The Letters Page: Episode 106
An episode in which we get into some real talk about one of our most powerful teams of heroes.
Run Time: 1:05:34
With a minimum of banter - mostly due to the somber nature of today's undertaking - we get into the questions at the 2 minute mark. Speedy!
Then, in response to the very first question, we tell the entire story of the Fall of the Prime Wardens, from before the prelude through the end of the arc, and in fact the end of the Prime Wardens book. So, essentially, we do an entire overview starting a bit after the 4 minute point, just as a drawn out answer to a question.
After all of that, we get back to actually answering questions around 51 minutes in. Though we're certain there will be some follow-up questions for next month's Editor's Note.
The final question of the day raises an excellent topic for a future episode that would hopefully put things back on their right path again.
Can you forgive these heroes their flaws and inherent humanity? Only time will tell.
Thanks for listening! Catch you next time!
- [Kind of. The first question prompts them to just tell the whole story, so I’m breaking it out separately.]
- This episode is about “how the team falls apart” - things are going to get heavy as they get into the personalities of these people and the dysfunction that goes along with that. The Prime Wardens episode (#60) is a good place to go first to get a refresher on things, but be warned in case you’d rather not get into the deeply dysfunctional parts of these characters’ personalities.
- [The question, from Brian Le Wolfhunt:] The description of this event mentioned that the team fought Blood Countess Bathory, Borr the Butcher, Galactra, F.I.L.T.E.R., Balarian, the Seer, Kismet, Bugbear, and others and that Apostate had arranged this - who were the others/how did Apostate accomplish this? How did these fights exacerbate the faults in the team dynamics? What even is there to get Haka and Argent Adept mad at the other members? Why not just talk it out (they’ve got Haka, a lawyer, and an ambassador on the team - you’d think they could have a discussion)? Why did Apostate go through this “breach of trust” angle with the heroes rather than a more direct fight?
- The story begins in a crossover event between Prime Wardens #191, Cosmic Tales vol. 2 #381, and Savage Haka #164 as well as the relaunched Fanatic vol. 2 #1 and Virtuoso of the Void vol. 2 #1 [November 2001]. There’s a few issues of the “Prelude” leading up to the event proper (which wraps up with PW #200 in August ’02). This is a ton of books - there are 4 months of the Prelude across 5 titles, so 20 issues there, then 6 months of the event itself for another 30 issues.
- In the PW title itself, there’s a fight against the Court of Blood who’s been preying on a town. The heroes win, the Court gets enveloped in a blood mist that nothing gets into or out of and it retreats, and the team calls it a job well done.
- In SH, we get the “real story” of what’s going on. During the fight, Haka slips off and finds the Blood Countess. He’s not here to fight, but to talk. He’s been around long enough to know what the Court does to people and that there’s never going to be enough blood for them. He offers to take the place of the victims - she can take his blood instead. They will let the Prime Wardens “win”, close off the Court with the mist ritual and go away, but Haka will show up regularly to provide blood.
- In Fanatic, she comes across Bugbear, who’s also preying on a village. So, we’ve got two unrelated Blood Magic-beings preying on villages stories going on, but he’s more straight up attacking people than the more subtle vampire shtick. This is a perfect Fanatic situation where she can just get in there to put herself between a monster and the innocents. While she’s doing this, the Idolater shows up. He doesn’t have his cross on a stick - he’s got the Spear of Longinus that he’s using to control this blood beast (he then demonstrates this control - stopping Bugbear in his tracks and then directing him to attack Fanatic). So, the stakes have changed a bit - it’s not just a matter of fighting Bugbear/protecting the people, but she’s also got to get to Idolater to get this relic away from him. There’s a big fight, Idolater taunts her the whole time (having the artifact makes him her equal, yadda yadda), but she eventually knocks out Bugbear. She then turns on Idolater to see that the Spear is now glowing - apparently it really is the Spear of Longinus, which means that he’s unfit to wield it. She attacks and they fight - and he really is her equal with it (he’s very acrobatic and can shoot lightning - that sort of thing), so it’s a better fight than we would normally expect from him. She eventually focuses on the Spear instead of on fighting him directly - she consecrates the Spear, washing the blood of Christ away, and he’s depowered. She defeats him and brings the Spear to the local church to have them hide it away.
- In CT, Captain Cosmic is mentally contacted by Galactra [the antagonism/attraction element to their relationship is brought up by the guys here] who says that she needs his help. He comes to her aid and finds her being drained by Borr the Butcher. CC shields her and helps her recover and the two of them, only by working together, defeat Borr, driving him off. Galactra thanks him, she knew that he cared, etc. (further acknowledgement of something between them), but CC makes a quick excuse to get out of there (“I need to go find my brother…”) and totally needs to do it on his own. His excuses obviously leaves her disappointed as she really thought they were finally going to resolve his tension.
