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Exclusive Preview: Black Cat #5

Black Cat #5

(W) Jed MacKay (A) Michael Dowling (C) Brian Reber (L) Ferran Delgado
(CA) Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia (VCA) Carlos Pacheco
Rated T+
In Shops: Apr 14, 2021
SRP: $3.99

• The Black Fox has sent Felicia and her crew to steal all kinds of items from all the ends of the Marvel U. But why?
• You’ll only find that plan here as there is zero chance you’ve guessed it already.

Black Cat #5

There’s Big Surprises in Store for the Fantastic Four to Celebrate 60 Years

The Fantastic Four, the very superheroes that kicked off Marvel Comics’ Silver Age are celebrating 60 incredible years! Home to concepts and characters that revolutionized comic book storytelling, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s beloved creations have enjoyed one of the most memorable sagas in comic book history. Now, get ready to see what’s in store for Marvel’s First Family this year in all-new teaser artwork by Valerio Schiti and Marte Gracia. This epic piece foreshadows the Fantastic Four’s action-packed year, giving fans a hint at the deadly threats they’ll be facing and a look at an unexpected new arc that kicks off in May by Dan Slott and R.B. Silva!

Keep an eye out for announcements about the other exciting things Marvel Comics has in store for the Fantastic Four’s milestone celebration.

Fantastic Four 60th Anniversary teaser

Review: S.W.O.R.D. #2

S.W.O.R.D. #2

S.W.O.R.D. began with a solid issue introducing us to this new aspect to the world of the X-Men. We were left with some intriguing questions and a direction I really wanted to dive in to. But, the second issue pivots. It’s distracted a bit by the events of King in Black playing out through numerous titles in the Marvel Universe. S.W.O.R.D. #2 had to do it in some ways but like so many new series that dive into an event, it feels a bit like a distraction. It’s a sidequest to the main event we want to see.

Al Ewing does his best with the situation by having the issue somewhat organically slide into it all. They’re on a mission, cut off from Earth. With no communication, a team needs to be assembled to help their fellow X-Men and see what’s going on.

The concept makes sense and it works. But, it feels a bit jarring as the Knull’s “victory” has just happened, there’s no lead up to it as if this group has been doing little to stop Knull and help up to this point.

But, Ewing focuses on the characters and their personalities to make the comic interesting. Like some other X-series involved with X of Swords, S.W.O.R.D. #2 keeps the focus on the characters and their being dumped into the situation. This isn’t a situation first sort of comic where characters are forced into the story.

But Ewing is even smarter focusing on just a few members of the cast. Clearly some of the personalities who will play a big role going forward. Wiz-Kid, Frenzy, and Abigail Brand get their moments but it’s Cortez, Random, and Mentallo that stand out. Mentallo and Cortez especially are the highlights of the comic as one plays a big role in Brand’s plan and the other schemes in classic ways. Those three characters should make long time X fans happy as the comic dances around their personalities hinting at the chaos they all will likely cause.

Valerio Schiti‘s art is top notch. Marte Gracia joins on color and Ariana Maher on lettering and together, the trio delivers a visually entertaining comic. Ewing delivers a script that has great moments but the art is the exclamation point that really makes it pop. Body language and face reactions are key in nailing the tone which feels more comedic than anything else. There’s a light and entertaining tone to the art instead of the dire situation you’d expect concerning what’s going on.

S.W.O.R.D. #2 feels a bit like a distraction from the main show but the team makes it work. Along with strong visuals, the story overall helps build what’s coming by focusing on a few characters who clearly will shake things up in upcoming issues. They make the best with what they’ve got and overall, it doesn’t completely derail the series too much. While I’d have liked to see it continue with the seeds laid by the first issue, S.W.O.R.D. #2 does a solid job of laying even more for machinations yet to come.

