Podcasts/Episode 110

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The Letters Page: Episode 110

Original Source

Primary Topic

Argent Adept

Intro

This episode is not just about death, it's also about failure! Creative failure!

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:15:41

After only a minute or so of goofing around, we actually do a very brief overview section, just to get you all caught up on the when and a bit of the why of this story.

But then! You have asked all the right questions, so we let the questions section handle the bulk of the actual storytelling. That starts at around the 4 minute mark.

Just so you know, the storytelling ends up being highly non-chronological, but we actually really like it that way. Ends up putting stuff in order of weight and importance, rather than publication order.

Thank you all to our listeners and supporters, especially those of you who support us on The Letters Page Patreon! Join us tomorrow, Wednesday, May 12, at 11:00 AM Central time for a livestream of this month's Editor's Note!

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • Stuff to review: episode 30 (about the Prime Wardens) and episode 106 (about the Fall of the Prime Wardens).
  • This stuff happened in late 2010 at the tail end of vol. 2 of Virtuoso of the Void. The Argent Adept just hadn’t been used in an interesting way for a while and his stories were getting formulaic, so they decided to kill of Anthony Drake and introduce new characters to pick up the mantle going forward. This did not go well (see: the rest of this episode) and this new status quo lasted all of 8 issues before getting undone (after a few months they bring back Anthony Drake in vol. 3 of VotV). This leads directly into the reveal of the Tempersonation and the reformation of the Prime Wardens (which revitalizes several characters, Argent Adept among them).

