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2013 Top 100 Comic Book Storylines #80-71

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77. “Love and Death” by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Shawn McManus and Rick Veitch (Saga of the Swamp Thing 28-34 & Annual #2) – 137 points (3 first place votes)

Love and Death is the storyline responsible for Swamp Thing officially moving from a regular Comics Code Approved comic to a “Mature Readers” comic, only in the case of Swamp Thing, it was termed “Sophisticated Suspense” to deter youngsters from reading it.

Alan Moore had already made quite a name for himself on just the first eight issues of his run, but this storyline, which involved Abby Cable’s evil uncle Anton Arcane taking over the body of her husband before killing her (and officially ending her husband’s life) – well, it took the book in a whole different direction of darkness.

After Swamp Thing defeated Anton (killing him once again), he decides to go to Hell to rescue Abby’s soul.

Nowadays, with the proliferation of pretty much every DC Universe character, it is hard to imagine how fresh someone like Moore using Deadman, The Demon and the Phantom Stranger was, but it was – and that’s on top of the fact that he used them all extremely well. Moore’s use of the Demon (who he had used a couple of issues earlier) was extremely influential on later writers of the character, and Deadman, heck, he had not even been USED in YEARS before Moore featured him here.

The storyline concludes with Abby’s return and the famous “sex issue,” where Abby and Swamp Thing make love by Abby eating a tuber created from Swamp Thing’s body and then sort of hallucinates their sexual encounter…

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Stephen Bissette and John Totleben are almost shocking at the level of excellence they reach on this storyline – from the darkness of the early story (Bissette’s zombies are gruesome) to the tender euphoria of their love-making (like a kaleidoscope has exploded), they master it all.

76. “The Death of Superman” by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern (writers), Dan Jurgens, Tom Grummett, Jon Bogdanove and Jackson Guice (pencilers) and Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke, Denis Rodier and Rich Burchett (inkers) (Superman #74-75, Adventures of Superman #497, Superman: Man of Steel #18-19, Action Comics #684, Justice League America #69) – 139 points (2 first place votes)

In an idea borrowed from writer Louise Simonson’s husband, Walter and the issues leading up to the introduction of Surtur in Thor, we kept seeing the sound effect “Doom doom doom” appear at the back of the four Superman titles in the weeks leading up to the reveal in Man of Steel #18 of a monstrous creature pounding away at its captivity and the “doom” noise was it punching its way free.

It then went on a rampage throughout the United States, headed towards Metropolis through sheer happenstance.

The Justice League showed up to stop it, and the creature went through them easily (it was Leaguer Booster Gold who named the creature “Doomsday”).

Eventually, it came down to Superman, who tried to keep the creature from Metropolis, but eventually ended up battling the creature all the way TO Metropolis.

Eventually, in one last blow for each combatant – the two killed each other.

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This was certainly one of the more dramatic comic books of all-time. I mean, Superman DIED, for crying out loud!

75. “Ultimates 2? by Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary (Ultimates 2 #1-13) – 140 points (2 first place votes)

In this story, we see the downfall of the Ultimates as they become SO effective as a tool of the United States government that other nations begin to formulate a counter to them, and when their plan springs into action, the Ultimates cannot even trust each other as the whole operation collapses around them and as the United States of America is stolen right out from underneath their noses! And is Loki involved or is he not? And which member of the Ultimates is a traitor? All these questions answered and more in this 13-part saga that culminated with a stunning series of dramatic battles in the final few issues!

Here is one of the great sequences where the Ultimates begin to rebel against the occupation of America…

74. “Confession” by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Will Blyberg (Kurt Busiek’s Astro City #4-9) – 141 points (1 first place vote)

Confession was a major departure for Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Up until this point, the book was mostly high quality stories on the lighter side of superheroes – not “the lighter side” like humorous, but in the sense that they were more traditional superheroes – the Supermans and the Fantastic Fours of the world. The bright kind of heroes.

In Confession, Busiek and artist Brent Anderson turn their eye to the dark side of Astro City- the dark alleys and the people who inhabit the night.

