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Webcomic / In Our Shadow

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One of Matt Cleaver's webcomic projects, In Our Shadow takes place 50,000 years after a hyper-advanced human civilization apparently wiped itself out. In the interceding millennia many species of animal that had grasping appendages evolved rapidly in response to the variety of artifacts left behind by humanity, developing sapience even.

The story opens on Brianna, a numbat, and Bray, a wallaby, escaping from a prison camp run by the highly advanced and xenophobic Rat Empire, who recently conquered Australia seeking human technology. Together they seek a human device called a "neural flare" that Bri believes can save the world from the rats, or seal its fate.



  • Absolute Xenophobe: Rats are an entire species of Dirty Cowards who can't feel safe unless every other species is either cowed into submission, either through the "submission signal" broadcast throughout the Northern Hemisphere or brute force, or extinct.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Outliving several times the life expectancy of his species affected Schorl's mind, making him always mix up the names of his subordinates with those of their ancestors (whom Schorl also knew). For instance, he keeps calling his top adviser Halite, while his real name is Quartz.
  • Adorable Evil Minions: Even when they're sent to wipe out entire continents, the rat forces are still composed of cute anthropomorphic rats.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Schorl begs Jayrunner not to kill him and erase seven lifetimes of wisdom. Jayrunner calls him out on all the short-sighted atrocities he committed and his failure to outsmart two kids.
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  • After the End: The story takes place 50,000 years after the disappearance of humanity.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The rats are in many ways what might have happened if the Nazis succeeded; a military-industrial complex populated with trigger-happy paranoiacs who believe they are justified in killing those they fantasize are going to murder them in their beds, unaware that their greatest threat are the leaders they worship. Replace the jingoist propaganda with raw fear/submission from mass brainwashing.
  • Animal Is the New Man: The webcomic takes place 50,000 years after a hyper-advanced human civilization apparently wiped itself out and left their hyper-advanced technology all over the globe, including caches of weapons under stasis fields with only a few intelligence tests locking them up. In the interceding millennia many species of animal that had grasping appendages evolved rapidly in response to the variety of artifacts left behind by humanity, developing sapience even. It is later revealed in the stinger of Book 1 that a human ship has been circling the solar system for millennia, and is now coming back after detecting the flare used by Bray.
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  • Animals Not to Scale: Many "evolved" animals have gotten larger, rats are a couple feet tall for instance. When they find a human-era rat in some ruins Bray is surprised that they used to be so small, and understands why they're afraid of everything.
  • Anti-Villain: Amethyst is the first sympathetic rat introduced. Her friendship with Brianna was genuine and she's revealed as a Well-Intentioned Extremist who wants to bring back the human race. She also claims to feel ashamed when the rats destroyed Madagascar, and ultimately has a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Bray Stormfront. Lord Brushfire. Kangaroos seem to have a knack for this.
  • Bait the Dog: Quartz successfully fools both the characters and the readers by pretending to be a genuine Defector from Decadence. Then, he reveals his true colours as a traitorous Manipulative Bastard and Hero Killer.
  • Battle Trophy: After the timeskip Queen Brushfire is shown to have kept Quartz's cracked skull, and left it on Bray's tomb.
  • Becoming the Mask: At first, befriending Amethyst was only a mean to an end for Briana, a way of protecting her people and spying on the rats. Then she started to truly have affection for her.
  • Big Bad: Emperor Schorl, the leader of the Rat Empire, is the main antagonist.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Quartz fancies himself as a great schemer who will kill all the Flare users and give the power back to the old Labrat Aristocracy. However, while he manages to kill Bray, he's nowhere near as close to succeeding at overthrowing Schorl when Lady Brushfire kills him.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Quartz pretended to defect from the rat empire when Schorl went too far, but is in reality a Fake Defector and a Manipulative Bastard who's trying to bring back the power to the old labrat aristocracy.
  • Brain–Computer Interface: Rat Stryders require a full body suit with neural sensors to pilot. Human mechs only require a small crown, but lemurs are the only existant species capable of piloting them because of their legs.
