Friday, August 29, 2008

Mighty Avengers 17 - More Hank Pym

Despite the cover Marvel is displaying on their website, this comic has absolutely nothing to do with Ares and everything to do with Hank Pym again. I don't understand why Marvel is putting such a focus on him throughout this Skrull storyline, but I have a feeling he's going to play a very big part in ending it.

The story opens with Hank and Dum Dum Dugan talking in a diner. After a few minutes, we understand it's really the Skrull replacements of both, but Hank Skrull wants to call off the invasion. He doesn't think they stand a chance of winning, and there's a quick mention of Thor returning. An interesting statement is made here: "You've got half the brain of Hank Pym, and you're losing to it." So the Skrulls aren't just imitating these guys, but they've got part of their brain too? Marvel still hasn't given us the reason why the Invasion is working so well this time, but this may have something to do with it.

After a conversation, the Hank Skrull rebels and tries to stop the Skrull team himself. It's very cool to actually see Hank Pym in action as Giant Man and as Yellowjacket in the same book, especially since we haven't really seen him as much more than a scientist in years (with the exception of one quick stint as Ant-Man in Mighty Avengers 5). Of course, this isn't really Hank, but still...

Marvel's ploy of making every issue of Mighty Avengers and New Avengers some sort of backstory dump is really starting to wear thin here. If not for the fact that I believe this issue is trying to foreshadow Hank Pym's upcoming importance in the story, I'd say this was just filler. As it stands, I believe Marvel is setting the stage for Hank Pym to save the day at the cost of his own life. It makes sense. If you look at the upcoming library of Avengers titles shipping after Secret Invasion #8, they all make mention of a "death that shakes them to the core" and such. He's a core member of the Avengers, so why not? For now, this is just my theory, but I feel pretty strong about it.

Unless you're a Hank Pym fan, I'd skip this issue. Fortunately we only have about two more months of backstory to go before Marvel brings the Avengers titles back to the present.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What A Way To Go! Deaths in Comics

In comic books, death is never a permanent thing. We know eventually that hero or villain will probably return, but it's how they died we remember fondly. Let's look at some of the best-written deaths in comic book history. And yes, I know three of them came from the same storyline, but it's not my fault DC did it right for once!

Barry Allen/The Flash
When the cover said "The Final Fate of the Flash", we still didn't believe it. I mean, how many times have you read that before about other heroes? But DC definitely meant it this time.

Barry Allen, the beloved hero who originally began the Silver Age of comics with his creation, remains the greatest Flash of them all in many people's opinions. If you read the old "Flash" comics, you might not understand the attraction, but one of the reasons he's held in such high regard is the way he died.

Supergirl had just died in the previous issue, and she had gone out in a powerful way (see her listing further down the list), so no one was expecting DC to try and top that by killing of another legend in the very next issue. But the Flash, who had been captured by Anti-Monitor early on in the series because he was the one hero who could stop what was coming, finally managed to escape in issue #8 and it was his turn to do his part for the multiverse. Running at top speed to counteract the Anti-Monitor's machine, Barry actually starts to decay and turn to dust. Even though he knows he's dying, he continues his run and manages to warn several heroes of the impending danger (we saw this in the first issue of the series, but didn't understand what it was until issue 8).

To be fair, Barry didn't actually die, but went into the Speed Force (but we didn't know that until years later). Barry has apparently made his return in Final Crisis, but according to this article in NewsARama it'll be next year that Barry Allen fans get the biggest treat. The creative team behind the incredible story Green Lantern: Rebirth have teamed up again for a new miniseries called (originally enough) The Flash: Rebirth.


Don Hall had been a part of the hero duo of "Hawk & Dove" with his brother Hank since the 60's. He was the pacifist to his brother's aggressor character, and they worked well but were never really more than guest-shot or team players after their initial introduction. Then the Crisis on Infinite Earths claimed another victim. Rushing to aid a child from the Shadow Monsters, Dove was hit in the back by one and killed instantly, dying a true hero.

