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All reviews - Movies (277) - TV Shows (42) - Books (13) - Music (75) - Games (82)

Crank

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 18 December 2009 02:36 (A review of Crank: High Voltage)

Make no mistake about it, Crank: High Voltage is nowhere near as accidentally brilliant as Crank. The sequel, in which Chev Chelios substitutes adrenaline fixes for electric shocks, is very similar in terms of careless entertainment value, but there is something lacking which made the original so enjoyable.

Chelios is now an indestructible force of nature (as long as he can keep himself ticking over with 1000 volts every now and again) and he's looking for his heart. That's the same heart that is now inexplicably unaffected by the Chinese poison he was battling against in Crank, the same heart that is now a prized possession amongst yakuza tribes who're desperate to increase the longevity of their century old leader.

Los Angeles has seemingly devolved into a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which lawlessness and morally bankrupt citizens live on sparsely populated streets. Wanton violence and gratuitous nudity are the soups-of-the-day as Chelios beats and murders his way around the city looking for answers, whilst his girlfriend struts her stuff wearing next to nothing and looking like a bred-for-sex android that you might find in a future Japanese vending machine.

Statham's cockney accent works surprisingly well on the American mean streets and he instantly displays a no-nonsense nature whilst trivialising any American character in the script. However, the plotline is ultimately ludicrous and even less coherent than the original Crank film. Several characters reappear in the sequel, but it's the what-will-he-do-next factor that keeps you watching, and whilst the screen writers obviously didn't really care about what happened next, there are some parts that are TOO far-fetched for a regular cinema attendee to swallow, even if they loved the initial Crank film.


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Resist buying it!

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 17 December 2009 01:52 (A review of The Resistance)

The latest Muse offering sees the band deteriorate further into musical mediocrity and attempt to rip off Queen along the way. I had to boot up Origin of Symmetry after listening to this album just to double check whether the same band responsible for Citizen Erased, Hyper Music and Showbiz had actually released this miserable effort. Sadly, they had.


The easiest way to review this album is in graphical form, so here's one I knocked up. Voila:



An all time low for the band that some people used to mention in the same sentence as Radiohead.


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Console Effect

Posted : 7 years, 7 months ago on 25 November 2009 01:08 (A review of Mass Effect)

I skirted around purchasing Mass Effect for over a year, patiently waiting for it to drop in price to a value that wouldn't make me regret the purchase if I didn't like the game. I have no idea why I had such an innate feeling of dread with regard to this title, but something about it just told me it would disappoint me in some way. Now, after sinking over 20 hours into it, I've come to the conclusion that there are certain things it does well, but plenty of things that it does poorly. Do I regret buying it? No, but only because I didn't pay anything close to retail price...

Mass Effect is a set in the distant future after humanity has mastered space travel. The back story is tediously political and deals with the human race trying to prove its worth to other alien species in the galaxy. Your character is the key to humanities reputation and you play a generic badarse who becomes the first human Spectre – essentially an intergalactic diplomat who upholds law and order. You’re chasing a fallen Spectre, Saren, who has decided to go on the rampage with a hive-minded robot army.

Being an Xbox port I knew from the off that I was in for a toned-down shooter, but it became abundantly clear that the PC release was a straight cash-in on the console version. My main gripe with the game in general was how unimportant AIMING was when firing your weapon. Make no mistake, in the options there is the ability to turn aiming assistance down to low (not OFF) but it barely makes any difference. You have the Halo-style targeting system that caters for easy strafe-and-fire tactics and makes any part of your enemies body as vulnerable as the head/trunk. I want to score headshots with my pistol and snipe people’s legs into uselessness, not shoot someone anywhere a certain amount of times until they’re dead.

There is some potential locked in Mass Effect. The characters have extremely lifelike mannerisms and facial expressions, and your character is both truly memorable and fully customizable. There are also lots of hilarious dialogue options which shape the way the game unfolds and how your character is regarded by other denizens of the universe. The huge catalogue of back story is also handled in a Wikipedia style data vault that you can access at any time, which is much more preferable than sitting through the information in a cut scene or conversation. Finally, the soundtrack was also a major strongpoint for the game.

