Greetings, 'Rama readers! Not only does the Best Shots Team have your Monday reviews, we've also got a new team member. Joining this crackshot band of reviewers is Jose Camacho, a former book editor who contributes to the <a href=>Western Virginia Review</a>. Now, let's get this party started with the latest in Marvel's Uncanny X-Force


Uncanny X-Force #31

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Phil Noto, Frank Martin Jr. and Dean White

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

As is the nature of Uncanny X-Force, things have gone from apocalyptic to … apocalyptic. We are in the throes of Rick Remender's final arc and with such high stakes, I have often wondered how this kind of momentum could be sustained. The answer lies with Remender's impeccable pacing. Uncanny X-Force #31 takes a breath from the violence and is all about the motives of the characters.

Uncanny X-Force #31 is the wicked plotting before the storm. Everyone has their own agenda, and inflicting suffering is the modus operandi. Daken is particularly deplorable as he pairs with Skinless Man to dish out some effective emotional torture. It takes the edge off of any potential sympathy for Daken when Creed plays puppet master with his daddy issues. The most captivating moments are with Mystique. She is subtle and demure with her evil, and her calm demeanor almost makes you a sympathizer. Maybe it is just how beautifully Phil Noto draws her. The only bit of good in Uncanny X-Force #31 is Evan, and as he suffers, it is slipping away from him.

The character exposition of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants creates a provocative juxtaposition with the members of X-Force. They aren't that different. In a vicious manifestation of utilitarianism versus the Kantian ethics of superheroes, Remender illustrates the irony and hypocrisy that is the X-Force … and Wolverine.

Evan, the reincarnate of Apocalypse, is inevitably going to bring about the Age of Apocalypse here on this earth, in this universe. X-Force executed him once, and it seems they have come full circle. Kill or be killed. To kill or not to kill? Was it ever a question?

It is an infinite regress of murdering murderers, and the ethical dilemma of X-Force's existence is unavoidable. Isn't that what the Brotherhood is doing by attacking X-Force? Is the way X-Force kills any less cruel? Remender paints the ultimate shade of grey that throws the identity of this story's hero up in the air.

Noto's work is, as always, crisp, clean and easy on the eyes. I especially love his rendering of Mystique and Evan. Noto seems to take extra care with their moments in this issue. He also creates a powerful splash of Deadpool. It is strong and interesting, which is a feat considering how simple Deadpool's X-Force uniform is.

I don't know where Frank Martin, Jr.'s colors end and Dean White's begin. That is a good thing. I consider White to be a gold standard in superhero comic coloring, and Martin's work here is just as good.

Uncanny X-Force is known for its brilliant cover art, and I'd say that issue #31 is a definitive one. Jerome Opeña and Dean White's cover is simple but memorable. White, who typically uses bright colors, goes with matte shades of brown and it is nothing short of perfect.

Uncanny X-Force #31 is the seventh chapter of arc, a poetic title in more ways than one. It is a blazing red flag of foreshadowing. The questions of ethics and morality and nature versus nurture presented in this issue will bring this story to a definitive stance, and when the ash settles, I suspect Remender's coup de grace will present the Marvel Universe with excellent storytelling opportunities.


Batman and Robin #0

Published by DC Comics

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Review by Erika Peterman

'Rama rating: 7 out of 10

At some point, all parents have to send their kid out into the world to sink or swim. If your mom is Talia al Ghul, you'll have to do so, literally, before you're out of diapers. Batman and Robin #0 is a portrait of Talia's twisted form of tough love, which created the little demon-turned-hero we all know and love as the current Robin, Damian.

Though this is the New 52, the boy's basic origin story remains unchanged from Grant Morrison's pre-relaunch version of events. Writer Peter J. Tomasi provides more disturbing details about Damian's upbringing, focusing on his determination to get an answer to a reasonable question: "Who is my father?" But to get it, he'll have to pass the extreme test that Talia administers each year on his birthday. Since even the most capable 6-year-old is no match for an expert assassin, Damian is long denied the knowledge that Batman fathered him.

