Female Superheroes My Little Sister Can Admire

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

I recently had a conversation with my teenage little sister that led to something of a comic book quandary. It was both somewhat frustrating--I'm used to having all the answers for the new and uninitiated when it comes to comic books--and a little satisfying, as I enjoy finding the answers to questions I don't know about, particularly in this arena.

It started off in about as positive a way as it could have. She made the comment that superheroes are so cool these days--she's excited about The Avengers coming out in May, among other superhero films--and we started talking about comic books in general. I mentioned a few of my favorite heroes, and then she asked me what women superheroes whose exploits and adventures I thought she should follow.

This question actually caught me off guard. I remember hemming and hawing about it for a bit, not actually able to give her a quick, immediate answer that wasn't "Buffy."

I read comic books of all stripes and types, though I make no apologies about favoring superhero comics. I can list off plenty of good superhero comics. I can list off plenty of good children's comics. I can list off plenty of good comics with strong girl characters. But that wasn't what my sister was asking me.

She was asking me about female superheroes. And I just didn't have any ready answers.

Tough? Yes. Admirable? Yes. Relatable? Not
so much, oftentimes.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of recognizable and admirable women superheroes out there. But when viewed through the lens of the question, "Do I want my little sister to emulate this person?" it became a lot harder to really put their names forward for consideration.

I told her as much, explaining that, while I have plenty of superheroines I admire, for various reasons, there were too many stigmas I attached to them as being good enough or accessible enough for me to want her to look up to them. Wonder Woman was a prime example: super-strong and powerful enough to sometimes give Superman a run for his money, she was also from a culture that removed her worldview from that of a typical teenage girl. In many ways, she was characterized like a man, only with a woman's body and costume. She could be hard to relate to for that reason.

And, of course, there was the cheesecake factor.

Can not recommend to aspiring girl
superhero fans.

And that factor is a big deterrent for me in terms of recommending a superheroine for her to follow regularly. There are plenty of women superheroes I admire, but it's overwhelmingly difficult for me to separate them from the perception and depictions as fan service characters. The recently reviewed Black Cat is an excellent example of this. Does she have stories where she is compellingly written and portrayed as a three-dimensional character? Yes, thanks especially to Kevin Smith. But how many stories are written about her where she's not flashing cleavage or titillating the reader in some other way? To be honest, nothing comes to mind.

As much as I like Felicia--and as much as I personally like the cheesecake images of her--I would never recommend her as a hero I want my sister to follow and emulate.

Same thing goes for She-Hulk. And Power Girl. And Catwoman. And so many of the women superheroes out there.

We finally solved this question by visiting my local comic shop and asking for help from one of the knowledgeable salespeople there. At first, he initially had the same problems I did, particularly when I explained why so many popular women heroes were not acceptable. After a few tentative recommendations, including the Jessica Jones title Alias, the Batgirl trades featuring Stephanie Brown, and perhaps some of the X-23 material out there, he finally hit upon a title that we both smacked ourselves for not thinking of from the get-go.

Runaways.

I've personally never done more than skim the Runaways books, but I didn't need to. I can tell from the writing credits alone that I should have thought of these immediately. Joss Whedon. Terry Moore. Brian K. Vaughan. I've read enough of their work to know that not only would it be good, but the depictions of women and girls--girls with powers--would be nothing short of stellar. I've also seen enough of the titles to know that, when I finally do get to sit down and read them, I'll enjoy them.

I took my sister to the area where they were, had her look at the summaries for some of them, and she quickly got excited about the premise. I ended up buying her the first two volumes, which she devoured in a matter of a couple days. A few days later, I got a message from her, saying that they were REALLY good, and she wanted more, please.

It's the kind of thing that makes me smile, even when I'm having a rough day.

So now, when I'm looking for comics, I keep an eye out for stuff for my sister. I still enjoy the cheesecake female superheroes, but now I look at them in a slightly different light, or at least, a more developed way than I had before. That they're so widely portrayed this way, with so few alternatives that make for positive portrayals of strong women characters, says that this is something that needs to change.

