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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #17

"A Skinning of Souls Part One: Waiting for the Ripening"
February 1993

In a Nutshell
The X-Men go to Russia to visit Colossus' family.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Mark Pennington
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Illyana Rasputin, excited about the imminent return home of her brother, is unknowingly watched by a Russian agent, Flagwatch #133. In the town of Neftelensk, Darkstar and Alexi Garnoff investigate the strange occurrence of everyone in the town having been mentally "turned off", but fall prey themselves to the unseen assailant. In Red Square, in the wake of Darkstar and Garnoff's loss, Colonel Vazhin agrees to acquire the help of Omega Red. Days later, the X-Men arrive at Colossus' family farm, an event which Flagwatch #133 reports to Vazhin. At the X-Mansion, Cannonball & Warpath plead with Xavier to let them go to Nova Roma, while in Tokyo, a woman with purple hair defeats a group of street thugs, declaring that it is time for revenge, and to find the X-Men. In Russia, Colonel Vazhin argues against using Red Flag #133 to stop the Neftelensk incursion even though Omega Red has been missing for 48 hours; instead, he's going to use the X-Men.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue kicks off the three part "A Skinning of Souls" story (aka the next chapter of the "Let's Crap All Over Colossus"saga ), which introduces the Soul Skinner and features Omega Red, though neither appears in this issue (though the former appears, in shadows, on the cover).

Though unidentified here, Revanche/Kwannon makes her first appearance in this issue, ahead of her full debut in X-Men #20.


This issue marks the return of Illyana Rasputin, making her first appearance since being de-aged and returned to her parents following "Inferno". She will remain a regular presence in the X-books for the next several months, leading up to her eventual death in Uncanny X-Men #303.


Beast attempts to speak with Xavier alone in this issue, but is overlooked in favor of more pressing events. This is, I believe, the beginning of the minor "Beast is suffering from malaise as his thirtieth birthday approaches" subplot, which is chiefly notable for establishing a hard age for one of the original X-Men at this point in time.


A pair of Russian mutants guest star, both former members of the Soviet Super Soldiers: Darkstar, one-time Champion and love interest for Iceman, as well as Father Alexi Garnoff aka Blind Faith, who first appeared in X-Factor Annual #1.


Colonel Vazhin, the Russian Nick Fury, last seen in "The Muir Island Saga", pops up as well. He meets with Valentin Shatalov, occassional Crimson Dynamo.


Collection Recollection
This issue is somewhat unique for me, as it represents a brief (literally one month) dialing back of my comic habit back in the day. Coming out of "X-Cutioner's Song", I was loving the X-books (the only comics I was really buying at the time), but was still also collecting baseball cards (and the various Marvel trading cards). My meager allowance was having a hard time supporting all that, so I decided, as much as I was digging the comics, that I didn't need to be buying TWO X-Men titles a month. So I decided to give up this series, and didn't purchase this issue off the stands.

My resolve held for approximately a month, as I ended up at the airport a few weeks later with my uncle, waiting for my parents to return from a trip. The little newsstand/convenience store near their arrival gate (this being back when non-ticketed passengers could still wait at gates) didn't have any baseball cards, but it did have X-Men #18, so I picked it up to pass the time, and I was back to being all-in on comics. From that point forward, comics took priority over baseball cards until that hobby quietly vanished for me, and I've purchased every issue of X-Men and Uncanny X-Men every month since, or at least until Marvel started muddying the water as far as which X-books were the "main" ones (and I did eventually purchase and read this issue after the fact).

The Chronology Corner
This story takes place after Wolverine #66-68, with the X-Men having picked up Wolverine at the end of that story on their way to visit Colossus' family.

It also takes place prior to X-Force #19, as X-Force are still under house arrest at the mansion, and before New Warriors #31, as it sets up Cannonball and Warpath's involvement in that issue.

A Work in Progress
As part of the dissolving of the Blue/Gold barriers, both Colossus & Iceman are featured in this issue, traveling to Russia alongside Blue team members Cyclops, Psylocke, Wolverine & Jubilee. The pair seem to be bonding in the wake of their discussion in Uncanny X-Men #294.


Rogue is still blind, and Gambit does his best to add to her trust issues.


In setup for New Warriors #31, Xavier tells Cannonball & Warpath they can leave to tell Magma & Empath about the Hellions, but declines their request to use a Blackbird (in New Warriors #31, Cannonball says Xavier heard about the New Warriors stealing a Quinjet, so he wants her to provide transport; I think the idea is supposed to be that Cannonball doesn't want to admit Xavier won't let them use a Blackbird).


