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Comic Book: Shazam
Captain Marvel and his alter ego Billy Batson, keeping it real in The Golden Age of Comic Books.

SHAZAM! (Which used to be what he said, not who he was, but is now his official name.)

You have to understand this before you proceed: comics weren't always just Super Heroes.

Look — guys in masks only showed up around, say, 1936. Super Heroes only go as far back as Superman in 1938. Comics about detectives and daredevil pilots had been inherited from the pulps to great success. No-one thought costumed heroes would take off like they did. So when National Comics hit paydirt with their costumed super heroes, the initial reaction of Fawcett Publications was "Oh boy! We've got to get some of these!"

So, they brought in C.C. Beck to do a story about a team of six heroes who all got powers from various legendary figures. When this was pitched, it was decided that, while Cast Speciation was cool, All Your Powers Combined just looks better. The hero was to be called Captain Thunder. Except they couldn't get the name. So they called him Captain Marvelous, and then shortened it to Captain Marvel, because it sounds punchier. The character first appeared in "Whiz Comics" #2 (February, 1940). (#1 was only an ashcan copy, never intended for distribution.)

Little Billy Batson is a homeless orphan who is led by a mysterious stranger into a deserted train station, where a train with no driver leads him to a wizard's lair. There, the wizard gives him the power of six archetypal figures: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury, which when put together spell F-L-Y-I-N-G B-R-I-C-K. To summon these powers, he must shout the name of the wizard — "SHAZAM!" — which summons down lightning and transforms him into a superhuman adult with a bright red costume with a freakin' sweet cape.

Billy Batson goes on to get a job as a radio announcer (yes, a ten-year-old announcer), but as his Superpowered Alter Ego, Captain Marvel, fights evil and chaos. He acquired an impressive Rogues Gallery, including diminutive Mad Scientist Doctor Sivana, villainous Super Soldier Captain Nazi, atomic android Mister Atom, former holder of the Marvel mantle Black Adam, and others. But he also had a group of staunch allies known as the Marvel Family, who had also (mostly) been gifted by Shazam; his best friend Freddy Freeman became Captain Marvel Junior, and his long-lost sister Mary Bromfield became Mary Marvel (complete with Mini Dress Of Power). Initially, Mary had her own pantheon of goddesses from which she derived power (including Zephyrus... which was actually a male, but then there aren't many mythological figures whose names start with a "Z"). Later, she switched over to Billy's pantheon. Then there were the Lieutenant Marvels, Uncle Marvel, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and Tawny the Talking Tiger...

This was Captain Marvel's Golden Age. His own title regularly sold over a million copies a month (FYI, the best selling comics of today usually top out at around 100,000), Mary and Junior had their own titles when most heroes had to settle for eight-page backups in anthology books. There was even a movie serial. He was arguably the most popular and recognizable Super Hero of the 1940s.

Then there was a problem. On the one hand, there was Captain Marvel, a black-haired all-American feller in a costume with a lot of bright red, who can punch through cars and stop robbers... and on the other hand, there was Superman, a black-haired all-American feller in a costume with a lot of bright red, who... well, you get the idea. Admittedly, this described a lot of superheroes back then (and even today!), but Marvel had the flaw of selling more than his inspiration. DC Comics brought the case to court, and Fawcett fought it out for a while. Eventually, though, the superheroes stopped selling so well, and Fawcett decided to throw in the towel; they closed down their comics division and moved on.' The final appearance of the character was '"Marvel Family''" #89 (January, 1954). The name "Marvel", however, would return to haunt DC Comics.

A few years later, The Silver Age of Comic Books started up, and superheroes became popular again. Fawcett couldn't take advantage of this, because the settlement with DC had specified that they never publish a Captain Marvel comic again, but eventually, DC themselves expressed interest in the character. Fawcett licensed the whole shebang to DC (with the latter eventually buying the rights lock, stock and barrel), and after a couple of tryouts, they put out a new series in 1973. Unfortunately, they couldn't actually call the series "Captain Marvel", because Marvel Comics had snapped up the name in the meantime (and created their own character, and eventually a string of characters, by that name), so they titled it Shazam! and went ahead. The series, though never a hot seller, did fairly well; the Marvelverse (no relation) was slotted into DC's Multiverse as Earth-S, and he occasionally crossed over with DC's other heroes — naturally, the long-debated fight between Cap and Superman was one of the first. Incidentally, it's rather ambiguous who has the edge since Captain Marvel doesn't have Supes' vision and breath powers, but his powers are magic based which is a traditional weakness for Superman.

