Batman #243 picks up the ongoing Ra’s al Ghul storyline from the previous issue without missing a step –and with the welcome return to the proceedings of Ra’s’ co-creator, artist Neal Adams, who contributes the comic’s fine cover prior to rejoining writer Denny O’Neil and inker Dick Giordano for the story within.
As regular readers of this blog will recall, by the conclusion of the preceding episode the Darknight Detective had put together a small team of aides to help him take down his nemesis. The rather reluctant members of this unit include Dr. Harris Blaine, a scientist; Lo Ling, a former operative of Ra’s al Ghul himself; and “Matches” Malone, a Gotham City gangster. Or so at least it seems on the surface; in actuality, the real “Matches” is dead, and the man Blaine and Ling know by that name is none other than Batman himself in disguise. Which begs the question of how “Matches” and Batman can currently be in the same place at the same time…
I’m not sure quite what the point of having Batman and Lo Ling bound together in the first place was, if Bats immediately cutting himself free as he does above is no big deal. Oh well, it did make for a cool cover image…
Neal Adams’ skillful staging of this scene is, as always, a joy to behold, even if the ultimate outcome of the fight is never in doubt.
Yep, it’s Robin, the Teen Wonder, wearing an amazingly convincing “inflatable body stocking”. Rob is happy to have come down from Hudson University to help out his mentor, but he’s nevertheless curious about just what’s going on, and understandably so. After all, Batman has gone to the extreme of faking the death of Bruce Wayne (so that Ra’s can’t use his knowledge of Bats’ secret identity against him), as well as staging this charade of posing as a deceased criminal (so that he can… um… actually, your humble blogger still has no idea about that one). It’s no biggie, says Batman. “Just a small-potatoes caper I can handle solo — with no strain!”
It’s only after saying goodbye to his ward and protégé that our hero reflects on why he’s decided not to tell Robin that he’s decided to go after “the most dangerous criminal genius I’ve ever met”. It’s because he knows Robin would insist on coming along, and he doesn’t want to take the risk of them both dying in the venture. “If I don’t… survive… it’ll be up to Robin to carry on the tradition of the Batman! Maybe I’m overly proud… in feeling it’s a good tradition!”
You noticed that shadow symbolizing Batman’s “spirit“, right? Of course you did.
“Matches” tells Blaine not to sweat it — he’s only along in the event that “Rassy-baby springs a scientific-type surprise“, and won’t be expected to get his knuckles bruised.
The story now jumps ahead eleven hours, to the team’s arrival in Switzerland:
Denny O’Neil never spells out just why our hero ditches his “Matches” disguise and changes to Batman as soon as his group has cleared customs; I suppose we’ll have to assume that his eye caught a glimpse of Talia and/or Ubu in the crowd.
Is it an incredible coincidence that Batman and co. just happen to run into a young woman who not only has an excellent personal reason to want to help take down Ra’s, but is also an accomplished athlete, ready for action? Of course it is; but this story was in desperate need of a female presence other than Talia’s, in my opinion, so I’m going to allow it.
At this point, we’re clearly in James Bond movie territory — more specifically, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service territory — though, as we’ve noted previously, O’Neil claimed not to have been consciously influenced by the Bond films (or novels) in crafting his Ra’s al Ghul narratives.
Hardly have Batman and Ling taken out these two guards than our intrepid little band starts to take machine-gun fire from above; luckily, the sharp-eyed Molly notices sunlight glinting off one of the guns and shouts a warning in time for the group to take cover behind the cable car.
I am by no means a chemistry expert, nevertheless, I feel I have to express some skepticism about this last bit. If sodium-19 really is so extremely volatile that its merely coming into contact with water creates a large, violent explosion, would Ra’s take the risk of transporting it across the snowy waste in such easily handled (or dropped) bars? But, hey, at least the incident has allowed Dr. Blaine’s scientific expertise to be of some use… finally.
