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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 1

What can I say? I’m a bit of a sucker. So here, for your edification, is another daily feature, this time spotlighting a cool comic each day, whether it be a self-contained work or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years. Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

For the first day, I’ll re-examine some familiar ground and point out the greatness of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s Amazing Spider-Man!

Enjoy!

While this won’t be the case for most future comics featured on this list, I already had a write-up of this particular run from when it ranked #5 on the Comics Should Be Good Top 100 Runs countdown, and it seemed like a waste to write a new write-up.

So here ya go…

Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s run on Amazing Spider-Man

Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, plus two Annuals

Introduced in the last issue of the anthology, Amazing Fantasy (which had its name changed from Amazing Adult Fantasy to Amazing Fantasy in the last issue), Spider-Man quickly got his own title, also written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Really, it is extremely hard to quantify the impact of this run by Lee and Ditko, particularly on Ditko’s end, who soon became the driving force behind the comic strip during probably the greatest period of comics in Marvel’s most famous superhero.

During this period, characters who were introduced include Spider-Man, Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, Betty Brant, Liz Allen plus pretty much every notable Spider-Man villain – Dr. Octopus, Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, The Vulture, and one of the most notable villains – the Green Goblin.

Ditko’s style was one of great economy, so readers got a great deal of story in every issue of Spider-Man, and Ditko manages to make the book so realistic and so down-to-Earth, which was aided greatly by Stan Lee’s clever dialogue, which made the stories a great deal more appealing to the populace than they would have been if Lee was not present.

Perhaps their greatest moment on the title happened towards the end of the run, with the classic storyline that was so influential that it must have been homaged about three gazillion times since then – where Spider-Man is trapped under heavy rubble and is forced to fight against all odds to escape with the cure for Aunt May (suffering one of her many illnesses).

Such a brilliantly told story.

Ditko’s last issue was Amazing Spdier-Man #38…

49 Comments

Aw Cronin, you’re the best. Ending the last series on that Lee/Romita Spidey moment and now starting this new series with the single best run in superhero comics EVER. Great job! Really made my new year’s!

I remember there was one issue of the Lee/Ditko Spider Man run where Spider-Man and some other guys were being tailed, so Spider-Man put on a blue hat so that nobody would recognize him. He didn’t change out of his costume or anything, he just put a blue hat on, while in full costume, in order to disguise himself and not be noticed. While still wearing his costume. Just now he also has a blue hat.

I’ve never been able to take that run of Spider-Man seriously.

Come on blue hat was awsome. Not as good as paper bag mask fantastic four undies but what is. Anyhow what I really came in to say was I do not know if you can top spidey under the rubble.

No, don’t get me wrong, The Blue Hat Incident was totally rad, just not in a way that makes me see that comic as anything besides completely ridiculous.

Spider-man has always had issues with his costume. No other hero really does. Is there a worse examply than the paper bag FF undies? I bet there is.

That’s actually a really good point-you never see Bruce Wayne get all fucked up trying to get his cape and cowl on, and you sure as hell won’t catch the Black Panther hiding his costume in a garbage bag behind a dumpster.

As a huge Spider-Man fan, I really want to like this run more than I do, but I can’t ever seem to get through it. I do appreciate how incredibly important and influential it is, though.

Awesome feature, and a great way to start it. This run is pretty much unequaled by any other in terms of influence on the future of its series. Almost 50 years later, virtually the entire Lee/Ditko run remains as canon, and writers to this day mine those stories for ideas. I still consider Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man as “my” version of the Webhead. Check out the creative ways Ditko has Spidey contort his body; the Webslinger’s movements are completely fluid, nothing stilted or posed. Ditko draws Spider-Man not at all like his superheroic precursors.

And I agree with the assessment of Lee’s dialogue as “clever.” Yes, there was a ton of needless exposition in those comics (although that may have something to do with clarity in the art being muddled by the crap printing process of the time), but the character interaction was very well done, and Lee deserves credit for that.

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 2, 2010 at 7:56 am

Lord have mercy, is that what I think that is?!?

I think, Mr. B.C., you have gone insane.

Doing another day-to-day feature for another year, is like DC doing a weekly series for 3 years straight (4 if you count Wednesday Comics). Too much insanity.

