We are all Aquaman

Ignore Aquaman’s super strength, his swimming speed, his seafood powers, and all that other jazz we proclaim to convince ourselves that Aquaman is cool.  We already know he’s cool – because we’re fans – and you won’t convince anyone new that Aquaman isn’t lame with lists of the top ten mermaids Aquaman has banged.  It won’t work.  Don’t waste your energy.  You’ve seen Internet comments before; people won’t change their minds about actual potentially catastrophic life-altering arguments even when faced with the most glaring of facts, much less a comic superhero who swims fast.  To them, Aquaman will always be this insane caricature from the TV shows:

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Direct your energies instead to embrace Aquaman as your spirit animal, that fictional character that you can relate to when you’re working overtime on the weekend in your miserable little cubicle.  Like Aquaman, you’re unappreciated.  Like Aquaman, you’re not respected.  Like Aquaman, people will love you and mermaids will bang you just as soon as people could just see what you’re capable of! Did you imagine me yelling this at you while poking you with my index finger?  Read it again that way, please.  Because to the 99.9% of the world that aren’t hardcore comic book fans, Aquaman will always be a joke.  But y’see, so are we.

We’re grown men (and women) in our teens (though most likely late 20s) who read violent picture books instead of real novels specifically targeted towards adults.  Try explaining your interest in comic books to your grandfather.  He fought in World War II, and he sure as hell isn’t going to listen to your diatribe about why Man of Steel wasn’t true to Superman’s persona.  But here’s the point about being a joke: no matter what other people think of you (and trust me, they’re judging you – try bringing up Batman on a first date), those people aren’t going to stop you from living your life.  Just like my boy Aquaman.  Remember how DC actually had normal people make fun of Aquaman to his face in Aquaman #1, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Ivan Reis?  That’s how far Aquaman’s reputation had sunk (pun totally indented).

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Regardless of the number of times citizens (in real life or the DC universe) condescend him, Aquaman still climbs out his clam bed, attaches his hook hand, and goes off to punch whalers every single day of his fictional life – because that’s how life works.  Go to the comic book shop on weekends and hang around other people who also really should cut off their ponytails, because while I’m totally pepping you up to pursue your passions, all my inspirational words (I’m still pointing my finger and yelling) also apply to your career – that thing you go to half the time you’re awake.

You still schlep to work every day even though you sweat through your shirts each day going boring work for no recognition.  If only the higher ups would give you a chance or customers wouldn’t yell at you or a mermaid could give you an uncomfortably long hug because you’ve realized you might have a mermaid fetish.  Maybe it’ll happen one day or maybe it won’t, but you’re still going to work.  Not going to work isn’t an option.  And Aquaman?  In the past few years, the character has made it known he’s well aware of the jokes/taunts made about him – but someone still has to fight nuclear submarines with tridents regardless of whether anyone will appreciate Aquaman for his actions or not.

When your day descends into the miserable abyss of mind-numbing menial labor, take a moment to reflect fondly on your friend Aquaman.  Hang a picture of him on your refrigerator or keep a tiny picture of him in your wallet – use that photo where he slouches on his throne as if his team just lost the Super Bowl.  This one from Aquaman #18, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Paul Pelletier:

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Don’t worry, the symbolism overshadows the brooding, sexual undertones.  Remind yourself over and over again – just as Aquaman must do every time he uses a shark to ram an oil rig – that you’re making a difference.  Even a small difference.  Even if your small difference is for an evil corporation who wouldn’t lose a second of sleep to throw your expendable butt on the pitiless streets.  Never forget: our lives aren’t weighed by our contribution to society, but our contribution to anything.  Begin that slow process to believe that you’re useful.  Talented.  Good at something – especially if that something is mermaid banging.

Your friends, co-workers, bosses, family, the entire country you live in may never treat you the way you deserve to be treated.  But you’re still going to get up and live your life, right?  You’ll still believe in yourself and what you do.  Because honestly?  It’s better than giving up to complacency, even if you skate that thin line between self-esteem and openly lying to yourself.  Just like Aquaman – a man fearlessly attempting to be a superhero in a world that never stops mocking him for attempting to be a superhero.  The next time you’re a flash away from crumpling in a ball of spiritual depression as you consider your place in this world, ask yourself what Aquaman would do – because he sure as hell wouldn’t give up.  Aquaman’ll be your fishy Jesus from now on.  And at least consider the happiness the freedom a less-than-stellar reputation can provide.  Like in Wednesday Comics #6-7, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by Amanda Conner.  You can click the picture for a larger version.

