WTF, DC? What the fresh hell is Joker’s Daughter #1 supposed to be?

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A few eBay sellers have the balls to be asking for upwards of $130 (shipping included) for the 3D variant cover of Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4, a.k.a. Joker’s Daughter #1. I guess it’s rare. And it should be – it is seriously one of the most abominably terrible books ever written.

I’m not overly familiar with Ann Nocenti’s work, but judging by this issue, I’m not sure comic book writing is really the career for her. It’s baffling how someone at the top of their game (writing for DC or Marvel) can put out something this abysmal. If you ascend to the ranks of scripting for a Big Two book, you should be at a Gail Simone level of skill, not Felicia Henderson. And if a company is going to ask people to fork over $3 or $4 for one of their products, those products should, decidedly, not be complete flaming piles of shit.

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Simply put: there is no excuse for this. DC, there are a whopping TWO big-time comics companies in the world and you’re one of them. Stop peddling garbage. Hook Jeff Lemire up to a machine, feed him intravenously, keep him awake using artificial light and have him write 24 hours a day if necessary (though I partially suspect this might already be happening). I get that taste is subjective, but Joker’s Daughter #1 is objectively awful in every way.

Before I get into Nocenti’s script, let me discuss what I’d like to call The New 52 Approach to Characters, which involves inventing a completely new superhero or villain and slapping a familiar name on them: skinny, sexy Amanda Waller, non-Hank Henshaw Cyborg Superman, and whatever the hell anyone who’s ever appeared in Teen Titans is supposed to be post-Flashpoint.

Joker’s Daughter, a.k.a. Harlequin, a.k.a. Duela Dent was never a beloved character, as far as I can tell, but she was an enduring one. Appearing, in the past decade, as a member of Deathstroke’s Titans East, and as the corpse whose pointless death kickstarted the equally-pointless Countdown to Final Crisis. When she started she was a teenage girl version of the Joker with a single personality trait: she claimed everyone from Joker to Two-Face to Wildebeest was her father (despite her name, the Harvey-Dent-as-father thing never quite stuck).

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Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Joker’s Daughter occupied that same bizarre space Bette Kane/Flamebird occupied: a remnant of a bygone era in comics history that inexplicably continued to exist in the present. Editorial intervention prevented her from making Team Titans an interesting read in the early ’90s, around the same time Harley Quinn crossed over from cartoons into mainstream comics continuity, rendering Joker’s Daughter redundant in addition to irrelevant.

And while this Joker’s Daughter appears to be named Duela, she bears little resemblence to her predecessors.

Joker’s Daughter #1 concerns a world beneath Gotham City called The Nethers, the remains of a town flooded to create the Gotham Reservoir. The idea of The Nethers existing beneath Gotham is an intriguing idea Nocenti completely wastes by making it a society filled with rat-eating alpha males and their abused wives.

Here are the many ways in which the story doesn’t work:

1. Revenge plots only work when someone’s actually getting revenge – Joker’s Daughter arrived literally seconds before seeking vengeance on a bunch of complete strangers.

2. How long does a severed face last, exactly? How long could it survive in water without marine life or the environment tearing it to shreds? I skipped much of Death of the Family, but was there an explanation provided that the Joker’s face was injected/covered in some sort of sealant? Is it mostly plastic now?

3. And if one of the character’s most important traits is that we never see the face behind the mask, why does literally every flashback show the face behind the mask? What’s the point of keeping it hidden in the present?

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4. Sure, Joker ran things in Arkham, but certainly when someone shoves a searing hot iron scythe in your face for the purpose of mutilating you, a basic human aversion to pain would make you slightly more resistant than this:

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5. And does every evil male in The Nethers happen to just be standing next to a collection of hot coals, or is Joker’s Daughter’s makeshift cow brand just really really good at retaining heat?

6. A society of men built on dominance over women instantly, without a second thought, throws their hands up and lets a woman take over? It’s just that easy?

7. Flashbacks showing that crazy people are crazy is repetitive and unnecessary and comes off as the padding that it quite clearly was meant to be.

