Marvel's New Universe (1986)

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Tulpa Girl

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Star Brand #2 - “Taking Charge!”

Cover Date: November 1986
Publication Date: August 12, 1986
Story: Jim Shooter
Art: John Romita, Jr. & Al Williamson
Timeframe: August 20-22, 1986

cover.jpg

Exulting in the simple joy of flight, Ken experiments with just how high he can go. Leaving the atmosphere, he briefly panics, even though neither the cold not lack of air bother him. Re-entering the atmosphere, it takes him a while to actually find his way back to Pittsburgh. Flying outside of his girlfriend's Barbara's house, he sees her undress through the window, and finally has enough self-awareness to realize how creepy he's being.

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(Wait, so that's the second time someone has responded to someone else knocking on their door by saying the word 'door' out loud. Is this a New Universe thing, or just a Pittsburgh thing?)

It's Debbie, who passes on a message from Myron to come over the following evening, and she winds up staying the night. The next day, as the two drive to Myron's home, he stops to make a phone call to Barbara to belatedly let her know that he won't be seeing her that evening.

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Seriously, Debbie, you deserve better than to be treated like this. A little injection of self-esteem would do wonders for you.

When they arrive at Myron's place, they find out there are others there, as part of a therapy group. This includes Jan, who used to date Ken. Her son misses him, as he looked up to Ken during the time the two dated. Jan notes that Ken's been busy, assuming that Debbie is his girlfriend. “This one's very pretty, Ken. Congratulations.”

Man, the way women seem to fall for Ken for no apparent reason is at least as much of a power fantasy as his super powers. So far I've yet to see anything to contradict my 'cocaine dick' theory.

Ken isn't happy about the therapy group thing, but Myron convinces him to stay. At least, until Myron brings up the 'theoretical' question to the group of what would you do with the power to control or destroy the world. Ken storms off, bristling at what he perceives to be blatant manipulation from Myron. Debbie doesn't understand why Ken is so upset, and he reveals his new abilities to her. She says that he'll know the right thing to do when the time calls for it.

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Ken flies off to rescue the kid, although it takes him a while to get there, since finding a specific area when you're flying at a high altitude isn't easy. Once there, he's uncertain how to help, especially as he doesn't want to deal with the world knowing his secret. He tries to tunnel underground, but this doesn't go well since he can't see where he's going as he does so.

As it turns out, his presence isn't needed, as Spitfire shows up and uses her powered suit to go into the well and rescue the child. When she leaves, he follows, and finds the area where the Troubleshooters are hanging out/laying low at. He leers a bit when Jenny gets out of the armor, but opts not to make his presence known to them, second-guessing himself as he flies home.

At his apartment, he calls up Janet, asking what the other people at the therapy group responded with to Myron's question. Jan's response was that everyone already has the ability to change the world, but that they aren't obligated to, as they also have a right to their own lives. She adds that people who are convinced about what is right and what is wrong scare her, “like those terrorists sailing the cruise ship toward New York with that nuke aboard – they think they're the good guys!”

Suited up, Ken flies over to Norfolk, and then follows a military plane toward the direction of the cruise ship. Scoping out the ship once he arrives, he sees over 1200 hostages being watched by Middle Eastern terrorists with machine guns. He manages to knock out a couple of wandering guards, but clearly still doesn't what he's doing, and didn't have much of a plan for what to do when he arrived.

He finally spots a trio of terrorists with the nuke and a detonator switch. The presence of one of the guards he tied up is discovered, and the terrorists appear to be debating over whether or not to trigger the nuke now, even though they are not yet near their target of New York. He considers powering up “like a star” and vaporizing the bomb and the terrorists...

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(Really like what Romita did with this page)

Just then, commandos show up, shooting the terrorists, but not before the detonator switch is triggered. As it turns out, there's a safety delay in case it was accidentally pushed, but they can't get the override code out of the surviving terrorist. The commandos throw the nuke overboard, hoping against hope, knowing that the ship can't get clear in time to save themselves or the hostages. Ken follows the nuke underwater, pushing it as far down as he can as fast as he can. He makes it to the bottom of the ocean, into the muck, reminding him of his earlier tunneling mishaps, pissing him off. It's deep enough that the nuclear explosion doesn't harm the ship, and being angry seemingly helped Ken survive being at the heart of the blast.

Later, in New Hampshire, Jenny is making some last-minute modifications to the MAX suit, planning on going after the terrorists, when Ken shows up. They talk for a bit, and after Jenny admits that they currently have a bit of misunderstanding with the law, Ken warns them about the possible ramifications of well-intention interfering, and that they should think about what can go wrong and what the consequences might be if they choose to do so. He's about to leave, but Jenny and the others have questions of their own for him. Ken's response, because macho dick-waving is always in fashion...

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* * *​

Not a great issue, but not a bad one either – overall probably better written than the previous issue, a mixture of Shooter hitting his stride a bit more and fewer plot elements being introduced and having to be juggled. We get to see what Shooter feels would be the sort of difficulties a real-life superhero would have to contend with, as well as the struggle to balance the responsibility of power versus the responsibility to oneself, in a manner that might be more honest than what more four-color heroes usually acknowledge. Ken's presence on the cruise ship arguably makes things worse, since the commandos might have been able to take out the terrorists without giving them warning, preventing them from triggering the detonator switch.

It's pretty clear that Ken is having sex with Debbie, but apparently that's not the case with Barbara - his reaction to seeing her undress seems to indicate he's ever seen her naked. I guess that's part of the reason why he's keeping Debbie on the side.

* * *​

Crossover Elements counter: 1 – meeting Spitfire and the Troubleshooters.
 

