Krakoa Cometh: Examining the Birth of the X-Men’s Mutant Utopia

I’m fascinated by utopias.  Thomas More’s 1516 novel Utopia coined this term for a perfect society.  In the book, More explores the politics, religion, and culture of an ideal island nation.  I’ll never forget learning More created “utopia” from the Greek words eu-topos, which means “a good place,” and ou-topos, meaning “no place.”  The text was satire and the name a pun.  That blew my mind…and made me a little sad as it inherently implies such a good place may not be possible.  Part of what fascinates me about utopias is how little (comparatively) we envision them in our art.  Scores of dystopias fill our films, TV shows, comics, and novels.  It feels like we’re always imagining our end.  But what a perfect society looks like?  How it functions?  We don’t create those as often nor celebrate them when we do (remember George Clooney’s Tomorrowland? …that’s my point).  When it comes to the Marvel Universe, Wakanda has always been the shining example of a perfect society.  But when writer Jonathan Hickman was given the keys to the X-kingdom in 2019, Marvel’s mutants settled on the living island Krakoa (a mutant itself), creating an independent nation and new utopia in the MU.  As Thomas More did 500 years before, Hickman’s Krakoa gives readers a good place which invites us to consider whether no place like this will ever exist…and it got me hooked on reading and thinking about the X-Men again for the first time in twenty-five years!

I’m still sometimes surprised by how much the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed things.  One of the clearest cultural shifts I see is its bringing the Avengers to the center of popularity.  When I was a kid reading comics in the ‘80s and ‘90s, no one talked about the Avengers much.  The Marvel Universe’s most popular team with the most exciting characters was always the X-Men (with the Fantastic Four in a strong second place).  Everyone watched X-Men: The Animated Series.  X-Men toys were everywhere.  Pizza Hut did X-Men tie-in promotions.  And no one was surprised when the X-Men became Marvel’s first (modern) live action superhero movie in 2000.  I read The Avengers as a kid but I LOVED the X-Men.  I had X-Men, The Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, and X-Man in my file at my local comic shop and I regularly picked up X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, and Cable when the cover looked cool.  A world where Iron Man or Thor were everywhere was unimaginable.  But Gambit and Rogue?  Wolverine and Cyclops?  Jubilee and Storm?  That was only logical.  They were the X-Men!

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Gambit and Rogue, all dressed up for the Hellfire Gala, with the Excalibur teammates (going from left to right) Betsy Braddock/Captain Britain, Julio Richter/Rictor, and Jubilee with her infant son, Shogo. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

When I came back to reading superhero comics as an adult, I struggled to find my rhythm with the X-Men.  I couldn’t connect to the stories.  I dropped X-Men: Gold (Vol. 2) by issue #6.  I dug X-Men: Red (Vol. 1) but the run ended before I found it.  I tried to read Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X twice but lost interest a few issues in each time.  I had to accept that maybe – maybe – the X-magic was lost to me.

But then I tried House of X/Powers of X once more and ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT.

Why’d I try again when I already DNF’d the story twice?  Well, marketing.  The marketing got me.  I knew Spider-Man was crossing over with the X-Men in Dark Web.  I knew Ben Reilly (the Scarlet Spider-cum-Spider-Man-cum-Chasm) would be in the story too, so I was super excited!  I could’ve just read it as I did AXE: Judgment Day (following the Avengers but not the X-Men or Eternals) but, for whatever reason, seeing Illyana Rasputina/Magik next to Spider-Man in all the ads got to me.  I knew nothing about her character (save she’s Piotr Rasputin/Colossus’ little sister) and figured I’d try House of X/Powers of X one more time to learn about her in the modern age of the X-Men.

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This, THIS was the cover image I couldn’t shake. Sure, I knew Spidey and Jean Grey and Cyclops…but Magik just stuck in my mind and I had to know more. Whoever picked this as the image to market this event knew what they were doing! / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Driven by this itch to know who Illyana was, I began reading my way through all of the Jonathan Hickman and Jonathan Hickman-adjacent X-Men stories and they finally clicked for me!  It’s worth noting these few panels alone – as Magik and the other New Mutants went to rescue Xandra Neramani, the Shi’Ar Majestrix-to-be from forces seeking to keep her from the throne – made me fall in love with her character.  How couldn’t you??

