Archive for June, 2014


This Week in Panels: Week 249

June 30th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Once again we find ourselves looking at the stuff we’ve read over the past week, reduced to one representative image. It’s This Week in Panels. “We” includes myself, Matlock, Space Jawa, Gaijin Dan and AnarChris. We’re like the Planeteers, only we’re all heart.

Elsewhere, I wrote this big piece on the history of Mortal Kombat comics. Years ago, I went over the Malibu series in detail here, but in this article, I go more in-depth on the many comics that acted as official preludes to the games. I was also asked by my editor to write a quick thing about John Cena being on the cover of WWE 2K15, and so I did.

Now, then. It’s paneling time! Seriously, it’s a big one this week.

All-New Ghost Rider #4 (Gavin’s pick)
Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore

All-New Ghost Rider #4 (Matlock’s pick)
Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore

All-New Ultimates #4
Michel Fiffe and Amilcar Pinna

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Sample Sunday: Silly, wasn’t I?

June 29th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Murs put out this song “Silly Girl,” featuring Joe Scudda, on his Murray’s Revenge album with 9th Wonder. It’s about relationships, specifically stupid dudes chasing silly girls. It’s funny, I think, especially when Murs goes “Wait, that’s not the point.” Murs is good at walking this line of dead-serious earnestness and goofy self-consciousness, and even the hook of this song is on that level. Breakup songs are always interesting to me, because they’re a long-form insult, almost. They can be funny or rugged, relatable or fake, or even about murder. Norah Jones’s “Miriam” is a stand-out break-up song. This one’s good.

C-Rayz Walz’s “86” is a song I’ve liked for ages. He’s one of the few musicians I’ve seen live, on Aesop Rock’s Bazooka Tooth tour, and he tore it down. “86” is from his Ravipops album, which is just straight spitting for 17 tracks. “The Lineup” is the posse cut, and it’s got Wordsworth, J-Treds, Thirstin Howl, Vast Aire, Breeze Brewin, and MF Doom, if you’re wondering where this sits in rap history. “86” is dope, it’s another “rap is dope, it’s forever in my heart” joints, like Tupac’s “Old School.” It’s also about how rap is soft now, like “your rap was critical, or the crowd got rid of you.” This one sounds smoother than a lot of those throwback tracks, though. It’s less standoffish and more cool. You could vibe to this. It sounds like summertime music.

I found myself listening to old Madlib Medicine Show records the other day and tripped over this one from Madlib Medicine Show # 1: Before The Verdict. It’s “I Must Love You (OJ Simpson Remix)” and that’s Guilty Simpson on the feature. The Medicine Show albums are Madlib chopping up and reinterpreting older songs, forcing vocals and beats and melodies into new shapes. I’m into it, it’s pretty definitively My Thing, and this one’s off the first one, Before the Verdict. It’s got Guilty kicking break-up raps, and Madlib flipping the beat makes it sound like a perfect—lyrically, thematically—guest spot for “Silly Girl.” I like the contrast between the original J Dilla beat and the Madlib one. The Dilla beat is church-y, hymnal with a rap twist.

All three songs have Valerie Simpson’s “Silly, Wasn’t I” at their foundation. It’s about getting cheated on and leaving your man, which actually makes it a pretty great counterpoint to the Murs and Madlib/Guilty joints. “86” moves away from the original meaning of “Silly, Wasn’t I,” instead just using a hot melody to make a hot track, but I always dig when songs with a sample actually play off the original.

Hearing “Silly, Wasn’t I” spin up makes me immediately flash to C-Rayz chanting “eighty-six, eighty-six.” I’ve probably heard that version more than any of the others, ’cause I got heavy into Ravipops when that came out.

I like the laugh on Simpson’s version the best. I like how it’s this rueful thing, a pointedly fake laugh to show that she’s so over him and can’t really believe she was ever into him. It’s remorseful, pinning blame to his chest and hers. It’s good writing, is what it is. She’s so personable that you’re totally on her side in the song, while Murs, Joe Scudda, and Guilty Simpson could kinda go either way, even when you laugh at their jokes.

