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Armor Hunters #1 [Review]

armorhunters001regArmor Hunters / Part I: Quarry

Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Jorge Molina, Clayton Crain, Trevor Hairsine, Doug Braithwaite
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99 ($5.99 Chromium Cover)

It’s definitely safe to say that this is an issue I’ve been looking forward to specifically for quite a few weeks now. Valiant‘s done a great job with “pushing” their titles, and as someone who’s already “all-in” for present, an event like this is well-suited for me. Though I believe the “main” story will be contained to this 4-issue mini-series, there are some tie-ins with X-O Manowar and Unity, as well as several tie-in mini-series. As the opening/first chapter in the event itself, this issue stands alone fairly well while sitting in the midst of established continuity.

This issue opens with an attack on a Russian facility where suits of armor are being developed in as-close-as-possible approximation to Aric’s X-O armor. The aliens attack the base, killing those within, having located the place due to the armors. While no sentience is detected, the armors are destroyed, and the aliens left baffled as to why humans would seek to duplicate such dangerous things. After this attack, Aric finds his people’s new homeland invaded by US forces–though said forces claim to be there to protect them, not to invade. Aric is brought up to speed from the US forces’ side, and seeks further counsel from Malgam (the alien he fought in the Armor Hunters Prelude in X-O Manowar #s 23-24). The alien “hunters” then unleash an attack that leaves little doubt as to their power, and the devastation possible on Earth if the X-O armor is not turned over to them.

As said, this issue sits in the midst of estabished continuity–particularly in references to goings-on in the X-O Manowar title. While readers of that title will have a fuller appreciation of Aric’s attitude and and what led to the present status quo, reading this issue by itself one is simply presented WITh the present status quo. Said status quo can be accepted at face value, but those interested in more can seek out the earlier stories to get the details.

By and large, this issue reads like an issue of X-O Manowar (which makes sense, given Venditti is the writer on both). The aliens are presented as the antagonists, yet don’t come off entirely as ‘villains’–moreso they come off as a “Federation” with no “Prime Directive” and no qualms about razing planets to make sure the apparently sentient armors are eradicated. The characterization seems consistent with the X-O Manowar title, and I have no issues with the story so far as “merely” the opening chapter.

Visually, I don’t have much to say except that I really enjoyed the issue, and nothing to the art really put me off or distracted me from the story. I know Braithwaite‘s art from Unity at the least, which adds to the consistent familiarity of the issue’s look/feel. I like the aliens’ design–they look suitably alien, while also being distinct individuals.

While this issue in and of itself doesn’t seem to justify the huge crossover, its ending does show how the crossover works quite organically as the impact of the issue is not limited to a single facility or base and truly will affect the entire planet.

Though one could presumably “jump in blind” with this issue and reasonably follow stuff, the full enjoyment (at least for me) of the issue comes from its growth out of continuity.

As there are a couple covers/editions, I recommend sticking with the standard cover…I was not suitably impressed at the “enhanced” “chromium” cover, finding it did not have the same boldness of the classic ’90s Valiant Chromium covers.

If you’re reading X-O Manowar, this definitely works as an extension of the title. It’s also worth picking up if you’re planning to follow any of the tie-in minis to get what I imagine will be the larger/broader context. And if you’re just looking for a mini-series to “dabble” in Valiant, this is also worthwhile on the whole.

Rai #1 [Review]

Rai #1 Plus EditionWelcome to New Japan

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Clayton Crain
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Associate Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99 ($4.99 “Plus Edition”)

This is–even more than Unity–probably my most-anticipated new release title from Valiant. And while I normally avoid variant editions like a plague, I wound up picking up the “Plus Edition” when I found it a couple days after having bought/read the regular edition.