Ralph Dula

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Man, the way women seem to fall for Ken for no apparent reason is at least as much of a power fantasy as his super powers. So far I've yet to see anything to contradict my 'cocaine dick' theory.

There’s an author who once used the phrase “The charisma of the self-absorbed” to describe a popular character in a Crossgen comic she wrote. In the last seven years I’ve had to deal with two people who live that statement, both being horrible people who seem to always be praised and adored no matter what they do. Ken is definitely of the same mold as them, and people fawning over him feels believable to me.

Of course, one of those people I had to deal withis female, so I hearby create the term “cocaine clitoris.”
I remember looking at this one on the stands at Waldenbooks. I’m surprised 80s me didn’t buy it for the Spirfire crossover, but I suspect Ken being Ken had something to do with that.



It’s funny: I’m certain that back in the day I never considered the environmental impact of the nuke going off. I also suspect neither did Shooter, as years later at Valiant he wrote a story with Solar going nuclear in Antarctica as pretty much no big deal. While nothing was made of the impact on the ice there, some time later in a “Valiant Facts” note it was revealed almost every penguin there dies in the explosion.
 

Endless Flight

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A nuke going off on the bottom of the ocean floor can’t be a good thing. Wouldn’t it make a huge tidal wave at the very least, not to mention the wildlife damage, etc.
 

hawkeyefan

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A nuke going off on the bottom of the ocean floor can’t be a good thing. Wouldn’t it make a huge tidal wave at the very least, not to mention the wildlife damage, etc.

Yeah I was thinking the same thing. Especially since they had established he could fly to space earlier in the issue. Why not go up instead of down, Ken?
 

Ralph Dula

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Yeah I was thinking the same thing. Especially since they had established he could fly to space earlier in the issue. Why not go up instead of down, Ken?

If memory serves, in about 11 issues we’re going to see Ken decide to do something dangerous and that it’ll be safer to do it up in the sky.

to say it doesn’t go well is an understatememt.
 

hawkeyefan

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If memory serves, in about 11 issues we’re going to see Ken decide to do something dangerous and that it’ll be safer to do it up in the sky.

to say it doesn’t go well is an understatememt.

Ooooops sorry Steelers!

I think, though....to delve into spoilers of a 35 year old comic....that specifically happened because he decided not to fly into space? I think? Like he was supposed to fly out to the moon, but instead went up a few miles and said "good enough" and then boom, the Pitt.
 

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A nuke going off on the bottom of the ocean floor can’t be a good thing. Wouldn’t it make a huge tidal wave at the very least, not to mention the wildlife damage, etc.
A lot depends on the yield of the nuke, but under most circumstances, it would be bad, if it were powerful enough, and depending on where it was it could do much worse as well (like setting off underwater volcanoes.)
 

Ralph Dula

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A lot depends on the yield of the nuke, but under most circumstances, it would be bad, if it were powerful enough, and depending on where it was it could do much worse as well (like setting off underwater volcanoes.)
Not sure if you’re just theorizing, or making a subtle nod to what is to come later.
Ooooops sorry Steelers!

I think, though....to delve into spoilers of a 35 year old comic....that specifically happened because he decided not to fly into space? I think? Like he was supposed to fly out to the moon, but instead went up a few miles and said "good enough" and then boom, the Pitt.
I’m honestly uncertain. I only have a vague memory of the issue in question, unlike the view of it in The Pitt, which I recall clearly, but only had The Observer’s thoughts.
 

Tulpa Girl

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Ooooops sorry Steelers!

I think, though....to delve into spoilers of a 35 year old comic....that specifically happened because he decided not to fly into space? I think? Like he was supposed to fly out to the moon, but instead went up a few miles and said "good enough" and then boom, the Pitt.
That's my memory of it, as well. He went something like 5 to 10 miles up, but didn't exit the atmosphere.
 

Endless Flight

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The bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII detonated in the air and actually probably were deadlier because of that. I didn’t know that until I read up on them years back. I always assumed as a kid that bombs only went off when they hit the surface.
 

Tulpa Girl

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Spitfire And The Troubleshooters #1 - “Behemoth”

Cover Date: November 1986
Publication Date: August 12, 1986
Story: Gerry Conway
Art: Herb Trimpe, Bob McLeod
Timeframe: August 23-24?, 1986

cover.jpg

Somewhat better than the previous issue cover, but still not grabbing me.

Jenny is getting some telemetry readings on the MAX suit with the help of Andy when some hunters in a pickup truck in danger of going over the side of a cliff. The brings to the forefront they had with the “weird guy” the day before; Andy would rather lay low, but Jenny takes the MAX suit, feeling that it's responsibility to use the suit to help people and save lives, as her father would have wanted.

Later that night, the news reports of the hunters' assertion that they were rescued by a giant robot. The news people don't take the report seriously, but the other Troubleshooters are afraid that it might alert Krotze to Jenny's location. Eddie thinks they should scout around Krotze's R&D complex, to find out how much he knows. To that end, he's adapted the design of the MAX servo-motors to build himself some cyber-arms, and thinks that breaking in won't be a problem. Terry thinks to herself that while Eddie has always been headstrong, but his crush on Jenny has made him reckless.

At the Krotze International main HQ complex, Krotze shows the news clip with the hunters to his subordinate Faylen, convinced that it was Jenny in the MAX suit. Krotze orders Faylen to use the 'Behemoth', a Defense Department project that KI is working on; Faylen is his top systems engineer, and he reminds Faylen that he has blackmail material on the subordinate, which would cause the man to lose his security clearance should it come to light. After Faylen leaves, Krotze gets a call on his private line from “The Club”, inquiring about the return of the MAX suit, and for all of his projected confidence in front of his employees, we see that Krotze is clearly afraid of what will happen if he fails to satisfy The Club.

