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The ’90s Revisited: Superboy #22 – Underworld Unleashed!

90s_revisited

superboy_0022Fire and Ice

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciller: Tom Grummett
Inker: Dan Davis
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Editor: Frank Pittarese
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This month, a number of blogs and podcasts have joined together to present #BestEventEver 2018, covering the 1995 event Underworld Unleashed! Beyond my own posts, please check out these other blogs and podcasts for in-depth coverage of the various issues that were part of the event…and join in on further peeks at and discussions of the event on Twitter by joining at hashtags #BestEventEver and #UnderworldReUnleashed!

ITG  |  Resurrections: An Adam Warlock/Thanos Podcast  |  Relatively Geeky Podcast Network  |  The Retroist  |  Chris is on Infinite Earths  |  Cosmic Treadmill  |  The Pop Culture Palace  |  Rolled Spine’s Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Podcast  |  The Idol-Head of Diabolu  |  Justice’s First Dawn  |  Justice Trek: The Podcast


It seems I’ve picked a whole bunch of "cold" issues for covering Underworld Unleashed! Mr. Freeze over in Green Lantern #68 and Batman #525, Luthor and Joker in a snowglobe over in Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #3…and now Killer Frost in this issue!

The issue opens with Superboy popping back into the present in amazement after some sort of time-travel adventure (apparently a crossover between the previous issue, Legion [of Super-Heroes?] #74, and Legionnaires #34, according to the Editor’s Note). He heads home only to be ambushed by Knockout, who has decided she’s living "here now" to Superboy’s consternation. Meanwhile, a plane crashes into the airport, apparently brought down due to being "all iced up!" An ice-woman emerges, seeking warmth, saying "…Neron said he’d make me more powerful, but i’m just as I always was…need to absorb more heat…" We then return to Superboy and a rather perturbed Rex Leech lamenting damage to the house, though he hadn’t noticed Knockout being in the process of cleaning up the mess she’d made. While Superboy, Knockout, Dubbilex, and Roxy Leech chat, it begins to snow…which is quite surprising considering their Hawaii environment! Superboy and Knockout wind up in town facing off with the ice-woman, who–based on MO–seems to be Killer Frost. With Tana Moon nearby observing, they manage to stall Frost with a bit of volcanic heat…before Knockout drops a truckload of liquid oxygen on the Neron-enhanced villainess. Losing sight of both, Superboy worries about Knockout before she emerges and steals a kiss, joyful over the fun of the day (said kiss making Tana jealous, and leading Superboy to affirm his feelings for her and that Knockout is not his interest). Meanwhile, Neron appears to Knockout and offers her her heart’s desire…she violently refuses and Neron leaves. Also meanwhile, Roxy makes it slightly belatedly to a "meeting" she was worried about, and we see that she’s taking a police exam, which has implications for the future.

First off, while Neron does appear (briefly!) in this issue, it’s more of a cameo, lasting barely a single page. Second, we’re not given much of anything on Killer Frost…she’s anything BUT 3-dimensional here, just a name and power; nothing to do with who she is, any background, any real or in-depth motivation (she thought Neron was helping her, but she still needs warmth.) Lacking motivation, she’s nothing but a plot device, serving as a shoe-horned-in element to try to justify this issue "tying in" to Underworld Unleashed for the month.

Though the cover gives us Killer Frost’s face and a frozen Superboy…that’s misleading, giving an appearance of personal, intentional malice on her part and having more impact on Superboy than she actually does.

The issue really seems to belong to Knockout trying to establish–or re-establish–a teamup with Superboy and showing (perhaps) a bit of responsibility on her part. I remember seeing the character on covers, and I’m pretty sure I remember her being an antagonist for Superboy in the earliest issues of this series–maybe as early as the first or second issue. I don’t remember much of anything about her or her arc, but she seems like the "annoying tag-along spanner-in-the-works" here, disrupting Superboy’s life, public and private. She reminds me quite a bit of Maxima in some of her early appearances in the Superman titles in the late-’80s/early-’90s, serving at once as an antagonist while showing lustful interest in our hero that is not reciprocated, and yet not being "all-bad."