As a male, I do enjoy and want the guilty pleasure portrayals to continue, at least a little bit. As an older brother with a cool little sister who's getting into comics, however, I want them to not be so widely distributed as to be the expected norm in superhero comics.

There needs to be more Buffys in comics. There needs to be more solo titles for women that don't depict them purely as objects of lust and titillation. And there needs to be a variety of them.

I want to be able to take my sister to the comic shop, and for her to have a hard time picking and choosing the titles of her favorite superheroes because there are just so darned many of them--a quandary I'm constantly in. I want her to have that same experience. And I don't think, the way comics are currently set up, that it's really possible.

It's something I would urge comic readers to keep in mind when they think about how women are portrayed in comics. Just ask yourself, "Is this what I would want my little sister/cousin/niece/daughter to emulate?" If you're the object of admiration for a young female comics geek, and you want the best for her, chances are that answer will be no.

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Onset: The Rescue

Here's the first script I've written for my fiction blog. It's a five-page effort that's registered as six on ScriptFrenzy, because it took so much space to describe the first page. Most of the names are just there as placeholders so I could tell the story. Let me know if you like it!

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The Month I Decided to Write Myself Silly

Okay, so, I'm officially crazy now.

Most of you who follow this blog know that I've written in it every day for the last four months, and that I plan to keep that as my minimum pace for... well... forever, if I can. I'm proud of what I've been able to do on here since I started The Comics Cove, but I don't mind sharing that it hasn't always been easy. Heck, there have been more than a couple of temptations to let the writing lapse for a day or two, and for good reason: fatigue, video games, etc., but I've resisted so far, mainly out of fear of never coming back. The result has been a regular blog that I'm happy to say is the longest and fullest I've ever started.

But now I'm compounding it. In my 100th post, I talked about writing fiction, and how I needed to get back to doing it. And, for the most part, I haven't made any move to do so.

Until now.

See, one of my friends on Facebook posted that she'd entered ScriptFrenzy for the month of April, and I saw it and was curious. The basic challenge: write 100 pages of scripted material during the month of April. Which dovetails perfectly with my desire to write more fiction, since comic scripts are my medium of choice. So, I decided to enter ScriptFrenzy, too.

So now, I'm committing to writing 100 pages of comic scripts this month. In addition to posting on the Cove every day.

The good news is, I'm off to a promising start. I've written six pages of script in the last five hours, which I'll be posting very soon on another blog. Link is forthcoming.

Keep in mind that I do all my writing during my free time, when I'm not at work. I also have several events coming up this month that are going to throw my schedule out of its normal alignment, and add a little more stress excitement than usual. Suffice it to say, this will be an interesting month for me.

Hopefully, the end result will be severalfold: I'll have a hundred extra pages of written material come the last day of April. I'll have maintained my streak of writing every day in The Comics Cove. And I'll have come through this an even stronger and more disciplined writer, having put myself through the wringer this month.

If you'd like to help, I'll take any encouragement or moral support you care to offer. Donations of caffeine, sanity points, and back rubs will also be given serious consideration.

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GN Review -- Amelia Rules! The Meaning of Life... and Other Stuff

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

Also, posted here due to there being no page for this graphic novel on the ComicVine wiki.

It's very easy for me to remember how scary life could be when I was a kid. Just when you think you've started to figure things out, something would happen to cause you to question what you've learned. One of the most daunting realizations was the idea that nothing lasts forever: not life, not friends, not buildings, not even the planet Earth. This is the main throughline in the latest entry in the Amelia Rules! series of books by Jimmy Gownley, The Meaning of Life... and Other Stuff, which continues to delight readers of all ages with the escapades, wry observations, and witty humor of Amelia McBride and her friends.

Amelia seems to be overwhelmed with the idea that nothing in life seems to last. Her relationships with her friends are changing in ways she doesn't always realize, her Aunt Tanner has been unavailable due to her touring, and she always seems to be in the crosshairs of various authority figures, singling her out for one reason or another. Everyone seems to be growing up, as Reggie comments about Rhonda looking cute, Amelia makes amends with a friend she'd hurt some time in the past, and Joan endures an upsetting episode involving her father, an Army captain who's been deployed to fight elsewhere in the world. Amelia uses her experiences, her aunt's old diaries, and her adventures with her friends to try to figure out the elusive meaning of life, but as with so many such quests, she may have to settle for just part of the answer.