On the whole, I mostly prefer the regular edition…the only really worthwhile (to me) part of the “Plus” material was the map of Japan 4001 A.D. that gives a lot of detail to the various levels of the future country that can’t possibly fit in-story (at least not in a single issue). I really don’t care whatsoever for the “bonus” Spylocke stuff, and would have been quite content leaving that to what it was in the regular edition. The “selling point” of the “Plus Edition” is that these 16 pages of material won’t be reprinted in the collected edition…though somehow, I can’t see the map going for long without inclusion, as it could prove a very useful bit of information to have (at least in the eventual deluxe edition hardcover). I groused last year about DC‘s “poster” fold-out from Superman Unchained #1 and how that seemed pointless…seeing this map, this (again, to me) is exactly the sort of thing worthy of being a poster fold-out!

The bulk of the issue itself is focused on the fact that for the first time in a thousand years, a murder has been committed. This leads to the involvement of Rai–a guardian of Japan. Our viewpoint character is someone curious to see Rai “live,” to see this legendary figure, and we get a fair bit of context from her narration before we shift to getting the same from Rai himself.

This issue felt rather immersive, as I just sort of got lost in the reading and the exploration of this futuristic Japan. I was certainly influenced by knowledge of the classic version of Rai from the ’90s Valiant universe and what I’ve come to know of that version of the character. It’s that knowledge that made me all the more curious about what I’d find here, and to see what would be done with the character. As with many first issues, I found myself taking this in much as I would a tv show I was checking out–I recognize where we may have been introduced to supporting characters, though with only a single “episode” there’s little telling what will last and what’s just setup outside of the title character himself.

The story certainly interests me–I’m very much looking forward to the next issue–but I can’t just rattle off names of characters or anything on the initial read-through and re-perusal.

Visually, this is a beautiful issue–I really like the character designs, and nothing stood out to me as distraction. The art just fits the story and has something about it that just fits the title, the character, and the overall concept. It’s got a realism to it that I like but it still manages to be recognizably a comic and not something trying to be a photonovel or anything of that sort.

I don’t touch on covers (other than grousing about variants) as much as I ought, but this cover is–to me–possibly the most “iconic” of the Valiant issues this year, and probably for the entire current run of the publisher. The title logo is properly familiar yet simple and new; the cover image is really only about half the cover, but is nicely offset by the white bar with the logo (regular edition) and offset by black on the plus edition (which I like slightly better). The cover design itself is eye-catching and shows all the issue’s information clearly (publisher, issue #, title, creators) with a striking image of the main character.

Rai #1 Regular EditionTo me, this is the best of the Valiant launches–the title catches the eye from the cover, the interior is great visually, the story is engaging with a solid balance between divulging necessary information to hook me as a reader while leaving plenty of details to the imagination or future exploration, and simply leaves me quite interested in the next issue. Further strength lies in this being officially set in the Valiant universe, in the same time-period (4001 AD) as the most recent Eternal Warrior arc, and yet you don’t have to have read ANYTHING else from the publisher to “get” this story and its characters. This can be read entirely by itself, as nothing more than a sci-fi story set in a futuristic Japan.

While my ultimate preference would like in a singular edition with no variance in covers and content (even at a $4.99 instead of $3.99 price point), this is about as good as it gets when it comes to first issues these days. Whether you’ve read anything else from Valiant classic or present, if you enjoy sci fi or futuristic stories, or just something with a legendary guardian figure wielding a sword, I highly recommend checking this out, whichever edition you’d find.

Archer & Armstrong: Archer #0 [Review]

archerandarmstrongarcher000Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Pere Perez
Color Art: David Baron
Letters: Tom B. Long
Editor: Josh Johns
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

This issue was a welcome moment diving back into this title. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen a few months behind in my reading due to a misplaced issue, and have yet to ‘catch up’. Despite that, I didn’t mind jumping in here for the “origin” of Archer…and was kinda surprised at how much of an origin it proved to be!

I don’t know what I expected, exactly…but this origin perfectly fits what I know of the contemporary Valiant universe, and continues to show how things tie together even in titles that don’t normally mix. This issue introduces us to a young boy and his supposed benefactors, and follows what he goes through prior to being adopted by the Archers, and then the trials he faces leading us toward the status quo when we met him back in issue #1.

