The Letters Page: Episode 109
Stories that NEVER HAPPENED?!!?!?!?!??!
Run Time: 1:12:53
We get to your questions right away, before we even hit the 2 minute mark. And we tell SO MANY stories that never were.
Thank you to all of our listeners, especially our Patreon supporters!
Get your questions for the Death of Anthony Drake (and anything else Prime Wardens related) in now!
- Psyche/Lars Mendel
- White Knight/Victoria Cross/Bannerette
- Wager Master
- Grand Warlord Voss
- Young Legacy
- Mr. Fixer
- Absolute Zero
- Void Guard
- Blood Countess Bathory
- Sergeant Steel
- Baron Blade
- Citizen Dawn
- Citizens Hammer and Anvil
- La Comodora
- Virgil Miller
- [Starts off with a discussion of birthdays and songs thereof. If you’re mentioning your birthday, you can also suggest which song gets sung for it, but they retain the right to veto.]
- [Prompted by the first letter’s intro, they are generally talking about stuff that was canned in the publishing meta-verse, not stuff that C&A themselves canned. This is pretty much because stuff that they came up with and aren’t talking about is typically either stuff they decided against entirely and aren’t likely to discuss or are things that they’re possibly going to repurpose some day and so don’t want to discuss it now - this latter being the more common of the two as they very rarely throw out an idea entirely.]
- Were there any heroes that showed up early on in the history of Sentinel Comics, were around for just one issue (or a small number of issues) and then simply… disappeared, never to be seen or referred to again? Yes, definitely lots of them (and not just heroes, but also villains or supporting cast). They’ll talk about three of them here [but before that they talk about Sk8-Blayde, briefly - there have been several suggestions of episodes about him, but they say now that they’re not going to do one on him until after the History of Sentinel Comics book is out, so you can stop suggesting it - they’ll put it up for the Patreon voting process sometime after that book is released]:
- In the ’70s we had Psyche, a character who was around for three issues before getting cancelled. She was a mental force that had been around for ages, but would occasionally bond with a person and become the “hero” known as Psyche (in this case a guy named Lars Mendel). The title was a really trippy mental exploration thing - part of the deal was that the Psyche force would allow Lars to enter somebody’s mind (like, he disappears from normal reality and shows up in the other person’s mental world). In one issue he was in the mind of a coma patient and in another he was in the mind of a murderer. The book was something of an excuse to have several pages of very little dialog, but lots of very strange, mind-bending scenes. Lots of neat artwork came out of it, but that was about it. After those three issues it was dropped and never referred to again.
- In the ’60s we had a single, introductory issue for Ape-Man, (Tome of the Bizarre vol. 2 #86 [February ’66 for those playing at home, shortly after the Stranger in a Strange World/Cosmic Tales crossover involving Voss and just before Bunker’s title transitions to Vietnam] and then nothing else. There were some campers out in the woods, they’re attacked by a bear, and they’re saved by the Ape-Man - who’s something like a Neanderthal who was frozen in ancient times and recently thawed out. Now he wanders this forest and protects those within it. There’s also some hints that this is supposed to be the source of Sasquatch stories, but as it was as single issue that never goes anywhere.
- In the ’50s we had a character that’s actually been mentioned before, White Knight (an alt-universe version of her was mentioned in the Mission Deck episode, #94 as being the figure depicted as a statue on Lucky Break’s card). She originally appeared in Arcane Tales #119 and #123 [July and November ’57, the former being the same month as the final issue of the original lineup of the Freedom Five]. Issue #119 introduced her as Victoria Cross, the last person in a long line of secret knights who for centuries have been hiding the secret of the power of the White Knight. In times of great need one could take up the sword and become the White Knight, with the fancy armor and whatnot. They had planned for her to become another of the company’s flagship characters, but nobody was very excited about her (including the writers once they had introduced her). In the ’90s and they had introduced the idea of the Host (which got applied to her alt-version who took up the name Bannerette at the time in Disparation), there were some conversations about reviving her, but nothing ever came of it other than the nod she gets in the OblivAeon story.
- Were there any parts of the Sentinel Comics Universe timeline that were rejected ideas from the pre-OblivAeon era? Did Sentinel Comics have some king of rebranding after OblivAeon [like the All-New, All-Different Marvel branding]? Yeah, both here in reality and in the publishing meta-verse. Examples are Myriad and Daybreak where they had the ideas a while ago, but put them off to be post-OblivAeon creations. There was something of a rebranding, but not hugely so. They treated the new post-OblivAeon era as a good jumping on point where they were focusing on the world of Sentinel Comics, without all of the Multiverse baggage, and starting things over with #1 issues across the board to establish a new beginning. But it’s not like they totally revamped the existing heroes that had entered the popular consciousness in the process [well, other than stuff like Haka].
