Tag Archives: Comics

Shoeless Superheroes

Today we’re going to talk about one panel from a comic:

noshoes.png

It’s from Agents of Atlas issue #3 by Greg Pak and Nico Leon with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg and lettering by Joe Sabino. At this moment, the titular agents are meeting in their secret headquarters to discuss some potentially nefarious shenanigans that are happening.

And, naturally, all these superheroes have taken their shoes off.

Okay, so, the Agents of Atlas are all ethnically Asian. You’ve characters like Amadeus Cho and Cindy Moon, Korean-Americans based out of New York and Pearl Pangan from the Philippines and Lei Ling of Shanghai. There’s even a handy map on the credits page to offer an easy rundown:

AOA Map.jpeg

Look at that multi-nationality! | Greg Pak, Nico Leon, Rachelle Rosenberg, Joe Sabino / Marvel Comics

 

 

Yes, there’s a gut reaction to dismissing this sort of team-up as being pandering; it’s just Marvel realizing they’ve got a dearth of Asians and are mashing them all into one comic to highlight them and hope that combined their combined appeal can move books. Consider it tokenism but on steroids. Yet Atlas is able to get past that by applying verisimilitude to its fiction. An early beat during their War of The Realms introduction has the diverse cast (and yes, they are diverse: there’s a world of difference between being Chinese and Korean) sitting down to eat and bonding over the myriad of ways to prepare spam. It’s a quick gag, but one that quickly conjured up memories of how I’ve been served it in the past.

So the third issue and the lack of shoes.

I wrote not too long ago about how much I loved a beat of Always Be My Maybe that involves running kids taking off their shoes indoors and that same sentiment is in play here. It’s an absolute darn delight to see that tiny bit of detail. I take my shoes off indoors! And so do Silk and Shang Chi! There’s even a genkan where the shoes are left and fuzzy slippers available for indoor use. This ain’t some half-assed representation. It’s a small detail that’s really big in that it very much establishes that a) these characters are Asian beyond being drawn/named such, and 2) when given the opportunity will embrace that part of their culture.

There’s a narrative component to it too!

What’s it mean that they took their shoes off when going into their headquarters? Understand that taking your shoes off somewhere belies a sense of respect and comfort/intimacy. You don’t take your shoes off at the office or the movie theatre, but you definitely do in someone’s home and, in some parts of Asia, restaurants too. When someone like me — who’s been taking his shoes off in houses his entire life — sees this, it instantly communicates a lot of information about the people and where they are.

The Agents of Atlas are comfortable in their headquarters. Not like “ah, I’m comfy here,” but they treat it like a home. Sure, they’re all still in costume, but it’s somewhere they can take their shoes off. For someone like me, that feeling of taking off my shoes when I get home is a little marker that “yep, I’m back.” Thus seeing this being acknowledged in the comic is a delightful nod that immediately establishes how these characters feel about where they are.

It also helps with the conflict! In the scene we find ourselves in, Amadeus Cho, leader of the Agents, is wary of newcomer Isaac Ikeda — a hero in the employ of the entrepreneur responsible for the aforementioned potentially nefarious shenanigans. Amadeus didn’t invite Isaac; he’s surprised to even see him in the headquarters. Maybe he’s paranoid (he’s not quite sure), but he doesn’t want Isaac in their secret base, and for Isaac to be there — in this place where they’re able to take their shoes off! — isn’t unlike a roommate bringing home that super sketchy dude from the bar. This is made clear in the dialogue, of course, but the complication of the shoes adds an additional subtextual layer to it all.

Oh, diversity and representation. How I do harp on them. But this is why! This panel brought me such joy! This detail means so much to me because it’s something that I understand and speaks to me from a frame of reference I’m familiar with. Look, I’m a biracial third-culture-kid who’s an immigrant on both sides of the Pacific; I take the wins where I can find them. And yes, that means a comic where the superhero team takes off their shoes indoors. It’s important!

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Adaptational Change

There’s a delightful twist late in Captain Marvel that adds a nice layer of added depth to the narrative. It’s one that I didn’t see coming, but a friend who’s less familiar with the comics thought it was well telegraphed. The reason I didn’t expect it is arguably because of how used I am to the way things are in the Marvel comics. Turning things on its head is a concept so wild as to be unthinkable, and it’s something that the movie can uniquely do since it’s adapting a prior work.

