Okay, people have been asking for recommendations ever since the show started on what to read and where to get them. Well, I put together a list about two years ago of my recommendations… and then a month or two afterwards DC announced its big reboot and so a lot of my recommendations became obsolete, a continual problem due to the nature of monthly comic books getting cancelled/relaunched/etc.

Still, the question comes up so this new version of the list will reflect the state of comics as they are right now, with less emphasis on ongoing series and more on specific creator runs that I am aware of or stuff that has been sent my way that people want me to read but I’ve never read myself.

I’ve never read comics before, but I want to start. What should I read/buy to get started?

There is no answer to this question. I’m sorry, but there simply isn’t. The thing is that there’s a wide variety of subjects that comic books cover, just as much as regular fiction. This recommendations list assumes that people mean “Superhero comics” and not just comic books in general, since superheroes are a GENRE, just like fantasy, romance, or westerns. Comic books are a MEDIUM, the way in which the stories are distributed. As such, there are just as many topics as other forms of entertainment.

Assuming you want to start with superhero comics, there is no single document you can read that can serve as a primer to getting into them. Many of these superheroes have been going on for over sixty years and a story from the 50s or 60s won’t necessarily have the same relevance that it does today, but they’re still in continuity or etc., etc. Simply put, there are too many stories for too many characters. Most of the time, I honestly recommend that you head into a comic book store or a book store, head over to the trade paperbacks or graphic novels and just look for something that you think looks good to you.

However, assuming you want someplace to start, this list will serve as my personal recommendations of things that I enjoy and you might enjoy yourselves. I will also state in the descriptions of these recommendations how difficult it will be as a new reader to understand some of the plot points occurring within them.

Why didn’t you include “Such and Such?”

Because I didn’t think of them, because I don’t read them, or I don’t actually like them myself. By its very nature as a recommendation, I am giving my own personal suggestions from my own experiences. And sure, if I actually DO forget something I’ll try to go back later and add it, but I’m not perfect.

Why aren’t there any more suggestions for ongoing series?
As I stated above, by the very nature of monthly comic books, series will get cancelled. I hate having to redo this list every four months because books got dropped or a book’s quality has diminished under a different creative team.

I really hate to have to keep reiterating this, but honest to God: the best way to get into comics is to just shut up and pick up. Find something that you think you’ll enjoy and read it. If you don’t like it, toss it away and look for something else.

Erg, I want to read it from the very beginning or I can’t get into superhero comics otherwise!

If you say so, but that attitude doesn’t really work with most superhero comics. See, let’s look at this like we look at a show like Doctor Who. Doctor Who began in 1963 and the show in 1963 is very much a different show then what it became when the show was relaunched in 2005. Yes, it’s the same character and the show is continued from there, but you can start watching Doctor Who from the revived series having never watched a single one of the original show’s run from 1963 to 1989 and still understand the show and its mythos. The 2005 series, while containing references to the old series, does so without being bogged down in continuity and swimming in it. Hell, just the manner in which they’re written differently shows that – the 2005 series is written like a TV show from 2005. Each series of Doctor Who reflects the year it was made in, with scientific jargon, special effects, and the way the characters are portrayed reflecting that, as well.

Likewise, some characters are over 80s years old. And of course during that time, character personalities, writing styles, and entire backstories have been completely rewritten and redesigned. You do not need to read Superman’s stories from 1942 in order to understand Superman as he’s being written today. A hundred different people have written him. Hell, off the top of my head I can think of three different stories written in the last ten years that are all retellings of Superman’s origin story, but written and drawn by different people.

A good writer should enable you to enjoy a story without needing to have read everything that came before it. A GREAT writer will make you want to read it because you think it’ll make an already good comic even better.

Okay, but if I want to learn about character histories outside of reading endless amount of backstory, anyway?

I would recommend just doing a google search for the character and looking at places like ComicVine, Toonopedia, Wikipedia, or in a pinch there’s always the great summarizing articles you can find at Comics 101, the same site and column that helped provide me with a lot of backstory on certain characters when I was beginning to expand outside of just stories about The Titans. Subsequently, if you can find a book, they actually DID release an actual published book called “Comics 101” that detailed a lot of the most popular characters in superhero comics while also discussing various other parts of the industry.