DC took a lot of parting shots as they closed this maxi-series out. Dove's death was relegated to a single page spread and it seems almost a toss-off, but they were able to use it as a pivotal point in the "Armageddon" crossovers later. DC executives claimed that their original intention for the Monarch character was for him to be Captain Atom, but they changed that at the last moment because rumor had already been spread as to Monarch's identity (remember, this was in the days before the Internet, so it was a rare occurrence for plots to be spoiled ahead of time without an editor's ok). Instead, it was revealed to be Hank Hall, and it was the death of both his brother and then his follow-up female Dove partner that drove him over the edge. So in a way, Don's death helped set in motion an entirely new major DC miniseries years later.

Green Arrow
Oliver Queen was a beloved hero. He was that scruffy, loud-mouthed member of the Justice League who wasn't afraid to speak his mind when others did things he didn't agree with. He regularly faced down Hawkman and Batman, for pity's sake! But when times got rough, Ollie was the man to have in your corner. Completely fearless, he faced down the baddies no matter who they were. But what was he most afraid of? We didn't find out until he died.

Ollie was trying to disarm a bomb on a plane, but it trapped his arm in it. Superman was there and ready to try and save him, but the only way he could do it was for GA to lose his arm in the process. Ollie didn't want to go on if he was going to be disabled, so he chose to die instead. Supes stayed with him until the end when the bomb went off and killed Ollie (for a while, at least).

Gwen Stacy
I know it seems cheap to bring her up here, but I had to. Gwen's death was a major turning point in Spider-Man's career, and it eventually led to the (first) death of the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn. GG kidnaps her and takes her to the top of a bridge. Spidey comes to rescue her and they fight it out. In the process, Gwen is knocked off the bridge by the Goblin and Spidey tries to rescue her with a well-placed web shot. By the time he pulls her up, she's dead. This sets Spidey off and we have the awesome showdown that follows.

So why is this non-hero on the list? Because of a little word most of us didn't pay attention to when reading the comic for the first time: "Snap". Spidey catches Gwen, pulls her up, she's dead...we blame it on the Goblin. He even said himself that the fall killed her. But it wasn't until much later that the truth was finally brought out and we learned who really killed Gwen Stacy. We find out later that it was the sudden stop brought on by Spider-Man's web shot that causes her neck to break. Essentially, it means Spider-Man killed Gwen himself! Granted, the fall would have killed her if hadn't done anything, but it added a wellspring of agony for Peter in later years when he realized it.

Gwen has had a clone return, and even two adult children she'd had after a one-night stand with Norman Osborn (the man who eventually had at least partial responsibility in her death), but she's never actually come back. Even that horrible mess of "Brand New Day" has at least had the decency to let her stay dead (for now, at least). This makes her one of the few on the list who remain dead to this day.

Clint Barton was one of those heroes who could never carry their own title, but was always a good team player. It was in the end that Clint finally showed what a team player he really was.

When the "Avengers Disassembled" storyline occurred, a huge battle with the Kree brought on a stray shot that hit Clint's quiver and started all of his explosive arrows building to critical mass. Rather than blow up and kill his friends around him, he grabbed a Kree soldier and forced him to fly them into one of the warships. The resulting explosion took out the ship, and blew Marvel's premiere archer into least for a while.

We didn't really even have time to consider his death. He was back in the "House of M" storyline a few months later, and then showed up afterward in the regular Marvel world.

Clint's now part of the New Avengers as "Ronin", but that doesn't keep him off the list. When the time came for him to make a choice, he chose to die a hero and save his friends.

Superman's cousin, Kara, had the less-than-enviable position of being the second-string "Super". She really was as powerful as Superman, but was relegated by comic history as "close but not good enough".

All that changed in "Crisis on Infinite Earths".

We were still reeling from the deaths of several beloved icons in the maxi-series (and we didn't even know the Flash was next on the hit list!), when all of the sudden we see the cover that told the story. Superman is fighting Anti-Monitor for the fate of the multiverse, but he just can't take him down. Beaten and about to be killed, Kara steps in. This has to rank as one of the coolest hero deaths of all time because we finally see just how tough she really can be. No longer a second-string Superman, Supergirl tears into Anti-Monitor and would have defeated him if she hadn't been distracted by Doctor Light (the hero version) at the last second. Anti-Monitor uses the distraction and shoots her with a power beam that mortally wounds her. He escapes, and Superman manages to get to Kara just before she dies.