I greatly enjoyed the fact that this was functionally a one-shot issue. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything not having read recent issues, but I do feel like this has expanded my understanding of the character and his place in the Valiant universe. Though functionally a one-shot, the final scene and page set up the crossover between Archer & Armstrong and Bloodshot and H.A.R.D.Corps beginning next month…while obviously intentional, it doesn’t seem gratuitous, and leaves me looking forward to that.

The story and art in general for this issue are the usual quality I expect of the title, and nothing and no one looks particularly different or out of sorts to my eye. This was simply a solid issue with good story and art.

While not in a “the last issue I read said ‘To Be Continued!’ sense, just for its shedding light on Archer’s background, this is an eventual “must-read” for fans of the series. I doubt it’ll overly detract from one’s reading experience if this is skipped, but it’ll almost certainly be enhanced by this issue. I’d also venture that this issue makes a good bridgepoint or jumping-on point if one’s interested in checking things out with the title, except that half the ongoing title’s main cast is missing, the focus of this being only on Archer’s side.

I’m glad to have picked it up, and read it now rather than putting it off, as it does have me eager to get caught up on the book.

Shadowman #12 [Review]

shadowman012Deadside Blues; Lucky Charm; Blackout

Writers: Ales Kot, Christopher Sebela, Duffy Boudreau
Art: Cafu, Matthew Southworth, Diego Bernard, Alejandro Sicat
Colors: Andy Troy, Jose Villarrubia, Ian Hannin
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover Art: Dave Johnson and Kekai Kotaki
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I’ve kinda lost the “flow” of this Shadowman title. Seems we’ve had a definite interruption of the ongoing story: a #0 issue, a “Halloween special,” and now this 3-complete-stories issue, as we await a new creative team that’s taking over.

While I’m all about done-in-one stories, self-contained issues, having 3 such stories in one regular-sized issue is a bit much (or short, depending on how one looks at it). These three seem rather slice-of-life; the simple stuff that’s not that big a challenge. They can’t be a big challenge–there’re only a handful of pages to get to the end of the situation as presented!

Given three stories, I’m not bothered by three visual styles in the issue. None of ’em particularly blew me away, but none struck me as annoying or hard to follow. Solid art doing what the art should do.

The stories themselves are a handful of pages apiece. Nothing particularly wrong with any of them–they all offer a touch of insight into Shadowman. They definitely make this feel like a “filler” issue…I’d’ve much rathered see these presented in place of multi-page “previews” in the back of Valiant‘s books. Original COMPLETE shorts to introduce non-readers of Shadowman to the character, and provide some incentive to Shadowman readers to maybe grab another issue. (Easy enough to suggest as a fan currently buying any/all Valiant singles).

Taken as a whole, I found the issue fairly mediocre. Not bad, but not wonderful; for the moment nothing in it seems particularly germane to anything ongoing. If you’re following the series and not inclined to skip issues, this is worth getting and reading. Though it stands alone in and of itself, readers would likely benefit quite a bit with context from having read earlier issues. If you’re looking for a jumping-in point, it seems the next issue will be the spot to do so.

If I wasn’t currently “all-in” on the Valiant books…I’m pretty sure I’d call it a day for now on the series, myself. As-is, I’m hoping this new creative team picks things up and runs next issue and shows me that I actively want to keep up with this title rather than passively “not drop” it.

Quantum and Woody #5 [Review]

quantumandwoody005Writer: James Asmus
Art: Ming Doyle
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Pin-Up: Tom Fowler and Brian Reber
Cover Art: Andrew Robinson, Lee Garbett, David Lopez, Mike McKone
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

Now that they’ve accepted they’re stuck together…Eric (Quantum) and Woody are sharing Eric’s apartment. Of course, Eric hadn’t counted on Woody ALSO bringing the goat (now named Vincent van Goat) and the “teenage” clone of the woman who murdered their father into the mix. As Eric goes to work and returns the weapons Woody snuck out, he tasks Woody with finding a job. Instead, Woody decides to house-hunt, and winds up losing Eric’s car in the process. Eric meanwhile finds that he’s come to the attention of his boss, who lays out an interesting proposal.

