Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Remembering Len Wein, and his Reinvention of Catwoman

September 11, 2017

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Legendary comic book creator Len Wein passed away yesterday at the age of 69. “Legendary” is no exaggeration either; the man co-created Wolverine, one of the most famous superheroes of all time. And if that wasn’t enough, he also co-created the bulk of the new X-Men that revitalized the franchise in the 1970s, including Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm. Plus he co-created Swamp Thing, edited Alan Moore’s brilliant run on the book. He then edited Moore again on Watchmen, the most famous superhero graphic novel of all time. Over the course of his career, Wein wrote or edited nearly every major superhero at both DC and Marvel, leaving his mark on all of them. He was a fan made good, who used to tour the DC offices as a teen in the 1960s before finally landing a writing job there, and his love for the genre led to decades of great stories.

Wein is also remembered for one dark moment in the Batman universe. In the late 1980s, as an editor he okayed the shooting of Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, in an attack that left her paralyzed in Batman: The Killing Joke. However, most fans are unaware of his important role in revitalizing a different female character in the Bat-mythos, Catwoman. Throughout the 1970s, Catwoman was adrift at DC Comics. Her popular turn on the Batman television show in the 1960s had ended a decade-long hiatus for the character, but no one at DC was able to figure out what to do with her after that. Her depictions varied wildly, different costumes were used, and she had no sustained runs.

Then Len Wein brought her back in Batman #308 in 1979. He was the regular writer on the book, and reintroduced the character via her alter ego, Selina Kyle. She’d gone straight, leaving her criminal past behind, and she wanted Bruce Wayne’s help with her investments:

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Bruce was suspicious and had his business manager Lucius Fox, another character created by Wein, investigate her. Selina found out and was angry, but Bruce apologized and soon the two began dating.

Selina became a regular part of the book for the next year or so. Her relationship with Bruce seemed doomed from the beginning, though; in a bit of foreshadowing, the duo dressed as Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon on one of their earliest dates:

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When Selina started acting erratically, Bruce got suspicious, especially when someone in a cat costume stole valuable items from the Gotham Museum. He even came after her as Batman, and refused to believe her as Bruce when she said she wasn’t involved. It turned out her behavior was due to a mysterious illness and that the real thief was Cat-Man. She’d been telling the truth the whole time. Selina donned her Catwoman outfit again to help Batman nab Cat-Man, but afterward she broke up with Bruce because he didn’t trust her, then left Gotham City:

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It was an excellent arc, one that successfully reintegrated Catwoman into Batman’s world while, in a clever twist, making Batman/Bruce the villain of the piece. His inability to believe in her reformation doomed their relationship, though Wein made sure not to end it too badly that she would never return.

And return she did. Over the next several years, new writers brought back Catwoman again and again. While some of the stories weren’t as good, with one even turning her into a crazed stalker when Bruce started dating Vicki Vale, she nonetheless remained a regular presence across the Batman line, raising her profile considerably. The changes in continuity following Crisis on Infinite Earths and Batman: Year One resulted in a new take on Catwoman in the late 1980s, and a solo series followed after Michelle Pfeiffer’s wildly popular take on Catwoman in Batman Returns in 1992. But I think it’s fair to say all of this might not have happened without Wein bringing Catwoman back into the fold. She was pretty near forgotten over the course of the 1970s, and her prominence in the early 1980s played a key role in setting her up for her future successes.

Wein will be remembered for his splashier additions to the superhero world. I mean, the guy co-created Wolverine. That’s a big deal. But for me, as soon as I heard about Wein’s passing I remembered the way he reintroduced a character that I love dearly, captured her proper ferocity and spirit, and made her relevant again. It’s a small thing in the lengthy list of his many achievements. However, after such a prolific career, I’m sure there are innumerable small moments being remembered fondly today, though with a tinge of sadness.

