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Thursday, March 6, 2014

X-amining New Mutants #59

"Fang and Claw!"
January 1988

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants are captured by the Animator. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Bret Blevins
Inker: Terry Austin 
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Landing on the island from which Bird-Brain came, the New Mutants find themselves surrounded by angry human-like animals, animates, similar to Bird-Brain. Below, a scientist working for the Right who calls himself the Animator, and who is responsible for the creation of the animates, detects the arrival of the New Mutants. Not wanting to draw the attention of Cameron Hodge, he calls the Right and tells them to stay away from the island while he deals with the mutants. Above, Bird-Brain is able to calm the animates with the food he brought, but then they turn on him, saying Bird-Brain has become too much like man, who is the enemy. In New York, Roberto and Warlock return to the mansion after their adventures with the Beat Street Club. They are reunited with an equally overjoyed and angry Magneto, but quickly discover the rest of the New Mutants are gone.

Back on the Animator's island, a whistle sounds, which marks the beginning of the testing and calls all the animals to a massive maze. Bird-Brain insists he must rescue all his friends, including the littler animals being held at the end of the maze by the Animator. The New Mutants, confident they can handle the maze, agree to stay and help. However, they quickly realizes the severity of their situation, and are attacked by three massive animates, who manage to overpower them. Captured, they're brought before the Animator, who angrily decries Bird-Brain for taking a name and wearing clothes, telling him he's just an animal. He then orders the animates to destroy Bird-Brain and all his friends.  

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the first appearance of the Animator, aka Dr. Animus, a scientist who works for the Right. He is responsible for the creation of Bird-Brain, as well as the animal/human "animate" hybrids populating his Dr, Moreau-esque island. He is not conducting the research the Right hired him to do, which is why he is keen on keeping the Right away from his island. He serves as the main villain of New Mutants' "Fall of the Mutants" contribution, and thankfully doesn't appear much after this story.

Sunspot and Warlock return this issue, following the completion of Fallen Angels, though of course, when they arrive, only Magneto is at the school.

The Chronology Corner
Just prior to this issue (between Fallen Angels #8 and this), Sunspot and Warlock appear in Power Pack #33. It's basically a condensed, one-issue version of the arc they go through in Fallen Angels, questioning whether they have the stuff to be heroes before determining they do, which is why I'm not giving it its own post.

A Work in Progress
Sam hangs a lantern on it and says that the Animator's island reminds him of a movie (aka Island of Dr. Moreau).

In another bit of daft characterization, Sam and Dani, the co-leaders of the team and its oldest members, talk themselves into entering the maze and helping Bird-Brain's people instead of seeking Magneto's help, saying he's likely already going to be mad at them, so what's the harm is being gone even longer?

Illyana's Soul Sword is retrieved from Limbo, the first time it's been used since issue #52 (though it's unclear why it was summoned, as it only works on magic and the Animator's creatures aren't magical. It is quickly returned to Limbo when Illyana is knocked out).  

In a genuinely humorous moment, a captured Rahne begins to argue with the Animator as he uses the Bible to justify his treatment of the animates, and Sam points out the Animator probably isn't too receptive to a debate on scripture.

They're Students, Not Superheroes
Even before they've entered the building, Warlock and Sunspot are talking about the upcoming midterms, because apparently the only way to get across the idea that characters are "real" teenagers is to have them constantly talking about midterms.

Teebore's Take
On the one hand, with the arrival of "Fall of the Mutants", we get some semblance of a plot back in the book, as all the whacky Bird-Brain antics of the previous two issues take a back seat to a more traditionally-structured story, complete with deadly obstacles and a villain to overcome, with the added benefit of this taking away space from Bird-Brain and his "Squak-AWKs". And the sole element of the previous two issues to elicit a feeling other than a headache - the plight of the animates - serves as the impetus for the New Mutants' actions here, which helps shore up the plot.

