Category Archives: Pop Culture

SJW! You HAVE to see Suicide Squad this weekend. Here are 9 reason why.

1. Suicide Squad is by far the most diverse super hero movie released to date. Primary cast include 4 women, 3 black people, an Asian, and a Latino. I wrote about comparing diversity in this to other franchises here– (Diversity in Comics Movie Roundup) a few months back. It was the most diverse super hero team at the time and I forgot to count the Mexican American El Diablo.

2. #Feminism!: You insisted that anyone who didn’t shell out for #Ghostbusters was a sexist, racist, misogynist pig. Guess what? Suicide Squad, as noted above has four powerful, diverse women at its core. That’s the same number as in Ghostbusters, ladies! Any think piece supporting the poorly reviewed financial flop that Paul Feige foisted on us also instructs that we MUST support a film that puts Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne, and Karen Fukuhara into starring roles! By comparison to get to this many heroic women in the Avengers franchise we have to add two movies together and count one character twice (Maria Hill & Black Window from Avengers and Black Widow & Scarlet Witch from Age of Ultron).

3. Firsts for Super Hero Movies: Remind me who played the black female lead in any Marvel Cinematic Universe film. It’s ok, take your time pouring over IMDB, I know they have 13 films, so this may take a while. Find her yet? No, because there hasn’t been one, nor will there be one until Black Panther, which will be the 18th film in the line.

Viola Davis steps into the role of Amanda Waller (like Sam Jackson’s Nick Cage only instead of the easy route of uniting heroes, she picks out really bad dangerous people and uses them to benefit the US). Waller has been a fixture of the Suicide Squad in comics since always—as integral to the team as Deadshot or Captain Boomerang, only actually more so. You can have the Squad without even its most storied members. Without Waller pulling the strings? Never happened. Davis’s turn as “the Wall” will be the first starring role for a black woman since Halle Berry’s ill-fated Catwoman and it comes in the DCEU’s 3rd release. Not its 18th.

You can repeated the above exercise for the first Latino hero (not even one slated to appear in Marvel), for Asian hero (yes, Guardians of the Galaxy has the aliens Drax and Gamora played Asian and Latina actors, but portrayed as aliens and dressed in makeup approaching infinity. By comparison, El Diablo and Katana are Latino and Asian characters played by Latino and Asian actors.)

4. Intersectionality: This piggy backs on points 2 and 3 above, but remember that #feminist theory about the experiences of doubly marginalized people? The four women in the film are a mentally ill white female, a mentally ill bisexual white female, a black female, and an Asian female. Ladies! You can’t get more victim hierarchical than this! Compared to Ghostbusters with 3 cis white females and one broadly played black female stereotype (which, can we just say Viola Davis’s Waller will definitively NOT be?) it’s pretty clear that Suicide Squad not Ghostbusters is the true #feminist mea culpa of the summer.

5. Race shifting to promote diversity: Suicide Squad sees Will Smith cast as Deadshot, a traditionally white anti-hero. Where are our think pieces praising this brave choice? If Smith is too big a star to merit support for this, what about Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s turn as Killer Croc, another character that could easily have been portrayed by a despised cis white male? Not one, but two characters have been given to actors based on I am only assuming their acting chops without regards to race. Where are our blog posts praising their ingenuity?

6. First Man on Man kiss in a super hero movie: Yep. Jared Leto’s Joker kisses another dude. If you don’t go see this movie it can only be because you’re a #homophobe! Come on, SJWs! You aren’t secretly, homophobes, are you?

7. Non-heteronormative characters: Did I mention above that Harley Quinn is bisexual? Another first to have a non hetero lead in a super hero movie here. Unless you are denying the experiences of bisexual women here!

8. Even Minor Characters feature diversity: Scan the IMDB page. Even in minor roles we have blacks, Asians, and Latinos.

9. Every excuse you could use to not go, applied in equal measure to #Ghostbusters: Bad reviews? Check. Produced by a Major Corporation? Check. Directed by a man? Check! There is no weaseling out of this one, ladies and gender non-specifics! Suicide Squad also had not one, not two, but three GOOD trailers compared to the travesty that was the Ghostbusters trailer.

