Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2016 week one

Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins’ The Coldest Winter has arrived! See News below for free, swoonaway signed Page 45 bookplate!

Bartkira: The Nuclear Edition h/c (£20-00, Floating World Comics) by Ryan Humphrey, various…

“Ralph has awakened!”bartkira-cover

Like The Simpsons? Of course.

Love AKIRA? Obviously.

Well then, this mash-up of manga and Springfield’s <ahem> finest will hit the spot. Conceived by Ryan Humphrey who drew a few scenes of Simpsons characters performing AKIRA that subsequently went viral on the internet, a collaborative online project was then launched to redraw the entirety of Katsuhiro Otomo’s six-volume epic. Which is obviously as crackpot an idea as it sounds, running as AKIRA does to some 500 plus pages!

A vast number of artists are currently drawing the even vaster number of different pages, hence some later bits of the story are finished and other earlier parts still in process. This book takes a selection that also works as a super-condensed ‘complete’ story in its own right. I did like the fact that the ‘correct’ page numbers are used here, so don’t get confused when it suddenly leaps from page 239 to page 300! Fans of AKIRA will still instantly recognise many iconic scenes portrayed here despite the radical re-imaginings.

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The multiple art contributions contained within even this version are eclectic to say the least. Some pages I found amazing, such as those by Tom Neely, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Matias Bergara and Stephen Morrow. My one criticism would be I found myself wanting much more of those and less of a couple of the others, but I can well imagine in the final longer six-volume format, the endless rotating art styles will only add to the mayhem, of which there is plenty in AKIRA anyway, even before Bart and co. get involved! You can actually read all six volumes online (well, all the pages that have been finished so far) and also see the animated trailer at http://www.bartkira.com

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The project’s profits are all going to charity, possibly by their own admission mainly to try and avoid wandering into any legal minefields, but by all accounts Otomo and Matt Groening are amused by the conceit. I was too!

JR

Buy Bartkira: The Nuclear Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Disciples s/c (£11-99, Black Mask) by Steve Niles & Christopher Mitten.

If you likedisciples-cover your science fiction dark and your space shots spectacular, I think you’ve come to the right, inevitably tampered-with cryogenic chamber. This is positively freezing.

That’s not what’s gone awry here, but awry things will go all the same.

From the writer of inky, Arctic fang-fest 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and the artist on the gobsmacking gorgeous UMBRAL, comes a voyage on Venture to Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s largest 62 moons. There a colony has been established by filthy rich, ultra-religious whack-job, McCauley Richmond, and when I write “colony” I mean cult. Rick, Jules and Dagmar have been hired to retrieve a young woman who, her parents claim, has fallen under the influence said whack-job.

“She’s the daughter of a senator and barely eighteen when Richmond… I don’t know, what do you call it? Seduced her?”
“Brainwashed her. Don’t tell Rick but I hope preacher man gives us trouble. I’d love to shoot him right in his Holy Trinity.”

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That is an option under their remit, but it’s the extraction that’s essential. Unfortunately, just before Venture leaves its lunar dock Dagmar has a premonition – which she’s not prone to – of what they might find on arrival: hundreds of cadavers floating in space.

They don’t, of course, that would be far too obvious.

But that which finds them is horrific.

I promised you spectacular and Mitten delivers on the very second and third pages in a landscape spread whose scale is phenomenal. Jupiter’s a big beast. It’s diameter is over 11 times that of Earth’s and 2.5 times more massive than the rest of the planets in ours little solar system combined. What Mitten’s pulled off is, in its truest sense, awesome.

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Firstly, but a sixth of Jupiter’s bright orange, storm-swirled curvature dominates the top-right of the page but cleverly and crucially three of its moons, glowing green, float in front of it, tiny in proportion. On arrival Mitten will up the ante: what’s lost on the skull-and-space-suit front is more than made up for by many more moons whose own size is emphasised by other lunar objects in front of them.

He’s barely started.

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The flight itself comes with some thrilling, electrical, icy effects, and if you’re wondering why our three bounty hunters have super-soft skin, it’ll will serve to contrast striking with what lurks ahead. It’s… a pretty grim first-chapter punchline.

Behind massive and only reluctantly yielding bay doors, the colony’s no less impressive, dominated by its central cathedral which boasts elements both of the ancient and futuristic. And if you’re praying for some of those lovely light effects from UMBRAL, both Mitten and colour artist Jay Fotos have been only too happy to oblige once things go subterranean.

