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What I bought – 11 March 2009

Superb quality this week. Aren’t comics awesome?

Captain Britain and MI 13 #11 (“Vampire State Part One”) by Paul Cornell (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Mike Collins (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Robin Riggs (inker), Brian Reber (colorist), Rain Beredo (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Okay, so Mike Collins, who pencils page 12 and 15-22, isn’t great, but I guess we’ll just have to live with it. It’s not embarrassing, so I suppose I’ll just let it go, especially because the issue is so freakin’ excellent.

There’s a lot that’s very good in this issue, but page 6, on which Faiza and Dane, falling from a plane, hit the ground, is stunning. Faiza decides she’s going to use her healing power on them in the split second between them hitting the ground and them, well, dying, and Cornell writes a long prose section (well, it’s not that long, as it’s on just that page and it doesn’t take up the whole page) about how she does it. It’s fine reading as they fall, but when you get to “The impact kills her,” it goes beyond fine reading and becomes absolutely thrilling. The way Cornell writes how she saves them is good enough, but the dark implications of her actions are gripping, too. In a storyline that’s about things rising from the dead, it’s creepy foreshadowing.

Cornell has really done a nice job with this book, as you may have heard. These people are professionals, and although they experience some angst, they get the job done and don’t whine about it. Brian simply rips through a vampire early in the book, Faiza and Dane calmly discuss how they’re going to survive while they approach 32 feet per second squared and burning chunks of their plane fall around them, and Wisdom roots out a traitor in the government efficiently and brutally. In between, Cornell allows them to recognize the tragedy that has befallen them (with regard to Faiza’s parents), but Wisdom makes sure they realize they have a job to do, and revenge will come, but only as part of the plan. Cornell has forged these characters into a nice team, one that deals with threats instead of worrying about them. The ending is a bit predictable, but that’s okay – it still has a great deal of power, mainly because of how well Cornell has done with the characters.

The main complaint I see about the book is that Cornell’s stories run a bit too long – perhaps they need some shaving. I can see that. It doesn’t bother me, but I can see that. This seems like it’s going to be another one of those long arcs, if you’re not happy with that. Oh well.

And can we get some ground rules for vampires in the DC and Marvel Universes? I seem to recall the vampires in the DCU not caring about holy water, but I guess the Marvel ones do, or at least one of them in this issue does. Are there any set rules, or is it whatever Writer A feels like it today?

Damn, I love this comic. “You won’t harm or pursue Dracula until you’re under orders to do so. And then you’ll harm him a great deal.” Awesome.

Charlatan Ball #6 (“The Main Event Comic”) by Joe Casey (writer), Andy Suriano (artist), Marc Letzmann (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.50, 18 pgs, FC, Image.

Casey explains at the end of this issue that it’s the end of “Season One” (man, I hate that term when it comes to comics), but I don’t think I’ll be back for Season Two, whenever it arrives. I wanted to see how Casey and Suriano finished out this arc, and while it’s not awful, it’s just missing some spark that makes it worthwhile. Casey can do this kind of whacked-out stuff easily, but here it’s just lacking something, and I’m not sure what. I think it’s because Chuck Amok and Caesar just don’t have much in the way of personalities, and six issues in, that’s kind of a problem. The weirdness of the plot doesn’t make up for it, unfortunately. I’m still not sure why Casey and Suriano show up in the book every so often, either. I like Suriano’s art, but that’s not enough. Oh well. I gave it a try.

Elephantmen #16 (“Dark Heart”) by Richard Starkings (writer/letterer), Chris Burnham (artist), and Tatto Caballero (colorist). Back-up story (“The Sleeze Brothers”) by Andy Lanning (writer), John Carnell (artist), Gregory Wright (colorist), and Richard Starkings (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs + 12-pg back-up, FC, Image.