This wasn't some sappy death scene. This was powerful stuff. I didn't like how DC was brutally racing through their stable of heroes and slaughtering them left and right in this story, but at least Supergirl got a good send-off. And unlike most of the others on this list, she's stayed dead. Supergirl has returned in several incarnations, but this Kara is gone (for now).

Booster Gold

During the 52 maxi-series, Booster Gold found himself being outdone time and again by a mysterious hero known only as "Supernova". The speculation as to who Supernova really was flew all over the internet, but one thing was certain: he had a grudge against Booster Gold.

Things came to a head in week fifteen of the series when Booster tried to save Metropolis from a monster. Unfortunately, his every action seemed to make things worse. Supernova eventually arrived to save the day and the two of them had it out again. Then a building nuclear reaction in a ship caught both their attentions and Booster was off to save the day. He pulled his forcefield around himself and the ship and flew them up over Metropolis and out of harm's way. As Booster was finally being heralded as the hero at last, the ship exploded. To quell any doubts as to his death, a stunned Supernova flew up and caught his body. It was confirmed through a DNA analysis by Skeets to truly be Michael Carter, and Booster died a hero.

Of course, this is comic books and no one ever truly stays dead except Bucky Bar--never mind. Anyway, Booster showed up later in the series and his faked death set the stage for his own ongoing book. It was a fake out of sorts, but for several long weeks the world (and fans everywhere) thought he was dead.

Captain America

Steve Rogers had led a band of rebel heroes through a messy "Civil War" and brought them to brink of victory before finally doing a complete turnaround and giving up. The anticlimactic ending of "Civil War" killed a story that had been the best thing Marvel had done in years, but they weren't finished yet.

In Captain America #25, the cover again said it all. Of course, by the time the issue came out we'd already seen national news coverage of the comic book hero's upcoming death, so it the "shock and awe" moment wasn't quite what the writers had probably hoped for.

Steve is being led away in cuffs after surrendering, and he sees the red dot of a laser scope. Without hesitation, he dives into the path of the bullet (he'd have felt a little foolish if it had just been some kid with a laser pointer, I'm sure) and takes one to the neck. In the chaos that follows, he's shot again at point-blank range (supposedly by SHIELD agent and former girlfriend Sharon) and soon dies on the courthouse steps.

Steve has yet to return, but this is one death I'm certain they won't let stand. Bringing Bucky back and into the costume was a cool idea, but Steve Rogers is Captain America, plain and simple.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hulk #5 - Maybe we made him TOO strong?

I know I'm a little late in this review, but I was on vacation when this came out and didn't catch it until a week later. At any rate, it was just too good of an issue to pass up.

Red Hulk (aka Doc Samson Hulk) has been quite a force to reckon with since his debut just five short issues ago. There was speculation it was Rick Jones, but that was quickly dispelled as we found Rick to be the new Abomination--excuse me, A-Bomb (the Name Fairy really missed it on this one). Samson Hulk has been basically ripping through everything thrown at him, and smacked Banner Hulk down pretty quickly.

Then along came Thor.

I've never been a Thor fan, but you have to give the guy credit. He's supposed to be one of the strongest characters in the Marvel U, and has died and come back a few times. Now he's supposed to be a pivotal player in this new Hulk storyline and give Samson Hulk his first challenge.

Not really.

Samson Hulk is supposed to be strong. We get that. He's supposed to be bad. We understand. But where did he get this kind of power? Thor lays into him with everything he has, and Samson Hulk just shakes it off. Then he proceeds to give Thor the biggest beatdown he's ever gotten while conveniently defying every rule ever laid down in every other Thor and Hulk storyline ever written.

He grabs Thor's hammer (supposed to be impossible for anyone but Thor to lift, and even the Banner Hulk couldn't get this puppy off the ground) and the proceeds to jump into outer space to beat the living tar out of Thor. To the amazement of everyone (including Thor himself), Samson Hulk finally ends up throwing Thor onto the moon and leaving here there for dead before jumping back to earth.

Here's a fun trivia fact for you: In what issue did the Hulk first jump to the moon? Go look it up...I'll wait. Back already? Answer: He never has before! It's a new Marvel thing, so don't ask questions!