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Magik meets the people holding Xandra captive. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Hello new favorite character! Oh, also, there’s a law forbidding any mutant from killing any human so there’s the context for the joke. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

The bigger surprise was how much I was loving all the X-Men comics I was reading.  I’d come to accept I’d probably never read (or at least enjoy) any new X-Men comics ever again.  I had my time.  I loved them as a kid but the new stuff wasn’t for me.  It made sense House of X and Powers of X weren’t clicking.  I never really “got” Jonathan Hickman as a writer.  I didn’t enjoy his Fantastic Four.  I didn’t like his Avengers and New Avengers run.  I didn’t care for Infinity.  And I really didn’t like his Secret Wars.  I figured he was like The Doors, Quinten Tarantino, Wes Anderson, or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 – an influential/beloved pop culture artist I just don’t connect with.

But Magik was with Spidey and I wanted to see who she was (beyond just googling her character) so I told myself, no matter what, I was gonna read House of X and Powers of X through to the end…and I haven’t stopped reading X-Men comics since!  It’s one of the most innovative X-Men stories I’ve ever read!  I’m reading through the Krakoan Era X-Force, Marauders, New Mutants, Excalibur, and X-Men (plus every title for crossover stories) now, too.  The lesson here?  This is the beautiful thing about comic books as a medium.  The massive continuity can feel overwhelming, yes.  But any reader can connect with any character(s) in the hands of the right author.  You just have to experiment!  So the overwhelming nature of SO MANY stories about SO MANY characters by SO MANY authors is also a welcoming assurance that, if you poke around, you will find something you’ll love.  I honestly believe the right combination of author and character/title is out there for everyone willing to look for it :).

The X-Men were created by Stan Lee (writer/editor) and Jack Kirby (artist/co-plotter) and debuted in September 1963.  The comic would be cancelled due to low sales in 1970 but was reborn under writer Chris Claremont in 1975 and with his stewardship the X-Men became a pop culture juggernaut, arguably second only to Spider-Man in their popularity and cultural scope and influence.  What made the X-Men different from the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and all other Marvel heroes is they were mutants.  They are the next step in evolution, not Homo sapiens but Homo superior.  Their powers manifest with puberty and come from the X-gene, not cosmic rays or Super Soldier Serums or a radioactive spider bites.  As a result, humanity hates and fears mutants, hunting them because they are different and this narrative turn has allowed the X-Men to serve as metaphorical stand-ins for those persecuted and marginalized by dominate culture since their inception.

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Magneto reflects on this new age with his daughter, Lorna Dane/Polaris. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

When I was a kid, try as I might I couldn’t understand this.  At first it was confusing to me.  Then it felt arbitrary and forced in to build parallels in the narrative even though it made no sense.  “Why,” my young self wondered, “would people ‘hate and fear’ the X-Men when they saw the Fantastic Four and the Avengers as heroes?  They all have powers and save the world.  They’re the same, one group just got their powers from how they were born.”

Now I get it.  To paraphrase a bit of Robert Frost, now I know enough of hate.

In his brilliant memoir Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates explains how the idea of race has always been used for control.  He frames it like this, “Americans believe in the reality of ‘race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world.  Racism – the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them – inevitably follows from this inalterable condition….But race is the child of racism, not the father.  And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.”[1]  The idea of whiteness was created to do this in America, dismissing the old European divisions (Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, etc.) so what became the most important qualification in America for power wasn’t where you came from but that you were white.[2]  Racism then is the reason we have any idea of race and race is something created to justify division and oppression.  But why do we do this?  Why divide and oppress?  Coates offers a haunting answer, “Hate gives identity.  The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man.  We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”[3]  The other – that which is different from us and thus dangerous – is defined so power, worth, and insider status for some can be solidified through the exclusion of the other, “the hated stranger.”

Race is far from the only “difference” dominate culture uses to marginalize and persecute people.  Dominate culture constructs normative narratives to otherize based on body type, sex, gender identity, religion, age, ability, sexuality, and income just as it does around race.  Ideas like the term “woman” or “man” doesn’t naturally include trans women and men just as it does cis women and men or heaven won’t welcome people who believe different than “us” or those trapped in poverty “just didn’t work hard enough” or a lesbian or gay couple are somehow “disordered” and thus their unions are less valid in the eyes of God and/or the state circulate in our culture and are imbued with meaning to draw lines of us and them and solidify power in the hands of the few at the exclusion of all.  In short, they are lies given legitimacy by those in a privileged place in order to oppress those they decide are “different” and thus “deficient.”

So yes, as an adult who understands the way hate, dominate culture, and power work, it now makes perfect sense to me that mutants in the Marvel Universe – and the X-Men in particular – would be hated and feared for how they are born, unlike the Avengers and Fantastic Four who gain their powers.  That’s how systemic sin and the corrupt injustice of dominate culture operate.  You can’t consolidate power without oppression and exclusion.

