Archive for the “reviews” Category

2000 Ad–2000 AD
As per usual, a magazine sized anthology reprinting a selection of current and previous titles which have appeared in the British sci-fi/satire comic. It’s the usual quality material that’s not going to be to everyone’s taste as always, and this year there are no real stand-out entries in the sampler itself.
It’s free

The All-New, All-Different Avengers–Marvel
The first half of this is a pretty fun story about the Avengers team consisting of the “new”, more diverse slate of legacy characters running around in Marvel’s books. It’s a good story, and a nice way to give some weight to the characters. And then there’s another preview of Marvel’s ongoing attempts to make the Inhumans happen outside the context of a Kirby FF story.
It’s free

And Then Emily Was Gone–Comix Tribe
The first story in this book is an evocative fairy-tale themed horror story with arresting art by Iain Laurie that’s compelling and disturbing. And then the second story is a, well, fairly obvious Joker-analogue character that just read like a really depressing throw-back to bad 90s violent anti-hero stories. So the first story would have gotten this a Get it but the Millar-esque Joker/Mask story knocks it down to
It’s free

Attack on Titan–Kodansha Comics
Another sampler, this one featuring a selection of manga titles from Kodansha, leading off with two brief out-takes from the Attack on Titan family, a series I can never quite get over the impression of a grammatical error in the title translation. In any case, the push here is on boys adventure stories with fairly diverse tones but mostly similar art styles, to results dependent heavily on your own tastes.
It’s free

Avatar: The Last Airbender–Dark Horse
While I’m still not a fan of the various Avatar cartoons, the story in this comic is well written by Gene Luen Yang and well drawn by Carla Speed McNeil, as is the preview of the Tobin/Coover series Bandette series. I can see the appeal of the lead series, but my personal preference would have been to make Bandette the pushed book.
Also there is a Plants vs. Zombies story in here.
It’s free

Bob’s Burgers–Dynamite
I’m not particularly a fan of the show, though I have noticed how it occupies the same sort of mental space that the Simpsons did at the same point in its life-span, before it became somewhat neutered by its status as a television mainstay. The comic doesn’t feel like it has quite the same energy as the show, focusing instead on little vignettes with individual characters, which is probably the best way to go about adapting a property like this to comics.
It’s free

Bodie Troll–Red 5 Comics
Bodie Troll is an absolutely amazing and gorgeously drawn comic that it’s always a delight to see. I kind of wish it wasn’t paired with a story called “Drone” which is about, well, a robot drone fighting “terrorists” in Sudan, because that’s a really tonally jarring companion piece. It’s also not the sort of thing I’m really comfortable handing off to a kid, while Bodie Troll is almost perfect for kids. So…yeah. I wish I could say Get it I’ll have to settle for
It’s free

Bongo Comics Free-For-All–Bongo
It’s a pretty representative sampler here of Bongo’s Simpsons comics. There’s nothing that truly stands out, though some of the more off-model artistic styles have some visual appeal.
It’s free

Boom Studio’s Ten Year Celebration–Boom Studio
A selection of licensed and original all-ages comics published by Boom. As with every anthology, some of it is good, most is fairly indifferent, with the licensed comics in particular the weak point. Part of that may be that Boom specializes in licensing a lot of the Aggressively Weird Cartoon Network shows and those in general are very much Not For Me. Overall the art in all the stories is good, however, and I can see the book appealing strongly to kids.
It’s free

Captain Canuck–Chapter House Comics
A very brief reintroduction of the cult character. For me, it doesn’t really do much to sell me on the character or the concept, and I’m a guy who actually likes the more oddball super-hero types.
It’s free

Chakra the Invincible–Graphic India
This is credited to Stan Lee, but, well, so many things are…
It’s a slickly produced set of super-hero stories starring an Indian boy and very heavily playing off aspects of the culture. The stories are fun, and all in all it’s a perfectly fine kids super-hero adventure story.
It’s free

Cleopatra in Space–Graphix
Sci-fi heroines are going to be a bit of a theme with this year’s books, it looks like. In this case, it’s a younger readers book about Cleopatra as a young girl sent forward in time to save a race of talking cats from an alien invasion. It’s engagingly drawn and fun.
Get it

