Archive for Astro City

Flying High


Captain Marvel #1

Another new #1 issue?! Marvel, I’ma whup you with a Chrysler fender.

Carol Danvers has a new gig — she’s in charge of the Alpha Flight Space Station, which is supposed to be Earth’s first defense from space-based threats. The name of the station is no coincidence — several members of her crew are members of Canada’s once-foremost superhero team, including Puck, Aurora, and Sasquatch. Her second-in-command is Abigail Brand, formerly of S.W.O.R.D., and it looks like Brand is not happy having Carol in charge. Carol and the crew fend off a rogue asteroid, but a member of the science staff determines that the asteroid was deliberately targeted at the station — and an attacking spaceship crewed by dead aliens just opens up more questions.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Everything’s pretty keen, but gotta give credit to the fantastic characterization. Puck is particularly fun, and I hope the rest of Alpha Flight get some great character moments, too.


Astro City #31

The Living Nightmare returns, leaving havoc and terror in its wake. It’s viewpoint is narrated by the scores of Astro City residents who had dreams about it last night as it rampaged through the city. We get its origin story — the ever-reliable scientific experiment flying out of control — and some of its history, including the period when it was controlled by a military pilot and served as a member of Honor Guard. Now in the present, it attacks Honor Guard again — but this time, it has a very surprising reaction.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’ve always loved the Living Nightmare, so I was entirely jazzed that it’d be making a return, and even happier that it was going to be the focus character for this issue. But it’s nothing compared the excitement I feel when I see that next issue will feature the return of one of my favorite characters, Steeljack.


Lumberjanes #22

Well, it turns out Seafarin’ Karen is a werewolf. It doesn’t let her get to the selkies who stole her ship, though. And speaking of shapeshifters, the Bear Woman is leading Molly and Ripley into the alt-dinosaur dimension. Back home, Jo, April, and Mal have a plan to get them and Karen across the water and onto the boat — but even when a plan works, it can still fail.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Another really fun issue, with great art and character work. Lots of clever problem-solving, too, and a decent cliffhanger.


Ms. Marvel #3

Hope Yards Development is actually being run by HYDRA, and their nanites have added Bruno to the gentrified zombie hordes. Kamala isn’t able to rescue him, but remembering he’d recently told her that his girlfriend Mike had the “key to his heart,” she goes to see Mike and learns that she carries the passkey to the cloud account with all his research. They discover the antidote to the mind-control nanites, but can they save Jersey City from HYDRA before it’s too late?

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, a wonderful comic. Excellent characterization and art, and the action is even better than usual, with Kamala showing a lot more skill with her powers than she has before.

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Interesting New Stuff

I had a week or so off from reviewing anything, and I’ve got a mighty backlog of comics. So instead of struggling to review every single comic I got in the last two weeks, let’s just look at the stuff that was most worthy of being looked at.


Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! #1

Marvel’s been producing a lot of fun comics lately, but even matched up against Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, and Howard the Duck, this one was uncommonly fun. The story focuses on Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat — a character who migrated from romance comics in the 1940s-’60s to superhero books in the ’70s. Most recently employed as an investigator by attorney Jennifer Walters, Patsy meets up with a fairly inept rookie telekinetic supervillain who she bonds with and actually reforms, thanks to their shared love of the theater musical “Wicked.”

But Patsy’s going through hard times — She-Hulk can’t afford to keep her employed, and she’s already been living in a storage room. Luckily, Ian, the reformed villain, offers to let her stay at his apartment, and while Ian visits the local gay bookstore, Patsy meets the proprietor, Tubs Hale, an old friend and supporting character in the Patsy Walker comics. She also learns that Hedy Wolfe, her frenemy from the comics, has gotten the rights to her comics and has started republishing them. All that, plus Patsy has an idea for a new business helping metahumans get power-appropriate jobs.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Like I said, it’s a very fun comic, with wonderful writing by Kate Leth and wonderful art by Brittney L. Williams. It’s a great story that combines Hellcat’s superheroism with Patsy’s comedy-romance roots. This one looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.


