The Double-Edged Sword of Comics Numbering

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 10, 2017.

The Problem of Numbering

 

There’s a problem in superhero comics that doesn’t seem to have a solution: What’s the best number to sell a series?

 

Ever since the New 52 launched and took every comic at DC back to #1, this problem has become increasingly noticeable. After DC Comics took this approach they were met by a large uptick in sales. Even though those sales did not last with steep drops by the third or fourth issue of most New 52 titles, the impact was large enough to provide them with an annual boost. The effect was so large that their primary competitor Marvel took notice and repeated the strategy, then repeated it again, and then again through a series of initiatives featuring buzzwords like “All-New” and “All-Different”. Marvel Comics experienced similar bumps, but again with diminishing returns.

 

While this is a problem that seem to strictly affect Marvel and DC, they compose a majority of the direct market in American comics. Failures at either publisher can lead to shocks that shut down stores and close off customers. That means when they have a problem, the entire market might potentially have a problem. There are a variety of other “issues” facing both of these publishers and the market as a whole, but they need to be tackled “one” at a time.

 

That’s why we’re taking a look at the debate between renumbering comics or maintaining large numbers in continuity.

 

Big Numbers

 

Pros: The case for maintaining continuity in any series’ numbering is clear matter of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Series like Detective Comics and Action Comics lasted more than half of a century before their first relaunch. These stalwarts of comics stands show that the most successful series are undaunted by the large numbers on their covers, and a variety of examples go to show just how successful these big numbered issues can be. Batman #404-407 and Batman #608-619 formed the massive sales successes better known as “Year One” and “Hush”. They sold out their initial print runs before being collected and reprinted for decades to come.

 

There’s also the concept of legacy to be considered. Looking at a number like 404 or 608 might show proof to a reader that a story is already successful and that if they enjoy the current story, then there’s plenty more to be discovered. It’s also a delight for older fans and collectors to complete long runs of hundreds of issues that create a clear path from start to a constantly shifting finish.

 

Cons: Those big numbers can also be daunting, especially to new readers. While “Hush” has become a fundamental introduction point to DC Comics, it’s still much easier to sell that collection under an intriguing title than it is to push Batman #608 on a new reader. It’s not that selling an issue with a big number is impossible, but the number alone raises enough questions that some readers may never bother to take the risk of picking up that first comic.

 

Do I need to read the rest of this story? How will I ever find what came before? When do I need to start? These are all valid questions that someone, even someone who currently reads superhero comics, may ask when looking at an issue numbered in the hundreds. For better or worse, it is a real barrier to some.

 

Small Numbers

 

Pros: There’s a reason that #1 issues are often associated with a boost in sales. That number signals the start of a story and a collector’s item, pleasing all sorts of comics fans. For new readers it presents the most approachable point of entry as there’s no indication of history or continuity needed to appreciate the issue itself, although this isn’t always the case. Even when a comic reaches #10 or #20, it’s easy for readers to believe they can catch up through collections or jump into a story without too much already occurring.

 

That belief can be greatly assisted by the timely publication of cheap collections or decreasing prices on former issues. With the right structure, both stores and publishers may reasonably ask readers to invest in an entire series instead of taking a leap of faith into the middle of one. Small numbering makes the arc of a story clear and reassures everyone involved that what’s behind the cover is consistent in quality and style.

 

Cons: Unfortunately small numbers don’t last forever. On a monthly publishing scale the same problems of large numbers emerge within 5 years, just as DC Comics recognized by the end of the New 52 initiative. In the current bi-weekly schedule of most comics in the Rebirth line, that problem has become evident after just over a year. In order to maintain the advantages of small numbers, regular relaunches become a necessity.

 

Those relaunches come at a cost. Each relaunch of series at Marvel Comics over the past 5 years has been met with a boost in sales, but they are boosts that become smaller each and every time. The long-term result is an overall decrease in sales. While a #1 encourages readers to try a new series, it also provides current readers an easy point of exit. A proliferation of relaunches also creates confusion for new readers. If someone were to look for a starting point to explore Rocket Raccoon, they could find 5 initial collections from the last 5 years. An overabundance of starting points is just as large of an obstacle as an overlong history, if not moreso.

 

How to Proceed?

 

The pros and cons on both sides of the numbering debate provide no clear winner. So what’s the solution?

 

There are possible elements of compromise to be found between the two sides. Marketing starting points for ongoing series without a complete renumbering is being tried at Marvel Comics right now, with large red #1’s signalling alongside ongoing counts. A possible two-tiered system could be tried that track both a run count and ongoing series count, but unless executed perfectly, such a system could create even more confusion. A seasonal method has been suggested as well in which stories cycle together over a series of years, so that readers could be pointed to distinct starting points in a given era. This may reflect DC Comics’ current plan with Rebirth in which the entire line is being utilized to tell a massive two-year epic, in addition to the unique events of each series.

 

The real answer might be that there is no one right fit for all series. While Image Comics, often an outlier of Marvel and DC Comics’ models, succeeds with many new series that rarely cross #50, they also have two of the longest ongoing superhero comics of all time in Savage Dragon and Spawn. Superhero comics with massive counts could be just as attractive as those that only reach #12 or #20, if those decisions are purposefully made. Consider two relatively recent successes, the aforementioned Batman and Hawkeye. Batman is a known quantity and one that will be on comics store shelves for the foreseeable future. It makes sense to have a large number on the cover, but the very presence of an accessible character like Batman negates many of the problems. The launch of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye was successful in part because it offered something new, both in numbering and style. Hawkeye is not a mainstay in ongoing Marvel Comics series, and there was not a proliferation problem to begin with. The #1 attracted curiosity for a character that was seldom seen on his own.
The choices of continuing Batman and jump starting Hawkeye were purposeful. They lowered the barriers to entry most associated the stories being told and, most importantly, delivered a great story to hook readers that picked up an issue. The decision between big and small numbers is not a universal choice, but one that should truly be judged on a case-by-case basis.

