The Letters Page: Episode 108
Let's pick up the pace!
Run Time: 1:02:17
We get right into the story with this one, and actually have an Overview segment! It's been a while since we've had one of those.
After telling the story of the Lightspeed limited series, we get to your questions at around the 30 minute mark.
Thank you to all you wonderful folks who support the Letters Page Patreon! We couldn't do this without you.
Catch ya next time!
- The 6-issue limited series Lightspeed ran June-November 1995. [We get a bit here where they compare the types of stories that were in the ’80s and ’90s of real world comics kind of gets offset by a decade here - being more like the ’90s and ’00s in Sentinel Comics. That’s not a perfect analogy though, as they were already getting grimdark with spikes and chains with Fanatic back in the ’70s - I guess the takeaway here is that things are a mess when trying to do direct comparisons.] This book is billed as a Tachyon book, but it opens with a focus on a group of villains, including three that are relatively unknown (except to people who have paid way too much attention to the podcast):
- Current, a wind-manipulator.
- Thermos, a heat/cold-manipulator [again, with an /o/ sound - like the first two syllables of “thermodynamics” rather than like the brand of insulated flasks, although plenty of jokes to that effect are made].
- Cold Shoulder, the daughter of the Golden Age Absolute Zero, Henry Goodman.
- And Friction! She’s kind of the most senior member and is coming right off the heels of the Vengeance event. However, she’s not the mastermind as there’s some shadowy figure who’s running the show.
- The first issue starts with the four of them looking at a monitor and talking about “the plan” with the shadowy leader. We see this first page a lot since the first four issues of the series all have the same first page since the first four issues all take place simultaneously, each following a different bad guy.
- We start off following Current who heads off to a wind farm in Arizona. Her plan involves whipping up some strong winds to redirect the fans so they’re all facing inward (as opposed to all facing the same direction - head-on into the prevailing natural winds) and then creating a big vortex/tornado in the center of all of them that she can then release on the surrounding countryside. Then Tachyon shows up. The turbines have some Stinson Labs or similar branding on them, basically just making it clear that Tachyon has some involvement with them. That’s kind of the running theme here - there’s some science/technology-related problem that Tachyon has to solve. So, she’s running around the vortex to help cancel it out, then leaves, then returns to stop/fix a turbine, then leaves, then returns to do something else, etc. As we’re mostly following the villains here, we get to see what it’s like to have to oppose Tachyon. She’s just in-and-out too quick for you to follow everything. She’s multitasking on a scale beyond what is readily comprehensible. As she’s dealing with shutting these things down, Current slips away (noting that this is the expected outcome and things are coming along nicely).
- Issue #2 follows Thermos. He goes to a reactor facility in Minnesota. He blows up cars in the parking lot and causes general mayhem and destruction towards the reactor itself, eventually getting to the area just outside the reactor. He places a hand on the wall and starts heating it up, hoping to cause a meltdown [nuclear power plants work just like traditional coal/oil/gas-powered ones - they are there to heat water to steam, which turns a turbine. The trick with nuclear plants is to allow the chain reaction to heat the system up to the point where it will boil water but not so much that the nuclear fuel itself will melt because that can prevent the control system from working and the chain reaction will run out of control and you get what happened at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, or Fukushima]. Then Tachyon shows up - her primary goal is to get the personnel out of there, but she’s also putting out fires and whatnot. As soon as Thermos notices her presence, he takes that as his cue to leave much like Current had although he appears to think that a meltdown is inevitable now as well. Tachyon continues to do her multitasking thing, but is now arriving with big chunks of ice from somewhere and uses it to help cool the reactor down before the meltdown occurs.
