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I had four comics this week; hardly enough to give an accurate idea of what the best and worst comics are.
Since I started picking this book up in November, Amazing Spider-Man has been very close, or has been, my pick of the week. This week is no different. With the second of this book’s two rotating artists, Ramos and Caselli, Caselli has a similar style but unique take on the wall crawler. There are some great action beats that are drawing very well, character moments that are true to those characters, but at the same time it moves them forward. This current arc is about Spider Slayer Alistar Smythe who is back to ruin the life of the beloved J. Jonah Jameson. Naturally JJJ has some moments that highlight his hate for Spider-Man, but also his realization that Spider-Man isn’t the nuisance he makes him out to be. It’s similar to Barney Stinson for How I Met Your Mother, who we all know is a jack ass, but shows moments of sincerity. Slott has been writing some cliffhangers that feel much like a comic book should. He leaves the story at a spot that is logical and makes you want to read the next issue. With a book that is bi-weekly, I don’t have to wait long.
My pick for worst of the week is Thor #619, a book that has been here lately. I am almost done with this book, a book that hardly has any structure, a story that is trying to get back to its former status quo and a book that makes brow raising choices that make you shake your head. The only reason i keep buying this book is Pasquel Ferry. This guy can draw some great fantasy characters and draws Asgardians that look both fantastical and science fictional at the same time. For those who know Thor, know that this is how they character should be drawn. With Marvel changing Thor back to the title characters original book, Journey into Mystery and starting a new Thor series, The Might Thor, written by Fraction and drawn by former Thor artist Oliver Copiel, I may be done with this character for now. Gillen will be writing Journey, and he is a writer I can’t get into, and I haven’t liked what Fraction has done with Thor so far. Sorry Marvel, I am sure you will get lots of new readers with this maneuver, but I probably won’t be one of them.
I also picked up Invincible Iron Man #500. Marvel has decided to amalgamate all the volumes of Iron Man into one and go back to its original numbering, and to celebrate created a huge anniversary issue with three different artists telling two stories: one present and one future. The story was alright; jumping back and forth between the two time periods. However, the art was too wildly inconsistent, especially in the future story where I had no idea what was going on in some panels. Not sure if it was the colouring or the inking, but is seemed rushed and sloppy. The style is meant to be gritty, but this wasn’t pulled off well.
Finally, the last book was my only DC book this week, Brightest Day #18, and I am going to give spoiler warnings here. This issue focuses on the Hawks, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and their involvement in this series up until this point has highlighted the continuity mess that these two characters share. It would take too long to explain it all, so I will take the easy way out and point to a Wikipedia article on Hawkman . Brightest Day #18 finally gets the Hawks to a place where they can finally shed all that past continuity and start fresh, but Johns and Tomsai say that isn’t enough and kill off the characters for good. This May be the first real deaths of DC’s dead is dead that was pronounced by Hal Jordan back in Brightest Day #8. This may also be a way to create a new Hawkman or Hawkgirl that cannot be added to the continuity of the former. Brightest Day is almost over; there are seven issues left and this is book is bi-weekly, so that’s about three months worth of story to go and there is a lot that can happen.
Something happened to me this year in the world of comic books; I started reading more DC comics than I ever have. Before this, I normally read Batman titles and that was pretty much it; maybe some Superman here and there. Last summer though, I started reading a couple of Green Lantern titles as he has been a character I always liked, but never read; and with the Blackest Night right around the corner, it was a good point to jump on. Blackest Night soon started to much fan fare and boasted beautiful art by the talented Ivan Reis, and would last until this past spring. With the final issue at hand, something happened that I didn’t expect. If you haven’t read this series and don’t want anything spoiled, I’d suggest skipping ahead, though I’m not spoiling too much. At the end of issue eight, 12 deceased heroes and villains come back to life. This wasn’t shown in a panel, but on a three page splash that was gate folded into the issue; you can see it here. This gorgeous, and I am sure tedious by Reis, featured almost front and centre the newly revived Aquaman.
Aquaman probably isn’t the most popular of superheroes; a guy whose superpower is that he can talk to fish doesn’t seem to be too useful. I was one of the many who thought he was kind of silly: could talk to fish, swim really fast, wore orange and green. What about this guy was appealing? Though once I saw this huge splash page, I started looking at Aquaman in a whole different light.