Comics Festival 2015–Beguiling Books
A selection of short material by mostly Canadian creators, with a decided emphasis on general audience, skewing to “young adult” style material. Generally it’s very good, but suffers from the unevenness that usually plagues anthologies.
It’s free

Dark Cricle Comics–Archie
The current artistic renaissance going on at Archie is pretty interesting on a number of levels. That they’ve chosen to go a very dark and adult route with their super-hero revival is not surprising given the successes they’ve had, but “dark adult” super-heroes in the bigger scheme of things doesn’t really feel like something we need more of, even when they’re as of high quality as these are.
It’s free

Defend Comics–CBLDF
An anthology of brief stories with a common theme of freedom, stories and reading loosely linking them together. A few of the stories are slightly preachy, which, given the publisher and context is fairly understandable, but the overall quality of the work here is outstanding.
Get it

Divergence–DC
So, after the “Convergence” event ends, DC has this whole slate of new books and retools coming that are direct response to fan exhaustion with the “New 52,” with a deliberate approach to more diverse characters and storytelling styles. But rather than showcase those books for Free Comic Book Day, DC has decided to preview the new status-quos for Batman and Superman and the next Justice League storyline, which were already spoiled by one of the scummier internet sites and mostly antagonized existing readers.
It’s free

Doctor Who–Titan Comics
I’m pretty much burnt out on almost everything Doctor Who related these days, so while there’s nothing at all objectionable in these brief stories, I just can’t work up any enthusiasm for them. I’d much rather have seen some material from the other books Titan publishes, but I’m under no illusions as to what will get people to pay attention to them.
It’s free

Fight Club–Dark Horse Comics
I’m probably at least fifteen years too old to be excited about more Fight Club anything, but the art by Cameron Stewart is nice, so it’s at least pretty to look at. The same is true of the included Goon and Strain stories; nicely illustrated but otherwise not really doing much for me at all.
It’s free

Gronk–Action Lab
The lead story, about a little monster struggling to fit in, and the back-up about super-cats, are both just overwhelmingly cute. They’re also funny where appropriate and very nicely illustrated with clean, cartoony styles. They’re both extremely charming.
Get it

Hatter M: Love of Wonder–Automatic Publishing
It seems like every year there’s another preview book for this steam-punk story inspired by Alice In Wonderland, and every year I find myself perplexed somewhat by it. It’s not that it’s bad, by any means, I just find myself always unimpressed and slightly confused by it. The generous interpretation is that it’s just Not For Me. Pretty enough art by Sami Makkonen this time around, though.
It’s free

March: Grand Prix–Capstone
A very nicely drawn all-ages book about car racing. The graphic asides listing the various strengths of the various cars and diagrams of parts were an especially nice touch, especially for kids with particular interest in cars or machinery.
Get it

Hip-Hop Family Tree Three-In-One–Fantagraphics
Last year’s book was one of the highlights, and this year we get pretty much more of the same: excerpts from the book itself, with a bonus “Cosplayers” story by Dash Shaw. It’s good material, and it’s worth checking out, but it all feels very much like the same thing as last year’s book.
It’s free

ICE: Bayou Blackout–12 Gauge
12 Gauge is a publisher that regularly attracts artists whose work I enjoy, but the bulk of their line is violent action comics, most of which feel more than a little bit like film pitches. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just don’t find it particularly interesting.
It’s free

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure–Viz
JoJo is one of those long-running manga titles that very much exemplify the “fight comic” aesthetic. It’s also just very peculiar with an extremely dated art style. And as much as I’d have liked to see Viz push one of their stronger titles like Assassination Classroom for Free Comic Book Day, this is an understandably safe bet for them.
It’s free

Jurassic Strike Force 5–Silver Dragon
Humanoid dinosaur aliens fighting ninjas. I mean, that’s a pretty solid concept for a fun kid’s book.
It’s free

Legendary Comics Sampler–Legendary Comics
This is not a comic. This is a catalog of current and upcoming Legendary comics and graphic novels. I really wish it were a comic, because Legendary has put out some good, or at least interesting, comics. And for some reason Holy Terror, but no one’s perfect.
It’s free