While I'll continue to say that Gownley's Amelia seems at times a little too witty and intelligent for her age, there is no denying her charm and likability. She's not without her flaws and occasional hardheadedness, but she does try to be a better person, something to which most people can readily relate. This is a young girl, on the cusp of adolescence, who's trying to make sense of a life that sometimes seems anything but, and it's effortless for readers to get behind her and her friends and root for them. Whether they're dealing with snarky cheerleaders, disapproving adults, or just putting up with each other, it's easy to see them for who they are and experience their joys, struggles, and dramas alongside them.

Artistically, Gownley continues to shine. His cartoony, colorful style is easy on the eyes, allowing him to employ a variety of visual tricks and expressions to show off his characters' range. His renderings of his characters when they're mad or defiant are particularly striking in this volume, especially when paired with what they're thinking or saying at the time.

Overall, I continue to have an overwhelmingly positive view of this series. It's cute, amusing, and full of heart. Jimmy Gownley does an excellent job of making his young heroine both likable, imperfect, and overall, easy to relate to. The artwork is wonderful and expressive, and easily appeals to its intended audience, while also remaining charming and pleasing to adult readers. Highly recommended.

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Perspectives on Digital Comics: Print vs. Digital

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

A lot has been happening in the last year with digital comics, and I think at this point it's a safe bet to state that digital is beyond simply emerging on the scene. It's arrived, and for better or worse, it's here to stay. From the e-book reader wars to same day digital delivery to digital-only content, there is simply too much going on to ignore its impact on the comics industry, reading habits, and even purchasing habits.

I've had a couple of conversations lately about digital comics with various people, and I've been more than a little astounded at the range of opinions out there about it. Many comic shop workers feel the medium is a long-term threat, in the form of an attempt to remove the middleman and cut them out. Comic readers have a wide range of opinions on it, ranging from hating it and staying with print only, to loving it so much that they would buy it instead of print if it were only cheaper. And as always, there are plenty of permutations of in-between perspectives on them, with issues of price, interface, platforms, and much more coming into play and influencing how comics enthusiasts view this new beast.

I find myself somewhere in the middle, balancing an excitement for the possibilities of digital with a reverence for the old-school ways of collecting print. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, to be sure. Print collections are the only way to guarantee perpetual access to what you purchase--which is something most comic book collectors find sacrosanct--but you do have the worries of making space for them, the possible ravages of time, well-meaning but clueless mothers, and a number of environmental factors that simply don't exist with digital comics. Digital comics--being as light-weight as a comic collection can be--can potentially travel with you anywhere, depending on what device and services you use, but those considerations and others like them create some potentially unsettling long-term choices if you're into owning everything you pay for.

I told a buddy of mine a couple days ago that I was excited about Marvel's decision to offer free digital access to digital versions of their $3.99 titles when you purchase the print version. He responded that access to the digital version of a title you already had in print was silly, and that Marvel should instead offer free digital access to another comic of your choosing. I can understand how that might seem redundant, but as someone who's curious and enthusiastic about digital in addition to print comics, it really gives me a chance to experience both forms of collecting without any extra expense.

I responded with a hypothetical situation to him. With the print version of, say, Amazing Spider-Man, I could purchase it, read it if I wish, and store it in my collection or personal library. But if there was a particularly cool scene or spread of pages or artwork from the comic that I wanted to show my buddy (who is not a big comics reader), I could simply whip out my phone, pull it up, zip to the scene in question, and show it to him, no problem. With print, I'd have to transport it from my collection to my car to our destination, take it out of the bag and backing board, flip through the pages, show him the scene, and then re-bag and re-transport it back home, all the while risking environmental damage to the print artifact.

A touch paranoid, perhaps, but collectors know I'm talking about a very real possibility. My friend acknowledged that, when I put it that way, it made sense, given the way I approach collecting and reading.

