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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #159

"Night Screams!"
July 1982 

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men fight Dracula.

Author: Chris Claremont
Guest Penciler: Bill Seinkiewicz
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The X-Men arrive in New York to visit Misty Knight, but at her apartment they find only her roommate Harmony Young. Harmony agrees to let the X-Men crash at the apartment while Kitty visits her parents, and Kitty departs, escorted by Storm. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, Corsair catches up with Cyclops, Havok and Polaris, and ponders whether he'll stay on Earth or return to space with the Starjammers. Back in New York, the X-Men grow concerned when Storm doesn't return, at which point they are contacted by the hospital, Storm having been admitted with a slashed throat. When Colossus and Wolverine arrive at the hospital, they find Storm on her feet, believing she was mugged, and demanding to be discharged. Back at the apartment, Storm awakens to open the window and invite inside the fog hovering outside.


When Kitty returns later in the weekend, she finds that Storm's condition has worsened: she finds daylight painful, and flinches at the site of Kitty's Star of David. That evening, Dracula arrives to feed from Storm once more, but Kitty intervenes. Dracula and Storm flee to Dracula's castle uptown, while the X-Men follow. As the X-Men battle Dracula, Kitty confronts a partially vampiric Storm, but refuses to harm her friend. Storm's equal inability to harm Kitty snaps her free of Dracula's control, and she attacks the vampire. Dracula realizes that while he could fully transform Storm into a vampire, he could never truly control her. Having developed respect for Storm, he flees, freeing Storm from the curse. At Misty's apartment, the X-Men are celebrating their victory when they receive a call from Moira ordering them back to their island base: Professor Xavier's condition has worsened.   

Firsts and Other Notables
Marvel's Dracula, star of the classic 70s series Tomb of Dracula, makes his first appearance in X-Men. He'll pop up occasionally in the next few decades (most notably next in the next annual), but never really becomes what you'd call an X-Men villain.


Dave Cockrum takes the next couple issues off; fill-in pencils in this issue come from Bill Seinkiewicz who was the artist on Moon Knight at the time. He'll return to the X-Men family in a few years to collaborate with Chris Claremont on an acclaimed (and somewhat divisive) run on New Mutants. While his later style will be much more experiemental (and shades of it can be seen in his Moon Knight work), here he's still working in a very impressive Neal Adams-inspired style.

Fashion model Harmony Young, Misty Knight's roommate and a supporting character in Power Man and Iron Fist, makes a guest appearance. I'm not sure why Claremont doesn't use Misty herself, but maybe he couldn't get permission from the Power Man and Iron Fist office for some reason. A narrative captions later tells us that Misty, along with her partner (and Cyclops brief girlfriend) Colleen Wing, are celebrating with the X-Men following Dracula's defeat, and we catch a brief glimpse of the woman in a small panel.

A Work in Progress
As the issue opens, the X-Men are hoping to crash at Misty Knight's New York apartment, a nice callback to her time with the team circa issues #118-125 (though it's unclear why the X-Men, simply looking for a place to crash while Kitty visits her parents, didn't call ahead, nor why they burst into the apartment in full costume).

It's also never made clear why Kitty is meeting her parents, who live in Chicago, in New York City, though I suppose we can assume they're making a special trip to visit her, not unlike at the end of issue #143.

Kitty is back in her original black and yellow X-Men costume.


Corsair is hanging out with Scott and Alex, still rocking his pirate outfit. He is also debating his next step, now that he's been reunited with his sons.


Dracula notes that using a religious artifact (such as a cross) against him doesn't work if the wielder of the artifact doesn't believe in what the artifact represents (so Kitty's Star of David hurts him, but when she hold up a cross, it has no effect).


In a nice touch, Nightcrawler mentions he's heard tell of Dracula and takes vampires seriously.


We get our first fastball special in a long time, and even get to see exactly how Colossus picks up Wolverine to toss him. 


Dracula's control over Storm isn't enough to overcome her refusal to take a life.


I forget if this gets addressed in the follow-up annual, but I'd be curious to know what effect Cyclops' optic blast, which is solar-charged, would have on Dracula. 

