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Review: “American Vampire, Volume VII” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Matias Bergara

Title: American Vampire, Volume VII
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Matias Bergara
Series: American Vampire (Volume VII, American Vampire: Second Cycle #1-5)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2015

Finally! American Vampire is back from hiatus, and my library got it in! As always, this review might spoil previous collections, so you might want to start from the beginning…. (Volume I/Volume II/Volume III/Volume IV/Volume V/Volume VI) You’ve been warned!

It’s now 1965, and in the ten years since Pearl Jones and Skinner Sweet last saw each other everything has changed. America is a different place, from the space race to a war half a world away. Pearl has converted her family farm to a safe haven for young and innocent vampires on the run from the real monsters, while Skinner spends his time on the southern border robbing smugglers and drug lords. It’s peaceful, comparatively speaking. Of course, it can’t last….The Gray Trader, the original vampire, the first link in the evolutionary chain that ends with Skinner and Pearl, is coming. He’s powerful. He’s evil personified. He may just be the Devil incarnate. What does he want? God only knows, and unfortunately he’s not all that chatty with our protagonists….Rounding out the collection is a flashback story featuring Gene Bunting as he tracks the myth of the Gray Trader in 1947, following clues left in the journal of a doomed miner working a claim digging its way to Hell.

Gotta say, this was definitely worth the wait. Whereas the previous entries in the series have been stellar, they were admittedly lacking in a cohesive, ongoing narrative that tied the different stories together. Not that I didn’t enjoy reading about the various adventures of our protagonists, those were great stories! But now it looks like we’ve got an overarching story to tie everything together. What’s more, it’s looking to be a doozy! Rafael Albuquerque’s art is stellar as usual, with his trademark style that fits this book so well. Newcomer to the series Matias Bergara also hands in a great bit of work on the backup tale. I can’t wait to see what happens next….

CONTENT: This isn’t for the kiddies! It’s a Vertigo book, so you’ve been warned. R-rated language. Strong, gory violence, as you would expect from such monstrous creatures as appear here. Pearl and Skinner are on the side of the angels, but they’re monsters nevertheless. Their opponents? They’re worse. Mild sexual references, plus a couple creepy bits of nudity in the sketches from the journal. Not too explicit, but there nevertheless. No occultic content; these vampires are purely physical.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume VI” by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque

Title: American Vampire, Volume VI
Writers: Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Jason Aaron, Jeff Lemire, Gail Simone, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, & Greg Rucka
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Ivo Milazzo, Ray Fawkes, Tula Lotay, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, & JP Leon
Series: American Vampire (Volume VI, American Vampire: The Long Road To Hell oneshot + American Vampire Anthology oneshot)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2014

So, it has come to this. The sixth and latest collection of American Vampire comics. Now it’s not just my library’s slow acquisition policies holding me back, but the fact that there haven’t been any more published yet! Apparently the creators put the book on hiatus for a while, but they’ve at least started publishing again. I just have to wait for it to hit the collections….This particular collection is a couple of one-shots they put out in the meantime to keep our appetites whetted–one from the main American Vampire team, one with them letting a whole bunch of other comics creators play in their sandbox. Obviously, this review could spoil events from the previous collections. (See them here: Volume I/Volume II/Volume III/Volume IV/Volume V)

First off, we have The Long Road To Hell. Snyder and Albuquerque set out the story for this one together, with Albuquerque taking over to script and draw the story. Billy Bob and Jo are the Bonnie and Clyde of petty thieves, picking pockets by night to add to their stash. They’re hoping to have enough soon to cover the cost of renting a chapel, but one fateful encounter with a vampire coven recruitment team and everything changes…not for the better, I’m afraid. Jasper Miller is a young orphan, favorite target of a group of bullies. It seems that young Jasper is a very insightful young man, and some of what he knows makes these bullies very nervous, and he decides that the open road would be safer for him than the old orphanage. Vampire hunter Travis Kidd we’ve already met back in Vol. IV, and it’s good to see that he survived the ambush he willingly dove into at the end of that book. Seems to have picked up a katana somewhere in the interim too, which is always cool. Fate has these four on a collision course, and blood will be spilled by the time they reach the end of the road….

