Reviews May 2011 week four

Injury To Eye Motif? Frederick Wertham would turn in his E.C.-free grave.

– Stephen on Hellblazer: City Of Demons

Paying For It h/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown…

“So, I had sex the other day.”
“What? You’re joking.”
“With who?”
“A prostitute.”
“No… I don’t believe it.”
“Like a street walker?”
“No, she was in a brothel.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“How did you find a brothel?”
“An ad in the back of Now.”
“This is a joke.”
“I’m not joking.”
I was supposed to be next.”
“I’ve gone for sex for longer than you have. I’m the one who should’ve been next.
“That’s ridiculous.”
“You cheated. It’s not fair.”
“It’s not like I butted in line ahead of you.”
“It is like that.”
“I didn’t butt in front of you. I left the line you’re in… the free sex line… and I walked over to the paying for sex line. You could walk over to the paying for sex line too. It moves a lot faster.”
“There is no way I’m paying for sex. The disease factor alone is too scary.”
“Plus he’s too cheap.”

Ah, the wait was so, so worth it. I’m not talking about time spent in the free-sex or indeed paying-for-sex lines either, but for new autobiographical material from Chester Brown! It really has been a while as well, a lot longer than Chester’s free-sex drought that finally persuades him to take a more… shall we say… fiscally led approach to satisfying his desires.

The title of book pretty much gives the game away as to precisely what Chester’s been up to in the meantime to generate his new material for us, and indeed said carnal details form the majority of the work, meticulously ordered into chapters by individual prostitute as opposed to chronological order. But just as with Seth’s (IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN) and Joe Matt’s (SPENT) autobiographical material, it’s when two or three of the friends get together and start chewing the fat as in the excerpt above that the wit and humour of their writing really shines through.

I didn’t think it was actually possible for someone to illustratively humiliate themselves more than Joe Matt does in highlighting his own near-OCD obsession with pornography (a fact Chester and Seth have frequently teased him about) but I think Chester, in laying his paid-for sex life so brutally bare here, probably surpasses that. Whether you fundamental agree or disagree with prostitution in any or all of its various forms, and its attendant potential consequences for all involved – and I’m certainly not going to get into discussing that here – I strongly suspect you won’t find a more honest account of the ins and outs of frequenting brothels and engaging the services of escorts and prostitutes than this.

Not that there isn’t considerable emotion present in this work too and not just humorous banter either, for despite Chester’s protestations that romantic love is only for the foolish, and that paying for sex is a pragmatic, indeed completely sensible and practical way of obviating the possibilities of any unfortunate romantic entanglements, by the time you reach the end of PAYING FOR IT, you’ll realise that Chester isn’t anywhere near as shallow as people who haven’t read his previous autobiographical works I’VE NEVER LIKED YOU and THE PLAYBOY might suppose on approaching this book.

In fact rather the opposite, it’s his very mild-mannered, shy, retiring and pretty well hidden yet substantial emotional depths that, in his mind at least, have resulted in and justify him, paying for sex. Reading this work, it will be immediately apparent it is intended to be thought provoking in a cerebral manner, and not remotely titillating at all, but it is only in that respect that this book could said to be dispassionate. It’s pretty rare in my opinion for someone to present such a balanced account of something so controversial from the inside, and whilst Chester does perhaps take the opportunity to indulge in a little proselytising / justification of his position in the 50 or so pages of afterword and appendices featuring considerable quotes from academia, even there he provides a relatively balanced presentation of the arguments for and against prostitution. Above everything else PAYING FOR IT is an absolutely engrossing read illustrated exquisitely in a strict 2 x 4 panel per page grid by one of the finest illustrators alive today. Hopefully he won’t keep us waiting so long next time.



Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) h/c (£11-99, Abrahms) by Jason Shiga.

“What? It’s an Asian thing.”

From the creator of MEANWHILE and DOUBLE HAPPINESS comes a bittersweet tale about a young man called Jimmy who follows his friend to New York City with every intention of telling her much he misses her, and more.

