Comics Round-up 15.05.2013

04 Batman Knightfall

Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings welcome you to the second comics round-up for May.

“The only disappointment this time around was Matt Fraction’s first arc for The Mighty Thor. Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 was simply amazing in terms of its deep-seated psychological impact while Fables Volume 2 was the perfect successor to the first volume, and G.I.Joe: Cobra Volume 2 continued to impress with its character exploration of Chuckles.” ~Shadowhawk

Action Comics #19 sees Andy Diggle’s short run go out with a bang, Jeff Lemire establishes Green Arrow as one of the best of the New 52, while Jeph Leob delivers another strong issue of Nova and All New X-Men remains one of the best currently ongoing Marvel Now! comics.” ~Bane of Kings

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Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 by Chuck Dixon and Dough Moench (DC Comics), G.I.Joe: Cobra Vol.2 by Christos Gage and Mike Costa (IDW Publishing), Fables Volume 2 by Bill Willingham, and, The Mighty Thor Volume 1 by Matt Fraction (Marvel).

*****

Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 by Chuck Dixon and Dough Moench

04 Batman Knightfall Part 1 Broken BatMy original intent was to read the first volume of the entire Knightfall arc, but then I found out that the arc was divided into two separate volumes, Broken Bat and Who Rules The Night. And the two arcs covered, respectively, 12 and 8 issues across the Detective Comics and Batman titles. Suffice to say, that was extremely hefty reading, even for me, and I ended up reading only Broken Bat, which covers Batman #491-497 and Detective Comics #659-663 in an alternating order. And by the time I was done with Broken Bat, I was, quite frankly, totally amazed. Other than Scott Snyder’s ongoing work with Batman in New 52, with arcs like The Death of the Family and The Court of OwlsBroken Bat is now in my top favourite Batman story arcs of all time because of how good the writing is, the art, and the payoff at the end of the arc.

From the very first issue of the arc, with Bane breaking into Arkham Asylum to free all the insane criminals locked inside and distract Batman while he solidifies his hold on Gotham, to the final issue, which ends with Bane breaking Batman’s spine and reducing him to an invalid, there is absolutely no let up in the action. The Doug Moenche issues of Batman were not as enjoyable as the Chuck Dixon issues of Detective Comics, but overall, this was a very solid one-piece story. Its got everything I could want in a comic like this: superb Batman action against a variety of villains, lots of tension between Robin and Batman that tests their friendship, sagely advice from Alfred, an in-depth exploration of Batman’s psyche, Bane’s manipulation of events and his own brand of criminal justice.

Other than the fact that both Dough Moenche and Chuck Dixon gave an excellent outing to all the villains in the book, what I really loved with how absolutely dark the book is. This book marks Batman at his worst in the comics I’ve read. With dozens of Arkham inmates running free all over Gotham, some of them even teaming up to attempt to take down Batman, the world’s greatest detective is having an absolutely hellish time. He just can’t keep up with everything, and he is afraid to have Robin assist him because he is still haunted by the mental scars of Jason Todd’s brutal and senseless death. He ends up taking the entire mental and physical load on himself, turning into a lone wolf despite the fact that he can call upon friends to help him out. He pushes himself to his furthest limits, and he still keeps going, never giving up on his responsibility, never giving in to the despair that events around him engender. What’s even more remarkable is that he has no superpowers of any kind. He happens to be a regular man who has trained himself to the peaks of mental and physical exertions and has a finely-honed intelligence.

Despite how good Scott Snyder’s ongoing series is, even he has not been able to push Batman and Bruce Wayne so far so hard.

As a villain, Bane is absolutely chilling. I’ve had the benefit (such as it is, since I highly dislike it) of having seen Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film, and so I have a fairly good idea of destructive Bane can be, but this was truly something else. I didn’t expect someone like Bane to be so coldly calculating, so methodical and pragmatic. He ignores several early chances at taking down Batman because he wants that perfect victory over him, where Batman is at his worst and Bane is at his best. He wants a victory where he knows that he has fully beaten Batman in every possible way: physically, mentally, psychologically.

It really can’t get better than that.