Moving on to the American Vampire Anthology, we open with the frame story by Snyder and Albuquerque. The Man Comes Around is set in 1967 as Skinner Sweet hides out in the middle of nowhere, hoping to avoid the major events he can sense just over the horizon. Seems there’s always someone trying to kill him, though…. Jason Aaron and Declan Shalvey then enlighten us as to what really happened on Roanoke Island in The Lost Colony. Here’s a hint, vampires were involved. We then move on to Bleeding Kansas, where Albuquerque puts down his pencil and takes a shot at writing the story, leaving the art to Ivo Milazzo. Set against that tumultuous time and place, Albuquerque and Milazzo set down for us a tale of what I can only assume are Henry Jones’ grandparents. Next up, Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes serve up a tale of terror in the frozen north with Canadian Vampire as ex-Mountie-turned-bounty-hunter Jack Warhammer is hired to find out what happened to a German fur trading expedition missing in the wild. Becky Cloonan handles both the writing and art for Greed, starring Skinner Sweet and featuring his first encounter with those crazy folks who hail from a place called “Hollywood….” Francesco Francavilla then pulls the same trick for The Producers, detailing the birth of a star as he makes a shady deal in exchange for fame and fortune. Gail Simone and Tula Lotay treat us to Hattie Hargrove’s origin story in Essence Of Life, showing us just what happened to her that made her willing to screw over her best friend in the world. Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon share both the writing and artist credits for Last Night, as a lounge singer describes to a reporter the events leading up to the previous evening’s massacre at the club. Finally, Greg Rucka and JP Leon tell the tale of a dying drunk and the lowlifes who try and shanghai him in Portland, 1940.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this as per the usual for this series. The writing was stellar, and the anthology format really served well for the world being depicted. As with any comics anthology, there’s a wide variety of artistic styles represented, and some of those styles I’m not really a fan of, but that’s largely a matter of taste. I could sit here and tell you that I really wasn’t a fan of Ivo Milazzo’s art on Bleeding Kansas (which is true), but the next guy might have loved it. I could laud Tula Lotay’s work on Essence Of Life (also true), but the next guy may not have been a fan. That’s kind of how it works–peoples’ tastes are pretty subjective. I did enjoy getting into Hattie’s head a bit more than we were able to back when she was introduced, and Skinner Sweet’s adventures are always fun–I’ve mentioned before my weakness for antiheroes. As a historian, Roanoke’s lost colony is always a fascinating topic, and a number of the plot twists contained here were very satisfying if not always surprising. I really can’t wait for the next volume to come out so I can see the payoff to some of the plot threads being set up both here and in the teaser from the end of volume V….

CONTENT: R-rated language. Brutal, bloody vampire violence–these aren’t sparkly, angst-ridden pretty boys, these are monsters through and through. Some explicit and implicit sexual content, including what more or less constitutes a rape. No real occult content, as there isn’t a spiritual element to this version of vampirism.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume V” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Dustin Nguyen

Title: American Vampire, Volume V
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Dustin Nguyen
Series: American Vampire (Volume V, Issues #28-34 + Lord Of Nightmares miniseries)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2013

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my library recently got a large infusion of graphic novels I’d been waiting on. Volume V of American Vampire was one such acquisition, and so I bring you the latest in this particular series of reviews. Given the nature of a series, this review will unavoidably contain some spoilers for volumes I-IV (See them here: Volume I/Volume II/Volume III/Volume IV). You’ve been warned.