Another gentleman I spoke to recently said something that genuinely astounded me. He enjoys reading comic books, but treats them in much the same way most consumers treats magazines: he reads them and then throws them away (!). He basically sees no value in the print artifact, just the story, and once he's gotten that, he's good. To that end, he resents the high price of comics these days, and would like to go digital-only, if they'd only start lowering the prices to less than what print costs. He makes some good points: digital distribution, at least in theory, shouldn't have the overhead that print would; and the technology will only improve over time, despite a lot of the current gripes people have with it. His most fervent was was, of course, that it would all get here as soon as possible; yesterday, if they didn't mind.

Playing devil's advocate, I acknowledged his points, but also brought up the fact that digital content providers have not always been steadfast in guaranteeing digital access to the content you pay for. Who's to say that purchasing a subscription to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited is going to always guarantee you access to the library they currently make available when other content aggregators continue to raise prices, re-package their digital libraries, and rewrite the terms of usage for the access they provide? These things are done in the name of making money, and you can bet that Marvel Comics, as well as the others, are in the business of making money.

There are and continue to be a wide range of opinions about digital, in various situations and scenarios and among different types of comics enthusiasts. I'm well aware that I'm only touching the tip of the iceberg with this, and am eager to hear about others' experiences, opinions, praises and issues with regard to digital comics, how they will affect print comics, and where this will all lead us in the years to come.

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A Local Little Panel I'm Putting Together...

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

So, I've got a little thing going on this weekend...

On Saturday, March 17, the Houston Public Library will be hosting the Houston Comics Talent Panel, a gathering of four local comics creators with various connections to the comics industry. We'll have the following guests:

This is an event I'll be moderating, and which I've put together with some help from my coworkers at the library. It's my first time organizing any kind of event, so I'm of course more than a little nervous that we'll get no one attending. I've already made quite a few mistakes and learned a few examples of what not to do, should I ever do this again, the most significant (so far) being a lot more single-minded about getting things planned ahead of time.

Several factors prompted me to organize this panel, the first stemming from my own interest in comics both as a reader and as an aspiring writer. Simply put, I'm interested in the various ways of being involved in the creation of comic books, graphic novels, and related products and services. I've also heard the occasional lament about the lack of a local comics scene in Houston. While I think this has started to turn around in recent years with the formation of a major local comics convention in Comicpalooza, it is also my hope that a panel such as this will help get people talking and excited about comics made by Houston creators.

Some of the topics we'll be discussing Saturday will include the participants' interests in comics and how they got started in the industry; what Houston people and companies in addition to them are producing quality comic products and services; and what specializations are currently flourishing in comics creation. There will also be plenty of opportunities for audience members to ask questions and get feedback on various topics from the panelists.

The Houston Comics Talent Panel will be hosted at the Central Library, in the 4th Floor Program Place, from 2:00-3:30pm, Saturday, March 17. If you can't be there in person, hopefully you'll be there in spirit!

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Game Review -- Marvel: Avengers Alliance / Playdom

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

As a general rule, I avoid social games. They're pointless, time-wasting activities that can be deceptively addictive if you let yourself get drawn in.

I've given a few of them, like City of Wonder, Glitch, and Dragon Age Legends a try, and while they all have their charms, I can't justify spending the amount of time and/or money on them, day in and day out, that would be required to get more than a trickle of satisfaction from those types of games. I understand that the premium content and pricing helps you get further faster in the game, and I understand that they make it possible to create a gaming experience that is fun and, ostensibly, free. It still feels like a turn-off though, and I've found myself unable to shell out money for any of these games, since I couldn't see myself playing them for any appreciable length of time.

Then Playdom comes along, and designs a social gaming experience based around an intellectual property that's right up my alley.

I admit, I was more than a little intrigued when I first heard about Marvel: Avengers Alliance. A social game experience that involves commanding and leveling up superheroes I've loved for years sounds a whole lot more interesting than creating a city, or a pet, or some other Macguffin to customize and maintain until I lose interest. The screen shots looked pretty, the premise sounded engaging, and the mechanics of the game, as explained, sounded much like I'd heard other similar games work. Still, if they could dress it up Marvel-style and execute it well enough, I'd probably be willing to change my tune and be a semi-regular on a Facebook game.

