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The ’90s Revisited – The Demon Annual #1

90s_revisited

demon_annual_001Ex-Nihilo…Death!

Script: Alan Grant
Pencils: Joe Phillips & David Johnson
Inks: John Dell
Colors: Robbie Busch
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Dan Raspler
Cover Art: Joe Phillips
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $3.00
Published by: DC Comics

Jason Blood and his pal Harry (some sort of human pillow?) arrive in San Francisco. Not long after, they’re attacked by some large creature and Jason is forced to call forth Etrigan to fight it. Meanwhile, some kid and his cat are on the scene stirring up some trouble of their own. Etrigan’s adversary is eventually recalled–apparently this was just a test for Etrigan by some old guy. The old guy is Nihilo, and he’s confronted by Jason and the kid–apparently his nephew–also known as Klarion (the witch boy). Nihilo regales his "guests" with his story, which comes down to his having been cursed with immortality by the cruelty of Eclipso. And with Eclipso apparently being back, Nihilo seeks death before Eclipso’s attention returns to exacerbate his suffering.

Klarion, however, attempts to invoke Eclipso to kill the Demon Etrigan. He winds up "eclipsed," along with Teekl (his cat), and we get another lengthy fight scene. Along the way, Eclipsed Klarion seems to burn out Nihilo’s eyes as punishment, and ultimately, Eclipso seems to have the Demon beat…but Harry intervenes, creating an illusion of sunrise, which spurs Eclipso to move Klarion and Teekl underground, abandoning the fight in favor of preserving his control over their magical bodies. Etrigan lives, and rides off with Harry and a large "The End" closing out the story.

I went into this issue "blind." Other than some very loose basics, I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with The Demon and Etrigan outside of an episode or two of Justice League Unlimited, his appearance in 1999’s Judgement Day, possibly Final Night, and a few issues of Demon Knights (being The New 52, though, could be vastly different!). Ditto with Klarion. I didn’t even know who the kid was til the name was put out there, and then I only know whatever I read (and have presently forgotten) from the Grant Morrison mini whenever that 7 Soldiers stuff was out. I vaguely knew of Etrigan being a "rhyming" demon and definitely appreciated some of the rhymes in the issue (outside of the story itself, a writer being able to make mostly-sensible rhymes work is fairly impressive to me for whatever reason).

I’m not all that clear on the actual relationship between Jason Blood and Etrigan outside of there being at least a bit of an adversarial thing. Is Etrigan related to Merlin? Or is that someone else? There’s not much "background" here as far as Blood and the Demon. Despite that, this was a fairly self-contained issue…which gives it more credit with me for being a $3 issue–a 20% increase on the prior chapters of Eclipso: The Darkness Within being $2.50. This is also the first non-squarebound issue of the event. This is one I’m highly confident I did NOT ever read before, though it was an interesting enough read as a first-time thing in 2022. Even though I didn’t know the characters, I feel like I got to know or recognize the "essential" bits.

Visually, this had a certain "darker" style to it that put me in mind of early issues of Batman: Shadow of the Bat (though PART of that may be Alan Grant’s name with this issue). Something to the visuals also put me in mind of older Hellblazer issues and perhaps Vertigo stuff as well.

Readers are directed to this issue from Justice League America Annual #6…but other than that, there’s really nothing here that seems to truly tie in to the event. Having read previous chapters, I have a bit more context for Eclipso…but I don’t think it’s really needed in reading this…we get filled in contextually with what we "need" to know. If there was no "meta" context of having read prior chapters, this would seem a standalone story to me, and not a bad one at that. There’s also no direction to the "next" chapter of Eclipso: The Darkness Within…and with Eclipso seemingly "defeated" for the purposes of this issue–"driven off," at least–we get a conclusion of sorts that doesn’t push us into another chapter.

As I do not recall reading any other issues of the title from the ’90s–except perhaps the Bloodlines Annual–this was a decent introduction of it to me; the extra length to the issue giving more room for things to play out beyond what "just" a normal single issue would have. It doesn’t obligate me to check recent issues, nor to dive into subsequent issues. Even within the event itself, this seems more like a one-shot/special that happens to feature the characters. As "a" #1, this is additionally worthwhile if fished out of a cheapo-bin. #1, extra-sized, dark, contained…and yet ties into the overall event by virtue of referencing a black diamond and having Eclipso.

