Comics Round-up 18.09.2012

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Shadowhawk, Bane of Kings and Bellarius review a variety of comics titles from across genres and publishers in the second installment of an entirely new reviews series for The Founding Fields.

“Another rock-solid reading experience, spent with some truly enjoyable comics.” ~Shadowhawk

A fantastic mix of superheroes and zombies. Coupled with fantastic art and fantastic storylines, these are issues that are unmissable.” ~Bane of Kings

“A reasonable start but is driven more by its explosions and situations than its characters.” ~Bellarius

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Danger Girl #1-3 by Andy Hartnell (IDW Publishing), Warriors of Mars #1-3 by Robert Place Napton (Dynamite Entertainment), Witchblade/Red Sonja #1-2 by Doug Wagner (Dynamite Entertainment), and Earth 2 #1-4 by James Robinson (DC Comics).

“A damn fantastic introduction to the Danger Girl franchise, full of action and awesomeness.”

As with Battle Beasts last month, Danger Girl/G.I.Joe is my first introduction the first half of this crossover series. The name says it all I think. Imagine a team of American spies in the same vein as James Bond, except made up mostly of women, but just as kick-ass, cool and… dangerous. The crossover series brings together my golden favourites G.I.Joe and partners them with the covert operations Danger Girl team in one of the most action packed comics I’ve read so far this year. When the first issue begins, two G.I.Joes, Flint and Scarlett, are captured by Cobra while returning from a recover-and-escort mission, and in the aftermath, the President herself issues orders to ground the team, based on the team’s perceived incompetence. Unable to even go out and look for their missing friends, Lady Jaye, Jinx, and Cover Girl contact Johnny Barracuda of Danger Girl and ask for his help. And so the stage is set.

I had a ton of fun reading these three issues and they have pretty much everything I could want out of them in terms of art quality, the story, the pacing, everything. For my time’s worth (I’d have said money’s worth but these are review copies) Andy Hartnell is now a firm favourite writer of mine, joining the ranks of Mike Costa, Chuck Dixon, Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner, Kyle Higgins and Scott Snyder (amongst others!). This is as classic a G.I.Joe story as you get, with all those classical elements thrown in: missing Joes, Cobra infiltrators, new Cobra technologies, Government heat on the Joes, lots and lots of misdirection and betrayals. What’s not to love, seriously? With the inclusion of the Danger Girl team, the Joes have the exact extra muscle and charm they need on their new mission, and both teams complement each other really well. My friend Adam will be happy to know that I’m now a Danger Girl fan.

Art-wise, I loved these issues. The combination of John Royle, Phillip Moy, Romula Fajardo Jr. and Neil Uyetake have delivered the type of G.I.Joe artwork that I’ve really longed for in Chuck Dixon/Mike Costa’s Cobra Command run. There are some slight changes to character designs here and there but each and every Joe is instantly recognisable to me by their uniform, even Scarlett is just as I remember her, rather than her weird portrayal in Cobra Command. The artists have captured the visual feel of each character just right, even the villains such as the Baroness, Destro, Zartan and Major Bludd. Fun, fun, fun. My only complaint would be the deep necklines on the Danger Girl female team-members and Baroness. The whole style kind of fits the look of the series (kind of) but its just a bit weird.

Can’t wait to get into the rest of the series!

Rating: 9.5/10

“John Carter finally has some serious competition it seems!” ~The Founding Fields

I’ve really been dipping into the whole John Carter series (and spinoffs) this year ever since I started reading Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar in March this year and saw the Disney movie adaptation of A Princess of Mars just a couple days later. Then followed reading Warlord of Mars Vol.1 and Dejah Thoris Vol.1 & 2 comics as well as the audiobook version of Burroughs’ first novel. Suffice to say that I’m fairly well-versed in this setting and that I pretty much know Carter’s “origin” story by heart. So, I was quite interested to see how Warriors of Mars would progress, as it introduces another American soldier, Gullivar Jones, who has visited Barsoom, before John Carter ever set foot there. Its been rather interesting getting into the series. The first issue I thought was a bit average but the second and third issues upped the ante to deliver a much better experience.