Adaptations are weird beasts. We’ve all seen movies that failed to do the book justice, just as there are movies that take a book’s source material and improve on it. There’s a natural tension since what works well in one medium won’t necessarily work well in another. Oftentimes, the best adaptations aren’t the ones that try to recreate the source material but instead use it as a base to build something new. Aragorn is a cool character in the books, but Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings gives him a much more complex arc that’s far more dynamic to watch on screen. Because sure, reading about Aragorn as a man ready to be king who’s preparing for his return makes for a compelling read, but it could play dull on screen. Giving him self-doubt and swinging his arc so that it’s about his accepting of the mantle as he grows from Strider the Ranger to King Elessar makes for a real interesting watch. The heart of it is the same: Aragorn will be king, but it’s been developed to work better for the chosen medium.

Now, superhero movies as adaptations are a little odd, mostly because they seldom adapt one particular narrative. For the most part, these characters have massive mythologies unto themselves. This vast mythos allows storytellers a whole lotta room with which to craft a narrative. The Dark Knight isn’t a retelling of any specific Batman story, instead, it takes elements from the Batman mythos to create a new, compelling story. Arguably, one aspect of why The Dark Knight works so well is its distillation of its characters into their core archetypes: The Joker is chaos personified, so to oppose him Batman is the embodiment of order. Two-Face comes to exist between the two, in some ways offering a vision of a fallen Batman. There’s no question that these characters are who they purport to be, It’s a totally new story; unconcerned with retelling a specific comic book arc it’s able to do its own thing with these larger than life characters.

Carol Danvers, like so many other superheroes, has decades of adventures to inspire Captain Marvel. I’ve read just about all of the Captain Marvel comics with Carol holding the mantle and so in the lead up to the movie I was really curious as to what story they’d tell. Would they adapt “The Enemy Within?” Would it be a more spacey like DeConnick’s second volume? Or were they going to incorporate something from Carol’s time as Ms. Marvel (which I tried to read but really couldn’t get past the high-cut leotard she was in most of the time)? More importantly, were they gonna get her character right?

They do, not be recreating a particular arc or anything, but by keeping her her. Even though there are a bunch of changes from the comics regarding her backstory, she’s still her. More than anything, that’s what I wanted from the movie. As much as I wanted to see Carol hang out with Jessica Drew, Kit Renner, and Tracy Burke, it’s far more important for her to be that determined, headstrong, badass woman from the comics. A twist that simply wouldn’t work in the comics works in the movie because, as an adaptation, it’s allowed to take those liberties and we go along with it because the character at its core feels so right.

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Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel’s my favorite superhero. Well, most of the time; every now and then Iron Man noses his back to first place. But that’s beside the point.

Carol Danvers first showed up on my radar in 2013’s Infinity event where she was one of the Avengers fighting bad guys in space. It all culminates with, of course, the Avengers back on Earth fighting Thanos. Captain Marvel’s one of the hardest hitters, and it’s positively epic to see her, Thor, and Hulk throwing down with Thanos. I promptly got a hold of all of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run and the rest is history.

It stands to reason that I was super psyched when they announced Captain Marvel would be getting a movie of her own. And that movie finally came out last week and folks, let me tell you, Captain Marvel is a wonderful joy of a movie.

Part of what makes Captain Marvel work is how well the filmmakers nailed Carol’s character. Carol’s brash and headstrong, the sort who’ll jump first and think later. She’s also a very warm person, someone who frequently tries to do what’s right. And she’s super powerful, what with the flight, super-strength, and ability to shoot photon-blasts.

Her super-powered nature gives her the same issue as writing Superman: How do you make a foe for someone who’s essentially invincible? Now, Carol has her limits, sure, but the real hook to her character comes from her flaws.

Carol is someone who likes to solve problems by punching things. The natural way to give her pause is to provide her with an opponent who can’t be defeated by just punching things. The Skrulls of the movie are shapeshifters, able to assume the guise of a friend or enemy. Since it’s hard to know who’s really the enemy, fighting isn’t the solution. Instead, Carol sets out to find out why the Skrulls are here of all places, a question that, curiously, seems to be deeply entwined with Carol herself.

