Trades for 1-30-12: Red Son and The Unknown

Superman: Red Son
by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson et al.
collecting the three prestige format issues
DC, $12.23, SC

This is an excellent story that happens to use DC's greatest characters.  It's an Elsewords tale that tells about what might happen, if Superman landed in Soviet Russia as a child, instead of in Kansas. The "farm-boy" mentality remains, and being a communist doesn't turn Superman heartless as older depictions would have you believe. In the first issue, he even saves Metropolis from a plummeting Sputnik (engineered by American genius Lex Luthor to malfunction). Superman is an American idea, but Mark Millar manages to capture the idea of Superman and distill the America out of it.
When Stalin dies, the people urge Superman to take over, and so he becomes President Superman. By the second issue, he's having to deal with the terrorist Batman, and his ally Wonder Woman, all while building his socialist utopia. The change over time of Superman's character comes off as organic and inevitable -- President Superman naturally swings the entire world to socialism -- except for America. It raises some interesting questions about Superman in the real world -- of course he would have the key to creating the best society. Does he have the right to impose that society on the world?

The plotting is so tight, and the pace of the comic book moves so well. Not only is this the history of a Socialist Superman, it's a history of the clash of politics, and the endeavor of the human spirit. After building up so many allies, such as America's Green Lantern (from a ring found in Area 51), or Superman's conversion of the megalomaniac Brainac, there's a dramatic confrontation at the White House, and Mr. President Luthor deposes Comrade Superman. It's an amazing moment when Superman realizes that Lex planned for his death years ago -- and then accepts it. One more thing about the ending:

Did you read the scan? Without a Superman to interfere with his life, Lex Luthor improves the world, extending the life expectancy and eradicating all human diseases. He leaves a legacy that lives as long as the Sun -- long enough for it to turn red. In the next pages,"Jor-L" rockets his son "Kal-L" to eventually land on a cornfield in Kansas! It's amazing to think that this universe is the same universe that created our universe's Superman. This is one of the strengths of Superman and DC's characters -- they're so malleable that they can have their own universes and their own stories, but if you want them to, they can interact with the original universes. Well done, Mark Millar.

Red Son is an excellent story that revels in a twist on DC's greatest heroes. Highly recommended.

The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh
by Mark Waid and Minck Oosterveer
collecting the 4-issue miniseries
(free on comixology, when I got it. They charge you now)

Catherine Allingham is at it again, and this time she takes her wits to a supposed haunted cemetery in Rome with a new partner! She finds out that, due to the incoming noise from the newly-built airport, the air is vibrating at the resonant frequency with the human eyeball, and that's why everyone is reporting hallucinations! And that's just the first issue.

That's what I love about The Unknown. There's this adamance that everything can be explained through reason and logic. Catherine represents this logical force that desires for knowledge: to know the unknown, and she's drawn to the weirdest cases. The newest, weirdest case comes from the quiet town of Mountain Oak, host to a string of bizarre murders in which the victims write out a message in their own blood, moments after death.

That's the second mystery in this volume. The first is why Catherine Allingham is still alive, a year after her brain tumor would have destroyed her. Both get solved by the end of volume, and I found it very clever the way they handled Catherine's brain tumor. She shuns medical science, because they don't guarantee that her mind will be 100% intact, so she embraces her six months to live, in the prime of her mental acumen. But, because she touched the door to the afterlife in the first volume, she's immortal! And the brain tumor will continue to grow and destroy her mind. That shit is tragic, guys. By the end of the volume, we solve the case of Mountain Oak, and there's a great hook that calls back to the first volume. Catherine Allingham continues to be a compelling character in comics, and I would love a third outing.

Extra props go to Erik Jones, who did the covers for the series. Instead of featuring the trade cover, I've put the four covers of his together, above. Those are beautiful, the way they move and emphasize the character.

NEXT WEEK: The Flash of Two Worlds and Y: The Last Man Vol. 5: Ring of Truth!

He is the dark night. He is vengeance. He is --

-- Batmankoff! Soviet Socialists chill at the sound of his name!

Batmankoff! His parents, Russian dissidents were murdered before his very eyes!

Batmankoff! Forever the rebel scourge to President Superman! 