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Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro: violence comix

June 25th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

q hayashida - dorohedoro - chapter break

This chapter break from Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro (print, digital, but buy it on iBooks or Android if you want it mobile) sums up a lot of what I like about her style. She works in this kinda gritty, grimy occult comics style, and while the surface-level stuff is great—the skulls, the snakes, the black smoke—what really makes it go is how grounded it is. It’s a comic about wizards and demons that wear street clothes, Nike Dunks, and custom masks.

Block out this guy’s arms and skulls; focus on his body and head. The stuff I’m noticing are the way the belt fits around his waist, the rumpled clothes, and his jacket flaring out. The hood over the eyes is a look I’ve chased several times over the course of my life. The HR Giger-esque rib-piece is pretty out there, but by and large, this guy is wearing clothes you’d see people rocking in the street. It’s a “cool” look. The snakes and skulls add to it, giving it that occult feeling.

q hayashida - dorohedoro - spread 01

Here’s a spread from Dorohedoro, volume 12. Hayashida’s great at making regular buildings look like they’re on the wrong side of the tracks in Hell. It’s very different from Mike Mignola’s more ornate and classic approach, where Hell is Movie Prague, full of long long hallways, classic buildings, and traditional environments. Hell-as-University. Hayashida’s Hell has food trucks and everything’s a slum covered in a thick coating of grime, like smog after it settles.

I like the implied menace in the bottom tier, too. The fisheye effect heightens the X vs Y aspect of things, but Hayashida’s style is great at maintaing a consistent level of background menace, too. It makes it look like the crew on the left got caught in the act by the crew on the right, which is literally true. But the hallway they’re in is great. There’s dust clouds, filthy walls, an alarm box or something on the far left, and you just know that if this were animated, the bare bulb on the right would flicker so that the hallway was more dim than lit. The smudges make me think of water damage, like the building is as run-down as it gets without being marked for destruction.

The fisheye effect makes me feel like this is a moment to breathe in just before the curtain comes down and the violence starts. Luckily, this comes a few pages later:

q hayashida - dorohedoro - ha ha ha ha

T-shirts, jeans, polos, and intense action. The violence is obvious and extreme, with the claw end of a hammer and pure brute force getting the job done. I like the storytelling when the swordsman gets grabbed a whole lot. It got me thinking about which panels we’re seeing are specific POV panels and which are meant to be our standard third-person view. The man with the sword gets grabbed, and the following panel is his view: we see a blurry, blacked-out vision of a face. Then, in the next panel, we’re tracking his reaction. His instinct is to draw his sword, but Noi, the masked arm-puller, is ahead of him. And the potential energy in that panel, when he realizes he’s stuck and you realize he’s stuck and what’s coming next is going to be bad—yes. This is Q Hayashida.

On the facing page, that laugh is everything. Dorohedoro is a great comic because Hayashida blends great jokes with explicit violence and grim mood-building. There are sentient gyoza creatures, rotted husks of men, and capricious demons in the same world. Some of the demons even like gyoza. Noi’s laugh manages to combine all of that. It’s dark humor, and the blood spray is extreme, but it’s also a perfect demonstration of how much and what kind of trouble these guys are in.

Covered in the blood of their friend, whose arm she just successfully yanked off, and taking time for a hearty, gleeful laugh: Noi gives pause.

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This Week in Panels: Week 248

June 24th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Hey, ThWiPsters. We’re getting closer and closer to the big 250th week landmark with panels from myself, Matlock, Gaijin Dan, Space Jawa and AnarChris. Original Sin continues to be Marvel’s more entertaining and less rapey version of Identity Crisis and I’ve been very happy with that. The two TMNT comics were also fantastic this week.

Helluva lot of Frank Castle stuff this week.

Elsewhere, I’ve written a review of the first arc of the WWE Superstars comic, as well as a look at various storyline aspects I expect to see in the next Mortal Kombat game.