With all of that out of the way, click “Read More” for the full list.

These are books that are complete and it is very, VERY unlikely that there will be continuations for them or were just made so long ago that the individual stories of the characters are difficult to find.

Ones That I’ve read

JLA/Titans: The Technis Imperative
I think I’ve gone over this one in detail quite enough in actual video form, but in case you missed that episode or skipped it, this is my favorite comic book ever. It’s a three-issue miniseries that was meant to get the ball rolling on a new Titans series and it succeeded. The basic premise: an alien force grabs hold of the moon and starts kidnapping every member of the Teen Titans that’s ever been on the team.

Admittedly, this one might be difficult for new readers, however this is also the book that got me into comics books to begin with. It gives enough history within its pages that you know what’s going on without needing to consult wikipedia and it makes you want to read more about the characters instead of simply being confused by them. It is also the book that I hold as the benchmark for comparison to all other “Event” comics.

This one is also difficult to find since it’s out of print, but it’s worth trying to find it.

Watchmen is another one that I often will compare other comics to, basically because it is considered by many to be the GREATEST COMIC EVER MADE. I don’t necessarily agree, but at the very least it’s the “Citizen Kane” of comics. As good as the movie was, it could never hope to capture the actual comic and the multitude of themes and events transpiring within it, plus it changed details here and there (not just the squid thing that I harp on a lot).

The premise is basically that in the 30s and 40s, people were inspired by superhero comics to actually try to become crimefighters themselves. By 1985, it’s looked at as a forgotten fad and now one, the Comedian, has been murdered. If a local comic book shop or book store DOESN’T have a copy of Watchmen, even if they don’t regularly carry graphic novels, you should wonder what the deal is with it.

V for Vendetta
Another Alan Moore story, but this one’s a hell of a lit more grim and washed-out than its barely-recognizable movie adaptation (Hugo Weaving as V being the exception in that).

V for Vendetta is a story about fascism vs. anarchy, not any standard left vs. right politics. The characters are rich and complex, with interweaving plots about attempts to grab power among those already among the elite and a man’s quest for revenge who could be easily interpreted as either hero or villain for his actions. This story contains a TON of memorable moments, but for me, none is better than a simple line, “Give me a Viking Funeral.” Should be easy to find and does not require any previous comic knowledge.

If you’ve seen my “Justice League: Cry for Justice” reviews, you should be familiar with the name James Robinson. Robinson is NOT a bad writer and Starman is proof of that. Even I, someone who hates Cry for Justice with every fiber of my being, cannot bring myself to fault him for Cry for Justice that much because of this series.

Starman is the story of Jack Knight, the son of the Golden Age hero Starman. When Starman’s old enemy The Mist begins a massive crime spree to destroy his nemesis and everything he olds dear, Jack must reluctantly take up the mantle of Starman to save his father and Opal City. Along the way of Jack Knight’s journey as a hero, he gains allies from across the DC Universe, both heroes and villains, and his story has a definitive conclusion that to this day no one has interfered with out of respect to that character and to James Robinson himself for it.

The series is currently collected in the six Starman Omnibus books, which all should be fairly easy to find or order. While it is built HEAVILY on the mythos of the DC Universe, pretty much every character’s backstory is explored and given to the readers, so any supplementary reading just enhances the experience. There are the occasional issues, though, that connect to events occurring in the greater universe at the time, like DC’s “One Million” event, but again, it’s nothing you NEED to know in order to get the point of the story.

Avengers: Forever
I freely admit that I’m more of a DC fan than Marvel. That isn’t to say that I’m not a fan of some Marvel things, but I’m just not as into the Marvel Universe as others. However, I had read a long time ago about how Avengers: Forever was supposed to be really good, so on a whim I picked it up… and it is glorious.

The premise is that the Avengers’ longtime ally, Rick Jones, has been targeted for elimination by the being known as Immortus. An alliance of other cosmic forces gathers seven members of the Avengers from across its past and future to protect him and discover the greater plot in play to destroy mankind.

Again, this one may be more difficult for newer readers, but as someone with only a passing knowledge of the Avengers, this was still incredibly fun for me. This one may also be a bit harder to find, but it’s well worth it.