Volume V consists of two stories happening simultaneously. Well, more like two stories and a teaser for the next one, but whatever. First off, we have Lord Of Nightmares (originally published as a miniseries under the same title) in which we catch up with Felicia Book. When we last saw Felicia she resigned from the Vassals of the Morning Star and went off the grid with Gus, Cash McCogan’s son. Gus was once a vampire, now cured by the serum his father gave his life to protect. Agent Hobbes was content to let them go…but now he has nowhere else to turn. The original Carpathian vampire, the originator of the Dracula story, has been freed by his followers and is amassing an army to destroy not only the VMS but every other race of vampire that refuse to bend their knee. The London VMS office has been wiped out, the coffin-prison containing Carpathian Prime has been stolen by the Soviets, and Felicia and her son are the only ones close enough to help Agent Hobbes close the books on the Carpathian before he engulfs the world in his fiery bloodlust….This miniseries featured guest artist Dustin Nguyen while Albuquerque worked on the main book, and I have to congratulate him on his ability to match his style to that of the book. He does a much better job of it than some that have filled in for past issues. The story started strong, and I’m always up to see new interpretations of Dracula, but the ending was a bit anticlimactic and rushed, I thought. It didn’t really work for me, and I’m not entirely convinced that Carpathian Prime won’t show up again later. We’ll see, I suppose.

While Hobbes and Felicia are battling Dracula, Pearl Jones is out for blood in The Blacklist. Years ago she faced down a cabal of ancient vampires based in Hollywood, and most of them didn’t get out alive. She and her husband Henry have been one step ahead of the wolves ever since, but now they’re done running. One of the cabal paid a visit to their house while Pearl wasn’t home, ripping out Henry’s throat and leaving him for dead. The only place he can receive care in safety is with the VMS, so Pearl reluctantly teams up with Skinner Sweet to take out the remnants of the cabal once and for all. But fate has some surprises in store for when the players are finally revealed….old friends, old enemies, and old grudges are all placed on the table, and when the dust settles not everyone will be left standing. We are then teased with a final brief tale setting up (I assume) the next big antagonist: the Gray Trader. This tale almost felt final, which is fitting I suppose since the book went on hiatus for a while following these stories. Snyder took us full circle, bringing back characters and resolving plot threads introduced in the first volume, all the while winking and telling us that this was not THE end, merely AN ending. Albuquerque’s art was perfect for the tone, as always, and I look forward to seeing what happens next in this universe….

CONTENT: Not for kiddies, folks! This is a Vertigo book. There’s strong, bloody violence, as you would expect from a strain of vampire mythology as brutal and vicious as this. We’re talking dismemberment, throats ripped out, point-blank gunfire, and a close encounter with a pride of lionesses. R-rated language, though not as gratuitous as some other Vertigo fare. A panel or two of sexual content, though no nudity unless you count a shot of Skinner Sweet’s ass. No occult content–these vampires aren’t spiritual, just monsters.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume IV” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Jordi Bernet

Title: American Vampire, Volume IV
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque, Jordi Bernet, Roger Cruz, & Riccardo Burchielli
Series: American Vampire (Volume IV, Issues #19-27)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

My library finally got in the next several volumes of American Vampire, among other things! So that’s awesome, and has the side-effect of placing a large stack of graphic novels next to my bed for the immediate future. Since this is a series, this review will unavoidably offer some spoilers for previous volumes (Volume I/Volume II/Volume III). You’ve been warned….

This volume contains three different stories from the world of American Vampire. First off, we have The Beast In The Cave, which shines a light on the relationship between Skinner Sweet and Jim Book before the one became an outlaw and the other became a lawman, starting with their childhood as near-brothers and continuing into their actions in the Indian Wars. Turns out, Skinner Sweet wasn’t the first vampire forged in the New World. That honor goes to Mimiteh, the young native girl who played Sacajawea to an expedition led by a pair of vampires. The experience proved…transformative. Now rogue Apache leader Hole In The Sky plans to unleash Mimeteh and her fury on the Cavalry forces hunting him. If she cooperates, that is…. On the whole, this was good stuff. It was good to see some more of the backstory between Book and Sweet before their eventual parting of the ways, and Jordi Bernet’s artwork was a good match to the general feel established by Rafael Albuquerque–enough so that I didn’t realize it wasn’t him doing the work on this particular story. You could, however, argue that Mimiteh and her story somewhat undercuts the significance of the events in the first volume and steals the thunder from Sweet. Oh well, moving on.