Story: Al Ewing Art: Valerio Schiti
Color: Marte Gracia Letterer: Ariana Maher Design: Tom Muller
Story: 8.15 Art: 8.15 Overall: 8.15 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Review: SWORD #1


In SWORD #1, writer Al Ewing, artist Valerio Schiti, and colorist Marte Gracia add a little hazy cosmic jive to the X-Books. Let’s just say that the Krakoan space program is a lot more than sending probes or even astronauts to Mars. Ewing has some fun and uses Magneto (On loan from Jonathan Hickman and X-Men.) as a POV character with Abigail Brand taking him around the Peak Station, introducing him to the cast of the book, and then giving him and the readers just enough info about their “mission” to bring both mutantkind and inhabitants of the solar system into the future. It very much has a tone of checking in, but Ewing’s dialogue is sharp and entertaining even if you don’t know your Acolytes from Alpha Flight.

If the X-line (and the Marvel Universe as a whole) is a toy box, then Ewing and Schiti are kind kids, who add cool new action figures into the box, polish up old ones from the 1980s and 1990s, and then come up with imaginative games for them. (Even if you don’t know all the rules yet.) SWORD #1’s plot, or hook, doesn’t kick into the last third of the comic, but the first two-thirds are really enjoyable and chock-full with intriguing character interactions as Ewing introduces the sprawling cast of the book. Even if he’s not a traditional, “relatable” viewpoint character, Magneto does create a reaction out of everyone he encounters from sparring over SWORD’s actual relationship to Krakoa to geeking out over Wiz-Kid and “the Six”, who are the main mission of Peak. Then, there’s his interactions with SWORD protagonist/team leader, Abigail Brand, who challenges a man that is used to being either despised, revered, or fawned over. With her past experiences working with organizations like SHIELD, Alpha Flight, and even the X-Men, she has a different perspective on running a team and its role compared to what Magneto wants.

It’s not super plot relevant, but there’s a richness to his relationship with the former Acolyte Frenzy, who is the ambassador, on board and is introduced by sparring with the Kree/Skrull Alliance envoy, Paibak. There’s a real physicality to Valerio Schiti’s layouts in this scene as he cuts from Magneto and Brand verbally sparring to Frenzy laying out Paibak on the training floor. This is followed by some aggressive eye contact and a very charged interaction as Krakoa’s ill-treatment of Scarlet Witch (See Empyre: X-Men) has led to them making enemies with the Kree/Skull Alliance because she is their emperor’s mother-in-law. Ewing effortlessly weaves in the results of a story that I unfortunately haven’t read to create more conflict in his current story and show that SWORD might have some more conventional threats to deal with in addition to their “uni/multiversal far-retrieval circuit” work.

Speaking of this circuit, Al Ewing uses some very Hickman-esque charts in SWORD #1 to lay out the mechanism of how it works via a strategic combination of mutant powers that reminded me a lot of the complementary combo super-attacks in Marvel Ultimate, but on steroids. SWORD #1 is also a natural outgrowth of the resurrection protocols and very beautiful to see in action although I’m sure that there were be consequences. (That Dr. Doom epigram at the end doesn’t bode well and gave me serious Secret Wars vibes.) Schiti, Gracia, and letterer Ariana Maher, who lays the text directly on the page/art work together on some gorgeous, light-filled spreads that evoke the feeling of something great, cosmic, and unknown even if I can’t exactly get my finger on what the team is doing. It’s a study in harmony just like the balance Magneto created by moving the

While Valerio Schiti excels at drawing cosmic landscapes (For example, the opening double page establishing shot of the Peak station moving away from Earth), his character acting is more middle of the road leaving Ewing to pick up the slack with his dialogue. Even though his art is in that Marvel house style, middle ground between cartoon-y and photorealistic, Schiti takes his facial expressions up to 11, and it’s hard to mine any subtler emotions and even sarcasm from his work. (I think that Magneto is just humoring his old Brotherhood short timer/member, Peepers, but it’s hard to really tell from art.) Again, Ewing is there to save the day with his perceptive dialogue and a smart writing move, which is revealing character’s personalities by how they basically react to a living legend. In this case, it’s Magneto. For example, Fabian Cortez totally sucks up to him, which shows he’s a go-with-the-flow sycophant while Wiz-Kid gives him insight into how he uses his powers to interface with technology showing that he has actual potential.

