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The ’80s Revisited: The Flash #324

flash_vol1_0324The Slayer and the Slain!

Writer: Cary Bates
Pencils: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Dennis Jensen
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Letterer: Phil Felix
Editor: Ernie Colon
Cover: Carmine Infantino, Rodin Rodriguez
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: August 1983
Cover Price: 60 cents

I have the Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash volume, bought a couple years ago. That book has Flash 323-350…basically, the final couple years’ worth of issues of the Silver Age Flash series that took us up to Crisis on Infinite Earths prior to Wally’s series kicking off.

I have "experienced" 28 years of reading new comics myself, all being years after this issue. And in broad strokes I’ve long since "filled in the gaps" or otherwise have "a passing knowledge" of stuff from this "era."

But finding this issue in a 25-cent bin, I was all for it. Sure, I have the issue in that Showcase volume–but that’s black-and-white and a thick volume that’s not the greatest for a randomish, casual read. This issue is in color with all the ads and whatnot in being the actual, original, (vintage) edition.

The cover is what grabbed my attention–The Flash holding Reverse-Flash and exclaiming "Get up, Get up! You can’t be dead!" and a caption proclaiming "But he is–and Flash killed him!" This is both accurate and yet comes off very much as a number of classic covers do–a "technicality" of truth but quite misleading. Of course, I know this isn’t "just" that, but is indicative of an issue with a lasting point that influenced so much at the trailing end of the series.

Then I figured I’d missed the actual occurrence, and "assumed" that this would pick up immediately after the PREVIOUS issue ending on an "Is he or isn’t he dead?" cliffhanger.

What I got from this was a solid read from a key point in pre-Crisis Barry Allen’s life with one of his most dangerous foes, and an issue meeting expectation while drawing me into the then-contemporary story and leaving me curious about a number of things, not limited to: Iris died 40+ issues earlier? I did think that was here. Who is this Fiona, and how important was she as I’ve never consciously been aware of her? And how does an obvious rock-and-hard-place situation stopping a known killer with intent lead to a lengthy story of the Flash on trial?

While I’d half expected to open the issue TO Barry and a dead Thawne, I actually found that the two were still engaged in fisticuffs. Said fisticuffs have made Barry very late for his own wedding, where family and closest friends try to salvage the situation, assuring folks he’ll be there and has NOT left Fiona at the altar. Kid Flash performs a "super feat" rescuing a baby and showing THAT he has the power and speed to do much of what Barry does…and even he is late for the wedding. Or would be, if it was proceeding as it should have. As the wedding situation deteriorates, Wally heads out to try to find Barry, and is intercepted by a Guardian of the Universe (not to be confused with a Guardian of the Galaxy…similar names, different publishers) who does something to dampen his powers, ensuring that no one will interfere with Barry’s fight…at said hero’s request, apparently.

We then switch more fully to the Barry/Eobard fight and see a fraction of what goes on with two mortal combatants at super-speed. Ultimately, seeking to press whatever advantage he maintains, the villain takes the lead, heading to kill the woman who would be Barry’s second wife–forcing Barry to move even faster and decisively to save Fiona’s life. Standing before her as the Flash, he does not tell her that it’s him–Barry–and as she storms away, we learn that Thawne is not just "stopped" but dead.

As said earlier, this cover looks like something right out of the ’70s and classic exaggerated/far-fetched situations. The art inside the issue is solid and seems very much of its time–early 1980s–with all relevant characters being distinct and recognizable, and generally no wonkiness or weirdness throwing me out of the story. Possibly the biggest visual grab for me was that somehow I keep forgetting that Barry was blond, and I’m still used to Wally and thus a Flash without red hair throws me off.

Story-wise, this issue includes a footnote indicating that there were several issues’ worth of development leading to this one–and that by itself serves to pique my interest in finding those issues. It also reminds me that this is from those days long ago BEFORE everything had to be clearly deliniated within a rigid 4-issue or 6-issue "story arc" format…when issues could be issues, telling an ongoing story without necessarily being formulaic X Chapter of Y Story.