In the wake of Mikhail's death, Colossus finds himself wondering if leaving home to join the X-Men was the single worst choice of his life.


Jubilee gives Illyana some makeup tips, a nice moment given their later interactions.


Young Love
The Cyclops/Psylocke flirtation subplot continues, both on the Blackbird en route to Russia, and later when Cyclops walks in on Psylocke emerging from the shower.


Watching Rogue & Gambit, Xavier notes that Gambit is playing a dangerous game with Rogue.


Claremontisms 
An angsty Colossus takes out his frustrations not on a tree stump this time, but a stubborn root.


Austin's Analysis
I've never been a terribly big fan of the story that begins here. In part, that's because the central villain is kind of a dud, both in terms of the story and the fact that it represents his only appearance to date. It's also because this story is one of the crueler installments in the "Crap All Over Colossus" plotline, which we'll get to in due time. But ironically (given how I skipped over it back in the day), this is probably the strongest issue of the three-parter. It's not a proper epilogue to "X-Cutioner's Song", but it does address some of the fallout from that story, with Cyclops mourning the lack of answers about Cable & Stryfe as much as he's mourning Cable himself, and it checks in with the still-confined X-Force, helping set up the events of New Warriors #31. As a result, even as it does plenty of work setting up the immediate Soul Skinner story, it feels more of a piece with the epilogue issues running in the other series, and even something like a Classic Claremont Quiet Issue, than the next two issues, which deal more directly with the immediate plot of the story.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the final "X-Cutioner's Song" epilogue in X-Force #19. Friday, the Warpies return in Excalibur #62. Next week, we look at the second and third series of X-Men action figures, and the second series of X-Force figures as I break for MSP ComiCon 2017!

Collected Editions




26 comments:

  1. I'll give Nicieza this: once he and the rest of the X-team capped off X-Cutioner's Song, they didn't waste time laying track on plenty of new plots and character arcs of their own. Now... the quality of the actual stories and character arcs are up for debate (in some cases, just barely,) but credit where credit is due. I was reading a friend's copies at this point, but a couole issues like this one had me intrigued as to what was coming next (especially the promise of a return of the more internally badass Psylocke.)

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  2. In a possibly harsh installment of political commentary, Father Alexi Garnoff cannot sense a living soul anywhere near Vladimir Iljitš Lenin, who's sitting in the car.

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  3. As much as I love the X-Men and have a ton of knowledge on them, this is another issue whose cover I've never seen till now (Same with #14). It's weird, because I began collecting X-Men around this point and have pretty much every other issue from this time, but those 2 evaded me, and I've never seen these issues in a store or convention or someone else's collection to see what the cover looks like.

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  4. Some more thoughts:
    1) I have to say that Andy Kubert's art on quiet moments like in these issues are like comfort food for me. I always liked the way he drew talking head scenes, as well, he was always able to have the characters doing something so that they didn't get too boring.
    2) It's crazy to think that such an important character to the New Mutants stories as Illyana was just put on a bus and done away with for 3 years after being de-aged. I was thinking there would be some good moments for the NM or even Colossus to interact with her and process what went on.
    3) I really like that Nicieza was planning to have Hank turn 30 and give him a solid age. What's tough about the floating timeline in comics is you have no idea how old characters really are (Or how much time has passed between two events). It also adds to characterization - If Hank was still 22 then he'd act differently than if he was 30. Imagine if he was 40 at this time, how would he be written? I think around this time Nicieza also has Cyclops mention that he's 25.

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    1. Unless I'm misremembering, I believe it's a bit later, somewhere around "Onslaught", where Cyclops says that he's twenty-five, and I think that scene was written by Mark Waid.

      Scott Summers being five years younger than Hank McCoy has always rubbed me the wrong way, though. I've always figured them much closer in age. In my head, the original X-Men's ages circa X-MEN #1 would've been something like:

      Beast: 18
      Cyclops: 17
      Angel: 17
      Jean: 16/17
      Iceman: 16 (I think it was actually established somewhere that he was 16 when he joined the team, though again, I could be mistaken. The original pre-"All-New, All-Different" issues are my biggest blind spot in core X-Men history.)

      So by this point, if Best is coming on 30, then Cyclops, Jean, and Angel should all be in their late twenties, like 28/29, and Iceman should be around 26/27.

      Anyway, I always liked giving him a concrete age here, too.

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    2. I was going to say the same thing, that the age gap between Hank and Scott never sat right with me.