Outside, the Troubleshooters are sneaking in to the complex as Faylen is getting on a train, which has a flatcar with something on it underneath a cover. As Faylen gets into one of the train cars, Eddie makes his way to the top of the train car, while the others follow alongside the rail line in their van. Eddie uses his cyber-arms to rip open the top of the train car, and quickly gets yanked inside for his efforts. Losing radio communication with him, the Troubleshooters can do nothing but follow in their van. When the train comes to a stop, they see what was under the cover (although we don't yet), to their dismay.

Nearby, as Andy and Jenny are driving in a jeep, Jenny thinks to herself that she doesn't want a confrontation with Krotze, at least until she can find proof about her father's murder. Her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of something crashing through the woods towards them...

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Jenny quickly realizes that whoever is commanding the tank is using her as a stalking horse to lead to the MAX armor. She opts instead to get to their trucks and leave, figuring that the trucks can outrun the tank. Plans change when the other Troubleshooters are there and tell her that Eddie's been captured.

Inside one of the train cars, a captured and beaten up Eddie sees Faylen commanding the Behemoth via remote control. In the MAX suit, Jenny confronts the Behemoth, and quickly finds out that no one is inside. Faylen taunts Jenny, and the mention of her father gets her well and pissed off. As she battles the tank, the Troubleshooters try to jam whatever frequency is used to control the tank remotely, which as it turns out is impossible because it's actually being controlled by a fiber-optic tether, so thin that it had escaped notice.

Terry sends a signal to activate the cyber-arms that the security men took off of Eddie; Eric uses the distraction to rescue Eddie. Meanwhile, Faylen is panicking, confused by Jenny fighting back more than he anticipated. Killing someone is a line he doesn't want to cross, and he has to be careful not to damage the MAX suit too much. Jenny is able to destroy the tank's cannon, and then cuts the fiber-optic tether – as thin as a human hair – before pushing the tank over the side of the cliff.

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* * *​

A little better than last issue, but still not particularly noteworthy. The art is a little tighter as well, probably due to Bob McLeod's inking.

* * *​

Crossover Elements counter: 2 – Jenny and the others meeting Ken in Star Brand #2 is directly referenced. Which is a nice bit of connection, with the two issues coming out on the same day, given the rushed clusterfuck that the rollout of the initial NU titles was.
 

Ralph Dula

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I remember the cover of that issue of Spitfire, I remember the fellow building his arms, but despite having owned the issue I had no other memory of it.

Sorry I can’t provide meaningful input on this one.
 

hawkeyefan

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I’m kind of surprised (but probably shouldn’t be) of how many beats in these NU stories remind me of the early Valiant stuff.

The general take and the groups of misfits and the minor unannounced crossovers and all of that.

It’s like Shooter took the NU experiment and focused on what may have worked and ditched what didn’t and came up with the Valiant stuff.
 

Tulpa Girl

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It’s like Shooter took the NU experiment and focused on what may have worked and ditched what didn’t and came up with the Valiant stuff.
I'm not as familiar with some of the Valiant stuff, but that's pretty much my impression of it as well.
 

Ralph Dula

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I'm not as familiar with some of the Valiant stuff, but that's pretty much my impression of it as well.
I was a big fan of Valiant for several years, coming in at Unity when a friend introduced me to it. I had to sell most of my keys during the Greater Recession, and it’s one of the few times I regret selling some of my comics.
 

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I liked most of Valiant, though a few titles didn't stick as well. I saw they brought Faith (Zephyr, the overweight girl who could fly) back in a big way a few years ago, quite pleased with that. A couple of titles weren't my thing--though they were pretty popular.
 

Ralph Dula

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I liked most of Valiant, though a few titles didn't stick as well. I saw they brought Faith (Zephyr, the overweight girl who could fly) back in a big way a few years ago, quite pleased with that. A couple of titles weren't my thing--though they were pretty popular.
I liked Faith a lot more in the original Valiant run. The modern comics I bought leaned too hard into “OMG I am so wacky” for my taste.

i did laugh hysterically at the time the US government decided to bring her onto....Unity, I think the team was, and Ninjak was properly horrified they had hired her to make the team cool and relatable to the general popukace.
 

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Psi-Force #2 - “Sanctuary”

Cover Date: December 1986
Publication Date: August 26, 1986
Story: Steve Perry
Art: Mark Texeira (penciler), Hilary Barta, Romeo Tanghal (co-inkers)
Timeframe: August 7, 1986

Published two weeks after the second issues of Star Brand and Spitfire, as the week in-between was a skip week.

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Not a bad cover, more interesting than the previous one.

This issue picks up pretty much where the last issue left off. The kids are trying to return Proudhawk's body to Sanctuary, carrying it through back alleyways wrapped in a rug. They're stopped by police, and Stasi tries to explain, recapping the events of the previous issue, but of course the cops don't believe her. Wayne eventually uses his telepathic ability to 'push' the officers into letting them go and not reporting the encounter. The other teens express their gratitude, but Wayne makes it clear he did it for his sake, not theirs, and that he's only with them because he made a promise to help return Proudhawk's body.

Back at Sanctuary, Colby Shaw is considering asking the five unusual teens to leave. She is reminded by her secretary, Selena French, that Shaw is a guest tonight on a local late night tv show. As they leave, they are unaware that the CIA are keeping an eye on Sanctuary while they also investigate the dead and brain-fried KGB agents found in the vicinity. Shaw is followed, as she is known as a friend of Proudhawk, and they are not yet aware of his recent death. One of the CIA agents, known to his associates as “the Skipper”, has been informed by his superiors that they believe that Proudhawk had turned double agent, working for the Russians. He is ordered to track down Proudhawk, who is now targeted for assassination by the Company. Skipper is conflicted; he can't openly disobey his superiors, but he doesn't believe that his friend is a traitor, and hopes to give him some sort of warning.