As always, this came out a few weeks ago, but I just received my copy from Richard Starkings, and I’m very thankful to him for sending it along to me. I just love this comic, as you might have known by the fact that my name is all over CBR these days in those adverts for War Toys. So sue me: It’s a cool comic. And check out that coolio cover by Boo Cook. As usual, Starkings has some extra stuff in here that explains the inner workings of the book, in this case the cover, which is swiped (sorry, an “homage”) from the Robert O. Saber (Milton Ozaki) novel The Dove (see the cover here, down the page a bit). As the cover promises, this is a noir tale about the mysterious man and the dame who haunts him. The mysterious man is the Silencer, who we have seen before in this series, training elephantmen in Africa and getting a tusk through his chest when the hybrids rose up in revolt. Now he kills them for a living. He still owes money for his life-saving surgery, however, and the daughter of the man who paid for it, Destiny, comes calling one night. They had a thing once, of course. She wants him back, he can’t pay her father back yet, and things don’t go well. Of course.

Starkings drenches the story in noir tropes, and it works well in that context. He has been building this world for so long, and now we’re getting payoffs from unexpected places. The Silencer is obviously going to be a major part of the story, and Starkings reintroduces him to the comic with a flourish, as he tracks down his prey and dispatches him efficiently, showing how cold he really is. But when we go back and see his injuries and realize what has happened to him, it doesn’t make him sympathetic (he deserved it, after all), but it does make his choice of profession more understandable. In a short tale that owes a great deal to a well-established genre, Starkings does a nice job making sure there’s a bit more.

Meanwhile, Chris Burnham provides the art … or does he? He has a nice eye for the details of Los Angeles in the future, filling it with trash and grime, and his elephantman is large and intimidating, but strangely pathetic too. The pages with the Silencer in the hospital after his skewering are horrifying but brutally effective. Weirdly enough, on the pages on which the Silencer meets Destiny, the art style noticeably shifts. It’s very strange, because the art looks exactly like Igor Kordey, and Burnham’s style does not resemble Kordey’s at all. Did Burnham deliberately ape Kordey in those scenes (if so, why?) or did Kordey draw them? He’s not credited, so I’m not sure what to think. The art looks nice, but it’s much different than the rest of the book. It’s very odd.

Still, yet another excellent issue of Elephantmen. That’s not terribly shocking, is it?

Ex Machina Special #4 (FOUR?) (“Grassroots”) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), John Paul Leon (artist), JD Mettler (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I can’t be bothered to dig through my long boxes, but this is really the fourth Special? I remember the Halloween one a few years ago, but not the others. I’ll trust the Wildstorm people to put the correct number on this, but it’s bizarre. These Specials annoy me, because it seems like they’re excuses to allow Wildstorm to claim that Tony Harris drew every issue of the series. It’s not like there’s a drop-off in talent to John Paul Leon (I’m sure some people see it as an improvement). And the actual issues could easily be regular issues of the series. It’s strange. DC has begun releasing giant omnibus editions of this series, right? The Specials have to be included, and they should probably be included in between the issues where they were published, as they usually fit in there. I don’t get it. But, as you probably have figured out by now, I often don’t understand things.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the specials, either. I didn’t think the last one (about the Klan) was necessary, but this one, apparently, will have repercussions for the future, as Mitch meets a man who claims that he can talk to plants in the same way Mitch can talk to machines, and the plants tell him to kill people. Why Mitch doesn’t believe him is annoying, but typical; in superhero comics, there’s always someone who is obviously dangerous and obviously powered somehow but who is dismissed by the people who can fly, turn invisible, create fire, talk to machines, or duplicate themselves spontaneously as “crazy.” The story is fine, with typically wonderful art by Leon, and it even has a “BKV” moment – those times he steps outside the story to provide non sequitur commentary about something that’s on his mind; in this case, when the publisher of a newspaper rails against nerds. A few minor cuts here and there, and it could easily be a 22-page comic, issue #41 (the meta one was #40, right?). But I guess that would interfere with the “no guest artists” thing they have going on. Strange.

Fables #82 (“Waiting for the Blues”) by Bill Willingham (writer), David Hahn (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). Back-up story (“Home From the Jungle Part Five of Five”) by Bill Willingham (writer), Peter Gross (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 17 pgs + 5-pg back-up story, FC, DC/Vertigo.