On the other hand, while the X-Men are spending "Fall of the Mutants" fighting a chaos demon who threatens to destroy all reality in the midst of their prophesied deaths and X-Factor is fighting a powerful mutant and his henchmen to save New York City, the New Mutants are fighting a scientist in a leopard skin cape with a skull for a helmet. The idea of the New Mutants getting cocky is a decent one - it plays both to the "make 'em younger" edict and the book's overall "students not superheroes" approach - but their antagonist needs to be somewhat menacing for it to work (the New Mutants don't even meet the Animator until after they've learned the lesson about being cocky). Or, to put it another way, that the New Mutants are bested by enormous animal creatures is fine, especially in light of their cockiness. Once they're at the mercy of a half naked loon, though, it becomes more ridiculous.

Obviously, the New Mutants are the junior team, and aren't supposed to be fighting super-villains, but there's still a tonal disconnect, not only between this story and the other "Fall of the Mutants" entries, but between this story and previous New Mutants stories. Next issue will attempt to add some gravitas to the proceedings, but there's nevertheless no denying that the Animator is weak sauce compared to the Adversary and Apocalypse, with the crossover, such as it is, forcing that comparison even if it is unfair.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Factor meets Death in X-Factor #24. Next week, the world starts to end in Uncanny X-Men #226, and one of the New Mutants pays the ultimate price in New Mutants #60.


  1. there's nevertheless no denying that the Animator is weak sauce compared to the Adversary and Apocalypse

    That really does sum up the New Mutants side of Fall of the Mutants doesn't it?

    I guess I'd add that Bret Blevins doesn't compare favorably to Marc Silvestri and Walt Simonson either.

    I remember looking at the collected edition of Fall of the Mutants in a B. Dalton one time and really thinking that leaving the NM issues out would have improved the book.

  2. @Jeff: I guess I'd add that Bret Blevins doesn't compare favorably to Marc Silvestri and Walt Simonson either.

    Yeah, you could make a case that for the right story, Blevins would be a better fit than Silvestri or Simonson, but for the kind of widescreen action epic that "Fall of the Mutants" is going for, he comes up short in comparison.

    I mean, the Animator is well-rendered: he looks very much like a goofy ass mad scientist who's a few eggs short of a dozen, so Blevins succeeds in that regard. It's just that that depiction doesn't fit the tone/style of the overarching story very well.

  3. Adversary...Apocalypse...Animator...really now? If only Ahab had been created by this point, he and Arcade could've joined in the fun...

    While the characters themselves seem to be written at their best far under Wheezie, NM really is the weakest part of FOTM.

  4. Your point about the tonal shift is what really bothers me about the New Mutants' FotM entry. I read this in the trade, where it was sandwiched between Uncanny & X-Factor. The first had a big, dramatic story that also served as a mission statement, while the second had a confrontation that had been building for a long time & was suitably epic. This... has a hobo in an animal skin. It's not the return of the Magus or the Demon Bear or a confrontation with another suitably intimidating foe. It makes everything in the story, from next issue's death to the kids' decision at the end of #61, feel especially forced & out of left field. In any other thread, as a non-crossover entry, fighting a mad scientist would be fine; but making something so ordinary-for-comics carry the weight of being a big, epic game-changer for the title just doesn't work.

  5. I just noticed that all the main villains in Fall Of The Mutants have names that start with A: Animator, Adversary, Apocalypse. Maybe the crossover should have been called "Fuckin' A!"

  6. I'm surprised ... I thought Weezie's tying the Bird-Brain story into Cameron Hodge and the Right would have earned a word of praise, as it suddenly brings the New Mutants smack into X-Factor continuity.

    "I guess I'd add that Bret Blevins doesn't compare favorably to Marc Silvestri and Walt Simonson either."

    I still consider Simonson the odd man out in these three. To me, Blevins has it all over Simonson in terms of characterization and storytelling. (Again, probably not overall, but in the cross section of the Fall of the Mutants TPB, the X-Factor issues fall way short for me.)

    But eh, I guess I'm just playing devil's advocate. I don't LOVE the New Mutants issues, really. I just like them better than the X-Factor ones (which is not saying much).

  7. "as it suddenly brings the New Mutants smack into X-Factor continuity."

    Does it really? It doesn't really go anywhere, comes out of nowhere, and may as well have been any random muntat-hating group.

    as for the this point, I have to disagree, in FOTM, Simonson outshines does flip when we get to Inferno.

  8. @Anonymous:Adversary... Apocalypse...Animator...really now?

    Oddly enough, I never noticed that all three of the main villains were "A" named until I wrote out this post. Crazy!

