This Week in DC: Harley Quinn and the Joker Have It Out

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This week in DC Comics, Harley and the Joker have an epic throwdown, Martian Manhunter turns into a giant Earth-saving machine, the Secret Six and Batgirl make nice, there’s another installment of Max Landis’ origin of Superman and Doctor Fate goes topical.

Which ones should you buy? Read on to find out!

Secret Six #11, writer, Gail Simone, artists, Dale Eaglesham and Tom Derenick

Ray: 9.5/10 (Book of the Week)

Corrina: Most. Fun. Dysfunctional Family Ever.

Ray: This is a breather issue in a lot of ways after the big magic-based arc that just wrapped, but in many ways it feels just as significant – and even better – than any of those issues. Because there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching this weird band of misfits interact and become a bizarre family. We’ve got Porcelain and Strix arranging a trade of skills, as Strix tries to teach Porcelain to fight (in a scene that reminds me a lot of Cass and Steph’s old “training sessions” that lasted a few seconds) and Porcelain gives Strix a makeover. This is the first time we get to see Strix without her bandages, and much like Damage in the last Justice Society of America run, the truth under the mask is far less horrific than what was hinted by the time of the unveiling. She’s got scars, but the structure of her face is far more intact than I assumed. Meanwhile, Ralph/Big Shot gets a phone call from Sue, claiming she’s starting to remember and asking to come home. I’m hoping this is genuine, but this book tends to be twisty, so who knows. The makeover scene is sort of sweet, but as usual, Ventriloquist is the spanner in the works, convincing Strix that she should be proud of her scars.

I’m not sure whether to see this as a case of misfits helping each other be proud of who they are, or a twisted woman sabotaging a teenage girl’s chance to feel normal. Aside from these little vignettes, there is a main plotline. While out walking his dog and his horrific goat-fly eldritch abomination, Catman is ambushed by Batgirl, the first time Gail has written the Batgirl of Burnside. You can definitely tell the character’s changed – Gail writes her as much more quippy than she was in her original run. The two have a hilarious fight before Blake is actually able to get the answer out of Batgirl about why she’s here – a group of assassins is after Strix, led by Lady Shiva. There’s so much interesting stuff going on in this series, and I’m really glad to see a couple of Gail’s favorite characters take the helm again. Cannot wait to see what’s revealed next issue, and hoping this book survives Rebirth. The DCU needs the Secret Six.

Batgirl visits the Secret Six. Image via DC Comics
Batgirl visits the Secret Six. Image via DC Comics

Corrina: As Ray said, this is something of a breather issue, as the Six regroup having (they think) solved the problem of the evil overtaking Black Alice. They don’t realize she was the demon behind it all. (Or is she? The demon pretending to be Alice said so but demons like to lie.)

The real news here is Simone writing Batgirl for the first time since her run on the book, and definitely the first time since Batgirl’s “soft” reboot. At first, I thought this was going off the rails as Batgirl acts like a punk kid around Catman but, hey, that’s a bait and switch. Nicely done! Meanwhile, Big Shot/Ralph gets a phone call from Sue and I think Ralph should confront Admiral Ackbar before going to that rendezvous.

Also, Strix learns a lesson about accepting herself but she learns it from a puppet. I’m with Ray about feeling ambivalent about the message. Perhaps it’s okay to cover scars  if you like or show them if you like?

Harley Quinn #25, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, writers, Chad Hardin, artist

Ray: 8.5/10

Corrina: Great Issue For Longtime Harley Fans

Ray: There’s a lot of anniversaries coming next month for the 12 titles that reached 50, but Harley started later in the game. Being one of DC’s breakout hits and hitting 25, that deserves a little celebration! This issue is regular-sized and doesn’t get any real anniversary promotion, but the story feels a little bigger and more consequential than it usually is. With her boyfriend Mason locked up in Arkham as part of the Mayor’s revenge, Harley is ready to pull off her big plan to infiltrate her former place of employment and later home. With help from Poison Ivy and armed with all sorts of villain tools (including a gas that turns people into hulked-out Bane-like maniacs), she liberates her target – only to be derailed on the way out by a certain persistent ex.

