My Top 5 Comics Anticipations for 2014 (so far)

1) The End of Fatale:-

Fatale by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips is an excellent comic book. Its noir feel, the mystery revolving around the titular character Josephine are as disturbing as she is sexy. The art is perfect, as is the narrative. It is however then one of the biggest disappointments that Fatale will end with issue 24, in a manner of speaking of course. Currently on issue 19, Fatale has crossed several decades, with the mysterious Josephine affecting many a man for the past 19 issues. It’s a shame to see it go, but I’m sure Brubaker/Phillips will provide a suitable conclusion.

2) Superman/Wonder Woman.....and Zod:-

The first 3 issues of Charles Soule/Tony Daniel’s DC super-book have been spectacular. We’ve seen Doomsday vs. Wonder Woman already, and a Superman that is already written much better than any of the solo Superman books. Now we have Zod, who like Doomsday has arrived on Earth as the barrier to the Phantom Zone is breaking down. Don’t just fall for the amazing visuals, this book actually connects Wonder Woman to her solo book too, something not explored in Justice League as yet. In short, many reasons to jump on board.

3) The Return of Peter Parker

Hooooo boy. It was always going to happen, eventually. I’ll admit I never wanted him to die in the first place, but over the last 12 month Superior Spider-Man is one of the best books Marvel put out. But only yesterday, Dan Slott (and then everyone else) revealed the announcement and covers for Amazing Spider-Man #1, with Peter back in his old costume. Exciting stuff, but even more exciting is finding out how.

4) The Saga that is Saga

If you picked Saga as your favourite book of 2013, there would be little argument. Even when Brian K. Vaughan has slowed things down in the last half year, the pieces of the chessboard are always moving, with the repercussions now beginning in issue 17. Saga is a wonderful adult comic, and is a ride anyone who reads comics needs to experience. I’m sure 2014 will be no different.

5) Lazarus, because Forever is awesome.

What a book, what a character. Greg Rucka really shows his credentials here with this mix of dystopian near-future family loyalty amidst a world run by corrupt families literally doing anything to hold their own. The biggest draw is Forever herself, a character struggling to understand exactly who or ‘what’ she is. Compelling, action-packed and equally complex, Lazarus can only get better month by month.

So all in all, 2014 is looking to be another amazing year for comic books. How about you, what are you looking forward to this year in comics?

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Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a franchise has been hugely successful and groundbreaking. Originally beginning life as a comic book, TMNT demand went global very quickly, with the first cartoon show gracing our screens twenty six years ago. Ten seasons later, that show was finally put to bed, only to be re-envisaged in 2003, with the next TMNT series, which also lasted a respectable 7 seasons, and was significantly darker to the original, more comedic series. The comics themselves have gone through several series of their own, from the original mini-series and, in the last year, have been re-imagined once again by IDW Publishing. It’s worth checking out.

So with the above, and a hell of a lot of merchandise to go with too, TMNT clearly still has selling power. Cue 2012, and the franchise has a new home in Nickelodeon, and now a new cartoon series. This time the animation is CG, with characters rendered with a Madagascar-esque look and feel to them. Each turtle looks slightly unique, not just from their bandana colour, but also from their skin colour and mannerisms. There is something much more instantly likeable about these guys than the 2003 show; they’ve never been to the surface before, it is their fifteenth birthdays, and are really eager to take that big step into the city. Master Splinter is much bigger than previous incarnations, to be honest he kinda looks like someone on stilts, given the fact you only see his head above his body-covering kimono. There is also a stellar voice cast, with Jason Biggs of American Pie fame as Leonardo, Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) as the hot-tempered Raphael; Rob Paulsen, who voiced Raphael in the original series, is now Donatello, and joker in the pack Michaelangelo is voiced by Greg Cipes (Beast Boy from Teen Titans). Here is the review of the opening double header.