    @Mela: In any other thread, as a non-crossover entry, fighting a mad scientist would be fine; but making something so ordinary-for-comics carry the weight of being a big, epic game-changer for the title just doesn't work.

    That's it in a nutshell.

    @Jason: I thought Weezie's tying the Bird-Brain story into Cameron Hodge and the Right would have earned a word of praise, as it suddenly brings the New Mutants smack into X-Factor continuity.

    I'll touch on that a bit in the next issue. As with the big event in next issue, I can appreciate the attempt to lend some gravitas to the story by bringing in Hodge, though at the end of the day there's no denying the main villain of the New Mutants' contribution to "Fall of the Mutants" is, as Mela said, "a hobo in an animal skin".

    @wwk5d: Does it really? It doesn't really go anywhere, comes out of nowhere, and may as well have been any random muntat-hating group.

    That too.

  9. Magneto really is a shitty headmaster.He really goes hours not noticing that five teenagers and a horribly loud bird-thing have disappeared?

  10. @Branden: He really goes hours not noticing that five teenagers and a horribly loud bird-thing have disappeared?

    Ha! You'd think the blessed lack of "Squa-AWKS!" from the halls would have tipped him off that something was up.


  11. I'm getting more convinced that the problem with Blevins' art here is the faces. The cover is pretty awful, but it's almost impossible to tell if it could be salvaged past the garish coloring job. I think the splash page is really nicely composed, however, and his panel layout in general deals with the large cast very well.

    // Not wanting to draw the attention of Cameron Hodge, he calls the Right and tells them to stay away from the island while he deals with the mutants. //

    The raving mad scientist leaving a message on the Right's answering machine is kind-of hilarious, especially since we don't hear the other end and in fact have no idea if he really got through or if his phone is even connected.

    // Roberto and Warlock .... are reunited with an equally overjoyed and angry Magneto //

    I don't buy Huggy Magneto — unconvincing portrayal and terrible action figure. We haven't seen nearly enough interaction between him and the New Mutants for that to play in character, given the haughty, reserved demeanor we know from past appearances he carries even in private or with intimates like Xavier and Lee Forrester.


  12. Clearly the Animator represents the Walt Disney corporation and is a commentary on how in animating animals for our amusement — humanizing them, giving them clothes, letting them speak — it mucked with the fundamental distinctions between people on the one hand and on the other hand creatures who were at once both purer and lesser for not observing any kind of moral code beyond their instincts. Notice how the more clothed the Disney animals were, the more "civilized" they were, e.g. Oswald the Rabbit or early Mickey vs. the later Scrooge McDuck, and also how Disney's rivals at Warner tended to leave their animals unclothed and thus more id.

    The maze can be seen as a twisted version of Disney's beloved theme parks, while the Animator himself is likely modeled on Walt's early partner Ub Iwerks, co-creator of Mickey Mouse, rumored in his twilight years to sport pince-nez spectacles, drape himself in leopard skin, and rant to nobody in particular; I think, although I'm not 100% sure, that the fetus in a globe is an embellishment.

    What an irony given that Marvel is now owned by Disney. Of course, Marvel itself at this time was publishing anthropomorphic animals like the Care Bears and its own Spider-Ham under its Star imprint, muddying the waters, but Simonson probably figured that the whole allegory would go over DeFalco's head.

  13. Simonson... he was the guy who draw Thor as a frog, right?

    Though I have a big "no" on 'the dressier the more civilized' theory. Barring the gaiters, Scrooge is not anymore clothed than Donald Duck and Donald Duck really is id defined. I would like to see Wolverine sneak behind his archnemesis and hit him with a wooden barrel shouting "Blitzkrieg!"

    Talking of course about the European comic book Donald Duck, whose eponymical comic book had outsold not only every other comic book hero but every other periodical since always in Finland where Jack Kirby or John Byrne has nothing on Don Rosa.


  14. Had I not been completely bullshitting I'd point out that I was discussing someone called "The Animator" rather than "The Comics-Maker" (and probably add that I have nothing but respect for Don Rosa) buuuuut… 8^)

  15. Blam, it is a totally awesome BS theory and if there was any justice in the world it would not be far away from the truth either. Now I feel bad for ruining the moment(um) for everyone with a minor detail nitpicking. Though I have to say, that animation Donald was nothing short of an anarchist either.