- Issue #3 is in Megalopolis and follows Friction. We know that she used to be Meredith Stinson’s intern and that she stole a speed suit, which she got Baron Blade to help get working (which is never a bad idea that will come back to bite you). Friction knows about some of Tachyon’s other experiments that she has going on - one of which is a prototype fusion reactor (which certainly shouldn’t be turned on without a ton of fail-safe measures in place - but that’s exactly what Friction does). She uses her own super speed to transport some of the energy/radiation from this reactor all over the city. Then Tachyon shows up to do something about it. Friction has the most backstory of these villains and the most history with Tachyon. While “The Plan” involves causing trouble and then leaving once Tachyon shows up, Krystal can’t help herself and fights Tachyon (she punches her and spouts off a bunch of stuff about being her nemesis). Tachyon’s still primarily working on getting the civilians to safety and taking care of the reactor problem (and, as it’s something she works with regularly she has a bunch of contingency plans for dealing with it). She still has to deal with Friction, though, and while Friction isn’t as fast or as smart as Tachyon, she’s still a threat and so we get a lot more direct interaction between hero and villain this time. This gives Friction the opportunity to inadvertently blab about there being a bigger Plan involved, so now Tachyon knows these things are actually related. Friction does manage to set the reactor to self-destruct in order to distract Tachyon for long enough to make her escape.
- Issue #4 follows Cold Shoulder to Florida. We see her in what first appears to be a solar power plant, but it turns out to be a staging area for some solar panels that will soon be sent into space (to be an orbital power plant that would then beam the power back down to the surface - another of Tachyon’s plans). By a complete coincidence, launching stuff into space involves tanks of large amounts of cryogenic gasses [liquid hydrogen and oxygen make for pretty useful rocket fuel], which Cold Shoulder taps into to use with her powers. She’s using them and blowing them up with the general plan to cause a localized ice age - whether this will succeed is irrelevant, because of course the plan is to keep Tachyon busy (and once she shows up Cold Shoulder leaves as planned). So Tachyon is getting civilians out of the way of collapsing things, shutting down the chain reaction of the cryogenic tanks blowing up, etc. All of the ice forming everywhere is handy for her multitasking as she grabs chunks of it to take elsewhere (i.e. to Issue #2).
- Issue #5 is finally from Tachyon’s point of view. She knows that they’re working together, but she can’t figure out what the four sites have to do with one another. At least she’s able to track down where they’re coming from, though, which is in middle-of-nowhere Ohio of all places. We’re finally moving forward after the simultaneous events of the first four issues and now she zips into this darkened facility just brimming with energy she’s built up with all of the running around. This place has underground structures and whatnot - it seems to be some kind of decommissioned military thing. The four villains are waiting for her and there’s a fight between them all. It’s still pretty one-sided as we’re talking about Tachyon here, but eventually Cold Shoulder gets off a lucky shot with one of her cold devices and momentarily freezes Tachyon’s foot to the floor. The shadowy figure then steps out and starts monologuing about how she’s such a fool and has done exactly what they meant for her to do, and that she’s brought them exactly what they need. The figure pulls a big supervillain lever and the entire complex lights up, showing all kinds of “energy modules” around the room that start drawing the energy off of Tachyon - the whole plan was to make her run around so much nonstop that she builds up an enormous charge and then get trapped right here to have it siphoned off. The lights also reveal that the villain behind it all has been Biomancer and he’s using the power from Tachyon to start up the large number of homunculi that he’s got ready to go throughout the facility.
- Issue #6 opens with Tachyon in battle with all of the homunculi [the guys also mention that homunculi are distinct from flesh-children - the latter will have personality and are more individual, but homunculi are simpler than that]. She’s made her way down to the lowest level of the base where there’s a big turbine that’s still arcing with energy. We find out that Tachyon’s lost her super speed - she’s still faster than the homunculi, but she’s now just in the realm of “althetic person” fast rather than superhuman. She’s dodging and weaving around the homunculi on the catwalks above this turbine and knocks one over into it, which gets vaporized by the energy coming off of this thing. While she’s doing all of this, the important thing is that she’s studying this equipment - she’s still a genius after all, and she’s figuring out how it works as she goes. Biomancer remains off to one side and continues to taunt her (he’s going on and on about how sure, she’s mastered all of this “science” stuff and knows a lot about the world now, but she’s ignored all of the wisdom of the ages and so doesn’t know all of the stuff that he knows). Finally, she makes a decision, as a homunculus lunges for her she dives off of the catwalk into the turbine. The rate of time passing between panels slows way down as she falls in. We see her approaching the turbine and the energy arcing off of it to hit her just so, meanwhile the captions are an inner monologue from her about how this reminds her of the initial accident that gave her powers in the first place. She hasn’t lost her powers, she’s just been depleted and needs to recharge. Handy that there’s so much energy right here for her - as long as she hits the ground running just right, she probably won’t die. While she lands and is already moving pretty quick, she’s not quite fast enough yet to keep up with the turbine and the blade behind her slams into her. That’s bad, but she stays on her feet and manages to keep up long enough to draw out more power - slowly pulling away from the blade as she powers back up. Eventually the scene pulls back and we see her speed up to light speed and zip through the turbine entirely, destroying it. She then zips around to tie up the villains, destroy the homunculi, and the stops in front of biomancer and grabs him by the front of his shirt to lift him up. Then he throws back his head and laughs, his jaw unhinging further and further until the flesh starts melting off of him and we see it’s a bunch of robot parts. Of course it’s a fake Biomancer. There’s a little wrap-up explaining the plot. This was a little notable in that it was the first time that homunculi were something of an actual threat (generally they were solidly in the “mook” category and weren’t really scary - this was a bit of an evolution for them) and it introduced Biomancer as a “Tachyon villain” - playing off of her status as a cutting-edge scientist vs. his ancient forgotten wisdom shtick.