If this were a vintage James Bond movie, Batman’s being “impressed” by Molly would undoubtedly lead to some sexual shenanigans (PG-rated, naturally) between the two before the end of the adventure — Talia or no Talia. But here, that’s never going to happen, because even if Molly were to indicate an interest in such sport, Denny O’Neil’s Batman is just not that kind of guy — by which I don’t mean that he’s too morally upright to engage in casual hanky-panky, but rather that, in O’Neil’s view, the Caped Crusader’s sex drive is so thoroughly sublimated to his obsessive mission that it might as well not exist (or, at least, such had been the case prior to his meeting — and being “stirred” by — Talia al Ghul).
Arriving at the doors to Ra’s’ stronghold, Batman orders the others to hang back while he enters alone. Within, he finds a familiar, if unfriendly, face:
Um, Bats? Actually, Ubu put his foot in the back of your head, then shoved your face into the… y’know what? Never mind.
In this saga’s previous chapter in Batman #242, Ra’s al Ghul hadn’t appeared at all, save as a still image on a screen. Now, over 20 pages into issue #243, he finally shows up in person — and he’s dead?
I can’t speak for any of this story’s other original readers, but back in June, 1972, my fourteen-year-old self definitely did not see this coming. I mean, I didn’t even know the guy was sick.
Revisiting this comic for the first time in some years, I’m struck by how the whole Lazarus Pit business comes out of nowhere in the final four pages, without the least bit of foreshadowing. O’Neil had given no sign of a hint in any of Ra’s al Ghul’s previous appearances that Ra’s might be facing death (when I complained above that I didn’t even know he was sick, I wasn’t entirely joking). Nor, to the best of my recollection, has there been any indication that the villain has enjoyed an exceptionally long lifespan — at least not until Talia’s remarks on page 21, which come a little too late in the game to count. Basically, there has been zero setup for this major plot development; rather, it seems as if O’Neil came up with the idea so late in the process of writing issue #243’s script that his deadline precluded his going back and building in a few hints earlier in the narrative — but recognizing that the idea was just too good to leave out, he forged ahead and wrote it in at the end anyway.
He was right, of course. Ever since this issue, the Lazarus Pit has been one of the defining aspects of Ra’s al Ghul as a villain — one of those things that everyone familiar with the comic-book incarnation of the character knows about — as well as a significant piece of DC Universe lore that pops up frequently, even in stories that have nothing specifically to do with Ra’s. And the concept had that impact despite the haphazard, almost perfunctory manner in which it was introduced.
Part of that impact is due without question to O’Neil’s script, which — in its final pages, at least — is expertly paced; but a great deal of it, I think, has to be attributed to Adams’ visualization of the scene. In particular, the second and final panel on page 23 is remarkably potent in conveying Ra’s’ dangerous madness; I’d go so far as to say that it may be one of the most indelible images ever created by an artist whose long (but not long enough) career was full of them.
This post is being published on what would have been Neal Adams’ 81st birthday, and is the first post I’ve written focusing on a comic featuring his work since his death on April 28th of this year. So it seems doubly appropriate to say a few words here at its end about his life and legacy.
The thing is, I’m not sure I have much to add to what’s already been said about his creative contribution to the comics field in the last six weeks, by many others more eloquent than myself. Or to what I myself have previously written in multiple posts on this blog, going back to the fall of 2017, covering the period that he was most prolific as a creator in the comic-book medium. Taking a glance at the size of Neal Adams’ name in the tag cloud (scroll down to the bottom of your screen if you’re not sure what I’m talking about), I’ve written as much about him as I have any other creator (yes, even Jack Kirby) — and even if other names grow in proportion to his in the years to come, I feel pretty certain that few, if any, will ever eclipse his.
There is one important aspect of Neal Adams’ career I haven’t previously discussed on the blog, however, and that’s his decades-spanning efforts on behalf of creator rights. Most fans are familiar with his role in helping Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gain recognition and compensation from DC in the late ’70s, but his work in this area continued well past that milestone — and preceded it as well. As president of the Academy of Comic Book Arts from 1971 until its dissolution in 1977, Adams strove to redirect the organization from being primarily a promotional, awards-giving honorary society to a group advocating for better working conditions, page rates, and benefits for comics creators. But while the early years of Adams’ ACBA service falls within the time frame covered by this blog, his efforts there didn’t directly impact the work he did on individual comic books (at least, not to my knowledge), and so it hasn’t come up for discussion before now. I’m pleased to be able to redress that omission with this post (though naturally I wish it were under different circumstances).