SWORD #1 is an interesting addition to the X-line of the books with its “spacer” (As Abigail Brand calls herself in contrast with “earthers” like Magneto.) perspective on both Krakoa and the Marvel Universe. Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti are in full spinoff pilot episode with Magneto playing the role of familiar character from the previous show giving readers insights into the cast of the book as well as the mysteries and conflicts they face. There are a few pitfalls on the visual side and more questions than answers (This isn’t bad at all), but it’s nice to have an outsider/literal big picture perspective on the world of Krakoa from Abigail Brand and her team in SWORD.

Story: Al Ewing Art: Valerio Schiti
Colors: Marte Gracia Letters: Ariana Maher
Story: 8.5 Art: 7.8 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Review: X of Swords: Creation #1

X of Swords: Creation #1

X of Swords: Creation #1 kicks of the “first” major X event since the line’s revamp. Taking place across the various series and a few one-shots, the story focuses on Otherworld and a threat to Krakoa. The story dives deep into Excalibur lore and history, an interesting direction and choice for a first event. That X-history is weaved in with new deeper takes on characters. This is especially true of Apocalypse a character who has become a center of X-architect Jonathan Hickman’s X-vision.

For those who have read Excalibur’s past series, you might be a bit more excited for the event as it focuses on a threat for Otherworld and the Starlight Citadel, and Saturnyne. The story is a deep cut in some ways to past plot points and concepts that have felt shelved for years but have taken a prominent role in the current X-continuity. There’s so much more to discuss of this, along with news of the upcoming S.W.O.R.D. series, that points to a “mutant manifest destiny.” But, that’s only danced around in this event kick-off.

Instead, we get prophecies and an oncoming hoard with death and destruction. And in many ways, X of Swords: Creation #1 points to the current flaw in Hickman’s vision. With death no longer an obstacle for mutants, there’s little reason to not meet threats with overwhelming force. Any losses can be regenerated and brought back. You might as well send your heavy hitters every time and just subscribe to “shock and awe” to any and all threats. Instead, a small contingent is sent that we know will be overwhelmed feigning a true threat. But, writers Hickman and Tini Howard tease just enough mystery to make things interesting.

A gate must remain open between Krakoa and Otherworld for unknown reasons. The “sword” in the title is the traditional weapon but also points the the heavens with S.W.O.R.D., something we now know will expand mutantkind’s influence and reach. While the hoards march to Krakoa isn’t totally clear. There’s just enough to see what’s next in what amounts to a sword and sorcery/fantasy story meets X-Men plot. While it doesn’t quite excite, it also doesn’t fall flat.

The art by Pepe Larraz with color by Marte Gracia delivers. The design of characters have a nice horror meets Egyptian quality to them. They hearken to Apocalypse’s four horsemen quite well giving us a more traditional take on the Biblical concept. Scenes are packed with battle and action without being overwhelming and the colors add in a nice “death and destruction” quality about them all. The lettering by Clayton Cowles adds to the genre with a style that feels a bit more “fantasy” than other lettering styles and Tom Muller packs in a lot of information with reports and FAQs as been a signature aspect of “Hickman’s run.”

X of Swords: Creation #1 isn’t a bad start to an event. It does beg readers to explore more of the history touched upon, some of which is obscure for newer X-readers. The comic does do a job of catching readers up though. It explains what’s needed but there’s an emotional connection that’s not there. It also shows one of the major flaws with this X-direction, there’s little real threat when anyone can be resurrected and there’s little reason to not send overwhelming force against threats beyond showing restraint. It’s a start to something and what’s teased at the end indicates what comes after may be more interesting than what gets us there.

