The Letters Page: Episode 104
Let's talk about young Devra Caspit!
Run Time: 1:10:23
In the first couple minutes, Adam and Christopher make a wager against Christopher's wishes, but I guess that kind of thing is binding?
Then, we get into talking about Unity, what happened in her Day in the Life comic, and more!
Around 12 minutes in, we get to your questions, which take up the rest of the episode. And what good questions they are!
Thanks so much to all of you delightful listeners, and also to the very few of you who have chosen the path of undelightfulness - we support your decisions as well. Big thanks especially to our Patreon supporters. You make this all possible!
We've already recorded next week's episode, so tune in next week to hear all about the Science of the Multiverse!
- From September ’85 through July ’87 they ran an every-other-month book Day in the Life with each issue focusing on a different hero. It was nominally supposed to be what an “average day” was like for each of them, but frequently wasn’t that average of a day [AZ’s, for example, had him tracking down, having a conversation with, and forgiving the drunk driver that killed his fiancee - hardly “average” for him]. Often character pieces with a series of vignettes by different writer/artist teams to give a spread of what these people were like. They bring the title back for a single issue in January ’91 for one focused on Unity - at that time she was a recent addition to the comics, having been introduced in the animated series of the time and then imported back over to the comics. It was a good opportunity to introduce readers to who she was - she was a pretty divisive character (see her own episode for details there) and so this was an attempt to win over some of the people who disliked her comics iteration. This issue presented three vignettes.
- This one was about how she was a secondary character, even in her own stories. She’s an intern to Dr. Meredith Stinson and a sidekick to the Freedom Five. She’s happy to be a part of these things, but she recognizes that she’s not an equal partner in them, like a kid sister tagging along with the big kids. She’s young, inexperienced, and is “playing with toys” (her bots) when there’s dangerous stuff going on (it wasn’t until June of that year that we get FFA #12 where she makes the Freedom Five bots to protect HQ while they were out - that solidified her capabilities a bit more in their estimation).
- This one is about her and her bots. Most other scenes with her involve the grown ups doing serious Science or Heroics with her as this silly side character. This one is just her and her bots. It starts off with her building bots, and talking to her bots, and feels very much like a “kid at a tea party” thing. It quickly turns into her talking to them like they’ve “got to work hard” and “get better” or whatever. She’s talking to them like the other heroes talk to her and this is working out as sort of a therapy session for her as she projects her own insecurities onto the bots and gives them advice on how to deal with them.
- The last story opens on a Friday. We know it’s a Friday afternoon because she’s getting ready to observe Shabbat - as we’ve been told before, Unity is an observant Jew. This is when we see her truly alone - she’s not around the “adults” like the first story and she’s not messing around with her bots like the second because, while the bots are helping her prepare, once the sun goes down the bots all shut down too as she stops maintaining them. She sits in a mostly dark room, sitting at a candle-lit table with her intert bots, with a photo of her mom and the dinner she’d prepared. We get some bits of her backstory (with her parents and whatnot that they told us about in the Unity episode), but this time alone is the focus as we see the sorrow underlying her character. Fade out on that scene.
- Then we get a page of her back in action, reinvigorated. It’s much like the scenes from the first story, with the adults telling her what to do and her being on it. This is where she has connections now and it’s meant to call back to that first story so that we now have deeper context for her character and how she’s interacting with the others. She has depth beyond just being a cartoon character.
- Was she recognized by the general public in the comics (as in, the Freedom Five were probably well-known by everybody, but was Unity)? Yes - she was recognized enough to get her own groupie/stalker after all (who became Radioactivist). The Freedom Five are so on everybody’s radar that a lot of their close associates would wind up so incidentally (like, even Aminia Twain probably is recognizable - think about seeing lots of photos of a President, their aides are probably around enough that they wind up in a lot of them, and if the same person keeps showing up you’re likely to remember them, even if you don’t know who they are - Unity is more notable that that level and people generally know who she is). The readership was well aware of her as well and either loved her or hated her - there wasn’t much room for people to just ignore her. Of course, by the OblivAeon event she was well-beloved as people got over it.