This comic feels a little out-of-continuity, since the version of the Joker seen here hasn’t existed since the start of the New 52, but it’s easy to ignore. I’ve been wanting to see Harley serve notice to Mistah J for a while, and this issue’s bloody, raw, violent confrontation between them delivers. It’s actually probably the most serious scene I can remember in this usually lighthearted book. I’m personally hoping this is the last word on Harley and Joker and she’s allowed to move on. Ideally with Ivy, who gets more overt flirtation with her this issue! Mason and his mom are written out of the book in a satisfying way that makes it possible to come back, and I found Batman’s guest appearance very entertaining – although I find his “Just don’t do it again, you scamps” approach to Harley and Ivy’s antics a bit weird. Overall, this issue ties up a lot of long-running subplots and sets up some interesting new ones. One of my favorite issues of this series in a while.

Corrina: This is as much of a happy ending that Harley Quinn will ever get. She’s free of the Joker’s influence, she’s good with Ivy, Batman helps her out, Mason takes responsibility for his crime, and the Mayor of New York will soon be in jail. As for the flirtation with Ivy, the creators did all but draw a neon sign pointing to a “hey, guys, they just had sex” sequence. I’d consider that more than a flirtation.

Does this book make sense in the context of the regular DC Universe? Probably not but this comic has always been slightly off from the rest of the DC books. It also hasn’t been afraid to break continuity or the fourth wall in the service of a good story. This is as satisfying a statement of independence and sanity as Harley Quinn will ever have.

Aside: Can we retire six-pack abs Joker? That’s just too weird. I need brain bleach.

Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death #2, written by Amy Chu, pencils by Clay Mann, inks by Seth Mann, Jonathan Glapion, and Art Thibert

Ray: 7.5/10

Corrina: Life and Death In the Title is Literal.

Ray: Part corporate espionage/murder thriller, part mutant sci-fi adventure, this spotlight for one of Batman’s more popular villains is getting into some really strange territory with issue #2. When we last left off, Ivy’s boss and mentor was found dead in her lab, and her co-workers are quick to write this off as a lab accident caused by her work with toxic plants. Ivy is more suspicious, however, and begins to investigate. Her shady boss Victor stonewalls her and threatens to expose her as Poison Ivy, while young scientist Darshan, a Jain with a connection to plants, quickly becomes an ally of Ivy’s as she attempts to suss out whether he can be trusted. There’s not too many clues this issue, although the ending seems to rule out one major suspect in a deadly way.

Mixed in with the murder mystery and character work, though, is a very strange plotline about Ivy’s experiments in fusing animals and plants, resulting in an ending where “pregnant” giant roses give birth to green half-plant babies. I didn’t quite see Ivy as being into plots that seem like they’re inevitably going to result in horror movie-esque creatures gone wild, but it certainly adds a new wrinkle to the story. I’m personally suspecting that Luisa Cruz herself is behind it all, faking her death, but we’ll see if I’m right. This comic could go in a lot of different directions before it’s over.

Corrina: Events take an odd turn, as in a plot twist right out of Batman: The Animated Series, Ivy creates her own children. This time, however, she’s not pretending or delusional or even trying to go straight. Good and evil are ridiculous concepts to Ivy. Her own morality is centered around her scientific studies her plants and, now, her creations. It’s an utterly alien mindset but that’s something all to the good, as it’s a fascinating one.

Meanwhile, I haven’t decided who is the killer behind the murder, though I wonder if Clayface or another one of the Gotham villains are behind it. But there’s not another image this week that comes close to the weird (and yet sweet) scene of Ivy cradling her plant/baby twins.

Martian Manhunter #9 cover, image via DC Comics
Martian Manhunter #9 cover, image via DC Comics

Martian Manhunter #9, Rob Williams, writer, Eddy Barrows, Ronan Cliquet, RB Silva, pencillers, Eber Ferreira, Marc Deering, Andy Owens, inkers

Ray: 8.5/10

Corrina: Best DC SF Book Ever?

Ray: I would have loved to be in the room when they pitched this book. Martian Manhunter reminds me a bit of the current Vision title from Marvel, in that both take a character who’s a mainstay in the main team book but rarely gets a solo spotlight, and proceeds to deconstruct their unique nature in a complex and dark book with indie sensibilities. While Vision is more of a cyber-horror book, this title goes the direction of hard sci-fi, with the biggest scale and densest plotting of any title in the new line. This issue opens with a great scene in which John Constantine – in bed with his demon ex Blythe – wakes up and sees the Living Mars hanging overhead in the sky.

