When I was young, I had always heard that the prerequisite for comic book fandom was owning a complete set of All Star Comics featuring the JSA, and that for second generation fandom it was Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Because we now live in the Golden Age of Reprints, I am able to own both of those series, in hardcover. [NOTE: the title is an acronym for "The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves," but don't expect me to continue putting the periods behind each initial throughout this discussion.] DC started releasing the series in archival format in 2002 (wow, has it really been 20 years?), but I only ever got as far as midway through volume three (which I know because my bookmark is still in that volume where I left off and volume four is still in its shrinkwrap). Because the first  of my Comic Collecting Precepts is "Don't buy what you don't read," it is my intention to read my way through volume eight during the course of this discussion.

I have a bad habit of, when returning to an abandoned reading project, starting over at the beginning. Or I should say I used to have that problem, because I resolved in 2009 to always pick up where I left off when returning to an unfinished project. I have been pretty good about adhering to that plan over the intervening years, but this time I am going to start at the beginning because it has been so long since I last attempted it. I have read this first volume at least three times, IIRC: once when it was released, once when v2 was and once when v3 was. So I've read v2 twice, but only the first half of v3. In addition, I have read T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents - Best of Wally Wood hardcover at least twice. 

But because I have started a discussion of the series, I shall start with issue #1. I don't know how much I'm going to have to say about these early issues, but here we go.

ISSUE #1:

"FIRST ENCOUNTER": The four-page introductory story (by Larry Ivie and Wally Wood), sets up the premise: Professor Jennings has been killed by the forces of the Warlord, but a United Nations task force manages to salvage prototypes of three devices the professor had been working on: an "electron molecular intensifier belt," an invisibility cloak and a cybernetic helmet designed to amplify the wearer's brain power.

DYNAMO: Len Brown is chosen to wear the "Thunder Belt" (as it has been dubbed). "Len Brown" is also the name of the scripter; the artist is Wally Wood. The first thing Brown (the fictional one) does with the belt is to punch through a brick wall, a Wally Wood trademark. This story also introduces Dynamo's femme fatale, the Iron Maiden, one of the Warlord's lieutenants. He can wear the belt only for a short time without causing damage to his body. At the end of this first story, he is captured.

NOMAN: Doctor Dunn is the aging scientist who invented a series of androids into which a human mind can be transferred. The catch is, although the mind can be transferred from android to android, the switch from human to android is one way. Dunn transfers his mind into one of the four android bodies shown, allowing his human body to die. For some reason, in addition to having an android body, it is decided that Dr. Dunn also receive the invisibility cloak. He adopts the identity of "NoMan" and is perhaps the most inept agent in all of THUNDER. 

I don't know how much these android bodies cost or how many of them there are, but the one thing I remember about NoMan from the few issues I have read is that he loses a body in almost every story. In this story, NoMan is sent after the Sub-Men of Demo, another of the Warlord's lieutenants. He sets out in a car with a spare body in tow, almost as if he expects to lose a body. (The spare body is incorrectly drawn with a one-of-a-kind invisibility cloak of its own.) NoMan is defeated, his body's "mechanism's demolished." He transfers his mind to the spare body waiting in the car (now correctly drawn sans cloak). He returns to the lab to find Demo and his assistant fled and to retrieve the cloak.

The art is by Reed Crandall and Wally Wood. So far, the agents are oh for two. A text story follows, but I never read those.

MENTHOR: Mr. Janus, the man chosen to wear the cybernetic helmet, is a double agent for the Warlord. You'd think the name "Janus" might have clued someone in, but the Guardians didn't pick up on "Sinestro" so maybe not. Like the thunder belt, the helmet cannot be worn for long without damaging the wearer. It gives him telekinesis and the ability to fire "brain blasts." One more thing: the "H" in Menthor is silent, pronounced "mentor" (but that spelling means something else). I can't tell you the number of time I've heard someone pronounce the "TH" as in "menthol" rather than "Neanderthal." The art is by Gil Kane (with George Tuska and Mike Esposito).

THUNDER SQUAD: A non-powered group of operatives (Guy, Dynamite, Kitten, Weed and Egghead) with art by Mike Sekowsky. 

