Comics Round-up 15.09.2013

Batman The Dark Knight 23.2

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

“This is DC’s big month for the year, Villain’s Month and as expected, there are all sorts of stories here: good ones, bad ones, average ones and everything in between those three.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

“Geoff Johns brings his run on Green Lantern to a superb finish, executing the Third Army arc superbly. Wonder Woman’s third volume however is strong but imperfect, whilst over at Image, East of West Vol. 1 ranks among some of the best comics that I’ve read all year.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

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Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk (All Villain’s Month titles): Green Lantern #23.1: Relic by Robert Venditti,  Justice League 23.2: Lobo by Margueritte Bennett, The Dark Knight #23.2: Mr. Freeze by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, and, Earth 2 #15.2: Solomon Grundy by Matt Kindt.

*****

Green Lantern #23.1: Relic by Robert Venditti

Green Lantern 23.1

Robert Venditti is the writer who has been given command of the Green Lanterns title with Geoff Johns’ exit earlier this year after his phenomenal Green Lantern #20, which ended a near-8 year run on the series. With three issues out so far, Robert Venditti has done some interesting things with Hal Jordan and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps but I’m still waiting to feel from his stories the same kind of excitement that I felt when reading Geoff’s stories. With the advent of DC’s Villain’s Month celebratory month, Robert has been handed the responsibility of writing the first issue, featuring a villain that is being set up as the next big bad for the Corps as all Green Lantern titles move into their next big crossover event, Light’s Out.

This is an origin story, and it explains who Relic is and what his place in our universe is. We learn that Relic is from another universe and that his home-universe essentially collapsed on itself because in that reality the light spectrum was a resource that was eventually all used up. From being a scientist who studied this resource, Relic has now become a “villain” in that he wants to eliminate all users of the light spectrum so that no more universes need to die out. Robert Venditti tells a very personal and sympathetic story that is meant to resonate with the reader and clearly explain that Relic is no villain in the traditional sense. He is only looking to save the multiverse from its biggest danger. He is just cold and unfeeling about it.

As an origin story, Robert Venditti gets full marks for this issue. However, given that the entire issue is a series of one-panel pages with only about 2 lines of dialogue in all, the rest being narration, its not an exciting or engaging story on any level. I struggled to connect with the character because of the lack of dialogue. Also, it was completely straightforward, predictable and lacking any kind of a twist. It was as if Robert Venditti was just going through the motions rather than telling a story to excite and discuss.

The art, by Rags Morales, Cam Smith and Andew Dalhouse is also juts functional. It has some good moments, such as in Morales’ depiction of the lightsmiths of Relic’s home universe, but there is very little else that actually stands out. This is a visually diverse book sure, with a whole variety of colours being used in almost all panels, but it falls short because there’s nothing to really distinguish any of it.

I expected far more from this issue and I’m unfortunately very disappointed. I’m hoping that the next two Villain’s Month issues for the series will be better and that when #24 hits next month, then Venditti can turn out a much better comic.

Rating: 6/10

More Green Lantern: Vol.3 (Geoff Johns’ run)Rebirth, Volume 1: No Fear.

*****

Justice League 23.2: Lobo by Margueritte Bennett

Justice League 23.2

Lobo is one of my semi-favourite Superman villains. He is such a… force of nature, no matter what story you find him in. Consequently, this issue was one I’d really been looking forward to, especially since I liked Margueritte’s debut issue for DC, Batman: Annual #2 which featured Batman inspecting Arkham Asylum’s security via an exercise where he tries to break out. Additionally, before this issue hit, DC released an “updated” character design for Lobo, which remodeled him as someone much younger, a fit athlete. He is no longer the overmuscled, hulking brute that he’s been in various comics and animated projects before.

Completely unexpectedly, this is not the Lobo I’ve come to know over the years. There are some similarities in attitude, but this new Lobo appears to be much more restrained than his previous incarnation. He is less…. violent than before. This created an interesting dichotomy for me. Lobo is all about the chaos, all about letting go and doing what you want, how you want it, and with whom. Margueritte’s Lobo is none of those things. And that’s quite a remarkable change in characterisation.