Mercury Heat–Avatar
By Avatar standards, this is positively restrained: I only count one eye-gouging. This is a teaser issue for an upcoming sci-fi comic about a woman who is also a police officer on Mercury, that appears to be trying very hard to ride the current zeitgeist for female protagonists in sci-fi stories. Only this is an Avatar book, so our heroine’s uniform includes a bare midriff.
Avoid

Motorcycle Samurai–Top Shelf
Well, this is just charmingly peculiar, a visually distinct post-apocalyptic biker samurai action comic by Chris Sheridan that…well…it pretty much does what it says on the tin and I didn’t know I needed this but apparently I did.
Get it

Neil Gaiman’s Lady Justice–Papercutz
Yep…this is a reprint of a 90s book that was part of a line to launch an original super-hero universe all right.
Avoid

The Phantom–Hermes Press
A collection of classic Phantom stories reprinted, along with a brief and more recent recap of the Phantom’s origin. It’s good, classic adventure story material, hampered somewhat by poor reproduction, particularly in terms of inconsistent recoloring.
It’s free

Pokemon XY–Viz
That’s weird, in this comic X is a boy, and we all know that X is a girl and the boy is the asshole neighbor of the real hero.
Anyway…Viz’s Pokemon line is pretty consistently fun, and this sampler provides some nice teasers for several of the books.
It’s free

Savage Dragon Legacy–Image
Well, I’ll give Erik Larsen credit for keeping his creator-owned series going for so long. And while his brand of comics aren’t to my taste, I can see why he has his fans. But if this is intended to catch people up on the series, well, it’s a couple of fights book-ending pages and pages and pages of clumsy exposition, and that’s just not interesting at all.
Avoid

Super Mutant Magic Academy–Drawn & Quarterly
Sometimes I’m really not sure I get certain indie comics. That’s okay, not everything has to appeal to everyone. I am absolutely certain that there are plenty of people who find Jillian Tamaki’s rather corny jokes about teenagers who, for some reason, are mutants or aliens or wizards or something just amazing great and compelling cartooning. I’ll be perfectly happy flipping the book over and reading the Kate Beaton strips on the other side.
It’s free

The Stuff of Legend/Thanatos Diver–Th3rd World Studios
Th3rd World’s offerings are usually better than average, and that trend continues. Stuff of Legend is one of those books that you should probably be reading already anyway, and the flip-book companion, is an intriguing and lushly illustrated story about undersea salvagers in an apparent post-apocalyptic world.
It’s free

Rabbids–Papercutz
Very fun stories featuring characters from a variety of Papercutz all-ages books, including Smurfs and Ariol. The title characters, better known as “the reasons we all bought Wiis back when” are featured in a series charming wordless gag strips.
Get it

Secret Wars #0–Marvel
What we have here is an almost incomprehensible info-dump on Hickman’s “I so want to be taken as seriously as Grant Morrison” multi-year epic, mostly consisting of the Avengers being jerks and committing mass murder, as lead-up to Marvel’s “we swear it’s not a reboot” reboot. Which would be fine, but this is apparently supposed to be an attempt to get readers hyped up for the not-reboot, and all it does is remind you that Hickman’s take on the Marvel characters is actually pretty ugly.
There’s probably some curiosity value to be found in the Attack on Titan cross-over preview in the back.
Avoid

Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man: World’s Unite Prelude–Archie
See, utterly incomprehensible cross-overs aren’t just the demesne of Marvel and DC!
It’s free

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies–Bongo
The Spongebob comics sometimes have very nice art, but I think enough time has now passed since both they and the show came out that I can be quite certain that I just don’t find them entertaining or amusing at all. And I can live with that. If you like Spongebob, or more likely have a kid that does, this is probably fine.
It’s fine

Steampunk Goldilocks–Antarctic Press
I quite like Rod Espinosa’s art, and as very much Done as I am with both “steampunk” and “fairy tale reimagings” this was fun.
Get it

Street Fighter–Udon
Very nicely illustrated fight comics that make absolutely no sense to me.
It’s free