DYNAMO: The conclusion to the Dynamo story earlier in the issue, in which Menthor, NoMan and the THUNDER Squad team-up to save him. NoMan loses another android body, the second in a single issue.

I've never seen an actual copy of issue #1 (outside a bag), but I am disappointed at the reproduction value of this entire first volume; it's kind of murky.

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All of Tower’s books, including all of Undersea Agent, is available over at Comic Book Plus.

DELUXE COMICS - WALLY WOOD'S THUNDER AGENTS

This is where I came in.

In 1984 I had yet to read my first actual Tower Comic, but I was well aware of Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents by reputation. As I understand it, David Singer (mistakenly) thought the rights to THUNDER Agents had fallen into the public domain and began publishing a revival series under the "Deluxe Comics" imprint. By the time John Carbono, the real holder of the rights, found about about it and shut them down, Singer had five issues under his belt. As I mentioned in an earlier post, John Carbono used to be a member of this board who posted under the name "The Chief." But I just thought he was a guy who liked the THUNDER Agents. We had discussions about the archives as they were being released and he participated, but he participated in other discussions as well. He wasn't one to toot his own horn, and I didn't find out he was the owner of the rights until after he passed away in 2009, otherwise I would have taken the opportunity to ask him some more pointed questions. 

David Singer's Deluxe Comics series is collected in its entirety in THUNDER Agents Archives v7, which definitely came as a surprise when it was released in 2011, six years after v6. Carbonaro was granted rights over the Deluxe Comics material in the settlement, but had no plans to publish it in the Archives series. The Archives were announced as a series of six but, after Carbonaro died, DC acquired the rights and decided to proceed with a seventh volume. Although I still have the originals, I'm glad they did; it's nice to have them all together on the shelf. And Singer, whether he had the legal rights or not, did right by the series. 

Just as Wally Wood gather some of the top artistic talent of the day to work on the Tower series in the '60s, so too did David Singer on the Deluxe series in the '80s. Whereas the Tower series featured work by Reed Crandall and Gil Kane and Dick Ayers and Mike Sekowsky and Chic Stone and Steve Ditko and Wally Wood himself, Deluxe Comics' talent pool included George Perez and Dave Cockrum and Keith Giffen and Jerry  Ordway and even Steve Ditko. 

"For some reason (actually, I know exactly the reason), I thought the Undersea Agent was a member of THUNDER."

"What's the reason? Tell us! Tell us!"

The reason is this series. Just look at that cover! In addition to the "biggies," there is not only Undersea Agent but also a female version of Menthor. (Plus, he was "Undersea Agent," not "U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent.") Not only did I expect to see Undersea Agent featured in one of the archives still in its shrinkwrap, I likewise expected to see the Menthor helmet passed on to someone else (which didn't happen, either). Let's take a look at the stories themselves.

ISSUE #1:

RAVEN: Surprisingly, the issue (and the series) kicks off with one of the "lesser" super-agents, but Raven, drawn by George Perez, has never looked better... even when drawn by Gil Kane. Raven is portrayed here as a "super-spy" in an exotic locale (Bahrain), and a new femme fatale, Phoenicia, is introduced. Like the majority of the stories from the series' original run, this one is only ten pages, but George Perez really knows what to do with them. It is written by Dann thomas.

MENTHOR: The Menthor helmet is now in the possession of a woman named Consuela (or "Connie"). While she wears it she can communicate with the consciousness of John Janus, the original Menthor. there are some Ditko-esque effects toward the end, but the story is drawn by Keith Giffen in what was then known as his "new style" (which stands out as much from the other artists' as Manny Stallman's did in the '60s). Again, like Perez, Giffen packs a lot of storytelling into only ten pages. 

THUNDER AGENTS: The story, by Steve Englehart and Dave Cockrum, begins with NoMan walking down a city street. The splash page is an homage by Dave Cockrum to his own full-page panel of Captain Marvel (#54, p.17) which itself was an homage to Gene Colan's cover to Marvel Super-Heroes #12. Internal monologue reveals that he has been NoMan for ten years. (Who knows how many bodies he has lost by this time, so I'm going to suspend my count.) He is lured into a trap by a woman in the employ of a shadowy mastermind.

