Best Shots Comics Reviews: GREEN TEAM, UNCANNY X-MEN, More

Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Miss us during the Memorial Day weekend? Best Shots missed you, too, as we've put together a ton of reviews for your reading enjoyment! And what's more, the Best Shots family has grown, as Girls Gone Geek's Lindsey Morris joins the team! So let's kick off today's column with the new kids of The New 52, as Vanessa Gabriel takes a look at The Green Team...

The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires #1
Written by Art Baltazar and Franco
Art by Ig Guara, J.P. Mayer and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What does every teenager want to do?

They want to fit in. They want to find their tribe. The Green Team is that venture into acceptance by way of entrepreneurship and very deep pockets. It's wish-fulfillment with a hash tag.

Poxpo, as is affectionately referred to by its teen trillionaire benefactor, Commodore Murphy, is a "pop-up" expo where tech gurus come to a clandestine location to present their latest, greatest and not necessarily legal inventions with the hopes of being funded. This is where we meet our "team" … and the team meets each other.

Within the first few pages, Art Baltazar and Franco begin character building and motivation defining through peppy dialogue. The friendly Lucia Lynn Houston strikes up an impetuous conversation with the wide-eyed, young prince, Mohammad Qahtanii. His awe of the people and inventions around him reveal his inner fanboy despite being royalty. It is immediately endearing and evident that it is these kinds of character moments, individual and combined, that will drive the book. The plot will be the tool to explore who they are, a smart way to use such an easy to criticize premise as super-powered rich kids.

While character-focus draws you in, a feeling of celebration animates the backdrop. At a time where a lack of understanding towards our Millennials permeates our technologically frustrated boomer media, the premise of this first issue is a celebration of young, albeit privileged, minds.

Here's the thing, you don't dislike them because of their privilege because they don't take it for granted. Their brilliance is driven by their own motivation to prove themselves in their own way. There is an innocent idealism to the characters that is nostalgic and charming without eliciting the frustration that comes from the cynicism of living a bit longer. These are good kids that have intention and innovation on their minds. It is cheerful and relevant.

Maybe even more compelling than the punchy exchange of ideas are Ig Guara's character designs. From Cecilia Sunbeam's A-line haircut to Mohammed's stiff posture to L.L.'s turquoise jewelry and cowboy boots, it is these small touches that authenticate the characters.

Apart from a few "distance" panels that lack detail, Guara's overall pencils are just fantastic. Again, it is the character moments that shine. Guara employs an excellent range of emotion — wonder, awkwardness, anger, surprise, fear — it's all here and executed honestly. Wil Quintana's colors are clean and well-timed. With the backdrop of a grey warehouse — LL's blue eyes and Commodore's Lantern green super-suit are that much more energetic.

When considering the concept of extreme privilege — it's not a far reach from super-power to super-paid. Many of our long-loved friends in tights are loaded. The Green Team just happens to be kids. Few of us can even imagine what being a trillionaire would be like, but try to imagine it as a teenager. It is the time in life when the entire world is an open book and you think you know everything. When you have so much money that money doesn't matter — what are your choices made of then?

With good intentions at the helm, Baltazar and Franco's signature purity gives The Green Team #1 a fresh start, and I think the answer to that question will be inspiring.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny X-Men #6
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Frazer Irving
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Decompression is Hell. And that's an appropriate metaphor, considering that the Uncanny X-Men are finding themselves in Limbo, as their resident sorceress Magik is under attack by the dread Dormammu. Yet six issues in, this sophomore arc definitely slumps, as even Frazer Irving's maniacal artwork can't justify this glacial read.

Part of the problem of this sophomore arc is the fact that this team still feels a little too unformed for such a curveball of a storyline. Brian Michael Bendis is still bringing together his characters, but aside from Cyclops, Emma Frost and Magneto struggling to control their powers, we still don't really know what makes the Uncanny X-Men tick. Thus, throwing them in such an alien environment as Limbo winds up feeling like Bendis wanting to explore a whole new world without adequately setting it up. 