Avengers #31 (Matlock’s pick)
Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu

Avengers #31 (Gavin’s pick)
Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu

Avengers World #8 (Gavin’s pick)
Nick Spencer and Marco Checchetto

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Ajin: Demi-Human: violence comix

June 20th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

I like fight comics, violence-as-genre comics. I like comics where one of the most significant thrills come from the fights. There’s something about a well-done fight scene that turns a solid book into a good one. My true love as far as comics action scenes go is largely choreography. Does A flow into B into C into something incredibly painful-looking but well-drawn? If you give me a fight scene where I can follow every block and punch and shot to its logical conclusion, I’m in heaven. It extends to non-fight scenes, too. Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk is great at depicting basketball in such a way that it feels like real basketball. There’s an implication of motion in well-done action scenes that I really enjoy.

Isolated instances of punches and kicks don’t really move the needle. It’s sort of the default mode of the comics I grew up on, where the action is generally secondary to the plot, so you can’t blow eighteen pages on a fight between two warriors. Loving action is probably part of why I’m drawn to manga. The storytelling standards are different, and if you want to do a six hundred page fight scene, you can. (Takehiko Inoue did in Vagabond.) But at the same time, a little spectacle goes a long way. If the isolated instances are striking or exciting in their own way, that’s about as good as the highly choreographed stuff. Mostly, I just want to be impressed.

I’ve been reading Tsuina Miura and Gamon Sakurai’s Ajin: Demi-Human as it comes out, a manga by currently being serialized on Crunchyroll and seeing print later this year from all-star manga publisher Vertical, Inc.

Here’s a summary of the series:

Seventeen years ago, an utterly immortal human was discovered on an African battlefield. Since then, more of these new and unknown life forms began to appear among mankind. These undying beings start to be known as “demi-humans.” One day, just before summer break, a Japanese boy leaving his high school is involved in a traffic accident that kills him on the spot. Then, he comes back to life. A huge bounty is placed on his capture. Now the boy’s attempt to evade all of mankind begins.

It’s just interesting enough to keep my attention, and sort of pleasingly grim, too. It’s like a turned down action comic, a little slow but plenty mean. Demi-humans can instantly come back fully healed from any wound if they die. This makes them great for human experimentation, but it also has led toward a pretty good “assault on base” scene. Here’s a couple pages from a recent chapter that really got me good:

sakurai - demi-human 01

sakurai - demi-human 02

The men are shooting tranquilizer dots at the man with the rifle in order to capture him. He’s a demi-human, which means he’s functionally immortal, and his gun has real bullets.

I like Sakurai’s style. It’s pleasingly realistic in terms of approach, and even the monsters (not pictured) have a nice weight to them. The characters aren’t very stylized, and there aren’t a lot of wild camera angles unless you count close-ups. It’s cool, it makes Demi-Human interesting to look at.

The little dodge in page one, panel three—that’s a cool thing to put into a comic book gun fight, and the casing being ejected right behind it is something that I really keyed on when I read this the first time. You know how something can seem significant? You notice it and it feels bigger than it seems? This felt like that, and I thought about it until I realized that he must have dodged so fast that he returned fire before the dart probably even got to him. You can almost see the motion, and I like how the panel leads your eye up (the whiffing dart), down (the gunfire), left (the casing), and right (the dodge) basically simultaneously.

Page two, panel 1: his nonchalant face, the detail on his gun and vest, the belt, the motion, and the act itself…what a great idea for a panel. I mean, it’s horrible or whatever, it’s nasty, but it’s something I haven’t seen before and surprising—not shocking—enough to raise an eyebrow and half a smile. The anonymous close-up after is great, like a visual gasp, and then panel three is another new thing. This is Hawkeye in Ultimates 2 cool, Frank Miller discovering ninjas cool. All those speedlines on just one side, too, weighing the panel down.

The next bit implies suicide, and in so doing ups the ante considerably:

sakurai - demi-human 03

sakurai - demi-human 04

Sakurai’s use of reaction shots are well-placed, I realizing. The timing on them in general is great. The way the “huh” comes after the shot but before we see the ooze is crucial for setting the pace for how quickly all this is happening. The man is launched into the air (somehow) and we see them noticing something we can’t see before the ooze reveal. We know something’s about to go down, just not what. Here’s what:

sakurai - demi-human 05

If I saw this in a movie, I would freak out on the spot.

