Kicking off this latest round of rambling grumbles and incomprehensible cross talk is Amy Poodle who has a thing or two to say about Paul Cornell’s work, predominantly Action Comics.  Flanked by the cracked team of opinionizers, The Beast Must Die, Zom, Gary Lactus and Bobsy.

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26 Responses to “2011 Mindless Podcast #1 Action Comics”

  1. RetroWarbird Says:

    Those salt powers immediately reminded me of a 9th grade chemistry project done with four friends of mine. The Halogen Rangers (Except Astatine – too rare for our four man group). Hellaciously bad Sony HandyCam video-heroics. Captain Chlorine defeated the evil Sodium with his foul breath. Sodium flews off-screen, deep zoom onto a pile of table salt on the driveway with a frown face drawn onto it. (Colonel Bromine defeated Silver by merging with him, and so forth.)

    I wish I still had that VHS, what with YouTube and all. Bunch of 14 year old twits with cardboard and markers. We nabbed a B+, actually (Thing was a little lacking in actual chemistry project necessities.)

  2. Illogical Volume Says:

    Good podcast. Needs more Scottish though.

  3. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Yes. It was lacking.

    YOU are lacking.

  4. Tweets that mention Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » 2011 Mindless Podcast #1 Action Comics -- Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SabrinaBooks and Rosybooks, Mindless Ones. Mindless Ones said: NEW PODCAST: AmyPoodle yaps uncontrollably at Paul Cornell's Action Comics, the rest of us try to bring him to heel! [...]

  5. Illogical Volume Says:

    Doubly true, The Beast Must Die, doubly true. I have a hole in me that only a good crossover can fill…

    Which is to say: best intro to a podcast ever.

    Knight and Squire is poo though, yes. It makes me sad to type this, but, y’know – fair point, well made. Not read many of Cornell’s other comics, might get round to them eventually but I’m not in a rush to do so right now.

  6. bobsy Says:

    The best bit in this pee-cast is when TBMD says, re: Jarvis Poker The British Joker, ‘I see what you’re doing… but it’s an awful idea and I hate it.’

    It really nails the whole problem with Knight & Squire.

  7. Botswana Beast Says:

    Knight & Squire is really horrible, and I dearly wish it were not so; it is completely out-of-step with contemporary Britain, too, this milky, Anglicanism, erm, what’s the word? Bullshit. Well done everyone who didn’t get #4, more fool me.

    What did Marc Singer say about #1?:

    “He has Beryl talking about her communications “powers”! And yes, it’s meant to be a metaphor, but the simple fact that he would conceptualize everything about these characters in terms of superhero genre conventions gets to the heart of what was wrong with this issue”

    #4 is like that, only moreso, and boring.

    But! I really liked Action Comics, up to a point, I’m surprised TBMD didn’t immediately drop a Kharé – Cityport of Traps mention at that juncture, but there you go. It was my first thought, listening, though not at all when reading the comic. I probably have become inured to genre conventions somewhat.

    And I really enjoyed the Annual – well, more precisely I enjoyed the Darkseid bits, I don’t know precisely what the Ra’s bit was aiming for – 1,001 Arabian Nights? The First Kalandar’s Tale? Reading it a second time, I admired the ambition, if not the execution. Anyay, the Darkseid bit, specifically, nevermind the dubious corralling of Young Perry White, is i. basically the best bit of Kirby-dialogue ventriloquism I have ever read ii. sort of was a nice bit of contextualising of Apokalips (it runs under Metropolis, like tramlines) as an urState, a Platonic nadir, and makes bits of the Kirby run, e.g. Intergang, a bit – hmm, smoother, maybe that’s not necessarily such a good thing. Also, iii. I really liked Marco Rudy’s booming Armaghetto layouts, but it’s probably fairer to put that all on him.

    Another thing about Cornell is – I don’t know if I’d put him in a bracket so much with Fraction or Gillen say, who are at least outwardly ostensibly, cool or modern guys, they have modern interests (I’d place Hickman there too) so much as with dafter, probably more idiosyncratic talents like Jeff Parker or Gail Simone; I’m not even sure he could, though doubtless he has read Morrison, be classified as post-Morrison in the same way the 3 above-cited are, given his primary influences are i. Doctor Who and ii. Arthuriana. I kind of like how uncool he is? It sort of means there’ll be no Punisher Dubstep Journal etc., no pretence of showing off hip referents (except that Welsh pop ish of Wisdom that bobsy already so admirably covered).