From there, we flash back to Mars, as J’onn makes a pact with the embittered Alicia and proceeds to pull a truly epic move as he stretches his body until he fuses with Ma’alef’ak’s ship until he takes it over, becoming a giant Manhunter/Mech fusion. Kind of wish this scene hadn’t been spoiled on the cover, though. Meanwhile, Wessel, Pearl, and Mister Biscuits find themselves on a mysterious quest on the surface of Mars, searching for a strange Martian girl who may be the key to everything, and J’onn comes up with a desperate last-ditch plan to save both Earth and the population of Mars. This is a book I think will probably get culled with Rebirth looking at the sales, but I have a feeling that like Omega Men, this one will live on in collections and go down as a definitive DC sci-fi book.

Corrina: This is the purest SF story DC is publishing right now and it seems to up the stakes with every issue, showing us ever more-amazing things, like the Martian Manhunter’s consciousness taking over a mecha robot that could possibly save Mars and Earth. I love the idea that the Manhunter was actually a group being bearing the souls of the last survivors of Mars and that this consciousness will be its salvation. Obviously, Earth will survive, despite the fact it’s been in peril for three issues now, but I find myself crossing fingers that Mars does as well.

Also, hello naked John Constantine. I’m not sure what you’re doing in the story but thanks for the fanservice. Please don’t muck things up, okay?

Doctor Fate #9, image via DC Comics.
Doctor Fate #9, image via DC Comics.

Doctor Fate #9, Paul Levitz & Sonny Liew, storytellers

Ray: 7/10

Corrina: Fate Can Take a Hand in Current Events.

Ray: Definitely a dramatic change of pace for this series, as Khalid has escaped from the afterlife and defeated Anubis, and is now dealing with much more grounded threats. The city is still recovering from Anubis’ flood, and now is threatening to descend into riots due to a protest against the Egyptian government outside the UN. Khalid’s friend Akila is on site, and the police are acting unusually aggressive towards the protesters.

This leads to the sure-to-be-controversial scene of Khalid using his powers to take on the police – setting up walls between them and the protesters, tossing a crowd of them in the river, and intercepting a police transport taking Akila to jail so he can free her. I was surprised by just how topical and charged the subject matter became here, but there’s an intriguing mystery at the core, involving supernatural forces at the Egyptian consulate potentially driving the protests and the reaction to them. This issue didn’t work nearly as well for me as the previous ones with a bigger scale, but I’m still liking the lead character and his supporting cast a lot.

Corrina: In contrast to Martian Manhunter, the stakes for the new Doctor Fate are on a much smaller scale this issue, as he’s trying to prevent rioting police from injuring protestors. I like Khalid’s confusion as to how to use his abilities and his dry humor when they work as they’re intended. Hey, Firestorm, you think it’s bad having another person in your head? Try having the voice of an ancient Egyptian artifact that speaks in riddles and mystic quotes. In any case, it’s good to see Khalid connect with his girlfriend again, and that current events in Egypt are part of this book. It’s a nice use of Khalid’s background and real life events. As for Ray’s worry about the scene where Khalid treats the police as a threat to the protestors, given his background, that makes perfect sense. Besides, he didn’t hurt them. He just gave them a bath.

This book finally seems to be moving at the right pace, with the right tone, with a hero to root for.

Wonder Woman #49, Meredith Finch, writer, David Finch, penciller, Scott Hanna and David Finch, inks

Ray: 7/10

Corrina: Passable.

Ray: This issue is building towards #50 and the likely finale of the run in #52, as a big new storyline begins that pulls the focus back towards Diana’s complex relationship with the Gods. At the end of last issue, Zeke was struck down by a mysterious illness – something that wasn’t supposed to happen to an infant God. Diana goes in search of a cure, which leads her to the temple of the mysterious long-lost Goddess Gaia. But it’s not Gaia she finds there, it’s the sketchy Hecate, who offers to help – as long as Diana brings her a trio of mysterious orbs from Hera’s scrying pool. This threatens to ruin Diana’s new relationship with Hera, and Hera’s overall actions are pretty suspicious as well – especially as Zeke’s death may just result in the return of the original Zeus, something Hera may have a vested interest in. We catch up with Apollo and Ares for the first time since they returned, and I’m more intrigued by this than anything.