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In addition to the usual persecution they face in the Marvel Universe, before Hickman placed the X-Men (and all of mutantdom) on Krakoa, there were two notably horrific genocidal attacks on the mutant population.  Before the Sentinels (robots designed specifically for hunting and exterminating mutants) perpetrated a mutant genocide on the island of Genosha, there were 17,508,236 mutants on Earth.  The Sentinels left 16,521,618 dead.  Then Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, used her reality warping powers to wish mutants out of existence, an event known as the Decimation.  The Decimation depowered 986,420 mutants, leaving only 198 mutants left alive and with their powers on Earth.  Pushed to the brink of extinction by humanity’s prejudice, along comes Krakoa.

I won’t go into all the mechanics behind Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Magnus Lehnsherr/Magneto putting aside their differences and uniting to create this utopia for all mutantkind (it involves a lot of time travel, alternate timelines, reincarnations, and mind-reading and, frankly, it’s confusing (it’s why I stopped reading House of X and Powers of X before – it felt too convoluted to follow)).  Using Doug Ramsey/Cypher who can understand any language as a translator, Xavier and Magneto reach an agreement with Krakoa yielding a symbiotic relationship between the island and all of mutantkind which was eagerly accepted on both sides. 

This utopia begins with active listening, mutual benefit for all, and consent.

The more mutants who live on the island, the greater symbiosis can be reached, as Krakoa draws a bit of energy from all mutants to grow in ways it never could before while the thousands of habitants don’t even notice what it takes from them.  Krakoan – the language of the island – is telepathically imprinted on the cortex of every mutant the day they arrive for, as Magneto tells the ambassadors from the United States, “One cannot create a distinct culture without it.”  The island nation is ruled by the Quiet Council, comprised of fourteen members: “Autumn” – Professor Xavier, Magneto, and Apocalypse; “Winter” – Mister Sinister, Exodus, and Mystique; “Spring” – Emma Frost/the White Queen, Kate Pryde/the Red Queen, Sebastian Shaw/the Black King; “Summer” – Ororo Munroe/Storm, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, and Jean Grey/Marvel Girl; and “Krakoa” – Doug Ramsey/Cypher and Krakoa.  It’s important to note the number of traditional “villains” we find on the Council.  Magneto, Apocalypse, Mister Sinister, Exodus, Mystique, Emma Frost, and Sebastian Shaw have all battled the X-Men on many occasions.  But it’s clear from its inception that Krakoa is for all mutants.  All are welcome, as long as they abide by the laws of the land.  Second chances are given to all mutants, just as they are held accountable to mutant law alone.

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The X-Men’s traditional enemies are welcomed to Krakoa. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

In this utopia all mutants are welcome, if they follow the rules, and greater communion yields greater strength.

Its vegetation is unique too, growing specific flowers to help the mutants.  It grows Gateways, creating a path from wherever one is planted to its twin on Krakoa which serve as doors from the island itself to anywhere else in the cosmos.  Only mutants can pass through which keeps the island secure while allowing mutantkind immediate access anywhere there is a gate.  It grows Habitats, all structures from homes to labs to training facilities are self-sustaining environments connected to the consciousness of the island.  Lastly it can grow a No-Place, a location outside of the island’s collective consciousness to afford the ultimate private space.

On Krakoa, the mutants can be in the human world but not of it, and the island naturally shelters and provides.

Most incredible of all, on the island Xavier begins to undo humanity’s attempt to exterminate mutantkind.  It’s revealed Cerebro (the weird helmet thing Xavier wears which connects his mind to every mutant mind on the planet)’s primary purpose is keeping backup copies of every mutant consciousness – every thought, feeling, and memory – on the planet.  Mister Sinister has a genetic library of every mutant’s DNA.  Between Sinister’s record of their physical makeup and powers and Xavier’s record of their being, any mutant can be born again.  The Five – Fabio Medina/Goldballs, Kevin MacTaggert/Proteus, Joshua Foley/Elixir, Eva Bell/Tempus, and Hope Summers/Hope – use their powers in unison to create eggs from which a new “husk” is grown from Sinister’s blueprints and then Xavier puts their mind and memories back in the new bodies.  This allows for the resurrection of hundreds of thousands of murdered mutants as well as any mutants who die in the future, making the mutants, in effect, immortal.  When working at their highest potential, the Five can resurrect 30,000 mutants a week.  It’s not just the Five who find a power boost on Krakoa.  It turns out the more mutants work together, the more their powers grow and compliment each other.  In communion, they continue to evolve.

