Archive for May, 2014


This Week in Panels: Week 244

May 26th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Hey, look at that! A new header image. Thank YOU, Spider-Man/Deadpool crossover one-shot!

Like always, it’s me on lead vocals with Matlock on drums, Gaijin Dan on guitar and Space Jawa on triangle. Saga is back, which is fantastic. Plus Frankenstein’s showing up in more DC comics, which I guess is a good thing. Even if I haven’t heard much promise from Futures End. Matlock’s the one reading it, not me.

Speaking of stuff I haven’t read, Space Jawa brings in a lot of stuff from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30th Anniversary comic. In that Archie TMNT panel, Leonardo’s kind of a hypocrite.

It was a busy week for me otherwise. Over at Den of Geek US, I’ve written an article about how Charles Soule is the “great fixer” of Marvel and DC, I celebrated the return of CHIKARA Pro Wrestling with a look at the ten best CHIKARA storylines and I got to do my first ever phone interview with Joey Ansah, the guy behind Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist.

On Sunday I took a trip to see the CHIKARA return show You Only Live Twice. One of the highlights included seeing the debut of “Smooth Sailing” Ashley Remington, who upon winning his match, handed his opponent a fruit basket. His opponent’s reaction went from angry to confused to, “Hey, all right!”

Now for the panel stuff.

All You Need Is Kill #15
Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Ryosuke Takeuchi, Yoshitoshi ABe and Takeshi Obata

Amazing Spider-Man #2
Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

Avengers World #6 (Gavin’s pick)
Nick Spencer and Marco Checcheto

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Mitsuhisa Kuji’s Wolfsmund: death

May 21st, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Wolfsmund is created by Mitsuhisa Kuji, translated by Ko Ransom, and published by Vertical. I’m talking about volume 3, but you should start with the first volume, assuming your stomach and soul can handle it. I waffle and wobble a bit, personally.

I’m not too squeamish when it comes to entertainment, but it’s really down to presentation. Flash beheadings, brutal beatings, none of that really moves the needle in terms of actual existential terror. It’s when things get too specific and personal that I start checking out. Eyeball trauma gets me good, even in garbage movies like 28 Weeks Later. Hannibal was gross from jump, but it didn’t gross me out until season two showed someone tearing themselves free from a sculpture they’d been stitched into.

Mitsuhisa Kuji’s Wolfsmund excels at the specific and personal, and I’m torn between being into it and hitting the emergency eject button. It’s set in the past, at a gateway between two lands governed by a man who specializes in educational cruelty. It is grim and difficult to read. I’m three volumes in and there’s no real hope in sight. Compelling characters are put to the sword or worse on a regular basis. The first volume lays out what to expect: there are people who die, there are people who escape, and there is the man who sits in judgment of all of them and doesn’t let anyone pass without taking skin off their back.

Volume two was exceedingly cruel, cruel enough to where I put the series to the side for a few months. Volume three, purchased on a whim relatively recently, still made me cringe. In movies, if someone’s getting their eyes stabbed out, I can look away. In comics, you gotta look before you turn the page. You have to register what you’re seeing before you realize it’s horrible.

I tried to read the torture scene in volume three a couple times, not willing to admit defeat, before I eventually just bit down and flipped past it. Kuji got me. She got me good. The fingernails, or the imaginings that come along with reading a scene of fingernail torture, put me down for the count and I lost a few panels. She followed it with a scene where a man offers a mother and son a chance. He will spare one of them. Whoever the sword points to when it falls will die. The sword is placed point-down, tips, falls, and:

Mitsuhisa Kuji - wolfsmund - 01

Mitsuhisa Kuji - wolfsmund - 02

A sword is for stabbing, you see. It’s cruel poetry. The pommel doesn’t matter. Starving dogs are set on the son. The mother rushes to his rescue. She fails.