Across town, the teens take a moment to rest, despite Wayne's desire to push on. Stasi notes that Wayne did not seem frightened by the police, and Wayne informs her that his father was a cop, and that he doesn't hold a particularly high opinion of them. When she asks him what his father was like, he channels Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club:

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No, Stasi, it's not your fault. We'll try to get you set up with Debbie the Duck for regular injection of some needed self-esteem.

Stasi apologizes to Wayne, which Kathy thinks is pretty demeaning. We then cut to a police station, where Skipper talks to the two police officers who encountered our heroes earlier. It seems to him that they've possibly been drugged or hypnotized, which makes him think of Proudhawk, as it is not inconsistent with the reports he's read about the Siberian mission. He also connects the cops' statement about five “nice” kids carrying something with the five surviving names on Proudhawk's list. He then gets a call orderin him to meet up with the CIA's special forces group leader.

Skipper meets with the group leader, who is unimpressed by Skipper's answers and his sentimentality toward his old friend. The special forces leader then has his own men double-check everything Skipper has reported. We then cut to Shaw's interview on Late Nite Live...

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As the kids continue to carry Proudhawk's body, the special forces leader speaks to the two 'pushed' cops, and confirms that Skipper has lied to him, recognizing their mental state as something similar to a Russian agent that Proudhawk had encountered. The feds eventually track down the teens; Wayne 'pushes' the agents into leaving, but he misses one, which botches the effect. Tyrone sends his astral form out to distract the agents, but that only works temporarily. Kathy is hesitant to use her telekinesis, at which point Michael, eager to prove himself to the group, uses his ability to make things explode. But while powerful, his aim and control is erratic, and he instead disintegrates a support girder of a skyscraper beginning to be built. The skeletal frame of the building threatens to collapse on them, which causes Kathy to panic enough to telekinetically deflect the debris away. As Kathy collapses from the strain, they realize that Wayne was hit by some of the debris, breaking his leg. Stasi heals him, and Wayne, being an asshole, doesn't bother to thank her.

Back at Sanctuary, Skipper speaks to Shaw, he has met the man before. He tells her that Proudhawk has been targeted for termination, but still wants to try to help his friend if he can. As they talk, the special forces leader driving toward Sanctuary orders his men to shoot Proudhawk and the teens on sight. Two rooftop assassins target Stasi and Wayne, but Stasi hears them and pushes Wayne out of the line of fire, taking a bullet to her arm for her efforts. Wayne disable the pair telepathically by triggering overloading them with pain. Stasi, exhausted, can barely heal herself, and Wayne is thinking about bailing, telling the others that they're close enough to Sanctuary to make it without his help. Michael threatens to blow him up if he leaves, so Wayne telepathically disable him. Tyrone points out that Wayne could have left at any point and 'pushed' them into thinking it was their idea, and asks if he gets off on jerking people around and hurting them. “Your old man'd be proud.” Apparently Wayne doesn't like the insinuation, as he agrees to help carry Proudhawk's body the rest of the way to Sanctuary.

At Sanctuary, Shaw admits to Skipper that she can't chance sheltering Proudhawk or the kids any longer. Just then the teens arrive, and then the feds make their presence known. Finding Proudhawk's corpse inside the rug, the special forces leader still wants to capture the kids. Wayne learns telepathically that any resistance will lead to them getting gunned down, and there's too many for him to push. He doesn't think the others can do anything to stop them, and he remembers that Stasi did save his life. He stalls for a bit by producing Proudhawk's medallion, while using his telepathy to tell the other teens get ready to focus on the medallion and merge. When they attempt to do so, the reaction of the agents is predictable...

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...but the Psi-Hawk successfully manifests, easily overcoming the agents, blowing up their cars and wiping their memories. Of everyone present, including bystanders watching, only Skipper and Shaw are allowed to remember what has occurred. The Psi-Hawk heals the teens of their wounds, then fades away, with the teens regaining consciousness. Skipper, overwhelmed, accepts that what he witnessed was real, and offers to try to help the teens, as he thinks Proudhawk would have wanted. Shaw cuts that short, deciding to take the teens back in to Sanctuary, at least for the night.

* * *​

A pretty decent issue, overall. Our protagonists are still pretty much stock teen stereotypes, though. I'm not particularly pleased with Wayne apparently becoming the leader of the group, the-asshole-who-happens-to-be-right-but-is-still-an-asshole. He'll develop some more character over time, but if he had died in this issue, I wouldn't have missed him.

While not particularly noteworthy from a 2021 perspective, having the CIA be pretty much amoral murderous scumbags wasn't exactly a common thing in 1986 in mainstream comics. Granted, in Marvel and DC any espionage agencies encountered for good or ill were usually fictitious ones at this point in time. As I recall the CIA becomes a major element in several NU books as the various series progresses.
 

Ralph Dula

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I never saw this issue before, so I can’t give too much comment on it. Tyrone’s comment of “Your old man’d be proud” to Wayne makes me hate the character more (but to say why I hate him would spoil much later issues), as it seems like he’s complaining that Wayne didn’t mind control them and leave, and instead him respecting their free will and just being a jerk was the worst thing he could do.





At the time this was published I think Marvel’s only character to have been a CIA Agent was Nick Fury. Two or three years later The Agent came out, which I understand had a CIA agent protagonist, but I have never read it. Amusingly, several years later there was a Fury one-shot with multiple continuity errors (Did you know Baron Von Strucker can build a Kree Sentry when the mood strikes him?) and it also had him ripping down his former employer as incompetent.