Twenty-five and still living at home, Jimmy’s still unversed in the ways of the world, and he knows it. As an adult he feels like an imposter. Instead of a bank account he signs paychecks to his Mom in exchange for an allowance, and has yet to discover the difference between an espresso, cappuccino and latte. So when the more pragmatic and consistently less impressed Sara takes him to his first coffee shop, it’s an endearing moment of childlike glee for Jimmy which Shiga portrays to perfection.

But if that’s what passes Jimmy as a great big thrill for Jimmy, one wonders how he’d cope in wide world outside. Not well, as he discovers after choosing to travel by bus instead of plane:

“I thought it would be fun. But no. Sitting next to ex-convicts, going poo on a bus, and being called a ching chong is not fun.”
“What?! Who called you that?”
“Some tattooed redneck. Sara, I was so scared I wanted to scream like a girl.”
“What did you do?”
“I screamed like a girl.”

Shiga is a master of the super-deformed (Japanese term for squished), Jimmy wide-eyed and uncertain. His shoulders are hunched high as if in defence, while his face peers hesitantly out at the world from between them.

Instead of the pages being divided into a full grid of panels, the panels themselves are arranged sparingly on top of the page against its big, white space, giving them an unusual melody and affording Jimmy a degree of protection from what lies outside. These are then contrasted arrestingly with the occasional double-page landscape spread which bleeds right to the edges in which Jimmy is comparatively small and in awe.

Like ASTERIOS POLYP, the book is composed of past and present sequences, interwoven and beautifully colour-coded by SUBLIFE’s John Pham. And it’s important that they are interwoven for Jimmy’s determination to visit is directly informed by these memories, as is his optimism at how well he’ll be received. In one particular sequence Sara positively encourages him to up sticks and explore a world more commercially promising for his web work, so he bites the bullet and sends a letter on ahead, telling her to meet him atop of the Empire State Building. For him, this is the big romantic gesture inspired by films they’d discussed. But there are also warning signs in those rose-tinted recollections, for Sara’s attitude to romance – as to so much else – is dismissive, dispassionate and detached, and there is one subtle moment of stark revelation which we can only discuss once you’ve read the book for yourself: three panels, timed to perfection, as the implications of what Sara says sink in…



Glister: The Faerie Host (£4-99, Walker) by Andi Watson.

“What’s the most important rule of Fairieland?”
“Don’t go there.”
“What are the three other rules of Faerieland?”
“Don’t eat anything. Don’t drink anything. Don’t touch anyone.”
“They can be good neighbours and they can be bad neighbours, but they’re the best neighbours when they’re left alone.”

The best and bravest GLISTER book so far which delves into the history of our young heroine’s missing mother, broaching the pain of separation and loss. For years now Glister has lived virtually alone with her father in Chilblain Hall but when its boundaries change so that its new neighbours are Faerie folk, Glister starts receiving messages from her mother in the mirror. Is this really her mother or the cruellest, most wicked practical joke in the world?

When they unearth a crude stick figure with a lock of her mother’s hair attached, buried in a newly manifested grave, against her better judgement Glister cannot help but follow its instructions – just in case – to cross the carefully demarcated boundary to the land of the Fey in pursuit of the truth. But will she be able to resist all the other temptations there? Turns into quite the adventure.

Please don’t expect Andi to insult those who’ve lost parents by presenting a glib, happily ever after ending. Instead he comes up with a scenario far more subtle and magical to bring a certain comfort, with a lovely little epilogue to boot.

As ever there’s the added value of an activity – in this case bake your own wizened Faerie head – and the language is far from simplistic, evoking a truly repugnant stench in the heart of the Faerie King’s court:

“The floor was a slippy carpet of rotten fruit, the air as thick as curdled milk with the stink of withering and dust.”

New word: “widdershins”.



If ‘N Oof (£22-50, Picturebox) by Brian Chippendale ~

If and Oof are a hapless pair, travelling through this collection of short, strange stories as if following tangents in dreams. These tales leap off the fringes of the medium and ask you to have the faith to do the same. You’ve got to learn the rules before you can break them; Chippendale has the edge over try-hard zinesters and scribbling bums hastily stapling their latest brain fart for precisely this reason. What at first appears to be random and ill-conceived, is in fact a structured, realised world by creating and adhering to a consistent law and logic all its own. If’n Oof create their own way out of their hallucinogenic experience, Brian as the artist is merely an enabler.