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Comix Experience

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 10, 2017.

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

 

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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Comics and comic book stores are not two separate entities. If you want to look at how one has changed across the decades, then you have to understand something of the other. That’s true in both matters of business and art. There are few shops in the United States that express this relationship as clearly as Comix Experience in San Francisco. The store was opened in 1989 and has been a notable party to various shifts in the industry throughout its 29 years in business.

 

When you ask owner Brian Hibbs about the store’s goals, he is plain spoken in stating the goal in 1989 and today has always been “make it to the end of the month”. That frankness may stem from having tackled the immense challenge of running a business at the age of 21. Hibbs has now spent more of his life owning a comic store than not, and so far Comix Experience has always made it to the end of the month. It’s no longer the sole goal of the store either. He now envisions his stores (there is a secondary location on Ocean Ave.) as places that can push talented creators and help introduce outsiders to the comics medium. The years have added some humor and poetry to his outlook as refers to the staff of Comix Experience as “sherpas through a vast and ever-changing landscape of choices for the customer”.

 

Opening in 1989 in the bustling Bay Area the store was well-suited to engage with what would later be known as the Vertigo Revolution. Sandman was becoming a force of change within American comics and Hibbs was an early fan of the series. His enthusiasm helped to shape Comix Experience into a “Vertigo store”, one that would pull in an audience far beyond the monthly readers of Spider-Man or X-Men comics. It’s a choice that has served the store and its readers well as the American comics market has continued to morph and grow beyond the capes stories of the Big Two.

 

Comix Experience hasn’t just sold media-altering bestsellers like Sandman though. The staff at this local comics shop have often been the tastemakers who helped to encourage the early success of these books. “I feel like we have part of the shared responsibility for breaking books as varied as Sandman, Strangers in Paradise, and Saga.” While almost no individual series success can be linked to a single shop, it’s places like Comix Experience that have created the boom surrounding many popular creator-owned comics.

 

Click ahead to learn more about how Comix Experience has changed and been changed by the American comics industry across almost 30 years of business.

 

Comix Experience hasn’t just served as a promoter of positive changes in comics art. The store possesses some degree of national name recognition for leading a class action lawsuit against Marvel Comics. That successful suit led to approximately one and a half million dollars in damages being provided to retailers and the institution of a major change in Marvel’s distribution process in the early 2000s. While we don’t have the space to get into the details here, it’s one example of how an individual shop can have an impact in a market filled with small retailers and much more powerful publishers.

 

When all was said and done with the class action lawsuit in 2005, Comix Experience had one of the most notable histories of any comics shop in the world. Yet in the years since they have shown no sign of slowing down. The drive to improve both the reading experience and business market for comics is constant.

 

The Graphic Novel of the Month program provides readers with a unique experience that encourages them to read a wide variety of new comics from many creators and genres. Each installment offers a unique bookplate and live-stream discussion with the creators of the comic. It’s just one example of how the passion for comics at this shop is shared with their readers on a regular basis.

 

Hibbs is particularly proud of his staff when discussing the store’s success and spreading the love of comics. “They’re putting in the long hours making 1-to-1 connections with customers and always seeking to expand their horizons of what comics are and can be. I’ve got a superlative team around me, and would be nothing without them” says Hibbs. It’s a unique role that requires each individual to be prepared both to share what they love and to carefully listen and understand what might spark the same fire in others. The staff of Comix Experience is every bit as diverse as the city they inhabit, and it is no coincidence that between their passion and experiences they’ve attracted readers from every sort of background in San Francisco.

 

If there’s one lesson to be taken from Comix Experience, I would suggest that it be this: Everyone matters. One person can open a comics store. One comics store can open a community. One business can change a market. One employee can spark a fandom. In comics every person matters and can make a difference within the medium we all love. That’s not just a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of history at Comix Experience.

 

Click ahead to see store information and photos for Comix Experience.

 

Store Info

Name: Comix Experience

Address: 305 Divisadero Street

San Francisco, CA 94117

Phone: (415) 863-9258

Website: Comix Experience

Twitter: Comix Experience

Facebook: Comix Experience

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Review: Moon Knight #188 is a Well Dressed Horror Comic

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 09, 2017.

Writer: Max Bemis

Artist: Jacen Burrows

Colorist: Mat Lopes

Letterer: Cory Petit

Moon Knight is a series that has experienced an ongoing revival since Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire took on six issues in 2014 and discovered a new audience for the character. For all of the excellent creative choices found in that brief run, its longest lasting legacy will be the reminder that Moon Knight is flexible – able to be a horror comic, mystery comic, or action comic based on the whims of its creators from issue to issue. The newest iteration of the series is most decidedly a horror comic, one that leaves the superhero origins of the character barely recognizable in its debut issue.

The arrival of artist Jacen Burrows at Marvel Comics pairs perfectly with this choice of genre. Burrows has proven himself at Avatar to be a master of mood, subtle tension, and the grotesque while collaborating with Alan Moore on projects like Providence. His layouts and compositions are direct, composing a world that seems plain in order to make the revelation of the corrupt all the more disconcerting. That skill is put to excellent use in Moon Knight #188.

Much of this issue focuses on the doctor-patient relationship between minor or entirely unknown figures in Moon Knight lore. It’s the slow construction of a new threat for the character and one that when realized feels truly daunting and worth the slow build. Burrows makes that build function as he delivers small exchanges of dialogue with crystalline facial expressions capable of carrying all the intended humor or pathos within the script, and possibly more. He buries the elements of discomfort – burn scars, strange glances, a proliferation of symbols – in the background so that they never interrupt the normality of the story altogether. It is only in the final moments that his ability to effectively deploy gore and human tragedy on a massive scale are fully unleashed. This turn is nothing short of masterful in terms of pacing.