8. Who the hell are these people supposed to be? Even the art makes no sense.

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9. The ugliness-versus-beauty schtick doesn’t really work since there is no genuine beauty in The Nethers (the cards being stacked so heavily against the men means even the tribe’s leader, despite his handsomeness, is already fundamentally “ugly.”)

10. If this was meant to be a spin on the oft-quoted Lysistrata – why, even after the men have submitted to Joker’s Daughter’s rule, are the women still portrayed as sad-eyed weaklings?

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In summary: Joker’s Daughter #1 is the worst comic I have ever read. And I have read Rob Liefeld.

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NEW 52: Those 3D Villains Month covers…

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Though I loathe DC’s endless supply of gimmicks (the New 52 itself being the worst of them all) and I’m not crazy about the idea of Villains Month in general, I have to say – now that I have a copy of Aquaman 23.1 and Green Arrow 23.1 in my hands – those 3D covers are pretty slick. And, sure, if you stare at them long enough you’ll go cross-eyed and start feeling sick, but they’re pretty rad for whatever duration of time you can stomach them.

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OMG, DC: Why the last Blue Beetle story was the best

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The original Blue Beetle first appeared in August 1939, a scant three months after the debut of the character he’s since been most accused of ripping off (Batman). Slightly over a decade later, his publisher, Fox Comics, filed for bankruptcy and things got worse from there: the introduction of the Comics Code Authority in 1954 led to Fox Comics selling the rights to competitor Charlton Comics which, facing its own financial ruin, sold the character to DC Comics in 1983.

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Beetle and his Charlton compatriots were introduced during 1985’s landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, around the same time Alan Moore was writing the Charlton characters into another series you may have heard of: Watchmen. Similar to the Hollis Mason/Dan Drieberg relationship in Moore’s series, the original Blue Beetle, Dan Garret, had passed the torch to a young protege (Ted Kord), who would go on to build a flying machine modelled after his heroic namesake.

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Subsequent to Crisis, Kord headlined his own monthly title for two years (from 1986-1988), simultaneous to becoming part of the legendary “Blue and Gold” after he and time-traveling janitor Booster Gold joined Keith Giffen’s 1987 reboot of the Justice League. Kord appeared in a number of Justice League-related titles for two decades before 2005’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis special, giving him a richly-deserved showcase that would be his finest moment…and his last.

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Whoops – spoiler alert if you haven’t been following DC for the past decade: Countdown to Infinite Crisis ends with Kord getting shot in the head by his old boss at the Justice League, Maxwell Lord. And while Kord’s late-’80s series was dumb action-y fun (similar to a number of also-awesome titles being published around the same time: Firestorm: The Nuclear Man, Starman, Blue Devil, and more) and he was one of the more memorable Justice Leaguers in the team’s history, he never really had a chance to shine until Countdown to Infinite Crisis.

Though I don’t have my copy in front of me, the trade of Crisis on Infinite Earths has an outro essay in which one of the creators of the book writes about how fans often mentioned that Supergirl’s death in issue #7 was the best Supergirl story they’d ever read. Similarly, Countdown to Infinite Crisis finally gives Blue Beetle the story of his career.

After millions of dollars go missing from his bank accounts, Kord embarks on an investigation that has him edging closer toward unraveling the mystery of Max Lord’s O.M.A.C. project, winding up in Checkmate’s castle stronghold and discovering somebody’s learned the secrets of the world’s heroes:

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Which leads him to crossing paths with the Big Three, who each get a couple of pages to let Kord explain their appeal before exiting:

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There’s also a subplot about a broke Booster Gold abandoning his career as a superhero for a career as an actor, which results in a heartwarming old-buddies team up:

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And while Kord’s successor, teenager Jaime Reyes, is a decent character (pre-New 52, at least – I’m not really sure how he’s fared post-New 52), he hasn’t come anywhere near approaching the lovability of his predecessor. DC has brought Kord back in a number of ways since Countdown to Infinite Crisis – as a zombie in Blackest Night, as himself in a number of Booster Gold’s adventures through time – his death appears to be one of those comic book demises that’ll actually stick, if not permanently, then at least for a while (see also: Barry Allen).