So, Social Justice Warriors! Are you with me? Are you on your way to see David Ayers and DCEU’s Suicide Squad this weekend? Are you prepared to write reviews where you boldly declare “Women can be super villainous anti-heroes, Suicide Squad is good, get over it?” Are you ready to buy tickets and then not use them to prop up this paragon of Social Justice?

Or are you just hypocrites? Do you just want me to suffer through a #Ghostbusters remake I didn’t ask for, didn’t want, that looked bad, and whose creators went out of their way to insult me while you sit at home and skip diverse movies because they comes from DC/Warner Brothers or aren’t “quippy” like Marvel/Disney movies?

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Disney Princesses Re-imagined As Stick Figures

Disney

Lost in the Pop Culture Wilderness: The End of the “Grantland” Era

ESPN announced Friday that they were completely closing or “suspending” the Grantland site. This news comes on the heels of months of the site slowly losing the voices that had built it into one of only a handful of places I, and I can only assume others (though not enough for ESPN) visited on a daily basis.

First ESPN let Bill Simmons go, then slowly the writer’s who Simmons had recruited began to have their contracts expire and to depart for other media outlets. To me, the most personal and impacting arm of Grantland has always been their feeds of podcasts (The Grantland Sports and Grantland Pop Culture podcast feeds.)

After losing the BS report last spring, the next major departure was Wesley Morris, who took a job at the New York Times. He and Alex Pappademas’ “Do You Like Prince Movies?” wrapped up in September. Wesley and Alex looked at movies, often opining about smaller indie movies that I would have little exposure to without their voices. Each week they ended the show with a “jam of the week” which challenged listeners to expand their Spotify playlists.

Losing “Do You Like Prince Movies?” left a hole in my weekly listening calendar, but the announcement that Chris Ryan and Juliet Litman (along with Sean Fennessey and Mallory Rubin) to work for Simmons pulled three more shows from the Grantland slate.

All respects to Ms. Litman, whose “Food News” podcast I have enjoyed, the biggest loss here was the combination of Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald on the “Hollywood Prospectus” podcast. Over the last four years, Ryan and Greenwald have become defining voices in the television arena. Their opinions have shaped what I personally feel about the television which we watch.

There has come to be something comforting about hearing the opening, Chris Ryan coming in hot with his characteristic introduction “And on the other line. . . he’s (witty recent reference), it’s Andy Greenwald!”

And that’s the real shame here. The closing of Grantland doesn’t feel like the loss of a website, a column, or a podcast. These people, these voices who we’ve listened to and grown attached to for the past four years feel like the loss of friends who’ve come to be a part of our lives, joining us in our ear holes every week. The Grantland “G” symbol has grown to symbolize the kind of excellence that can be counted on, and the kind personalities who you can trust. The friendly conversational tones of the podcasts developed relationships with the listeners. The inside jokes that you learned, things that started in the first years of the podcast that would be referenced in the last made you feel connected in a way that few programs can or even try to do.

But now, Grantland is gone. ESPN has lost Bill Barnwell, Andy Greenwalk, Chris Ryan, Robert Mays, Rembert Brown, Juliet Litman, Sean Fennesey, Bill Simmons, Alex Pappademas, Wesley Morris, et al. Whether they will retain Jonah Keri, Kirk Goldsberry, and some of the other more sports oriented writers remains to be seen. They’ve also recently lost a litany of other voices– Colin Cowherd who was fired over the summer, Doug Gottlieb who defected to CBS, and Jim Rome who left their TV station for Show Time, and several others.

ESPN built a business based on connection to sports and relationships with their stars. In the wake of the closing of Grantland, I’m left wondering if investing in ESPN is worth my energy and time. With the increased competition in the sports channel marketplace, it raises questions of whether ESPN’s long held dominance is coming to an end in the foreseeable future.

The Arrow-verse Show’s Its Racist Streak

The DC TV Universe (the Arrow-verse if you will) features two, and soon to be three shows has been on a hot streak. Arrow is going strong in season four, the Flash is a hit, and later this year Heroes of Tomorrow will come on.  Additionally, up till now, they have done a great job of introducing minority characters.