I Love the 80s
Harmony Young makes a big deal out of dressing up Kitty and Storm so they'll look great for their night on the town; I'm no Tim Gunn, but their outfits don't seem that fantastic (and for someone who's just met the X-Men after they burst into her apartment unannounced, Harmony is awfully accommodating). 


Dracula just happens to have a castle lair somewhere "uptown", because, well, that's what Dracula does, I suppose.

Claremontisms
Dracula finds himself especially enamored of Storm, adding himself, after Arkon and Dr. Doom, to the ever-growing list of villains who are attracted to Storm.


Young Love
Kitty gets jealous when Harmony refers to Colossus as cute.


The Best There Is At What He Does  
Following through on Dracula's statement that a cross only affects him if the wielder believes in it, Wolverine making a cross with his claws has no effect on Dracula. 

Bullpen Bulletins
The Bullpen Bulletins page in this issue advertises the first issue of the GI Joe comic, which I mention only because I'm a big fan of that series. 

Teebore's Take
As was discussed in the comments of last week's post, of the four standalone issues which form the bridge between the two acts of the Brood story, this one is my least favorite. Or, rather, the one I'm least likely to reach for to re-read (outside of on Halloween, maybe). Which isn't to say it's bad: as a standalone issue, it's quite good. The Seinkiewicz art (man, I am really going to have to learn how to spell his name by the time his run on New Mutants comes around) is absolutely gorgeous, striking the right balance between moodiness and Gothic melodrama that is required for a Dracula story (it's especially effective in black and white, which is how I read the issue most recently for this post), and the plot hits all the familiar beats while still remaining an inherently X-Men story.

But at the end of the day, I just can't get past the fact that for as well executed as it is, this issue of the four has the least impact on the series as a whole. While it will lead to a sequel in a future annual (and a minor plot point in an alternate reality series down the road), the other three issues begin or continue to lay groundwork for significant changes in the status quo of the X-Men. While this issue arguably features better art and a tighter story than some of the other issues in this mini-run, of them all this is the most standalone issue, and in my (perhaps unfair) estimation, that makes it the least of the four, at least in terms of significance to the unfolding X-Men narrative. But by no means should my ranking based on long-term contributions take away from this issue - being the least of these four issues is nothing to be ashamed of, and on its own merits, this is a great done-in-one story.  

Next Issue
Colossus' sister Illyana experiences a sudden and significant growth spurt.

14 comments:

  1. That first drawing of Storm's face is great.
    Best "In a Nutshell" ever.
    Aw, I like it that friendship and respect are what conquered Dracula. "Our true Super Powers are compassion and a desire to be well liked!"
    I've been so sullied that I read "Collen Wing" as "Colleen Wang" and giggled to myself.

    (though it's unclear why the X-Men, simply looking for a place to crash while Kitty visits her parents, didn't call ahead, nor why they burst into the apartment in full costume).
    Ha! They got so excited at the idea of surprising her that donning their costumes was the next logical step.

    ...doesn't work if the wielder of the artifact doesn't believe... Just like in the Never Ending Story! I would have eaten that up as a 10 year old.

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  2. @Joan: Our true Super Powers are compassion and a desire to be well liked!"

    Ha! Perhaps the greatest victories are the victories of the heart. Or something.

    I've been so sullied that I read "Collen Wing" as "Colleen Wang" and giggled to myself.

    No worries; I do it myself all the time.

    I would have eaten that up as a 10 year old.

    Yeah, needless to say, I loved that little detail as a kid.

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  3. PART ONE IN A 2-PART COMMENT

    I agree with your assessment that this issue really doesn't add anything to the ongoing storylines, apart from maybe the scene with Corsair and his sons... but I love it anyway! If there is one single X-Men issue that I've probably perused more than any other, it's this one. I actually like that amid the ever-advancing serial, we have this little one-off issue that really has no connection to anything else currently going on. It's a nice change of pace (though as I said previously, I think that four issues separating the two halves of the Brood saga are a bit much).