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The script is relatively sparse but free from the false, forced camaraderie that irks me elsewhere. That they enjoy each others’ company is perfectly evident, with enough trust built over previous excursions to tease each other playfully. They’re together voluntarily too, so there are no bitter rivalries or bitching, and their friendship is deftly established in plenty of time everything to go terminally tits-up.

I do hope you don’t choke easily.

THE DISCIPLES falls firmly into the same vein of space-faring science fiction as CALIBAN and OCEAN rather than the more European aesthetic of, say, HABITAT or Moebius’ THE WORLD OF EDENA, and is certainly not as involved as the likes of UNIVERSAL WAR ONE, but I don’t always have time for that. Often I just want my eye-candy, cheers.

SLH

Buy The Disciples s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Diary Comics (£9-99, Koyama Press) by Dustin Harbin…

“In 2010 Idiary-comics-cover started making diary comics on New Year’s Day, in a little 4” x 5” notebook.
“They were hourlies at first.
“I remember thinking at the time…
“It’s hard to have fun when I have to keep pausing…to describe the fun.”
“Which… looking back now… has become a major theme for me.
“Both in my work and my life.
“Maybe the major theme.
“There’s a thing called the ‘Observer Effect’, often confused with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
“Essentially, you can’t measure some things without changing them.
“You see where I’m going, right?
“Observing the moment changes the moment.
“Not only that, it rounds all the corners and sharpens all the curves.
“It mushes things into a you-shaped shape, fits into a you-shaped spot in your brain, and moves on.
“Is that bad?
“Yeah, probably.”

You might think lettering in comics isn’t that important. It is, however, exactly how Dustin Harbin first came to my attention, by observing some, which had quite the effect on me. I happened to very much like the lettering in Matt Fraction & Fabio Moon’s CASANOVA, both upper case and lower varieties, and made a mental note of who’d done it. Not the butler in this instance. I then read Bryan Lee O’Malley’s awesome SECONDS and thought, hello, I love that lettering, and lo and behold, both were lettered by one Dustin K. Harbin esq.

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We were then due to place a regular order of North American self-published goodness from John KING-CAT Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distribution emporium and I spotted a couple of very slim diary mini-comics by Dustin. I decided to give them a go, absolutely loved them because the guy can really tell a story and draw as well as letter beautifully, and then found out there was a much bigger, albeit pocket-dimensioned compilation with both quality and width.

Unfortunately Koyama Press, who’ve published an excellent selection of titles over the years such as SAFARI HONEYMOON by Jess Jacobs and BURT’S WAY HOME by John Martz, are not readily distributed in the UK, at least not until recently, so I resigned myself to having to wait until we ordered again from John P. In the meantime, I was chatting with Bryan Lee O’Malley (as one does…) at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal this year and mentioned Dustin and his lettering, and instantly Bryan said, “Have you read his DIARY COMICS? It’s brilliant.”

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And that, dear reader, is how I came to be even more determined to get hold of this work. And, happy days, shortly thereafter Koyama Press books became available via one of our regular UK distributors! Having now digested it, I will boldly state that not only is Dustin one of the best letterers in the biz, but also one of the best comic diarists. Oh yes. For whilst he might not actually get up to a great deal out of the ordinary, Dustin successfully makes the ordinary out to be a great deal. Let’s be honest, although other people’s lives are typically fascinating in actuality, it is entirely as the late Frank Carson put it so succinctly, “the way I tell ’em!”, as to whether they are as interesting on the page.

Some autobiographical comics creators know how to spin a yarn, and others merely start a yawn.

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You’ll see Dustin endlessly grapple with making comics and attending the merry-go-round of North American comic festivals such as The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), hobnobbing and schmoozing with the likes of Seth, Chester Brown, Michael DeForge, Kate Beaton, Sammy Harkham and many more besides. He also lays bare his romantic dalliances for our delectation, which he even chivalrously lets his girlfriend have the last word on, with an absolutely brilliant, skewering punchline! Plus he bravely exposes his battles with the black dog of depression. I must say, he seems rather the stoic to me, though, with his ingenious myriad ways of combating, indeed staving off an unexpected, impending dip in the old psychological weather systems, rather than just giving in to it all and retreating under the duvet in a blubbering mess.