Kuji played assistant for Kentaro Miura, creator of hyper-violent medieval tale Berserk, and Kaoru Mori, creator of the maid soap opera Emma. Wolfsmund doesn’t feel like a marriage of those influences, but you can feel both influences creeping into the work. The art in Wolfsmund is very well-rendered and detailed. I can’t speak to its period-appropriateness, but the costumes feel real. They’re full of details and accoutrements that feel like they make sense.

Wolfsmund is an easy book to fall into, to believe in, and that makes the trauma all the worse. It’s a creeping, personal kind of cruelty. The characters in the book and Kuji herself dedicate scads of time to showing us someone else’s pain in excruciating detail. It’s not like Gantz, which could never figure out if it wanted to terrify or titillate. It’s un-erotic in the extreme, so uncomfortable and dark that you wince at the art. (The actual instances of sex and nudity in Wolfsmund are often difficult. There’s no guarantee that either party will survive the scene, much less the book, and they’re often book-ended with skin-crawling horrors.)

Wolfsmund is feel-bad comics, the sort of book you read and swear off and come back to again after a few months have passed. It’s full of non-stop cruelty and horrors, definitely beyond what I personally prefer. But there’s something about it and the feelings it inspires that is compelling, too. It’s a difficult kind of pleasure, and probably not even pleasure at all.

I read the second volume of Tsutomu Nihei’s Knights of Sidonia and the third volume of Wolfsmund back-to-back one night, well after the sun went down. The treatment of death in both books captured my imagination. Where Knights of Sidonia had an incredible depiction of impersonal cruelty, Kuji indulges in indulgent and beautiful cruelty in almost every chapter. You either get the knife or the glint of it. It’s mean and it’s ugly, heartbreakingly ugly at times, but I keep coming back to it.

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Tsutomu Nihei’s Knights of Sidonia: death

May 20th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Knights of Sidonia, created by Tsutomu Nihei, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian, published by Vertical. This is volume 2, there are several others, including ebooks on your preferred digital platform.

Set in a far-flung future after the destruction of Earth, Knights of Sidonia takes place in and around a spacecraft that contains the entirety—maybe so, maybe no—of humanity. They’re being hunted by powerful and utterly alien beings. One day, things go wrong and the ship must change course. Imagine being in a car taking a turn at 60mph. Now multiply it by several thousand orders of magnitude.

This happens:

Knights of Sidonia - death - 01

None of these people are named. They aren’t characters, just bodies that transition from human to smears. They’re indicators of scale and trauma instead of people. Imagine you, your best friend, and your circle. Now imagine what happens when they hit God’s windshield at eighty thousand miles an hour.

This follows:

Knights of Sidonia - death - 02

Nihei’s got a killer sense of scale and perspective. It made Blame! claustrophobic despite being full of open spaces and it made Biomega creepier than sin. Here, he goes from a long-distance shot to a close-up one, adding the remnants of human remains to the smears.

I keyed on the couple the first time I read this. They might not even be a couple—they might be two people caught by surprise in the moment. But under Nihei’s pen, they’re here and then they’re gone and that is the entirety of their existence.

The impersonal nature of these deaths, and this scene as a whole, struck me. These deaths happen because someone makes a decision to save the many at the expense of the…well, not few, as you can see. At the expense of those unfortunate enough to be away from safe areas at that specific moment in time.

Despite these deaths being utterly impersonal, they’re far from bloodless. Something about the way Nihei draws the splatters, the choice of sound effect, and the sheer number of them make the scene feel like one final upset and insult before the victims are sent on their way. It feels like a chill, an Act of God.

There was a person here. There’s not now.

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This Week in Panels: Week 243

May 20th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Heyo! Nice cornucopia of stuff this week, brought to you by myself, Matlock, Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa. Deadpool may be my comic of the week, although Afterlife with Archie is still — no pun intended — killing it. If anything, that comic has the best incentive to read it. Sure, we’re reading about the hopeful survival of our main cast, but we’re also waiting for the other shoe to drop on Reggie getting torn apart by the undead. Finally, giving the readers what they want!