It's a perfect circle of dysfunction. As shown in Morrison's , Talia's father, Ra's, kept her from her mother and put her through many of the same paces Damian faces here. Perfection in all things is the only acceptable outcome. "Together, we will build an everlasting kingdom, you as my Alexander, I as your Olympius, and if all goes as planned, your father as our King Philip," Talia tells her son. No pressure.

Readers who are already well acquainted with Damian won't find much new insight into his character, but Tomasi is a very strong writer who manages to keep the story from feeling like a total rehash. Illustrator Patrick Gleason turns in some exciting panels that showcase an opulent, exotic and chilling childhood. There's violence and death, but Gleason never relies on gratuitous gore to get the point across. In fact, there's something clean and almost balletic about the way Damian disposes of his foes. Gleason draws the character with huge eyes that gleam with curiosity or fury, depending on the circumstances.

Damian remains a character that one either loves or hates, and this issue won't change anyone's mind. However, his growth from a merciless killing machine to a proven if deeply troubled hero is undeniable. Batman and Robin #0 isn't essential reading, but it's worthwhile for newcomers who want to know the story behind the scowl and to gain some perspective on how far he's come.


The Manhattan Projects #6

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Pitarra and Jordie Bellaire

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

When a writer hits their stride, there's a rhythm that appears in the work. This is especially true for an ongoing series. What a reader looks for is a reason to stay on board. Comics are becoming increasingly expensive, so writers and artists have to give readers a reason to keep coming back month after month.

Jonathan Hickman's Manhattan Projects is such a series. Hickman took America's super geniuses (like Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein) and explored the idea of them being projections of their own alternate iterations. This time, Hickman includes German scientist Helmutt Grottup. The eclectic originality of the series falters a bit in this issue, and while it's not enough to dismiss the series completely, it does raise questions as to how long Hickman can keep this going.

There are interesting moments in Manhattan Projects, but they're not really explored. Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel into space, is given some time in the comic but his story isn't explored. This seems odd to me given the diversity of the characters, and while I assumed that Hickman would explore his story, Gagarin is only a footnote. The best moments really occur in the last two pages, and while Hickman has built Grottup as an interesting character, his role is left obscure by the final page.

At this point, Nick Pitarra and Jordie Bellaire have established a system for communicating the difference between present and past, so that shift is second nature. But what Pitarra does very well is to depict the uniqueness of the world, particularly the strangeness of the landscape. His illustrations are clean and precise, and he knows how to utilize panel focus for narrative intent. He switches between long and tight shots, using the visuals to help communicate the content. Grottup's loneliness is never more present than in Pitarra and Bellaire's tight shots of his face.

Manhattan Projects is worthy of many titles, but one thing it does excellently is to meld history and science fiction into one. The story is one of the most original I've read, and given the world Hickman has created, his ingenuity is evident. I'm still curious as to how he's going to make an ongoing series of this, but based on what we've seen so far, Hickman has a plan.

The rest of us are just along for the ride.


Winter Soldier #10

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Butch Guice and Bettie Breitweiser

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jose Camacho

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Can I call Ed Brubaker the Guy Ritchie of comics? Just like the director of "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," everything in Brubaker's wheelhouse comes off gritty and pulpy. Some readers might say Brubaker is a one-trick pony, but I say he is a specialist and he gets the job done. In the case of James "Bucky" Barnes — aka Winter Soldier — that job is to hunt down his brainwashed partner and lover, The Black Widow.

The important thing to remember while reading Winter Soldier is that while it is a superhero story, it does not necessarily have to read like one. To be honest, this comic does not even feel like one. As he tries to outmatch Leo Novokov, a former elite Soviet soldier he trained years ago, Bucky has to fight former Soviet agents and his own past. His missions are dangerous, mysterious and often very personal. Bucky faces mercenaries and agents of unknown forces. Winter Soldier is not set in the same world where superheroes save kittens and villains get long monologues revealing their plans. Bucky's world is one of non-stop action and .50-cal wielding gorillas; a place where the past comes back when you least expect it.

