Justice League International #1

Justice League International was a series once before, but what people remember is not what DC is doing with the series this time. The original series was funny, madcap, zany. It was written by Keith Giffen and managed some iconic moments. It also managed to portray some characters in ways that DC has been trying to shake right up to this reboot. Guy Gardner is violent, dumb and somewhat inept. Booster Gold is a clown and somewhat inept. Somewhat inept is actually a pretty good description of well over half the characters in the original series.

This reboot has a decent start, it is one of the “heroes have been around awhile” reboots and there’s some odd backstory that I’m hoping will be explained eventually. That backstory has nothing to do with the characters and everything to do with the headquarters and the public’s perception of the League. This version of the Justice League International seems like a combination of the original league and Checkmate. Though the original JLI was sponsored by the UN for a little while, the behind-the-scenes here feels much more like what went on with Checkmate.

Other than that, it is a fairly straightforward “new team” book with characters meeting each other and determining their place on the team. That storyline will go on for awhile. Overshadowing that is the author’s (Dan Jurgens)  near constant efforts to show this won’t be a zany group like Giffen’s was. Various characters are either being ultra-responsible or simply deciding not to join. They’ve got some of the standard members of the old team: Booster Gold, Rocket Red, Fire, Ice and some new ones: August General In Iron, Vixen and Godiva (existing characters, but new to the team) and Guy Gardner (GL) and Batman being associated with the team, but either staying away for now (Guy) or not supposed to be there (Batman).

It is a smaller team than last time and some effort has been made to make the team evenly international, but there’s still a preponderance of Americans. This series has potential, but if it rapidly devolves into constant harping about if Booster can be a good leader and Godiva being saucy and not contributing and Batman being the one everyone looks to, then they’d better get zany quickly ’cause nothing else will save it.

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Batgirl #1

Batgirl is one of the titles I was most looking forward to and most dreading. I loved Oracle, she was one of my favorite characters in any comics universe. She was different, powerful, effective and had a rich history. I liked both of the Batgirls that had succeeded Barbara Gordon: Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, there’s really no reason to go back to Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. She really shouldn’t be Batgirl any more either, but I suppose Batwoman is taken.

The one thing that made me look forward to the new series was the writer: Gail Simone. She’s fantastic and I figured if anyone can do this well, it would be her. She’s the best writer in comics right now, the drop-off in quality when she left Wonder Woman was astonishing.

I was expecting the reboot of Batgirl to be like all the others DC has been doing: start the character over completely and either tell the story from the beginning or up to a decade down the line from that new beginning. Batgirl is different, it seems to have left all her history in place and is taking place 3+ years after the Joker shot her. If they’re changing the Joker the way they seem to be in Detective, this could get weird very quickly. She’s regained her physical abilities, but is just starting over as Batgirl and isn’t quite up to her old self yet, if ever. She still seems to have great computer abilities, evidenced by her hacking her dad’s phone to get copies of all his texts, does this mean she was Oracle while in the wheelchair?

This raises so many questions. Was she Oracle? Were Cassandra and Stephanie Batgirl for awhile? Did Birds of Prey exist? There’s a great line about her time in the wheelchair. Her new roommate, who strangely isn’t given a name in the first issue despite being “onscreen” for 3 pages, sees the chair lift in Barbara’s van and Barbara thinks “She doesn’t know what it’s like, what the chair helps you do.” It certainly seems to be implying that she was Oracle, at least for awhile and I’m really hoping she was. Heck, I’m hoping the answers to all my above questions are “Yes” because there’s been some great world-building and character building with those characters and I’d hate to see the characters all thrown away.

The biggest thing that bothers me in this issue is the final scene. Batgirl is trying to stop a bad guy (The Mirror) from killing another bad guy, but The Mirror aims a gun at Batgirl the same way the Joker did and she freezes long enough for The Mirror to throw the other bad guy out the window to his death. The cop that’s been lying there, mostly incapacitated from the initial attack by The Mirror, picks up her gun, points it at Batgirl (though The Mirror is still clearly visible, standing behind Batgirl, also pointing a gun at her) and says “You let him kill that man. You watched him die. Murderer!”