However, it really failed to draw me in and make me want to play it. I completed Mass Effect for the sake of completing it rather than being interested to see how it panned out. Although I played for 20 hours, I was drawing it out and even an average gamer could breeze through the main story in 13 hours or so. I’ve seen people claim that this game is huge, but it’s really not. It tries to give the illusion of being huge by forcing you to travel to different galaxies all the time, but you’re lucky if there is at least one planet in each that you can land on. Even when you do land the mission is always the same – mine precious materials and uncover ancient artefacts. It’s so boring that it’s not worth landing half of the time.

One ridiculous facet of the game was how abundant and rapid the new weapons and weapon upgrades became available. There are dozens of different types of weapon upgrades, but each one has about seven further improvements so that by the time you’ve equipped one, you get an enhancement for it about three bad guys later. Likewise, guns and armour are so abundant in the game that you never have to shell out any money for them, ever. Furthermore, it doesn’t even tell you when you’ve picked something up, you have to access your weapon equip screen and pick your way through the dozens of things you’ve apparently acquired.

The pacing of the game is also very much off. Not only do you also level up too fast, but the story moves so rapidly and you acquire extra characters at such a rate that it makes it difficult to immerse yourself in either. There were three characters in my party who didn’t get any field time whatsoever, I can’t even remember their names. In combat, they were at times useful, but at times completely inept and some bugs need to be ironed out to ensure that a team mate either side of a door will actually use cover and fire through it once you open it instead of simply admiring the scenery.

Ultimately this game had an abundance of untapped potential and failed to capture me as a gamer who was really willing to give it a go. Right up to the final boss I can’t remember ever wanting to fire up my PC and dive in to another Mass Effect fest, and the fact that there is downloadable content and a sequel in the pipeline doesn’t interest me one bit. Too bad.


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The X Whacktor

Posted : 7 years, 7 months ago on 22 November 2009 01:43 (A review of The X Factor: UK)

The X Factor is undoubtedly the worst show on television and serves as a vehicle for media mogul Simon Cowell to breed a pop-star via over-exposure to the general public. For what seems like an entire year, The X Factor plagues our screens and is separated into two distinct formats. First, the four judges span the width and breadth of the country, screening hundreds of thousands of hopefuls, before secondly whittling down the list to twelve finalists that compete in a knockout competition.

The first episodes are forcibly enjoyable thanks to some excruciating quick-editing and dramatic background music which splices the countries most hopeless singers/pranksters in with the odd contestant who can actually sing. The tremendous effort the show goes to in order to highlight these jokers only highlights how unimportant the actual musical talent element of the show is. The entertainment officially ends when the show graduates into its second format, in which the judges choose twelve final acts (based on approximately three performances) to represent them in the run up to the final. It becomes painfully obvious that the judges have often chosen awful singers at this point, but after such a laborious screening process they have no choice but to stick with them in a bid to save face.

As part of the second round, the contestants must butcher their way through sixty second lounge-music versions of popular songs in a bid to claim the public vote. During this stage of the competition, the gutter press puts all important news on hold and instead prints reams of slanderous lies about the contestants, based on the smallest of mannerisms and public appearances. This ensures the continued popularity of the programme and provides an unneeded and unwarranted monetary boost to Simon Cowell's Scrooge McDuck vault. Thanks to the continued ignorance, stupidity and shamelessness of the general public, a winner is chosen, who then goes on to claim the Christmas number 1 single before fading into complete obscurity.

A completely ridiculous aspect of the show is how totally unqualified the judges are to pass comment on the contestants. Each judge has absolutely no discernible talent of their own other than to exploit flash-in-the-pan acts, as proven by their complete inability to maintain the careers of past winners, and by their insistence on miming whilst performing live themselves. How can someone who's profession is a singer, mime their way through a show before chastising the contestants on their singing ability?

The most vulgar and despicable facet of the show, however, is the fact that hundreds of hours of auditions and dramatic editing are pieced together in order to find someone who cannot write or perform their own songs. If this is truly the kind of talent that the music industry wants on board after such a long and laborious search, then it is doomed that the industry is. If you've ever found yourself seriously gripped by this facade then you are utterly wasting your time and ears. What a disgrace.