The pacing of the issue is a little off in places and its not a very clear or exciting story, much as with the above issue, but one thing I’ll say: Margueritte totally justifies the change in the character design. And it makes me want to read on to find out what’s going to happen next. Now, I wonder when this particular story will be told!

Where the art is concerned, I think Ben Oliver, Cliff Richards, Daniel Brown and Sal Cipriano do a nice job of giving this issue a distinctive Sci-Fi flavour, the kind you’d see in Star Wars or Star Trek where the multi-alien nature of the settings is concerned. This could be a very nice SF adventure in the making and it has all that visual brilliance. However, one thing I found really distracting was the panel layouts. Ben Oliver experiments a lot here, and its just confusing. All the colours however are right on the money in the context of what is happening in the specific panels. That was nice.

Overall, this is a decent issue, but could have been better. Some stilted dialogue here and there, and a distinct lack of the typically-Lobo humour that I’ve come to accept and even enjoy over the years, so clearly this is not a perfect issue by any means. Still, Margueritte remains a creator that I’d want to see more from.

Rating: 7.5/10

More Justice League: #1-6, #7-12 , #13-15, #22-23, #23.1.

*****

The Dark Knight #23.2: Mr. Freeze by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti

Batman The Dark Knight 23.2

As a fan of the old Batman: The Animated Series, Mr. Freeze happens to be a villain that I’m quite partial to. It also helps that the Batman: Annual #1 from last year, written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, featured the character in a prominent role and gave us quite a good amount of backstory about him. Since then, he has featured in a couple issues of Birds of Prey by Christy Marx, but he hasn’t gotten to do much really. What this Villain’s Month issue does is show off what Mr. Freeze is doing at the time of the events of Forever Evil #1 and a little bit more on his history.

What I loved about this issue was how unrelenting and brutal it is. The icy kind of brutal at that. Justin and Jimmy really get into his head and give us his motivations for doing what he does, whether they relate to his father or his mother or his wife. The two writers go down an oft-tread path for villains’ motivations, but they still manage to keep things fresh. All the different layers to Mr. Freeze that we get to see here really elevate him as being above the pack of boring villains. He’s not your stereotypical crazy-in-the-head-and-with-disturbed-childhood villain, he is more than that, and over the course of the issue the two writers explain that in detail. In that respect, he kind of is very similar to Two Face, as envisioned by Peter J. Tomasi in Batman and Robin #23.1.

For the art, I liked it for the most part. Jason Masters and Dave McCaig are on fine form here. Even though James Masters give a very buff look to Mr. Freeze, his panels and pencils are top-notch here. And accompanying him quite handsomely are McCaig’s colours, who uses a limited palette of colours to give this issue its distinctive feel. And just overall, the art is sophisticated and detailed, as you’d expect from a high-profile issue like this.

So most definitely, read this issue. Its a great entry during Villain’s Month.

Rating: 8.5/10

More The Dark Knight: #23.1.

*****

Earth 2 #15.2: Solomon Grundy by Matt Kindt

Earth 2 15.2

Matt Kindt’s backups on Geoff Johns’ Justice League of America run have been quite enjoyable. He’s done a great characterisation for the Martian Manhunter, giving him a really badass and “don’t mess with me” outlook that I find to be very entertaining. As such, given that he’s also becoming the new ongoing writer for that series from next month, and that I enjoyed his Deadshot Villain’s Month issue for Justice League of America, I was expecting a similar level of enjoyment from this issue. Sadly, he completely fails to deliver.

James Robinson’s first arc on Earth 2 told an amazing story with Grundy, casting him as an agent of the Grey, similar to the Green which powers Green Lantern Alan Scott on Earth 2, and the Green which powers Swamp Thing on Earth 1. We didn’t get to see any backstory on the character under James, and that is what Matt is trying to do here, except that he fails to do anything convincing. And that largely has to do with the fact that this entire story is fractured and all over the place. Events happen, and we don’t get any kind of proper framework to contextualise them.