We end the issue seeing Iron Man show up with his crew ready to give Banner Hulk a hand in defeating Samson Hulk. The man responsible for "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" shows up ready to give Banner Hulk a hand...shouldn't there be some huge fight in this first? Of course not. And you have to love Marvel's way of always labeling folks in group shots like this? Name one person on that page (besides possibly Ares) even a casual comic reader wouldn't immediately recognize!

As much as I loved this story, here's my concern: Marvel is giving this Samson Hulk what I call "Sentry Syndrome". They make a character so strong right off the bat that it becomes impossible to use them again. They've spent so much time making Samson Hulk seem unbeatable that it will be incredibly unrealistic for him to go down in a simple battle now. He's going to tear through this little team quickly and it'll come down to Green versus Red, and even though he's been spanked by this guy before (and it's as improbable now as ever) I have a feeling somehow the green guy is going to win. I'm not complaining though! Any way you look at it, it's been a great read up until this point.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cool Plot Twist Moments

Ok, who saw the ending of Sixth Sense coming? How about that moment in Psycho when we find out the truth about "mother"? It's those great plot twist moments that keep us coming back to the movies. Well, sometimes they happen in comic books too. Here's a few of the better ones in recent years we didn't really see coming:

"I'm the X-Factor."

When Peter David brought Jamie Madrox back into the Marvel world, he gave the Multiple Man an interesting problem: his duplicates were no longer exact dupes of himself. Now each had their own little personality quirks that made them either a help or hindrance in a situation. Sometimes they worked for him, and sometimes they worked against him, and he never knew what was coming.

Rictor is contemplating suicide and Jamie decides to send over a dupe to negotiate with him (because he's scared of heights). After making a few, he comes across one who seems perfect and sends him over. The dupe manages to talk Rictor out of the suicide attempt and all seems goodEnter the X-Factor series. Now Madrox is leading a detective agency with other mutants. A de-powered again...until they turn to go. Then the dupe drops a little revelation that's he not what he seems and shoves Rictor off the ledge. After a brief confrontation, Jamie learns this dupe is "The X-Factor", a crazy part of himself that will surface at some point in the future and Jamie will never know when that dupe is the one he's depending on.

This was a classic moment, and set some tension in the series for a while. Peter David gave a whole new meaning to the term "X-Factor" and suddenly the name of the series was synonymous with the unexpected more than an X-Men wannabe team. Eventually, this played off into an even bigger plot twist at the end of the second six-issue storyline. We saw "the X-Factor" again, and it was completely unexpected and a beautiful payoff to the what turned out to be a 12-issue related arc. I think this series is awesome and you should check it out. I can honestly say I never saw the twist coming, and "the X-Factor" returned in the coolest way possible.

Jason Todd is Hush...or Not

During the Hush storyline, Batman found himself facing off against a villain who knew all the intricate workings of his personal life. There was no rational explanation for this, until a jaw-dropping moment in a graveyard as Hush's bandages dropped away to reveal Jason Todd. This former Robin was believed to be dead, and now all of Hush's actions made sense. The desire for revenge, the intimate knowledge of the Caped Crusader's life...everything fell into place.

Of course, this ruse only lasted a few pages before we found out it was Clayface and not really Jason Todd (until later, when we found out it was Jason Todd who swapped places with Clayface later during the chase), but the shock was there and the seeds were planted. Suddenly everyone was thinking: wouldn't it be cool if Jason Todd did return as some tough, bad guy version of himself? That's exactly what happened later, but it was this moment that was the catalyst for it all.

Ray Palmer is a Killer...or Not

When DC started promoting Identity Crisis it was almost a guaranteed hit. Brad Meltzer, the best-selling novelist, was making a statement in comics and he'd promised something big. The series definitely delivered in a lot of areas, and it made you look at Doctor Light in a whole new way. Suddenly it brought a gravity to the fight between good and evil we'd never seen before. Innocent people could get hurt. In this case, Sue Dibny (wife of the Elongated Man) was brutally murdered in a perfect "locked room" scenario, and it was up to the JLA to find out who would stoop to this. Who could get in and out of a locked room without tripping any alarms? How could they do this without discovery? Who had declared open season on the loved ones of the JLA?