It’s hard for me to really hash out just how a lot of this works without getting into the plot and spoilers, which, given how new the movie is, I’d rather avoid. So things might get vague here, my apologies. Suffice to say, this movie doesn’t really have a big bad the way that basically every other Marvel movie does. Sure, there are villains, but there isn’t someone who Carol has to punch into submission to win.

The goal of most arcs is to self-actualize, that is to realize one’s potential. In action-y movies that’s usually beating the bad guy, whose role is to be the shadow of the hero, the question of what they could have been were things different. Tony Stark goes up against Obadiah Stane, a someone who would use Stark’s technology for militarization and power. Captain America fights Red Skull, the result of the super-soldier serum used on the wrong person. Their stories are about getting to the point where they can beat that person. In doing so, the hero proves they aren’t like the villain.

Self-actualization can also come from a more quiet place, one that’s often the mark of internal conflicts. Iron Man 2 sees a Tony Stark who struggles with himself and his own mortality. Though Vanko’s the villain, Tony’s primary conflict is with himself and his self-destructive behavior. It’s only when he overcomes that that he’s able to build the Mark VI and fight the bad guy.

Carol’s arc is similar; as an amnesiac who’s known only her life on Hala as part of the Kree Starforce, Earth holds mysteries for her to uncover. She’s trying to figure out why this place is important to her and, with it, who she is. Her fight is with herself, who she thinks she is, who people say she is, and who she really is. She has to first reconcile all that before she can properly fight the bad guys.

Captain Marvel throws all this at our hero, with enough turns to keep her on an off-foot throughout the film. Her awesome powers are balanced with her very real flaws, and the movie successfully translates that character I love from the comics to the screen. Here’s a movie that makes the most powerful badass in the MCU still interesting and flawed without compromising her character. Cheers to that, go see it.

And I cannot wait to watch Captain Marvel throw down with Thanos.

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Spiders

Comics are weird. Especially superhero comics. There are people who come back to death, people with weird powers, people who lose those weird powers but then get them back when they come back to life. Also, y’know, aliens and monsters and crazy science crap.

Like I said, weird.

There are also multiple universes, and so multiple versions of characters. There’s a version of Captain America where she’s the biracial daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and beats up a version of MODOK who looks like a certain American politician. There’s one where Mr. Fantastic is a villain, like, the villain.

And, of course, there is a ridiculous number of variations on Spider-Man. A lot of them are, of course, Peter Parker in one form or another. Spider-UK is a British Spider-Man. The Ultimate universe saw a return to a younger Peter, one who, incidentally, dated Kitty Pryde for a while. And out there somewhere is Spiders-Man, wherein Peter Parker’s consciousness was passed on to a horde of spiders (it’s weird).

The Spider-Verse event from a few years ago saw a whole mess of Spiders teaming up to fight the Inheritors, a group of pseudo-vampires who feed on the essence of spider-powered beings across the multiverse. A variety of new (and old) Spiders were (re)introduced; including Spider-Gwen, from Earth-65, where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider and so got the powers. Spider-Verse saw these Spiders teaming up together, so the Spider-Man from Marvel VS Capcom used fighting moves, and the Spider-Man from an old Japanese show had a giant robot.

Essentially, the Marvel universe has a bunch of different Spider-People, and sometimes they hang out (and one version of Gwen Stacy gets to complain about getting, and I quote, “fridged off a bridge”). It’s definitely pretty outlandish, and also something pretty unique to comics.

And now we have the movie Enter The Spider-Verse. I’m going to forgo talking about how the film’s animation style is a love letter to comics and just focus on the story of it all, namely how multiverses play a huge role and we’ve a bunch of different Spiders.

Quick rundown of the dramatis personae: in addition to Miles, the Spidey-in-training, you’ve Peter Parker, an experienced Spider-Man from his universe; Gwen Stacy, Spider-Gwen who knows what she’s doing; Spider-Man Noir, a hard-boiled guy who’s literally in black and white; Peni Parker, who’s basically from an anime; and Peter Porker, who’s, um, a pig, but also Spider-Man (Spider-Ham, to be exact).