Winter Soldier #10 starts off in the same vein as a CSI episode. We are taken to the scene of the crime or rather, the aftermath. Maria Hill's narration and the zig-zagging art masterfully describe the chaos as we are taken through the events of the brainwashed Black Widow's escape. As the action increases, the panel borders blur and the scenes become more abstract. You can tell that this was a conscious decision since the background is more detailed during more passive scenes.

Butch Guice's art is heavy on the use of shadows, which fits the themes of espionage and deceit. A great example is the sometimes misleading police chalk outlines used to reveal what happened during Black Widow's escape. Not only was this a great plot device, but it also looked cool.

This brings me to the colors. Bettie Breitweiser often used subtle shading to express emotion. A close up on Maria Hill comes to mind. The light reds help display her as a powerful and very pissed-off lady. The dynamics between Guice and Breitweiser's work produce a mesmerizing effect where the characters' emotions and memories clash. In other words, the art shows you not just what they're going through, but also what they feel. This is especially true when Maria Hill tells the specifics of Black Widow's escape, where the background is not as important as the action.

While artistically and thematically Winter Soldier is very old school overall (especially due to its use of a Soviet color palette), Bucky himself has a lot of depth as a character. His relationship with Black Widow shows his human side; that he's more than just a trained assassin. This issue flashes back to a tender moment between Bucky and Romanov. We are shown why he is conflicted as opposed to just being told in a caption. It is a moment that is not overdone or shoved down our throats.

While the cameos were not particularly memorable, they did not hinder the flow of the story. I am excited to see what Brubaker will do with Captain America and Wolverine in the next few issues. It is not likely that he will do anything major with those characters but given his new focus solely on creator-owned work, it might be the last time in a while that we see him in the driver's seat with Marvel characters.

At any rate, this issue is a great example of having a longer-term strategy with a story. As opposed to having a simple episode-driven run where we return to status quo at the end, Winter Soldier #10 shows us how far our current protagonist will go to hurt Bucky. It is an issue that makes you care more about the protagonist and why we should despise Leo Novokov. Brubaker gives us a story where events are interwoven. Throughout Winter Soldier, Bucky is coming to terms with his past. Meanwhile, different forces seek to use forgotten Soviet resources for their plans. This leads to Bucky having confrontations that are more meaningful.

Winter Soldier #10 specifically is foreshadowing an exciting event that will probably end around the same time as Brubaker's exit. I honestly hope the next writer can continue Brubaker's entertaining run filled with exciting turns of events and engaging characters. Can I call Guy Ritchie the Ed Brubaker of movies? Does he have to marry Madonna first? Either way, the beginning of this new arc is a good place to get started on this solid series.


Punk Rock Jesus #3

Written by Sean Murphy

Art by Sean Murphy

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I'll be honest: This is the first time I've read Sean Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus. Due to a hectic schedule and a big list of books, I forgot to grab the first two issues. My comic guy was nice enough to tuck them away, so this weekend was really the first time I got a chance to experience the series.

And I'm disappointed.

In myself.

I should have gotten a hold of Punk Rock Jesus earlier because aside from Sean Murphy's great art, it's an ambitious story that takes great risks with its narrative and characterizations. I had a few issues with the sequentiality of the narration, but these don't detract from what is truly a great series.

Because Murphy attempts to move the story forward quickly, he transitions abruptly from moment to moment, even though the moments could be years apart. Murphy even avoids a simple narrative box that states the shift in years or scenery, and instead utilizes a narrator or even forgoes any sort of connective thread. I wouldn't say reading the comic is arduous because of this, but it's definitely a noticeable hiccup.

Beyond that, Punk Rock Jesus is a great read. Murphy humanizes his characters so well (and demonizes the press-hungry Rick Slate) that the final pages of the comic are tinged with heavy, palpable emotion. Murphy is intent on mood-heavy writing, so when we see a mother and son separated by bars, baring their souls in the pouring rain, we can't help but feel stirred by the scene.