Arrow has John Diggle as a primary character, and featured Katana last year. Arrow smartly race shifted Iris West (and her Dad) to add diversity to the cast, and also has Cisco Ramon aka Vibe to bring a Hispanic character into the main cast as well.

I just spent two paragraphs praising these two shows and the characters which they’ve brought in already, and last night’s episode of the Flash actually does expand the diversity of the cast by adding an African American half to Firestorm (I refuse to write F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. ever again after this.)

There is a catch though.

The character we get here is Jefferson “Jax” Jackson, a former high school football player who had his knee destroyed by the particle accelerator. This is where the racist streak comes in.

A little back story on Firestorm. Originally Firestorm was a merging of physicist Martin Stein and high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond (both white). In more recent years Firestorm has been a merging of former high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond, and super smart science student Jason Rusch (an African American).

So the folks at Warner Brothers have done two things here– first, they swapped Ronnie Raymond who in both the 80’s original Firestorm and the modern Firestorm is an athlete and made him a physicist instead.

Then they have taken the super smart Rusch and replaced him with an athlete– a character they invented out of whole cloth who has never appeared in the comics (and basically co-opted Cyborg’s origin story of bad thing happening at football game he is star athlete of.)

The implication is obvious– white people get to be superheroes because they are smart; black people get to be superheroes because they are athletic.

Yes, they went out of the way to say that Jax was smart, good grades, ect. They blundered through here as well– oh he’s smart, but not smart enough to go to college without a football scholarship. Never mind that the straight A’s and the commensurate ACT or SAT score that comes with that level of intelligence results in academic scholarships which, when combined with federal student aid, can finance college. Jax is black; no football no college.

But you might say, there was also the smart scientist black guy in this episode! So the racist implications can’t be intended, right?  No, quit wrong. The smart, scientist black character immediately turns out to be a villain. If he can’t be Firestorm, he’s going to use his own abilities which he doesn’t have to combine with another person to use strictly for revenge/murder/evil. Hewitt is a caricature at best here, and doesn’t win them any points for seeing beyond stereotype.

We will be seeing a lot of Jax in Heroes of Tomorrow coming up later this year. There is still time for the character to grow out of stereotype mode and to be a fully developed character. I can’t help wondering, however, why the writers felt the need to create a new African American host for Firestorm and leave Jason Rusch, a character with 10 years history in the comics, on the shelf.

DCU: July Stack

Its the last week of the month, so those of us without local stores are just now getting to read our entire July stacks. I have gone in pretty hard on the new DCU story lines, so I will take a minutes and rate my July stack and give a few thoughts on each.

I’m not going to include my non-DC offerings in this, but I’ll list them at the bottom. The stack goes  in order, from best to worst starting. . . now!

Great New Starts

Dr. Fate #2: The new Dr. Fate is an Egyptian American medical student named Khalid who is chosen by the Egyptian Goddess Bastat to fight against the forces of darkness (represented by a pack of talking Jackals controlled by Set or Anubis I guess). The story is starting out slow, like a lot of these. We are still int he “denial” phase of superhero origin, but the art here is the real seller. The coloring and art aren’t like anything else in DC’s line up right now, and it sets a great vibe. This book takes an old favorite character, reinvents it, injects diversity into the DCU in a way that doesn’t feel forced, and then packages everything in a gorgeous wrapping that makes this book look more like an indie or something from Image than what you’d expect from DC. The triple L creative team Levetz, Liew, and Loughridge certainly has my attention. Levitz and Liew are credited as “story tellers” so I am not sure how the art and writing splits out, but the cover from Sonny Liew is great, and the colors from Loughridge are perfect for this book.

We Are Robin #2: This book follows Duke Thomas as he is recruited by an organization of Gotham teens who are all “Robin”. We’ve gotten to know Duke over the last two issues and I’m excited about the diverse cast of characters that they have assembled into this group. Writer Lee Bermejo has set up a good story to put the group to use, and given us hints of the other Robins while establishing Duke as a strong protagonist. We see the other Robins, but we’ve barely been introduced and right now they mostly blend together. The back and forth dialogue is great, and the art from  Jorge Corona is nice here as well– stylized like in Dr. Fate, but a different style. The covers from Bermejo have been awesome, and he imagery/design of the promotional art and these covers are very effective and evocative.