Lightning is really showing the effect is super speed is having on his aging. Kitten and a new THUNDER Agent, an Asian who goes by the name of "China", come walking down the hall. They are on their way to a skiing weekend, and Kitten invites Guy to come along. He refuses, which leads to an argument between Kitten and China, and she calls off the trip altogether. 

The step through the holographic wall, but no mention is made of whether or not they are transported anywhere. they report to the Council, and the Chief gives them their assignments, holding Lightning in reserve, much to Guy's chagrin. Weed and Dynamite are show, as is Davy Jones, the Undersea Agent, now considered a fully fledged THUNDER agent. The scene shifts to show Raven in action, but he is ambushed and captured. NoMan is retrieving his cloak from his earlier mission. Although not an agent, Menthor is listening in via her helmet but decides not to answer THUNDER's call at this time.

Finally, on page 11, Dynamo is introduced with a "THA-DUM!" "THA-DUM!" sound effect I'm not sure what it's supposed to be. Dynamo walks into an ambush and wakes up chained to a wall next to Rave, NoMan has found his cloak by this time and has followed invisibly, but he is captured, too. Lastly, the "shadowy villain" is revealed to be none other than former THUNDER agent Egghead, thought killed in Tower #2. He is now badly scarred and goes by the name Psychosis. this story was 20 pages.

NEXT: "Your Karma Ran Over My Dogma!"

Catching on late to this five-issue series. I'll comment when I can.

In the Raven strip - which I thought was brilliant - we were introduced to Phoenicia. For some reason - maybe the belly dancing aspect - I thought that she was an avatar or representation or somethin' of George's wife Carol. I'm not sure why, but it seemed a pretty strong feeling with me.

Jeff,

if you don’t have TwoMorrows’

I highly recommend it.  I dug mine out last night and reread it.

I don't have it, but I have seen it on the shelf of my LCS. I likely will buy it at some point. 

ISSUE #2:

That's Egghead/Psychosis on the cover. This issue's three stories are again broken down into 10 pages, 10 pages and 20.

RAVEN: I have known Dann Thomas as co-writer of many comics with her husband Roy Thomas, but I wasn't sure if she contributed plot or script or what. This is the first time (I think) I've seen her credited as sole writer, and her stories, both plot and script, are pretty good, based on the Raven stories in the first two issues. She has written a poetic capsule  character introduction which varies its meter from line to line:

Featherless cape for silent flight

Goggled eyes to spy by dark or by day

Deadly talons to point the way to hell!

And beneath the mask: a man named Craig Lawson

I  like that.

Thomas's second story provides an origin for Phoenicia, plus a romantic history for her and Raven. The '80s represented a third "heroic age" in terms of superheroes. Many titles, introduced in the '60s, experienced a renaissance in the '80s: John Byrne's Fantastic Four, Walt Simonson's Thor, Frank Miller's Daredevil. For THUNDER Agents, it is almost as if that series that series had been published uninterrupted and was experiencing a renaissance as well. 

All along in this discussion we have been making excuses for the ultra-compressed, simplistic stories and lack of characterization for Tower's ten-page stories, but Dann Thomas and George Perez demonstrate how it can not only be done, but done well.

LIGHTNING: During an interview, Guy Gilbert reveals his pre-THUNDER backstory as well as a summary of his career as Lightning up to this point. Tower introduced the conceit that using the speed suit would age him prematurely, but they never developed it or did much of anything with that idea, really. The "big reveal" this time is that Guy appears to be a man in his 80s. Another extremely well-done ten-pager, by Tom & Mary Bierbaum and Keith Giffen.

THUNDER AGENTS: As revealed last issue, original THUNDER Squad member Egghead has "returned from the dead" as the super-villain Psychosis. Under other circumstances. I might decry such a cliched move, but in this case I approve because Egghead's death served no real purpose and carried with it no emotional impact. One panel he was alive, the next he was gone. His closest teammates were not even shown grieving for his. why not bring him back as a villain and set him against THUNDER (in general) and Lightning (in specific)? 

Because Steve Englehart's plot is penciled by Dave Cockrum, this story is more reminiscent of the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men than it is the super-heroic renaissance of the '80s. Not only did Dave Cockrum provide the pencils, but they were inked by Murphy Anderson.