The main Avengers book was pretty rad too. Instead of responding to mindwiping with paranoia and passive-aggressiveness, Captain America simply cuts to the chase and punches Tony Stark in his stupid fucking face. Batman, you can learn a thing or two from that man.

Action Comics #31
Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder, Rafa Sandoval and Cameron Stewart

Afterlife with Archie #5
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla

All-New Ghost Rider #3 (Gavin’s pick)
Filipe Smith and Tradd Moore

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Happy birthday, Malcolm X.

May 19th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

I keep a copy of Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” on my phone.

It’s something I got out of growing up in the church. When you’re going through it, seek out things that comfort you. When you have idle time, remind yourself of why life is good. It’s a reminder, a reinforcement, a gift to yourself.

The Autobiography is a little too long for a quick hit. The various collections of quotes online are too stripped of context to be true reminders. But “The Ballot or the Bullet” is the perfect sampler. I can dip in, get something out of it, and dip back out and be on my way before I get to where I’m going.

I got into Malcolm X’s work as a kid, and his words have been a source of strength ever since. He taught me that rights can not be given. No one can grant you the right to do anything. It is yours by natural law, and the only thing they can do is illegally deprive you of your rights. You can’t ask for freedom. It’s yours already. Don’t let people congratulate themselves for giving you a leg up when what they really did is stop holding you back. Be grateful for advances, but don’t confuse or tolerate half-measures and limp efforts masquerading as progress. Your family deserves and requires your protection. Self-defense by any means. Be honest and be direct. Have patience and integrity. But when push comes to shove, if somebody puts his hands on you, put him in the cemetery.

Know that you are invaluable.

You are bigger than whatever box it is they have chosen to put you in. The world will remind you of how bad and ugly and worthless you are, so that’s hard to remember sometimes. Sometimes you need a second to think. Sometimes you need to flip through something familiar to remind you.

Today is the birthday of Malcolm Little, later Malcolm X and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He was thirty-nine when he died, but he’d be eighty-nine today. “Rest In Power” makes me uncomfortable, like the struggle is infinite and there’s no rest for us. “Rest In Peace” is too small, too generic. So: thank you for reminding me of what I can be.

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if you want me, you should find me [Pill x Suzanne Vega]

May 13th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

I was in a bike shop with a friend when something familiar came over the PA system: “If you want me, you can find me left of center off of the strip.” I knew the lyrics, but I was surprised to hear them as part of an unfamiliar song. I knew it from another song, Pill’s “On Da Korner,” produced by Needlz, from his 1140: The Overdose mixtape. I asked the clerk, and she said it was called something like “Left of the Center,” but she couldn’t remember who sang it.

It’s a good sample in a solid song off a solid mixtape that just recently re-entered the rotation. Pill was always a good complement to Freddie Gibbs. Where Gibbs had that grown-man nihilist perspective, Pill came with sheer unrepentant swagger. He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, and that’s just how life is. Pill’s a dude other dudes tend to talk about in terms of realness, which is why you can see everything from wads of money to cooking crack to smoking in his videos. (Pill had the trap goin’ ham way before Kanye and Jay, too.)

I like the way the sample sits on the song. The subdued, almost melancholy vocals pair well with the driving beat and Pill’s verses. It’s an airy vocal sample sitting on top of a pounding song, the kind of combo that tends to lodge itself in my head. It’s a similar vibe to Vado’s “Badman” and “Off Hiatus,” both of which sample a couple of Lana Del Rey songs to give some flavor to crime raps.

The original song sampled in “On Da Korner” is Suzanne Vega’s “Left of Center,” a song from ’86 and part of the Pretty In Pink soundtrack. It’s a love song about being on the outskirts. It’s about being a little weird, but knowing that the person you like is a little weird, too. I’ve been spinning it since last night, and I like it. I like how Vega sings it, and I like what it’s about, too.