But we’ll all be here for the ride just to see you in a straightjacket. ;-)

This will be fun. I hope the series focuses on a lot of runs or series that are readily available in a collected edition–it might be a great way to encourage new readers.

You masochist.

Yay!

I’ve said this is my favorite run of superhero comics ever, right?

This is my favorite run of superhero comics ever.

(This and Jack Cole’s Plastic Man. And maybe some of the Milligan/Fegredo stuff from the early ’90s.)

But mostly this.

Like most old comics, I appreciate for how important and influential is, but its definitely not something I would read to enjoy.

This should be a REALLY fun feature though!

Wait! …. is that Brian Cronin’s music?

Great way to kick this off. Lee-Ditko Spidey is pretty much the greatest superhero run ever. Ditko takes such a dim view of human nature that the bad guys seem genuinely bad. There have certainly been tougher menaces than those early Spidey antagonists, but none have ever been creepier. Taken together they are so they are so awful.

The stories are so straight-forward that it easy to miss how good they are. To me, the best example is the first Vulture story. The problem is simple: the Vulture can fly and Spidey can’t. Yet, it is genuinely exciting. Being hundreds of feet in the air with only web-shooters is sort of a scary prospect after all. Every one of these stories was like that with one drive-in movie menace after another.

All of this would have been a bit bleak without Smilin’ Stan Lee. Lee’s trademark grand eloquence and soapy romantic sup-plots have never been put to better use. He provided the hopeful counter-point to Ditko. Peter has interesting, distinct relationships with Betty Brant, Gwen Stacey and Mary-Jane.

The fingerprints of this run are everywhere these days. Obviously, Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN movies owe a deep debt to Lee-Ditko, but so do the early seasons of BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and SMALLVILLE. BATMAN: TAS borrowed elements of Lee-Ditko to lay the foundation of the Timmverse. Heck, even the WATCHMEN and BATMAN: YEAR ONE owe a huge debt to the combination of horror, romance and superhero genres that Lee-Ditko pioneered.

Could someone explain to me what Spidey’s “real power” was that he references on the cover? I never understood that.

Awesome new feature Brian.
I just read the Master Planner story because of the 100 Comic Book Storylines and I loved it. Now I’ll have to read all of Lee/Ditko’s run.

This is a great run without which none of the rest could follow, although, as Gavin may agree, I only feel (admittedly in hindsight) that Spidey only really got going afterwards, but then I am a huge Romita fan!

@davek:

Could someone explain to me what Spidey’s “real power” was that he references on the cover? I never understood that.

Basically Davek, this issue represents Spider-Man’s introduction to the rest of the MU; which admittedly is pretty small at this point, with the FF serving as First Family, and the symbol of the superhero establishment. Still, Spidey is the new kid on the block and at first sight he doesn’t look like much… kinda scrawny and just a funky costume. Just a kid really. But entering the Baxter Building, Spider-Man demonstrates all he can really do: proportional strength of a spider, super agile, web shooting etc. etc. He sort of shows up the FF, and proves he’s for real. Doesn’t seem so revelatory to us now, it all being old hat, but back then in issue#1, it must have seemed pretty awesome in the new incipient superhero world of Marvel, and indeed of the Silver Age. Damn exciting to have been there.

nice way to continue what you started with cool comic moments. and how better then to kick off the new feature with Steve Ditiko and Stan Lee giving the world spider man.

Great run, though I do prefer Romita’s work. Just personal taste. And both would have been better without Lee’s dialog.

And both would have been better without Lee’s dialog.

NO WAY IN HELL.

You are judging Lee by the standards of modern superhero writers, which isn’t fair since they are all his children stylistically. They just tone it down because they’re writing for adults now instead of children.

But compare Lee to his PEERS at the time and tell me who would have written Spider-Man better in place of Lee? Who would have served Romita or Ditko better on the book? Who would have created the distinctive personalities of each character. John Broome? Gardner Fox? Robert Kanigher? Steve Ditko scripting himself? All those people were good at their particular niches, but NONE of them could have pulled off the voices needed for The Amazing Spider-Man to work.

