Best Comic of the Week:
Written by Brandon Graham
Art by Simon Roy
Prophet is definitely my new favourite comic. At the moment, I even like it more than The Walking Dead and Scalped, which are usually tied as the books I most look forward to each month. I guess I need to give Brandon Graham and company (it looks like Farel Dalrymple will be taking over the art soon; whether that is permanent or not I don’t know) a little more time to prove that this book will be consistently this excellent.
For now, though, excellent it is. Jon Prophet is continuing his ‘mission’, which at this point has him walking across a desert infested by biting insects somewhere far into the future where all that remains of mankind are giant rusting war machines. He hitches a ride with a caravan of creatures that mine some sort of mineral from the desert via gigantic lumbering creatures that excrete the refined substance, and things go fine for him until he decides to interrupt an important ritual, thinking that he is saving their king’s life.
Brandon Graham is very good at writing bizarre mayhem, and he has made good use of his world-building skills to give us a book that is equal parts Conan, Moebius, and Orc Stain. Simon Roy is one of a very select few artists who can match his penchant for weirdness. This is easily the most inventive comic on the stands right now, and I can’t wait for each new issue.
This issue has a back-up feature, which is a reprint of a comic from the 90s by Fil Barlow. It’s easy to see how this strip would have influenced Graham – it reminds me of some of his work – but I didn’t really like it.
Other Notable Comics:
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque
The third, and penultimate chapter in the ‘Death Race’ arc is a pretty quick read, compared to other issues of American Vampire. In some ways that makes sense – the entire issue is built around a car chase across the desert, but I think it needed a slightly more compressed story this month.
Travis Kidd, the teenage vampire slayer is continuing his pursuit of Skinner Sweet, the vampire who killed his parents. As their chase, which involves jumping from one vehicle to another (which happens to be on fire), and taking flying leaps over rocks, unfolds, we get to see more of Travis’s childhood in an insane asylum, where he has been subjected to electroshock therapy and lectures on the dangers of ‘race music’. When he escapes, with the help of a familiar face, he quickly turns the tables on his rescuer, in a way that helps Snyder establish just what Travis is about.
We still don’t know the story of how Sweet killed his family, but I presume that is coming next month. As always, Rafael Albuquerque does an excellent job on the art, as one of the best Vertigo series just keeps ticking along.
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
How many comics are being published today that are as consistently excellent as Chew? I think of Scalped, The Walking Dead, Invincible (I know how it looks, but unlike Olive in this comic, I don’t have a Robert Kirkman poster on any of my walls), The Unwritten, and that’s about it.
The consequence of this is that it’s hard to write something new about this comic each month. John Layman’s story is becoming ever more sprawling, yet always very character-driven.
This month, the focus is on Tony Chu’s daughter Olive. She’s started working with Savoy and Velazano, who are following a Xocoscalpere in the hopes that he can lead them to the Russian or Serbian vampire guy who has been lurking in the shadows of this title for quite some time. A Xocoscalpere is someone who can sculpt machinery out of chocolate (and only chocolate) that works just like items made of steel or plastic.
As usual, the story is quite amusing, and Rob Guillory’s art is fantastic. Chew is wonderful. There’s not much more to say about it than that.
Written by Mike Mignola, Brian Wood, Paul Pope, Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander, Robert Alexander, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Corben, Rich Johnston, Alan Gordon, Steve Horton, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and MJ Butler
Art by Joe Querio, Kristian Donaldson, Paul Pope, Tony Puryear, Richard Corben, Simon Rohrmüller, Thomas Yeates, Steve Horton, Steve Lieber, and Mark Wheatley
Dark Horse, as a comics company, has been on fire lately. Where two years ago, I was only buying one or two titles from this company, and now I think I’m getting somewhere around nine a month. Like they did back in the day, with the first run of Dark Horse Presents, they are wisely using this monthly anthology title as a proving ground or launch pad for new series and ideas.
This month has some pretty impressive comics. There’s a Paul Pope story, which was a nice surprise. Basically, Pope shows us what happened when the Apollo 12 lunar module landed on the moon. It feels pretty authentic, and is perhaps a bit of a strange choice for Pope, but it’s also a wonderfully drawn piece of history.