The animation is great, fluid and has a very unique feel to it. They are closer to turtles-made-men than ever before, down to the flat, rounded feet like a real turtle. Each of the turtles has a slightly different height; their faces are unique to each other, not just their personalities and voices. This brings us nicely onto the voice cast, which is very strong, but I have a slight reservation. Donatello now just sounds like Raphael from the old series, of which I am a huge fan of, so I couldn’t get it out of my head. He doesn’t have the sarcastic nature that Raphael used to have, but they are some tones there at times. Sean Astin’s casting as Raphael will also take some time to grow on me, being a pretty softly spoken guy, even whiney at times, I can’t help thinking Donatello and Raphael should be the other way around. But I’ll have to get used to it.

This two-parter, as expected, covers the origin of the Turtles and Splinter, with only a slight difference to the original’s origin. Nothing as radical as the recent IDW comic series. There is also a great introduction revolving around the Turtles’ love for Pizza. The story unfolds with a wonderful sense of adventure topped with just the right amount of humour, and I did find myself laughing out loud a least a couple of times. The pacing was excellent, the first episode delivering a decent cliff-hanger, leaving you wanting more, of which the second part duly delivered. The ending also paved the way for the rest of the upcoming series predictably, but no less excitingly.

And so the new adventures of the TMNT begins, and boy do they begin well. I loved every second of both episodes, and hope for more of the same in the future. Where the TMNT take their first big steps here, so does the franchise. Highly recommended.

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Superman and Wonder Woman: A marriage made in heaven or hell?

No doubt we will have all seen this week’s big DC announcement that Superman and Wonder Woman will become an item in Justice League #12. The aim here, as Jim Lee put it, was to ‘raise a few eyebrows’. Obviously, the other aim is to raise sales, which is always a good thing.

This time however, there are significant differences:-

· This is the ‘New 52’ universe.

· Justice League is still five years behind both the Superman and Wonder Woman books.

· There is no history with Lois Lane.

So this time, this relationship will probably be more significant than any previous ‘flings’ they had in the previous continuity. Plus, it makes perfect sense; people often get close with the people they work with, and for the time being, the Justice League only has each other. Until they go their apparent separate ways. Anything can happen in five years after all. They have an odd way of teasing each other though, as seen below. This one didn’t start with a kiss.....

My only gripe? I’d rather see this:-

Than this:-

One thing is for certain, with the quality of Jim Lee’s art, I have no problems in seeing this relationship develop.

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Judge Dredd: The UK’s most important comic export

Judge Dredd began in the minds of John Wagner, Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra, and was first published in 1977, within the pages of 2000ad, from issue 2. Quickly becoming 2000ad’s flagship title strip, and appearing in almost every issue since (currently nearing the 1800 mark), Judge Dredd has arguably been the influential UK home grown comic character. With one movie under its belt back in 1995 (let’s leave it at that), and a very promising ‘reboot’ coming this September, Dredd is a character that is essential reading for any comic fan.

Judge Dredd is one of the most progressive comics of today. Although set in the future, starting in year 2099, each calendar year in reality would increment in Dredd’s world too. Now well over the 50 year mark in terms of service to Mega City One, Dredd is still on the streets, delivering justice.

2000ad is the comic that got me seriously back into comics when I was 13, largely due to Judge Dredd. Although I no longer collect 2000ad, I always catch up on Dredd as it holds a very special place in my heart. Below are eight of the best from Dredd’s world that should not be missed.

The Return of Rico (Prog 30, 1 Episode, later re-envisaged in progs 950-952, 3 Episodes):-

One of the few Dredd stories penned by Pat Mills himself (who would go on to fame with the Slaine series), this very early Dredd tale is the first of only a few of the more emotional trials Dredd faces in his life. Here is where his first name is revealed, and also depicts one of the first difficult decisions Dredd has to make in his career.

The Cursed Earth (Progs 61-85, 25 Episodes):-

Most Dredd stories would typically consist of 1 episode, around 5 or six pages, and would be one-shots, if you will. A few more stories, especially as time went on, would consist of several episodes, each with 6 pages or so. So, when The Cursed Earth, one of many stories dubbed ‘Mega-Epics’ came along, little did readers know they would be reading a story that would last more than 6 months! This first of many epics would take Dredd away from Mega City One across The Cursed Earth, the atomic war-ridden remains of America, in order to save their compatriots of Mega City Two from a deadly plague. The Cursed Earth depicts many of the weird and wonderful things that have befallen a now lawless land.

