journal... after which, he retires to bed.  He dreams about his girlfriend Lorna maniacally burning all of his research notes along with the OOPA rod.

Our man is shaken back to the waking world, just in time for a... ninja to arrive in his bedroom to steal the OOPA rod.  Zech leaps from the bed so fast that when his body faces one way, his mullet faces the other.  In his tighty-whiteys, he grabs the rod and throws himself out the window...

... where he finds even more ninjas!  They chase him through the alleys before reaching a dead-end.  With Zech cornered, suddenly the baddies are bathed in a baby-blue light... and I wonder if any of them might have been secretly holding a blood-smeared smiley-face button!

We jump ahead a bit to join Leight as he visits several science facilities in attempt to learn more about the OOPA rod.  Several universities, NASA, and S.T.A.R. Labs prove to be of little help.  It isn't until he visits Creighton Engineering that a new wrinkle is added.  By aiming a laser through a couple of prisms, and then into the rod, a projection appears on the ceiling.  Zech, and his belly-shirt, are super excited to write about his findings... and so he heads to the Morning Star cafe... which has the foolish business plan of being closed on Sundays.

As he journals, we get a silly little throwaway scene in which a woman wearing Seinfeld's puffy shirt (if it was conceived by Rob Liefeld) makes fun of a stereotypical nerd.  Oo-kay.

I guess this scene isn't completely "throwaway" because, the puffy-shirt is playing music from the jukebox... and Zech is rhythmically tapping on the OOPA rod along with the tunes... which causes a compartment in it to open, revealing four tiny crystals!

Later on, we rejoin Professor Leight at his arsonist dream girl, Lorna's apartment.  In sharing his findings with her, she posits that the line-y ceiling projection from Creighton may represent liquid and light... and so, they test the crystals with 142 different liquids... none of which cause a reaction.  Lorna heads home to grab a few Z's before having to go to work, and suggests Leight also try and get some sleep himself.  Alone with his thoughts, Zech finally realizes what he needs to do... and expresses this in an extremely cringy way.

He calls Lorna, which gives us a scene of her in a bit of mid-90's comics undress... which somehow reveals far less skin than many costumes of the day.  His theory consists of using salt water and sunlight... just like how life first developed.  She's super-excited and says she'll be right over.  Zech gets creepy, and says this is his "lucky night".

The pair conduct the experiment... and before long, the crystals grow into these disgusting looking balls of super-dense protoplasm.  Some time passes, and Zech has himself a vivid dream in which he is surrounded by four featureless glowing golden figures.  When he wakes up, the protoplasmic balls have combined into one... by that night, they re-split into four... but larger.

Soon, it's clear that the experiment is outgrowing Zech's dingy digs, and so Lorna invites him to move the operation over to her place in Brooklyn.  Some time passes, and the balls of protoplasm have matured into body-shaped bags of nerves and organs.

That night, Lorna and Zech decide to sleep at the lab on cots.  It's a good thing they did, too... because this would be the night that the... ninjas decide to strike once more!  They enter through the skylight... and give Zech a kick to the mush.  One ninja heads over to the basins... and gets a massive uppercut by the body within.  It's here that we meet... the Xenobrood?

They make short work of the ninjas before teleporting them into deep space.  When the protoplasmic dust settles, they turn to Zech and inform him they are here to obey his every command.  Looks like our mullethead is the modern-day Aladdin!


Not gonna lie... when I first cracked this one open, I did so fully expecting to hate it.  Just looking at the cover... this looks like a stereotypical 90's superhero comic put out by some second-tier publisher... though, depending on your "DC in the 90's" mileage, that very well might be what it is.  Anyhoo, the cover is ugly as sin... poorly laid out, and features some very underwhelming character designs.

Then we open the book and find... well, not an amazing story... but also, not a horrendously terrible one either.  Not sure why DC decided to launch this in the wake of Zero Hour, as it appears not to have anything to do with it... though, I suppose that might be revealed in subsequent issues.

The genesis of the four "Brooders" was well done.  They're a completely blank slate, so there's no worry of contradicting or reworking any old continuity... which is a good thing for any book launching during this era.  It's not often we could pick up a "ground floor" issue of anything from the Big Two.  In fact, if not for the S.T.A.R. Labs or Daily Planet mention, we wouldn't even know this was occurring in the DC Universe.

Our main character is pretty annoying to look at... but we'll discuss his fashion sense in a bit.  When I saw him on the cover, I was actually scared for a moment that I'd somehow missed a chapter between Danny Chase's dismissal from the Titans and his reemergence as Phantasm.  Dude really resembles him on the cover.

The art here vacillates between pretty good and painfully heinous.  There are panels here where the characters look downright fetal... like with heads coming directly out of chests.  It feels like it would be more at home in a late-80's independent slice of life comic than a mid-90's superhero one.

Speaking of the 90's... I was there for them, and I really don't remember things being so ugly.  During 1994 I was a sophomore in high school... and dudes weren't wearing mullets and belly-shirts.  Girls weren't wearing "puffy shirts" and pants that buttons just below their chests.  Just seems so strange... who knows, maybe I'm wrong.  Perhaps I'm being short-sighted... I guess I can say at least where I was in New York, folks didn't look or dress like this.  Maybe the mid-west was still in the midst of mullet-fever.

Anyhoo... I suppose my main takeaway after reading this is that... Yes, Xenobrood exists in the world.  It's not going to rock your socks, and at times it's difficult to look directly at... but it's not bad.  Although this may be due to my outright dismissal of the concept before reading, I kinda dug it... and believe folks can get an enjoyable read out of this.  I will say... if I come across further issues of this short-lived series in the cheap-o bins, I will very likely pick them up.

Shockingly... this entire run has been made available digitally... which, if I thought there was even the slightest possibility of, would have come in quite handy during my earlier Zero Hour research.


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