Monday, August 31, 2015

Smilin' and Stylin' in the 80s: The DC Style Guide by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Karen: You may or may not have heard about this, but we think it's kind of a big deal: DC super-artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez recently posted his work from the 1980s DC Style Guide on his Facebook site. Much of it is circa 1982, although some is from later. This guide was used as both a reference in-house by artists, and also as material for marketing and licensing purposes. Since Garcia-Lopez never drew a bad figure in his life, he was the perfect choice to handle such a task.

Doug: This series of images is certainly a feast for the eyes, and I'm sure many of us spied several renderings we've seen on various products. Say, did you notice Superbaby and Wonder Tot, along with Batbaby and whatever the heck they called Lil' Robin in the cover above? If memory serves, in the late 70s Mego or someone else was making baby dolls of these characters.

Karen: There's a whole bunch of Super Juniors in the character color guides towards the end of the gallery. I do remember seeing ads for sort-of Beanie Baby style dolls like that. What's fascinating to me is the window back in time the art provides. Heroes are shown smiling at the viewer (mostly -Batman is still a little glum); colors are all bright and vibrant. There's a sense of excitement and fun here. These were comic book heroes for a very different era -yet the whole 'grim and gritty' phenomenon was only a few years off.

Karen: It's hard to single out particular images but we'll pick out a few.

Doug: One of the things I noticed while I was saving all of the images (yep, all 194 of them - there were actually a few more that just showed the binder) was the difference in Mera between the B&W and color images of the Aquaman family. Take a peek below and see for yourself. There's is another B&W image of Aquaman and Mera that shows her feet the same way; regrettably, I'm not savvy enough to know which is the "correct" depiction. But as I was clicking back and forth this jumped out at me for some reason.

Doug: I don't know if I'm any more qualified to talk about this than is Karen, but another thing that struck me right away was Garcia-Lopez's treatment of women. While each of the women dealt with in the Style Guide is certainly pretty, none of them (in my opinion) was overly sexed-up. Even Wonder Woman, scantily-clad as she is, looks like a normal, fit, woman. I may have said this before, but one of my colleagues when speaking of the modern fashions of teens often invokes the phrase "cleavage in two places". Well there's none of that here. Garcia-Lopez's women aren't falling out of their tops, and everything else seems to be contained as it should be. So in regard to Karen's complaints about "butt floss", you won't find that here.

Karen: Compare how any of the women here are portrayed next to a modern comic. There's just a level of respect evident here that you don't find in current stuff. The women are beautiful, but they are allowed to be adequately covered, and they are not forced into strange contortions to ensure that their busts and behinds are both prominently displayed at the same time. They also don't have outrageous proportions. I look at Wonder Woman here, or Batgirl, and they are super-heroines, not stand-ins for porn stars. I like that.

Doug: However, I did remark to Dr. Oyola on Twitter (thanks for being my tip-off to this collection, Osvaldo!) that I thought it was slightly sexist that we see Batgirl's rear end and not other caped characters. But after having seen the entire Style Guide I know that's not true -- it was only true in the samples I saw from a comics news website.

Karen: As we discussed putting this post together, we both noticed that Garcia-Lopez re-creates some classic Neal Adams' Superman poses, as seen below. I wonder if that was specifically requested by DC or if he did it himself as an homage?
Doug: Not only did I find that particular image to be an homage to Neal Adams's iconic cover to Superman #233, I felt that Garcia-Lopez was up to something on a few other characters. I think if you look at Batgirl's face in the furthest left image above, you'll get a sense of regular Batgirl artist Don Heck. I also think if you check out the wonderful picture of Superman and Lois Lane below, you may get a George Perez vibe. What sayest y'all?

Karen: There are a number of images with big groups of heroes for the Super-Powers line, which I believe came from 1984. But for some reason I really liked this shot of the Justice League. I think it's because it's such a great grouping of characters and Batman is almost smiling -or at least, he's not scowling.

Doug: I'm not sure why J'onn is giving Barry the stink-eye. Maybe because Barry has Zatanna by the hand? I also liked all of the New Teen Titans pix, and some with the villains. I like how colorful the image below is, but I have to ask -- what the heck is Luthor doing?