Marc Bell did this with SHRIMPY & PAUL, letting the same askew physics inform and reform his entire output. Picking up the beat from Gary Panter’s JIMBO, Chippendale joyously revels in the most colourful recesses of the imagination. And while you could criticise Panter for his lack of illustrative detail, Chippendale seems to produce rich visuals without losing any of that Panter vitality necessary for these delirious treats.

Ah! Just when you feel you know the beat, he drops it and switches style. Introducing your eyes to new delights. Tight little panels break into effective double-page spreads as our pair leave the confines of a blighted B&B for the wider arena. For a moment we see If saturated in light threatening to obliterate his simply illustrated frame which then switches to the first person for another double-page spread, If’s hand rendered in extreme silhouette against concentric circles, each a jagged frequency. An imaginative interpretation of the sun’s relentless might, almost as damaging on the eyes as the genuine article.

This is the book I’ve been waiting for from Brian, as intense and playful as his music.



Hellblazer: City Of Demons (£10-99, Vertigo) by Si Spencer & Sean Murphy.

“’Smoking while pregnant may seriously harm your baby’s health.’ I make a point of only buying packets with this warning… I figure the odds are it won’t affect me.Though with my lifestyle, I can’t rule it out.”

Si Spencer writes one of the finest John Constantine books yet. Totally self-contained, it’s steeped in contemporary socio-politics whilst John himself is impetuous, self-deprecating but doesn’t do intimidated – not even with a knife to his throat. He’s had to pop outside the boozer for a fag because cirrhosis is politically more marketable (though no less taxable) than cancer. Here come a couple o’ hoodies:

“Yo blood, you got folding? Or do me and the Jizzman got to shiv you, innit?”
They talk Jamockney, that horrible bastard hybrid of all the laziest and worst of every culture. They’re wearing man-bhurkas, masking shame – dumb snot-nose kids brought up to believe they’re tenth-rate citizens. They’re not hard – they’re afraid.
“You on these man’s corner, you gotta pay Carlos and the Jizzman.”
“While I’d deeply love to adhere to your excise system, I’m afraid I’ve got a three-way planned with both your momma’s arses – but when I’m done you can collect the three pounds change.”
Right now they’ve got every right to be. Jesus, when did I become such a grumpy old man?
“That’s disrespec’, innit? You gonna get cut a squazillion ways now.”
“I’m thinking not, actually.”

No, but he does get smacked over the bonnet of a 4×4 by a woman driven to distraction by the ghost of her recently deceased daughter, and I cannot begin to tell you how clever that page is, as subtly interpreted by JOE THE BARBARIAN’s Sean Murphy, because John doesn’t realise to begin with just how serious it is. Neither did I, but when I returned to it later after the penny had dropped, it worked to perfection. Nor can I tell you how clever Si Spencer’s plot is – how impressively each and every element folds in together – or it will ruin the whole out-of-body experience for you. Still, you may look around with a new eye if ever you wait outside a hospital again.

Spencer has packed into this mini-series more ideas and wit than most writers do in their entire runs, because that’s just the beginning when the repercussions of John’s stay in hospital – as his blood sample is analysed then utilised – grow very brutal indeed.

Injury To Eye Motif? Frederick Wertham would turn in his E.C.-free grave.



Liar’s Kiss h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Eric Skillman & Jhomar Soriano…

Slightly difficult to believe LIAR’S KISS isn’t a blatant attempt to copycat the Vertigo Crime imprint given the deliberately low-grade paper stock and stylised black and white art moderately reminiscent of Victor Santos’ work on the Azzarello penned Filthy Rich. Which is a good thing, I hasten to add. It’s okay plot-wise, comparable in quality to much of the Vertigo Crime output i.e. one-trick ponies fit but nothing special, and certainly not a patch on any of the CRIMINAL volumes or, more recently, hard-hitting crime books like STUMPTOWN, PARKER and BULLET TO THE HEAD. One for persistent offenders rather than someone looking to commit their first offense perhaps.