Burrows excellent understanding of how to deploy elements of horror on the comics page help to cover a significant issue with the scripting of Moon Knight #188. While the concept of a new antagonist is intriguing, his introduction by way of his psychologist is clumsily handled at best. The doctor, who is supposedly well respected, behaves in ways inconceivable for any mental health professional. Not only do they encourage dangerous behaviors, but describe illness in a dangerous and retrograde fashion. When the doctor states, “Marc Spector may be legally insane… but he was never crazy at all”, it shows a deep misunderstanding of the delicate subject the comic is using for entertainment from a character who ought to have no such problems. This problem is continually compounded throughout the issue, including a moment in which the doctor holds up Kurt Cobain and Ernest Hemingway, two men who took their own lives, as inspirational figures to a deeply disturbed patient. It would be laughable if it wasn’t taken so seriously.

The balance between this fundamental scripting issue and Burrows’ superb deployment of horror elements will be a deciding factor for many readers as to whether this new Moon Knight series is worth continuing. If Bemis opts to leave behind this bizarre take on mental illness in favor of horror and mythological elements, then the comic may survive an awkward first issue. Burrows strengths are on full display and there’s no cause to distract from the obviously successful elements of this debut.

Grade: B-

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What the New ‘Hellboy’ Movie Should Keep From the Old ‘Hellboy’ Movie

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 07, 2017.

For many fans of the comics it’s still hard to believe we live in a world with any Hellboy movie, much less a sequel and a remake of one. Yet here we are less than one year away from a new adaptation of Hellboy hitting the silver screen. This new iteration promises to be quite different from the original with an “R-rated” take on the character and with horror veteran Neil Marshall helming the project.

However, it’s still worth looking back at Guillermo Del Toro’s original version from 2004 as the franchise prepares to move forward. Revisiting the very first Hellboy in theaters provides some very valuable lessons on what fans should hope to retain and ditch in the new movie. After rewatching the original just last week, we’ve selected a few key items that Hellboy (2018) ought to keep or leave behind.

 

Keep It: Perlman’s Everyman Version of Hellboy

 

When a Hellboy remake was first announced, it seemed impossible that any actor might fill Ron Perlman’s hooves in the role. Fans of the comic instantly recognized their favorite supernatural-battling federal agent when Perlman made his debut. It wasn’t the excellent makeup that made Hellboy real either, it was Perlman’s grasp of the character. Hellboy was funny, sarcastic, brusque, and, most importantly, an everyman in this performance.

 

While the tone and story matter might change, Hellboy shouldn’t become a brand new character in the new movie. For more than two decades Hellboy has developed from an idea to an icon, and that icon is an inherently regular sort of guy who looks and lives in an extraordinary manner. Luckily, it seems like David Harbour is up to the task. His work on Stranger Things goes to show how he can bring normality to truly incredible situations, acting in manner that is tough, funny, and deeply human even when things are bizarre.

 

Harbour may just be the man to pull this off; it’s still doubtful that anyone could fill in for John Hurt as Professor Bruttenholm though.

 

Leave It: The Origin Story

 

It’s not that the original Hellboy did a poor job adapting the character’s origin, but this specific origin (and more superhero origin stories in general) isn’t a necessary component of a good story. The only key elements to maintain are: 1. Hellboy has a mysterious and extraordinary place of birth and 2. Hellboy was raised by good, ordinary people. That sort of work can be done in an opening credits sequence.

 

Refocusing on the origin just adds to the runtime of any future films with little obvious benefit. Even in the original film it’s too much effort for not enough payoff – taking ten minutes to deliver about two of quality content. Unless they decide to provide a short movie of “Pancakes”, the classic two-page comic, before the actual movie begins, then there’s no real reason to bring back Hellbaby. And it is possible Marshall might have a great, surprising concept that requires revisiting Hellboy’s origin, but if not, it’s best left alone.

 

Keep It: The Team

 

One of the great joys of Hellboy comics is the diversity of characters on display. That diversity includes perspectives, ages, genders, and powers. This is one thing the original Hellboy got right by keeping the initial team from “Seed of Destruction” of Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman together. Each character provides a unique personality and set of attributes that expand story possibilities, and make the leading man more likable. Professor Bruttenholm’s inclusion as wiseman and father figure was also a valuable addition.

 

Hellboy can make for an excellent solitary figure, but this has only emerged in contrast to how he interacts with others. At his best the character is part of a family or team, and his most charming attributes of loyalty and dedication come from working with others. The new film should keep this in mind and select at least a few of the strangest members of the B.P.R.D. to join in this new adventure.

 

Leave It: The Romance

 

Liz Sherman was never a romantic interest of Hellboy’s in the comics and this addition always felt forced in the first Hellboy movie. It took standard Hollywood rules that require a romantic interest and forced them into a non-standard concept. When the comedic and romantic elements of this relationship work, it’s only because of Del Toro’s excellent craft. This is a half-baked notion and one that’s best left behind altogether.

 

That doesn’t mean that Liz or other women of the B.P.R.D. should be left behind though. Hellboy has many great relationships with characters like Liz or Dr. Kate Corrigan. They are mentors, friends, and comrades. If Liz or Kate are included in the newest film, then it should be in a role that is true to their characters not forced by the standard algorithms of Hollywood blockbusters.

 

Keep It: Mignola Inspired Mythologies

 

One of the great joys of both original Hellboy movies is how much they pulled from Mike Mignola’s comics work. Mignola was involved both as a producer and a designer, helping to bring his unique vision to life in a variety of ways. It’s his vision that made Hellboy a success in comics and film, and that’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked even as the newest iteration tries to make its own mark.

 

Whether it’s in the look and feel of small European towns or minor story additions (like the brilliant use of “The Corpse” in Hellboy (2004)), Mignola’s work ought to be on the minds of everyone involved. This should also include the way in which the comics artist has fused so many mythologies into his work. The new movie appears focused on European fairytales, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for the new world as this movie dives into the old.

