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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #473

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COMIC LEGEND: EC Comics made an exception to their standard strict script rules for the classic story “Master Race.”

STATUS: True

Last month, we lost one of the all-time comic book greats with the death of EC Comics writer and editor Al Feldstein.

Feldstein has been featured a number of times over the years in Comic Book Legends Revealed, particularly related to his classic tale about racial discrimination, “Judgement Day,” which the Comics Code famously tried to keep from being published.

Reader DonM435 at the Classic Horror Film Board suggested that I feature a legend about Feldstein in honor of him, so here you go!

In 1955, EC Comics published another one of Felstein’s most famous stories in Impact #1. The story is about a Concentration Camp Commandant who managed to escape to the United States but lived constantly in fear over being discovered, especially by his former Jewish prisoners.

Here’s the ending of the story…

masterrace1

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It’s a great story in and of itself, but it was ESPECIALLY powerful back in 1955 when very few stories were being written about the Holocaust PERIOD, let alone in a comic book.

However, as DonM435 wrote in to suggest, this story was also particularly different because it was a unique writing arrangement. EC Comics worked under a strict scripting standard, where the writer (in this case Feldstein) would lay the story out precisely, to the point where the stories would actually be lettered BEFORE the artists began drawing the page – that’s how precise the stories were laid out. So the artist (in this case Bernard Krigstein) would have a very specific panel arrangement to use (as opposed to Stan Lee’s “Marvel Method,” where he would come up with a plot with the artist, the artist would draw it and then Lee would add dialogue).

For this story, though, Krigstein felt that he needed to try something different, so he just decided to break the story down as he pleased. Feldstein was quite irritated, because he would have to have the whole thing adjusted to fit Krigstein’s new layout (as Krigstein had just expanded the story from six pages to eight! He wanted to cut the story up even FURTHER, but eight was as far as he figured he could reasonably be allowed to go).

In particular, this striking wordless sequence was something you’d never see in an EC Comic normally…

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Feldstein was irked enough that he actually held the story back for a full year before finally putting it into Impact #1.

Feldstein’s displeasure, though, led to it being a one-time experiment and Krigstein eventually left comics entirely, but for one moment, at least, the combination of artist and writer led to one of the greatest comic stories of all-time.

Thanks to DonM435 for the suggestion!

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66 Comments

Lord have mercy, that is some ugly-ass comic art up there.

I refer, of course, to the first legend.

I was gonna say, cool arrow.

Regarding the Joe Palooka legend, part of me wonders whether the Nazi command in Berlin followed the strip as well to get updates on the Tunisia campaign. But I guess they’d have had to know about the strip having the updates from the field to do that.

Apparently there’s a very rare medical condition where someone CAN have two penises. More common, believe it or not, is a woman born with two vaginas. (It’s really one vagina that didn’t separate properly, but both sides remain functional.) I’d assume that Nightcrawler is not one of those rare cases, even in Chuck Austen’s weird mind.

Wow, that screenshot of Nightcrawler attacking the president looks entirely different now. Ugh.

Until you said it was a joke, I assumed this would be another Austen bad idea. My error.

We just can’t get away from Chuck Austen…

The worst part is he can’t even count fingers.

Well, that, and the fact that I would completely believe he was serious and just looking for an opportunity to throw that in. Probably as awkwardly as “mutants can’t get AIDS.”

Kitty: “Could you pass the cheerios, fuzzy elf?”

Kurt: “Katzchen, I have two penises.”

The interview was with Uncanny X-Men writer Chuck Austen.

Ah, of course, NOW it makes sense how such a ridiculous, bizarre, dirty rumor got started!

By the way, I still vividly remember that when X2 came out in the theaters Marvel tried promoting the comic books by releasing Uncanny X-Men #423 with a 25 cent cover price. This, of course, was chapter one of “Holy War” written by Chuck Austen. All these years later, I remain absolutely mystified at exactly how Marvel came to the conclusion that they should attempt to bring in a whole bunch of new readers using a storyline that involved an evil plot to A) install a brainwashed Nightcrawler as the Pope and B) wipe out the followers of Catholicism by faking the Rapture via communion wafers of death.

given how crazy austin was with the x-men surprised that he did not use the two penisis idea too. for one can still do a whole colum of chuck austen and his time with the x-men. and interesting to learn that the other coolest ec story next to judgement day wound up delayed because the writter didn’t like the artist deciding at the last minute to shake up how he is doing the book.