My interest was piqued even more when one of Newsarama’s blog Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. had an entry about Aquaman. This blog discusses the history of a superheroes costume, highlighting what works and what doesn’t work for particular heroes, and giving a brief history of the character themselves along the way. If Ivan Reis three page splash made me take notice of how cool Aquaman can look, Alan Kistler’s blog post of the work wear of the King of Atlantis changed my whole perspective on how awesome Aquaman can be.
Aquaman, like many superheroes, especially DC heroes, has a very convoluted history; just check out this great comic by the guys at Let’s be Friends Again. What made me really take a shine to Arthur Curry was his Silver Age origin, which is Arthur being born to lighthouse keeper Tom Curry and Atlantean outcast Atlanna. Aquaman then is half human and half Atlantean; he is a man who is a part of both worlds, and in the comics became King of one.
I took a lot of literary theory in University; I considered it my focus. One of my favourite theorists is Jacques Derrida, who looked at, among many theories, was this notion of Binary Oppositions, and how the western world has a tendency to view the world in one or the other: man/ woman, life/ death, black/ white, etc. These are just simple examples, but they show can’t find a middle ground essentially. A great, and fitting, example of this is the beach. It is a place that occupies both land and water, but we want it to be one or the other. This has to do with Aquaman that he represents a Binary Opposition; he can’t be considered human or atlantean, but again we have this tendency to make him atlantean more than human. He is the King of the seas after all.
What I love about this is that there is the possibility to have such a rich character. Now it is possible that this has been an avenue that has been explored in the comics, but I have just begun my forray into Aquaman comics, so I’ll have to wait and see. What I also love about Aquaman now is his costume. After reading Kistler’s many posts on superhero costumes, I really have started to see how a superhero’s costume is part of the language of superheroes, and at times is the most important part of the superhero as it is a readers/ viewers initial contact with them and can tell what they represent. Looking back at my first part of my Superman article (there will be more, I promise), a lot can be said by the blue and red that Supes established as what a heroes wears/ represents.
Going back to the last paragraph, heroes are in opposition to villains; the middle ground being that anti-hero, who we often place closer to the hero side of the line. Even superhero costumes are in opposition to each others; red and blue versus green and purple, or primary versus secondary colours. Aquaman, a hero, wears secondary colours: orange and green. One could almost label him a villain, but he acts for the good of the people, and has blonde hair instead of black, another colour that is often associated with villainy (the Black Knight, Darth Vader). For me, Aquaman’s orange and green costume is great (he has had a few different costumes), as it not only lets people see him while he is swimming (Kistler), try seeing a hero wear red and blue in the water and be well noticed (though Aquaman’s sidekick Aqualad wore a red shirt and blue shorts, seemingly negating that argument, but a sidekick is supposed to be seen with their mentor, and in the case of Aquaman and Aqualad, Aquaman will be noticeable enough for the both of them), but more importantly allows him to represent a different type of hero, one that accurately reflects a particular dichotomy that he has.
There is a lot of potential in Aquaman, but he is a character that is often seen as second tier, even though he is one of the founding members of the JLA. There aren’t many characters who are similar to him, not like there are a number who are similar to Superman, so he can’t be shadowed by another Aquaman type character. Though his lower popularity may come from the space in which he operates; the sea. If you look at a character like Batman or Spider-Man, they operate within a space that is easily recognizable and is something we can obviously relate to; New York City (or the variation known as Gotham). But how many of us are that relatable to the depths of the ocean? Also, any good hero is surrounded by a great group of villains and supporting class. Again, look at Batman and Spider-Man and their villains and supporting cast; Aquaman just doesn’t have this. I can think of two Aquaman villains off the top of my head: Ocean Master, Arthur’s half, all human brother, and Back Manta, who I also believe is human. Aquaman’s supporting cast is small, mainly consisting of his wife from a water dimension, Mera, his ward Aqualad, and at one point, his baby, who is killed by Ocean Master. So it’s easy to see how Aquaman can be one of the least popular of the Justice League.