Story: Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard Art: Pepe Larraz
Color: Marte Gracia Letterer: Clayton Cowles Design: Tom Muller
Story: 7.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Read

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Review: Empyre #6

Empyre #6

After a condensed number of issues and tie-ins, Empyre #6 wraps up the main story for Marvel’s 2020 comic event. It’s hard to say how it might have read if all of its issues had been released but as is, the comic feels not so much as an event as it’s a way to put focus on the neglected Marvel cosmic universe.

With a story by Al Ewing and Dan Slott with script by Ewing, Empyre #6 isn’t bad in any ways but it also feels a bit rushed. It suffers from Marvel’s propensity to focus more on what comes next when it comes to events before really cementing the end of what’s being read. The issue also feels like it knows things are off the rails a bit with far too much being used to recap and getting new readers up to speed. It’s an odd use of panels and pages as Reed Richards and Tony Stark measure where they’re at and what needs to be resolved in one issue.

The details of everything are condensed again and again as the at times thoughtful event continues to pivot towards splashy images of heroes swooping in to save the day. It’s grand motions and moves that conveniently resolve issues with punching being the general solution. Twists and turns from the series feel a bit too much Soap Opera, not fleshed out, and rather predictable. This is a series that started with thoughtful debates but as it progressed slid to the lowest common denominator of storytelling.

What’s interesting about the comic is the art continues to be condensed. Valerio Schiti keeps the moments that pop to single pages mostly and even at times single panels. Double page spreads feel rare. The art almost reflects the condensed nature of the event. Schiti is joined by Marte Gracia on color and lettering by Joe Caramagna. The images absolutely pop but it’s just an interesting choice where recent events have relied heavily on jaw-dropping images to sell the scale and scope.

Empyre #6 feels like a throwback event in many ways. This is more akin to Avengers events of the 80s and 90s than more recent Marvel stories. It also feels like it’s entire point is to condense shaking up the Marvel Cosmic status quo. There’s numerous references of how things have changed and that it means big things and challenges to come. It expands the playground through which future stories can be told. It’s an event with a goal and the goal isn’t so much the story as to get from point A to point C for future stories.

Empyre #6 wraps things up generally nicely but as far as recent Marvel events, things as a whole feel a bit of a letdown. It’s a story that isn’t exactly memorable and while setting up potentially a lot it also doesn’t feel like an event that’ll have folks talking for years to come. It’s not bad but in evoking a classic feel, it doesn’t become one itself.

Story: Al Ewing, Dan Slott Script: Al Ewing Art: Valerio Schiti
Color: Marte Gracia Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Story: 7.5 Art: 7.5 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Review: Empyre #5

Empyre #5

Empyre as an event has been a bit deeper than your usual summer popcorn. There’s been debates on war and what is an acceptable loss and sacrifice. Both sides have experienced this and the philosophies are pretty bleak and far too similar. Empyre #5 though takes the series into soapy drama as the truth about Hulkling is revealed and it’s exactly as expected.

Al Ewing and Dan Slott deliver the story, with Ewing on script in a chapter that is full of reveals but none of them are really all that surprising. The big one is utterly head scratching in the logistics make little sense. Empyre #5 is that expected battle as the Kree/Skrull empire turn on their human allies putting Earth in the middle with no one to help.

Empyre #5 isn’t a bad chapter to the epic. It’s just rather predictable. There’s an almost trope-ish Bond-like villain aspect to it as the timer begins ticking in multiple ways. It’s the moment and issue where the story walks back some of the smarts and depth shown in previous issues. It shifts to a more expected event focus of battles and action.

And that shift is interesting as artist Valerio Schiti continues to forgo splash pages. Instead the art is more at the page and panel level. We don’t get two page spreads with images leaping from it. There is a more interesting use of panels in some parts of the comic. The layouts are more interesting than they’ve been but again, the art isn’t as splashy as one might expect for a bit event. Schiti’s art is enhanced by Marte Gracia’s colors and Joe Caramagna’s lettering. It all comes together to create visuals that are interesting and engaging but at the same time sort of conservative and muted in a way. It’s not over the top where the art becomes the most interesting aspect of the story.