I highly recommend it. 

I stopped buying TwoMorrows' Companions when I tired of not being able to use them for research. They are collections of articles from Alter Ego (and probably elsewhere), which is a great way for TwoMorrows to charge a second time for the same material, but good luck looking up anything specific. I have all four (or is it five?) Justice Society Companions, and every time I try to use them to find something out, I end up using Google anyway. 

That being said, are you saying the THUNDER Companion is worthwhile for, I dunno, just reading, Dave? Maybe I've been going about this wrong!

David Singer's Deluxe Comics series is collected in its entirety in THUNDER Agents Archives v7, which definitely came as a surprise when it was released in 2011.

I was surprised and pleased! I don't remember if I have the individual Deluxe issues (probably), but this made them superfluous. And I, too, like having everything together on the shelf.

Just look at that cover! In addition to the "biggies," there is ... Undersea Agent.

Somebody collected all the U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent stories drawn by Gil Kane, which I have, but I haven't read the whole series. (I think I have one of the original four issues.) I don't feel deprived, because it didn't seem connected to THUNDER (the Kane stories weren't) and I have always found books set underwater, like Sea Devils, to be somewhat boring (even Aquaman and Sub-Mariner). But I admit to some curiosity, and would buy a comprehensive collection if one came along.

The Menthor helmet is now in the possession of a woman named Consuela (or "Connie").

Were there any Menthor stories at Tower after the mysterious hand picked up the helmet back in the day? I guess Deluxe is establishing the hand was Connie's, a character they invented, so I wonder what the original plan was. At a guess, I'd say a white dude.

I did like the aspect of her having John Janus in her head. That expands the helmet's original concept, which was little more than watered-down, Silver Age Marvel Girl. This is more interesting. Plus she can now read minds at a distance. Her power is growing! Perhaps she'll become, now and forever, the Phoenix!

I don't remember them doing this, but it would have been more more interesting still if some aspect of every user of the helmet was included. Having Demo in there, or at least a facet or facsimile, could have been verrry interesting. Maybe in the next revival.

Lightning is really showing the effect is super speed is having on his aging.

I liked the effects of the Lightning suit finally acting as advertised. The stories at Tower where Guy suffered ill effects were hand-waved away by "increasing his density" or other technobabble, and he looked perfectly fine. Now we're seeing the price Guy has to pay, and why there aren't an army of Lightnings.

And if they were to kill off Guy and get another volunteer for the Lightning suit (I think that is exactly what DC did), it would really bring home the stakes. Plus, Guy is a boring.guy.

There is this, though: Why not have four or five Lightning suits, and just rotate volunteer agents through them with an upper limit of, say, five missions? Then you could have multiple Lightnings for a big strike, and no one agent would have to end up like Guy.

Lastly, the "shadowy villain" is revealed to be none other than former THUNDER agent Egghead.

I didn't care for this. Egghead wasn't around long enough to be interesting, and the THUNDER universe was always in need of more characters, instead of recycling old ones. Especially boring, one-note ones.

Captain, 

I think the Companion works best as something to read.  A lot of mini biographies of the folks who worked on the Agents at Tower.  There is a lot of info sprinkled in but it doesn’t work as an easy to use reference tool (e.g., no index).  It does have a checklist.  It also includes the story “Cold Warriors Never Die!” from Omni Comix #3 (1995). The art is by Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin.

Captain Comics said:

I highly recommend it. 

I stopped buying TwoMorrows' Companions when I tired of not being able to use them for research. They are collections of articles from Alter Ego (and probably elsewhere), which is a great way for TwoMorrows to charge a second time for the same material, but good luck looking up anything specific. I have all four (or is it five?) Justice Society Companions, and every time I try to use them to find something out, I end up using Google anyway. 

That being said, are you saying the THUNDER Companion is worthwhile for, I dunno, just reading, Dave? Maybe I've been going about this wrong!

David Singer's Deluxe Comics series is collected in its entirety in THUNDER Agents Archives v7, which definitely came as a surprise when it was released in 2011.

I was surprised and pleased! I don't remember if I have the individual Deluxe issues (probably), but this made them superfluous. And I, too, like having everything together on the shelf.

Just look at that cover! In addition to the "biggies," there is ... Undersea Agent.