That's right folks. Next week we're reviewing Mark Millar and Dave Johnson's Superman: Red Son, the saga of commie Superman, among others. Be there!

A few more words on J.H. Williams III in Batman #667-669

On Monday I talked about the Batman: The Black Glove hardcover. If you missed it, go ahead and check it out. Grant Morrison worked with Tony Daniel, Richard Clark and J.H. Williams III on pencils for the various stories, and I had an overall positive experience with it. Tony Daniel's managed to nail his very own title (the New 52's Detective Comics) in both word and pencil duties, and J.H. Williams III is tearing it up on Batwoman.

I want to talk a bit more about the latter's contribution to The Black Glove. Specifically, I have three specific two-page spreads of J.H. Williams III to show you today.

1. Batman and Robin fly to the island of Mister Mayhew
These are the 2nd and 3rd pages to his first issue, #667, and it's a great establishing shot. A fun design that pumps you up for an awesome story!

2. The Legionary is murdered on Mr. Mayhew's island
I think this was still in issue 667. One of the members of the Club of International Heroes, gets stabbed to death by the mystery murderer. The gold, grecian frame runs from the left of one page to the right of the second, telling you to read all of the top row before you move on. When you do move on, you see that intense panel of his eye flaring up, and a final lash out at his attacker! The painting of a virile soldier behind him evokes his glory days, his life as a hero, before he finally collapses to the floor in a pool of his own blood. It's a gruesome sequence, but it was told beautifully. Comic books are a synthesis of pictures and words, and these pictures tell a thousand words.

 3. Robin and Squire escape a death trap, while Batman watches?
Some pictures can do a better job than words but, in this case, I think it's crippled the story. When your eyes take a first scan of it, it looks incredible -- it's a fuckin' bat with a fist tearing up through it! -- but I had a difficult time reading through it. The claustrophobic panels make it hard to see what's happening, when the set seems to be an important part of the sequence. The knight statues are shooting at Robin and Squire, by the way, who duck under something to escape. When the gray panel goes through, is Batman there? Is he telling Robin to "GO!"? Where is he in the set? This probably sold lightning fast, as original art, but I think it detracted from the storytelling.

Anyways, those are my opinions on some specific pages. J.H. Williams  is really doing some exciting stuff with comic books, and the industry is all the better for his work. If you have any opinions or have been loving his work on Batwoman, let me know.

Serials for 1-25: The Flash #5 and more

The Flash #5
by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Central City in a blackout! Iron Heights in a prison break! Mob Rule in an electromagnetic generator! Only the Flash can handle all three: Speed Force is GO! The two-man team of Manapul and Buccellato continue to push Barry Allen to the limit, and we see some form of a conclusion to those three plot points -- Mob Rule is put to a stop, even if it's temporary; Central City is brought back to power, and Iris West is saved from Iron Heights.

The creativity from these guys is remarkable. Manapul frames the pages in such a clever manner, and there are 3 two-page spreads from this issue: all of them magnificent. Barry's taken on some herculean feat as he discovers his powers, issue by issue, and issue 5 is no different: he uses the speed force to carry two supply boats along his slipstream for the savvy civilians of Central City!

The visual storytelling is a total knockout and the pacing is relentless: The Flash is a hell of a comic book.

American Vampire #23
by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque

"Death Race" continues in this second part of four. The immediate plot doesn't move forward, so much as there are flashbacks. If you'll remember, the meat of issue 22 was told in a flashback as well, but it was a strong flashback -- we learned who this crazy teenager, Travis Kidd is, and what he does for a living: hunting vampires, in an exciting way. In this issue we learn about why he hunts vampires (parents were killed by one) and not much else. That's it. The serial experience doesn't seem to be a priority for this issue, which makes it weaker than the previous.

Secret Avengers #21
by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen

It's Warren Ellis's goodbye issue! You'd expect the Secret Avengers to finally take down the persistent terror organization, the Shadow Council, but the issue focuses instead on the takedown of one of its many machinations: a cross-dimensional breeding experiment gone wrong in the subbasement of an anti-terror building.