- On “Fleet of Foot” we get the classic “Dude, you’re not my nemesis” line - was she talking to Friction there? Who is her nemesis? She is talking to Friction, as depicted, but there’s a problem with the quote attribution as it lists Lightspeed #2, but it should be #3 [I guess I haven’t looked at the physical cards in a while, but the video game iteration clearly shows Lightspeed #3, so at least there it’s correct]. A few cards also mention #8, which obviously should be #6 instead. As for her nemesis - Biomancer kind of becomes one, but Glamour is the obvious big one. Friction considers Tachyon her nemesis, but it’s rather one-sided. Of course, Tachyon’s biggest nemesis is “not knowing things”, which is the whole point of the science stuff - and why Glamour and Biomancer work well as villainous nemeses as they both do stuff that Tachyon doesn’t understand.
- On Lightspeed Barrage who is she threatening? How many times did she punch them? The various homunculi as she was going lightspeed - it’s a text/art mismatch, though, as the point at which she’s saying this she’s less “punching” things than passing through them and obliterating them as she passes. In ten seconds she could hit somebody tens of thousands of time.
- Who created the team of three villains? What did they call themselves? Why didn’t they appear in the card game? They didn’t show up in the game because they were super minor villains - Sentinel Comics had a lot of villains that might even have been major foes of individual heroes that just didn’t rate appearances in the team-up-based SotM game. Biomancer put the team together and they didn’t have a name - they were just people that Biomancer brought together to do a thing. [The guys have even called the three of them “trainees” a few times this episode.] They show up individually again here and there, but this is pretty much the high point in terms of importance of their actions.
- Why does Cold Shoulder go after Tachyon instead of Absolute Zero? How does her dad feel about what she’s doing with his cold guns? Does she still have them after the events of this series? Could they be replicated for use by minions or in doomsday devices? She doesn’t care much about Ryan Frost because it’s not like he slighted her dad or anything. She doesn’t feel that she should have the name or something. She more just cares about the fact that heroes in general have slighted her father. He’s a Golden Age character and has died of old age by now [I’m a big fan of the discussions had in Starman vol. 2 (that ran from ’94 to ’01 and follows the exploits of a Golden Age hero’s son who takes up the mantle) around the fact that Golden Age characters have aged in odd ways - the original Starman is an old man while Superman or Batman are still in their prime. It’s also just a good story, so give them a read if you can track down the trades.] He died a bitter old man and she wants to “avenge” him (she’s an adult) by getting back at heroes and this job from Biomancer fits the bill. Yes, the guns could be replicated. [I got independent verification from Christopher that her name is Jana Goodman.]
- Where did Current and Thermos (and their powers) come from? Why fight Tachyon? They’re both Tachyon rogues gallery characters that show up occasionally in her stories. Current was a ’60s villain and Thermos from the ’70s. They both fall into the category of “rival scientist” for why they have beef with Tachyon. In their efforts to get recognition before Meredith Stinson they cut corners. Current is Dr. Mary Weather who had been doing wind-tunnel experiments and she was in there when some safeties failed. She got electrocuted, but she tapped into the power of the winds to save herself. Thermos is Dr. Elijah Thaden who was doing some kind of thermodynamics experiments and his hazard suit hadn’t been checked and so he got flooded with whatever radiation was happening there. He can generate a lot of heat and cold around himself - not to the extent of Absolute Zero, but also without the need to be in a cryo-suit/chamber forever.