Judge Death (Progs 149-151 3 Episodes):-

First ever appearance of Judge Death, and also Judge Anderson, who will appear in the new movie.

The Apocalypse War (Progs 245-267, 269-270, 25 Episodes):-

Beginning directly where the previous story Block Mania left off (Progs 236-244, 9 Episodes), the city is in ruins due to block wars, with Mega City One at its most vulnerable to attack. One of the first stories to have months of build up, with repercussions that still exist in Dredd’s world 30+ years on. The first of many epics drawn by Carlos Ezquerra.

Necropolis (Progs 674-699, 26 Episodes):-

Although the saga of Necropolis consisted of 26 episodes, the build began almost 2 years earlier, with Bloodline in Progs 583-584. Morton Judd, responsible for cloning Dredd, had been missing, presumed dead after trying to clone model citizens, not just Judges. After an unsuccessful attack on Mega City One using more clones from Dredd DNA, only Kraken survived. Kraken was taken prisoner and indoctrinated by the Academy of Law in secret so he could replace Dredd if necessary. Kraken was later revealed as a rookie, and was assessed by Dredd, who was having his own doubts surrounding the system he upholds. Believing Kraken to be a case of ‘A leopard never changes its spots’, Dredd fails Kraken despite his flawless performance. Dredd then does the unthinkable (no spoilers), then Necropolis begins.

Necropolis is John Wagner’s masterpiece. With a build up lasting almost 2 years, and the prog count totalling over 50, it is Judge Dredd at its finest. The setup was also unique in that one of the key stories ran alongside current Judge Dredd strips at the time to deceive the reader. I don’t want to give away too much here, but Necropolis truly feels epic, and is one of Mega City One’s greatest tragedies.

Judgement Day (Progs 786-799, Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 4-9, 20 episodes):-

The first crossover with sister comic Judge Dredd Megazine, a fortnightly publication, teams Dredd up with Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha against a common foe. The dead are being raised as an army, and Mega City One has plenty to offer! This mega epic was the first not written by John Wagner; instead soon to be Preacher-creator Garth Ennis had taken the helm for a time. His run was not popular, but Judgement Day is non-stop, action packed ride of devastation.

Wilderlands (Progs 904-914, Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 63-67, 16 Episodes):-

Another crossover, with shared build up in both 2000ad and Judge Dredd Megazine, Wilderlands is another John Wagner classic. Following Necropolis and Judgement Day, the Judges are seriously understaffed. It all began in the Mechanismo series (Judge Dredd Megazine vol. 12-17, 6 episodes). Robot judges are created to bolster the workforce, but after two go on a citizen killing spree due to bad programming; Dredd is severely against the project. Despite his concerns, the program continues in secret, with 2 Mechanismo sequels (Mechanismo Returns and Body Count, Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 22-26 and 37-43, 5 Episodes). There is even further build up (Conspiracy of Silence and Prologue, Progs 891-894, 4 Episodes, Judge Dredd Megazine vol.2 57). Ultimately, Dredd finds himself under arrest. That is until the ship transporting not only him, but the Chief Judge and many passengers, is sabotaged when leaving the fire planet Hestia....

Wilderlands is another fine example of John Wagner’s big event story telling. The fixed episodic format allows these ‘build up’ storylines to be inserted at any time, and only bolsters Judge Dredd’s strong continuity. After the relentless Judgement Day, Wilderlands goes much further to develop Dredd’s political side, and how strongly he feels for the judge system on a personal level. Carlos Ezquerra’s artwork shines through on the main Wilderlands story, depicting a very harsh planet Hestia to great effect. His art breathes life into Dredd and his famous aging stony face.

Before checking out Wilderlands, be sure to read The Tenth Planet (Judge Dredd Megazine Vol.2 58-62, 5 Episodes), which literally leads straight into Wilderlands.