What a mouthful! Where the previous issues focused on a single Secret Avenger or maybe a pair, this issue involves all of them, taking down the monster and escaping safely. There's not much room for character development, and although I feel Ellis could have done more with a few pages, Immonen keeps up with the action-movie pace and together they make a nice, stand-alone conclusion of a story.

Library trades for 1-23-12: Batman, Beasts of Burden and more. . .

Batman: The Black Glove
by Grant Morrison, J.H. Williams III et al.
Collecting Batman #'s 667-669, 672-675
DC Comics, $16.49 Amazon HC

If I remember right, The Black Glove is early on in Grant Morrison's Batman run that would lead to stories such as Batman R.I.P, Battle for the Cowl, and Batman Inc. Compared to all those, it still holds up and then some. The Black Glove consists of three different stories: two three-issue storyarcs and then a final done-in-one issue. J.H. Williams III takes on the first three-issue arc, in a locked-door murder mystery: Batman and the Club of International Heroes are invited to super-billionaire John Mayhew's island of despair: slowly Batman and friends learn about Mr. Mayhew's diabolical plot driven by the "Black Glove" in a devilish drama of good vs. evil.

Williams III does a solid job on pencils, although there are some times where the art diverges from the words, to a point that removes the reader from the story. Comic books are the synthesis of words and pictures, and it hurts the story when one overtakes the other.

Tony Daniel takes on the next three-issue arc, in a Batman kidnapping that tests the Dark Knight's willpower. SPOILER: he uses his brain, because his brain's prepared for every-possible-outcome-because-of-course-he-is-because-he's-Batman and wins. For some reason, Bat Mite and Zur En Arrh make cameos as Batman's mind breaks down. Richard Clark takes on the last issue, in probably the least-polished art of the hardcover, but the best story.
Bruce Wayne is in the middle of a date with Jezebel Jet before Mr. Ten-Eyes wages terror on Jet and her country. At this point, Bruce seems to have had enough with these weirdos interfering his life, and he takes him on, without bothering to put on cape and cowl. He straight up stalks Mr. Ten-Eyes in the dark and beats him to a pulp. Just look at that first image. Bruce is mad!

Here's a last image from the same issue. I really admire these two pages.The close-up on Bruce Wayne's eyes, the words he says, it's a confession to why he's doing what he's doing, what's wrong with him and why he can't stop. Batman is a dude with serious issues, and these pages get to the heart of it. He tells Jezebel to walk away, because he knows he's only going to hurt her. The following page is the infamous, "Bruce Wayne is Batman," Jezebel-Jet-puts-the-hands-on-Bruce's-head-like-Batman's-ears. Well done, Grant Morrison.

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson
Collecting the miniseries, and excerpts from Dark Horse anthologies
Dark Horse, $13.59 Amazon HC

They're a bunch of dogs (and a cat)! And they live in a suburb called Burden Hill! And weird supernatural stuff happens to them, and it's both charming and terrifying!

That's the premise of Beasts of Burden. Dogs have an uncanny knack for emotion, and Jill has an uncanny knack at drawing them. I don't recall any other comic book with so many different dog drawings. Just look at that image above. Even though they're all in the same pose, they have different body shapes and mannerisms. You can see every different angle of a dog's face! Adorable.

In each issue, the pups and pals deal with witch cats, demon frogs, werewolves and other friendly contraptions. Each issue is standalone, because they haven't gotten hold of an ongoing series. These guys could really run with an ongoing -- I'd be on board for a miniseries at least.

by Gilbert Hernandez
Vertigo, $11.69 HC

Sloth is about a love triangle between teenagers Miguel, Lita and Miguel's friend Romeo. Miguel wakes up from a supposedly will-induced-year-long coma, supposedly by his will, and resumes his life with a sluggish pace. Together with his friends Lita and Romeo, he explores a haunted lemon orchard that allegedly has the Goatman, the guy who'll steal your soul, and maybe put you in a coma.

Midway, there's an confounding plot twist. I mean that literally -- the plot twists with no explanation: there's a shift in narrator, Romeo is apparently a rock star, and Lita is single and man-trapping Miguel in an attempt to get him to like her. Beyond that one wall, Sloth is a teenage story of boredom and abandonment, which isn't my thing per se, but it's drawn pretty well.

