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Aug 4

The X-Axis – w/c 31 July 2023

Posted on Friday, August 4, 2023 by Paul in x-axis

X-MEN UNLIMITED INFINITY COMIC #98. By Alex Segura, Alberto Alburquerque & Pete Pantazis. Oh, okay, we’re not doing the obvious arch-enemy for Polaris after all. So the issue of ignoring what happened to Malice in Excalibur doesn’t arise. Instead, we’re going even further back to the villain from Lorna’s first appearance from the Silver Age. Which was originally meant to be Magneto, but he was retconned into being a robot in that story. So instead it’s good old Mesmero, which I guess does make the point that Lorna has been stuck in this kind of storyline literally since day 1. The downside is… well, it’s Mesmero, who’s always been one-dimensional, and probably hasn’t even crossed Lorna’s mind in about 50 years of publication time. And we don’t get much in this issue to explain why he ought to be a big deal – and yes, he does need the help. Still, I get the logic of what we’re doing here.

X-MEN #25. (Annotations here.) “Grindhouse of X”, it says on the recap page, and … I dunno, I think the tone here lands a lot closer to grimdark than the gleefulness that that implies. I’m kind of annoyed, as well, that they sold the premise in Hellfire Gala as “all the mutants get marched through the gates”, and now – sure, there’s always going to be a few stragglers, but we seem to have enough still lying around to fill entire detention centres, and that feels too much like backtracking. The Ms Marvel death also feels like a mess, where the X-books are acting as if it played out entirely differently from the way it did, allowing it to be handwaved away. Anyway, this is a double-length issue devoted to setting up the Fall of X status quo, which (in the end) it does well enough. Despite X-Men ostensibly being a team book, it’s really a Kate Pryde story as we have her going back into depressing and reverting to the quasi-ninja Shadowcat… oh god, must we… Shadowkat persona. The prologue flashback with Kitty and her rabbi is probably the best thing in the book. I get what they’re doing, and the art’s pretty good, but… no, this isn’t really doing much for me. I’m not sold on the direction and there are just too many irritating points of detail to boot.

ASTONISHING ICEMAN #1. (Annotations here.) This is more like it! We’re still in Fall of X, but what Steve Orlando and Vincenzo Carratù are giving us here is a display of relentless positivity in the face of the abyss. It’s actually one of the more cheerful X-books I’ve read lately. It’s pretty simple – Iceman is out there being inspiring and heroic, a B-list Orchis officer is tasked with getting rid of him, and Iceman is secretly dependent on his beloved Romeo to (literally) keep him together. While everyone else is doing brooding darkness, Iceman has built himself the Fortress of Solitude, something that was too goofy for Marvel even in the Silver Age. Obviously it would be mad if the whole “Fall of X” sub-line was like this. And yes, the full page spread of Iceman kissing the guy he’s just saved is badly pitched, because it plays as a romantic beat when it’s not meant to be. But this is just a defiantly cheerful comic, which is a pleasant surprise.

MAGNETO #1. By J.M. DeMatteis, Todd Nauck & Rachelle Rosenberg. Another month, another flashback miniseries. This one is set somewhere in the late 40s of New Mutants, just after Magneto became headmaster of the Xavier School. DeMatteis is trying to square Magneto’s modern persona with his status as a ranting Silver Age villain, and the sceptical New Mutants make a good foil for that – aside from giving us an excuse to open with a traditional Danger Room skit against Silver Age villains, we get some of the New Mutants refusing to take moral lectures from this guy, and Wolfsbane genuinely trying to make sense of the guy while offending him in the process. Todd Nauck’s a good artist for these Silver Age hybrid sequences, and feels like a good fit for what DeMatteis is doing here. Part of the idea is that Magneto is unwilling to start talking about his personal history to these people he barely knows. But a lot more contentious is DeMatteis rationalising Silver Age Magneto as an act which he put on to provoke the X-Men into emerging as mutant heroes, and which he then got a bit carried away with due to mental health problems. He’s pretty much retconning X-Men #1 into Magneto putting on an act, which is… um, it’s bold, certainly. I’m not exactly precious about the continuity status of X-Men #1, which isn’t even in the top 10 Lee/Kirby X-Men stories. But halfway through the first issue seems a bold place to try and pull something like this, and at first glance it seems to miss the point about Magneto and Xavier having competing visions. I’m curious to see if DeMatteis can pull it off.

