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The Flash: Rebirth #4

Posted in Comics, DC, Flash with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 29th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Art Team Assemble!

Art Team Assemble!

“Flash Facts”
Author: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ethan Van Sciver
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Colorist: Brian Miller (Hi-Fi)
Cover Artists: Ethan Van Sciver and Brian Miller
Associate Editor: Chris Conroy
Editor: Joey Cavalieri

Flash: Rebirth #4 is an all-encompassing, high-stakes drama, filled with big revelations, but be forewarned: it’ll do yer head in.  Geoff Johns, DC continuity surgeon, takes his scalpel to the entire Flash mythos, and while I can’t say the operation went altogether smoothly, the end result is more than satisfactory.  Indeed, some of the revelations went right over my head, even with the help of Max Mercury’s pseudo-science, and some dense exposition from series villain, Professor Eobard Thawne (a.k.a. the Reverse-Flash).  Johns’ retcons and repairs are a little more obvious than what we’ve come to expect  from him in recent times, recalling his earlier, clumsier [but still enjoyable] works.  Perhaps a better analogy, then, would be that of the band-aid.  “This will only hurt a little bit”, Johns assures as he quickly rips it off.  There’s an implicit trust between Geoff Johns and his readership – that everything will come good in the end – and considering the health of the Green Lantern property, I think it’s entirely justified.

Thankfully, the aforementioned revelations are imparted during an action-packed battle between Barry Allen and the Reverse-Flash.  I have to hand it to the creative team here, Reverse-Flash is absolutely menacing.  Ethan Van Sciver draws him like a hate-filled god, colorist Brian Miller makes his eyes burn like cigarettes, and Rob Leigh makes his speech bubbles crackle with static electricity.  This lends a weight and an urgency to the epic story, and one gets the feeling that the Speed Force will never be the same again.  Van Sciver’s pencils are once again beautifully detailed, while Miller’s bold reds and yellows are absolutely breathtaking.  In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the best looking book I’ve read this week.

Johns’ characterisations are spot-on.  He deftly juggles the entire Flash family and an ensemble cast of super-speedsters, giving each of them a unique voice.  I knew next to nothing about Max Mercury prior to reading this issue, but I came away with an appreciation of who he is and where he fits in the DC pantheon.  It’s also good to see Bart Allen get his wit back – he seemed to have lost it after his own rebirth – and embrace his original role as Kid Flash.  Ethan Van Sciver also did an excellent job of differentiating Wally West from Barry Allen – their identical Flash costumes had posed a problem until now – through a clever story device.

Rebirth #4 may have stumbled off the starting block, but it certainly came through with the goods.

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Blackest Night: Batman #1

Posted in Batman, Blackest Night, Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 20th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Gotham comes to life.

Gotham comes to life.

“Who Burns Who: Part One”
Author: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Adrian Syaf
Inkers: John Dell & Vicente Cifuentes
Colorist: Nei Ruffino
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover Artists: Andy Kubert & Alex Sinclair
Alternate Cover Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
Editors: Adam Schlagman & Eddie Berganza

I’ve never heard of Adrian Syaf before, but damn he draws a fine Batman and a fine horror story.  Blackest Night: Batman is positively dripping with atmosphere.  This first issue opens with Batman and Robin at Gotham Cemetery, bearing witness to the upheaval caused firstly by Black Hand’s exhumation of Bruce Wayne, and secondly by Hal and Barry’s recent tussle with the resurrected Martian Manhunter.

Bruce’s skull is missing, and his parents unearthed, leading to a very emotional exchange between Dick (Batman) and Damian (Robin).  “It’s different when it’s one of your own,” Dick remarks.  Bruce was a father figure to both of them, so it’s a difficult moment for both as well.  Damian comments on the added weirdness of his situation: “I’m sure a lotta kids get to greet their grandparents this way.”  Peter Tomasi’s script is pitch perfect, hitting all the right emotional notes.

Deadman also features quite prominently, and rightly so.  As the name suggests, he’s already dead, placing him in the unique situation of having to wrestle with his own corpse.  But it’s his previous life as a circus performer (Boston Brand) which makes him the perfect partner to Dick Grayson.  His own murder mirrors that of Dick’s parents, and I can only imagine that they will need to pit their acrobatic skills against the Black Lantern Flying Graysons next issue.

But it’s not Deadman’s acrobatics that impress in this issue, rather his internal monologues.  Tomasi’s captions are short and suspenseful.  We catch many glimpses into the horrors that shaped our heroes’ lives, and the violent deaths that now stir the living dead of Gotham Cemetery.  This book is full of small moments made big by their emotional resonance and fan appeal.  Long-time Batman fans will find much to get excited about; there’s little doubt that the entire Bat-family will be put through the ringer by this story’s end.