Karen: Holding up the frame? No, wait, Brainiac might be doing that! It's a little awkward. And hey, it looks like Penguin is giving Sivana the boot! Also, I didn't realize that Zod, Non, and Ursa were so popular -I assume that is them in the mid-right.

Karen: Doug mentioned how colorful the villain image was -and all of the images really are colorful -how about this color guide? Again, I'm struck by the bold, bright, crisp color. There's nothing dark or gloomy here!

Karen: And how about the Teen Titans? They're splashed all through this, with several group shots too. This particular set of Titans was from around 1985, when Dick Grayson had transitioned from Robin to Nightwing, and included Jericho, one of the goofiest-looking Titans, in my opinion.

Doug: But Jericho wasn't goofier looking than Terry Long, that's for certain. 

Doug: You mentioned above that there's nothing dark or gloomy here, and that was exactly my sense as I looked through the Guide. I think this is where DC has lost their way today. Yeah, yeah, I know this is a business and not necessarily just an art form. But Archie doesn't try to be Marvel. So what's wrong with telling action stories without all the gloom and doom? And the movies, for crying out loud... I think Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy have proven that some four-color fun can even be had on the silver screen. Perhaps the masters at Time-Warner would be well-served themselves in leafing through this Style Guide from the pre-Dark Knight days.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

BAB Classic: Dude, Look -- It's My Magnum Opus!

NOTE: This post originally ran on March 24, 2011. I've had "Kraven's Last Hunt" on my mind as I've been looking through the Mike Zeck Artist Edition. Fabulous art in that tale. So this weekend we'll revisit this fun topic/argument. Thanks!

Doug: So the other day I'm down in the comic room sliding side-to-side on the Total Gym (just like Chuck Norris), looking at my library, when the trade paperback for Crisis on Infinite Earths catches my eye. Of course I note that it's by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, and I'm suddenly struck with an inspiration for an Open Forum! Today's question is: Toss out the name of a writer or artist, and give us your opinion on what is their very best work. And if you can narrow it to a particular story or arc, that's even better. When did they peak?

For example, let's go back to Wolfman. Would anyone out there say that Crisis was "it" for him, or would you lean more toward some of his work on the New Teen Titans mag? How about something out of Tomb of Dracula? Perez? Man... Personally I love his art on the first several issues of the Wonder Woman reboot back around 1987 or so. I thought he drew Diana's hair in a different and very attractive fashion -- I know that may sound weird, but it was far removed from any depiction of her we'd seen before. That was eye-catching, and the rest of his images, notably the way he drew Paradise Island and the various Greek backdrops was super as well.

What the heck would you say about someone like John, or brother Sal-, Buscema? Curt Swan, Neal Adams, John Byrne? Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, or Roger Stern? Stan Lee?? When was their very best output?

It's your turn. Who ya got and when ya got 'em?

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Spinner Rack - a Variation on a Theme

Doug: No month and year for you today, kids. Nope -- I have something else in mind. Today's a tell-all from you to the rest of the BAB community. Our fun this time around is going to be in telling of those books that you recall obtaining at a specific time and place. I'm sure many of us know that we used to get a stack of comics in a cardboard box shipped from a place like Westfield Comics and brought to us by the UPS man. Others among us (looking at you, HB) used to subscribe to a few titles and eagerly awaited the mailman's arrival after a certain amount of time had passed. And that's cool - we've all been there. Let me show you what I'm after --

Purchased for me by my Aunt Mary while at the Old Chicago indoor amusement park.
Purchased by my summer sitter, my mom's cousin, at Southside Drugs in Kankakee, IL
Purchased by me after my mom drove me all over town looking for it. Bought it at Mickey's Books and Novelties (yup - those kinds of "books and novelties". Hey, I was 11; I didn't see anything other than the spinner rack! I swear...)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Take 5: Science Fiction Films of the 1980s

Karen: Boy, it's been a while since we did a Take 5! The premise here is to name your five top picks of the post's topic. Last weekend, I happened to put on the old classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Predator. I've always enjoyed that film, not only for the fantastic creature design of Stan Winston and his team but for the solid story and wonderful characters and performances by Arnold, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and of course, Kevin Peter Hall as the Predator. It was a great combination of action and science fiction. It also got me thinking about the science fiction films of the 80s. There were so many good science fiction films released in this decade (well, and a lot of terrible ones too). But a ton of great ones that I still think of fondly and will sit and watch just about any time. So why not do some reminiscing? 