- What was the shortest ongoing title prior to OblivAeon? The Longest? For the longest, we have Freedom Five which ran uninterrupted from #1 in May of 1950 through #803 in March 2017. That being said, Justice Comics #1 was May 1940 and it ran to at least #740 in January of 2017, but there was that period in the ’70s and ’80s where it was not being published because of the legal dispute with the rival Justice Comics publishing company, after which it picked up the numbering where it had left off - so this is the longest in terms of time elapsed between the first and last issues (plus the FF book gets replaced by Sentinels of Freedom post-OblivAeon, while Justice Comics just starts a new volume with the same title). [I would note that there’s also Mystery Comics which ran from #1 in August ’46 through #405 in April ’80 followed immediately by volume 2 which would have hit #520 in December ’16 (the month that the OblivAeon event ended) - that’s a total of around 925 issues across both volumes due to the fact that it was twice-a-month for a while at the beginning of the second volume which gives it the most issues published without a hiatus, but there isn’t continuity in the numbering scheme.] The shortest ongoing book that actually stuck for any length of time was Haka’s Battle Unending which ran for 20 issues [February ’70 through September ’71] - this was another attempt to give Haka his own title rather than just being a feature in other titles, but the approach here was to just have Haka fight all the things. This failed because that’s kind of the least interesting thing you can do with Haka because it’s a foregone conclusion that he’s going to win.
- During the “nobody writes Tempest well” phase did anybody pitch an idea for something interesting to do with him? Certainly, but none of it really worked. They were either just taking him in radically different directions or “getting back to basics” with stuff like what he’d done in the Stranger in a Strange World era (with him wandering this world that was new and strange to him… in the ’90s or ’00s when he’s been a hero for decades).
- With the popularity of Deadpool in our universe, was Guise similarly popular and did writers just get sick of him and wrote just the worst stories involving him? Guise was very popular, but there was also a substantial part of the fandom that despised him. This latter segment of the readership meant that they had to use him very judiciously because they could easily alienate those readers. That being said, it’s important to keep in mind that Guise and Deadpool are vastly different characters. Sure they’re both comedy characters who break the fourth wall (although the way that Deadpool does this in the comics isn’t really what a lot of people think it is - he doesn’t really address the reader in the way that his movie iteration does). Guise not only addresses the reader, but also interacts with the medium of comics itself, doing weird things with panels and page layout directly and is used as a vehicle for artists to really play around with the medium and for writers to comment on/deconstruct superheroes and comics.
- Was Wager Master a difficult character to write (coming up with his games, having him want to win but to win fairly, etc.)? His stories have their unique challenges being about a character with all of this power, but no ambition. He actually gets used very sparingly - he’s a big deal when he’s present, but only when he’s present (except in the few times he’s used to just show up while something else major is going on and just shows up to do something weird and move on). There’s not going to be a “take the fight to Wager Master” story and it’s hard to even imagine there being a big team-up crossover story involving him. As soon as he leaves he pretty much ceases to be something you worry about.
- It seems difficult to have a character just disappear - were there stories pitched to “bring back” Voss and Bugbear? Well, we know what eventually happened with Voss. Nobody had an interesting thing they wanted to do with Bugbear that would have been worth the effort (although that door is still open in the future).
- Is anybody trying to bring back NightMist? Time will tell. One of the things is that death needs to have some weight. Comics often get into a place where it seems like death is a revolving door and it’s easy to drum up drama by killing somebody off. They specifically don’t want to get into that position. There are frequent close calls with death or fake deaths, but straight up having a character die and then have them back with seemingly no repercussions is something they want to avoid. In the meta-verse, there were definitely some “OblivAeon is done, I want to bring back NightMist” ideas that were shut down by the editors. Within the world of Sentinel Comics itself characters are trying to figure out ways to recover NightMist and Scholar as they were both killed in very unconventional ways.
- It seems like Legacy is a fairly easy character to write, but were there any stories about Legacy or his daughter that gets the characterization so wrong that they’re killed by the editors? There were two for Paul, one mentioned previously was when somebody wanted to introduce an affair between Legacy and Wraith [with a cursory serach, I see references to it in Editors Note 22]. The other was the Firestarter story mentioned in episode 77 that also played around with Legacy being tempted. While this one actually was published, it was largely seen as a series of missteps. They see Legacy as one of the more difficult characters to get right - he’s only “easy” when you make him one-dimensional. There’s one they haven’t mentioned before for Felicia. During the America’s Newest Legacy era, there was a time when the lead writer was a good friend with a senatorial candidate who convinces the writer to have Felicia endorse him. He thinks he can find a good way to work that into the story, so they get it all ready and just need to get the editorial sign-off on it before sending it to art. At which point the editors put their foot down that no way is that happening. Having a Legacy make a “real world” political endorsement was just wrong.