- Has Tachyon ever gone so fast as to go back in time? What exactly is happening on “Pushing the Limits”? No, she’s never done time travel through super speed. On “Pushing the Limits” it’s just showing her circling the globe several times very quickly - it’s not like she’s effecting the Earth’s rotation or anything.
- Is Friction really dead? Does she come back in one way or another? [Insert a lot of hemming and hawing here as they refuse to answer in the most “of course she’ll be back eventually” way possible. “How could she survive being pulled apart on a molecular level? That’s impossible, right?”]
- You said that Friction’s speed suit was a prototype that never worked right and users risked disintegration - it that because other people lack the particles that Tachyon has flowing through her? Could somebody with some level of invulnerability (like Legacy or Haka) use it? It’s not because of the lack of the particles in Tachyon, it’s more just the strain that it puts on the user’s body. Tachyon doesn’t need the suit because she already is that fast and so can naturally “keep up” with what the suit is doing. Somebody like Legacy and Haka could use it longer than others, but it’s still going to try to rip them apart (and would eventually). Haka could do better of the two of them as he’s got more of a regenerative thing going on (Legacy’s durability is in being straight up immune to a lot of damage and this would overcome that - Haka would get torn apart too, but he’s constantly regenerating as well and so could take it better), but it wouldn’t be pleasant.
- Does Tachyon actually approach/exceed the speed of light in this arc? Yes. When she regains her speed and blasts through the turbine and homunculi at the end she looks like a laser to the readers as that’s how fast she’s going.
- As a physicist, has she ever used her knowledge of science in a fight (say, by red- or blue-shifting the heat coming off of an invisible foe to make it visible to her or by exploiting relativistic effects to fool targeting systems or something)? Yeah, she’s definitely done this sort of thing, but exactly what the details are/how plausible they are depends on the writer. The super speed aspect of her is pretty one-note - the interesting thing to do with her is to exploit this sort of weirdness. That was a big part of their goal in creating her - sure, she’s a speedster, but she’s a scientist who fully understands the ramifications of what that entails.
- What is your favorite of Tachyon’s costumes [Brian Jewett’s favorite is Super Scientific Tachyon - but between her and other variants like PW Captain Cosmic and the RPG-era Proletariat and Baron Blade it might just be a preference for sweet, sweet jackets]? Jackets are great, but they feel less good about Tachyon here than you do. They think that it makes her look more “scrappy” and less experienced. Christopher likes the Freedom Five variant and Adam likes both her RPG outfit and her original costume.
- Has Dana done any work in designing her outfits? Yeah, Dana thinks that her outfits could be much more interesting while Tachyon largely sees them as utilitarian. There’s a whole issue where Dana brings in some designers and there’s something of a fashion show as she tries all of these things on. However, when they’re going out for social events Dana gets more of a say in the whole thing to get her to wear something that actually looks good.
- What would happen if Headlong hit Tachyon with his frictionless shove while she was going at super high speeds? She would slide a bunch, but she’s got the reaction time to come out of it ok. They’re more concerned with what happens to Headlong’s arm if he tries to hit her going that speed. Of course, the real answer is “whatever the writers need to happen in the moment” - this sounds like a kind of team-up move and so the effects would be dependent on the scenario.
- With her RPG iteration of Hypersonic Assault, what’s the limit on “multiple targets”? It would usually mean a group that are situationally nearby to one another. So, she could hit a group of Blade Battalion members in a plaza, but she couldn’t simultaneously hit a squad of them down in a bunker a few levels down.
- Has there been a story where Baron Blade ever used some kind of mind control (or just good ol’ charisma) to get Tachyon to team up with him? There have been stories with Luminary and Tachyon working together. That’s part of the big payoff that OblivAeon represents - 60 years of these titans of scientific thought finally resulting in them working together instead of in opposition. This sort of question was a perennial one among Sentinel Comics readers - when would some circumstance force them to be on the same side?