The Weekly Round-Up #139 With Mind MGMT, iZombie, Mind The Gap, Planet Of The Apes & More

This feels like a week of endings – mini-series (Mondo), regular series (Rasl, iZombie), story arcs (Thief of Thieves), a universe (Godland), a legal partnership (in Daredevil), and a marriage (T’Charoro?  Orochalla?  Did we ever get a stupid Hollywood-style abbreviation for that?).

Best Comic of the Week:

Mind MGMT #3

by Matt Kindt

I love the fact that it’s not until the end of this third issue that the words ‘Mind MGMT’ are even mentioned in the main story.  Since this series began, we have been following Meru, a True Crime writer who has been trying to track down Henry Lyme, a mysterious figure who may have been responsible for an entire airplane full of people contracting total amnesia at the same time.

Meru has been chased by Immortals – unkillable agents of some sort of organization (Mind MGMT?) and aided by a CIA agent, a crazy woman who writes long rambling prose on a typewriter in Zanzibar, and now a talking dolphin (okay, a spelling dolphin) and an old Chinese man who tells her a legend.

There is definitely a sense of a trail of breadcumbs being left for Meru, a fact that is confirmed by the narrator (who is also revealed this month).

Kindt is taking his time getting this series up and under way, and that is one of the things that I love about it most.  All of the information we have about Mind MGMT so far has come from the short strips on the inside cover (called ‘The Second Floor’) and the case files that make up the last two pages of each issue.  What is slowly emerging is an organization that has influenced advertising and popular media for almost a century, whose goals are unknown to us.

Is Meru going to expose and write about the group?  Are they recruiting her?  I’m not too sure what’s going to happen, but I do know that I like the way Kindt is writing this, and I love his art.  With its washed-out colour scheme and yellowed paper, it is like nothing else on the stands right now.

Other Notable Comics:

iZombie #28

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

The days of Vertigo being able to sustain long-running series (that aren’t Fables or starring vampires) seem to be long-gone.  iZombie had all of the right elements to be a successful and long-running Vertigo series, but it was not to be.  I think people just don’t like good comics the way they used to.

I am pleased that Roberson was given enough time to finish off this story in a satisfying way.  I’m sure, given more time, the story would have been a little more fleshed out – for example, we never learned much of the connection between Dixie the diner owner and Dixie Mason, the Barbie-like doll that we often saw in the comic.

Still, Roberson did what he could, having Gwen face down the elder god Xitulu, and figure out a way to stop it that didn’t involve having to sacrifice everyone she loves, likes, and has met a few times.  There are some big cosmic moments in this comic, but it remains grounded in the strong character work that made this series flow so well.

iZombie is not the most memorable series that Vertigo has ever published, but it did have a lot going for it – a cool, hipsterish approach to the undead, complete with an explanation that made sense (in a comic book way, of course), likeable characters, and a lot of wonderful art by Michael Allred.  I know this is the last time we will see a Chris Roberson comic published by DC, which is really their loss.  He’s someone whose career I’m going to be following for quite some time, I imagine.

Mind the Gap #3

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback

The thought of building a series around a woman in a coma sounds a little boring, doesn’t it?  Yet, Mind The Gap is anything but, as Jim McCann continues to weave a strange web of deceit and conspiracy around Elle as she lies in her hospital bed, doing everything she can to contact the world outside of her mind.

This issue doesn’t build as much on the mysteries of the last two, and instead introduces other new story elements, such as the house that Elle retreats to in The Garden, the shared mindspace of other coma victims, and the Memory Wall, upon which she is able to project some of the shards of her shattered mind.

As this series progresses, I find that I want to see much more of Dr. Geller than I do any other character, but that’s mostly because she has been the most proactive, in trying to treat Elle, and in trying to figure out what is going on with her colleague, Dr. Hammond, who seems to be working his own agenda here.

The story is smooth, as is Rodin Esquejo’s art.  I’m also really liking the variant covers to this series (Esquejo’s covers look too much like issues of Morning Glories), especially Skottie Young’s contribution this month.

Mondo #3

by Ted McKeever

If there’s one thing in comics that you can always count on, it’s that Ted McKeever’s work, post-Metropol, just keeps getting stranger and more obtuse.