Because Murphy also controls the artistic look of the series, he knows when to move from tight action shots to long, mood-heavy ones. I applaud Vertigo for the black and white publishing because I think the book would lose something in colorization. The visuals have a rawness to them, an earthy, gritty look that can be both chaotic and smooth. I'm continuously reminded of Rafael Albuquerque's work on American Vampire, especially in the design of Slate. But Murphy's errant and sometimes excessive ink lines aid characterization and tone, especially in the latter half of the comic.

Save for a few inconsistencies in narration, Sean Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus is a stellar comic. It's evident that he's building to an epic climax, and speeding up the story is the only way to get where he's headed. While the story goes for the heartstrings, it's a bumpy ride getting there. But the end result is a clever and original story that hits the necessary and intended emotional and visual beats.


Stumptown #1

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Matthew Southworth and Rico Renzi

Lettering by Matthew Southworth

Published by Oni Press

Review by Scott Cederlund

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

You can pull off shooting your main character and dumping her body in a river in the opening pages of a miniseries only once. Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth have already done that, so they begin "The Case of the Baby In the Velvet Case" more quietly, with Dex Parios banging her hand with a hammer as she sets up a new office. Since she's moved her detective agency out of her house, maybe this is the beginning of a new, more responsible and respectable Dex than we saw in the first story. Or maybe it's just a quiet spot amid the sea of turmoil that is her life.

Southworth's art has that gritty realism that artists like Sean Phillips and Michael Lark without ever getting as lost in the shadows as their pages are capable of. With a style that relies more on the weight of the shadow than the depth of the darkness, Southworth captures what that world of crime looks like in the daylight. With Rico Renzi's coloring, there's light in Dex's Portland that's often missing from these modern crime comics.

The first issue of this new miniseries does not feel nearly as dark or dangerous as the first Stumptown story. Maybe it's because we already know this character and her world, but Rucka and Southworth do not drop us into her life, as her personal and professional lives are intersecting like they did in the original story. By giving her a case that was about family as much as it was about crime, they let us immediately into her the chaos of her head and life, giving us a good entry into the character.

There's no such convenient entry into the other characters in this issue. With a rock concert, a missing guitar and a bunch of skinheads, the story builds more around the mystery, showing how Dex responds to the world around her. In that way, Rucka constructs this as the opening minutes of one of the P.I. television shows that he is trying to emulate. The mystery is set up and we get to see Dex at work, appearing like more of the professional she is rather than the messed up woman she was in the first series.

Even without the focus on her personal life, Rucka and Southworth let us know and learn so much about Dex from the way that she reads other people to the ways she reacts to the situations around her. When rock star Miriam Bracca turns up to hire her, Dex knows just the questions to ask of this musician who lives in a different strata of reality than most of us. Miriam's idea of the value of her missing guitar is in no way related to the idea that it's the guitar of a successful musician. That doesn't enter her mind as she describes it, but Dex, who is good at her job, knows how to get the information she needs.

"The Case of the Baby In the Velvet Case" picks up where Rucka and Southworth left off, showing us a Dex who has grown up a bit and who is a true professional. We may know from the first miniseries that she's a bit screwed up, but Rucka and Southworth don't beat us over the head with that as they construct a mystery that seems to be about a bit more than a missing guitar. The guitar may be a MacGuffin as Rucka and Southworth are telling Dex's story, and this is more about what she does than any missing instrument.


The Massive #4

Written by Brian Wood

Art by Garry Brown and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The Massive #4, "Mog", takes place largely in the city of Mogadishu, Somalia, but its concerns are global. The rash of ecological disasters that forged the world inhabited by Callum Israel and Ninth Wave hangs over every moment of The Massive, resonating through all aspects of what passes for post-Crash society. Here, we see Israel make his way through Mogadishu, taking part in the black-market economy that has become the only viable form of international trade. It feels as if it's a place we already know due to the clarity and structure of Brian Wood's world-building.

As vivid a setting as Wood has conjured, however, there are still a lot of gaps in The Massive that I hope will be addressed soon. Israel remains something of a cipher, although this issue goes some way towards establishing his background. What his ultimate motivations might be, however, remain unclear. Likewise, the rest of the crew have not had much differentiation as of yet. Wood does set up a potential antagonist in Israel's former comrade Arkady, but given the opacity of Israel himself, I was not immediately drawn in to their conflict.