It’s just two panels, but the sense of motion and implied movement are so good. He’s falling more down than back, so his legs kick up in panel two. The lines on the floor tell you how far backward he fell. I’d already been impressed enough to want to write about this before this page, but this was like manna from heaven.

I like watching martial arts-oriented action movies, especially non-American ones, more than just about anything else because the choreography really impresses me. I get to see people do incredibly difficult things at a high level and higher speeds, and watching them set up a punch for a kick for a toss through a window is totally my bag. Great choreo has kept me watching movies that you’d be better off fast-forwarding through, and great choreo combined with a great story is my bread and butter. It’s something I cannot do, but am consistently impressed by and jealous of. It’s not the violence so much as the configuration of the violence, the beauty of bodies in motion. A bunch of my favorite films are borderline bloodless, even.

It’s different in comics, because motion is this whole other animal. It’s implied, because sequential art is composed of single images instead of twenty-four frames a second. I like being able to track action from panel to panel, the perfect moments in time chosen to heighten the impact. I don’t think Sakurai excels at that kind of thing, his approach to continuity isn’t that great, but I do think he has an amazing talent for drawing cool things well. And this scene was a very cool thing. This is the most inventive and immediately impressive by far, but bits like this are littered throughout Ajin: Demi-Human.

It’s a good action comic. The story’s taken some surprising turns after a pretty basic opener, and the action is getting better the more I read. It feels like Black Lagoon without the sleaze, but with a heavy faux-Tarantino accent and magical sci-fi elements. I like that even though it feels so familiar, I can still be surprised by what’s going to happen. It’s like a skillful rendition of an old standard in tone—not super impressive, but still enough to make you feel good. As long as they keep coming with the action, I’m hooked.

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Growing up with Metal Gear Solid

June 18th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

I remember being a kid and tripping over ads for the Ultra Games Metal Gear, the one with Snake’s whole inventory on a white background? I never played the game as a kid, not to my memory, but I saw that ad on dozens of comics, which means I saw it thousands of times as a kid. It caught my imagination. In Mario you had a fire flower, a tanooki suit, and a cape. But this guy had all types of weapons and gear, like a video game Rambo.

Nowadays, when I want to play a game, I just play it. I download it or trek to Best Buy or buy it on Amazon. It’s nearly instant gratification at this point, limited only by my bandwidth at home. But as a kid? I couldn’t talk my mom into buying anything, especially not if it was about something violent. Star Fox was one thing, but Mortal Kombat? Nah, son. Too realistic.

So I spent a lot of time thinking about video games. I pored over game magazines when I could get them. I still remember having an EGM with a big blow-out on a Samurai Shodown and some info on how to make Mai Shiranui’s boobs bounce in King of Fighters. I read it ’til it came apart, and then I kept reading it because it was the only way I’d experience KoF until years later when I got a Dreamcast.

Metal Gear came out a little early for me to be able to read about it, so the ad had to be enough. I don’t know what I thought the game was like. All I knew was that I wanted to play it because it sounded amazing.

I didn’t play a Metal Gear until Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation. I decimated my SNES collection to get a chance to buy a PlayStation for cheaper from Funcoland or Toys-r-Us or somewhere, and I survived on Madden, Suikoden II, whatever Working Designs put out, Colony Wars, a bunch of demo discs, and Final Fantasy VII for ages.

But MGS tho. I don’t remember what made me go for it, but I assume I saw news of it in the mags and then found a demo somewhere and then wheedled my way into the full disc.