The book opens with a Lobster Johnson story by Mike Mignola and artist Joe Querio, which follows the usual trajectory of a Mignola short story. These are always good reads, but I am beginning to get a little bored of them.
The second chapter of Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s The Massive introduces another new character; this time it’s a Tamil boy who tried to kill fishermen who were poisoning the ocean where his family fished. I’m much more interested in what Wood is doing with this story this month than I was last. This is beginning to feel like it could be as great a story as DMZ.
Tony Puryear’s Concrete Park continues to interest me. Puryear has said that this his story is going to be moving to its own title soon; I’ll definitely be on board for that. Richard Corben adapts an Edger Allen Poe poem, which is creepy and interesting. Rich Johnston’s ‘Many Murders of Miss Cranbourne’ continues to be amusing, and it’s nice to see how the old lady is manipulating half the town she lives in to aid her in her murderous work.
Of less interest were the Tarzan and Skultar stories. Two new features, Amala’s Blade and Alabaster: Wolves were not all that impressive, but thankfully, there was no new chapter in Neal Adams’s horrible Blood story.
Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace
The Li’l Depressed Boy is maddeningly decompressed, and yet, I find that for this title, that is something that I really like about it.
In this issue, the LDB gets his front door fixed, does some shopping and laundry, and goes about getting a job. He drops off a pile of applications, and has an interview. By the end of the issue, he’s hired somewhere. That’s pretty much all that happens, and that’s kind of a lot for this series.
I like seeing LDB interact a little more with the wider world, instead of just spending time with his friend Drew and Jazz, the girl that he likes. One thing that I’ve always found strange about this series is that LDB doesn’t seem depressed enough to have the name. A little anxious, sure, but not really depressed. I’m wondering though, if the challenge of having to interact with the public on a regular basis will be the thing that sparks off his depression.
Either way, this comic continues to be one of the most charming ones on the stands.
by Ted McKeever
There is no one who makes comics like Ted McKeever. I’ve considered myself a fan since I bought the first issue of Metropol back when it was being published as part of Marvel’s Epic line. I was immediately caught up in his utterly bizarre and Biblical vision of future urbanity. In his most recent work, META 4, McKeever had moved away from religious matters to begin to explore other topics, although a lot of that series was right over my head, so I don’t feel too confident talking about it.
Now he’s started Mondo, a three issue mini-series being published in Image’s ‘Golden Age’ format, which makes it somewhat oversized when compared to other modern-day comics. This first issue has something like 33 pages of story, which makes it a nice satisfying chunk of comics goodness.
It appears that McKeever is playing around with superhero tropes this time around. Catfish Mandu is a strange guy. He works at a chicken factory, where his job is irradiating freshly-butchered meat so that it triples in size. He never talks to anyone, and is notable in his apartment building for being absolutely silent at all times. He has no friends, and is often the target of his co-workers’ mean-spirited jokes. One night, Catfish is visited at his home by a mysterious chicken, who leaves an egg outside his door. The next day, Catfish falls onto the conveyer belt that takes chicken carcasses to the be irradiated, and after the dust from the subsequent explosion clears, Catfish is now super-strong and over-sized (looking a little like Guido in X-Factor).
McKeever also lays the groundwork for a couple of other plot elements – there is a young violent woman named Kitten Kaboodle who shows up, and it is made clear that there is some sort of disagreement between the mayor of Santa Monica and the people who use the beach. I’m not sure where either of these elements will lead us, but I trust McKeever to find some strange use for both.
As with any McKeever production, his art is the biggest draw. His work is a little less abstract than it can often be here, and definitely benefits from having larger pages to fill. This is an intriguing comic.
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma
Once again, Morning Glories is an excellent value, giving us 32 pages of comics for only $3. That alone endears me to the title, even before starting to read its wonderfully complex story.
This issue features Casey Blevins, who is more or less the main character in this comic. A little while ago, Casey and the Morning Glories Academy guidance counselor, Ms. Hodges, made their escape from the mysterious school. When we last saw them, they were being surrounded by soldiers, including Casey’s young father. This issue opens with them in custody, as Casey is waterboarded as part of her interrogation. The soldiers believe she’s been sent by the Chinese, since it’s not likely that anyone in the military is willing to believe that the teenage girl has simply traveled back in time.
