Monday, April 29, 2013

Wednesday One in One Way or Another #173

G.I. Joe Special Missions #1 (2013)
Mind MGMT: One for One
Morning Glories #26
The Shadow: Year One #1

G.I. Joe Special Missions #1 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
I was a big fan of the Joes as a kid, and Marvel put out an involving sci-fi military soap opera back then. I've sampled G.I. Joe comic product since Dark Horse's pathetic '90s attempt at a revival and Devil's Due's successful one of the early aughts. Still, I'm not a kid anymore, we're no longer in Reagan America, and the nostalgia trip was the only limited draw for me. I couldn't buy into it as a generational saga, not wanting to own Despero Junior or anything from the last several years of the toy line. I also found overly serious attempts at portraying the Joes in a post-9/11 world distasteful.

Like its namesake, the good thing about Special Missions is that it seems to be somewhat divorced from the greater "saga" of toy soldiers fighting cartoony snake-themed terrorists and just tells a cool action-packed story. I bought this book because Chuck Dixon is reliable in writing this kind of affair, and the promise of Paul Gulacy drawing the Baroness was too fabulous to ignore. I continue to miss the tone shading in Gulacy's work, but the dude can still slather ink for leather in all its fetishistic glory, and he's great on the spy stuff. He's a little more wonky on the desert combat in the harsh light of day, but the colorist covers for that. This is light adventure with a slick sheen, and I think I'd be in the market for a reasonably priced trade paperback to complete the tale.

Mind MGMT: One for One (Dark Horse, 2012/2013, $1.00)
So look-- here's the thing. I'm okay with this sort of writerly DIY artwork in a biographical hipster Drawn & Quarterly tome telling a story too niche to attract an actual draw-er type person who needs to pay their rent. I'll even allow for it on something like Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth, where the awkward indie vibe is meant to contrast against the cliché apocalyptic genre setting. Mind MGMT on the other hand is firmly established as a thriller in this debut issue, and I don't find funky amateurish artwork thrilling. This is basically an update of those old Jim Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. stories that figured counterculture psychedelica into its goofy sci-spy intrigue, but drowning in Fantagraphical pretension with its obtuse narrative, metatextual quirks, and its being a fucking eyesore.

Remember that Julianne Moore movie where she thinks she lost her son in a plane crash, but everyone tells her she never had a son, or that Jodie Foster movie where her daughter goes missing on a plane flight and no one believes she even brought a daughter on board? This is like that, but without anything exciting or engaging happening. There's some violent shit at the beginning that isn't explained, and then a plane full of people being introduced to mass amnesia, and then some chick at wit's end trying to figure out what happened. I don't give a fuck. Maybe is Paul Gulacy drew the chick in her underwear instead of writer/penciler/inker/colorist/hubrist Matt Kindt, but probably not even then. There's just too little to go on story wise, and too much ill will built up in such a short span of pages, that I cannot bring myself to care.

Morning Glories #26 (Image, 2013, $1.00)
Pardon my French, but Nick Spencer is a stupid motherfucker. This book normally sells about 8,000 copies. This special sampler issue retails for a dollar, which means your shop paid about fifty-cents per copy. Diamond Distribution probably takes a sizable percentage as well, so lets says that with the temporary sales boost Image grosses four grand on this issue. Once you factor in production costs like talent and printing, the sub-studio Shadowline is probably in the red. It's what they call a "loss leader," where you offer a product at such a deep discount that it costs the seller money, with the intention of "getting people through the door" to buy other stuff. You take a hit on one in order to sell more.