      Here's another one - I recall during Scott's bachelor party before he married Jean (Right around this time) that all the male X-Men were at a bar. The bartender asks Bobby for his ID, and his response is something like "Uuuuhhh....I think I left it in the car." I always took this to mean Bobby was under 21.

      Of course that doesn't make sense given his apparent age close to Scott's (I always thought Bobby was around 14 when he joined the X-Men). Also, around issue #150, Bobby is shown in his college dorm room drinking a beer. The drinking age was around 18 then, so I'm assuming he was around that age. Therefore, he'd have to have aged more than 3 years between issues 150 and the early 300s.

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    3. Huh, I forgot about the missing ID thing during the bachelor party! I'm sure your read of the scene is correct; Lobdell was implying Iceman was under the legal drinking age, but I'm going to ignore his intention and assume Bobby really did leave his ID in the car. No way he's a decade or more younger than Beast!

      (By the same token, in the scene where Cyclops says he's 25, he gets cut off by Jean -- "But I'm only twenty-fi--!" I like to imagine he was actually going to say "But I'm only twenty-five days away from my twenty-ninth birthday!")

      As far as the dorm room beer scene circa UNCANNY 150, I'm not sure we can take that as any real proof of Bobby's age either way, since I've been led to believe that underage drinking occasionally happens on college campuses.

      Another random thought spurred by Beast's age -- Nicieza establishes around this time that Beast is thirty. The final issue of John Byrne's X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS featured his twentieth birthday. I realize these age references may not be considered canonical anymore, but if we take them at face value, then roughly ten years passed between the X-Men's reprint era and X-MEN (vol. 2) #20ish! I know a lot of stuff is compressed into those 200-plus issues, not to mention spinoffs, annuals, etc., but even so, that seems a bit too long from my perspective. Personally, I'd peg it as something like five years.

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    4. UXM #97 already has Alex Summers as "doctoral candidate", so I'd guess with a M.Sc., and he is Scott's little brother I believe. #138 famously has the gravestone that gives Jean's years as 1956-1980, so about 24 at the time of Phoenix' death. X-FACTOR #1 sees Bobby auditing invoices at his job at Harras, Anderson & Brown accounting firm, and I don't think the idea is that he'd be in a light college job there.

      I think any proclamation of someone being 25 at this point is the same phony-denial that us comics fans in our late 20's occasionally resort to.

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    5. And the Bobby Drake drinking beer in #145 is college sophomore as per the caption; the same issue identifies Alex and Lorna as graduate students completing their field work for doctorate.

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    6. I recall that in DC Comics, everything on Earth-1 began "About 10 years ago". I've heard it said that something similar is used to gauge time in Marvel Comics.

      However, this causes some complications - When the All-New X-Men were transported to the present (2012 in real time), they all dressed like they were from the 60s, even though at that point the X-Men would've been formed around 2002. And now that's 2017, that means that the X-Men formed around 2007. This also means Captain America was unfrozen during Obama's administration (While previous flashbacks show him interacting with other Presidents).

      Let's also not forget that at points the Marvel Universe operated in real time. Pretty much everything from Fantastic Four #1 to around 1968 was in real time (They say the cut-off coincidentally happened when Franklin Richards was born, which is interesting since Franklin later developed reality-warping powers). The X-Men was a bi-monthly book, which explains why the team graduates after one year around issue #7. There was also real-time post-Giant Size X-Men #1, where in issue #98 there's reference made to GSX#1 happening 6 months ago (It was published 6 months before, but only issues had been published in between).

      Years in Marvel are usually marked by how many Christmases there are, or how many birthdays a character had. But even these aren't accurate as some series won't mention holidays or seasons. Kitty Pryde's birthdays were used as a time keeper, but after a while those became inaccurate - For instance she seemed like a little kid when she was introduced, but in Excalibur in the early 90s she seems to be an adult, even though she should only be 16. Wolverine also stalks Matsu'o on the anniversary of Mariko's death, which has happened more often than there should have been years in publication time (And the anniversaries seem to get closer and closer as time goes on, while Marvel time gets more and more decompressed).

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    7. The problem is that Nicieza had Hank turn 30 but later in issue 29 suggested that Warren was barely older than Shinobi Shaw, who is usually written as in his early 20s. That's just not possible,

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    8. Ian -- Certainly Kitty's birthdays are problematic. I have less issue with Christmases. Like Cap speaking with various presidents over the decades, those seem like topical window dressing to me, things that shouldn't be dwelled upon all that much. But for whatever reason, birthdays and ages feel more concrete to me.