Where’s Aquaman now though? Why he is one of many heroes making waves in the bi-weekly Brightest Day, and is currently caught in the middle of the fight for the new Aqualad. He can also be seen is several TV shows, such as the latest episode of Smallville, and the cartoons The Brave and the Bold and Young Justice, where Aqualad is a main character (and who kicks ass by the way). In all these stories though, he is a supporting character, or at the very most, one of many headliners. But what would it take for Aquaman to be a main player in the DC universe? What would have to happen for him to get there?
There are two options here; one, getting Aquaman to be a big player in the regular DC universe, and two starting from scratch in one of DC’s 52 earths. The first option could prove to be harder as Aquaman has an established set of powers, settings and position within the regular DCU, but there are ways to help Arthur Curry out. Looking back at two revivals of DC characters, Green Lantern and Batman, These books started to build in a community within themselves and unleash that community on to the larger DCU. Yes Batman has always had a community that was bigger at times then the rest of the DCU combined, but over the past few years that community has changed to the point of Batman, Inc., which looks at the adventures of a world traveling Batman. Green Lantern however went from one sole GL, Kyle Raynar, to the rebirth of Hal Jordan and the entire Corp, which lead to a new GL ongoing, which produced another ongoing, Green Lantern, Corps, and Geoff Johns brought in a slew of other coloured corps and brought it all ahead to Blackest Night. It got to a point where Green Lantern titles were selling more than Batman titles. This all came down to building a community, a relatable one, that could function within the regular DCU, and matter.
The same could be done with Aquaman, and given that Geoff Johns is also working on Brightest Day, which Aquaman is a big part of, it looks like a building of Aquaman’s community is already in motion. There is a new Aqualad, who is the son of Black Manta, and has an origin that is tied to the dimension that Arthur’s wife is from. Even a number of denizens of that dimension are looking for the boy, and we also learn that Mera was originally sent there to kill Aquaman, but she fell in love. So there is certainly a foundation being laid for a larger community, and with the addition of Aqualad, there may be something relatable here for readers to attach themselves too. I hope that once Brightest Day is done, there is at the very least a mini-series highlighting Aquaman and the new Aqualad that will further build upon this notion of community, and maybe it will play with this idea of a man (Aqualad) being of two worlds and trying to fit in.
The second option however requires a bit more ground work, but would essentially be easier to implement, as this Aquaman would be set in a new/ alternate DCU. With Earth One being DC’s answer to Marvel’s Ultimate line, and Superman Earth One already out and Batman Earth One coming soon, this new DCU could prove to be a great place to bring in an updated version of Aquaman. I think though that the best place to begin with is choosing an origin for Arthur. As my personal favourite origin for Aquaman is being born of half man half atlantean so the son of a lighthouse keeper and altantean outcast. I would even go as far to entwine some of his 80’s origin, being the son of a atlantean wizard and on his birth Orin (Arthur’s Atlantean name) was outcast because he had blonde hair. This would be a nice touch to use because it will keep Arthur an outcast once he meets other atlanteans. The next step is to determine what Atlantis is, and who the atlanteans are. This is probably one of the most important pieces when developing a new Aquaman because Atlantis needs to be different from the rest of the world. Atlanteans can’t just be people who swim and breathe in water and look like regular people. The 80’s mini series I am reading has castles underwater, and this just doesn’t seem right, as Atlantis really needs to be a place of wonder.
If Aquaman is going to be a book of oppositions, then Atlantis will have to be almost opposed to the US; maybe not 100% different, but I see Atlantis being very similar to the Orient. Further to this, it needs to be decided how Atlanteans live in Atlantis; do they solely live under water or is Atlantis going to be what we see now, a bubbled City under the water were atlanteans can walk on land and breathe in water. This too can make all the difference in the world. If Atlanteans do not have a bubbled city, much like they do in the Marvel Universe, they will need to develop skills and abilities that make sense to that setting. For instance, how does one communicate under water? For Aquaman’s Atlantis, the best thing maybe either a sort of telepathy, or they could be empathetic, ala Diana Troy. A communication system that is used by emotions with everything around, including creatures of the sea would give Aquaman his ability to talk to the fish but without really talking. Because Emotions are so important for communication the atlanteans would need keep their emotions at bay to convey the appropriate meaning of any conversation. Imagine someone of that world with unchecked emotions, it could create some tension, which stories love. Also, atlanteans will need a certain look if they live in just water. They will need gills, probably webbed feet and/or hands to swim better. Will they have a “land” skin tone or will they develop tones like other fish, or will they have some scales. One could go all out on the vast differences that Atlantis could provide, and could be. This would also give Aquaman some things, like web feet for example, that will make him slightly different from other humans, but this begs the question, if humans and atlanteans are so different, how can Arthur be boring to a man and an atlantean?