A few days into the launch of the game, I have to say I'm enjoying it quite a bit. The level of customization, while not stellar, is also nothing to sneeze at, as you take on the role of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who must work with Nick Fury and the Marvel pantheon of heroes to investigate a planet-wide phenomenon that threatens the entire world (of course). The game design is interesting, from the five-class combat system to the rather clever ability to use various items as permanent player-versus-player (PVP) stat boosters. The storyline is a fairly typical, get the troops together so we can save the world plot, but the level of detail put in the story so far has proven very satisfying for comic book geeks such as myself. I've seen heroes and villains in here that I haven't seen in some of the bigger Marvel games, which is refreshing.

You can recruit heroes throughout the game by use of Command Points, which aren't very easy to come by--they can be traded for gold, which you can of course buy plenty of if you want to shell out the real-life money for it. Heroes can earn experience through combat, PVP, and crew missions, and can be leveled up when they get enough experience to reach the next level. New levels mean either new abilities or new slots in their costumes for upgrading their stats, like Health, Stamina, Defense, and Accuracy. The better your hero's stats, the better they'll be in the many fights you'll participate in over the course of the game. It's a fairly standard roleplaying experience in that sense, but one that lends itself well to this kind of mythology and story, and one that I don't mind undertaking. I find the training times, which increase as your heroes advance further in level, to be a little frustrating, but like with so many obstacles, these kinds of things can be addressed through shelling out money if you wish. You can't say they don't give you options in this game, at least.

Some of the better heroes--like Spider-Man--are particularly expensive, meaning you'll either have to pony up the cash to buy him, or bear down for a long, slow slog as you save precious Command Points to afford him. Others, like Iron Man, come early at the beginning of the game, for virtually no cost. This makes sense--we need a few starter heroes to get us interested in acquiring (hopefully by spending money on) the rest of them.

I will say that it's an enjoyable experience for a game of this type for me. While it's not Marvel: Ultimate Alliance in terms of action or engagement, there's a stronger strategy element that supersedes the need the for the button mashing you so often see in console games of this genre. Iron Man's class, for example, is a blaster; he tends to inflict damage from afar, and is particularly effective against bruiser-class opponents, like Colossus or She-Hulk, who use their strength and toughness to get in close to others. But he's also vulnerable to tactician-class opponents like Hawkeye and Cyclops, who get an extra attack when they come into conflict against blasters. This makes battle planning a necessity that you just don't think about in console based games, and makes PVP a very interesting experience, as you don't see the make-up of your opponent's team until you're facing them. The animations for the various attacks and abilities are also satisfying to behold, as they're very true to the characters to whom they belong, based on everything I've seen so far.

Overall, I'm enjoying this game quite a bit, and will say that it's the only game I will play on Facebook with you, at this point. Will I stick with it? Only time will tell. But for now, it's got a surefire hold on my attention, one that I'm sure will last at least until the release of The Avengers film due out in May. Will I pay for premium content? That'll depend on how long I stay interested. In the meantime, if you want to send me some Playdom gift cards, I certainly won't stop you!

Marvel fans should definitely check this game out. I can't guarantee you'll love it, but it should at least give you a few moments of amusement.

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Post #100 -- My Proudest Moment In Writing Thus Far

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

A couple of days ago, I hit 90 consecutive days of blogging on The Comics Cove. For the last three months, I've managed to write at least one fair-sized post on comics--be it a review, a comics-related musing, or some other relevant nugget of incoherence--every day. Tonight, I'm writing (and you're reading) post #100 on The Cove, and in about a week I'll hit 100 straight days of blogging here.

These are some significant milestones for me. I mentioned in my first post that I've made past attempts at writing consistently, and failed. This has been for good reason. Consistency and discipline have never been my strong suits when it comes to writing. I've always had talent--or at least, the feeling that I've had talent--and have had aspirations to be a writer ever since I was a child. But it's never been something I've really buckled down and worked towards, until recently. The Comics Cove marks a major achievement for me, as it's the first solid evidence to the world and myself that, when I really want to, I can do this.