- Were there any episodes of the animated series that were banned internationally? Yeah, definitely. In the Dark Watch show in particular, but probably all of them had something in them that would have run afoul of some country or other’s censors. A specific example is the Freedom Five season 2 two-parter about the Thorathian War would not have aired in Germany due to how heavily it leaned on the whole “space Nazi” thing, even more so than in the comics to get the idea across to the audience very quickly (not that it had Swastikas, but still).
- Sometimes real-world events affect story after-the-fact (see: the original Spider-man trailer that showed a helicopter stuck in a web between the towers of the World Trade Center that was pulled after the events of 9/11), did anything like that happen in Sentinel Comics? Yes. Usually more because there’s some plan for a story that’s coming down the line that needs to be tweaked because of something that happens. The notable one was an Expatriette story where she winds up having to have a shootout with a villain that’s set in a school. Now, the school was to be empty during the fight, but between the time when it was written and when art for it was complete, the Columbine shooting happened and so that story got cancelled at the last minute and they swapped in some filler story that was slated for later on, but was ready to go (this sort of thing was standard practice - for several decades they’d have new creative talent do filler stories occasionally as both a way for those new people to show their stuff to try to break into the industry and to have something on hand in case another issue got delayed for whatever reason).
- You mentioned in the Fanatic episode you mentioned a story where they had her explore a bunch of other religions [note: this was originally brought up in the Gen Con 2017 episode, just touched on again in her episode], but were there other stories that got cut due to potential backlash from religious communities? No, there weren’t any that were prevented from coming out due to that worry, although Fanatic’s book often received that kind of response after they came out (both in the “Christianity isn’t really like that” and “there are other religions too/you’re saying that Christianity is ‘true’” senses). Additionally, the whole period of Satanic Panic in the ’80s would have included Fanatic’s comics as one of the focus points (like D&D was in reality). Some “hip” youth pastors would have held her up as a good role model. Then the Host stuff happened and would have gotten a lot of “not my Fanatic” responses from people who insisted that she was a “good Christian girl/angel” and wouldn’t hear otherwise. Fanatic is a character who is going to be a lightning rod for this sort of thing and you can’t do it at all without total commitment to the story. There was a Prime Wardens story where a villain blew up a mosque and the Muslim community responded with both “don’t go blowing up our places of worship in your comics” and “it’s good that you’re showing the heroes defending us.”
- [Another birthday notification, so here we go at 33:05 for the song.]
- [Given that Free Comic Book Day happened recently, they also get into a conversation about how they don’t really know how much of an overlap exists between Sentinel Comics/Boardgame fans and Comic Book fans, so let them know where you fall on that spectrum. Or whether their games are carried in your local comic book shops. For my part, I’m a comics fan who hasn’t actually read any monthly superhero comics in the better part of a decade just as it’s too much to keep up on with life and other stuff happening, but I’m a big fan of the medium of comics in general and of superhero stories as a genre. Additionally, the last time I was in the local comics and hobby shop here in my town there were also some Sentinels products, but this is a shop that has a dedicated board game section in rather than being purely a comics shop.]
- Occasionally comics companies will put familiar heroes through some drastic change (e.g. the electric Superman era where the familiar physical powerhouse became a semi-tangible energy being or other similar stories), were there any similar events in Sentinel Comics (and to the point where things were so different that SotM couldn’t represent the change with just a variant character card - like when Faye Diamond got hit with the regression darts and became a more mundane human with some spell-casting abilities)? That NightMist example is really good for this sort of question - not only in her change to the depowered form, but also in that the story where she regained her powers wound up changing her in fundamental ways after her sojourn in the Void. There are a few examples like this that did make it in - Bunker’s various suits, Visionary to Dark Visionary to Visionary Unleashed, Mr. Fixer’s time as a ghost inhabiting his own zombie, Termi-Nation Absolute Zero forgoing his cryo-suit, and Akash'Bhuta becoming Akash'Thriya. Void Guard to some extent - not just a power amplification, but some new stuff (including a connection to OblivAeon). Tarogath’s whole story has a lot of twists and turns (Endling to Deadline, to Lifeline, to the Blood Mage version who’s under Blood Countess Bathory’s power somewhat). Stuff that didn’t come up in the cards? Yeah, there were lots of transitory stuff that happened over the years. They’ll talk about one that happened in the ’80s for a few months: the Wraith got powers for about 6 months. As part of some story involving RevoCorp, she wound up with the ability to see through walls and turn her physical form into smoke. It was cool, but it was a betrayal of what made her special (that she was this mundane person who could keep up with the likes of Legacy just through her ingenuity and skill).