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Read My Essay in Riverdale Avenue Books’ New Anthology, 1984 in the 21st Century

April 4, 2017

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George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984 has been resonating with the world since its publication in 1949, and it’s become increasingly relevant these days with “alternative facts” and the bizarre doublethink that characterizations the current American presidential administration. To explore the impact and legacy of 1984 in these tumultuous times,  today Riverdale Avenue Books is publishing 1984 in the 21st Century, a new anthology with contributions from a variety of great writers, and I’m very excited to be a part of it. Most of the pieces in the book are thoughtful and compellin, and delve into important, serious issues of the day in fascinating ways.

My piece, meanwhile, is about an Archie comic book. I am nothing if not perpetually on brand.

I picked up 1984 as a young teenager because of an Archie comic. The story was “It’s 1984 at Riverdale High” and it centered on Mr. Weatherbee installing a new video security system in the school that allowed him to closely monitor all of his students and employees. Archie sensed Orwellian overtones, and took a stand against the system. Luckily for him, Mr. Weatherbee had purchased it on the cheap and the system didn’t last for long.

Archie mentioned Orwell’s novel repeatedly throughout the story, so when I saw 1984 at a bookstore a little while later, I decided to check it out. I figured if Archie liked it, it must be fun and cool and definitely appropriate for readers my age. It was not any of those things. But I loved it all the same, and the book was both illuminating and served as a gateway for me into more serious literature.

My essay digs into the original Archie comic that got me into 1984 as well as how such an Archie story was both an absolutely bizarre and extremely fitting avenue for Orwell’s dystopian themes. I also talk about the adaptability of the novel, and how it’s evergreen quality has kept it in the public discourse for decades. I hope you’ll check it out, as well as the rest of the excellent pieces in the book.

The e-book is available today through the Riverdale Avenue Books page as well as Amazon; the publication date corresponds with the day that Winston Smith began his illicit journal in the novel. And today only, you can get a free digital copy of the book on the Riverdale Avenue Books site by entering the code 1984FREE. A print  version of the book is coming soon, too. Please enjoy my weird little Archie story!

Superwoman #2 Review: Where’s Lois Lane?

September 14, 2016

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Superwoman  was advertised as a Lois Lane comic book. The New 52 Lois got superpowers when the New 52 Superman died, and now she was ready to take to the skies to defend and protect Metropolis as Superwoman. I was intrigued. It wasn’t the Lois Lane comic I was hoping for; I’d rather see her tracking down scoops and taking down bad guys at the Daily Planet. But I was on board, especially with Phil Jimenez writing and drawing it and Emanuela Lupacchino subbing in on art occasionally. It was a stellar team with a new, different take on Lois, and I was excited for it. Turns out, that’s not was Superwoman was about at all. We’ll discuss, but first:

SPOILER ALERT!!

I am going to disclose a number of shocking reveals!

So the first issue was fine for a while. It had a lot of Lana Lang, but I didn’t mind too much. I knew that she’d be working with Lois, and I was excited to see them grow from rivals and often adversaries into partners and friends. Then we learned that Lana has superpowers too, and again I didn’t mind too much. All the better for rad team ups! I liked the idea of dual Superwomen fighting evil. Then Lois was killed at the end of the issue, or at least it looked that way. It’s a comic book, so I was wary. I’m used to fake out cliffhanger endings, so while I was concerned, I was hoping it would all be a trick and the gals would be back together in the next issue.

But no. Lois is dead.

Real dead too. She straight up disintegrated in the opening pages of the second issue, leaving a grieving Lana to carry on as a superhero on her own. Luckily she’s got a good support system with John Henry Irons and his niece Natasha, two characters I quite like. But Lois is gone, and that means so am I.

Now, Superwoman isn’t a bad comic. Jimenez’s artwork is great, as always, and the series has got a lot of good characters in the mix. The first two issues have been a bit overstuffed, which has affected the pacing of the issues and the readability of the art at times but it is, on its own merits, a decent book. If it was advertised as the Lana Lang comic it is, I probably would have checked it out. I’m not a huge Lana fan, but she’s a character with potential and elevating her to a superhero role after decades trapped being a romantic rival is kind of cool. That’s a good hook on its own.