I've learned a lot in the last three months. I've learned that my love for comics and sequential art is truly as deep and abiding as I'd thought when I set up The Comics Cove--I was scared that my interest in them was superficial and wouldn't sustain this blog for long at all, as I'd failed with many others. I've learned quite a bit about Blogger and how to use some of its functions to my advantage (thank goodness for scheduling posts, for instance!).

Perhaps most valuable, I've learned that the difference between wanting to be a writer and actually taking the steps to make it happen really isn't that wide a gap, even if it may seem that way from the safe side. I feel justified in calling myself a writer now. I may not be a paid writer, but I am at least writing consistently.

Looking forward, I plan to expand my writing endeavors. Because I just have way too much free time between work, a social life, video gaming, and blogging about comics. But seriously, part of the reason I think The Cove has been as successful as it has isn't just because it's been about comics, but that it's been nonfiction. It's been book reports and reviews about subjects I love, and it's comparatively easy for me to write about topics I have opinions about.

It's given me focus, which I've desperately needed. Now I need to take that focus and apply it to fiction.

Fiction is what I've aspired to write since I was little, and it's time to turn my attention to that on a more consistent basis. It is therefore my intention to start another blog in the near future, upon which I will be posting my creative fiction for people to read, critique, and hopefully enjoy. Look for a story from me to linked from this blog in the coming days.

Me and my workspace, in all its cluttery, triumphant glory!

Many thanks to everyone who's read The Comics Cove, who've followed and commented, and who've liked and discussed my reviews in other forums. Your feedback is a major factor in what keeps me going, and it really helps to know that when you're laboring on an endeavor such as this, you're not doing it in a vacuum. Hopefully I'll keep things interesting enough that we'll be celebrating in another hundred or so posts. Or maybe a year from now.

Onwards and upwards!

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Returning to the Comics Collecting Fold

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

If you read this blog with any regularity, you've probably noticed that, lately, I've started reviewing single issue comics. Often I do this in groups of several issues of the same title, though I have made at least a couple of exceptions as of late, and reserve the right to do so for other occasions. There are a few reasons I'm doing this. It's certainly not due to a lack of other older collected titles to read--what I've read alone could probably last me for a year's worth of reviews.

It's at least partially due to a desire to include content that's a little more current, as I imagine many comic readers are reading more than just the trade paperbacks you can check out from the library. I read Comic Vine's reviews fairly regularly, and I will admit more than a little envy as not getting to read some of the newer storylines out there as soon as they hit the streets. I've tended to wait and read trades, which has worked fine for a while, but I think it's time to start diving into and discussing the current stories with other readers. I will continue to review trades and comics of all types, but feel like exploring the more recent stuff will not only attract more readers to this place, but will also be more fun.

So, in the name of aforementioned fun--not to mention to keep current on my current reading--I've essentially resurrected my long-dormant passion for collecting comics. I recently acquired some comic bags and backing boards for my single issue purchases, and plan to buy a comics box or two in the coming days.

I'm sure that, right about now, some of you are doing one of two things: the comic book geeks are going, "WTF? What does he mean, 'resurrecting collecting comics?' He already lives and breathes comics--spend more than 30 seconds with him and you'll wonder why he's not wearing a Spider-Man lapel--and yet he doesn't collect them?!"

And those who aren't, are probably asking, "What the hell are comic bags and backing boards?"

And if it helps, I'll just say that you need them to properly store comic books, and leave it at that.

Truth is, I haven't seriously collected comics since high school. In the adjoining time between then and now, I've borrowed issues from friends, read the trades, checked them out from the library, and occasionally purchased a special single issue, but I really haven't tried to maintain them as a collection until now. I feel like this, in addition to giving me a constant source of fuel about which to write, is a pastime that simply feels good, and feels right to me to resume at this point.

I've always loved comic books, ever since I was re-introduced to them at about age 12. I collected them for a few years, then stopped due to a variety of factors: too expensive, life is too hectic, the characters have changed too much, and on and on. It's time to come back. As a collector, as a blogger, and as an aspiring comic script writer, it just feels right, and it feels especially like now is the most natural time to rejoin the new issues fold.

Even if the prices have jumped a whole lot since I last had a collection! :-)

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