Philip Tan’s the artist.

I always thought it was just a joke, but I also always thought Austen was refering to alternate… ahem… uses of Nightcrawler’s tail, when he refered to Kurt’s “second” penis.

Alexandre Juliao

May 30, 2014 at 10:46 am

Looking at these pages from Impact #1, it seems to me that Frank Miller was heavily influenced by the art of that story.

Krigstein was a major influence on a lot of comic book artists. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you really should seek more of it out. He was amazing.

I am genuinely sorry you even had to clear up that Nightcrawler thing about Nightcrawler’s thing. If I had a time machine, I’d derail Austen’s career on my way to pantsing Hitler.

Ricochet Rita

May 30, 2014 at 11:24 am

Renenarciso, that idea you’re bringing up has already been used in some fanfics. Ahem.

Jeff Nettleton

May 30, 2014 at 11:28 am

Yeah, Krigstein was one of Frank’s influences, particularly that story. He cites it all of the time, in interviews. he’s swiped/homage/ drawn influence/whatever from a lot of greats. The Elektra introduction drew heavily from Will Eisner’s Sand Serif story, in The Spirit. Sin City owes a ton, visually, from Jose Munoz’ Alack Sinner (and plot and dialogue from James M. Cain, Mickey Spillaine, and Jim Thompson). At times, you can spot a little Kirby, a little Adams, a little Krigstein, and so on. That’s true of a lot of artists. Keith Giffen had his Kirby stuff, his Munoz, and so; Simonson had Kirby and Jim Holdaway (British artist on Modesty Blaise).; Barry Winsor-Smith went from Kirby to Alphones Mucha; Chaykin’s painting is highly influenced by Robert Peake, etc, etc..

The more I see of Austen’s work, the more I am glad I wasn’t reading those books. I wasn’t a fan of his art on Miracleman (of course, he was following Alan Davis, so he had massive shoes to fill), but, man, his work is definitely not my cup of tea. Reading interviews suggests that he and I wouldn’t be able to engage in conversation very long before it would turn nasty.

The legend about Palooka is a little misleading. You get the impression, from the teaser, that the legend is that Fischer was getting battle plans, to which I said, “No way, no how.” Instead, it’s that he is being kept abreast of war news, the same as any news outfit would have been. Those are definitely two different things. So as, someone questioned, the Germans wouldn’t have to keep abreast of Palooka to see how things are going because it is after the battles. They already had dispatches from the field. It’s not like Fischer got the plans to Operation Torch.

Now, the additional tackle might go a long way to explaining why Kitty was uneasy around Kurt, in the beginning. She’s a teenager, in a new crowd, and in swings this blue guy, in a tight costume, and he has more “presence” than some of the other guys; could have been a bit unnerving. Especially if his voice was anything like they used in the animated Pryde of the X-Men. he did sound rather like Peter Lorre there, as in Fritz Lang’s M, which is not an image you want for a hero. Of course, along those same lines, she might have been wondering about Colssus’ name.

Jeff Nettleton

May 30, 2014 at 11:29 am

ps. I don’t believe I am making innuendo about a comic book. I just became Brody, in Mallrats!

Ricochet Rita

May 30, 2014 at 11:35 am

renenarciso, that idea you’re bringing up has already been used in fanfics. Ahem.

I thought maybe people were thinking that the little Nightcrawler in front of his nether regions was supposed to be his penis, complete with a little costume he had made for it.

I don’t think we can blame the two dicks joke on Austen. It was Nightcrawler’s creator – Dave Cockrum – who used to joke that he had two dicks long before Austen got his hands on the character.

I first read about it decades ago in a series of interviews with the X-Men creative team.

A neat addendum to the “Master Race” story is that Crime SuspenStories #26, which came out about half a year prior to Impact #1, very clearly has a cover depicting the events of the “Master Race” story. Of course, the delays on the story prevented it from having appeared in that issue, but Jack Davis had already done the cover, so Gaines had to print the issue with a cover teaser that had no matching content inside the issue (which he despised doing). If I recall correctly, Krigstein initially wanted the story at twelve pages.