As with many issues of Morning Glories (and the TV show Lost, which it resembles so much), the issue is split between Casey’s adventure in the past, and scenes leading up to her leaving home to attend MGA, which happened in the series’s first issue. Along the way, we learn a great deal about Casey’s parents.
We are also given some hints as to the bigger picture, as Ms. Hodges gifts Casey with a duffel bag full of documents, cash, and instructions. She also gives her a Jedi mind trick ability, so that people will do what she tells them to. It’s clear now that Casey won’t be returning to the school as a student, and I wonder just how and when her story is going to intersect with the other students again.
Morning Glories is an incredibly cool comic, and as I said, one of the best bargains on the stands. I’m consistently intrigued by it, and continue to look forward to learning more about the secrets of the school.
by Jeff Smith
As this title gets closer to its conclusion, Jeff Smith is really picking up the pace. In this issue, Robert Johnson invades the facility that houses the new St. George’s Array, a device built following Nikola Tesla’s notebooks, that can do some weird energy stuff, but with the effect of killing people and ruining whole towns.
Johnson makes his way to the centre of the facility, where he takes over the device, while engaged in a stand-off with some lady who is clearly in charge, and with Sal, the lizard-faced guy whose been hunting him throughout the series.
There’s a lot of tension in this issue, as Johnson learns a few things he didn’t know about his mistress (and ex-partner’s wife) Maya.
It’s always tough to remember what’s happening in this comic, as it comes out so sporadically and tends to be a quick read when it does arrive, but Smith does an excellent job in this issue of throwing the reader right into the middle of things.
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt
It gets hard to find new things to say about a series as consistently good as The Sixth Gun, especially when it is in the middle of a story arc, as this issue is.
Becky Moncrief has come to the strange and disturbing town of Penance to try to find and rescue her friend and fellow adventurer Drake Sinclair, who has been abducted by his former confederates in the Knights of Solomon. Becky is often easily manipulated in this series, as when the sheriff of the town sends her to another settlement, which we learn is the real town of Penance.
It seems there’s something in the water in these parts, which explains why just about everybody in both places look like they’d be perfectly at home in a circus sideshow. Beyond that, we learn a little more about Drake’s situation, as he tries to convince his captors of his good intentions towards them.
Cullen Bunn takes his time in spinning out his stories in this series, and that works very well here. There is a sense of menace and distrust throughout this issue, and it works well as a horror comic. Brian Hurtt’s created some disturbing characters in his day, but the bearded lady in the pink dress in this issue is haunting.
All Star Western #6 – With the end of this issue, it appears that Jonah Hex will be leaving Gotham, which is a good thing, as it hasn’t suited him very well. Having spent so much time in that city though, it’s definitely past time for the Wayne family to make an appearance, which happens in this issue, which is chock-full of giant bats, extinct Aboriginal tribes, and underground child labourers. This series’s approach to Jonah Hex has been amusing, and Moritat’s art has been terrific. I’m very impressed that he’s been able to keep up with the monthly schedule, considering how slow he used to be when he was drawing Elephantmen. The Barbary Ghost back-up ends this month as well, which is good because I found it a little on the dull side.
Avengers Academy #26 – The Avengers Academy goes through it’s own Schism in this issue, as I suspect that Christos Gage realized that there were perhaps too many characters in the book, and set about trimming things down a little. There is some good character work (as there always is in this comic), and Hank Pym speechifies some. In all, a decent reminder of why this is the Avengers book I’m going to stick with.
Captain America & Bucky #627 – You would think that a comic by Ed Brubaker and Francesco Francavilla (even with the addition of scripter James Asmus) would be a thing of excellence, but this series has become really very boring. I feel bad saying that – Brubaker and Francavilla are favourite creators of mine, but I have to speak the truth. This whole Human Torch, Bucky II, Adam III, robots from the Second World War plot is dull as watching paint dry. Francavilla makes it pretty, interestingly laid-out paint, but still.