In terms of the art, there are a lot of artists who worked on the book. There really is an army of artists on the credits list. Headliners include Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Adrienne Roy, Jim Balent, Scott Hanna, and several others. Since there are two series that tell the story of Broken Bat, the artists do a lot of cross-series work, in all capacities. There are even some guest artists in a handful of the issues. Still, Broken Bat maintains an almost consistent look between issues. The art isn’t all that spectacular, and it does show its age today, but then again, there is something oddly thrilling about the “classic” look of the characters. Bane is an absolute monster, the Mad Hatter and the Joker are at their quirkiest, Batman himself is more of a rough-and-tough cowboy rather than a more… sophisticated hero. The dark tone of the book is carried off very well by the dark palettes used by the artists throughout each issue, giving it a more cohesive look.

Once again, if there are any flaws with the book, then they lie primarily with Dough Moenche’s issues, which are not as enjoyable to read as Chuck Dixon’s issues, and are a bit more slower paced in general. Bane’s behind-the-scenes presence however, ensures that the larger story being told never loses its way and stays on target. There is a ton of thrilling action here, and a lot of deeper insight into the primarily characters like Batman and Bane, so overall Broken Bat remains a top-level story, a true classic in every sense of the word.

And then of course, there is the ending when the inevitable happens. And Alfred ends up rushing off to find Robin so they can help the now-invalid Batman and save his life. That ending redeems almost all the flaws of the book.

Rating: 8.5/10

More Batman: #1-10, #11-12, 2012 Annual, #13-15, #16-18, A Death In The Family.

*****

G.I.Joe: Cobra Vol.2 by Christos Gage and Mike Costa

G.I.Joe Cobra Vol.2 IDWWhen last we left off Chuckles, he was in some dire straits with COBRA. Having infiltrated the global terrorist organisation, he is ultimately made to suffer in the most gruesome way possible. Following these events, a spot opens up in the G.I.Joe for a new character, who is tasked with bringing Chuckles home. I had thought that there was no way that Gage and Costa could improve upon the first volume in the series. I was so, so wrong. The two writers, among my favourites working in the industry right now, managed to up the ante in the most spectacular fashion possible. They introduced lots of new characters, G.I.Joe and COBRA alike, and told a hell of a story while doing it.

We continue to see more and more of COBRA from the insithde, particularly through the eyes of Erika Le Tene, an adjunct to one of the Paoli brothers, Tomax and Xamot. She has a split personality and thus often suffers from self-deprecating illusions that she is the Baroness, all of which really complicates matters as far as G.I.Joe and Chuckles are concerned. In particular, she has a really interesting scene involving Croc Master in the middle of the first issue of this, the second book in the series.

What this book made me feel, as a highlight, was incredibly sorry for all the treatment that Chuckles is put through. The man, a loyal soldier with only one goal in his life (his service to his country and his fellow soldiers), is put through a wringer, both by COBRA and by G.I.Joe. It is as if the man just cannot catch a break. The universe continues to make things tougher and tougher for him, and yet he carries on. In a way, he reminds me of how Chuck Dixon and Doug Moenche handled Batman in Knightfall Vol.1: Broken Bat. There are a lot of similarities between Batman and Chuckles in the two graphic novels, and all of it for the better.

Another thing that the book does really well is to turn Erika into more of a protagonist. In the first book, she straddles the line between being a character of prominence and being a side-show. In this book, she has almost as much screen-time as does Chuckles, probably more. Gage and Costa have turned her into a really interesting and complex character from the humble beginnings of the first book. Having read one of the special issues that follow on from this book, the stage is also set for Erika to turn into a full-on major character, someone who can almost change the course of the shadow conflict between the two opposing organisations.

The art team is little changed overall from the first book, and my congratulations go to them once more. Othe than the cover art, which I still don’t like given the complete change in style in how Chuckles is depicted, almost as if he is a completely different character, the artwork is top-notch. The scenes with Erika and Croc Master, between Chameleon and Chuckles, the cameos involving Serpentor, and the scenes in the jungles with Chuckles, they are all stand-out moments in the book. The art team has indeed done a great job of showing the characters in a favourable light, no matter who they may be.