Apollo was the best villain in the original Azzarello run. Finch’s art seems above average for this title, as he draws the various Gods and creatures well, and the plot is one of the better we’ve seen in this run, pulling it back towards the mythological epic that this title works best as. I’m very much looking forward to Marguerite Bennett taking over this book, if the rumors are correct, but it seems like this run may be ending on a strong note.

Corrina: The best that can be said of the Finches’ work on this book is that it’s competent and that’s what I’ll say this time–it’s competent. All the elements of a good story are there, with Diana trying to Zeke, with some infighting among the gods, and with nice use of the mythology of her world. Except, there’s still something off. Yes, Diana must act fast to save the little boy’s life but she seems naive far beyond what she should be, given how she knows how gods lie and misdirect. I’d like to see her do something smart and to finally trust her own instincts.

Alas, all Diana does is wander around the home of the gods, grumble about who she should trust, and get into more trouble. I should care about Zeke but I was too busy reading The Legend of Wonder Woman to really notice him.

Robin, Son of Batman #9, Patrick Gleason, script & pencils, Mick Gray, inks

Ray: 8/10

Corrina: Bat-Legion of Animals Unite!

Ray: Gleason is back on this book after a one-issue hiatus, which I was glad to see. There’s a lot of big moments for Damian and his supporting cast this issue, some good and some bad. The opening finally wraps up one of the major dangling threads of this run – mainly, what does Damian think of what’s happened to his dad? In a mostly silent segment, Damian observes Bruce at the youth center, seeing the happy, carefree man he’s become play with other children. Even though Damian doesn’t say much and never shows all that much emotion, you can still see how it affects him deeply. In the second segment, Damian comes across a pair of young assassins destroying Morgan Ducard’s ship in the harbor, erasing any trace of the late villain’s legacy. After a fight, Damian finds out that they were hired by Maya to erase her father’s history so she could retire and disappear. After seeing Maya happy in a suburban house, likely with family,
Damian and Goliath decide to let her go. I was a bit surprised and disappointed to see Maya written out so abruptly, as her friendship with Damian was my favorite part of this book. But Damian has another friend – Goliath – and it’s impossible not to smile during the scene where Damian takes him to the Bat-cave and introduces him to his fellow Bat-pets. Just the fact that we get to see Bat-cow again makes this book a winner in my eyes.

Corrina: D’aw, Damian and his monster Goliath are bonded for life. And there’s Bat-cow and the rest! When this book is adorable, it’s truly adorable or as adorable as any book about a former child assassin can be. Boy, Damian’s going to be bummed he’s not the only one raised to kill people once he hooks up with the whole children of Mother, plus Helena Bertinelli’s school for female assassins.

But his sadness over not being able to connect again with is father is palpable. What I wish is that this title hadn’t been so jittery in the beginning–meaning the time jumps and sometimes even the panel-to-panel storytelling could be confusing and make it difficult for people to dive into the book. I like this book much better when it’s straightforward rather than going back and forth between several time periods.

Titans Hunt #5, Dan Abnett, writer, Paulo Siqueira and Geraldo Borges, artists

Ray: 8/10

Corrina: Memory Wipe? Oh No!

Ray: Part Teen Titans, part Twin Peaks, this comic is very much the Teen Titans book we have been waiting for since the New 52 began. Mal Duncan has been taken by the incredibly creepy Mister Twister, who needs him to play some sort of deranged demon organ in order to summon the rest of the Titans. These segments are right out of a horror movie, and yet, despite not liking when the franchise gets too dark, they work perfectly. But the rest of the issue is a lot brighter, as the rest of the Titans get closer and closer to discovering their hidden past. Roy and Gnaark’s road trip brings them to Lilith Clay’s clinic, where they wind up caught in the middle when Hawk goes nuts and powers up in the middle of a crowd.