Spidey #2

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s teenaged Spider-Man vs. the Sandman! Also teenaged Peter Parker vs. history class!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Holy banjos, for a comic I’d never even heard of the first time I saw it in the store, this one has zoomed up to the top ranks of my favorite books. I love just about everything about it, but definitely gotta give mad props to Nick Bradshaw for his jaw-droppingly amazing artwork. That cover is just plain spectacular.


Astro City #30

The continuation of last month’s adventure on the planet Zirros. Young Zozat is an alien from a species that often comes into conflict with the First Family. He’s been raised to hate Earthlings, but when he encounters an injured member of the First Family, he inadvertantly reads his mind and gets the real story — the FF wasn’t attacking for no reason — they were trying to retrieve a family member who’d been kidnapped by the Zirr. Meanwhile, his military-drafted sister is due to report for duty so she can become part of the Zirr’s latest Ultimate Weapon — a giant monster composed of a huge number of Zirr soldiers. Will the First Family prevail? And how will Zozat be affected by his contact with Earthlings?

Verdict: Thumbs up. More great development of the Zirr cultural mindset, and Zozat is a fun character — I doubt we’ll see him again, but it’s nice to know that he’s out there somewhere in the Astro City universe…


Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #2

Devil Dinosaur runs around New York pulling Lunella Lafayette along by her bookbag while the prehistoric Killer Folk get busy learning how to survive in the Big Apple. When they finally get Lunella separated from Devil Dinosaur, there’s gonna be trouble.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Half the book is a wonderful chase scene involving a huge dinosaur, and the other half is the Killer Folk figuring out modern-day customs and language — and both parts of the story are plenty funny.


Jughead #3

Jughead has been expelled from school after Principal Stanger planted a knife in his backpack. Of course, everyone knows it’s a frame-up, including Jug’s parents, so his dad goes to the school and tells the principal, whoops, no, that was my knife that I left in my son’s pack by mistake. Stanger’s stuck — no one believes Jughead is violent, and his folks are sticking up for him, so Stanger can’t leave him expelled. While Jughead is wallowing in misery at Pop’s Diner, he has another one of his dreams and imagines himself to be a superspy uncovering the principal’s latest evil plots — but do his dreams have some basis in reality?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s not quite as inspired as the previous issues — though the badassery of Jughead’s dad is really something to behold. And I’m kinda starting to suspect that Jughead’s final theory on what’s behind all the shenanigans of Principal Stanger and the new teachers may have some merit…

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All Hail the Emperor!


Astro City #29

Meet Zozat, a young Zirr from a distant planet. The Zirr are an insectoid race, loyal servants of their Empire and their Emperor, and frequent foes of Astro City’s heroic First Family. But this isn’t your typical superhero story, where the evil bug aliens invade Earth and are beaten back by noble heroes. This is a story about a mostly peaceful race of people who are definitely alien in form and thought — but more human than they (or we) would probably be comfortable acknowledging. Zozat is the school prodigy on his last day of school, excited to see his older sister back home from the military academy. But the Zirr military have captured an unpowered member of the First Family, and that means there’s about to be an invasion of hostile aliens from across the galaxy! Will this be the battle that finally allows the Zirr Empire to destroy the Earthlings once and for all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s hard to say that the story really humanizes the Zirr — it’s more accurate to say that it alienizes them. The Zirr are really weird, and their language is bizarre, and their customs and mindset are inhuman. But they’re still a lot like us. They love their families, they play, they fight, they dream, they get propagandized by their media and government, they question, and they’re certain they must be the greatest species the universe has ever seen. They’re emphatically not like us; they’re also emphatically a lot like us after all — and this makes for a really wonderful comic book.