Karen: I'll list my five top picks for my favorites of that decade, then you list yours, and let's all discuss. Deal? 

1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
2. Predator (1987)
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
4. The Thing (1982)
5. Aliens (1986)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Guest Writer - If I Had a Buck... Oh Captain, My Captain

Doug: Martinex1 is in the driver's seat today, friends. He has another fun one in store for our discussion purposes, so do him right! And pssst... this is the last "guest post" we have in the queue, just so all you Junior Chipmunk bloggers know.

Mike S.:This round of “If I Had A Buck” has only a very tenuous linking thread and concept… the heroes have monikers with the rank of “Captain”. 

Beyond that there is not that much to connect this crew. We have spacefaring captains, and we have captains with specific nationalities; we have WWII captains, and we have humorous hungry captains. We have hard punching captains, and we have captains with cosmic powers; we have Canadian captains, and we have carrot chomping captains. Sorry, we are sold out of Cap’n Crunch!

So choose your preference, spend your dollar, and share your thoughts. For the purpose of having all dollars make sense (get it?), the Captain Britain comic will sell for 30 cents.

Until Major Victory, Major Force, and Colonel Sanders have comics, make mine the Bronze Age!

Here is an outline of the comics on sale:

Captain America (Marvel) No. 262;  50 cents.  1981. Cover by Mike Zeck and John Beatty.   “Death Of A Legend” by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck.   2nd of a 3 part story involving Nomad, the Ameridroid, and the Red Skull.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew (DC) No. 1; 60 cents.  1982.  Cover by Scott Shaw, Ross Andru, and Robert Smith.  “The Pluto Syndrome” by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw.  Featuring Rubberduck, Yankee Poodle, Alley Kat Abra, and Superman!

Captain Atom (DC) No. 4;   75 cents. 1987.  Cover by Pat Broderick. “Father’s Day” by Cary Bates and Pat Broderick.   Includes an appearance of General Eiling (a prominent character in the Flash TV series).

Captain Marvel (Marvel) No 43;  25 cents.  1976.  Cover by Al Milgrom and Bernie Wrightson.  “Destroy Destroy” by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom.  Guest appearance by Drax the Destroyer.

Captain Canuck (Comely Comix) No. 10;  50 cents.   1980.   “Beyond, Part 2” Story by Richard Comely; Art by George Freeman.   Don’t confuse him with the Guardian, he’s Captain Canuck.  (IDW has a nice collection by the way).

Captain Hero Comics Digest Magazine (Archie) No. 1;  95 cents.  1981.   Cover by Stan Goldberg.  Digest format.  Collects thirteen stories including “The Plight of the Bumblebee”, “Evilheart’s Revenge”, and “Dial M for Monster”.

Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders (Marvel) No. 16;  15 cents.  1969.  Cover by John Severin.   “War is Hell …On Ice” by Arnold Drake and Don Heck.   This short lived series mimics the format and styling of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes. 

Captain Britain (Marvel UK) No. 35;  10 p / 30 cents.   1977.   Cover by Bob Budiansky, John Romita and Frank Giacoia.  “That Camelot Might Live” by Gary Friedrich, Larry Lieber, and Ron Wilson.  Brian Braddock continues his adventures, plus some backup reprints of the FF and Nick Fury. 