After the events of the DC event book “Infinite Crisis,” the world must now continue without Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman within it. The series was released weekly for an entire year and it was glorious, told in real time to that year. What began as a way to fill in the gaps between Infinite Crisis and the DC books at the time which had “jumped ahead one year later,” instead evolved into a story about minor characters in the DCU like Steel, Black Adam, Booster Gold, Renee Montoya, and more exploring various corners of the DC Universe.

There’s something for everyone here – a story about a supervillain seeking redemption through the rebuilding of his home nation, a cosmic story about three lost heroes trying to find their way back to earth, one man’s quest to bring his wife back to life through magic, and, again, much more.

This one should be easy to find and I’m pretty sure is still in print, but it’s a story about the DC Universe as a whole, so of course there are going to be references to events transpiring within it and things that have happened before, but I think should be easy enough for newcomers, especially when reading it again and picking up on all the little things that were hinted and foreshadowed from earlier.

There’s no easy way to define this series. At its core, it’s fantasy. The entity known as Dream (AKA Morpheus, AKA the Sandman) has been trapped for 70 years by a sorceror, but now he’s gotten free and rebuilds his domain as the weaver and lord of dreams. Throughout the run we meet some heroes of the DC Universe both past and present, but for the most part this is a story that is all its own, since at the time the DC imprint Vertigo wasn’t certain of whether it was really a part of the DC Universe or not.

It’s got romance, parables, action, and even a sojourn into hell in one of my favorite issues ever, “A Hope in Hell.” This one’s still in print, too, and it’s honestly that good, though the art style may not be to everyone’s taste. It has both beauty and horror and both are given their proper exploration.

Crisis on Infinite Earths
One of the first “Event” books from a major comic company and it’s also one of the best. In 1985, the DC Universe had A LOT of alternate universes and timelines. For many, it wasn’t difficult to follow, but for new readers it was considered a challenge trying to figure out who was from what world. As such, it was decided to bring them to an end in one of the first “event” comics.

A massive wall of anti-matter is traveling through every parallel universe, wiping them out. What’s causing it? How will the worlds survive? Starring EVERYBODY that DC owned, it’s the very definition of epic, and really the point where modern DC Comics began. It’s also still in print, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find. It might be a little difficult for new readers since there are a lot of characters in it who are either dead or have changed over the years, but the principle characters like Batman and Superman are there and you’ll have fun wanting to know about some of the other heroes highlighted in it.

Secret Wars
Those are the first words of a being known as the Beyonder, who brings forth a large group of heroes and a large group of villains to duke it out on an alien world. It admittedly can be confusing at times and it’s VERY action-oriented, but for an event comic it’s got a lot of good character moments and it’s also the origin of Spider-Man’s black costume. It’s got enough great twists and turns to keep you interested and just great superhero action. You don’t need to know very much about Marvel history to get this one – most of the history or the like is given in-comic.

Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes, Pre-2011 reboot)
Jaime Reyes’ story spun-out of the event book Infinite Crisis, wherein he was given a supposedly-mystical scarab that granted him an armored suit. In his solo series, we see him having to learn how to be a hero while exploring the legacy of the two previous Blue Beetles, paying tribute to those characters. Many people didn’t give Jaime a fair shot while he was Blue Beetle, but you can still find the trade paperback of the series, which for a while was my absolute favorite book on the market.

My update here is that I gave the first five issues of the 2011 reboot Blue Beetle a shot and, well, I hated them. I felt that everything that made the book so beloved in my eyes (Jaime’s open identity with his family and friends, the strong friendship and camraderie not only with said family and friends but with the scarab, the sense of fun and adventure into a world he had never dreamed of being in, the legacy of the Blue Beetle) had been lost, emphasizing action, violence, and a complete misunderstanding of the original book, instead telling a clich├ęd story of a reluctant hero battling with the armor possessing him. If you’re going to pick up a Blue Beetle series, go with the trades that started with “Shellshocked.”

After the abysmal Countdown, it would’ve been very easy for the third weekly series from DC to be even worse, but thankfully it wasn’t. Taking a cue from 52, the series is self-contained. Instead of a world without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, this series asks what if ALL THREE of the them were taken out of the world’s entire history and creates new heroes and resurrects several formerly dead ones. While at times the artwork isn’t anything spectacular, it’s a great story in my humble opinion and definitely worth checking out, though it does continue some elements from the next recommendation.