There are quite a few contrasts between Carter and Jones here. They come from opposite sides of the military and they have different relationships with Mars, Jones fell in love with Dejah Thoris’ mother for one, and he is also a much more of a romantic than Carter who is more action-oriented and direct. But, they are both dashing heroes who work well together, even when they are at odds. My one abiding problem with the first issue was that the Barsoomians are portrayed as too accepting and too generous for my tastes. I have a hard time believing that their society is so open that they just welcome anyone who appears out of nowhere, with outlandish manners, odd super-powers and such. John Carter had a long acclimitisation process under the Tharks and his budding romance with Dejah Thoris which helped him in his acceptance by the people of Helium. With Jones, its too fast, too abrupt. Other than that though, the first issue particularly was good. The second and third issues delve into the dynamics of the Carter-Jones relationship, which was welcome and just the thing that was needed. With the introduction of a new race of Martians, the Thither who live in old, forgotten corners of the world, there is a lot of spice in this series.

As far as the art is concerned, I’m not too taken by the oil painting style that appears to have been used here. It doesn’t quite capture the visual effect of the setting, even though it is similar to Warlord of Mars in a lot of ways. I prefer the style used in the Warlord of Mars – Dejah Thoris comics far more. Still, the art is fairly consistent and some of the panels are really nice, especially those involving the Thither people, the ones responsible for razing Dejah Thoris’ mother’s home city.

Rating: 7.5/10

“New York city cop meets the greatest heroine of Hyboria. An explosive mix!”

I admit that I’m not that familiar with Witchblade as I am with Red Sonja (having read only a couple or so of the first issues of the former, compared to the first omnibus collection and a giant-size collection of the latter). As such, I was rather worried that I may have some trouble getting into the Witchblade side of things with this crossover. Thankfully, it was anything but. Doug Wagner introduces the reader gently into both settings, and you only need to know the bare basics of the backstories of either character to follow along. The striking thing about this crossover is that Sara Pezzini and Red Sonja don’t actually meet face-to-face in the first two issues, although the Witchblade artifact has met Sonja before, when it was borne by a different warrior, Nissa. I’m still not sure if I like that approach, but then again, the crossover is just starting and there are several issues yet of this.

Story-wise, the first two issues are split roughly equally into the times/perspectives of both characters and they run almost concurrent with each other. In Hyboria, Red Sonja is hunting a damned sorcerer who is sacrificing girls to his dark gods and wishes to rule the world. When she finally runs into him, she has the fight of her life on her hands, having to go up against several trolls (?) at the same time. She is saved by Nissa and the two team up to take down the sorcerer. Back in New York Sara and her partner Gleason are investigating a bizarre murder and suicide in a cathedral when out of nowhere they find themselves defending against a vicious serpent-monster. Sara goes into Witchblade mode and starts kicking ass while protecting the stubborn Gleason at the same time. Overall, I found the story itself to be quite good, barring my one issue above. Wagner captures the essence of each character really well and he puts them in situations that they can ostensibly handle and are situations that they are used to. But he still throws the spanner into the works and presents both with some formidable challenges that really do not end well for either of them. By the time issue 2 ends, Sonja and Sara both have their work cut out for them and it looks like they will finally be meeting soon. Should be good!

In terms of the art, while the covers for both issues really do not do either of them justice, the internal art by Cezar Razek, Marlon Ilagan and Troy Peteri is much better. I really liked Sonja and how she is portrayed, a warrior woman who looks the part without being a caricature in any way, the trademark impractical metal bikini notwithstanding. She got the better end of the deal here, that’s a given. Where Sara is concerned, she has a distinctive look to her alright but I still don’t like the revealing top-half of her Witchblade persona (or that of Nissa really, but its the same suit). At this point, I think I am just going to resign myself to the fact that female characters just get drawn that way. Me mentioning the issue over and over isn’t really treading any new ground. So yeah, apart from that, the artwork looks great.

Rating: 8.5/10

Earth 2 is among the top reboots of New 52 and with good reason.”