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Scott Summers/Cyclops is the first mutant Xavier resurrects. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

On Krakoa, death has no power and the sins of the past are undone.

Not bad, huh?  But if humanity hates and fears mutantkind, why would the rest of the world allow this little experiment in a perfect society – especially the whole “immortal mutants” thing – to go on?  Well, to the immortality, no one outside of the mutant community knows.  As to the rest, Krakoa grows flowers useful for humans, too.  These flowers create three specific medicines – Human Drug L, which extends the life of a human for five years; Human Drug I, which produces an adaptive, universal antibiotic (curing everything from influenza to most cancers to ALS and beyond overnight); and Human Drug M, which cures all diseases of the mind for humans (things like Alzheimer’s, depression, schizophrenia, etc.).  These miracle drugs will be given to the world free of charge…

… under two conditions.  First, Krakoa must be recognized as a sovereign nation-state and second, all mutants anywhere in the world can claim Krakoan citizenship by virtue of their birth and, with that citizenship, comes amnesty.  Mutants will no longer be judged by humans.  Any country that acknowledges these two conditions, gains the Krakoan miracle drugs.  Any which rejects them, are denied the drugs.

Xavier telepathically speaks to all humans on the planet at once, telling them of the miracle drugs of Krakoa and the conditions for their gaining access to them.

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Xavier telepathically speaks to the entire world. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Can you guess how humanity responds?  Imagine what it would be like if we woke up tomorrow and one group of people who’ve been systematically marginalized, dispossessed, oppressed, and persecuted suddenly had land where they could live free of dominant culture’s sway and miracle drugs which forced dominant culture to recognize the fullness of their humanity – more than that, it forced dominant culture to bow before them as they held the power. 

Yep, it pretty much happens in the Marvel Universe just how you’d expect it’d go down in real life.  Even heroes like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are leery of this new status quo.  You can feel the mistrust grow in the human heroes as they look to their onetime mutant comrades.

Can you blame the mutants though?  As Ta-Nehisi Coates put it, “But race is the child of racism, not the father.  And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.”[4]  Krakoa not only invalidates the hierarchy, it demolishes it.  The fear some members of the human race have had since the advent of Homo superior – that they’d be replaced as the dominate race on the planet – has come to pass. 

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The Fantastic Four push back against the new world the X-Men are creating. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Magneto makes it very clear when he brings human ambassadors, skeptical of this new mutant nation, to Jerusalem after outlining the shape of their new nation.  He tells them, “I summoned you to this place for wholly superficial reasons.  You see, I know how you humans love your symbolism, almost as much as you love your religion.  And I wanted you – – I needed you – – to understand…you have new gods now.”  Humankind is not welcome on Krakoa.  Mutants gifted them the rest of the planet when they could easily rule it all, but they will allow no humans in their new native land.

At times it felt uncomfortable reading this.  I think that was part of what put me off House of X and Powers of X the first two times I tried to read them.  It seemed like the X-Men were…like Xavier was giving up on his dream of peaceful coexistence between humanity and mutantkind.  He even says as much, to a degree.  So just like learning the word “utopia” means no place as much as good place, I was sad to see the X-Men – these great heroes of my youth – turning their backs on the idea of a better world.

But as I sat with the story on my magical third read through – really sat with it, wading into my discomfort – I saw that discomfort had nothing to do with the X-Men’s actions in the story and it had everything to do with the way the world operates.  Paraphrasing that bit of Robert Frost once again, now I know enough of hate to know the acceptance Xavier always dreamed of isn’t coming, at least not the way he wanted it to.  In accepting the idea of Krakoa I felt like I was accepting a harsher truth about humanity than I like to admit.  But turning a blind eye to such uncomfortable realities helps no one and only serves as a mark of privilege. 

I believe, I fundamentally believe we can make this world a better place.  We can transform it, redeem it, and make those no places into good places after all.  That’s why I teach religious studies instead of history.  But in seeing the rise of Trump and other nationalist movements, Covid and the angry refusals to wear a mask and literally save people’s lives, the indifference and aggression aimed at the Black Lives Matter movement, the January 6th insurrection, the whole world watching in solidarity with the people of Ukraine with little done to actually stop Russia from invading (and this isn’t even getting into our “preexisting conditions” like refusing to do anything about gun violence or climate change denials), I’ve had to accept darkness is twisted deeper in our societal soul than I would’ve believed in my twenties.  I now see systemic sin’s remarkably solid foundations and the alarmingly hypnotic sway of normative narratives which turn injustice into hallowed words.  So yes, the sort of peaceful coexistence Xavier dreamed about isn’t real…or at least it can’t be created as he always dreamed.  As John Lennon said, “Apathy isn’t it.  We can do something.  So flower power didn’t work.  So what?  We start again.”[5]