As said, Killer Frost is basically incidental here, interchangeable with any other character that causes/controls cold, or even any NEW character with such a power set. I only even really know the name "Killer Frost" thanks to the CW Flash tv series…without that, I wouldn’t know the character existed prior to this issue and might have assumed she was some throw-away character introduced in the main Underworld Unleashed mini-series or an earlier issue of Superboy or some such (Killer Frost was actually introduced in Firestorm in the late 1970s).

I’m not overly familiar with this period of the Superboy series, losing track of the title after its first several issues in 1994. I remember Rex and Roxy from the character’s earliest days in Adventures of Superman, during Reign of the Supermen, and that along with Dubbilex and Tana Moon, they wound up in Hawaii with Superboy. I also remember Roxy seeming like a complete, dumb airhead or such…but here, I see that she’s been making changes and the simple fact of her taking the police exam shows me that she is anything BUT some complete, dumb airhead. She’s apparently stretching herself and trying to do something positive with her life, possibly inspired by Superboy or making up for something (I honestly don’t know what her motivation is, but as a "supporting character" in the Superboy comic, that would be a simple guess, I suppose).

Though I don’t have much context for things, the fact I recognize most of the characters does a lot for me, and allows me to enjoy the issue in and of itself, and I wonder at stuff between Superboy and Knockout, as well as between Superboy and Tana…and my curiosity has me that much more curious about the early issues of the series, in a good way!

Visually, I love Grummett‘s art…all the characters look familiar, and look good (as far as they’re supposed to…Rex has the slightly smarmy look to go with his name, as well as with my memory of his actions during Reign of the Supermen and claiming legal right to use of the name ‘Superman’). Superboy especially looks exactly as I "remember" him looking in this time period, which is what I expect and adds to my enjoying the issue.

Though I enjoyed the issue, it does not seem at all "essential" in any way to Underworld Unleashed…without "prior knowledge" OF that title as a concept/event series, I wouldn’t even know from this issue what it actually is! In context of this issue, Neron could be just some villain playing behind the scenes of this title, and even the Underworld Unleashed logo on the cover could be a blurb for this issue or a story in this series following whatever the Legion/Legionnaires crossover was, with an underworld being unleashed on Superboy and his allies. If you want the entire event/crossover, though, since the logo’s here on the issue, you’ll want this for that at least. Otherwise, this issue doesn’t seem to be particularly significant in and of itself in isolation–I’ve not read the aforementioned Legion crossover, I don’t recall what came immediately after this issue, so I’m not sure how significant Roxy and the police exam might truly be, or Knockout’s presence in this issue, and so on.

As a snapshot of mid-’90s Superboy by Kesel and Grummett, though, this is well worth snagging if you find it in a bargain bin…but probably not something to singularly seek out without it being part of a run or as seeking Underworld Unleashed tie-ins.


Again, please check out these other sites for additional, more in-depth coverage of the various other issues–including the main event mini itself–for Underworld Unleashed!

superboy_0022_blogtrailer

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman the Man of Steel #44

superman_the_man_of_steel_0044To Know… Know… Know Him!

Story: Louise Simonson
Layout Art: Jon Bogdanove
Ink Art: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Asst. Editor: Chris Duffy
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Jon Bogdanove, Dennis Janke
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.50

This is one of the more "iconic" Superman covers for me from the ’90s: it was the issue immediately preceding the 100th issue of Superman and the start of the whole Death of Clark Kent storyline. I distinctly remember this cover from first getting it–we were visiting my grandparents, and my aunt took me to a comic shop in the area, where I got this. It also helps the cover to be memorable given that it’s essentially (but not quite! It’s still its own thing!) a reproduction of a panel within the issue.