Fantastic Four #603 – No one can accuse Jonathan Hickman of writing small stories. This issue has Galactus fighting mad Celestials while the Inhumans chase the Kree across the galaxy, and a few other surprise characters show up. This story has been wonderful, and I’m very happy to see Barry Kitson’s art in this comic. If I had any gripes, it’s that the reunion between the FF kids and Johnny Storm was rushed and not very heart-felt; I would have expected more emotion, even with all the craziness going on around them.
Flash #6 – I guess it was only a matter of time before the Flash would cross paths with Captain Cold in the New 52 universe, despite the fact that the Flash/Cold dynamic has been done to death over the last few years. Francis Manapul’s art is wonderful, as always, but I did find that the story, which depends on Leonard Snart’s misplaced anger towards the Flash a little too much, to be a little paint-by-numbers. The Barry/Patty relationship is a little too close to the one between Peter Parker and Carlie in Spider-Man, but it was handled nicely.
I, Vampire #6 – It’s weird that DC wouldn’t do something to advertise that Batman, their best-selling character, has a guest appearance in one of the lower-selling New 52 titles. I would think a thing like that could have some small effect on sales. Anyway, this series continues to grow on me with each issue. This month, Andrew Bennett, Batman, and their entourage confront Mary, the Vampire Queen, in Gotham. Tig, the teenage vampire slayer learns some of the secrets of curing vampires, and takes action in a way that will make things very difficult for our heroes. This issue is a prelude to the ‘Rise of the Vampires’ crossover with Justice League Dark, and feels like it’s probably essential for that mini-event. Good work by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino.
Justice League Dark #6 – I hadn’t intended to stick with this title, but since the next issue is going to start a cross-over with I, Vampire, and after that Jeff Lemire’s going to be taking over the writing, I thought I may as well buy this issue too. Now that the threat of the Enchantress is over, there needs to be a reason for this team to stick together, and apparently that reason is that if they don’t, they’ll keep having bad dreams. Or something like that. This is kind of weak stuff, especially considering that Peter Milligan has done so much more with both Shade and John Constantine before this.
New Mutants #38 – I can’t imagine why someone would want to revisit Paradise Island and the era of The New Mutants that featured the character Bird-Brain, the absolute lowpoint of Louise Simonson’s run with this title back in the day (and the reason why people were happy when Rob Liefeld showed up). Yet, surprisingly, this is a good comic, as Doug Ramsay tries to exorcise his demons, and everyone ends up in a Hot Zone. Abnett and Lanning are hitting their stride on this title.
The Ray #3 – I wonder how things might have turned out for this comic had it been one of the New 52 launched in September. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s new take on The Ray covers much the same ground that books like Blue Beetle are going for, but does it in a way that is a lot more fun and entertaining. So far as old school super hero comics go, they don’t get much better than this. Terrific work by Jamal Igle too – I would be very happy were this mini-series to be extended.
Secret Avengers #23 – I wonder if it’s a requirement to read all of Rick Remender’s Marvel comics to understand his individual titles. Venom, a character he writes in his own title, shows up here with barely any explanation of his change in status (I was reading his title, but I dropped it when it went weekly for an ‘event’). Anyway, the story is decent, as Ant-Man Eric O’Grady finally begins to act the true hero while attempting to rescue a child from a city full of Adaptoid robots, and the rest of the team bickers endlessly. I do have a couple of complaints about this book though – Remender is playing up the strife within the team, and none of it works if you remember that this is supposed to be the Avenger’s stealth squad; were this West Coast Avengers, it would play a lot better. Also, since when does Captain Britain have multiple suits with different abilities? I didn’t get that part.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #7 – I’m still surprised by how much I’m enjoying this series. Bendis has made Miles Morales an incredibly likeable character, and has introduced an element of the unknown into the series – it’s a little hard to predict where it’s all headed, as Miles tries to figure out his powers, and his uncle, the Prowler, suspects that he has them. Chris Samnee’s art is always welcome, although I think I prefer Sara Pichelli’s cleaner look for this title. If the two alternate arcs though, I won’t complain.