New 52 for me has been a pretty mixed bag so far. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Scott Sndyer’s Batman and Kyle Higgins’ Nightwing, Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern coming a close third, Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman losing itself in the last few issues after a fantastic opening run, Michael Green’s Supergirl being average at best, and George Perez/Dan Jurgens’ Superman being mostly just terrible. Brightening it all up is James Robinson’s fantastic work on Earth 2, which pushes the spectrum firmly towards the top end of the spectrum. It is new, it is original, it is fresh, it is entertaining in a way that Superman and Supergirl just aren’t. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not that familiar with DC-verse, although I have a lot of experience with Batman and Superman (the various animated shows, the live action and animated movies, several comics, etc), so I can’t really comment on how original Robinson’s take on the characters actually is, but they are original to me.

Earth 2 starts off in the aftermath of a massive invasion by Darkseid and his forces from Apokolips, a war that sees the world’s greatest heroes vanish, presumed dead. Into the gap left by Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are The Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkgirl. An interesting mix for sure, particularly since I’m a big fan of the Justice League animated show, which had the line-up of these same characters (their Earth 1 counterparts of course), plus the Martian Manhunter. While the first issue represents a solid intro to the series, the second and third issues are very much origin issues for Flash and GL, with the fourth bringing them together for a spectacular fight against an agent of the Grey (Alan Scott is an agent of the Green energy/force). The story throughout these first four issues is really compelling, and very heart-felt. Standout mention goes to Alan Scott, DC’s first (prominent?) gay character, for his origin story here is the most tragic of them all (issue 4 hints at some really dark stuff for Hawkgirl). Watching the heroes come together, figure out their new powers, and fighting for their survival had me hooked from the start. I lament the fact that I have to wait a month between issues!

The only thing about the series that bothers me so far is the nature of the Green energy that powers Alan Scott. There is no mention of the Green Lantern Corps, or the Guardians. There is just the life-force/energy, a sentient being in and of itself, which picks Scott as its agent. The classic ring is also not something intrinsic to the Green Lantern lore here, but something that is whimsical on Scott’s part and ties into his same-sex relationship with his friend.

By the end of issue 4, the heroes take a pretty nasty beating at the hands of the agent of Grey who is out to destroy the world, primarily because the Grey is the mortal enemy of the Green, and the fight between this agent and Green Lantern is a battle of champions. Yes, Flash and Hawkgirl are instrumental here as well, but GL takes the centerstage in this issue. And then we have the explosive and shocking entry of The Atom. He is more of a third player in the story at this point and his inclusions suitably spices things up. He has a past with Hawkgirl as well and I can’t wait to see how that all plays out.

Art-wise, this was a perfect four issues for me. I love the art here and the entire art team has done a great job. The explosions, the characters, the locales, the superpower effects etc, are all really cool. Suffice to say that I can’t praise the artwork enough. Earth 2 definitely has been one of the best-drawn New 52 series as yet for me.

Rating: 10/10

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Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: America’s Got Powers #1 by Jonathan Ross (Image Comics), The Walking Dead #1 by Robert Kirkman (Image/Skybound), and Nightwing #1-2 by Kyle Higgins (DC Comics).

America’s Got Powers Issue #1 by Jonathan Ross

America’s Got Powers is published by Image Comics, written by Jonathan Ross, and the artwork is provided by Bryan Hitch. It’s the first issue in a six-issue miniseries.

“X-Men meets [Insert Country’s name of your choice here]’s Got Talent with an element of The Hunger Games. A fantastic first issue.” ~The Founding Fields

America’s Got Powers is something, like almost all of the issues that I’ve reviewed here, that I wouldn’t have discovered if it hadn’t been for the fact that they had their first issue free on Comixology. But I’m glad I did pick it up, as it turned out to be an awesome ride, leaving me eagerly awaiting Issue #2.

Welcome to AMERICA’S GOT POWERS! It’s the biggest TV show on Earth, where the chance to win fame, fortune and get laid are dangled in front of a generation of super-powered teens. All they have to do is WIN. Who is the fastest, the strongest or the greatest? Who survives? Young Tommy Watt’s dreams of being the greatest hero of them all might just be shattered when the greatest show on the planet begins to reveal its dark heart.