Clark’s on the phone with his book editor when he hears a ticking in the background from the other end; so he rushes in as Superman, managing to save the man from being blown to bits. Meanwhile, Keith (a young boy being adopted by Perry White and his wife) is hanging out with some older kids after school. When the store manager accuses them of shoplifting, the other boys race off, leaving Keith to take the fall. After being extricated from the situation by Perry (who assures Keith that he and his wife are still adopting him), Clark once again learns of a bomb by hearing it over a phone, and saves Perry and Keith (and everyone on the bridge they’re stuck on) but Perry’s car is destroyed. Later, Keith takes courage from the incident and stands up to his so-called friends, and winds up making some new ones…while Jimmy decides to stick with Clark like glue until they figure out who’s been threatening him and trying to bomb his editors. Clark distracts him briefly as they get off an elevator, only to find a Superman dummy pinned to his apartment door by a giant knife…and he realizes then who’s behind stuff.

This is an issue from back in the heart of the "Triangle Numbering" era of the Superman titles…though each creative team had their own through-threads they focused on, their own stories to tell, ultimately the titles were one ongoing weekly series, with each week’s issue moving the overall Superman story forward. As such, with weekly doses of THE Superman story, there was plenty of room for the cultivation and development of a large supporting cast and plenty of "subplots" to be dug into and unfold over the course of things, such that a single issue could often seem all over the place, when taken out of context. This one manages to avoid the worst of that, though a single paragraph summary doesn’t do the thing justice. There’s the overall story, but the details of the various characters’ interactions makes it more complex…much like an episode of a large ensemble cast tv show where certain characters really get around, while others are checked in on but don’t necessarily have much screen time.

This issue ought to–by 2017 standards–be billed as a "prologue" to the upcoming major story; or heck, in contemporary terms there’d be a whole pre-Event event (particularly if this was Marvel). Here, it’s just the next chapter of the continuing saga, that just happens to be right before the larger titled story kicks off.

I definitely dig the story, though I find reading this over 20 years after the fact, I’m less enamored with Keith’s story, being so much further away in age now than I was then (as well as feeling like there’s a bit of "preachiness" going on here that would have much different connotation were it published in 2017).

Visually, it’s not hard to follow what’s going on, to recognize Superman or Clark, Lois, Keith, Perry, or others. However, it’s hardly my favorite art, ESPECIALLY stacked up against the likes of Dan Jurgens, who IS one of my absolute favorite artists (particularly when it comes to Superman!). Bogdanove‘s style grew on me, and holds a definite place in my memory and liking of the Superman books…but might not be the most appealing to someone unfamiliar with it or this era of Superman.

As a whole, though–story and art–this is certainly a strong issue, giving the reader action, plot development, and moving everyone around the final bit to head into The Death of Clark Kent. I appreciated it as an isolated one-off that I picked up specifically for remembering the cover so clearly.

That said…you’d likely be better served tracking down the collected edition of The Death of Clark Kent if possible, or picking this up as part of a larger group of the issues than to get this one issue by itself.

superman_the_man_of_steel_0044_slice

Zero Hour Revisited – Action Comics #703

90srevisited_zerohour

action_comics_0703Chronocide!

Writer: David Michelinie
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Associate Editor: Frank Pittarese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

This is an interesting sort of issue, though the cover puts me off a bit. It’s been a generic sort of image to me, one I haven’t really–truly–looked at in years, just sort of glossing over it, recognizing it, and that’s it, because of it being what it is. It sort of deals with the interior story, though it’s a bit misleading, suggesting Superman abandoning Lois to the Entropy thing of this story, saving himself…when the story is more his facing that sort of loss of his parents, and Lois is the last one standing.

Clark returns to the Daily Planet, having done HIS part, and leaving/trusting the other heroes to do their part. But then, Perry White fades out and Superman realizes they’ve failed. And if Time has been destroyed as recently as Perry’s birth, then his own parents–Ma and Pa Kent–won’t be far behind. So he races to them, but just as he arrives at the farm, finds himself in an alternate timeline/dimension with a younger version of his parents, and where the rocket that brought him to Earth was retrieved, while he had died as an infant. Superman and the younger Kents eventually find themselves faced with reality of Time’s destruction, and just as Superman’s about to save his own parents, he’s pulled into the Timestream for the final moments of Zero Hour, while the world–our perspective ending with Lois’ account of the approaching whiteness–is wiped out, going to the white pages ending all of the ZH books that shared this final week of July 1994.