To make matters worse, the pacing of this story is extremely suspect — considering the cliffhanger of last issue was the X-Men being shunted into another dimension, you would think that they would start fighting before the second-to-last page of the book, but instead Bendis treats us to page after page after page of Magik and Dormammu shouting at one another, with the actual stars of the book only occasionally interjecting, as if to remind us that they too are still present.

Which is a shame, because it makes sense that Frazer Irving would draw a story like this. His wild and garish colors and eerie lines are perfect for a book about a hellish landscape like Limbo, and his portrayal of the distended and demonic Magik is definitely a highlight. That said, because he takes it to 11 with all of the horror-infused sequences, Bendis's more human subplots — which do progress the story somewhat, even if they also feel like filler — wind up feeling a little overwrought in terms of tone. It might be unnerving to see a mutant accidentally control a car, for example, but it shouldn't be borderline scary for the audience.

What's so weird about this arc is that it really could have worked out nicely for Bendis and company had they simply waited — it's not a foreign concept to have an artist work well ahead of schedule and simply holding the pages until they're ready. (Case in point: Marvel's current event Age of Ultron.) So why was Bendis so impatient to bring the team into a foreign environment when he's barely explored the original central concept? Ultimately, this comic moves far too slowly to really justify the read — unless Bendis provides a game-changer next month, this sophomore arc is definitely a slump.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #20
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gene Ha, Andres Guinaldo, Joe Prada, Rob Hunter, Art Lyons and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen

Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In the latest issue of Justice League, writer Geoff Johns gives his a-list stars a rest and instead puts in the c-team as they throw down with longtime JL enemy, Despero. While Despero is really underused in the issue, the real purpose of the story is to lay the foundation for the upcoming “Trinity War” and the seeds Johns plants here are exciting glimpses into the dark and stormy future of the Justice League.

Longtime DC readers know Despero is a powerful villain — some say one of the most powerful villains the League has ever faced — but Johns holds back on some of Despero’s other abilities and instead highlights his physical brutality. Unfortunately, this also keeps Despero from ever becoming the threat he used to be and he’s dispatched without much fanfare. Johns does succeed in developing Element Girl as an interesting character, but his best character development is with the heroes we already know, like Superman and Batman.

That being said, Johns work around the new Atom, Rhonda Pineda, goes far in getting readers to see her importance in the larger scheme. Clearly, Johns has plans for Rhonda, and by the end of the issue, even I was convinced that she is one of the most important members of the Justice League.

The art hurts the comic the most. The beginning of the book is solid. The characters look sharp and polished, and the lush inking makes for some impressive imagery. But because the comic is loaded with so much artistic talent, the style changes several times throughout. This lack of visual consistency is distracting, and the weakest styling occurs when Johns attempts to drop a big mystery. However, due to the art, the moment falls flat.

While the story fell flat with its villain, it serves its purpose in thickening its mystery while leading towards the upcoming “Trinity War.” Johns’ planning is starting to come full circle and the interconnectedness between all Justice League books is a real payoff for constant readers. I like the mysteries this story raises and I’m excited to see how they play out in “Trinity War.” Despite the inconsistencies in the art, Justice League #20 is a pretty solid read.

Akaneiro #1
Written by Justin Aclin
Art by Vasilis Lolos and Michael Atiyeh
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Released earlier this year as a browser-based game from Spicy Horse Studio, Akaneiro has made it's way to the shelves this week with the help of Dark Horse Comics. Writer Justin Aclin (Star Wars: Clone Wars) and artist Vasilis Lolos (Last Call) come together to tackle this re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood set in a feudal Japanese society.

The villages of Yomi Island are overrun with yokai demons and other creatures of folklore and mythology, with only the Order of Akane to stand between them. These "red hunters" are not appreciated by the Ainu people that also dwell on the island, believing that the demons that plague them are in fact Gods. The story begins in earnest after a yokai is taken down by the red hunters in a village, and a young Ainu girl named Kani offers to join them as a liaison in order to maintain the tenuous peace between their peoples. What follows are the chronicles of her journey as she begins the grueling task of becoming a red hunter.