LOVE UNLIMITED INFINITY COMIC #61. By Preeti Chhibber, Carola Borelli & Carlos Lopez. If you don’t follow the Unlimited books, Love Unlimited takes its remit pretty loosely, and seems happy enough if the story just features an established couple. So this is a Rogue & Gambit heist arc, set a “few years” ago, so we don’t have to worry about Fall of X. It’s a simple first chapter: they go on holiday to London, they make a bet to see who can pull of a heist first to steal some colonial treasures from a rich guy. It’s mainly an exercise in setting up the banter, and you could make a case that by 2023 it’s not really necessary to spend your first chapter introducing Rogue and Gambit’s relationship… but it does that job quite charmingly, both for writing and art, so what the heck. This looks like it might be a cute romp.

Bring on the comments

  1. Mike Loughlin says:

    @Chris V: Hickman using the attempted mind-tampering resulting in Magneto’s distrust of Moira and Charles is the best explanation we’re going to get for ‘90s Magneto. Claremont’s (co-plotted by Jim Lee) last story before he left the franchise the first time, X-Men 1-3, is interesting in that regard. Magneto completes his reversion to villainy and does some horrible things, but he starts the issue living on Asteroid M, not bothering with humanity. He sees the (soon-to-be) Acolytes attacked by humans, retaliates, and then decides to/is convinced to attack Earth. His motivations are to help his fellow mutants, mixed with rage.

    His next major appearance (besides X-Force 25), Uncanny X-Men 304, has him crashing a little girl’s funeral and acting unhinged. If Hickman’s retcon is taken into account, it’s possible the betrayal pushed him over the edge. He saw the humans as enemies, and now his Allie’s were enemies. He was left with no one except for his cult. His cult reinforces his negative sentiments, while their status of being below him/unworthy of him reinforces his self-loathing. Viewed as a part of the cycle that includes his Silver Age villainy, ‘90s Magneto makes slightly more sense.

  2. wwk5d says:

    “I’m running from memory of a comic I read years ago”

    So was I.

    “I didn’t realise there was a whole fandom thing about it.”

    Apparently there is, since so many people for some reason seem to remember the mind tampering occurring, but for some reason forget that it wasn’t successful.

  3. ylU says:

    “I find whining about a perfect world utterly boring if there is no practical strategy to achieve it.”

    Maybe, just maybe, the point of talking about this stuff isn’t to ENTERTAIN you? Jesus Christ.

    “Damn, that’s rough. Hopefully the fund was successful.”

    The fund only started this week and is still going on, and it’s not to late to contribute, for those of you who can and wish to:

  4. Tim C says:

    In retrospect, the whole “Moira tampering with the infant Magneto’s mind” bit from X-Men #1-3 was just a 2nd act twist that served to motivate Magneto’s retaliation against Moira/the X-Men. As previously stated, it was presented rather innocuously as Moira attempting to stabilize Magneto’s power levels so that he wouldn’t be driven to bouts of megalomania. In his view, this amounted to constricting his free will; a rather… dubious conclusion, made all the more illogical by his application of Moira’s treatment to the X-Men as a form of outright brainwashing (which the story itself spelled out it was not earlier in the very same issue). So he makes the blue team subservient to him as a form of “poetic justice.” (Because hey, Jim Lee liked drawing his hero on hero battles and we know Claremont’s penchant for mind control stories, so here’s a plot to allow for both). But the technicalities of what exactly Moira’s procedure amounted to were rendered moot by the revelation that it wore off VERY quickly. Using one’s mutant powers acted as a kind of factory reset button, so whatever Moira did had no lasting impact on Magneto’s choices or personality.

    That’s all it was ever meant to be; a potential swerve that was teased and swiftly walked back, mainly to serve as a justification for an X-Men vs. X-Men dust-up for the big finale. The actual reveal coming out of X-Men #1-3 was that Magneto’s enormous power levels made him mentally unstable. For whatever reason though, that part always seems to get lost or forgotten about in favor of the “Moira reprogrammed Magneto to be a good guy” non-reveal.