To this day there has yet to be a better Spider-Man writer, even by modern standards. And no one has come close to capturing the voice of Spider-Man correctly except maybe Roger Stern.

Anyone who pretends Spider-Man was wildly successful in SPITE of Lee’s dialogue rather than largely BECAUSE of Lee’s dialogue is engaging in revisionist history in the worst way. As bad as Lee’s dialogue ages, all his contemporaries’ dialogue ages worse.

As far as I’m concerned, the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man is the only Spider-Man.

T., I do agree that compared to their DC contemporaries, Lee’s Spiderman reads like friggin’ Hemmingway.

That doesn’t mean that it has aged well, at all. Reading it today, the dialogue is hideously dated and Ditko couldn’t draw a character’s face consistently from panel to panel if his life depended on it. You can basically pick any page from that run and find something to bust up laughing about, from The Blue Hat Incident to the fact that Green Goblin’s first glider looked like a steampunk dildo. And I completely disagree that nobody else get’s Spider-Man’s “voice”, as Spider-Man is an ever-changing, ever-evolving entity. Bendis has a great grasp on teenage Spider-Man, and JMS did in the beginning as well.

They’re radically important comics, don’t get me wrong, but they certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of superhero comics by a long shot.

Bendis has a great grasp on teenage Spider-Man, and JMS did in the beginning as well.

Bendis has one of the worst grasp on Spider-Man’s voice EVER. And I’m a Bendis fan. His teen Spider-Man’s voice is nothing like the original teen Spider-Man’s voice. The type of jokes, the tone, the funniness, the personality, it’s all wrong.

Ultimate Spider-Man is a great book and Bendis is a good writer, but it utterly fails in capturing the spirit of the original teen Spider-Man and his unique voice. Even worse is Bendis’s adult Spider-Man voice.

That doesn’t mean that it has aged well, at all. Reading it today, the dialogue is hideously dated

Same applies to Shakespeare and Chaucer. So what? A lot of great art needs to be judged in the context of its time. It’s not necessarily a weakness for a piece of art to reflect its time period.

You can basically pick any page from that run and find something to bust up laughing about, from The Blue Hat Incident to the fact that Green Goblin’s first glider looked like a steampunk dildo.

So because the Green Goblin’s FIRST glider, which appeared for all of ONE issue, was ugly, that invalidates Ditko as an artist? Despite the fact that 40 years later Ditko’s general concept for Green Goblin and Green Goblin’s second glider are among the most recognizable concepts in superhero comics? That 90% of Spider-Man’s current rogue’s gallery are STILL made up of Ditko creations? 40 years of artists and writers have only managed to make one, maybe two, lasting non-Ditko additions to Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery? I guess we should also ignore the fact Ditko designed Spider-Man’s whole costume, look, way of movement, fighting style, webbing and Spider-Sense visuals? No, you’re right, it’s more logical to focus on the Green Goblin’s broomstick. Which only appeared in one issue. That Ditko himself must have realized wasn’t that great since he redesigned it himself in Goblin’s very next appearance to the enduring glider style still used today. Obviously the man’s a hack.

It’s totally rad that you got so angry about the notion that someone might-just might- think ripping through the New York skyline on a big metal dick was ridiculous that you didn’t really understand what I was talking about. That said, let’s try that again.

I am not saying the Goblin Glider design wasn’t completely ingenious once it stopped looking like a troll’s vibrator. What I am saying, and I thought I was pretty clear about this originally, is that there were things LIKE that in every issue. I don’t have them on hand, but I remember the only one I didn’t think was unintentionally hysterical was the one where he first encountered Scorpion. That issue didn’t have anything totally stupid or insane in it to my memory. Everything else…that whole run was made up of things like Jameson’s many-armed rolling murder machine with a TV attached to it’s belly, or Peter’s damsel-in-distress pose when Doc Ock unmasks him, or Mysterio’s eye-nipples, or just any time Flash opens his mouth. They were brilliant in their way, their influence is immeasurable, but they’re goofy. They are goofy fucking comic books and to say otherwise is simply delusional.

Hehe, “steampunk dildo.”