- Back to PW - there’s a team meeting that’s mostly just there as exposition laying out the “things are unsettling” lately - going over the recent team and solo-encounters they’ve been having and that there’s just been a lot going on that’s pushing on them. In the middle of somebody else talking, Argent Adept pulls out his Lyra, sits down on the floor, and starts playing as he enters some kind of trance. This segues into…
- The VotV book, where AA has projected himself into the Realm of Discord where the Seer is trying to use magic to pull Void magic through the RoD into himself - this set off all sorts of alarm bells for AA. This raises the additional question of “How is the Seer able to even do this in the first place?” This flashes back to events in PW #175-6 in ’98 [this can’t possibly be right given the dates/issue numbers we’ve been given since they did the timeline project - the PW issues in 1998 were #145-156 and #175-6 were in July and August of 2000], a story were AA was captured by F.I.L.T.E.R. before the rest of the team busted him out. That had been a straightforward two-issue story back then, but the lens we see it through now is that the reason they had captured him was to get access to Void magic through some experiments on him (they view it as yet another dimension that obviously needs to be policed by them). These experiments failed to yield the result of getting F.I.L.T.E.R. access to the Void, but the knowledge they gained is what the Seer stole and is making use of now (where they went wrong was trying to connect the Void to normal reality - going through the RoD is easier). Now, the Seer still needs one more thing - an instrument to finish the connection. What better instrument than a Virtuoso himself, so he’s laid a trap for AA - when he shows up to see what is going on with the Void, the Seer sicks a bunch of Balarian on him. This keeps AA busy while the Seer uses him as a conduit for the energy that he uses to cause a rift to open between the Void and the RoD [and since mixing magical nonsense is generally bad, Adam comes up with yet another food analogy - this is like mixing jelly and mayonnaise]. Argent Adept eventually defeats Balarian (he’s fought these things before and knows what to do), but his expenditure of power further feeds the rift. Seer thinks things are all going great, right up until the point where weird Void tentacles reach through, grab him, and drag him into the Void through the rift, which then closes. So, that’s that problem resolved. AA goes back to his body, expecting the meeting to still be going on, but nobody else is around. They left a note, though: “Find us when you’re done.”
- To wrap up the Prelude events, we have Tempest getting word that the Maerynian Refuge is under attack and he and the rest of the team go there. This winds up as something of a comedy of errors as we have this team of 5 incredibly powerful heroes up against… Kismet. This situation is just begging for her to mess with things so that they wind up hitting each other. They eventually drive her off (she generates enough luck for herself by causing enough bad luck for the heroes that she’s able to make her escape), but how did she get there in the first place considering the defenses in place to prevent attacks from outside? Kismet also seemed to be very specific about what she was doing in messing the place up - like she is supposed to be doing this for a specific reason. It’s much more focused than we’ve seen her previously. It’s around this time that the Apostate reveal happens - he’s been behind everything that’s been going on. Oh, and there are a bunch of demons at these two places too (delivered in a taunt as they’re fighting him). Once that information is passed on, he retreats. Without further information to work from, they split the team to deal with the two groups of demons.
- Before moving on to “The Fall of the Prime Wardens” story directly, they want to talk about character flaws for our heroes. They’re all really strong, but have strong personalities to go with it. This is harder to talk through than the other hero teams. Like, while the Freedom Five may have issues occasionally, they will come together by the end to triumph as a team. Dark Watch is almost entirely built around “falling down, but getting back up stronger” - they’re always overcoming adversity and turning their weaknesses into strengths. The Prime Wardens have always kind of been blind to their own weaknesses. Their stories for years were basically “here’s a big magical/cosmic threat, let’s let these heavy hitters go punch it” followed by a big special effects show.
- After the turn of the millennium, the new writing team wants to explore the fact that none of these characters have really had to deal with their shortcomings/the fact that they are frequently at odds with one another. So, in order to get us all on the same page, they’re going to just do a rundown of each of their character flaws before moving on to the rest of the story (and it should also inform things they’ve already told us about these people in other episodes).