 

Leave It: The Audience Surrogate

 

You may agree or disagree with some of the points made so far, but there’s one issue with the original Hellboy film that is not up for argument: John Myers sucks. Myers is the new FBI recruit forced into the story to act as an audience surrogate. He stumbles through the movie asking questions and being overwhelmed by the action, while more interesting things continue to happen in spite of his presence. He’s part of the “Hollywood formula” that also forced the Liz and Hellboy romance, but one that never functions in any capacity.

 

If the years since the release of Hellboy in 2004 have taught us anything it’s that audiences are prepared to embrace weird, wild worlds of superheroes and the supernatural. We don’t require a baby-faced no-nothing to ask questions for us and force characters to explain themselves. The third Hellboy movie should recognize this fact and embrace its own strange nature without excuse or explanation. Leave John Myers behind, hopefully dead and buried.

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Third Eye Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 3, 2017.

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

 

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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Anyone who has read comics will appreciate that anniversaries are a very important thing in this particular medium. With series running for hundreds of issues, landmarks run from #25’s all the way up to #1000’s. Publishers and creators celebrate these special occasions with new stories, celebrations of the past, and oversized issues. It should come as no surprise that a great comics store treats its anniversary with the same amount of pomp and circumstance. That’s the case for Third Eye Comics in Annapolis, MD which is celebrating 10 big years!

 

The store moved to a new location that opened at the start of July. It has doubled its floor space and provided an updated appearance for new customers and committed fans alike. Third Eye has been a landmark of the comics scene in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia communities for years, but the move down the street provides them with even greater opportunities.

 

Store owner Steve Anderson has been busy preparing for the change throughout 2017 and is excited for what it means. “With our new space, we’ve doubled our size, and have expanded all of our categories, as well as adding some categories not previously in place before” says Anderson. Third Eye Comics is a bonafide comics store after all. If you come inside, you can expect something for you, not just the new superhero releases that make each Wednesday exciting. Anderson mentions that many of the store’s dedicated customers came to comics during the manga boom of the 00’s. Now they have even more space to explore their favorite stories no matter which hemisphere they originate in.

 

The larger space also means Third Eye can continue to lead on the East Coast. It has been a hotspot for signings and events for years, regularly bringing creators from across the country to its store. “We are very excited to be able to accommodate the large crowds are store draws on higher traffic days, as well as being able to have more room to build better, and more eye-catching displays to showcase our favorite works” says Anderson. Fans of the shop and new visitors can both count on Anderson and his staff to make that promise count. At the previous location, Third Eye Comics created a space that adored comics and hosted excellent events. So the additional floor space seems like a bigger canvas on which these comics lovers can now paint.

 

Click ahead to learn more about the history of Third Eye Comics and what the store’s vision is for the future.

 

Every great anniversary is built on a dynamite debut, and that’s true of Third Eye Comics as well. This is a comics store that was great before it even started in the eyes of some Annapolis residents. Before he opened Third Eye, Anderson worked at another local shop and counts many of his most loyal customers and fans from that time. “It’s crazy, and inspiring to think that I’ve known some of our customers for nearly 15 years, and I’m only 35!”

 

His time working at a comic store helped Anderson to discover what he wanted his own shop to be about, and it’s a goal that he’s never steered away from. “Our mission statement has always been to be the comic shop for everyone – even folks who haven’t yet discovered comics” says Anderson. Despite shifts in the industry, growth, and new opportunities, he feels that is a mission that has only grown stronger. Third Eye Comics is meant to be a place that anyone can enter in order to discover their new favorite story.

 

It’s a mission that comes with a success story found in the store’s customers. Many of the readers who are with Third Eye Comics today discovered comics on these same shelves, even if they’ve moved a little ways down the road. Anderson has watched young adults move through high school and college to become readers who will soon recruit their own kids as they open comic books for the first time. Annapolis residents who start to shop at Third Eye Comics don’t typically stop, as it never provides a reason to look elsewhere.

 

That gets to the real heart of the store as defined by Anderson: the people who work there. “It’s our staff and their incredible dedication to building relationships with customers that make us who we are” Anderson says. Everyone at Third Eye Comics is as excited about sharing their love of comics as Anderson. They know each reader is unique and are focused on helping them discover what they will love. There’s no special training or set of rules for the Third Eye staff. “We all just follow the simple law of: be cool to others, and they’ll be cool to you.”

 

The new Third Eye Comics is an incredible looking shop. It is pristinely presented and offers a veritable bounty of comics from across the world. The staff is ready for new events and new customers, helping people from across Maryland discover or rediscover their love of the medium. It’s not the new space that makes Third Eye Comics special though. Anderson believes that comics shops should be magical places, and it’s a belief that this store has made reality.

 

Click ahead to see full details and photos of Third Eye Comics.

 

Store Info

Name: Third Eye Comics

Address: 209 Chinquapin Round Rd, Suite 200

Annapolis, MD 21401

Phone: (410) 897-0322

Website: Third Eye Comics

Twitter: @3rdeyegames

Facebook: Third Eye Comics

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5 Single Issues of Thor You Need to Read

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 3, 2017.

Thor: Ragnarok is mere days away and there couldn’t be much more excitement surrounding this film. Not only do the trailer’s look great, but the early reviews suggest it will be one of Marvel Studios’ best films to date. It’s loaded with plenty of influences and references to its source material with shots taken directly from Walter Simonson’s Thor and designs from Jack Kirby’s best issues. If you enjoy the movie, we highly checking out some of the comics.