Krona, a powerful scientist seeking to understand the origins of the universe, makes a bet with the Marvel villain called the Grandmaster. Both pit each universe’s respective super-team on a scavenger hunt for some of the most powerful items in their universes. The two teams must learn to respect the other and eventually join forces to save all universes from Krona. This one can be confusing for people new to comics, but it was a load of fun for me, especially the ending confrontation when members of both teams’ history keep appearing and disappearing to help. Simply put, it’s flippin’ awesome. Besides, where else will you see Superman wielding Captain America’s shield?

Booster Gold
BOOSTER GOLD! He protects the past to ensure your future! I would actually recommend two readings before jumping head first into this series. First is Showcase Presents Booster Gold, a black and white reprint of the original Booster Gold series from the 1980s. It’s inexpensive and really shows that despite Booster wanting to make a business out of crimefighting, he ISN’T just in it for money and never was, despite what many modern writers like to have him be written as.

His other series continued on from the events of 52, which is another thing I highly recommend reading before jumping into this (but isn’t necessary). However, the premise of that series was basically that Booster Gold traveled through time to right wrongs in the timestream, visiting past events of the DC Universe and stopping people from altering events.

Secret Six
Holy crap I cannot recommend this series enough. However, if one wants the full backstory, they should first pick up the series that got them together, known as “Villains United.” That book was a tie-in to the event Infinite Crisis (itself a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths), but it sets up the main characters of the Secret Six. From there, there was a Secret Six miniseries “Six Degrees of Devastation” that set up some more character bits, but otherwise the main series itself is AWESOME.

It has a strong focus on the characters. What we have here are six B-list villains who have joined together because they honestly have noone else. It’s often both heartwarming and sad, yet at other times disturbing. They’ve dealt with some of the worst, most evil people (not just supervillains – honest-to-god EVIL people) in the world and yet have still come out as likeable and making you want to read more about them. This is, simply put, one of the best damn books I’ve ever read. While the series had to end in a rather rushed fashion because of the 2011 reboot, it still had an ending that felt like it reflected the themes of the book perfectly.

Birds of Prey
On the other side of the villain/hero divide is Birds of Prey, also by Gail Simone. While Chuck Dixon was the first writer on the book during its first run, Gail really made it her own. The basic premise has Barbara Gordon, AKA Oracle, organizing heroes to run missions for her. Her usual agent is Black Canary, who is NOT a psychotic Irish ninja and has instead been trained by some of the best martial artists in the world.

Really you should be able to jump into any issue or trade without needing to know TOO much more, since any backstory is revealed to the readers in the dialogue. After Gail left the book a few years ago to work on Wonder Woman, Sean Mckeever took over and while it still had good elements, it just didn’t quite work the same way, but it’s still worth checking out if you become a fan. The 2011 reboot series was just BLEH in my mind, but I’ve heard good things about it.

Justice Society of America/JSA
I want to particularly emphasize the run by James Robinson, David Goyer, and Geoff Johns. The book spun out of events happening in JLA that showed that the original Golden Age characters (and those who inherited their legacy) still had plenty going for them in modern times, creating a VERY enjoyable book that explains all of its backstory when needed while still possessing a diverse amount of characters rooted in so many different origins. All the trades are worth checking out, as well as the follow-up Justice Society of America book that came following Infinite Crisis.

Speaking of the Justice Society, at the time of this post, they are not a part of the rebooted DCU. However, they instead got their own world to play in – a world that has been through a devastating war with Darkseid, but are now coming into modern times with new heroes emerging and slowly forming a new team. I’m currently enjoying it, but time will tell if this one will stand the test of time.

World’s Finest
Aaaand spun off from the Earth-2 concept, the daughter of Batman (the Huntress) and the Supergirl of Earth-2 (Power Girl) have found themselves stranded in the rebooted DCU, trying to find a way home. I know many people have objections with the book, mostly relating to Power Girl and her costume and personality, but personally I haven’t ha dany big objections to them. Is her personality different? Yes, but not in a way that I have found frustrating as of yet. Plus I actually liked her costume (they fixed some of the issues I had with it from the preliminary pictures of it), but I hear she’s getting the classic boob hole costume again, so whatever.