While the premise might seem played-out to some, Aclin delivers a captivating script deftly tuned to the setting of this comic. The narration by Kani throughout the book is strong, and the dialogue lacks for little. There are plentiful action sequences that blend seamlessly into the rest of the story, fading quietly into the background from whence they came. By the end of the issue the reader is well invested in the main character and her fate, even more so thanks to the foreboding final page.

As for the appropriation of Little Red Riding hood, the comic does this in fairly obvious ways from the outside looking in. The red cloak is a clear reference, as well as the ominous, wolf-like apparitions and elderly woman of a questionable nature. But fear not, dear reader, it isn't a theme that persists in the mind while reading. There is far too much going on for much thought to be given to it, at least for the moment.

The writing might be pitch-perfect for the setting, but it's the art that really steals the show in this book. Straight out the gate from the opening page, for some even the cover, there is nothing but a sea of vibrant colors and excellent designs. The huge panels go a long way in making the colors shine and the action sequences on point. The striking variation in linework also does a great deal to add to the momentum of the story.

Lolos's characters strike that great balance between Japanese and European influence, fitting easily into the story while still paying homage their gaming origins. His demons are expertly rendered; all bristly hair, multiple eyes, and savage teeth. The work here is visibly tighter and cleaner than his usual, more brushy work, and it works wonderfully in the context of the book.

Colorist Michael Atiyeh really deserves credit for making Lolos's characters come to life and the backgrounds pop. His bright palette was an ideal accompaniment to the lifework, instilling even deeper that RPG-gaming vibe the book manages to carry.

Akaneiro is a great first issue for this female-driven series, flaunting both beautiful artwork and solid storytelling. I'm not sure how it stacks up against the game, but there is no doubt that is a lot to appreciate here. My only concern is that, as a three-issue miniseries, will it be able to keep up with the high-bar now set for the rest of the series? The possibilities for the story seem far too vast for a mere three-issue run.

Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #20
Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Carlos M. Managual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Having avoided most of The New 52, it's been hard to say when exactly is a good jumping-on point for getting into a new series. I was hesitant to get into a new Flash book, as I'm not really versed in the character's lore aside from origin and such. Flash #20 was a great stepping stone for wanting to jump into the title and actually care about what's been happening without it overwhelming me with too much exposition. 

Barry has moved on from Iris and his life with now flame Patty is starting to take off. Recent arcs are explained and gives you an idea of what's been going on. You meet a portion of the cast and the pacing moves along well enough. What starts as an investigation of a friends' murder, leads to a chase sequence in a subway tunnel and hints at the larger picture being painted with a new Reverse Flash being teased. You also love the fact that here Barry is brought to his elements of legitimate crime solving and forensics and the issue as a whole feels more like a whodunit than a threat at a global scale. Sometime crime isn't about ice rays and giant gorillas, but just solving a puzzle, one piece at a time. 

Both Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's talents are just in top form here. Manapul's style has come a long way since his Top Cow days and here, he's definitely the best artist for the Flash right now. Even the quieter moments of Barry with Patty at the beginning still tell a story beautifully, and when the action kicks up, the energy the Flash is known for goes into high gear with some great pages loaded with kinetic energy and shows the amount of speed Flash actually has. Barry's narration throughout the event is just as sharp, too, demonstrating his scientific mind and what needs to be done to stop a getaway train with minimal damage. While creating a small wind tunnel sounds pretty mundane, yet the way Manapul and Buccellato construct it is far from that. 

Buccellato's palette looks great on top of Manapul's inkwashed pages giving another layer of color and dimension from anything to skin tone to the Flash's costume to magnificent cityscapes. It all looks just so energetic and colorful, going with the theme of Barry's life somewhat getting back on track, but we all know his life is anything but slow and boring. Flash #20 was a great way to transition into this DC staple's world of super-science and mystery-solving. The creative team on this is one of the sharpest I've seen on any of the New 52 titles, and I hope things don't slow down from here. 