 

It’s not easy to know where to start though, especially when many of the “Best Of” guides recommend the entire Simonson saga. That’s not to say it’s not a legendary run, but it’s also dozens of comics, which means a lot of money and time. For those of you unfamiliar with Thor comics, we’ve composed a list of recommendations that won’t require an entire weekend to read or a small loan from your local bank. Instead, we’ve gathered the five best single issues of Thor (or related series) so you can sample what makes the comics great.

 

These issues cover four decades and some of the greatest artists to ever work in the comics medium. So once you leave the theater, snag a few singles and see what Thor: Ragnarok was built upon.

 

The Midgard Serpent

 

Issue: Thor #380

Words and Art by Walter Simonson

Inks by Sal Buscema

Colors by Max Scheele

This issue perfectly encapsulates why Walter Simonson’s run on Thor remains the gold standard for this character. It pits our hero against the enormous Midgard Serpent in a series of splash pages illustrated by the two most prominent artists of the run Sal Buscema and Simonson, himself. These men are legends in the halls of Marvel Comics and Thor #380 gives you everything you need to understand why.

Every page of the fight highlights explosive hit after explosive hit. When the Serpent chomps down on Thor, the God of Thunder shatters his teeth from inside his skull. Things only get worse from there too as Thor fulfills a daunting prophecy in this battle between unstoppable force and immovable object. This issue is a high point of superhero action and metal-styled fantasy, capable of rocking readers new and old.

 

Days of Wine and Dragons

 

Issue: Thor: God of Thunder #18

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Das Pastoras

This is the most modern story on our list and it serves as an excellent entry point into the quickly concluding run of writer Jason Aaron. In only 20 pages this issue encapsulates three key elements of Aaron’s massive story: history, failure, and incredible art. The first two pillars are found in a story of Thor before he was worthy of holding Mjolnir as he befriends a dragon. Both are put upon by overly harsh fathers and it ultimately leads to a falling out. This ancient story of Thor establishes how he became the hero of modern Marvel Comics. It also shows how his failures helped to shape him. No spoilers on how this ends, but it goes from being a lot of fun to a bit of a tear jerker. There are no noble choices to be made when all is said and done, and the final pages are likely to haunt readers just as they haunt Thor.

This is also an incredibly good looking comic book. The primary artist of Thor: God of Thunder, Esad Ribic, took a break and allowed Das Pastoras to draw this issue. Both artists are known for lush, painterly panels with fearsome depictions of battle and monsters. Pastoras provides personality and life to the dragon, making both the moments of partying and gore-filled action sing.

 

And Now… Galactus!

 

Issue: Thor #160

Plot and Art by Jack Kirby

Dialogue by Stan Lee

Inks by Vince Colletta

This issue does technically end on a cliffhanger, but the reason to read it is as a study of Jack Kirby at his absolute best. For anyone looking to understand why this man was called “The King”, they need look no further than “And Now… Galactus!” The issue introduces the looming threat of the planet eater to Thor’s story along with Ego the Living Planet. Even for Thor it was a massive increase in scale and stakes, and Kirby’s pages make the expansion feel as big as it ought to.

Whether you’re looking at an immaculately conceived splash of Galactus’ face or an experimental fumetti depiction of Ego, this comic feels properly cosmic. Even in the smaller panels of conversation, Kirby’s sense of design is starting to show the aesthetic that would later define “The Fourth World Saga” at DC Comics. Every background and character is intricately detailed in a manner that is truly out of this world. This issue is as big and beautiful as any you will find in all of Marvel Comics’ history.

 

Here Be Giants

 

Issue: Thor: The Mighty Avenger #3

Written by Roger Landgridge

Art by Chris Samnee

Colors by Matt Wilson

If you’re looking for a Thor origin story, there’s no better place to start than with Thor: The Mighty Avenger. It was a saddeningly short-lived series, but that makes collecting the entire thing an absolute steal. However, if you want to start with just one issue, then #3 is a great pick. It provides a quick refresher on the character before telling the tale of his very first crossover with other superheroes, Ant-Man and The Wasp.

This has all of the key elements of a great Thor story: Jane Foster talks sense, Loki plays tricks, Thor learns a lesson, and there’s a big smackdown. It also features Chris Samnee who makes these characters every bit as charming as they ought to be. This series beautifully captures the sensibilities of Marvel Comics’ Silver Age with a more streamlined, modern reading experience. Just like the rest of the series this issue is filled with joy and a lot of fun to read from start to finish.

 

Skurge’s Last Stand

 

Issue: Thor #362

Words and Art by Walter Simonson

Colors by Max Scheele

This isn’t really a story about Thor so much as it’s a story about the world of Thor and one minor character taking centerstage. Skurge the Executioner has been around since the earliest days of both Thor and The Avengers as a founding member of The Masters of Evil. It’s at this moment in Walter Simonson’s epic run that he provided one of the most impressive moments in Marvel Comics’ ever. As Thor and his allies work to ferry souls safely out of Hel, it’s Skurge who saves the day in an incredible last stand.

The power of the final pages in this issue cannot be overstated and have to be read to be fully appreciated. Simonson’s prose is perfectly purple, evoking poetry in describing how one fearsome and fearless individual does the impossible. The panels are even more startling as the man known as The Executioner battles a never-ending horde with both axe and assault rifle. After this issue ends, both the demons of Hel and readers will never forget the man who stood alone at Gjallerbru.

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REVIEW: The Gravedigger’s Union Review

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 02, 2017.

Written by Wes Craig

Art by Toby Cypress (pages 6-30) and Wes Craig (pages (1-5)

Colors by Niko Guardia

Lettering and Design by Jared K. Fletcher

Wes Craig has established a reputation for stylistic and fast-paced comics at Image. Whether he’s collaborating with Rick Remender on Deadly Class or kicking out a series of short tales in Blackhand Comics, it’s apparent to anyone with eyes that nobody views comics like this artist. What’s even better is that he has brought this vibe to the first series he is primarily writing. The Gravedigger’s Union combines blue collar politics with gore-tastic action, and promotes the artwork of Toby Cypress whose eye for character design and slick linework can go toe-to-toe with Craig’s. The result is a debut issue where Craig and Cypress expand their work in an impressive fashion.