The other thought I’ve had in regards to Neal Adams’ passing has to do with its timing; specifically, its occurring a full half century after the artist had begun to significantly scale back the amount of work he was doing for comic books. As I’ve written elsewhere, in the four to five years leading up to 1972, Adams had produced between six to twelve covers for DC Comics virtually every month, in addition to illustrating a more than respectable number of stories for both DC and Marvel during that same period. But beginning around the middle of ’72 — the very period currently being explored by this blog — Adams largely left his DC cover work behind (the main exception being for comics where he’d also drawn the stories); and while the decline in his story production wasn’t quite as dramatic, it was happening, nonetheless. This was almost certainly due to the greater demands placed on Adams’ time by Continuity Associates, the commercial art firm he’d founded with Dick Giordano the year before; but regardless of the reasons, comics fans would never again see the rate of output from this fan-favorite artist to which we’d become accustomed.
Not that this was obvious at the time it was happening — or, at least, it wasn’t obvious to my younger self. I’m sure it must have registered on me that we were suddenly getting a whole lot fewer Neal Adams covers from DC than we had been, but since I didn’t buy comics just for their covers, that didn’t seem like such a big deal. I had no idea that Neal Adams comics stories were about to become a good deal scarcer than they had been; indeed, in June, 1972, I passed on buying Flash #217, despite the fact that it had Adams’ art in it. Why? Because there were only 10 pages of Adams’ art in the book (the “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” backup story), and I didn’t think that was a very good deal for my 20 cents. After all, it wasn’t like there wouldn’t be plenty more Neal Adams stories where that came from, right? In fact, however, there wouldn’t be — at least not when compared with his previous rate of output. If only we’d known.
Compare to early 2022 — a time when fans had become accustomed to seeing new projects from Neal Adams appear every year or so, ever since 2010’s launch of his Batman: Odyssey miniseries. OK, maybe he was no longer working at the peak of his powers, but still, Neal Adams, right? And when you looked at the guy, he hardly seemed to have aged since the late 1970s. Surely there’d be plenty more Neal Adams comic book stories to come.
If only we’d known.
The thing that gets me about this story and the many stories like it, in which Batman recruits a crew of talented civilians to chase down Ra’s or whoever the villain du jour happens to be, is that at some point, he always bemoans his choices, saying, as he does here on pg 18, “I hate risking their lives this way. And for a lesser cause, I wouldn’t!” when the reality is, the only reason he has to recruit civilians at all is because it’s a story and in particular, a Batman story. In a more realistic approach, Batman would pick up the phone and call the JLA for back-up, or just Superman for that matter…or to keep it “in-house,” the whole gol-dern Bat Family and keep the civvies out of it completely. You notice how worried he is about keeping the well-trained Robin out of this, but he has no real problem throwing a group of amatuers to the wolves. But of course, this is funny-book logic, and a super-hero team-up is not the kind of story O’Neil wants to tell, so he doesn’t. Hindsight is a marvelous thing and I’m sure we can all think of ways O’Neil could have handled this to make more sense, but we have no idea the context of writing the story or what else O’Neil had going on at the time, so who are we to judge?
This issue is actually buried alive in funny-book logic if you look at it. For all of O’Neil’s prowess as a writer and story-teller, he takes some ridiculous short cuts here. As you pointed out, Alan, the entire use of the Matches Malone identity, which certainly becomes iconic in years to come for Batman, makes no sense here at all and only makes what Bats is doing even more difficult. Then, of course, you have the ridiculous coincidence of running into Talia and Ubu (sit, Ubu, sit!) at the airport and THEN, the even bigger coincidence of the meeting with Molly. We just so happen to meet a beautiful, Olympically-trained young woman with a hard-on for Ra’s at the airport? Really? And who in their right mind attacks Batman, fer crissakes, for man-handling a woman? First of all, I’m not sure I’d call grabbing Talia by the wrist as man-handling; I guess it depends on how hard she was fighting him, and secondly, what kind of crazy person hits somebody over the head with a pair of ski’s over it? Especially when that “someone” is Batman? Funny-book logic. It’ll get you where you need to be, but you’ll need to count your fingers and toes and check your wallet once you arrive.