    The combination of Claremont and Seinkiewicz feels very special at this time -- moreso than a combination of Claremont and Anderson, for example -- and this issue feels different enough that it could easily have been placed in an issue of Marvel Fanfare.

    I know I've also said before that I love this vintage of Seinkiewicz's art. I kind of feel bad saying that, because having recently read the New Mutants Classic trades, which included his introduction to the "Demon Bear Saga" collection, he was quite adamant that he never wanted to hear people tell him they liked his old work better than his then-current experimental style. But this art is just so much more attractive and exciting to me than pretty much anything he's ever produced after leaving Moon Knight!

    Though as I'm sure Blam would point out that like Anderson, Seinkiewicz also draws Wolverine too tall and lanky. But that's about the one complaint I have about the art in this issue. Everything else is about as perfect as you can get, and Seinkiewicz's "darker" style captures the Dracula atmosphere just as well as Gene Colan ever did. It's like the X-Men have wandered into a Hammer Film.

    Besides the art, the other reason I love this story is Claremont's script. He has an excellent handle on the moodiness you would expect from a Dracula story. Plus there are great little character moments, many of which you pointed out, such as the X-Men's reaction to Storm's "death", Wolverine's failed attempt to create a cross with his claws, as well as Nightcrawler's successful one... Nightcrawler's knowledge and healthy fear of Dracula, Kitty snapping Storm out of Dracula's spell.

    At the risk of gushing way too much, I will finish by saying that this is pretty much a perfect stand-alone issue of X-Men; possibly, in my opinion, the perfect stand-alone issue. Which isn't to say there aren't other stories I like better -- but for a done-in-one adventure, this is about the best the X-Men ever got. And my favorite X-Man, Cyclops, isn't even a part of the action!

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  4. PART TWO IN A 2-PART COMMENT

    "A narrative captions later tells us that Misty, along with her partner (and Cyclops brief girlfriend) Colleen Wing, are celebrating with the X-Men following Dracula's defeat, and we catch a brief glimpse of the woman in a small panel."

    And unless I'm mistaken, this is pretty much the very last time the X-Men ever interact with Misty and/or Colleen in their own title. They may have popped up further in the pages of Power Man & Iron Fist, though -- I'm not certain.

    "...it's unclear why the X-Men, simply looking for a place to crash while Kitty visits her parents, didn't call ahead, nor why they burst into the apartment in full costume..."

    Yeah, did they get out of a car in costume and walk up to the apartment dressed that way? Every time I read this issue, I wonder if there was some slight disconnect between writer and artist for the splash page. It sure looks amazing, though!

    "Kitty is back in her original black and yellow X-Men costume."

    I don't believe Cockrum ever draws her in costume again, does he? She's back in the black-and-yellow here, and Paul Smith continues with that when he comes aboard (adding that ugly "X" to the forehead), before giving her the green costume which I've always liked, but which never got all that much exposure.

    "...for someone who's just met the X-Men after they burst into her apartment unannounced, Harmony is awfully accommodating."

    If a bunch of costumed super-characters burst into your house and demanded to raid your wardrobe, I think you'd accommodate them, too.

    Also, I love that Wolverine is sitting there in full costume with his mask on. That's something you would expect from the Wolverine of 1975, but not so much the Wolverine of 1982.

    "Dracula just happens to have a castle lair somewhere "uptown", because, well, that's what Dracula does, I suppose."

    I believe the annual clarifies that this is Belvedere Castle in Central Park. I'm not sure if that's something Claremont came up with on his own, or if Dracula was known to hide out there in Tomb of Dracula.

    "Kitty gets jealous when Harmony refers to Colossus as cute."

    And she refers to him in her thoughts as "Colossus" rather than "Peter". I sense the heavy editorial influence of Jim Shooter here...

    "The Bullpen Bulletins page in this issue advertises the first issue of the GI Joe comic, which I mention only because I'm a big fan of that series."

    Me too! After you get that Avengers retrospective up and running, you should add G.I. Joe to the list, also. You don't need a job or a life, right?

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  5. @Matt: this issue feels different enough that it could easily have been placed in an issue of Marvel Fanfare.

    I never thought of that before, but you're right, it does feel like that.

