Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – Spoiler-Free Reaction

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is an incredible follow-up to Man of Steel and lead into Justice League.  The title characters are honored and rendered in a sincere and sophisticated way like never before on film. The underlying inspirations are respected and taken seriously with genuine affection and artistry.  An emotional, suspenseful, and dramatic journey.  Smart characters and plotting, stunning visuals and action.

An absolute must-see for superhero fans.

Buy your tickets, mark your calendars to prepare for repeat viewings, it’s satisfying on a visceral level but loaded with nods, homages, citations, references, and ideas which warrant noticing and discussion.

I had the privilege of attending the IMAX event last year which ended in the generous surprise of seeing the film on March 21st in IMAX, which opens with Zack imploring the audience to respect the viewing experience of those yet to see the film.  So I’m trying to keep this short.  I’m seeing the film again in 70mm opening night and again Easter Weekend, so more in-depth discussion to come.  For now, please allow this to act as a reassurance of quality along metrics of concern for longtime fans. read more

MOSAIC Episode Index

coverblackWelcome to Man of Steel Answers!  If this is your first time on the site, it mainly hosts the Man of Steel Answer Insight Commentary (MOSAIC) podcast which is an exhaustive look at 2013’s Man of Steel, the Superman mythos, and surrounding DC cinematic universe topics.

MOSAIC has commentary on Man of Steel‘s Act One in the following episodes:

Certain episodes are focused on answering questions revolving around a central theme:

Finally, several episodes are dedicated to reacting to news or answering mailbag questions:

Index of selected videos:

American Alien and Man of Steel Parallels

I’ve been looking forwards to Superman American Alien for some time now.  The nature of monthly serial storytelling and the demands of the current market make it tough to do character studies.  In the regular books, fans have trouble delaying gratification or having reasonable expectations, and seem to judge every scant 22-pages against cherry-picked memories spanning decades.  That’s a pretty high bar to clear when the vast majority of comic books are- by definition- average or below average (or else you need to recalibrate your normalizations).

Yet, the structure and approach of American Alien allows it to mitigate these concerns.  Divorced from continuity, the reader should immediately approach this with an open mind rather than preparing to drop the gavel of judgment for some continuity flub or heretical addition, subtraction, or modification.  As an anthology series (which is, perhaps, one of my favorite forms of storytelling), each issue does deliver on a complete story.  With different artists for each story, deadlines can be met, tone and topic can turn on a dime, and again the audience is challenged to open their mind rather than expect the same thing again and again.

They don’t have to like every artist or story equally, but the format immediately implies different approaches and angles which broadens the mind, because some comic fans and Superman fans can be fairly narrow-minded and very particular in their tastes.  The approach means that even they can just pick and choose what resonates with them without having to throw out the entire anthology series.  While each issue needs to relate an entire story, understanding that you’re getting vignettes allows you to skip and cut and breath more than in a standard format, which means Max Landis gets to get into character more than your typical issue.

MLXQmBYThe canonical shifting of core identity from Superman to Clark Kent Post-Crisis has always made sense to me and is, at this point, probably the more enduring interpretation of the character (with shades of nuance and variance in-between).  For that reason, I’ve always loved Clark Kent and wanted to see more of him in the comics.  So when Max Landis describes the series as “this is what made him Clark Kent” I’m excited, irrespective of any disagreements I may have with him on Superman otherwise.  As long as he’s telling an emotionally truthful story, I don’t care if it’s “not my Superman” it’s still something that adds to the tapestry of the mythos for future fans and creators to pick and pull from.

Issue #1 is entitled “Dove” and I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not meant in the ornithological sense, beyond being a bird of flight, but more the Western symbolic tradition of doves representing love and especially peace (particularly given that the second issue is entitled “Hawk”).  In that sense, this story is Clark in the peaceful womb of childhood, Smallville, and his parents’ love.  It’s sweet and mostly sincere.  I enjoyed it greatly and am looking forwards to the “brutal” issue two,  “sexy” issue three, thoughtful issue four, and so on.

Given Regarding Clark, the comparisons between American Alien and Man of Steel are somewhat unavoidable and easy to take some parts as slights or indictments against Man of Steel, whether real or imagined, intentional or not.  Nonetheless, despite the differences, I see way more similarities than Landis probably even realizes and shows these aren’t as far apart or as in conflict as some might like you to believe.  Rather, there are some elements that show both storytellers looked to modernize and update their respective takes in a grounded, human, and relevant fashion.