Credit: Zenescope

Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Realm Knights #1
Written by Pat Shand
Art by Noah Salonga, Wagner Souza and Jeff Blake
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by Zenescope Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

This week's Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Realm Knights one-shot falls in line between the events of Unleashed #1 and #2, paving the way for a miniseries all it's own later this fall. As a stand alone issue, this comic has problems in the foundation due to insufficient set-up and background on the characters that even it's staggering 45 pages could not remedy.

The plot goes something like this: There are some super-powered baddies known as "falsebloods" holding hostages in exchange for money and a plane. The government has no one to turn to but the oft-reviled "highborns," so they hastily assemble every one of these super-beings within their reach. They are given a strategy and unleashed on the enemy, followed by nearly twenty pages of battling and a lukewarm cliffhanger of an ending.

Fan service comes to mind immediately when reading through this book. The aforementioned twenty pages of what should be an epic battle boil down to little more than a few magic blasts and sword parries. The characters are running and jumping far more than they are engaging each other, and there are almost no blows struck. These scenes seem to act more like a vehicle to show off the new costumes the characters are sporting more than anything else. In addition to the skimpy outfits and exhaustive battle scenes, there are also awkwardly placed references to things like Dungeons & Dragons and Johnny Depp to please the reader.

For the first third of this comic I was not able to discern a clear plot line. The pieces finally came together soon after that, following a number of scene changes and clichés. Having a "Mr. Cross" standing in a cemetery in front of three tombstones shaped like crosses was not the subtlest of moves. The biggest problem with the script, however, is that there are just too many characters. None are given the face time nor the dialogue for a reader to become invested in them, so they remain, at the end of the comic, completely expendable.

The art featured in the comic is par for the course for many Zenescope books, though perhaps less fetishistic than the cover leads one to believe. Human anatomy and proportions have historically not been given high priority in many comics on the stands today, and it holds true here. I don't want this to devolve into a panel-by-panel analysis, but suffice it to say that boobs are a main character in this story. The fact that some of the costumes are "the opposite of field appropriate" is actually addressed at one point, only to have the outfits change from latex to metal and then to latex catsuits with nary an effort at reigning in anyone's chest.

Adding to the general chaos of the book is the abrupt style change in the middle of the comic. The art takes a sharp turn from its usual crisp lines and detailed characters to heavier, more gestural lines and looser backgrounds. It actually does a lot to help the momentum of the comic in the battle sequences, imbuing the characters with a better sense of movement, along with more realistic proportions. The typically muted color palette picks up along with the art at this point, adding fanfare along with the bright colors of spells and explosions.

Veterans of the Grimm Universe may find something to enjoy in this comic because of their familiarity with the characters, but new readers beware, this is not the best place to start reading. If your interest has been piqued, however, be sure to follow it up with the mini-series as well as the recommended additional reading cited throughout the book.

Credit: DC Comics

Adventures of Superman #5
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Joelle Jones and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Wes Abbott
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Given the nature of this series, I know things are going to be a little shorter in content, but this is a prime example of things I wished could have just gone on and on. DC is looking to make 2013 the year for Superman, and with the content in The Adventures of Superman, it's hard to ignore the talent being brought into the fold to make that happen. 

Indie success story Joshua Hale Fialkov and fan-favorite artist Joelle Jones take readers back to a golden age of Superman that reads like an old Fleisher cartoon. What starts as a slow news day leads Lois and Clark to make a friendly wager to see who can get the headline for the day. Clark takes on dog show coverage, but Superman duties call and delay getting to the show. Of course, that just helps Lois follow Superman all day and getting great story in the process. Both eventually get their headline — Clark getting one edition, and Lois nabbing the evening edition — the two rivals call it even and celebrate their page ones. 

This is Superman at his simplest, but at the same time, at his best. Fialkov took that classic Superman appeal and made it work here and defined who he was as both a reporter, and a hero. He captured the perfect mix of old Superman adventures with still remaining timeless and contemporary. He still makes Clark the "aw shucks" kind of mellow guy and Lois the adventurous firebrand without her seeming too cold-shouldered or standoffish. 