  8. RetroWarbird Says:

    Thank god Dai Laffyn was on the “no Paul Cornell, you may not write about him” list. In fact, except the Morris Men, he didn’t tread on any of the 12 random names Granty’s Beefeater named to Grayson.

    I might say Cornell’s DC England is a bit close to my two-bit honorable mention “Make up a British Knight & Squire Villain” villain, Earl Grey. Who won? White Horse … a wonderful and omnipresent, haunting image that spans ages, and could as easily be Hammer Horror (It’s Chris Lee under that robe!) as faux-Holmsian conspiratorial society as other (It’s … still Chris Lee under there?). And Fish & Chip, which is so taking what say, an idiotic American thinks of the U.K., then killing him in a way that should be corny, but it’d work for Guy Ritchie.

    I wouldn’t bat an eye to see mine own tea habit and mildly Picard-inspired creation having a sip with some of the cornball ruffians in that absurdly not-tense Pub. Earl Grey would get on well with the Jarvis Pokers of the world. (Despite that I’d intended him as more a Calendar Man meets Class Warfare Study). And therein lies the problem.

    Cornell’s Knight & Squire is an “honorable mention” kind of take on the characters.

    Christ, when last we saw Cyril, he was exhuming a body. And when before … he lugged a bat-corpse into a dark, horrific catacomb. While his teenage sidekick foiled London Underground bombings … combined with gangland assassinations. The tone in London might be a little more cheeky, but they don’t do things any more moderate than Gotham-Town-Across-The-Pond.

  9. Greg Says:

    I’ve beem enjoying Action Comics and Knight and Squire…It’s not mind-blowing writing and I can see your points but in the podcast you lot make him sound like the cancer at the heart of superhero comics(!)

    Knight & Squire is very “whacky”, but I enjoy it almost like comfort viewing in comic book form…Action Comics, I just see it as a tribute to the old team up/brave and the bold formula, which we don’t see enough of…

    I think it’s important that popular writers are getting back to ‘big ideas’ in comics, and getting back to writing done-in-ones or at least story arcs that don’t drag on for many more than 3 issues.

    There is definitley a post-Morrison wave of writers emerging and I think Cornell is part of that, along with the likes of Hickman and Spencer. Okay, none of them measure up to the All-Morrison but at least they’re slightly more consistent compared to him, for example, I thought ROBW was like reading a scrapbook of ideas rather than an actual story (Although that was probably largely down to the art).

    I do agree that Cornell’s style is a bit too twee in places and not very involving, but I do think that it’s generally healthy for mainstream superhero comics that he has a platform for this stuff.

    *bracing myself for a slapping*

  10. Zom Says:

    I don’t think we make him sound that bad (or maybe we do?).

    Lactus and I like his non Knight and Squire stuff.

  11. amypoodle Says:

    i think it was just that the tension was building and it came outin a splurge, greg. i don’t hate cornell, but as i say in the podcast, he and hickman are the sacred cows of this new era of great white (or not! but actually!) comic hopes, and i think someone had to call FOUL! on some of their screw ups.

    greg, you might be able to ignore all the stuff i mention in the podcast, it might not spoil your reading experience very much, and that’s great, but it spoils mine.

  12. Zom Says:

    I think Bots makes a good case for Cornell above

  13. amypoodle Says:

    well, he says some interesting things, but i don’t know that anything anyone could say would make me enjoy his comics more.

  14. Greg Says:

    The thing is, after listening to your podcast I reckon I WILL start to notice all those flaws in his writing…I put him on such a high pedestal after CB&MI13, I probably am making excuses for him without realising. A bit like when after about 20 issues of New Avengers I realised Bendis had been regurgitating the same formula and ideas for 2 or 3 years.

    But keep the podcasts coming, they’re always a fantastic soundtrack to the piles of invoices at my dead end job!

  15. Patchworkearth Says:

    I was SO ANGRY after reading K&S #1. I’m glad that I didn’t miss anything by not continuing with it.

  16. Patchworkearth Says:

    …And yes, getting angry is a very silly reaction, and I got over it quickly. But still.