  • Common Tongue: Nearly all sapient animals seem to speak the same language, which gets handwaved as relying more on body language than vocalizations. Few characters can understand Human writing though, and it turns out that lemurs speak Primate as well as "Mammal Common", which is why labrats can't read their minds and Jayrunner can activate the Shroud's defense systems.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Quartz dies when Lady Brushfire crushes his head. With her bare hands.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Brianna is plagued by self doubt as to whether she is doing the right thing, something Clover calls her out on.
  • Cliffhanger: Book 2 ends with the humans reaching Earth and making First Contact with the kangaroos. Initial impressions, what was implied the story so far and their reaction upon being refused imply that things won't go as smooth as one would hope...
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Deconstructed with the rats. Their extreme technological superiority means that they've usually been on the giving end of this sort of fight. This means that they are so used to easy victories and technological dominance that it's ruined their adaptability as a military and made them completely incapable of fighting on even ground. They don't bother at all with things like strategy, tactics, or chain of command, instead relying entirely on superior numbers and firepower, and have no idea how to deal with an opponent that can actually fight back.
    • The lemurs manage to pull a few on the rats when they obtain human mechs, against excavation Stryders. Fighting a full Imperial fleet, though, is too much, due to their unfamiliarity with the human mechs and underestimation of the rat forces. Even then, Jayrunner lasted long enough in her own mech to rack up a sizable kill count and then survive to escape to Australia.
    • The kangaroos are far more successful in this department, once they get mechs of their own. The aforementioned problems with the rat military are demonstrated in full when the rats launch an all-out invasion of Australia. Thirty-nine kangaroo mechs are enough to wipe out hundreds of thousands of rat stryders in the first minute of the battle, sending the rest into a mass panic.
  • Data Crystal: Shortly before their extinction humans started storing data in nigh-indestructible diamond-and-gold circuit boards.
  • Death of Personality: The neural flare overwrites most of the user's memories. Immediately after Bray used it the fans started acting like he was dead, followed shortly after by the rest of the cast, although it did appear as though he might able to regain part of his memories back before he died.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Briana loves to snark at other people's expense, especially Bray.
  • Defector from Decadence: Amethyst. Also, a faction of rats lead by Quartz, a lab rat adviser to Schorl until the destruction of Madagascar, defended the other races from the panicked rat death squads after the twilight shroud went down and evacuated as many as they could to Australia. Quartz himself turned out to be a Fake Defector, but the other rats he brought with him genuinely switched sides.
  • Defiant to the End: Quartz's last action before Lady Brushfire crushes his head is to bark that he doesn't die by her hand, mentioning the fact that - in his eyes - she only managed to overpower him because of the sudden heart attack that hit him during their fight.
  • Dirty Coward: The rats are an entire species of this. Brianna put it best: "Rats can always be trusted to let their cowardice guide their actions. Especially rats who've just remembered what it's like to be terrified!" However, it's later revealed that this trait of personality has been amplified by the fear signal emitted by the Twilight Shroud. Once they are freed from its influence, some rats can actually be brave.
  • Due to the Dead: Jayrunner covers Schorl's body with her jacket after he dies.
  • Dumb Muscle: Bray is certainly the strongest and largest and least educated of the main group, his displays of ignorance are one of the series' few sources of humor. Brianna frequently makes fun of him for this. But he does display the occasional insight, like being the first to notice that the blackleaf trees are sticking out of solid rock.
  • Emperor Scientist: Emperor Schorl, ruler of the Rat Empire, used a damaged Neural Flare to enhance his brain power to extreme levels and single-handedly brought about the rats' technological superiority.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: He wasn't as evil as he is now, but in his youth, Schorl was very close to his boydguard (and Implied Love Interest) Lehna. Her death took a big toll on his sanity. Just as he's about to die in the explosion of the Shroud Pylon he's in, he sheds a Single Tear while saying that he's sorry he couldn't keep the promise he made to her of staying alive to carry on her memory forever, showing that even after her death he continued to cherish her memory.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Clover is an insufferable Smug Snake, but even she is appalled when Schorl callously blows up a portion of a rat city, killing thousands of rats, just to have a better shot at the heroes in the Human base on the Moon. In general, she seems a little unnerved by Schorl's willingness to sacrifice the lives of his rat citizens to further his goals.