Based on that premise, this comic fails spectacularly. I read the first trade a couple of years ago, and liked it well enough, but wasn't compelled to keep reading from there. If a publisher wants to hook new readers, prime candidates would be guys like me with a passing familiarity, or better yet, an entirely fresh audience. That isn't going to happen when your sampler comic is a thunderous "FUCK YOUUUU" to anyone who hasn't read the previous twenty-five issues, and I mean all of them. Shit is impenetrable. I have vague recollections of the basic premise of Morning Glories and still don't have a friggin' clue about who 95% of the characters in this story are or even a rudimentary understanding of what is going on. There's a blond girl named Casey who might have been the star of the first "season," but she might be new to this second one, but I'm not sure and it isn't made clear. She dresses up like the evil teacher from the debut volume, or maybe the star of the first volume is another person, and Casey is the new star or something. Seriously, I'm not going to pull that first trade off the shelf just to make the slightest sense of what the fuck is going on here, because that's not how this kind of goddamned thing is supposed to work. I'm actually not joking about being kind of pissed right now that I'm even being asked to make that kind of effort, so I can imagine how annoying this would be for the completely uninitiated. There are nine "silent" pages that act like the opening of All-Star Superman, which had a series of disconnected images that were perfectly understandable to a world made intimately familiar with the Man of Steel over the last 75 years. The same technique applied to a minor Image comic read by less than ten thousand people goes beyond mental retardation into a near catatonic state of storytelling. There are three splash pages with a single line of dialogue, and three pages wasted Jonathan Hickman style on a "credit sequence" announcing the title of the book against a stark background. I want to kick something right now, like that guy from the Charles Atlas ads once he got home from the beach.

Also, I still hate looking at Joe Eisma's drawy-drawn drawings representing people and objects that look like drawings that the talents of colorist Alex Sollazzo barely make palatable. I've been to three conventions Eisma attended and have been magnanimous enough to try to figure out one character I think that he could draw adequately as a commission, but can't bring myself to actually put money in his hand because it feels like an unforgivable ethical compromise to encourage him to continue his "craft." Maybe he'll read this and confront me and I can hit him because I totally want to hit somebody over this book. This is the Lindsay Lohan of comics-- irredeemably squandering enormous opportunities in favor of being as infuriatingly worthless as possible. Fuck all'y'all.

The Shadow: Year One #1 (Dynamite, 2013, $3.99)
I realize that in 2013, "socialite" is a euphemism for "vacuous monied whore with a catalog entry at Vivid," but I don't think that's what it meant when Margo Lane was created as the female lead in a 1937 radio program. Can we maybe try to allow a forerunner to modern feminism and a probable influence on the creation of Lois Lane enough dignity to not survive as a mobster's joy toy and blackmailing babymama? Matt Wagner, you wrote Sandman Mystery Theater. You're better than that. The rest of the comic is okay, and I quite liked the art of Wilfredo Torres, who reflected a period vibe without being enslaved to it. Dug Brennan Wagner's antique palette as well.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New Crusaders, Book One: Rise of the Heroes (2013)

I've always wanted to like the MLJ-Archie super-heroes, but never have. When I say something like "I'm not a big fan of Alan Moore," it feeling like a confession, but that's more the statement of an obvious, near universal truth. There are dozens, perhaps even hundreds of people across the globe who legitimately like these early entries in the genre, but I think the vast majority of readers who care in any way are like me, more enthused about the idea of them existing than the printed evidence of such.

MLJ got its start in 1939 with the super-hero boom, and proceeded to churn out one unoriginal example after another with the sole initial innovation of inventing the brazenly patriotic Shield. The Comet wasn't too bad, but he wasn't terribly popular, so he was the first super-hero to be murdered. His brother donned a costume to avenge his death, and the Hangman hung around for a few years as a more right-leaning Batman, which was a cool development. Beyond that though, the MLJ heroes were also-rans, and when the boom began to bust in 1943, MLJ shifted focus to a more reliable moneymaker. Archie Andrews became the greatest star of teen-skewing humor comics, taking over the entire company. During lucrative super-hero revivals in the '60s, '80s, and '90s, the old MLJ heroes were trotted out to try to siphon off the waves, failed every time, and died a swift death. I had several of the ugly, inferior Remco Mighty Crusaders action figures meant to appeal to fans of Kenner's Super Powers Collection and Mattel's Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, which can still be had decades later on their original cards as whole sets on eBay for less than single figures from the lines they imitated. My brother and I also tried most of the early !mpact Comics, wherein DC Comics proved that they had the talent and marketing heft to limp along for three years licensing the characters whereas Archie would typically just cut their loses after a year.

