Posts tagged ‘New Comics’

New Comics 10 – Federal Men

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A giant robot destroys a city!  This is a job for Superman!  Oh, crap, he doesn’t exist yet!

By far my favourite single page from the entire run of Federal Men, New Comics 10 (Nov 36) has the amazing payoff to the Invisible Empire storyline.  Steve manages to take control of the killer robot, and sends it back to destroy the villain’s base.  They send out two more robots to battle it, but Steve’s robot wins and the bad guys apparently perish as their lab gets pulverized in the battle.

The following issue is a much more straightforward, one issue story, of a gangster on the run who tries to hide out by being an actor in a gangster movie, and Steve and Ralph head to Hollywood to track him down.

Federal Men would take one further leap into science-fiction with issue 12, but then settle down to more “realistic” adventures for the duration of its run.

New Comics 9 – Federal Men

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In New Comics 9 (Oct 36) this Federal Men serial gets a name, The Invisible Empire.  Although it ran from issues 4 – 10, only this chapter gets a title.  The things we take for granted now were by no means a certainty then!

Steve infiltrates the underwater base, and the villains unleash giant killer robots!

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Siegel and Shuster had been writing and drawing these kinds of stories since high school, but none of their previous published work had been allowed to venture into this territory.  Even Dr. Occult, running in More Fun Comics, never had anything on this kind of scale.  And the Superman concept they had been trying to sell was “too unbelievable” for comic books.

The Invisible Empire, although all but forgotten now, was almost as groundbreaking as Superman would be.

New Comics 8 – Federal Men

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New Comics 8 (Sept 36) sees Steve finally get a partner, Ralph Ventnor.  Ralph will get occasional moments of glory, but for the most part is simply a sidekick and foil for Steve Carson.

Jean Dennis also debuts in this story, a strong-willed, no-nonsense reporter for the Tribune, and very much a foreshadowing of Lois Lane.

Plot-wise, Steve has discovered the the villains behind the attacks are operating out of a secret underwater base, and decides to infiltrate it in disguise.

New Comics 6 – Federal Men

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New Comics 4 saw the start of this story in Federal Men, as Steve stops a foreign spy from infesting the reservoir with a bacteria, and moves on to a plot to torpedo the president’s yacht by submarine.

In New Comics 6 (July 36)  it starts to really kick into high gear as giant tanks invade Washington D.C. None of the other series have shown anything so wild or dynamic as these pages. Siegel and Shuster are taking this strip away from the world of the FBI and forcing it toward the superhero universe they are chomping at the bit to create.

In the following issue Steve takes down the villains manning the tanks with a radium-gas bomb, and his superiors think the case is over, but Steve correctly believes the masterminds have not been caught.

Blood Pearls

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This short serial, a bloody tale of vengeance and guilt, was written by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the owner of DC Comics.  The art is very expressive, to the point of over-wrought, but that really just adds to the story.  One thing you can’t help noticing, though, is that in a book where all the strips are one or two pages long, Blood Pearls gets four pages an issue.  Being the boss helps.

The story deals with Baslyn, a ruthless American who has come to the Philippines to acquire a string of red pearls with seven rubies on the clasp, known as the Blood Pearls.  They are owned by Old Dato, who will only exchange them for a chinese mestiza girl.  Baslyn finds one at the Carnival in Manila, drugs her, and brings her to Dato.  Dato has no sooner handed over the pearls than he is killed by his young nephew, who takes the girl and runs away.

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Baslyn attempts to sell the pearls in Manila, but no buyer will even touch them.  Tsao-Chung, the girl’s father, comes to Baslyn’s yacht looking for her, and Baslyn throws him overboard into shark-infested water.

For the rest of the series Baslyn is in flight, believing himself pursued by Tsoa-Chung.  He catches a liner back to the US, makes it to Chicago, then Detroit and finally New York, always seeing a chinese man wherever he goes.  Entering a pearl dealer’s shop, he is confronted and murdered by his pursuer, the brother of Tsao-Chung.

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It’s actually a little disappointing that this quasi-supernatural pursuer has such a rational explanation, though the story does end with them discussing the curse of the pearls, and that the brother was merely the tool, the pearls were the killer.  And the line about “smuggled coolies” being left to drown ends it on a creepy note.

Blood Pearls ran from  New Comics 8  (Sep 36) – New Adventure Comics 13 (Feb 37)

Golden Dragon

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Golden Dragon is, without a doubt, the best serial I have covered so far.  In 31 instalments, from New Comics 6, July 1946 –  Adventure Comics 36, March 1939, it tells the story of a group of Americans hired to deliver guns deep into the Gobi Desert, who use the mission to hunt for the fabled treasure horde of Genghis Khan.  And it even has an ending! An actual, genuine ending!