This issue finishes the three-part Mondo series with all the various characters and plot elements coming together at Venice Beach.  A gigantic squid is threatening the Beach, and Catfish, our irradiated Hulked-out main character, shows up to fight it.  As does the mayor.  The girl on roller-skates rolls by too, and the crashing satellite also puts in an appearance.  So do three naked Teletubby-like children, who are apparently monks who protect the giant squid.

I really don’t know what McKeever was trying to say with this series.  His recent META 4 at least seemed structured around some kind of internal logic, but this series has read as one long, strange acid trip of a story, and I think in the end, I’m a little bored of it.

On the positive side, McKeever draws like no one else in the business.  His completely unique style works well for this type of story, but it also makes me think that he just wanted to write a story about a ‘roided up freak, a giant squid, and a hot girl, and this is what he came up with.

The back cover advertises the upcoming McKeever series Blacktop Apocalypse as ‘a transcendental road-trip through the zombie wasteland’.  Even though I’m a little tired of this type of thing, I predict I’ll end up buying this as well.  I just hope it’s a little more focused.

Planet of the Apes Annual #1

Written by Darryl Gregory, Corinna Bechko, Jeff Parker, and Gabriel Hardman
Art by Carlos Magno, John Lucas, Benjamin Dewey, and Gabriel Hardman

Last week Darryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s Planet of the Apes series ended without resolving everything in the story, but they are already revisiting those characters in this Annual, which has a prequel to their epic.  In this story, Sully, the eventual Mayor of the humans, and Alaya, the future Voice of the ape city of Mak, are still young girls and sisters, each adopted by the Lawgiver.  In a story reminiscent of the school desegregations that happened during the Civil Rights Movement in the States, Sully attends her first day of school with apes.  This story nicely underscores why Gegory’s series has been so good – he finds parallels between human history and current events and how those same stories would play out in a PotA society.

The second story is by Corinna Bechko (co-writer of the upcoming Cataclysm series) and John Lucas.  It’s a cute take on the standard ‘boy and his dog’ story.  Lucas’s art reminds me a little of Mike Ploog’s.

Jeff Parker is the only writer here new to the Apes universe, and he turns in a cool little story about life on the fringes of Ape civilization, where an outpost has developed its own rules and forms of entertainment.  Cool stuff, with terrific art by Benjamin Dewey, an artist I’m not familiar with.

To close off the comic, Gabriel Hardman gives us a prequel to his and Bechko’s ‘Betrayal’ and ‘Exile’ series, featuring the young gorilla soldier Aleron, who would eventually become a celebrated general and lawyer, before becoming an exile.  This story shows us how Aleron lost his eye, and the beginning of his disenchantment with the way Ape society was run.  It’s nice to see Hardman drawing his own stories again.

If you have been on the fence about Boom’s Planet of the Apes stuff, I suggest you use this as a sampler to see what the two main series have been like.  You won’t be disappointed.

Rasl #15

by Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith’s second creator-owned series (actually, aside from Bone and that Captain Marvel book he did, has he done anything else?) comes to its end with this issue, which explains almost everything.

Basically, this series fits into the growing comics sub-genre of ‘Tesla’.  If you are willing to accept that ‘Kirby’ is a genre now (and there is plenty of examples of this), I think it’s time to give over a corner of the market to books influenced or inspired by the great inventor Nikolas Tesla.  This entire series ended up being about Tesla’s ideas and his secret notebooks.

Rasl, our art thief, confronts Sal, the lizard-faced guy who has been chasing him across dimensions since this series started.  After that, we find out who has really been pulling the strings from the beginning, as there is a final showdown over the journals and the use of the St. George’s Array, a powerful energy weapon that has unfortunate consequences on other realities.

This was a smart series, with some great art, but I feel like it dragged a little too much in the middle.  Too many issues felt similar to previous ones, and I had a hard time drumming up any great love for the characters.  As well, there were a few too many mysteries, including one that doesn’t really get resolved (that of the little girl that looks like she stepped out of a Munch painting).

In the final analysis, this was a decent series, but it is in no way going to eclipse Bone as Smith’s greatest work.  I do admire him for trying something so outside of what was expected from him, and will check out his next project, unless it’s specifically designed for children.

