Retro Comics are Awesome

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Fantastic Four #5
July 1962

Prisoners of Doctor Doom!
Writer: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby Pencils: Jack Kirby Inks: Sol Brodsky

This is the big one, the introduction of Doctor Doom, with his "Science and Sorcery" book (who exactly wrote that?) and his net that's large enough to cover the entire Baxter Building. He and Reed Richards knew each other in college, where Victor Von Doom was fascinated by black magic, despite being a brilliant science student. He disfigured his face in an experiment, hence the mask to hide what he looks like. Doom demands Sue as a hostage and then captures the other three. I was expecting some battle of wits and science between Richards and Dr. Doom, but no...he wants to send them back in time to obtain Blackbeard's treasure for him?!?

They agree, and this story turns into a silly pirate adventure where Reed, Johnny and Ben dress up in period clothes, get shanghaied, and Ben enjoys being a pirate way too much and considers staying behind. It's all great fun though. They load the treasure chest up with chains to avoid bringing the actual jewels back to the present, where Dr. Doom gloats that the jewels are magical, enchanted by Merlin, and will make him invincible. He's angry when he learns that there are only chains in the chest, but when Ben punches him it's just a Doom lookalike-robot. The real Doctor Doom is nearby and starts to drain the oxygen from their room to kill them, only for Sue to use her invisibility to escape Doom and release them. They attempt to burn Doom's castle to the ground, only for him to be fine with that since he can escape with his jet pack and his secrets will go up with his castle.

So that wasn't at all what I thought it would be, though it's certainly entertaining. With Namor and Doom at large, that's two major league villains out there now, as Johnny notes at the end of the story. The time travel/pirate portions of the story are fun if just bizarre, and Doctor Doom is a villain who gets fleshed out a lot in his debut story. Having read way ahead in this series, one of its major strengths is just how many new characters and how much world building Lee and Kirby continue to do in every issue. They will revisit old characters and bring characters back for return appearances, but it's never long before the FF are going somewhere new or meeting new characters. There is a constant stream of new ideas as this book progresses that makes a nice change from modern day books that so often recycle the same old villains again and again. And they don't worry about plausibility with some of these characters and ideas, they just go for it. I can understand the high regard with which this series is held.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Action Comics #38
July 1941

Radio Control
Writer: Jerry Siegel Pencils: Leo Nowak Inks Ed Dobrotka

While Clark shops for a wristwatch, a mailman enters the store and attempts to rob it. The police walk right by and don't care, and in fact start shooting at another police car which has arrived in response to a silent alarm. Superman stops the getaway and the policemen, who can give no explanation for their behavior to Sergeant Casey. A second alarm goes off at the bank, and when Lois follows Sergeant Casey into the bank, the president locks them in the vault then goes about his business. Superman breaks them out, and when Casey tries to arrest him, Superman just breaks the cuffs, noting that it was a shame to ruin them. Even Lois ends up involved with a crime. As the story's title indicates, there's thought control going on here and it turns out to be Harold Morton, "prominent psychologist and radio wizard", hypnotizing people over the air into doing his work. Superman tracks him down and tries several weapons on him, finally attempting to use a mirror to hypnotize him, but Superman instead hypnotizes Morton into going to police headquarters and confessing his crimes. It's hilarious. Lois wonders why Superman would help Clark, and once again, Clark wonders just when she'll figure out his secret...