As for DC, it’s kind of nebulous in my mind if they had a character definitively working for the CIA at this point. I believe one character had worked for “The Company,” but AFAIK they made a point of never calling it the CIA, though he had friends show up from it; a check at DC’s wiki makes it a point of it being an “unnamed government agency,” so I’d have to dig out my issues to confirm.



I think a few Checkmate agents might have been ex-CIA, but that would have been in 1988.



Fun fact: In men’s adventure novels there was a divided opinion among ghost writers on whether the CIA was good or bad. This led to books in the Bolanverse (yes, Mack Bolan had enough titles to justify that name) having the CIA be the Antichrist in one book, and saints the next.



At least one author brought that fact up in a novel, and one of my first reads of Bolan was a team-up with a CIA agent, which pretty much had Bolan say “You seem like a nice guy, but, you know, you’re CIA.” The punchline to this was, thanks to the author using an omniscient viewpoint, we knew the guest character was an OK guy, but I don’t believe Bolan ever found that out.
 

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Nightmask #2 - “Hide And Seek!”

Cover Date: December 1986
Publication Date: August 26, 1986
Story: Archie Goodwin
Art: Ernie Colon
Timeframe: August 17, 1986

cover.jpg

A somewhat more interesting cover, but still kinda meh.

In a dreamscape, where a seemingly impossible line of people stand waiting as they slowly approach some sort of toll booth, Keith searches for and eventually finds a boy named Henry, who is in hiding and avoiding entering the line of people. Keith has tried in previous dreams to help Henry, and is unable to convince the boy to approach the toll booth, especially when we see a faceless man in the booth wearing some sort of military uniform.

Keith is clearly frustrated by Henry's reluctance and fear. In the real world, Henry Salinger is “possibly the most respected man in medical research”, and is about to receive a lifetime humanitarian award from the President. He had also once established a free clinic in Haiti, where Dr. Ballad had in his youth been introduced to medicine, and was able to escape the poverty and oppression of his homeland.

Ballad tells Salinger that while depression is the most common psychiatric disorder, it's also the most treatable. However, the fact that Salinger isn't taking his anti-depressants that have been prescribed to him isn't helping, and when Ballad suggests an IV injection as an alternative, Salinger responds very negatively to the idea of having needles used on him. He also bemoans that his staff and the President have pushed him toward this experimental therapy, saying he neither needs nor wants either awards or recognition.

Keith and Teddy want to take a break together, but Lita tells the wheelchair bound Teddy that she needs to start making trips on her own, and that Keith is due for a workout session in the gym anyways. Keith whines a bit, as he never particularly wanted to be the athletic type, but Ballad points out that even in dreams his abilities will reflect his real-life capabilities.

Meanwhile, in Zurich, the Kleinmann Institute is losing patients because of their recent setbacks. Horst doesn't care about that, and is more concerned with the ongoing repair of the machines that allow him to enter the dreams of others, more to deal with Keith that to help his patients. His doctor is more concerned about Kleinmann's health, as he is not a young man. Until he is fully recovered, Horst declares that there is another who can act for him. And then we get to see our villain clearly for the first time...

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(Two things – Even with their recent medical bills, Keith and Teddy don't seem to be hurting for money, so I'm not certain why they didn't spring for a motorized wheelchair, which certainly existed in the 80's. There's even an electric chair lift to take her up the stairs of their home. Also, while I'm pretty certain it wasn't the artist's intention, Keith's facial expression in that last panel makes it look like he's grinning at his sister's misery.)

Keith has been reading up on Salinger, who has established health clinics all across the world, with the help of government funding. Keith also notes that this time of day Ballad usually takes a catnap, and the two siblings decide to take an uninvited trip into their guardian's dreams. In his dreams Ballad is at the Carnival, usually a happy memory, but this time something goes awry...

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Ballad is understandably pissed about the violation of trust and privacy, and when Keith makes excuses about once he's been in someone's dreaming pattern that it's so easy to slip back in that he almost can't help himself, Lita angrily tells him that if he ever joyrides in her dreams he will regret it.

The White House PR staff show up, and tell Ballad that if they can't get Salinger to change his mind about accepting the humanitarian award – which has already been pushed in the media – that the government will cut the funding to the dream clinic. Keith decides to make another visit to Salinger's dreams, as he had sensed that the man was currently dreaming. When not in a medical office, Salinger's dreamscape is that of a war zone. Keith surmises that Ballad's insistence upon doing things under controlled conditions has led to Salinger suppressing his true feeling. Keith spots Henry's child-image that the man has of himself in his dreams, and once he corrals Henry, sees that this time the line of people leads to a war-ravaged New York City. As they approach, a soldier in a uniform similar to the toll booth attendant is gunning down people. Keith snaps a bit, remembering his parent's deaths, and attacks the soldier.

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Keith and Ballad rush to the clinic to try to find Salinger. Keith berates himself for his actions, but Ballad feels he may share some of the blame, as his insistence on being overly cautious may has driven Keith to rashness as a reaction. He also notes that the idol being toppled in his dream represented Salinger, and he was resistant to seeing his personal idol being toppled as well.

Salinger isn't in his room, and is in fact outside on the ledge of one of the upper floors of the building, clearly contemplating suicide. Feeling responsible, Keith climbs up the fire escape to try to talk the man down. Once up on the ledge, the older man admits that for a long time he had kept the memories and guilt suppressed, until he was to receive the humanitarian award, which brought his old demons back to the forefront of his mind.

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Salinger begins to slip(?) and Keith grabs him, but only by the sleeve of the man's jacket. Keith pleads with Salinger to take his hand, that he can't hold on for long. Dying won't absolve him of his past actions, and his death would condemn Keith to his own guilt for his inability to prevent it. Salinger eventually reaches forward to Keith, just as Ballad, having come up onto the ledge of the floor below, helps to bring the man to safety.