Brian, you are completely awesome. Let me know if you ever need a guest write-up about a comic this year. :)

You guys are missing the point…Stan Lee’s Spidey voice is a smart-alecky, “Mad Magazine”, Jewish/nebbish kind of humor, but never exactly copied or imitated (the closest is Bendis) by every writer ever since, that was explained by JMS just to annoy the hell out of his enemies. That was his extra weapon, to ridicule them into making a mistake. But as Peter Parker, he’d get his ass kicked in high school. Therefore, Spidey was living out Peter’s fantasy. He’d really love to beat up Flash Thompson, but can only take it out on Doc Ock. He’s neurotic, in a very Woody Allen way as well. That was the humorous element…his life was one big whack a mole…when something was done right, something else was bound to happen badly.
This all truly changed when Gwen Stacy was killed. Peter grew up, we grew up, and comics were never the same again.

Goofy? Sure. That’s one of the reasons I like ‘em. (And, yeah, Ditko’s heads always bothered me, too.)

Honestly, my big ‘ol problem with modern mainstream-y comics is that (A) they’re aimed at adults, and (B) the stories take themselves absolutely seriously.

Which doesn’t make any sense to me! The modern superhero – soap-opera based, spandex clad, “with great powers,” fighting absolute “evil” – That’s GOOFY to me. And stories that ignore the inherent goofiness and proceed on without a trace of fun or irony are more’n a little pathetic.

To do really serious superhero stories the writers need to take the silly-ass genre tropes and change/discard them OR explain-’em-in-real-world-logic or at least lampshade ‘em.

Or they can just acknowledge the inherent goofiness and work with it! That doesn’t mean the stories have to be stupid – Catch 22 is kinda goofy. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is goofy. Finnegan’s Wake is (obviously and purposefully) goofy as anything I’ve ever (tried to) read.

I don’t think the Ditko/Lee Spider-man stories are JUST goofy – There’s a lot going on there, from soap opera to horror to media satire – but I don’t think the goofiness is a weakness.

I have nothing to add to MarkAndrew’s comment. Summed up my feelings perfectly.

It’s totally rad that you got so angry about the notion that someone might-just might- think ripping through the New York skyline on a big metal dick was ridiculous that you didn’t really understand what I was talking about. That said, let’s try that again.

Two points:

1. I wasn’t angry.

2. Just because someone doesn’t disagree with you doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you mean. It’s possible for someone to totally understand your points and still find you to be utterly wrong. Your clarification of your original points totally corresponds with what I originally thought you meant. And my original responses still stand.

x

Which doesn’t make any sense to me! The modern superhero – soap-opera based, spandex clad, “with great powers,” fighting absolute “evil” – That’s GOOFY to me. And stories that ignore the inherent goofiness and proceed on without a trace of fun or irony are more’n a little pathetic.

Amen.

For example, I laughed out loud at SPIDER-WOMAN #1 and its forced “hardness”. The idea that we are supposed to feel sorry for the beautiful, super-powered people that work for top secret spy agencies which pay for them to jet set to exotic places is bizarre. Jessica Drew is apparently more screwed over then poor Wolverine, who has a sex life that James Bond finds absurd.

Can we please stop pretending that Bendis updating THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is somehow less goofy than Green Goblin’s steam-punk dildo?

To do really serious superhero stories the writers need to take the silly-ass genre tropes and change/discard them OR explain-’em-in-real-world-logic or at least lampshade ‘em.

To me, there is a big difference between the text and the subtext.

Goofy genre tropes can become really powerful when creators take the subtext seriously. They seem much sillier when serious stuff is dealt with directly. On its surface, THE GODFATHER is just another mob movie and can be watched in exactly that way. The same is true of THE SEARCHERS and the Western genre, or CHINATOWN and the Private Eye genre. However, there is deeper stuff in the subtext.

Contrast that with something like THE GOOD SHEPHERD that fails to function as a spy movie, so its critique of the mid-century WASP plutocracy becomes very preachy and dull. Great superhero comics should function as superhero stories first. That mean embracing the goofiness of the genre.