The New Avengers #3

The Skrulls are a dying race, but they see hope if they can summon their true king, a Kree/Skrull hybrid, from Earth. Oh, wait, they’re talking about Hulkling, aren’t they? And speaking of Earth, the New Avengers are getting settled into their new digs on Avengers Island. Power Man is questioning whether Wiccan’s name is really appropriate when he’s not a practitioner of Wicca; Pod is being made to confront its/her uncomfortable dual nature; Songbird and Roberto Da Costa have just discovered there’s a mole other than Hawkeye on the team. And then the giant Skrull warship decloaks and attacks everyone.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fun art, decent story, cthulhoid monsters, surprisingly apt discussions of cultural co-option in the superhero community, and some wonderful and fun bits of dialogue.

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Friends Who Are Super


Astro City #28

Our focal character in this issue is Wolfspider, the Australian shrinking superhero who’s a member of Honor Guard. When he was a child, he was bitten by an unknown species of spider, and his biologist mother’s attempts to save him ended up shrinking him to the size of a toy. As an inch-tall kid, he didn’t have a lot to occupy his time, until he discovered Queenslaw, an animated cartoon about a bunch of Australian superheroes, including Cap’n Cookaburra, Banana Bender, Goldrush, Krokolite, SeaDragon, the Territorian, and Numbat. Years pass, and his mom finally cures him — but he still has superpowers, so he becomes the Wolfspider to fight crime. Life is pretty good for him as a member of Honor Guard — and one day, he discovers a TV broadcast revealing that the heroes of Queenslaw have appeared in Australia again — not as an animated cartoon, but as real superheroes! But when he travels back home to see his heroes in action, he learns that they’re not everything they claim…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wolfspider is a really fun character, even with the utterly ridiculous facial hair, and the characters from Queenslaw are joyously cheesy and fun.


Lumberjanes #19

April is absolutely convinced that she’s the only person who can help her new friend Harlow the alt-rock mermaid get back together with her band. So she dons a homemade scuba suit and heads for the underwater Battle of the Bands, while her friends worry that her new obsession is going to cost them the chance to attend the awesome Bandicoot Bacchanal. And sure enough, disaster strikes — though April is able to be accepted as a volunteer for the festival, her attempt to add Harlow’s demo to the festival’s playlist is a big mess, and she ends up accidentally broadcast a tape of a sea serpent battle cry at high volume — and there’s no better way to get sea serpents riled up than to play a sea serpent battle cry at a high volume…

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m not so into the riot mrrmaids storyline — just seems to be pushing the alterno-cool of the series harder than it needs to be pushed — but the characterization and humor are still fantastic, and parts of the music festival are pretty fun, too.

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Chibi World


Astro City #27

Strange monsters are attacking all over the world, and while Honor Guard beats them, they always vanish into thin air, only to return later. But at last, American Chibi reveals that she knows what’s happening. She takes the heroes to an apartment where a woman is collapsed unconscious on the floor and then merges into her. It turns out the woman is Marguerite Li, a computer game designer, and the epic fantasy game she’s been working on for years has been co-opted by an eldritch interdimensional force that intends to use her monsters to over-run the world. But American Chibi was created as the game’s hero, uniquely qualified to destroying the villain’s plans. So Chibi leads the charge into the game’s fantasy world, followed by Honor Guard — who are all turned into adorable chibi versions of themselves. But can a bunch of big-eyed kawaii superheroes save the world from ultimate evil?

Verdict: Thumbs up. American Chibi has been a seriously weird character, so even though she’s appeared only rarely, there’s been a lot of mystery about what her big secret was. The story really hits its high points when everyone is cute and cartoonish — guest artist Joe Infurnari is extremely good with cartoonish art, though his depictions of the real world are disappointingly scratchy and ill-formed.


Harley Quinn and Power Girl #4

Vartox is still evil, and when he gets the upper hand, temporarily, over Power Girl, Harley and her newly discovered Caticorn — like a green-furred lolcat Capricorn — ride to the rescue. The combination of Harley’s puppy-dog eyes and the Caticorn’s purring breaks the spell over Vartox. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that the Ex-Girlfriend Force survived their various traumas — but then Oreth Odeox himself attacks! Can anyone save our heroes?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s cute, it’s funny — it doesn’t really aspire to much more than that, but I still enjoyed it.