Origins (Progs 1505-1517, 2007, 1518-1519, 1529-1535, 23 Episodes):-

Preceded by the 5-parter The Connection, the creator team John Wagner and Carlos Equerra team up once again. After recurring dreams of his clone father, Chief Judge Fargo, the truth around the beginning of the judicial system is completely revealed, by Dredd, in flashbacks. Origins also marked 30 years of Judge Dredd. Its conclusion has major repercussions on not only Dredd’s world, but that of the Judge system itself.

Although scattered amongst many issues of both 2000ad and Judge Dredd Megazine, these stories have nearly all been re-published in trade format. In fact, the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files and its many volumes contain all Dredd stories, in chronological order. So get collecting!

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Gwen Stacy or Mary-Jane Watson: A case of power & responsibility

Gwen Stacy and Mary-Jane Watson have been and probably always will be the biggest loves of Peter Parker’s life. I think we can all agree on that. However, the wonderful Sara and Tony have both made their respective cases as to who is the most important in Peter’s life. My view? There is no ‘winner’ here, they are as important as each other in Peter’s life, even from the grave.

The case of Gwen:-

Peter will never get over what happened to Gwen. Gwen was his first true love, the kind of love that will never leave him, assuming Mephisto doesn’t want that too *groan*. Gwen was unaware Peter was Spider-Man, but that only made the love between Peter and Gwen more genuine and pure. Sure, Peter had to duck and dodge around as Spider-Men in secret, but he never gave Gwen the burden of the constant dangers Spider-Man regularly faced and stopped. I would most likely do the same for my wife, given the same situation. What’s that you say? Sneaking around, always late for everything, possibly even lying about it? In any normal relationship with normal life situations this would be unpractical, unforgivable even. But, he was doing WHATEVER it took to keep the city safe, those he cared about, without them having to fear for their lives.

Ultimately of course, it was arguably his downfall, once Norman Osborn discovered Peter’s secret identity. But then the pendulum has shifted, priorities changed, and Peter learned this the hard way. Gwen was killed by a combination of Norman’s Green Goblin persona and Peter himself; Osborn throwing her off the George Washinton Bridge, and Peter’s web line attempt breaking her neck. If Uncle Ben’s death established Peter on the path of power and responsibility, then it was Gwen’s death that focused him on it.

The case of Mary-Jane:-

Peter and Mary-Jane were married. Thanks Mr Quesada for ruining that one, by the way. With Mary-Jane, Peter reached limits he has never faced since. He was married to a woman who knew he was Spider-Man, and even embraced it. The power and responsibility lessons learned from Uncle Ben and Gwen’s deaths allowed Peter to not only move on, but onto the next level, so to speak. There was even a baby at one point. Unfortunately (for a time anyway), MJ’s knowledge of Peter’s secret identity cost them their relationship, due to being kidnapped and locked away for months. So, Peter is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. Since Peter and MJ’s marriage was expunged to save Aunt May’s life (now barely guests stars in ASM anymore, grateful much?), there have been many changes in Peter’s life. I remember Mephisto stating MJ would remember the agreement made, but it is no longer clear if this is the case. We can only hope. Let’s not forget it was MJ who made the decision for Peter in the first place, knowing how his responsibility drives him on. Lets not forget also that MJ knew exactly how Pete and Gwen felt about each other, and respected that, like any caring, loving wife would.

Conclusion

Although Peter may well be unaware of it since Brand New Day began, it is these two people that help make Peter the person he is today. The outcomes of both may have been tragic, but the catalyst for such is always the same: Peter’s secret identity. One didn’t know it, but was killed because of it, the other knew and it made her a target. Peter’s ill-fated relationship since with Carlie Cooper ended because he did not tell her he was Spider-Man, even though she suspected all along. Like you would. It’s also worth mentioning other Spider-Man media that refuses to acknowledge Gwen even existed, such as the movie trilogy and the 90’s animated series. So their views are clear. Gwen Stacy may have been a long time ago, but we Spidey fans will never forget her. With Mary Jane, we hope her and Peter have a future together. Are you listening Quesada?

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: “Reincarnated” for the 21st century

Warning! Contains spoilers.