    Clover: How is that everyone else is okay with this? I thought I was supposed to be the mentally unstable one.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Hookturn calmly takes a sip from a can of soda and says his goodbyes to Pipa from the radio as the Rat fleet is approaching to wipe out the base he's in.
  • Failure Hero: Bray sees himself as one, which is why he uses the Neural Flare. He feels like it's the only useful thing he can do.
  • Fake Defector: Quartz pretended to defect from the rat empire and join the kangaroos. After gaining the trust of Lady Brushfire, he killed Bray and all her advisers without warning, almost killed her as well, and then detonated a bomb destroying the factory that had been building the kangaroo mechs before making his escape in a rat stryder. This would have spelled doom for the kangaroos altogether if not for a bit of foresight on the part of Amethyst.
  • Fallen Hero: Quartz mentions that Schorl used to be a noble ruler and a flashback shows that, at first, Schorl used his knowledge and new technology to end famines and diseases in his empire.
  • Famous Last Words:
    • "Not by your hand..." Quartz.
    • "You know... Now that I've finally come to it... Forty-six years is... far... too..." Schorl. We'll never know if he was going to say 'long' or 'short'.
  • Fantastic Caste System: In the Rat Empire all non-rats are subservient to rats, some time before Schorl took over those species were outright enslaved while lab rats were a warrior aristocracy.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • At first glance, Schorl seems to be rather laid back for an Emperor Scientist, even sometimes downright quirky with his tics or his inability to remember his followers' names. But he's also perfectly willing to commit genocides against other species and is a cold Manipulative Bastard who uses his people's fear (and uses a signal to amplify their fear) in order to keep his power, and is willing to kill billions of his own citizens to get what he wants. When one rat discovers his friends died for Schorl's convenience and tries to take revenge, Schorl bashes his skull against debris while chuckling.
    • Quartz looks like a reasonable Punch-Clock Villain who eventually has a Heel–Face Turn when Schorl goes too far. In reality, he's a Manipulative Bastard who's trying to kill both Bray and Schorl to reinstate the lab rats as rulers of the Rat Empire.
  • Final Solution: Schorl's response to learning that lemurs can use human mechs is to order Madagascar wiped off the map. Later, he orders the same fate for Australia once the Twilight Shroud goes down.
  • First Contact: Book 2 ends with humans landing on Australia and meeting the protagonists.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: A villainous example, Played for Laughs. Emperor Schorl's top adviser passes away (or so it seems). Schorl mourns his passing for all of three seconds, and then turns around and offers Clover the adviser's job. It's stated that outpassing several times his natural lifespan is affecting his sanity.
  • Freudian Excuse: It's implied that having his mind rewritten by the neural flare and outliving several times his lifespan (forcing him to watch all his loved ones die) deeply affected Schorl's sanity.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Before becoming a genocidal Emperor Scientist, Schorl used to be a mere explosives expert working in the rat army.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: When the pylon of the Twilight Shroud he's in is destroyed, Schorl's upper-half is protected by Jayrunner's shield. The lower half on the other hand isn't as lucky and is completely vaporized.
  • Hate Sink: After he's revealed to be a Fake Defector, the story turns Quartz into one. He's smug and scornful towards the Kangaroos, kills several characters, loves to rub this fact to Queen Brushfire's face, and lacks Schorl's Freudian Excuse as he's nothing more than a power-hungry Manipulative Bastard who tries to bring the old Lab Rat aristocracy back to power.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Amethyst and, later, a whole faction of rats led by Quartz end up defecting from the Rat Empire when Schorl goes too far. It later turns out that Quartz faked his, but the other rats accompanying him were genuine.
  • Hero Killer: When Quartz reveals himself to be a traitor, he manages to kill most of the military leaders of the kangaroos, including Bray and Miss Granite. And he would also have been able to kill Lady Brushfire, had his wrist not been broken by the recoil of the kangaroo firearm he used.