      Speaking of Kitty's time in EXCALIBUR circa Warren Ellis, I believe Ellis himself said he viewed her relationship with Pete Wisdom as a Leia/Han thing, so if we take him literally, then (per Wookiepedia) Leia was 22 when their relationship started in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. A few years later, I think in MECHANIX, Chris Claremont had Kitty tending bar as a college student so he was probably on board with that age too. I've always read her as maybe 18 or so when she shows up to tend to Illyana in UNCANNY #302, so I think the timeline is fairly consistent. We just never saw most of her birthdays after number fifteen.

      (I'm just rambling at this point, by the way. No idea whatsoever what point I'm trying to make, if any.)

      I'll also add that you're correct about the "ten-year rule", though I've also seen it as a "seven-year rule". The latter is favored by John Byrne, and, I think, Roger Stern. Personally I like ten years much more. It's a lot tidier. Though honestly the Marvel timeline is so long now that I think it would be okay to call it twelve years or so at this point. If Peter Parker was bitten at age 15/16, I have no problem with him being in his late twenties now just like the original X-Men (in fact, that's how old I always thought he read in the Gerry Conway/David Michelinie/Howard Mackie/etc. stuff from the late eighties to mid nineties).

      As far the original X-Men coming to the present dressed like it was the sixties... you see that now and then. Flashbacks to Peter Parker in high school frequently have him in his sweater vest rather than something more era appropriate for a decade earlier. When Deadpool traveled back in time to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #47, everyone looked, acted, and spoke as if it was the sixties. I think it's a fun way to do it. Personally, I just do my best to compartmentalize all of it. UNCANNY X-MEN #108 features the X-Men saving the universe in 1977 while the Avengers and Fantastic Four chat with President Jimmy Carter. Approximately five (in-universe) years later, X-MEN #17 takes place in 1993, and Bill Clinton is president. In the intervening five (in-universe) years, 1978 - 1992 passed, including about five birthdays for Kitty Pryde, three more presidential administrations, and a number of adventures for the X-Men.

      It makes no sense and it may not work for everyone, but this is the only way I can handle this kind of sliding timeline!

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    9. Anon -- I haven't read the issue in a long time, but I thought Shinobi was an annoying little kid who followed an older Warren around when they were children...? Maybe not. But in any case, we might just have to chalk that up to Shinobi being older than we imagined.

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    10. Matt - Let's also not forget that characters seem to be aged or de-aged from time to time. A big thing during Brett Blevins' run on New Mutants was making them look and act younger than they really were, no doubt to amp up the teenage antics. But then Cable comes along and these characters look to be almost adults (Rictor and Sam did the most aging, they went from scrawny kids to buff adult-looking characters).

      I also feel the same happened to Kitty - She was definitely mature for her age when Excalibur formed. Then she went to college. But I always felt she was de-aged when she was brought back in Astonishing X-Men given her appearance and behavior. Now in X-Men Gold she's leading a team and appears to be much older now.

      As for flashbacks, I always find it funny when they have to insert some modern technology. Like in a lot of modern re-tellings of origins you'll have needless references to the internet or cell phones, when these characters used typewriters in their first appearances.

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  5. It sounds like my experience with the X-franchise around this time was very similar to yours, at least at first! I also decided, coming out of "X-Cutioner's Song", that I would only read one of the two X-books, but I chose UNCANNY because I liked Brandon Peterson's artwork better than Andy Kubert's. But within a few issues, Peterson was replaced by John Romita, Jr., who did nothing for me at the time, so I jumped off UNCANNY after #298 and came onto X-MEN with #20 (though, as I've noted before, I would grab UNCANNY issues when they participated in a crossover or some other big event). Thus I completely missed "A Skinning of Souls" and I think I've only read it once or twice ever.

    From my recollections, though, I do agree with you that this is probably the strongest chapter in an otherwise dramatically depressing storyline.

    I've never really thought about it before, but in retrospect, it's kind of interesting to note that when Lobdell did a "quiet" issue, he tended to focus on the characters' friendships, humorous moments, and happiness much of the time, while when Nicieza did one -- and this more or less is one by his standards -- they tended to be more melancholy and focused on angst. I've always felt that even the wedding issue, #30, has this weird undertone of sadness to it despite the subject matter. Maybe it just has something to do with Kubert's artwork. But in any case, the two series complemented each other pretty well in that respect.

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  6. I meant to come say that Colonel Vazhin is one cool cat, making a hasty appearance in a Claremont story about every fifth or so year (like the one in UXM #194) just to disappear again, but then I went to check up MTU Annual #2 where he blatantly shot Cissy Underwood's scientist dad and suddenly I'm not so sure anymore. Nevertheless, in his appearances the big KGB honcho seems to be much more understanding to the position of the mutantfolks than government officials generally, as witnessed here too.