    While Moira’s recollection under Hickman glosses over the finer points, I have a feeling this was a deliberate creative decision simply because the specific contrivances are a lot to get into. I don’t think anything in the account directly contradicts the events of X-Men #1-3 as they played out. It’s probably meant to be taken as a shorthand: “I tried to repair a defect in Magneto’s biology, it didn’t work, but he found out and took it as a violation. Now he hates us and our plan is really fucked.” Just one of those generalizations reconciling what we read in 1991 with Hickman’s broader retcon.

  5. Thom H. says:

    Just read Magneto #1, came here for the commentary, and was not disappointed. Interesting stuff. All I can really add is that it’s nice to see the O9 New Mutants in action again. Even Amara got to speak and participate!

    I always wondered what Claremont’s justification for having the Beyonder kill and resurrect the NM team was. It seemed so unnecessarily cruel, and either there wasn’t enough follow-through or I just didn’t read it. That decision reminds me of the poor treatment of Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander in the same book. Claremont really used the NM book to exorcise some nasty demons.

  6. Josie says:

    “I was saying they should”

    Great, HOW? If writer X is freelancing for Marvel, DC, and Image at the same time, which company pays for that health care?

    “I was starting from the idea that freelancers not getting adequately compensated is morally wrong.”

    Did I even once dispute this? Did I?

    “nearly all the people you listed who changed careers came back to comics”

    No, nearly all the people who changed careers continue to work on comics when they feel like it. They didn’t fail at their other careers. Bill Sienkiewicz has a house in Hollywood. He’s not doing the occasional variant cover to pay off his mortgage.

    “I don’t think saying a thing is bad and should be better and that it makes someone feel negatively constitutes “whining.””

    I do, especially if you then get mad at someone else for not adequately “expressing empathy.” That’s just virtue signaling and nothing more.

    “If I had the practical solution that I could enforce”

    You’re not obligated to enforce anything. Just come up with a single idea that goes beyond “they should do it because I think they should.”

  7. Josie says:

    “I find whining about a perfect world utterly boring if there is no practical strategy to achieve it.”

    “Maybe, just maybe, the point of talking about this stuff isn’t to ENTERTAIN you?”

    This response is incoherent on so many levels I don’t even know what to say about it.

  8. Ben says:

    You’re an insufferable cunt.

  9. Josie says:

    It is terrible that Bill Messner-Loebs is suffering to the extent that he has to rely on donations. To be clear to those who demand expressions of sympathy, in my ideal world, he would have free health care, he would have a universal basic income, he wouldn’t need to toil just to survive.

    But we don’t live in that world.

    Bill Messner-Loebs has been struggling with poverty for literally decades at this point. He has also gotten relatively little work in the comics industry after he stopped writing for DC in the late ’90s.

    What is the solution here? Is he uniquely immiserated because of corporate greed? Has he uniquely suffered more financial loss than other freelancers? Has he gotten so little comics work because of a massive conspiracy against him, whereas guys like Peter David, Claremont, Simonson, Hama have blackmail on editors that allow them to keep getting work?

  10. Josie says:

    And I’ll also say this: the hypocrisy of those who whine endlessly about the injustices committed by the comics industry while still giving these corporations their money is just *MWAH*

  11. Luis Dantas says:

    Interesting question.

    From what was published at the time, I want to make some guesses.

    It served to lampshade how randomly cruel the Beyonder could be, as well as to give a veneer of tragedy to the characters.

    It was, I suppose, something of a showcase of PTSD on-panel. Claremont might have wanted to gauge the reaction to that situation, perhaps as a factor to consider in future Wolverine plots.

    Also, he would go on to deal with deaths and ressurrections in the context of the Fall of the Mutants, and it was probably that much easier after this try run.

    Then there is the opportunity to subtly change the character’s personalities with just enough of an explanation. Also set up potential plots in the waiting with the death of Illyanna, which had some sort of mystical effect on Kate by giving her the sword and IIRC the medallion of Bellasco. And there is Rachel, who might have reacted to the experience of essentially recreating the team’s minds on the spot in future plots about her power and the connection to the Phoenix Force.

    Finally, it led to a story or two of Magneto and Emma dealing with the consequences.