It is here that we meet Brian Kinney, a young man who longs to be a superhero. Before too long, he is the sidekick to the Batman analogue, The Confessor, and Kinney is Altar Boy.

Throughout the rest of the arc, we see Brian grow as a hero but also see that there is something seriously messed up with The Confessor’s origin story – what it is is the major twist of the story.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot else going on, as there is, with a superhero registration act debate and heroes seemingly acting as villains, this is a packed storyline, but one that, like all of Busiek’s Astro City stories, is based on the complex personalities of the characters involved.

Go to the next page for #73-71…

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43 Comments

And Saga (vol 1) is the first of my top ten to make the top 100 (I think it’s possibly the first storyline to be revealed for the current list which didn’t exist 4 years ago).
Brian K Vaughan has written many great works but this one impresses me even more than the previous ones and Fiona Staples’ art wonderfully captures the beauty, the ugliness and the weirdness of the setting.

The Crazed Spruce

November 10, 2013 at 4:07 am

Out of this batch, I’ve only read The Death of Superman, The Kree/Skrull War, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (though I did read parts of Knightfall and one issue from Love and Death). Death of Superman was the only one to make my short list, but it finished just short of my top 25. I’d read the Kree/Skrull War just a few days before putting my list together, but it didn’t really meet my expectations. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen simply slipped my mind before I put my list together.

From the looks of it, though, I really need to look into Saga and Locke & Key….

The Crazed Spruce

November 10, 2013 at 4:32 am

And for those who love to compare….

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen rose from 86 to 78
Love and Death rose from 96 to 76
Death of Superman fell from 52 to 75
Ultimates Volume 2 fell from 28 to 74
Confession fell from 52 to 73
The Kree/Skrull War rose from 79 to 72
Knightfall fell from 68 to 71
Homelands rose from 80 to 70

Locke & Key and Saga are both new to the list.

At first I was shocked that the Kree/Skrull war rated so low in the list of 100, but I guess these favorite “lists” will change through the years. I’m thinking that many of the stories from the 50-70’s won’t get the love they deserve because of the age demographic of the participants. That story was my #1 choice. As for the other stories:
The Alan Moore Swamp thing was an excellent series and that story was one of the top. I forgot to include the Astro City Confessor story in my long list and the Superman/Death and Batman/Bane stories were also oversights in my list.

i read 6 of these, most of them I even liked….

Confession was on my top-30 shortlist.

I really should read Locke & Key and Saga.

Of my remaining 9 choices i think only 2 are locks to be included and 5 have no shot because of the era in which they were released. Although they are my personal favorites as a kid, many of these stories have to be tracked down by the modern reading public. It might be interesting to see ALL the entries that didn’t make the top 100 once the countdown is finished.

Only read 5 of these and none were on my top ten list:

I had League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century instead. I still really love the early volumes but they are just a Victorian version of the Argonauts and Reginald Charles Churchill did similar things in the 1950s. The later volumes are about the importance of literature and mythology.
The Death of Superman just missed out of my list. I know it is pulpy but it makes me cry every time.
Knightfall, on the other hand just bores me. It feels more like a side scrolling Sega game. Ah well.
Brian K Vaughan is always a good read and although Saga didn’t make my shortlist two other stories of his did and I’m glad to see it on here.
Not as big a fan of Swamp Thing as everyone else but it still great.

I really need to read Locke and Key, Fables and Astro City some time.

Cool. Two of mine finally showed up. Love and Death was my #1. It’s still amazing to me everything that Alan Moore packs into just those 3 issues and all the new concepts he was introducing. Also, had Homelands on my list. And LOEG probably should have made my list.

Looks like I need to read Locke and Key. Been meaning to read Confession for awhile now.

That Locke and Key volume is at my library! Guess I know what I’ll be picking up soon!
And Saga is one I did pick up, it was fun, although it’s already fading from memory a bit.
Love and Death is fantastic, that Swamp Thing Annual blew me away as a kid.
Astro City’s great, although I prefer Tarnished Angel to Confessions. Voted for TA last time but not on this list, but I hope it makes it.
Fables deserves its representation, it’s another great one.