    They don't say it explicitly, or maybe I just didn't register it, but this story is pretty much continuation to the Colossus back-up story in CLASSIC X-MEN #29 (the main story in which is the Arcade one where Vazhin robot is used to brainwash Colossus into the Proletarian), where he visits his folks in Russia the last time and gets tangled up in politics and with Vazhin. Apparently the X-folks feel the embargo is lifted now for Colossus after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Unnecessarily harsh turn awaits.

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  7. "Rogue is still blind, and Gambit does his best to add to her trust issues."

    Ugh, these two.

    When I was a kid (and even into college), I thought Rogue & Gambit were super romantic & tragic & deep. One of my college friends would even edit stuff like jeans ads to look like them as a sort of fanart (if you squint). But as a grown woman, there is nothing romantic or healthy about these two; in fact, pretty much every "sweet" scene with Gambit screams "get the mace". It makes me wonder why so many of us thought this was okay, let alone desirable.

    That scene with Jubilee & Illyana bonding is pretty sweet, though. I skipped this story (largely because it felt like piece-moving for other ones and not a plot of its own), but that makes Uncanny #303 hurt a bit more.

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    1. It was the charm power of this 90's Starfox breaking the fourth wall.

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    2. Hee. You've never read a Rumiko Takahashi book, have you Mela?

      To be fair, the things you bring up have always been part of the Remy/Rogue dynamic (especially once we get to X-Men #33 or Uncanny #350). So the idea that Gambit is some manipulative sleazeball isn't suppose to be too fair from our minds. (And remember that a lot of "should we trust this guy?" foreshadowing and innuendo was being thrown us around this time around Gambit as well. It's even hinted at in this very issue.)

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    3. I've read/watched plenty of Rumiko Takahashi stuff. Now ask if I liked it. ;)

      And you're right about this being potential foreshadowing, but concurrently, Marvel was pushing Gambit as their newest coolest hero. So for dumb young readers like myself, it felt like the ad guys' hype mattered more than the writers' intentions. Maybe if he had been shown to be a real sleazeball (as supposed to being fairly sympathetic) it would've aged better.

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  8. Boy they were really determined to hammer home Peter's angst with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, weren't they. With the weird aspect being that it STILL doesn't make sense to where it leads to (The line from here to joining an insane Magneto's anti-human militia isn't drawn very clear. "Angry at the world" yes, but not specifically Magneto's tenuous scapegoats. I guess I should be glad he doesn't respond by stroking a dead cat in an alleyway.)

    Regarding on of the pics posted: "Oh Scott, you startled me so much I 'accidentally' wrapped myself with this washcloth instead of a full-sized towel. Good thing these bathrooms come equipped with built-in shadow censor, or you'd be taking a good look at my 'focused totality'."

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  9. Is "Any Kubert" an in-joke that I missed or have you been repeatedly misspelling "Andy?"

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    1. The Kuberts are like the Kleinstocks; if there is one, another isn't too faraway.

      Didn't take too long for a Kubert to land a job on the X-book after the "Biting the Hand that Feeds You" Image jibe GHOST RIDER issue #29.

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    2. The comic book version of the Baldwin brothers!

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  10. The placement of Psylocke’s right hand on the cover indicates to me that she and Cyclops, uh, came to an understanding after that early-morning bathroom scene.

    I’m a big fan of the Claremont Quiet Issue sort of thing, interludes and interregna between longer story arcs, but for whatever reason the way this issue was all set-up for later payoff left me dissatisfied. Surely that’s due in part to me neither knowing where this is going — unlike most or all of the rest of the audience here — nor being able to approximate well enough the mindset of reading it as if it’s freshly published rather than a historical blip in a comprehensive re-read. Crazy to think that this issue is older now than Giant-Size #1 was when this issue was released.

    Occasional Crimson Dynamo is my new band name.

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  11. "Crazy to think that this issue is older now than Giant-Size #1 was when this issue was released."

    I think about stuff like this all the time and it's kind of depressing! One that struck me recently is that when STAR TREK: DISCOVERY finally premieres, it will be about ten years further past the premiere of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION than TNG was past the premiere of the original STAR TREK!

    Heck, just in simple/obvious terms: I well remember the "Marvel 25th Anniversary" corner boxes from 1986. It's now more years since that anniversary than the number of years it was celebrating!!

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