Jimmy (I presume, he's an unnamed redhead in a bow tie and green suit) gets a cameo appearance on page 8. This story is a bit of a runaround and mystery that would be more fun to guess at without the (modern) title giving the game away, but it's still pretty good. I love how Superman just stands there and lets Morton try to kill him ("Odd, this gun should work!" "Maybe it should... but it doesn't!") before giving the guy a taste of his own medicine. And the whole thing works better because Morton is not introduced early on so that he's an obvious suspect, he isn't seen until Superman finds him.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Superman #11
July-August 1941

Zimba's Gold Badge Terrorists
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: Leo Nowak

Clark and Lois are sent by Perry White to cover a disaster in Metrodale, an "exclusive suburb". Catching a ride with Sgt. Casey, they arrive to find homes in rubble and hundreds dead. Clark is forced to sneak off and switch to Superman to rescue a family of survivors, leading Lois to wonder about just why Clark is never around when Superman is. The "Gold Badge Organization" claims credit for the destruction. This "secret terrorist society" as Clark characterizes them plans to take over the government and extorts money from the Metropolis National Bank. When their leader, Zimba, attempts to gain censorship rights over the Daily Planet's stories by threatening Perry White, he slugs the guy in the jaw. Zimba and his group decide to carry out their thread to destroy the Planet building, and it's Superman who saves the building from a bomb dropped from an invisible plane, and then he rescues the state militia, sent to safeguard Metropolis, from a bomb hidden in one of their tanks.

Clark somehow "twists his facial muscles" to disguise himself as Zimba (I guess it beats the old rubber mask or greasepaint!), summons all the members of the Gold Badge together, and informs the police where they are. All the men are arrested for treason, but Zimba, who has taken Lois hostage, attempts to escape on his stealth plane, but Superman tracks it before it can get too far away by the sound of the engine. I get the impression that the engine is very quiet, hence why this method didn't work before. A shot from Zimba's gun wrecks the controls and the plane plummets to the ground while Superman escapes with Lois, leaving the villains to their "well-deserved fate". Superman sheds no tears over their demise.

There's a rare view of the Daily Planet building with the familiar globe on top, which is always nice to see. I just can't quite buy "facial muscle control" as a means of disguise, not even for Superman. Lois is starting to wonder about a possible connection between Clark and Superman, and it's almost as if he's deliberately throwing hints her way, which is interesting.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Superman #11 continued

The Corinthville Caper
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: Leo Nowak

Gigantic animals menace the residents of Corinthville, and Perry sends Clark and Lois to cover the story. Despite crowds of fleeing residents, with the help of a man in a brown suit they go on and investigate the rumored source of the giant animals, Dr. Emil Carlstrom's laboratory. Carlstrom and his daughter are quite friendly and allow both reporters access. Superman has to take action to save Lois from a gorilla (King Kong reference?) and a python, and prevent a lynch mob from attacking the lab. Long story short: there are no giant animals, the whole thing was a hoax trumped up by the man who guided Clark and Lois to the lab, including the release of the gorilla and python. His motive is to scare Carlstrom and buy his land dirt cheap because of a gold mine on the property. I think the story would have been more fun if there actually had been giant animals. As it is, it's a fairly boilerplate story and entertaining but forgettable.

The Yellow Plague

Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: Leo Nowak

Assigned to write about a medical interne (outdated spelling of intern, in other words a recent graduate of med school who is under supervision as he learns the ropes) Clark and Lois encounter a patient who seemingly goes mad and attacks them, only to collapse and die in three minutes. The interne Pedro Carlos refers to it as "Chirroba", while the rival paper to the Daily Planet names it the "yellow plague". Carlos catches it and when Clark questions him, he won't say what it means. Clark actually reveals that he is Superman, after which Carlos is happy to tell him that it's a plague that is almost exclusive to his tribe from South America. The plague kills Carlos, but Clark now has a clue to a possible cure.

So Clark is off to South America with Lois and "scientist explorer" Karl Van Breeden. The cliff dwelling tribe is depicted as a sort of fallen Incan-type civilization, once powerful but now in decline. He saves the son of the chief from others in the tribe who are trying to kill him. He returns as Clark and the party treks towards the city, only to be captured by a party of natives and a white man. They are working together and deliberately released the plague in Metropolis so they could demand a high fee to cure it. Superman deals with the conspirators and the boy he saved becomes chief, offering the cure.