So there will have to be a combination of the bubbled city and the underwater breathing, and that could be accomplished as to why there are human like creatures who live in the water. The best way this might be accomplished is through the Myth of Atlantis falling into the ocean. This could be accomplished in any number of ways. Something that may be neat through is to see that Atlantis was very technically driven and that technology caused them to sink or be destroyed into the ocean, and only those who were connected spiritually/ magically were saved, which seems very rapturesque. But this could really let Atlantis be a cautionary tale for the rest of the world, while also giving another example of opposition. Even this mysticism could be a way for explaining the abilities that atlanteans have, like their connection to sea life, ability to breathe underwater; it could even give them the ability to manipulate water just as Mera does, or the Aquaman in the Brave and the Bold.
Finally, what would Arthur Curry be like as Aquaman. I think it be best to take the Spider-Man route and start Arthur off as a teenager and take the hero’s journey to becoming King of Atlantis. He’d start as a hero on land and move to being a hero of both sea and land to finally being the King, highlighting the different ends of the oppositions that his half and half heritage gives him. In regard to powers, this Aquaman would benefit from superhuman durability, strength and speed that being a creature of the vast depths of the sea would give him. He wouldn’t have durability or strength on par of Superman, or the speed of the Flash, but he would be bullet proof (he’d have to survive the enormous amounts of pressure the deeper in the ocean he goes) and his strength would allow him to pick up heavier objects and run quite fast, and would obviously give him great speed in water (just as superman can fly faster than he run). This wouldn’t be much different from the powers he has now, but they should highlighted more while he is on land.
As mentioned earlier, Aquaman’s power to talk to fish is one that does receive much ridicule, but it does offer a great premises, one I offered earlier; give him the ability to detect empathy in sea creatures and at some point, the ability to at some point direct his feelings towards them. If Arthur needed help from his underwater friends, he could use an emotion of fear, which could have his anything in his vicinity come to his aid. The last power I would give him is one that the Aquaman of the Brave and the Bold has, and the new Aqualad has, and that is the ability to control water; much like the water benders do in the Nick show Avatar: The Last Airbender. If we create the Atlanteans as a shamanistic type race, they will have control over nature to some degree, and controlling water would be a natural progression of that. Much like the Aqualad of the Young Justice cartoon, and Katara from the Last Airbender, Aquaman could carry water on him to use as a weapon. because Water is too such an important aspect of Aquaman’s powers, much like Superman and the yellow sun, the longer Aquaman is out of water the weaker his powers get, but this needs to be a substantile time, not like an hour, more like days. Aquaman needs to be a creature of both land and sea with a slight push towards the later.
Arthur’s costume would remain largely unchanged. The combo of orange and green is too iconic for him to change, but there could be some changes to his current DCU costume to change. I Love Aquaman’s costume in Young Justice. It’s a combination of a lot of different looks he has had (see photo), but the beard from his one-handed days and the gold gauntlets really emphasises that he is the King of the seas. I also like that he has no gloves and that his feet are mostly bare; it makes sense for a man who swims a lot to have these much-needed swimming “tools” exposed. But I wouldn’t give this look to Arthur quite yet, maybe for when he becomes king. for his initial look, give him the orange tunic with 3/4 sleeves, and green pants, but no gloves or boots. At some point he may learn to keep water on him and may need some kind of pack to keep it in. He just needs a simple costume that one can add to as the character grows into king. And since Arthur will be a superhero he may need a secret identity, at least for a while. He may have to go the Superman route, but this is one thing I still need to think about.
So there is my take(s) on Aquaman, one of my increasingly favourite superheroes. If you’ve read this whole post, thanks, if you just read why I have become a fan of him, thanks too. I doubt many will see the post, and I doubt anyone at DC will and take my ideas seriously, but it’s always fun to re invent characters, and with Aquaman I really see him as a character that could be both parts Harry Potter and Star Wars that a community could be built around. Even if never get to see an idea like mine come to fruition, I hope that DC makes Aquaman a bigger player in the DCU.