What I like the most, though, is understanding the difference between how Vega used her lyrics and the way Pill and Needlz did. “Left of Center” is obviously its own thing, and it’s successful at what it does. To make “On Da Korner” work, though, Needlz needed to find a sample that was not just exciting, but fit Pill’s milieu. On top of that, Pill needed to create a song that made the sample make sense.

Both songs use the same vocals, but have fairly different moods. “Left of Center” is full of longing and more than a little hope. “On Da Korner” uses Vega’s words as a statement of intent, and sounds more than a little prideful. Both songs are fundamentally the same—”If you want me, you can find me off the strip”—but Vega’s figurative usage contrasts with Pill’s literal usage.

As a kid, I found new music mostly by way of the radio and liner notes. Liner notes would point me toward artists that the original artist either dug, was partners with, or was influenced by. It let me spiderweb my way out into good music, and those habits carry on now.

I pretty much only get liner notes when I buy vinyl these days, but samples have quickly filled that gap for me. It’s like an impromptu history lesson, if I can source the sample and find the album. It goes both ways, too. Sometimes I’ll grab an old album or someone will recommend me something, and I’ll hear a line that makes everything snap into place and deepens my enjoyment. It’s like following breadcrumbs.

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This Week in Panels: Week 242

May 13th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Gaijin Dan is off this week, meaning there’s not much going on in the black and white/right-to-left side of ThWiP stuff. Instead, it’s me and Matlock and Space Jawa. We all read She-Hulk, which I suppose should tell you something about the quality of that book.

I wrote stuff! The other day I did a review of Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, a biographical graphic novel about the 8th Wonder of the World. Then I did a review for Ashes of CHIKARA, a movie released based on CHIKARA being “closed down” for eight months. One of them I really liked. The other, not so much.

And now on to the super late panels.

Amazing Spider-Man #1.1
Dan Slott and Ramon Perez

Aquaman and the Others #2
Dan Jurgens and Lan Medina

Batwing #31
Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Eduardo Pansica

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Pharoahe Monch – “Time2”

May 6th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

One of my favorite aspects of music is how easily it can transport me to someplace else. Whether it’s uplifting, grimey, freaky, realistic, whatever—a song can change how you think for a moment in time. You’re not at your desk, filing papers and cheating with Tumblr. You’re doing WORK, reading BLOGS, at the SAME DAMN TIME. You’re not about to cheat on your old man or old lady. You’re about to creep, yeah, and keep that on the down low. It’s the music and the lyrics combining to be something incredible. Some artists are better at it than others, but I think good songs are generally songs you can fall into and believe in for three minutes.

Pharoahe Monch’s “Time2” is a song that hits it. It’s about overcoming, and the main ingredient in triumph is adversity. The chorus is a plea for help, the first line is about the eternal struggle, and the song is about being in over your head. It was inspired partially by a man’s real-life meltdown in Times Square, and this verse is crucial:

La-la-la-last ye-ye-year they hired me
And this-s-s-s we-we-we-we-week the-the-they fired me
And I g-g-g-got all these b-b-b-b-bills to pay
And what the f-f-f-f-fu-f-f-fuck am I supposed to say
T-t-t-t-to my wife she’s p-p-p-p-pregnant
And if the kid does not go to college his life’s irrelevant
And my-my-my melanin-n-n-n makes me a felon
And-nd I just wanna take this fuckin’ c-c-crack and sell it

Musicians are performers, and all of them play roles. Sometimes that role is limited to their own, but when they branch out and start bringing in or acknowledging other points of view, things get good. I’m thinking of Nas talking to a kid in “One Love,” Freddie Gibbs trying to figure out if his girl stepping out on him for somebody at her college makes her stank or him immature, Lana Del Rey mocking her lover on several songs, or Kanye making records about self-loathing and pride. There’s something special there, and here, Monch kills.

The role Monch is playing here is one of someone who has lost his job and has no real options left. It’s a common story, everyone knows the tune, but the stuttering is what got me here. It makes this character Monch is playing real. It’s a little addition that changes everything, like when characters in movies actually stop to eat or a martial artist pauses to visibly catch his breath mid-fight. It grounds the narrative, and in so doing, makes it something out of real life. It’s different from just saying it.

