The Letters Page: Episode 11
Time for crime! The sordid history of Chairman Pike is about to be revealed!
Run Time: 77:56
We mention that the hero Black Fist is one of the first people to really oppose The Organization. More on him in the Mister Fixer episode. (Which Adam claims as his favorite episode so far. Christopher's is the Omnitron episode.)
Around the 19 minute mark, we give some indispensable advice for villains and crime lords.
Around the 27 minute mark, we discuss the five branches of The Organization.
Then, just after the half hour point, we introduce The Operative.
This all leads to 32:20, when we break down the sigil of The Organization:
Were you already aware of the meaning behind the sigil of The Organization? Let us know!
Get excited for BYOS! (Bring your own steak!)
- Chemist Jonathan Pike started a company in the early 1900s - Pike Biotech. The idea being to make lots of stuff to make people healthier and happier. Pharmaceuticals and other medical stuff, not snake oil. He was even fairly philanthropic; making a profit, but not price gouging. The Pike Industries name change happened after some years of success, accompanied by the building of the Pike Industrial Complex. A few years later, in 1924, Jonathan died in his early 50s (kind of weird - he was in good shape). His son, Graham, who was in his 20s steps into the leadership role. Graham is much more selfish, greedy, covetous, envious, etc. The guys confirm outright that Graham poisoned his father.
- Under his leadership, the prices go up and things become shady. The company makes drugs, but they now also make drugs. Human experimentation is common. Toxic waste/smog from Pike Industrial Complex are polluting Rook City - contributing much to the dank aesthetic that comes to mind when we think of the city (a far cry from Jonathan's vision). The illicit drug market in town is pretty much all his doing and between the drugs being present at all, the dealers on payroll, and the bribes and other corruption involved in keeping the authorities at bay he's contributing to the societal decline as much as the environmental one. He makes a deal with the Overbrook family, who'd fallen out of favor/power, to put them back into power for concessions.
- At this stage he doesn't really think of himself as being involved in "organized crime" - he sees it as largely a utilitarian outgrowth of his business needs.
- Mickey Boyle had been a presence in the underworld of Rook City for a while (prominent gangster in town around prohibition). He notices the rise of Pike Industries as a source of rivalry (including the drug trade which the established gangs had stayed out of to this point). Boyle's thugs round up a bunch of the Pike people and kills them - messing with their network and sending a message to Pike to stay out of it or come through the Boyle family to do this criminal stuff. Graham doesn't take this sitting down; using his influence in the administration of the city that was not available to the Boyles to arrange a police "raid" on the Boyle safehouse/compound that turned into a gun battle (actually intended from the beginning to be an action to wipe the Boyles out).
- Rook City is well on its way to being just a terrible place here after 15-20 years of Graham's leadership. Coming back to some comments about the highest murder rates that they made in last week's show notes, they mention that Rook City is (in modern times) probably worse than the top three on the list put together. I don't know exactly how canonical that kind of comment should be taken to be, but it's indicative of how the guys think about Rook City with respect to real world comparisons. At this point Pike has 1) infiltrated the police, 2) owns the mayor, 3) eliminated the existing crime syndicate and filled the resulting power vacuum, 4) started a major drug trade, and 5) polluted the city.
- Boris "The Bear" Sokolov was an up-and-coming criminal (and just a huge, hairy, scary guy who fought with knives) who Graham taps to run the remnants of the Boyle family territory/network. He also names this endeavor "The Organization" at this time. The Bear is in charge of the Organization as far as anybody else is concerned. Pike Industries is a separate thing entirely that Graham is running and nobody knows that the Bear reports to him (and is, in effect, the first Operative).
- A few things happen around this time. First, Black Fist shows up as a hero fighting Organization thugs and The Bear is a recurring enemy for him. Second, Pike, now in his mid-40s and recognizing that he won't be around forever, makes a pilgrimage to find someone rumored to have discovered the secret of immortality - Zhu Long. He doesn't find Zhu Long, Zhu Long finds him after hearing about this westerner going all over Asia asking about him by name.
- They come to an agreement. Pike will get the knowledge he seeks, but he gives up a finger (a pinkie finger) and a promise to return to share knowledge (Zhu Long being big on "knowing things"). In return for the finger, he gets a finger-sized vial of the red liquid that the guys discussed at length last week.
- Upon his return to Rook City, he hears about the trouble Black Fist has been causing and directs the Bear to handle it. Pike then turns to the company labs to analyze/synthesize the substance he got from Zhu Long. He has no intention to return to Zhu Long to fulfill his part of the deal. They manage to synthesize a serum that does many of the same things as Zhu Long's (notably it can't return people from the dead), but it allows him to arrest the aging process while simultaneously augmenting his strength and other physical attributes. The nature of the process means that it goes bad quickly and he needs to undergo treatment ("baths") with it regularly, so they have to have it under continuous production to keep him supplied with it. What he's learned from this process allows him to create further production lines for public consumption, however, so it's turning a profit even though his own treatments are expensive.