But before we get into the how, we must look at why does Superman need to be modernized, or even should he be modernized. There has been much talk in the comic book community that the Man of Steel needs an upgrade, not only in costume, but in ideals and stature. Why? Essentially people think that Superman is out of touch with today. Now it’s not that DC hasn’t tried to update Supes; as of late there has been a new graphic novel, Superman Earth One (which I will discuss in a bit) and Christopher Nolan is producing a new Superman film written by David Goyer and to be directed by Zack Snyder. Superman Earth One puts a young Clark Kent on a soul search in Metropolis when aliens attack in a new in continuity story, and David Goyer has found a way to make Superman matter, but we don’t know what that is yet. And in DC proper, Superman is currently walking around the US reconnecting with the American people in a story by J Michael Stazinski (who wrote Superman Earth One and who actually just left Superman and Wonder Woman to work on the sequel to Earth One). This is Superman essentially getting back in touch with the American Way, and important aspect of the Man of Steel. Now JMS‘ grounded arc was to lead into the Superman story that he wanted to tell, now with him gone we may not see that story, though he has left his notes with Superman’s new writer, Chris Robinson.
With Superman trying to get in touch with America, or finding himself, or whatever Nolan and crew are working on, are these the best way to modernize the Blue Boy Scout? JMS has been criticized for both his Earth One and grounded stories for ignoring key elements to the Superman mythos, but his Earth One graphic novel has sold really well outside the direct market. And with Nolan and Goyer’s track record on the new Batman films, it almost seems like this film could rival Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978), but until it comes out in 2012, we will have to wait and see. One of the questions I have to ask though is, does Superman need a drastic overhaul or just a paint job? I guess that depends on DC. The man is an icon, not only in America, but around the word, and maybe that’s where we should start; why is Superman an icon and can you change an icon.
Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in June of 1938, and he was something the world had never seen before. Sure there were heroes; there pulp heroes of the early 30s, folk heroes such as Robin Hood or even heroes in mythology, like Hercules, but Superman was something new; almost. Superman was created by Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist and Canadian born), and was designed to be a hero with the strength of Hercules and other Greek and Roman gods (see this is where my almost comes into play), but something was different. Superman wore a costume that hadn’t really been seen before. It played off of elements of wrestlers, but with the addition of the shield logo and a cape, as well as an origin from a doomed planet, Superman became a new kind of hero; a superhero. This was just the beginning.
With Action Comics #1 a hit, soon other comic publishers wanted in on the superhero craze, and this is where the iconic part comes in. Soon there were a number of superheroes flooding the market, and several were direct copies of Supes himself. Characters like Fox’s Wonderman, who was an exact replica of Superman, and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, challenged the Man of Tomorrow for the top superhero spot, but neither of these characters would last long. Wonderman only lasted one issue, due to copyright; DC went after Fox and had them pull their superhero out of the book. Captain Marvel however, while had the same powers as Superman, had a completely different origin. Where Superman got his powers from science, the yellow son infused him with power, Captain Marvel received his from the wizard Shazam, and his powers were based on seven Greek gods. Superman, Wonderman and Captain Marvel all had an alter ego, Superman and Wonderman were news reporters for a paper, but Captain Marvel was just tiny Billy Batson, who just happened to work as a radio news reporter. Batson would become Captain Marvel when he shouted the word Shazam. Captain Marvel is said to have sold more comics in the 1940s than Superman did, and I think this was because he was a child turning into a hero where Superman was always an adult. Fawcett however finally stopped publishing Captain Marvel after a law suit for copyright infringement from DC.