The Importance of Flight (and Super Speed)

SMAA_1_01_600The power of flight is central to both stories and not to be taken for granted.  Without flight, Clark’s ability to intervene and interact with the world is severely limited.  However, with flight, the possibilities seem endless to 12 year old Clark in American Alien by the end of the issue and they can’t help but make Clark beam in Man of Steel.  We’ve talked on show how flight was transformative and allowed Clark to be who he wanted to be, see family, avoid detection, and broaden his horizons, MOS gets to present it in a visual montage where we see him circle the globe, gain incredible speed, ally with Lois, and come home to Martha.  In AA, Clark excitedly lists off all the possibilities.

As a general rule of thumb, the later in life Clark gains the power of flight (and/or super speed) the more grounded- no pun intended- the take on Superman will be.  When Clark is flying around the crib, we can expect a more playful rendition.  If Clark doesn’t discover flight until working as a Hollywood stuntman long after leaving the dust bowl, we’re reading the more serious It’s Superman by Tom DeHaven.  Many of the traits people would like to take for granted develop in different ways depending on when Clark discovers his ability to fly.  At least for the purposes of this first issue, a younger Clark suits the tone and characterization.

The joy of flight mastered is evident in both.

Out Of Control

In both stories, Clark’s inability to control his powers leaves him confused, exposed, and potentially dangerous.  The same fear and lack of control is evident in being unable to command himself to land as Clark suffered in experiencing sensory overload while in class.  While angry, Clark breaks a bathroom door, mirror, and wall in AA; and in MOS, Clark crushes a fence post and turns a truck into a pretzel.  In both, the unintended consequences is others getting hurt, Jon cutting his foot or Clark’s teacher burning her hand.  Clark is moved to tears in both because of how frightened they are.

Protective Parents

In both, the Kents are protective and come to the rescue, even at their own expense.  Mars risks life and limb climbing into the sky with Clark, Jon finds himself hanging out of a biplane.  Martha rushes to school and stands defiant against Zod, while Jonathan faces a tornado and gives his life so that Clark can have a few more years of normalcy.

Flashbacks As Thoughts

Both storytellers use flashbacks as a cinematic way to inform the audience of the characters’ contemporaneous thoughts.  In MOS, the flashbacks served to show what Clark was thinking, feeling, or experiencing in the present.  In AA, the flashback serves to show what Jon is dreaming that evening.

Allowed to Grow Up

Both sets of Kents do not subject Clark to a battery of scientific tests and recognize that as inhuman to do so.  Mars says, “We’d never [get him looked at by some real scientists], Jack.  Never.  He’s our son.  Right, Jon?”  Jonathan never goes any further than to have the Command Key tested.  Both are aware of the import and consequences of involving “real scientists” into Clark’s development.  Instead, both sets of Kents impress upon Clark the necessity of keeping his secret, simultaneously with the desire to allow him to grow up before seriously using his gifts.  “No, duh, people would see me!  I’m just kidding.  But maybe I could later… when I’m older?”

Driven By Necessity

It may be easy to romantically cast Jon as more readily embracing Clark’s nature than Jonathan, but both fathers were driven by the necessity of keeping Clark’s secret.  Jon didn’t explore Clark’s ability to fly until he was 12.  Clark says, “I mainly happens when I’m sleeping.”  That means that this has happened more than once and enough times to create a pattern for Clark to observe.  That means that Jon and Mars knew Clark had ascended into the sky, terrified and uncontrolled, on multiple occasions before involving Dr. Jack.  It would be unkind to call that negligent parenting considering the otherworldly circumstances without precedent, but note that even after visiting Dr. Jack, there was still no change in parenting.