- The Bear and Black Fist have a big final showdown in Mystery Comics around this time and Black Fist is victorious, having defeated the head of the Organization. Pike lets the Bear know in no uncertain terms that he's not going to do anything to free him (or even bother killing him). As a replacement, Pike decides that rather than just picking somebody to run the Organization, he's going to "create" the person who will, assuming the identity of "The Chairman" as the leader of the Organization following the arrest of the Bear. The Chairman is a pseudo-mythical bogeyman running the show - I'm thinking kind of like a Keyser Söze thing. He also has to start being more hands-off around Pike Industries because he's no longer aging and he disappears from the public eye. He's still issuing orders, but from behind closed doors and it's not entirely clear if it's even him up there in Pike Tower because nobody's seen him for years.
- Five Branches of the Organization (with their own leaders, but those positions can have a high turn-over rate as members die, get arrested, get too close to finding out his identity, etc.):
- Contract - manages all of the assassins, contract killings, etc.
- Deputy - in charge of the corruption within the police force. The name is a bit of a misnomer as it's more frequently the chief of police or otherwise high up the ranks.
- Fence - deals with any theft, money laundering, etc.
- Informant - information gathering/blackmail. Acts as the Organizations "eyes" on the city.
- Muscle - in charge of the boots on the ground, enforcers, the more common "street crime" types of things.
- Then he comes across Sophia DeLeon, a teenager with her own little gang and who (having once been a student of Harry Walker) is surprisingly proficient in martial arts. He sends a few underbosses to bring her in to meet him. She has impressed him and he offers to let her in on the day-to-day operations and she becomes The Operative. It's not quite the same as when the Bear was running things as she's still seen as the right hand of the person in charge instead of being in charge herself. Shortly, however, things are to the point where Pike can just delegate stuff to her and count on her to handle it. There will be an Operative episode (much) later.
- Iconography lesson: the Organization logo on the deck back means stuff. The right side is kind of like a dragon, which represents the Operative. The center line is the head of a pike, and the five sections on the other half represent the five branches of operations.
- There are still two things that Pike is more hands-on with (having delegated so much of the Organization to his Operative). Pike Industrial Complex itself and it's more secretive Barzakh Wing, an off-the-books offshoot. Part of the processes going on here are dealing with growing human body parts (Biomemetic Plasma Vats being a starting point of that process) with the eventual goal (unrealized in the card game timeline) of growing his own army, filling out the ranks of the Organization with perfectly loyal troops. The Supercooled Trisolvent Vats are used to freeze serums and other materials for later use (such as the elixir that he's got to have under constant production as mentioned earlier). He's got large stockpiles of stuff in a secret bunker.
- The Barzakh Wing has some even shadier stuff going on. They offer death row inmates a commuted sentence (down to life imprisonment) in exchange for participation in medical experimentation. They get plenty of volunteers, but they'd be better off just sticking with the death sentence. The experiments, involving injections with new potential drugs being developed by Pike Industries leave them with a tortured existence before dying anyway. Everybody who takes part in these experiments die (except one).
- Comparisons with Baron Blade. Ivan's definitely more intelligent and more of a visionary. Graham didn't build his own criminal organization from the ground up, he stole it from Mickey Boyle. He didn't build his own company, he murdered his father to get it. He didn't design his own serum, he got it from Zhu Long. He's just good at keeping these things going, making them work.
- Here's where Mister Fixer shows up and starts dismantling the Organization. He really manages to mess up the Operative in their next-to-last fight. Unlike with the Bear, Pike sees how useful she's been for over a decade and doesn't discard her for her failure here. He recovers her and uses his serum vat to repair her injuries and give her a one-off power-boost (she doesn't get the repeated treatments that he undergoes), but it's enough to give her an edge over Mister Fixer and to kill him as mentioned last time.
- With that distraction out of the way, the Organization is free to recover from the disruption that he caused and even make a move to get a foothold in Megalopolis (which fails). The Operative does get a few more treatments in the serum tanks (probably a total of 4 of them) before Zhu Long arrives. He knows that Pike has made his own serum and has no intention of filling his end of the bargain. Nobody gets to Graham Pike anymore, he's got too many layers of underbosses and other underlings (along with the fact that for the legit world he's kind of just faded away since he'd be so old now, right?), but Zhu Long and a score of servants just walk right into his office unhindered. As payment for the old deal, they kill the Operative and take her body when they leave.
- (as usual, the questions are often funny in their own right, I'm trying to be succinct in my paraphrasing):
- Does he have any hobbies? His hobbies are crime and industry. He likes running the company. If he was just the Chairman of the Organization, he'd probably be bored while waiting for his underlings to report back.
- Where is Pike Industries going to dump their chemicals once the sewers aren't an option? Rook City's pretty old and has a pretty old sewer system and he's put a bunch of resources into digging into the old parts. It's also a pretty good system and he's not exactly likely to "fill it up" or anything. They've also just trucked tanks of stuff out of town when necessary.