There are two threads running through this work which elevate it to its heights: the genuine objective insight he provides us into his inner mental workings, mainly in his solo scenes, and the observational humour he delivers, usually at his own expense, pretty much whenever he’s interacting with another human being.

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I’ll leave you with a two panel conversation with Bryan Lee O’Malley that made me howl with laughter because it’s about a subject Stephen and I comment on to each other every single time we see Bryan…

“Lots of my favourite people either live in Toronto or go to TCAF…”

“Hey Bryan!”
“Hey Dustin.”

“Although I’m still not very good at talking to any of them…”

“Man! You’re tall. Have you always been that tall?”
“Well…”

Bryan really is that tall. Quite why Stephen and I are continually surprised by that fact every time we see him I have no idea, but we’re obviously not alone in our misapprehension on the sheer size of Mt. O’Malley!

JR

Buy Diary Comics and read the Page 45 review here

Young Avengers: Heinberg & Cheung Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung with Michael Gaydos.

“I actually didn’t see that coming.”

You won’t from the cover, and deliberately so. For a start, by the second issue there will be two young ladies on the team, while others will experience… trauma.

This is a story of upheaval and flux because it’s a book about teenagers. This is a book of mysteries, the biggest mystery presented to its readership at the time – long before Gillen & McKelvie’s YOUNG AVENGERS run – being “Who are the Young Avengers?” and because it’s a book starring teenagers, it’s one which some of them don’t know yet the answers to. Which of us knew ourselves, aged 16?

Heinberg created the title at Quesda’s suggestion after two years writing and producing ‘The O.C.’.

“I do love writing teenage characters. Probably because I never got over being a teenager myself. I don’t know if anyone does.”

Not “stopped” being a teenager but “got over” being a teenager.

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“It’s such a tumultuous, deeply felt period in a person’s life: you’re struggling to define yourself in relation to your friends and family; you’re expected to behave like an adult, but you’re not permitted to enjoy any of the rights and privileges which most adults take for granted; and you’re falling in love for the first time. There’s so much about being a teenager that goes unsaid and so many wounds that never heal.”

He continues:

“Being a teenager is all about the beginning of one’s search for identity. And that question, “Who are the Young Avengers,” haunted me to such a degree that it became the soul of my subsequent pitch.”

Every element Heinberg identifies there finds itself at the core of this book, and although Jimmy Cheung will dazzle you with the shiniest of big-battle superheroics fought by those you will be oh so familiar with and fondly attached to, what sets this apart from random costumed crime-fighting is that it comes with its own internal momentum. They’ll be dealing with their own dynamics determined by their own identities, their friends’ and their families’. Three of the individuals will be startled to learn who their parents actually are. As will you.

On the surface this looked corny, not only to prospective readers but to J. Jonah Jameson, ALIAS’ Jessica Jones and fellow reporter Kat Farrell when the first four of our youths appear in costume saving a dozen residents from a four-alarm fire. They didn’t call themselves Young Avengers – that was Kat Farrell – but each of them looked like fanboys aping their elders: The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America’s former WWII partner Bucky.

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But key to all that is this: they are indeed all connected extraordinarily closely to the Avengers and their history… just not in any of the ways it looked like above.

They emerged on the scene while the Avengers were disbanded immediately following the murder of Hawkeye, Ant-Man and The Vision in AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED (whose self-indulgent, sentimental review is even more spoilery than that sentence, so I really wouldn’t read it, just the book which is blistering). That too is key, for Iron Man is still raw from those deaths while Captain America still feels responsible for Bucky’s. They’re determined to shut this team down before any of them gets hurt, especially when Ant-Man’s daughter joins in.

But these Young Avengers aren’t looking for trouble; trouble comes looking for them… because of who they are.

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Since it’s a book of most excellent mysteries, so satisfyingly sewn together, I’m going to have to leave it there in terms of plottage, but as Captain America himself remarks, “I actually didn’t see that coming.”

Instead, here are a few things that I loved enough to review this book anew:

Heinberg does a mean impression of Bendis on Jessica Jones (who appears throughout and is even illustrated for many pages during the investigative special by ALIAS’ own Michael Gaydos), whilst having his own voice for the determined but less than experienced or adept kids. It’s grounded.