Though I’ve now read all of the original Q&W issues, I’ve never looked all that deeply into them…but at least on the surface, this continues to very much come off as being in the same spirit. The situations are modified, more modern…but this series fits right with the original to me.

I don’t know where the story’s actually going, though I recognize Eric’s boss’s name and so have a certain suspicion there. I do have a better sense of Eric’s annoyance (and Woody’s deservance of being the target of said annoyance) in this series so far. 

The art isn’t bad, though something seems a bit “off” and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s a bit of a shift, but everyone’s still recognizable and it’s not hard to follow what’s going on.

As a bonus, we get a random pinup page in the back…which is rather amusing in itself, as well as refreshing: it’s a pin-up page, meaning full-page one-page art piece…but get this: it’s NOT A VARIANT COVER! Someone, somewhere, actually remembers that an artist can do a piece of art like this without it HAVING TO BE a VARIANT!

All in all, a good issue, and as billed on the cover, the start of a new arc and thus a better jumping-on point than the previous issue (especially when you consider the first TPB is due out soon at the “bargain” $9.99 price point of all the Valiant vol. 1s). If you’re already following the title, it’s worth continuing. If not, you might be better served grabbing the paperback to read the first/origin story and if you like it, continuing on.

Harbinger #17 [Review]

harbinger017Writer: Joshua Dysart
Art: Clayton Henry
Color Art: Moose Baumann
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Cover Artists: Barry Kitson, Sean Chen, Matthew Waite
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

After the last couple issues, I really thought things were going one way…but this issue turns that on its head in a way that I didn’t see coming, even from the ending of the last issue. It was actually the “previously…” text on the inside front cover that clued me in…but seeing that, I think, caused me to ‘dive in’ on this issue all the more eagerly.

We flash back to the end of the stuff in Las Vegas–the Harbinger Wars–and see that what we THOUGHT happened…didn’t ACTUALLY happen. Harada was far more prepared than we thought, and what our heroes have experienced since then has been to keep them quiet and calm…prisoners of Harada. Yet, while savoring his victory, we find out that Harada’s resources–including Harada himself–are spread quite thin, and as he approaches a deep exhaustion, the danger to all around him grows exponentially.

The art on this is good…truthfully, I hardly even noticed it as I read…I was simply engrossed in the story and all the potential it holds. It does what the art should, conveying what’s going on, getting the story across where words don’t or can’t, and keeps the reader moving through the issue.

Story-wise…I’m really enjoying this. It’s hard to believe we’re already 17 issues in…sure, that’s not a HUGE quantity, but looking back we’ve had quite a bit of ground covered. And in this day and age where it hardly seems anything lasts much longer than 12-15 issues, this is a real treat with (thankfully) no end really in sight.

This issue’s story drew me in, revealed answers to questions on my mind, and left me honestly curious about where things go from here.

As the third issue of the current arc, this issue isn’t in and of itself the greatest jumping-on point…but it’s definitely not an issue to pass on if you’ve enjoyed things thus far, and especially if you found yourself thinking the last couple issues indicate a repetition of the classic, original series.

Recommended, and I’m looking forward to #18!

Bloodshot #0 [Review]

bloodshot000Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Chrisscross
Colors: Moose Baumann
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Associate Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

This is the second distinct Bloodshot #0 I’ve read in the last year or so. I read the original 1993 issue last year, and I’ve been looking forward to this new one for awhile now. That’s one thing I definitely like with the current Valiant–they properly promote books without me feeling they’re over-hyped. Since seeing the cover image for this on one of those inserts with the issue checklist on the back, I’ve been curious about the revelation of this Bloodshot’s “true” origin, or at least clarification of the origin.

Reading this, I was surprised at the opening reference to 1992 (which was when the original series began and the original Bloodshot burst onto the scene). Thankfully any reference to the old is tangential/coincidental/”Easter Egg”-y.