This makes no sense. First of all, the actual murderer is still there, shouldn’t you be pointing your gun at him? Secondly, even if she just sat back and said “what do I care, go ahead”, that doesn’t make her a murderer, and she didn’t, she froze. Third, she’s unarmed, The Mirror isn’t, he should clearly be the main concern. I’m hoping The Mirror is messing with her mind ’cause this is ridiculous, it is the one sour note of writing in the issue and unfortunately, that’s what the issue ends with.

The only other thing that bothers me a little is that they have to panels of the Joker shooting Barbara in the spine at different parts of the issue. Once is flashback and establishing. The second time is gratuitous. I’m really hoping this series does well and is up to Simone’s standards, but those two bits are worrying. Granted, she’s been given an incredibly difficult task, I just really want it to work out.

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Hawk & Dove #1

Hawk & Dove seems like a strange choice for their own title in the reboot.  I’d always considered them a strange relic of the 1960s, a reflection of America’s struggle with war and peace or aggression and pacifism. As time went on and first Dove was replaced and then Hawk, the characters seemed less and less pertinent. They became generic “Order vs. Chaos” characters and more of a Superhero version of the Odd Couple.

This is another of the comics that is set a little further in the future of the reboot world. Hawk and Dove have already been around long enough for the first Dove to die and be replaced. The original Hawk and Dove in this series have the same relationship as they did back in the 60s: they’re brothers. The new Dove’s place in the scheme of things is a little different and a little more soap-opera-y. While all of the titles I’ve read so far seem a bit rushed in pacing, trying to establish too much too fast, this title also has some weaker writing.

Too much of the title is characters standing around (or flying around) talking to each other, giving the exposition that sets up the backgrounds, secrets and potential conflicts that are to come. While there are a few flashbacks, with this much backstory, more would have been better. Even better than that would have been either starting earlier in their history or just getting the stories going and letting the backstory happen.

This is the first title I’ve read so far where the art is jarring and sure enough it is by the hack Rob Liefeld. It seems no-one can go long in his world without talking through clenched teeth, maybe he’s been taking lessons from Howard Chaykin.

This is the first title I’ve read so far where the art is jarring and sure enough it is by the hack Rob Liefeld. It seems no-one can go long in his world without talking through clenched teeth, maybe he’s been taking lessons from Howard Chaykin.

And I just have to comment on this pair of panels near the end of the issue. In the first panel, we see several people walking by a reflecting pool, proportions seem normal. Adults are similar heights, the kid is shorter, the reflecting pool wall is around the height of one of the steps in the background, it seems like it’d come half-way up to the kid’s knee. Of course, the wall’s shadow seems like the light source is on the ground to the top of the panel.

Then in the second panel, the world has been affected by The Angle Man! Wait, no, he’s not in this issue. Maybe some other reality warping villain? Nope. Did Escher take over? Again, no. Somehow the child is kneeling in a hole and his dad has fallen on his side, though his tie still hangs towards his belt. Or maybe the wall has grown enormously, judging by the shadow that now has a completely different light source. Several, really since the wall now seems to have shadows both in and outside the pool. But then there’s still the problem of falling dad to explain.

 I’m sure the real lesson here is that if you look too closely (i.e. at all) at Liefeld’s art, you’re bound to be confused and disappointed.

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Detective #1

Detective #1 is the other comic where the renumbering really bothers me. Action was the first, but this one is just as bad. I don’t like it when companies with long histories throw that history away so they can seem new.

I’m thinking Batman is going to be the comic where Batman’s reboot begins, this one seems more like the reboot for the Joker. From the opening narrative, both the Joker and the Batman have been around for at least 6 years by the beginning of this series and the Joker seems to not have been caught yet by this part of the reboot.

He has 114 murders that Batman attributes to him over those 6 years, which seems low for this character, but they may be starting slow, like they have with other characters, and intend to build from there. It is easier to increase the horror of a villain if you don’t start too intensely. I say it doesn’t seem as though he’s been caught yet because when Batman does catch him in this issue, there are two events that imply this is the Joker’s first time as the Joker in the system.