Gotham’s seen a lot of death in its time, and I for one can’t think of a better venue for the dead to rise.  It’s as if all the planets in the DC Universe have aligned: Deadman’s seen a resurgence in popularity with appearances in both Wednesday Comics and the Blackest Night series proper; and Tomasi’s scripts have once again been lifted to their rightful place with some appropriately eerie visuals.  If you’ve ever wondered where the Tomasi who wrote Black Adam went, look no further than Blackest Night: Batman.

Blackest Night #2

Posted in Blackest Night, Comics, DC, Green Lantern with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 15th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Aquaman: Undead in the Water.

Aquaman: Undead in the Water.

Author: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis
Inkers: Oclair Albert with Julio Ferreira
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Associate Editor: Adam Schlagman
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover Artists: Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, and Alex Sinclair
Alternative Cover Artist: Mauro Cascioli

Blackest Night #2 opens cinematically with wide-shot panels – beautifully detailed by Ivan Reis, but not cluttered – and maintains that cinematic feel with the able assistance of his art team.  They achieve this, I believe, by treating each panel as a camera lens.  Inkers Oclair Albert and Julio Ferreira carve out each scene with subtle shade and deep shadow, while colorist Alex Sinclair provides a light source and sticks to it, by God!  Reis’ panel composition holds up to much scrutiny, as if each scene is mapped verbatim in his mind, and every item is there precisely because it needs to be.  Effective use of these three elements – depth of field, light sourcing and composition – drew my eyes to the focal point of each panel.  This level of care and attention is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from a big-budget Hollywood film, not a comic book.  Blackest Night raises the bar for the comic book event in every conceivable way.  This is high-production, high-stakes superhero drama at its best.

The first person we see is Ray Palmer – The Atom – looking very small.  Standing next to a paperclip, in fact.  He misses his late wife Jean, and he needs someone to talk to.  Hawkman finally picks up the phone, but he’s not quite himself.  He still sounds like himself, though, and that’s what makes these Black Lanterns so chilling.  They’re more like ghosts than zombies, and they have unfinished business to attend to.

Geoff Johns has wisely chosen to convey the epic scope of his tale  through more minor characters; the bards and minstrels of the DC Universe, if you will.  The darkness over Gotham City is viewed through the eyes of Barbara Gordon and her father, Commissioner Gordon.  The oft-discussed return of Aquaman is experienced through those closest to him, Mera and Aqualad.  They are our emotional anchors to the events unfolding, and despite our foreknowledge of some of the more shocking returns, Blackest Night proves it’s nothing at all to do with what you know, but who you know.  I have an emotional investment in these characters, and knowing that they’re about to confront their loved ones with their failure and rip their hearts out only augments the tragedy.  Their grisly guise as Black Lanterns allows us to see our late heroes at their most formidable, commit unspeakable acts, and that is the greatest tragedy of Blackest Night.

This second issue reveals much about the nature of the Black Lanterns, but many questions still linger as even the supernatural element of the DCU struggles to come to grips with the phenomenon.  Geoff Johns uses his ensemble cast empathically to put his readers in each scene.  Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Barry Allen (The Flash) form the emotional core of this story, and it’s great to see this team in action again.  There’s undeniably chemistry between the two (quite literally at one point), and despite the dark circumstances of their reunion, they light up every panel.  Whoever deigned to separate (and kill off) this dynamic duo all those years ago must have been stark raving mad.  Or perhaps they never saw the potential for comic magic that Johns did.

Whatever the case, I see the potential for plenty more comic magic from Johns et al in future.  You’d be stark raving mad to miss Blackest Night.

Batman #689

Posted in Batman, Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 14th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Winick's new Batman is a joy to read.

Winick's new Batman is a joy to read.

“Long Shadows Part Two: New Day, New Knight”
Author: Judd Winick
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: Rob Hunter
Colorist: Ian Rannin
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts

I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely hated Judd Winick’s run on Batman prior to Grant Morrison’s “Batman and Son” arc, but I have to hand it to him this time – I love what he’s done with the place since Bruce has gone.

As the title suggests, “New Day, New Knight” takes on a much lighter tone than we’re used to in a post-Miller Batman story, thanks in no small part to Dick Grayson’s circus sensibilities and Mark Bagley’s joyous artwork.  There are plenty of moments that brought a smile to my face, and they should do yours as well.  Batman #689 opens with a smile, as the new Batman busts up a gambling racket.  Granted, this particular incarnation of Batman is a little too talkative for my liking, but it’s good to see Dick finally revel in his mentor’s shoes.