I like the structure of this issue, giving us some heroics, super feats, as well as developing the wedding side of things and Fiona’s thinking she realizes what’s happened, then seeing Barry and Thawne and their battle, leading to Barry’s being forced (goaded into?) to kill Thawne to save Fiona.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this issue. It was an easier read than I expected, half thinking it was gonna drag on and feel overly wordy, as well as thinking I’d be reading simply a random chapter of something–not even a key moment–of a much larger story. Though in a way this IS just another ’80s issue, it being an issue included in that Showcase volume, I feel like it’s an ‘early chapter’ more than an ‘isolated issue’ but found this engaging and interesting, while leaving me interested both in backtracking and getting the later issues (as preferable to "just" a black and white reprint).

For only 25 cents, it was well worth the purchase, a solid read, and I would certainly recommend the issue if you find it in such a bargain bin and don’t mind NOT having the entire 25+ issue "run" necessarily at hand.

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The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #1 [Review]

fall_and_rise_of_captain_atom_0001Blowback

Writer: Cary Bates
Co-Plotter: Greg Weisman
Artist: Will Conrad
Colorist: Ivan Nunes
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Cover: Jason Badower
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Group Editor: Jim Chadwick
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: March 2017
Cover Price: $2.99

Several months ago, I read a random Captain Atom Annual from the late 1980s. It was the first Captain Atom comic I remembered reading in years (though I believe I forgot entirely about the character’s appearances midway into the New 52, as well as the character even having a series in the early New 52 days!) It was shortly after reviewing that Annual that I learned there would be a new mini-series by the writers of that time–Bates and Weisman. Of course, I assumed it would be yet another $3.99-an-issue mini, given a number of DC‘s other recent ones.

Color me surprised when I realized firstly the issue was coming out already (somehow I’d thought it was to come in February), realized I forgot to include it for DCBS as it’s not part of the bundles I’ve been getting, and all the more that it’s ONLY $2.99 an issue! This does NOT carry the Rebirth branding…but I take it from its content–and particularly its PRICE–that it is indeed squarely within current Rebirth stuff.

This issue is relatively simple: we start out with the good Captain in a containment facility, in a chair much like the one I recall him being in back in the 1980s’ #1 issue I read whenever it was that I read that (perhaps as far back as 2002 or 2003!), talking with his handlers about stuff that’d recently happened…which left me a bit lost for a moment. Did something happen with the character in a major way that I didn’t know about in the New 52 stuff? Did I miss something recently amidst all the stuff I’m behind on actually reading?

But then the story flashes back to some hours earlier, placing this into that old clichéd format…though ultimately I appreciate what it was going for, while I disliked it as I was reading.

Captain Atom’s sick, and it’s causing issues with his very energy matrix, expelling energy randomly–"venting"–and endangering those around him…perhaps the entire planet, just by his existing in this condition. While making his way back to base, he happens across a cruise ship in trouble, and refuses to turn his back on it…but the energy-expenditure of helping leaves him in far worse condition. His energy output brings members of the Justice League to investigate, though ultimately they’re not quite able to do as hoped, and there’s much destruction that they have to play damage-control with, while Captain Atom blames himself for what happened. Ultimately, we see that the issue’s perhaps the start of a new status quo, and I’m put a bit in mind of Savage Dragon, and quite curious where things go from here.

I don’t care much for the clichéd story format of starting on the climax, then flashing back X amount of time and "building" back to and then surpassing the climax. But I cannot deny its effectiveness–it elicited reaction from me as I read, and as I’ve thought about it since, I realize that it accentuates the fact that this is a SINGLE ISSUE. It made this single issue function as one, as an opening episode, rather than our perhaps getting this ENTIRE ISSUE as the height of the story, to pick up in #s 2-4 as flashback, #5 to get back to this, and then a final issue denouement.

Though this is a mini-series, this issue behaves as if it is an ongoing series, and behaves very well as a single issue and not JUST some first chapter of a single whole that must be read in one go to fully "get."

Even having forgotten recent years’ stuff with the character, I followed this issue just fine. My familiarity (such as it is) with the character allowed me to appreciate names mentioned as well as the visuals (such as the cover being fairly reminiscent of 1987’s first issue!) This character has about 30 years of history in the "modern" DC universe, and however many years prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths…but I think someone not all that familiar could certainly enjoy this in and of itself. Much as with a new movie, the lack of intricate continuity knowledge might even be better for enjoying this simply as a story in itself, without piecing it within long-form continuity.