It’s hard to under-sell how I felt experiencing the thing that begins to happen around 7:15 into this clip:

It looks like garbage now, all low-resolution textures and chunky polygons, but there’s a difference between watching it and playing it. In this moment, you were Snake, and that moment when your controller starts vibrating…it captured me. It got me. I loved FF7 but they didn’t ever talk and the game looked like a cartoon. MGS was next-level, ultra-realistic and grim but still incredibly fun and well-designed. Video games weren’t even really using force feedback yet, it was still new. But MGS gave me extensive, high-quality voice acting and scripted sequences, in addition to using the controller itself as a storytelling device, among other features. It was mind-blowing. MGS was the future. Static-y “Horryoukid” vocal clips were dead and gone. It raised the bar.

I’d experienced nothing like it at the time, and MGS is my favorite franchise to this day. I bought a PS3 of my own for MGS4, and beating that game gave me a feeling that hadn’t been beaten since the first time I beat Ninja Gaiden Black. It felt like an accomplishment, instead of something I did at 1 in the morning on a work night.

I can’t claim twenty-seven years of fandom. I was busy being a toddler in 1987. But MGS has been with me since 1998. I started playing it before I really knew what a pacifist or fascist really was, and as I’ve grown, I’ve found a wide variety of things to appreciate. Kojima has his hooks in me, and even though I’m mostly not into most games nowadays, I’m finding that I’m always up for Metal Gear. Nobody does it better.

Here’s what Metal Gear Solid looks like now:

La-li-lu-le-lo, forever and ever. Amen.

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This Week in Panels: Week 247

June 16th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Hello, party people. It’s time for ThWiP starring myself, Matlock, Gaijin Dan, Space Jawa and AnarChris. Yes, a new person for once. Crazy.

The true highlight of this week is New Avengers, which is awesome mostly because of Namor. The dude absolutely owns every single panel he’s in, so it makes sense that he gets the spotlight in both choices this week.

She-Hulk and WWE Superstars both nosedive when it comes to the art this week. The stuff in She-Hulk is especially disappointing and the panel I chose is one of the better looking moments. Seriously, there’s a part where Tigra is talking about how sexy she looks while actually appearing as Lion-O in drag after a bender. It’s just not my bag.

All-New Invaders #6 (Matlock’s pick)
James Robinson and Mark Laming

All-New Invaders #6 (Gavin’s pick)
James Robinson and Mark Laming

All-New Ultimates #3
Michel Fiffe and Amilcar Pinna

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Happy birthday, Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)

June 16th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

“June one-six seven-one, the day/mama pushed me out her womb, told me, ‘Nigga, get paid.'”

“Krazy” is track eight on Tupac’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. It’s a little over five minutes long, was produced by Darryl “Big D” Harper, and it’s a pretty good example of what Tupac was best at: being honest. I don’t mean honest in the strictest sense of the word. Tupac’s honesty was rarely “this actually happened to me.” But he excelled at “this actually happens” honesty, that kind of realism where he’s reflecting real life and using himself or a story he tells as the message. He excelled at telling his story, your story, and my story.

Tupac explains himself immediately: “Last year was a hard one, but life goes on.” And it’s true. No matter how bad things get, no matter how heavy that weight, life is going to go on whether you want it to or not. You can keep up or fall behind. “Krazy” is an admission of vulnerability, a song that says that Tupac doesn’t have it all together, but he’s doing better than he was, and he’s gonna do better than he did.

Coping is hard. Waking up, putting on a smile, and going to work when you’d rather sink into your bed and sleep another day away is hard. Working up the nerve to do stuff you know you enjoy doing is an absurd situation, but a real one.

For Pac, coping meant looking toward the future, toward better days to come, and making sure he recognizes the blessings of today. It meant smoking weed and hoping that it gets you high so you can escape from the stress. Even when it’s dark, make it a point to emphasize the light. For Bad Azz, who holds down the third verse, it’s chasing money so he can chase the things he wants, even though that comes with pleasure and pain. “Having money’s not everything, but not having it is,” right?

I’ve been listening to a lot of coping music lately. Pharoahe Monch’s PTSD tackles despair head-on and balances it with dreams, discussing what it’s like to adjust to your new status quo after experiencing something awful or draining, and the idea of suicide as a potential energy. Kid Cudi’s made a career out of openly discussing depression and finding your own way. I think my favorite example is on “Just What I Am,” when he says “I had to ball for therapy, my shrink don’t think that helps at all, whatever/This man ain’t wearing these leather pants.” I like Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon for similar reasons.