With the Superman titles all tying in, we’ve seen Superman meet numerous alternate-timeline/universe versions of Batman; we’ve seen him meet a version of his biological parents from Krypton; an alternate super-hero filling his role on another Earth; and now an alternate version of his Earth-parents. All while essentially being part of the ongoing running battle with Extant and the power behind even him. It’s both cool in the sense that we get to see Superman stories taking advantage of the time-anomalies stuff; but stretches stuff a bit to figure all this PLUS his involvement in the "main story." Still, as flimsy as explanations are between his "side stories" and the main, both seem to stand alone pretty well.

I’m not overly fond of the art here, and yet it still triggers the nostalgia factor for me, and I both recognize and remember it. It fits the story and is definitely a product of its time, and I don’t know what I’d do for replacing it. It’s not bad art, just not my favorite art.

Given Dan Jurgens‘ role in Zero Hour itself and obvious ties on the Super-team, the Superman titles in general fit better with Zero Hour than most; and I certainly have better, clearer memory of them as part of the event, and their being a huge part of my exposure to the DC Universe beyond the event itself, so I’m certainly a bit biased. That said, I do feel like this does more to reference the actual, developing story of Zero Hour (if not itself further developing that story) than most other tie-ins. Even so, this hardly seems essential, and will be more of interest to someone reading through the Superman books of the time than someone just reading the "core" Zero Hour series.

Certainly not an issue worth paying more than $1 or so for; but not something to singularly avoid in a bargain bin, either.

We’re finally nearing the end of this event as a whole, and for that, I’m definitely glad.

Zero Hour Revisited – Adventures of Superman #516

90srevisited_zerohour

adventures_of_superman0516The Hero of Metropolis

Writer: Karl Kesel
Guest Penciller: Peter Krause
Inker: Jackson Guice
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Albert De Guzman
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Associate Editor: Frank Pittarese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

This is one of those quasi-forgotten issues–one where I remember in broadest strokes the events but it’d been so long since reading it that it was a lot like reading a new comic.

Amidst all the other time-stuff going on, Superman finds himself in an alternate timeline, with many similarities but some rather disconcerting differences. Of course, some of these are things he picks up on as he goes along–realizing, for example, that here, Lois doesn’t even know him, period–let alone know his identity or have feelings for him. And despite the familiarity of Superman, this world’s hero is the Alpha Centurian–a character we’ve apparently seen before but this was the first meeting between him and Superman personally. By issue’s end the situation is revealed and the two are allies, off to dive back into the whole saving-all-of-time-and-space thing.

I think when I saw Alpha Centurian in a previous issue of Zero Hour itself, I assumed he’d already been introduced…my mind just didn’t parse out the details or question anything. And yet, I knew this was where the character comes into the Superman stuff–"that issue with his name on the cover over top of Superman’s." I suppose not having looked ahead to the covers, conscious memory failed me and all that.

Anyway, this is another solid issue that plays firmly into the stuff that Zero Hour is about–that is, Time is mucked up and allows for a bunch of anomalies and parallels and alternates and the like. In this case, we get a new Superman ally…one that (as I recall) becomes a recurring member of the supporting cast for a time–much as a one-season character can be close and important for a single season of a tv show.

At this point, 20+ years after the fact, this issue having a "guest penciller" means little to me, particularly for this specific title. The art’s just the art–neither phenomenal nor bad. It works for the issue, gets everything across, and I’m perfectly fine with that. The story itself is cool, revisiting this "moment" in the history of the Superman story and seeing (again) the first meeting (officially) between the two characters and being thus able to cast my mind back to that summer and the following year or so as this Alpha Centurian was a recurring cast member NOT from Reign of the Supermen, yet I was there "from the beginning."