It wasn't until the sixth issue that we got our answer in the form of tiny footprints on Sue's brain. Someone incredibly small had been standing on her brain, and only one person fit that category: Ray Palmer aka The Atom. This was one of those perfect cliffhanger moments that kept you in suspense for an entire month until the final issue came out. With that one revelation, everything made sense and fell into place. Of course, it was a red herring, but even when the real murderer was revealed, it made even more sense! It was a plot twist on a plot twist, and it was a gut punch moment.

A lot of things happened in this story I didn't like (not the least of which was the brutal violation of Sue Dibny by Doctor incident I consider gratuitous and just there for the shock value), but the final reveal was a good one. The story didn't end with some huge fight scene, but like any good mystery it ended with a one-on-one confrontation with the killer eventually leading to their confession.

"My Name is Peter Parker."

During the Civil War, there were all kinds of things going on there that count as cool moments. We got faked out with the "return" of Thor (who turned out to be a clone). We got blown away by the real return of the Punisher to the hero world. The Fantastic Four took separate sides in the war. Several other big moments come to mind, but the one I would have never imagined seeing was the public unmasking of Peter Parker. While it wasn't a surprise who Spider-Man was, it was a surprise to see him publicly admit it.

After years of being concerned with the welfare of his family, Spider-Man threw that all to the wind and pulled off the mask on national television. This added some great moments to the comic, including J. Jonah Jameson fainting as he realized who he'd been working with for years. The stories in Spider-Man built to a new tension as Spidey worked to save his family after this revelation brought dozens of bad guys down on him, but it all fizzled out when Marvel decided they were in over their heads and wiped the slate clean with Brand New Day. But for sheer shock value, that unmasking was out of the blue.

Elektra is a Skrull

Gotta be honest, this didn't really grab me that first time I read it. I wondered what had happened to Elektra, but wasn't thinking it was a world-wide thing yet. Still, this was the opening salvo for the Skrull's "Secret Invasion", and it was unexpected. So many questions came to mind, not the least of which was "Why her?" She'd never been that big of a player in the Marvel U, so what made her so important?

It would be over a year later before we found out just why she was so important, and by then we'd learned of tons of other traitors in our midst. This was the moment that started it.

Ok, so there were a lot of other twisty moments I didn't mention, but I wanted to keep these to recent years. I'm open to suggestions though. What major plot twist moment did you not see coming?

Another comic book review this Thursday, and then next Monday we'll be taking a look at the greatest character deaths in comic book history!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Secret Invasion #5 - The Heroes Fight Back

Up until this point, the Secret Invasion has been pretty one-sided. The element of surprise appears to have ended though, and as we top the halfway mark in the miniseries, the heroes begin to show some backbone.

Secret Invasion #5 is a gem. I have to confess I had no idea who Abigail Brand was before this all started, but seeing her in action alone against an entire Skrull-infested ship trying to rescue Reed Richards is awesome. She tears into them, blows them all out an airlock, and still manages to save Reed without messing up her hair.

Getting Reed back to Earth doesn't solve all the problems, but it does allow Reed time to create a weapon that instantly transforms all Skrulls back to their little green versions. He'd mentioned in the first issue how he knew what they had done with Elektra, and now he's using that to undo their changes.

Of course, this doesn't bode well for the Savage Land folks. But it's very nice to have several things settled rather quickly. For one, Tony Stark is not a Skrull. The weapon that changes all the rest of them doesn't affect Tony at all, therefore he's human. I mentioned I didn't think Marvel would go that route, and apparently they haven't.

The rest of the heroes that came back on the spaceship are confirmed to be Skrulls though. This means heartbreak for Clint Barton/Ronin/Hawkeye, as the woman he thought was Mockingbird turns out to be a Skrull. And that doesn't sit well with him at all. Clint grabs one of Black Widow's guns and starts shooting, killing the Mockingbird Skrull first off before going after the rest. He's leaning dangerously toward the Ultimate version of Hawkeye in this, and I'm glad to see it. He could be a much better character than they've given him credit for. By the way, my earlier post about the Invasion gave Mockingbird a high probability of being a Skrull. Again, it's easy to figure out because Marvel's not doing the logical thing in much of this.

Oh, and does anyone else notice that Spider-Man is in a full body suit? He could have changed and it never showed up. Probably not, but it was a cool thought.