And then came Crisis on Infinite Earths, merging the DC multiverse, including Earth-S, into a single universe. Hilarity Ensued. The major change is that whereas Billy and Captain Marvel were largely considered two separate people, now Captain Marvel is unambiguously set with Billy's youthful personality. This means to others, this supposedly adult superhero has a personality of a child, albeit guided by the wisdom of Solomon. This has led to awkward situations more than once and when he was forced to reveal his true form to Superman in First Thunder, the Kryptonian made a bee-line to Shazam to confront him about recruiting a child as his champion. Also, the formation of the Marvel Family was reversed with Mary Marvel, who was the last major addition to arrive outside of Mr. Tawky Tawny in the original stories, usually meeting her brother first, then Jr. arrives later with the Lt. Marvels considered strictly afterthoughts if they are included at all. Black Adam was also reimagined as walking the line between Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain, Token Evil Teammate, and so on.

So after a few comics and a brief membership spot in the Justice League of America, Captain Marvel became part of the wider DC Continuity. Whenever they needed a Superman-level fighter who was immune to kryptonite or magic, particularly when Superman is being mind-controlled or a similar emergency, he was there. Whenever Wonder Woman needed to hit someone we didn't care about, he was there. Whenever villains needed someone hokey to fight, thus proving they were a Superstitious And Cowardly Lot, he was there. His standard shtick was to represent the sunny, old-timey virtues of Golden Age comics in the darkness of The Dark Age of Comic Books. On the other hand, despite the stereotype set by those fights, DC Comics also published First Thunder to show that Superman and Captain Marvel actually get along well in the same Universe: Superman appreciates having an ally with equivalent powers to help him fight supernatural foes that could otherwise lay out him with a shrug, and Billy values having the greatest of the superheroes as a mentor to help him through his double life's rough spots.

Starting in 2005, though, the franchise hit a rough patch. The characters were constantly getting retooled, such as having Captain Marvel take the Wizard's place as "Marvel" and Freddy Freeman taking Billy's place as a hero named Shazam, apparently to get around the fact that I Am Not Shazam. Many of these retools were Darker and Edgier, the most infamous instance probably being "Evil Mary Marvel" in Countdown to Final Crisis. There was a bright spot, though, in that Black Adam was one of the leading characters in the acclaimed series 52, gaining Morality Pets in the form of Isis and Osiris. (They were both killed by the end of the event, but hey, this is comic books, Death Is Cheap.)

At the same time, a more traditional Alternate Continuity take on the Marvel Family came in Jeff Smith's Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil; this was much-better received, and in 2008, an ongoing series in the same continuity premiered, Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! It was assumed, but not confirmed, that this is set on Earth-5, the post-Infinite Crisis version of Earth-S.

Eventually, Captain Marvel's history was wiped clean by DC's New 52 reboot. He re-debuted in backup stories in Justice League, with these stories focusing on the magical aspect rather than straight superheroics. Oh, and DC said "heck with it" and properly changed his name from "Captain Marvel" to "Shazam".

According to a leak, he is slated to star in his own film in the DC Cinematic Universe.