Serials for 1-18-12: Ultimate Spider-Man, Chew, Daredevil

By the All-seeing Eye of Agamotto! What sick, twisted parallel dimension have I landed on?

. . . oh wait, it's just an update to the chezkevin user interface. I've added a twitter feed to the sidebar on the left, completely changed the color scheme, and there's now a "recent posts" widget on the bottom of every page. As always, if you have any suggestions, call me, beep me, if you wanna reach me.

 . . . aaand I just lost a few more readers. Let's read some comics now.

Ultimate Comics All-New Spider-Man #5
by Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli with David Messina

It's an all-new installment of the all-new Spider-Man, and although there were some bumps, this issue retains the excitement of the first issue. While we learned about Miles' world: his family, his school and his dad, in the previous issues, Miles learns more about the world around him now. Specifically, S.H.I.E.L.D. takes him into custody, and Nick Fury has a talk with him, before Electro breaks free and wreaks his unique brand of havoc.

With Miles' defeat of Electro, he seems to be "initiated" into the cadre of Ultimate Marvel superheroes, and he finally gets his red and black Spidey tights. Despite my track record, I have little complaints against this issue, because it does move the plot forward. Sara Pichelli provides maybe one or two pages of finishes, while Messina picks up the slack. Messina's inks are a bit Frank Cho-esque, and retain the style that Pichelli's established -- it also helps that the same colorist, Justin Ponsor, does every page. I have high expectations for the next arc and the incoming artist, Chris Samnee.

Chew #23
by John Layman and Rob Guillory

Aw yeah Chew! Only these guys, only Layman could take a dark situation like Tony Chu's kidnapping and find the humor in it. Tony's force-fed the corpses of long-dead baseball stars, and not only is it repulsive at times, and tragic at times, it's hilarious at times. Only Chew could balance these different tones all at once. We leave the issue with Tony stuck in his predicament, and his friends still don't know where he his. One of them, former cop partner John Colby takes up the rest of the issue.

He's in the USDA now, and he uses the issue to solve the case of the counterfeit vegetable currency. All in one issue. Not only is Chew able to balance these different tones, it balances the ongoing plots with the immediate plot. It's nothing short of brilliant.

Chew is always a pleasure to pick up. Try the first issue, for free, at comiXology. You might like it as much as I do.

Daredevil #8
by Mark Waid, Kano and Javier Rodriguez

This concludes the two-part crossover with Spider-Man, originally begun in Amazing Spider-Man #677. I had my fair share of bile for the first part, but this one escapes my virtual vitriol mainly due to the focus on Daredevil and Black Cat, and not Spider-Man. In particular, it focuses on them flirting and making out. Together the two of them break into Terra-One corporate HQ to re-steal a prototype wi-fi holoprojector that was originally stolen from Peter Parker's workplace. Hot and heavy making out ensues afterwards.

Horny hornheads might look closer to enjoy 'Cat's thong-th-thong-thong-thong. And you say I never do anything for you! Waid finds a few more creative ways to talk about radarsense, and guest artist Kano does a fine job with Black Cat's brea -- er, uh, backgrounds and motion. His layouts aren't so creative as his predecessors, but that's hardly a criticism.

Despite his tangle with Spider-Man, Daredevil's title remains a must-read.

One more scan from Amazing Spider-Man #555-557

It's a single page from Amazing Spider-Man #555, by Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo. When he recognizes his lost jacket, Spider-Man reacts instinctively and claims it. But, he stops, and shows some compassion. It's a great moment from the BRAND NEW DAY era of Amazing Spider-Man. Content will be back tomorrow

Taking a break

Hey gang,

Life is getting in the way so I'm going to go ahead and impose a break on myself to do some catch-up on schoolwork.

In the meantime, I've started a twitter (@chezkevintam) so I'll chime in from there. Tune in next week Monday.

And, here's Batman taking a BREAK from his buddy Bane:

Marvel Team-Up proudly presents: Spider-Man's newest, greatest ally!

Greetings True Believers!