And their depiction of Cobra Commander, right at the end of the fourth issue of the book, was just marvelous. I was definitely not expectinseg it, and it came off as a shock. I had been wanting to see this particular individual since the first issue of the rebooted series, and had lost all hope by that last page, and then there was that final panel. Which made everything alright in the world again. Once again, it is a monster ending that eliminates any previous flaws in a book.

G.I.Joe: Cobra is turning into a really nuanced and extremely well-written series, with some really good art, and joins all of IDW’s other G.I.Joe books I’ve read as one of the best comics series I’ve read to date.

Rating: 9/10

More G.I.Joe: G.I.Joe Volume 1G.I.Joe Volume 2G.I.Joe: Cobra Volume 1, Cobra Command Vol.1, Cobra Command Vol.2, and, Cobra Command Vol.3.

*****

Fables Volume 2 by Bill Willingham

11 Fables Animal FarmReading Fables Volume 1 earlier this year was one of the highlights of my comics experience. It was a book that was inspired by some of the earliest western folk tales, with an incredibly fresh perspective from the writer. Reading about the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, Jack and other characters has never been this exciting, and this involved. I blasted through the first two volumes in short order, because I just couldn’t put them down once I got started. If anything, Animal Farm, is a book that is at least on par with its predecessor. Willingham manages to stay consistent throughout with both his characters and his pacing, making Fables a series to follow.

After the events of the first book in the series, Legends in Exile, Bill Willingham shifts focus to the Farm community of Fables, where all those Fables of an animalistic nature, i.e those who cannot transform into humans like the Big Bad Wolf can, reside. In an attempt to patch things between herself and her sister Rose, Snow White heads over to the Farm for her monthly visit and brings Rose along so they can have some bonding time on the trip. Things get off to a frosty start, but everything changes once the two sisters arrive at the Farm. From the get go, things are not as they seem, and there are undercurrents of some great tension among the Fables of the Farm. Bill Willingham strikes up the perfect balance between humour and satire with his script, turning each and every one of these new characters into characters who matter, characters who can affect the script in their own way, no matter how small.

That Animal Farm bears similarities to George Orwell’s classic which I barely remember reading (it has been far too many years) is also commendable. The book proves that no matter who his characters are, Bill Willingham understands them and is able to make them different, yet remain the same as they are in countless “sanitised” stories. One small bit that breaks that particular trend is when Goldilocks is talking with Mama and Papa Bear about their son, the dialogue being rather mature and containing sexual overtones. It is something that Willingham did in Legends In Exile as well, his way to remind us that these really aren’t the characters we remember.

Several small story-threads from Legends In Exile are carried over into Animal Farm, and at the same time, lots of new concepts are introduced as well. Which was to be expected since the first book established the major characters, and time is ripe in the second book to expand o the world-building and show off much more of the Fables community, showing that it is not limited to just the characters in Fabletown.

Duty to family and honour and respect for friends, even allies, are some of the important themes that Willingham covers in Animal Farm. The standout example of the former is, of course, the tumultuous relationship between Snow White and Rose, which is one of the driving forces in the script, and moves along a fair bit of the action. Without that crucial element, Animal Farm would not have been so enjoyable.

The art team, I cannot say enough good things about them. There is a distinct sense of realism to the artwork, and all the characters and panels are drawn brilliantly, with a ton of details and attention to the setting. Visually, Animal Farm is a great successor to Legends In Exile. Given that the second book is about ten times more violent than the first one, there is a fair amount of blood and gore here, but none of it gratuitous exactly. Each scene of violence serves a larger purpose in the story and is never there just for the hell of it.

I am still kind of disappointed that we don’t know just who the Adversary is, and just how exactly all the Fables managed to leave their various realities and settings. It is the one thing that keeps tripping me about the series. Hopefully, it is something that is explored in the later books. Animal Farm does end on a very promising note, and I can’t wait to dig in some more, soon as I am done with all the comics on my comics reading list challenge.

Rating: 9/10

More Fables: Fables Volume 1.