But instead we got this bait and switch, and with every page my main thought was, “Where’s Lois?” My frustration at the death of the lead character I was promised trumped whatever level of enjoyment I got from the comic itself. A Lois Lane comic book is LONG overdue. She hasn’t had a solo series since Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane ended in 1974, but she’s been a mainstay in the DC universe in every medium for over 75 years now. She should have her own series, preferably with a better title than her old one. To promise this book and then not deliver it is both insulting and disappointing.

Even worse is killing her off in the process. Lois gets killed a lot, especially over the last decade or so. Offing her, for real or not, to create anguish for Superman has become a common trope used again and again by bad writers, and now she’s been offed to create anguish for Lana. Moreover, the New 52 Lois had a terrible run. Since the 2011 relaunch, she’s been sidelined and forgotten, and this new series felt like redemption after years of poor treatment. Instead, Superwoman fell into the same old patterns straight away.

Lois could yet come back, of course. It’s comics, after all; nobody stays dead and Jimenez seems to be teasing something. Plus, why introduce her just to kill her off so quick? There may be a longer plan at work here. But I’ve got no time for it. I really don’t understand DC’s thinking here. Why involve Lois at all, and especially why advertise it as a Lois book in the first place? If the plan is to kill her off for good, you’re only upsetting Lois fans. If the plan is to “kill her off” and then bring her back later, all of the Lois fans will have already jumped ship by the time you do so. No matter how you slice it, the way DC set up this series is just ridiculous.

Lois Lane is the First Lady of the DC universe. She is as brave and heroic and compelling as any of those folks with the masks and the capes, and she deserves some time in the spotlight. Whether she’s dead or “dead,” Lois’s depiction in Superwoman has been yet another in a long list of comics that have treated her poorly. We don’t need more of those. I’m done with the series, and this will be my last review of it. I like Jimenez and Lupacchino, and I like Lana, John, and Natasha, but I love Lois Lane, and any book that kills her off to further someone else’s plot is a book that I’m just not interested in.

You Can Buy A Page From The Comic In Which Lois Lane Fell In Love With Comet The Super-Horse!

August 30, 2016

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I don’t mean to tell you what to do with your money, gang, but here are some very important facts concerning an excellent investment opportunity:

1) In Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #92, Lois fell in love with Comet the Super-Horse.

2) You can buy a page from that comic book RIGHT NOW at Heritage Auctions.

Lois falling in love with a horse needs some explanation; in particular, it should be pointed out that Lois was a horse at the time as well. Or rather, they were both human, then both horses, and their love grew over the course of their encounters in both forms.

The full story is this: It turns out that Comet the Super-Horse, the caped flying horse who was a pal of Supergirl throughout the Silver Age, was also a human named Bill Biron. Now, back in the days of ancient Greece, Biron was a centaur who fell in love with the sorceress Circe and won her affection by saving her from the evil Maldor, a rival wizard.  Circe gave him a potion to turn him into a man, but she accidentally gave him the wrong potion and turned him into a full horse. She then gave him another potion that gave him the powers of the Olympian gods and immortality. Centuries later, he met Supergirl and became Comet the Super-Horse

You with me so far? Now, for some reason, whenever a comet passes by Earth, Comet the Super-Horse, a.k.a. Biron the former centaur, turns into a powerless human man. And when he does, he performs as the magician Bill Biron to make a few bucks. While he was in this form, he met Lois Lane and, much like with Circe, he won her affection by saving her from an assassination plot. He told her that he was really Comet, but she fell for him anyway and they ended up kissing. As Lois explained, “This is wild! Maybe he’s superhorse, but this handsome, human identity of his really turns me on.”

Lois falling in love with random dudes was pretty common in the Silver Age. She wanted Superman above all else, but he was never into settling down. So when handsome guys came along, Lois was often ready to ditch Superman to marry them. This got her into a lot of tricky situations. She almost married a weird looking alien in one issue, and nearly ended up wed to Satan himself in another. So as far as her romances went, a guy who’s also a horse wasn’t too bad.