Oh, and of course, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a blast too. Not everyone likes Alan Moore being “too clever” but I love it when he’s clearly having a blast cramming as many inside references as he can to form a coherent literary universe.

Saga and Fables are both a huge surprise.

Ultimates 2 and Kree/Skrull War are both awesome.

As excellent of a horror comic as Alan Moore Swamp Thing was, it just didn’t work when it was trying to be some sort of pseudo-romance comic. The stuff before and immediately after that arc was the peak of the run by far.

I feel like most of the people voting on these read the first six issues of every series and then get bored. The votes all compile on the first storylines of series. Locke & Key got /way/ better after the first miniseries, when it gained a sense of fun.

Still a solid list across the board. I haven’t read Ultimates 2, but the rest are fine choices, and I assume that is as well.

Still nothing I actually voted for. Though Confession and Love & Death were both on my short list. Cut off from the final 10 really just in the name of diversity, as I had Busiek and Moore represented with other stories.

The Crazed Spruce

November 10, 2013 at 8:45 am

Just realized I screwed up the numbering in my last post. For the sake of accuracy….

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen rose from 86 to 79
Love and Death rose from 96 to 77
Death of Superman fell from 52 to 76
Ultimates Volume 2 fell from 28 to 75
Confession fell from 52 to 74
The Kree/Skrull War rose from 79 to 73
Knightfall fell from 68 to 72
Homelands rose from 80 to 71

Locke & Key and Saga are still both new to the list.

Fables and hot-off-the-presses Saga lower than LXG? Don’t know how I feel about that…

@George-

I second that motion to show a list of ALL the entries that didn’t make the top 100 once the countdown is finished. I think that might be interesting to see. I’m fully expecting half my entries to wind up there!

Good to see Saga, Swamp Thing and The Death of Superman. I forgot the first and second but happy to see the last.

Two of my votes appeared: Kree-Skrull War and Homelands.
Two great stories.

Locke & Key, Astro City and the Kree / Skrull war are all on my to-read list.

League of Extraordinary Gentleman is great, though not quite one of my absolute favourites.

Saga really lives up to its hype. I think it’s already one of the greats. Most things Vaughan has written are top quality, and the characters and world that Staples draws are amazing. Cannot recommend it enough.

I just recently read Love and Death, as I’m working my way through Moore’s Swamp Thing (bought all the hardcovers). It would be a contender for my top 10, but I wanted to give it more time and also read the rest of the run. An unbelievable achievement. So glad I’m finally reading this run.

Haven’t read Ultimates 2 and not bothered to. Ultimates 1 was entertaining, but it was simple popcorn comics at best, juvenile and cynical at worst.

The Death of Superman is meh at best. A story done solely for commercial purposes is rarely going to be great. It wasn’t terrible though.

Don’t feel I need to read Knightfall.

Read one volume of Fables and it was okay, but not so good that I felt the need to delve into a series of that length. Maybe one day.

Read one volume of Fables and it was okay, but not so good that I felt the need to delve into a series of that length. Maybe one day.

The first volume of Fables is much worse than the rest of the series. Just keep that in mind (I don’t know which trade you read, of course, but if it was the first one then keep that in mind).

I’ve read all or part of all of these stories/series, which I think is a first for me. Nothing here made my list. I hate the Ultimates, but the rest I liked well enough. Both Locke & Key and Fables I liked what I read, but wanted to like it more than I did. They just didn’t quite grab me like I thought they would. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is one of my favorite runs, but no single storyline made my list.

Still haven’t had anything from my list show up. I’d say 6 of my choices are pretty much locks to make it, with 2 others still being possibilities. The other 2 I can’t imagine making it if they haven’t already.

Thanks Brian. I believe it was The Good Prince that I read. Might have appreciated it more if I had more back story and knew the characters better. Still, plenty of other things on my reading list, so I don’t need to worry about it just yet.

For those of you who have not read Locke & Key, you don’t know what you are missing. And the “Welcome to Lovecraft” saga, which introduced it, is the weakest part! It managed to consistently top itself (just like Breaking Bad), coming to a fantastic finale. Only one more issue to go!