This issue shows us several earlier versions of Bloodshot–essentially, the technology was there, but Bloodshot would be so focused on completing his mission that any collateral damage didn’t matter. Project Rising Spirit wanted to find a way to give their warmachine a conscience of sorts, so an outside scientist is brought in. He winds up reprogramming the nanites to not just record memories but to capture “everything”–in the hopes of catching a “soul.” While his results prove questionable, the scientist’s fate is fairly clear, and we as readers are left to draw our own conclusions from what we’ve observed in the previous 13 issues of Bloodshot.

Story-wise I quite enjoyed this. After the last few months of Harbinger Wars and the upcoming addition of HARD Corps to the title, this makes for a nice “interlude” or “break” between major chapters of this character’s existence. Having some light shed on the background is handy for allowing a bit more identification with the character…though I was a bit disappointed that we had no definitive names provided to clarify which (if any) “identities” Bloodshot’s shown are a “one, true” identity.

Visually I found this to be a mixed bag. There was a definite difference from what I’m used to seeing in this title, so it was a little “off” in that regard. Yet, nothing was really “bad” about it, so I can’t really complain. The style is fairly distinctive–I haven’t seen much of ChrisCross‘ art lately, but do remember enjoying his visuals on the late-’90s/early-’00s Captain Marvel series.

I wouldn’t call this a jump-onboard sort of issue, as it doesn’t really lay the groundwork or introduce stuff the way I would expect of a premiere issue. However, for readers who have been along for the ride this is definitely a worthwhile addition to the mythology of Bloodshot, adding some depth that is fairly timeless and allows for a bit of clarification to what we’ve already seen…and will likely yet see. In its own way, if one looks at the retitling as the beginning of a “new series,” this also provides a sort of cap to the first year, filling in some blanks and adding to what we’ve discovered.

Whatever the case, I enjoyed it, and look forward to seeing what else we get with the character, despite shifting creative teams.

Harbinger #15 [Review]

harbinger015Writer: Joshua Dysart
Penciler: Barry Kitson
Inks: Stefano Gaudiano and Mark Pennington
Colorist: Ian Hannin with Sotocolor
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover Artists: Khari Evans, Barry Kitson, Trevor Hairsine, and Rian Hughes
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I really enjoy seeing heroes’ downtime. Seems like just about every issue of (especially team-books) a title “has to” have lots of action, so I quite appreciate just seeing the characters be themselves, NOT fighting villains, NOT on some huge quest, NOT repelling invasions or facing life-or-death situations, etc.

So this issue was quite up my alley, seeing the kids decompress from the events of Harbinger Wars. They recognized a functional loss, but escaped with their lives, and so take some time in this issue to just be kids, to have fun with each other and the advantages their powers bring. I could enjoy an entire issue of single-page scenes just showing the kinds of stuff the group as a whole would be up to as well as what happens when the characters pair off for activities, the way they relate not just as a group but in the one-on-one interactions.

I’m especially interested in seeing the growing friendship between Faith and Peter, and while I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever read the first few issues of the original ’90s series, that was a good 14 years ago and I don’t recall much of anything at this point…though from “meta” info about that title I’m vaguely aware of a character death early in the series that I’ve been glad to see did not happen here (I sorta expected it to play out in Harbinger Wars).

While we start the issue on a relatively “light” note (all recent events considered), and get plenty of fun and potential as the issue continues, I got a sense of foreboding toward the final few pages. Despite this, I had an honest moment of shock when my fear played out…the end of the issue opens up a whole different potential for this title and the Renegades moving forward.

More and more I find myself considering this the cream of the crop of the current Valiant titles…and with the mythology Dysart‘s building, the character-building and realistic (for a comic starring super-powered psiots) settings and interactions and amount of story actually fit into a single issue, there’s little better out there.

If you like super-hero team books, I definitely recommend this title!