Sweet Tooth #36

by Jeff Lemire

The last arc of this series, ‘Wild Game’ begins with this issue, and in his usual fashion, Jeff Lemire starts off by doing something unconventional.  The comic opens with Gus, the main character, dreaming about many of the key events that have happened in this comic so far, before we see some foreshadowing as to how the series will end.  Lemire coloured these pages himself (Jose Villarrubia colours the rest of the comic), in garishly bright watercolours, giving everything that surreal dream-like quality that is so hard to achieve.

Once Gus wakes up, we find that he and his friends have made it to Alaska, where they hope to find the secrets of Gus’s birth, and find the now-deranged Dr. Singh, who has figured out everything that this series is based on – the creatures in the tombs under the ice, the plague, and where Gus really came from.

It doesn’t look like the group is going to have long to puzzle through all this new information though, as Abbot, the militia captain who has been hunting them is also on his way to Alaska.  With three issues remaining, it’s a little easy to predict how things are going to go (especially with Lemire dropping hints at the beginning of the book), but I still look forward to following this book through to its conclusion.

Thief of Thieves #7

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

I always love that moment in a good heist movie where the perpetrators sit down and explain what all went on off-screen, to show how the audience, like the police, were chasing the wrong thing, or were seeing events from the wrong angle.  Kirkman and Spencer pull off that same moment in this issue, as Redmond explains to his assistant the secrets behind his supposed ‘snitching’ out of his peers.

This is a masterful issue, showing Redmond to be as smart as we’ve been told he is since the series began, and showing the FBI Agent who has become obsessed with him as the victim of her own hubris.  Everything here is very nicely balanced, and Shawn Martinbrough does a great job of tying it all together visually.

I know that with the next issue, James Asmus is coming on board as the writer, and continuing with a new story arc.  I’m of mixed feelings about that – this issue ends so well, that I kind of feel like this would be the right place to finish the series.  I’m definitely on board to keep buying the book, but I worry that, like too many comics series, sometimes people don’t know when to just finish their story and move on (like Fables).  I would hate to see this series end up in the same predicament.

Quick Takes:

Animal Man #12 I’ve mentioned more than a few times how for me, the high-point of Animal Man’s career, beyond even the Grant Morrison days, was when Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh were doing the book at Vertigo.  One of my favourite characters during that run was Mary, Ellen Baker’s mother.  This issue opens with a confrontation between her and Buddy Baker that shows me that Jeff Lemire really understands that character, and the importance of family to this title.  In a lot of ways, I can’t wait for all this Rotworld stuff to finish, so we can see where Lemire goes next with the only family in the DC Universe to feel real.  The rest of the issue is great too – Buddy, Maxine, and Ellen travel into the swamp to meet up with Swamp Thing, and then the two heroes travel to the realm of the Rot.  There are some great moments in this comic, and Lemire and Scott Snyder work well together, bringing potential new readers up to date (this is a great jumping-on point, if you are curious about this book), and advancing the story.  Of course, I’m very thankful that Pugh is drawing this title again; it looks great.

Avengers Academy #34 – While this is not tied-in to Avengers Vs. X-Men, this issue does make plenty of reference to that event, most notably when Hazmat, on the first page, says, “…this Avengers vs. X-Men crap just keeps dragging on.”  Brilliant.  We haven’t seen any announcements about this yet, but I’m going to predict that this title is going to be ending after this arc.  It really feels like Christos Gage is wrapping up long-running storylines, bringing back Veil, Jocasta, and that Jeremy Briggs guy, who ‘cures’ Hazmat and Mettle of their powers, and then goes on to prove that he actually is the villain that everyone always thought he was.  This is a good issue, if a little over-wrought in places.  Tom Grummett has returned to the art, which is a little disappointing.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #9 – When this series started, it was designed in such a way as to show that the Avengers were more or less in the wrong, being insensitive to the mutant condition, and bullying a minority group to get their way like they were a bunch of Republicans.  Now, though, we are given more and more evidence that the Phoenix Force is making the remaining powered-up mutants crazy, so the Avengers are heroes again.  There’s nothing like shifting characterizations to make a big summer ‘Event’ more confusing than it needs to be, right?  Still, this issue has some nice moments, specifically around Spider-Man stepping up into the Avengers role, and seeing some of the X-Men defect to the Avengers’ side.  There were also some bizarre moments, including the dissolution of the Black Panther and Storm’s marriage (without Mephisto, but still feeling editorially-mandated), and a scene that shows Professor X slicing up demons with psi-knives, something that even Psylocke, the inventor of the psi-knife, can’t do.  There’s also a very out-of-place scene that shows Emma Frost exacting revenge on a ‘mutant killer’ somewhere on the Earth when one page before, she was seen meditating in a desert in Ethiopia.  Ah, comics by committee…