- Tempest - starting with him since his are probably the most obvious. Sure, he’s an ambassador, but it should be pretty clear that he has a bit of a temper. It doesn’t take an awful lot to get him to the point where he’s yelling in somebody’s face, and it’s particularly easy to set him off by involving Maerynians. He will drop everything if you threaten them and it’s not an exaggeration to say that he cares about non-Maerynians less than he does Maerynians. Related to that is his hatred of Thorathians - he’s a survivor of genocide after all, so this is pretty understandable.
- Fanatic - next up because hers are also pretty obvious and is interesting because her strengths and weaknesses are intrinsically tied together. She’s got this Faith/Guilt thing going on - she’s definitely killed people, but she also feels guilty about having killed people. She “sins” a lot (as anyone does), and if this were a more XTREME comic she’d probably drift into self-flagellation or something. It’s a blind spot for her (she starts wearing a mask that covers her eyes at one point for crying out loud). It’s addressed, but not fully confronted.
- Argent Adept - kind of obvious as a trait, but maybe not the ramifications. He’s a rather dispassionate person - he’s bad at emotions until/unless he’s playing his music and that’s when he’s “his truest self” and is a conduit of the full range of emotions. Otherwise he’s pretty shut down almost to the point of being a blank slate. “If he’s not on, he’s really off.” This is to the point where he’s a detriment to the team - he’s undependable, frequently late, is really bad at communicating, and just doesn’t really care about anything. Think back to the “Find us when you’re done” note earlier - they’re used to this nonsense from him as he just started doing his trance thing without telling anybody what was going on or why he was doing what he was doing (which probably complicated things as if he’d brought them along to the RoD things probably would have gone smoother). It’s not that he thinks he’s better than everyone or something like that - he just doesn’t think to include people. He’s not considerate.
- Captain Cosmic - he’s a coward. He is afraid of loss, being wrong, etc. He uses heroism as a means of escaping from his real issues. He loses his brother and then only kinda-sorta, halfheartedly looks for him. He’s helping people all over the place, which is good, but that’s a distraction from and a convenient excuse to avoid his “real” goal. “I’ve got an interpersonal drama going on. Sounds like Dok’Thorath needs my help.” He uses space to run from his problems on Earth and he returns to Earth when his space drama gets too real. This really comes out during the OblivAeon event. He sees OblivAeon show up, can feel that this is the source of his powers, and his immediate thought is to get away and find a pocket dimension or somewhere to hide to ride this out. Then Infinitor shows up and has more character than he ever did, to stay and fight. That’s what finally gets him on a more solid footing. It takes his brother’s death to get CC to “man up” and finally start taking responsibility. This was something that’s obviously always been true about the character, but Christopher and Adam had a rough time actually coming to this realization about him.
- Haka - he has a unique lens through which he sees the world. He’s been around for a long time and has had plenty of opportunities to think about things. He’s not good at “big picture” thinking (and he knows this). He deals with the problem that’s in front of him. Omnitron is rampaging downtown and there are people in an office being menaced by drones - he’s going to go in and save those people in front of him when it might be more expedient to go punch the big robot instead. It’s kind of like a job interview question of “what’s your biggest flaw?” in that his flaw is that he cares about people too much - he’s not going to ignore the people in danger here even if the bigger threat is over there. His other problem is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum in that Haka, deep down, thinks that he’s better than other people. It’s not as overt as literally thinking “I’m better than you”, but think of the thing that best sums him up - he’s a teacher that helps children learn and make better decisions. Now extrapolate how much older he is than just about everyone else in terms of who the “children” are. He doesn’t talk down to people as if they were children, but that’s the kind of headspace he’s in. He knows what’s best and of all members of the team, he’s the most likely to lie to the rest of the team in order to “protect them”.
The Fall of the Prime Wardens
- Tempest, Argent Adept, and Captain Cosmic form one of the groups the team split into for this demon-hunting job. Their destination is in Wales where the demons are attacking some office building. Fighting the demons takes almost no effort on their part, which is weird since Apostate had talked this up as a big deal. Then they realize that they’re actually at F.I.L.T.E.R. headquarters, which none of them had known the location of before. What were the demons after here anyway? They take a look and find a file that indicates that Kismet’s recent attack on the Maerynian Refuge was directed by F.I.L.T.E.R., which causes Tempest to lose his temper so we have a confrontation between him and CC, AA, and Felix Stone [the head of F.I.L.T.E.R. first mentioned way back in episode 22] who steps out of an office at this point, which ends the scene.