  • Hero of Another Story: Lord Brushfire was a warrior lord, considered a living god by the kangaroos, who single-handedly unified all Australia under his rule. He's killed off after two pages of screentime in a flashback, only to return in a few more flashbacks afterwards.
  • Heroic BSoD: The invasion of Madagascar sends Pipa dangerously close to one. Hookturn's death solidifies it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: After sending Briana, Bray and Pipa to the Moon, Hookturn stays behind while Madagascar is being wiped out in order to help them pilot and guide the rocket from the base.
  • Hollywood Evolution: 50,000 years is nowhere near enough time for a species to develop sapience, though there are some implications it wasn't completely natural.
  • Humongous Mecha: The Rats' "Stryders" vary in size from Powered Armor to colossal. Humans seem to have built them as well. Later in the story, kangaroos get in on the action.
  • Humanity's Wake: It's not clear how exactly humanity died out, but there was both a nuclear war and an ice age. The ends of Book 1 reveals that they never actually died out. They simply got bored and left Earth to sail the cosmos, leaving behind a starship on the solar system's edge in case the neural flare back on the Moon was used, which was what happened with Bray beforehand. The end of Book 2 has the mentioned ship reach Earth and make contact with the kangaroos.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Brianna. On the one hand, she tries to bring down the Rat Empire, doing the world a favour, and is shown to be devastated by the deaths caused indirectly by her plan. However, she admits that she enjoys putting down people around her to feel more intelligent. Bray was a frequent target of this before he used the neural flare. Later, she tries it on Pipa, and gets a short but brutal "The Reason You Suck" Speech for it...
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: When Halite (real name: Quartz) has a stroke, Schorl is genuinely panicked and sad. The two then have a heartfelt conversation, during which Quartz begs him to change his ways. Conversation that might even be able to make you feel a little empathy for Schorl (even after he orders a complete genocide)... Until Schorl ruins it, of course. The moment lasts one page. The next page, Schorl refuses to listen to reason and, after being sad during a few seconds, he asks Clover to be his new advisor.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: How the rats try to justify enslaving and exterminating entire species to ensure their own safety. No one else buys it.
  • Immortality Immorality: Schorl is immortal, wants to live forever, and is ready to commit the worst atrocities to remain immortal and in power.
  • It's All About Me: Schorl only cares about himself.
    Schorl: "I stopped caring about the plans of you mortals long ago. The only thing I care about is if I'm in danger. Everything else is irrelevant."
  • Karma Houdini: Clover managed to escape when the final battle turned to the Kangaroo's advantage and is the only main antagonist still alive at the end of Book 2.
  • Karmic Death:
    • Quartz, who joined the kangaroos only to betray them later and killed Bray, Ms. Granite and tried to kill Lady Brushfire, is killed by the same kangaroo he tried to murder earlier.
    • Schorl meets his end at the hands of Jayrunner, a member of the race he almost exterminated. As an added bonus, he dies because of the explosion of a pylon of the Twilight Shroud, the very technology that gave him his power over the Rat Empire.
  • Last-Second Chance: Halite (real name: Quartz) tries one last time to convince Schorl to stop his evil totalitarian ways for the good of the rat people by pretending to be on the verge of death and having a heartfelt conversation with him. When it becomes clear Schorl won't do it, Quartz defects. Except he's also a corrupt racist who wants Lab Rats to usurp the madman and 'fix' everything.
  • Light Is Good: Amethyst's suit, mecha-suit and stryder are all white, the first clue that she's not very evil.
  • Mood-Swinger: Schorl can go from chill and happy to sinister and menacing in the span of a few sentences.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Brianna's reaction after she accidentally killed a few rats by blowing up their stryders. (She only wanted to incapacitate the machines and didn't know they could explode.)
    • Briana has another breakdown when the rats wipe out Madagascar, as she's indirectly responsible of the situation.
  • My Skull Runneth Over: A neural flare overwrites the user's brain with the sum total of human knowledge, losing whatever memories they had before. Which is why humans intended it for babies.