Midnighter #2: Steve Orlando gives us a Midnighter who is dealing with three simultaneous story lines– his mentor’s arsenal (dubbed “The God Garden”) has been robbed of a massive amount of powerful weapons which are now on the black market serves as the action piece as Midnighter hunts them down. Then we get scenes of his attempt at dating, a new man he has met off an internet dating site. The third prong are flashbacks to his relationship with former Authority teammate and ex Apollo. This story feels deeply personal, and its great to get inside the mind of a character whose been part of the core DC for a while now, but who I previously had very little interaction with. The art from Alec Morgan nails the action scenes and seems to really move here. Another great story that I am in on going forward.

Cyborg #1: This book seems to have been one of the most anticipated new titles, and it was delayed a month from the rest of the #1s, but it was worth the wait overall. This issue sets up Vic to deal with a new evolution of his machine half which is regrowing his human half. It also spends about a third of the pages on an alternate dimension where some cyborg/robotic baddies are gathering. The art is in DC’s New 52 house style, but it serves this high tech story well and botht he robo-baddies and Vic have some great detail in their machinery.

Reliable Continuations

Secret Six #4: Gail Simone proves you can go home again, returning to bring a new Secret Six to life. She’s assembled a great mix of characters, blending old favorites like Thomas Blake/ Catman with new characters like Porcelain. Through four issues, this has been a great run, and this issue featured the return of favorites Jeannette, Scandal Savage, and Ragdoll. While its clear they won’t be part of the six, having these characters officially back in the DCU is great. I have no reason to believe this book will do anything but continue to be excellent.

Grayson #10: DC’s spy saga picks up steam this month as Dick Grayson, AKA Agent 37 is on the run from Spyrol, the agency that employs him. The plotting of this series has been good throughout these first ten issues of this has been great, and its been interesting to see Grayson work through the conflicting super-spy and Batman ethos. Helena Bertinelli as Matron/now director of Spyrol really works. The highlight of the art for me this issue are the panel layouts, early in the issue a fight is told through a series of neon-colored over-washed panels that drip the 60s. There’s also a gorgeous swan dive page with a really popping ocean cliff.

The main cover of this issue has received some attention over at panels.net, and I just have to weigh in– its sexy as hell. I am pretty disappointed that when I was making my selection off the solicits two months ago that I’d opted for the Teen Titans Go variant cover here.
Apparently the cover image I’ve seen is for issue #13, so I’m good on my random variant grabbing here!

Middle of the Pack:

JLA #2: The new second Justice League book is treading into some very high concept stuff. In the first two issue’s we’ve ended on big cliff hanger reveals. We’ve sent the league off in various directions. I like that this is out of continuity and gets to tell its story without hassling with current Batman or Superman continuity. Its a little disappointing to get the exact same line-up as the core Justice League book, but I guess seeing twice as many stories with the characters who will be in the upcoming films can’t hurt. I’m in on this for at least the first arc.

Aquaman #42: I like the direction writer Cullen Brown is taking this story, which sees Arthur Curry on the run, hunted by Merra who he left in charge of Atlantis and dealing with incursions from another reality. The art is stylized, but unlike “Dr. Fate” or “We Are Robin” it just doesn’t really fit in this book.

Batman #42: Snyder & Capullo’s Batman run ahs gotten a lot of praise and attention over the last few years, and while I’m just signing onto it now its obvious why. The current “”Jim Gordon as Batman” story arc is probably not going to run very long, and we’ve already seen Bruce Wayne reintroduced. My only complaints on this right now are that I want to see more of Batman. Gordon has both a Bat mech suit, and a Batman jumpsuit underneath and he’s spent most of the first two issues in a t-shirt and jeans training. I hope this isn’t rushed to bring Bruce back into the Bat suit too quickly like some story-lines have been recently (i.e. T shirt and jeans Superman from the start of the New 52). I have to admit, this is the first time I have ever put the core Batman book on my pull list.