As to the end, I wonder if there’s any contention between O’Neil and Adams as to who created the Lazarus Pit, Alan? The way it’s introduced here, I wouldn’t be suprised if Adams didn’t just draw it in and O’Neil had to figure out a way for it to make some kind of sense in the last couple of pages.
Don’t get me wrong. I remember this story fondly and it’s one of my favorites of the time. Ra’s al Ghul and the whole Batman/Talia thing is brilliant and is still paying dividends today (Damian Wayne, anyone?) Despite the funny-book logic, it’s well-written and paced and of course, beautifully drawn, but looking back with fifty years of hindsight, it’s hard to look at it objectively without several WTF moments.
Thanks for the tribute to Adams as well, Alan. The man was a giant both on the page and off and we shall not see his like again.
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“As to the end, I wonder if there’s any contention between O’Neil and Adams as to who created the Lazarus Pit, Alan? ”
Not to my knowledge, Don.
I agree with the previous comments. Enjoyable but with enough plot loopholes to drive a Batmobile through.
Ling, Blaine, and Molly aren’t even necessary to the story. Batman could’ve handled all the action himself. They seem to be there just to give Batman someone to talk to.
I almost wonder if O’Neil wrote a Marvel-style plot and Adams filled in the details. Or if Adams plotted it and O’Neil had to make it work. It feels cobbled together compared to O’Neil’s usual work. Like someone said “Do a Bond story starring Batman” and O’Neil struggled with the challenge.
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I’d never heard of sodium-19 – and I have a doctorate I chemistry. I’ve just looked it up and it does exist! However, it is unstable and has a half life of only 40 nanoseconds so I can’t see that it would stick around long enough to be made into a rod for any use. However, I remember buying this one back in 72 and being surprised and shocked by the Lazarus pit at the end of the story and also by the expression on Ras’s face. I couldn’t wait for issue 244. Looking forward to your review of that, especially the cover, that entranced me at the time.
Thanks for the Neal Adams tribute. I missed all of his Brave and Bold issues but still have many of his Avengers, Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics, they are amongst the most prized of my 50+ years collection.
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Thanks for the info about sodium-19, Brian!
Attractive young redhead named Molly interacting with Batman….are we talking Jill St John tribute here?
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Hmm… seems possible, B!
I was thinking Molly reminded me of Jill St John as Tiffany Case from Diamonds Are Forever (attractive, short red hair, trying to help the hero, around 1971) before Alan mentioned the setting was similar to the Bond movie, OHMSS. I hadn’t thought of Molly being like… Molly from Batman 66. That’s all quite a coincidence.
As long as I’m commenting, I have to say I find it ludicrous that because Ling can’t harm Ra’s because Ra’s saved him, that he must try to KILL the other guy, Batman, that saved his life. What kind of code is that! When Batman spares his life, Ling says, “Twice you spared me! Batman… I am your servant– forever!” He should have added, “…I mean, unless Ra’s saves me a second time, then I’ll have to try to kill you again.”
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Several have commented on the really superfluous use of Linn, Molly and Blain. I think the reason they’re included, along with forgoing the Wayne identity charade, is to separate this trio of comics from others that had gone before. By taking these dramatic and unusual steps O’Neil is signaling that this adventure is more dire, more life changing than Batman’s previous adventures. Now whether this is mere hyperbole or achieves this goal is of course up to the reader. I myself, at the time, felt that was the case. This wasn’t just another Batman story. This was intensity on a new level, again in my 13 year old mind.
I also want to comment on the notion that Ras al Ghul’s death should have been foreshadowed or at least hinted at. No! No! This twist, the heroes charging forward to do battle only to find the villain is deceased, why I can’t recall a single instance of this clever turnabout technique in literature or comics and I read…a lot.
Several commented on the comic book logic and I get that. Especially Molly clobbering Batman, sheer ridiculousness. A lot of it owes to the fact you only have 23 or 24 pages (or less) to work with. So shortcuts abound. In modern comics of course these sort of events would be stretched out over 8 or 9 issues, allowing for the puffery of multiple single panel pages and the dearth of dialogue per page i find so annoying. In the norms of comics in this era though I think these issues stand out and stand the test of time.