So it's sort of a "lost civilization" plot, but not entirely, since there are criminals and law abiding among the natives just as there are among the white characters, and at least one of the natives came to North America and became a doctor, so these are not "time lost" people living in the past. They seem to just be isolated. And we don't have the tired old plot device of a "curse" as some explorer brings back an unknown disease, but rather a deliberate criminal plot. I enjoyed the tweaks to the formula and actually liked this one well enough.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Finishing up Superman #11...

The Plot of Count Bergac
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: Leo Nowak

Clark is sent to cover "department chain store heiress" Patricia Randall as she returns from overseas with her boyfriend Count Bergac. An employee of one of her father's stores tries to kill her because he's lost his job, but Clark prevents it, and Patricia offers to repay him if she can. Clark decides to go interview her later and sees her asserting herself in front of the board of the department stores, promising to change things. As Clark starts to follow her, he overhears Count Bergac making a deal to keep things running as they are if they'll pay him to do so.

Clark decides he needs to interfere rather than let the Count marry Patricia just so he can use her in this way. So he makes Bergac look foolish, and has to save Patricia's life when the brakes on Bergac's car fail and he bails out, leaving her to die. She's finished with him after that and Clark is quite pleased with himself, only to be chewed out by Perry the next day when it appears Patricia and Bergac were married overnight. But it's all a con with a convict playing Patricia to fool the press and the board. Superman directly intervenes and forces Bergac to reveal where Patricia is, and he's able to save her from death as she's thrown from an airplane. Clark gets back in Perry White's good graces, Patricia fires the entire board, and months later her stores are running far better.

I had a lot of fun watching Superman mess up the slimy Bergac's plans. It's pretty obvious from early on that he's just using her, so it's tremendously satisfying to watch Superman put him in his place. And Clark turns out to be wrong several times and has to correct his mistakes, so Superman needs to watch his smugness as well! And there's no sign of Lois in this story, which is a rare thing.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Action Comics #39
August 1941

The Radioactive Man
Writer: Jerry Siegel Pencils: Leo Nowak

At Chalmers Labs, Brett Bryson has an accident due to a miscalculation during an experiment involving radium. Bryson is killed, and DA Tom Spaulding decides to charge Chalmers with criminal negligence in an attempt to boost publicity and win reelection. Chalmers is found not guilty. But then a new situation develops as a hooded figure commits a robbery and the watchman who tries to stop him dies of "radium burns". Bullets don't harm this man, and there is some suspicion cast on Superman because of that. It's not hard to figure out that the figure is in fact Bryson, who survived and gained strange powers, but found out that he would not live long. Yep, it's super-powers from radiation, in an early example. Bryson agreed to rob for Chalmers and Davis in return for them providing for his wife after his death. But the truth comes out when Superman threatens Davis: Chalmers arranged the explosion on purpose to try and arrange this whole situation. Bryson kills him, and then collapses himself, his time up. Superman is vindicated when the facts come out.

Good story, and I enjoy seeing Superman as a series starting to move into more-than-human menaces. There's a bit of pathos here since Bryson is an unwitting victim and so is his wife. The timeline doesn't quite work out though, unless that trial was the fastest ever, since Bryson only had a week to live, and yet he doesn't start his crime spree until after the trial. I also like the added touch that Bryson's face is apparently horribly disfigured under the hood he wears, but we never get to see it.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Action Comics #40
September 1941

The Billionaire's Daughter
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: John Sikela

I've learned that there are more important things in life than night clubs and selfish living.