The various talents involved in Countdown to Infinite Crisis (Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Ed Benes, Phil Jiminez) do a stellar job, and while it’s sad that the tale is Kord’s swansong, it’s good in a way, since it led to moments like this one at the end of the 52 miniseries:

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NON-DC: Warren Ellis’ Fell

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Some news: WTF, DC? has, after a little over two years online, finally squeaked past 250,000 views (mostly people directed here after entering some combo of “Starfire” and “sex/nude/slut” into Google, it would appear). Not that big a deal compared to the millions of views Newsarama, CBR, IGN (et cetera) get every month, but I’m impressed – I don’t promote this thing, nor do I update it very often.

To celebrate, I’m introducing a new category: NON-DC, devoted to comic books that aren’t published by DC Comics. The reasoning behind this: I loathe the New 52 – a horrible idea, poorly executed – and I can’t in good conscience fork over $3 for slim, nearly content-free books featuring characters I used to love who are now completely, infuriatingly different due to corporate mandate. As a result, I’ve been picking up Marvel NOW! books recently – Daredevil, Hawkeye, Wolverine and the X-Men – and they’re all resoundingly awesome comics that are a pleasure to read. And I’d rather write about stuff I like than whine about the same mind-bogglingly uninspired garbage DC’s been spewing for two years now. Hence, NON-DC.

And first up to bat: Warren Ellis’ Fell, one of the best titles released by Image in the past decade.

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Fell has had a bizarre release schedule: three issues came out monthly in the fall of 2005, then three more issues were released sporadically in 2006, two more in 2007, and one in 2008. Then Ellis’ computer died. When the next issues will come out is anyone’s guess, but Ellis says the title will only go up to #16. Since the first eight issues were collected in the trade Feral City, it makes sense that another eight would make up the next trade.

Ellis’ intention with Fell was to create a comic book on the cheap. Each issue is 16 pages long, with an extra couple pages at the end featuring a short essay by Ellis, or fan email, or pictures of people’s tattoos inspired by the book. I can’t remember exactly what each back section contained because my floppies – a term I only recently learned in a horrifically embarrassing exchange at my LCS (I’m old) – are on the opposite side of the country and Comixology doesn’t include that material in the back of the digital editions. But I’m pretty sure the first issue had a piece by Ellis on how expensive comics had gotten and how he wanted to get books into people’s hands and give them as much bang for their buck as he could.

And boy, does he.

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What the book lacks in explosions and action sequences, it makes up for in style, an atmosphere of dread, and a town that’s as much of a character as the protagonist, a detective named Richard Fell. Fell has been sent to Snowtown – a noir cesspool reminiscent of the unnamed city in David Fincher’s Seven (Se7en?) – under mysterious circumstances that are never explained. He seems to be in some kind of exile, though it appears to be the self-imposed kind. And here’s the kicker: like Seven‘s (Se7en‘s?) William Somerset, he’s an honest cop who genuinely wants to do good, despite insurmountable evidence his efforts will be wasted on those he’s trying to save.

One of the book’s biggest selling points is Ben Templesmith’s art. Templesmith is one of the best artists in the business, but rarely are his talents applied outside the realm of supernatural horror, which is a shame, because Fell is straightforward noir and Templesmith’s style suits the grime and grit of Snowtown perfectly.

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Fell is also a much-welcome throwback to simpler times: each book is a self-contained story and only a few elements (Fell himself, his bartender girlfriend Mayko, a creepy nun in a Nixon mask) carry over from issue to issue. The reason I avoid DC now is because every monthly title I pick up feels like 1/4th or 1/8th or 1/16th of a story rather than anything that can stand up on its own (I seem to remember one recent Death of the Family tie-in issue of Catwoman being her swinging from a patio to a rooftop and little else).