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The ’80s Revisited: Detective Comics #604

80s_revisited

detective_comics_0604The Mud Pack Part One: Men of Clay

Writer: Alan Grant
Penciller: Norm Breyfogle
Inker: Steve Mitchell
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Assoc. Editor: Dan Raspler
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
Published by: DC Comics

This cover is another iconic one for me at least…with a mud/clay version of Batman and someone holding a glinting knife over it. There’s no cover credit in the issue…because this almost certainly was when covers were done by the main artist of the issue. And they actually reflected something from the issue itself…either thematically or literally. In this case…literally.

The issue opens with someone holding a mud statue of Batman, and then we jump to a few pages of some clay guy (Preston Payne, Clayface III) in Arkham, talking to a mannequin he’d been in love with but had to tell he wanted to break up. When she didn’t answer, he smacked her and freaks out when her head flies off. He winds up breaking down his door and killing/maiming guards…escaping. Elsewhere, Batman takes down some generic criminals in an alley before responding to a call about the escape. Meanwhile, a cloaked figure stalks through the movie theater district reminiscing about old times and when films were good, talking to someone named Matthew. When he’s approached by some would-be muggers, they get more than they bargained for as he shows them true horror as a slasher, killing them. While Arkham guards hunt Payne, they meet up with a woman in a costume who has mind-powers; Payne had passed out from tranquillizer darts, and she makes the guards shoot each other before she leaves with Payne in tow. In an abandoned theater/now-HQ, the cloaked figure speaks to Matthew again and we learn that Matthew had been Clayface, perished during a crisis, and whoever this is is trying to bring him back. He fails. Batman confers with Commissioner Gordon and they realize Looker of the Outsiders is involved…or so they think. It turns out we have another Clay-person in this Sondra Fuller or "Lady Clayface" or "Clayface Four." She’s like Hagen apparently was–a shape shifter…but it seems she can actually mimic others’ powers! She’s working with the cloaked guy who turns out to be Basil Karlo, apparently the "original" Clayface. While Matthew’s nothing but slopped mud now, this unites the original Clayface with successors Clayface Three and Clayface Four…a unique group sure to now be able to as one, claim fame, fortune, power…and kill the Batman! (And for effect, he stabs the mud statue of Batman he had, fulfilling the cover’s image).

While there’s the name Batman on the cover and he’s kinda in the background, the cover to Batman #439 is more Nightwing than Batman. Which makes this one all the more striking, being a large closeup of Batman, someone holding a knife…is it a statue? Is it Batman himself trapped in a covering of mud? It also feels like a fairly unique cover, all the more for the colors…so much muddy brown on a black background…it’s hardly a bright, cheery colorful thing to leap off and grab someone’s attention. For me, though, it was part of my first exposure to then-current Batman in 1989, and has remained a striking cover to me that always seems to grab my attention if I see it anywhere! And something like this story would be an excellent candidate for a Batman: Clayface or whatever those villain-spotlight TPBs are; or of a massive reprint issue for this arc, etc. Yet other than a Norm Breyfogle-specific collection, I don’t think this Mud Pack story has ever actually been collected as its own thing! Which is a darned shame, really.

41-year-old me in 2022 here thinks he knows that Clayface III (Preston Payne) is an Alan Moore character from an Annual. But this issue seems to give us what we need to know about him, what he is and does to appreciate the character. Same for Karlo…though we get less on Lady Clayface. We see her in action, but not much else. We also get the Hagen bits/references…bringing this group of villainous/antagonist characters together (for the first time?) as a unified threat, setting up whatever comes next. The issue is almost cinematic in some ways with an intro image, then prologue, introducing the characters and bringing them together, the Karlo "reveal" as the mastermind, and so on…leaving off on a (perhaps melo) dramatic cliffhanger/threat.