    Seinkiewicz also draws Wolverine too tall and lanky

    Yeah, he's almost as lanky as Nightcrawler in this!

    It's like the X-Men have wandered into a Hammer Film.

    Excellent description.

    He has an excellent handle on the moodiness you would expect from a Dracula story.

    Yeah, Claremont is definitely a Romantic writer (the style, not the emotion) and that lends itself incredibly well to the Gothic horror of Dracula. This is definitely one of his stronger scripts.

    And unless I'm mistaken, this is pretty much the very last time the X-Men ever interact with Misty and/or Colleen in their own title.

    Good catch - as far as I can recall, you're right. I can't think of any other Misty or Colleen appearances after this.

    Every time I read this issue, I wonder if there was some slight disconnect between writer and artist for the splash page.

    Yeah, it's almost like the X-Men are bursting in expecting foul play, and while you could argue they're reacting to the presence of a stranger (to them) in their friend's apartment, it isn't like they know Misty isn't home until after they've burst in. So why all the gusto?

    I don't believe Cockrum ever draws her in costume again

    I forget what she's wearing in the couple issues of the second Brood act he draws before leaving the book, but you may be right.

    If a bunch of costumed super-characters burst into your house and demanded to raid your wardrobe, I think you'd accommodate them, too.

    Touche.

    I believe the annual clarifies that this is Belvedere Castle in Central Park.

    Ah, now that you mention it, I recall that as well (and now that I look closely at the Marvel Index for that issue, it lists it as Belvedere Castle too). Which makes a certain amount of sense, though you'd think maybe the City of New York in the Marvel Universe would want to take some steps to prevent it from becoming a super-villain lair, as it seems kind of primed for that. :)

    After you get that Avengers retrospective up and running, you should add G.I. Joe to the list, also. You don't need a job or a life, right?

    Ha! Indeed. I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought about giving GI Joe the X-aminations treatment someday (and even Transformers, a series that, as a comic book, I'm less familiar with but is something of a spirtual cousin to GI Joe). It's certainly on the list.

    I'd be perfectly happy to just write these kinds of post for a living, if I can just find someone to pay me enough to live on to do that...

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  6. To echo Matt, a great stand-alone issue, and one that shows the kind of great range of stories Claremont and the X-Men are capable of. They can go from super hero punch-up to sci-fi to gothic without missing a beat.

    I also like the non-preachy way the book incorporates Kitty's Jewish and Kurt's Catholic backgrounds into the story. I'm sure her star of david had appeared earlier (maybe even her first appearance), but it's still cool to see her show her faith in a dramatic way. At the time, she may have been the highest profile (only?) Jewish superhero, since Ben Grimm wouldn't be recognized as Jewish for another 20 years.

    For the preachiness bit, we have to wait for Kurt's speech to Wolverine during the Brood saga.

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  7. Dobson -- "At the time, she may have been the highest profile (only?) Jewish superhero..."

    Highest profile, yes... but Moon Knight was apparently the first. Per Doug Moench:

    "And [Moench's friend, Marc Spector] was saying, 'When are you going to name a character after me?' So then I was trying to figure out this villain for 'Werewolf by Night.' What am I going to call him? I’ll name him after Marc Spector. Then it turned out Marc Spector was Jewish. Ah, I guess this is a Jewish name. Well, I guess I just made up the first Jewish costumed hero. So maybe I should research some Judaism and stuff about the Mideast and Mossad and all this other stuff, and that’s where all that stuff came from."

    From a one-on-one conversation with recent Moon Knight writer Charlie Huston.

    (And as soon as Moench left the title, the next writer apparently decided that the name alone was too subtle, so suddenly Moon Knight's dad was a rabbi. Because every Jewish person has a rabbi in their family, right?)

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  8. @Dobson: I also like the non-preachy way the book incorporates Kitty's Jewish and Kurt's Catholic backgrounds into the story.

    Great point. It is really impressive how their respective backgrounds are worked into the plot without either being a big deal.

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  9. Nice job, Teebore... You took note of just about everything I did, for good or odd, and more.