Meanwhile, Donna, Garth, and Dick – back as Nightwing for the first time since Forever Evil – have returned to the small town where they had their final battle as a team, to find that something mysterious has erased the memories of all the townspeople. There’s a lot of characters in the book and Abnett has a lot to balance here, but he does a good job. Almost everyone gets at least one strong moment, although it does feel like Hawk and Dove waited a little too long to enter this story. Despite Lobdell writing one issue in this series, I’m hoping it finishes strong and leads into a new Titans series by this team post-Rebirth.

Corrina: Oh, noes! Is this one of the “I want to remember but then I realized we wiped our memories for a good reason plots?” ACK. I hoped this was one of those multiple universe plots not one of those “magic altered the world and it’s memories plots.” I was liking the book so much too, and I’m still loving the Titans together, and the use of Mal Duncan as the Herald, though I could do without Bumblebee as a pregnant woman in distress, but I’d hoped for a bit more from this revelation. At least the original Teen Titans are working together again. Plus, Hawk and Dove are back. All good news.

Until we get that Lobdell fill-in down the line. :sigh:

Superman: American Alien #4, Max Landis, writer, Jae Lee, illustrator

Ray: 7/10

Corrina: Good, Bad. Mostly Just Meh.

Ray: Well, say it for this Superman origin retelling – they’re definitely not playing it safe. This definitely isn’t like any other Superman origin you’ve ever seen. Whether that’s a good thing…well, that’s in the eye of the beholder, but I wouldn’t say it was in the last two issues. This issue is a marked improvement, though, as several of the biggest players in Superman’s story finally emerge. Clark has gotten a journalism scholarship and come to Metropolis, where he’s ready to meet up with fellow scholarship winner Lois Lane (who gets the most awesome application letter ever in my favorite scene) as they attempt to interview a trio of young billionaires – Queen, Luthor, and the secretive Bruce Wayne. Oliver Queen doesn’t have all that much to do besides repeat his motivation, but it’s Lex Luthor who steals the issue, delivering a brilliant Hannibal lecture to Clark Kent about the difference between them.

Clark can’t find Bruce Wayne, but he does get to interview a young Dick Grayson about life at Wayne Manor – until he gets up close and personal with Batman in the finale. There’s still a good amount of weird scenes – Clark going on a random dance on a city street, the sheer nastiness of his confrontation with Batman – but this is the first issue where I really felt like I would like to see more of these characters. This Lois is every bit as cool as she should be, and Luthor is deliciously evil. If there’s a weak point, it’s Superman himself, coming off as a bit of a cipher throughout. I’m hoping to see more of Lois and Lex in future issues.

Corrina: The Good: hey, it’s a smartly written Lois Lane! The Bad: Clark Kent basically does nothing and still gets the scoop. The Good: Oh, look, little Dick Grayson. So cute! The Bad: Oh, jeez, I don’t like this Lex Luthor. The Good: This is not the train wreck that it’s been the last two issues. The Bad: aside from Lois and child Grayson, it’s not particularly memorable either. The Bad: Max Landis, you’ve been underwhelming. The Good: Jae Lee, you are always there to save the day.

This book isn’t a game changer for Superman. Instead, it’s likely destined to be a curiosity, at best, and forgotten at worse, save for the inevitable “remember that time when Clark and Cheetah totally had sex!”

Batman & Robin Eternal #20, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder, story, Tim Seeley, script, Roge Antonio and Geraldo Borges, artists

Ray: 8/10

Corrina: Fighting Fatigue.

Ray: Seeley, the scripter on this issue, is the only writer on Batman and Robin Eternal who currently has an ongoing gig on another title for the Bat-line. So it’s no surprise that his issues are the ones that feel the most like they bleed into that other title. That title is Grayson, though, so that’s not entirely a bad thing. St. Hadrian’s school is under assault, and the entire Bat-team is caught in the middle as they come under siege from armies of brainwashed teenage girls. Complicating things, Harper Row has been exposed to Mother’s gas as well, and is currently in the throes of grief and rage, hallucinating Cassandra Cain as a horrible demon and attempting to kill her. I was a huge fan of the earlier issues involving these two’s friendship, so it kind of sucks to see things go this way. It was inevitable given the plot, though.