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Not for prophet

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 13 August 2009 07:34 (A review of The Holy Bible: King James Version)

I have to say I was a little disappointed by The Bible. I've seen many reviewers call it 'life changing' and promise that it contains profound wisdom and divine knowledge, as well as it being 'the best selling book of all time', but I wouldn't go as far with my praise. The Bible is comprised of two shorter stories with one recurring character who appears regularly to tell the other characters how badly they're messing up.

It starts off with some Sci-fi elements, as the character 'God' creates the universe within a week and then stuffs it full of great and wonderful things. I think it's worth noting that God is also the author of this book, which I thought reeked of egotism, but I let it slide. We're then introduced to two other characters, a man and a woman, who don't get much in the way of a back story. The only thing we know about them is that they just appeared one day and that they were created so utterly stupid that they thought they could hide from an all-knowing and all-seeing God after siding with his arch nemesis, a talking snake.

This God guy punishes them in a fair and measured way for their ignorance - by condemning the rest of their race to misery, sin and injustice for the rest of time. Meanwhile, his arch nemesis the snake got away with just a few legs lopped off. When you start off with such a stupid pair of people it's obvious that inbreeding their genes is only going to make them worse, so after all of the incest and murder that their children get up too, God wipes the slate clean and kills off the entire human race, save for one guy in a boat.

It all goes a bit quiet after that as God takes a step back, maybe feeling a bit guilty after his extermination of an entire planet. Then a new bearded hero arises in the form of Moses and God decides to tone down his rage, focusing instead on being a racist. After picking favourites and plaguing the Egyptians for an undisclosed amount of time, God decides to send his son down amongst the people to sort them out once and for all. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

God's son is called Jesus (probably to be played by Gerard Butler in a film adaptation), but Jesus is also God and a ghost too! The only real Godly characteristics Jesus has from the outset is his killer beard and knack for reeling off a wicked anecdote. You might think God being on Earth would be greeted with harmony and rejoice, but instead the reaction of the people is pretty far-fetched as they choose to spurn and persecute the guy, despite him trying to impress them with free alcohol and feeding 5000 festival goers with one fish.

Eventually the people that God created get a bit sick and tired of him being around, showing off and telling the same old stories, so they decide to crucify him. Jesus is double-crossed, Scorsese style, by Judas, one of his right-hand men. Judas feels pretty bad about selling out his friend so he commits suicide, only to return as Dracula in the sequel 2000 years later. Like every good superhero, Jesus has a crisis of confidence and temporarily loses his powers, but it couldn't have come at a worse time as he is brutally tortured and murdered by Jews and Romans. Luckily he reacquires them in time to reincarnate from the dead and float back up to Heaven, suggesting that the all-powerful God couldn't even survive for a few years on Earth, unlike the rest of us mere mortals!

The story was littered with fantastical events and a fair few plot holes, whilst the Deus Ex Machina twist was used far too often. The characters were introduced at random and given no back story, and they spoke in a language that was so difficult to understand that even Shakespeare would have to scratch his head. There were some legends along the way, like Samson and Jesus' bodyguard, Peter, but most of the other humans were just flood fodder, or there to be tortured to prove a point.

It combines many themes and genres, from science-fiction, homophobia, infanticide, incest, racism, genocide and war to apocalyptic survival, horror and ultra-violence. Overall, most of the characters are too stupid to feel any connection with, I mean - I wouldn't go around nailing God to a cross, and my wife would be out on the street if she was pregnant and a 'virgin'. But it's probably worth a read for the sheer amount of carnage and violence contained within its pages.


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Generally boring

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 2 August 2009 01:16 (A review of Command & Conquer: Generals)

C&C: Generals is the least amount of fun I've had whilst playing a Command & Conquer game. It marked EA's first foray into the franchise and left me seriously worried about what the future held for some of my favourite RTS games. It focuses on three new armies and a world that's completely new to the C&C universe where you play as either the United States of Technology (USA), The People's Republic of Brute Force (China) or the Guerilla Warfare Terrorists (GLA).