- Haka and Fanatic are at the other location - a village in central Romania. Haka and Fanatic chase them out of town until they run into this weird blood mist barrier (which the demons just run right into, destroying them, but also tearing a hole in the barrier). This reveals the Court of Blood, which Fanatic sees as a great opportunity to charge in and wreck up some vampires, but Haka wants to hang back and tries to talk her out of going in to smite everything. She more or less drags him in there and starts fighting. Then Blood Countess shows up and says “This, Aata, was not our deal,” which stops Fanatic short as she finds out the details of Haka’s bargain with the vampires. She doesn’t see why he doesn’t just smite the vampires, he tries to convince her that smiting them has never really worked over the centuries and he made the decision to protect the world by setting up a scenario that keeps them around, but sated instead of fighting them. Fanatic sees this as a betrayal, even if she understands why he has done what he’s done. She also wasn’t part of the deal in the first place, so she charges Blood Countess with her sword. The Countess just grabs the blade as it’s swung, though (it cuts her hand some, but no biggie - she’s really powerful in the first place, and now she’s been feeding on Haka blood). She is fed up with this nonsense and declares that Haka’s in breach of their agreement and they’re gearing up for a fight. Then Argent Adept contacts them through the Void - their help is needed, but they’re also rather busy at the moment. That doesn’t matter to AA, who just yanks them through the Void to his location back in Wales. Tempest and AA are also upset with Haka for some reason (well, Captain Cosmic is too, but he’s in the back). Tempest blasts Haka with a lightning punch, which ends the issue.
- This one starts slightly before the end of the last one - Felix Stone is explaining that he never planned on the Kismet thing to go down the way it had. She was a contingency in case something else went wrong and some rogue agent must have told Kismet the “go” pass phrase. He had nothing to do with it and she was only supposed to get involved in case Haka didn’t come through for him. He says that Haka has, since pretty early on, been compromised by F.I.L.T.E.R. - they held it over his head that they knew the location of the Maerynian Refuge at a threat. Felix is a persuasive guy - he knows that Haka has a long view of history, but also that he’s not great at the big picture stuff. So, he offered a deal. He, Felix, is good at the big picture stuff and knows how to go about helping the most people. Haka can go about his hero business, Felix just wants updates on the rest of the team periodically. Haka wasn’t keen on this, but that’s where the threat to the Maerynian Refuge came in as leverage. Flashbacks to when this had been relevant:
- At one point after the Voss invasion, the team had found some surviving gene-bound. They helped set up a secluded retreat for these poor beings to live and then, later, based on Haka’s report, F.I.L.T.E.R. came in and cleaned them out.
- Argent Adept getting captured by F.I.L.T.E.R. was with Haka’s aid, because the Void is a threat to people and they needed to understand it better.
- More stuff like that, but the main thing to start was that Haka figured that as long as he was on the “inside” he could make stipulations on how F.I.L.T.E.R. operations went. As time went on, though, it basically just became a big pile of blackmail material to keep Haka in line.
- So, back to the present, Tempest has just punched Haka. Fanatic comes to his defense “Look guys, I’m mad at him too about the blood magic stuff…” which prompts a “What ‘blood magic stuff’?” from the others, but she goes on. She is going to stand up for him as he’s still a good person who makes hard decisions for good reasons. Things devolve into a fight of AA, CC, and Tempest vs. Haka and Fanatic. The fight breaks out of the building in short order and continues through the countryside until they’re interrupted by Apostate who’s really self-satisfied about the trouble at these coordinates. This brings at least some sense of relief to the heroes as they can offset a lot of the frustration/blame onto the obvious bad guy. Apostate cuts that blame game short, though. He did one thing (he’s the one who gave Kismet the code word) and arranged for them to discover what was already happening by giving them two locations to investigate.
- He then really starts tearing into them. Captain Cosmic, you only “look for your brother” when there’s other stuff you should be doing. He’d be easy to find if you actually cared. Speaking of “caring”, Argent Adept, are you even friends with these people? Do you have friends at all? Do you know what friends are? Do you trust them? Because they sure don’t trust you. Tempest, you are sooo willing to believe the worst of your friends if it might be at the expense of your people, you’re almost too easy. And Haka, you’ve made your own bed at this point, not thinking that anyone else can be relied upon. Fanatic, see this spear *summons the Spear from earlier*? First, the people you trusted with it did a terrible job. Second it’s worthless. Junk. *he breaks it* Humphrey just had some of Bugbear’s blood on it and was using that to control him. [At this point Fanatic protests that Idolater had power from it.] The only reason he had power was because you believed that he did, I told you before about what you really are. You believe so blindly that your faith gave him power. You were fighting yourself, which is all you ever fought.