Shadoweyes In Love (£9-99, SLG) by Ross Campbell.

Of volume one I wrote:

At first glance this is the cast of Ross Campbell’s WET MOON transplanted into a garbage-strewn, future metropolis whose only policing appears to be done by the Neighbourhood Watch – which isn’t the cosy little world of curtain twitchers we have here in the UK. No, it appears to involve balaclavas and truncheons. It’s no wonder that vagrants are abused by roaming gangs. Scout and Kyisha have been members of the Neighbourhood Watch, but Scout’s grown restless – she wants to do more.

Much more on volume one’s page.


Trouble h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Terry Dodson.

Uh-oh, they’re in trouble! Mary and May Parker (before she became an Aunt) take a summer job at a country hotel, serving lunch and working in the kitchen, as do brothers Ben and Richie. Within hours it’s hormones ahoy, condoms at dawn… and someone up the duff. It’s not half as naughty as Marvel are trying to make out, but it was a surprise move publishing a comic that has not even a hint of preternatural power in sight, nor a costume that wasn’t for bathing in. Terry Dodson was the perfect choice of artist – the pages really are lovely – and Millar used the opportunity to remind us all that we’re most of us radically different, braver although reckless and perhaps stupid people when we’re in our teens. Because it’s May who’s the raunchier, more worldly-wise one.

Impossible for me to separate this title from the Shampoo single.


Ultimate Comics Doomsday h/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Rafa Sandoval.

“Now you know why God gave you two of almost everything. It’s so you get a second chance to answer the question.”


All twelve issues of the recent ULTIMATE ENEMY/MYSTERY/DOOM trilogy which undeservedly but understandably suffered a certain reader fatigue here after the whole ULTIMATUM farce. And it’s an explosive book vital to those following the fortunes of the Ultimate Universe’s Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Ultimates which sees some key and – I would have thought – pretty irreversible sea-changes in both fortune and allegiance.

The Fantastic Four – and indeed Reed and Sue – have split. Reed, the finest scientist in the world despite his tender years, has returned home where he is treated like a naughty schoolboy; Sue continues her research on the top five floors of the Baxter Building as Captain Benjamin Grimm returns on leave from the air force; Sue’s brother Johnny is now living with Peter Parker’s Aunt May. Aunt May now has many mouths to feed (and silence) for in addition to Peter and Johnny Storm there’s Gwen Stacy and Bobby Drake, Iceman. The Ultimate’s Nick Fury is supposed by all to be dead; instead the more easily flustered and irascible Carol Danvers is in command of the Triskelion.

It’s at this point that – out of the blue – several landmarks are targeted for attack either by a mute monstrosity or a rampaging organism whose growth spurts can be measured in city-blocks-per-second. Roxxon is targeted, the Baxter Building is breached, Peter’s home is assaulted, Reed’s home is obliterated, Project Pegasus is looted and Nick Fury, idly enjoying an open-air Chinese lunch, gets his cover well and truly blown. Why?

Wave after wave sees the combined forces of what’s left of our heroes – bolstered by Captain Marvel, Rick Jones, Jessica Drew and the somewhat unorthodox interrogational techniques of Hawkeye – split, recombine and generally run around like headless chickens until one of them makes the terrible discovery of not what but whom they are facing. And really, in all honesty, they don’t stand a chance.

There’s some fabulous, free-flowing dialogue between Peter and his female clone based on the idea that they basically share the same thought processes (only she has, uh, “lady parts” and is far more astute, emotionally intuitive and self-aware). The romantic complications between Ben and Sue are revisited, the power play between Danvers and Fury accelerates, plus there’s a big guest-villain who isn’t the villain whom I will keep schtum about.