Uncanny X-Force #22 – Whatever has been lacking from the first two chapters of this ‘Otherworld’ story has been found, as this feels much more like a typical issue of Uncanny X-Force. Back is the mildly amusing infighting and the strong sense of purpose in the story. Greg Tocchini’s art works better in this issue too, as we learn who is behind all the madness in Captain Britain’s world.
Wolverine and the X-Men #6 – This issue of the ‘fun’ X-Men comic has Wolverine and Quentin Quire cheating at a casino is outer space, while the rest of the faculty run around inside Kitty Pryde trying to kill the microscopic Brood that have invaded her body. Meanwhile, Kitty is herself fighting a full-sized Brood in the school, and meets the guy who is responsible for these paired attacks. It’s a fun issue, with decent cartoon-ish art by Nick Bradshaw. I still can’t believe this is written by the same Jason Aaron who writes Scalped.
X-Men Legacy #262 – So I decided to give this title one more chance, out of loyalty to the X-franchise, a total respect for the writing of Christos Gage, and a desire to support $3 comics. I’m still not all that impressed – the in-fighting between Wolverine and Rogue felt out of character, and the whole Exodus plot feels a little tired. Still, the last page caught my eye, so I may show up again – comics really are an addictive medium, even when the high isn’t all that good.
Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:
Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred #2
Cold War #2&3 – You can’t get much more throwback than John Byrne, and his James Bond-inspired spy story is pretty entertaining, while harkening back to the days when the writer/artist was at the top of his game and universally acclaimed (as opposed to being the Internet troll he’s become). It’s good stuff.
The Week in Manga:
by Naoki Urasawa after Osamu Tezuka, with Takashi Nagasaki
Reading this installment of Urasawa’s reinterpretation of a classic Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy story, I kept glancing back over to my shelf of books that I haven’t read yet to be sure that I hadn’t picked up the last chapter by mistake. It’s true – there are still two volumes to go.
A lot happens in this volume that normally would only happen closer to the end of a North American comic. The identities of the people or robots that have been systematically destroying the world’s most powerful robots, and murdering the members of the Bora Survey Group, an organization kind of like the weapons inspectors that were constantly being kicked out of Iraq in the months leading to the war there.
Gesicht, the robot Interpol inspector who has been the main character of this series all along confronts Pluto, the gigantic robot killer under a tulip field in Amsterdam while Gesicht’s creator is the victim of an attempted kidnapping in Dusseldorf.
This volume moves at a very quick pace, and while providing some thrilling moments, continues to ask questions about the ability of artificial life to develop emotion, and what the place of robots in human society should be. It’s an exciting and at times, touching, comic. It’s also highly recommended.
The Week in Graphic Novels:
Written by Tito Faraci
Art by Dan Brereton
I think someone looking to do a Master’s thesis in comic book history could easily examine portrayals of Ancient Rome in comic books over the last fifty years or so. It’s a setting that tends to attract a number of writers and artists, and can provide us with a myriad of interesting stories or cool visuals.
The Last Battle, a collaboration between the Italian comics writer Tito Faraci and the American artist Dan Brereton is interesting, without being particularly spectacular. It’s a story about Gaiu Rodius, a Roman general who helped educate Julius Caesar in the way of war, at the end of his career. Rodius has a reputation for being a skilled warriro, but he’s lost interest in fighting. Caesar sends him on one final mission – to track down Cammius, a Gaul who Rodius raised, who is now threatening to attack Rome.
This story picks up on the trappings of a fantasy quest, as Rodius gathers a team of four other warriors, and heads out to find the man he thinks of as his son. In typical Roman comics fashion, there is betrayal and deceit, as well as some bloody battle scenes.
This is a good enough story, which moves quickly through its fifty-odd pages. I’ve never been a huge fan of Brereton’s work; I usually find it too static and baroque, but I think he was an interesting choice for a story that is not filled with goth-y monsters. He has skill at capturing the Roman profile.
by Sean Murphy
Off Road, Sean Murphy’s debut graphic novel was first published by Oni Press in 2005, and I remember it catching my eye, although I never did pick the book up. Last year, after Murphy began to gain more recognition as an artist on things like Joe the Barbarian, John Constantine: Hellblazer – City of Demons, and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest, the book was republished by IDW.