This is the last thing I’m going to say:

ON GOOFINESS:

A) I think there’s a difference between embracing the goofiness of the genre-a la Jameson’s rubber-looking Shiva-esque Spiderman humiliation/murder device-and things that pop up as goofy due to having fucked something up-a la Mysterio’s eye nipples/The Blue Hat Incident. I think that plenty of both pop up in the original run.

B) I’m getting this sense of “I want to have my cake and eat it too” with this run. People talk about how awesome it was that those comics were silly, that they embraced the goofiness of the genre, but then everyone turns around and starts putting them on a pedestal. Nobody sees them as goofy-ass comics, they look at them like they were earth-shatteringly serious pieces of literature to be taken apart and scrutinized. I don’t think you can really have it both ways-you can’t defend one part like it’s the “important” part and then go and switch it up.

That’s it outta me. I know I’m going against the canon with this, uphill battle, all that business.

It is not that Lee-Ditko embraced the goofiness of the genre so much as they created the genre goofiness and all. You cannot even talk about solo superhero comics without referring back to concepts that Lee-Ditko created during their run.

Hell, the idea of creators having runs that are stylistically distinct comes from the transition of Ditko to Romita.

Goofy genre tropes can become really powerful when creators take the subtext seriously. They seem much sillier when serious stuff is dealt with directly. On its surface, THE GODFATHER is just another mob movie and can be watched in exactly that way. The same is true of THE SEARCHERS and the Western genre, or CHINATOWN and the Private Eye genre. However, there is deeper stuff in the subtext.

Contrast that with something like THE GOOD SHEPHERD that fails to function as a spy movie, so its critique of the mid-century WASP plutocracy becomes very preachy and dull. Great superhero comics should function as superhero stories first. That mean embracing the goofiness of the genre.

Great critiques.

That’s it outta me. I know I’m going against the canon with this, uphill battle, all that business.

You have your order of events wrong. People don’t think these are great just because they are canon. People consider these canon because they think they are great.

@T.
You have your order of events wrong. People don’t think these are great just because they are canon. People consider these canon because they think they are great.

I agree with with your assessment of Lee/Ditko Spider-Man T; however, we can never assume there to be an equivalence between the canonical and the great. To think something great does not set a thing in canon. All-Star Superman is great, I think, but as far as I know it is not of the Superman canon. Alternately, loads of turds been published in the comic book world, and are very much considered canon, unless some reboot failingly attempts to expunge them from memory.

I should clarify: when I said “canon” I didn’t mean “in continuity”, I meant canon as in “The Beatles ‘Revolver’ is an essential part of the rock and roll canon”.

My favorite run on comics ever is a great way to start Brian!

I’m getting this sense of “I want to have my cake and eat it too” with this run. People talk about how awesome it was that those comics were silly, that they embraced the goofiness of the genre, but then everyone turns around and starts putting them on a pedestal. Nobody sees them as goofy-ass comics, they look at them like they were earth-shatteringly serious pieces of literature to be taken apart and scrutinized. I don’t think you can really have it both ways-you can’t defend one part like it’s the “important” part and then go and switch it up.

Where is the switch-up though? Is there some stipulation which states that literature has to take itself seriously to be considered great? A lot of what’s commonly regarded as “great” literature doesn’t. It’s not “having your cake and eating it too” to appreciate a work on multiple levels. Shakespeare wrote hundreds and hundreds of truly crude sex jokes into his plays. I can still find those jokes funny while I write a new historicist thesis paper about the commentary on Jacobean rule in King Lear. The “goofiness” Shakespeare injects into his plays doesn’t devalue them artisitcally and it doesn’t diminish their capacity to be analyzed. By and large, “goofiness” will only interfere with the quality of a work when the work has clearly set out to take itself seriously and then suddenly breaks tone with an uncalled for (and probably unitentional) bit of silliness. Since, as you said, every issue featured some absurdity or another, to say nothing of the continuum of practical jokes being played on Flash Thompson, Johnny Storm, and J. Jonah Jameson in the Lee/Ditko era, you can’t really say that early ASM was so self-serious that its goofy moments were wildly out of place (incidentally, the criticism probably would hold water if put against JMS’s run).