Wood has also made the choice, at least in this early going, to narrate a great deal through text captions, both from Israel's point of view and that of an anonymous narrative voice. A lot of this information has been repeated from issue to issue, which helped to establish the setting at first, but is now coming off as repetitive. In particular, the central mystery of the location of the titular ship receives a great deal of emphasis, but with no understanding of the implications of its loss or what it means to Israel, it feels like a MacGuffin that's taking the place of character development. Additional text passages following the story proper enlarge upon some areas, but come off as appended background notes rather than a true part of the series.

The art from Brown and Stewart is a perfect complement to Wood's world and does a lot of the work in selling it. Detailed without being overly busy, the art makes great use of lighting and texture to differentiate between the open ocean and the streets of the Mog. Scale and perspective flow seamlessly from one panel to the next, making a jump from close on Israel's face to an aerial view of the city seems natural and fluid. The color palette is one of dull browns, yellows and greens, setting the perfect tone for a world on the brink.

My issues with The Massive thus far may ultimately boil down to pacing. I feel as if this is a series that will read much better in trades, when larger chunks of story are available at once and more of a shape can be seen in what appears now to be scattered and plodding. I'm interested enough in the setting to stay onboard for now and see what heading the book ultimately settles on, but I hope something actually happens in the near future.


Legion Lost #0

Written by Tom DeFalco

Art by Pete Woods, Brad Anderson and Travis Lanham

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jose Camacho

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Featuring a team of superheroes from the future traveling through time, Legion Lost intrigued me when I first heard about it. I was hoping for superheroes trapped in a Phillip K. Dick story. Then I got my hands on this #0 issue, which focuses on one member's origin. It is possible that this issue, much like Resurrection Man #0, was not meant for new readers? Because this introduction to Timber Wolf has no teeth, no spark, no solid, original hook to differentiate itself or grab your attention.

One of the major failures of Legion Lost #0 is that it didn't show that Timber Wolf is fit to serve as a main protagonist for a long-term series. What exactly is supposed to draw me to this character? Is it pity because of the loss of his parents? Am I supposed to be cheering for him to get his revenge? Am I supposed to be scared for him, since he is going against a very powerful foe? Sadly, I don't feel any of these ideas truly fit. Writer Tom DeFalco's story forces you to follow him. It does not make you care for the character. Instead, you are stuck watching it happen while being told how cool it all is supposed to be.

Not only are you force-fed the story of a character you do not care about, you also get a story that seems very rushed. Timber Wolf's transition from street urchin to crime fighter occurs in one page, even as he ages around five years while living as an orphan in the streets. This awkward pacing might be due to the fact that this issue is a prequel. The story does not have room to expand past a revenge plot. It would probably be a better foundation for a solo series where DeFalco could expand more on Timber Wolf's origin.

In addition to poor pacing and overused ploys (i.e., quest for revenge, reckless antihero), Timber Wolf does not really endear himself to the reader. Outside of threats, he does not add much to the plot or his character development. There is not much to make Timber Wolf pop. The reader is not made privy to any traits, motivations or actions to attract us to him.

Our protagonist is not the only character who suffers from lack of development. If we look past Lord Vykor's reputation, we are not shown what him such a feared individual on the planet Zuun. Lord Vykor is not much of a villain or planner. Make sure that you utilize your suspension of disbelief, since Vykor's plan to defeat Timber Wolf is to use the last bit of the formula that powered Timber Wolf on his son (and Lord Vykor himself). Then Vykor pits his son against Timber Wolf. It seems a bit ridiculous that after years of training his son, Vykor would change his mind in the last moment and decide that his son was actually more than just a weapon against Timber Wolf.