Monch is one of the most technically gifted rappers ever, and it shows in this verse. He’s always bending and blending syllables, but the effect I get from melanin/felon and/and, and the way they all play off “fuckin,” is the type of thing that makes you want to run a track back.

“Time2” is off Monch’s PTSD, an album that might just be my main thing this year. Heartfelt, emotional, and it’s so real that I keep coming back to it. This isn’t even the most emotionally-charged moment on the album, though it’s pretty high up there. It’s about depression, it’s about feeling bad, it’s about going through it, it’s about getting better and being better. Monch can take you somewhere real with lines as simple as “My family customs were not accustomed to dealing with mental health/It was more or less an issue for white families with wealth” or as rugged as “You dont figitty faze me yo, I won’t tigitty tase you bro/Figgity fucking cut you in half like it’s nothing minus the laser scope.”

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This Week in Panels: Week 241

May 5th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Welcome to die! This week I have my usual crew of Matlock, Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa. Matlock decided to panelize the hell out of Amazing Spider-Man #1, representing all the various stories within.

This week brought the disappointing ends of two minis in What If? Age of Ultron and Origin II. What If features the most pyrrhic victory that proceeds to negate the more enjoyable issues of the mini (ie. the second, third and fourth issues). Then Origin II is a straight-faced version of that scene from Beerfest. Great art and the first issue with the bear is still totally sweet, but the only interesting thing to come out of it is the reveal that Sabretooth has a sister out there.

The Hickman Avengers stuff was awesome, at least.

In other news, I wrote about the history of Street Fighter comics. Very proud of that one, as it gave me yet another excuse to talk about that hilariously bad Malibu series where Ken got scalped.

All You Need Is Kill #13
Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Ryosuke Takeuchi, Yoshitoshi ABe and Takeshi Obata

Amazing Spider-Man #1
Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

Amazing Spider-Man #1
Dan Slott, Christos Gage and Javier Rodriguez

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How Captain America Saved Agents of SHIELD

May 4th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

When it comes to comics, a major event story can completely ruin a less-important comic series. It can be derailed and refuse to ever rebuild itself, driving away readers and getting cancelled. When it comes to Agents of SHIELD, it’s kind of the opposite.

I was interested in Agents of SHIELD when it was announced. The Marvel Avengersverse has always impressed me. The synergy and the quality have been great almost across the board. The movies have ranged from awesome to kind of bad but not unwatchable (Iron Man 2). These days it’s rather funny to watch Warner Bros. try to play catch up with the feeling that they’re going to trip over their own feet like a cinematic Goofus compared to Marvel’s Gallant. Meanwhile, Marvel has Netflix shows on the horizon for Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Movies coming up about talking space raccoons and Ultron. There’s a lot to be excited about as a comic fan.

Agents of SHIELD started pretty lukewarm and led to the overwhelming response of, “That was okay, I guess. I’ll give it another episode or two.” The characters were pretty flat, but at least we had Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Not only did he add plenty of personality, but it brought in an interesting mystery of how he was back after being impaled to death by Loki back in Avengers. One thing the show did fantastically was troll the fans by shoving in as many hints as possible to play with everyone’s prediction that he was a Life Model Decoy while never intending it to be anything more than a red herring.

While there was the occasional good episode (the one where Simmons is infected with an electric virus), but the show lacked anything genuinely gripping. As it slogged on, the only thing it really had going for it was Bill Paxton joining the cast and the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection. Even that one started to lose its steam as it kept stretching out more and more.

People involved with the show would sidestep those criticisms and say that people didn’t like it because it wasn’t constantly dealing with Marvel movie stuff. To be fair, it did get annoying when the best way they could figure to do that was by having the characters say stuff like, “Blah blah blah gamma radiation blah blah blah Chitauri blah blah Extremis blah blah Super Soldiers.” It didn’t help when they hyped up one episode as being about the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World and all we got was a couple minutes of them literally cleaning up a mess before an Asgard-related plot that had nothing to do with the movie kicked in. It felt cheap.