Daredevil #16 – Mark Waid uses this issue to give us a bit of a preview of what his Avengers Assemble is likely to be like, as most of the issue stars Hank Pym, Tony Stark, and Dr. Strange more than it does Daredevil.  After being cured of the Latverian nanobots that have been messing with his senses, Matt returns to the office, where Foggy reveals what was in his desk before giving him the boot.  It’s a good issue, but it sounds like it’s time for Matt to get all depressed and mopey again.  Except that the next issue is being drawn by Michael Allred, who doesn’t really do depressed…

Defenders #9 – This series continues to defy simple plotting, as the team (minus Namor, despite him being on the cover) find themselves in some alternate 1960s, trying to get in touch with Nick Fury, who is in turn battling Hydra, as he always does.  It’s a fun issue, with a terrific double-page spread by Jamie McKelvie, but I don’t really know what’s going on, nor what Matt Fraction is trying to do with the book.  Is this series going to survive Marvel Now!?  I kind of doubt it…

Dial H #4 – Even more is explained in this issue, as we get an understanding of who the Squid guy and the Abyss are, and Manteau’s secret is revealed.  China Mieville is doing some very cool things with this comic – it’s very non-traditional to be considered part of the New 52 continuity, and this month, has contributed a character in Rescue Jack that can be easily cosplayed by many, many comics fans.

Earth 2 #4 – I was starting to get irritated with this book last month, but this issue, which has most of the characters we’ve been introduced to so far (no sign of Mr. Terrific though) coming together to fight Grundy in Washington.  The Atom makes a rather large debut, and we get a little more information on Hawkgirl.  The pace is nice and quick, and the interactions between the characters are handled well.  I’m not sure I’m interested in next month’s zero issue flashback, but I am curious to see where this book goes next.

Godland #36 – This book is eleven months late, and the last issue came out in December, so I think I can be forgiven for not really remembering, or caring, about what was going on in this over-sized penultimate issue that had Adam Archer face R@d-Ur Rezz in final conflict.  There is tons of cosmic mumbo-jumbo, and a few funny lines, but I feel like all the steam went out of this series a ways back, and I’m only just buying it still to finish off the collection (and because I pre-ordered the stuff a year ago).  Still, Tom Scioli really delivers with some incredible images in this issue.  I wonder if this series will end before the last issue of Butcher Baker is published…

Hawkeye #1 – I really had no idea what to expect from this book.  It’s been proven time and again that Hawkeye can’t hold his own book for very long in today’s market, but with two-thirds of the creative team that gave us Immortal Iron Fist present, I figure anything would deserve a chance.  The story here is downright strange – Clint spends months recovering from injuries, only to discover that the tenants in the building he sometimes lives in are being pushed out by a greedy Russian mafioso landlord.  Clint decides to do something about it, but because of his actions a dog gets hurt, and that makes him sad.  Seriously.  David Aja’s art is brilliant, but Matt Fraction should have to give some portion of his pay on this comc to charity every time a character uses the word ‘bro’.  He’d be broke.  I’m with this book as long as Aja is, but I’m hoping it picks up fast.

Invincible Iron Man #522 – Even though this book is coming out way too often (doesn’t Salvador Larroca deserve a rest?), the quality has stayed pretty consistent.  We finally figure out what Mandarin is up to with his giant robot things, as Tony continues to work with him and fixes Ezekiel Stane.  Rhodey, meanwhile, gets involved in a big fight with some of Mandarin’s people and the Detroit Steel bunch, and needs to be rescued by Rescue (remember when she was supposed to be defense-only?).  As much as I’m enjoying this, I’m very excited to learn that Kieron Gillen is going to be taking over Iron Man after Matt Fraction leaves.  It’s too bad he’s working with Greg Land, but I still expect some more good things to come from this title.