Like so much else, there is no single place to start looking at the Merc with a Mouth. I would strongly advise looking for trades of Cable and Deadpool, where the two Liefeld creations work awesomely together with Cable the straight man and Deadpool being jokey and breaking the fourth wall. Deadpool’s current solo series is an hilarious read and the previous one was awesome, as well.

Green Lantern/Green Lantern Corps.
Several years ago, Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, went bad – killed the entire Green Lantern Corps., then tried to remake the universe. Twice. Writer Geoff Johns made it his goal to repair that creative error and has built up a massive amount of mythos around the Green Lanterns.

While at times both series can be a little convoluted and event-crazy, both series are definitely worth checking out for a mixture of superhero action as well as space police kind of fun. Start with the trades, though – at any given time, there might be an event or the like happening and you’ll be walking into it without any context as to who is what and where. This book is also one of the least affected by the 2011 reboot, so you have plenty of ground you can cover without worrying too much.

Justice League of America/JLA
The quality of the Justice League’s main book tends to ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s average. Personally I think it’s at its best when it embraces its tagline of “The World’s Greatest Superheroes,” which is why if there’s a place you want to start from, I’d suggest start with a trade collection of “A Midsummer’s Nightmare,” which in turn leads into the series “JLA” as written by Grant Morrison.

At times, Grant Morrison’s work can feel like you’re reading something that just skipped two pages, but this stuff is the height of epic, combining multiple storylines at once to raise the stakes for the heroes and truly make it seem like even though they’re the most powerful superheroes in the world, they have a true challenge on their hands. I have not enjoyed the current verison of it at all.

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman
Because of the natures of these books with often-rotating creative teams, recommending the “Current” run of any of them will inevitably become outdated. As such, here are just some recommendations for runs I recommend you seek out:

-Batman/Detective Comics runs where Dick Grayson initially starts out as Batman. While him currently being Batman is also good, I think the initial energy of when he started is excellent, particularly under Judd Winick or Grant Morrison (though again, the warning for Grant Morrison’s book stands – almost every piece of dialogue becomes important in some fashion). Another recommendation there would be anything by Scott Snyder. While his “Death of the Family” arc wasn’t as good, IMHO, it was still fairly enjoyable for the most part.
-Superman: I enjoyed Kurt Busiek’s run on the book, but of course with a character like Superman your mileage is always going to vary.
-Wonder Woman: I HIGHLY recommend Gail Simone’s run on the book, but if you really wanted a look farther back, Greg Rucka’s run is full of heart and great mythical action.

Teen Titans
The Titans have had a looong history. If you wanted to start in the past, I’d recommend looking into the run written by Marv Wolfman in the 1980s, considered the very best of the book. Beyond that, Devin Grayson’s run on the book, with the team as adults helping teach some of the old guard, is my personal favorite run. The current series written by J.T. Krul has been good so far, but it’s only been about three or four issues so far. Geoff Johns’ run has been liked by many (and is the start of where the current volume of the book began), but for me it was very hit and miss in some of its aspects, but still recommended. I felt it was really starting to get good again with J.T. Krul’s run that ended at issue 100 due to the 2011 reboot. The current ongoing is… bleh.

Darkwing Duck
For those of you who enjoyed the original cartoon, this one picked up a few years later after the series and manages to tell just awesome superhero stories while building on the continuity of the show and having an ongoing storyline. It’s exciting, humorous, AND dramatic. Just awesome, but sadly ended some time ago, but still worth picking up in trade.

While I still object to Barbara Gordon being back in the Batgirl suit after the spectacular work done with Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown in the role, Gail Simone was the only person that could be trusted to make Barbara as Batgirl work again and the book has been phenmonenal, despite a few shakey early issues.

Kingdom Come
An Elseworlds tale set in the future of the DC Universe. Superman retired after it became clear that the people embraced more violent, aggressive, and murderous anti-heroes. However, some years later a group of heroes causes a disaster in Kansas that forces Superman to come back and make things right. However, will he actually help or only make things worse?