Visually, this has a definite difference from the Batman over in that title. Breyfogle‘s Batman is rather distinctive to me and rather prone to shadows and for lack of a better phrasing, a sort of "flow" with the action. I also really like his Bat-Signal…it’s recognizable, but its "wavy" effect seems much more authentic than a clean circle on clouds as it’s often depicted. As some of my earliest, regular Batman art, this set the standard for me, along with the likes of Byrne and Aparo as "my" Batman, and a style I very much enjoy.

There’s another thing to this issue that struck me as a kid: the cover proclaims "Free Full-Color Batman Mini-Poster Inside!" Bound into the center of this issue is an actual poster that can be removed (carefully)…a double-page sized image of Batman, and seems to be the same paper as a cover…something higher quality than the basic "newsprint" the bulk of the issue was printed on. This poster is single-sided; and does not even have ads or other promo stuff on its back; removing it in no way decreases (and actually, INcreases) the readability of the issue…no story/panels are lost, it’s truly an actual bonus for the issue! Some comics in the late-’80s/early-’90s would feature "pin-up pages" of art by creators either not as associated with a character or not holding the "main" art gig for the character/team; filler space, etc. This poster is its own thing, an original image not just lifted from a panel…and certainly "worthy" of a cover itself…but, no "variants" here!

I’ve snagged multiple copies of this issue over the years. My original in 1989; as well as copies from bargain bins; at least one copy was solely for that poster, which I have framed on a wall; and a copy I got to get signed by Breyfogle himself some years back when I was unable to locate my actual original copy in time; and now this copy I got for this reading project at present.

I’d definitely recommend this issue if only for the poster, should you happen across it in a bargain bin. The Mud Pack seems a totally forgotten, high-quality story (albeit perhaps from rose-colored glasses of nostalgia) that I’d definitely recommend getting if you’re able to get all 4 chapters; and ideally copies for less than whatever modern comics cost. To me, this is certainly a 25-cent book; but decently worthwhile going up to $3/$4 (maybe $16 at most for all 4 chapters) just because it’s such a quality Batman/Clayface(s) story and strikes me as having a lot more…SOMEthing…than modern $5 and $6 single-issues.

I did a bit of "internet research" because neither this issue nor Batman #439 had cover dates on them…but I know I had to have gotten them at the same time as Adventures of Superman #453 (April 1989) and Superman #31 (May 1989). Apparently somewhere in this timeframe DC and Marvel had some shenanigans on adjusting cover dates, and from what I can figure out, it seems likely that the correlation here–what put these 4 together for me–was that the Superman issues probably were "left over" and had not been pulled; while the Batman issues were very new. Or something to that effect.

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The ’80s Revisited: Batman #439

80s_revisited

batman_0439Batman Year III Chapter Four: Resolutions

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Penciller: Pat Broderick
Inker: Michael Bair
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Assoc. Editor: Dan Raspler
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
Published by: DC Comics

This is another issue that’s very iconic TO ME but not necessarily anyone else. This was my first-ever issue of the main Batman title that I got. #439…438 issues came before I got my first! And it’s got a large "Year 3" on the cover…AND it’s marked as "part 4 of 4." It’s hundreds of issues in; it’s the final chapter of a multi-part story; and it’s some middle year, not even a "first year" or such! And I was 8 when I first got the issue, yet it didn’t stop me from getting the next two issues, or further issues of both Batman as well as Detective Comics. But I suppose kids in 2022 are incapable of that…at least for the way publishers treat contemporary numbering outside of Detective Comics and Action Comics.

We open where an Anthony Zucco has apparently just been killed, and Nightwing scolds Batman for letting it happen. The two talk, and there’s obviously some "history" here. We find out the dead guy had some book with details about crimes all over Gotham…so now "the underworld" wants it and an all-out hunt begins. The two talk further in the Batcave–in costumes, but masks off–before Batman leaves, insisting on doing stuff alone. Nightwing and Alfred talk, and we get several pages of flashbacks to how Nightwing–Dick Grayson–was legally able to become Bruce Wayne’s ward…and why it was ward and not adopting him as a son. Dick heads out to check on stuff that might lead him to answers, and we cut to where Batman’s much more brutal than usual, beating answers out of criminals rather than speaking. Meanwhile, Dick follows up and gets useful information without the actuality of violence. While Dick returns to an orphanage he spent some time at, Bruce is back at the cave, putting things together a bit slower than Dick had. Dick speaks with Sister Mary Elizabeth and pieces the final bits together to determine where Zucco’s book is. As he finds it, the primary person behind the situation arrives and wants the book for himself…and Batman arrives in time to realize he’s about to lose Dick the way he lost Jason. Things don’t play out that way, though…but the book is lost to the elements. While Batman returns to the cave alone, Dick visits his parents’ graves.