- Was Plague Rat a deliberate creation? What was the purpose of the experiments that created him? Nope. Not an important part of the Chairman's story (which is why he wasn't mentioned earlier). The experiments had a lot of parts, hair-growth serum, hair-loss serum (to cause baldness to create need for the growth serum). Lots of both pharmaceutical drugs, but also new designer illicit drugs (mega-heroin, uber-meth).
- What other abominations has Pike created? Mutant rats, giant mutant cockroaches, Spite, Miss Information (in her later appearance), Rook City itself.
- What is the relationship between Pike Industries and Revo-Corp? Revo-Corp has a presence in Rook City and they've had above-board business dealings. It's not like the Chairman and Baron Blade are interacting with each other using the companies as proxies.
- Which other heroes and villains have worked for the Organization (we already know about Expatriette, Heartbreaker, and Ambuscade)? The Hippo has, Spite kind of later, Equity was mentioned in the last episode but he does more for them than just that one job, Professor Pollution gets a lot of chemicals from Pike, Radioactivist. A lot of the Chairman's methods are to pay off somebody to cause trouble as a move in later to "fix" things under the guise of Pike Industries.
- What was the Organization during Vengeance or OblivAeon? Just doing business as usual during Vengeance - the Operative was kind of involved in a minor way in the aftermath. Sending people after Mister Fixer was more just clearing up loose ends than really being part of the overall Vengeance plot. The organization was more or less not involved in anything important during OblivAeon as the Chairman had disappeared at the time. More later.
- Does the Chairman ever get involved outside of the Rook City or Pike Industrial environments in the "main" timeline (citing a line from the Video Game trailer about him never leaving Pike Tower)? The trailer's dialog was talking about Graham Pike who is, for all anybody knows, this really old man that nobody's seen for decades who, if he's even still alive, is probably hooked up to all sorts of life-support machines up there and can't leave. He was involved in the push to get the Organization into Megalopolis, but he also made another trip to the Temple of Zhu Long after the Operative incident, so there's a canonical fight there - they're not exactly enemies or allies.
- If heroes of other villains enter Rook City, is he keeping tabs on them? Yes. General orders are to keep out of heroes' way. For villains, he's ready to take advantage of the aftermath of any fights but he's not interested in "team-ups".
- Has the Organization gone after Dr. Tremata and Tony Taurus? Tremata is a forensic scientist, Taurus is a private detective (and eventually becomes the villain Heartbreaker). Heartbreaker also being the person responsible for killing Dr. Tremata (on trial in the Celestial Tribunal environment), so the Organization converted one and eliminated the other through that.
- With all of the supernatural stuff going on, does he have any connection to that? He's aware of everything going on in town, but he's not actively involved in any supernatural stuff. He'd like to have that power, but he doesn't have it (and even more after Zhu Long just waltzes into his office).
- What's his stance on existential threats (like Voss or Omnitron threatening to kill everybody rather than the profit motive that Pike himself has), just count on heroes to save the day? Most of the time he has to just look the other way. He doesn't really care if Rook City gets blown up as he can generally profit from rebuilding. One exception...
- Anybody he's scared of besides Mister Fixer? What team takes him down? He's not scared of Mister Fixer and there isn't a hero team that "takes him down". When you play against his deck, you don't really feel like you've won as you've just fought through a portion of his crime empire. Sure he came out to personally fight for a while, but he just makes his escape eventually. He is, however, significantly concerned by Progeny. When he sees that happening, he legs it down to his secret bunker well under the lowest sewer levels after shutting everything down. Dark Watch (plus Harpy now), breaks into Pike Industries during that escape, but they're kind of too busy with Progeny at the time and he manages to seal himself away. Other than people who die, he's the only major player completely absent from the Multiverse events surrounding OblivAeon.
- Tactics: The destruction of Rook City resulted in the sewer collapsing into the upper levels of his bunker, compromising the vats that he was trying to grow his army of Spite clones in (similar to the Iron Legacy timeline) and the serum that he needed to maintain his relative youth. In Tactics we see a team of Spites with different abilities abilities working for Exemplar (Cyst, Demonfist, Grudge, Karnal, and Mindphyre), which is what remains of Graham Pike - more powerful/dangerous, but also less put together/sane. More public in his attempt to rule over Broken City.
- RPG: Since Rook City wasn't damaged as much, he just spends his time down there. Nobody knows what he's been up to since he's never discovered. Pike Industries is still running and is in charge of a lot of rebuilding. The Organization is still around too, with a new Operative (a brand new character). We the game players/podcast listeners know that it's obviously still him running things behind the scenes, but as far as anybody else in-setting is concerned it's just other people taking advantage of his absence like he took advantage of his father and Mickey Boyle.
- Interlude this week - upcoming schedule, some errata from previous episodes.
- Nightmist next week (already recorded because Christopher will be out of town).