Welcome to another pulse-pounding edition of Marvel Team-Up! Ya know, even the mighty Marvel bullpen is prone to one of New York City's devastating snow storms! In these chilling times, it's a great benefit to have a buddy to warm up to! And with that novel-length introduction, we zoom in on none other than our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man braving the winter all alone --

Sorry Spidey, but them's the breaks! Our webbed hero braves the New York snow, until he gets some help from the sensational, the spectacular, the insurmountable --

-- Vern the amazing hobo! And so begins the greatest team-up in Marvel history! After lining his costume with copies of New York's finest newspaper, the Daily Bugle, the dynamic duo set out together and are assaulted by who else than --

Kuhul Ajaw, Mayan god-king and demander of blood sacrifice! Didja see that coming?

So as soon as they meet, the terrific two, the petrifying pair, the gruesome twosome, are split up, and ol' webhead is punished for it!

A lot. But wait! Fear not, true believers! It's the amazing Vern to the rescue, with the flair that only he could achieve!

Together, the two set Kuhul Ajaw on fire, web him into restraints and prevent him from entering a human host! World, consider yourself saved!

Marvel Team-Up Epilogue:

from The Amazing Spider-Man #555-557, by Zeb Wells, Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend. 'Nuff said!

Hey Black Cat!

What's your favorite chocolate bar?

Hm. I'm a Clark Bar man myself.

From this week's Amazing Spider-Man #677, by Mark Waid and Emma Rios.

Serials for 1-11-12: Amazing Spider-Man, Secret Avengers

The Amazing Spider-Man #677
"Devil and the Details," part 1
by Mark Waid, Emma Rios and J. Rod

Oh man check those credits out. Javier Rodriguez's taken the nom de guerre of J. Rod. Spectacular! It's like the ol' days when Stanley Martin Lieber shortened his own name to Stan Lee. If I remember Javi's name right, he's done a lot of work with Marcos Martin. . . some quick googling confirms my suspicions. J. Rod, it sounds like a rock star! I love it.

Besides J. Rod's colors, Emma Rios is on pencils and inks, and it's a perfect fir for Spider-Man. Spidey's motions are dynamic and kinetic, just like they should be. It reminds me of Max Fiumara from his Rhino arc with Joe Kelly. Spider-Man is jumping, swinging and wall-crawling like no other. The moves that Emma gives Spidey are exciting, and there's a great sequence where Daredevil and Spidey are racing down the Chrysler Building.

I can't say the same for the Spidey writing. In an attempt to sound witty, his dialogue comes off as wordy and not related to much of anything. It sounds like verbal vomit:
Ha! I don't know what you're talking about! That's WACKTALK! Who would dump. . .
 and later:
 Because we're not out of the CROSSHAIRS yet, magoo!
It takes more than a LIGHT SHOW to set off the warning buzz in my NOGGIN!
Is there anybody to whom this would actually sound like Peter Parker? Is there any magoo out there to whom this wouldn't sound like wacktalk? Maybe, maybe it's that person's Peter Parker. It doesn't sound like my Peter Parker. Another thing that came off as wrong to me: after a rejection from the Black Cat, he puts a Spider-tracer on her costume, which she discovers after her shower! Maybe he's doing it for her safety, because some police force actually barges in to arrest her later, but the way it's presented, Spidey is a skeevy dude who decided to track a girl to find out the address of her apartment. Oh god I didn't want to type that.

The final nail is in the coffin when Spidey barges in on Matt Murdock, gives away his secret identity in front of the DA. He literally hops onto a lamppost as Matt is walking with her and hassles them. It's this social insensitivity that's supposed to pass for youthfulness, maybe naivete, and it fails. The moral of this story seems to be, "Spidey is a skeevy douchebag. Read about his pal Daredevil instead."

I'm almost done griping. The issue is 20 story pages (with 1 recap page, 1 letters page making 22) for $3.99. I haven't picked up Amazing Spidey since "Shed," and I'm glad I won't be picking up more in the future. The truth is, I would like to pick up this title and I'd like to enjoy it. I love comic books, and I hate to be so negative about this. Spider-Man is my favorite character, and he's the reason I love comic books so much. I thought the crossover with Daredevil would rope me back in, and it hasn't succeeded. It's only reminded me that the title's like reading a mirror-universe Spider-Man.

The art's nice -- incredible even, and I know the writing can put out quality stuff. If only it were these same creators, 5 years ago.