Cypress’ ability to elongate, accentuate, and exaggerate in just the right fashion makes even the smallest of panels worth noticing. His characters wear their histories on their faces and within their builds. Even while one man’s past is barely hinted at in veiled mentions of family, it’s easy to see his toil and hardships by the way he looks around. Those subtle choices can light up a moment when the same character is taking off the head of a zombie. There’s a lightning energy bound in the action of The Gravedigger’s Union #1 where a leg kicking out can seem as long as the rest of a character’s form. Yet that kick is delivered in so natural of a design that it feels like great graffiti on the side of a brick building in the south side of Chicago. It’s style delivers substance in moments small and large.

The further you read into The Gravedigger’s Union #1, the more you must concentrate in order to appreciate Cypress’ work though. The creative team has decided to take a page from Wytches and layer their own work with blots of color that lie outside of the reality of any given panel. The swathes of grey, blue, and green are often barely perceptible and along with Ben-Day dots can help to create mood. Yet the team takes a more is more approach and begins to add warmer colors as the comic continues. The result becomes increasingly distracting, bringing attention to these odd choices and away from the story and storytelling elements.

The coloring is more evenly layered and effectively chosen in the action-oriented first half of the issue. As things progress the comic leans more heavily into conversation and politicking. It’s here the coloring choices become too obvious to ignore and bury a premise that stands out in the current crop of comics fare. The core tension of The Gravedigger’s Union is pulled from conflicts of class, in which labor and management cannot see one another’s sides. The wisdom and experience of working men is ignored even as television screens sound the apocalypse. There’s a nod to current politics here, but one that’s not so obvious as to directly ape current proceedings. It’s an evergreen sort of concept and one that is unfortunately buried beneath many maroon splotches.

The Gravedigger’s Union #1 is packed with promise. Craig shows chops as a longterm plotter, beyond what was previously visible in Blackhand Comics and Cypress pushes himself to merge the blues and bloody action surprisingly well. Yet the final effects on the pages mute the final effect of the comic. It’s a choice that will need correcting if this story wants to resonate with readers for more than one issue.

Grade: B

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Chicago Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on October 28, 2017.

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

 

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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If you’ve visited Chicago before, you’ve likely come within a few blocks of Chicago Comics assuming you haven’t actually been inside. It’s mere blocks from three of the city’s most prominent features: Lake Michigan, Wrigley Field, and Boy’s Town. You can feel the cool breeze, catch a baseball game, and enjoy some of the city’s best nightlife all within spitting distance of an incredible comics shop. That location has made Chicago Comics the premiere comics stop of America’s “second city” and one that reflects the city’s diverse population.

 

The diverse array of customers has helped to encourage a shop with an equally diverse array of comics. While you can pick up the newest adventures of Superman or Spider-Man inside, they are only a small section on the shop’s walls. “We pride ourselves in being a shop that doesn’t just carry the Big Two or the top 30 books; we want to provide an eclectic array of options” says Raphael Espinoza, the store manager. In a shop that is much deeper than it is wide, that cultivation of titles becomes apparent the further you walk into the store. Each step reveals a new layer of what can be found in comics today.

 

If you walk all of the way to the back wall of Chicago Comics then you’ll find indie comics and self-stapled booklets that rarely feature at any comics store. They’re the bleeding edge of comics creation and creativity today. A few years ago you would have found the first printings of Jason Shiga’s Demon before it was picked up by First Second. “We try to keep a good stock of books by some of the hottest and up in coming creators not in the mainstream” says Espinoza. That’s clear from a single lap of the store. If there’s a genre or type of comic you’re looking for, you won’t leave Chicago Comics feeling disappointed.

 

The dedication of Chicago Comics to supporting artists of all stripes and inclinations likely stems from its owner. When you enter the store, you’ll notice various pieces of art on the walls and floor, including a golden centerpiece. All of these are creations of the store owner. “The owner’s art permeates the shop and is very much one of the first things you notice when you walk into the shop” says Espinoza. Chicago Comics is a shop about art supported by artists. The wide array of comics on display and immense pride in the off-beat states that this shop believes in comics as a medium that is more than pop culture and commerce.

 

Click ahead to learn more about Chicago Comics current audience and what else sets this local comics store apart.

 

Chicago Comics has staked its claim at the heart of the city for many years, and that has helped to secure it a persistent set of readers. There’s a large group of regulars who the staff see on a weekly basis. These are comics readers that have been familiar with the every Wednesday cycle of the medium for more than a decade, and make the effort to obtain their pulls on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of new readers though. Espinoza points to a few key titles that have attracted new regulars, comics like Giant Days, Saga, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther. “The newer readers are often a bit more diverse in backgrounds than the older readers who gravitated towards comics” says Espinoza. However, nobody who enters Chicago Comics ever seems to feel like an outsider, no matter how “new” they might be.

 

Espinoza is excited by the diverse customer base at the store and hopes it’s something other shops can cultivate as well. “Making sure you’re aware of what your regulars and what your customers interests are help a shop thrive, the best way to do that is through dialogue, through conversation” he says. Longtime Wednesday warriors can be depended upon to always pick up a new issue of Batman, but by listening Chicago Comics has discovered new regular readers for series like Lumberjanes.

 

When asked about the future of Chicago Comics (as well as the future of comics in Chicago), Espinoza is sure to note that it depends as much on publishers as shops. “As long as publishers can continue scouting out new and brilliant creators and artists the shop will thrive” he says. Chicago Comics is always looking for the creators and ideas that attract readers. In a hot location like their own, foot traffic helps to bring in plenty of outsiders, but it’s the comics that ensure they will stick around. Luckily for both customers and the store, there are a lot of great comics being published today. As long as that continues, then the future looks bright for Chicago Comics.