I was blown away by this issue, and the only reason why I haven’t picked up the sequel yet is because I’ve been distracted by Scott Snyder’s brilliant run on Batman for DC’s New 52 (review of Issues 0-12 will come later this week). The artwork provided by Bryan Hitch is superb, and although it may not be as dark or gritty as Snyder’s, it’s certainly extremely well designed and I really hope that Ross and Hitch continue to work as a team for the course of this Series, as I cannot praise Hitch’s artwork higher. I’d recommend buying the comic for the artwork alone, but the story is just as good. And you’re not even buying it if you get it from comixology – it’s free!

What I liked about America’s Got Powers is that it’s different from the normal superhero tale, in the way that rather than get their hands dirty with the rest of the world, the heroes are used by the media, in this case – America’s Got Powers TV show, to act as a crowd-pleaser for an army of fans with an uncontrollable thirst for violence. The superheroes are original and certainly don’t bear any similarities to the already established characters of the DC and Marvel Universes. The story is great, and even though it’s not a fully contained one, it certainly leaves you eagerly anticipating the next Issue. The pace is fast, and you will find yourself speeding through it. We get thrust headfirst into action from the get go, and Ross introduces both the characters and the world so that there are never any moments where we get left behind. Tommy Watts is an interesting and likeable lead character, and I will look forward to seeing his character develop over the course of the next few Issues.

A high-concept story that, in its first issue at least, succeeds. I can’t wait for more.

Verdict: 5/5

The Walking Dead Issue #1 by Robert Kirkman

The next issue reviewed by Bane of Kings is the first in the zombie classic The Walking Dead series, written by Robert Kirkman, with artwork from Tony Moore, and published by Image/Skybound comics. This review contains minor spoilers.

“A strong introduction that certainly lives up to the hype. I can’t wait to see where this goes in future issues.” ~The Founding Fields

Whilst America’s Got Powers is an Issue that I picked up largely on a whim, The Walking Dead #1 isn’t. I’ve been waiting to read this series for what seemed like forever, even if my experience with the novel Rise of the Governor was somewhat negative.  As a zombie fan, I couldn’t wait to see where Kirkman would take the reader with this series, having not watched the show either and I can safely say that the author did not disappoint. Another fantastic Issue.

Rick Grimes, Sheriff of a small town in Kentucky awakes in a hospital. Comatose after being shot while on duty, Rick finds the world abandoned of all things living and is faced with walking undead, who attack him on sight. He returns home to find his family, son Carl and wife Lori, gone. He meets his new neighbour, who points him towards Atlanta. After retrieving supplies from the abandoned Police Station, Rick sets off to Atlanta to search for his family.

The first issue of The Walking Dead is the first black and white comic that I’ve read, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. I haven’t read many zombie survival stories where the main character misses the initial zombie outbreak (aside from The Reapers Are the Angels, which doesn’t really count as Temple was born after the outbreak), and I liked how Kirkman covered this – and by doing so, manages to avoid the question of how the zombies appeared and what created them. The blurb provided by comixology did a fair job of spoiling pretty much what was going to happen in the Issue, and I can only hope that the rest of the comic blurbs don’t basically tell a plot summary of what will happen. But I ploughed onwards anyway, and really enjoyed Kirkman’s tale.

The comic breezes along at a pace that will be able to keep us reading. There are no boring parts that you will want to skip, and I loved how Kirkman constructed the story line. Although there isn’t any major action scenes that happen in the first issue, it’s still worth picking up at Kirkman basically uses this to set the scene for Rick’s journey to Atlanta.  In comparison to America’s Got Powers, The Walking Dead is obviously a lot darker and moodier than the Issue that I reviewed above. There isn’t any major flaw with The Walking Dead’s first instalment, and I hope that this can continue as the series progresses.  Great stuff.

Rick is the main character introduced in this issue and whether or not you like him, we’re stuck with him as he doesn’t look like getting killed off any time soon. In a post-apocalyptic tale, we’re commonly left with a small cast of dramatis personae, and so far – The Walking Dead, aside from the zombies, of which there are plentiful, gives us three characters in this issue who are interesting to look at, and whilst it’s a shame that we might not some of them again, they were interesting characters to look at, and I wouldn’t have minded if they’d chosen to stick around.

In conclusion, The Walking Dead #1 does what it intended to do – introduces Rick, his new world and sets up his objectives, and it doesn’t fail to disappoint.