There are numerous complex reasons why the Archie super-heroes have never gone over, but the most succinct rational is that they're lukewarm mercenary crap featuring cheesy bygone concepts, typically produced by hacks and nobodies with their finger resting firmly on the toenail of the market. Just a few years ago, masochists that they are, DC licensed the characters again and tried to relaunch them on the back of a J. Michael Straczynski revamp, except the guy only wrote four introductory one-shots before DC turned the project over to whoever was open in the freelancer pool. It seemed strange that Archie would turn around and offer another take in a short span of time, where usually they let the stink fade for a decade or two. Not to be cynical, but given their history, it's hard not to see New Crusaders as a means of promoting their online subscription service allowing access to the entire catalog of decades of failure to make a dent in the market. I'm sure keeping the intellectual property alive at a time when super-hero films are huge at the box office is another side benefit. They've been pretty open about their willingness to lease these things out.

Alternately, New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes is a vanity project for Archie talent to do super-heroes as formulaically as possible, which for me is worse than it being a cash grab, because I would hate to crush their dreams of adequacy. The premise is that the events of all of the stories published by Archie subsidiaries are still in continuity, but the stars of all those books just died in a fire, leaving the mantles to their teenage offspring/wards. It's screwed right there at the premise, because these "new" Crusaders would be pushing thirty even if you only factored in the '80s stories, but they make a point of reaching back to 1940s material just to insure you can't get past the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. The Archie touch is there by starting the story in the very staid, whitebread Riverdale type setting of "Red Circle," which had known peace for all of the kids' lives. Rather than any sort of meritocracy, the kids are immediately positioned to succeed their parents by the demands of inheritance, despite their having been blissfully unaware of their heritage and having had no training whatsoever. Nothing like Caucasian entitlement to get you rooting for these chumps.

There are two non-white tokens, who are singled out as having not been sired as direct seed of Crusaders. The Comet's chief defining characteristics are being colored darker than the other kids and having to share his origin with a white boy. Jaguar's main characteristics are crippling social anxiety and having borrowed most directly from !mpact. Also, these are the two characters with the least and most distressingly catastrophic control of their abilities. I think Brad Paisley wrote "Accidental Racist" about this comic. Of course, that's still better than Steel Sterling, who lacks any discernible personality, or the gratingly obnoxious Fireball, which I'm sure won't foreshadow his story arc at all. Fly Girl and the Web are the best of the lot by virtue of not being irritating and hovering in the outer orbit of actual characterization. The team is led by the Shield, who is basically a more abrasive and reckless Captain America. Even by the dim standards of parental guidance set by the super-hero genre, the Shield manages to limbo under the bar in the field of child endangerment. There is literally a talking monkey in this book who would better serve these kids.

Ben Bates' art style is a poor man's Bruce Timm/Mike Parobeck/Ty Templeton, but gets a little problematic when the first issue ends with a massacre. Getting a pass as all-ages fare is prohibited when blood gushes out of an office drone's every orifice or cops are murdered gangland execution style during a prison riot, so Bates and (admittedly seamless) relief artist Alitha Martinez shouldn't have tried to sit at the big kids' table. The storytelling and character "acting" are overblown in a cartoony American way with Japanese manga touches. The western elements make the violence uncomfortable in a way Ian Flynn's script isn't prepared to address, and the eastern ones reinforce this as a contemporary work that disallows the quaint wrongness of stuff like Micky Mouse contemplating suicide in comic strips released at the only point in history where these characters halfway worked. The character designs are mind-numbing in their mediocrity, like a dish with every bit of flavor boiled out of it. They make DC's maligned efforts with this lot look like the height of haute couture by comparison. Origins are dispensed with as dutifully dull as possible, better recalling Strikeforce: Morituri than the magic rings and mad science of old. I tried to cut the book some slack by recognizing the number of characters that needed to be introduced in the span of a mini-series, but then I watched the Game of Thrones pilot for the first time, where the same challenge was met and overcome about a zillion times better than this. If the writer couldn't handle seven leads, he should have given us a P.O.V. character instead of wall-to-wall tropes.