  17. RetroWarbird Says:

    “i don’t know that anything anyone could say would make me enjoy his comics more.”

    … The Joker is about to show up in both titles and will probably slaughter Jarvis Poker and spread a wave of grim&gritty up Jolly Old DCU England?

    Throw away your real, proper, smooth, delicious, more moderate beers & pubs, English super-heroes … An explosive blast of carbonated piss-slush is about to stain London forever! And who better to unleash chemicals which should never be consumed, than old Mister Jay? Oh ye, in Frank’s name. It’s Miller time … for the Knight & Squire.

  18. Botswana Beast Says:

    Patchworkearth: you were right to feel that way, really. It’s not much of a thing, but it’ll do. Suck it down into your chest. Laugh. Good soldier.

    Amy: no, absolutely, these things are cyclical, the great white hopes/yes/no-not-really, and the cycles seem to get faster, two years ago it was Fraction and (I guess) Brubaker? Aaron? But also, I don’t know – I read a lot of blogs and I haven’t seen David Brothers (or Uzumeri, who I think you meant) or anyone really particularly go deep with laudatories or investigations into Cornell’s work. I think that’s a flawed premise. CapBrit was a cause celebre, gone before it’s time, oh whyyyy gods must ye, etc. comic of the ilk of Thor: The Mighty Avenger, SWORD or Blue Beetle, because fans obviously like to develop their victim complexes. Nothing more, though, really.

    I think you are right about some of the problems – I reread the bit about “investigating” versus “observing” the black spheres and it still doesn’t make sense, but I think I read it initially as “science bit/[technobabble]” which is hardly, you know, the end of the world. He does have some bullshit-sciencey bits, my brain is not really wired for them. So does Hickman.

    But then, I don’t know, the bit with Lex and Young Perry, I think you can read that dialogue in a not-crap/charitable way – writers do undersell rationales and motivations sometimes, yes, and no, none of them are as hafway interesting as Morrison to get away with it. Sometimes nearly halfway, cf: Hickman/Cornell, is enough for me.

  19. amypoodle Says:

    not for me.

    and i hate doctor who style technobabble. it sucks. ask zom, he’ll tell you. and while, yes, lex’s revelation re the orbs isn’t the end of the world, it’s a fairly important plot element reduced to incomprehensibility, and yet another thing in the long list of things i have to gloss over/ignore if i’m going to enjoy reading cornell’s comics.

    also, the comics alliance people seem to think action comics 894 was interesting enough to warrant a round table review and some pretty in depth analysis.

  20. Nicolas Papaconstantinou Says:

    A friend directed me to this episode, during a conversation where I shared my own misgivings about Cornell’s writing, and everything you say here SPEAKS TO ME.

    With a couple of caveats – I know exactly what you’re saying about a trend in writing, and you mention Matt Fraction. While I think it’s right to say that sometimes Fraction favours ideas over characterisation, I think that most of the time he hits that sweet spot where the ideas are good enough, and delivered slickly enough, that that’s the merit to reading them. I don’t read Fraction to work my heart, I read him to work my head, and he does.

    And oddly, I think someone like Kieron Gillen does much more solid writing and engaging characterisation in his work for hire than he does in his creator owned stuff… SWORD makes the first Phonogram book look uncrafted and shambolic by comparison.

    John Hickman I agree on, in that I’m not engaged by his characterisation at all, but his plotting also seems scattershot and all over the place. However, for an idea-swarmer, his ideas are at least pretty mind-blowing. That just isn’t enough for me, if there isn’t a narrative there for me, but I can see how it’s exciting for many.

    Cornell doesn’t tick any of those boxes for me. Even when he’s twee, it almost always feels as if there’s a line missing somewhere that he forgot to write out. He’s one of two or three writers around who writes dialogue without the self-awareness to realise when it only makes sense if you know what the intention behind it was.

    The other thing that I think is worth noting is that David Hine was jobbing away on excellent low-key and often creator-owned comics, that no-one really gave a shit about, throughout the nineties and as far back as the mid eighties. Without the more prominent work-for-hire stuff he’s been doing for the last few years, it’s doubtful that most people would have even noticed Bulletproof Coffin.