We get another wartime cover (even though America's not in the war yet) with Superman punching a German tank before moving into a story completely unrelated to the cover. An ad in every Metropolis newspaper solicits Superman's help. Billionaire Morgan Thorgenson wants to hire Superman to straighten out his daughter Nancy, who spends money like crazy and gets into trouble. Thorgenson is afraid she'll get into real trouble with the law sooner or later. Superman refuses pay, but takes the job because "the prospect fascinates him", and wants the money turned over to charity. Nancy is in fact gambling her dad's money away, commenting that there's no point in him making so much if she can't throw it away. She's lost $40,000 in one evening. Superman can see that the tables are rigged and forces the casino boss to let her win. He then protects Nancy from being robbed before confronting her directly and forcing her to return home. She tries to elope with a man she doesn't really love in order to escape her dad and Superman, but Superman runs him off. She tries changing tactics and flirting with Superman, but he resists her charms rather easily. In the end it's a dam break and a need to help save the lives and care for people in the path of the flood that gives Nancy a sudden change of heart. In the end, she gives up her selfish lifestyle and devotes herself to charitable work.

So, fun story with a rather abrupt redemption of the selfish main character at the end. It just about works, if you take the idea that maybe Nancy has led such a sheltered life due to her wealth that she's never seen need and suffering like this before and it makes a big impact on her. However, I can't really say that Superman did the job he was hired to do since it was a dam break and ensuing disaster that he had nothing to do with causing that gave Nancy her change of heart. Would she have been in the right place at the right time without Superman's interference? Possibly not, so in that respect he helped out, but this is the type of plot where Superman helps push things in the right direction, but ultimately the guest character solves their own problems.

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Knightfall - KnightQuest - KnightsEnd

I have all three omnibuses on my shelf now and have to say that it's nice to have this story collected in this format. It's high quality and easier to read then mixing and matching floppies (and I'm missing a few chapters anyway). I was curious as to how many issues this story ran and how many series it crossed over into. It was set up with the Vegeance of Bane special in January 1993 and if we count "Prodigal" as part of the storyline (and the omnibus does) it essentially ended in February 1995, with the last two one-shots in July and October 1995. So this was a two year long storyline. There are a total of 105 issues included in these three volumes, and I would argue that they should have included Robin #0 as well to set up Prodigal. And possibly the Sword of Azrael miniseries as well to establish who Jean Paul Valley is.

- Batman: Vengeance of Bane
- Batman
- Detective Comics
- Showcase '93, 94
- Shadow of the Bat
- Legends of the Dark Knight
- Catwoman
- Robin
- Justice League Task Force
- Nightwing: Alfred's Return #1
- Vegeance of Bane II

It's interesting to me that they felt the need to set up a new villain for this storyline rather than use an existing one. That's a good thing, the series needs to move forward and bring in new ideas and new adversaries. That's one thing I noticed about 1940s Batman, there are a few returning villains, but most get a few appearances and then are put in jail, never to be seen again (until writers bring them back decades later of course) So there is constant innovation. Bane gets his life story told and his (rather weak, in my opinion) motivation to go to Gotham and take on Batman. The story takes some time to set up the idea that Bruce is physically and emotionally exhausted and cannot rest, to the point that he actually starts seeing a doctor, Shondra Kinsolving, on the recommendation of Tim Drake's father, who is Bruce's neighbor as well. Bane and his henchmen watch from afar and devise a plan to take him down by releasing all the villains from Arkham at the same time. Most of "Knightfall" proper involves Bruce trying to round them up. The plan works, Bruce is utterly exhausted when Bane takes him on in Wayne Manor itself, breaking Bruce's spine and taking him into town, leaving him on the street to die. Alfred and Tim save his life, but it's clear he's done as Batman, and he picks a replacement, Jean Paul Valley, who has already been working with Tim Drake/Robin. Why didn't he pick Dick Grayson? That question has an in-story and out of story reason. The writers wanted to show why a 90s-style Batman who kills was a bad thing, and Dick Grayson was not a character that would work for the story they wanted to tell. In-story, Bruce knew he would go after Bane and did not want him injured in the same way Bruce had been.