  12. Allan M says:

    Exact quotes from Moira in X-Men (1991) #3: “My process was a failure, Magneto – effective so long as the subject never used their mutant power. The structures of mind and body and t’ be aligned a specific, certain way for those powers t’ operate so t’ speak wi’ yuir essential character. What’s why you all have such indomitable wills. No matter how deeply we’re “brain-washed”, each of o’ yuir power reverts your your natural “default” state.

    “You were never deprived of anything by me. The choices you made were the ones ‘
    y’ would have made, regardless.”

  13. Tim C says:

    “Exact quotes from Moira in X-Men (1991) #3…”

    Yes… that bottom line is exactly as I remembered it. Whatever Moira tried to do, Magneto’s decisions were his own. Claremont dangled this carrot as an 11th hour massive retcon for dramatic effect, but just as quickly squashed it.

    Man. Looking past the gobbledy-gook tech speak and phonetic silliness, that quote rather reads like a meta statement about the intrinsic nature of “mutantdom” itself. It’s an assertive declaration on the mutant metaphor as a core tenet of identity: “use your powers” = “there is no denying what you are, be out and proud” (or however you personally view it). Fitting as a parting statement of intent by the series’ principal author of 16 years. It’s almost like Claremont really knew how to sell this shit.

  14. Si says:

    I always thought the New Mutants had been killed by the Beyonder as a method of winding their powers back a bit, making them more like trainee kids and less like superheroes. That seemed to be what the OHOTMU was getting at, at least. There wasn’t much in the comic beside a random comment or two to back this up. But note that a couple of years later Louise Simonson wrote them all significantly less mature.

  15. wwk5d says:

    “and either there wasn’t enough follow-through or I just didn’t read it”

    I mean, there was the whole story where Magneto can’t cope so he transfers (after possibly being subtly influenced by Empath) most of the team to Emma’s academy and then working together they are able to have the kids work through their issues.

    And there were a few mentions as others pointed out where some of the NM discovered their skills had regressed anyway. I remember one issue, I believe the annual with Psylocke’s US debut, where Dani is monitoring Sam in a Danger Room session and they discuss how he has lost some of his maneuverability post resurrection.

  16. Mike Loughlin says:

    @Josie: again, you are not obligated to tell people what you think if the conversation is uninteresting to you. It is not on the consumers (which we all are) who don’t work in the industry (or in my case, any business/economic sector) to find solutions. Your attempt:

    “… in my ideal world, he would have free health care, he would have a universal basic income, he wouldn’t need to toil just to survive.“

    Is nothing I disagree with, but no more well-defined or realistic than my statement that the companies freelancers work for should pay for their health care.

    Also, I’m demanding you express sympathy. I may not like how you responded and responded back negatively, but I’m not trying to make you post anything expressing emotions you don’t actually feel.

  17. Mike Loughlin says:

    The post-Beyonder arc of NM was Claremont putting new headmaster Magneto through the wringer, then rallying to help the students. The students are deeply traumatized and listless throughout much of the arc, and lack agency. Magneto is the main character.

    Magneto has to come to grips with his failure to keep them safe. Empathy’s manipulation is discovered when Tom & Sharon return to the school, then Magneto goes to rescue the students. Emma telepathically removes the students’ trauma, but realizes the students “came back wrong.” Emma sics the Avengers on Magneto, and eventually Magik and the others help him escape. Both headmasters help them recover, and the New Mutants come back upset but as they’re true selves. The process is incomplete and imperfect, but it’s a start.

    It’s one of my favorite NM stories, despite how dark it is, because it’s about teachers reaching out to help their students, even after their initial efforts fail. Emma isn’t heroic in this arc, but shows that she genuinely cares to a degree.

  18. Thom H. says:

    Yeah, that’s what I remember, too. I guess I didn’t find any of that follow-up very satisfying. It seems like a lot of trauma to put the entire team through just to motivate a relatively short Magneto/Emma story. In contrast, Magneto’s entire road to redemption started with knocking Kitty unconscious in UXM 150. That’s a lot more payoff for much lower stakes.

    As for the power regression, I didn’t have the sense at the time that Sam (or any of the other kids) had gotten so much better with their powers that they needed regressing. Sam still had difficulty with turns. Amara still had trouble reining in her emotions/earthquakes. Illyana still couldn’t control when she jumped to.

    @Si: I never connected the deaths/resurrections with the NMs’ regressed personalities under Simonson. That’s interesting. At least it gives her weird portrayals of them some motivation.