New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes is what I refer to as a "Phantom Menace." There's always that one joker who thinks they could have done a better job with a work of art, and insists on regaling you with their "improvements." In the case of a "Phantom Menace" though, the entire audience becomes a righteous incarnation of that guy, because you're being subjected to a piece so wrong-headed that you can't help but editorialize in a constructive way. This book looks like it should be kid friendly, so where is the adventure of Carl Barks' Ducks, or the warmth of Pixar, or the abandon of Axe Cop, or even the accessible low comedy of Shreck? Why is it so grim in such a common way that you might as well give a kid a flashier DC/Marvel offering with more well-rounded characters? Thanks to the decompressed storytelling, this book has the same deliberate pacing as every other comic on the stands, but doesn't take that opportunity to develop their characters or deepen the plotting. It reminds me of how aspiring artists can't look at the most dubious bottom rung talents as their competition, because those guys are already getting work for reasons that escape you, and who throws good money after bad that stays in business? There's nothing remotely new about these Crusaders; they are virtually interchangeable with anything else in the market, without any cause for recommending it above the rest of the dreck.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wednesday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they're here to stay, oh, I believe in Wednesday #172

Hellblazer #300
Infestation: Sketchbook
Justice League of America #1 (2013)
Justice League of America's Vibe #1
John Carter: The Gods of Mars #1 (2012)
Sex #1 (2013)
Star Trek Countdown to Darkness #1
Star Wars #1 (2013)
Threshold presents The Hunted #1

It's been 2½ months since I did a review column. I had to move and my work schedule got shitty and I was tired and then I got better but I wanted to catch up with other blogs and the material to review wasn't all that engaging but it kept piling up and look just fucking live your life and I'll live mine, okay?

Hellblazer #300 (Vertigo, 2013, $4.99)
I seriously haven't followed this book since Ennis & Dillon left a decade and a half ago, so it's no great personal tragedy for me that DC just canceled its longest running title on the post-New 52 publishing slate so that they can relaunch a sanitized mainstream version that won't last 1/12th as long. It's just another reminder that DC isn't home for me anymore, and I'm increasingly casting my lot elsewhere, which is why there'll be a lot more Dirty Trader paperback reviews and less floppies 'round here. It doesn't help that John Constantine went out like a pussy. It isn't all Peter Milligan's fault, as there was at least a decade of Constantine mellowing, developing healthier relationships, getting de-clawed and spayed. Maybe him and the missus would have popped out some kids, and become house-proud, and after that exceptionally lengthy wind-up the whole family would have been raped and murdered by demons. That would have served Constantine right, and he could have descended into a properly irredeemable bastard, but who needs a hundred issues of set up for all that? This book touched on oodles of supporting characters and storylines, many involving hero-worshiping of John, and it's hard not to see him as a washed up rock star who hasn't had anything to say in ages and should have long ago choked on his own vomit for the sake of his legacy. Giuseppe Camuncoli's artwork is perfectly fine for crime comics, but seems incapable of arousing the sort of dread required of "contemporary horror," or whatever marketing buzzwords DC were trying out in 1988. The extra length final issue doesn't have a celebrity afterward or send-off pin-up gallery or anything. It's just an extended wimper, a Bridges to Babylon when we'd all have druthered leave things at Voodoo Lounge. It's sad for all the wrong reasons.

Infestation: Sketchbook (IDW, 2011)
I think that this was some kind of incentive book that I picked up cheap sight unseen and regret a little bit. It's nothing but uncolored sketches of licensed characters zombified, like browsing through a Comic Art Fans gallery in 2006. Lame.

Justice League of America #1 (DC, 2013, $3.99)
As usual in the modern age of decompressed storytelling, there was a lot more sizzle than steak. Most of the book is two people having a meeting in an office while looking at photographs. Did we learn nothing from the Brad Meltzer debacle other than to condense seven issues of this stuff into one extra-sized edition? It doesn't help that one of those people is the anorexic New 52 Amanda Waller, "The Pole," the "Non-Supporting Wall," "Weight Watchers Waller." Everybody in the New 52 is a fucking supermodel.

I have to say that one thing set right by the reboot was the restoration of Steve Trevor. It's okay for Batman to have a James Bond type of impermanence with regard to his love interests, and even Superman shouldn't necessarily be tied down to Lois Lane, so long as she remains prominent in comics in general. Steve Trevor though is arguably as central a figure in Wonder Woman's origin as Diana herself, since he's the impetus and ongoing motivation for the Princess' abandoning Paradise Island to combat the evils of Man's World, and remained so until the 1970s. For nearly a quarter century, Wonder Woman didn't quite make sense as a character because Steve Trevor had been cast aside for past sins with nothing more than vague altruism and wanderlust left in his place (DC strongly squelching any emphasis on that "lust" part.) Returning him to prominence fixes a broken element of the DC Universe, and his being the rejected party in a past affair humbles and humanizes the once abusive figure. Further, that element of romance, even lost, enlivens Wonder Woman and ensures that Trevor won't join the long list of Nick Fury proxies. I'm hardly in love with Geoff Johns these days, but I think I'd be buying the Wonder Woman comic if he were writing it.