Knightfall concludes with Jean Paul taking over as Batman and starting down the road towards being more ruthless and brutal very early on. He beats Bane in Batman #500. Knightquest follows his "crusade" to clean up Gotham and try to fill the shoes of the "first Batman" as he thinks of Bruce. Jean Paul is under the influence of "the system", where he had knowledge implanted into his mind secretly as he was growing up, with the intention that he would become an assassin for the secret Order of St. Dumas. So he has the skill and the inclination to kill, which he has to constantly fight. He has visions of St. Dumas urging him to do the right thing, and visions of his father telling him to kill, so the poor guy is honestly a little confused and crazy. He, meanwhile, constantly reflects on how insane Gotham City is and how many crazy villains keep popping out of the woodwork. He nearly kills several villains, including the Joker, but is stopped by police. He finally crosses the line and lets serial killer Abbatoir die, meaning that his last victim cannot be found until it's too late. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne, wheelchair bound at first and then hobbling with the aid of two canes, has gone with Alfred in search of the kidnapped Jack Drake and Shondra Kinsolving. This part of the story is much shorter, and as I remember when this was all originally published, Bruce Wayne was off the table for months and they really tried to sell the idea that Jean Paul Valley was a permanent replacement, which is probably one reason the story ran for a little over two years. Bruce is ultimately healed by love interest/plot device Shondra's healing powers (and though they do give her a background and motivations and try to write a story around her, in the end she does come across as the means for the writers to get themselves out of the crippling injury to Bruce Wayne) whereupon he returns to Gotham with no real intention of becoming Batman again until he finds out just how far off the deep end Jean Paul has gone.

KnightsEnd has Bruce training with Lady Shiva to regain his skill and retrain himself after months out of action. He, Robin and Nightwing take on Jean Paul, and ultimately it's Bruce who wins the day, not by fighting but by essentially tricking Jean Paul into removing the Batman costume, which seems to restore his sanity to some extent, though from what little we see of him after, he's still in a bad place. We then get the "Prodigal" storyline where Bruce decides to leave and do some soul-searching and Dick Grayson takes over for him. The former Robin and current Robin make a great team, with Dick acting much more in the spirit of the traditional Batman. The third volume wraps up with the Troika storyline (I'm not quite sure why it was included, honestly) and two one shots where Nightwing goes to England to look for Alfred, who had quit when Bruce would not stop risking further injury to his back, and Vengeance of Bane II, which follows Bane's recovery in prison after Jean Paul broke him.

The whole point of this storyline was, according to the various introductions and concluding essays, to show why a "90s style" Batman was a bad thing. Apparently readers had been writing in and asking why Batman didn't just kill his enemies, and complaining that he was "behind the times", so the writers decided to give them what they said they wanted. This appears not to have been bandwagon jumping after the Death of Superman storyline either, they had it planned before that story saw print. Is it too long? I don't really think so, given that the idea was to really sell the notion that Jean Paul was a permanent replacement Batman, and to do that they had to leave him in place for some time. His fall needed to be gradual too. As someone who never wanted a Batman who kills, I didn't need to be convinced that it was a bad idea, so this story is preaching to the choir as far as I'm concerned. I will say that Jean Paul comes across as more sympathetic than I remembered, given how "the system" confuses him and given how he's constantly feeling like he doesn't measure up to the first Batman.

The art changes constantly, which on one level is only to be expected given how many different monthly series are involved in the crossover. But its as though none of the monthly artists at the time could keep a monthly schedule. I like some of the artists and dislike some of the others. Norm Breyfogle appears only in the first volume, and so does Jim Aparo. Graham Nolan gets work in all three, and he was always a favorite of mine. On the other hand, I have never figured out how Kelly Jones kept getting work on all those covers. His art is terrible.

It's a well-known Batman storyline, and most of it works pretty well. I remembered a lot of it, despite not having read it for years. It's good to have it collected in three easy-to-read volumes. The issue order is a little off in volume 2, in my opinion, and a few issues were left out that should have been included, but by and large it's probably the best collection of this storyline that we're likely to see.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Back to Golden Age Superman....