*****

The Mighty Thor Volume 1 by Matt Fraction

23 Mighty Thor

And finally we come to one of my biggest graphic novel disappointments of recent times. This one gives me proof that Matt Fraction is just not my kind of writer, that the way he writes is just not for me, plain and simple. The book has an interesting enough story, but is let down by the writing, the pacing, and the random confluence of events, not to mention that throughout the book, Loki just comes across as nothing more than an idiot. And that is a characterisation that I am just not comfortable with, on any level.

The biggest problem with the book is that it lacks any sense of direction. Events just happen, and the heroes manage to resolve everything by the end to everyone’s benefit. The inclusion of Galactus and Silver Surfer felt really heavy-handed to me, and it was something that I never quite came to terms with. There are too many moments of “who has the biggest sword”, euphemistically speaking, and Thor is portrayed as someone who lacks a fair bit of common sense. He is warlike in the worst way possible, and lets his ego get the better of him again and again.

Volstagg’s scenes, where he goes to the nearest Human town, seemingly on a mission of war against the town citizens because they dared insult him, were even more pointless. They provided some decent humour, and broke up the monotony of Thor’s stupid moments and boring dialogue, but things never got beyond that.

Even where Thor himself is concerned, there was next to no development of the character. Matt Fraction had a really good opportunity here to tell a really fantastic tale, and it seems that he just wasted all of that potential. His characters are all bland and uninteresting, with very little to differentiate them from each other in terms of their attitudes. If there is one word that applies here, that word is “silly”. That’s all that this graphic novel is, really.

The art, for the most part, was great. The only niggle I had was how Thor was drawn. It was as if his face is all flattened and beaten in with thunderous punches. One of the weirdest incarnations of the character that I’ve seen to date. Some great mix of colour palettes everywhere, whatever is needed to deliver on the inherent promise of the script really.

But ultimately, this book is most definitely a huge let down.

Rating: 3/10

More Thor: God of Thunder #1, and God of Thunder #2-4.

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Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Action Comics #19 by Andy Diggle (DC Comics), Green Arrow #20 by Jeff Lemire (DC Comics), Nova #2 by Jeph Leob (Marvel), and, All New X-Men #10-11 (Marvel).

*****

Action Comics #19 by Andy Diggle

Art: Tony S. Daniel, Batt | Colours: Tomeu Morey | Letters: Carlos M. Mangual | Cover: Tony S. Daniel, Batt, Tomeu Morey | Publisher: DC Comics

• Welcome the new creative team of writer Andy Diggle and artist Tony S. Daniel! • Inside the nefarious mind of Lex Luthor, who bares his scars—but how did he get them? • Luthor’s plan to eradicate Superman may make Kal an alien pariah! • The Oracle awaits at the edge of the Solar System to pass judgment on Superman—and he is not alone. • You won’t believe who comes calling on the final page!

Action Comics #19When I learnt that Andy Diggle was taking over Action Comics, I leapt at the chance to read the book despite having a mixed experience with Diggle’s comics in the past. This shows the writer at his best, delivering a strong Superman tale that may be the best issue focused of the Man of Steel in the New 52 reboot, only enhanced by fantastic artwork from Tony S. Daniel, proving to the reader that he’s much better when he’s just on the art – as was the case with the first volume of Detective Comics for the New 52 which I’ve read recently.

The writing itself by Diggle is pretty strong, as he provides a great characterisation of both Clark Kent and Lois Lane, who is one of the best parts of this issue, and although she doesn’t stick around for the entire comic, has a pretty strong role to play at the beginning.

I really didn’t want to love this comic as much as I ended up doing. I jumped on board Action Comics for this issue alone, and as much as I wanted to stick around for more of this series, Tony S. Daniel, as mentioned earlier, hasn’t really impressed when it comes to solo duties in the New 52 so far and my budget was tight for the release of #20.  However, when Daniel is doing the artwork, he’s on really top form – this issue probably is the best drawn from what I’ve read in the entirety of 2013 so far, and that’s saying something.

The cliffhanger at the end of the issue is fantastic, coming right after a strong battle against some deadly robots and we even get to witness a chilling encounter between Lex Luthor and his psychiatrist. The entire creative team on board #19 are really superb here, and whilst I haven’t been following Action Comics, having only read the first three – I think it’s safe to say that this is the best out of the lot. I really, really hope that we can get Diggle to return to Superman at one point, but with the upcoming release of Superman Unchained from Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, I hope that there’s at least one Superman book that I can be following.