The show stealer here is easily Joelle Jones. After years of indie success with Buffy and acclaim on the recent hit Helheim, Jones is primed to hit the main stage similar to how Tradd Moore was a few years back. Her elegant linework makes Metropolis cityscapes pop and with the old Fleisher vibe, it just makes for one pretty picture. Her style here is somewhere between Cully Hamner and Amanda Conner, different than what we've seen from here in Helheim as of late. Lois is a bombshell without any notion of being sexualized and Clark still maintains a boyish charm, having a very manly physique without him seeming too intimidating. Jones' Helheim colorist Nick Filardi joins in on the fun and adds a level of brightness Metropolis hasn't seen in a while, giving the book a fresh look with bright blues and a multitude of minimalist backdrops. 

As aforementioned, not being as familiar with the digital series' layout, I expected it go longer, and wish it had as that's the only setback to this story. Adventures of Superman has done everything right in getting back to Supes' old feel without burdening readers with years of mythos and continuity. It's a fantastic series thus far and this story was no exception. 

Bionic Bombshell: One and Done-Shot
Written, illustrated, and lettered by Derec Donovan
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Derec Donovan has a career that spans almost two decades, and while he's worked for almost every major publisher, it's always interesting to see creators and artists what books they would do if they wanted to just do something for themselves. His Kickstarter project earlier this year for his "one and done-shot" superheroine, the Bionic Bombshell, was successful and while the art seems very stoic, the concept and design for the characters in this world make up for that detail. 

In the not-so-distant future, robotic and cybernetic limb replacement is more commonplace than ever. The main hero Shelley, works at such a place: the Acorn Institute for Advanced Robotics, and aids with patient rehabilitation. Her uncle, Montgomery Acorn, founded the institute and developed some of the bionic technology used to assist patients with. When Montgomery dies, he leaves Shelley two options: one being living a lavish lifestyle and getting just three million dollars, however, if she accepts to be the city's protector, she'll get three hundred million. Sort of a "Brewster's Millions" situation. Shelley then learns the technology she herself was working on helped go into the development of her super suit (after a plan of female bodyguards fell through). 

Acme City itself is home to numerous heroes and villains already, so Shelley make the decision to don the armor and help save the Soul Patrol from the likes of villains of Jumbo Shrimp (an almost Punk/Atom combination) and Rasta Alfredo (a pothead wizard). The battle scene towards the end really shows Donovan's strength's here as a visual storyteller and easily the best part of the book. The layouts are a little more complex and not as boring as the straight talking heads pages earlier on. The problem of cramming an origin story and essentially the establishing of an entire universe into a single issue is that some things are going to suffer along the way. But when things pick up, it's great to see Donovan stretch more than his comedic muscle. 

What Donovan has going on here is almost a page out of The Tick with whacky characters that demand to be taken seriously. The humor itself is all over the place ranging from the double entendre compliment "nice can" to punny names like Barry D. Hatchet. But even the slight jokes that are sort of hidden away like news bulletins about ninja crimes being on the rise, you just want to sit back and let the zaniness unfold. Some of the designs are part of the humor, especially with something like the Soul Patrol. The way the female member is displayed is outrageous and even has a badonkadonk attack. File that under "things you don't see everyday". 

Fans of The Tick, the Venture Bros. and Robert Kirkman's flair for action and wit will appreciate Bionic Bombshell. It's a decent, fun read and something different than the usual cape story. Hopefully Donovan can find time for an expansion later down the line as some of these characters are just too much for a single issue. Kickstarter proved beneficial once for him, it'd be good to see it work again.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #20
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Andres Guinaldo, Raul Fernandez and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Now that Geoff Johns has closed the book on the Green Lantern universe, Tony Bedard has the job of providing a worthy epilogue for New Guardians. Unfortunately, Kyle’s story is a bit too big and it stretches itself too thin, failing to make the kind of impact the series needs before it turns the page on its new direction.