- Have you ever considered what real-world comics creators would have done with your setting? What are your creative “dream teams” of writers/artists you envision playing around in your sandbox? Christopher needs a cover of Prime Wardens (and Adam wants everything) drawn by Joe Madureira. Adam would like a NightMist story written by Neil Gaiman. There is an infinite number of things they could say here, but to put it in perspective, everything they’ve done is either due to inspiration from what existing comics creators have done or because there was something they hadn’t seen done before, but they wished somebody had. If he had to pick somebody to have drawn OblivAeon, Adam would pick Jim Cheung who he considers maybe the best working comics artist. Christopher throws out Brandon Sanderson as the writer for OblivAeon first, but admits that’s cheating as he’s not typically thought of as a comics writer. Adam suggests Warren Ellis on the strength of Planetary, but Christopher doesn’t want him for this one - he comes down on the idea that he would consider either J. Michael Straczynski or Mark Waid on the strength of their ensemble cast stories. Adam also wants to give a shout out to Donny Cates as just the best and they suggest having him do a Void Guard book (and Adam comes back to Mark Waid for that as well as his favorite stuff that he’s done was for Fantastic Four and so “family having space adventures” stories are in his wheelhouse). They often consider what types of creative teams they’d envision for a given story and then try to actually emulate that style when coming up with their fictional comics stories.
- How might some of the storylines from the end of the Multiverse era (Void Guard, Skinwalker GloomWeaver, Blood Mage Lifeline, etc.) have been different if the editorial mandate to wrap things up for OblivAeon hadn’t happened? Void Guard wouldn’t be different because they’re tied into the whole OblivAeon thing in the first place, but really none of them would be different, really. They might have taken longer to get where they were going, but the stories themselves weren’t altered in terms of lasting effect. The closest thing is Skinwalker GloomWeaver which was meant to have been (and had been building to) a huge crossover event. Lifeline’s Blood Mage stuff is still unresolved as of the end of OblivAeon (like many other loose threads left over), so that wasn’t “wrapped up” at all.
- There don’t seem to be many kid sidekicks (other than the animated Unity), were there some that just didn’t work out or what? There were definitely sidekicks in the early decades of Sentinel Comics, but by the ’70s that sort of thing had pretty much died out. Even by the time you’re solidly into the Silver Age the trend was winding down. They had considered having mechanics for this sort of thing in the game, but it was an extra thing to keep track of and was mechanically tricky to implement, so they just set the game later in the history so that it wasn’t so much of a thing to worry about. The closest we get in the game is Idealist. Even though she’s one of the more powerful members of that team, she’s still the “sidekick” of that team.
- You’ve mentioned that a lot of the characters we see had their origins in earlier creative projects (like RPG characters) - where there any other examples of old favorites from those sources that haven’t made the transition to Sentinel Comics? Well, there’s a lot of non-favorites that haven’t. Like, there was a couple where the guy could pull things to him and the woman could push things away from her and they could travel by using hooks to connect to power lines and then push/pull on the utility poles. That was super-early, like they were barely teenagers when they came up with them. Adam had a period where he’d come up with characters that were “[color] [word]”, like Red Star (the precursor of Proletariat). There was also Blue Shield, who was basically Captain America with Venom’s powers. There’s nothing really interesting about him (plus Adam didn’t fully understand the system and thought that he could use the “symbiote” power to make a shield, but since the shield was still part of him he still took the damage and so died almost instantly). Another was White Zombie - a literal zombie, but who had a guitar axe. Christopher brings up Sergeant Steel who started off as just a random minion who kept surviving whatever situation he wound up in and became a recurring character who’d show up with new gear every time, eventually becoming something like one of the main villains of the game. Christopher’s favorite who never made it in was Jody’s character, Pops, who was just an old man who had put all of the character creation points put into a single power - he could explode (he’d get better eventually) [they talked about most of these old characters back in Extrasode 1]. In one situation this explosion wound up killing Red Star. Whoops. Another of Jodie’s characters was a little kid with a big protector golem.