  21. Zom Says:

    I don’t read Fraction to work my heart, I read him to work my head

    I’m not sure Fraction has ever worked my head, in fact he’s pretty much consistently disappointed me over the years. Can you give examples?

    Also, despite Dave Uzumeri’s best efforts, I just don’t feel the Hickman mind blowy. He has some relatively spectacular (in the Hollywood sense) ideas littered throughout his comics, but nothing with any real depth, or any serious wow-value. Or does he – I’m no Hickman expert? Again, examples?

  22. bobsy Says:

    We get to Hine in the next podcast. He’ not been on my radar as strongly as he should have over the past few years. He’s an exceptional talent in my view.

  23. RetroWarbird Says:

    Hine’s always worth a look and listen. He was silently upstaging Tony Daniel the whole time Post-R.I.P. was happening. And I could swear I’ve seen him elsewhere recently, besides Lane-Azrael in some hidden corner, exploring psychology and spinning conspiratorial spiderwebs.

  24. EFull Says:

    I was so glad to hear this episode. Many of your criticisms of Cornell echo my own, and it was about time someone in the comics podcasting realm said these things.

    I do think, however, that the greater problem isn’t with Cornell (or Fraction, or Hickman) but rather with comics pundits overpraising current “It”-guys. That’s 90% of the problem, because I could live with a series like Action Comics well-enough if I wasn’t constantly being told that I’m supposed to think it’s an instant classic or a four-star work. It seems that many of these critics (if we can even call them that; they’re more like hype-men) are primarily interested in pretending that certain current writers are akin to gods. They’re not all that interested in actively thinking and investigating what is really on the page. They’ll turn off most of their critical senses just so they can get through an issue without disturbing the frozen-smile glazed-over happy-hype emotion that they bathe their brains in all they long on Twitter. (Not trying to diss Twitter, but it’s not a coincidence that the two greatest living comics writers don’t use it. (Er, Morrison has an account but barely touches it ever.))

    We all know the tactic of “turning off your brain” in order to enjoy a stupid action movie. But I think the technique is much more dangerous when otherwise-intelligent people are turning off their critical senses in order to preserve the puffed-up reputations of supposedly great writers. Great writing and art should be able to hold up under scrutiny. We shouldn’t have to make excuses for it, or subconsciously ignore any impetus to think about it seriously for moment.

    I liked Cornell’s Captain Britain. I started reading it when many comics critics hyped it and brought it to my attention. It was a good experience. But now a few years later many comics critics are speaking about Cornell’s Action Comics and Knight & Squire in the same tones. They make no distinction between the writing Cornell did for Captain Britain vs. the relatively problematic, kitchy, tossed-off stuff he’s done recently.

    I can’t trust these critics anymore. They’re totally compromised, as far as I’m concerned. They’ve bought into a happy-happy group-think in which selected writers/artists/products must be considered godlike, immaculate and wonderful. They’re friends with these people on Twitter and across the blogosphere, and a genuine environment of delusional happy-happy group-think is going on here. It’s akin to things like the “tulip craze” that happened in Holland in the 1600s. We’re actually dealing with mass psychology and delusion here. Otherwise you wouldn’t get people praising Matt Fraction as a great writer, but barely mentioning Casanova, which is far and away his best work (and even if you don’t like it, you have to admit that it’s immeasurably more creative than any of his Iron Man or X-Men stuff).

    And even if certain critics would admit, under duress, that Action Comics is not as good as Captain Britain was, the fact is that they have shown no initiative to make the contrast on their own. They’re operating under delusions and seeking only the satisfaction of joining in with the happy crowd. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be sociable and happy. But they’re doing it at the sacrifice of critical cognizance.

    You guys wondered whether any Americans would like Knight & Squire. Well, there are at least some American comics critics who BELIEVE that they like it. Of course, these are the same sorts of critics whose reading skills are so totally uncritical that whether or not they actually “read” these comics in the first place is a matter of debate. I’m an American who lived in the U.K. for over three years. I so wanted to like Knight & Squire. But I sensed an awful lot of falseness from it. I was glad to hear you guys back my dissenting opinion up. But there are pseudo-intellectual comics critics who actually believe that they are getting an interesting and genuine view of British culture from Knight & Squire. I guess they are learning some things about Britain from what Cornell’s showing them, but the bigger problem is this: These critics are such intellectual cowards (sorry, but there’s no other term for it) that whenever something about Knight & Squire confuses them, or whenever the writing may be poorly thought-out on Cornell’s part, they ALWAYS give it the benefit of the doubt, stop thinking about it as quickly as possible, and instantly rationalize the disjuncture as amounting to some interesting bit of British culture that they don’t understand. Meanwhile they don’t even notice things like Knight’s total lack of personality. If you asked them how they thought Cornell was doing in revealing Knight’s character, they’d insist he was doing a great job…without being able to cite any example of what Cornell has actually done.