That’s a nice Mark Buckingham cover. I’m just sayin’.

This is an epilogue to the “Dark Ages” arc that ended last issue, and therefore, like so many comics before it, it’s a wake. Well, not exactly, but it’s the aftermath of a funeral service, and things are unraveling a bit, so we get several Fables talking to each other and trying to figure out what to do with themselves. It works because Willingham has been writing this for almost 7 years, so we know these characters extremely well and can understand why they’re acting the way they do. He’s obviously setting up quite a bit, from the animals’ discontent on the Farm to Rose Red pining away to the end of Mowgli’s mission in the back-up story. As is too common with an issue of Fables, it ends very weirdly, as if Willingham is writing along, realizes he’s reached his allotted number of pages (for the main story this time around, it’s 17), and thinks, “Okay, all done!” I’m sure it works fine in the trade (maybe, as I don’t read the series that way), but it’s very strange sometimes reading it in monthly installments.

David Hahn’s art is always nice to see, too. His badger dude is adorable and menacing at the same time. That’s a neat trick.

Next issue we get the “Great Fables Crossover.” I’m sure it will be neat-o.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 #1 (“A Kind of Eulogy”) by J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Cavallaro (artist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

Didn’t I already review this? Oh, yeah, I did.

Northlanders #15 (“The Cross + the Hammer Part 5 of 6: The Red Road”) by Brian Wood (writer), Ryan Kelly (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Brian Wood is frickin’ awesome. I can’t tell you why, but he is. The twist in this issue isn’t completely unique, but it’s still pretty stunning. Damn. Brian Wood rules.

Since I can’t say much about the story, consider Kelly’s amazing art. Most of the issue is a conversation between Magnus and Ragnar, but Kelly keeps it tense, and the look on Magnus’s face when Wood drops his bombshell is quite staggering. Then Kelly gets to draw a two-page splash of the aftermath of the battle at Clontarf (info here!) that is horrifying, especially because of the casual way he shows people picking over the corpses. It’s masterful work.

Man, I wish I could say more about this. If you haven’t been buying the issues leading up to it, it won’t have the same impact, but if you gave up on this arc after the last issue, you need to check this out. Damn, it’s awesome.

Scalped #26 (“High Lonesome Part Two of Five: Been Down So Goddamn Long That It Looks Like Up to Me”) by Jason Aaron (writer), Davide Furnò (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and *Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, this is “one of the best comics ever created.” Well, I certainly wouldn’t go that far, at least not yet, but it’s pretty dang good. I think we need to watch the hyperbole, though.

Aaron is writing these single-issue stories that are part of a larger arc, which can be an effective way to build an arc. Last issue, we saw a con artist come to the casino and get involved with our principals. Now, we revisit Diesel, the one-sixteenth Kickapoo who desperately wants to be an Indian. He’s in prison, and he spends his time reminiscing about how he got to where he is. We get his “secret origin,” which includes teenagers being jerks to him, an abusive father, and a scheme to get revenge on both that works to perfection. It’s a terribly bleak story, not at all pleasant, and perhaps somewhat unnecessary. I suppose Aaron will tie it into the bigger story arc, but did we really need to know what a scumbag Diesel is and why? We know he’s a scumbag, and we can guess it’s to do with his upbringing. It’s not that it’s a poorly-written story, but it feels like Aaron just wants to indulge in some nastiness, so he did. In the previous issue, some horrible things occurred, but it felt like it was in the service of the story. This doesn’t. I guess we needed to check in on Diesel, but this entire issue seemed pointless.

Soul Kiss #2 (“The Pretender”) by Steven T. Seagle (writer) and Marco Cinello (artist). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

Marco Cinello’s art looks more like Frank Espinosa’s in this issue (although Cinello’s lines are a bit stronger), which is a good thing. It’s still a bit of an odd tone to the series, but it certainly looks nice.

We get to the meat of the series in this issue – Lili, who made a deal with the devil in issue #1, must kiss ten people in ten days to get her boyfriend back. That would be the boyfriend she accidentally killed as payment for Satan’s help. So, in order to get her boyfriend back, she makes another deal with the devil – her kiss kills people, you see, so when she kisses them … you get the idea.