It isn’t until Clark uncontrollably floats in public that Jon is forced to take a different approach.  This wasn’t some kind and romantic embrace and endorsement of Clark being alien.  It was a necessary approach after Jon was at the end of his rope of suppression, expert examination, and neglect.  When the power manifested publicly, Jon had no other choice but to embrace Clark learning to fly.  Arguably the emphasis changed from “don’t fly” to “learn to fly” but the impetus and the goal remains (learning to fly is also how not to fly).  Clark flying meant preserving his secret, his safety, and all the blessings of flight.  It made logical sense for Jon to push Clark to learn.  However, don’t forget that even though Jon and Mars knew Clark was nigh invulnerable, they put up with Clark floating multiple times and didn’t train until Clark’s power went public.  Jon did not embrace flying the moment Clark discovered he could float.

Similarly, despite people casting Jonathan as unnecessarily restricting Clark’s nature and powers, the challenges faced by Jonathan and Martha were also driven by necessity and love.  Their Clark was in pain from a young age and capable of inflicting harm on others.  By necessity, Jonathan and Martha had to train Clark to focus, restrain, and suppress his powers for his own sake and for those around him.  In AA, if Clark gets hit by a car or accidentally floats, no one gets hurt.  In MOS, a young Clark would experience the same agony that caused a war-hardened adult Zod and Faora to crumple unless he could learn to focus; if Clark didn’t restrain and suppress his powers, people could die on the other end of his heat-vision.

So Jonathan and Martha intervened and trained Clark far earlier and Clark mastered his abilities far sooner; such that he wasn’t experiencing the same uncontrolled powers at 13 that AA Clark had at 12.  The danger and the necessity pushed Jonathan and Martha to be better teachers which meant Clark could live a normal childhood longer and not have the same terror or public incidents AA Clark did.  In AA, Jon had every incentive to push Clark to master a known power, floating, in order to keep his secret and for all the benefits of flight.  In MOS, the Kents already did that job years prior; Clark mastered his known powers and could keep his secret and keep himself and others safe from them.  There was no incentive or logical necessity in pushing MOS Clark to test his limits or crazily assume he might fly.  In AA, Jon knew what he’d be getting if Clark mastered flight, moreover he needed to for Clark’s safety and secret.  In MOS, Jonathan would have no idea what would happen if they pushed Clark to test his limits or powers and didn’t need to.

Both stories approach the parenting from parents who love their sons but raise them differently based on need, not because of some romantic meta-narrative about embracing Clark’s identity.  Neither shies away from understanding that Clark is an alien with powers but also, “You are my son.”

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Supergirl and Man of Steel Parallels

I finally got to watch the pilot episode of Supergirl and can’t wait for the rest of the season.  Supergirl allows people to indulge in their preconceptions about Superman but also have those tested or turned on their side by Supergirl.

If you missed Monday night’s premiere and aren’t faced with region issues, you can watch or rewatch the first episode of Supergirl for free at CBS, Amazon, Google Play (with coupon), iTunes, and other streaming services.  Or watch the episode with commentary by Executive Producers Ali Adler and Sarah Schechter along with Director Glen Winter here[I haven’t watched the commentary yet.]

As someone with a broad palate for all things within the Superman family (even Krypto) I was really pleased with Supergirl especially from the character drama and soapy relationship angle.  Basically anytime Kara was emoting, I was engaged, and there’s some adventurous action that does its job.

Of course, as someone who loves Man of Steel, I couldn’t help but admire some of the parallels that show these two takes on Kryptonian cousins aren’t as far apart or as in conflict as some might like you to believe.  Rather, there are some elements that show both storytellers looked to modernize and update their respective supers in a grounded, human, and relevant.

Starting on Krypton

Both open on Krypton to establish these are beings from another world.  Very different yet also very human, with families who love them, mourn their loss, who feel fear and passion, experience tragedy, and hold hopes and dreams.  Both mothers, Lara and Alura send off their children with tearful goodbyes.

Sent With A Mission

Both Kal-El and Kara are sent to Earth with a mission.  Kal-El carries Jor-El and Lara’s hopes and dreams for a better world, one without the mistakes of Krypton.  Alura wants Kara to survive and from the outset to act as a protector.

Not According To Plan

Yet, both suffer frustrations with the plans of their parents as well was unexpected complications.  Clark isn’t a “god” growing up.  Kara doesn’t protect or look over Kal-El.  Zod’s survival was not a part of Jor-El’s plan.  Kara’s 24-year detour with Fort Rozz trailing behind was not a part of Alura’s plan.