Sandoval’s forte throughout is an epic Ben Grimm, especially when his transformation takes hold and he starts burning from within, the energy fizzling out of the cracks between his damaged, rocky hide. As an artist he grows across the year-long series. Unfortunately the first third is marred by a colouring which is deeply unsympathetic, diluting or even obscuring some compositions in way too much orange, yellow and red, all at the same time. Fortunately things on that front finally calm down in time for the sheer scale of the destruction to be given its due.



Thor: The World Eaters h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Pasqual Ferry, Salvador Larroca…

“My word.”
“That’s not what usually happens…”
“Forget what usually happens… when did you get so old?”

And so Matt Fraction takes his turn at the winged helm with a story that builds upon the smouldering ruins of Asgard post-SIEGE, and also features the dramatic returns of a certain cantankerous All-Father and his mischievous, wayward son. Meanwhile, given that Asgard is currently plonked on Earth rather than residing in its usual, more resplendent celestial parking spot in the Nine Worlds, something – or more precisely someone – is approaching, determined to take advantage and fill that void. And speaking of voids, Volstagg is as ever suffering from one in the stomach region, which probably explains why the scientist who’s realised that the uninvited, titular, planet-munching guests are well and truly on their way is struggling to explain it to the concentration-challenged Voluminous One; without having to resort to mealtime metaphors that is…

“As Asgard’s most brilliant scientific mind, I, Doctor Volstagg, too have noticed many disturbing findings  in… my… in my findings, and they demand… Sit. And explain unto me your theories again, using perhaps pies…”
“Is there anyone else I can talk to…?”

Plot-wise, it’s a pretty solid start from Fraction whose current IRON MAN run is certainly a contender for the finest-ever on that particular title, but I do have to say he’s been most verily usurped with the pencil proving even mightier than the pen because Pasqual Ferry’s art is just breathtakingly beautiful and winsome throughout. It takes a lot in a superhero comic to make me really stop and appreciate the art, but this has to easily be Ferry’s finest work yet.

The sequences featuring the heartbroken goddess Kelda, grieving for Bill, the Broxton local who won her heart and then promptly died a noble death protecting Asgard in its direst hour thus ensuring his place in Valhalla alongside more godly warriors, are truly moving due to Ferry’s art, plus I am delighted to see Fraction has chosen to keep that particular little plot thread a-weaving yet. If Captain America, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, The Human Torch can (okay, not yet, but he will) return from the dead, I’m rooting squarely for Bill to rise again, hungover on mead from the Norse drinking halls, and mend Kelda’s broken heart. Huzzah! Or maybe not. And does anyone seriously think it was one of Thor’s brighter ideas to awaken the reincarnation of his younger brother? That is so, so going to end in tears for all concerned, you mark my words…


X-Men: Age Of Apocalypse Prelude (£22-50, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza, John Francis Moore, Todd Dezago, Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb & Andy Kubert, Jan Duursema, Steve Epting, Terry Dodson, Roger Cruz, Ron Garney, Ian Churchill.

The son of Professor X, Legion, travels back in time to kill Magneto and so brings about an alternate reality. Not by killing Magneto but by –





Rocketeer Adventures #1 (£2-99, IDW) by Kurt Busiek, John Cassady, Mike Allred & Michael Kaluta, John Cassady, Mike Allred.

“Cliff Secord, where have you been?!”

Dave Stevens would be very proud.

Three short stories, each faithful in their own individual ways to different aspects of Dave Stevens’ rocket-fuelled retro with the luscious Betty centre-stage in each. Cassady’s lifts off right in the middle of a military heist/blackmail/kidnapping which feels very early-Superman complete with our Lois Lane substitute giving the Rocketeer a right roasting for being late/impulsive/accommodating. On top of that, being Cassady, it is as lush and shiny as hell. Allred’s is a breathless and far more romantic affair which takes full advantage of the Art Deco, star-themed crown of the Chrysler Building for its sense of wonder and air-born liberation. Busiek and Kaluta, however, as you might expect, go for heart as Betty, very much the successful stage star in her own right, eschews the superficial rewards fame lays on for her each and every night to immerse herself in letters sent from the frontline of WWII by her beloved Cliff Secord flying alongside an air force squadron who of course have Betty Page painted on most of their planes’ fuselages. He makes light of the danger but she sees right through him, and suddenly – for days, weeks then months – the post stops arriving and Betty starts to fear for the worst…

One of my favourite Alex Ross pieces in ages graces the front cover. The colours are rich, the perspective a perfect piece of foreshortening; and the different leather textures and metallic sheens all suggest a sunshine up above which fills the space before brightening up the green fields below.