New Suicide Squad #10: I have gone back and forth on some of the current Squad’s line-ups. Harley Quinn is now firmly ensconced and with her in the movie coming up I guess I have to accept her, and Deadshot and Boomerang and Manta are all solid. But the new/current Reverse Flash just feels out of place and has barely served a purpose the last few issues. I guess Parasite is with them currently. This issue seems to be pretty in between, and the overall arc of the book has been up and down, but I’m a sucker for Waller’s Task Force X, so I will keep reading here.

In Danger of Being Dropped

Martian Manhunter #2: This book combines a slow, confusing plot, with characters to whom we have no connection or proper introduction (Mr. Biscuits, whoever the girl in Dubai was/is?), and then tops it off by changing core assumptions of who Martian Manhunter is– instead of being the last Martian (or Green Martian), he’s now a sleeper agent/advance scout for a Martian invasion force. I’m committed through issue four, and I will have to make a choice about issue 5 before I get to read issue 3, but without some improvement here I’m going to be dropping what was the new series I was looking forward to the most.

Doomed #2: This was one of the most out there new titles in the solicits and I am game to give just about anything a try, but where a slow pace seems to serve some of the books in this list (Midnighter, Dr. Fate) where we have at least some familiarity with the characters or concepts, Doomed seems to creep along. I haven’t gotten to know the guy who is this new Doomsday, and he hasn’t learned how to control or even deal with his new alternate form at all. He seems to be still conscious while Doomsday-ed out, but hasn’t realized what he looks like and there’s no hint of how his switch is triggered. As of now, I am in tentatively through the first arc, but if this pace doesn’t pick up soon it will be another stack casualty.

Batman Beyond: The concept of this book is out there. (Tim Drake from the future goes further forward into the Future to take over as Batman for a Terry McGinnis who’d come back in time and died in the past.) I could probably buy in and run with that, but spinning out of Future’s End this is still a world where Brother Eye won. I am not sure how much longer my tolerance for the OMAC/Brother Eye as all powerful opponent in a hopeless world nature of this future.

Robin: Son of Batman: This was the last book I added to my pull list. I have never read any book with Damian in it, and he is by far not my favorite Robin, but for the first solo Robin series since Tim Drake’s run ended I decided to give it a try. The set up for the series is solid (Damian spent a year [“the Year of Blood”] doing bad stuff for the League of Assassins, now he is spending a year redeeming himself by undoing that bad stuff. The problem with this issue was that the art was very confusing. I was just plain lost the first read through of the meat of this particular story (something with the head Damian had chopped off a South American golem thing). This still has room to redeem itself and go forward into a solid story, but any more issues of this quality and I will be dropping it.

Missed: Justice League #42– I added the main Justice League title to my list too late for issues #41 and #42, picking up in my pre-orders for next month’s #43 so I need to fill this one in from a shop when I get a chance to get to one.

Non-DC Pull list: Saga #30, Adventure Time #42, Adventure Time Fiona and Cake Card Wards #1

Pushed to next month’s shipment: Low #8

Star Trek: Musings on the Epic Re-Watch

My head must be in the stars of late. I’ve been re-reading my Starman Omnibus volumes by James Robinson, and have been progressing on my epic re-watch of Star Trek. I started the project a little over a year ago, last summer, when the TV schedule was as light as it is now. The NBA and new scriped shows distracted me for a while, but as those petered out I’ve picked up steam on this again.

The project was  a relatively simple, if time consuming proposition– re-watch everything Star Trek from beginning to end, in order. I’ve come a long way, but I’ve only just scratched the surface so far– I am in the middle of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock currently. Through the original Star Trek, the animated series, and the first two movies already– but staring down 8 season of TNG, DS9, and Voyager before I get to the relatively light Enterprise and the new films.

A few thoughts so far. . .

1. There is a reason Star Trek (the original series) has the cache to have spawned the rest of the Trek universe. The characters sparkle, the concepts are high. These episodes function like Twilight Zone episodes, but set on far flung planets and with the same core cast at the heart of the episodes.

2. The animated series is, by contrast. pretty poor. Only episode two “Yesteryear” really holds up next to TOS.

3. The Motion picture is better than remembered. It’s weird. It’s out there– one of the more bizarre while simultaneously banal concepts for a Trek episode or movie, but its writing really does hold up and it deserves a second watch if your memories of it are from long ago.