The story opens with Ian Murray and Ken Cockerill lamenting that their days of training Chinese troops has ended, and their decision to seek out the legendary treasure.  They head to Peking, where they run into Doris Willis and her father, and he hires them to bring weaponry to the Ja-Lama, deep in the Gobi Desert.  They put together a team of other former soldiers – Red Reilly, Bob Walker, Lefty Murphy and the Campbell brothers, Don and Sandy.

While loading up the train, they are approached by Pan Chi-Lou, an emissary of the Chinese government, who they rough up and force to accompany them, though he really doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, and helps them throughout.

The train gets attacked by Mongolian horsemen, lead by Torgadoff, who is the Head Priest of the Golden Dragon, but the Americans are aided, and then accompanied, by a group of Cossack mercenaries.  At this point they also run into Doris again, as she has escaped from Torgadoff, who kidnapped her back in Peking to try to get her father to stop the arms deal.  She joins the caravan as they load up onto camels and head across the desert.

Up to this point the story has moved at much the same pace as other serials, but now it slows down, which surprisingly is a good thing.  Instead of overloading us with events and cliff-hangers, the story builds slowly, gives meaning to the actions and allows itself time to explore the characters to some degree.

The caravan reaches a ruined monastery, which appears deserted, although they notice the temple lamps have been refilled.  A couple of instalments are spent just on making the monastery an eerie location, while allowing the characters to interact with each other, and the start of the romance between Ian and Doris.  Pan Chi-Lou goes missing, and then we see Ian and Doris get captured and taken away through a hidden passageway.

They have been captured by the Ja-Lama and his men, who do not want to have to pay for the weapons shipment, and are intending just to steal it, and who send a small army to attack the monastery.  Ian, Doris and Pan manage to escape and make it back to the monastery, which has successfully been defended, largely due to the efforts of the Cossacks.

Ken is jealous of the burgeoning relationship between Ian and Doris, and makes his own play for her while Ian and Reilly head off on a scouting mission, but get severely rebuffed by Doris.  He is then approached by Torgadoff, who tells him he will give Doris to him if he stands down on guard duty that night, which he does.  Torgadoff’s men enter the camp dressed as skeletons (for no apparent reason, but it does look cool), and capture Doris and the rest of the Americans.  Ken joins them, but is trussed up with a bag over his head and forcibly brought along.

When Ian and Reilly return to the camp, they discover not only are their comrades missing, but that the Mongols have stampeded the camels as well.  The Cossacks still have thier horses, which were taken a distance away from the camp to graze during the night, so they proceed on their quest, though have to leave much of their stuff behind.

They find another monastery deep in the desert, and the only bit of poor continuity occurs.  Oh, sure, there have been a few errors.  At one point there were two Walker brothers, instead of two Campbell ones.  Doris’ last name was Whipple in one chapter, and her hair changed from brown to blonde about halfway through the run, but those are minor.  Pan Chou-Li was established as one of those missing from the camp when Ian and Red returned, but as they reach the second monastery, Pan Chou-Li is suddenly with them, acting as an interpreter.

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The abbot of the monastery allows them to stay, though Torgadoff finds out they are there.  We learn that Torgadoff wants to to take total control of the region, known as the Three Don’t Cares, as its an area not claimed by China, Tibet or “sovietized Mongolia”, but the hub of major trade routes.  The Ja-Lama works for him, but wants to overthrow Torgadoff and rule in his place.  Ken gets drugged, and Torgadoff, still promising him Doris, has him write a letter to Ian warning that Torgadoff will make Doris become the “bride of the Golden Dragon” unless Ian comes alone to give himself up.   Red takes Ian’s place, which infuriates Torgadoff,

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The Golden Dragon itself finally appears, a giant gilded python that Doris is going to be fed to.  Ian arrives, with the Cossacks, and besieges Torgadoff’s fortress, saves Doris, and throws Torgadoff to serpent, then shoots and kills the monstrous snake.

We learn that Ken has been killed by one of the guards, and discover that Pan Chou-Li is the lineal descendant of Genghis Khan and rightful heir to the treasure, which had been “guarded” by the Golden Dragon.  Pan pays for the arms shipment, and also generously rewards the Cossacka and Americans.  Ja-Lama is allowed to homourbaly commit suicide (though this is not stated outright, you can understand easily what is being referred to), and the story concludes with Doris and Ian in a warm embrace.