World's Finest Comics #3
Fall 1941

The Case of the Death Express
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: Leo Nowak

Great cover this issue with Superman, Batman and Robin playing baseball with big grins on their faces. I love the smiling superhero covers of this era. Inside, Clark is sent to cover a train crash outside Metropolis, which he travels to as Superman so he can help rescue survivors. As Clark he prowls around to see what he can discover before some thugs run him off. Perry won't print the story at first, but when there is a second train crash, he changes his mind, drawing a visit from the railroad company's lawyer. Perry of course is not intimidated and continues to print stories about the railroad.

Without going through all the plot details, it's all a plot by Industrialist Thornton Bigsby to ruin the railroad and buy all of its stock for dirt cheap. He employs a private detective, Sparky Waters to manage this using the Butch Fletcher mob, so as usual Superman works his way up through the various layers of villains before getting to the top and shutting down the scheme. There's a fun sequence where the gang tries to gas Superman and he plays possum for a bit to amuse himself. Later he has to hold a sabotaged railroad bridge upright while the train crosses it, and of course early in the story he's tossing wrecked train cars aside as though they're nothing in order to rescue the survivors. Lois does not appear in this story at all.

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PIcked up the Green Lantern 80th anniversary volume. Like the Flash volume, it's oversized like an omnibus, but only about 400 pages. There is some overlap with the previous anniversary volume, but some newly reprinted material as well. I have to admit, I have read most of this before, but the book is worth it for the new material.
  • All American Comics #16 – 1st appearance of Alan Scott
    “The Man who wanted the World” from Green Lantern vol. 1 #10 – 1st appearance of Vandal Savage
    “Summons From Space” from Showcase #23
    “The Battle of the Power Rings” from Green Lantern vol. 2 #9
    Green Lantern vol. 2 #59 – 1st appearance of Guy Gardner
    “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” – from Green Lantern vol. 2 #85
    Green Lantern vol. 2 #87 – 1st appearance of John Stewart
    “The Green That Got Away” – from Green Lantern vol. 2 #128
    “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” – from Green Lantern vol. 2 #188 – 1st appearance of Mogo, Bolphunga, The Book of Oa
    Green Lantern Corps Pinup by Phil Jimenez from Green Lantern Gallery #1
    “Setting Up Shop” – from Green Lantern vol. 2 #201 – 1st appearance of Kilowog
    Green Lantern vol. 3 #49 - cover only
    Green Lantern vol. 3 #50 – 1st appearance of Kyle Rayner, end of “Emerald Twilight”
    “Do You Want to See?” – from Green Lantern: Mosaic #1
    “In Brightest Days Past” – from Green Lantern vol. 3 #100
    “Hate Crime” – from Green Lantern vol. 3 #154
    “Flight” – from Green Lantern Secret Files 2005
    “A Day in the Life” – from Green Lanterns #15
    “Intergalactic Lawman” – from The Green Lantern #1
    “Green Lantern’s Legacy” – by Minh Le”Training Day” – and excerpt from Green Lantern Legacy
The Vandal Savage story from Green Lantern #10 is one that I had not read before, and I often buy these volumes for the restored Golden Age stories anyway. Anything from the 60s I have in omnibus format, and of course I have the GL/GA collection. I had not read Kilowog's first appearance before, and I don't think I realized that he was a post-Crisis character, if just barely. It's good to see an issue of Mosaic reprinted, because I always enjoyed that series. The Kyle/Hal team up from GL 100 takes place during the events of GL #9 if I recall, so that could well be why both were included in this volume. "Hate Crime" feels like an attempt to mimic the "socially relevant" GL/GA stories but it lacks the entertaining melodrama of those stories and is just grim and brutal. And including the first issue of Morrison's GL series seems odd, since that book is currently in stores, so putting it in a retrospective is a bit indulgent.

There are some essays throughout the book too which are enjoyable since we get to hear various writers and artists reflect on their history with the character. I pad $20 for a $40 book, and it's well worth it.

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