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20 Years of Flight and Dreams


Astro City #26

I was a little surprised to see it’s been 20 years since the first ever issue of Astro City, but I do love that they reprised the very first story from the series, with Samaritan never having a chance to fly for fun except when he’s asleep and dreaming. But Samaritan’s dreams are no longer a refuge — he’s often jarred awake when he dreams of explosions targeting himself and Winged Victory. As a result, his waking hours are now stressful as he snaps at coworkers at his job and behaves recklessly with supervillains as a hero. What’s causing his bad dreams, and what is the solution?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A wonderful story, connected to the past but also addressing concerns in recent issues of the comic — and pointing the way forward to the future. I’m very thankful Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross have been bringing this to us for so long, and hope the series continues for at least another 20 years.


Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders #2

Yinsen City has been invaded by the psycho Law Enforcers of Mondo City after Captain Britain — Dr. Faiza Hussain her own dang self — appears and starts telling everyone Doom is not a real god. Now the Defenders are imprisoned, and Hussain is being tortured by Boss Cage. But her powers make her really difficult to keep imprisoned and more than a match for Cage. The rest of the Defenders make their own breakout. The White Tiger’s tiger god takes Boss Frost apart, while She-Hulk puts the hurt on the gigantic War Machine. But when it comes to the ruler of Mondo City, can Captain Britain’s Excalibur hold out against the hammer wielded by Big Boss Hill?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a really fun story, and excellent use of all the characters here. Excellent writing by Al Ewing and excellent art by Alan Davis. If this was just a two-issue series, it was a great done-in-two tale. If they’re going to continue it for a few more issues, well, I’m fine with that, too.

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Birds of a Feather


Astro City #25

This issue focuses on Amanda Hammacher, daughter of the superhero Hummingbird, and a legacy hero herself after she grows her own wings and starts gaining other amazing powers. She enjoys being a member of Honor Guard, meeting other superheroes, and fighting evil, but her continued physical changes soon lead to a shocking revelation — she’s actually transforming into a bird over time! Can this be prevented?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Another great issue spotlighting a character we’ve never had much exposure to. We get tons of great characterization along with a fantastic story, too.


Silver Surfer #13

The Surfer and Dawn are prepared to start a new stage of their relationship, and they’re traveling around the galaxy visiting many of the friends they’ve made since their journeys together began. But almost without warning, the universe begins to fall apart! The Surfer races away as fast as he can, realizing that this is the end of everything, but when Dawn realizes that Earth has been destroyed, she almost leaps off the board — until a future version of herself tells her everything will be okay and directs her to a convenient tear in reality. When she and the Surfer enter the tear, they find themselves in limbo, a plane of complete non-existence, with two new companions, Glorian and Zee — along with Eternity, the embodiment of all creation, now wearing the face of Doctor Doom! Is there any way to repair the universe with the material in limbo?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A fantastic opening, shifting from a nostalgic trip to see old friends, immediately followed by a frantic and panicked flight that feels amazingly urgent. I wasn’t so hot on what happened after they got into limbo — mainly because we went from superspeed fleeing from the end of everything to a place where nothing at all was happening — but the first half of the comic makes it a solid read.

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Drum Monkey


Astro City #24

We met Sticks last issue. He’s an intelligent gorilla from a secret city of fightin’ gorillas, but all Sticks wants to do is hang around Astro City and play drums. But supervillains keep trying to turn him into their lackey, and in an attempt to get away from that, he decides to join a superteam called Reflex-6. He’s an effective crimefighter — but superheroing just isn’t in his blood, so he quits to go back to full-time drumming. But then he and his bandmates are attacked by more supervillains — and he can’t bring himself to let them be harmed, too. Is there a solution to his problem?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s not a perfect issue — we get way too many side-characters, many of whom are of minimal importance, and I don’t entirely buy the superhero band — and Sticks’ later alter-ego as Tuxedo Gorilla is really just way too silly. But aside from that, the character work is excellent, the art is wonderful, and while I’m not a big fan of Reflex-6 or Powerchord, I really want to see more stories where superheroes fight monster supervillains like the Screampunks and an evil snow globe called… Snowglobe.