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Not only is the story above par, the art is as well.  The asians look asian, not like caricatures (ok, the main bad guys do, a bit, but not overly so), the locations are lovely, and I have little doubt that the odd parka-like clothes the Mongolians wear is correct, or at least clearly based on actual clothing.

 

She

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“She” is an adaptation of the classic novel (which I have never read) by H. Rider Haggard. It is well told, and manages to reach the end of the story, running from New Comics 6 (July 1936) – New Adventure Comics 22 (December 1937).

Sadly, the art is really pretty awful.  There are only two good panels in the entire run, both of the title character.  The first is in issue 14, the first time we (and the main characters) meet her, and despite being shown completely wrapped in robes, she looks pretty naked.

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In issue 18 we see her without the robes for the first time – not nearly as naked looking, which is odd.

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Perhaps because She was originally a magazine serial, it fits this format much better than many of the other adaptations that have been run.

The story follows three men, one of whom was orphaned, but left a chest with a scarab ring and relics pertaining to his lineage.  Following the trail of this, they head to Africa and encounter a two thousand year old woman of ethereal beauty, who lives in an elaborate series of caverns in a mountain, around the ruins of the city of Kor.  The orphan, Leo, is the descendant of her long dead lover Kallikrates, and She believes him to be Kallikrates reincarnated.  It is primarily an adnventure story, but there seems to be more depth to it than usual, with themes of love and sacrifice that make me suspect the novel would really be worth reading.

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Steve Conrad

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Steve Conrad’s series begins with the subtitle “on the Island of Dolorosa”, and the first eight chapters take place on this island.  It opens in New Comics 5 (April-May 1935) with Steve, Captain Judd, and a botanist and financial backer planning an expedition to the mysterious island, and discovering Myra stowing away on their ship

Dolorosa is populated by a tribe that have ape-like heads, called the Zoanthropis, who are lead by a white man named Devachan.  He has Myra captured, and wants to sacrifice her, but Steve rescues her and they escape from the Zoanthropis by diving into the crater of an extinct volcano.  Here they encounter the “Sea People”, another island tribe who swim a lot, and who are lead by another white man, Professor Bombay of Eton Medical College.  Coincidentally, Sam and Keith are also down in the crater with these guys.  Either Sam or Keith is a black man, but who is who is never made clear.

Professor Bombay enlists Steve and friends in his war with Devachan and the Zoanthropis.  As the fighting is going on, Captain Judd spots a passing ship and gets its attention.  Devachan, seeing that his tribe is losing the battle, has a switch which will somehow destroy the island, and he pulls it just as Steve and his buddies get rescued by the passing schooner.  The island explodes, killing all the tribesmen, and Professor Bombay, but Devachan survives.

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With issue 14 the name of the series changes to The Adventures of Steve Conrad, and we are informed that on board the schooner are Steve, Myra Rutherford, Captain Hugo Judd, Professor Bromberg, and a stowaway.

So either Sam or Keith must be Professor Bromberg.  Is the black guy a stowaway?  What was he stowing away on?  Why has he been just one of the gang until now?  None of these questions are answered, as we never see him again, nor is there any further mention of this stowaway.  Also mystifying is that the captain of the schooner, who was seen in the previous chapter bringing them to the ship, is nowhere in sight, and Captain Judd is in charge.

Devachan gets onboard and starts murdering the crew.  Steve fights him, and they fall into the sea.  Myra dives in to help, but they are separated from the schooner, which is never seen again.

They tie Devachan to a mast they find floating in the water, and then spend four days hanging on to it until they all wash up on the shore of Boa Island.

Boa Island is populated mostly by women, though there is a man in charge of them, Tangi.  He has Steve and Myra tied up, but Steve is freed by a helpful monkey.    Steve gets stuck having to fight Devachan, and after he beats him then he has to fight a group of “bronzed men”, the Appolons, from nearby Hercumo Island, who regularly come over to Boa Island to find brides.  Steve defeats the Appolons, but their not-bronzed king, Olam, has already claimed Myra for a bride. Steve somehow has obtained a bow and arrows, and shoots them at Olam.  As he swoops in to rescue Myra, she rebuffs him and has him captured.  Why the heck she does this is never explained.  Not even Steve understands.

But whatever prompted Myra to do this, she clearly regrets it as in the next chapter Steve escapes from his captors and once again gets Myra away from Olam, though this time she is happy about it.  As they flee by vine, Devachan cuts it, sending Steve falling into an alligator pit, and Myra into quicksand.  Steve eludes the alligators, but gets stuck in the quicksand as he tries to rescue Myra.  The helpful monkey sees all this, and throws a coconut to get the attention of a geeky and never-before seen explorer, who runs away.