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Feel better?  No?  Well, baby steps.


The Batman and Superman blame game, Pt. 2

When we left off, Superman lost a village to an OMAC – a robot/cyborg created by Batman’s former (rogue) satellite Brother Eye, which Batman bought to spy on everyone. And Max Lord, the psychic baddie who commandeered Brother Eye, is psychically controlling Superman to make him do his bidding. There. You’re all caught up. So that’s why Superman’s a bit bummed out in Adventures of Superman #642-643, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Karl Kerschl, Derec Donovan, Cam Smith, Sean Parsons, Carlos D’Anda, and Rags Morales. It’s for a good reason. Y’see, Max Lord made Superman try to kill Batman. He got pretty close. Click the pictures below for a larger version if you so desire.

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Everything I’ve shown you is important, I promise. It all leads to a single poignant conversation about personal responsibility that’ll pierce the very vortex of your comic-book-loving heart (well, maybe not now that I’ve hyped it up so much). Look, Superman always does the right thing no matter what, no exceptions, because Superman is Superman and the most perfect physical, mental, and emotional being in fictional history. So when the writer wants Superman to do something murder-y, another separate force must take over the Man of Steel. Superman didn’t mean it! He was under Max Lord’s control! Which, while totally a legitimate excuse, doesn’t make these next few pages feel any better.

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After this, he gets psychically taken over one more time for a brutal Superman versus Wonder Woman fight. Then Wonder Woman breaks Max Lord’s neck. And even after this whole Max Lord episode ends – both Wonder Woman and Superman in pretty terrible shape (and Max Lord dead) – our dear protagonist has to immediately save the world from a runaway missile. Crime never sleeps, especially not in a universe with fifty different series to fill every month. Oh, and in Superman’s thought boxes, he’s talking to Lois Lane (remember when those two used to be married?).

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Brother Eye, who still operates for the most part even without Max Lord, doesn’t really get dealt with until Infinite Crisis (which occurs months after this), so the OMACs still run rampant. And most importantly, there’s a little secret about these whole OMAC creations that Superman doesn’t find out until right now. You know how I referred to them earlier as cyborgs? Turns out no one told the Man of Steel, so he has to find out the normal method – letting a tiny bit of his infinite power loose followed by immediate and overwhelming shame.

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Finally, we reach our conversation. With the thirty-ish pictures you’ve read and everything I’ve explained, you should understand every reference and argument the two make. Will this all be worth the immense amount of time I’ve spent building up to this? Look, let’s not worry about that. It’s an important conversation with an important message at the end – a message that’s not brought up enough about both of the characters’ most glaring flaws.

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Both of them are correct, of course. But since the DC universe walks the super thin line between spandex-wearing cooks punching moons and the actual moral quandaries of our real life world, we always get left with more open-ended questions than any sort of satisfying answers. The only thing I’m sure of is that if guilt was kryptonite, Superman’d be a dead man. I’m leaving with you with the final page of this issue, which consists of Superman sobbing into the arms of his loving wife. I know it’s a bummer. But it’s important for us to read. Right?

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Something happy next time!


The Batman and Superman blame game, Pt. 1

Everything you’re going to see today and tomorrow leads to a single conversation between Superman and Batman – all 40-ish pictures involving explosions and OMACs and betrayal and spying and mind control and missiles and everything else. We’ll weave five separate stories together in a coherent knot that eventually ends up on the complicated idea of personal responsibility. I know that’s not as exciting as missiles, but it’ll be more satisfying. Probably. Most likely. Let’s start with a scene from Superman #217, written by Mark Verheiden and drawn by Ed Benes. Superman and Lois are currently hanging out in Peru, helping people and reporting news and whatever else. Terrorists, already once foiled by Superman, threaten to blow up the local village’s dam. I want to proclaim that this looks like a job for you-know-who, but I cringe every time I start to write that.

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It’s an OMAC! Shortened for Omni Mind And Community, they’re crazy powerful robots/cyborgs. We like to think of a superhero’s job as beating up supervillains, but a more accurate description would be saving people from supervillains. The bad guys only exist as obstacles to prevent a superhero from accomplishing his chosen bloody career path. So think of OMAC as the jammed printer that’s preventing Superman from submitting his report on time. And then think of that printer being kicked repeatedly.

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I know we don’t like mopey Superman. Batman doesn’t cry or be emotionally vulnerable like the Man of Steel. But, because Superman’s perfect, he must be as sensitive as he is masculine. A real man wouldn’t be ashamed to shed tears or sit in the dark sadly when he fails since a real man has no need to impress anyone. Hence for all of Superman’s embarrassing weeping, of course he cries. It’s just one more thing he’s better at than we are.