Film

Live-Action TV
  • The Shazam!/Isis Hour

Video Games

Western Animation
  • Spoofed in the 1979 film J-Men Forever (consisting of Gag Dub Republic Film Serial clips) with Billy Batchit, who becomes 'The Caped Madman' by uttering the magic word "SH-BOOM!" which enables Billy to "take on all the vices of a J-Man of the Secret Service: S for Sneaky, H for Hateful, B for Bigotted, O for Obnoxious, another O for Double-Obnoxious, and M for Mean!"
  • Similarly spoofed in a classic issue of MAD, where Superduperman got into a fight with him, with "Billy Spafon" becoming "Captain Marbles" by saying the magic word "Shazoom!": Strength, Health, Aptitude, Zeal, Ox, power of, Ox, power of another, Money!
  • DC Comics themselves had a character called Captain Thunder, a Captain Marvel Expy (real name Willie Fawcett) with an origin based on Native American spirits and the magic word "Thunder!" (Tornado, Hare, Uncas, Nature, Diamond, Eagle and Ram) who teamed up with Superman before Earth-S made its debut.
  • The Dandy parodied the character with the spoof superhero "Bananaman", who was summoned when his Billy Batson expy ate a banana.
  • Issue 8 of Sonic the Hedgehog had a plot where Dr. Robotnik builds a number of superhero robots based on non-Archie properties. One of them was "Captain Mar-bot", who says "Shazham!". Sonic defeats it with ease.