Miles, our protagonist, gets to interact with four alternate versions of Spider-Man, each of whom provide a different take on the character, and, for Miles, a different version of who he could be. Much of Miles’ arc revolves around him learning how to be Spider-Man and what all that means. For a good chunk of the movie, that means he’s trying to emulate a Peter Parker, wearing a knock-off of another Spider-Man’s costume, playacting at being someone else. He is not his own hero yet, rather he is attempting to be someone else. It is no spoiler, then, that Miles’ self-actualization sees him making his own suit; one that is uniquely him. He’s the only one who can really decide what to do with the powers that’s been given to him — and with it the responsibility.

The central tension in so many great Spider-Man stories is that of power and responsibility. How does Peter (or Gwen, or Miles) navigate that space between the two, that fatalistic flaw of needing to use that power to protect, but at the cost of one’s own well-being? The multiversal nature of Spider-Man allows for a multitude of interpretations and interactions, tackling these themes from a host of different angles. Events like Spider-Verse let these characters team-up and has their takes on power and responsibility clash or feed off each other. So then we have Into The Spider-Verse, where Miles sees these different takes on who he could be. It’s up to him to figure out just who that is, what is expected of him and what he will do. By having all these different versions of Spider-Man, Miles is given the space to create his own.

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A New Origin

Captain Marvel’s new series, The Life of Captain Marvel, sees Carol taking some time to reassess. In the aftermath of infighting with Tony Stark and some other less than great events, she goes to her family’s summer home in Maine to spend some time with her mom and injured brother. There’s a lot of self-reflection, some reveals of family secrets… and a Kree hunter after, presumably, Carol. Because who else?

The Kree hunter closes in on the Danvers house and prepares to wreak havoc. Carol steels herself for a fight, only for her mother to reveal that the hunter is here for her. Turns out her mother is a Kree warrior, who for years has been living a quiet life on Earth. And she has superpowers.

As the next issue reveals, Carol’s Mom, Mariel (or Mari-Ell, as she was once known) was a Kree special operative, sent to Earth to asses it as a potential threat. But she met Carol’s dad, fell in love with him and Earth, and abandoned her mission. So Carol’s not the only superpowered alien-ish woman in the family; her mom is too. Flying and punching hard is in her blood.

This is a significant retcon of Carol’s old origin story. Originally, she was caught in the blast of the Psyche-Mangnetron, a Kree device that gave her the powers of the original Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell… yeah, Kree names are weird). Now, Mar-Vell was, at the time, an on-and-off-again love interest for Carol. She was up to her own things, of course, but in this skirmish she was the bait Yon-Rogg used to lure Mar-Vell in — essentially, she was the damsel. Long story short, Psyche-Mangnetron goes boom, Mar-Vell saves Carol, she gets Mar-Vell’s powers. All because of an accident that’s essentially caused by two men fighting over her.

Now, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel saw this get changed a bit; now there was a time-traveling Carol Danvers (long story) watching the fight play out, all the time knowing that she could jump in there, stop it all and never have to deal with the powers and responsibility. She chooses to let it play out, to let herself become who she now is. The difference this makes is pretty neat: Carol now has a measure of agency in her powers. It didn’t just happen to her randomly, it’s as a result of (future) her making a choice. She has a hand in her own creation.

But it was still an origin intrinsically tied to a male character. Those powers weren’t inherently

hers, rather a byproduct of wanting to be like Mar-Vell. It’s not the end of the world, by no means, but it’s still a pretty lackluster origin, especially given that Carol’s tenure as Captain Marvel has pretty much eclipsed Mar-Vell’s.

The new explanation for her powers reframe all of it. All this time she had latent Kree warrior abilities, but it took the Psyche-Mangnetron to activate them. As Mari-Ell tells Carol, her powers are “Not borrowed. Not a gift. Not an accident… They’re not anyone’s but yours. They never have been.”