Generals focuses on much more realistic combat, but this somehow manages to suck some of the fun out of playing. Two of my biggest disappointments in the game were how universally pointless infantry were, and how prevalent your superweapons are. Each faction has its own specific superweapon, but they can build as many of them as they like, meaning it's quite possible to win every mission just by sitting back and constructing 30 nuclear warhead silos before unleashing them all at once (on top of your support powers!).

Unlike previous C&Cs, there were barely any cinematics between missions, meaning the story was not very well revealed at all. I found myself absolutely not caring about either faction or the state of the planet as a whole as the story was revealed without any urgency or compassion. And you always kind of know that the GLA isn't going to beat the US and China, game developers surely wouldn't allow such a thing!

Whilst the game isn't really bad, it just never captured me and I really struggled to have FUN with it. There are scenes of beautiful destruction and tank battles feel a bit more realistic, but the terrain, the troops, the story, the factions and the outcomes just aren't interesting in the slightest. It's just a mad rush to build up enough of an army before a) your resources run out or b) you get superweaponed into oblivion. If it didn't bear the C&C name I'd probably feel less contempt towards it.


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Red Alert 3 :/

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 1 August 2009 07:48 (A review of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3)

I'll start by saying that I can't believe they got away with releasing this game. It took them eight whole years to conjure a sequel to Red Alert 2, but the final result looks more like the efforts of just eight minutes of development time. This could very well have been released as an expansion pack for Red Alert 2, because neither the gameplay nor the graphics have actually been improved since their efforts in 2000.

RA2 destroyed all seriousness from the franchise, but at least supplemented that with new gameplay and improved cinematic sequences. RA3 has gone gung-ho on the farcical scale and ramped it up to beyond outrageous. The cut scenes are still the highlight of the game, but there are numerous plot holes and coincidences that make you roll your eyes until they hurt. It definitely has to be approached with your tongue in your cheek, and there is absolutely no seriousness left in the game. When you beat an opponent, they often appear with a communications message along the lines of "I'll get you next time!" and a virtual shake of the fist. Imagine if real war was like that!?

The only thing that has really changed is that your units have alternate fire modes. Obviously the computer can micromanage these units with army-crushing ease, but it's a bit more difficult for a human being to do so. I'd have liked to have seen a bit more ingenious AI from my units who simply refuse to fire on their attackers because I've accidentally left them toggled on an alternate weapon.

RTS purists should avoid this game at all costs, because it adds absolutely nothing to the genre. Your units still make mistakes that are unforgivable in a modern day RTS, like not looking for or being able to utilise cover, or by grouping into perfectly even spaced diamond formations. Many units are also blighted by the fact that they're difficult to control. Naval units will just spawn on top of each other when they exit the naval yard, meaning 30 aircraft carriers can occupy exactly the same space and look like one unit. It's also difficult to order some units - such as expensive bombers - back to base. They'd rather fly in a circle waiting to get shot up.

The one and only saving grace for this game is its multiplayer function. You can opt to play the entire campaign mode co-operatively with a friend, or team up against the computer in skirmish mode. That is the only real fun I've had from the game so far, which I doubt will have what it takes to remain installed on my comp for many more weeks. In all, a real let down, but fun amongst friends.


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So you fink you're 'ard do ya?

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 31 July 2009 07:59 (A review of Ultravisitor)

This album is, without question, Tom Jenkinson's finest. Ultravisitor was my gateway into the world of Squarepusher, but it's a whole lot more than just a crash course into his music. The album begins with a handful of 'smart' electro songs that lure you into a false sense of security, before the middle section of the album smashes your ears to pieces. The final third of this album returns to the more intelligent tracks that are easier to listen to and give you time to recover from the noise in the middle.

There's not much of the funk that graces his previous albums here, instead he has strung together an album full of glitchy electro melodies, and some of his tracks are amongst the greatest electro tracks I've ever heard. Songs like Ultravisitor and Tetra-Sync are simply fantastic tracks that would unabashedly find themselves amongst my favourites of all time. It's just music I could never get bored of listening to.