Somebody collected all the U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent stories drawn by Gil Kane, which I have, but I haven't read the whole series. (I think I have one of the original four issues.) I don't feel deprived, because it didn't seem connected to THUNDER (the Kane stories weren't) and I have always found books set underwater, like Sea Devils, to be somewhat boring (even Aquaman and Sub-Mariner). But I admit to some curiosity, and would buy a comprehensive collection if one came along.

The Menthor helmet is now in the possession of a woman named Consuela (or "Connie").

Were there any Menthor stories at Tower after the mysterious hand picked up the helmet back in the day? I guess Deluxe is establishing the hand was Connie's, a character they invented, so I wonder what the original plan was. At a guess, I'd say a white dude.

I did like the aspect of her having John Janus in her head. That expands the helmet's original concept, which was little more than watered-down, Silver Age Marvel Girl. This is more interesting. Plus she can now read minds at a distance. Her power is growing! Perhaps she'll become, now and forever, the Phoenix!

I don't remember them doing this, but it would have been more more interesting still if some aspect of every user of the helmet was included. Having Demo in there, or at least a facet or facsimile, could have been verrry interesting. Maybe in the next revival.

Lightning is really showing the effect is super speed is having on his aging.

I liked the effects of the Lightning suit finally acting as advertised. The stories at Tower where Guy suffered ill effects were hand-waved away by "increasing his density" or other technobabble, and he looked perfectly fine. Now we're seeing the price Guy has to pay, and why there aren't an army of Lightnings.

And if they were to kill off Guy and get another volunteer for the Lightning suit (I think that is exactly what DC did), it would really bring home the stakes. Plus, Guy is a boring.guy.

There is this, though: Why not have four or five Lightning suits, and just rotate volunteer agents through them with an upper limit of, say, five missions? Then you could have multiple Lightnings for a big strike, and no one agent would have to end up like Guy.

Lastly, the "shadowy villain" is revealed to be none other than former THUNDER agent Egghead.

I didn't care for this. Egghead wasn't around long enough to be interesting, and the THUNDER universe was always in need of more characters, instead of recycling old ones. Especially boring, one-note ones.

My one problem with v7 was the coloring seemed "off" on the slick pages. The Deluxe issues were printed on "Baxter" (i.e., matte) paper (or maybe it was something in the production process and the glossy paper stock at all).

I kinda thought I might like to read some of the non-Kane Undersea Agent stories... until Tower published one in THUNDER Agents. that cooled my desire. Still, if someone were to publish a complete collection, I'd probably buy it.

"Were there any Menthor stories at Tower after the mysterious hand picked up the helmet back in the day?"

No.

"I guess Deluxe is establishing the hand was Connie's..."

Maybe. More likely, your "white dude" guess is closer to the mark. But consider this: these stories take place ten years after the originals. Now consider: what if THUNDER Agents had continued uninterrupted? There could have been half a dozen "Mentors" (at least!) by 1984. If the Deluxe series had gone on beyond five issues, they could have even had a "Tales of Menthor" feature which detailed all the the people who wore the helmet over the decade.

"I did like the aspect of her having John Janus in her head."

Me, too.

"...it would have been more more interesting still if some aspect of every user of the helmet was included."

Like DS9's Jadzia Dax!

"And if they were to... get another volunteer for the Lightning suit (I think that is exactly what DC did)..."

They did. I don't recall how they handled Menthor, but I'll be up to that point soon enough.

"Why not have four or five Lightning suits, and just rotate volunteer agents through them with an upper limit of, say, five missions?"

I don't know... because it makes too much sense?

"I didn't care for this. Egghead wasn't around long enough to be interesting..."

Egghead was barely around long enough to be a character. I did like that they brought him back because it made him interesting. (YMMV)

"[The Companion] also includes the story 'Cold Warriors Never Die!' from Omni Comix #3 (1995)."

That story is included in Archive v7 as well. 

I think the Companion works best as something to read.  A lot of mini biographies of the folks who worked on the Agents at Tower.  There is a lot of info sprinkled in but it doesn’t work as an easy to use reference tool (e.g., no index).  It does have a checklist.  It also includes the story “Cold Warriors Never Die!” from Omni Comix #3 (1995). The art is by Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin.