Rating: 4.5/5

*****

Green Arrow #20 by Jeff Lemire

Art: Andrea Sorrentino | Cover: Andrea Sorrentino | Publisher: DC Comics

Komodo and The Outsiders have destroyed Green Arrow’s life, but how far will Ollie fall before he’s forced to take desperate measures?

Green Arrow #20Green Arrow has quickly become my second favourite series of the New 52, shortly behind Scott Snyder’s Batman, and with Jeff Lemire at the helm, this series is only getting better. Starting with Oliver Queen in a dark place, and witnesses Arrow having to fight Komodo in a graveyard, with his friend Naomi’s life at stake.

I loved this issue. Jeff Lemire has created a nice dynamic within a fairly short amount of time, and whilst Ollie may be slightly lacking as a character, but the way the story is written, it doesn’t really matter. Andrea Sorrentino’s artwork is fantastic, and whilst I wasn’t a big fan of it at first, the cover for #19 being particularly off-putting, the art has really grown on me. The ending fight in the graveyard is very superb as well, especially as you consider that it’s taking place with torrential rain as the weather.

#20 is a great, noirish take on Green Arrow. Dark, gritty, to the point that if you think the TV show Arrow is dark, then you’ll be completely unprepared coming into this. It’s almost as dark as Scott Snyder’s Batman, and the two comics are very comparable. Both deal with similar characters, even if Ollie may be a blend of Batman, Tony Stark and Robin Hood. The issue itself also explores Oliver’s skills in combat this issue, as he faces against Komodo for the third time after having been beaten quite thoroughly in the past.

Komodo is also developed more in this issue. As it turns out, he’s not quite a member of the Outsiders yet, and his acceptance depends on whether he can take out Ollie or not, with several factors that were left unexplained before, such as his scorn for Ollie, making more sense. But if you come into #20 expecting all the answers, then expect to be disappointed, for there are still threads left untangled here. How the mystery connects to Ollie’s dad is still left unanswered, among other things – but given what Lemire’s done to Green Arrow, transforming it from one of the New 52’s worst comics to one of its best (I’ll admit, I’ve only read #1) in a matter of issues is quite an achievement.

The stakes are very high in this episode for Ollie, and it’s nice to see that Lemire actually increases the tension. We don’t know if he’ll make it out in one piece or not, and the same can be said for Naomi, a member of the supporting cast. It turns out that she is still alive and kicking in this issue, but the clock is running out with Oliver having a few hours left to clear his name, before Steve Trevor calls in the Justice League of America, to which if you’ve been following Geoff Johns’ recent series, featuring Hawkman, Vibe, Katana, Catwoman, Simon Baz, the Martian Manhunter, Steve Trevor and Stargirl – would have been a very interesting showdown indeed, and Ollie would have certainly been overwhelmed.

Rating: 4/5

*****

Nova #2 by Jeph Loeb

Art: Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines | Colours: Marte Garcia | Letters: Albert Deschense | Cover: Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Marte Garcia | Publisher: Marvel Comics

A boy, a helmet, and an intergalactic legacy! Sam Alexander isn’t just any 15-year old, he’s just been recruited to the Nova Corps: the Universe’s police force. What do you get when you pair a raccoon, a green alien lady and a scared teenager? An amazingly awesome origin tale!

Nova #2I was slightly late in picking up the second issue of Nova despite the fact that I was drawn in by the first and wanted to know more – it just came out on a week that shared its release with other comics that I was enjoying more and was thus unable to pick this up. However, I picked this up on Free Comic Book Day 2013, along with Earth 2 #12 – both for full price, and really enjoyed reading it. Whilst it still might not be the most original storyline ever, now is Sam Alexander the most compelling character, this issue creates a wonderful narrative and boasts fantastic artwork from Ed McGuinness. Jeph Leob is on top form so far with Nova, and whilst two issues in is probably a bit early to judge, I really regret not picking up this earlier.