- So, Fanatic has had enough of this and cries “Betrayer!” and goes at him with her sword. Apostate pretty much just stands there with his arms wide and allows himself to get smitten. As he “dies”, he croaks out a line about how he usually has to lie, but it turns out that telling the truth can be so much more effective. So, the heroes are left standing “victorious” over the “defeated” villain. So, they destroyed Apostate, but he succeeded in destroying the team. There is no means for them to come back together at this point. They were never really a tight-knit team and Haka was the glue holding them together, and he’s so thoroughly compromised that he can’t act in that capacity anymore. There’s a couple pages of them in silence and one-by-one just leaving. Haka’s left the worst off of anyone. He’d been so disconnected from the rest of humanity for so long, just walking the Earth and doing what good he could, but without making real connections. Here, with the team, he’d finally started trying to do so again, and now he’s gone and ruined everything.
- So, if you’re still with us, the good news is that the team eventually reforms and does a much better job at the communication/trust/team things. It’s just that this is their low point. It’s worth pointing out as well that Tempest had been pretty poorly handled through this whole thing in general and that was part of the reason for the later “really a flesh-child” retcon later on.
- To get back to the initial questions: How did Apostate get all of these villains involved? He didn’t, he just exploited existing situations to his benefit. What was his gameplan? He didn’t really even need one, just enough to set up the dominoes so that they would fall once he nudged them. Isn’t there a more effective way to disable the Prime Wardens than just getting them to distrust one another? Not really, this destroyed the team more effectively than anything like a fight with a villain was likely to. This is probably the most productive/biggest victory that Apostate ever managed.
- What was the drive for Sentinel Comics ending the series instead of just retooling it somehow? The book was actually doing rather poorly. It didn’t have the “familial” feeling that the other two team books had. Plus the new writers had a specific idea about a story showing how messed up the team actually was and having them fail a bunch. This is the first step in the reboot/retooling, it’s just spread over a bit more time than usual as they give the individuals a bunch of time in the intervening years to grow on their own first after getting knocked off their pedestals for the first time. When the team reforms the readership is behind it - they get the characters now and feel that they earned it. Haka in particular was interesting - this story got a lot of flak initially of the “how dare you do this to Haka?” variety, but in all honesty he’d been getting stale as a character leading up to this and we got some genuine growth afterwards, making him more popular than ever.
- How did audiences respond to the fact that the team was brought down not by a villain, but by the emotional manipulation of the team? Was it a let-down to end a popular team? It was a divisive story at the time, but this really was the only way to bring down a team like this. Sure you could invent some new big bad to just kill them, but that’s a cheap way out. The people who were most angry about it were those who were, really, fans of an individual hero. People invested in the team might like the story as a story - like they could get behind the quality storytelling involved even if that story was a downer.
- Give that this was in the Tempersonation era, was Biomancer involved in the plot or would he have been disappointed that his most powerful pawn was no longer in such a prominent/influential position? Neither, he was not involved and wasn’t in a hands-on string-pulling situation at that time. It was something like another 6 years before the reveal on that and, at a meta level, the writers of this story weren’t even aware of him being a Biomancer clone at the time as that hadn’t been established editorially. While they took the other four characters on a bit of a journey after this, Tempest continued to be treated rather poorly and so this also got wrapped up in the clone retcon to clean things up as they had to roll things back even farther to find a good point to make the switch.
- What is each Prime Wardens member’s favorite thing about autumn? [Adam refused to participate in this nonsense brought to you by Brian Jewett.] They enjoy Thanksgiving, trick-or-treating, warm sweaters, and Tempest loves pumpkin spice.
- As probably the second most ardent Argent Adept fan [i.e. Liz C aka Jeysie], and being prompted to suggest a topic as a place for the question (oh, no, don't twist my arm into more Argent Adept stories), I want to ask now that I've done that: you've mentioned the "Death of Anthony Drake" event [VotV vol. 2 #100 in February 2010] a few times - what actually happened to kill him? That's actually a great topic suggestion- it would let them talk about what led up to the event, then the "Death of..." event itself and what followed with new "replacement" characters, and then the reader reaction/publisher course correction to bring him back and then the reformation of the Prime Wardens. [So, basically she suggested this week's topic to have a place to ask this one, but then they suggest it's better as its own topic anyway given that it's not closely-enough related to the "Fall of..." story. More "arm twisting" for AA info for her, I guess.]
- Closing out - they expect that Editors Note #30 will be a good chance to hear about all of the Science stuff they got wrong last week, and to hear everyone’s lamentations over what they’ve done to your favorite characters this week. With how people talk about CC being “Space Dad”, they can imagine that it’s kind of like finding out that your own dad is human after all.