Shazam/Captain Marvel provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Jerry Ordway seemed to be going somewhere with a story in Justice Society of America where — post Freddy's Trials of Shazam and Mary turning evil — the wizard just took all their powers away. The story also revealed there was an Evil Counterpart to the Rock of Eternity called the Rock of Finality. For a while this left the Marvel family in a holding pattern as other writers waited to see where Ordway wanted to take this. Then the New 52 happened and Shazam got completely reinvented.
  • Action Girl: Mary Marvel.
  • Analogy Backfire: Peter David's comment on the "Wisdom of Solomon": "Question: God directly orders you to build no temples to other gods. Do you build temples to other gods? If you said yes, congratulations! You have just displayed the Wisdom of Solomon!" Worth noting is that having wisdom and using it are two different things.
  • Animated Adaptation: The one-hour block where it ran alongside Hero High.
  • Arch-Enemy: Sivana and his family.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Sabbac these days.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: Originally Fawcett's version of Superman. Now effectively an expy, since DC now owns both characters.
  • Badass Family: Billy and Mary.
    • Badass Crew: What they become once you throw Freddy into the mix.
  • Badass Grandpa: World War II veteran Minuteman.
  • Bald of Evil: Ibac, Sabbac and Sivana.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Sivana's evil children, Georgia and son Thaddeus Jr, are vaguely gargoylish like their father. His good children, the Meaningfully Named Beautia and Magnificus, take after their mother's side of the family and look like pin-ups.
  • Big Good: Captain Marvel is often treated like this, even in comparison to Superman, possibly due to Children Are Innocent. It's explicitly stated in the comics that Billy Batson would be Marvel full-time to help people, if not for the wizard Shazam insisting that Batson himself deserves some happiness in his life, too.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Captain Nazi.
  • Bound and Gagged: Almost every conflict in the Golden Age revolved around the villain trussing and gagging Billy to prevent him saying the magic word, and whether he could manage to get it off in time to save himself - the nigh-invincible Captain Marvel beating the bad guys to a pulp was, naturally, a Foregone Conclusion.
  • Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good: Captain Marvel and Dr Sivana.
    • Although played with. In the Golden Age nearly all of Cap's foes were ones he could defeat with a single punch once he got close enough. Whenever he fought someone with super-powers of their own, they tended to be exactly as powerful as he was so battle was pointless, and he had to get tricky.
  • The Brute: Ibac.
  • By the Power of Grayskull!: He and Mary say Shazam, Freddy says Captain Marvel. Basically, say the name of your benefactor, and off you go. Ibac and Sabbac say, well, Ibac and Sabbac in order to get similar results.
  • The Cape: Captain Marvel obviously, but Mary and Jr. likely qualify too.
  • Captain Superhero
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Dr. Sivana. He regularly describes himself as evil ("The World's Wickedest Scientist!"). In one late Golden Age issue (specifically, Captain Marvel Adventures, issue 130, the cover story "Double Doom") he even gets into a fight with King Kull (Sivana wants to enslave the human race but Kull wants to exterminate it), and as Cap drags the both of them to jail they're still arguing over which of them's the most evil.
  • Clark Kenting: Freddy Freeman/Captain Marvel, Jr/Captain Marvel III. The only difference between his real appearance and his alter ego is that the former is crippled and the latter isn't. Mary did this in her early apperances, but now changes into an adult, like her brother.
    • During Jerry Ordway's run, Billy occasionally used his adult form to convince the school he wasn't a minor living alone. No-one noticed that "Uncle Ebenezer" looked like Cap in civvies with a beard. On the other hand, long time Fawcett residents frequently note that Cap looks a bit like the late C.C. Batson.
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: Uncle Marvel and Freckles Marvel.
  • Comically Invincible Hero: In the '70's comics, Cap's sheer overpowering advantage over just about everything he fought was a constant source of jokes, with him often standing around yawning while the bad guys took swings at him and getting bored when being shot with death rays.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Two of Sivana's children, daughter Georgia and son Thaddeus Jr. (to give Mary and Freddy, respectively, archenemies of their own). His other two kids, Beautia and Magnificus, turned good.
    • Played with when the Sivana Family was brought back in 52. Georgia and Thaddeus are both budding evil scientists, but they're mostly just harmless and want to use their dad's inventions to go back in time and warn their younger selves about certain stuff so they won't become socially awkward. They're treated like crap by their mother and older siblings, and the mom is pretty much racist while Beautia and Magnificus are beautiful and vapid morons.
  • Death by Origin Story: Freddy's grandfather was murdered by Captain Nazi in the middle of a battle with Captain Marvel.
  • Demon Lords And Arch Devils: Sabbac is powered by six of them: Satan, Any, Belial, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, and Crateis.
  • Depending on the Writer: While most of the time Shazam/Cap Marvel is just Billy in another shape, sometimes it is handled more in a Split Personality/Sharing a Body-manner.
  • Development Gag: The Alternate Timeline of Flashpoint has the Shazam powers shared among six kids (Billy, Mary, Freddy, and newcomers named Paco, Eugene, and Darla) who can summon "Captain Thunder" - Sound familiar?