There’s also an appeal for funds to fight Hairy Cell Leukemia which downed Dave Stevens in 2008 whose web address I am more than happy to pass on here:

Here’s that cover:



Also Arrived:

Reviews of some to follow next week.

The Accidental Salad (£5-99, Blank Slate) by Joe Decie
Even The Giants (£7-50, Adhouse) by Jesse Jacobs
The Influencing Machine h/c (£17-99, Norton) by Brooke Gladstone & Josh Neufeld
Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale s/c (£11-99, Norton) by Belle Yang
Yeah! (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Peter Bagge & Gilbert Hernandez
Angry Youth Comix vol 3: Take A Joke (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Johnny Ryan
Approximate Continuum Comics (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Lewis Trondheim
Crossed 3D vol 1 (£6-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Gianluca Pagliarani
I Feel Sick #1 reprint (£2-99, SLG) by Jhonen Vasquez
I Feel Sick #2 reprint (£2-99, SLG) by Jhonen Vasquez
Nonplayer #1 reprint (£2-25, Image) by Nate Simpson
Atelier Series Official Chronicle (£29-99, Udon) by various
Unknown Soldier vol 4: Beautiful World (£10-99, Vertigo) by Joshua Dyart & Alberto Ponticelli, Rick Veitch
House Of Mystery vol 6: Safe As Houses (£10-99, Vertigo) by Matthew Sturges, Luca Rossi, Werther Dell’Edera & Jose Marzan Jr, Cristiano Cucina, Brendan McCarthy, Phil Noto, Esao Andrews, Carine Brancowitz
Dungeon: Monstres vol 4: Night Of The Lady Killer (£9-99, NBM) by Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, others
American Vampire vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by
Batman: The Brave And The Bold: Emerald Knight (£9-99, DC) by
Green Lantern Corps: Revolt Of The Alpha Lanterns h/c (£16-99, DC) by
Invincible Iron Man vol 7: My Monsters h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by
5 Ronin h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Tomm Coker, Dalibor Talajić, Laurence Campbell, Goran Parlov, Leandro Fernandez
Ultimate Comics Captain America h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney
X-Men: Chaos War s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Louise Simonson, Chris Claremont, Jim McCann, Marc Sumerak, Brandon Montclare & Doug Braithwaite, Reilly Brown, Dan Panosian, Michael William Kaluta
Mystique Ultimate Collection (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian K. Vaughan & Jorge Lucas, Micahel Ryan, Manuel Garcia
The Marvels Project: Birth Of The Super Heroes s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting
Punisher: In The Blood (£12-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Roland Boschi, Mick Bertilorenzi
Marvel Masterworks Daredevil vol 2 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita Sr., Gene Colan
Full Metal Alchemist vol 25 (£7-50, Viz) byHiromu Arakawa
Claymore vol 18 (£7-50, Viz) byNorihiro Yagi
Genkaku Picasso vol 3 (£7-50, Viz) by Usamaru Furuya
Bakuman vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
One Piece vol 57 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda
Bleach vol 35 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo
Ghost Talker’s Daydream vol 4 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by
Negima! vol 29 (£8-50, Del Rey) by
Fairy Tail vol 13 (£8-50, Kodansha) by
Gente: The People Of Restaurante Paradiso vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by

Looks like Jonathan lost interest at that point!

Congratulations to Craig Dawson whose wedding formed an episode of Steve’ll Fucking Fix It because, thanks to Clan Campbell (Eddie, Anne, Hayley), I managed to get his wedding blessed by Alan Moore.

But the congratulations are on another front entirely: today Craig broke the record for biggest ever single spending spree at Page 45: £1,536.79.

I did have to carry half the bags back to his car, yes.

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