    It just is personally hard theory to comprehend for me because not only from the cultural conditioning where Disney is not foremostly about animations compared to US for example, but also because villain named "the Animator" takes me directly to a ghastly Lovecraftian island and things go phtang, phtang.

    Still, one intercompany crossover work I would pay for is Wolverine and that neighbor of Donald Duck's having a total fullblown go at each other (I don't know if the neighbor is there only in the European licensed Donald Duck comics, I understand the character set varies across the pond). Can I say intecompany, btw, in this case, after all the developments including introducing Goofy to the Star Wars universe around 1999 or so.

  16. Neighbor J. Jones, that Donald's neighbor. As a Carl Barks creation he not only is in the core of the universal Disney canon but with a name like that he also has the makings of a traditional Marvel antagonist.

    He totally could go visit a relative in Westchester living on the Graymalkin Lane and have some minor grievance with the short Canadian living in the neighbor go nothing short of cataclysmic. Please Disney. Please.

  17. "Does it really? It doesn't really go anywhere, comes out of nowhere, and may as well have been any random muntat-hating group. "

    Point taken. :)

    "Branden: He really goes hours not noticing that five teenagers and a horribly loud bird-thing have disappeared? / Ha! You'd think the blessed lack of "Squa-AWKS!" from the halls would have tipped him off that something was up. "

    He was probably busy having a flashback about his dead wife, you heartless monsters.


  18. Warning: More entirely X-Men-free conversation ahead...

    @Teemu: // It just is personally hard theory to comprehend for me because not only from the cultural conditioning where Disney is not foremostly about animations compared to US //

    Disney comics are definitely much more widely embedded in Europe — to such an extent that stories often see publication there first and then never get reprinted back here in the US. I know folks (and know of plenty more) who've written Mickey and Donald stories that get translated into German, Danish, etc. with no guarantee they'll end up in English again after the original scripts. The smattering of classic duck tales from Carl Barks, and more contemporarily Don Rosa, that I've read? I did so after actively seeking them out in my 20s as I became serious about expanding my knowledge of comics; it was a thrill to be working in a comics shop while Gladstone was serializing Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and I could read vintage Barks in older collections, but the few Disney comics I read as a kid were the ones published, along with non-Disney animated properties like The Pink Panther and Hanna-Barbera stuff, through Gold Key, and my favorite among those was Super Goof owing to my natural inclination towards the genre.

    My point before I digressed, however, was/is that I'm not sure Americans associate those Disney characters with animation. I think that "Disney" means the animated feature films from Snow White to Frozen, yes, and I guess also the prime-time live-action series like Hannah Montana on The Disney Channel, but in terms of filmed entertainment such classic Disney characters as Mickey and Donald and Goofy and so on kind-of don't compute there, being relegated to old cartoon shorts that the general public has never even seen — essentially they're mascots at Disney theme parks and that's it. This may have changed recently with the Epic Mickey videogame I know nothing about, as well as perhaps what's on Disney XD or whatever 'round the clock, but traditionally in my lifetime Mickey has been a figurehead more than an actual character. So you're not wrong that US audiences don't associate the Disney characters with comics, but I think the "as opposed to" part bifurcates between animation that doesn't feature Mickey and friends on the one hand, the Disney Princesses or Pixar releases dominating that area, and on the other hand "mascot duty" and merchandising that does feature them.

    Goofy in the Star Wars universe? Not something I knew about, I don't think, although thanks in part to my nephew (and just general news online) I've seen plenty of mash-up licensing in recent years from Angry Birds to Mr. Potato Head.

  19. Blam, Goofy @ Star Wars was intended to be a nasty wipe at one Jar Jar Binks. I may have to stress that I'm talking about the, ha, goofy nature of both characters that works awesomely in Duckburg but really not so in SW, and not about the accusations sometimes shot at both Goofy and Binks about being unfortunate embodiments of racial stereotypes.

    As for Disney, I think I allowed myself to be waylaid a bit by your explicitly mentioning early Mickey and Scrooge, though of course when someone puts 'Disney' and 'animation' in same sentence the first association for me too should have been the full-length animated movies, in the context.