As mentioned previously, Feral City collects Fell‘s first eight issues, but if you’re hesitant to dive into a trade, try to find issue #4, a story concerning a serial killer who murders Snowtown residents and then dumps their bodies in a river. It’s got the best ending of any of Fell‘s individual issues, and is a stellar example of Ellis’ storytelling strengths and Templesmith’s evocative artwork.

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NEW 52: Villains Month … sigh.

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DC announced recently that September will be Villains Month. I’m delighted that Cyborg Superman is returning to the DCU, and I like that his cover is a nod to the green circuitry cover of Superman #82. I’m thrilled at the idea of Joker’s Daughter, Bizarro, and Reverse Flash making comebacks as well. I’m just not crazy about the idea that they’re doing it in the DCnU, a place where Lilith is an insane clown-faced girl with gouged-out eyes.

Bringing back fan favourites only to present radically-different versions of said favorites seems antithetical to the idea of relying on nostalgia to create hype, and comes off as yet another bait-and-switch guaranteed to send more of DC’s long-time readers scurrying to their competitors.

What else will Villains Month entail? Four different versions of each title that comes out that month (for example, instead of issue #7 of Justice League of America we’ll see the release of issues #7.1, #7.2, #7.3, and #7.4), each focusing on a specific villain. And they’ll all have 3D covers, because apparently nobody learned from the mistakes made in the 1990s.

Let’s not overlook the creepily blatant corporate synergy used to deploy this news, either: “exclusive” announcements via popular comic book sites USA Today, Huffington Post, and Maxim (alongside genuine comic book sites like Newsarama and Comic Book Resources).

I know people have been saying this since the New 52 began, but: how about a moratorium on the stunts and maybe just focus on making good comics, DC? Your Vertigo imprint just published Astro City #1, a continuation of one of the greatest comic series of all time. Maybe pin a copy of that to the wall above your desks.

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WTF, DC? Elongated Man/Digital Comics

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I’ll be spending the next five months in a remote location for work, and both the Windows 7 and Ubuntu partitions on my laptop have rebelled against the cross-country move by refusing to connect to the internet at anything other than molasses-quick speeds. My iPad works fine, however, so I’ll be iPadding it up for the near future.

This means I’ll be dependent on an app called Comixology for scans. Scans like this one:

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That’s from a comic book I already paid $3.99 for when it first came out four years ago. Cost of the digital version? $2.99. Now, I’m not on here to bitch about the fact that I have to re-pay for something I already own. I’m here to bitch about the price.

DC, Marvel, et al: use the iTunes model and charge $0.99 for back issues, $1.29 if it’s a comic book you can’t find easily in real life. Price newer issues whatever the hell you want, since it’ll encourage people to go out and seek out paper copies and they can feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. But $2.99?!? Seriously? There’s a big part of me that wants to scream “Get f**ked, you greedy pricks,” but I won’t. I’m classy.

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In DC’s defense, most back issues are $1.99, and some are $0.99 and plenty of first issues are free, but for the most part it’s a solid $1.99 for books you can pick up from your LCS for a buck (or less) and new issues (and some older titles like Blackest Night) are $2.99-$4.99. Aside from labor, digital comics are relatively inexpensive to reproduce and distribute, and I understand the economy’s in the toilet, but publishers: make them $0.99 because a) you can afford to and b) they’ll start flying off the (virtual) shelves.

That said: digital comics on Comixology have one advantage their paper brethren don’t: Guided View™ technology. Tap on a panel and it fills the screen, tap again and the panels swipe, zoom, pan out, and do all manner of fancy camera tricks that actually enhance the experience of reading the damn things. It’s no substitute for a paper copy – and the thrill-inducing effect you get from reading a physical copy of Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #4 would be impossible to recreate on a computer – but it’s still pretty neat, and takes the edge off getting the shakedown from Time-Warner yet again.

Moving on.

I won’t dwell too much on the early days of Ralph Dibny/Elongated Man. The two-page recap in 52 #13 covers it fairly well:

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Ralph was the class clown of the Justice League back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, if only because it’s hard to take seriously a man whose superpower is to stretch parts of his body (the one part of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again that I find believable is that these sorts of powers would drive someone like Plastic Man to perversion and insanity).