Life Changed At Age 13

Both experience a life-changing moment at that critical age of 13.  Clark saves a bus full of children using his powers, his alien origins are revealed to him, and he agrees to have a normal childhood.  Kara is ripped from her home planet and family, then arrives on a new planet without her mission, and adopted by a new family.

Same Safe Human-Type Childhood

Despite this trials and changes, both Clark and Kara have commitments towards having “safe human-type childhoods.”  Clark didn’t become Superboy or act out adventures from Smallville.  Kara followed the advice of her Superman and grew up a normal well-adjusted person. read more

Rambling: Directorial Impact

The Chair

Chris Moore was a co-producer on Good Will Hunting when several filmmakers were originally in consideration to direct, including: Kevin Smith, Mel Gibson, Michael Mann, and Steven Soderbergh. Ever since then, Moore was fascinated with the possibility of seeing those different visions with the same script. Moore, Affleck, and Damon would go on to produce Project Greenlight, a television series focusing on first-time filmmakers being given the chance to direct a feature film.

After three seasons, Moore would take that experience and finally crystallize his experiment into the reality competition television show, The Chair, which gave YouTuber Shane Dawson and NYU film school graduate Anna Martemucci each the opportunity to create movies based on same script by Dan Schoffer.

Consider and compare these two films based off the same initial script:

Project Greenlight

After a 10-year hiatus, Season 4 of Project Greenlight premiered this past Sunday and repeated this experiment with 13 different directors for 3-minute short films all with the same control- the identical script by the Farrlley Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, etc).  All 13 submissions are available in this playlist. However, if you only have time to watch a few, just in terms of sheer contrast, consider these:

A baseline similar to the writers’ sensibilities.

A starkly different approach.

A completely cartoonish take.

There’s nothing radical about the idea that “the director is important” but rarely do we get so explicit an illustration.

The many hats a director has to wear all come together into something completely different: The casting, the vision, the style, the technology, the interpretation, the cinematography, the edit, the  collaborators, the performances, the budget, the execution, etc.  allow productions to diverge dramatically before our eyes. Even having read the script, we can be completely surprised by the ultimate outcome! An actor, an editor, a composer’s score, etc. can all make something work beyond the four-corners of the page.

Consider that the next time you’re concerned about an allegation arising from only the script.

Really, this whole rambling is so I could write that line… but let me meander around in the hopes of finding a second point.


I enjoy Snyder’s style and am encouraged that we will have his films to provide the universe with a spine, it’s great that he’s so invested he wants to do this again and again, and fantastic that a director that everyone praises as collaborative is at the center of it… but I can’t wait to see the visions the other directors bring to the cinematic universe too.  They each have their own voice and contributions which make for a richer and more diverse whole.

I think it’s interesting that Snyder’s assisting with a Dorito’s Superbowl campaign that democratizes direction… commercials are essentially short films and Snyder and Jenkins got their start in commercials… and Ben Affleck’s passion project is a show which gives a young filmmaker an opportunity to make their first feature.  They’re actively giving back, understanding they’re in a position of uncommon privilege (Jenkins once said something like she had been given a brass ring to make any movie she wanted but never wanted or expected fame; and has consciously been selective… electing to do Wonder Woman suggests she’s willing to put up with fame and a big film to say something) inviting more into a world where there’s no clear path.

While our directors are incredibly diverse in their personal lives, filmmaking origins, career paths, politics, religion, family life, age, etc.- meaning our Justice League of directors reflect that same kind of diverse-individuals working towards a common goal found in our fictional Justice League- I think we’ll get the best of both worlds: unique executions of their individual visions but also a coherent universe (you know, like the comic books!).  Why?  The filmography of our known directors share a certain intensity (one which George Miller’s Fury Road would align with nicely).


These are passionate, serious, intense filmmakers… from the plots of their films to their process. Snyder’s participation in the now-famous “300 Workout” is legendary and his films tend towards a dark irony without happy endings. Ayer wrangled the mad and method LaBeouf and reportedly looked after the mental health of his Suicide Squad actors by providing a psychotherapist, not to mention his earlier films. Jenkins found herself diving deep into the minds of convicts and killers and Wan is responsible for a modern horror renaissance. Affleck’s thillers are routinely praised as tense and gripping. This is nothing new or surprising, we already knew this was the direction Warner Brothers was aiming for, but we can see that intention in the selection of those directors. The films will vary in subject matter, the fantastic, their humor, the role of magic, the period and setting, and more… but they’ll be unified by the intensity of their filmmakers and the common shared universe.