It’s a huge change in a comic that’s full of them (For example: Carol’s father’s alcoholism and controlling nature was because he was scared of Kree threats coming for them; during the night he told Carol he wouldn’t pay for her college [that led her to run away and join the Air Force], Mari-Ell was pawning her wedding ring to pay for Carol’s tuition [hey, look, more female agency!]). Carol Danvers’ powers are innately hers, passed on to her by her mother. It mayn’t seem like a really big deal but it puts Carol front and center of her own narrative. This is important since Carol, as a character who’s been around for ages, has a lot (and I mean a lot) of baggage with her. By placing Carol and a maternal legacy at the center of her genesis her story is able to be that much more hers from the get go; Marvel’s major female hero’s backstory is no longer based around a male character. This retcon isn’t the Biggest Retcon in Comics Ever, but it’s still a really cool step forwards and one I’m totally onboard with.

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A Dearth of Asians

I was talking with a friend at work the other day about Silk. The superhero, not the fabric. I’ve mentioned her on the blog before, and I do really like her, and am bummed her book ended. My friend quipped that I should be, she’s, like, the only Asian hero in Marvel. I protested, there was also Shang-Chi, and Amadeus Cho, and, and, well.

That’s about it.

We decided to include Kamala Khan, after all, Pakistan is in Asia and we have a bad tendency to think of ‘Asian’ as meaning only East-Asian. There’s also Jubilee of the X-Men, and that’s about where we ran out of steam, concluding that, dang, there really is a dearth of Asians in Marvel comics.

I did some googling while preparing for this post, and found a couple lists of Asian Marvel characters. There’s a small number of minor characters like Wendy Kawasaki who serve as support for the major heroes. There are definitely a good helping of Asian villains, with The Mandarin, Ezekiel Stane (he’s half-Asian!), and Silver Samurai being the most obvious. Then one list I found cited Mantis as an example which is weird because, well, she’s green and has antennas. But apparently she’s half-Vietnamese (and played by a half-Korean actress), so, I guess she kinda counts?

But the point stands; it’s really, really disappointing when you can count the major Asian heroes in Marvel Comics on your fingers. It’s not like I don’t have a horse in this race, what, my whole being half-Asian and all; but c’mon, it’s 2018. Surely there should’ve been an Asian Iron Fist by now or some such. In all of Marvel’s alternate realities, why don’t we get an Asian Tony Stark (you would literally have to change nothing about his story), why not have Shang-Chi a founding member of the Avenger on another Earth?

There’s pushback on these so-called ‘legacy’ characters: “Why make Iron Man or Jessica Drew Asian when you could just create A Whole New Character?” The problem with making A Whole New Character is that it takes a lot of work for them to become as wedged into the public consciousness as, say, Spider-Man. Sometimes, it works — take Kamala Khan who took up the Ms. Marvel mantle but has very little in common with the original Ms. Marvel — but then Silk remains woefully under-appreciated and even Amadeus Cho flew under the radar until he became a Hulk. Giving new characters — particularly minorities — the keys to a flagship means they get a huge PR boost: Look at Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel! I say this a lot, but oftentimes representation means giving up your seat at the table. It means in this universe Tony Stark is Chinese and ‘Stark’ is a lousy transliteration of a Chinese name. Or maybe when someone gives up the mantle they give it up for good (I’m looking at you, Thor).

I’d be remised if I neglected to account for the improvements that have been made. Kamala Khan and Silk are both relatively recent additions, and the former is wildly popular. Shang-Chi and Amadeus used to be, well, less than ideal. Shang-Chi’s power was Being Really Good At Kung-Fu and Amadeus’ was Being Really Smart, two abilities which, well, for a Chinese and Korean-American character, are really kinda stereotypical. But! Recently that’s changed! Shang-Chi is still Really Good At Kung Fu, but Jonathan Hickman saw him join the Avengers and shine as a badass. More recently, Gail Simone has had Domino training with him who in turn sees him as a) aspirational, and 2) really hot. Meanwhile, Amadeus became the Hulk and has joined the Champions and goes on adventures where he’s not just known for his smarts. We may still have precious few Asian superheroes, but, hey, the ones that we have are getting better.