Tales of Honor–Image
This is a very brief introduction to the Honor Harrington character from David Weber’s military sci-fi series, along with a short, stand-alone story featuring the character dealing with space pirates, because this is basically just a naval adventure story in space. It’s nicely produced, with good art and writing, but military sci-fi is very much Not For Me, so while I appreciate the talent involved, it left me rather nonplussed.
It’s free

Teen Titans Go/Scooby-Doo Team-Up–DC Comics
Hey, it’s the kind of fun, all ages stories the internet insists DC doesn’t publish! Weird.
Anyway, I’d have preferred a full length Scooby story, instead of half of a team up with a very Super Friends-ish incarnation of the Justice League, but the draw is probably going to be Teen Titans, which is one of those things I am assured The Kids Today go crazy for.
Get it

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–IDW
Unlike most of the current crop of licensed titles, I was a little too old to get into Turtles when they hit it big. This is quite nicely illustrated by Mateus Santolouco, but it’s another one of those books that spends a good chunk of its time catching people up to whatever the current status quo is for the characters in the comic, instead of just dumping right into the action. Since that’s a pretty grim place for the characters at the moment, that lessens the fun of the book somewhat.
It’s free

Terrible Lizard–Oni Press
A giant monster comic about a girl and her pet tyrannosaur. The art by Drew Moss is engaging, and I’ve consistently enjoyed writer Cullen Bunn’s previous work. There isn’t anywhere near as much monsters fighting each other as there needed to be in the preview, but there is some fun action and an arresting premise.
Get it

The Tick–NEC
A collection of short stories in the typical style of Tick comics. It’s generally good material, but your mileage will vary strongly based on your tolerance for Tick style jokes.
It’s free

Transformers: Robots in Disguise–IDW
While a few other titles from IDW’s stable of licensed kids books make appearances, the focus here is on, what I’m guessing is, the current animated incarnation of the Transformers franchise. And I’m pretty much officially too old for anything Transformers related I think.
It’s free

Valiant 25th Anniversary Special–Valiant
This is a mix of generally well-executed comics and promo material for a line of super-hero books that hold absolutely no appeal for me.
It’s free

Wonderland–Zenescope
I’ve pretty much chalked up Zenescope’s fairy-tale line as the spiritual successor to Chaos Comics. Take that as you will.
It’s free

Worlds of Aspen–Aspen
Huh. These still exist.
It’s free

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There are things from your childhood that you barely remember. And, because you were so small when you saw them, you are utterly unable to articulate anything about them to others, and they end up sounding like some feverish dream you had when you were sick. Eventually, you start to half-accept that you never actually saw it, or if you did, that it was fundamentally different from what you remember.
Then you’re in another state and find it in the “Under $10″ bin at at national discount chain.

Witch’s Night Out is an animated special about Tender and Small, who are looking forward to dressing up and scaring people on Halloween. Unfortunately, Goodly and Nicely (yes, really), with help from Malicious and Rotten (oh, God, yes, really), decide that what Halloween really needs is to be made into a meaningful, sophisticated holiday for adults, and so they plan to hold a party at the allegedly haunted house in town. Tender and Small end up having their night ruined, and not even a bed time story from their baby-sitter Bazooie can cheer them up. At the party, which looks more like a prelude to a particularly creepy orgy, the witch (voiced by Gilda Radner and looking like an extra from Grey Gardens) who lives in the house is frustrated at her inability to scare anyone. She hears Small making a wish for a scary Halloween and rushes off to the children, transforming them into monsters. The monsters scare the party-goers, which also fails to make the children happy, and the witch loses her wand in the process. Just as the townspeople are preparing a lynch mob to kill the children, the witch gets her wand back and calms everyone down by agreeing to transform the townspeople into their heart’s desires for one night.

As animated holiday specials go, this is a particularly strange one. The character designs are very simple, consisting broadly of outlines and barely rendered faces. Thematically, it fits, what with the characters named by traits thing going on, but it also makes for a very dated appearance. It looks exactly like what you would expect a slightly cheap effort by a bunch of animation school students to put out in the late 70s. It’s not particularly funny, or engaging, despite Radner putting out some one-liners as the witch, so it’s probably not terribly surprising that it never entered the holiday film canon. Mostly what I remember from it as a kid is how Nicely, the fluffy ball of pink sweetness, was absolutely horrifying.