One is that he’s let himself be caught and it is phrased in such a way to imply it hasn’t happened before, the other is a discussion at Arkham about where the proper place for the Joker is: Arkham or Blackgate, it hasn’t been established by previous incarcerations. They seem to have a big reboot planned for the Joker as the entire issue seems set up to change his iconic appearance. The Joker’s moves throughout the comic set up his arrival at Arkham for the purpose of changing his identity, including having another insane criminal remove the Joker’s face at the end of this first issue. It seems odd that their first action with this well established character is to make him less identifiable, I’ll have to see where they’re going with this before I can decide if I like it or not. Maybe they want to make him less cartoonish, maybe they think his appearance is too dates. Either way, they’ll have to be careful in the way they handle it. Likely the worst think they could do is change his appearance, only to have it revert to the classic appearance after a short time, that’d seem too much like a cop out.

We also get a taste of Batman’s relationship with Gotham’s police at whatever point this is in his career. He knows Jim Gordon and they work well together, but even though Jim has the Bat-Signal, the rest of the force apparently doesn’t like Batman. In fact, Jim may be sticking his neck out by associating with Batman, but then again he does have the Bat-Signal on the roof of the police station.

We also get our first glimpse of Alfred and there’s little rebooting to the character’s origins here. The Alfred we see is the hyper-competent, technologically savvy Alfred. I’m hoping he still has a background in the British military or secret service. We’ll have to wait for that though. There’s also a line that implied Bruce and Selena or Batman and Catwoman already have a complicated relationship, but that could be a bit of misdirection. I’d be surprised if the Batman title or another Batman title doesn’t start at the beginning of his career the way Action is doing with Superman. They love origin stories and the chance to re-tell Batman’s plus those of all his enemies seems too much to pass up.

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Green Arrow #1

Green Arrow is another of the comics where my first thought was “wow, this is a reboot!” They’ve sent GA back to his very beginnings, a wealthy gadget maker who decides to fight crime. I’m expecting future issues to show the ArrowCar, ArrowPlane and ArrowCave. The goatee is gone and with it, likely his 1970s era earnest liberalism. I’ll miss the latter far more than the former.

The first issue depicts him much as he was before he lost his fortune: Batman with arrows. He’s fortunate in this first issue that the three super-powered villains he’s fighting seem content to see what each gadget he throws or shoots at them will do before they react. They also seem content to each take him on one at a time, letting each get defeated before taking their own shot. It doesn’t seem like they’re doing that on purpose, it is just weird pacing of the fight and a weird depiction of what should be far more fluid.

The three villains he beats and puts in prison are broken out at the end of the issue by the rest of their super-powered gang. From the final page depiction of the group, it looks like Green Arrow will be fighting a European Alpha Flight. There’s several panels as he’s about to fight the bad guys with exposition about how he has to worry about the cops, so this is likely still in the early part of the reboot timeline where heroes aren’t welcome, powered or not. If they have kept some of Ollie’s attitude from before the reboot, it is possible that this happens later when the rest of the world likes heroes, but he’s just so abrasive that the cops want to arrest him.

One of the new additions to Green Arrow’s world is a high tech support team. They’re the inner most circle of his company. He has Queen Industries, though he seems to have passed the CEO position on to someone else for this umbrella group, much as Batman has Lucius Fox. Within Queen Industries, he has a research group called Q-Core and his personal crime-fighting support team is a smaller, secret part of that. All we’ve seen of it so far, and this might be all of it, are two people a man (Jax) that creates his gimmick arrows or helps create them and a woman (Naomi) who appears to be his own, personal Oracle. Sadly, her main role for me is going to be a persistent reminder that makes me miss Oracle.

The biggest problem I have with Green Arrow in this reboot is that he’s far too much like a blond Iron Man. Attitude, appearance, background, all he needs is a drinking problem. Of course, since this is early in his story, that might be on its way. He even has a personal assistant that he has no problem sending to be his fully authorized proxy standing in for him in board meetings and she’s even a redhead. He has his own Pepper Potts. Fortunately, she has the much less ridiculous name of Adrien.