I love the fact that Bates and Weisman are back on this; having them steering this story, re-establishing the character presumably for going forward after they set the standard with the character in the late 1980s seems quite fitting, to me. As such, I definitely look forward to reading this as single issues…getting the story AS it unfolds.

However…unless DC pulls something rather shocking–say, of extending this to an "ongoing" status–it is a 6-issue mini-series and I’d be even more surprised if it does NOT get a collected edition (or "graphic novel") that could be read all at once as a single, complete(-ish, as comics go) story.

If you’re a fan of the character from years back, and not a fan of the character, say, from Countdown on through to the present, this would be the point to jump back in, and ignore the last decade or so of Captain Atom stuff. And if you’re new to the character, this is a solid starting point, or re-directing (a la all of the Rebirth one-shots) the character from whatever’s been known of him during the New 52.

I enjoyed this issue personally, but see that it should be a solid singular story that as a full story I’ll very likely strongly recommend…but despite my praise, it’s not something so singularly fantastic in this single issue as to compel any/all potential readers to rush for this single issue.

I look forward to #2!

The ’80s Revisited: Captain Atom Annual #1

captain_atom_annual_0001The Dark Side of the Force

Writer: Cary Bates
Co-Plotter: Greg Weisman
Penciller: Pat Broderick
Inker: Bob Smith
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Letterer: Duncan Andrews
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: 1988
Cover Price: $1.25

I’ve long been aware of Captain Atom, and have even read some issues here and there with the character. I believe he was in some Justice League (America) issues; I know he was in Armageddon 2001; I read at least most of the Captain Atom: Armageddon series he was in, blowing up the Wildstorm universe some time back; there’s the parallel with Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen…and of course, the character’s brief but pivotal role in Kingdom Come, to name a few offhand. I think I may even have read the first issue or two/few of his 1980s ongoing series at one point, though I don’t consciously remember much beyond the basic origin (so I probably read it around the time I read Watchmen back in the early 2000s).

Going through a stack of comics recently, I happened across this issue–certainly a quarter-bin find–and it struck me as interesting "in the moment" to read due to the cover proclamation: "Enter: Major Force!" I’m more familiar with Major Force as the character that killed Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend (stuffing her body in the refrigerator) back in the early days of the new direction for Green Lantern. Having briefly revisited that era recently in covering the Zero Hour crossover, I was all the more curious about how long the character had been around. This issue seems either a first appearance, or at least a post-Crisis on Infinite Earths (CoIE) first appearance. Given the character tying into Captain Atom’s origin and some guessing, I’m pretty sure this is the first appearance of the character.

The issue opens with a conspiracy-theorist radio show, the host talking about a corroborated incident of a UFO crashing in a quarry. We then move to Captain Atom arriving on the scene, and something emerges–an alien creature that the Captain winds up fighting. Meanwhile, an anonymous Major joins the scene, and we see that events are being manipulated to create an apparent origin of a new super-hero: that of a Major helping Captain Atom and being fused with an alien creature. When, in fact, this is the result of a later experiment like the one that created Captain Atom, but with different variables…and the "alien" is in fact another test subject. Due to his position and government involvement, Captain Atom goes along with things, introducing/endorsing this new guy to the public…as they get Major Force. Predictably (this comic is from 28 years ago!) Force doesn’t "work out" in the role of super-hero, as his methods are violent and don’t account for innocents/civilians. When CA tries to rein things in, the Major fights back. Captain Atom emerges from the battle victorious…though in its course he seems to have made a decision, delivering his message ("I quit!") along with the unconscious Major Force to his government handlers.

The issue has page numbers, with the story ending on a page numbered ’39’ so this is basically a double-length issue. As an Annual, it’s a ‘special’ issue, with a bigger story (but relatively self-contained) than just another issue of an ongoing series. Being from the late 1980s, and evaluating this (having read it), it seems to be an Annual from when such things "counted," and were truly a bonus or special issue along with the ongoing run, and having stuff important to the character’s ongoing status quo. In this case, the issue seems to be the point at which Captain Atom has had enough of just going with the flow and taking orders, and after seeing what the government/his handlers are up to, he can’t stick around simply accepting the status quo.