    Dracula and Storm flee to Dracula's castle uptown

    As Matt says, it's Belvedere Castle in Central Park. You don't have to wait for the annual or a handbook to confirm that, however; Wolverine says as much in this issue (Pg. 10 of story).

    it's unclear why the X-Men, simply looking for a place to crash while Kitty visits her parents, didn't call ahead, nor why they burst into the apartment in full costume

    Calling ahead or just plain knocking is apparently for schmucks. Isn't Nightcrawler afraid that Misty could have, y'know, redecorated, and he'd end up inside of a potted plant? And like you say, visiting in costume is kind-of weird, especially since even if Misty was home she might've had company — and now if they want to relax in their civvies at some point, to whatever extent any of the X-Men care to maintain secret identities they're going to be that much less secret.

    It's also never made clear why Kitty is meeting her parents, who live in Chicago, in New York City, though I suppose we can assume they're making a special trip to visit her, not unlike at the end of issue #143.

    Yeah. I thought that she was just meeting them for dinner, but it turns out to be a few nights' stay. And during that one phone call she's lying on the floor in what you'd think would be a hotel room but doesn't look like one from the (admittedly small) glimpse that we get, so now I'm wondering if Claremont somehow forgot that the Prydes don't live in NYC in addition to glossing over the fact that they're supposed to be in the middle of a divorce.

    Just a couple of other small complaints about the story: I felt caught a bit off guard when it was revealed that a few days of Storm being listless at Misty's had passed. And if the X-Men did want to get her some more medical tests, (a) there should've been some lip service to the fact that they helped rush her out of the hospital before (like "her well-being is more important than our secrets"); (b) they could've, like, mentioned the Baxter Building as another option, or maybe have Nightcrawler say that Beast once told him to contact a Dr. Don Blake if they needed any medical assistance; and (c) they really could've overpowered her at this point and just taken her somewhere even if she protested.

    Corsair is hanging out with Scott and Alex, still rocking his pirate outfit.

    Those couple of panels you included were the very ones I'd marked to link to just because they're so weird. As much as I appreciate that the artists mostly do a good job of rendering a domestic scene / conversation with casual realism, both the oddness of comic-book dynamism and the problems with applying realism to it stand out. First up, Corsair is probably supposed to be patting his tummy in satisfaction but it looks more like he's swatting a firefly thanks to the colored "burst" effect that you'd think must legally accompany any contact between solid objects in a comic book. Then we get a good idea at how ridiculous he'd really look in that outfit because the art is so much less stylized than Cockrum's or Byrne's; here and especially in the next panel (not shown) Corsair strangely resembles Kurt Vonnegut.

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  10. Dracula notes that using a religious artifact (such as a cross) against him doesn't work if the wielder of the artifact doesn't believe in what the artifact represents (so Kitty's Star of David hurts him, but when she hold up a cross, it has no effect).

    Yeah again. It's nice for Claremont to hew to belief powering the religious symbol, and doing so regardless of denomination. Plus I just love that Nightcrawler's Catholicism is something that actually comes in handy during a fight.

    We get our first fastball special in a long time, and even get to see exactly how Colossus picks up Wolverine to toss him. 

    By the adamantium tush!

    I forget if this gets addressed in the follow-up annual, but I'd be curious to know what effect Cyclops' optic blast, which is solar-charged, would have on Dracula.

    That's a really neat idea.

    I'm no Tim Gunn, but their outfits don't seem that fantastic

    Yeah. I'm not sure who on the creative team to blame, but I don't buy that that's what Kitty, especially, was so excited to get out of a fashion model's closet.

    being the least of these four issues is nothing to be ashamed of, and on its own merits, this is a great done-in-one story

    So it is, and just about all of my nitpicks are not only really incidental to the overall quality but forgivable when the era of comic-book production was taken into consideration. I would love to get this kind of satisfying bang for buck out of a single issue today.

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  11. While I like Sienkiewicz's pencils as inked here by Wiacek well enough, I've said before that where Sienkiewicz really shines for me is when he uses the Neal Adams realism as a base but starts squaring off corners and taking out some of the detail to let things pop.