I understand that Lili is upset about killing Damon (interesting name for the boyfriend, there – foreshadowing?), but you think she would have learned her lesson from making a deal with Satan in the first place. Shouldn’t she just be happy that she generally got off easy? When she tells Satan that she’ll do what he wants to get Damon back, she should know it won’t be easy, right? I know she feels guilty for Damon’s state, but Lili, Lili, Lili – count yourself lucky that more wasn’t required of you.

I think the problem is that the first issue didn’t give us enough of Lili and Damon for us to believe that she loved him so much. Lili is a hard-as-nails chick, and although we get that she has a soft spot for Damon, we never get that she thinks he’s “the one” or anything. I guess Lili needs to be a young, somewhat snotty chick to make this book work, but I wish that she and Damon had been together longer and we got a better sense of their relationship. Even her guilt, while obvious, doesn’t seem to be such a huge motivator. It’s frustrating, because from the brief glimpse we get of Damon and Lili, I wouldn’t be surprised if they broke up in a year or two. Is that any reason to go deeper into hock to the devil?

Maybe I’m being a bit crass, but while I can believe that Lili feels guilty for killing Damon, that’s mainly because I believe people in general aren’t, you know, scum. As Lili is a character, however, we need to believe that she, specifically, would do this. Basically, Lili is going to have to kill ten people, and the book, it seems, will explore the notion of people “deserving” it and if anyone does. That’s perfectly fine, and can be the basis for a very good series, but turning Lili into a serial killer when we know very little about her bugs me. Right now, I’m not sure if I want to root for her. I know that fiction doesn’t always need sympathetic characters, but it helps, especially when the character isn’t terribly compelling yet. I’m still on board with the series, because I like Seagle and Cinello’s art is nice, but I worry about it. I worry too much, don’t I?

Young Liars #13 (“Rock Life”) by David Lapham (writer/artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I want to point out that David Lapham has written and drawn every issue of this series, and it hasn’t taken a break yet. And he draws stuff like that cover, which is almost duplicated inside, so it’s not like it’s just sketchy art. I always love seeing good art done in a timely manner. It makes prima donna artists who need a year to draw a 22-page comic a bit silly (even if I like their art). I wonder how that final issue of Planetary is coming along?

Anyway, it’s tempting to call this a “quiet” issue of Young Liars, but on page 6, Danny burns down a house, so “quiet” is in relative terms, of course. But it’s still a less-than-nuts issue, as Danny, who ended up in Arizona at the end of last issue, lives with Loreli for a while until he starts to realize that the life is a lie. We already know this, of course, as Loreli calls him “Johnny,” but it’s interesting watching Danny begin to understand what’s happening. It’s a disturbing issue, mainly because when Danny begins to suss out what’s going on, things get a bit weird (“weird,” of course, also being a relative term in this series). What’s nice about this series is that as insane as it gets, you can feel that Lapham is in total control of it, and I just hope the sales keep it going to see where on earth he’s going with it.

Sorry I can’t rant more about this week’s comics. Captain Britain, Elephantmen, Ex Machina, Fables, Northlanders, Scalped, and Young Liars are some of my favorites, so it’s difficult to come up with new ways to write how great they are. But you know you can trust me, right?

Nobody guessed last week’s lyrics, which is good news for my wife as I promised to marry anyone who did. They’re from the song “Eye for Eye” by the band Think Tree on the 1992 album Like the Idea. Think Tree was a Boston-based band that broke up after this album (their second), and they were rather odd, using all sorts of different instruments backing very intricate lyrics. I love this album to death, and I’m glad I own it. I found it in a record store in Auckland, New Zealand, of all places. But let’s move on to new totally random lyrics!

“Silently she opens the drawer
Mother’s little helper
Is coming out for more
Strategically positioned
Before the midday show
The back is arched
Those lips are parched
Repeated blow by blow
Later, at the party, all the MPs rave
‘Bout the hummers she’s been giving
And the money that they save”

These are random, remember, so the fact that this song is relatively obscure, just like last week’s, doesn’t mean anything. I will say that I hope FunkyGreenJerusalem knows these lyrics!