Let’s look at his costume quickly. Superman was designed to stand out, to be different from pulps heroes in the other comics. If we compare him to those pulp heroes they mostly wore trench coats, hoods and domino masks, and aside from The Phantom (created in 1936) they weren’t that colourful. Superman dressed like wrestler of the 30s; underwear on the outside, bright colours (blue and red), skin tight suit and a cape, which was very different for that time period (the Shadow did have a type of cape, but it was more in vein of an overcoat than a cape), and to top it all off, Superman wore a Shield on his chest with the letter S on it. Superman’s logo has in itself become just as iconic, and really represents what Superman is about; a flag. Superman represents the ultimate immigrant making a name for himself in American culture, but Superman also upholds the values of America, hard work, honesty, faithfulness and justice (though this last one I always find kind of tricky). This mentality can be seen the most during World War II, when a number of American themed heroes fought the Axis well before the US entered the war. When the US finally entered the war at the end of 1941, many troops carried with them comic books of their beloved heroes fighting along with them. At a time of war, what’s more American than fighting for freedom against the truest form of evil that has ever been seen with superheroes by your side? I think the only answer is nothing.
So Superman creates more superheroes through reflection; reflection in powers (Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman), reflection in look (how many superheroes do you know that wear red and blue) and reflection in values (Wonder Woman, Captain America). But Superman also creates superheroes through negation, or the shadow. The shadow works in two ways: one, its represents something the archetype is not, and two, it is often the opposite of the archetype itself, and this one mostly occurs in the nemesis. Two prominent shadows of the early superhero days are Batman, a superhero who doesn’t have superpowers, who fights for a different type of justice (street justice vs national justice), who wears a darker blue and no red, and has his face covered were Superman does not (more on this later). The other shadow figure is Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor. Luthor, like Batman, doesn’t have superpowers, but hates Superman because he inspires people to do good, and wants to save the world in his own way. And here something interesting happens. Lex does build a suit that gives him strength, it’s the only way he can match Superman in a physical level; a suit that is powered at one time by Kryptonite. This suit is coloured purple and green and looking at it in today’s modern eyes looks somewhat old, but even the colours that Luthor chooses are the opposite of Superman’s. Where the Man of Steel wears primary colours (red and blue) Lex wears secondary colours (green and purple). Now I want you to think of all the heroes that wear red and blue, or variations of it (mainly the blue though) and look at all the villains that wear green and purple; yup, there are a lot. Look at Spider-Man for this.
Superman is then an icon because he was the first superhero, and every other superhero and villain that has come since them, is a reflection or shadow of him in someway. Also, as further you go down this line, you get reflections of reflections, shadows of shadows, reflection of shadows and shadows of reflection. Some superheroes today might seem like they have no relation to Superman, but go back far enough and they do. Now I will also offer a counter point to this and say that Superman himself is a reflection and a shadow of previous heroes, which include the pulp heroes of the 30s, as well as heroes of folk and mythology. Superman answers to a larger archetype, the hero, and many superheroes answer to other archetypes as well, such as Spider-Man and the trickster hero. Ultimately though Superman, through his creation as a reflection shadow of what has come before him creates an archetype of the superhero by offering up a take on the hero not seen, either before or in some time. Superman is an icon because he was first, but because he was first, does he need to be modern?
I’ll post part 2 of this article next week looking at when Superman has been modern.
It’s Monday, so it’s time for my pull list! It’s another DC week for me; lots of Brightest Day stuff, including Brightest Bay. It’s nice to see The Flash back; Francis Manapul is one of my favorite artist right now. He makes his pages really move, and you know I love that in my comic art. This issue is also the last in the first arc by Johns and Manapul. The other Brightest Day title is Green Lantern#59. This title has been okay since the end of Blackest Night. I’m really waiting for Hal to get back to being a space cop, which I hope is soon. The last title I am picking up is the first issue of Batman Inc. I wasn’t initially going to get this book, as I noted earlier, but after Batman and Robin #16 and the final of the Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman’s new status quo seems to interesting to pass up.
It’s Monday, and it’s time to look at what I will be picking up this week. Check out my picks at iFanboy. I have a pretty big week with a good mix of Marvel, DC and Vertigo. Most looking forward to Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos‘ Amazing Spider-Man #648. It’s kind of new a creative team, but it’s a whole brand new story! I appreciate those who got the joke. I also decided to pick up a book i just read the preview for, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 by Nick Spencer, a new writer who’s been making the rounds as of late. The Return of Bruce Wayne also come out this week, and it’s the last issue of the six issue mini-series, and coupled with last weeks Batman &Robin #16 pushes the Batman titles to its next phase; Batman Inc.
I can’t wait for Wednesday.