- [Pretty funny letter from Citizen Romance, Quasi-Ambassador to Cooltopia, that mentions setting Baron Blade up on a date with Citizen Dawn at around 55:20] Why did the telenovella-verse not become a real thing (you’d think that, in general, it would have been a good way to tap into the Latin American market)? Could the world just not handle the awesomeness that such a universe would entail - what with Legacy finding some reason to have his shirt ripped off every episode and Baron Blade being even more over-the-top than ever before? The purpose within the meta-verse (and also for C&A) was to introduce something that they could show the audience that they would immediately understand everything about it, like you’ve demonstrated with your letter. Just by calling it what they’ve called it and describing/showing a scene or two, the audience can extrapolate pretty much exactly what this place would be like without having to then go on to actually do all of that long-form storytelling. You can write all of the fan-fiction you’d like set in that universe and it’d be perfectly canonical. It’s purpose is to exist as a fully-formed thing in your mind and then be destroyed completely while also causing a sense of loss in the audience despite only having just been introduced to the idea, so they must have succeeded considering how attached to this concept people are. Stepping aside for a moment, though, there would have been localization of comics into the Latin American market (and other places abroad), but they would have been more straight adaptation for those markets. The telenovella-verse was an American interpretation/exaggeration/send-up/parody of telenovellas rather than being something written for the culture that created them in the first place.
- Who could I set Citizens Hammer and Anvil up with? How about Ermine with Anvil and Friction with Hammer? Ermine would appreciate Anvil’s ability to teleport and Friction and Hammer would have fun destroying stuff together. Anvil’s not going to be a fan of the thievery, though, and Hammer would need to be with somebody who wants to see the world burn, which isn’t quite Friction’s deal.
- Were there any romantic couples who were seriously considered by the meta-creators or by you that wound up needing to be scrapped? Any that were in serious consideration with Adam and Christopher wind up happening. Things that were lightly considered were often forgotten as soon as they were dismissed. The main one was Wraith/Bunker that they thought about for a while before finally biting the bullet and having happen. They freely admit that they don’t think about this kind of character shipping nearly as much as some of the listeners do (or probably even as much as they should - they’re mostly better at it now, but at first the stuff they were coming up with was so focused on the fights that the game modeled that they hadn’t really gotten into character downtime stuff). In the meta-verse there were a few. The unsurprising one would have been La Comodora/Chrono-Ranger during their time together in Disparation (possibly even doing some time shenanigans to make her younger or him older). They went back and forth on that pretty much right up until the end (“there’s still time to have this happen if we want”), but they never did - deciding that they were better as compatriots than as a couple. The more surprising one is kind of weird - a pair of characters not in their original time and place and having to find ways to make sense of when and where they are: Haka/Visionary. Again, this is a question about ships that don’t happen, but there were a few writers who tried to make this happen.
- [Letter from the Cult of Gloom to round out the episode] Have there been any stories where you (or the meta-verse writers) had to pull their punches in terms of having horrible things happen to beloved characters? Stuff that made the Comics Code Authority need to go have a drink and a lie down? The CCA was definitely something that Sentinel Comics had to deal with. They had to work around things with Spite a lot (showing the crime scene but not the crime, implying stuff rather than showing it, etc.). In the ’70s there was a lot of stuff going on that had the CCA annoyed with Sentinel Comics - fantastical stories with a lot of really out there stuff, really good storytelling that almost by definition had fairly adult themes. So, yes, there was a lot of stuff that they specifically had to alter or otherwise work around to get past the CCA reviewers. The beginning of the end of the CCA, however, was a fairly early NightMist issue that involved a character named Virgil Miller (whom they’re surprised they haven’t had a reason to mention before). He was another investigator of the unknown who dabbled in sorcery. He wasn’t really a hero or a villain - he wanted the world to be a better place, but he was going about it his way and would do what it took and had a devil-may-care attitude. He and NightMist had an off-again/on-again thing going on for a while (they checked the Shipping episode - nobody asked about anything else with NightMist, just about Lydia the Gorgon). There was this one issue that had them fighting baddies or whatever and then sharing a moment on NightMist’s porch. He asks if she’s going to invite him in. She says “Well, I don’t know” but he sweeps her off her feet and they share a passionate kiss before she goes inside and he leaves - the CCA thought that this kiss was too sexual. No problem - they instead have him ask her the question, she says “Well, I don’t know” and then goes into the house, leaving the door open behind her. That’s the final panel, and it leaves the situation much more suggestive [this is almost assuredly a reference to a similar complaint about an issue of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D where it was decided that a final panel showing Nick and the Countess in an embrace was too sexual and they eventually replaced it with a panel showing Nick’s gun in its holster hanging over a chair - nothing sexual about that imagery at all.] Since the CCA was looking at the surface level instead of the implications, this got by them. After this, Sentinel Comics decided that they were going to fly in the face of the CCA however they could to push back on this sort of thing.