Behind the curtain, Two-Face and Penguin posture themselves for control of Gotham’s underworld.  Two-Face’s camp has been filtering out Penguin’s plans to Batman through the appropriate channels, while Penguin forges dark alliances with some very dangerous people.  His days as a “legitimate businessman” could well be numbered as their cold war is brought to the boil.  I’ll be following this development with keen interest.

Despite this issue’s lighter tone, there’s plenty of room for an emotionally poignant exchange between Dick and Alfred.  I think we all miss Bruce, so I never get sick of these scenes.  Judd – through Dick – really cuts to the core of Batman’s butler, bringing out the human element in him and the rest of the cast, from Dick to Damian, even to Bruce  posthumously.  Winick emotionally grounds the story with a very simple and clever device.

The closing scene is reminiscent of Watchmen, as Batman races to extinguish a burning high-rise in his hovering Batmobile, no less.  He puts on such a splendid show, I half expected him to make coffee for the rescued residents a la Owlman.  It’s not all fun and games, though, as a classic rogue returns to ruin all of that.

Winick’s new Batman is a welcome departure from his old Batman.  It may be light-hearted, but it’s certainly not light on heart.

Detective Comics #855

Posted in Batwoman, Comics, DC, Detective Comics, The Question with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 9th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Batwoman in Wonderland.

Batwoman in Wonderland.

“Elegy Part 2: Misterioso”
Author: Greg Rucka
Artist: J.H. Williams III
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Assistant Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Variant Cover Artist: J.G. Jones

“The Question – Pipeline: Chapter One/Part Two”
Artist: Cully Hamner
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

It’s official: Detective Comics is the best Bat-book on the shelves at the moment.  Who would have thought that Batwoman would amount to anything more than a media publicity stunt?  Well, the media don’t really care anymore, but I sure as hell do.

So many great Batman staples make their return here: Carroll-inspired villainy, Gothic castles, mad monks, and bad opium dreams [see Arkham Asylum, The Cult, Gothic, Batman and the Mad Monk, and Venom].  It’s Rucka’s respect for these hallmarks that makes us accept Batwoman into the Bat-family, and as a worthy successor to the World’s Greatest Detective.

Batwoman’s new foil Alice is chilling and off-kilter to say the least.  In fact, she’s quickly establishing herself as Batwoman’s Joker, and honestly I think she’s interesting enough to pull it off.  Her exclamations are just like original Alice, but it’s her pragmatism and emotional detachment under the guise of curiosity and innocence that makes my skin crawl.

All of this is augmented by Dave Stewart’s striking colours and J.H. Williams’ beautiful pencils.  Williams’ panel layouts are once again experimental yet easy to follow, and their “otherness” only fuels the drug-induced surrealism that dominates the issue.  “Beautiful, like broken butterfly wings” is the best way I can think to describe it.  Batwoman’s flowing red locks, Alice’s running mascara, the falling autumn leaves, the psychedelic vines that cloud Kate’s memories: this comic is a visual feast.

Suffice it to say, Kate Kane’s beginner’s luck has run out and Alice – new leader of the Religion of Crime – shows her true colours.

A very strange cliffhanger is followed by The Question backup feature, with Cully Hamner ably assisting on pencils.  His art is like Weet Bix and warm milk; the cartoony style can’t prepare you for the gritty brutality that follows.  The Question teaches her adversaries a very valuable lesson: don’t bring a weapon against someone more proficient in that weapon – like nunchaku for instance – it’s just a liability.  After some persuasive interrogation, Montoya shifts back into detective mode, but finds more trouble than info.  The Question’s street-level view helps ground an otherwise fantastical cape story, which again begs the Weet Bix and warm milk analogy.

Once again, Detective Comics has cemented itself as the most beautiful, value-packed book on store shelves.  Issue 854 was a great new start to Detective with very little background required, so why not jump in while the time is ripe?

Wednesday Comics #5

Posted in Comics, DC, Wednesday Comics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 8th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Thank God it's Wednesday.

Thank God it's Wednesday.

Onto week five of Wednesday Comics, and there’s much to report.  I’ll go through it page by page as I did with the first issue:

Batman
Author: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso (with Robins & Mulvihill)

There’s a moody, green atmosphere back in the Batcave as Bruce Wayne pieces together the evidence surrounding Carlton Glass’ murder.  Alfred, as always, makes a pointed observation on the Batman/Bruce Wayne dynamic.  I love the layout on this page; the smaller panels on the outside give the feeling of “putting the pieces together”, while the central spread of the Batcave suggests an “openness” and scope.  I love Eduardo Risso’s facial expressions and close-up shots; they help establish an intimacy with the characters.

Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!
Author: Dave Gibbons
Artist: Ryan Sook

Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth! is explosive action as always.  The unlikely pair of Kamandi and Prince Tuftan the anthropomorphic tiger take on an entire army of apes in an attempt to save the first human girl they’ve ever seen.  Dave Gibbons has handed Ryan Sook the reins, quite happy to observe from afar. Without a doubt, though, it is Gibbons’ visual storytelling sensibilities coupled with Sook’s beautifully detailed action drawings that have made this story such a treat to behold.

Superman
Author: John Arcudi
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Colorist: Barbara Ciardo
Letterer: Ken Lopez

It didn’t take long for Arcudi’s Superman to go from intriguing sci-fi action to emo navel-gazing – one issue in fact – and it hasn’t been the same since.  I’d like to see it return to form, but clearly that was just the setup for this revisitation of Kal-El’s origins.  I suspect this was nothing more than an excuse to have Bermejo depict the destruction of Krypton in excruciatingly beautiful detail.  Maybe this would have been better as a straight re-telling rather than a flashback.  Superman’s banging on about “not belonging” even though he’s got the two greatest parents on Earth: Ma and Pa Kent.  What an ingrate.

Deadman
“The Dearly Departed Detective: Part V”
Authors: Dave Bullock & Vinton Heuck
Artist: Dave Bullock
Letterer: Jared Fletcher
Colorist: Dave Stewart

Deadman got a whole lot better when he stopped talking and started fighting.  Since the sharp drop in speech bubbles in issue 4, the panels have opened up to Boston Brand’s acrobatics and hard-boiled introspection.  Question, though, can Deadman really die?

Green Lantern
Author: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Joe Quiñones (with Pat Brosseau)

I know I bashed on Busiek last week (or yesterday) for flashing back, but this time it actually works.  Hal reminisces on his space college days as he races to save his mutating astronaut friend.  I suspect this is to emotionally ground the inevitable battle between the two.

Metamorpho
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Michael Allred
Colorist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Nate Piekos

Gaiman really picks up his game this time, returning with the humour and aplomb he brought to the first issue.  Metamorpho’s billionaire boss Mr. Stagg decides to stop for lunch in a booby-trapped Antarctic temple and hilarity ensues!  Metamorpho finally gets to put his elemental powers to good use!

Teen Titans
Author: Eddie Berganza
Artist: Sean Galloway
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano

Teen Titans is just so pale and boring.  The soft lines and washy colours don’t help matters much, but the paper-thin plot and ever-switching perspectives are the main culprit here.  I just don’t care about what’s happening here, and I feel as though I’m expected to.  In fact, I’m still not entirely sure just what is happening here…

Strange Adventures
Author & Artist: Paul Pope (and Jose Villarrubia)

Even the Rannian Wastes are beautifully exotic in the hands of master artist-writer Paul Pope.  This time Strange Adventures has a decidedly Arabian Nights-style feel to it.  With Adam Strange nowhere in sight, it strikes me that his wife Alanna may be this title’s protagonist.

Supergirl
Author: Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Amanda Conner
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: John J. Hill

Palmiotti’s Supergirl is cute and charming and all, but I can’t help but wish there was more to this story than rounding up some rowdy super-pets…

Metal Men
Author: Dan DiDio
Artists: José Luis García-López & Kevin Nowlan
Letterer: Kenny Lopez
Colorist: Trish Mulvihill

A standard bank robbery has evolved into a hostage situation.  A very personal hostage situation for Doc Magnus.  DiDio creates a tense atmosphere throughout, but isn’t afraid to break it up with some classic Metal Men humour.

Wonder Woman
Author & Artist: Ben Caldwell

Reading Caldwell’s Wonder Woman is an exercise in frustration.  The claustrophobic panels make it near-impossible to follow or even read.  I’ve at least managed to figure out the basic story: Diana is accumulating all of the necessary accoutrements to become Wonder Woman in her fitful sleep, under the guise of collecting the “seven stars”.    It seems that most of these legendary items are in Ancient China, though, which I don’t quite understand.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co.
Author: Adam Kubert
Artist: Joe Kubert

I said before that it’d be interesting to see where the Kuberts go from here, and the answer is nowhere.  Nowhere in five weeks is a lot of nowhere.  More visceral images of Rock being tortured.