He went from comic relief to heavy hitter with 2004’s Identity Crisis, a landmark series in which Brad Meltzer had Ralph’s wife Sue raped and murdered, blew up Firestorm, led Batman to develop OMAC after realizing Zatanna had been mind-wiping people (including himself) for years, and killed the third Robin (Tim Drake’s) father Jack.

Identity Crisis, aside from continuing DC’s mind-boggling tradition of killing off fan favourites and leaving the dullards alive, was either a clever inversion of the Women in Refrigerators trope (a woman was killed to get the attention of a male character, but it turns out the killer is a woman) or the most Women in Refrigerators-y moment in all of comics history (not only does a woman get killed, she’s also raped, and her killer is a man-hungry psychotic ex-wife). Hey, did I mention Sue was pregnant at the time of her horrific murder?

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The fun times didn’t end there, however – the Infinite Crisis follow-up 52 introduced one of the most infamous moments in recent memory: Wicker Sue. Because Ralph just hadn’t suffered enough, a resurrection cult stapled a photo of his wife’s face to a female body made of wicker in an attempt to bring her back to life. And she sort of does, in as creepy a manner as possible:

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And then Ralph ends up going nuts and cradling her charred “corpse” beneath a bridge like some sort of lunatic troll:

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Later issues of 52 reveal that Sue’s implausible “return” was actually plain-old magic, and Ralph was just playing along, but dang was it convincing(ly horrifying) at the time. Ralph eventually dies battling Felix Faust but in death is reunited with Sue, and the series ends on an up note as the two of them appear as ghost detectives:

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Pretty sweet, if you ignore all the awful crap that had happened to these two leading up to this moment. (“Oh good, he finally died,” readers of 52 remarked between audible, empathetic sighs of relief.)

Oh, but there’s more: audiences got to see Ralph and Sue back in action in 2009…when zombie versions of them bludgeoned and stabbed their former friends Hawkman and Hawkgirl to death in the opening issue of Blackest Night:

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Yeesh. These two can’t catch a break.

Fast forward to the final issue of the series, when a dozen heroes and villains are resurrected by the power of the White Lantern. Among them? Not Ralph and Sue Dibny. Watch the Flash as he says out loud what everyone reading Blackest Night is thinking:

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That’s right, an absolute nobody like Hawk (of Hawk and Dove) is walking the earth again but Ralph and Sue Dibny are doomed to slowly spin in their graves while Osiris whimpers his way into one of the worst incarnations of the Teen Titans this side of Devin Grayson.

Mercifully, the Dibnys have yet to make an appearance in the New 52.

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NEW 52: What We Talk About When We Talk About Carrie Kelley

1. The ridiculous cover of Batman and Red Robin #19

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The latest publicity stunt for DC, the branding of April’s gatefold-cover shockers as “WTF Certified,” fell apart when DC realized people don’t enjoy cuss words in 2013. We’re just beyond that as a society, I guess. The letter f is just too much for our fragile collective consciousness to bear at this point in history. Also, it wasn’t a particularly bright idea to begin with, since it sets DC up for failure and fans up for disappointment (how “WTF?” could these covers be, exactly?). I was originally going to do a post on just “WTF Certified,” examining the rigorous certification process, going through the educational and professional backgrounds of the board members vetting these potentially heart-stopping pieces of cover art, but some truths are so self-evidently stupid I figured why bother.

In this month’s Batman and Red Robin #19, the gatefold cover flips open to reveal none other than Frank Miller’s creation, Carrie Kelley, who served as Robin in the classic The Dark Knight Returns and the not-so-classic The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Carrie Kelley as an in-continuity Robin? I’ll take that. I discussed the possibility a year ago, and there’s a lot of reasons why it could work, but the cover of Batman and Red Robin #19 has nothing to do with anything in the actual issue itself. Carrie dresses up as Robin for a superhero-themed costume party and that’s that. She’s certainly not swinging through the lightning-filled sky with an older, grizzled Bruce Wayne. People thinking, “Wow! Carrie Kelley as Robin!” when they look at the cover are going to be thinking something else by the time they get to the last page (probably “F–k DC. F–k DC so hard.”)