As said at the start of this post…more than 400 issues, a third year, and part 4 of 4, all elements that should have put an 8-year-old off from getting this comic, at least according to 2022 standards. I don’t even know if I comprehended those elements, though…as an 8-year-old, I simply saw the word "Batman" on the cover and knew it to be a Batman comic. That’s it…plain and simple. Didn’t matter that there was a 438 on the cover; didn’t matter that it said it was the 4th of a 4-part story; didn’t matter that it said "Year 3," it was a Batman comic.

I’ve long considered Jim Aparo, John Byrne, and Norm Breyfogle to be my favorite Batman artists…and in my "memory" I’m sure I figured this to have been one of theirs. It’s not…and I need to add Broderick to that list, I think, based on my most recent read-through of this issue and how well the art worked for me (despite this particular copy of the issue having dulled, the inks bled, and generally the issue’s newsprint paper is hardly in pristine condition 33 years later). Along with stuff like Untold Legend of the Batman, that Man of Steel issue One Night in Gotham City, and Breyfogle on The Mud Pack in Detective, this is iconic early Batman (and Nightwing) for me, visually.

Story-wise, this seems like a solid issue. Even though I have read the entire 4-parter a couple times in the years since it came out, this issue stands out due to being my first issue of the title. Same for this re-read: I read it cold, rather than the entire story. We get a bit of context about Zucco’s death, from Bruce and Dick’s verbal sparring; to figure out what’s been going on in earlier chapters…at least as relevant to this issue specifically.

When I first read the issue as a kid, I had no clue there’d been a Year One or a Year Two. In a way I never give this story much thought in that regard as a Year Three, except right now I take it sort of like Years One and Two were Bruce’s start…and it was the 3rd year when Dick joined. So in a way, this is as much Dick’s story as Bruce’s…maybe more.

I also don’t think terribly much about who WROTE these earliest issues of the title that I read…at the time it was absolutely the character I was getting/reading, with no regard for any given writer or artist. And compared to the likes of Superman, I only dabbled with Batman comics, and the Batman comics never had the same depth nor singular ongoing story the way the Superman books did that led me to being much more familiar with some of the artists and continuity over there. That said, Marv Wolfman being the writer is a pleasant re-realization for me, and sort of a re-epiphany "of course!" as far as what was set up in this story and in the next–A Lonely Place of Dying.

I definitely see the depth in this issue, and the importance of the Bruce/Dick stuff and the flashbacks. As a kid, I probably sort of understood the flashbacks were supposed to be Dick–Nightwing–but I had no real understanding that this was Robin! I also had only begun to "realize" that "a" Robin had even died, or that the original had "grown up" and become Nightwing. In this issue I just saw this guy that had history with Batman/Bruce and they didn’t get along well for some reason.

I don’t believe this story was ever collected as its own thing…I’m pretty sure it was even left out of the Death in the Family volume that combined Death in the Family with Lonely Place of Dying! Death in the Family had a TPB; I believe The Many Deaths of the Batman had a TPB; and I know A Lonely Place of Dying had a TPB (that was one of my very first-ever TPBs!). But this story did not have one. I’m not even sure if this wound up being included in any of the larger collected volumes DC has put out the last few years, and while I know some of the Detective stuff like The Mud Pack wound up in a Norm Breyfogle volume…I don’t have the knowledge of the same thing happening with this story.

I’ve seen a mix of stuff for Batman: Year Three over the years; from issues in bargain bins to being offered in the $10-something range and anything in between. Some of that’s probably moreso the first chapter that introduced Tim Drake, though.