The story of how a man on Earth 2 eventually becomes a hulking monster, an agent of rot, and wants to destroy everything living, is not one that I understood. I was confused throughout, from about page 3 on. Matt Kindt had a great opportunity here to add to the New 52 version of Grundy’s lore, but he falls far short of that mark. We never actually see Grundy become the monster he is. What it does is make this issue one of the most disappointing of Villain’s Month issues and fractures my confidence in Matt’s writing.

The art here is by penciller Aaron Lopresti, inker Art Thibert and colourist Michael Atiyeh with letterer Travis Lanham. Overall, the art is nowhere near the same level of brilliance as what we’ve seen in James’ comics where the pencils were provided by Nicola Scott and Yildiray Cinar, and this was another disappointment. The art isn’t bad per se, but neither is it impressive in any way. It gets the job done, and that’s about it really.

Rating: 3/10

More Earth 2: #0, #1-4, #5-7, #8-9, #10-12

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Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: New 52: Green Lantern: Rise of the Third Army by Various (DC Comics), New 52: Green Lantern Vol. 3: The End by Geoff Johns (DC Comics), New 52: Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Iron by Brian Azzarello (DC Comics), and, East of West Volume 1: The Promise by Jonathan Hickman (Dynamite Entertainment).

*****

Green Lantern: Rise of the Third Army by Various

Story: Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Peter Milligan, Tony Bedard | Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy

The universe is in shambles and the Guardians are the cause. Their mysterious Third Army has risen across the cosmos like a plague, destroying everything in its path and Hal Jordan and Sinestro are nowhere to be found. It is up to wrongfully accused Simon Baz to clear his name and become the hero that the Corps needs in order to get to the bottom of Hal and Sinestro’s disappearance and the Rise of the Third Army!

Green Lantern Rise of the Third Army

Like all of the graphic novels that I’m reviewing in this roundup, Rise of the Third Army was received via NetGalley as an Advance Review Copy, and despite only having read the first three issues of Geoff Johns’ New 52 run beforehand (alongside Rebirth) I thought this would be a fun place to start reading as despite the rather poor Green Lantern film, I’ve always been a fan of the Lantern Corps – with Hal Jordan being one of my favourite DC superheroes. And as it turns out, there wasn’t that much Hal Jordan in this Volume – with the main focus being on newbie Simon Baz, a character who I’ve seen before in Justice League of America – and was somebody that I wanted to learn more about his origin as he seems to be a very interesting character indeed (although another Earthborn Green Lantern? Wasn’t Kyle Rayner, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner and John Stewart enough?) – with a background that’s considerably different to what I’ve encountered before from other human Lanterns, and came across as a fun and rootable character who’s clearly out of his depth. There was an amusing scene when Baz encounters the Justice League (minus Hal) for the first time, where the newcomer admits that he’ll have no chance against Superman, but could probably take Batman.

That’s one of the lighter touches to this otherwise relatively dark book, which combines issues #13 and #16 of all the titles from the Green Lantern line, as well as the first GLC Annual in the New 52. This proved to be a benefit in some places, but weak in others, for you could see clearly which non-core Green Lantern books were weak where others were strong. I enjoyed Peter J. Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps, but New Guardians was bogged down by the need to introduce characters for the Threshold series (which I believe is now cancelled) – and Red Lanterns suffered from a case of a lot of telling, rather than showing, but that didn’t stop them from keeping me entertained as the crossover itself was rather gripping, and shows once more that DC have a much better handle at these things than Marvel – Throne of Atlantis, Trinity War, Death of the Family, Night of Owls have all been events that I’ve read in the New 52 continuity and I’ve enjoyed the lot of them, which looks weak when you compare it to the four Marvel events that I’ve had experience with – Infinity and Battle of the Atom are strong, but Avengers vs. X-Men and Age of Ultron were downright terrible with only a few redeeming features, but on the whole – Rise of the Third Army allowed for a much better arc than I had originally anticipated, as Johns wraps up the last major ‘epic’ of his run in style.