Secret Avengers #20
by Warren Ellis and Alex Maleev

It's like the Avengers, but they're -shh- Secret. The tag line is, "Run the mission. Don't get seen. Save the world," and it's still just as appropriate as in issue #17. In issue #20, the Shadow Council's killed Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter and James Rhodes (referred to as "zero point"). It's Natasha Romanoff's job to go back in time, save the three, and change history, without having the appearance of changed it. The issue is a cerebral experience, and the reader has to use every single panel of information in order to understand the story. The beginning and end made sense to me, but I'm not entirely clear on the middle. She time-hops 40 years back to convince a Dr. Khronus to construct a time machine, then time hops 5 years back (from zero point) to manufacture a weapon that imitates the state of death, from a Dr. Evans. It's a genius comic-book idea.

There's Warren Ellis's patented dry wit, and Maleev provides hypnotic pencils and inks. I'm serious about that last part: it looks incredibly nice, but there are a few lines in panels, enough to notice that they're just not as consistent with the rest of the lines. I found myself doing double-takes between panels and noticing some objects that had suspiciously more detail than others. It'd be interesting to have a look at how Maleev does his work.

Anyways: a solid entry to the Secret Avengers. Worth at least 2 re-reads.

Links with Wolverine

I like to talk about trades on Monday because I usually read them over the weekend, and I'm really enjoying some of the stuff I borrowed from the library, but, since I haven't had much time to hit the scanner, we have instead, links. Are ya ready, bub?

  1. Marvel offers print coupon with app purchase. This is a pretty exciting offer for me, as digital slowly integrates with analog (print) comic books. I have a Marvel account from a while ago, but I don't have the Marvel app, because I don't have a Droid phone, and the app isn't available on the Kindle Fire. If you partook in this offer, which was . . . last Saturday, let me know in the comments.
  2.  Previews are up for Gary Frank's Batman: Earth One. I haven't seen a lot of Gary Frank since his work on Action Comics with Geoff Johns, so I'm pretty hyped. His style is largely unchanged, and largely nice to look at.
  3. Now that the sales figures seem to give it to Marvel for last December, Newsarama scores a talk with a DC exec about it. They as much admit that their lead from the New 52 would fade, and rationalize it pretty well: of course they wouldn't take the top market share when the other guys are publishing volumes more and charging a dollar more ($3.99) for the units! Keep on truckin', DC sales.
  4. And finally, David Uzumeri has a nice write-up on Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's The Flash. As they're challenging Barry Allen with new powers, they're challenging the comic book medium as well as the comic book reader to a higher level. Uzumeri finds a clever connection between the first and fourth issues that I didn't see: in a science expo, Barry has it explained to him that more highways lead to more congestion. Similarly, in the 3rd issue, Barry's accelerated cognition clogs up his mind so much that he thinks he's won when, he hasn't, and gets shot at for his efforts. I'm loving their The Flash, and you might too.

Four links? Sorry, I thought I'd have more, but that's it for us today. Bring us home, Wolverine.

First Wednesday of 2012

Ack! No weeklies this Wednesday for me!

The new school session has begun, so we will be entering some turbulence. Stick around, as I will no doubt get bored doing math problems.

Today being Wednesday, it's gotten to be habit for me to post something, so, enjoy/gawk at some doodles.

Over the break I got the entertainment videographic game, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions for Wii. I thrilled to the joy of playing as four different Spider-Men from four different continuities. I chilled to unresponsive wall-crawling controls. In particular, I really enjoyed the Spider-Man: Noir levels. It being the 1930s, he has to use stealth to take down the mob goons armed with tommy guns. His design is pretty sweet too: he wears these aviator goggles and a black vest.

In the second level, he faces the Noir version of the Vulture, who happens to be a circus freak and devours the flesh of other human beings for sustenance. At the time I was watching the 1920s film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, and the Vulture reminded me so much of him that I had to doodle him. The scanner makes the blacks stand out, but I did it with a dull #2 pencil.

Here, I'd finished watching last year's Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film, and I rather enjoyed it. Then I started thinking about the X-Men, as one is wont to do, and giggled when "Psylocke" rhymed with "Sherlock." It's based on a book cover that I unfortunately can no longer find.

This is what happens to me when I'm bored.
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