    But as Matt also said, we'll have plenty of time to debate that during New Mutants.

    I'm really glad to have Orz back lettering. He and Glynis Wein on colors anchor things so superbly here; it's like a master class on old-school creative support in standard newsprint comic book: Flip (or scroll, if you're reading it onscreen) through the pages and you'll see how the letterforms have a nice round character to them that's unique but controlled, how the blue hues in the bedroom scenes with Ororo bring the page together and enhance the line art's mood rather than calling attention to themselves in a bad way.

    Logan's drinking beer with a very odd Great White North, Eh? logo at the end. I get the reference; it's just strange that it's so unstylized.

    My last note is that I wondered why we got such a slow build-up to Dracula, with Kitty's suspicions in her thought balloon coming across as something that the reader was maybe just supposed to be putting together then too. Then I realized that we only know in retrospect what the deal is; you can make out fangs the big Ben-Day screen, color-hold Storm face on the cover, but there's no blurb reading "And now comes... Dracula!" or even "Storm: Vampire!?!"

    @Joan: "Our true Super Powers are compassion and a desire to be well liked!"

    Foreign concepts to you, huh, Joanie?

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  12. @Blam: You don't have to wait for the annual or a handbook to confirm that, however; Wolverine says as much in this issue (Pg. 10 of story).

    Ha! Somehow I totally missed that.

    so now I'm wondering if Claremont somehow forgot that the Prydes don't live in NYC in addition to glossing over the fact that they're supposed to be in the middle of a divorce.

    That does seem likely. You're right - that panel definitely depicts Kitty like she'd be at her house, not a hotel. And the lack of mention regarding the divorce is something I should have mentioned (though I suppose we could No Prize it by saying they were town visiting Kitty hoping to rekindle things).

    I felt caught a bit off guard when it was revealed that a few days of Storm being listless at Misty's had passed.

    I did find myself thinking it was odd that it took Kitty's return for the X-Men to get to the bottom of Storm's condition - you kind of wonder what the other X-Men were doing while Storm got worse and Kitty was away...

    Then we get a good idea at how ridiculous he'd really look in that outfit because the art is so much less stylized than Cockrum's or Byrne's

    Well said.

    By the adamantium tush!

    Ha!

    I would love to get this kind of satisfying bang for buck out of a single issue today.

    Hear hear!

    I'm really glad to have Orz back lettering. He and Glynis Wein on colors anchor things so superbly here; it's like a master class on old-school creative support in standard newsprint comic book

    While I agree with the sentiment, I'm even more glad that you're around to point this kind of stuff out, because I am terrible at expressing what I think works/doesn't work with the art beyond the most general of things, and even then, really only with the pencils and occasionally the inks.

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  13. Aw, shucks, Teebore. 8^)

    I love really good lettering — which generally means solid, neat and precise work like that of Orz, Gaspar, Todd Klein, and the more thoughtful Comicraft stuff (Richard Starkings and design maven JG Roshell in particular) but certainly extends to more expressive work like Dave Sim's as well.

    You'll probably hear me start to carp incessantly about fussy coloring when we finally move into the "modern" era, although I'll try to make my points specific and sparingly. I've been looking through a lot of covers online lately for my upcoming comics website, and you can tell exactly when computer separation began in earnest; there are covers that have so much airbrush-style modeling that you almost can't see the figures themselves for the colors and effects.

    I will agree with you wholeheartedly that it's often difficult to describe why certain art works (in whatever ways it's working — layout, anatomy, perspective, spotting of blacks, textures, on and on from all of the contributors) even when everyone agrees that it's working, let alone when it seems to be controversial or a serious matter of personal taste. Of course I'd like to think that I've built up a bit of the necessary vocabulary and awareness of the veins of criticism out there over the decades that I've been reading, looking at, and discussing this stuff but sometimes it just boils down to the equivalent of a killer line of harmony that makes you go, "Ain't that choice?"

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  14. "The Bullpen Bulletins page in this issue advertises the first issue of the GI Joe comic, which I mention only because I'm a big fan of that series."

    I cast my vote for a G.I.Joe review! (and for Transformers :) )

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