Once back on the ground, the White House representative angrily says he wants Salinger ready and willing to accept the President's award, no matter what it takes, or the clinic will lose their federal funding. Ballads responds that he's more than happy with that, since he doesn't like the strings attached to that funding.

The issue closes with a tease of the “perfect weapon” that Horst had referred to...

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* * *​

A decent issue, but the art really isn't grabbing me. There's a couple of bits of decent characterization here – in particular, Teddy's reaction to being out on her own in the wheelchair rings true from what I've been told by various disabled friends.

The government officials in Salinger's flashback aren't named, but I don't think it scores any bonus points to assume that it was the CIA.

* * *​

Violation Of Premise counter: 7 – I don't know if it's fair to call out Kleinmann's cybernetics separately from the super-tech of his own dream-entering machinery or Jenny's MAX armor, but fair or not, the cyberpunk-style implants feels different enough from either of those to get it another hit on the counter.


 

Ralph Dula

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It took me a few minutes to figure out why that Nightmask cover was giving me a feeling of deja vu

CF582A60-A46A-4C03-8B32-22D23C9F8263.jpeg

And then I remembered this:

D53C7590-8BF7-4D3D-BEDB-74545AFC7819.jpeg

I wonder if a drinking game could be made of Marvel covers like this.
 

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So yesterday I started writing up a Where I read of a RPG I’ve had for a few years. The game is a mess, a fact not helped by it “borrowing” full cloth from several other works. Among them is New Universe and NewUniversal, the White Event and the Fireworks having been fused into one.
 

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So yesterday I started writing up a Where I read of a RPG I’ve had for a few years. The game is a mess, a fact not helped by it “borrowing” full cloth from several other works. Among them is New Universe and NewUniversal, the White Event and the Fireworks having been fused into one.
Which game, if you don't mind saying?
 

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Mark Hazzard: Merc #2 - “Balk”

Cover Date: December 1986
Publication Date: September 2, 1986
Story: Peter David
Art: Gray Morrow
Timeframe: August 12-14, 1986

cover.jpg

Man, I hate it when parents at Little League games get pissy when an umpire's call doesn't go the way they wanted.

Mark, Mal, and Treetop are unwinding at a shooting range. After Mark helps the owner with a potential physical altercation – only charging him $10 for doing so – Treetop and Mal give Mark some grief over him taking the time to attend his son's Little League game coming up in a couple of days. When Mark mentions that he doesn't plan on bringing a weapon with him, Mal and Treetop make a bet over whether he'll regret it or not.

Meanwhile, Mark's ex-wife's new husband Gordon is having lunch with one of his clients, Henri, to whom he acts as a stockbroker for. Gordon confesses his insecurity regarding his wife Joan and stepson Scott, how the former still adores his father, and the latter may still harbor feelings for Mark as well, despite their divorce. As Henri draws information from his friend regarding the location of the upcoming Little League game and Mark's presence there, Gordon admits that he wishes fate would remove Hazzard so that he would no longer live in the man's shadow, and the one-eyed Frenchman smiles in response.

That Sunday, Mark shows up at the game, to Gordon's consternation. Joan silently resolves not to let her new husband know the effect her ex still has on her. Seeing that Scotty is on the bench, Mark intimidates the coach into putting him on the field. As the game continues (and Scotty demonstrates why he had been benched in the first place), Mark spots a man who doesn't seem to belong, but before he can follow, is momentarily distracted by Scotty's teammates.

Shortly afterwards, Mark makes his way to the restrooms, where the man he had spotted earlier follows, gun in hand. Mark ambushes and overcomes the gunman, although not before the man gets a shot off. Knocking the man out and tying him up, he takes the man's knife and pistol. As he plans to leave, he is confronted by Joan, who heard the gunshot, even if no one else did. Scotty convinces him to stay for the rest of the game, which allows the second gunman to get the drop on him, taking the gun away from Mark.

As the gunman leads Mark away, Scotty sees what is happening; his exclamation startles the gunman, giving Mark the letting Mark use the knife to dispatch the second assassin. Of course, there's actually a third gunman, who takes the coach's son hostage, ordering Mark to drop his gun and to “let me do what I'm being paid for,” in exchange for not killing the boy. Mark declines the offer, telling the gunman that once he kiils the boy, Mark will then kill him. The gunman pulls the trigger... but the gun is empty. (???) The gunman tries to reload, but Mark shoots him before he can fire. A search of the body reveals no I.D., and Mark wonders why someone wants him dead. A pissed off Joan lays into Mark the way only an ex-wife can...

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The parents of of the boy who had been taken hostage are justifiably pissed off that Mark callous disregard for the boy's safety, but Scotty asserts that his father had counted rounds and knew the man was out of ammo. Mark hadn't, but it sounds good, so he doesn't correct him.

Later that day, in a high-rise office, Henri gets the report that his agents failed to kill Hazzard. The Frenchman is disappointed, as Hazzard has been “so irritating in the past.” Meanwhile, at Mark's private gym, the mercenary works out his frustrations over the day's events, with Mal smugly asserting that he has won the bet. The issue ends later that evening with an insecure Gordon asking Joan if she still has feelings for Mark, and she assures him she doesn't, as he turns off the light in their bedroom.

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* * *​

Now wait a minute...

The plot point of the gunman having run out of bullets makes no goddamn fucking sense, as he had literally just shown up. Even if there was some miscommunication between he artist and colorist, and the 'third' gunman was actually supposed to be the first assassin, escaped from where Mark had tied him up in the bathroom – not impossible, as their suits are of different colors, but otherwise they're visually similar to each other – it still doesn't make any sense, as the first gunman only got a single shot off. The plotting here is just flat-out sloppy on this.