The first glaring issue with the comic is the pacing. While the story follows Kyle and Saint Walker as they recap their roles in the universe, it bounces unevenly from moment to moment. The only constant is the glow of white or blue in the sky. The journey Saint Walker and Kyle take is meant to mirror the journey they’ve taken from the comic’s inception, but Bedard doesn’t stop the story enough for the characters to have any revelation on their impact. Instead, the focus is on Kyle and Saint Walker still being Lanterns rather than on providing closure for the series.

And even after being the one person to control the entire color spectrum, Kyle still lacks direction. Where the comic starts strong with Ganthet’s narration, it quickly devolves into an It’s a Wonderful Life type story where Kyle is shown just how important his role in he world is. The result is that Bedard’s final issue on New Guardians lacks sticking power and comes off as too saccharine to be taken seriously.

But the art is surprisingly sharper than usual. Saint Walker is drawn with impressive detail, and the portraits Kyle paints at the beginning of the issue have some striking qualities. My only complaint is in the lack of consistency with Kyle. When he’s out of the suit, he looks like a child. When he’s in full costume, his features change dramatically — a minor complaint, but one that draws the eye immediately.

New Guardians is not a great comic, and unfortunately Bedard is leaving the series without ever really making a major impact. I don’t hold Bedard completely accountable, though, because he was clearly wrangled into writing a series that tied in with Johns’ plans for Green Lantern. One would hope, however, that the final issue of a creative team would have more sticking power. Hopefully, the series, freed from its constraints, will pick up in the future and provide readers with some interesting stories of Kyle’s role as a White Lantern.

Credit: New Paradigm Studios

Watson and Holmes #1
Written by Karl Bollers
Art by Rick Leonardi and Paul Mendoza
Lettering by Nicole McDonnell
Published by New Paradigm Studios
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

From Benedict Cumberbatch to Robert Downey, Jr., to Jonny Lee Miller, Sherlock Holmes has returned to the zeitgeist with a vengeance, and New Paradigm Studios' upcoming series Watson and Holmes is no exception. Placing the world's greatest detective and his trusty partner in the streets of Harlem, Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi deliver a solid start that exudes untapped potential.

Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi start this book off right by establishing a much grittier tone than the prim and proper London-style Sherlock Holmes — as medical intern Jon Watson tries in vain to save an abandoned baby, you immediately feel for the guy, and you immediately recognize that the odds are stacked against him. Bollers' narration just reads smooth as silk, a little bit of noir to touch up this detective story. Considering how often we've seen iterations of Sherlock Holmes, it's a good way to make a great first impression.

Given the order of billing in the title, it's perhaps no surprise that Watson winds up stealing the show far more than Holmes, who feels a little less three-dimensional than his partner. Bollers keeps his titular detective's origins a bit mysterious, and that works fine for now — that said, because he has to insert recognizable touchstones such as the use of "elementary" and "simple deduction" in Sherlock's speech, he feels a little more cartoonish, and a little bit less able to have his own unique personality. This winds up translating a bit to the overall mystery that Watson and Holmes have to pursue, with one scene filled with street slang so hackneyed you can't help but roll your eyes.

Leonardi's artwork, however, is a perfect fit for a book like this. Self-inked and scratchy, Leonardi adds a ton of mood to his pages. His storytelling is subdued but extremely intuitive, particularly when we watch Watson struggle with the loss of a patient. Combined with Paul Mendoza's dusty colorwork, this book at its best evokes shades of '80s-style Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, with those looser lines showing how dangerous these streets can be.

The thing that will set Watson and Holmes apart, ultimately, is whether or not it fully embraces its "Sherlock Holmes in Harlem" high concept. Right now, aside from the backgrounds and settings — and the occasional groan-worthy bit of slang — there's nothing uniquely "Harlem" about this comic. If Bollers and company can hit that sweet spot and really put a unique spin on the Sherlock Holmes mythology, this indie book might be a sleeper hit.

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