The series could be a good one, but I’m hoping it progresses quickly and he loses some of the similarities to other heroes. I’d be interested to see what the modern equivalent is of the Green Arrow that took Green Lantern on his voyage to understand America back in the 1970s.

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Animal Man #1

Animal Man doesn’t get to play hero the way the rest of the DC Universe does. In fact, his new series seems to begin decades after the rest of the reboot. While there are hints all over the other books I’ve read so far that super-beings are relatively new, Animal Man starts with a magazine interview with Buddy Baker (Animal Man) about his role in a movie. It is a nice way to give us all the background we need for the character, but it immediately sets this title apart from the rest of the reboot. There are references in the “interview” to how Buddy hasn’t been an active superhero for awhile, like “My superhero ‘career’ hadn’t really been going anywhere in the last couple of years.”

This implies that this takes place years after Justice League #1 (which seems to take place a considerable time after Action #1) in that Justice League #1 has the first heroes meeting for the first time and for Buddy to have started and given up a “career” in it, there would have to be time for those heroes to become established before other heroes could consider a “career” in it. Not only that, but Justice League #1 and Action #1 portray a world where super-beings aren’t trusted and are actively feared. For him to have a career in super-heroing, then give that up to become an animal-rights activist and then to have a starring role in an “indie” movie as a “washed-up superhero”, this comic has to take place a decade after the rest, I’d think maybe even later. Strange that this would be one of the ones released the first week of the “New 52.”

Image from CoverBrowser.com

I’ve been a fan of Animal Man since his debut in Strange Adventures #180. Or at least since I read the issue when I was a kid. I picked up quite a few issues of the classic DC Science Fiction titles like Strange Adventures and My Greatest Adventure and Mystery in Space at our local flea market. The comic shop in Chester, NJ used to get a table at the local flea market every Sunday and I’d go with my dad. Under the tables, there were dozens of long boxes sitting on the ground and every comic in those boxes was 10 cents each. My dad would give me $10 to buy comics each week. I’d pour through those boxes getting comics no-one wanted: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown, Doom Patrol, House of Mystery and tons of others from the previous decade of the 1960s including the three titles I mentioned above. I’d take my 100 or so comics (sometimes I got more, sometimes I bought less because I got a few more expensive comics) home from the flea market, sit on our enormous brown sectional sofa, stack the comics beside me and spend the rest of the day reading

Animal Man was an occasional story in Strange Adventures and I was always excited to find a new one. Since I wasn’t getting or reading the comics in any particular order (it didn’t really matter back then as most stories were self-contained) I would sometimes have several Animal Man stories at once. Back then, he was a fairly standard hero and he eventually faded from comics, not to reappear until Crisis on Infinite Earths when DC dredged up every character that had ever graced its pages. Since Crisis, Animal Man hasn’t been a “normal” hero. Like the Doom Patrol, they decided weird was the way to go, not that that’s a huge surprise when you know that his first author post-Crisis was Grant Morrison.

The Grant Morrison take on Animal man has infused every incarnation since and this new version of the character is no different. The magical field that covers the planet called “The Red” is back from Animal Man’s Vertigo days and now there are three surreal creatures called the Hunters Three that will be the main adversaries in the series. When it comes to this kind of a series though, there’s no telling if they’ll be villains or heroes opposed because of an inability to communicate and understand.

One of Animal Man’s limitations, that I’d always liked, seems to have gone away. He used to only be able to take the powers of animals that were nearby and it used to be one at a time. In this first issue, he takes what he considers a “standard cocktail” of animal powers, mixing several for effectiveness. He also grabs the hide of a rhino, so distance doesn’t seem to be an issue. If they were going to go in that direction, I’d have liked to see them explore the ability he had during one of DC’s recent giant events: he had the ability to tap into any creature in the universe to mimic their abilities. As he had no idea what most of these creatures were, interesting storylines could have come from his exploration.

This could be one of the better series coming from the reboot, but it is going to take quite a few issues before that’ll become clear. I’m wondering if they’ll hold off interacting with other heroes or much of the outside world given his place in the timeline. It could make the storytelling very tricky. Not being able to interact with the rest of the DC universe is what soured Giffen on the Ambush Bug, it could put a damper on a promising series here too.