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Some films never really get their due. Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin is certainly one of those. It’s a lyrical dark fantasy about the “nightmare of childhood”, as one character puts it, with deep symbolism and ambiguity layered over it. But apart from some notoriety in gore fan circles for a sequence featuring an exploding frog, it’s been mostly neglected. Even the DVD release was a bare bones affair dumped out cheaply by Miramax to try and capitalize on Viggo Mortensen’s Lord of the Rings celebrity. Which is a shame, as it’s a hauntingly beautiful and unsettling film.

Seth Dove is a young boy growing up in rural Idaho at some point after the second World War. He spends his days tormenting the local widow, Dolphin Blue, and getting into minor squabbles with his friends, when he’s not being abused by his mother or ignored by his father. Local children, we soon learn, have been going missing, and Seth, after listening to his father describe a pulp novel about vampires he has been reading, comes to believe that Dolphin is killing the children. The local sheriff, however, pins the blame on Seth’s father, who is known to be a closeted gay man. The real culprits seem to be a group of greasers driving around, seemingly unnoticed, in a hearse-like black cruiser, but the suspicion drives Seth’s father to kill himself. Seth’s brother, Cameron, is released from the military, where he had been involved in nuclear testing on Pacific islands, to care for Seth, but instead begins a sexual relationship with Dolphin, furthering Seth’s obsession with the vampire motiff. As more children die, Seth retreats further into fantasy, even concocting a story about an aborted fetus he finds being the “murdered angel” of one of his friends. Cameron begins to display signs of radiation poisoning, which prompts Seth to make one final effort to save his brother. He lures Dolphin into the care of the greasers, but when her body is found Cameron continues to reject him, leaving Seth shattered.

There are a lot of arresting images and suggestive themes running through this film (drinking and water in a dry, landlocked area are particularly common), but it’s hard to pin any of them down concretely, since the film operates on a kind of dream logic. Partly, it’s that everything we see is filtered through Seth’s understanding of the world, which is childlike both in terms of naivete and in that certain sadism that children can possess. Seth does not understand what is going on around him, and he latches onto fantasy notions and play to try and make sense of his world, but it’s clear that he doesn’t understand distinctly the differences between what is real and what is play. But there’s a further ambiguity over how much is real or fantasy or something else. The murderous greasers, for example, escape the notice of everyone but Seth and people who are soon to die. There’s something vaguely unreal about them, and the cryptic way in which their leaders asks Seth if he’s ready to go for a ride suggest that there’s more than just anonymous child killers to them. But every time the film goes in directions like this, it elides the question, leaving a viewer to simply accept that these are not puzzles that can or are meant to be solved.

I think ultimately that is the best approach, as it ties into the two thesis statements, of a sort, that the film offers, both from Dolphin Blue. The first, is that “sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally” and that is what the film shows us. That all the terrible things that Seth sees and experiences, in a twisted way, follow from the little actions and silences that have gone before. The second, offered near the end, is that this is all “the nightmare of childhood” the gradual loss of innocence and surety as knowledge and age affect someone. By the end of the film, Seth’s childhood is over and all his friends are dead, but he’s still not ready to go for that ride.

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Clive Barker is a challenging author to adapt. His later work is nicely lyrical dark fantasy, but it’s hardly cinematic. His early work is slight and heavy on the gore, though, so that’s what usually gets turned into films. And, of course, everyone eyes greedily the franchise potential of “the next Hellraiser“. In general, then, Barker adaptations work best when they use the old “inspired by” trick to take the framework of the story and do something more cinematically appropriate, as is the case with Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train, a somewhat overlooked film which was the victim of studio shenanigans (why, yes, it was released by Lionsgate).

Leon (played by a pre-breaking Bradley Cooper), is a vegan photographer with a straining relationship with his girlfriend and a desperate desire to hit it big in the art world and get away from his current work, photographing crime scenes freelance. After being told that his art-school deep photos simply won’t cut it, he delves into the dark heart of the city and interrupts an attempted gang-rape. The next morning he learns that the intended victim has disappeared and Leon finds the police oddly indifferent to his photos of the possible perpetrators. While investigating, Leon stumbles upon Mahogany, a butcher who has been killing people on the late-night subways. Becoming increasingly unhinged at the refusal of anyone to believe him, Leon continues investigating, and eventually learns of a vast conspiracy behind Mahogany’s actions. Eventually Leon learns that Mahogany, and an unknown amount of other people in prominent positions, are arranging the murders to feed a race of subterranean creatures beneath New York, who only permit humans to live on the island (or at all it is implied) in exchange for the meat Mahogany provides. In a bleakly nihilistic ending, everything Leon values is stripped from him and he is employed as Mahogany’s replacement.