Daredevil #16

Everyone thinks Matt is a bad guy — and even worse, they think all of his associates are crooks, too, thanks to the machinations of the Shroud. So he has to go make a deal with the one person he really, really doesn’t want to make a deal with — Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. Why should the Kingpin help the Daredevil? Matt is offering him the death of Matt Murdock — he’s willing to let the Kingpin stage Murdock’s death, convincing everyone he knows that he’s truly and finally dead, to give him extensive plastic surgery so he’ll look nothing like he used to, to give him a new name — Daredevil will still be operating, but Matt Murdock will be no more. While Kingpin considers the offer, Matt gets a tip that Julia Carpenter, once the second Spider-Woman and the ex-girlfriend of the Shroud, is coming into San Francisco, so he heads for the airport to intercept her. But the Shroud and the Owl’s daughter get there first. And the Kingpin has another plot — and another minion — in reserve.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, fantastic art and writing — and cliffhanger after cliffhanger after cliffhanger. A particularly fine moment, by the way, is the moment when we finally get the see the chilling paintings in Fisk’s gallery — artwork which Matt is unable to see…


Howard the Duck #4

Well, Howard managed to get the mysterious necklace for the mysterious Mr. Richards, only to find out that Mr. Richards was actually Talos the Untamed! A Skrull who can’t shapeshift but is still somehow a supervillain! But Howard still wants his money, honey, so he and Tara Tam pay a visit to Dr. Strange to see if he can magically track the necklace. It turns out the necklace contains a gem — not one of the Infinity Gems, but from a set that’s a good deal weaker. Still, if you assemble them all in one place, you could potentially destroy the world with them. So Howard, Strange, and Tara recruit Johnny Storm to help — but can they beat Talos to the prize?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Thoroughly excellent writing, art, and humor. Loved the bits with Strange’s contest against the demon Thog, the details of the (fingerless) Abundant Glove, and Johnny Storm’s utterly noxious pick-up lines.

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Gorilla My Dreams


Astro City #23

Meet Sticks. He’s from a secret civilization of intelligent gorillas hidden in Antarctica. This is his first time in the big city, and he’s got his heart set on being a drummer in a rock band. Gorilla Mountain isn’t a very cool place — they’re obsessed with the purity of their culture, and the only job is serving in the military. Some of the younger gorillas have managed to pick up radio signals and discovered music. After getting busted several times for playing his own homemade drum kit, Sticks managed to fake a jet-pack malfunction and made his way to Astro City. But there’s this funny thing about being a talking, military-trained gorilla in Astro City — everyone either wants to kidnap you to turn you into a drone in their criminal organization, or they want to induct you into their superteam. Can’t a gorilla rock out with his pals without everyone wanting him to be a super-soldier?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Absolutely colossal fun. Sticks is a fantastic character — the type of guy who could easily carry his own graphic novel, not just a two-issue storyarc. But if there’s one thing “Astro City” does exceptionally well, it’s giving us amazing characters we wish we could see way more often.


Ms. Marvel #15

Well, the charade is over — Kamran may be cute and lovable and an Inhuman like Kamala, but he’s also allied himself with a bunch of supervillain Inhumans instead of the good guys. She manages to signal Bruno with her cell phone, and he tears off to try to get to New Attilan. Meanwhile, Kamala is doing everything she can to escape from the bad guys and periodically drop a little smackdown on them. Can she escape from Kamran and the other villains?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A wonderful issue — a little fighting, a little running, a little betrayal, a lot of standing-up-for-yourself, and a nice dose of minor cliffhanger toward the end. Does Kamala know another Inhuman?


Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #8

So apparently, the multiverse is being destroyed. I know, that’s usually DC’s deal, but this time, Marvel is doing it. Essentially, everytime two alternate earth’s collide, both of those universes wink out of existence. (This is all leading into the new “Secret Wars” crossovers.)

At the beginning of the issue, Steve Rogers reveals to the Mighty Avengers that Earth-616 has just 178 days left before it’s destroyed. And beyond a little exposition about the Illuminati, the rest of the issue is a slow countdown as the world comes to terms with the looming end of everything, and the Mighty Avengers help Rogers work to defeat the Illuminati’s plans and figure out a better solution.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice demonstration of the tension of knowing that the end of the world is months or weeks away. We already know this is the next-to-the-last issue of this series — I hope they get a good send-off. And I hope we get to see all of these characters a bit more often and a bit more prominently.

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Everyone’s Going Cosmic


Captain Marvel #14

This is all the way into chapter 11 of the X-Men/Guardians of the Galaxy “Black Vortex” crossover, so it’s a pretty good guess we don’t know what the heck is going on. Basically, there’s this ancient artifact called the Black Vortex — it’s been lost for millennia but has finally showed up again. Basically, it’s a big mirror, and it shows you what you’d be like with insanely powerful cosmic powers — on a level with the Silver Surfer — and if you like what you see, it’ll turn you into an insanely powerful cosmic supervillain, because power corrupts, and absolute power makes you absolutely crazy. Beast, Angel, and Gamora have already grabbed at the shot for ultimate power (We see them in just one panel in this issue), and with other villains trying to get their hands on the mirror, Captain Marvel whisks it away into space in an attempt to keep it safe.

Well, first, if you ever decide to fly to outer space to keep something safe from cosmic supervillains, maybe you don’t understand how cosmic supervillains really work, ’cause sure enough, Carol doesn’t get three pages into the story before one of the bad guys shoots her with ray guns. From there, it’s a wild battle to keep the villains from killing her and taking the mirror away — but once Carol finally catches a glimpse of how powerful she could be in the mirror, will the battle be all over?

Verdict: Thumbs down. Getting in on the very middle of a crossover for just one issue, when no one knows what the heck is going on? And when the only interesting cosmic villains — Beast, Angel, and Gamora — aren’t in the story at all? And when none of the other crossover players are present either? And Carol handled these three or four cosmic-powered baddies incredibly easily, considering that people on the Silver Surfer’s power level should’ve mopped the floor with Carol. No, sorry, this one is a stinker.


Astro City #22

A character we’ve seen periodically in the background of other stories is Starfighter, a cosmic superhero who had his glory days in the ’70s — and a stylin’ ’70s ‘stache, too. Nowadays, he doesn’t look much like a superhero. He’s Duncan Keller, an aging hippie who writes science fiction novels — but he still finds time to use his slowly fading cosmic powers to visit his wife Illula and his two kids Trill and Artie on their homeworld of Jarranatha. Duncan reminisces about his past and worries about his powers — and he learns that there’s more to life than being a superhero.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A fantastic story by Kurt Busiek, with strong roots on Earth and in outer space — and fantastic artwork by guest artist Jesus Merino, who gives Duncan the face of a man who’s lived hard but isn’t sorry — and isn’t finished either. Like just about every issue of “Astro City,” I would love to read more and more stories about Duncan Keller and his family.


Nameless #3

Nameless and the rest of the crew of the exploratory ship are busy checking out the monstrous asteroid Xibalba, but things are going weird — or at least weirder than they expected. Their robot drones aren’t responding the way they expected and soon stop broadcasting. The massive door they opened reveals even more massive stairs. Their benefactors have gone violently insane. And the monsters in the basement of the universe are about to drag everyone into their horrific torture chambers.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Ye gods, this is creepy as hell. Oh, yes, bloody and violent and chock-full of creative disfigurements. But the creepiness is fantastically well done. I hope you’re reading this one, horror fans.

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