I couldn't give it the full 10/10 because of some of the tracks in the middle, they're just abrasive noise numbers that are not at all up my street. I wish that section was more user friendly! I might even have recommended the album to friends then. When you compare Squarepusher's latest two albums to this, they pale into insignificance. It seems Ultravisitor was the zenith of his creative genius.


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Woken Furies

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 20 July 2009 11:59 (A review of Woken Furies (Gollancz S.F.))

Richard Morgan brings his Kovacs trilogy to a close with Woken Furies, the final insight into the adventures of Takeshi Kovacs. Despite the slight possibility of hope offered by the ending of Broken Angels, Kovacs finds himself again operating on the wrong side of the law as a petty criminal. Back on his home planet of Harlan’s World, Kovacs has not led an easy life despite his financially rewarding exploits on Sanction IV. The anti-hero begins Woken Furies sleeved in a damaged synthetic body and we catch up with him midway through executing a harrowing personal vendetta.

I’d always assumed that Woken Furies would be the last of the Kovacs novels, and according to Morgan’s website, this is a book that should be ‘savoured as it goes down‘. It is the longest book of the three and I did my best to luxuriate in the story, instead of devouring the text at the rapid pace that Morgan’s writing style makes it so easy to do. I definitely did my best at savouring it, knowing that I’d have to go through the process of finding a new author to revere once I was done.

Occurring one-hundred years after the events of Altered Carbon, Kovacs is funding a murderous rampage against the New Revelation religious sect by selling the stacks of slaughtered priests to an old acquaintance. It’s hardly an economical living, but his quest for revenge is purely personal. During his attempt to acquire a new sleeve, he encounters and saves a girl, Sylvie, from being assaulted by religious zealots. In return for his help she offers him a place to stay alongside her mercenary colleagues. Despite the scarcity of land on Harlan’s World, an entire continent remains uninhabitable thanks to rampaging military machines left over from a conflict that ended many years ago. Sylvie and her mercenaries are commissioned to deactivate these robots by the government on Harlan’s world and Kovacs soon finds himself out in the dangerous Uncleared zone offering a helping hand.

During this excursion, Sylvie blacks out and reawakens as the long-dead, universally revered revolutionary leader, Quellcrist Falconer. Falconer’s quotes pervade all three of Morgan’s books, she is a much studied and controversial character, responsible for a previous uprising on Harlan’s World. By the time of her entrance, Kovacs already finds himself on the wrong side of the church, the yakuza and worst of all – the first family on Harlan’s World. Although fearless in the face of most would-be assassins, the Harlan’s have employed a much more able procurer of justice – A younger copy of Takeshi Kovacs himself.

After two stories of Kovacs slaughtering his way through peerless opposition, Woken Furies sees him pitted against an opponent who genuinely riles him – himself. Reading through the book you pick up on slight inferences that Kovacs might be losing some of his Envoy skills, or becoming rusty with his God-like powers. He questions whether he’ll be able to defeat his younger self and strives to be as unpredictable in his plans and movements as possible so as not to be tracked down. This genuine villain threat combined with the fact that this is the final book of the trilogy, adds an extra sense of foreboding to the reading experience.

Kovacs’ strained relationship with the apparent Quellcrist Falconer is another intriguing element of Woken Furies, given the stories and quotes of her that he has regurgitated throughout previous books. With his obvious contempt for authority figures and her desire to overthrow the ruling class on Harlan’s World, you would expect the violence obsessed ex-Envoy to have established a more friendly affiliation with the long dead revolutionist. Instead, Kovacs is more concerned with the Sylvie personality that has been overridden by Falconer.

The Harlan’s World setting also allows for some probing into Kovacs’ past in the sprawling cityscapes and we are exposed to a whole new world for Morgan to build. One peculiar quirk of Harlan’s World is the fact that centuries old Martian platforms orbit the planet and destroy anything that flies above a certain altitude. These ‘orbitals’ shape the persona of Harlan’s World, inciting an innate fear of heights in most of the population and were alluded to back in Altered Carbon. They are involved in an interesting plot twist toward the end of the book and contain a raw power that might just be enough to bring the omnipotent Harlan family to their knees.