    Personally for the Euro me, though, for cultural reasons, Donald and Mickey and Scrooge (and specifically in that particular order) are the definition for Disney, and the other stuff, the full-length animations included, are rather something brought by Disney but not really the real deal. That may be particularly because I have been lucky enough to know Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio etc. as traditional stories rather than DISNEY(TM) stories. It's almost off-putting how Disney has (kind of) pushed to make theirs the definite versions of the characters.

    Also, Life and Times rocks massively. It has fitted for the publishers to not announce the actual creators of particular Disney comics in Europe, mostly because what they often are are poor freelancers contracted by the bigger European publishing companies for per page compensation and nothing else, and everything is just "from Disney", but when the first stories drawn by Don Rosa appeared in the Donald Duck book it really was like a slam against the face: what the Hell was that!? and it was unavoidable that his name should be dug out by the fans.

    About the X-Men free conversation bit, I see it like everyone is free to hijack the commentary section back and use it for awesome X-Men discussion, but seeing that the issue is about Bird-Brain they may just be glad for us to keep it.

  20. Disney has had a bunch of Star Wars/Disney figurines at the Star Tours gift shop in Disneyland for years. There's Goofy as Jar Jar, Mickey as Luke and Minnie as Leia, Donald as Han Solo and as Darth Maul, Stitch (from Lilo &...) as Yoda, and possibly my favorite -- Peg Leg Pete as Boba Fett.

    Blam and Teemu, I'm loving your discussion on the subject of Disney's comics. I was a regular reader of Gladstone's Disney line when I was a kid, before I "graduated" full-time to Marvel. I still have my first printing issue of Don Rosa's "The Son of the Sun" someplace. And alongside the Barks and Rosa Donald and Scrooge stuff, I was a really big fan of the Floyd Gottfredsen Mickey Mouse strips, too.

    I've sadly never read "The Life and Times...", as I was long out of my Disney phase when it was first published, but I want to get to it someday. Fantagraphics is currently reprinting the full Barks canon, and is going to start with the full works of Rosa as well, and I've begun re-collecting with those books.

    I still remember meeting Rosa at WonderCon in Oakland when I was probably about eight or nine years old. That was a really cool moment.

  21. And speaking of Disney's animation -- while the animated features are probabluy what they're best known for, for me it was the weekday afternoon cartoon shows that captured my imagination. In particular DuckTales and TaleSpin, two shows which I still think hold up very well today.

    (I also loved the weekday afternoon Aladdin series, though that's obviously based on the feature film.)

  22. Oh, lords... Among the stuff I neglected the Super Goof bit. Did you know Donald too has a superhero alter ego of Italian origin? Papernik by original name if I remember correctly, Fantomas I think in German publications. A Batmanesque night creature with Gyro Gearloose's gadgets, not too unlike of the Darkwing Duck in appearance.

  23. Spellcheck: "Paperinik". I don't know if he ever had a proper English name, but at least none have stuck to my knowledge. Please do a Google image search and tell me if his original navy blue costume with yellow on the chest, belt and boots remind you of anything, my dear X-fans.

    The early stories from late sixties/seventies were awful lot of fun and see Daisy also don a cape to become his feminist female derivative character. I'm not exactly sure or the years but there's a slight chance she may predate Ms. Marvel.

  24. Yeah. Checked it up. 1973. Daisy beat Carol by few years. This turned awkward now really for us Marvel people.

  25. Lots of (X-free) information below that you probably don't need to know....

    Yes, the correct spelling of Donald's italian superheroic alter-ego is Paperinik.
    The name comes from "Paperino", which is the italian name of Donald (literally meaning "Little Duck") and is a pun on another famous italian comic book character named "Diabolik". Diabolik is a anti-hero (he is a thief) and during the 60s his success spurred a wave of similar (today we would probably call them "edgy") comics, with criminal characters as protagonists, all of them sharing the presence of a "k" in their name (like Kriminal, Satanik).