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I’m upset too. We’re moving on to a scene from The OMAC Project #2, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Jesus Saiz. Don’t worry, Batman doesn’t fail in this scene as that would be too difficult to believe. To understand the importance of what’s upcoming, we must jump back to the greatly hated DC event Identity Crisis. If I can be honest, while really dark, Identity Crisis wasn’t that bad. When Batman stumbled upon Zatanna and other members of the Justice League mindwiping the supervillain Dr. Light (to erase his knowledge of the superheroes’ secret identities), Zatanna had no choice but to mindwipe Batman as well. The Dark Knight only deals in black and white, y’know because he refuses to operate in that logical gray area of morality. In response to his friends’ betrayal, and in a move that’s a huge gray area, Batman builds a giant satellite that can spy on everything and everyone in the world, basically wiping out privacy.

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Max Lord, psychic supervillain, stole the satellite. He also killed the Blue Beetle, hence why Booster Gold’s a bit upset. Note that before Blue Beetle died, he went to Batman with this information and Batman brushed him off, thus forcing Blue Beetle to confront Max Lord by himself. And Max Lord shot him, something he wouldn’t have been able to do if any of the Justice Leaguers had accompanied Blue Beetle. It’s complicated. But most importantly, Booster Gold makes a poignant observation:

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It’s a strange double-edged sword. Since we as readers get a full view of Batman’s life that the other superheroes don’t, we know that of course Batman takes blame for his mistakes. He takes all the blame to the point where it’s unhealthy (ex. Jason Todd’s death). But Batman also doesn’t have the emotional capability to show vulnerability. Or show emotion or have normal human feelings or trust others. Even Superman – arguably Batman’s best friend – doesn’t get the heart-on-the-sleeve Bruce Wayne. But also, of course Batman doesn’t take blame with the others around. He doesn’t have superpowers. He’s a normal dude hanging out with gods. So the first time he admits his mistakes, he acknowledges that his contributions to the Justice League (almost entirely his detective skills and information network) might not be perfect. And then Batman’s just a normal dude in a Bat costume and certainly not the perfection incarnates (Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter) or powerful meta-humans (Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman) that he has to always competing with.

But today’s connected by a single thread: OMACs. Brother Eye (Batman’s hijacked satellite) creates OMACs, and Max Lord controls Brother Eye, both of which are the pillars of despair that will define Friday’s article. It’ll make sense, I’m pretty sure.

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To be continued indeed! My convoluted conclusion next time!


War Machine’s anger issues

The man has some feelings to work out.  James Rhodes, the owner of the War Machine armor (think of Iron Man with more bullets), gets his second real shot at being the superhero the same comic Tony Stark “dies.”  Mainly, it’s out of necessary, as criminals still need to be stopped and Iron Man comics still need to be sold.  But unlike you or me or practically anyone else in the Marvel universe, Rhodes isn’t happy about his new exciting title.  No, actually he’s quite angry (as you guessed from the title). Here’s some scenes of Rhodes/War Machine raging around from Iron Man #284-291, written by Len Kaminski and drawn by Kevin Hopgood & Tom Morgan.

So I’m sure in the cynical depths of your comic-loving soul, you balk at my statement.  Please, you say, all superheroes get outraged occasionally.  How bad can he be?  Well, you know:

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Rhodes has no super powers.  You just witnessed a normal man put a lamp through the television for something that Fox News makes an entire network about.  So now with no Tony Stark to hang out with and no Iron Man to lie to people about, Rhodes will have to spend his time productively.  And for someone who loves and admires Stark so much, he’s certainly not happy about following his final wishes.  As the imaginary Tony Stark rattles off all the qualifications that make Rhodes the superhero we all know he should be (mainly being a good person), understand the lunacy of Rhodes’ misplaced anger.  If I came to you announcing that I’m going to give you the physique of an Olympic-level athlete and the ability to shoot lasers out of your eyes, would you just shout, “Eff you!” before shoving me away? No, because we’re not crazy people.  His rage continues unabated for the next eight issues.

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I’m not going to spend 600 words to announce over and over again – look how upset War Machine is! Don’t you worry, because War Machine possesses a superpower that delights me far more than yelling at the ghost of Iron Man.  Witness the unparalleled majesty of Rhodes’ combat banter.  His references are horribly outdated.  His references are pretty much nonsense.  It builds absolutely zero suspense.  And you’re welcome in advance.