The impact of that story (seriously, no pun intended) is that when it begins, readers are easily led to believe that the protagonist of the story is the Jewish camp survivor, and that he is in fear of being spotted by this former Nazi camp commander. As it develops, we learn it is the other way around, and that the former commander is the protagonist, and he fears retribution from his ex-prisoner. When I first read that story I had to go back and immediately re-read it to see how in the hell Feldstein and Krigstein pulled that off so well. Great story.

@renenarciso – I hope the barb is flexible. Ouch.

@Jeff Nettleton – that made me remember the issue (was it an annual?) where Wolverine has had his costume burnt off or something and he’s walking past Jubilee (and maybe Kitty too), maybe on the Blackbird, and their eyes bulge as all of Wolverine isn’t small.

But then, Cyclops has to be the most phallic X-Man name. Beast brings up ideas too.

I was just wondering if theres any truth to the legend that the real reason why Age of Ultron was delayed so long is because Marvel originally wanted to have Marvelman enter the MU at the end but had to settle for Angela instead due to ongoing legal battles over the rights to Marvelman at the time

Art Spiegelman also did a wonderful essay about breaking down “Master Race” and showing exactly how amazing that story is. I believe it’s reprinted in Co-Mix?

It is very interesting to find out that Bernard Krigstein “Master Race,” which is generally regarded as one of the most groundbreaking & influential stories in comic books / sequential illustration, was delayed being published for a year because writer / editor Al Feldstein was annoyed that his instructions had been ignored. This just goes to show that, yes, while a good editor is sometimes a necessity, at other times it can lead to short-sightedness and a stifling of creativity. It’s a very delicate balancing act.

Here’s a question for those who had the (unfortunate) pleasure of actually reading Chuck Austen’s run.

The page with Nightcrawler’s crisis of faith. Is there some in-story event that sparks that crisis? Or it’s just Chuck Austen putting a typically skeptical’s views of Christianity into Nightcrawler’s mouth for no reason at all?

I’m not criticizing those views per se. I’m not Catholic, and I don’t follow any other established Christian church, and I even recognize that those doubts make some sense.

It’s just that… it seems to me that a long-time Catholic like Kurt would have dealt with those doubts already in some manner, years ago. He would not simply recite a point-for-point Top 10 of Skeptic’s Criticisms of Christianity for no reason.

The way Chris Claremont handled Kurt’s Catholicism felt a lot more realistic to me. I remember he had a crisis of faith then too, but it was sparked by the Beyonder showing up, and some other things, and it felt organic to the story.

Wow, I’ve never heard of Impact#1 despite it being influential, Bernard Krigstein is now my new hero – Thanks, Brian! Alexandre Juliao: I see some Miller in there too, for some reason, I see Mignola as well. You know, if he was trying to conform more to a house style, or maybe if he was trying to ape Neal Adams a bit (with the very detailed geometric backgrounds and strange illusions.) Has any of the EC stuff been collected anywhere? Specifically with Bernard Krigstein’s work in it?

>The page with Nightcrawler’s crisis of faith. Is there some in-story event that sparks that crisis? Or it’s just Chuck Austen putting a typically skeptical’s views of Christianity into Nightcrawler’s mouth for no reason at all?

No, it’s caused by nothing in particular (Nightcrawler has a nightmare then gets angry at the crucifix). It’s from UXM#415, the first (but by no means last) of Austen’s salvos against Christianity in general and Kurt in particular. The infamous “Holy War” (by which time Kurt’s faith would have good reason to be shattered) was still months away – this is from when he’s supposed to be (or per retcons thinks he is) a priest.

This is an interesting article.

Thanks for clearing that up, Michael.

The whole page feels very heavy-handed, and I had suspected it was gratuitous too, but I wasn’t sure.

This is your brain: gosh darnit, the world sure is a fine place!
This is your brain on Chuck Austen: LMARGGHAFDFDREADARGHHHHHHCHUCKAUSTEN.
Sums up the big AUS for me.

Krigstein’s ‘experiment’ produced some great storytelling. That panel where the train is passing is epic.