Superman is front-and-center in Zero Hour itself, so his having time for not just one "side story" but multiples is a bit of a stretch in general…but then, he’d had four ongoing series at this point, all of them tying into Zero Hour (given especially the ongoing/weekly nature of the four Super-books). This was a pleasant read, if not terribly contributative to the ongoing Zero Hour saga. Other than being a sort of first-appearance/first-meeting, it’s not singularly stand-out in a way that screams "go out and read this to thank me later" or anything. Still, if you find it in a bargain bin, it’s worthwhile.

Zero Hour Revisited – Superman #93

90srevisited_zerohour

superman_0093Home!

Story and Layout Art: Dan Jurgens
Ink Art: Josef Rubinstein
Lettering: John Costanza
Coloring: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Associate Editor: Frank Pittarese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

I’m not sure if I’ve actually re-read this issue since the summer it was originally published; and I definitely feel like I’ve now read it slightly out of order…it seems to be kinda crammed somehow in between Zero Hour #s 4 and 3, almost like this and Man of Steel should have been read “alongside” Zero Hour #4.

Amidst all the stuff going on with Time Anomalies, Superman finds himself back in Metropolis, agonizing over a call from Ma–does he help his own parents, “only 2 people,” or focus on and stick to helping “The world” at possible expense of his parents? He makes the choice and zips to Smallville, where he finds two people claiming to be his BIOLOGICAL parents, who explain how it is that they’re there–that Krypton never actually blew up, and has entered a new golden age, but for the missing Kal-El. Their time here is limited, and they want him to come back with them permanently. Superman thus has another choice to make. But as his choice plays out, tragedy strikes, and even though he realizes they were time anomalies, he feels orphaned again. Before he can grieve much, he’s pulled back into the main Zero Hour story.

There were parts of this issue that struck me as a bit odd or “off,” as it especially seemed like Superman was a bit too quick to accept this Jor-El and Lara as genuine from his timeline, rather than accepting them more as “just more time anomalies.” Of course, being who they are, he’d be a bit understandably biased and such, so that’s not a huge deal. In their recounting events that unfolded on the not-exploded Krypton, though, there’s mention of their clothing being life-support suits or such, like what they wear is essential to literal survival…which is NOT something I consciously remember at all from anything I’ve read. I don’t know if that was some slip, or I forgot something, or what. I also feel like there was some senseless “drama” to the issue, with Jonathan and Martha “worrying” about Clark up and leaving. To me, the Superman I grew up on and the understanding I have for the Superman of this period of publishing: he was sent from Krypton in the gestation matrix, so was not even BORN yet, he was not even a conscious entity on Krypton and thus never knew his biological parents, nor had they ever met. He grew up on earth with Jonathan and Martha, not even knowing he was not their biological son until he was 18 (half his entire life as of this point if Superman was in his early-30s). Maybe I myself am biased in my own life experience, but it seems to me that there should never have been any real drama about whether or not he’d leave. Still, Zero Hour provides a perfect context to be able to touch on this, to put this experience into Clark’s story for later use.

The art seemed slightly off, though not bad at all…but I find myself pondering the credits a bit: Layout Art and Ink Art, and that could be what I noticed–Rubinstein may have had more of a hand in the art itself than Jurgens; if Jurgens did very loose art, as “layouts” for what he envisioned for the story, that keeps the consistency of the title, but it looks like Rubinstein might have been able to do more original art beyond “just” inking. Whatever the case and despite seeming slightly “off,” it worked well for the issue, holding the look and “feel” of ’90s Superman. Beyond the observation/speculation, really nothing complaint-worthy with the art!

Given Jurgens‘ involvement as the writer of Zero Hour itself, it makes this feel like it’s that much more important–with him using Superman in ZH and knowing what’s to come, he can “use” the character more effectively than someone else just “tying in” to the story. That’s also something I never consciously thought about originally but likely contributed to some of my reading experience  at the time, and what I’m noticing in the issues I’m reading for the first time now. Namely, Jurgens being one of the core Superman writers (and I was following all the Super-books) as well as writing the main Zero Hour (that I was following) meant I was reading pretty much the entirety of Jurgens‘ hand in the event, and perhaps the Superman books (with Jurgens being a core member of that writing team) by “default” got to have just a little more perceived importance.