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The strip takes a bit of a hiatus at this point.  Will Steve and Myra survive?  Do they spend nearly two years in quicksand waiting to be rescued?

After nearly two years, Steve Conrad returns in a new series that completely ignores the previous one.  He now has a short, fat chinese sidekick with glasses, Chang.  Presumably Myra died in the quicksand, and Steve was severely mauled by the alligator and spent a couple of years recovering, during which he and Chang became buddies.

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In this run, Steve travels the world having one-shot adventures.  Chang is there for racist comic relief.  For a while he is even featured in the logo, saying “humourous” things.

The series does not start off badly.  Singapore Sal, a jewel thief, is introduced in an entertaining story in issue 48, framed for theft, though its the owner of the jewels who was the real thief.  She makes an impressive return in issue 51, captaining a ship out to a reef to retrieve a nest of pearls, though Steve fakes her out and makes her throw them overboard.

In mid-1940 the setting for the stories curiously moves from the South Pacific to Europe.  The August 1940 issue sees Steve and Chang get mixed up with good spies and bad spies in Paris, but with no acknowledgement of the nazi invasion a few months earlier.  Even more egregious is the following issue, as Steve and Chang cruise the Mediterranean, commenting on how safe and peaceful it is!

With issue 56 Europe is left behind, and the series jumps around a lot.  Now Steve is in the south seas, now in Africa, now in India, now Brazil, now back in Africa.  As the Second World War spreads, Steve’s adventures feel increasingly awkward, the locations he is going to were all becoming sites of military action, though his stories never acknowledged that.

More uncomfortably, in tale after tale Steve comes to the aid of plantation owners, mine owners, industrialists – all white people needing help against the indigenous populations they are exploiting, and Steve is always happy to kill the natives.  The native peoples are invariably portrayed as purely evil, and no credence is given to their desire to control their own lands.  In most of the stories they are too busy wanting to kidnap and rape white women.

The art is decent for much of the run, though downright awful at times.  Issue 63 sees Steve and Chang in Egypt, and the panels of Steve climbing, and falling off, a pyramid are so poorly drawn that without narrative I would never have understood what I was looking at.

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As the series nears it end it moves further from the real world.  In issue 69 Steve seeks out and finds a “hidden land” of dinosaurs and cavemen.  Exactly the kind of story I love, but this is poorly told, with unexciting art.  Issue 70 has Steve seek for sunken treasure in a fictional location, and though he does go to India in issue 72, he deals with thought-controlled robotic tigers.

In issue 73 a scientist sends Steve through time with a machine he has invented, and Steve has a short adventure in a weird Egyptian/Babylonian culture.

The final two installments take place in India.  Steve is once again called to help white plantation owners, but the “menace”  is a Mowgli-type boy, riding a tame tiger.  Steve befriends the lad, and determines that he is really a very tanned white boy.  He is staying at the plantation of Colonel Bently, whose daughter Jane accompanies Steve into the jungle.  As the series ends, in Adventure Comics 75 (July 1942) Steve announces he is going to solve the mystery of Tarsi, the jungle boy, and Jane declares that she will be right at his side as he does this.

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With no further appearances, we can assume that Steve and Jane became a couple, raising Tarsi like a son.  Though with India’s push or independence following World War II I would not expect his plantation life to have lasted much past that.

 

Sandor and the Lost Civilization

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Set in northern India, this is a Tarzan take-off, more or less, with Sandor, a white man raised by wild dogs. It ran from New Comics 5 (May-June 1936) – New Adventure Comics 26 (May 1938)

The Rajah Marajah is out to kill him, though we never find out why he hates him so.  There may have been a reason in the writer’s mind, there is a mysterious letter in the Rajah’s vault that has something to do with Sandor, but despite 21 issues, no one ever finds this letter or reveals its contents.

Sandor has a number of animal allies who fight for him.  Eleka the dog, Agra the lion and Awla the elephant all play a part in his adventures.  He also has a number of human allies – Benar the fakir, Jadev the spy, as well as the High Priest and Leopard Tamer.  In fact, the Rajah only has nameless soldiers and guards fighting for him, everyone else is on Sandor’s side.  We never find out what Sandor has done to gain such loyalty, though the Rajah’s tendency of throwing people who displease him into the crocodile pit may have something to do with it.