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Men of War #1

I’m not usually a big fan of war comics. I’ve read a ton of them, partly because I read every comic that my grandparents had in their used book store when I was a kid, but they aren’t something I seek out. Of the ones I’ve read, I always liked the WWII comics the best and of those, I liked the Sgt. Rock comics the best. The new title Men of War looks like it is going to be an anthology series, each containing several stories, much like many of the old war comics.

I like the first story by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick quite a bit. It has Sgt. Rock’s grandson as the main character and it has some good dialogue. Other than the legacy aspect, what I like best is that unlike all those old war comics, it addresses superhumans in a war zone from the point of view of the normal soldiers. It feels like it will have a nuanced view of war and conflicts. It has some ridiculous feats by the soldiers, but those are excusable in a comic. I do like the feel of the first story, it feels like it is going somewhere.

The second story is much weaker. This one is by Jonathan Vankin and Phil Winslade and it tries too hard for one thing. War comics have a long history of stories about units that try to show how diverse the American military is with all different kinds of people from all walks of life and this one wants to be a part of that tradition. It tries desperately to make sure everyone has a nickname and to explain those nicknames. Despite that, it is a unit of 4 white navy seals who are unofficially fighting somewhere in the middle east. The other problem is that it is very heavy on narrative and exposition in that narrative while the soldiers walk around. It is as though the authors think they aren’t going to last long and want to get everything established before they are cancelled. What I like least is the last few panels, showing a local woman holding a gun. She drops the gun and says “help”. They show her from several angles and there’s no-one anywhere near her. In the last panel, there’s suddenly a large man, much larger than she is, appearing behind her and shooting at the soldiers. It isn’t enough that he’d been sniping at the soldiers, they have to have him hiding behind a woman. It is lazy writing and bad art.

This could be an ok comic, especially if there’s more like the lead story and they’re willing to explore what happens in war in a world with superpeople. If they go for generic stories that just try to play off older stories, it’ll be cancelled pretty quickly. Either way I probably won’t keep getting it beyond the second or third issue. At most I’ll probably get it through the conclusion of the lead feature’s storyline.

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Batwing #1

Wonderful, a black DC hero with his own comic. He’s not even American, he works in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m all in favor of diversity in comics and in looking at more of the world than just America or even Europe, but the writer is a white, American man and the artist is a white, British man. While I like the character and I like the idea of “Batmen” all over the world as a part of a large organization that supports one-another, we have a White American sponsoring this hero. I’m hoping the “franchise batmen” show independence and we don’t end up with a comic-book version of “The Help”.

I’m also hoping DC changes the creative team pretty quickly. Winick’s dialogue is alright later in the book, but the fight-scene dialog is pretty cliché, stilted and just plain bad. He’s invented a major city (Tinasha), which I like. We have Metropolis and Gotham and I think they have more fictional weight and versatility than Washington DC (where Wonder Woman is often based). A fake city in a real country always strikes me as more interesting and memorable than a fake country and fake city. I have some hopes for the world building, but I’m hoping it doesn’t end up reading like Mike Resnik’s books about Africa, they always seem a little off.

One potential good point is the reference to the first Superhero team in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: The Kingdom. It consists of 7 heroes, one of whom may now be dead, killed in this issue. Little is revealed about him and nothing about the other 6. The team ended the nation’s civil war and apparently disbanded. If they don’t treat them like throwaway characters, introduced to be killed off, they could be the source of some interesting stories. Even if they are, they could have some interesting stories told from when they were in existence.

It is probably a lot easier to drum up interest in a non-American character by linking the new character to an established, American character and I am pleased they’re trying. I have hopes for this title. One other thing, there are references in this comic and the others I’ve read so far that imply heroes, at least ones with powers, are showing up for the very first time within 5 or 10 years of these comics. That means no Golden Age, no Justice Society, no mentors, no good-will. I don’t know if I like that. On the other hand, maybe it’ll also mean a moratorium on Nazis.