Verdict: 4/5

Nightwing Issues #1 and #2 by Kyle Higgins

Bane of Kings reviews the first two issues of DC’s reboot for Nightwing, part of the New 52 series that is authored by Kyle Higgins, and drawn by Eddy Barrows – the cover being the work of JP Mayer.

“A great look into one of Batman’s former assistant. A fantastic two first issues that will make Higgins’ run on Nightwing a one to watch.” ~The Founding Fields

#1 – Dick Grayson flies high once more as Nightwing in a new series from hot new writer Kyle Higgins (BATMAN: GATES OF GOTHAM)! And as he embraces his destiny, Haley’s Circus, the big top where Dick once performed, returns to Gotham City – bringing with it murder, mystery and superhuman evil. Nightwing must confront his past, among former friends and enemies from his circus days, while uncovering a much greater evil!

#2 - When a mysterious assassin targets Dick Grayson, Nightwing must work fast to uncover the killer’s plot before he strikes again. But as Haley’s Circus continues to perform in Gotham City, Dick finds himself torn between two lives: His old one as a circus performer and his new one as a Super Hero. And they may be more connected than he ever realized!

I’d never heard of Nightwing before I played Arkham City, where he gets a brief mention in Tim Drake’s  (who is the current Robin in that game) biography, where I discovered that he was Dick Grayson, the first Robin. Having never been a fan of Robin before, I decided to give this title a try as I was interested in getting the full background on The Night of Owls Crossover Event that features all Bat-family comics that have been relaunched for New 52, and I found myself liking it a lot. Although I still prefer Scott Snyder’s run on Batman, Kyle Higgins manages to make Nightwing a standout character and enjoyable to look at, and it’s nice to read about someone in the Batman universe who isn’t Bruce Wayne for a change.

The artwork that Barrows has created for both issues is, whilst not quite as dark atmospheric-wise as Snyder’s – or rather, Greg Capullo’s Gotham, is far from the brightness of America’s Got Powers. You can tell that it’s the same city, even if there are a few differences in tone. Both issues leave us on a cliffhanger as well, which I’ve found to be a common factor in DC’s New 52 titles so far, as virtually every Batman title ended with an ending that screamed “buy the next issue now!” It worked for me on Batman, but on Nightwing? Well, I did pick up Issue #2. There is a large difference in art between the scenes that feature Dick Grayson and Nightwing as well; most of the Grayson scenes are in a lighter tone, as opposed to Grayson’s adventures as Nightwing, which is when Barrows really gets the closest to matching Capullo’s Gotham. If all of DC’s New 52 series provide as good art as the ones created by Capullo and Barrows, then I will have high praise for this reboot in the future. Both Issues are consistent and strong, and we get an interesting look into Haley’s Circus and how it has changed since Grayson left. Whilst I have not read the Batman comic that dealt with the death of Grayson’s parents, (If there is one – I don’t even know its name), I found that you don’t have to know this character’s origin story word for word before you read Higgins’ Nightwing. I’ve come into both Nightwing and Batman with a little understanding of their universes aside from Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (which lacked Nightwing), eight-ish graphic novels and a video game. This is what I love about New 52 – it allows us to get familiar with a character that we would have had to hunt down several older issues spread across various different series in order to fully comprehend the character. After reading the first two issues of Nightwing, It isn’t hard to get to grips with the character and I look forward to reading more of his adventures in the future. Top notch stuff.

Nightwing also introduces a pretty badass bad guy for Nightwing to face, and it’s interesting to see how the inevitable final battle between Nightwing and Saiko will turn out, especially as Saiko believes that Dick Grayson is apparently a dangerous criminal and a murderer. This also plays up the added mystery element – I love a good mystery, and Higgins has managed to firmly establish one here with just two Issues. I can’t wait to see where this progresses. Although it may not be able to match Snyder’s Batman in terms of epicness, Nightwing is still a great series that any Bat-family fan should enjoy.

Verdict: 4/5

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Comics reviewed by Bellarius: Stormwatch #1-6 by Paul Cornell (DC Comics)

Bellarius takes a look at how the revamped metahuman organisation shapes up in the New 52 and has changed with its introduction to the DCU.