Trouble did follow, though, as it always did with these romances. The evil wizard Maldor was still after Biron/Comet, and he ended up turning Lois into a horse! Luckily, the comet flew off into space around the same time and Comet returned to his horse form. The duo evaded horse hunters, then frolicked  together through snow and waterfalls in a romantic horse date.

In the mean time, Circe reached out to Superman through the “stream of time” to tell him that Lois was a horse, and that he could turn her back into a human by exposing her to the radiance of a rainbow. He did so, but part of the spell meant that she forgot her time as a horse, and remembered Biron only as a fun one-night date; she assumed he’d turned back into Comet the Super-horse and just moved on.

Obviously, this is a fantastic issue of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. And now, you can own a piece of this story! Heritage Auctions has a listing for a page from the issue, pencilled by the legendary Curt Swan with inks by Mike Esposito:

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The page is from the horse hunters sequence, when Lois and Comet fight to escape them. Lois is on the page, but in horse form. And right now, it’s only $12! The price will go up as the auction goes on, and by the time it closes in five days it should be a lot higher, but you never know how these things will go. So get on it, fellow Lois Lane fans! Think of what a conversation piece this page will be when it’s framed and hung prominently in your home. You’d be a fool not to look into it. I’m certainly going to watch the auction through to the end.

 

Superwoman #1 Review: Either One Of The Best Or Worst Comics Of DC’s “Rebirth” Line

August 10, 2016

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Superwoman is a great comic book until the last page, and depending on how that last page plays out it’s either going to be a book I’ll be very much looking forward to each month or a book I’ll drop like a hot potato. We’ll see how it goes. I’m certainly hoping for the former, because I really enjoyed the bulk of this issue. We’ll dig into it all, but first:

SPOILER ALERT!!

I mean, it’s kind of spoiled all over the internet right now, but still!

Read the book first!

This honestly isn’t the kind of Lois Lane comic book I wanted. I’ve been arguing that Lois should have her own series for years now, one that focuses on her journalistic adventures tracking down big scoops and taking down evildoers of the non-costumed variety. I basically want Gotham Central set in the Daily Planet newsroom with Lois as the main character. This book is not that. It’s Lois Lane with superpowers, which she gained when the New 52 Superman died a few months back. But while Superwoman is not what I’ve been wanting, it’s a lot of fun.

First, of course Lois Lane would make an awesome superhero. She’s done it a bunch of times over the years, as she actually mentions in the issue, and it’s always a good time. In Investigating Lois Lane, I call Lois a superhero without superpowers; she’s got all of the same values, bravery, and desire to do what’s right that Superman and Wonder Woman do, she’s just a hero in a slightly more down to earth way. So with powers, she’s got the temperament and heart to use them well and be a stellar superhero.

Second, this is one of the first comic books where Lois Lane and Lana Lang are on friendly terms. They’ve been rivals for decades, often to cringeworthy degrees, Superman’s old flame versus his new one. Writers in the Silver Age really leaned into their rivalry and often had them at each other’s throats, literally so on several occasions. This continued when Lana returned in the Bronze Age; in one issue, they got into a fight at work and Lana dunked Lois’s head in a punch bowl. Throughout the Modern Age, Lana became kind of a sad character who was obsessed with Clark and grated on Lois, and in the New 52 era the women haven’t exactly been pals.

But Lois knows that Lana helped Clark with his powers, and that she needs help to learn how to control hers. She also knows that Lana is smart and a good person, and that her advice and input would be invaluable. So she proposes that they work together and after some reluctance, Lana gets on board. They’re not friends, exactly, but they’re friend adjacent, which is a lovely change of pace. Plus the banter is so much fun.

Third, this relationship comes with the exciting twist of Lana having superpowers too! Her energy powers resemble the 1990s Red Superman era, and she and Lois team up to stop Lex Luthor’s mega-warship from taking out a bridge. So Lana’s not just an advisor and trainer; they have a super-team up! I was so on board for that. Two formal rivals that have been so often mistreated in comics teaming up to be super friends? Yes, please!