The book itself features renegade Guardians, who have by all accounts gone mad and, deeming their previous charges – the Manhunters and Green Lantern Corps a failure, have set up to create a new menace – the Third Army – one that will restore balance to the universe. One thing they lack however is free will, with the Third Army taking over control of your mind, soul and heart leaving you responsible to only the Guardians themselves. In other words, they’re space zombies that can be controlled by the person who created them. Of course, you can see how this won’t appeal to the various Lantern Corps – most importantly, the Green – to make sure that this never comes to pass.

The biggest problem for me was that the flow of this volume was a bit off. The various issues didn’t fit together as neatly as they should have, with the New Guardians and Red Lanterns sections being lumped together, and for the case of the overall storyline, could be easily skipped. They don’t really contribute anything significant to the overall storyline but it was nice to get a teaser of what other Corps were up to during the Rise of the Third Army. But whilst the New Guardians and Red Lanterns sections may not work, the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps do – Hal Jordan and Sinestro don’t get large amounts of pagetime here, but the focus is mostly on Simon Baz and his new squirrel/alien-partner B’dg, Guy Gardner and the pair of John Stewart and Star Sapphire ally Fatality, who get plenty to do and say over the course of this event. Johns and Tomasi work together on their chapters well, but it’s a pity that the book couldn’t have excelled across all four series.

Whilst the stories may be divisive, the art certainly isn’t – whether it’s on Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, New Guardians or Red Lanterns, the art is consistently strong and several awesome panels can be found within its pages, and the art really helps enhance the overall epicness that the book is trying to convey.

If you’re a Green Lantern fan or the idea of an epic-scale Space Zombies vs. Superheroes story appeals to you, then Rise of the Third Army is certainly worth checking out, and whilst it may not be the best New 52 event, it’s certainly a good one despite its flaws.

Rating: 4/5

*****

Green Lantern Vol. 3: The End by Geoff Johns

Art: Doug Mahnke, Dan Jurgens, Phil Jimenez, Szymon Kudranski, Ardian Syaf, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen, Marc Deering

Comics’ hottest writer Geoff Johns continues his historic run on one of the best-selling titles of DC Comics The New 52, GREEN LANTERN!

The universe is in shambles and the Guardians are the cause. Their mysterious Third Army has risen across the cosmos like a plague, destroying everything in its path and Hal Jordan and Sinestro are nowhere to be found. It is up to wrongfully accused Simon Baz to clear his name and become the hero that the Corps needs in order to get to the bottom of Hal and Sinestro’s disappearance and the Rise of the Third Army!

Green Lantern Vol. 3

If you’re on a budget and don’t want to read the entire events of the Third Army, especially when the Red Lanterns and New Guardians sections can easily be skipped, I recommend picking up the hardcover/trade paperback releases of the third volumes from Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps. This review is going to cover Green Lantern Vol. 3: The End, which wraps up the conclusion of Geoff Johns’ epic run on the series in a spectacular way, really ending the book on a high note that reminds me that I really need to go and read everything between Rebirth and The End. As well as collecting the Green Lantern parts of the Third Army, Johns also uses this to wrap up the ending of the book in a delightful way, bringing a closure of sorts to the stories of Hal Jordan and Sinestro.

#0 introduces Simon Baz, whose introduction story we didn’t quite get in The Rise of the Third Army and brings us up to speed on the character. I hope that DC continue to make use of Simon in future issues – I already know he’s playing (or at least, has before Trinity War) a role in the Justice League of America, and he provides a great set-up to become one of the main characters in future Green Lantern books. I was following Robert Venditti’s current Green Lantern run over the course of the first three issues, but after reading this I think it pales in comparison – and given the emotional ending of Geoff Johns’ #20 – which is probably one of the best things to come out of not just Green Lantern, but the whole of the New 52, provides a very satisfying conclusion and proves that Johns can really write emotional stories where the main characters are essentially outer-space police.

The two events that mark the final days of the Green Lantern run are the Rise of the Third Army (covered above) and Wrath of the First Lantern. Like the Bat-Family, the Green Lantern lines seem to be populated with crossovers – especially with the upcoming Lights Out event from Robert Venditti – and whilst I felt that the crossovers worked with the Batman books, they didn’t work as a whole here. I’d have much rather that Wrath of the First Lantern been kept as a singular book, and the Green Lantern lines been allowed to wait before diving into yet another mega-spanning crossover. However, if you just read the Green Lantern Volume then you should be able to follow what’s going on in things – particularly given that #20 wraps up the book with a fantastic conclusion.