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The Quiet Council debates the laws of this new land. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

This is exactly what the X-Men do in the Krakoan Age – start again.  Their dream isn’t dead; it’s reformed.  The inviolable laws of Krakoa are 1) Make More Mutants, 2) Murder No Man, 3) Respect this Sacred Land.  To these ends, X-Force is created as a black ops mutant CIA, designed to keep Krakoa and all of mutantkind safe.  Naturally, they are exempt from the restrictions on murdering humans should they need to do so in the line of duty.  The Marauders come together to find mutants trapped in countries which won’t let them leave and smuggle them into Krakoa as well as sell the Krakoan drugs on the black market, at the order of the Quiet Council, so those who desperately need their drugs in countries which won’t recognize Krakoan can get them.  Excalibur stands as the guardians on the threshold of Otherworld, protecting mutantkind from all threats magical and mystical.  The New Mutants become the mentors and teachers for the young mutants on Krakoa.  And the X-Men publicly remind the world mutants are still protecting them…as they protect their own people, cutting down any threat humanity sends their way.

Xavier’s Dream – the cause the X-Men have championed since their inception, fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them in the perpetual hope of future harmony – has been redesigned.  But it’s not dead.  In this redesign, it forces readers to consider the very real power of systemic injustice, the hypnotic sway of normative narratives, and it challenges us to consider what a perfect society would look like in such a world.  How can it come to be?  How would it function?  How does it protect itself in a world vehemently trying to burn it to the ground?

It appears as though there are many stories left to tell in the Krakoan Era of the X-Men before we see if this good place remains or if it falls  – either to internal corruption, external threats, or both, as so many of our imagined utopias do – and crumbles into no place after all.  I am happily along for the ride :).  In this grand vision of the X-Men, Jonathan Hickman has given me back characters who were so important to me as a kid and it feels like coming home.  The X-Men are different, changed by the twenty-five years since last I read them.  But that’s okay, I’ve changed too.  These changes remind us, if we really believe in tearing down the unjust systems which marginalize and persecute, we must be willing to evolve.  If we can’t change, can’t see the world for what it is and approach it as such, than how can we ever expect to change the world?

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The first X-Men team, elected by the mutants of Krakoa, to stand as a bridge between the mutant and human world, protecting both – Everett Thomas/Sync, Shiro Yoshida/Sunfire, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Scott Summers/Cyclops, Anna Marie/Rogue, Lorna Dane/Polaris, and Lara Kinney/Wolverine. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

[1] Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World And Me, (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015), 7.

[2] Michael Eric Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017), 45.

[3] Coates, 60.

[4] Coates, 7.

[5] David Sheff, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono (New York: St. Mar

3 thoughts on “Krakoa Cometh: Examining the Birth of the X-Men’s Mutant Utopia

  1. The Krakoa era of the X-Men has had its ups and downs but it’s still been a fantastic achievement. I must admit I’m a very old school X-Men fan of the Claremont era, but I must applaud Hickman’s vision with House and Power of X. It fundamentally rebooted the X-Men for a modern era and tackled so many contemporary issues along the way as well. The real joy though, is, as you say, how it had revitalised characters we’ve known and loved for years to take them in exciting new directions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the best way to do it, you know? Like how does anyone really compare to Claremont’s X-Men? It’s impossible! So maybe taking the core of the characters and then revitalizing them and sending them in exciting new directions is the way to create something that isn’t a lesser derivative version of what came before. Though, I say that and I know there are plenty of times a new take on a classic character gets me upset because I feel they missed the mark so I guess maybe it’s a high risk/high reward approach??

      A few years back I began the process of slowly reading through every X-Men comic Chris Claremont wrote and experiencing the entirety of his era. I’m still in the midst of it (as there are SO MANY and I want to savor them all, not binge-read it) but I’m loving it. It was lightening in a bottle and even the comics I’ve read a bunch of times before still thrill me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad you are discovering the Claremont era and enjoying it as well. It’s an epic, iconic run in comic, and still my favourite of all the X-Men eras. The strength of the characterisation is what really shine through I think, it takes its time, and builds genuine feeling relationships between the team – something modern comics don’t always manage to nail as well. I’ve re read the Claremont run so many times now, I love it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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