Returning to the forward-moving portion of the story, i.e. 1954, we meet young vampire hunter Travis Kidd in Death Race. Kidd is on the hunt, taking down vampires wherever he can find them, nest by nest, always looking towards the day he finds himself face to face with the man he holds responsible for the death of his family: Skinner Sweet. Throw a pretty girl and the Vassals Of The Morningstar into the mix, and things are about to heat up…. This story was decent, if a little disjointed due to all the flashbacks. I like the character of Travis Kidd, and hope he shows up again in future volumes. I could have done with a little more explanation of how Sweet survived his apparent demise in 1945, but I suspect that may be a story saved for a future flashback session while Albuquerque catches up on his penciling.

Rounding out the volume, we have an adventure with Calvin Poole in The Nocturnes. You may remember Poole from Volume III, he was the young African-American Marine that went in with the Vassals Of The Morningstar to clean up the vamps on Taipan. When we saw him last, he was lying in an army hospital as a surgeon dug the fragments of a glass vial out of his chest. A glass vial which Pearl Jones had sent with her husband Henry in case of emergency. A vial that contained just enough of her blood to turn a man into a vampire….Now Poole works as a taxonomist for the Vassals, identifying what species they’re dealing with in a given situation. Today, however, Poole is taking a day off to go see his brother play a gig in a sleepy little Alabama town. Turns out, however, that Alabama is generally not a healthy place for a black man in 1954. And this particular town? It’s worse than usual. A decent story focused on an interesting side character, marred slightly by the artwork in my humble opinion. The first half of the two-part story, penciled by Roger Cruz, was decent. It was noticeably different from Albuquerque’s style, but aside from that there was nothing to complain about. That’s not even necessarily a problem. For whatever reason, however, Cruz didn’t draw the second half. That torch was passed on to Riccardo Burchielli, who either failed or never even tried to match Cruz’s artwork. It just didn’t work for me somehow. Maybe you’ll disagree, I can’t say.

CONTENT: As I’ve stated before, Vertigo comics are not for kiddies. R-rated language. Bloody, disturbing violence, as you should expect from a comic with the word “vampire” in the title. No overt sexual content, but there is some nudity. Mimiteh doesn’t wear a stitch of clothing outside of her origin flashbacks, and we get a nightmare-image of Calvin Poole’s wife naked and covered in vampire bites. I have no idea what that’s about, I imagine we’ll find out in future volumes. There is some implied sexual content, but nothing explicit. Mimiteh spent her childhood first as servant then as wife to a French trapper, who then sold her services as a guide to the vampire exploration party. You can draw your own conclusions as to how old she was when her duties changed, since she never says. You can also draw your own conclusions as to what Travis and Piper have been doing all night in his car before he takes her home at the beginning of Death Race.

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Review: “American Vampire, Vol. III” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Sean Murphy

Title: American Vampire, Volume III
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco
Series: American Vampire (Volume III, Issues #12-18 + Survival Of The Fittest miniseries)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

And now we come to the third volume of Scott Snyder’s Vertigo comic series, American Vampire. Due to the nature of reviewing a series, this review will unavoidably contain spoilers for Volume I and Volume II, so be forewarned.