The individual team member vignettes are nice teaser trailers for whoever they're meant to be for the purposes of the book. I'm not sure if the line-up or the rationale of the group was conceived first, but it's hard to imagine someone setting out to build a true anti-Justice League and deciding these second stringers had the mettle. The twisted takes on some of the team members show potential, and Dave Finch's art is a hell of a lot easier on the eyes and storytelling sensibilities than Jim Lee's. The artist has an interesting take on the Martian Manhunter, having nothing to do with the more alien skull seen recently and favoring the classic look. His costume is rendered so heavily in shadow that the sometimes loud purples are agreeably muted, but Finch inexplicably draws a crude flower shape as the Manhunter's chest emblem. His threats just don't hold the same gravitas when he seems to be promoting no-skid shower stickers like a NASCAR driver in need of better sponsorship. I dug the reversion of Ivo back to a petrified man from that thug version seen the last time they decided to name a book Justice League of America. I've always thought that the Secret Society of Super-Villains was a great concept, so I'm happy DC is finally embracing it (without turning it into the Legion of Doom or Injustice Gang, which should be as different as the Avengers, Defenders, and the Champions before everyone became an Avenger.)

I can't say that I'm exactly excited about this book, but I'm not put off by the debut issue either, which is something of a victory with a New 52 offering.

Justice League of America's Vibe #1 (DC, 2013, $2.99)
Have you seen the trailer to the new Saint series? If I remember correctly, The Saint started out as a series of novels, but what most people remember is the 1960s TV series that served as an extended audition for the handsomeness and charm of Roger Moore to succeed Sean Connery as James Bond. There have been prior attempts at a revival, and the world has collectively given them a pass, as they should this new series. It stars some random dude with a British accent (like black people, they all look alike in Hollywood's eyes) in a by-the-numbers story that has its every plot point spoiled in the trailer, and the main twist is that they throw in Eliza Dushku (telling anagram: "Duh Suk".) The bloated corpse of Roger Moore is included in a cameo to punctuate what a terrible development this whole thing represents.

"V.I.N.O." (Vibe In Name Only) works for A.R.G.U.S. in a post-G.I. Joe world where everyone is a fit paramilitary badass with a full head of hair. Dale Gunn used to be a balding middle-aged Vietnam vet who was a surrogate father and all around Alfred Pennyworth to Steel (the white one.) Now he's a hard motherfucking spy with a goatee working for Amanda "Apple Bottom" Waller tasked with turning Vibe into a somebody. 1984's Paco Ramone was a gangbanging breakdancer with more attitude than sense who was tolerated more than liked. Now Francisco Ramone is a polite lad working at an electronics store to save for college who everyone believes is going to do great things. As best as I can tell, the creators are trying to redeem the Vibe name, as he was one of the first and remains one of the few Latino super-hero properties at a time when that's a voting block that can determine presidential elections. Their method of doing this is to whitewash Detroit and smooth out every rough edge, taking with it any semblance of personality. It doesn't appeal to folks who appreciated Vibe for his camp/transgressive value, and there's a desperate air to the effort of trying to make this kid matter on a grand scale, like every other time comics have tried to manufacture The Next Big Thing. It is impossible to like Cisco Ramone, because there's nothing there but a well-intentioned blank where a character should be.

John Carter: The Gods of Mars #1 (Marvel, 2012, $2.99)
The prospect of reviewing this book contributed to my hiatus from doing reviews. Wasn't it enough to just read the damned thing? This civil war guy travels to Mars through a dubious method and fight critters with a Martian dude he knew from another story. There's a scam being used to enslave Martian people, and somewhere in there Edgar Rice Burroughs gets inserted into his own story. I don't know or care whether this is an adaptation, but everything is uninspired, and Sam Humphries maintains his track record of writing shit I have no use for.