“A reasonable start but is driven more by its explosions and situations than its characters.” ~Bellarius

If there’s one thing to truly credit about New 52’s incarnation of Stormwatch it’s that it takes its ideas and hits the ground running. Even as the reader is given the impression of how they differ from the likes of other superpowered teams they are fighting the sorts of threats which the other new heroes have barely begun to encounter. The same sorts of threats which they have been battling for seemingly centuries, time and time again without the help of anyone like Green Lantern or Superman.

As Jack Hawksmoor sums up in the first issue – “Do we look like “super heroes”? They’re amateurs. We’re the professionals.”

This line does lead me to question just why several characters turn up in obviously superhero outfits but it does help introduce the idea of this incarnation of Stormwatch. Originally Wildstorm’s major superhero team, this version is an elite organisation operating beyond any earth government. One which has been defending earth from threats both within and without since the middle ages in secret, their first incarnation actually being the Demon Knights. Effectively they’re the NDCU’s Torchwood, but with less alien freaky sex and much bigger enemies. That latter point is made exceptionally clear from what they face in these opening issues.

In their band new introduction the Justice League was shown facing an invasion force from Apokolips. For their first issue the Teen Titans fought, amongst others, Superboy.

Who are Stormwatch fighting? The moon. The moon which is being reshaped into a gigantic claw pointed at the Earth and possessed by a creature known as the Scourge of Worlds. A survivor of a power so terrifying is trying to strengthen the Earth against it through a trial by fire, launching city destroying monsters at the planet.

Not bad as enemies go and even after this there are several hints of bigger dangers to come. Mention of whatever destroyed the Scourge’s people, the familiar Wildstorm threat of the Demonites is hinted, and one final line dropped in the last panel – “Stormwatch isn’t going to be looking for us just yet, they’re going to have to save the universe first.”

Unfortunately the action packed explosions of the first trade do come at a price. Despite this being their first volume we don’t get much of an impression of most people and the few personal moments which are given feel clumsy or ill fitting by comparison. The relationship between Harry Tanner and the Engineer is only given a brief glimpse and we aren’t given any reasons as to why Hawksmoor is so loyal to Adam One, Stormwatch’s leader. Atop of this fans who might celebrate learning that Apollo and Midnighter look like they’re both going to be together in this universe are doing to be disappointed by the fleeting scene where this is actually addressed.

By the end of it only two characters are given any time to show how they compare to their old selves. Jack Hawksmoor appears to be more or less identical to his old self barring one or two changes in his relationships, but Wildstorm fans might find satisfaction in the consistency of his character. Martian Manhunter meanwhile seems to share few if any traits with his old self. This version of J’onn is far more militant than his other self, more willing to use force and guilt others into joining him to help protect the world, showing himself to be less of a hero a far more of a soldier.

Moving on from the story aspects however is the artwork. Penciler (and occasionally inker) Miguel Sepulveda went into a great amount of detail especially with the environments. The shrapnel effects of when objects are hit with a great force or caught in an explosion are vastly more detailed than what is usually seen in the average comic. This helps to bring a more palpable sense of power within the heroes and villains. The art style does suffer when it comes to some character expressions however, especially when trying to detail background figures or expressions of shock. The latter giving most characters an oddly fish-eyed look on more than one occasion.

However the art’s flaws and the lack of characterisation aren’t the comic’s biggest weak-point, that comes down to its title. To put it simply this isn’t Stormwatch it’s their more popular Wildstorm successor, the Authority, under a different name. At no point were there any hints of Winter, Flint, Battalion or any of the long standing characters appearing. The closest the NDCU has gotten to featuring them was a brief cameo by Fuji in an entirely different comic.

The way the first issues are presented does at least seem to by trying to be in keeping to some of Stormwatch’s themes. Specifically that of decapitating large scale threats at their head rather than fighting minions over the Authority’s themes of forcibly changing the world but it’s still disappointing to old fans.

Really, Stormwatch: Volume 1 is severely flawed as an introduction to a new comic but is far from outright bad. It lacks the characterisation and personal touch needed to care about the characters but it manages to both explain what the organisation is and provides a major threat for them to fight without ever feeling rushed.

You could certainly find far worse from the New 52 than this but it only comes with a recommendation rather than a must buy.

Verdict: 6.7/10

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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