Squadron Supreme
While Watchmen is heralded as one of the pioneer works of making superheroes more “adult,” Squadron Supreme dealt with more adult issues a year earlier. Basically the Squadron are pastiches of DC characters, but made by Marvel for a story in their books. During a time back in their own world, they attempt to create a utopia by seizing control of the world, forcibly rehabilitating criminals, and ending the world’s problems. It seems pretty cut and dry described like that to make them the villains, but honestly the book is about them trying to come to terms with the ideas they’re presenting and their slow realization that they have become a totalitarian state. Highly recommended.

Demon Knights
This is one that’s currently ongoing in the DC Reboot (or, if it’s cancelled by the time you read this, pick it up in trade). A sword-and-sorcery fantasy tale that’s set in the medieval times of the DC Universe. Several heroes and villains who existed around that time find themselves united to face off against various threats. It’s highly quotable and has great characterization and art.

Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil
A retelling of Captain Marvel’s origins as done by Jeff Smith of Bone fame (Bone in the “I have not read” section below). Young Billy Batson gains the power to become a powerful adult known as Captain Marvel to stop an evil being called Mr. Mind. Very fun, highly recommended, and a good book for kids.

Rapunzel’s Revenge
Speaking of books for kids, this one’s great. The story is a reinterpretation of Rapunzel, wherein she escapes from the tower herself and uses her hair as lassos against the various people after her while also seeking to topple the regime of the evil Queen who pretended to be her mother for so many years.

Books I have not read/Read Some Runs Of

There are a number of books that I don’t read, just because I’m not all that interested in them or haven’t had time to really look at in greater detail. However, that isn’t to say they’re bad and I’ve heard people recommend them to me over the years, so here’s just a general list of titles currently ongoing that you may want to check out for yourself.

Captain America – The series as written by Ed Brubaker, which introduced the concept of the Winter Soldier, which fans of the Captain America movie may want to read in preparation for the sequel.

Incredible Hercules – The series spun out of Incredible Hulk and I believe it was written by Greg Pak, though don’t take my word for it.

Annihilation – Space Adventure stuff – end of the Marvel universe as we know it, but focuses on Marvel’s space heroes fending off the oncoming threat.

Nova – Kind of like Green Lantern, but is the follow-up to Annihilation. I really only read the first few issues, where Nova chews out Iron Man for being too busy with the Civil War crap to stop the Annihilation wave. (It has been pointed out that the ongoing series has been canceled, unfortunately)

Thor – The series written by J. Michael Straczynski. I admit I only read a few issues, but I hear the series has continued to be good even after JMS left.

Amazing Spider-Man – At least, the times when it was written by JMS. One More Day notwithstanding, the series up until that point was actually pretty damn good, with Aunt May discovering Peter’s identity and changing the nature of their relationship for the better. Sure, there are some flat-out WEIRD things that happen during the run, but they’re not necessarily all that bad compared to others.

Astonishing X-Men – Many have recommended Joss Whedon’s run on the book as a good place to start for those looking to get into the X-Men.

Y: The Last Man – A science fiction story set in a future where a disease has killed off all men except one, a man named Yorick. I’ve only read snippets, but it’s very enjoyable and very smartly written, with naturally lots and lots of earth’s remaining population reacting differently to how this kind of catastrophe would affect the world.

The Walking Dead – If you’ve seen the TV series or at least the Longbox of the Damned episode that talks about the first volume, you should know that it’s a pretty smartly-written zombie apocalypse story about a group of survivors as they travel across the land seeking shelter from the walking dead.

Fables – A fantasy series by Bill Willingham with, like, a bajillion volumes and still ongoing, if I recall correctly. The basic starting point is that the fairy tale world still exists and all those characters are still in modern times, having to deal with the various magical politics between them.

Bone – I honestly know nothing about Bone, but I have the first trade and I’ve heard it’s really, REALLY damn good. I also hear it’s child-friendly, so there’s that.

That’s all I have off the top of my head. I’ll probably update this list as time goes on or more people hand me recommendations to add. However, this is what I’ve got personally.

I’d like to once again emphasize that really, your best bet for getting into comics is simply walking into a comic book store or a book store, finding something that looks good, and going from there. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you’ll be disappointed, but walking into a store and picking up JLA/Titans: The Technis Imperative from a comic book store is how I got my start and it seemed to go pretty well for me.

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