  • Dumb Muscle: Ibac. Which is weird since his second patron is supposed to give him Cunning. During the Monster Society storyline Cap even has to remind him how one-sided their previous battles have been.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Mary Marvel to Captain Marvel.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: The Big Red Cheese.
    • Meet the fierce and terrible Ibac, a villain empowered by Satan himself with the vices of four of the most evil men who ever lived. His nickname? "Stinky."
  • Embarrassing First Name & Embarrassing Middle Name: Thaddeus Bodog Sivana. No wonder he's evil.
  • Evil Counterpart: Black Adam. Though Adam's "evilness" tends to vary. A lot. Then there's Ibac, who gains his powers from four brutal historical figures, and Sabbac who takes his abilities from six Demon Lords.
  • Evil Costume Switch: When Mary accquires Black Adam's powers, her costume turns black and she gains a new level in moral ambiguity.
    • And a much higher hemline!
  • Evil Laugh: A lot of Captain Marvel's recurring enemies do this. In some of the older comics he's able to recognize what villain he's currently up against by their distinctive laugh alone.
  • Expy: In Love and Capes, Captain Marvel's analogue is Major Might. Mark gets grouchy around him because he thinks he's a "copycat", until the Major's child self reveals that he chose powers like the Crusader's out of admiration. Awww.
  • For the Evulz: As Merlyn once put it, "Joker and Sivana do it for kicks."
  • Flying Brick: One of the earliest.
    • DC later emphasized the Marvel family's magical and lightning associations in an effort to make them more unique.
  • Follow the Leader: An obvious wannabe of Superman, debuting not too long after the Man of Steel.
    • Which then began to run backwards when Superman himself started copying elements from Captain Marvel, such as a female counterpart and the power of flight. And then DC sued Fawcett for making The Captain too similar.
  • Fun with Acronyms: There are quite a few of these, besides just the Marvel Family. Black Adam and Ibac are just two villainous examples who get their powers from saying specific acronyms.
  • Gendered Outfit: Mary Marvel's outfit has a skirt, unlike the rest of the Marvel Family.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Helen Fidelity first meets Cap in Jeff Smith's The Monster Society Of Evil, she glances downward (remember, he's wearing tights), then gives him a sly smile.
    Helen: I can see why they they call you Captain Marvel.
  • Henshin Hero: Billy has to switch between his normal form and superhero form by using a magic word. In the New 52, Billy must say the word with good intentions or it will not work.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Captain Marvel/Shazam often uses his magical lightning as an attack, but if he is struck by it he reverts to his mortal alter-ego. As such, many fights have ended with him trying to hit an opponent but winds up hitting himself.
  • Homage: The Post-Crisis reboot had several to Calvin and Hobbes, including Mr. Tawky Tawny being a stuffed tiger brought to life and Billy having a teacher modeled after Mrs. Wormwood.
  • Hot Scientist: Caitlin Russo, who Freddy briefly roomed with.
  • Hot Scoop: The aforementioned news reporter Helen Fidelity, who Billy has a crush on.
  • I Am Not Shazam: Trope Namer. No longer applies, though. As of the DC relaunch, he's now called Shazam.
  • In the Hood: The New 52 incarnation turns his cape into a full cloak.
  • Kick the Dog: Captain Nazi, in the middle of a battle with Captain Marvel, took time off to murder Freddy's grandfather and cripple him. Why? For the heck of it. He later came back and tried to finish Freddy off? Why? Once again, for the heck of it.
    • And between these two acts, he took the time to telephone Hitler himself to boast about how much fun he was having. Even the Fuhrer seemed a little frustrated by his agent's pettiness.
  • Knight Templar: Mary after gaining Black Adam's powers. Black Adam himself a lot of the time.
  • Legacy Character: The Captain Marvel title is bestowed on a Champion selected by the previous wielder. The Sabbac title has also been passed from Timothy Karnes to Ishamel Gregor, at the latter's insistence (Timothy, needless to say, did not survive the transfer).
  • Legion of Doom: The Monster Society of Evil, the Ur Example.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Whenever he's in a comic with Superman.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: As long as you say the word.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Billy has multiple copies of the same shirt and pants hanging in the closet in Superman/Shazam: The Return Of Black Adam.
    • In Superman/Shazam: First Thunder, Billy (still a homeless child) explicitly tells his friend he buys his clothes by the dozen because it's cheaper.
  • Longer-Than-Life Sentence: Captain Marvel, Jr. had a foe called Greybeard. As a young man, he was sentenced to 99 years in prison, to which he sarcastically told the judge how considerate he was to not make it a life sentence. However, he served out his entire sentence and, once free, began a crime spree based on the theme of old age.
  • Mad Scientist: Sivana and his family.
  • Man Child: Captain Marvel often comes across this way, but for a different reason—he's a young boy (or sometimes teenager) named Billy who can transform into an adult superhero. Early on the two forms had different personalities, but most modern interpretations make them the same person, acting like a Cheerful Child in both forms (though Marvel gets a bit of maturity from having the Wisdom of Solomon as one of his powers).
  • Minidress of Power: Mary.