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Action #1

Now that’s a reboot. In the original Action comics, Superman was something of a bully and something of a jerk. He thought little of threatening criminals to coerce confessions and thought little of roughing them up to teach them a lesson. Over the years, as he increased in power, he stopped treating ordinary people this way. It eventually became part of his character that he treated everyone as well as he could, using the force necessary to apprehend or stop them, but nothing more. Even after the last major reboot of Crisis on Infinite Earths in the 1980s, Superman retained this high standard to the point that he was frequently referred to as “the boy scout”.
 

 

Image from CoverBrowser.com

Back when Superman was created, he was standing up for people who were frequently brutally oppressed by both government and criminals. It was a very different time and Superman was frequently about dispensing justice where government couldn’t be bothered to or trusted. More importantly, he was new. He treated criminals and the others he opposed as most fictional adventurers of the time did. The Superman of today has had over 70 years of character development to establish his standards and ethics. Despite the reboot, people expect Superman to act in a particular way.

This reboot has returned Superman to the original Superman. He’s lower powered, though the story implies that his powers are increasing quickly. He’s employing the same tactics and methods that he employed when he was just starting out and it is jarring. He’s inexperienced and it shows in some of the things he’s attempting. He’s also willing to put himself at risk to protect innocents and that’s consistent for both the original and more recent incarnations of the character.

Part of what bothers me about this reversion to his earliest attitudes is the current American willingness to torture, to abuse, to coerce, to execute. The last thing we need Superman to be is just another thug. They do establish that the government is out of control and is willing to endanger civilians to exert control in the name of security and that Superman is opposing them, but it is a tricky line to walk and I hope they manage it well in upcoming issues. General Lane and Luthor are set up as the villains and represent governmental and corporate corruption and abuse, but the issue begins with Superman threatening the life of a crime boss, keeping the methods of both sides closer than they might be otherwise. I’m hoping the distance between them increases quickly.

Clark starts out in this latest incarnation living in a cheap apartment building and while he knows Lois and Jimmy, he is working for a rival paper. This could be a fun twist and is certainly interesting. It is odd though, that they all work for newspapers, given the decline in the newspaper industry over the last decade or so. Perhaps they’ll be shown to be working for more modern aspects of the newspaper industry as time goes on. It is a little disappointing that with all the other changes, they didn’t try to update this as well.

Since his powers seem to have developed recently, it is unlikely we’ll get to see Clark as Superboy. I don’t know if this is part of the inane legal battles surrounding Superboy, but it is disappointing whatever the reason. I’m hoping that his rapid power development parallels a rapid ethical evolution. When Superman originally made the transition in power levels and in character, it was in an era of no continuity. What happened in one issue rarely carried over to another, when they made the changes they made, they did it to fit a story or at whim. It could be very interesting to see the changes as an actual development in the character. By starting out so low powered, they can take their time introducing things like Kryptonite and Magic as weaknesses. These things didn’t get introduced for years originally and it’d be nice for it to take years this time.

I’m thinking his powers are going to increase rapidly since he seems much higher powered by Justice League #1. Unfortunately, he still seems like quite a thug in that issue. Action has potential, it could develop into a good series, but this first issue seems rushed. Like Justice League #1, they seem to be trying to establish too much at once. Action is much better than Justice League though and on the whole, balances my disappointment from that issue.

Since they are starting back at the beginning, I’m hoping we get to see some of the other original villains. While Luthor is the first of the old villains appearing here, Lane is fairly recent. I’m hoping to see the Ultra Humanite, for one. I’m also hoping it isn’t all retro and we get some new villains.

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What are they thinking at Image?

Has Image become a vanity press of comics? I’d hate to think their editors thought this was a good idea. That’s right, Image has published The Big Lie, a “truther” comic. Everything about it is offensive from the cover to the content. I leafed through it at the store in the hopes that it wasn’t what it looked like, but the last panel shows explosives inside the building. As I leafed through the comic, it looked like the low quality one expects from crackpots. Most of it seemed to be people sitting at a table while another person gave a presentation. No-one wants to sit through that in real life, why would anyone read a comic about it? And pages of densely packed, moronic conspiracy theory? Why in the world is this a comic?

It greatly reduces my opinion of Image to the point where I’m wondering if I’ll bother buying any of their titles.

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