The art, primarily by Doug Mahnke – is awesome. It really gives that great outer-space feel and he gets the Green Lanterns really well. I love what he’s brought to the book, and it’s a pretty impressive read indeed – Mahnke’s art is something that I found myself missing when I read Robert Venditti’s issues – but the current artist is doing a pretty fine job regardless.

There isn’t really much else to be said about this book particularly when I’ve already read and reviewed The Rise of the Third Army, which makes up for the vast majority of this volume. Green Lantern fans will most likely have brought this series in individual issues by now – but for those of you waiting for trades, then I can safely say that despite my rather short review, The End is a must buy for Green Lantern fans.

Rating: 4.5/5

*****

Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Iron by Brian Azzarello

Art: Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, Dan Green, Amillicar Pinna | Cover: Cliff Chiang

In these stories from issues #0 and #13-18, a terrible betrayal forces Wonder Woman to make a deal with the gods who want her dead, and her “family” grows larger than she could have imagined. Will the mysterious Orion help Wonder Woman rescue Zola’s baby from the clutches of Hermes, or does he have darker intentions?

Wonder Woman Vol. 3

Well, here we have Wonder Woman. Arguably one of my favourite female superheroes – the series is a run that despite having read the first (and now the third) volume of the series, that I’m enjoying – but it’s pretty flawed and far from deserving of being one of the best books of the New 52, which seems that pretty much everyone apart from fellow reviewer Shadowhawk seems to think. For me, Wonder Woman really hasn’t stood up to the likes of Batman, Green Arrow, Justice League and Aquaman over the course of its run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly a good book, and far above the low quality of the likes of Teen Titans, Superboy and Red Hood and the Outlaws under the run of Scott Lobdell – and weaves a pretty interesting story that for once stands on its own – much like Batwoman and Jeff Lemire’s Green Arrow, not connecting with anything else over the course of its run thus allowing the story to continue along at a steady pace with the creative team of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang.

Whilst I’m not Brian Azzarello’s biggest fan – I haven’t enjoyed his Before Watchmen books, thinking that they were the worse of the bunch, Cliff Chiang’s artwork, which initially threw me off in Volume 1, has really grown on me. I love the cover for this Volume and the interior artwork is pretty spectacular as well on all aside from the #0 issue, which I wasn’t a big fan of but was pleased to see it included in this Volume, with the book bringing what seemed like a very pre-New 52 style of writing to Wonder Woman. Whilst the book sometimes strays into “what the hell is going on?” territory which didn’t really work for me in some cases I actually found myself quite entertained by what was happening here. I also get the feeling that Wonder Woman is a book that works better as a collection than as individual issues, as I think I probably would have given up by now if I was following this series individually.

This book was another NetGalley read, and despite not having read Volume 2, I found myself not really being confused as to the overall storyline – remembering the basic details from the first collection which I picked up in a TBP format. Even in Volume 3 though it’s nice to see Azzarello spending time to flesh out Wonder Woman as a character – whilst I wasn’t a big fan of #0 as a whole, it was nice to provide some backstory to Wonder Woman as  a teenager.

As this book deals heavily with Greek Mythology, you’ll be pleased to know that it doesn’t at any point feel like a mockery of any other books which have adapted mythology to real word settings. Wonder Woman is fresh and original – as it follows the character trying to help rescue a friend’s baby (a friend who we first met at the beginning of Volume 1) who was taken by Hermes due to the fact that this child has been labelled as the one who will bring about the end of time. This naturally deems the intervention of Orion – a New God, who journeys to Earth with an intent to kill the child, therefore saving humanity.

The book itself moves along at a slow pace, something that I wasn’t a big fan of. The plot isn’t something that’s fresh and original – at its core, it’s just Wonder Woman rescuing a child. I also wasn’t a big fan of Orion as a character, and neither did I particularly warm to the whole idea of the New Gods, something that I felt that had the potential to have been executed a lot better. There wasn’t really any difference between Orion and any other hero from another world – I expected something that could flesh out the character and make him unique – something that didn’t really work in this book, which is a shame.