Just re-read all of Knightfall again and I’m astounded at how well it holds up, as well as it how well it explores the dynamics between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, etc.

and yet again a few choices i thought would be higher on the list like the kree skull war or death of superman. knightfall one thing even after all this time showed how one beats batman plus also the dynamic bruce has and needs with dick and tim plus shows bane is a worthy bat foe

Had Pollyanna even been born yet in 1896?

I’ve read 8/34 so far, none of my top 10 has appeared.

I don’t think Judge Dredd has much chance of turning up now, which is criminal.

I was hoping that the recent movie might have given him a push, but it seems not.

Good point, Mary. Moore does play fast and loose with the timeline.

I’m pretty sure Knightfall was #1 on my list. It’s a shame it’s ranked so low, but at least it made the list.

Greatest Batman storyline ever. I really like how Bane is this crazy polymath because he had nothing but time in prison, not just really strong, but cunning and crafty, with real intelligence behind him. He whittles Batman down to a nub and then strikes. The problem is that after Knightfall few writers have made any good use of him.

Some of Moench and Dixon’s best writing, as well as great art from Aparo and Nolan.

I really liked the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Great use of the characters. I may be a bigger fan of the sequel.

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is a real treat to read. Type of writing that sort of ruins the character once he is gone.

Death of Superman, now here is a tale. A story that I liked as a kid, but fell in love with it on a whole new level, just because of a featurette on that DVD of the animated adaption. I forget the lady’s name, but the way she retells the emotional scene with Martha Kent, is pretty powerful. Definitely worth the time to watch it. I also remember well the MAD parody of the big battle. They broke from the norm, and used color for Superman.

Ultimates 2, I only own and read issues 12 and 13, as that is when the X-Men showed up. 12 is such an epic battle, Hitch really outdid himself. Once we actually got the issue, you could definitely tell why he took all the time.

Confession, I read so long ago, I don’t quite remember it. I do love Kurt Busiek, he is after all, the greatest Avengers writer of all time and the tales of Astro City I have read, were all top notch. It just has been years, and will revisit it once I am done rereading JLAvengers.
Thanks for the suggestion!

Kree / Skrull War, is another story I should reread as it has been a while since I originally read it, I was barely knowledgeable in the characters then, and was playing catch up, trying to speed through as many classic stories as I could.

Knightfall, now there is another childhood epic that captured my imagination. Such a great plan still, unleash all of Batman’s foes, once he has captured them all, then fight him. It makes perfect sense, that one would think villains would do this once a year.

. . .

Brian, it dawns on me that I have yet to thank you for all of the hard work this is and for your time. Thanks!

Astro City Confession made my shortlist.

Swamp Thing made my list – but I voted for the Gotham City arc.

Knightfall is fun. Death of Superman is meh – but it did lead to the glorious Reign of the Supermen. Ultimates II, Saga and Fables are great – but didn’t get my votes.

I feel the exact opposite. Knightfall is shit. Death of Superman was ok-ish.

Yet another (mostly) great batch. I’ve read 9 of these, with only Fables being left out. It’s been on my list for a while and I’ll get to it one day soon.

Swamp Thing: Love & Death is my favorite thing here and I voted for it in the ’08 poll, but switched my vote this time to the opening Moore arc with Woodrue and The Anatomy Lesson. I reread the whole series last year and while Love & Death really held up as a series of incredible stand-alone issues that tie together, the opening arc struck me as more of a real storyline. But that’s mostly picking nits, as I love both and I voted Moore’s Swamp Thing #1 in the runs poll last year. One of the tests for me of whether a single issue is a true classic is if the title of the issue is instantly recognizable and memorable, and by that measure Love & Death has four classic issues in its 8 chapters: Rite of Spring, Down Amongst the Dead Men, The Burial, and Love and Death. In particular, Love and Death (from Saga of the Swamp Thing #29, if anyone wants to hunt it down) is for my money, the greatest horror comic ever created. And something you can really see in those sample pages is not just the utterly brilliant art by Bissette & Totleben (who were a true team and have to be mentioned together), but also how great and important the coloring of Tatjana Wood was to that series. It’s pretty rare that I really notice coloring one way or another, and I’m almost never aware of who the colorist on a series is, but along with Dave Stewart, Laura Martin, John Higgins, and Gregory Wright, Tatjana Wood is someone whose work always stands out to me, and she did a wonderful job on that Swamp Thing run.