Sex #1 (Image, 2013, $2.99)
I definitely like Sex in general, but I'd rather have a lot of it all at once than an unsatisfying little taste that ends just about the time I finally feel like I'm getting a handle on it. I do have to say that the panels of sheared vulva do nothing but limit the potential audience and waste space (while, most importantly, not being the least bit arousing.) Joe Casey doesn't alienate me for once, and Piotr Kowalski's art has a cool Mazzuchelli covering Guido Crepax thing going on. Please stop it with the colored text highlighting though, which puts emphasis on words for no particular reason and make me read the character's dialogue like Christopher Walken talking to Bill Shatner.

Star Trek Countdown to Darkness #1 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
Speaking of whom, this is like every other Star Trek comic, which is to say stiff and dull. Spock is still struggling with the shocking twist of the last movie... from 2009. Four years ago, this thing was a modest thrill, and I might have still had some enthusiasm in 2011, but I'm completely indifferent to it now. I haven't seen Abrams' flick since the theater, and didn't even bother to fish it out of the discount bin because it wasn't worth my standing in line to pay for it. This kind of thrill is best found cheaper and easier. For instance, there's oodles more decent-to-good Star Wars books that Trek ones. This is because Lucas' creation is science-fantasy; fairy tale comfort food melodrama filled with familiar themes and influences that are fun to draw and easy to write. Roddenberry's brainchild is cerebral; plot-driven science fiction with relatively static characters serving to observe and comment on situations analogous to real world concerns. At its best, Trek is The McLaughlin Group for dorks, but all that talky-talk bores artists and demands writing craft greater than the comic book industry seems capable of keeping down on the plantation. No matter how hard you try to bring sexy to Trek, its DNA won't allow for the fabulous swashbuckling trash Star Wars trades in. Stupid soap opera doesn't drape properly across a Federation issue uniform.

Star Wars #1 (Dark Horse, 2013, $2.99)
Continuing to segue, and speaking of the devil: Fly in space-- swoosh-- feelings over intercom-- mechanical breathing-- BAD GUYS--- DANGER-- watch yourself-- I'm HIT!-- nosedive-- KRSHH!-- double tap like a gangsta-- evil sorcerer-- dark knight-- conspiracy! C-3PO entertains the Ewoks and we all get down. It's silly shit coloring in the margins of a well worn mythology, but Brian Wood knows his way around it better than most, and Carlos D'anda keeps shit popping. Even Alex Ross, who I'm so very friggin' tired of after years of Dynamite dreck, hits just the right nostalgic uplifting note with his cover. Dark Horse seems hellbound on preemptively making Marvel look terrible before Disney even (inevitably) pulls their hard won and long toiled over license.

Threshold #1 (DC, 2013, $3.99)
The Hunger Games is an extremely popular franchise based in the subgenre of survival action/horror that's been quietly swelling for ages. Keith Giffen is an old man, so he processes that appeal through the prism of an earlier generation, The Running Man. Jediah Caul (a perfectly Schwarzeneggerian name) is a fugitive Green Lantern with trumped up charges against him, because Green Lanterns sell books and he first appeared in a backdoor pilot hosted in one of their annuals. He's stuck on the planet where criminals go to get hunted for bounty and televised sport, which is exactly what happens on a bunch of pages that wouldn't be much use to anyone if Tom Raney hadn't drawn them in that nifty way he has about him. Halfway through, I thought the "co-feature" had kicked in, but it was actually a couple of obscure DC sci-fi characters hijacking the narrative (abruptly, though not unwelcome.) Then the actual back-up story began, which was about Larfleeze, that Orange Lantern DC really thinks you like but let's see how the numbers on his upcoming spin-off shake out. I'm personally not a Scott Kolins booster, and it's Giffen being "funny" in that way he has when not having someone else do his dialogue, which is to say gratingly attitudinal in the street sense of the word. Yes it is too a word. Oh, fuck off why don't you? By the way, did Avatar allow its trademark to pass on their surprisingly long-lived T&Anthology because folks searching for DC cover images will be confronted with graphic depictions of pussy instead? Because that's a pretty sweet consequence, I must say.


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