@ookerdookers — You’re right about Crime 26 featuring a “Master Race” cover, but the artist was Jack Kamen, not Davis. Davis did the “real” cover for Impact 1.

Timothy Markin

May 30, 2014 at 5:14 pm

If you look at some of Ditko’s mid 50s Charlton work, it seems to resemble some of Krigstein’s art, particularly in the faces. Ditko’s work really evolved over the years. I remember buying Scary Tales 18 (1978) off the stands (it had 1954/55 Ditko reprints) and Ditko’s signature in the corner was the only real way to know it was him. Some of the art in that particular issue reminds me of Krigstein.

Wow, thanks for clearing that first one up. I’d heard that legend, but with one critical difference: I’d heard it attributed to Chris Claremont (I’m betting the story I read was written by someone who’d heard that “the guy who writes X-Men” said that, and assumed the guy in question was Claremont) lumped in with Mystique and Destiny being Nightcrawler’s father and mother respectively as “things they wouldn’t let Claremont say on the page.”

Now, obviously, that wouldn’t make it any more “official” than Austen saying it, but, to me, there’s a big difference between “Chuck Austen cracked a joke” and “Chirs Claremont had this in the back of his mind the whole time he was writing the stories that defined the character and the only reason it isn’t canon is that Marvel said ‘stop trying to give blue mutants extra penises Chris.’”

By the way, did anyone actually like the Count Chocula hair for Nightcrawler? For that matter, does anyone like the Count Chocula look for Iceman? And is it just me having an “in my day…” moment, or am I correct in thinking that no living person can look at those three samples of art on the Nightcrawler legend and actually prefer one of the latter two to the first one?

Actually, Joe Casey had introduced a plot IIRC where Nightcrawler met up with some racists with holy pretentions (They even had a Pope), before Austen took over. I think Uncanny #400 had the evil Pope abduct and mess with Nightcrawler, and his crisis of faith in the Austen issue was partly due to that.

(Casey’s also the one who had Nightcrawler suddenly become an ordained priest, despite the process usually taking years)

“…Austen noted that since Nightcrawler had two fingers and two toes…then he also had two, well, you know. Penises.”

I have five fingers and five toes – My underpants fit me like a glove!

(Apologies to all, please carry on.)

Nope, I can’t carry on, Onion3000. You win all the internets today.

I’ve still never understood how Kurt became a priest in six months, if I’m recalling correctly. This happened when the X-books did a six-month time skip, and one of the consequences was that Kurt was suddenly a priest.

I have no problem with what happened–I’m a Catholic, so I love the idea of a superhero being represented in the clergy. It’s just that becoming a priest takes a LONG time. My brother-in-law has been in seminary for something like 5 years and isn’t close to finished.

Considering all the nonsense in Austen’s comics, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had actually decided for Nightcrawler to have two penises for real. It wouldn’t even be the weirdest or the dumbest of stuff he came up with.

It is very interesting to find out that Bernard Krigstein “Master Race,” which is generally regarded as one of the most groundbreaking & influential stories in comic books / sequential illustration, was delayed being published for a year because writer / editor Al Feldstein was annoyed that his instructions had been ignored. This just goes to show that, yes, while a good editor is sometimes a necessity, at other times it can lead to short-sightedness and a stifling of creativity. It’s a very delicate balancing act.

I think Feldstein the editor just wanted to keep everything going smoothly. To wit, one of the cardinal sins on Saturday Night Live is ad libbing (beyond, like, a word or two). Anything unscripted throws the entire show off and the show is scheduled so delicately that it is difficult for the show to adjust to major ad libs. Similarly, when you have X amount of space for a comic story then you feel like you should get a comic story that fits into that X amount of space. When a guy decides that he’s going to go off on his own and give you X + 2, then it throws your production schedule out of whack and suddenly you’re pushing other stories up to take its place, etc. So while yes, Krigstein delivered a marvelous story, I can see how Feldstein could take issue with it.

Travis Pelkie

May 30, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Well, how did the Comics Code affect the placing of “Master Race”? Impact was one of several of EC’s “Picto-Fiction” (I think it was called) attempts at a work-around the Code in order to keep publishing, so was the story held up only because of the page count (and/or Krigstein’s pace of work — I thought I’ve heard that was an issue as well), or was it held up because there was nowhere to put it at the time and it was used to kick off this new title?