    @Luis: I like the idea that Claremont was doing a dry run of Fall of the Mutants. I guess the moral is that kids get hurt in the superhero game while adults in the same situation become jaded badasses.

    Maybe Claremont didn’t have time to follow up more thoroughly with any of the threads he set up here. Or maybe he was juggling too much at the time. I guess we’ll never know. Interesting discussion, though — thanks!

  19. Joseph S. says:

    Glad to see a spirited discussion of labor issues here, though I hope we can all keep it civil and not resort to name calling.

    It’s sadly impractical for companies to offer freelancers healthcare. Maybe not impossible but unlikely to occur in comics. As Josie points out, most freelancers have multiple clients, so which company should provide coverage? If there were a union of freelancers, some kind of system could no doubt be negotiated, but again sadly the comics industry is far from being able to organize any such union.

    Now the Big Two are owned by two of the largest media companies in the world. They could improve working conditions and guarantee reasonable page rates and royalties on trade sales etc etc, even if it were at a loss, by redistributing the tremendous profits made on comics IP in films and video games. It’s not really a loss, it’s an investment. It would be better for creators and the industry at large, and probably ultimately for Disney and WB too. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Again management concedes nothing if labor isn’t organized.

    Of course, this is just another example of why the US needs universal healthcare. (The pandemic should have shifted the scales regarding having healthcare tied to employment, but hey, Americans are thick headed). It’s also why, at least since the 1990s, so many freelancers working for the big two are living in countries that provide healthcare and/or where the miserly page rates offered most freelancers go much further because cost of living is lower, university education is free or cheap so no student loan burden etc (Canada, Italy, Spain, Brazil, the Philippines, etc). I’d be curious if there’s any actual data on this, maybe I’m extrapolating from too few examples.

    Universal healthcare (and hey why not, free public university) would help level the playing field in the US, but these forces are hardly unique to comics and we have no reason to hope that comics will be the industry where change originates. If creators can’t get organized, then everything else is just chatter and speculation. Maybe creators will take inspiration from Hollywood, but honestly if those unions didn’t already exist I doubt they’d be capable of being formed today. (I’ve worked as a union organizer so maybe I’m just being cynical and burnt out…)

  20. Luis Dantas says:

    There are significant indications that Claremont was having a bit more trouble with editorial and other writers at this time.

    I am biased towards concluding that he felt constrained and reacted by writing looser plots and plot seeds in order to keep his options as wide as possible.

    It may have been the other way around; for the time Claremont was quite the innovator in characterization and character progression. As the X-franchise grew and became more mainstream, more and more people became involved and it became harder to agree on how to develop the stories. Hard to tell.

    In any case, a quick search shows me that the New Mutants had faced the Beyonder both in #36 and #37, with Secret War II #8 between the two issues. It was almost half a year dealing with this confrontation in some form or another.

    I still believe that Rachel might have had some plot points coming from this situation to follow on. Claremont removed her from the X-Men a few months later and wanted to write a series that did not materialize. But there was plenty of other plot points that did not materialize at the time.

  21. Mike Loughlin says:

    @Joseph S- thank you for the clear, reasonable take on the matter, and especially for the work you did. I’m a part of a strong union, and I’m grateful for it.

    I completely agree that universal health care should be a right, but the stranglehold corporate interests and conservative politics have on U.S. government makes it highly unlikely. Then there’s insane housing costs, rising costs of goods, etc. It would be great if comic book creators had unionized, but Marvel & DC squashed their attempts in the ‘60s & ‘70s.

    So, my solution is simple: restructure government and capitalism so that they make sense and work for the good of all! Easy peasy!

  22. ASV says:

    It’s not at all impossible for an industry largely built on freelance and temporary work to provide benefits to those workers, but it probably is impossible in practice if those workers aren’t unionized.

  23. Thom H. says:

    @Luis: Yeah, the Beyonder arc happens around the time X-Factor started, so it’s definitely fair to say Claremont was having problems with editorial.

    And “looser” is a great way to describe his plotting at the time. I went back and skimmed the NM issues you mentioned and up to the time Claremont left the book (ending with #54).