Folks, I talk a lot about diversity and representation on this blog — to the point where I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record. And while I do celebrate Marvel and all the forward motion they’ve made, I do still want, well, more. Silk will always have a special place in my heart, not only because she gets to do the Spider-Man thing, but because her comic had a distinctly Asian-American bent to it. Big Hero Six is a movie that makes me smile when I think of it, not just because of how heartwarming it is, but because Hiro is someone like me. Stories are personal, and I want to get to be a superhero.

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Where Do We Go From Here? (Or Infinity War Part Two)

This post is going to be about what just might happen in the next Avengers movie. And about what happened in Infinity War too, so if you’re not a fan of spoilers, this is your warning.

I lost my voice when I saw the Infinity War’s stinger the first time. Seeing Captain Marvel’s symbol appear on Nick Fury’s space pager elicited quite the roar/scream from me for quite the obvious reason; she’s long been my favorite superhero and finally, finally getting a movie so even getting a hint of her is Really Exciting. It also essentially confirms that, yes, Captain Marvel’s gonna be in the next Avengers and I cannot wait.

Because Captain Marvel, or Carol Danvers, has the epithet of “Earth’s Mightiest Hero” in the comics and is one of the strongest superheroes. 2013’s Infinity event’s climax saw Captain Marvel and Thor duking it out with Thanos in a really epic fight. So bringing her in for round two against Thano (which is the most likely direction the sequel’s going) makes total sense. Now that the Avengers have lost and they’re on the off-foot, they’re gonna need all the help they can get.

Of course, it’s not gonna be that easy, because where’s the fun in that? The whole nature of narrative is needing twists, turns, and obstacles to keep things interesting. Nathan went to the store is a dull story. Nathan went to the store but they were out of milk is a better story. Nathan went to the store but they were out of milk but there was a mysterious man in a sombrero who offered to sell him milk out of the back of a car is an interesting story. Infinity War Part Two or whatever it’s gonna be called will need some of those buts.

As easy as getting the Time Stone off the Gauntlet and rewinding things so all the dusted Avengers come back to life would be, it’s not interesting. We know that Spider-Man and Black Panther and the others aren’t gone for good, in no small part because there are sequels to their movies coming out and, uh, they need to be in said sequels by virtue of the fact that the actors are in them. So they’re coming back. And Thanos needs to get his ass kicked because, well, he’s the bad guy and we need our triumphant moment of the heroes winning. But we also need catharsis, and so that happy ending needs to be earned.

I figure the remaining of Avengers are gonna have to do some sort of rescue mission to get the others back so they can fight Thanos. Whether that means heisting the Soul Stone and making some sort of sacrifice to bring back everyone who’s presumably trapped in there, I don’t know. If the climax is gonna be all the Avengers and Guardians and everyone else in a big showdown with Thanos, which it should be (because we didn’t quite get that Epic Team Up in Infinity War), there’s a lot of work to get there, no matter what it is exactly will happen.

For starters, Cap and Iron Man are both at their nadirs. Everything they tried was for naught. To get to the point where they’re up for a rematch against Thanos (whatever form that might take) they’re going to not only need to be dragged back into the fight, but also to make amends. Given how disillusioned they are at the movie’s end, it’s gonna take some work.

Enter Carol Danvers. In the comics, she’s always idolized Captain America as someone who she wants to be; she wants to be that sort of hero. But she and Iron Man have always had a bit of a connection; both tend to be foolhardy asshats, and both struggled with alcoholism (Tony was Carol’s sponsor when she got sober). Come Infinity War Part Two Carol could be the third point of the triangle that has Tony and Steve. She’s the potential to be a foil for both of them; someone who believes in what Steve can be and represents but also with the snark of Tony. She’s the Kirk to Tony’s Bones and Steve’s Spock. The dichotic relationship between Steve and Tony is now fleshed out into a Freudian idea of an ego, id, and superego. So not only do the Avengers get a hell of a heavy hitter, but the dynamic of the ostensible leaders is going to be upset in enough of a way that will give Tony and Steve (and the others) enough of a kick in the pants to rally against Thanos.

I’ve been hyped for a Captain Marvel movie since it was frickin’ announced. It’s taken a frustratingly long time to get here, but, given the when she’s being introduced and all that could be done with her, I really can’t wait.

Unless all this turns out to be bunk, in which case, hey, my failure will be preserved right here on the internet for all time!

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