One thing that is also worth pointing out is the collections all seem to follow a similar theme with their naming – War himself describes himself as being “blood… guts…iron… and war”, that so far have matched the titles of the collected trades, with Volume 4 hitting shelves in March 2014. This was something that I noticed from Collected Editions’ review of the Volume – and is a nice nod to the overall series.

As a whole then, Wonder Woman is a fun book. The writing could have been stronger and Orion could have been more original – and for me at least, it ranks among the middle ground of New 52 titles leaning towards the higher end of it. For books that fall into a similar category – think Robert Venditti’s current Green Lantern run or Geoff Johns’ Justice League of America. Nothing great, but nothing bad either. It’s certainly something that I wouldn’t get in hardback though unless you’re a diehard Wonder Woman fan – I recommend waiting for the TPB if you intend on picking this up.

Rating: 3/5

*****

East of West Volume 1: The Promise by Jonathan Hickman

Art: Nick Dragotta

This is the world. It is not the one we wanted, but it is the one we deserved. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse roam the Earth, signaling the End Times for humanity, and our best hope for life, lies in DEATH.

East of West Vol.1

And finally, we come to East of West, the only non DC book that I’ll be covering in this roundup – and a book that is in fact probably the best of the lot. Jonathan Hickman is a fantastic Marvel writer, currently spearheading the amazing late-summer blockbuster six-issue mini-series and tie-ins that include Avengers and New Avengers –  Infinity. Hickman is probably one of my favourite Marvel writers at the moment so I was interested to see what he could bring to the table with one of his many new creator owned titles, especially when you consider the high praise that Manhattan Projects is receiving – as well as several other titles that Image has been putting out lately.

East of West is another strong addition to the ranks of books like Lazarus, The Walking Dead and America’s Got Powers – other books from this Publisher that I’ve already read (although I’m behind on the latter two) and they seem to be bringing a variety of strong creator owned titles to the table with a host of new No. 1’s debuting seemingly each week by strong talent – take the upcoming Rocket Girl for instance – a successful kickstarter that debuts on October 9 – with story from Brandon Montclare and art by Amy Reeder, which tells the story of a teenage cop from a high-tech future  sent back in time to New York City, something that I will certainly be picking up. But back on topic, East of West – if it must be said, is not just one of the best books to come from Image, it’s one of the best books period – and a strong contender for book of the year, something that I’m so glad I jumped on board when I could.

Whether creator-owned or hired work, Jonathan Hickman has always brought something fresh, new and original to the table and East of West is no exception. It’s a sci-fi story that collides with a western book with an apocalypse thrown in the middle for good measure. The book itself follows the End of Days – with the future having rapidly gone downhill as a result of a very alternate American Civil War joined by a collective group of Indian Nations – and during this period, a man received a revelation, thus becoming a prophet – writing a second Book of Revelations. Decades into the war, a comet heralded the ripping open of a sky which all sides saw as God’s Judgement – thus seeking out peace and bringing a different history to the one that we know, adding Alternate History to the many different genres and subgenres that this book finds itself in.

There’s literally too much plot for me to spoil anything more, but the fact is that East of West is one of the most original comics that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. There aren’t really any clichés or ideas typically found in a superhero comic – with each book bringing something fresh and interesting to the table. Whilst yes, there is the inclusion of well known sci-fi and western tropes, it’s twisted to Hickman’s own ideas allowing for a fresh take that doesn’t feel like a re-hash of old ideas.

John Dragotta brings some fantastic artwork to the table allowing for a strong creative team – his clear, sharp and awesome artwork really allows for an interesting element of the storyline that brings extra awesome to its pages. Each page is visually stunning – and Dragotta and Hickman really make an excellent pair with a story that really flows well in trade paperback, however despite what I’ve just said I don’t think I’ll be able to wait for the release of Volume 2 – so I think I will probably add this book to monthly pull list. One thing’s for sure though, I can’t wait to see what happens next. Top Notch stuff.

Rating: 5/5

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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