  • Neglectful Precursors: Humanity left their hyper-advanced technology all over the globe, including caches of weapons under stasis fields with only a few intelligence tests locking them up.
    • It is later revealed that the faction of humans who built those vaults believed that war gave life meaning, while the use of neural flares led to decadence, and after Bray used a flare their relativistic starship started heading back for Earth to destroy whomever the signal came from. Upgrading them to full-blown Abusive Precursors.
  • 90% of Your Brain: When Brianna first explains the neural flare she claims this was what it did for Emperor Schorl. Though later Amethyst says that was incorrect, creatures use all of their brains already and the flare actually downloads the sum total of all human knowledge into the brain.
  • No-Sell:
    • Rat point-defense is very good. Even if something gets past their lasers, they can use gravity manipulation to create small singularities.
    • Kangaroo mechs use the same gravity technology to redirect all incoming attacks onto their shields. The shields absorb the energy from the attacks, allowing the kangaroo mechs to fire back with interest.
    • Human mechs are just virtually invincible. The ones defending Madagascar were only destroyed because the lemurs didn't really know how to make them work, and even then, the rats had to basically push the human mechs into the earth's mantle with massed laserfire.
  • Not Quite Dead: Jayrunner after the destruction of Madagascar. Lady Brushfire, Amethyst, and Pipa after Quartz betrays them.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Schorl may be. While the Neural Flare, as well as the fact that he outlived several times his lifespan, did affect his mind; it's hard to say when his madness is genuine and when it's an act. Page 247 confirms that he's faking it.
  • Outside-Context Problem: From the point of view of the kangaroos and their steampunk-like technology, the rats initially are this with their futuristic weapons.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Kangaroos. Lord Brushfire responded to Amethyst's request that they give up their weapons by sending her Mini-Mecha flying. Of course, it got him killed seconds later.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: The panels showing Emperor Schorl's use of the damaged Neural Flare suggest it wasn't a pleasant experience. Clover gets a small nosebleed whenever she tries reading Schorl's mind.
  • Racial Remnant: In Book 2 it turns out that an isolated group of lemurs making an anthropological documentary in Africa survived, along with Jayrunner. And the stinger of Book 1 suggested that a human ship has been circling the solar system for millennia and is now coming back.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: For whatever reason humans used up Earth's gold supply making stuff that wouldn't deteriorate over time. And built some facilities under stasis fields powered by genetically engineered trees, but on most continents they were cracked open by earthquakes. Australia is tectonically stable enough that some have persisted to the "present".
  • Reality Ensues: Quartz, an old rat, uses for the first time a kangaroo firearm for which he has zero training and starts shooting around as if he was in an action movie. The recoil ends up breaking his wrist.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lady Brushfire is vastly more levelheaded than her husband, and ran her kingdom effectively after Lord Brushfire was killed.
  • Recursive Precursors: Between humanity and the current generation of sophonts was the Primate civilization, which achieved a similar level of technology to humanity and built the Shroud covering the northern hemisphere. After Schorl used the Flare he broke into the Shroud's pylons and found the apes and monkeys plugged into virtual reality pods, and killed them.
  • Replacement Goldfish: When Emperor Schorl first used the neural flare he had a close bond with a lab rat named Lehna. After she died of old age, he spotted her granddaughter. It's implied that all of the lab rats he's had as personal advisers, including Quartz and now his great-granddaughter Clover, have served the same purpose.
  • Rousing Speech: As the rat armada closes in on Rampart City, Lady Brushfire gives one to rival "Their finest hour".
    Lady Brushfire: "People of Rampart City. You have surely heard that we have been betrayed, that our war machines are lost and Bray Stormfront is dead. Further, that the rat annihilation fleet swiftly approaches. You have heard correctly. However, there is one thing you shouldn't need to hear, for you know it as surely as you live and breathe. A kangaroo mech rises from the rubble behind her "To every last murderous rat with the audacity to invade our land, we shall give no mercy! The streets of this city will run red with the filthy blood of the vermin who seek to destroy us! The foul, evil brains of those would-be conquerors will be dashed against our shield and blade! Their feeble, technology-dependent bodies will be rent and left to feed the soils of Australia! And I personally will see to it that the white devil who betrayed us comes to an end wholly befitting of his vile existence! THE TIME OF RECKONING HAS COME AT LAST!"