Tornado Topics: Adjusting for Age

MOSAIC has tackled a number of peripheral issues relating to the controversial tornado scene in Man of Steel. We’ve talked a little about the incorrect assumptions about available powers, unknown limits and vulnerabilities, distinguished this scene from the bus rescue, and more (with much more to come in the complete analysis), but I just wanted to touch on an aspect that layers throughout that analysis and goes to some of our gut instinctual biases rather than engaging our intellect, imagination, and empathy.

Problem with Perception

Essentially, it has to do with our intuition about age.

tumblr_mwky1r2rAV1rei3gfo3_1280Part of the gut reaction to Jonathan Kent as the man of action while Clark stands by… comes from seeing a man in the prime of his life staying in place, while a man nearing his sixties is performing a rescue. To make things a little more concrete, Costner was born in 1955, Cavill in 1983. At the time of filming (August 2011 in Illinois) they’d be around the ages of 56 and 28 respectively. Hair and makeup did a great job, but there’s still that dissonance. We want the adult Clark to rebel, to take initiative, to demonstrate the capability that is so plainly visible in his strength and youth… meanwhile the older man, approaching his 60s, seems like the better candidate to run to presumed safety.

Within the timeline of the film, we know Jonathan is 46 and Clark is about 17 in this scene, on the cusp of becoming an adult. Both actors were dealing with a decade plus gap. Costner was 56 playing 46 and Cavill was 28 playing 17. Incidentally, Dylan Sprayberry was 13 when filming and is 17 today.

Reasons for Using Cavill

So why did they use Cavill instead of trying to age-up Sprayberry or use another actor?

1461348_624250417620917_1461800411_nI’m speculating,  but I think the filmmakers felt that this was a critical moment of continuity for Cavill; showing his Clark experienced this moment which carried forwards, through, and until becoming Superman. With another actor, Cavill is denied a moment to work with Costner and the audience perhaps separates this seminal event with the contemporaneous Superman. Maybe. I know that for myself, I don’t quite think of Reeve as the one who witnessed his father’s heart-attack, but instead that was something left behind on the farm or in a cave by someone else.

Inserting a fourth (fifth, if you count Kal-El on Krypton) Clark into the mix may introduce additional risk of confusion or alienation. Continuing to use Sprayberry might mitigate the confusion but might fail to show how close Clark was to manhood (something highly significant that we’ll definitely analyze in depth in the future) and ready to set out on his own.

So trying to de-age Cavill was a calculated risk with sensible reasons. Even if it challenged audiences to consider how old these characters were supposed to be. That choice wasn’t entirely without precedent in the story of Superman: Tom Welling was 24 playing 14 and Jeff East was 21 playing 17. It tends to be something expected and requires some suspension of disbelief from the audience.

In retrospect, aging-up Sprayberry and suggesting that Clark developed a little slower than everyone else might have been better; However, we’ll never know.

Examples of Actors Age 46 and 17

Of course, age 46 and 17 may perhaps still not be intuitive; so to illustrate, let’s consider some actors who fit these demographics right now in June 2015. Jonathan Kent was a healthy active fifth-generation farmer. Consider these other men who, today, are about Jonathan Kent’s age in that scene:

Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Will Smith, Eric Bana, Timothy Olyphant, Josh Brolin, Aaron Eckhard, and Terry Crews.

MenOfACertainAgeWould any of these men seem out of place as men of action? As having the authority to command their 17-year-old teenager? To be respected and listened to by that 17-year-old?

Although it’s a little harder to find 17 year olds who’ve distinguished themselves, consider the following teens who, today, are about Clark Kent’s age in that scene:

Dylan Sprayberry, Asa Butterfield, Chandler Riggs, Jaden Smith, Max Burkholder, Rico Rodriguez, and Tye Sheridan.