Then they killed Lois. Or so the last page suggests. It’s a busy page, so it’s hard to tell exactly what happens. Maybe whatever mystery villain the duo is battling turns Lois into stone or some such, or perhaps Lois just burns out in a manner that may have been exacerbated by Lana using her powers. Whatever the case, Lois appears to be dead and the tease for the next issue is “Who Killed Superwoman?”

If Lois is really dead, then I’m out and this book can go right to hell. I’m so sick of dead Loises. The entire 21st century history  of Superman comics is dead Loises, in various forms. Lois is why I showed up for this book. I love Lana, but I’m not going to read a Lana book that comes at the expense of Lois. It doesn’t help that I was reluctant to get this book in the first place because serial sexual harasser Eddie Berganza is editing it. Between that and killing off Lois, I’ll drop this book and never look back if the final page reveal holds.

However, this is superhero comics. Fake out death cliffhangers are the genre’s stock in trade. If this is a momentary thing that’s reversed and the book continues to be Lois and Lana: Super Friends, then I’m all about it. This was a very enjoyable opening issue, and I’m excited to read more if Lois stays in the picture.

I’m not sure how to read the tea leaves on this one. This book is called Superwoman, singular, so that hints that Lana might replace Lois since there can only be one. And there’s already another Lois Lane in the universe, a transplant from the pre-New 52 days, so the Superman offices might have considered their leftover New 52 Lois to be redundant. On the other hand, I know that Phil Jimenez loves Lois, and I’m hoping he’s going to stick with the character. Lois is on upcoming covers, too, though I’ve been fooled by that trick before. I’m also hoping that DC is smart enough not to tease us with a Lois book just to kill her off. They can’t be that dumb, right?

So, Superwoman may be the start of an exciting new series, or it may be a straight up pile of garbage! Time will tell. I’m really hoping that Lois is alive, because this was such a fun first issue and I am so down for more Lois and Lana fun. Phil Jimenez did a great job with the writing and the art, particularly with the excellent new costumes, and I’d love to see this new partnership explored for many issues to come. But if Lois is gone, I’m gone. We’ll see how things shake out.

Remembering Noel Neill, The First Live Action Lois Lane

July 5, 2016

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Noel Neill passed away last Sunday at the age of 95, having lived a long and fascinating life. She wore a number of hats during her time in show business; she was a model, a singer, and an actress in both film and television, but she was best known as Lois Lane. Neill was the first live action Lois, playing the character alongside Kirk Alyn’s Man of Steel in the 1948 serial film Superman and reprising the role in its 1950 sequel, Atom Man vs. Superman. After Phyllis Coates left the Adventures of Superman television series after one season in 1952, the producers immediately reached out to the original Lois, and Neill played Lois next to George Reeves’ Superman for the next five seasons of the program until it ended in 1958.

Neill was Lois Lane during the bulk of the run of the Adventures of Superman, making her the person that an entire generation of fans associated with the character. The show was a hit in its initial run, and remained popular in syndication for a long time as well. Until Margot Kidder took over the role in Superman: The Movie in 1978, Noel Neill WAS Lois Lane.

Neill’s Lois was pleasant and kind-hearted, a stark contrast to the no nonsense brashness that Coates and later Kidder imbued in the character. Neill brought a warmth and friendliness to the role, which fit the part; the program was aimed primarily at children from its second season on, and Neill’s Lois was a good match for its fun, sometimes silly tone. She often found herself in goofy adventures alongside Jimmy Olsen, caught up in a zany plan that required Superman to come save them.

But Neill’s Lois wasn’t all damsel in distress hijinks; in one notable episode, she wrote an editorial that encouraged women to come out and vote in order to get rid of a corrupt politician, leveraging her position at the Daily Planet to try to make a difference. Moreover, she was a constant presence at the newspaper, always chasing down leads and trying to land front page scoops. She was a respected career woman at a time when most of the women on television were homemakers, serving as a role model for young girls in the 1950s and offering them an alternative future to aspire to.