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So as you’ve figured, Tony Stark isn’t dead.  Actually, you know for a fact he isn’t because I did a previous article about his coma dreams and whatnot that takes place during this arc.  War Machine finally gets put back into the truth loop about halfway through this – not to Tony Stark’s fault as he spent most of the first half being unconscious.  And because I’m about to show you the pages of Rhodes discovering the truth, you should know that Rhodes reacts poorly.  What’s the proper mood when you find out your best friend isn’t actually dead?  Elation?  Surprise?  Happiness?

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For a man who’s entire superhero identity is constructed using technology, Rhodes really hates electronics.  In the past decades, Rhodes has slowly morphed into the stoic demeanor and good-natured humor of an ex-military/superhero making his way as a normal man in an insane comic book world.   But not for a while.  If War Machine isn’t complaining that he has to fight crime even though he doesn’t want to, mom, I just got home from school so let me go to my room please, then he’s spending his time having shirtless bedside conversations with his string of lovers.  He leads an enviable life, even if he doesn’t notice.  And here’s some more combat banter:

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Look, Rhodes and Stark end this arc as friends again.  The status quo must remain strong. Iron Man, in all his bed-ridden glory, must convince War Machine not to be a little b-word and accept that the world needs a gun-toting making-dad-jokes Iron Man-spinoff flying around the Marvel universe to blow away robots with shoulder-mounted miniguns.  I don’t want you to surprise you, but Rhodes isn’t happy about this arrangement.  Spoiler alert: he’s angry.

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And that’s the story of how War Machine joined the West Coast Avengers.  Next time, Batman and Superman!


Northstar’s deportation problem

Northstar and his manager Kyle got married!  We all celebrated and rejoiced and hugged our loved ones.  Their marriage notched another mark into the bedpost of diversity in comics.  But if you’re going to have two characters take advantage of the United States legal system for the wonderful joy in all our hearts, that also means dealing with all the disadvantages (and oh, is there a lot) of the double-edged sword of the endlessly complicated United States legal system.  Like Northstar (real name Jean-Paul Beaubier) being a Canadian citizen instead of an American.  And his 2012 gay marriage not being recognized by the United States government.  So I present to you the other side of Northstar’s marriage that no one talks about: his immediate deportation.  Today, we’re using the following comics:
Astonishing X-Men #51, written by Marjorie Liu and drawn by Mike Perkins
Astonishing X-Men #56, written by Liu and drawn by Mike Perkins
Astonishing X-Men #59, written by Liu and drawn by Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Astonishing X-Men #66, written by Liu and drawn by Amilcar Pinna
Astonishing X-Men #68, written by Liu and drawn by Walta
Amazing X-Men #1, written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Ed McGuinness

Before we delve into law talk and other thrilling topics, let’s take a moment and refresh our memories on the delightful wedding between these two good-looking, happy, loving men:

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Yes, it’s everything a comic book wedding ceremony should be: overly emotional and an enormous pain for the artist to draw.  It feels good and we’re better people for having witnessed this.  Now normally, marrying an American citizen anchors dear Northstar to our beloved country, much like having a child or building an underground bunker would.  But when the X-Men – already a super high-profiled team – have a very public and very ornate wedding, it’s going to attract some major attention that it wouldn’t otherwise.  Like the government.  Correcting their mistake.

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Honestly, superheroes break laws all the time.  Due process, trespassing, assault (tons of assault), etc.  But superheroes have always been notoriously bad at solving problems that don’t involve punching.  So as Northstar breaks the news to his husband that all the dreams and desires they brought with them to New York will be crushed under the immense weight of American bureaucracy and the price of celebrity, remember the most important thing: Canada’s not so bad.  There are far worse places to be deported to.

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Nothing else is said about this for many, many issues.  The giant X-Men event X-Termination kind of abducts the current story line as Astonishing X-Men contributes some issues to the event.  Then Iceman has a schizophrenic, definitely evil, almost-destroying-all-of-NYC episode that takes up five issues.  So, we never see Northstar and Kyle move.  Actually, nothing else is ever mentioned at all except for the single page below where they briefly mention they’re in Canada.  But back to the Iceman thing, that’s why everyone’s so angry at him (also, Northstar use to have a crush on Iceman, but that’s wildly irrelevant information I’m only giving you to take up space).