Ultimates 2 is probably my second favorite thing here, though it didn’t make my shortlist. But for as many problems as I have with some of Millar’s work, that series was really incredible.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Astro City, and Locke and Key are all series I quite like, but nothing I considered voting for. In the case of Locke and Key, I do agree that the latter arcs are even better than the first one. And the Kree/Skrull War is a story I appreciate more than I like, but it definitely deserves a spot on this list.

The Death of Superman and Knightfall are what they are. They’re undeniably important, but then, so is Spider-Man: Torment, and I don’t suspect we’ll be seeing that show up. (But I could be wrong!) Both arcs definitely have good elements, for example I think Superman #75 is a great comic given what it was trying to do, but there’s also a lot of the worst of the 90’s to be found within the pages of both, and neither of them are very good examples of the medium at its best. With the Death of Superman, as I said, I think the actual death issue is quite good, but the first 6 parts are all pretty forgettable, IMO. With Knightfall, unlike the Death of Superman, the story conceit is actually pretty good and had a lot of potential, but I just don’t think it lived up to its potential. Dixon and Moench are both very good writers, but I don’t think either of them were at their best trying to write for the early 90’s speculator market. Had Knightfall been done just a few years earlier or a few years later, I suspect the writing would have been much more complex, even being done by the same two guys.

But what really kills Knightfall for me is the art. Aparo is certainly one of the better comic artists of his generation, but I think he was out of place on this story, and Nolan is a decent artist but this was a little above his pay grade. And both artists were really hurt by the coloring on the series, which was way too bright and looks like it should have been from a Captain America or Superman comic. This was supposed to be a dark story about a man reaching his physical and psychological breaking point, and the coloring did not reflect that mood AT ALL. It was honestly awful. Look at what Gregory Wright did with the color palette of Long Halloween just a few years later… THAT’s what a Batman story should look like. In general, I thought it was a consistent let-down on Knightfall to go from those great Kelly Jones covers to very average interior art made worse by awful coloring that created the total opposite of the intended mood. Oh well.

And then there’s Saga…

Let me first say that I like Saga. I buy it every month, I enjoy it, and I have never considered dropping it. I do have some reservations with it, like Burgas, and I wish it didn’t try so hard to shock or be cool, but I do like it. Now having said that, I don’t think it should be here, not because I have a qualitative beef with it, but because Saga #s 1-6 is NOT a storyline. It is nothing more than the first six chapters of an ongoing narrative. The only two reasons they were packaged together in a trade and labeled Saga Vol. 1 is because 1) Vaughan and Staples took a break between issues 6 & 7, and 2) the post-Quesada comic industry seems to have generally decided that trades ought to have six issues. But by virtually no other definition is this a storyline. There’s no middle or end to it at all. It does not resolve anything or reach any sort of conclusion/stopping point (other than the stopping point which existed due to the time off Vaughan and Staples took before #7). In fact, Saga #7 isn’t even called “number seven,” it’s called “chapter seven,” which I think makes clear that it’s not the start of the next storyline. And I’m sure some of you are thinking “Well, where IS the delineation between story lines if not here?” And that’s the thing, some comic series’ just don’t have storyline delineations. I’m sure we’ll be seeing the first trade of Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye show up somewhere higher on this list, and I’ll have the same argument there. Hawkeye is one of my favorite books on the stands, but with the exception of the Pulido fill-in issues (4 & 5), it has not had any story lines. It has been just a succession of (great) issues that continue an ongoing narrative. I think the same thing about Claremont/Romita Jr Uncanny X-Men, which was a great 35 issue run with no obvious “story lines” other than the Kulan Gath 2-parter, and Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, in which issues 5-26 are basically a 22-part story that is really difficult and problematic to separate into any smaller divisions. That’s why there’s also a runs poll, to honor this stuff.