On the whole, I wouldn’t recommend this as a single issue…but if you find it in a bargain bin, I’d recommend getting all 4 parts; it’s definitely worth a read if you can get all four for $5ish or under!

Reading this again has me itching to read other issues from around this time…particularly to actually sit down and read Death in the Family through Lonely Place of Dying straight through. But that’ll be a reading project for some time down the road, perhaps.

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The ’90s Revisited: Robin #1

90s_revisited

robin001Big Bad World

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Penciller: Tom Lyle
Inker: Bob Smith
Letterer: Tim Harkins
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Editors: Dan Raspler, Denny O’Neil
Cover: Brian Bolland
Published by: DC Comcis
Cover Date: January 1991
Cover Price: $1.00

I’ve read this issue before. This might even be the third time I’ve read it–I’m not sure at this point. But for this particular read-through…it came about because I wanted the POSTER that was bound into the issue, without having to rummage through a bunch of unsorted longboxes–so I bought a copy just for the poster. But since I was "handling" the issue, I decided to read it…and quite enjoyed it overall, though unfortunately not quite as much as I’d thought I would.

I’m pretty sure this issue picks up essentially from the pages of a Batman issue, as I seem to recall a scene of Tim debuting the new costume before Bruce and Alfred; but that’s clearly already happened by the time this issue opens.

We open on Tim in the Batcave with Bruce; wearing the then-new (but now highly familiar to me) ’90s Robin costume–the red body, wide yellow belt, green pants, tall/dark boots…and the stylized "R"; as well as the two-colored cape: yellow on the inside, the classic yellow; but black on the outside, so he can wrap into it and blend into shadows same as Batman…not "glow in the dark" or such. The two discuss Tim’s readiness TO be the new Robin, in a bit of Tim’s doubt that I don’t quite remember, but fits for the time. Tim decides to further ready himself, now that he’s "passed" Batman’s training is to take his own journey to train with others in preparation for his role. He heads to Europe, where we quickly learn that another figure from Batman’s past is active: Shiva. Meanwhile, Tim finds the master he sought, though some details aren’t as he expected. He gets drawn into a situation that calls for what Robin can do, that Tim Drake can’t, and gains a potential ally, even as he considers what it’d mean to fail, to let down the Batman.

Which is all a grandiose, vague summary of the issue. It’s interesting to consider a number of "firsts" at the time this was released–first action in the new costume, first "solo" Tim Drake adventure, Tim’s first issue as Robin, first issue of any series–mini or otherwise–of the solo-billed Robin title, etc. And I’ll be doggonned if I am aware of any variant covers. Really! All these firsts…and other than (perhaps) a second printing or such, or maybe some kind of foil-y something or other that I’m not consciously aware of at present, this is THE issue. Period. One cover. One issue. A Brian Bolland image.

Story-wise, this is a very solid first issue. Though I mentioned recollection of a scene preceding this, that’s not integral to this issue. We simply pick up on Tim in costume, apparently freshly made officially Robin, and through dialogue get a bit more detail to fill in gaps on his background and our getting here. He’s given a ‘quest’, we’re introduced to threats and antagonists in addition to the self-set challenge, and get drawn into the story.

I said above I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would–it’s a good issue, and fairly enjoyable in and of itself; certainly nostalgic…especially for me. But that’s part of the problem. One of Tim’s first couple cameos before his full appearance in A Lonely Place of Dying was my first-ever Batman comic…this character was introduced AS I got into comics, and is still around. But this issue by itself–not re-reading the lead-up, not having the rest of the issues handy nor the time to read their contents in one of the TPBs, this is just a snippet of early-Tim Drake stuff. And since this isn’t an ongoing series but "merely" a finite five-issue story, there’s less "need" for the kind of hook an ongoing might need…and I think I frustrated myself not being able to just read the whole story handily in one go.

robin001_posterThe art is quite good, and rather iconic to me. Looking at this, it just screams "early Tim/Robin" to me. The cover isn’t horrible…but the way Robin’s face is, this has gotta be one of the creepiest-looking Robins I can think of! The costume, cape, etc work…but the face just doesn’t fit Tim. I also like that the "corner art" seems to be a carryover from what I recall offhand of the main Batman issues, cementing this as what it is–its own thing, starring Batman’s sidekick, but in a solo title that does NOT emphasize Batman.