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So what happens you ask?  I don’t know.  No one knows.  Astonishing X-Men ends and this court case never once gets brought up again in the history of comic books.  Luckily, our real life law caught up enough that comic book law could say these two would be allowed back in the United States, but I can’t tell you anything beyond what you just saw above.  Luckily, the next time Northstar appears, he’s a faculty member at Wolverine’s X-Men school in upstate New York, so we can only assume that he won his case.  Good job, She-Hulk.  Here’s some proof from Amazing X-Men:

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And everyone lived happily ever after!  Hopefully.  Goodness, it’d be nice.


Green Arrow’s arrow duel

We can fight our evolving pop culture as hard as our desperate little hearts can manage, but technology has caught up and surpassed comic books.  The limitations of the static medium of pictures and word bubbles can’t compare to a CGI fight scene or romantic interlude or musical number or whatever TV/movies want to accomplish.  Still, that’s no reason to give up.  With the correct writer and artist, our chosen artistic form can create marvelous fight scenes, powerful romantic moments, and everything else you so deserve and desire.  I present to you proof of that with the incredible archery fight in Green Arrow #20, written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Andrea Sorrentino.  You want two dudes shooting arrows at each other with the same suspenseful build up you get from watching what I assume would be a very awesome new Olympic sport?  You have it. You’ll love it.

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We’re in the New 52 – note Oliver Queen’s lack of Van Dyke facial hair.  I’m skipping all important set up.  All you need to understand the story is that the supervillain Komodo – an evil Green Arrow – is trying to kill Green Arrow.  There.  Comic books are pretty to understand sometimes.  But these next four pages truly showcase what simple drawings can accomplish.  As Green Arrow and Komodo shoot arrows back and forth at each other, you’re witnessing two vital ideas: first, in the hands of a skilled artist, a fight scene can flow just as brilliantly as any movie, and two, Green Arrow looks so much better shaven.  He already has his Robin Hood gimmick; the mustache and goatee combo is a superfluous gift much better suited to a boring or non-descriptive superhero.  A Van Dyke is a powerful present given to the correct face.

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Have you noticed that every hero in the New 52 wears armor instead of spandex?  Superman, who’s immune to everything our pitiful Earth brains could ever conceive, wears a full suit of armor. Batman’s protected by armor.  So is Aquaman and the Flash.  And good!  If, say, our beloved Superman is going to be punched by Doomsday hard enough to slam into our moon, he should absolutely wear something beyond a thin layer of underwear.  If Green Arrow, who has no powers to begin with, wants to wear protection (though sleeves for wussies, I guess), he darn tootin’ should.

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Superheroes gain an unfair literary advantage in the rain.  Since rain always symbolizes hopelessness or depression or frustration, our superheroes automatically enter the battlefield coated in the gloomy downside of a hopeless, depressive, or frustrated fight.  So of course good triumphs over evil.  The more “dark” the setting, the more victorious our superheroes’ actions become.  When Green Arrow takes down Komodo with an arrow in the eye (which isn’t a spoiler as you can clearly see it below), oh, how powerful the moment becomes.  It feels good.  Good rocks, evil sucks.

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In summary, the New 52 is awesome.  I mean that with every fiber of my heart.


Banners!

A year ago, I used a new banner for every new article instead of that eight page masterpiece from Ultimates 2 I’m currently using.  Here they all are!  Use them!  Steal them!  Brag that each one was your idea!  If you click the banner, it’ll open a new tab to the full size (900-ish pixels by 200-ish pixels). They’re much prettier at full size. aquamanbanner1 batmanbanner1 capbanner1 catwomanbanner1 catwomanbanner2 cyclopsbanner1 dakenbanner1 doombanner1 earthmanbanner1 FFSpiderManBanner1 FFSpiderManBanner2 gambitbanner1 gambitbanner2 ghostriderbanner greenarrowbanner1 greenarrowbanner2 greenlanternbanner1 hawkeyebanner1 hellcatbanner2 hellcatbanner3 hopebanner1 hulkbanner1 huntressbanner1 huntressbanner2 huntressbanner3 kryptobanner1 msmarvelbanner1 nightwingbanner1 nightwingbanner2 spidermanbanner1 SpiderManBanner2 spidermanbanner3 spidermanbanner4 spidermanbanner5 SpiderWomanBanner1 SpiderWomanBanner3 stormbanner1 supermanbanner1 supermanbanner2 supermanbanner3 thorbanner1 thorbanner2 thorbanner3 thorbanner4 wolverinebanner1 wonderwomanbanner1 wonderwomanbanner2 wonderwomanbanner3 wonderwomanbanner4 wonderwomanbanner5 Real articles resume on Friday!