As an Annual (and a first one, at that), I figured this to be a decent sort of one-shot, though a lot of that comes from my own experience with comics, and DC history/continuity. We don’t get a lot of context/background on Captain Atom or a supporting cast in this issue, but we do get some slight references such that knowing what I do, it all fits.

I’m good with the art–it neither blows me away nor disappoints…it just "is." This looks and feels (visually and story-wise) like an ’80s comic, and something to it (such as the introduction of a character I know gets used more and in key ways years later) feels a lot LIKE the start of a new super-hero universe…which at this point, the then-current DC Universe essentially was. And I like that.

The story itself is decent, and seems to draw on existing continuity (at least from the Captain Atom series) and expects the reader to at least somewhat know what’s going on; introduces a new villain/antagonist or opposite version of the hero with an origin, background, some character/world-building, and ultimately resolution…while leaving things open for later use of the character as well as modifying the status quo (presumably, at least!) for the ongoing series. I notice that quite unrelatedly, this is the second issue in the last few days I’ve read written by Bates (the other was Action Comics #428) and am pretty sure the co-plotter (Greg Weisman) is the same who eventually did Gargoyles for Disney years after this.

For an issue that I only paid a quarter to purchase, this was definitely a good value for the time it took to read, and I enjoyed adding this piece to the puzzle–I’ve now read the introduction of Major Force and this also re-kindles a bit of my interest in the early Captain Atom series (I believe I have the first year or so of issues SOMEWHERE in my collection).

While this issue won’t hold the reader’s hand, it’s a solid piece with a nice length, and is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the title character, villain, or this period in DC‘s history. If you find it in a bargain-bin–MAYBE up to $2ish–its well worthwhile. At a higher price, I’d say you’d have to really have a specific interest in this, rather than anything casual.

The ’70s Revisited: Action Comics #428

action_comics_0428Whatever Happened to Superman?

Story: Cary Bates
Art: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson
Editing: Julius Schwartz
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: October, 1973
Cover Price: 20 cents

The Plot to Kill Black Canary!

Story by: Elliot Maggin
Drawn by: Dick Giordano
Edited by: Julie Schwartz

GBS has had a new satellite launched. Superman flies into action to stop a fire raging far above easy reach of firemen, and conveniently (and extremely quickly) locates and flies in an iceberg, melting it with his heat vision to put out the fire. But the world sees just a storm cloud and rain. As Superman investigates this phenomenon, he becomes aware of the fact that everyone believes Superman hasn’t been seen in ten years–even going so far as to (as Clark Kent) do a shirt-rip on live TV…but all anyone sees is Clark revealing an undershirt. Of course, the real villain turns out to be Lex Luthor. Luthor mouths off, revealing his plan when Superman poses as a newly-assigned inmate occupying the "empty cell," convincing Luthor he’d been double-crossed and had himself been "forgotten." All’s well that ends well, right?

Meanwhile, in the Green Arrow (and Black Canary) portion of the issue, we see Ollie on the phone, declaring "Listen, Trump–when Ollie Queen says his Public Relations Agency will make your motorcycles sell…they’ll sell!" He then springs into action, recruiting Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary), and convinces her to participate in a stunt for a commercial. Later, Ollie’s made aware of a planned attempt on Dinah’s life, so he goes back into action and saves her (though she’s not at all happy about it, as he should’ve just told her what was going on). Again, all’s well that ends well, right?

Visually, this issue simply "looks like" one of Grandpa’s comics. And I’m pretty confident that that literally is what this one is–one of Grandpa’s comics, from back in the day, that somehow got mixed into stuff that wound up in my family’s garage, where I found it recently.

And that obviously makes sense–Curt Swan? Murphy Anderson? Dick Giordano? Big names I recognize from the time period and associate (particularly) with DC Comics; Swan all the moreso with Superman. And of course, I recognize the other credited names as well from the time. For where I’m at, the credits read like a roll call of classic creators, all of which have a good name to me when it comes to comics.