I stopped watching right when they teased Lorelei for the following episode. I got tired of seeing them build on a wild goose chase of a plot that was in no way engaging. Who is the Clairvoyant?! I don’t really know, but I’m getting tired of caring. The show was spinning its wheels and there were only two reasons why I intended to come back to it later: Patton Oswalt was going to show up and to see the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I say that before even seeing Winter Soldier. While the trailers did a good job not explaining exactly what was going on, at least we knew that it was going to be Captain America vs. SHIELD and there was likely going to be some kind of major aftermath. Then the movie came out and made Agents of SHIELD must-watch for at least one episode because what the hell? The reemergence of Hydra was one thing, but the movie outright ended with SHIELD completely done away with. How can you do a show about SHIELD when a movie with a higher pay grade just told you that there is no SHIELD to do a show about?

And that’s the funny thing about the synergy here. Apparently Agents of SHIELD was spinning its wheels for months because they really were waiting for Winter Soldier to come out and let Hydra out of the bag. It’s like the movie was the go-ahead to move the plot forward and let the show be a good show. It wasn’t just a minor callback like the Thor episode. It completely changed the show and for the better. Bill Paxton’s John Garrett was revealed as an agent of Hydra. Nearly every lingering plot from the show, from the Clairvoyant to Centipede to Deathlok to Graviton, is really a Hydra plot. Which is pretty awesome in the sense that in the first episode, they did hint at it with a line about cutting off Centipede’s head and having another one sprout up.

Most importantly, Grant Ward – Bland McActionHero himself – is also an agent of Hydra and has been from the beginning. This whole time, he’s been playing a role, trying to build trust so he can turn on them out of loyalty to Garrett, doing stuff that can’t be redeemed, such as shooting cops and agents directly in the face. Since then, there have been some serious stakes, most notably when Skye figures it out and has to pretend she doesn’t know while being led around by a man who will likely have her killed when she’s no longer useful.

This all leads to a wonderful scene where Skye and Ward are at a diner and she angrily rants about Garrett betraying Ward while making it increasingly apparent that she’s aware that Ward is Hydra.

“It’s got to be so hard, living a double life like that. Getting close to people only to turn on them. I don’t know how Garrett did it.”


“What about all that time he spent as your S.O.? Getting to know you? Being your mentor? Only to lie to your face. Betray you like that.”

“It was, um… difficult to accept. But thankfully that’s over.”

“Because you took care of him.”

“Can we not discuss this right now?”

“If you could have had one more moment before you shot him in the back of the head – so heroically – if he was sitting right here and you could say anything you want, what would you say?”


“Would you say he’s disgusting? Would you tell him he’s a disgusting, back-stabbing traitor? Or to rot in Hell?”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just trying to have an honest conversation for once.”

Yeah, that rules. Also later, when she calls him out on being a Nazi serial killer.

While it doesn’t make up for most of the season being just kind of there, it does at least fix one moment from earlier that always irked me. In the first episode, Coulson injected Ward with a truth serum so that Skye could interview him and there’d be nothing to hide. It was one of the premiere’s highlights. A few episodes later, she teased Ward about it and he told her that the serum was fake. They were just playing her. When she asked Coulson about Ward’s claims, he just gave her a smirk and said that that was very interesting. At first I hated that because it rubbed away that clever scene from the first episode. Now I see it as playing into the plot because if it really was truth serum, Ward might have been made a lot earlier.

There are still two episodes left to go and who knows if we’re going to get a second season. I hope they do get it because once the editorial curtain was pulled away, Agents of SHIELD has become consistently good. That is one of Captain America’s greatest acts of superheroism. His own movie somehow made a mediocre show watchable.

By the way, I knew something was up with Ward when he threw away Fitz’s delicious sandwich that one time. Ruining sandwiches is something only a monster would do.

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