Also, most of your criticisms in this thread could be leveled at any superhero under the oversight of any creative team. Ditko’s steampunk dildo? Why just a few months ago I picked up a Romita Jr. issue of Spider-Man and would you believe Spidey was squirting some sort of jizz-like substance from his wrists? The Blue Hat incident? The blue hat incident occurs week after week in the Superman titles whenever the Man of Steel dons his “disguise” as Clark Kent. While you seem to acknowledge that there’s a difference between the goofiness that arises from the superhero genre and just plain idiocy, you lump certain of your examples under the latter heading, while I think that everything you mentioned belongs under the former. Goofy superhero genre tropes is a really broad category.

One last thing: How can you denigrate a comic book for being goofy when Grant Morrison is the king of goofiness in comics?

Note: There’s a small chance the question means nothing to you, but this is CSBG, so until it’s proven otherwise, I will assume you think GM is brilliant in one way or another, are comfortable calling him the “God of All Comics” in an only half-joking tone, and will thus find my rhetorical question to be the perfect capstone to my argument, since it reduces your stance to (half-joking) blasphemy. :)

I know this run was a landmark run which created some great characters and helped to reinvent Superhero comics for a new generation, but…

I just can’t enjoy all that old-school dialogue and the excessive exposition that’s made necessary by the space restrictions. I’m glad the run exists, but I found Essential Spider-Man v1 a slog and just can’t read this stuff.

I guess maybe I’m just an old fogey then. I find modern comics, especially DC ones with that horrible faux-noir Milleresque purple prose they all use in the narration captions embarassing in the way they take themselves so seriously and have to suffer to get through a book, even if its decompressed, whereas I can read Stan Lee’s dialogue and captions all day.

Cool Comics is the perfect replacement for Cool Moments! Thank you, Brian, for finding a way to continue what you were doing without breaking your promise to end it.

Is there any chance of seeing the DeMatteis and/or Gillis runs on Defenders, which to your everlasting shame you neglected for your Cool Moments?
Am I the only one who even remembers how great the Defenders was back then?

I’ve had problems getting into these issues as well. The big problem for me is not the ridiculous moments, it’s Stan Lee’s writing. It’s terrible. Its frustrating to read. I just can’t do it.

Whoa – sorry I’m late for the party – I’ve been out of commission since the first of the year. Here I am, back in the land of the living, to find a new daily feature from Brian – yeah boy!

Anyway, while I agree with the importance of the Lee/Ditko Spidey era (can’t be underestimated), I do understand those who have trouble slogging through it. I found that it takes a little mental “shift of gears” to get used to how these are written and drawn. It’s kind of like going back and reading Shakespeare in Elizabethean English, or, even more dramatically, Chaucer in Middle English. You kind of have to let your mind settle into the paradigm and develop an ear for the language, pacing, goofiness, etc.

That being said, I found by issue #5 that I was adjusting, and then enjoyed the next 25 or so issues of the run. However, I’m with the Romita lovers. To me, Spidey didn’t kick into high gear until JR SR came along.

Just opinion though. Like or don’t like, it’s all good to me.

I’d rather read Ultimate Spider-Man

I started reading Spider-Man regularly circa 1972, both the regular title and the Marvel Tales reprints, which by then were well into the Romita period. I never saw any of the Ditko material until much later and initially I found his style very off-putting. For me, Romita was the great Spidey artist. However, gradually I came to recognize Ditko’s remarkable story-telling talent and came to love his style, in both Spider-Man and in his Dr. Strange stories, from that era. Ditko was far more creative than Romita. Romita, however, definitely lightened things up, making Peter Parker a friendlier person suddenly having to choose between two gorgeous women and actually making friends among his classmates, something that never happened during Ditko’s run. Ditko’s personality quirks and his devotion to the Ayn Rand’s ideas were seeping in to his work, to ill effect IMO. Still, he produced some, ahem, amazing and strange work between ’62 and ’66.

I have the first three Pocket Books editions of ASM, so I can enjoy his first twenty adventures in miniature form as I wish. Love ‘em or hate ‘em – these are some of the best books out there,

Spider-Man is “the hero who could be you…if you were a science geek”.

All of us has experienced what Peter Parker has gone through in one form or another…but his special power is understanding the nature of the world around him.

MacGyver has nothing on a determined Pete.

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