Have a nice day, everyone!

23 Comments

Y’know, personally, the best “new” comic (of five) that I bought, this week, turned out to be a reprint of a quarter-century old issue, which I purchased for $1.

Strange world.

Omar Karindu, back from an Internet Thogal ritual

March 13, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Marvel vampires have excruciatingly well-set rules, largely because they kept the 70-issue Tomb of Dracula series and all its internal consistency a part of their larger continuity. Basically, Marvel vampires are Hammer horror vampires, vulnerable to stakes, silver, garlic, UV/sunlight, and religious icons, but, like Hammer horro vampires, damnably easy to resurrect after they’re staked and so on.

Omar Karindu, back from an Internet Thogal ritual

March 13, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Oh, yeah, and all marvel vampires are supposed to have the full complement of horror-movie powers: hypnosis, control over their vampire-spawn, the power to turn into or control nasty animals like wolves and bats and vermin, the ability to become mist, and so on. They need to be invited in, and can only be created via either the original spell in the Darkhold — Marvel’s Necronomicon, bascally — or, more usually, by an extant vampire draining off a human being’s blood to the point of death and then waiting three days.

Some Marvel vampires have special powers, but they alkways have plot-specific reasons. The Lord of the Vampires, currently Dracula, can control all other vampires. The World War II-era Baron Blood had painful Nazi surgery so he could resist death by sunlight, but it cost him all those nifty shape-changing abilities and sunlight still reduced his strength considerably. Deacon Frost isn’t quite a normal vampire, having been injected with a serum of vampire blood with the result that he’s basically an otherwise normal vampire who can make vampiric copies of bite victims. Baroness Blood used the Holy Grail to somehow become immune to sunlight.

And Morbius isn’t a vampire in any normal sense, just a guy with a mad science vampire-bat mutation, basically the bat equivalent of the Lizard or the Ani-Men, and therefore doesn’t have any magical mojo whatsoever. He just eats blood and has standard animal-mutate super-powers.

This is only the fourth Ex Machina special?

There was the Halloween one, then there was that two-part one Chris Sprouse penciled… then there was the “Behind the Book” one… unless that one didn’t count as a special or the two Sprouse issues counted as one…

I agree that this month’s Scalped was a big letdown, especially after last issue… I felt like Aaron knocked it out at the last minute, and Furno’s scratchy art didn’t help much either.

Wait, Cornell writes long arcs?

His first arc was four issues, his second was five and this one is going to be like three or four.

How are any of those even approaching long?

Some people’s attention spans run out at three, apparently. Or maybe it’s that he puts a lot into each issue, so they seem longer. (I have no problem with this; too many comics don’t provide enough density of incident these days).

I didn’t say I UNDERSTOOD the criticism, just that it’s what I’ve been seeing around on the Internets. I agree with Michael, though – the issues are packed, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I almost wonder if Aaron brings back Sabretooth if he’ll be somewhat like Diesel. I enjoy Scalped but definitely agree with the review of this issue.

Ghost Rider this week was great too, I kinda wanted to see an Atlantean Ghost Rider (swimmer?) somewhere along the way in one panel.

There’s and excellent arc on Batman Confidential right now with art by Garcia-Lopez that’s worth picking up. It’s take or leave it classic Batman teaming up with Riddler to take down King Tut who has stolen Riddler’s schtick which has been done to death, but still worth a read.

Yeah, I’ve been reading good things about that arc on Batman Confidential. I’ll probably get the trade.

I had to look up the lyrics. I should probably just hand in my citizenship now.

Great comics, and great reviews, Greg. Loved your review of Captain Britain especially, agree with it 100%. For my money this is the best superhero comic on the shelves right now. I don’t know Marvel’s vampire rules off-hand but my impression from interviews is that Cornell is using the Tomb of Dracula series as his backstory.