I just think this poll exists to highlight a very specific kind of story-telling, which is different than single issues, and is different than long runs. And I just don’t see how the first six issues of Saga apply to what this poll is intended to rank. If people want to vote for it on the next runs poll, go ahead (although it probably won’t be finished yet, so that shouldn’t be allowed either, but whatever).

Anyway, sorry to bitch about that Brian, and I’m not trying to complain about how you’re running things. I appreciate everything you do for this blog, and if people voted for Saga, what are you gonna do? I’m more so bitching about the people who voted for it, because they should have realized that it doesn’t apply. And if people disagree, feel free to say why. I’d love to hear a counter-argument.

I’ve read everything from this part of the list but some early Locke & Key and the Kree/Skrull War.

I really need to read the Kree/Skrull war, but I think I’ve enjoyed a lot of the fallout without having to read it.

Locke & Key is so well done. I ignored it until it started showing up on lists like this. I’m glad I started picking it up. It’s like a really good horror movie. Like, not just a slasher flick or cheap surprises. It’s got some great characters and basically everything Brian said.

Knightfall is somewhere between what penguintruth and Anonymous said, imo. Neat concept with some good moments and some bad moments. Not very high on my reread list, but something of a sentimental favorite.

I was happy to see Confession, but then so very disappointed to click to the next page and find the Kree-Skrull War beat it out. It’s not surprising, but the juxtaposition of the pair, one of my favorite stories right next to one that I find so bad that keeps trucking as a classic for reasons I can’t understand was like an unforeseen kick when you’re otherwise enjoying yourself.

Knightfall is a great concept but I never bought that Bane really had the stuff to take Batman down.
Locke and Key I’m now much more curious about than I used to be.

Knew “Saga” would show up, and glad to see it. One of those rare series that absolutely deserves every bit of hype it got. While I can see what Third Man is saying from a logistical standpoint, I think the reason that first collection shows up here is that, regardless of whether the first issues are a “storyline” per se, we all knew we wanted “Saga” to be here. The first trade is just the thing that makes the most sense to vote for. I would rather the rules be stretched a bit to let us have fantastic series like it on the list, than to staunchly stick to them and miss out on things like “Saga” (or, according to the some of the protests from the previous list, “Scott Pilgrim”).

Coincidentally, the entry for “Homelands” is the first of Brian’s write-ups that I have not read through, because of a very fortunate reason. I am currently making my way through “Fables” (I had previously only read about the first 25 issues), and I am literally about to begin the “Homelands” arc later today. A serendipitous coincidence, as I often find myself looking through these lists and thinking, “Man, I wish I could read that story RIGHT NOW!” In this case, I can.

I picked up Saga a while back after seeing all the cool reviews and discovered I’d been confusing it with Northlands and thought it was about Vikings. I’m really glad I got that sorted out because Saga’s great.

It is. You know what else is great? Northlanders.

No wonder Superman died….look how lame the JLA is. If they had some real membership at that time there might have been someone around to help him.

Knightfall was a great start, but Bane is almost immediately undercut after, to prop up Jean Paul Valley. And it never really sets up a problem revenge for Bruce Wayne. Bane is only a shell of himself later, so it becomes Batman vs. Az-Bats, rather than the great bad guy you built up. No pay off.

Ultimates 2? Must mean the first part is higher. This does point out…was the Ultimates Wasp the least Asian looking Asian superhero ever? I mean, Psylocke comes and goes depending on the artist, but a lot of the time this Wasp isn’t distinguishable from the 616 one.

And Swamp Thing…Moore did love himself some freaky vagina. So say we all.

I never had a problem seeing Jan as Asian in The Ultimates when drawn by Bryan Hitch. When Joe Maduerra (sp?) drew her on the other hand…

Hitch seemed to have decided that Wasp should be Asian in precisely one out of every ten panels of The Ultimates.

Aw man, “Love and Death” and “Confession”! I’ve gotta reread those again sometime soon…

Whenever I think of Saga, the scene with the naked giant with the unfortunate privates sticks out in my mind. Oh, and the sexy/creepy spider-lady.

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