The main takeaway here is that while Mark may be our protagonist, he certainly isn't a very good person – shocking, I know, for a person who kills other people for a living - and that he can't help but be a thuggish asshole, even if the circumstances don't warrant it. I can't help but suspect that Peter David was deliberately trying to deconstruct the idea of the 80's action hero, and especially of the romanticized 'soldier of fortune' that was so prevalent at the time.
 

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I used to have this issue, and young me being me I was only put off by the bullying of the softball coach by Mark. I liked the rest of it. though I was somewhat confused by the business partner being willing to have Mark killed. I...may have been amazed at how close he and Mark’s replacement was.

I can’t wait for when the wrecking ball issue is reached. I’ll do my best to recall how a reviewer cited this and issue one as great writing compared to that one.
 
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Kickers, Inc. #2 - “The Robot In My Rose Garden!”

Cover Date: December 1986
Publication Date: September 2, 1986
Story: Tom DeFalco
Art: Ron Frenz, Brett Breeding
Timeframe: October 4-7, 1986

cover.jpg

After an appearance on the Tonight Show, the Kickers get a call from a Mrs. Mirano in the Bronx about a robot of some sort destroying her rose garden. Although they think she's a kook, there is some indication that a local street gang might be involved. They discover that there are two rival street gangs, and as it turns out one is backed by a cell of terrorists, and the leader of this cell actually does have a robot as part of the terrorists' arsenal.

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Jack (who as it turns out is bulletproof) eventually manages to overcome the robot by luring it into crashing into an electric utility pole, and once it's covered with broken power lines, opening up a fire hydrant and short-circuiting it, causing a blackout for the neighborhood in the process. The leader of the terrorists gets away, destroying the building they were using as a base and causing the robot to self-destruct as well. All this is eventually blamed on an illegal gun factory catching fire.

* * *​

Sorry, but I couldn't bring myself to give a more detailed account. I just couldn't, I'm not that strong. It's not even as offensively bad as the previous issue, it's just bland, by-the-numbers stuff padded out to the requisite number of pages to fill the issue. There's tiny bits of background of background that show up here and there – Dasher apparently boxed while in college, Darlene picked up a few tricks from her father, who was a Marine – but actual characterization is still pretty thin on the ground. I would say that the art is a little better this time around, probably because of a different inker.

Given that the first issue was apparently rewritten at the last minute, and the next three issues are either mostly or completely scripted by other writers from his plots, I would say that this issue is probably the most 'pure' representation of what DeFalco imagined the book should be.

It's not quite the same thing, as there isn't a human inside guiding the robot, but said robot is kinda-sorta similar enough to the MAX armor in basic concept – it's even mentioned that it might be a military device - that I'm not going to bother slapping it with a Violation Of Premise. Honestly, continuing to hammer this book for everything it gets wrong just feels a bit like puppy-kicking.
 
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Ralph Dula

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KickersSorry, but I couldn't bring myself to give a more detailed account. I just couldn't, I'm not that strong.

Don’t feel bad. At this point I’ve got an incredibly bad RPG and an incredibly bad novel that I just have to keep putting down despite how long I’ve been trying to read them, as they’re just awful. In the novel’s case my latest “Fuck this book” moment was after a protagonist possessed a member of a group to show them he means them no harm, followed by him being shown to have full access to the knowledge of his victim, with the author forgetting that two sentences later so he can add some drama.

I was honestly debating starting a post on here today on whether people power through media that utterly disappoints them, what motivates them, and if their attitude on the subject. has changed over the course of their lifetimes.

As it is, I’m packing things up for storage, and I don’t know if I should keep the awful book I’m reading and pack it away with the others in the series, so I have a reminder not to buy snymore, or give it away so I have more space.

Back to New Universe: Isn’t it weird how often terrorists show up as the bad guys (and girls, given the Star Brand story coming up), given hiw few comics were in the line overall? I read a parody comic in the 2000s that had an interesting take on terrorists in 80s comics, but as I think about it after reading your Kickers Inc summary I’m feeling the New Universe really doubled down on it.
 

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Back to New Universe: Isn’t it weird how often terrorists show up as the bad guys (and girls, given the Star Brand story coming up), given hiw few comics were in the line overall? I read a parody comic in the 2000s that had an interesting take on terrorists in 80s comics, but as I think about it after reading your Kickers Inc summary I’m feeling the New Universe really doubled down on it.

Yeah, I've noticed that as well. While I'm avoiding reading ahead for the most part, I believe there's also an upcoming issue of Merc that also involves terrorists (which may make more sense in that particular title). I think there's a legitimate occasional use for large groups of well-armed foes to threaten our various protagonists in stories like these. Since you probably don't want something over-the-top like Hydra, it makes sense to perhaps use their real-world counterparts. The weirdness results from, as you mentioned, the frequency in which they seem to appear in the various NU titles. It gets doubly weird because the NU books were pretty U.S.-centric, and so there's all these stories with foreign terrorists acting in the U.S. when that wasn't something really occurring yet in a pre-9/11 world.
 
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It gets doubly weird because the NU books were pretty U.S.-centric, and so there's all these stories with foreign terrorists acting in the U.S. when that wasn't something really occurring yet in a pre-9/11 world.

The parody comic I mentioned went strangely serious on that topic, with a mini-side trek into how 80s comics were like “Terrorist attacks on US soil? That’s so crazy! Only in comics!” while then-modern readers were like “I read comics to escape reality!”
 

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Back in the day I had a friend who would regularly and loudly call this title “Jvustice” due to the font of the title.