    And I second Teemu, the early stories were a lot of fun. It should be noted that, contrarily to Super Goofy, Paperinik is quite consistently depicted as a competent superhero (although the funny element is always present in the stories). In the late 90s they also tried a new version of the character where the superheroic aspect was played more straight, aimed at a teenage audience (as opposes to little kids). The comic was named PK, it didn't resonate with me at the time, maybe because I was already in my early twenties, but it seems that many people who were "of the right age" at the time remember it fondly. Wikipedia tells me that this version of the character also appeared in the US under the name "Duck Avenger"

    By the way, by now nearly everybody in Ducksburg has a superheroic alter-ego, from Daisy/Paperinika, as Teemu said, to Uncle Scrooge itself.

    Sorry to have contributed to take the discussion in this tangent direction. I have been lurking a lot, reading without commenting (I think last time I did it was when Paul Smith's run was being discussed, exchanging some comments with Matt about the Marvel Super Heroes RPG and Cyclops' "geometrical intuition") but Teemu's mention of one of my favourite comics characters, that I think goes largely unknown in the US, took me out of my lair :-).
    Disney is an important part of comic book culture in Italy. Their comics usually represent the first encounter of young kids with comics, and the comic book "Topolino" is published without interruptions since 1949. In fact, I think that a large part of Disney's original comic book output comes from Italy; other important "producers" are the Scandinavian countries (I think mainly Norway, but Teemu can probably be more precise than me) in Europe, and Brazil.

    Coming back to the actual topic of this blog, I will be glad one day to share with the other fellow Europeans out there, and with everybody else, the sometimes strange experience of reading US comics in (non-UK) european countries during the 80s/90s.... of course if our gracious host allows us to hijack the discussion once more.

  26. Thank you, Max. This will go down to my book as a massive success. :)

    Though I must disagree on one bit. This is not X-free stuff the least bit, as Diabolik and the earlier French pulp fiction protagonist Fantomas to whom Diabolik is partly based on, came to be massively ripped off and introduced into the X-Books as Fantomex by Morrison. Wikipedia knows to tell me that character's given real name Jean-Phillipe is a homage to the lead actor John Phillip Law in the movie Danger: Diabolik, which we all who love what CC did with the Hellfire Club can't but appreciate.

    As for the Duck Avenger, I haven't read any newer stuff, but Google image search gives me a first page of a story starting with a picture of a high-raise building in rain looking down to the street far below which can't be nothing but an awesome homage to Watchmen and makes me totally intrigued.


  27. I feel terrible that as long as my faux-hifalutin academic gloss on The Animator has become a thing I've neglected to apologize for painting Ub Iwerks as a slobbering madman.

    You may take as many swipes at Jar Jar Binks as you like, Teemu. In terms of the fairy tales being co-opted by Disney, yeah, that's pretty inarguable; while I saw the Disney versions first in some cases, I totally lament their rather absolute primacy (in US culture, anyway, like you say). I had a nice collection of Hans Christian Andersen from earliest memories, and in 3rd grade our classroom had a bookshelf of such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and even Pinocchio that I plowed through, astounded by their differences re the Disney adaptations, but it was a little while longer before I experienced the dark Brothers Grimm material.

    Most of the folks I knew who wrote Disney comics technically dealt with Egmont rather than directly with Disney, to their relief, although I think that legendary "in perpetuity throughout the universe" rights clause was still part of the contract. The exception is a couple of acquaintances who worked for the short-lived Disney Comics in the early '90s when Disney reclaimed its American licenses from Gladstone and Marvel.

    It's a terrible shame that Disney finally drove Rosa away.

    Finally, I am aware of Paperinik as well as the recent Ultraheroes incarnation that I think was published here by Boom a few years ago but I haven't read any of it. And Daisy's spinoff as the female version of Donald's identity may predate Ms. Marvel, but certainly not Fawcett's Mary Marvel, who predated even DC's Supergirl.

  28. Blam, and to add insult to the injury, Hollywood went on to make an action movie of the Brothers Grimm, too. It's almost like a meta commentary on the whole thing really.

    I'd like to stress that the reason why I specifically mentioned Ms. Marvel as opposed to earlier female derivative characters was that with Carol the feminist angle was heavily there, at least in the marketing, and Daisy-Paperinika was just over the top with the whole theme in her first appearance, having her gear and the whole superheroing thing really handed to her by an uber-feminist friend with whom she shares a hilarious panel where they rip a new one for the whole male gender while drinking tea.


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