The Cudi and Monch albums are two of my favorite releases this year for the same reason I like Tupac’s “Krazy” so much. There’s something deeply attractive about breaking the facade of perfection and revealing the human being underneath. It’s still a performance, all of these men are playing a role, but they artfully manage to not just express fears, but express them in such a way that you can deeply relate to what they’re talking about. It feels real, and because of that real-ness, we can steal a bit of strength from it for ourselves. If he made it, we can, too.

Tupac would’ve been 43 today. Happy birthday, Pac. I’m glad you shared your life with us.

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Cord Jefferson on writing about being black while black

June 10th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

On Medium, Cord Jefferson said this:

Or maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. Maybe it was the realization that writing anything would be to listlessly participate in the carousel ride: an inciting incident, 1,000 angry thinkpieces, 1,000 tweeted links, and back to where we started, until next time. Perhaps it was a feeling that writing anything would finally be too redundant to bear, a pursuit of too many sad and obvious words to heap onto so many other nearly identical words written down before, by me, by thousands of others.

and this:

What new column shall the writer write when an unarmed black person is killed for doing nothing but frightening an armed white person? The same thing he wrote when Trayvon Martin was killed? And that’s to say nothing of when Oscar Grant was killed. Or when Ramarley Graham was killed. Or when Timothy Stansbury Jr. was killed. Or when Amadou Diallo was killed. Or when Jordan Davis was killed. Or when Ousmane Zongo was killed. Or when Jonathan Ferrell was killed. Or when Renisha McBride was killed.

I’ve written about being harassed and abused, fearing for the lives of my cousins, lamenting the options of people in my immediate circle, eulogies for men I’ve never met, and my own fear and frustration with being black in America. I did it through the lens of comics for a while, before eventually gaining the confidence to do it without a pop culture connection.

I did it because I loved it, I did it because I felt led to, I did it because I ended up with a voice people paid attention to and not doing it would’ve felt irresponsible. I did it because I believed it helped. I’ve backed off in a major way over the past year or so, trying to listen instead of talking about everything that crosses my desk, but I still do the thinking and conversating that leads to thinkpieces. It’s still on my mind, I’m still processing the data. I just don’t share it.

Jefferson’s point about finding something new to write when another brown face is killed is a critical hit. Past a certain point, it feels like justifying your existence, like making your case for being treated like an actual human being by others. It feels like explaining blue to a dog. The dog has other things to worry about and you’re going to just feel ugly afterward.

I can’t not pay attention to race and culture. In a very real sense, it’s self-defense, or a way to process the weight that settles on my shoulders over the course of my daily life. But it’s also draining. It’s been one hundred and fifty years since “Ain’t I A Woman?” and we’re still trying to prove our humanity through words. Something ain’t working.

Jefferson’s piece is well worth reading.

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This Week in Panels: Week 246

June 9th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

And here we are again. It’s This Week in Panels, where I am M. Bison, Matlock is Sagat, Gaijin Dan is Vega and Space Jawa is Balrog. We’ve got a shitload of panels this week, mostly with me and Matlock double-dipping. Sadly, I’m the only one reading New Warriors, which is adorable as hell. Especially this issue where Hummingbird starts falling for Speedball. Speedball, who looks like a normal, well-adjusted human being compared to her.

On the other hand, Moon Knight. Oh my God, Moon Knight. I mean, if you haven’t started reading it yet, you might as well just wait for the trade since the current creative team is only lasting a whopping six issues before splitting up. So far the series has been completely kickass and I can’t recommend it enough.

Now let’s get the show on the road.

Action Comics #32
Greg Pak and Scott Kolins

All You Need Is Kill #17
Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Ryosuke Takeuchi, Yoshitoshi ABe and Takeshi Obata

Aquaman and the Others #3
Dan Jurgens and Lan Medina

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