Swamp Thing #12 – Continuing from this week’s Animal Man, Buddy and Alec enter the Rot, where they find that Anton Arcane had already made plans for them, which will lead to the next story arcs, which will split the two heroes again.  Lemire and Snyder have done a great job of constructing this story, and telling it in a unique way.  This is a good issue (perhaps not as strong as the Animal Man one, but with a lot more plot to get through), and Marco Rudy draws the whole issue, so that is good.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #13 – I really am blown away by the amount of emotion that Brian Michael Bendis is able to pack into any given issue of this book, but this issue stands out in terms of its excellent writing.  Miles is dealing with the death of his uncle, The Prowler last issue, and is wrestling with his amount of responsibility in that.  The newspapers and cops think that he killed him, and he’s not too sure himself what happened.  There is a scene where Miles’s father comes to tell him that his uncle is dead, and it is written and drawn perfectly.  Also, a few other Ulimate Universe luminaries decide it’s time for them to meet Miles, and it’s hard to tell how that is going to work out.  Oh, and the issue has Ultimate Batroc in it!  Bendis and David Marquez are doing the work of their careers on this book, and it amazes me, because I’m starting to hate Bendis on every other title.

X-Factor #241 – Things feel much more on track as Peter David starts a new arc, ‘Breaking Points’, which looks to be about tearing the team apart and stuff.  The other-dimensional bad guys that Madrox fought a few months ago make their play, while the team bickers and makes fun of Havok’s costume.  It’s a fun issue.

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:

Action Comics #12

Avenging Spider-Man #10

Fury Max #5

X-Men #33

Bargain Comics:

Blue Beetle #7-10 – Tony Bedard has firmly moved this series into new territory, as he has Jaime run away to New York to avoid the problems that the Scarab has caused his family.  There are run-ins with lame super-villains, some of the New Guardians, and Director Bones and his people.  Through all of it, Jaime remains a thoroughly likeable character.  I wonder if it’s time to start picking up new issues of this comic…

New Avengers #27 – Bendis finishes off his K’un Lun Phoenix retcon with this issue (which is a little hard to follow), and then gives us a couple funny moments where Spider-Man is left in charge of training Hope, despite his having no idea how to do that.  I think it’s interesting that Kieron Gillen always wrote Hope as a character driven by her sense of her own destiny, but Bendis makes her a jokey, difficult teenager.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #9-12 – Having been impressed with Brian Wood’s debut on this title, I figured it made sense to catch up on the book and the end of Nick Spencer’s run.  The problem with Spencer’s work on this title is that it’s too all over the place.  Of these four issues, three of them are set in Camp Angel, showing as Storm ends up leading a revolt on the human forces that have imprisoned all mutants, only to have her plans thwarted by the rather unexplained appearance of the Nimrod Sentinels.  There are about three pages in all those issues given over to Kitty Pryde.  All of the last issue is about Havok, who is in a mental institute until he is rescued by a mutant whose identity isn’t shown until the last page, when a new threat is also introduced.  Spencer tried to do too much with this book, and to tell his stories in a highly decompressed way.  Those two things do not go well together, and the title suffered for it.

Wolverine #309 – This is a very attractive comic, as Rafael Albuquerque and Jason Latour trade art duties on a done-in-one extra-sized issue that is basically a sequel to the old Havok/Wolverine Meltdown series from the 1980s, which was painted by Kent Williams and Jon J. Muth.  This issue also uses the character Elixir, who hasn’t been seen since Rick Remender relaunched X-Force.  I enjoyed the comic (written by Ivan Brandon) and especially the art, although this quickly fell into the usual traps of the Wolverine one-shot.

X-Club #3 – So this week we learned that Si Spurrier is going to be writing one of the X-titles as part of the Marvel Now! initiative, and based on his work on this series, that should be fun, so long as he gets to use Dr. Nemesis.  This is a funny comic, but as it’s been a while since I read the first two issues, I no longer remember what’s going on.