Off Road is a fun and amusing slacker graphic novel, fitting somewhere on the spectrum between Scott Pilgrim and Pounded (also all Oni books), although leaning closer to the latter in terms of realism.
The plot for this book is simple. Our main character, Trent, is an art school student who has been hung up on the same girl since middle school. He hangs out with his rich friend Greg, whose father has just bought him a brand new Jeep. Trent buys in to the salesman’s suggestion that they should take the Jeep off-road (it has a skid plate, after all), and does his best to convince Greg to do that. After they pick up the jockish Brad, who comes from an abusive home, the trio decides that they should put the Jeep through its paces.
Predictably (especially if you’ve looked at the cover), they get stuck in a swamp, and this sets them off on a series of misadventures as they try to get the Jeep freed. The story features abusive parents, incestuous white-trash ATV drivers, madcap backhoe operators, and a giant forest fire (which is a neat trick to pull off in a swamp).
The three guys go through the usual buddy flick tropes of hating each other, and then reaffirming and strengthening their friendship. There’s nothing particularly original about this book, but it is amusing and an enjoyable read. Murphy’s style is much looser here than what we have come to expect from his Vertigo work, but it’s a very capably done comic.
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by P. Craig Russell, Milo Manara, Miguelanxo Prado, Barron Storey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Glenn Fabry, and Frank Quitely
Back when it was coming out each month, like most readers who were looking for more from their 90s comics than shoulder pads and leg pouches, Sandman was one of my favourite titles. In a lot of ways, it was Gaiman’s series, alongside books like Starman and Sandman Mystery Theatre that kept me going through what I’ve come to recognize as comics’ Dark Ages. When the series ended, I felt like Gaiman had brought things to a nice, complete close. A few years later, when the Endless Nights anthology was announced, I felt no need to dive back into his world (kind of like how I feel about Before Watchmen now). I wasn’t sure that there was any need to return to these characters, as anything new that would be said about them would be ancillary to Gaiman’s original design and vision.
And then, I completely forgot that this project ever existed, until I saw a copy at a used book store a month or so ago.
While my original assessment, that the book wouldn’t add anything necessary to the story of Dream or his siblings held true, it was really very nice to revisit some of these old friends, and to reminisce about how much this comic meant to me at a certain point in my life.
The book holds seven stories, one for each of the Endless. It opens on a Death story, drawn by P. Craig Russell. Like most people who read Sandman for the first time in their late teens, I always had a bit of a crush on Death, as she was shown in this series, so it was nice to see her again, in a story that is kind of predictable, but beautiful (thanks to Russell).
The best story in this volume is the Dream one (illustrated by Miguelanxo Prado). It is set a very long time ago, and does more than any other issue of the series to remind us that the Endless exist in the DC Universe (at least, pre-New 52 they did). Dream takes a mortal lover with him to a meeting of stars, who have taken human form. We meet Rao, and the star of Oa, as well as our own sun, although he is still very young. The story is full of interesting little Easter eggs for long-time readers, but also does a good job of reminding us what a bit of a tool Dream is.
This whole book has incredible art in it, from Bill Sienkiewicz’s trippy Delirium story, to Barron Storey’s haunting portraits of Despair. Glenn Fabry’s never been a favourite artist of mine, but his Destruction story works quite well, as does Milo Manara’s story about Desire (who better?). Frank Quitely’s work on the Destiny story is beautiful, but the tale itself is just an epilogue to the book that isn’t necessary at all. I guess it’s hard to write about a character like Destiny.
Anyway, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and am now very tempted to re-read the entire Sandman series; something I’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t been able to invest the time in. I’m curious to see how they stand up now.
Book of the Week:
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – This is a terrific novel, made up of interconnected short stories that feature recurring characters, and which jump all over the place in terms of time frame. The book is more or less centred around two people – Bennie Salazar, a sometimes successful record producer, and his kleptomaniac assistant Sasha, who has led a difficult and interesting life. The book is often funny, and very well written. Egan experiments some with the form, giving us a chapter that is made up of PowerPoint slides, written by Sasha’s twelve year old daughter as a type of journal. Highly recommended.
Album of the Week:
Original Raw Soul 3
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