  • Older Alter Ego: Captain Marvel to Billy, and nowadays Mary Marvel to, well, Mary. Averted with Captain Marvel Jr/CM3 who looks exactly the same age in and out of uniform.
  • Out of Focus: In scope of the larger DC Universe.
  • Pimped Out Cape: Captain Marvel's cape is different than most considering it's fairly short and looks best when it's slung over a shoulder with his arms akimbo.
  • Playing with Fire: Sabbac gains flames from one of his sponsors.
  • Punny Name: Helen Fidelity (from The Monster Society of Evil and Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!).
  • Run the Gauntlet: One of the earliest in comic books, from the Golden Age even, featured Mister Mind gathering over twenty villains, some not even Captain Marvel enemies, another first, and took about two years of comics before the Monster Society was put away.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Sivana.
  • Sealed Cast in a Multipack: Captain Marvel and all his supporting cast, including villains, were put in suspended animation for 20 years thanks to one of Dr. Sivana's experiments Gone Horribly Wrong. (This was how DC explained the characters' twenty-year absence from publication.)
  • Seven Deadly Sins: Sabbac can command the "Seven Deadly Enemies Of Man", a slightly modified version of the usual seven.
    • In the original comic, Shazam had the Seven Deadly Enemies Of Man trapped in stone from inside the Rock Of Eternity. Modern day stories seem to switch between the Enemies Of Man, and the typical Deadly Sins Depending on the Writer.
  • Shout-Out: In one issue of The Power of Shazam, Captain Marvel is shown strange alternate versions of himself that might exist if history changed. These include: Captain Thunder (DC's former Captain Ersatz Marvel), a Captain whose limbs and head detach from his body (M.F. Enterprises' Captain Marvel), a Billy Batson who transforms into Captain Marvel by striking a pair of wristbands together (Marvel Comics' Rick Jones and Captain Mar-Vell, and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.
  • Sudden Name Change:
    • Billy Batson's deceased parents were originally referred to as "Merrill" and "Jocelyn" in the Pre-Crisis days, but modern origins have his father named "Clarence Charles "C.C." Batson" (after Captain Marvel's creator, C.C. Beck) and his mother named "Marilyn".
    • Kid Eternity originally had No Name Given, and was only ever referred to as "Kid." Eventually some Canon Welding with Shazam made him Freddy's brother, Christopher "Kit" Freeman.
  • Superhero Speciation: The obvious redundancy with Superman has finally been worked out in modern times with Supes valuing an ally whose similar, but magic and gods based, powers makes him very welcome company against supernatural foes while Cap enjoys him as a mentor.
  • Superheroes Wear Capes: Until the New 52 reboot, where he wears a cloak instead of a cape.
  • Super Family Team: With Mary and Freddy.
  • Super Power Lottery: A major winner.
  • Super Soldier: Captain Nazi.
  • Swiss Army Superpower: In the Post-Crisis stories, Billy has learned that the lightning bolt he uses to change can have other uses. For instance, it can break spells imposed on the Marvels in their human form, and can power up equipment if it's hardy enough to absorb so much energy suddenly. It's a powerful attack if they say their magic word close to an enemy and dodge the resulting bolt, causing it to hit their opponent instead (as seen in Kingdom Come and homaged in both Justice League Unlimited where Marvel lost because he failed to dodge it and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe as a heroic brutality and a grab move). It can even be used as a Magical Defibrillator, providing there are two Marvels, one to call down the lightning, and one to absorb it safely; otherwise this works the same as the attack. That, or have a physiology that can stand up to the power of the lightning (which is how Black Adam saved Atom Smasher, whose body regrows itself when he changes height and so could deal with the power).
  • Teens Are Monsters: Georgia Sivana and Thaddeus Sivana Jr. are their dad's henchmen in most stories.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Captain Nazi, his Mad Scientist brother, and his equally evil niece.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Freddy and his grandfather saved Captain Nazi from drowning. He promptly killed the latter and crippled the former. Why? As he puts it, "Might as well ask, 'Why is the sky blue?'"
  • Ur Example: Many other franchises have admitted to being influenced (or outright cribbing) elements from this series, from the Filmation He-Man cartoon to some of the heroic Magical Girls.
  • Villain Decay: IBAC started out as seeming like a pretty credible threat, especially with being given his powers by Satan himself and among Captain Marvel's first super-powered enemies besides. By the end of his second appearance, though, Cap was actively toying with him before finally taking him out. The rest of their Golden Age battles were similarly one-sided, although they were trying a little harder to balance it out when DC relaunched the series.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Minuteman wears the stripes on his shirt, and the stars on both sleeves. Captain Nazi has the swastika on his chest in most apperances.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Him and Stargirl, again. They nearly kiss in the most-recent JSA/Marvel story, but it's broken up, and she goes back to crushing on Atom Smasher shortly. Even during the courtship, difficulties arose because unless you knew the Cap's secret, it looked very much like Cap (an ostensibly 25 to 35 year old man ) was making moves on a teenaged girl.
  • A Wizard Did It: Literally.
  • World Domination: Sivana wants to be a Time Lord.

Oh, and by the way, HE WAS NOT SHAZAM....but he is now.
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