- What kind of projects did she work on on a daily basis? What is an internship for superheroes even like (is it something like a precursor to the Freedom Academy)? She wasn’t an intern for the Freedom Five as much as she was an intern for Dr. Meredith Stinson doing lab work. When you’re building apparatus for physics experiments, it’s handy to have somebody around who can assemble it with her mind. On paper it’s a good fit. In practice, Unity doesn’t stick to the design document very well and puts in her own flourishes, which leads to some friction between her and Tachyon, who is all business. That’s just where things start, though, and they grow into a very effective team. A lot of her day-to-day work, however, is more focused on practicing/refining her powers - building more functional things or bigger things, making the exact same part 70 times (boring, but necessary practice in control), etc. This winds up being something like hero training (getting better control of her superpower, after all), so she’s ready for that aspect of her life when it comes up, but it wasn’t the goal at first. In many of the early fights she was present for she got assigned support roles (e.g. getting civilians to safety - sometimes she’d build bots to help with that, other times she’d rebel and make a bot to punch the bad guy).
- If she was meant to be this popular character, why didn’t she get her own solo series (it’s been mentioned before that it was because she was a late addition to the setting, but Benchmark is much later and got his own book)? That’s actually a sticking point with the fandom with just how much editorial support Benchmark got right out the gate. They tried to force readers to like him, which didn’t work. It was after they started panicking about it “not working” and they tried to shake things up that they brought in new writers who did the whole turn where he figured out that RevoCorp was bad and the fallout from that. Unity never got her own because by the time she was popular enough to have her own book, her identity was too tied into being this support character for the Freedom Five. It’s a major shift in her story for her to get her own book in the post-OblivAeon era when she leaves and becomes a leader of the new team of the Paradigms. On the back-end, it’s also a matter of having a writer who wanted to take her in a new direction.
- Do we ever see Devra’s parents after she becomes the Freedom Five intern? While she didn’t get her own book, she does get back-up stories in Freedom Five issues occasionally. One of them is about her and her parents. She gets words that her father has died. She didn’t have a good relationship with him, but she knows her mom would appreciate it if she came to the funeral (plus she has resources at her disposal such that it’s not an issue to get there). She goes back to Ofakim - on the way she’s building herself up for how her mom is going to be a different person, free of the problems of her husband’s drunkenness. When she gets home, though, her mom is still this same bitter person and is genuinely broken up over the death of her husband. Unity has changed so much in the relatively short time she’s been away [comic book time being weird] and it’s weird that nothing has changed here now that her father is dead. It’s really easy to think that all problems can be pinned on one person and that things will automatically improve when they’re gone, but that’s just not true. Unity had built it up in her head that her dad was the source of all the family problems and his death would fix everything.
- Is it safe to say that Mr. Chomps is Unity’s favorite? Is he something like a pet? Does he show up in the background doing funny stuff accentuating how Unity feels at the time? How often do other characters interact with him? Mr. Chomps was a bot she made early on that was kind of just a throw-away “raptor bot” that she called him “Mr. Chomps”. Oh my, did the readers love that - his popularity quickly surpassed Unity herself as something of a mascot. So, it became a running gag where she would make a raptor bot and call it Mr. Chomps. He does act as an extension of who she is, but it’s not like it talks in terms of “interacting” with other characters, but she’ll act like he talks to her/make them apologize to him, stuff like that. He emotes. You can kind of think about him as Unity’s “tail” - watch a cat or dog or something and you can usually tell what kind of mood they’re in by what their tail is doing. She uses him for comic effect a lot too. In a “very serious situation” she can be acting all serious, but then Mr. Chomps is hamming it up in the background.
- How does Unity help in Tachyon’s lab (spitballing ideas, using bots as manual labor/in conditions that would be unsafe for a person)? Does her personality get her in trouble? Easy - she uses her powers to built stuff and uses the bots to help out like you suggest. Her personality got her in trouble almost constantly early on, then only a few times a day, then things get better. Unity grows up, Tachyon adapts to Unity’s presence, and, ultimately just giving Unity her own space to work helps out a lot (as opposed to her having to do her thing in Tachyon’s space with Tachyon’s stuff). The conflict they wind up having around Omnitron-X was the real turning point, though, as Tachyon had to deal with the fact that Unity wasn’t just “having fun” or whatever, but had things that were really important to her and was willing to push back.
- While Friction was still alive, was there any meaningful interactions between them (the former intern making the current intern doubt her position or whatever)? Because Vengeance happened so shortly after Unity was introduced [Unity introduced FFA #11 in June ’90, the Vengeful Five one-shot to kick off the Vengeance event was December ’91], anything that Friction threw at her was met by the “oppressive cheerfulness” that Unity brought to the table. Friction’s beef with Tachyon (being “used”, not getting to do her own thing, etc.) just rolled off Unity’s back because she’s young enough and just-happy-to-be-on-the-team enough that none of it sticks. Unity winds up getting all of those things eventually over time, but this encounter with Friction was not of any importance to Unity, much to Friction’s disappointment.