IDW Publishing has whetted the appetites of TMNT fans everywhere with their new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. But, this is no continuation of the popular 25+ year’s strong franchise, but a re-imagining. Now 9 issues on, with an excellent Brian Lynch-written 4-issue Micro Series to accompany the series, it’s becoming a stronger book month by month.

Unlike Michael-retard- Bay’s recent suggestion his TMNT movie team will come from outer space, IDW’s new origin retains the mutagen turning ordinary turtles-to-humanoid transformation, but with some twists. The Turtles and Splinter (still a rat) are subjected to tests to create a super-human mutagen, conducted in a lab run by Baxter Stockman, with April O’Neill merely an assistant. When two ninjas break in one evening, Splinter (yes, still a rat) saves April, but him and the Turtles end up in an alley outside, falling into the mutagen, becoming the mutants we know and love. They treat him as and call him ‘father’, and it is in #5 that Splinter’s beliefs are known to us all: That he and the Turtles are reincarnated from the tragic past lives of one Hamato Yoshi, and his four sons.

I’ll be honest here, I know comic heroes have died and come back to life numerous times, but I’ve never come across reincarnation in such a popular franchise. It’s certainly interesting in terms of beliefs, but this is not controversial, you understand. Reincarnation is a belief of many; an individual has the right to believe anything they wish of course. This ‘theory’ of Splinter’s is backed up by dreams and visions of Yoshi’s past life, so vivid he can deduce that the ninja’s who attacked Stockman’s lab are indeed the Foot Clan from said visions.

What’s interesting here is that there is no timestamp given for Hamato Yoshi’s existence, all that is mentioned is Feudal Japan (anytime from 1185-1868). Given that the latest issue introduces The Shredder into the mix, I’m intrigued to find out his/her identity, considering it was who we know as Shredder (Oruku Saki), who murdered Yoshi and his children in cold blood. It is here we revisit part of the origin we are more familiar with; Yoshi refused to believe in Saki’s growing dark influence of the Foot Clan, and Saki interpreted it as betrayal to his cause. Yoshi and his four young boys were eventually hunted down.

So for now we’re given that the origin of our heroes is from reincarnation and of course mutation. But there could well be a twist once the identity of The Shredder is known.

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DC New 52: The hooded 'watcher', possible future, and Multiverse?

So, the re-launch has begun, with shiny new books and characters every week for the month of September, everyone a #1 issue. But we all know this already. The question on my lips is: where is it going from here?

The background to the re-launch from the top level is this: The world was without heroes ‘five years ago’, and now they are all coming out, playing their part in this new timeline, created, or ‘undone’, as it were, by the deemed necessary actions of Barry Allen in Flashpoint. The other underlying plot thread dropped into every book so far, is the mysterious hooded woman, also from Flashpoint, seemingly checking the timeline. But for what purpose? Observation? Are the changes having the right effect? Or is this just another seed planted, towards a bigger goal of this mysterious character? I’ve no doubt this will addressed sooner, rather than later. If there is one thing we all know, Geoff Johns is a great long term writing ‘strategist’, if you will. Some of the seeds planted in the early issues of Green Lantern, and what they became, are testament to that.

While I don’t have an actual theory for the above, I wanted to bring this to the table; at Kapow Comic-Con in April, Frank Quitely confirmed a new series he was drawing for, named Multiverse. He also confirmed there would be a series of books on what sounds like a crossover, or ‘event’ (hate that word), and that he would be drawing one of them. So my very thin theory so far, is that this character will have something to do with this, whether they are the key player or not. 52 detailed the repercussions of Infinite Crisis; these 52 books may well be leading up to another ‘Crisis’. 

Just a thought.....
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Marvel: Lost in Hollywood

 I should’ve seen it coming. It was done when superhero movies in the modern age really kicked off, with the arrival of the original X-Men movie, and now, with the arrival of the highly anticipated Thor movie. I am of course referring to the logo changes on the front of Marvel books. So far, I have seen 3 such covers, for 3 of the longest running Marvel books; Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and X-Men: Legacy.