As Kovacs’ last outing, the finale is particularly ambiguous, easily offering enough of a possibility for a fourth book to be written (however unlikely), but more importantly, enough for us to generate our own ideas of where the anti-hero goes from here. There were instances of sheer genius in Woken Furies that left me shaking my head in amazement, it makes me wonder just how easy Morgan must find it to write these stories. He is full of eyebrow-raising marvel and with all of these extra pages, he manages to cram more of it in. I guess it’s a sign of a great writer that I was tinged with sadness once I’d read the last page – not because of the story itself, but rather that I haven’t got anymore Kovacs to rabidly consume with my next read.


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If it aint broke...

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 20 July 2009 11:57 (A review of Broken Angels (Gollancz S.F.))

Takeshi Kovacs returns in Richard Morgan’s second sci-fi outing. Taking place thirty years after the events on Earth in Altered Carbon, Kovacs is still fighting the good fight and having a terrible time of it. Previously, Kovacs was employed as a private investigator and Altered Carbon read like a solid piece of noir detective fiction, but now he’s putting his talents to use as a soldier in a bloody corporate war on the planet Sanction IV. As a result, Broken Angels reads much more like a survivalist war piece.

Broken Angels starts off at a much more modest pace than Altered Carbon, though Kovacs is still feeling the pain. This time, the opening pages tell of him regaining consciousness aboard a medical ship, suffering from serious explosion wounds. It fast transpires that Kovacs’ unit was wiped out during a failed ground campaign. Kovacs is fighting for Carrera’s Wedge, a mercenary army sworn in to fight Joshua Kemp and his rebellious anti-government army.

Once again, Kovacs’ status as an ex-Envoy soldier guarantees him importance amongst the ranks of the Wedge. Sleeved in a specialised combat-ready body, he is approached by a pilot who asks for his assistance in acquiring a Martian artifact discovered just before the outbreak of war. The artifact, located in the middle of a war zone, is alleged to be a portal that leads to a specific location in the infinity of space that houses an abandoned Martian starship. Kovacs agrees, and after springing the head archaeologist of the original expedition from political prison, he contrives to enlist the support of one of the major corporations involved in funding the war on Sanction IV.

Matthias Hand, an exec for the Mandrake Corp. sees the incentive for infinite profit and agrees to aid Kovacs with financial backing. He oversees the recruitment of a team of soldiers who have already died in the ongoing fighting to form a tactical protection unit, whilst secretly leaking erroneous information that results in the expedition site suffering a nuclear bomb attack to clear it of opposing forces. The expedition begins, with the team having to struggle against the effects of nuclear fallout and the radiation sickness that begins to ravage their bodies.

I rate Altered Carbon as ‘un-putdownable’ because of its constant action or intrigue. I must admit that I didn’t feel the same about Broken Angels during the beginning of the story. It was a much slower burner than its predecessor. However, once the expedition had begun, Morgan’s ingenious ideas erupt into life and the inspiration that litters his work and separates him from more average science fiction writers emerges with a vengeance. Kovacs and his team must pit their wits against a possible saboteur amidst the group, a collection of rapidly evolving and deadly nanobes, in-fighting, mistrust and of course the ever present desperation of trying to finish the job before radiation melts skin from bone.

Once the gate is open, the action continues to evolve. The starship awaits in all of its gigantic alien glory and aboard its decks the team attempt to comprehend their findings amidst Martian skeletons and centuries old automated machinery. The finale of the book is extraordinary and it was during the final third of Broken Angels that I realised that I was in love with the entire Kovacs universe. The protagonist himself continues to rage at all authority, to push all those around him to breaking point. At times he appears less as a human being and more as an indestructible force of nature. His abilities and amorality make him a terrifying individual, but one that never fails to interest the reader.

The ending once again leaves Kovacs in a state of limbo. His future completely unsecured and his personal happiness definitely unfulfilled, you can’t help but wonder what will happen next for the ultimate superhuman.


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