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The recent death of Neal Adams reminded me that by 1972 my 15 year old self had stopped buying “Batman” and “Detective Comics” as I didn’t like the artwork of Bob Brown, Irv Novick and Neal Adams !!. Yet my collection boasted many issues attributed to “Bob Kane”, which we now know was really Sheldon Moldoff. Years later, older and wiser, I had reached the conclusion that Adams was indeed THE Batman artist and had to pursue back issues at much greater cost in what was the pre internet days (no Ebay then !). This issue was one I purchased much later than the release date.
Oh, if I could go back and tell myself that the “awful” artwork (as I saw it then) on the Brave and the Bold issue teaming Batman and Deadman (which was the first interior art by Adams I’d seen) was a stroke of genius, I would have bought all the issues of “The Brave and the Bold”, “Batman” and “Detective Comics” I could have got my hands on !.
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Loved this issue and how it led into 244 which I still feel was Denny’s, Neal’s, and Dick’s finest moment in comics and a landmark of the medium in the 1970s.
When I rewatched the original “The Pink Panther” film of 1963 some years ago I was struck by how Princess Dala/Claudia Cardinale and her servant Saloud/James Lanphier bore a more than passing resemblance to Talia and Ra’s al Ghul. I wonder if Neal Adams took a visual cue from them at all. Besides, this film had a ‘Bond-style’ ski chase before “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” did.
In interviews, though, Neal has alluded to Ra’s being loosely based on Christopher Lee when he had portrayed Dracula.
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I remember this issue very well and it was probably one of the last I read before the Agnes flood. However, I might have also read it in a reprint issue since then. A number of commenters have criticized Batman’s use of civilians here as puzzling and a waste of time. There’s also been criticisms of wild “comic book logic” (I mean, come on, more than half of all comic books probably have this). It is undoubtedly true that when I re-read these stories 50 years on the absurdities are obvious and there are parts that I now recognize are cringeworthy (I mean, how can you help it reading them in your sixties?). However, I am rereading them primarily as a nostalgic exercise and I find it more fun to rememember my feelings about the books when I first read them.
Now some flaws I DID recognize in the stories when I first read them (e.g., how awful Gerry Conway’s Mr. Kline stories were) but other times I read them with guileless enjoyment and wonder. This issue is a wonderful example of this. While it is now obvious to me as formulaic, at the time I enjoyed Batman getting a crew of “civilians” together to help him on a case (granted Jack Kirby did this better with Orion in “The New Gods”). I looked forward to see the chemistry (not talking about Sodium 19 here) they would have and how they would help or hinder each other. I confess that even back then in 1972 I was puzzled with the whole Matches Malone business (I wonder when I finally read the subsequent issues in the near future, having missed them when they first came out, I’ll get some clarity but I doubt it).
At first I thought that Molly hitting Batman with skiis wasn’t silly because I assumed that she was a foreigner who had never heard of Batman, However, when I found out that she was an American who did know Batman, I was left to clutch at the straw, even though unmentioned, that she thought that it wasn’t the real Batman (after all this isn’t the U,S,) but some creep in a Batman suit (or perhaps Tom Fagan, although I suspect Molly may have met him sometime skiing in Vermont). I certainly didn’t question Sodium 19 back then and thought that the whole thing was pretty neat!
Count me among the folks impressed (although more than a little unnerved) by the Lazarus Pit resurrection of Ras. When I first saw that he was dead, I assumed that it was all a fake job. I guess in a way it was, however the impression I got at the end of the story is that Ras was really most sincerely dead and was resurrected like Lazarus. Of course, Neil Adams is superb here as always. Thanks for the tribute Alan.