For the bulk of this book we are firmly set in the 1940s, exploring the vampiric undercurrent to the Second World War. But first, we spend an issue following Skinner Sweet in Strange Frontier as he takes the time to visit a traveling Wild West show a la Buffalo Bill. This particular show has his showdown with Jim Book as one of the moments it dramatizes, and after realizing that his old girl is part of the show Sweet decides to have some fun, even some old scores for himself and others…. In Ghost War we follow Henry Preston and Pearl Jones as they face  the Pacific theater, where there are worse things than Japanese soldiers to worry about. Preston joins a secret mission for the Vassals Of The Morningstar to combat a new breed of vampire on Taipan, soon to be overrun by American troops. Along for the ride is Skinner Sweet, out to settle old scores…. Lastly, Survival Of The Fittest follows Felicia Book and Cash McCogan on a mission behind Nazi lines in search of a supposed cure for vampirism. What they find instead could destroy us all…..

This is every bit as awesome as you would expect it to be after reading the previous two volumes of the series. Snyder continues to keep things fresh and exciting. Albuquerque’s art is a perfect fit for the series, rough and unrefined yet at the same time clearly communicating the action and proving to be surprisingly beautiful at times. Sean Murphy does a credible job of matching Albuquerque’s style, keeping a continuity to the artwork that can’t be easy to achieve. If you’ve been along for the ride since the beginning, by all means don’t stop now! I very much look forward to seeing where this goes in future volumes, as soon as I can find a way to get my hands on them. This is the last one my library has in it’s collection…..

Content: Same as before, R-rated language, violence that is occasionally gory and disturbing (what do you expect? It’s a vampire book!), and occasional sexual content/nudity. I keep telling you folks, Vertigo comics aren’t for kids…..

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume II” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Mateus Santolouco

Title: American Vampire, Volume II
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco
Series: American Vampire (Volume II, Issues #6-11)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2011

When I read the first volume of American Vampire, I decided that I would review each volume individually because it appeared that each would be more or less a self-contained story. Having now read the second volume, I think this was a good decision. Just realize that as the review of part two in a series, this will contain spoilers for American Vampire, Volume I. Read on at your discretion. I will refrain from repeating my “twi-hard” rant though, so you can rest easy on that count.

At the end of Volume I, Marshall Book convinced his young wife to kill him to prevent his succumbing to the red thirst of vampirism, but not before she was pregnant with his daughter. Together, mother and daughter plot their revenge on the man that infected him—Skinner Sweet. Sweet walked off into the sunset, gleeful in his immortality, while his newly-turned protege Pearl Jones destroyed her traitorous best friend and the elders that turned her life upside down and then disappeared with her new lover. All is quiet for ten years….

For this second volume, Scott Snyder handles sole writing duties (I guess Stephen King was just in for the first arc) and the book ceases telling two stories simultaneously (see Volume I for an explanation of that) in favor of simply moving forward. This collection is composed of two stories, Devil In The Sand and The Way Out. First, Rafael Albuquerque holds the pencil as Devil In The Sand introduces a new protagonist in Cash McCogan, sheriff of the formerly-sleepy little town of 1936 Las Vegas. Vegas isn’t very sleepy anymore, however, not with the Hoover Dam going in. The workers need someplace to let off steam, and gambling and prostitution have been “temporarilly” legalized in order to allow them to do just that, but somehow McCogan doesn’t think things will settle back down after construction is complete. What he doesn’t know is that the dam is being secretly financed by the vampire Elders, and when someone begins taking out the consortium in charge of construction his town is about to become ground zero for a battle between the vampire old guard, the local vice lord “Bill Smoke” (A.K.A. Skinner Sweet), and a group dedicated to the erradication of vampire-kind from the face of the Earth. And despite his trouble believing in the existence of vampires, it turns out he has a far more personal connection to the conflict than he realizes….Next, Albuquerque gets a break to catch up while Mateus Santolouco draws The Way Out. Pearl Jones’ traitorous ex-best-friend Hattie Hargrove’s wounds have turned out to be less than fatal, and after ten years of torture and experimentation at the hands of the Elders she wants some major payback on Jones. Meanwhile, Jones and her husband Henry stumble into conflict with a human smuggler and his vampire crew.