- Who’s better at table-tennis, Swift-bot or Stealth-bot? Swift-bot. Speed is of much higher importance than subtlety.
- What’s her dynamic like with the non-Tachyon members of the FF? Does she interact with other heroes much and, if so, who? She gets along with all of the Freedom Five. Surprisingly, she gets along with Absolute Zero really easily due to their similar levels of “I don’t care what anybody thinks.” It takes the longest for her to get in with Bunker due to his military “duty and purpose” outlook (plus her tendency to co-opt parts of the Bunker suits). She’s closest with Tachyon because that’s who she’s working with in the lab so much. None of the others really go in there much (other than the occasional visit from AZ). Bunker’s down in the machine shop and would quickly shoo her out of there if she shows up. Wraith doesn’t want anybody messing with her gadgets. Legacy is “Freedom Dad” and that colors her interactions with him. As a supporting cast member of the Freedom Five and is mostly in their book, she doesn’t really run into others often. Guise likes her, but she thinks he’s too ridiculous. She doesn’t have a lot of friends outside of the Freedom Five, though (however, once Freedom Tower is built she’s the most likely hero there to get to know the various staff members). She does date quite a bit, but that’s just kind of a background detail.
- As an “intern” does she get college credit? Is it an unpaid internship? Yeah, there’s some handwavy “this is totally counting towards course credit at Megalopolis U or whatever” explanation for it. It would be very difficult to state exactly what all it would entail.
- If she arrived in the US at age 18 or 19, did she have to finish up high-school or was that all done with already? Part of the internship deal was that it would count as finishing up whatever secondary education she still had to complete and then was continuing her education as things went on.
- How has her life changed after OblivAeon? She spends more time in the field now. As an intern, the lab work was a major part of her life. Now, with RevoCorp and as leader of the Paradigms she’s out in the field more, although she’s still putting in lab time too and has other people to do the “grunt work” that you would expect an intern to deal with.
- My favorite ship in Sentinel Comics is Unity/Omnitron-X, how does Unity refer to Omnitron-X? Some people say X, some say Omni, Legacy would use the full name. Unity calls it Ronny.
- Does she think of herself as “Devra” or “Unity”? Well, let’s expand that out to be “does any character think of themselves as their hero name? Haka definitely thinks of himself as Aata. Legacy probably doesn’t think of himself as”Legacy" because he grew up with his dad being Legacy and he knows that his daughter will be Legacy - the fact that it’s an ongoing thing is present in his mind. This likely continues for Felicia who considers her dad to be Legacy, and so on down the line. Fanatic doesn’t think of herself as “Fanatic”, but “Helena” is likely not how she frames things either. Ra definitely thinks of himself as Ra, but that’s a special case (in that Dr. Blake Washington Jr. definitely thinks of himself as Dr. Blake Washington Jr.). Guise is definitely Guise, but he’s had a very thorough transformation. Setback is Pete. Expatriette likely doesn’t use “Amanda” as that was the name her mom gave her and she’d want some distance there. Unity probably remains “Devra” in her own head.
- What would a typical night out with Benchmark be like? What kind of wedding does she want? She likes regular dinner-and-a-movie style dates. They also have lab time where she’d want him to put on the suit and she messes with it, but that’s more of a “hanging out” activity than a date. She might want to incorporate some traditional Jewish wedding elements, but she’s been finding her own way as well and might go more casual. She’s a very strange blend of modern and traditional and that would likely influence how she’d put together a wedding too.
- How has the increased budget of working with RevoCorp affected her? She’s in the field more and can direct more of her own research in the lab, but being part of RevoCorp means that they also expect a return on investment more than Tachyon’s scientific discovery for its own sake. She has more freedom in that she’s in charge of her lab, but she is also restricted by the contractual obligations that direct where she puts her efforts. There are trade-offs.
- Does she like pistachio ice cream? Yes. Because she’s not a monster. [This prompts the comment that Lifeline doesn’t like it and the follow-up question of if he’s their “most monstrous hero”.]