I don’t know if this is going to work, but as Thursday is the 50th anniversary of the Agnes flood destroying virtually all of my comic book collection and damaging my Dad’s pharmacy, I’m going to try and share two photos. One of the flood waters surrounding my Dad’s pharmacy and the other, a photo taken after the flood waters have receded showing the damage to the comic book and magazine section of my Dad’s store. This is where I got all of my comic books from January 1968 until June 23, 1972. https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?view=att&th=18188242b9681c10&attid=0.2&disp=inline&realattid=file2&safe=1&zw&saddbat=ANGjdJ89XJ3UzDZVw8GZft2QPP11rSqZSQ-spUZoOw6iYODqhsPzCL97ftoEljoGWmS3Hy5CcdfRYXhm8MDg7RDOHgJdy30hHJhUhXfSKw2K0TiNdkohmeCjZceJwav9O2bn1p4hxeLyEi3VN_b2rx-TA2CCJgns7M_diTDgZvhRQmv4cMhau7ras9eScWIXokZpsw-5q6KXKm91ME3Jecr5OrSv5Q_BP-VBjaDK9B33L8MKb1SkI1qxlS2lo1QEETV-bslYLEHXwze6qE9yIr0CDBfhssYH-lZWI150DrWc0mUQizke92CPJhoROVnWH55cDbJyk3yP9NCm_JwP4kXoh7xr7DrxtghLRwp900YKLJtqxwMRs-Bxj1OSK-DGt6nU4DjPGOSpYwLLT4xFKGJzwQlnAdfm2yYNoygSL-fcuSYxbx511xn6aeO0qPfe6W8Jvws-YmmZIJ7ipeZkDS1JZyQaWo-f1qaUCp0Epze_hrlkJs2iCKZlqdmvP3W6uO4CHiiyN_uSO1L-op5AkodRukG28PXe37H_WzVPGJL3lHdUqOxnoGIBjkpxOPKVzK_YZXIQEuDnMF2CXXdwL9OaIfL3lAoROoBfLgsF3G9JcYIP_UsARK05Voj0a-vYMlMSSN9ZeXk-FlgPjQ7sphDkY8UHII402urj8luAepmsofgIr3USJdxG8QW8BMnCiX6x-oBds7tNbZDYPwz7eVxShvJVapE_BA5OPhWNqFZXBfORMFCXsn4j5Wov930, https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?view=att&th=18188242b9681c10&attid=0.1&disp=inline&realattid=file0&safe=1&zw&saddbat=ANGjdJ_FKkOcYBoVsoXMWzp22hSWFKfH7CNVKfgLFhkKh_JAaW0Y5lOpqbyqHB4KTryQZcV27pOV4qeB5ieHWT89ZcyqtF3AG7oYaHFov3qPDHd3h-awllwAmLSoWTO1tXqYfTxSU73OLdGj8yfagLWr3OshZcN3NrkjXlD09DsLMIsKOP4Zg8vjlfE6J3R3p93Z-F0Gui4p6HqugHGafdi1t6C116raMD9IocThisjPLNaT0k-3WqZ51azxYss_ucZ-rmNFrWapTUyVHaktSW0-mOZASIvSaoKdKajQ4qX4lkLbSvbT-j9JsPDHPPiLSQ2pnzVJFHHL_MYKW08kFeynukPtao58fU4GalIU3dLALngRF3pCC-SqLSgC59s1j_axxmn1N_CI3dFPpQq8p0invqi1lJfT9IvgX3xSZMF-pHmtjruEi7l0DziXyCPZz1Jf5S9J9FC8rPcsbbYPRHsQKHc8P23uqR0XN0BK5kL88cS_sH4FuCIvczdsfDyMY5RPe5oRffqPli53PuVTDqSi1RcX2aHLYF43hIEIKx_ASKpmrzAEwWSNr-CRpN7pza_BM9nP_8PTx2s7D7bAqjHdnrodFiJCxQj4o7eoX7iv20Jj_CuORk6DVChWZ6flDWNG4R0LTqn4lfIOSMEReRVAGUFQ23iavuRnODCKo9MurDufdUCDn_sScNFMhNn8GUCpJyhbpmB3AcfvJgfyMNn5kk7oovdP8NdT-7vSP-PpnP_vIJNLgjidMvresfI
Because these links are unfortunately very long, if they don’t work, Alan feel free to delete them.
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Stuart, opening these files seems to require a Gmail account, which I, for one, don’t have. 🙂 I’ll leave the links up for now, for those who can use them and may be interested. Thanks for sharing, regardless — I suspect that this anniversary is a particularly painful one for you this year.
You can always enter the link at tinyurl.com and create a short one free of charge.