Snyder’s scripting continues to be spot-on here, though I was a bit disappointed in The Way Out’s ending. I felt like they set it up to be one thing and then pulled out the rug. Oh well, that’s just me. Albuquerque’s art fits the series well, as I’ve mentioned before, and Santolouco does a credible job trying to match his style for the second feature. On the whole, American Vampire continues to be an excellent book.

Content: This is a Vertigo book, folks. That means grown-ups only. Bloody violence, vampire and otherwise. R-rated language. Sexual content, including nudity.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume I” by Scott Snyder, Stephen King, & Rafael Albuquerque

Title: American Vampire Volume I
Writers: Scott Snyder & Stephen King
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Series: American Vampire (Volume I, Issues #1-5)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2010

Are you a “Twi-Hard?” Then you really have very little reason to be reading my reviews of anything vampire-related, for one thing, and probably have a vastly-greater tolerance for crappy writing. You probably won’t want to read this review. I’ve said it before (though I don’t believe I’ve said it in any of these reviews): immortal beings who sparkly are not vampires but a particularly nasty breed of fairy. If I’m being charitable, perhaps a vampire-infected breed of fairy–but a fairy, nonetheless. Vampires are an incredibly rich subject matter for storytelling, allowing you to wrestle with themes of immortality, good VS. evil, inner demons, all kinds of stuff. A conflicted vampire, ala Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Angel? Sure. Walking in sunlight? Dracula does that in the original novel, so I’m flexible on this count. Sparkling? That’s just wrong. Sneaking into a girl’s room to watch her sleep? That’s just creepy, and I don’t mean the kind of creepy one should find in a vampire novel. (Want some fun? Find a YouTube video of Robert Pattinson discussing Twilight. He hates it!) My favorite apraisal of Twilight comes from an interview where the reviewer asked Stephen King what he thought of the book, given his praise of J.K. Rowling and the fact that some people were comparing Twilight and Harry Potter. Mr. King responded in a very matter-of-fact manner: “Stephanie Meyer cannot write for $#!^.” I’m less rigid in my ideas of what vampire stories are aloud to do than King is–I suspect Angel would stick in his craw almost as badly as Edward Cullen–but given that review I was fairly certain I was not in for yet another Twilight knock-off when I picked up the first volume of American Vampire . I was not disappointed.

American Vampire is a Vertigo series conceived by Scott Snyder, with the first volume (issues #1-5) written by Snyder and the legendary Stephen King, and drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. The first collection forms two stories told in alternating chapters, one set in 1925 Los Angeles, the other beginning in the 1880s and detailing the origin of Skinner Sweet, Old West outlaw-turned-vampire. Snyder writes the 1925 story, telling the story of Pearl Jones, a wannabe-actress and newly-minted pawn in an old feud between Skinner Sweet and the old school of vampires–European nobility of breeding and money. King writes the origin story based on Snyder’s outlines. Sweet is the first of a new breed of vampire, and the first vampire conceived on American soil. Sweet’s strain of vampirism doesn’t follow the old rules. He can walk in the daylight, may even be strengthened by it, and seems impervious to silver and garlic. The vampires of this series are savage animals, and while they may at times be sympathetic protagonists we are never allowed to forget how monstrous they are just below the surface. I’m not really all that well versed in art, but I will say that Albuquerque’s work here is very good. He captures the feel of the Old West and the savagery of the characters quite well. I’m not sure if King’s involvement goes beyond this first volume (UPDATE: it does not), but nevertheless I definitely intend to continue reading this series!

Content: This is a Vertigo book, so very much intended for an adult audience. There is a lot of violence, very savage and vividly rendered. This is a vampire book, what did you expect? The language is definitely R-rated, and there is a bit of sexual content. A bit of nudity too, but that part is non-sexual. (It’s a corpse, if you must know. Don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t find that arousing….)

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