Marvel Spotlight starring Captain Universe (Marvel)  No. 9; 50 cents.  Cover by Steve Ditko. “The Mystery of Mister E” by Bill Mantlo and Steve Ditko.   From the pages of the Micronauts comes Captain Universe.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

'Cause Life Is Just a Dream Here -- DC Comics Presents #26

DC Comics Presents #26 (October 1980)(Special 16-page New Teen Titans preview)
"Where Nightmares Begin!"
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano

Doug: When I came to the New Teen Titans, they'd already gone through their eponymous newsprint series, as well as the Tales of the Teen Titans stretch. They were just into the fancy Baxter paper volume when I arrived from my self-imposed high school hiatus. I'd been a fan of the original Titans crew, specifically from the revival in the latter 1970s (boy - those do not hold up at all!). So when I could get my hands on the first few issues of the Baxter series as back issues, adding them to my beginning collection (I think I had #s 5 or 6 "new"), I was pretty excited. After all, I've always been sort of a "ground floor" guy when it comes to comics. It's with a virgin eye, then, that I arrive at the steps of DC Comics Presents #26 today -- I'd not read it prior to research for this review. And by the way, DC has been publishing very affordable trades of the New Teen Titans, and the first volume (reprinting this tale, plus issues 1-8, online for approximately $10) is my resource for today's comments and pretty pictures.

Karen: We took pretty different paths to the Titans. I think I had read one issue of their pre-Wolfman and Perez series. I jumped aboard the New Teen Titans around issue #9 -I remember that 'puppets' cover. They didn't steal me away from the X-Men, but I definitely became a fan. It seemed very accessible, despite some of the characters having long histories.

Doug: We open across the street from S.T.A.R. Labs, where some goons have taken hostages. Robin has arrived to assist the NYPD (that's correct, we're not in Gotham City). The crooks are firing on New York's finest, but Robin tells a cop that he has an idea. He gets some cover, then heads across the street to launch his plan. But as he takes the first few steps he begins to fade, staggering to a halt. As the cop reaches to steady the Teen Wonder, Robin regains his wits... at the hand of Wonder Girl! She wants him to turn around and head into the Teen Titans' Tower with her, for a scheduled meeting. But something's not right with Mr. Grayson. He doesn't recognize the building, and apparently has no knowledge of any meeting! But once Donna's shepherded him inside, the confusion continues. Creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez (with some slick inks by Dick Giordano) use the next several panels to not only accentuate Robin's mental state but also to introduce us to these New Teen Titans: Changeling (offended that Robin referred to him by his former moniker of Beast Boy), Cyborg, Starfire, Kid Flash, and Raven.

Karen: The first thing I have to comment on is that reading this from the original comic, it looks terribly muddy. It was actually kind of difficult to read at times. I was also distracted by the way Robin's eyes were drawn/inked in his mask whites in some panels. He had 'googly-eyes' -you know, pointing in different directions! In most panels, the mask eye holes were just white. It was really odd. Otherwise, the art is great. The characters all look terrific.The Perez/Giordano combo is a good one.

Doug: I agree about the eyes. Obviously the art samples today are from the new "cleaned up" printing. But I will say that I also noticed Robin's eyes, and it does seem odd. I think I just prefer my masked men (and women) drawn with plain ol' white eyes.

Doug: It's Raven's arrival at the Tower that provides the reader with the team's debut problem. A scientist not yet named was messing around with things he couldn't control (dang scientists... Oh, sorry Karen) and wouldn't you know it -- he let some super-nasty protoplasm enter our dimension. When I was reading this I almost laughed out loud -- this "creature" looks like Silver Age Brainiac-5's pal "Proty", but hopped up on some serious steroids. Would you feel threatened by a large bread dough? Raven has learned that the creature is going to destroy the Earth by converting the oxygen in the atmosphere to methane (I think that's what cows and pigs do, right? "Smell my dairy-air", you know?). And since the JLA, Avengers, and FF are not readily available, it's Titans Time!

Karen: Yes, those scientists, always ruining everything with their discoveries... well, in this case, it's more likely they'd make everyone chuckle. A big blob turning the air into methane? Not really the most awe-inspiring foe. And maybe it's me, but boy does it feel talky. Maybe because there's so much exposition, what with introducing everyone and explaining what's going on.