Flash Comics/Iris West
Authors: Karl Kerschl & Brenden Fletcher
Artist: Karl Kerschl
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Colorist: Dave McCaig

This is a great story!  Barry Allen keeps revisiting the same moments with Gorilla Grodd and Iris West, but each time his nemesis and his lover throw him yet another curveball.  It just goes to show that turning back time won’t solve everything — in fact, it’ll do quite the opposite!

The Demon and Catwoman
Author: Walter Simonson
Artist: Brian Stelfreeze (with Steve Wands)

Walter Simonson’s Demon may not rhyme, but he’s still a damn fine poet.  Catwoman’s not really worthy of her double-billing at this stage, though, so hopefully she’ll shine next week.

Hawkman
Author & Artist: Kyle Baker

It’s disappointing that the sci-fi element of this story was dispensed with so handily this week – I was under the impression that the alien threat was still there – but hopefully we’ll see it return.  Hawkman’s only stopping a plane crash this week, but the final caption promises that next week “it gets worse!”

I’d have to say that this has been by far the strongest installment of Wednesday Comics.  The greats are still great, and some under-performers really hit it out of the park this week.  Certainly worth a read.

Wednesday Comics #4

Posted in Comics, DC, Wednesday Comics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 7th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Risky and rewarding.

Risky and rewarding.

Four weeks of Wednesday Comics and it’s panning out as expected: the strong stories are still performing strongly and the others, well – not so strongly.

John Arcudi’s Superman – while beautifully painted by Lee Bermejo – is still, quite frankly, a whiny bitch; Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho an absolute head-scratcher; Eddie Berganza’s Teen Titans just screams ordinary; while Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman remains a cramped, unfocused mess (I didn’t even know something could be those three things at once until I read it).

It’s interesting to see who really thrives in this weekly one-page format and who doesn’t – I’m honestly surprised at how unimpressed I’ve been with Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho, and yet at the same time I wonder just how much brilliance I’d expect from one page of Sandman.  But this isn’t a 22-page comic, nor is it a graphic novel, and I think the writers and artists that understand that are the ones that deliver.  The Kuberts’ Sgt. Rock is dragging its heels like nothing else (so far he’s managed to get himself tortured), and Kurt Busiek’s Green Lantern isn’t much better (so far, Hal Jordan flew into a bar, flew out of a bar, and had a flashback – ZOMG!).  Just get to the good bits already! You can’t pace this like a 22-page comic, exploding it out page by page in a weekly format – you’ve only got twelve weeks to tell your story, and one page to impress me.  Given his experience with the weekly format, you’d think Busiek of all people would have it down.

The ones that do have it down are Gibbons (Kamandi), Pope (Strange Adventures), and Kerschl (The Flash/Iris West).  Come to think of it, all three of them feature villainous, super-intelligent, talking apes.  Kamandi is an open, sprawling adventure in a dystopian future.  Gibbons, an adept artist himself, lets Ryan Sook tell the story visually while he narrates.  Both Kamandi and Strange Adventures are throwbacks to the EC “Weird Science-Fantasy” comics of the fifties, and both are positively dripping with atmosphere.  I suspect the hand-written captions may have also helped in this regard.  Kerschl took the most interesting route of all the writers, telling parallel stories of The Flash and his lover Iris West, and you know what?  I think he’s stumbled across the magic formula for one-page-per-week storytelling.  I love the contrast of romance and superheroics from week to week, and the way these stories interweave and feed off of each other.  Barry Allen must race against time and himself(!) to save Central City and his love-life!  I love it!

Honestly, it’s worth reading Wednesday Comics just to follow those three, but there are plenty of other strong efforts to justify your purchase.  Dave Bullock has managed to pick up the pace and find his voice in a much more focused Deadman, while the Most Improved award must go to Walter Simonson with The Demon and Catwoman, which makes a whole lot more sense now in its own weird little way.  Catwoman has become a cat-woman, and the Demon is waxing poetic as he should be, as they duke it out in the highlands.  Brian Azzarello’s Batman is shaping up to be an intriguing murder mystery, while Dan DiDio’s Metal Men is again surprisingly funny.  Jimmy Palmiotti’s Supergirl is okay, if only a little trivial on the back of Pope’s Strange Adventures (Supergirl’s basically trying to round up two super-powered pets who have run away from home).  While it’s disappointing that Hawkman‘s story is no longer narrated by birds as it was in the first issue, it has taken a science fiction twist for the better, I believe.

And that about wraps it for the fourth week of Wednesday Comics.  I have issue 5 in front of me now, but I suspect I’ll have nothing new to say about it.  This is the most interesting experiment in the comic book format that you’re ever likely to be part of, so get into it.