Archer and Armstrong #10 [Review]

Archer & Armstrong (2012) #10 [cover]Mystery Hole

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Pere Perez
Colorist: David Baron
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Covers by: Clayton Henry, Juan Doe, Matthew Waite, Andrew Robinson
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I’m enjoying the standard covers on this series lately. They fit the characters, and are rather amusing given context OF the characters. This one–Armstrong, Archer ,and some alien caught sneaking by, guns pointed at them…something about it just works for me.

Inside the issue, we don’t see this scene exactly…but we do see our heroes breaking into a Project Rising Spirit facility/Area 51 (there’s our tie-in: it’s Valiant, so of course PRS is involved). They’re looking for info on Archer’s past, true info rather than what he’s been told all his life by manipulative parents–but things don’t go quite as planned. We’re also reintroduced to Mary-Maria, whose status quo was left a bit in question recently, and see what she’s now dealing with…holding a lot of potential for quirky situations and interesting character development as we continue on.

I’m honestly not entirely sure where I stand with this title, in a way: I certainly enjoy it, but like Shadowman, I sometimes feel like I’m playing catchup, as its story details don’t often stick with me outside the actual reading of the issues. I guess that puts me as a more generalized or casual fan than a die-hard, for whatever that says about me.

As usual, the story and art work well together. I can follow along without issue, I’m not left scratching my head or finding myself taken out of the story by some weird, stylistic art bit, and I don’t pick up on any great plot holes or such.

In short, I read the issue, I enjoyed the issue, and I expect to be back for the next issue.

Harbinger #9 [Review]

harbinger009Writer: Joshua Dysart
Art: Pere Perez
Color Art: Ian Hannin
Covers: Mico Suayan and Khari Evans
Lettering: Rob Steen
Associate Editor: Jody LeHeup
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99

Nine (ten if you count the recent #0) issues in, and this title’s getting rather complex, juggling a number of characters. While it does so, this seems a fairly Faith-centric issue, focusing more on her than the other characters…which to me, really is the way to go; allowing character development and for the reader to get to know the character better, while keeping the entire, overall story progressing.

After being temporarily depowered and falling from a dangerous height, Faith comes to and discovers her friends/teammates have been captured by Project Rising Spirit (we as readers witness the kids’ capture). Interspersed, we get flashbacks to how Faith got into comics, a tragedy in her early life, as well as some added details that flesh out her off-panel time several issues ago…and the issue ends on a key moment for Faith and Peter as Project Rising Spirit prepares to move out with their mission accomplished.

Visually, this is yet another strong issue. I honestly don’t recall as of this typing whether Perez has been on every issue thus far, but the look of this issue solidly fits with earlier issues, and seems entirely consistent with my memory of earlier and most-recent issues. The visual style has a certain simplicity to it–it’s not overly or distractingly-detailed…but it has a certain authenticity that makes the characters all seem that much more real: they’re not virtual clones of one another…the faces and bodies are distinct and varied, as the characters actually are.

Story-wise it’s painfully obvious (particularly with recent house ads and other “meta” information (online news/interviews/etc that are not part of the story itself) that this issue is continuing to put pieces in place for the upcoming Harbinger Wars crossover/arc/event with Bloodshot. While I don’t much care for the feeling of “let’s get THIS over with so we can get to What We’ve Been Promised,” it still resonates with me a bit, as it’s that much more obvious how these titles are beginning to fit together as part of the shared universe.

While we don’t have much in the way of development for the other characters–we mainly just see what fate’s befallen them–we get quite a bit with Faith…and it makes her a much more interesting character. It’d be easy to “assume” stuff with her, but having the actual details keeps her grounded and relatable…on the surface, one might see her as some cliché, yet it seems to me that much of what she is even so far in this book comes from her making conscious choices, not mindlessly following the clichés.

Though there are plenty of positives for the other Valiant titles…more and more I find myself with Harbinger at the top of the list for the nice art and the complex, realistic (as much as they can be: that’s a given) story and characters. If you’re only going to follow one Valiant title, I’d be inclined to make it Harbinger.

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