Much like last issue, this issue is entirely action, with Orphan and Poppy Ashmore playing the role of the heavies, as Dick tries to neutralize the possessed enemies before Helena and the rest of the SPYRAL agents take more deadly measures against their trainees. In the end, the girls are freed, but Harper and Cassandra are captured by Mother’s organization, and the source of Mother’s tech is revealed – in a secret plan to restore Dick’s secret identity. Looks like we know how Nightwing is coming back in Rebirth. We’re entering the final arc, and to mark that, one of the last big players enters the picture in the cliffhanger – the current Robin, Damian! With Man-Bat in tow. Can’t wait to see how the final act plays out.

Corrina: This is more and more of heroes fighting each other, particularly Harper Row and Cass Cain in the biggest battle of the issue. I wish I could say I enjoyed it but, instead, it felt like more of the same from last issue. Some of the quips completely saved the story, though I must have a lousy memory because I didn’t realize Spyral had an entire school for assassins. Spyral and Helena, you lose all credibility with me.

Also out of nowhere is Helena’s revelation that she set up a program via hynos to allow Dick to get his life back, if he wanted. What?? Okay, the implanted hypnos can somehow control a satellite that will cause worldwide mass delusions. There goes my suspension of disbelief, out the window. Can we get back to focusing on the humans in the story rather than the mega-plotting?

Sinestro #20, Cullen Bunn, writer, Brad Walker, pencils, Andrew Hennessy, Livesay and Walker, inks

Ray: 7/10

Corrina: Sinestro Is Dead. Nah, Not Really.

Ray: One of the few remaining GL family books to remain after the collapse of the line, I’m thinking that this book might get culled with Rebirth given the sales. It’s definitely going out with a bang in terms of scale, though. The Pale Bishop and the Paling, an anti-emotion Corps hunting down spectrum users around the universe, have come to Earth, and to fight them off, Sinestro has drafted heroes and villains from around the world into the Sinestro Corps. Too much of the issue is devoted to fairly standard action scenes, but the way Sinestro manages to get the better of the Pale Bishop is pretty interesting – he digs around in his mind, until he manages to find a trace of fear left within him, and then uses that to overload him with the power of the Sinestro Corps.

However, it backfires – Sinestro’s own power burns out, weakening him significantly. Unable to lead the Sinestro Corps on his own anymore, he puts Soranik Natu in command of the Corps as they prepare to make a final stand against the Paling. Some intriguing twists this issue, but much like most GL books in last year or so, it sort of lacks the human connection that made the Johns era so strong.

Corrina: I suppose I should be invested in Sinestro’s struggle to save Earth but I’ve seen so many “Earth is doomed/not it’s not” storylines lately but I’m bored with them. If the stakes are “destruction of Earth” every time, it feels routine and unimportant. Thus, when Sinestro dies/loses consciousness saving the Earth, I thought “awesome, I never liked him,” rather than “hey, cool, he went out a hero.”

However, Gil Kane’s ghost will walk the Earth before Sinestro stays dead. Where this book goes from here, I’m not sure, but Bunn gave it the old college try to create an epic ending. Too bad I have epic-fatigue.

Out-of-Continuity Review:

Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Five #4 – 6/10

It’s easy to forget that Injustice, like a lot of DC digital-first books, is actually a ten-page comic with two chapters printed an issue. This issue makes it very clear, though. The two stories are very different and sort of disconnected. The first picks up directly from the previous cliffhanger, with Batman and Superman slugging it out while Batgirl attempts to free Catwoman from Killer Croc. Mostly lots of punching, but the fun part was Alfred and Mirror Master doing commentary on the fight while it was going on. Selina winds up leaving the resistance – and Batman – at the end of the story.

Then we segue into a story where Hawkman finds out that Hawkgirl has returned to Earth in defiance of Themysrica’s neutrality. He heads back to Earth to drag her back home, and gets into a very nasty brawl with her and Wonder Woman. The sudden heel turn for Hawkman, turning him into a bullying, abusive husband, seems rather out of character even for a series where Superman has become a tyrannical dictator. Far preferred the first segment this issue.

Ray Goldfield is a writer/editor for Grayhaven Comics, as well as the author of two novels currently in editing. He’s a comic fan for over 20 years, particularly of DC and Superman, Batman, and the Teen Titans in particular. Now that Cassandra Cain is coming back, he will not rest until DC greenlights a Young Justice: Season Three comic.

Disclaimer: GeekMom received these comics for review purposes.

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