But let's not forget the art, which I really enjoyed. I found Pete Woods' work to be on the cartoony side, something more Ben 10 than George Perez. Woods kept me looking in the background for cool little details. One of my favorites has to be Lord Vykor's robotic henchman, whose hand transforms into a cannon. Timber Wolf's progression from helpless child to savage vigilante is probably the highlight of the issue. The cinematic shots and angles were well placed and provided a much needed boost to a bland story. Brad Anderson's colors were clean and vibrant to the point that even dark colors seemed glossy or metallic. It served as a constant reminder that this was a story set in a futuristic metropolis — a color palette that seems at home in a world not unlike that of The 5th Element.

Overall, the story in Legion Lost #0 lacked uniqueness and depth since it is so dead-set on revenge. It does not mean that it is a terrible story; it's just not a new one. It is filled with solid art that does not overwhelm or detract from the story. While being ordinary usually is not a lethal flaw, this is an exception. It is a big deal in an "origin" issue, since you want to bring in new readers and add to the mythos of the character. While Legion Lost #0 shows some potential, you will have to look elsewhere for complete characters and an engaging plot.



Written by Jeffrey Kaufman

Art by Marco Turini and James Brown

Lettering by John Hunt

Published by Zenoscope Entertainment

Review by Edward Kaye

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Starting with the title, Whore is guaranteed to either make you gasp in shock, or groan with embarrassment at such an obvious publicity grab. Inevitably, the book has drawn a lot of media attention, and generated a lot of controversy, but is the story actually any good? Let's find out.

The protagonist of the book is a CIA hitman called Jacob Mars, who loses his job due to budget cuts and downsizing. Now a free agent, Mars decides to offer out his skills to private contractors. The Government soon puts a stop to that, letting him know that while they can afford him, they don't want him working for their enemies. Small freelance work is OK though, and so he begins receiving calls from a mysterious handler offering him large amounts of money for what are seemingly simple tasks jobs.

The jobs he's assigned start out silly, and get increasingly ridiculous - from playing one-on-one basketball with the president, to protecting a Justin Bieber analogue whose record label wants to kill him so he can't "come out," to protecting a prizewinning dog from desperate competitors. Everything changes when he finds out that hired killers have killed the one woman he ever cared about, and so he embarks on a bloody mission of vengeance.

With a paper-thin premise that barely holds water, Whore doesn't really have much of a narrative to speak of. The whole book just seems like an excuse to put this clichéd, hardboiled character into a series of ridiculous scenarios. Serious character + silly scenario = comedy gold, right? Well, the book does give readers a few decent chuckles, but most of its comedy is based on obvious sexual innuendo, and an alarmingly high level of gay jokes.

The protagonist of the book is a swaggering misogynist who is able to charm any woman he likes into bed with just a glance, and delivers cheesy one-liners by the dozen. It feels like the writer was trying to go for a mixture of Jason Bourne, Bruce Campbell, and Austin Powers, but falls short by quite a bit, as it is hard to identify with this unlikeable and unsympathetic character. Kaufman tries to humanize him with a flashback that explains how he became the man he is today, but by that point it's too late, the damage is already done.

The plot of the book is highly contrived, and the thread of his personal vendetta comes so late in the story that it seems like something of an afterthought. There is a bit of a surprise twist ending, but it's not really one that will draw a gasp of realization out of the reader, but rather a resigned sigh as they realize how the plot has been manipulated to facilitate this revelation. The book also features a guest appearance by characters from Kaufman's previous comic, , which feels incredibly forced and cringe-worthy. The protagonist decides, for no apparent reason, that he needs a female partner, and so the Charlie's Angel-esque organization is brought in to help. Perhaps the strangest and most pointless part of the story, is when Kaufman has Mars meet the president. He asks the president why he broke his promise, and didn't bring the troops back. It's a strange and out of place dip into political waters that feels half-hearted and limp.

Marco Turini provides the artwork for the book. Illustrating the story with some decent linework that really suits the story. His weak point seems to be faces. Many of the characters seem to look like mannequins, with false grins and frozen expressions. The inking is a bit sketchy and in places muddies up the artwork too much, making it feel very messy and rushed.

Whore is a book that tries too hard to be shocking, but doesn't actually deliver any real shocks. It feels a lot like a comic designed to sell lots of copies based on controversy only, with no real substance to back it up.

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