Age17forMOSIf you match up the men, age 46, with a teen around the age of 17, the dynamics of the tornado scene are more intuitive. Jonathan Kent’s protectiveness of his teenaged son is easier to grasp. Remember, that just prior, Clark expresses his frustration with being “safe”… meaning that for the past 4 years, nearly a quarter of his entire life and the time Jonathan has spent with his son… was with the powers suppressed, safe, and unseen. Jonathan had spent the last 1,500 consecutive days with just his son Clark and not his abilities.

approxJust as we, the audience, struggle to overcome our intuitions and assumptions based on what we see… for Jonathan, when he looks at Clark, he doesn’t see an alien filled with powers or abilities… he sees his teenaged son who still needs protection and guidance.

Of course, that imagery isn’t necessary for us to imagine or empathize with that attitude. It simply makes that empathy a little easier and more intuitive. Certainly we all have had, know, or been that parent who can only see their child- no matter how grown-up, independent, or powerful- as their little boy or girl to be protected. In that sense, no matter how mature Cavill’s Clark looked, Costner’s Jonathan would and could still see the same baby he cradled, boy he took fishing, teen he had long talks with, etc. I don’t think stretching our empathy (challenging it) rather than manipulating it (with a younger actor) is necessarily a bad thing.

Why Would Jonathan Be Protective?

45It’s a little bit ridiculous to believe that Jonathan performed a careful dispassionate utilitarian calculation in the face of a sudden emergency. Instead, he went with his gut which reasonably sought to protect a son three decades his junior. Jonathan didn’t do some heartless calculation, but even if he did, he be missing gross amounts of data and figures critics routinely assume as immutable facts known to the characters. How would Jonathan know that Clark would be safe against one of the most incredible and destructive forces of nature? A tornado contains 6 times the energy density of a hurricane and even average or typical tornadoes pack the power of 300 gallons of jet fuel, much less a tornado ranked 4 or 5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale (throwing cars through the air).

15-kevin-henry-dianeFor this level of threat, as far as Jonathan knew, Clark was as in just as much mortal jeopardy as he was. So the father did as you’d expect: prioritize his son’s life over his own. This is self-evident with respect to his own rescue, since Jonathan prefers Clark to live free from persecution, for a time, over his own life.  Clark, meanwhile, has reason to trust and obey the man who has lived three times as long and done nothing but love him his entire life.

However, we’ll get into all that soon, for now, the takeaway: while the film does present us with a 28-year-old actor following the wishes of a 56-year-old actor… if we consider what the scene is to meant to convey, we might overcome some of the biases based on perceived ages instead of what the story tells us their ages are and expand the capacity and thoughtfulness of our empathy.

Randomly Related Slightly Salient Stuff 2

No time for a podcast this week but here’s some assorted materials, linked in a bit of a stream-of-consciousness, which could be applicable to analysis of Man of Steel and the DCCU.

  • The Fermi Paradox and Drake Equation via Kurz Gesagt and PBS Space Time
  • On Classical Heroes – The Power of Failure via Extra Credits
  • Study Finds People Stop Listening to New Music at Age 33 via NewsBreaker
  • “…why I didn’t understand the dark suit complaint… against Man of Steel.”
  • The Death of Superman at Mid Ohio Con 1992 ft. Roger Stern
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Government Surveillance (Edward Snowden interview) via HBO
  • Can the Man of Tomorrow Be the Journalist of Today?
  • Image of Journalists in Popular Culture
  • Journalistic Ethics At the Daily Planet
  • The Severest Ethical Breaches of Superhero Journalists
  • Exposed: the severe ethical breaches of superhero journalists
  • Peter Parker and Clark Kent: Very Unethical Journalists

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Randomly Related Slightly Salient Stuff

I’m still busy while out-of-town and bracing for the impact of the incoming footage, but in lieu of original content, here’s some assorted materials, linked in a bit of a stream-of-consciousness, which could be applicable to analysis of Man of Steel and the DCCU.

  • FX Guide and other Behind-The-Scenes content
  • What If Quicksilver Ran Past You?
  • Superman vs. Hollywood
  • The Science of Awkwardness
  • Harvard’s “Justice with Michael Sandel”
  • Box Office Quant: Sequel Map
  • Could NASA Start the Zombie Apocalypse
  • Intuition: Veritasium, Ludology, & Optimism Bias
  • Will Superman’s New Power Change the Status Quo?
  • A-10 vs. F-35

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