I expect this comment to be in moderation in a bit ;)

And no, spiegelman’s essay on “Master Race” is not in the Co-Mix book.

Okay, good points about Feldstein’s probable rationale, Brian.

This is, of course, yet another reason why I am glad that nowadays there are publishers such as Image and Dark Horse and Fantagraphics, places where creators do have the opportunity to attempt all sorts of experimentation in their work.

Is it just me or are pages 2 and 3 not loading right? Seems like a frame problem with Firefox…

And the new layout doth sucketh.

Aaaaand now it looks as always…???

@mrclam: D’oh! Of course you are correct and I should have known better since Kamen was always my favorite of the EC bullpen. Okay, Kamen and Johnny Craig are tied for the top spot.

@Travis Pelkie: “Master Race” should have been published at least as early as Crime SuspenStories #26, prior to the code approval. I do not believe the CCA had anything to do with the decision of when or where to publish it. Here’s why:

Impact was not part of the Picto-Fiction line. It was part of EC’s New Direction titles which were launched as an attempt to replace their New Trend titles (Tales From The Crypt, Vault of Horror, et cetera) with milder titles and content. The New Trend line could not have complied with CCA approval just based on their titles alone.

The New Direction books were launched for the purpose of complying with the basic ideas of the code, but EC didn’t actually bother submitting the issues to the CCA for approval, hoping that just toning down their content would be enough. Once they realized that the milder content wasn’t enough and that newsstands wouldn’t touch their books unless it had the CCA stamp, they gave in and began to submit their product to the CCA. So, all of the New Direction books don’t start seeing the stamp until issue #2.

IIRC, once EC did start to comply and submit their content, they only released two issues without the stamp: Weird Science-Fantasy #29 (the word “weird” was banned by CCA), which Gaines and Feldstein were relaunching into Incredible Science-Fiction anyway, and Psychoanalysis #3. Even the big kerfuffle over “Judgment Day” in Incredible Science-Fiction #33 ended with Judge Murphy relenting and the issue received the seal.

To put it into perspective, Impact #1 came out one month after Tales From The Crypt #46. Many companies were still feeling their way around compliance of this new set of regulations, so it wasn’t uncommon to have many books without the seal with it being so new and all. Quality Comics, I believe, ran afoul of the CCA much the same way as EC, and by the time they began to comply it was too late to save the company from ruin.

Brian (or anyone else), please correct me if I am mistaken on any of this?

No, that all sounds correct.

Travis Pelkie

May 31, 2014 at 12:33 am

Well, looking at Crime SuspenStories 26 on the GCD, there’s only one story in there that’s 6 pages, so presumably that one is the one that was put in/done to replace “Master Race”. But there’s also an 8 pager, so length-wise, the story could have fit. However, it would be likely that either Krigstein wasn’t done with the story fast enough (which I believe I heard — that he wasn’t a quick comics illustrator), or that Feldstein decided to stick it to him and not put it in since Krigstein “screwed around” with it.

Two penii? That’s nothing! The current main character of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has four testicles!

I remember really enjoying the idea of Nightcrawler having a crisis of faith. I felt that it made sense in the wake of the “evil Pope” story that had just unfolded. The high-level idea was good; the details were atrocious. That could describe most of the Austen run, though.

It breaks my heart that Austen’s UXM run is still very much in canon as confirmed by the early issues of “Amazing”.
I want them to retcon away this sneering Mystique (a cruel take on one of my fave characters) and demonic father.
Austen isn’t all bad, he’s done some pretty good stuff, but his work on UXM is all bad.

I’m down with Marvel having some diabolic characters but this devalues some of the more poignant scenes of God Loves, Man Kills. I love Claremont’s original run so much.

I would’ve loved the subversiveness of having Mystique and Destiny having a biological child together, and I always resented this Azazel.