If you find this in a bargain bin–or heck, find it for $2 or under, I highly recommend it! Particularly if you’re a fan of Robin, or specifically Tim Drake. But I’d recommend trying to acquire the entire 5-issue mini-series rather than just this isolated issue.

Unless you want the poster…in which case, that ALONE is worth at least a couple dollars!

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Zero Hour Revisited – L.E.G.I.O.N. ’94 #70

90srevisited_zerohour

legion_94_0070Down to Zero

Writer: Tennessee Peyer
Pencillers: Arnie Jorgensen, Derec Aucoin
Inker: James Pascoe
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Letterer: Gaspar
Asst. Editor: Peter Tomasi
Editor: Dan Raspler
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $2.50

This is yet another issue that I “missed” in 1994 and never have gotten around to reading until now in 2016…at least that I can recall. I had a slight sense of deja vu reading this and though I don’t remember reading it…it’s possible I paged through and read part of it somewhere along the way. (Or at the least, I must’ve read ABOUT it, being curious about how this series ended). I jumped on to R.E.B.E.L.S. ’94 with #0 and followed for a handful of issues, though right now I can’t even recall any of THAT.

LEGION (Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network) is not in good shape, apparently, as we begin this issue. The leader of the group–Vril Dox–laments the loss (or apparent loss) of several members of the team, as well as stuff perpetrated by his (apparently) infant son. His reminiscing is interrupted by coming across the freshly-murdered body of a man he’d murdered years ago, giving him pause. Meanwhile, the mother of his son chases after an apparent imposter impersonating Lady Qark (There’s a name I remember but don’t think I really knew appeared in this title post-COIE!); we also see another member with a time-travel buddy preparing to take her “back” to the future….and on learning recent events he freaks out, knowing only something HUGE happens, the details of which are lost to history but not its impact. Also meanwhile, Lobo and Borb arrive at Garv and Strata’s wedding…we eventually learn that Lobo expects a great party–the reception–so he’s none too pleased to have to stand quietly by for something mushy. Plotlines unfold, somewhat converge, and ultimately Dox loses LEGION–usurped by his son. And things will never be the same.

Unlike, say, Valor #23 that appears to be “just” another issue but ends that series, this is an extra-sized issue, basically double-sized…but not quite twice the price. In an age of standard DC comics being $1.50 with some titles at $1.95…this issue was “only” $2.50 with 40-some pages. And the extra pages do service to the story–allowing it to be longer, to involve more events, wrap some stuff up and set other things up for going forward, without requiring an extra issue. It’s like the two-hour series finale of a show that’s usually only got an hour.

While I’m aware OF many of these characters, I’m not all that familiar with them. I remember being loosely aware of this title, though it was well into its run before I learned of it…but it was that awareness that led to me particularly jumping into REBELS–that was a fresh start, a jumping-on point, a continuation of something with a bit of history, but that I could get in on from #1 (or #0, as the case was).

While undoubtedly cheesy by contemporary standards, the story does quite well, letting events unfold, characters move around, the status quo shifts…but there’s ALSO enough context for me to FIGURE OUT what’s going on even not having read any of the issues immediately prior. I was not–am not–all that impressed with the art, though characters that ought to be familiar are, and I was able to follow what was going on without having much problem.

The visuals just aren’t all that appealing to me…though perhaps a part of that is that this is [1.] not a typical superhero book and [2.] these characters are largely unfamiliar to me. I realize as well that visually, this puts me in mind of pre-Annihilation stuff with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

The issue is a solid enough read, but only tangentially tied to Zero Hour. Dox seeing the body from years before is presumably a result OF the Time-stuff going on; beyond that, this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Zero Hour nor any expansion/development of the core story. If you’re reading LEGION stuff or REBELS, or trying to read every tie in (as I am) this would be worthwhile; otherwise, nothing much here for a random/casual reader.

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