- Did Unity do the mandatory military service in Israel? If so, what type of work? If not, is she banned from returning? If not banned, does she ever go back? Does she vote in their elections? She did not do the mandatory service because of the internship, but there was a lot of handshake deals giving her a pass since, as part of the internship, she’s saved the world a few times and whatnot. She doesn’t go back often. She has fully expatriated to the US and is an American citizen. She hadn’t participated in the Israeli elections.
- Did she ever work on a kibbutz where her bots might be of use? No, her family lived in a more urban environment. She maybe would have enjoyed it, though.
- Does her knowledge of Hebrew ever come in handy? More her knowledge of Jewish faith and traditions than specifically the language. The language thing would only really matter if interacting with somebody else whose only common language with anybody present is Hebrew, but the traditions give her a connection with many more people and would come up more frequently.
- [Letter begins with a heartfelt appreciation for having a practicing Jew character - to the point where even her power refers to Jewish folklore with her “golems” - the guys are glad that you’re picking up with they’re putting down on that last point.] Does she identify as bisexual (given we know that she’s dated men and women), pansexual (as she’s dated at least one alien), straight, or something more nebulous? Pansexual is probably the closest - she knows that she finds a certain kind of “masculine” thing attractive, but she’s not picky in terms of physiology that person has otherwise. She’s not really hung up on labels, though.
- How did she and Benchmark get involved? How did they meet? They met while fighting crime because he was involved in everything there for a while. She found him really annoying at first - just this fake boyscout guy. They didn’t start dating until they were on a team together and got to know one another better.
- You mentioned in the Gen Con 2017 episode that some characters keep kosher - can I assume she’s one of them? Yes.
- Her backstory makes it pretty obvious that her mother is an agunah, a woman whose husband won’t grant her a [get](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Get_(divorce_document)) or divorce - there are typically methods such women can pursue, up to and including getting a bunch of rabbis to beat him up until he agrees, why doesn’t she pursue such a process? Part of it is just the long, drawn-out process of their relationship deteriorating rather than a single event. By the time she even wanted one, she was broken enough that she didn’t want to fight for it and just accepted it. As we see in the funeral story above, she was resigned to this relationship and mourns his death.
- Is Unity resentful that her mom didn’t take steps to leave her father? Yes, definitely.
- You mentioned that her mother felt “stuck”, as many agunah do, but that’s common for many women the world over - why did you choose to highlight this specific issue in Jewish society in terms of Unity’s story? When they were designing a Jewish character (because of the golem thing they’d landed on) and were digging into what that meant, they found this particular issue and wanted to shed more light on it. It wasn’t that they were “targeting” Israel or anything and built a character to do so, it was a natural development as they were building a backstory for a character that they’d happened to already decide was Jewish.
- Is there baggage she brings to her dating life from that experience? Yeah, she doesn’t want to get “stuck” in a relationship with somebody who doesn’t communicate with her or who drinks too much. She might have a bit of a fear of commitment because of it, which is why she hasn’t had a consistent love interest. Even the thing with Benchmark is really new.
- Do any states in the Sentinel Comics version of the US have get laws (like New York does in real life, for example) that can force a man to grant a get? There’s not much difference between that world and our world in those terms - any states that have them here would have them there. Like, just take the real world and everything there and just superimpose additional stuff on top (so Colorado has the same state laws, plus some additional ones that have to do with superpowers or something).
- If she ever got married, would she insist on the type of prenup designed by rabbis over the years such that a secular divorce also legally forces the husband to grant a get? Yeah. If she ever got married, she would want to include that protection for herself.
- Where does her name come from, “Devra” is a very uncommon name in Israel? “Devra” is a variation on “Deborah”, which is a traditional name (a more direct transliteration of דְּבוֹרָה is “devora” or “dvora” and the word means “bee” or “swarm of bees” [so it’s an equivalent of the Greek “Melissa” - you learn something new every day]). It’s a more archaic form of the name and as her family had only recently moved to Israel they wanted to get back to their roots, as it were. There’s also the “swarm of bees” thing and the fact that she makes a swarm of robots as an additional character connection/reason.
- If she’s an observant Jew, why did she get a tattoo as that’s generally against the rules except for medical necessity? Because of that reason. She realizes that she’s picking and choosing elements of her faith, as many people do, and she decides to do this thing specifically because she’s not supposed to do it. She’s striking out in a “finding out who I am” move.
- How observant is she anyway? Does she keep kosher and observe Shabbat (I assume she’s not Orthodox based on the way she dresses)? Yes to both of those, as mentioned earlier, but she’s also not Orthodox.