OTOH I don’t need a hereditary explanation for Nightcrawlers hue and appearance. Having him just become born as a child to human-looking parents, as implied in the original “Giant-Size”, is pretty awesome in and of itself. There’s something so fairy tale about that.
And Mystique and Destiny already had Rogue. I just reread those issues (of UXM and Dazzler) with their “Sisterhood” and Freedom Force.

Sorry for the rambling. Just so happy about eighties X-Men while sad about Austen’s run.

Rather strange assumption to make (I get it was a joke). Since he has 2 fingers and two toes, then he must also have 2…… Because since I have 5 fingers and 5 toes, that means I have 5……

Oh, come on. He may have meant it as a joke, but given the nonsensical, weird garbage that was Austen’s run, I can’t fault anyone for believing that he was intending to work it into a story.

@Ravyn — link please?

Actually, no one is quite sure what Nightcrawler has down there because it’s eternally cloaked by a mysterious shadow! :->

You know, it occurs to me that Nightcrawler’s father can teleport and has a tail, and his mom has blue skin and yellow eyes, I’m not sure the invisibility in shadows is still canon, and there are plenty of humans with too few fingers and toes … I think the only actual mutation he has left is the wallcrawling.

@ZZZ: So, what, a mutant born with similar abilities/features as his mutant parent(s) is not a mutant?

@Tomer,

I think what ZZZ is getting at is that to be a mutant (lower-case “m”), your DNA must have mutated and be different than your progenitors, not just handed down by the standard replication process. But to be a Mutant (capital “M”), you just need to be homo-superior, a separate sub-species of the human race.

Marvel’s taxonomy with regards to mutants and other superhumans doesn’t quite line up with modern knowledge of genetics, and the writer’s understanding of genetics is…um…loose, to say the least. Remember, Stan & Jack invented “mutants” when most people still believed “race” was an accurate genetic category.

It’s foolhardy to try too hard. You’ll give yourself a migraine.

uh i am experiencing some problem with this site when i click on page two only half of it is coming up

Nightcrawler originally also had the power to be able to hide in shadows, but I don’t think we’ve seen that referred to since the ’70s….

Note that ZZZ said the only actual MUTATION. Not that he’s not a Mutant.

Toner, mutants as a human sub-species (as opposed to the mundane biological definition) are defined by having a mutation in the “x chromosome” that causes them to develop super-powers. Mutants can inherit the functioning X chromosome from their parents and usually do (though there are exceptions such as Graydon Creed) but they don’t inherit the exact power set. There may be some overlap–Nightcrawler inherited Mystique’s skin tone, but not her powers; Wanda (according to Immortus some years back) would have had powers closer to her father, if not for Cthon’s intervention–but no, a mutant inheriting the exact powers of their parent would be the exception not the rule.
Or at least that’s how I’ve interpreted Marvel genetics over the years.

While we’re on the subject, since Mystique walks around naked with us never seeing her naughty bits, does that mean she has no vagina?

@Mike Blake…those aren’t shadows down there, it’s pubes. Can you imagine the jungle to be groomed on a guy who’s fuzzy all over?

Well, the naked Mystique thing is a movie invention, but my assumption is that she has one when she needs one. It’s not like she just clouds people’s minds to make her look like things, she actually BECOMES those things. She’s a legit shape-changer.

It also explains how it was that Claremont had originally wanted her to be Kurt’s father.

A couple points about the EC legend. I think the wording in the paragraph that mentions Judgment Day is slightly misleading; it makes it sound like the CCA tried to prevent the story from being published the first time, when they were actually objecting to a reprint of the story (the column that the paragraph links to does convey that information, but this page on its own make it sound otherwise).

I think I can shed a little light on the discussion about the length of the delay and the reason why the stories were lettered before they were drawn; it was actually because the lettering was typewritten (instead of being done by hand, like pretty much every other comic before the digital age), so that the text would arguably be easier to read than the competitors’ comics. That’s why it was so important to do the lettering before the art, because back then it was a lot harder to position the text just right, so typing the text first and then drawing art and word balloons around them was the only way to make sure everything was in the right place. So, that might illuminate a little more why the story ended up being held back for a full year after the artist decided to do his own thing with it. It wasn’t just because Al Feldstein was annoyed that his orders weren’t being followed; it probably required a major repurposing of their usual system to even be able to have typewritten text over pre-drawn art.

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