    I hate to run on, but let me mention Hickman briefly. I think S.H.I.E.L.D. is wonderful. Not perfect, but quite good. Yet people mention his FF work in the same breath as S.H.I.E.L.D. They’re not similar at all. I’ve heard many comics critics praise all of Hickman’s Marvel work without even making a distinction between how the works are different, stylistically or quality-wise. They’re too caught up in the pleasure they get from prostrating themselves before a new god. Grasping for something specific to mention, they say that they think Hickman has made the FF “feel like a family”. They only mention this because it’s something they know to say in conjunction with the FF and why such a book might be good. They do not and cannot cite any actual examples of what Hickman specifically has done to make the FF feel like more of a “family”.

    And, again, much like Action Comics, I don’t HATE Hickman’s FF. It has interesting ideas and very well-written mini-soliloquies in it from time to time. But just as often it is quite shoddy, formless and BORING. If these critics would just leave well enough alone and say these were decent-enough comics, then I’d have no problem with it. But they praise these books to the heavens. They admit no flaws in them.

    In the most recent issue of FF one of the team members is killed. This death was NOT built up to in the actual story. There was, however, a “countdown” on the last four covers, and such cosmetic imagery is enough for many critics to believe that an apocalyptic conclusion was indeed being built toward in a pragmatic, realistic, genuine way. The four FF characters had been given side missions, none of which had any lasting importance, all of which came out of nowhere, and none of which were built up to much at all or progressed in a substantive way. Galactus appears for no real reason. He eats a distant planet, even–but the effect is…boring and pointless and soon forgotten by the plot. This planetary destruction had no build-up in Hickman’s run before now and is sure to have no after-effects in the issues Hickman writes next.

    The FF member who dies is given a few silent panels and a splash page before dying. And that is supposed to be enough build-up and pathos for us. But a few pages before the death, we had been treated to an extremely tedious bullsh*t pseudo-science explanation of how a portal or force-field thingy could be closed. Hickman spent all that time on pseudo-science, but hardly any on building-up or reasoning toward the actual death. It amounted to just another “I’ll die for you guys; you guys go while I stay here and die”-moment, like we’ve all seen a hundred times before in any other nondescript sci-fi story. The character is killed by the army of a long-time FF villain…who just happened to appear out of nowhere last issue, and who had no particular motivation this time around.

    But if you build up the hype on the covers and in the press/blogosphere, and if an “It”-guy like Hickman has his name attached, then many so-called comics critics will love FF and make it their pick of the week. I’m sure on their particular podcast(s) they’ll talk about how deep and moving the death was, and how impressed they were with the one or two splash pages, which are all it takes these days. They’re really fooling themselves, when it comes down to it. They’re like Pavlov’s dogs or something, waiting for the signal to believe that they’re being shown something good, important and well thought-out. Because the group-think demands they think so in order to bask in the group-hype.

  25. Quadrivium Says:

    I heard talk about Action Comics on the iFanboy podcast a month or so ago. It was one of the Vandal Savage issues. The guys on iFanboy were endlessly fascinated by how silly it could be for Vandal to want Lex Luthor to go back to his home and hang out. They did a bunch of Vandal-Savage-asking-Lex-on-a-date impressions for about three minutes. They didn’t ask one question about whether the actual plot made sense. In their “review” of the issue, they actually didn’t talk about the logistics or plot at all. They never really got into questions of WHY Action Comics is supposedly good, or how exactly Cornell is (or is not) creative, or what specific thematic messages are being conveyed.

    Instead it’s just: 1) See that Paul Cornell’s name is on the cover, 2) React to that by reciting the dogma that he’s (always) a very, very good writer, 3) Find one idiosyncratic occurrence in the latest issue to glorify and wax poetic about. And you’re done.