 

And so at the heart of Chicago you’ll find the beating heart of comics thanks to the aptly named Chicago Comics. It’s a shop that covers the entire gamut of the medium from today’s hottest mainstream titles to some of the strangest indie offerings around. It’s a store where anyone is welcome, and you’ll likely find both natives and tourists talking up comics side-by-side. Chicago Comics shows that comics aren’t an outsider art as they still exist at the heart of the metropolitan experience. Whenever you’re in Chicago, you should consider a trip to this very special shop.

 

Click ahead to see full details and photos of Chicago Comics.

 

Store Info

Name: Chicago Comics

Address: 3244 N Clark Street

Chicago, IL 60657

Phone: (773) 528-1983

Website: Chicago Comics

Twitter: @chicagocomics

Facebook: Chicago Comics

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How Marvel Comics Made The Inhumans Work

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on October 28, 2017.

The Inhumans have become “fetch” for the Marvel brand. That is to say many fans think the company needs to stop trying to make them happen. For several years the publishing branch has struggled to get a lineup of Inhumans comics to sell. Yet even with well-liked creators like Charles Soule and Kris Anka, few of the series have lasted more than a dozen issues and most fly under the radar after #1. An even worse fate has met the new television series which has been met with merciless reviews and almost no interest from audiences. It seemed like it was time to give up on The Inhumans, until Marvel Comics finally figured out the formula this year.

 

The current lineup of Inhuman-related comics, including Royals, Black Bolt, Inhumans: Once and Future Kings, and, of course, Ms. Marvel represent the most consistent brand at the publisher today. They are receiving excellent reviews that will hopefully be followed by increased sales. In the opinion of this comics reviewer, this combination of series is some of the best work produced by Marvel Comics in the past decade.

 

That begs the question: How did they do it? After so many false starts and missteps, what went right this time? We think we have a few answers on how Marvel made The Inhumans work and what lessons can be gained from this creative success.

 

Understanding the Themes

 

One of the most difficult questions regarding The Inhumans is what they are supposed to be about. They were introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four as a group that was neither heroic nor villainous. Instead they expanded a stranger, grander Marvel universe with new settings, characters, and politics that played out as an ongoing B- or C-plot to the central quartet’s adventures. There have been attempts to map them onto the core metaphors of the X-Men, handling prejudice and division, but these replacements have not been well received.

 

That’s because Inhumans are not the downtrodden of the Marvel Universe; they are the elite. It’s no coincidence that the first Inhuman characters to be introduced were a royal family with incredible abilities living upon the moon. They want for nothing and are capable of living entirely beyond humanity’s qualms. The struggle of Inhumans doesn’t rest in trying to rise up, but attempting to be better. Built into the very nature of royalty are the issues of social justice and self-governance. While Black Bolt might be a just king, he remains a king, nonetheless. When you add the very troubling history of the Alpha Primitives (laborers enslaved by Inhumans), the issue of societal improvement by those with the most privilege becomes a key topic.

 

This is something addressed in all of the current series to varying degrees. Writer Christopher Priest has tackled the issue of slavery and generational privilege head on in the origin story of Once and Future Kings. In Black Bolt the king struggles to use his power to help those he previously looked down upon as he’s given a new perspective in prison. Royals watches the formerly powerful grapple with their new place in the world as they confront an uncertain future. Ms. Marvel sees its heroine use her powers to help less powerful groups in American society. What all of these series have in common is understanding that Inhumans have always been powerful, and the most interesting question lies in how that power is used.

 

Hiring the Best Talent

 

No matter how clearly Marvel Comics may have identified what makes Inhumans work as a concept, it wouldn’t matter without skilled creators capable of realizing those themes and making them entertaining. Looking at the current set of creative teams behind the various Inhumans titles today reveals a murderer’s row of top superhero comics talent. Priest’s return to Marvel Comics after leaving an indelible mark on Black Panther in the late 90s has brought his unique style and social commentary to the comics. Meanwhile, Al Ewing continues to redefine the Marvel universe with a love of its mythos and exploration that truly follows in the storytelling footsteps of the Inhumans creator Jack Kirby.

 

On the artistic side of the equations there is no better looking book at Marvel Comics right now than Black Bolt. Christian Ward’s psychedelic landscapes realize the nightmare prison of its first arc in a fashion few could achieve. He’s also shown a real knack for small emotional moments, distilling the love of a man and his dog or the sadness of final regrets into quiet, direct panels. Ms. Marvel also continues to have one of the most consistent rotations of artists working at the publisher. As Marco Failla wraps up one arc, Diego Olortegui prepares to take over. They offer their own takes on the character and her world, without radically shifting the tone or style of the comic. It’s an impressive continuation of a long-standing contender for the best superhero comics on the stands.

 

Creating Diverse Stories

 

Perhaps the single most important element behind the current success of the Inhumans line at Marvel Comics today is the diversity on display within it. It’s a concept that applies to the art, stories, characters, and creators, alike. All of the series mentioned so far have radically different artistic styles ranging from the dreamlike work of Ward on Black Bolt to the much more clearly defined and detailed work of Ryan North on Once and Future Kings. The contrast between suburban battles in Ms. Marvel compared to the space odyssey of Royals is all that needs to be pointed out regarding the variety of takes on the superhero genre available.

 

The creative teams behind the comics as well as the characters they’re working with have never been more diverse either. Glancing through the teams on these four titles reveals a great collections of age, genders, and races. The Inhumans whose stories are told reflect the same. This is a group that has come a long way from those originally created by Kirby and have been made even stronger as a result.

 

Not only has Marvel Comics finally cracked the code to Inhumans as a brand, but they appear to have revealed some valuable lessons about making great superhero comics in a market packed with capes. It starts with a great idea, adds talented creators, then provides a set of perspectives as diverse as those walking into comic shops each Wednesday. It’s a formula that makes us glad to see Inhumans finally finding their place at Marvel Comics.