Secondly, during that special Teddy, who’s not a young Hulk but a very gentle shape-shifter, talks about how he wanted to “fit in” at school as do most teenagers, and so he did: he morphed to appeal more to his peers. The problem with changing yourself to suit others – to act or to lie and to pretend to be someone you’re not – is that you make all the wrong friends. So he did.

Things I liked third: by the time the book opens Teddy has already learned to be honest to the extent that he’s boyfriends with Billy. That relationship informs the whole of Gillen and McKelvie’s YOUNG AVENGERS stint – it is its very catalyst – but brilliantly it had nothing to do with them being gay. Similarly here their sexuality a complete non-issue, remarked upon by neither friend nor foe. They simply love each other. Brilliant!

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Also, I adore the art by Jimmy Cheung. Coloured by Justin Ponsor, it’s a gleaming dream with tender, shiny eyes, costumes which are thick enough to feel between your fingers and discern one material from another and the most spectacular aerial fight scenes you could wish for. He’s exceptionally adept at vulnerability, and there will much of that witnessed within.

Oh, and lovers of Fraction and Aja’s HAWKEYE will be delighted to learn that this is where Kate Bishop comes from and quickly establishes herself as the bond that binds them all together and keeps them on course even when families unravel. Families matter.

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For yes, this has a heart of gold. I like Heinberg. Plus, he’s done a great job of balancing the young wilfulness and glee of the star-struck newcomers (or, in one case, the baggage that comes from being the grandson of an unrecognised, underappreciated legend) with the respect they have for their renowned adult counterparts, and he’s done an intelligent job of presenting the converse view of authority. He’s put in some graft, in other words, and there are worse reasons to go out a buy a book than that it’s well written by a warm-hearted man, and gloriously drawn by an undeniable star.

Lastly, I know you can’t tell from the cover, but this is very much an Avengers title not a mere adjunct or a gimmick, firmly rooted as I’ve suggested in its history and co-starring core members.

SLH

Buy Young Avengers: Heinberg & Cheung Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Moon Knight vol 1: Lunatic s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood…

“Well, Marc, I don’t quite know what to say anymore… I had thought we were making some progress these past weeks, but now you say you remember nothing of that? I… I just don’t know what to believe anymore.”
“Doctor Emmet, please… I don’t know what to believe, either. All I know is I woke up this morning in this place, and I have no idea how I got here. I remember bits and pieces of different lives… before this… Moon Knight the vigilante, Jake Lockley the cab driver, Steven Grant the millionaire… I need you to tell me… Which of those really happened? Which one was really me?”
“<SIGH> Marc… none of those were really you. None of it really happened. It is all an elaborate delusion. Fantasies you created to cope with the truth.”
“No… I don’t believe that. I know Moon Knight was real. At least that. I know Khonshu was real.”
“Marc… we have had this conversation dozens of time… you want the truth? Well, here it is… There is a Moon Knight, Marc. But you are not him. You’ve been in this institution since you were twelve years old.”
“No…”

Maybe… though presumably unlikely…

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However, Marc is certainly experiencing rapidly changing perceptions of reality whilst seemingly trapped in a mental hospital populated by old cast favourites like Bertrand Crawley, Jean-Paul Duchamp a.k.a. Frenchie, Marlene Alraune and Stained Glass Scarlet. Oh, and Khonshu, we mustn’t forget Khonshu… The staff aren’t a particularly sympathetic bunch, either, with their penchant for a truncheon beat-down and electroshock charge-up. Then there is the mysterious Doctor Emmet who Marc becomes convinced is Ammut, the God of Judgement and eternal foe of Egyptian God Khonshu… As I say, maybe…

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All I know for certain after the first five issues of Jeff Lemire’s baffle-worthy take on the moon-faced mentalist is that I am as utterly puzzled and perplexed as Marc. Particularly after issue #5 where guest artist James Stokoe takes us for a quick trip to the moon to fight werewolves in spaceships.

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But luckily for us, Khonshu, if it really is Khonshu of course, is able to explain to Marc exactly what is going on, or perhaps tell him a huge pack of whoppers, which either way sounds exactly like the weirdest episode of X-Files ever. Or perhaps Marc is subconsciously using the illusion of Khonshu to construct an ever more implausible explanation to justify his whirlamagig carousel of hallucinations. I honestly have no idea, but this is certainly one of the very few stand-out Marvel titles at the moment in terms of writing, which I personally think is suddenly at its absolute nadir in my living memory following another interminable round of unnecessary reboots post-SECRET WARS.