Justice is next up on the list, but because of this comment I'm now reading the title as 'J vs Tice", and a really weird part of my brain now wants to somehow morph this title into a off-kilter legal drama.
 

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and the leader of this cell actually does have a robot as part of the terrorists' arsenal.


Oh, look. The terrorists picked up a Guntank rip off from the dime store. Seriously, the artist definitely based this off the Gundam Guntank.

Sorry, but I couldn't bring myself to give a more detailed account. I just couldn't, I'm not that strong.

It's Kickers Inc. We understand.
 

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J vs Tice Justice #2 - “Land Of Other Shadows”

Cover Date: December 1986
Publication Date: September 9, 1986
Story: Steve Englehart
Art: Geof Isherwood, Vince Colletta
Timeframe: August 10, 1986

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Picking up three days after the events of the previous issue, Tensen is in a lock-up with about a half-dozen other guys, mentally bemoaning how the people of Earth's inability to read auras has resulted in our justice system being horribly inefficient. Of course, his cell-mates attack, but he easily deals with them. When the guards ask questions, he says that the only person he'll give answers to is Rebecca Chambers.

Becky shows up shortly thereafter, and Tensen is still awed by her pure aura. She acknowledges that they have can't get an I.D. on him. This prompts him to to explain that he's a Justice Warrior from another dimension, which of course she doesn't believe.

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Dude, boundaries. Also, it's only been a few days since you've last seen Shandra, the supposed love of your life, and while she may be dead you don't know that for sure... and yet you're already hitting on another woman. Stay classy, Tensen.

Needless to say, Becky doesn't react well to Tensen's actions. She then feels a chill in the air, although he doesn't...

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Purple lighting on the one attacker aside, most of the soulless, inhuman creatures who show up are depicted with the same skin tone usually used for dark-skinned black people. Which... is a decision, all right.

The hounds have no auras, so Tensen's 'sword' doesn't work on them. He doesn't try to use his 'shield', perhaps assuming that if the former doesn't work neither would the latter... but the shield works just fine against bullets, which don't have souls (or do they?). Tensen is still able to overcome the Hounds with his superior hand-to-hand skills. He snaps the neck of one Hound, much to Becky's displeasure, and after forcing another Hound to admit Damon Conquest had sent them, gets snap-happy on his neck as well. She fires her gun at him after he kills the Hound, but his shield deflects the bullet, since she has an aura (how does that work, anyways?). He proclaims, “We could be lovers, Miss Chambers!” She's so stunned by what she has just seen that she doesn't try to stop him as he walks away.

As he strolls out of the police station, Tensen deduces from the attack that this world has direct communication with his world, and that because enemy forces from his world operate here, that means that he might possibly learn how to return to his world.

Seeing someone hail a cab, he does the same, asking to be taken to Los Angeles, where Conquest lives. The cabbie informs him that L.A. is several thousand miles away, and he would need something like 10 grand to consider making the trip. Tensen declares that he can acquire the cash needed, and that he will be back at sunset. The cabbie exclaims that Tensen wants another form of transport for that sort of trip, like a airplane or a train; Tensen responds that while the cabbie's words indicate fear – which would be understandable – his aura shows a mixture of concern and greed, but not fear. “That's all that one can ask for in a page!” Doing some sort of funky aura thing with the cabbie, Tensen says he will find the man when the sun sets.

We then jump to fantasy-land...

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The group is attacked by a pack of Hounds, and we get confirmation that the shield of one of the justice-warriors present doesn't work against the Hounds. As the guards fight to give the king, queen, and wizard a chance to escape, the latter doesn't seem overly concerned, contemplating the novelty of an enemy lacking auras, which they have never encountered before. The wizard Webstral audibly wonders how the Queen Endolana felt the chill that warned her (as it did with Becky). She had in fact felt it once before, as 'Endolana' is apparently also 'Shandra', and she felt the chill when the assassins attacked her and Tensen... but she can't mention that because of the secret nature of her relationship with the justice warrior.

The wizard captures one of the Hounds for study, and King Therion declares that “the wizards of winter are somehow getting stronger every moonrise!” The King also expresses frustration and uncertainty over Tensen's disappearance.

Back on Earth, using the information he learned from the loose lips of his fellow cellmates when he was in jail, Tensen finds a drug deal in process, overcomes those involved, gets about $27,000 from one of the dealers, and leaves a few corpses in his wake. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Damon Conquest kills one of the Hounds who failed to kill King Therion, overcoming the Hound's hunger for auras, as Damon's is too powerful and too evil for the Hound to handle.

Damon calls his father, and after confirming the failed attack on Therion, says he isn't worried because the 'bleak energy' they funnel to their homeworld is tipping the balance in their favor 'moonrise by moonrise.' Damon welcomes the justice warrior tracking him to L.A., as he has to remain inside the climate controlled business HQ, to avoid the humans of Earth noticing his unusual presence. In short, he's a little stir-crazy, and he welcomes the challenge of a fight. The father reminds Damon that excitement should not outweigh the results of their overall goals. Damon assures his father, but once he hangs up the phone, his father figures it's best to cover his bets, just in case.

Tensen finds the cabbie, and gives him “ten thousand bucks” to take him to L.A., unaware that they're being followed by officers Pitt and Becky, who had gotten a description from the cabbie earlier.

* * *​

Steve Englehart takes over the writing, and will do so for the next few issues before eventually moving on. Unfortunately, this isn't the Englehart of the 70's who gave us a classic run on Detective Comics and some pretty cool Doctor Strange stories. This is the Englehart who was at this time giving us some pretty pedestrian fare on West Coast Avengers, and was just a couple of years away from writing some truly whacked-out crap with New Guardians. There are elements introduced in this issue that are somewhat interesting, but even so aren't particularly compelling.
 
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