The Week in Manga:

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 6

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

I think this is the strangest volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service that I’ve read so far.  A usual volume has four to six chapters, which are usually self-contained stories, but occasionally a story will take up two or three chapters.  This volume has six chapters, and tells a total of three stories, one of which doesn’t feature any of the regular characters in this comic.

The first story has the group, which carries out the last wishes of the recently deceased, and takes their corpses where they want to go, return to their roots, in Japan’s famous Aokigahara Forest, where many people go to commit suicide.  The problem is, there aren’t many corpses to be found, as the local postal office has begun branching out into the Kurosagi’s territory, by offering their own corpse delivery service.

In the next story, a woman’s body is discovered in an apartment.  When the Kurosagi group show up to offer their services, they discover that a new rival, the Shirosagi Corpse Cleaning Service has beaten them to the scene.  There’s something odd about these Shirosagi people though, as we learn when another body is found in the attic to the apartment (found only after Numata, the KCDS’s dowser, moves into the apartment for its cheap rent).  This leads to a long story which is not fully resolved in this volume, a first for this series.

After that, there are two chapters of a gaiden story.  This is translated as a ‘side story’, something peculiar to Japanese comics.  This one is set in the past, around the beginning of the 20th century, and involves a killer murdering women in Tokyo.  It is especially notable for two reasons – it brings the Jack the Ripper myth to Japan, and it features a young boy with some strange abilities who has facial scars matching those of the ghost that is always protecting Karatsu.  It’s a good story, but it only makes me more curious to find out what the connection between this child and Karatsu is.

This book is always a good read, and that has not changed with this volume.  I love the way that Otsuka blends humour into his horror, and continue to appreciate the editor’s notes in the back, which cover most of the cultural references that don’t otherwise translate into English.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Outlaw Territory Volume 2

Edited by Michael Woods

Reading through this anthology of western comics, I started to wonder if such a thing could have ever existed were it not for the HBO show Deadwood, which treated cursing as Shakespearean oration, but also made it okay to portray the Old West in terms of gender, race and class.

Anyway, as with any anthology of this size (almost 250 pages), there is a lot of variety when it comes to quality in this book.  Some of the better pieces belonged to Rich Johnston and Tom Fowler, who started the book off on an amusing note; Michael Woods and Rafael Albuquerque; Jeremy Barlow and Dustin Weaver (whose art is incredible, and very European); A. Freeman, M. Bernardin, and D. Lafrance; John Whalen and Werther Dell’Edera; Josh Wagner and Jose Jaro (whose art I though belonged to Skullkicker’s Edwin Huang at first, it’s so similar); Robert Kirkman and Shaun O’Neil; Joshua Hale Fialkov and Jeff Lemire (that’s an interesting creative team); Christian Beranek and Vivian Lee (exploring the contributions of Chinese workers to the railroads); Francesco Francavilla (probably the prettiest story in this book); Moritat (with what I assume is a tribute to Moebius’s Lt. Blueberry comics, as the protagonist’s name is J. Giraud); and Joshua Dysart and Paul Azaceta.

One reason why I enjoy these types of books is because they invariably expose me to an artist whose work I’ve never seen before.  There are a few people I’d like to see more from, including Rick Lacy, Jorge Coelho, Connor Willumsen (who has a bit of a Paul Pope thing going on), and Diego Tripoli.

In all, this is a successful anthology.

Book of the Week:

Dany Laferrière – I Am a Japanese Writer  This is a bizarre little novel that has the writer, a Haitian who has come to live in Montreal, deciding to name his next book ‘I Am A Japanese Writer’, and then proceed to figure out just what that means.  This declaration of Japanese-ness sets off a small cultural revolution in Japan, but the narrator just spends his days reading 17th Century Japanese poetry and bothering his landlord.  This is not as personal a book as Laferrière’s other novels, but I found that I enjoyed it all the same.

Album of the Week:

Dr. No’s Kali Tornado Funk – As it turns out, Oh No had a number of unused beats from his Ohnomite project, and decided to turn them over to his instrumentalist alter ego Dr. No for full exploitation.  This is a much better album than Ohnomite – Oh No’s beats are great, and shouldn’t be sullied with the list of tired and uninspired rappers he insists on working with.

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