Empyre #5 is a bit of a letdown in that it brings the event down to the level that was expected. It’s an issue that’s about the over the top action in some ways betraying the more insightful previous issues. It is a lowest common denominator in some ways walking back what was an interesting event. Hopefully, as the event wraps up, we’re treated to more of what was and not just more of this issue.

Story: Al Ewing, Dan Slott Script: Al Ewing Art: Valerio Schiti
Color: Marte Gracia Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.85 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Read

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Review: Empyre #4

Empyre #4

Despite a rough first issue, Empyre has turned into one of the most intriguing events from Marvel in some time. Empyre #4 cements that with a further exploration of horrors of war and some reveals that’ll shock and excite.

Al Ewing and Dan Slott have been crafting the story with Ewing handling scripts and the team has really nailed this event. Despite its rather obscure origins, the series has really just used Marvel’s cosmic side of its universe to explore interesting philosophical topics and shake things up.

Things aren’t going all that great on the battlefront which puts Emperor Hulkling in an awkward decision-making spot. Does he sacrifice Earth and its 8 billion residents to save trillions? The issue hints at an answer and raises questions if this is really the Hulkling we know. The question feels a little groan-inducing with Secret Invasion within memory and the idea of “evil replacements” feeling a bit soap opera for an event that has raised some really interesting questions.

That questioning of Hulkling leads to so much though. It’s Ewing and Slott’s focus on the characters in the main story instead of the overall battle that makes the main series stand out and keep getting better. That focus extends to Tony who is having a crisis of confidence which might feel sudden but makes sense concerning his experiences in the first issue. The confident man has been knocked down quite a few pegs leaving himself questioning his decisions and abilities. This isn’t a series of confident brash characters saving the day but one of tough decisions and moments of doubt.

Slott and Ewing also use the issue for some major revelations that will have readers buzzing. Not only is a marriage revealed but another has been revealed to have died on the moon which immediately sets up a new series spinning out of Empyre when it’s over. Both are the shocking highlights within an issue full of contemplative moments and hard decisions.

Valerio Schiti’s art feels like it has gotten to be consistent from the inconsistent first issue. Characters have gotten their design down and there’s a focus on scenes using panels instead of splash pages delivering a big picture. A battle in Wakanda is depicted in chaotic panels instead of a two-page spread which would have worked. Schiti is joined by Marte Gracia and lettering by Joe Caramagna. The trio realize this is a character driven drama as a opposed to a summer visual blockbuster. It doesn’t mean there’s not moments to shine. The lack of splash pages works as a group of heroes confronts the Cotati leader in hopes of talking sense into him which morphs into a big reveal and action sequence.

Empyre #4 continues to improve the series which has decided to shift the big visuals to other series and instead, so far, focus more on the individual impacts of war and the difficult decisions that have to be made. There’s been twists and turns as things have become more complicated. What began as a stereotypical eye-roll of an event has evolved into something far more deep.

Story: Al Ewing, Dan Slott Script: Al Ewing Art: Valerio Schiti
Color: Marte Gracia Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Story: 8.10 Art: 7.75 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation:

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Review: Empyre #3

Empyre #3

I was down on the debut issue of Empyre. The second issue was a large improvement on the first. Empyre #3 continues that trajectory with a solid story that focuses on the ongoing battle as well as the weight of wearing a crown and the political machinations that come with an empire.

Writer Al Ewing and Dan Slott deliver an issue with a couple of focuses. It feels like an attempt to take a step back a bit and give the wider picture of what’s going on, delivering details of tactics and glimpses of the various fronts.

The Cotati are waging war on multiple fronts on Earth using the planet against its inhabitants. Those battles though are feints for their true mission which relies on Wakanda. The focus on Wakanda, and Black Panther, continues to prop up the character in the Marvel comic Universe befitting his popularity outside of comics. It also tactically makes sense as far as the story. The downside is there are moments that feel directly ripped from Avengers: Infinity War and it’s hard to not be pulled out and distracted due to that.