Doug: Arriving in NYC, the team engages the creature on the rooftops of Manhattan. Wolfman and Perez use this juncture in the book to show the readers what these new kids can do -- it's effective storytelling; even though I recognized what the authors were up to, they pulled it off in such a way that I didn't feel insulted or like I'd wasted time. But as Robin scales the building stairs he suddenly feels all woozy again. He begins to black out, when suddenly he feels someone's arms wrapped around his legs. It's the cop he was talking to at the beginning of the story and yep -- Robin's back where we began. The cop had tackled him as Robin had staggered into the terrorists' shooting angle. Robin wonders if he's been caught up in a dream, and really begins to doubt himself. But knowing he's the one best suited to end the terrorists' control of S.T.A.R. Labs, Robin fires his new Rocket Grappler to get himself up to the roof. But upon landing all those stories in the sky, he's again beset by the dizziness. When his head clears, the protoplasm is upon him!

Karen: That rocket grappler was huge! Where was Robin keeping that?

Doug: Dear readers, we just didn't have enough room to squeeze in the panel Karen references. Suffice it to say the device was about the size of the jack in your car. No utility belt was going to hold that doohickey!

Doug: The creature had snared Raven, and the Titans rushed to her aid. Unlike in most team books, this group fights together, which I welcomed. In that issue of the Champions we reviewed a few weeks ago, both of us were put out by the formulaic "I'll be the one to win the day" strategy employed by L.A.'s team for the common man. We find that the protoplasm can absorb energy, but also repel it. Changeling's rendered useless, and Starfire's energy bolts are hurled back at Wonder Girl. It's Cyborg who is able to wound the creature with a blast of white sound. That proves to be the most effective offense yet, and even causes the creature to take a powder. Raven's left on the ground in a pile -- but again in an effort to educate the readers in regard to these new characters' powers -- we "see" her soul reanimate her body. She admonishes her teammates for allowing the creature to leave, and firmly expresses the urgency with which the team should move.

Karen: I have to agree with you, especially after all the X-Men reviews we've done, seeing a team actually fighting as a unit rather than as individuals was refreshing. Wolfman was already showing that Wally was obsessed with Raven, and Raven was certainly mysterious. I liked that her astral form was a dark, menacing bird -- all the other characters I could think of with astral forms were drawn as ghost-like, invisible versions of themselves.

Doug: The Titans indeed move, on land and through the air, to arrive shortly at S.T.A.R. Labs. They hurry through the building to arrive at a laboratory, finding it completely trashed. Cyborg cryptically says that he knew they'd end up in this lab, and inexplicably excuses himself from the mission! Not so fast... the protoplasm appears and wallops Cyborg good. The team again engages, but the scientist we'd seen in Raven's vision is on the floor in distress. He calls to Robin and tells him that fighting in the manner that they are will do no good. Unfortunately, he's the one who brought the creature through the portal, and knows how to defeat it. He urges all of the Titans to leave the room, because they have to siphon the oxygen. Starfire says she'll cover everyone's departure, as she can continue to fight since she won't be affected by the declining oxygen levels. Robin protests, but she urges him to allow it. The scientist is right -- eliminating the oxygen causes the beast to go ballistic, firing methane clouds into the room. Starfire maneuvers the creature to the dimensional portal and blasts it through. She immediately destroys the computer that had opened the portal in the first place. Victory!

Karen: That was rather tidy. Starfire doesn't need to breathe? Hmm...OK.

Doug: I know I've seen her in space with no helmet or anything like a Legion transuit, but to not need oxygen? As they say, was there "more on that later"?

Doug: Cyborg, back among the awake, is very curt with the scientist. He tells him that he's not surprised the man screwed up, because it's what he does. Then Cyborg stalks away. Robin is mystified, but the scientist tells him he's not surprised at the reaction... from his son. Obviously "to be continued". Someone off-panel calls Robin's name, and he whirls to find himself back on the street with the cop we'd met at the beginning. Robin had urged the police to evacuate the air supply from the lab where the terrorists were holed up. That had done it -- the baddies gave up pretty quickly once it was apparent they were either going to pass out or possibly die. The solar reactor the terrorists were after had been preserved. A scientist came by to thank Robin. That's right -- the same man from Robin's "nightmare" who'd unleashed the protoplasm. Robin wandered away once everything was stabilized. He muttered to himself that he'd need to sleep this one off. But in the shadows we see Raven, who comments to herself that this was no dream, no nightmare -- in fact, the New Teen Titans are very real, and soon to be a very real part of Robin's life. So I guess back in 1980 we should have been on the look-out for New Teen Titans #1, to see how this would turn out!