I see what you’re saying about Soul Kiss; I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with this issue. I’m a big Seagle fan but I thought the first issue did little other than convey the concept for the book. It’s true we didn’t learn much about Lilli last issue so I see your criticism; I thought the internal monologues this time around were much richer and that it gave us a much better look at the character.

Thanks for letting me know I missed Savior 28, I’ll have to pick that up tomorrow. Big DeMatteis fan. I’ll return the favor too; where’s Joe Kelly’s Bang Tango on your list? It’s a good opener.

Quick question regarding Captain Britain…

Wasn’t that ‘portrait’ of Dracula a visual quote from the Tomb of Dracula series? The art on that really looked familiar. Reminded me quite a bit of Gene Conlon…but I can’t be sure that I wasn’t just imagining it.

I’m not sure about the portrait of Dracula. Someone else more well versed in 1970s comics (Greg Hatcher, where are you?) would have to answer that.

Stefan: I’ve been trying to move to trades for mini-series from the Big Two. I know they’re going to be collected, and it gives me some time to flip through a few issues and read some reviews of the issues before making up my mind. So I’m waiting for the trade of Bang Tango. I’ve been reading some decent things about it, so I’ll probably get it, but I’m still making up my mind.

Holy cane toads, Batman! Australian Crawl!!

With this quote and the mention of NZ last week, you’re on a bit of an Antipodean vibe here, Greg. What was the name of that record store in Auckland? Was it Real Groovy?

The Ex Machina Special was the worst issue of the series. I wish Vaughan would just hurry up and finish this series. This special just means an additional 3 months before the end date comes.

That “artist’s conception” was, at the very least, a shout-out to the Colan-era Drac design.

Omar gives a great breakdown of the way that Marvel vamps work and what they can and can’t do. Nice job, man!

I’d like to add one caveat to what was said: A faith-based object of power (for example: a crucifix) only works on a Marvel vampire if both the person wielding it truly believes in its power AND if the vampire recognizes it as a source of power.

There were some issues of Dracula’s series and some occurrences in the Midnight Sons series where the ancient vampire mystic Varnae was unaffected by crucifixes and holy water because he existed pre-Christ; the Hyborian era (Conan’s time) to be exact. Thus the cross had really no meaning to him and therefore did not hold any power over him. That does not mean that a modern vamp would not be effected just because they are of a different religion–If they grew up in a time where the symbol was universally recognized as an object of power and faith, it would still harm them.

kushiro: Sorry, sir, I was in Auckland 17 years ago (man, I’m old), so I don’t recall the record store. It was pretty danged cool, though.

Yeah, I have a Down Under thing going on. I happened to be listening to Australian Crawl recently, so they were on the brain.

Yes, that “Artists rendition” was indeed an homage to (but not the authentic) Gene Colan from Tomb Of Dracula.

ANd, also yes… Ghost Rider was also awesome.

It and Captain Britain are two of the very BEST things Marvel is cranking out these days.

~P~

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 15, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I just read the first trade of Captain Britain, and enjoyed it more than I did Wisdom.
My only complaint is that they got rid of John!
BOOOOOOOOO!
As for too long, my complaint is the arc was too short – the trade felt like it cost too much because they charged the same as if it had more issues (a Claremont and Byrne Spiderman reprint doesn’t really cut it.

Do you need to have read Hip Flask to get into Elephantman?
I’m hesitant to try it, as those hardcovers are thin and expensive.

The other Ex Machina specials have been included in the trades, so they aren’t really fooling anyone with the different artists.
Wasn’t the first special about a guy who talks to animals like the main guy talks to machines?
When do we get the guy who talks to the clouds?

David Lapham rules.

FGJ: The Hip Flask hardcovers aren’t all that necessary. The first one has been reprinted in cheaper format and the ongoing does a good job explaining the “origins” of the Elephantmen, and the second one takes place, I seem to recall Starkings telling me, after the ongoing series, so we’re leading up to it. I imagine that it will become important later, but for now, it’s not. And although the hardcovers are thin and expensive, Ladronn’s art is stunning, making it almost worth it.

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