    The first thing I noticed is that Emma and Magneto fix the NM team basically off panel. And the explanation of how they did it takes about half a page. It’s entirely possible the personality and power regressions were meant to be fixed along with the PTSD the team was experiencing, but it’s hard to tell because it’s all waved away so quickly.

    I don’t expect comics of the ’80s to do a deep psychological dive into the realities of emotional trauma, but even for the time it’s an abrupt fix. I suppose that’s more evidence that it’s Magneto’s story and not the NM’s, as Mike Loughlin pointed out. Once Magneto’s emotional journey is complete, it’s time to quickly wipe up any psychic residue that remains. In any case, it’s no wonder I didn’t remember it in detail. There is no detail to remember.

    For the record, a subsequent issue begins with Cannonball blasting around his room in tight circles, so the regressed powers thing is definitely not a problem soon after the Beyonder/Magneto/Emma arc is finished.

    Post-Beyonder, the NM book seems to drift a lot in terms of plot. We get some individual spotlight issues on Cannonball and Mirage. We’re on Muir Isle, in outer space, back to the Massachusetts Academy, and into the future. At this time, Claremont was definitely straying from the school as much as possible in NM and UXM. Both books seem decentralized and kind of meandering. UXM had the excuse of the Mutant Massacre to throw things into disarray, but NM kind of went along for the ride without much in-story explanation.

  24. Mike Loughlin says:

    @Thom H: you’re absolutely right that NM drifts following issue 40. Claremont & the artists produce 2 of the best issues of the run in his last year (45 & 51), but the focus just isn’t there.

    The thing about the Claremont runs that doesn’t get discussed enough is how much plotting and pacing the artists are doing. I think that the problems with Claremont’s mostly-okay last year on NM are compounded by not having a regular artist with a strong sense of plotting.

  25. Thom H. says:

    @Mike Loughlin: Such a good point. The “regular” artists seemed to be Jackson Guice on pencils and Kyle Baker on inks, but there were plenty of fill-ins during that year+ as well. And some of the pacing was dreadful, as you mention. There was a fight in one of the issues I perused earlier that almost didn’t make sense. Claremont was packing whole blocks of stage directions into single panels that couldn’t be conveyed visually. It certainly wasn’t up to Claremont/Sienkiewicz standards of storytelling.

    The Kevin Nowlan issue you mention (#51) is so beautiful. And a great story reuniting the NMs with Xavier and the Starjammers.

  26. wwk5d says:

    I liked New Mutants post #40. I liked it in general up to Claremont’s departure. There was some good character work there.

    And I always thought he sent the NMs off on their time and space hopping adventure to keep them away as much as possible from the nastiness of the Mutant Massacre and the following issues. They get one issue of the crossover and that’s about it.

    Looking back both books seems to have problems getting a regular artist post Mutant Massacre. Romita Jr leaves during the Massacre on uncanny, and it takes them a full year or so to find a permanent artist, which is strange given that it was arguably Marvel’s hottest book at the time.

  27. Jdsm24 says:

    The problem with unionization in such an industry in the Information Age is that the megacorporations will just outsource over the global internet instead to Thid-World (where the countries are located) foreigners (which is why Marvel’s got relatively so many artists from Latin America and Southeast Asia) who are happy just to be hired freelance for rates of pay that would be slave-labor-wages in the First World *

    * speaking from personal experience working for decades in the Philippine Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry

  28. Sam says:

    New Mutants #37 and 38 were my first issues. I got interested from Secret Wars 2; I liked the way Cannonball’s power signature looked. I don’t think the series suffered until Claremont’s departure; multi issue arcs were the exception back then, rather than the rule. Though I can acknowledge (even with my nostalgia goggles on) that there wasn’t as much created during that period, but revisiting what had come before in the series (Hellions, Legion, Lila Cheney) and giving it a second glance.

    For reference, my first issue of X-men was where the Marauders slaughter the Morlocks (Uncanny 211) and my first issue of the Flash was where he killed Reverse-Flash, so I pick really odd jumping on points (though I stayed away from the Flash for decades after that).

  29. Mark Coale says:

    The whole “Trial of the Flash” era is not great, but I would call it interesting. I think it suffers from Infantino’s style then (as opposed to his Silver Age art) which I really did not like as a teenager reader.

    I think Bates was Flash writer for way too long and it shows.

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