 

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10 Top Thor Villains of All Time

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on October 27, 2017.

Thor: Ragnarok only one week away and it’s all set to introduce a bounty of new baddies into the Marvel Universe. Even after two movies, there’s no lack of foes to choose from in the world of Thor. Whether it’s the leading role of Hela or backup antagonists like Skurge and Fenrir, this is a film stacked with great villains. There has even been a glimpse of an unnamed fiery demon…

This all serves to point out that Thor has one of the absolute best sets of villains in superhero comics. Superheroes like Batman, The Flash, and Spider-Man get most of the hype for their rogues’ galleries, but Thor can go toe-to-toe with the lot of them. In order to prove that point we’re serving up the ten best Thor villains of all-time. It’s a list loaded with nefarious talent and one with so many great selections that even some who have made it into the movies were left out.

  1. Loki

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #85

Was there any doubt who would top this list? No matter how powerful or destructive Thor’s other villains might be, none can match Loki’s ability to attack the very heart of the character. Loki is not only one of the most intelligent and devious gods in any of the nine realms, but he understands what makes Thor and all of his allies tick. That insight as a brother and former friend gives Loki an edge that he has used like a sword against the gods of Asgard.

It’s this same element that makes Loki appealing as an anti-hero. For all of his many sins, Loki holds a heart filled with conflict and capable of love, as well. The depth of his history and motives make him both a terrifying villain and an appealing character in his own right. Even 50 years after his introduction, there’s no better villain for Thor than his own brother Loki.

  1. Surtur

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #99

Hela and Mangog are two of the biggest bads in Thor’s world, but none encompass the pure scale of destruction possible better than the bringer of Ragnarok himself: Surtur. From the very first “DOOM” of Simonson’s run on Thor, Surtur has been defined as much as a concept as an actual character. His motive is singular and his means are clear as he works every second to bring about the end of the world in fire. Surtur has brought about Ragnarok more than once and was the very first villain to slay Odin. In a rogues’ gallery filled with forces of destruction, none are more imposing than King of Muspelheim.

  1. Hela

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #102

Hela is every bit as smart and cold-blooded as Malekith, but she shows none of his joy in her own work. There is a grandeur to her machinations that is simply chilling. As the Queen of Hel, even when she is not invading Asgard or claiming souls, her power is astonishing. It makes perfect sense that Hela would serve as the primary antagonist in the newest Thor movie as there’s very little that can stand in her way when she decides to end a life or an entire world.

  1. Malekith the Accursed

Created By: Walt Simonson

First Appearance: Thor #344

While there are a number of tricksters on this list, none of them are nearly as cruel as Malekith. Walt Simonson introduced this dark elf as a sadist who would slaughter innocents with the brutality of Ulik and strategize even better than Amora. His incredible wits and lack of any moral compunction makes him one of Thor’s most frightening enemies. It’s no surprise that he is behind the current War of the Nine Realms, plunging every portion of Yggdrasil into bloody chaos for his own pleasure.

  1. Mangog

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Thor #154

Mangog perfectly encapsulates what makes the final few years of Jack Kirby’s run on Thor so thrilling. It is the combined hatred of an entire alien race transformed into a monstrous amalgamation of animalistic aspects. This unstoppable force is a perfect foil for epic battles. It reveals the scope on which Asgard and Thor function while also allowing for a very entertaining punchup. While Mangog may not appear often, there can be no doubt as to why he’s the centerpiece for the upcoming finale of Jason Aaron’s run.

  1. Amora the Enchantress

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #103

Amora entered the world of Marvel Comics more fully formed and already possessing conflicting motives. Her desire for power, her love of Thor, and her overall narcissism made for a potent combination that would lead nowhere good. These traits have led her to become a founding member of the Masters of Evil and to mastermind some of the strangest tricks ever played on the gods of Asgard. There’s only one foe of Thor’s who is more cunning or clever than Amora, and taking second place to a certain stepbrother is nothing to scoff at.

  1. Skurge the Executioner

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #103

Skurge began life in a very similar form to Ulik, a simple minded bruiser led astray by his love for Amora the Enchantress. This one-sided love affair sowed the seeds for a truly great arc though. As Thor and Marvel Comics continued, Skurge’s story became more complex and ultimately built to one of the highpoints in Walt Simonson’s run on Thor. Skurge’s final stand at Gjallerbru is the stuff of comics legends and shows how far a supposedly simple character can come.

  1. Ulik

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Thor #137

Ulik is the best of the “simple” Thor villains. He’s a brute, much like The Absorbing Man or The Wrecking Crew, but he also captures the ferocity of a real monster and the mythos of Asgard. For this reason he’s a classic, if straightforward, villain. While his plots are rarely detailed, his Uru “pounders” and strength make him a great opponent to throwdown with Thor on any occasion.

  1. The Destroyer

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #118

The Destroyer has one of the simplest and most threatening designs in all of Marvel Comics. It’s massive, plated form looms large on any page, made even more imposing due to its utter lack of expression. This armor has often been an antagonist for Thor, but always as a weapon utilized by another foe. That’s why it can’t rank any higher. No matter how dangerous it may be, The Destroyer is ultimately a pawn.

  1. Galactus

Created By: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Fantastic Four #48

You might think of Galactus as a Fantastic Four villain, but that’s only where he got his start. Galactus is a force of the Marvel universe providing it with an immense sense of scale and grandeur. That’s what makes him such a perfect pairing with Thor. Whether it’s in the form of their first encounter brilliantly illustrated by The King himself (Thor #160-162) or more recently in the far future of Jason Aaron’s current run (The Mighty Thor #1-6), Galactus elevates Thor himself into something larger than a superhero.

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