The main strength about Nova is Ed McGuinness’ art, and it looks awesome. Jeph Leob has a way of writing so that he can produce the best from the artist, and McGuinness delivers spectacularly. I found myself enjoying every single page – and after the disappointment that was X-Sanction, I wondered if Loeb still could write a good comic. Sure, he wrote good, if not great stuff in the past – The Long Halloween, but X-Sanction was a major let down for me.

The second issue is filled with little plot developments that although don’t advance the storyline massively, they could potentially lead to larger things happening in future issues. Whilst I haven’t read #3 yet, that is something I need to remedy – especially with #4 coming out on Wednesday. The book itself is primarily a fun read, and when collected, I’m sure that the origin story that Loeb and McGuinness are creating here will read like a fun film, and although it might be a little pricy at £3.25 – or just under $4 for Americans, for what it is – Nova is still a very entertaining book that I’ll be sticking around for a good few issues yet.

Rating: 3.5/5

*****

All New X-Men #10-11 by Brian Michael Bendis

Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger | Colours: Marte Garcia, Rain Beredo | Letters: Cory Petit | Cover: Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, Marte Garcia | Publisher: Marvel Comics

#10 – The Uncanny X-Men come to the Jean Grey School to recruit. Who will join Cyclops and his revolutionary crew? The answer will shock you! Mystique and Sabretooth continue to hatch their master plan and it doesn’t bode well for the All-New X-Men.

#11 – One of the ALL-NEW X-MEN leaves to join Cyclops and his crew! Jean Grey pushes her power to the limit, shaking her and the rest of the X-Men to the core.

AllNewXmenComp4All New X-Men continues to be one of my favourite series of Marvel Now, alongside Hawkeye and Thor: God of Thunder. The way Brian Michael Bendis has handled the original X-Men is impressive, and things only look set to get more epic in future issues, featuring not only the original X-Men, but also the current and the future cast in an epic Battle of the Atom storyline for the X-Men’s 50th Anniversary. (On a side note, it seems like a lot of things are getting some sort of Anniversary this year – Superman (75th), Doctor Who and the X-Men themselves). However, Bendis is in no hurry to get to those issues, as there’s still a lack of major plot developments aside from most recently, one of the original five X-Men leaving, at the cliffhanger at the end of #10, which was revealed in the counterpart series, Uncanny X-Men, so the surprise wasn’t really as effective as it could have been in this series.

All New X-Men #10 sees Cyclops and his fellow mutants, Magneto, Magik, Emma Frost and the gang arrive on the Jean Grey School run by Wolverine featuring the original X-Men as cast members, looking for recruitment, and it’s not only a member of the original five that defects. Both Immonen and Bendis really do handle the vast amount of characters well, especially when you consider that this is probably the Marvel Now! series that must deal with the most characters, apart from possibly Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men (Unchanged from before Marvel Now!) and Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers. It’s nice to see that Bendis demonstrates a variety of personalities making each character feel unique, and Immonen manages to capture the characters themselves with some great artwork that really contrasts between the people on display here.

Bendis’ both X-Men series and Uncanny Avengers to a lesser extent, all are connected and every other issue so far seems to be related. Whilst All New X-Men is billed as the X-Book to follow for Marvel Now, to get a full side of the story, you’ll have to get on board Uncanny X-Men and Uncanny Avengers as well, especially with #12 of All New X-Men promising a very interesting showdown.

There are several standout scenes in these two issues, but I think I have to go with the young Jean and Kitty’s conversation, where Bendis really goes to great lengths  to put across the fact that Jean is not the Jean that’s experienced and knows how to use her powers well with responsibility. Remember, Beast took them from their time period before she could even develop her powers – so if you look back and think on how the series has developed so far, when the original X-Men have to go back to their own timeline, which has to happen one day, the only way that this can be solved is a mind-wipe by Professor X. Assuming this hasn’t spawned another alternate Universe that Marvel seem to be so fond of.

This series, like Earth 2 from DC, is very text heavy, character-driven and the plot doesn’t move anywhere fast. However, the interactions between the characters are superb, and I’m really looking forward to see where Bendis takes this series from now on.

Rating: 4/5

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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