Karen: The situation with Cyborg and his dad was obviously going to provide some good story material. Actually all of the characters, new and old, seemed interesting. It was just this story that came across as flat for me. I wasn't too thrilled with the back-and-forth mechanism, or the menace. But as far as introducing the team, it wasn't bad.

Doug: The first time I read this, when I was out in Washington, DC in July, I was a little put off by it. The story just seemed too formulaic -- as I remarked above, it's pretty obvious what the creators are trying to do here. But I sort of self-chastised myself for feeling that way... Of course they wrote it this way. Duh... in 1980, who knew these characters? Sure, Robin, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash were "household names" in the comics community. But I'd wager that a fare number of readers didn't recall Beast Boy from the old Doom Patrol. I know I wouldn't have. So as I did the second read for this writing, I really came to a spot where I enjoyed the story. No, I'm still not sold on the idea of a huge farting blob threatening the Earth, but the opportunity to see these young heroes strut their stuff was fun. Raven was played effectively as a mysterious, and Starfire was interesting. Cyborg seemed to be the guy with the token chip on his shoulder, but his anger at and lack of acknowledgement of his father was interesting enough to make me wonder where that plotline would go.

Karen: Origin stories, and especially team origin stories, can be very difficult things to do well. In this case, they were trying to launch a team of both old and new heroes, using a name that had been around for over a decade, but making it seem fresh and exciting.I guess you would call this a pre-origin story, but it still achieves its objective.

Doug: I think your coining of the term "pre-origin" is apt, as the team appears fully-formed. I am certain that back in the day, having been a reader of the Titans revival of the '70s I would have wondered where Speedy, Mal, Harlequin, and the whole Titans West kids were hanging out. There's certainly no mention of them here.

Doug: Many writers and fans have stated that the New Teen Titans were DC's answer to the X-Men juggernaut (no pun intended) being contemporarily crafted by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin over at Marvel. I can see that. Although seemingly a bit younger than the mutants, the broad array of powersets and colorful costumes, with a nice splash of anticipation for more information, surely made the Titans the success they became in the 1980s. I have the first two volumes of the new trades, and in the past I'd purchased trades of the arcs, "The Judas Contract" and "Terra Incognito", both of which I've read and liked. So a "hat's off" to Wolfman and Perez -- I think I'll be back!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Now That's a Legit Fight... A 100-Word Review

Doug: Yeah, I know. Last week I said we'd have a review of DC Comics Presents #26 for you today. And we will... tomorrow. Your hosts seem to swim in two separate pools of busy-ness, and to be honest, neither of us like it much. Karen keeps remarking to me that we need to quit our jobs and find some way to get paid to do just this -- fun stuff! Don't I wish. But you won't go away without a comics fix today, my friends. Last Thursday before turning in I was messing around on my Kindle and came across my digital copy of Avengers #158, which just happens to contain my favorite superhero tussle of all time (not to be confused with the greatest book of all time with a superhero tussle, Silver Surfer #4). The back half of the book is a separate story that leads into #159's conclusion of the introduction and first battle with Graviton. But the first half of #158 contains a battle for the ages. For The Ages... Check it out:

Avengers #158 (April 1977) (cover by Jack Kirby/John Romita, Sr./Joe Sinnott - how's that for a Hall of Fame?)
"When Avengers Clash!"
Jim Shooter-Sal Buscema/Pablo Marcos

Doug: Jim Shooter shook up the Avengers, and this issue typifies his torment of the team’s relationships. Wonder Man, only back from the dead for 6 issues, assists Wanda after the battle with the Black Knight. The Vision broods over the fallen Knight, when he hears WM say “Lean on me, Wanda.” Uh oh. Having increasing feelings of inadequacy, the Vision explodes in anger. Ferociously attacking his teammate, the Vision basically substantiates everything he feared he did not have – emotion, personality, and the ability to love. Iron Man lets them fight it out, and do they ever! One for the ages…

Now that's what the BAB calls "Gettin' Buscema-blasted!"

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