The art is quite good on the strip, and the story starts pretty strongly.  Sandor gets captured briefly by the Rajah, but is freed by his dogs.  Elaka and Benar are captured and brought to the palace in issue 7, and the action moves there from the jungle, but gets bogged down in an endless series of thefts, disguises, trap doors, secret passages and plots.  One keeps hoping for that damn letter to be read so that all of this will take on meaning, but that just doesn’t happen.

The series ends without even a good cliff-hanger I can make fun of.  I guess Sandor just gets bored of it all and sneaks out of the palace through one of the many secret passageways and goes back to the jungle, living out his days with his animal buddies and never learning what was in the letter or how a white kid wound up getting raised by dogs in northern India in the first place.

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Dale Daring

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I really do not understand how this series lasted as long as it did.  The only explanation I can think of is that the publishers felt “Dale Daring” was a great name for a series, and kept with it.

It begins in New Comics 4 (March-April 1936) with a four-part serial, The Drew Mystery.  There are many mysteries about this serial, not the least of which is why it is called the Drew Mystery, as no one named Drew ever appears.  Dale is introduced on the phone with police lieutenant Dick Sparks, telling him that she is following a lead on the Drew mystery, which takes her to plastic surgeon Dr. Millard.  Millard warns her that she is in danger, and he is right about that, as men burst in and capture her (but not the doctor) and take her to a cabin in the woods which they set fire to, in order to kill her.  Dick tracks her, but it’s a mysterious bearded man with an eye patch who rescues both of them from the bad guys, bringing them to the cave he lives in with a variety of exotic animals.

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And the first serial ends there.

What?  What the fuck was that?  Is Dale a policewoman?  Is she a private detective?  Is she just really nosy?

For some reason the series returns a few issue later, but now she is in China with her father, worried about General Tsin Lee, and friends with US marine Captain Dan Brewster.  Her father gets captured by the general, for no apparent reason.  Dale and Dan pursue him, aided by a “native” guide named Ali (so he is not a native to China, that’s for sure).

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It seems DC was not 100% certain about continuing this serial at first.  It debuts in issue 11, has its second chapter in issue 13, but doesn’t become a regular feature until issue 17.

But continue it they did.  Dan, Dale and Ali find and rescue her father, but wind up in a shooting stand-off with Tsin Lee and his men.  Our heroes are trapped in Tsin Lee’s arsenal, which conveniently has a radio Dan uses to contact the marines, who come flying in and machine gun Lee and his men.

With issue 23, Dale, her dad , Dan and Ali are back on the coast of China, and think their troubles are over.  While Dale and Dan have a dinner date, her father gets kidnapped again, and off we go back to the interior to rescue him again, this time from Tsin Lee’s father, who is seeking vengeance for the death of his son.  Dale gets captured as well, and Dan Brewster becomes the unquestioned main character in this serial, as there are chapters of him tracking them and battling “celestials” (which I guess means evil Chinese people) before finally rescuing Dale and her dad.  Conveniently, as they are trying to make there way back to the coast another US marine comes flying overhead and saves them

There is some very nice art in this, when Dan cuts a rope bridge to stop the pursuing “celestials.” That’s really the only positive comment I have about the series.

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In issue 32 Dale accompanies her father to his rubber plantation in South America  (Brazil I would assume), and Dan quits the marines to go with her, likely hoping he would finally get his name on the series.  He tells Ali he is going to bring him along, but since Ali vanishes from the strip, I imagine he failed to get him through customs.

The rubber plantation is run by a new and sadistic foreman, and Dale and Daddy get there just in time for a native uprising.  Dan shows up to join the fray, but once the natives have killed the foreman they give up, happy to be working for Mr. Daring again, who promises better conditions for them.

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So they hang out in Brazil now.  Dale gets a big picture of her face next to the title logo, in a failed attempt to convince the reader that she is the heroine of the series and not just the woman Dan Brewster will rescue over and over again.  Dale and Dan go exploring in a haunted cave, looking for treasure, but after some cool stuff with time-lost Spanish pirates we find out that was just a dream.

Then Dale and Dan head to an island, where they come across ivory smugglers whose boat crashed.  The boat the smugglers are using is fairly small, not practical for an ocean crossing, so I guess they were getting the ivory tusks from those famous Brazilian elephants we hear so much about.

Dale and Dan get captured (of course), and escape (of course) and find a military base, and lead the troops back to where the smugglers are.  The smugglers mine the river, planning to destroy the boat Dale and Dan are on, but in fact wind up sailing into the mines and killing themselves.

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And in Adventure Comics 37 (April 1939) the series is finally done.  I would have cancelled it after the eye patch guy with his cave of exotic pets.

 

 

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