I definitely enjoyed rereading this issue, and look forward to the other couple Superman books, though I only recall slight bits of detail from each. This issue touches directly into the looser flow of Zero Hour itself…it’s not essential, but it’s got direct touches to Zero Hour itself where most of these tie-ins tie only on the loosest basis that there’s “something” going on with Time or there’s some sort of “Time anomaly” that happens/appears in a book…so as tie-ins go, I’d recommend this ahead of most of the ones I’ve read so far. Maybe at the end of this reading project I’ll make up a list of “core” issues that I’d recommend reading along with the central mini…maybe I won’t.

Zero Hour Revisited – Superman: The Man of Steel #37

90srevisited_zerohour

superman_the_man_of_steel_0037Countdown to Zero

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Asst. Editor: Chris Duffy
Assoc. Editor: Frank Pittarese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

This is probably one of THE most iconic Superman covers to me, definitely one of my favorites, period. I even pointed that out some 3 years ago!

As the issue opens, Clark and Lois are talking to Jeb Friedman–who is coordinating a concert to be held as a benefit to the citizens of Metropolis (which just recently was destroyed). When reflected light grabs their attention, Superman investigates…finding Batman trying to contact him. This Batman is not the one just recovered from a broken back, and references Time anomalies. Another Batman soon arrives…as does a third. Meanwhile, the heroes learn of plans to ruin the concert, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the city at the moment, and it’s up to them to once more save the day. Superman enlists the scientific aid of Emil Hamilton as they confirm the Time anomalies…even as the Batmen shift, split, and disappear. Finally, Superman prepares to seek out "his" Batman, showing the way "great minds think alike"–Batman had just arrived to contact HIM! While the two begin to "catch up," Metron arrives, warning of a Crisis.

This is another issue that nicely (and actually!) clearly ties into the events of Zero Hour…it’s also another issue that I read that summer when it was released. Though I feel like some of the "music" stuff is a bit dated and cliché, on the whole, the issue holds up. Having read all the Superman books solidly for so many years, it doesn’t take long to shift my mind back to what was going on in the books at the time–such as Alice and Perry White taking care of Keith, and Keith constantly getting into trouble "seeing" his mom everywhere and running after her.

I’ve had mixed feelings over the years on Bogdanove‘s art–there’s something to it that’s a bit off-putting to me, especially when held up against Jurgens‘ work. Absolutely, completely isolated, it’s not a style I’d necessarily choose high on a priority list…but the art more than gets across what it needs to, and beyond that usual feeling, REALLY shines here, conveying numerous visual styles of Batman that clearly evoke prior incarnations in a way that shows me the general look of Superman is a choice in style and not a reflection of ability! It’s also a visual style firmly entrenched in my memory OF the various Super-titles from the ’90s, and is not something I’d wish to lose…too much nostalgia for this title!

I really like the story itself in this issue…we move elements of the core Superman story forward–touching on subplots like Jeb Friedman, the Whites and Keith, Jimmy & Ron, as well as getting Clark and Lois along with getting Superman in action…we even have Emil Hamilton accounted for. That we also have Batman, and as a Time anomaly at that makes this both a great singular issue that can be read AS a single one-shot issue, but also plays well within the ongoing Superman titles while being a very clear and useful participant in the larger Zero Hour story. We also get setup for the next of the four Superman books…all within just this one issue, at standard size and price.

While I’ve got to admit to a bit of bias, both on this being a Superman title at all, and having read it originally such that this is more nostalgia than reading something new from the time, this is a great issue that I’d recommend as plain, simple FUN even if you’ve never immersed yourself in the ’90s Super-books…you don’t even truly need Zero Hour to enjoy it…the Event is just a convenient "excuse" to allow for–without lengthy explanation/setup–the presence of multiple iterations of Batman. So far, I’d put this at the top of the list with Batman #511 as the best of the initial wave of Zero Hour Tie-ins, with Superboy #8 as a runner-up.

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