 

   

This time the 'gimmick' comes with an added twist; movie 'tribute' covers. My first reaction was to shake my head, then laugh. I find it rather pathetic to be honest, although, granted; it's a bit of harmless fun. But these books are not even related to Thor directly, so I find it an odd move from Marvel. From what I've seen so far, these covers are only the variant editions, so at least the reader gets a choice in the matter.

      The best of the 3 variant covers i have seen.



It is all rather pointless for me; it was bad enough when DC did their special covers for all their books a few months ago, I still find them a pain when arranging my comics, as the numbering was moved to the other side!! I prefer to keep the covers relevant to the story, it’s bad enough there are more Thor books because of the movie (although god bless ‘The Mighty Avenger’), now Thor is invading all the other book’s covers as well! It also goes back to the release of Tron: Legacy, and the various Tron related variant cover, or Amazing Spider-Man, who just basically used his new job to build a Tron suit, and even referenced it as a ‘joke’ in the book. Urgh.

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Kapow! Right in the kisser

So then, Kapow! Comic-Con. My first ever Comic-Con, and although i was only able to attend the Saturday, what an event it was. You may be thinking, this is a gaming blog, what relevance has a Comic-Con to that? Well, thanks to IGN, plenty.

IGN Arena

Upon handing in my ticket, the first attraction on offer is the IGN arena, complete with master of ceremonies for the day, Christian Stevenson, who kept the upbeat mood going very well. The IGN arcade, complete with 10 Xbox 360's and various games, including WWE All-Stars (perfect opportunity to experience the over the top action firsthand) and Portal 2 (which i missed out on, but looks excellent), kept many occupied throughout, along with exclusive Dirt 3 and Operation Flashpoint: Red River sections, which were also welcome.

WWE All-Stars is great fun, but technically not great and out of date. But i do love the exaggeration angle the game plays; it's almost a parody of itself. You think those moves look painful choreographed in the ring on TV, wait till you see these babies.


IGN were also offering the chance to 'man up' as it were and attempt the fastest lap on Dirt 3, Top Gear style. I admit i chicken-ed out on this opportunity, but nevertheless, it looked fun.

The most exciting gaming experience of the day came with my first ever 3DS experience. After being shown the basics by the lovely ladies of Nintendo, i got my hands on one (not a lady), firstly on Nintendogs, which doesn't interest me in the slightest i'm sorry to say, but the 3D on the game looked amazing. Later on in the day i got my hands on Super Street Fighter IV, which was excellent, the Circle Pad feeling so natural, along with the D-Pad offering the usual, natural feel that Nintendo have always been so good at.

Along with both Insert Coin Tees and Retro GT providing excellent gaming t-shirts, and even video game branded energy drinks, there was plenty for the gaming world to behold at Kapow!

Comics:-

I love comics. I have read them for as long as i can remember. My first memory was buying Adventures of Superman #445 years ago when on holiday in Great Yarmouth. It's one of those memories that stays with you until the end of your time, and, for me, Kapow! was another. This was my first taste of anything like it, i suppose like many in the UK, as there hasn't been anything like it before.

There was so much on offer, great stalls selling comics, graphic novels, most at reduced prices, along with action figures, framed artwork, and plenty more. I got myself a copy of Superboy: Boy of Steel HC, along with The Avengers Volume 1 HC. The latter, along with issue 1 of said Avengers comic, signed by the artist, ones of Marvel's best ever, John Romita Jr, who was a pleasure to meet. Definitely the highlight of the day for me.

The DC Superstar Creator Q+A was also excellent. 4 geniuses behind table, a 100+ in the audience asking whatever we wanted. Awesome. Frank Quitely (Vincent Deighan) and Paul Cornell were really funny, and refreshingly laid back and honest. I took the opportunity just after to speak with the DC Comics sales person (forgot his name), regarding the lack of DC Animated feature films released in the UK, particular as All-Star Superman was referenced quite a bit in the Q+A. Hopefully something will be done about this. But i digress.   

An event such as this can only be good for the UK entertainment industry, whichever of the media was on show. It was such a great day, and will do it all over again next year. TTFN.

   

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