Sold. Literally. I am ordering on Amazon tonight.

They could have even had a "Tales of Menthor" feature.

This is a brilliant idea. When we start our own comics company, you will write this.

I don't know... because it makes too much sense?

Now that you've read the entire Tower run ... wouldn't you agree that THUNDER was run by morons top to bottom?

I have poked a certain amount of fun at the original series but I really did enjoy the experience of reading it. It had a great deal of potential that it never really lived up to (and that, objectively, it doesn't really deserve). What I like about THUNDER Agents, the Tower series and the Deluxe series and the DC series combined*, is that they take place in the same timeline and share a kind of "faked" continuity. Any long-running series with roots in the Golden or Silver Age has certain "silly" aspects to it which were sort of "grandfathered" in before fans started taking comic books so seriously but which would never fly if introduced today. Superman is like that, and Batman, and Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four as well. I used to think that Tower Comics could have benefitted by a Stan Lee as writer, but now I think it could have benefitted by a Stan Lee (or a Julius Schwartz) as editor.

*I don't know about the IDW series because I haven't read it yet.

ISSUE #3:

That cover evokes other great comics couples from opposite sides such as Will Eisner's Spirit & P'Gell, and Milton Caniff's Pat Ryan & the Dragon Lady.

IRON MAIDEN: Iron Maiden takes on a mission from an unnamed shadow organization (presumably SPIDER): to steal the magnetic belt and wrist bands of THUNDER's Undersea Agent. A comptroller arrives at THUNDER to being trimming the budget. China is egotistical and wants to take over as the new Lightning. Lightning save a woman and child from a fire. Kitten asks Raven for advice about Guy. The Chief and NoMan are on a first name basis. NoMan is conducting six "major research projects" simultaneaously and has been working 24 hour days. Undersea Agent's civilian identity has changed from "Davy Jones" tp "David Corrigan" without explanation. (I'm fine with that.) when Iron Maiden makes her move, she references "Mentanil" gas as well as "retarded tree frogs" (script as well as pencils by Dave Cockrum). NoMan is not susceptible to the gas (but is still vulnerable to being shot in the back). Dynamo awakens to find that "Rusty" is holding Undersea Agent captive in a aquarium and threatening to cut off his oxygen supply.

The archive story is missing two pages. They are numbered 1-10 & 13-20. I wonder what was on pp. 11 & 12 and whether  they were left out on purpose or if it was a production error? I have the originals... somewhere... but I have no idea which box they're even in.

LIGHTNING: The reporter who interviewed Guy Gilbert last issue was Paula Cheney. In this issue, Catherine Dare (Cheney's editor) pays Guy a visit. She wants to dig deeper into some of the facts Cheney held back. An international conspiracy of anarchists, Anarchy, Inc., has been assassinating heads of state. THUNDER uses Lightning to rush an antidote to King Fahd, who was poisoned. While he is gone, Paula Cheney is murdered. Anarchy, Inc. has at least six other names, at least three of them women, on its list. (To be continued...)

NOMAN: All of the character's have new logos, but NoMan's is probably the best. "Work... Work... Work... Work... Work..." follows up on the theme introduced in the lead story and also showcases the return of Stainless Steve Ditko (and inked by Greg Theakson). The action begins with NoMan leaping from the top of a building, apparently committing suicide. But no, he's just running an experiment to make his bodies more durable. The Chief briefs him on three villains, all named Cyrano De Klopps (yes, "Cy Klopps"). NoMan reminds the Chief they have to present his budget request that afternoon, but first, the chief assigns him to follow one of the Cy Kloppses.

Klopps uses "refracted light spectrum technology" to create holographic images of himself (so all "three" Cy Kloppses are, in fact, one and the same), which also allows him to pierce NoMan's invisibility. He captures and kills this NoMan body then, in another body, NoMan presents his budget proposal to the THUNDER council. To the Chief's surprise, it is approved. Meanwhile, one of Cy Klopps' men has infiltrated THUNDER (because of course he has). NoMan is on the brink of "decoding the circuit matrix" behind all of Professor Jennings' devices when Cyclops takes over one of his bodies and destroys all the rest. (To be continued...)

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