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Marvel do try and let the odd person do something a bit different and more sophisticated in story-telling terms like Lemire is doing here, I will give them that, such as the recent VISION VOL 1: LITTLE WORSE THAN A MAN S/C and VISION VOL 2: LITTLE BETTER THAN A BEAST S/C penned by Tom King, but frequently these left-field yarns struggle to resonate with sufficient fanboys to maintain an audience and get promptly cancelled, as the Vision just has, sadly.

Consequently I’ll personally be surprised if this incarnation of Moon Knight runs more than 12 issues, which is supervillain-level criminal frankly, but hey ho, as long as Lemire gets chance to explain to me what the hell is actually going on, I’ll be happy with our little dance in the moonlight.

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Main artist Greg Smallwood (who has a bit of form with Moon Knight, illustrating part of the recent Brian Wood run) is a real talent too, he had me at the very first page of nocturnal ambiguity with Marc stood outside a huge temple hearing the voice of Khonshu beckoning him in. I really like his broad linework, use of shading as an illustrative instrument and some very clever page layouts with lack of defined panels and stark white backgrounds. It all adds very nicely to the discombobulated feel.

Finally, most appropriate sub-title for a Marvel title ever? Unless, that is, the next trade of All Nonsense, All Dreadful Avengers is subtitled Complete And Utter Shite…

JR

Buy Moon Knight vol 1: Lunatic s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

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The Coldest Winter h/c (Page 45 Bookplate Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins

Paper Girls vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, Cliff Chiang

Baltimore vol 7: Empty Graves h/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Peter Bergting

Black Science vol 5: True Atonement s/c (£13-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

The Beauty vol 2 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley & Mike Huddleston, Brett Weldele, Stephen Green

I Hate Fairyland vol 2: Fluff My Life (£13-99, Image) by Skottie Young

Judge Dredd Casefiles 28 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & various

Lumberjanes vol 5: Band Together (£13-99, Image) by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh & Brooke Allen, Carolyn Nowak

Star Wars: Poe Dameron vol 1: Black Squadron (£17-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, Chris Eliopoulos & Phil Noto

Samurai vol 1: The Heart Of The Prophet h/c (£22-99, Titan) by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio & Frederic Genet

The Flash by Mark Waid vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Mark Waid, others & various

Justice League vol 8: Darkseid War Part 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Jason Fabok, Francis Manapul, others

Captain America: Steve Rogers vol 1: Hail Hydra s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina

Neverwhere: A Novel (US Edition) (£14-50, William Morrow) by Neil Gaiman

News

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ITEM! It has arrived!

THE COLDEST WINTER H/C (Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition) by Antony Johnston & Steven Perkins!

I am so, so grateful for every beautiful bookplate designed for Page 45 over the years – they have all of them been exquisite – but Steven Perkins has just shot his to top spot. I am in awe!

There will be a review next week, but for the moment, here’s my review of THE COLDEST CITY drawn by Sam Hart and written by Antony Johnston, scribe of UMBRAL, THE FUSE, WASTELAND, two of our three DEAD SPACE graphic novels and adaptor-to-comics of Alan Moore’s FASHION BEAST and Anthony Horowitz’s Young Adults’ Alex Rider graphic novels like SCORPIA drawn by Emma Vieceli and coloured by Kate Brown.

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ITEM! Speaking of Emma Vieceli, boy can she sing! I’m not one for Christmas songs, but listen to this arrangement of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ sung by Emma Vieceli – I swear you will thank yourself.

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ITEM! This new John Allison BAD MACHINERY interview on Comics Alliance explains exactly what I was describing r.e. Lottie’s fiery pronouncements towards the end of my BAD MACHINERY: THE CASE OF THE UNWELCOME VISITOR review.

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ITEM! STRANGERS IN PARADISE / RACHEL RISING’s Terry Moore has a brand new website full of his graphic novels (obv.) and merchandise you can’t buy elsewhere.

What you can buy here: Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING, ECHO, STRANGERS IN PARADISE, HOW TO DRAW and TERRY MOORE’S SKETCHBOOK VOL 1.

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 – Stephen

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