2. The Dark Knight Returns Carrie Kelley versus New 52 Carrie Kelley

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Frank Miller’s Carrie Kelley was a 13-year-old. Peter J. Tomasi’s Carrie Kelley is an 18- or 19-year-old. What difference does it make?

Well, being a teenager is a pretty terrible experience: your body is essentially an amorphous ever-changing blob with acne reserves on standby, your hormones are raging but your parents forbid you from having intercourse and it’s unlikely most members of the opposite/same sex are interested in banging you anyway, and biology has determined that you’ll be more angry, depressed, shallow, and cruel than at any other point in your life. Now cram several hundred people going through the exact same thing into an enclosed space and force them to interact with each other. That’s high school.

Navigating those treacherous waters is Miller’s Kelley, who still finds the time to fashion a homemade Robin costume and spend her after-school hours wandering into gang territory to fight crime. That’s pretty awesome for a 13-year-old.

If you can afford to go (which is an entirely different can of worms), college is that post-teenagehood respite period where you can stay out as late as you want, drink alcohol and smoke, sleep in, skip class, engage in casual sex, and basically do whatever the hell you want without being under your parents’ thumbs. Plus, you’re being inundated with a ton of world-changing ideas that you can barely grasp let alone convey to strangers, which is why college kids can be some of the most boring human beings in the world.

Tomasi’s Kelley is spunky enough to throw a pizza at some creepy strangers, but she’s not overcoming any obstacles greater than finishing a term paper. She’s a computer nerd advising Damian on television-filming techniques. That’s dull. Her natural Tim Drake-like curiosity regarding Damian’s disappearance is understandable, but she’s not exactly gearing up for a career fighting evildoers by playing Wii Fitness. If she’s destined to take up Damian’s mantle, I fear she’s going to have a pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Jason Todd origin where she just sort of stumbles into the Batcave and winds up Batman’s sidekick.

And where are her green glasses?

3. Before Watchmen

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Alan Moore, despite his famously easygoing nature, made a remark about DC going back to the Alan Moore well for Blackest Night (and be sure to check out Ethan Van Scriver’s response, linked to on that same page). And while Moore may have been wrong about the specifics, DC does tend to spend a lot of time attempting to repeat past successes.

Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns did a lot: took the grimness of ’70s comics and made them de rigueur, popularized the phrase “graphic novel,” and stood as two of the greatest stories ever told in the history of the medium (I understand Miller’s Batman: Year One was also quite popular and influential, but I think TDKR was more of a revelation than B:YO).

There was considerable uproar over DC taking everyone’s beloved Watchmen and cranking out a series of prequels of varying quality, the main argument being: leave well enough alone. Now that the Watchmen well has been re-tapped and run dry, introducing TDKR‘s Carrie Kelley to New 52 continuity feels, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, needlessly stunt-y and desperate. As those sad commercials for Secret anti-perspirant will tell you: stress sweat smells worse than regular sweat.

4. Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown

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Quick: name two characters that are fan favourites, people are desperate to see, and have yet to be introduced to New 52 continuity. If you said Ralph and Sue Dibny, you’re right, and I’ll be examining Elongated Man’s storied history in my next post.

There’s also ersatz Batgirls Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. Cassandra’s career met a rather undignified end while Stephanie Brown returned from the grave (more or less) to become surprisingly popular before the New 52 put an end to her adventuring. Why re-introduce Carrie Kelley when two established female characters with large and loyal followings are waiting in the wings?

5. Continuity

At one point during Batman and Robin #19, Batman says this:

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Does this mean Death of Superman and Batman R.I.P. happened? I fully admit I haven’t spent much time on the near-impossible task of reconciling New 52 DCnU history with pre-Flashpoint DCU history, but can readers at least be given some sort of half-hearted History of the DC Universe or something?

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