One of the most common complaints about horror films is that they exploit voyeuristic urges in the audience. Lots of films have responded to that by running with it, but Kitamura makes the idea of seeing and being seen a central element of the film’s style. Leon is almost always framing some or all of his actions through a camera lens. POV shots, from a multitude of characters pervade the film, and there are an awful lot of gore shots involving eyes. But not only that, there’s a repetition of mirror shots, reflections, seeing someone through a door or window, and numerous occasions when characters “see” the audience in some way or another. While never directly breaking the fourth wall, the film goes out of its way to make the viewer an active participant in the story in subtle (and not subtle) ways quite effectively.

Beyond that, the film is slickly produced. It’s a reverse-urbanoia film, a film ultimately about the coldness and anonymity of the city and the terrors that could lurk there so easily because there is simply too much going on for anyone to notice them. The film also teases around the “urban legend” theme that appears from time to time in Barker’s work. It’s an effective combo, but I ultimately think I value the placement of the events in the city is where the film draws it’s power. As I’ve said in the past, the classism and racism of most rural horror/urbanoia films puts me off, and the “backwoods cannibal” is a common trope there. It’s nice to see a reversal of that, even if “cannibals in the subway” is itself a bit of a trope, particularly in British and Euro horror, since Raw Meat at least.

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There are a number of directors for whom the kindest thing you can say is “they’re competent.” Paul Anderson I would place in that category. He’s clearly good enough to work steadily, and has somehow managed to make six Resident Evil and three Death Race movies profitable, but he’s never really going to be someone superlatives are laid on. Event Horizon maybe is a good illustration of this, as it is a potentially interesting idea that clearly got away from the film-maker.

At an implausible point in the near future, a rescue ship crew led by Captain Miller is escorting physicist Dr. Weir to Neptune, the last known location of the Event Horizon, a spaceship that disappeared seven years ago which has recently reappeared. The ship was on a secret mission to test a gravity drive which would allow it to travel faster than the speed of light by creating wormholes in space to move through, but has returned derelict and with signs of massive violence. Strange events begin targeting Miller’s crew, and an increasingly unstable Weir, backed by the recovered ship logs, suggest that when the ship moved “outside” space it became infected by a malign align intelligence, killed the previous crew, and is now looking for more victims. Between Weir and the ship itself, most of Miller’s crew is killed, and two survivors escape in the Event Horizon‘s “lifeboat” while Miller sacrifices himself to destroy Weir and the evil ship, though it is suggested that enough of the evil has followed the survivors home to wreak further havoc.

Stylistically, the film wears it’s influences on its sleeve, incorporating pretty shamelessly the weathered industrial aesthetic of Alien with the S&M spikiness of Hellraiser, with some dashes of The Shining and Prince of Darkness thrown in there for good measure. That’s an impressive pedigree of films to be cribbing from, but mostly it just ends up reminding you that those are mostly much better films than this one. And while this is another in Sam Neil’s series of films where he eventually succumbs to the whims of vaguely Lovecraftian horrors from beyond time and space, the movie itself doesn’t even have the nerve to take a stab at any interesting conceptions of “evil” or malice. A “science gone to far” theme is staring them right in the face, they set themselves up for a man doomed by grief and guilt, but nope, they end up going with “hell is out in space, somewhere” and an evil ghost ship.

I think one of the minor flaws is that, in general, horror and sci-fi aren’t an easy mix. Overlap isn’t unusual, and a lot of “sci-fi” films are basically just slasher films with aliens in place of masked killers, and horror has never shied away from using science/scientists as easy markers of hubris leading to tragedy and terror. But what you usually see, then, is a horror film in sci-fi drag, and that’s pretty much what this is.

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