I’m not the fondest guy when it comes to pre-Byrne Superman comics–I was introduced to and grew up on the post-CoIE Superman, and hold that as my favorite to this day. But I also have plenty of fond memories of laying on a bed, having pulled out many of Grandpa’s comics from a cabinet, literally surrounded with more comics than I could truly hope to read in the limited time(s) I had there. For the 8-9-year-old-Me, that was a key time for me, when Superman comics were just Superman comics, and I had no clue who any of the creators were, never noticed any of the credits, and hardly even noticed any numbers or saw much distinction, say, between Action Comics or Superman or such…they were just titles on a cover, and I don’t recall ever sorting the comics to put them into numerical order or systematically reading through any given title. I just looked for the coolest-looking cover, or whichever character(s) I was interested in reading at the time.

So, I can definitely say that this issue held up to that. It’s not the craziest or silliest or most out-there story. It’s–as many such were, and particularly compared to modern post-2010 comics–a highly-compressed story. Thirteen or so pages, and I could easily see how this would be grounds for a six-issue (at least) story nowadays*.

(*As a de-compressed story, I figure the first issue would include a bit more detail of Superman doing super-feats and perhaps a bit more foreshadowing with the satellite and such, and likely end with an initial revelation/question like "What are you talking about? Superman’s been missing for TEN YEARS!"–To Be Continued. We’d then get several issues of Superman investigating the phenomenon while performing further super feats and being increasingly stressed at not being "seen" as Superman; we’d get details of it affecting him in private life, and possibly relationships with others, as he starts questioning his own sanity. There might even be one-shots or a JLA mini-series to see how other characters are reacting to a world seemingly without Superman; how their attitudes toward the hero gig are affected by believing Superman’s been missing for a decade, and so on; and maybe even a couple new characters introduced that are trying to follow in the legacy of the "missing" hero.)

As-is, it’s fast-paced, introducing the problem, exploring it, and resolving it, with little deep exploration of the implications of stuff, and we’re done start-to-finish in just this issue, half the issue.

The Green Arrow piece looks remarkably good…though I guess I shouldn’t seem surprised (yet, I was!) The character looks exactly as I like him, with the hat and goatee and such. I looked up the dates, because it felt like the Ollie from the Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, but I suspect this was from just after or near the end of that run…this being 1973, while that run started in 1970.

The GA story itself is rather simplistic, and seemed a little heavy on pushing whatever dynamic it is with Ollie and Dinah. Being such a short story and characters I’m less familiar with from this time, it’s a bit short to try to dig in and analyze much…suffice it to say I wasn’t enamored with it as a singular, stand-alone story. It seems like something that would read better in a group of stories for longer context. Of course, there’s also the fact that it was a Green Arrow story when I set out to read a Superman comic. That said, I was quite grabbed by the opening with Ollie yelling into the phone to Trump.

THAT Trump.

The Liberal Oliver Queen, Green Arrow, enthusiastically doing business for Donald Trump.

What a difference 40+ years makes, right?

All in all, this issue was an enjoyable read, and a nice trip down memory lane. I’m glad to have read the issue, for myself. I’m awed at considering the timeframe, that the cover references 35 years of Superman, and here it’s been another 43 years since then…this issue is from less than HALFway into its run and Superman’s existence and all that.

Other than the Trump reference in the Green Arrow/Black Canary piece or interest in the actual reading experience of the Superman story given my lack of brevity discussing the issue, I don’t really see or know anything of this issue to make it singularly a stand-out issue or to overly differentiate it from any other issue from the early-’70s with the creative teams. Still, it’s not a bad issue, and if you find it cheaply, it’s not a bad one.

The ’80s Revisited: The New Adventures of Superboy #1

newadventuresofsuperboy0001The Most Important Year of Superboy’s Life!

Writer: Cary Bates
Penciller: Kurt Schaffenberger
Inker: David Hunt
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January, 1980
Cover Price: $0.40

This issue only just barely makes the cut to be counted as an ’80s comic…though I am pretty sure that is a technicality, as it’s the cover date, while the publication date was likely at least a couple months earlier, the end of 1979. I actually remember this issue as one I’d managed to acquire ages ago, when I was in junior high (probably–early 1990s). I could not have told you anything about the content of the issue from memory, but on reading it, I realized I had also definitely actually READ the thing, too.