Ewing and Slott’s story stands out when it comes to the cost of war. There’s a lot of debate around what individuals are willing to sacrifice. Is killing a billion people to save a trillion a worthy trade off? Are the roles of soldiers to sacrifice themselves if they need to? Or, is the goal to minimize casualties while maximizing victories? It’s an interesting debate and makes the issue, and event, stand out from the usual blockbuster battles that result in god knows how many deaths and how much destruction.

Empyre #3 includes a focus on Tony Stark who’s been shaken since the first issue. The above about acceptable losses is about the cost of war, there’s still a focus on the individuals impacts. Stark is having issues focusing on solutions and his time with Reed Richards shows a man no longer cocky and arrogant but one who’s faith in himself has been rocked. Just a few panels adds so much depth to the character.

Valerio Schiti‘s art has grown on me since the first issue. Along with colorist Marte Gracia and letterer Joe Caramagna the art is much tighter than the debut. Issues with individual characters are gone and instead, it feels like there’s more of a focus on groups but fewer characters allowing some tighter detail. Mr. Fantastic’s look is night and day compared to the first issue. The series continues to lack to truly sweeping visuals you’d expect from an event like that instead focusing things on important panels or characters. This isn’t an event overshadowed by two-page spreads.

Empyre #3 is an issue that adds the much-needed depth to the series. It has gone from just a summer popcorn event to one with some brains behind it. There’s some philosophical debates within and political machinations throughout. It also delivers twists and turns because by the end of the issue, it’s clear there’s a lot more to come.

Story: Al Ewing, Dan Slott Script: Al Ewing Art: Valerio Schiti
Color: Marte Gracia Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Review: Empyre #2

Empyre #2

I wasn’t a big fan of Empyre #1. It felt like a comic that could have been resolved, a conflict avoided, with just a sentence or two. Empyre #2 is a big improvement on that first issue as the damage is done and the Avengers, Kree, and Skrulls must fight back the initial onslaught.

The Cotati have played their hand and in one move they have destroyed the Kree/Skrull fleet and captured some of the Avengers. It’s a hell of a move and this issue the amount of devastation is clear. Al Ewing and Dan Slott use this issue to give the reader a wider scope that makes the Cotati feel like a real threat. They also allow the heroes to do what they do best, be heroes.

The issues of the debut issue are gone in Empyre #2. Instead those groan worthy moments give way to interactions that make sense. The Avengers have messed up and are on a recovery mission. But, why should the Kree and Skrulls trust them? Instead of continuing a needless fight, they allow Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to prove they have realized their mistakes. The issues where a simple sentence would have changed everything is gone. The trope of the “needless fight” is thrown to the side for actions that make much more sense.

The recovery is actually kind of cool. There’s some solid action and moments where you really do feel like it’s a recovery and not just a needless fight. You really do get a sense the Avengers know they’ve messed up. The issue also drops a lot of hints as to how the X-Men will come into play in this event with some not so subtle hints about Krakoa. This continues a bit of the set up and if this were released with the first issue as an oversized start, it’d feel like a much better beginning.

Part of what helps is Valerio Schiti’s art. Gone are the off panels of Mr. Fantastic. Instead we get some muted but cool moments and wide views of the destruction. Marte Gracia’s colors are key mixing the coldness of technology and space with a warmth of the organic. But, the color is important as that organic also has a sense of foreboding evil about it. Joe Caramagna’s lettering also helps emphasize some point adding to the art. What’s interesting is the lack of use of splash pages to deliver awe inducing visuals. Instead, there is a greater emphasis on interesting perspectives and panels on the page.

Empyre #2 is much improved over the first. It features intelligent aftermath from the attack and also a good explanation of the Cotati’s planning of it all. The issue is still a lot of set up and organizing as the forces of good come together but it feels like it’s a more focused narrative that avoids moments we’ve seen over and over.

Story: Al Ewing, Dan Slott Script: Al Ewing Art: Valerio Schiti
Color: Marte Gracia Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Story: 8.05 Art: 8.15 Overall: Recommendation: Buy

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