    That’s how it is for most critics. So thanks for a more sane, realistic take, Mindless Ones.

  26. Astro Says:

    Well, I’ve become quite fond of Cornell’s writing, on Captain Britain AND Action Comics.

    It is, by no means, a perfect body of work, no. But I think you’ve done him a bit of a disservice and, quite frankly, a mis-read (both in the podcast and in many of the comments that have come after).

    It’s easy enough to pigeon hole writers as post-Morrison or Post-Ellis or what have you as a shorthand (And, for what it’s worth, Hickman and Spencer have much more in common with ELLIS than they do Morrison, so if everyone could stop lumping british creators together as if they all think with one mind and speak with one voice, that would be wonderful), but it’s also worth taking a look at the the work of the creator and draw some unique, work-derived conclusions.

    Simply put, Morrison is FAR more concerned with building a mythology, and reveling in his ideas, then is Paul Cornell. No, he isn’t nearly so guilty of this as say Warren Ellis (Or Jon Hickman, by far the most guilty), but there is a great deal of emphasis placed upon his creations and concepts as ends in and of themselves. The greater themes and statements that he’s making about the world, and about comic books, are often as important as anything he’s saying about the characters under his pen. When he’s at his best, almost everything he writes is in service of the characters he is writing — this was the case for the earlier 2/3rds of Batman and Robin, to take a recent example — but it isn’t always the case. Final Crisis was making sweeping statements, above all, about the nature of story, and comic book realpolitik, and much characterization was left neglected as a result.

    This isn’t so much a criticism or indictment of what Morrison is doing as a contrast to what Cornell does. Almost without fail, everything that Cornell puts into his work is in service to giving his focus greater dimension. Having not read all of the Knight and Squire, I can’t say much about that other than that The Knight is in no way the focus of that book — The Squire IS, and I’m quite comfortable with what we’ve gotten there, in terms of character. Yes, he’s broadly characterizing the DC British Universe, but everything he’s saying is meant to apply to the microcosm of the Knight/Squire relationship.

    But this is especially true of his work on “Action Comics”. Complaining about the ‘nonsensical nature’ of the Black Spheres is, quite frankly, missing the point. They’re a device, a Macguffin, useful only insofar as it gives Luthor an impetus to go on a classical quest, and through which we might learn more about Luthor’s idiosyncrasies, his motivations, his psychology. And Bravo, Cornell, because he’s accomplished just that.

    And that’s what one need understand about Cornell’s work. He’s not a “Big Concept” person. He’s not more concerned with ideas than he is with characterization (something that gets batted around with Fraction as well, and which may have been true of Casanova but is decidely NOT about his company owned work, owing much more to Bendis’ decompression than to Morrison’s hypercompression). It’s just the opposite — his big ideas are only useful to him insofar as they offer opportunities to develop and reveal his subjects. That’s what “Dark X Men” was about. That’s what Dark Young Avengers was about. That’s what Action Comics was about. That’s what his Batman and Robin and arc was about.

    He’s very distinct, in that sense. And yes, his ideas are outlandish, undoubtedly. And sometimes the execution of his work leaves something to be desired — I’ve heard a great many complain about his pacing, or the lack of action, and these are reasonable complaints to make — but if we’re going to rag on the man, lets at least do so with some accuracy.

    And, moreover, I have to say that getting lost in the Action Comics Annual is…well, it’s quite surprising to me, as it’s all made fairly clear. People are ‘freaking out’ about Luthor in the club because he’s obviously and outwardly preparing to rob the establishment, hence the line about ‘casing the joint’.

    The Black Spheres ‘changing’ vs ‘investigating’ is very obviously a metaphor for his own sense of self — mere self reflection, something in which he engages in at great length, isn’t the path to power, but actively CHANGING and EVOLVING his consciousness is the only way he can elevate himself. Changes comes through self reflection, yes, but also through an input of energy.

    Anyway, different strokes for different folks and all that, but I’m quite enjoying the output of Cornell. It’s some of the most character focused work I’ve seen on a mainstream comic book in a very long time. Along with Scott Snyder (and, to a lesser extent, Jonathon Hickman) I think the new crop of writers is doing something very exciting.

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