After the Adventures of Superman ended, Neill remained closely associated with Lois Lane and the Superman franchise. She cameoed as Lois’ mother in an early scene in Superman: The Movie, appeared in the Superboy TV show in 1991, and had a small role in Superman Returns in 2006. Neill was also a regular presence at comic book conventions over the decades, representing the show alongside Jack Larson long after most of the original cast had passed. By all accounts, she was delightful, kind, and encouraging to everyone she encountered at conventions, and was a wonderful ambassador for Lois Lane.

I was so sad to hear about her passing yesterday, but wow, what a life. She got to be Lois Lane, TWICE, and seemed to love every minute of it. As a young girl growing up in Minnesota, her father ran a newspaper and she dreamed of being a reporter; she even wrote some articles for Women’s Wear Daily before turning to show business. Then as Lois, she got to live her dream on the big screen and the small screen, and wholeheartedly embraced her association with the character from then on. She will be remembered and missed by legions of fans, young and old.

Finally, here’s a bio of Noel Neill that first appeared in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #7 in February 1959. When Lois’ new series began, many of the letters from young fans asked about Neill and wanted to know more about her, so DC put together this piece for them. Fans continued to ask about her even after the article ran, so DC reprinted it a few more times throughout the 1960s:

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Go Support “Sequential Crush Presents How to Go Steady” On Kickstarter!

June 27, 2016

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I don’t post about a lot of comic book Kickstarter projects here because there’s always a billion of them going on, many of which look fun or intriguing for one reason or another. But every so often there’s a project that I think everyone should get behind, and today that project is Sequential Crush Presents How to Go Steady by Jacque Nodell, with art by Jenny Cimino. The book is a how-to guide for love and dating based on romance comic books from the 1960s and 1970s, and it looks fantastic.

Romance comics are often overlooked by comic fans these days. When we think of the history of the medium, we often just focus on superheroes, or the brief crime/horror surge of the early 1950s, but romance comics were a big deal for a long time. They first debuted in the mid-1940s and became increasingly popular; by the 1960s, practically every comic book publisher had at least one romance book, if not several. It was a massively popular genre, and one of the very few corners of the comic book world marketed directly at female readers.

Reading old romance comics today is always entertaining because they were very much of their time, and often behind the times a bit since they tended to embody the values of the old white men who published them rather than the trendy young girls who read them. But they definitely did evolve as American society did, even resulting in some distinctly feminist tales by the 1970s. The genre offers a fascinating perspective on how young women were viewed in this era, as well as the dominant values of the period and how they changed.

Nothing better captured these dominant values than the advice columns that appeared in almost every romance comic series. Young girls would write in to ask advice on everything related to romance, from kissing to dating to fashion to jealousy to break ups, and the advice columnists would try to steer them in the proper direction. Jacque Nodell has pored over innumerable stories and advice columns to put together this book that explores the “timeless dating advice, wisdom, and lessons from vintage romance comics.”

And she’s certainly the best woman for the job! Her website, Sequential Crush, is arguably the best online resource for classic romance comics, a veritable treasure trove of old stories, advice columns, and quizzes, along with thoughtful and illuminating commentary on them all. In a landscape where the history of romance comics is too often ignored, Jacque Nodell has continually shone a light on the genre.

Jacque was actually a huge help in my own research, too. While putting together Investigating Lois Lane, I was stumped by a blatantly anti-feminist letter column that ran during Lois Lane’s women’s lib era when editor Dorothy Woolfolk revitalized her series; I couldn’t find information about it anywhere, and had no idea how to tackle it in the book. Then I found out about a similar column from a romance comic that was also edited by Woolfolk on Sequential Crush, and all the pieces fell into place. You’ll have to read my book to find out how, but my chapter on the subject owes a huge debt to Jacque!

Sequential Crush Presents How to Go Steady also features original art by Jenny Cimino which looks gorgeous; she’s totally capturing the classic romance comic vibe with her work here. The project as a whole should be a great, interesting read, and will be of particular interest to comic book fans, romance fans, and history buffs alike. You should definitely go take a look at it and considering backing the project; it’s almost a third of the way there now, and I’m very much hoping to see it make its funding goal and even more because this is definitely a book I want to have. Comics! History! Romance! What more could you want?


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