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: When the rats attack Rampart city, Lady Brushfire personally gets in a mech and leads the defense.
  • Shout-Out: Amethyst, who's very fond of human culture, at one point mentions her favorite human movie. While she never says the title, her description makes it clear that she's talking about The Secret of NIMH.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Lady Brushfire is polite, dignified, and level-headed, but one should never forget she is a kangaroo. The silk drops away after Bray dies, and she openly wants vengeance on the invading rat army in general and Quartz in particular.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Pipa accuses Brianna of being this after Brianna's actions indirectly cause the destruction of Madagascar. (Though she's not one.)
  • Smug Snake:
    • Lab rats, due to their game-breaking ability to read others' minds and therefore to counter their every moves, are generally very full of themselves. But they are not as smart or as competent as they think. As Brianna puts it best, mind reading powers are useless when the user isn't competent enough.
    • Clover acts very condescending at the beginning of her first fight against the human mech, and then completely freaks out when she finds out lemurs are immune to mind-reading. During the Kangaroo assault on the Rat Empire, she gets a few good shots at some Red Shirts, but against an opponent that she can't mind-read (Jayrunner) she's curb-stomped in the span of two pages.
    • While he's at least capable of backing up his claims when it comes to fighting, Quartz is still far too confident for his own good and is not as smart as he thinks he is, as Amethyst manages to outwit him when he tries to blow up the Kangaroo weapon factory, then outmanoeuvres him during the rat attack on Australia. During his fight with Lady Brushfire, he acts very condescending, but is completely taken by surprise and unable to dodge when she let her instinct and her rage take over, preventing him to read her thoughts. Also, for all his schemes of overthrowing Schorl, he's nowhere near as close to succeeding when Lady Brushfire kills him.
  • The Starscream: After becoming Schorl's Number Two, Clover starts plotting to overthrow him and waits for the moment she won't need him anymore to rule the Rat Empire. Schorl knows, but doesn't care. Quartz, as it turns out, was also in on this plan, the ultimate goal being to have lab rats rule the empire again.
  • Starter Villain: Amethyst is the antagonist of the first part of the story. Once Schorl enters the picture, things escalate quickly.
  • Straight Gay: After remaining ambiguous for a while, the story later confirms that Briana and Amethyst are more than just friends.
  • Stinger: It turns out Bray is still alive, and unfortunately Schorl might be a Karma Houdini as well.
  • Telepathy: Lab rats are descended from human experiments in mind reading, as such they can hear thoughts. They can also communicate between each others, even across continents.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • The lemurs hope that the human mechs will let them do this. It only makes them a target for the rats, who easily destroy Madagascar as they didn't have enough time mastering their new technology compared to the rats, Jayrunner's brief holding action notwithstanding.
    • Bray does this for real by using the Neural Flare, gaining a massive amount of knowledge, putting on a lot of height and muscle mass, and becoming able to interface with and control any human technology, and therefore, any rat technology. Later, his new knowledge allows the kangaroos to start building their own stryders that were technologically on par with the human mechs. But it comes at the cost of his personality and memories.
  • Totally Radical: Lemurs, the style extends even to their government programs like MASA (Mad Air Space Aces). It also makes their minds hard to read.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Inverted, most evolved animals don't live much longer than their human-era ancestors, rats have a lifespan of nine years for instance. Schorl's lifespan was extended by the Neural Flare, he's forty-six and getting his subordinates confused with their ancestors already.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Emperor Schorl wants to live forever, but outliving every other member of his species is clearly taking a toll on his sanity.
  • Your Head A-Splode: The general effect when Lady Brushfire crushes Quartz's tiny rat skull in her bare hand. Though a later comic shows that despite the blood geyser she only cracked his skull.

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