We start with a classic Julius Schwartz cover, showing us a rather absurd, dramatic scene that relates to the content of the story within…a relation that plays up some element that doesn’t seem to make much sense on the cover, but has a reasonable story explanation. In this case, Superboy is celebrating a birthday, but his parents insist he needs an extra candle…and this story promises to tell us WHY.

Of course, while we have SUPERBOY on the cover…it’s actually Clark Kent being celebrated within…which fits continuity, as they weren’t THAT open about Superboy’s identity even back then…he held the secret identity knowing enemies of Superboy wouldn’t hesitate to strike at him through those he loved–particularly his parents. Clark’s 16 birthday is here, and he’s asked about the extra candle…he doesn’t know himself why it’s used, just that his parents have added it every year since his 8th. We then get a flashback from Jonathan and Martha’s point of view as the secret is revealed to us–the readers. Two ancient aliens found their way to Earth, where after “testing” the newly-revealed Superboy (that they have searched for since crossing paths with baby Kal-El’s rocket years earlier) deem him their salvation. They accidentally made themselves immortal–something that’s become a curse–and need someone of sufficient makeup that they could SURVIVE a device that would transfer one’s ability to age into them. Yet, they mean Superboy (and Earth) no harm…so provide the 8-year-old Superboy the choice: help them, or don’t.

We see the noble boy choose to help them, using their device on himself, which means he will no longer (ever) age, giving his ability TO age to the aliens, that they might finally age and find the end of their (unnaturally-long) lives. They also impart a bit of amnesia to the young Clark so that he won’t remember his choice, and can live with the thought that his ‘immortality’ comes from being Kryptonian on earth, rather than choosing to sacrifice a part of himself. After they leave and the Kents lament their boy’s fate, Clark reveals that he noticed from what the aliens had said about their plight that it was their own minds keeping them from aging…he actually countered their device with his heat vision…granting the aliens the BELIEF that they could age, which tricked their minds into ALLOWING them to age. Meanwhile, Clark will continue to age as normal…a win/win situation. Though the amnesia kicked in and he no longer remembers the aliens or his solution/decision, his parents do–and honor their pride in him with the extra candle.

I recognize the names Cary Bates and Kurt Schaffenberger, though I can’t particularly place them off the top of my head, as of this typing. I’m pretty sure they’re either “big names” at DC from the late-’70s/early-’80s, or on the Superman family of titles (or both). I of course recognize Julius Schwartz as the editor as mentioned above.

This issue’s story worked decently for me–I’m not thrilled with it, nor does it play much into “continuity” that I recall except the obvious references and Editor’s Notes to remind (or inform) the reader of things of note (like the elder Kents having been de-aged). Stuff like that I took at face value as a kid, and took at face value here, but the added benefit of–as an adult–now having some vague memories of reading about the stuff being referenced, since I’d originally read the issue. In and of itself, I don’t know if I “buy” Superboy as an 8-year-old…but then, some of that may simply be that I’m so far removed from that age now, where I was only several when I would have originally read this. The story is a done-in-one, with nothing of note added to an ongoing saga or anything; just another “adventure” that takes an issue and leaves things in place for the next issue.

The art is quite good, and I really like the style overall…there’s something particularly familiar to it that puts me in mind of some of these characters even into the then-current comics I read in the late-’80s. It certainly fit the story and nothing to the art drew me out or distracted me, so it definitely succeeded in doing its job.

All in all, I enjoyed the issue as what it is–a “random” one-off, done-in-one issue that just so happens to be a #1 from an age when an issue with a #1 actually had some measure of significance. This was more than worth the 25 cents I paid for it.

Additionally, there’s an ad in the issue for the then-current issue of Adventure Comics that grabbed my attention…to the point that I actually sought it out in a non-bargain back-issue bin and found/bought it. It’s possible dabbling in these older back issues lately is just that–a dabbling. At the same time, I find myself more and more interested in older comics than new, and I’m increasingly willing to buy an issue from the back issue bins where I used to hold myself strictly to the quarter-bins.

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