After this brief fight in the Savage Land that sees three heroes get to kill their wives (Clint shoots Bobbi, Reed Richards strangles Sue, and Luke Cage lets a tiger eat Jessica Jones), we get this big final shot of Clint saying the Skrulls all going to die before it's over. Coming from a highly ticked-off super-marksman, I can believe it might just be true.

So now our heroes are heading back from the Savage Land for New York City to try and turn the tide of this war.

This issue had a lot of great moments in it. This is great storytelling from Marvel, and I'm looking forward to seeing how quickly things are going to change from this point on. Remember: with one shot from Reed's gun, every Skrull in the area is instantly changed back. This is going to give us some incredible splash pages over the next few issues of this miniseries.

By the way, in Secret Invasion: Inhumans we get our first glimpse at one of the captured heroes. Black Bolt is alive, and it's up to the Inhumans to get their leader back!

See you Monday for a look at some recent awesome plot twist moments in comics!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Final Crisis #3 - There's a reason you aren't reading this crap

The results of my recent poll on this blog tell the tale. Almost half of the folks who answered (44%) said they aren't reading Final Crisis, and over a third of the rest (31%) said they had no clue what was going on. To understand why, you don't need to look any further than Final Crisis # 3.

I swear this book appears to have been written by either 8 different writers or one schizophrenic. Grant Morrison's "New Storyline Every Page" writing style hasn't changed, and you'll need some serious background in DC history to catch the significance of everything happening here. I've been reading comics for over thirty years, and I still have no clue what most of this stuff is supposed to mean. There are entire websites devoted to nothing but answering the questions from this one series!

The bright spot in this story is the fact that it leads to the return of Barry Allen. Oh, I know tons of folks are complaining about that on the Internet because "Wally is the Flash now! It's not fair for Barry to take that away from him!", but it's the only good thing coming out of this acid trip known as Final Crisis. Jay Garrick appears long enough to confirm that it is indeed Barry we're seeing, and to admit that he's not as fast as either Barry or Wally. The Black Racer is chasing the two speedsters to presumably take Barry back, but they're leading him on quite the run.

Superman makes an appearance to mourn the loss of Lois (who isn't going to die, but who would for one second think she really is anyway?) and to set the stage for his own little FC miniseries offshoot starting next month. He claims his heat vision is the only thing keeping Lois alive, but how is that possible? All the medical marvels the hospital has at their disposal, and it's heat that's keeping her heart pumping? Can someone please keep Grant away from the crackhouse long enough to write just these simple seven issues?

We have that powerful "group shot" every major story is supposed to have. Alan Scott has formed this emergency Justice League of sorts to help contain the oncoming problems. Of course, we never actually get to see them fight, and this issue ends pretty conclusively that the Earth is doomed and the heroes failed, so I guess it was just one of those "Makes sense to me!" moments for Morrison.

There is this brutal and graphic fight between Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel (in her new "spank me, spank me hard" S&M outfit), but I'm not going to show any of it. For no reason other than shock value Mary rips one of the Atomic Knights in half, then gives Wonder Woman a virus.

Mercifully, the story is almost over by then. We see one last glimpse of the Flashes as they've overshot the present to appear one month in the future. Barry is upset trying to figure out why he's been brought back but still unable to save Orion, and then we close on what is supposed to be this big climactic scene of Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Giganta, and some other lady turned bad and ready to destroy our heroes. Tune in two months from now to see one page of this storyline, I suppose.

This story ends telling you to read three different miniseries offshoot titles before coming back in two months for Final Crisis #4! You have to read Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, Final Crisis: Revelations, and Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D before coming back to just the Final Crisis main storyline. How does this make sense to anyone?

I know I keep comparing this story to Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I do that for a reason: DC started it saying this was the conclusion of the "Crisis Trilogy". Yet this trip down the rabbit hole every month makes no sense whatsoever. Can you imagine if DC ever tried to put out an Absolute Edition of this? It would be twice the size of the Los Angeles phonebook if they were going to include everything you'd need to have a complete story!

I think it's safe to say you can avoid this title and most of the DC books for the rest of the year. At some point reality is going to set in and someone at DC is going to say, "Hey, remember when stories used to make sense? Let's try doing that again just to see what happens!"
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