4. KHAAAAAAAAAAN!

As I write this, Search for Spock has ended, and I’ve started into the Voyage Home. I will publish some more thoughts as I go along, but so far the epic Star Trek re-watch has been a rewarding experience.

Diversity in Comics Movie Roundup

I’m not much of an analyst when it comes to movie. I’m also an unabashed fan of super-hero movies, particularly DC superheroes who I follow in the comics. I’m also a straight white dude. This probably makes me the least useful person to be “writing” (and I use the term loosely) this particular post. But, here goes anyways. . .

Just going to give a break down of the diversity we’ve seen (including projected films) in the MCU and the new DCU line-up. (I’m not going to get into the now defunct Sony Spider-verse or the Fox X-Men/Fantastic Four line-ups– gotta draw the line somewhere I guess).

I’ll be looking at the team films, and will cover solo films in a future post at some point. I’ll be checking the number of heroes by race and gender. We will leave sexual preference out for now because– not surprisingly, not a single character in any film is confirmed to be a non-heterosexual character currently. For solo films I’ll make a distinction between a title character and supporting characters. I’m also going to count Loki as a hero– deal with it. Characters like Jane Foster, however, who are supporting characters and not heroes do not get counted in. Also– characters who are green/red/crocodile skinned count as the actor playing the character.

Anyways, here goes. . .

Marvel’s Avengers (Fist Movie)

Line-up: Ironman, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Loki, Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, Agent Maria Hill

Male white heroes: 7

Female heroes: 2 (being very generous counting Maria Hill here– though that brings in Coulson as well so its somewhat a wash)

African Descent heroes: 1

Asian Descent heroes: 0

Latin Descent heroes: 0

Marvel’s Avengers (Age of Ultron)

Line-up:  Ironman, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Vision, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Falcon

Male white heroes: 7

Female heroes: 2

African Descent heroes: 2 (both in tertiary roles, but present)

Asian Descent heroes: 0

Latin Descent heroes: 0

Guardian’s of the Galaxy

Line-up: Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, Rocket– wow this one is hard don’t know if we should count half the cast and no one is in their natural look mostly. Let’s go for inclusion and add in– Ronin, Yondu, Korath, Corpsman Dey, and Nova Prime

Male white heroes: 5

Female heroes: 3

African Descent heroes: 2 (Korath and Gamora)

Asian Descent heroes: 1 (Drax)

Latin Descent heroes: 1 (Gamora)

(Note, I don’t have Vin Diesel’s Groot counted in any category– he doesn’t self identify as white/Caucasian but isn’t clearly any other category).

By far Guardian’s is the most diverse of the Marvel films to date. Avenger’s Infinity War looks to be basically the line-ups for Guardian’s and Age of Ultron combined so I am not going to go over that again. . . though we might add Ant Man (male white), Dr. Strange (presumably male-white), Captain Marvel (female), and Black Panther (African descent) by then– or maybe not.

And on to the projected DC films. . .

Justice League

Line-up (presumed): Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern, Shazam

White male heroes: 5 (4 if we get John Stewart Green lantern)

Female heroes: 1

African Descent heroes: 1 (2 with John Stewart)

Asian Descent heroes: 1 (Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman who is Native American and Hawaiian)

Latin Descent heroes: 0

We still don’t have any casting news for the Flash or Green Lantern so those parts could swing into any category.

Suicide Squad– the term “heroes” for this is pretty nebulous since the whole concept of Suicide Squad is “super villains are the heroes”.

Line up: Deadshot, Joker, Harley Quinn, Rick Flagg, Captain Boomerang, Enchantress, Amanda Waller, Killer Croc, Katana

White male heroes: 3

Female heroes: 4

African Descent heroes: 3 (counting Killer Croc)

Asian Descent heroes: 1

Latin Descent heroes: 0

This line up is by far the most female centric, and the shift of making Will Smith Deadshot pretty good inclusion for African Descent heroes here as well. This film also features Katana, the only Asian Descent hero playing a character whose story is typically that of Asian descent.

I’m not going to draw a lot of conclusions beyond the raw numbers– I’ll leave that to more cognizant authors. Just breaking things down and taking a look at where we stand in getting other than while male characters into the MCU and DCU films.