Questions

  • What prompted the story? You’ve said in the past that Anthony’s death was meant to be permanent, with the title of “Virtuoso of the Void” handed off to a new character - was this due to declining readership, writers feeling constrained by the history of the character or something else? They kind of talked about this earlier; but yeah, the readership was declining because of the formulaic nature of his stories. If you’ve read much VotV at all there’s no real need to continue reading it because there wasn’t a lot of variety to be had there. So they tried something drastic.
  • What can you tell us about the potential replacements? Did they all have alliterative color/music names? To start off with a disclaimer: these characters were ill-advised and poorly-executed and were rightly put aside and moved past. Part of the problem was a desire to “cash in” on the diversity bandwagon without the necessary legwork to/actual ideas for how to do it well (“representation isn’t enough”). They’re doing this a bit out of order due to the way the questions came in, but here we go with the “replacements” before we actually get to the story of Anthony Drake’s death.
    • After his death, the Scholar finds the instruments and does his ley-line thing to find people who could potentially take them up, y’know, standard Scholar stuff. Given how rare a combination of traits being a Virtuoso is, this is kind of tenuous/difficult but he finds four people who each have a shot at attuning to one of them to do Void magic - none of them are as powerful as Argent Adept was and nobody is able to attune to his pipes (the bell being long-destroyed by this point and there’s an implication that this search for a pipes-user was to be a major ongoing plot thing, but the story gets cancelled without resolution before they get very far). These people (for a loose definition of “person” as these are all one-note characters/stereotypes) were:
      • Beat - a teenager named Jamal Washington from the projects who raps and plays basketball. He attunes the drum and incorporates it into his rap. This should give you a base level of understanding for how cringe-worthy stereotypes all of these are going to be.
      • Samba - a teenager named Rosa López from Mexico City who has the lyra, but plays it more like a guitar.
      • Pluck - Alec Dakota, who is a flamboyantly gay guy [the cultural touchstone they bring up to compare is the character of Jack on Will and Grace] who uses the harp.
      • Maqam - Nadima Abdallah, a hijab-wearing Muslim girl who uses the horn.
    • So, part of the perceived problem was that we had a “boring” white man as the lead of the book, so they wanted to shake things up by introducing this “diverse” group of characters. A big problem was that while, yes, Anthony Drake was a white man, he also had a variety of other character traits going back over his long history in the comics (he’s asexual, but that doesn’t define him, etc.) and these new characters had nothing going for them besides the demographic they represented. Another issue is that yes, these four are supposed to be the new possible Virtuosos of the Void, but they book follows the Scholar more than any of them - another “boring old white guy”.
    • They have a few issues following each of them and them “fighting crime” in whatever environment they’re familiar with, so there was some attempt to tell stories relevant to the character, but they’re also frequently being written by writers with no direct experience with those situations who are in it to score some virtue points.
    • Also note that they did not have the alliterative Virtuoso names - that’s partly just due to wanting to move away from such things from a writer’s perspective (using short snappy names instead), but it’s worth pointing out that they weren’t Virtuosos of the Void (or maybe they weren’t yet - although they still appeared in the VotV title). They could do a little of the kinds of things that Virtuosos do, but that’s represented in their being limited to a single instrument - they aren’t true replacements for Argent Adept. Maybe they would find one who’d pull them together as a team. Maybe they’d improve and work their way up to that. We’ll never know as this stuff was cancelled pretty quickly.
  • Were any of these characters heard from again after this story was cancelled? Skipping forward again to jump to post-Return of Anthony Drake: after that event, none of these characters have the connection to the Void anymore. They’re still around as people, but they have no powers and go their separate ways. Somebody could theoretically come up with something actually interesting to do with one/some of them and bring them back, but as of yet they haven’t cropped back up.
  • How did Argent Adept change after his return from death? More vivacious, embracing life? More cautious and concerned with his legacy? He becomes more willing to try things. He’s more desperate to make things work (see: the Vogel’s Baton incident), but he’s also more aware of his own limitations and is more willing to push those limits. There’s also a fair amount of finding what his new “goal” is going to be - VotV vol. 2 #87 was the origin of Akash'Thriya and with that change from Akash'Bhuta a large part of his duties as a Virtuoso of the Void is made moot (which also is part of why his book had gotten stale in the intervening time). He has more passions than before (not a change to the asexual/aromantic thing - just he gets excited about stuff and shows more emotion) which is yet another course-correction - they had been steering this asexual character into bland stoicism as an outgrowth of that trait and that just made him uninteresting. This helps make him a better teammate when they get the band Prime Wardens back together.
  • Is he a better teacher/instructor in the post-OblivAeon time frame (which he was mentioned as being a poor example of in prior episodes)? Does he try to find/train up more Virtuosos so that it’s more of an Order or organization like it had been rather than a narrow lineage? Are the characters from earlier potential recruits towards that goal? He’s not necessarily a “good” teacher now, but he’s more aware that he needs to be a teacher regardless. Finding new people to wield the instruments (and communing with Akash'Flora to help find more of them - Akash'Bhuta was responsible for burying many of them after all) is part of that. The four potentials from earlier can’t be part of that, though, as they spent their connection to the instruments/the Void in the process of bringing Anthony back. For all that they’re presenting their stories as bad, they are still the template for what this type of character could be.
  • [Powerhound starts his letter with a comment on how death is often, in comics, something more like “getting sick”] The guys respond that Sentinel Comics treats it less so than many other modern publishers (that happen to be “real”, so good for them, I guess). It actually bugs them that comics often have a character die just to push sales rather than having actual consequences. One of the nice things about making stuff up for comics that don’t actually exist is that they don’t have to make decisions with an eye towards financial viability. They try to keep an eye on that aspect of their storytelling (trying to gauge which stories would have been good for sales, knowing that there would have been a troubling time in the ’90s when the company would have been near bankruptcy, etc.), but it’s abstract.
  • Who led the search: Naturalist, Haka, Scholar, NightMist? Scholar, as stated, but the others would have been involved in some way.
  • Did they try to find existing heroes to take up the mantle or did they try to find people with the right connection? Both? Scholar went around to magically-attuned heroes at first to see if anybody could do what Argent Adept did. NightMist in particular was an early candidate, but she was very much of the opinion that she shouldn’t do what AA did. That would be bad (considering her being-largely-Void status at the time). She helped out in the search, though.
  • Were there any lasting ramifications to Anthony’s death (either in the comics or on a meta level about the comics)? Yes, but that’s part of the actual story coming up.
  • [Brian Le Wolfhunt’s intro talks about VotV having tanking sales and them bringing in new characters to try to revitalize it.] The new characters were really what tanked the sales. The “Death of Anthony Drake” story itself was rather well-received. It was something new. It was a double-sized issue #100 event, so it had a lot going for it. It was the follow-up that fell apart.
  • How did he die and return? [They make a “he ate some chocolate and this killed him because he’s been a dog the whole time” joke, which then prompts a rather amusing tangent about Adam’s dog that lasts from around 28:50 to 32:00, so like 3 whole minutes of this podcast is about that]. Anyway, for the story itself of the Death of Anthony Drake:
    • In VotV vol. 2 #99, they bring back a Void monster/entity that AA had fought a number of times over the years and was a notable recurring villain, but still firmly a side character - Taranerach. Taranerach is in the Void and consumes some “beacons” in there (kind of similar to the Voidheard Sliver that appears in the SCRPG Starter Kit adventures - just one of a number of foci of Void energy that coalesce). Normally this sort of “Void cannibalism” doesn’t happen, but here we are and this kind of powers him up to being the “Void God” Bal'Taranerach who is now a legitimate threat and can open the Void to anywhere/when and use the Void to devour reality. That’s where that issue ends.
    • Issue #100 is all about Argent Adept finding out about all of this and going in to do something about it. It’s pretty cool. They fight, but there’s also all of the reality-bending stuff that is going on because of it and their opposing magic. No matter what AA does, he can’t defeat him (can’t take the power from him, can’t sneak up on him or trick him into undoing himself, etc.). Finally, he kind of does the opposite of what Taranerach did - he takes the pieces of himself that are his connection to the Void and surrenders them to the Void. He sacrifices all that he is in the effort to seal Bal'Taranerach outside of the Void. This isn’t Ur-Space. This isn’t sealing him into some reality somewhere. He’s sealed in a nowhere/nowhen all its own. He’s destroyed in a much more fundamental way than you normally think of things being destroyed - when you destroy something, the pieces still tend to exist in some form. He doesn’t even have that level of “existence” anymore. Nobody even remembers him.
  • Scholar’s gonna scholar and he can tell that AA did something drastic (he can tell that AA used up his own being to seal something away somehow - he might not know the specific details of what the situation was, but he’s got a shockingly good handle on the broad strokes). He knows that there’s nothing left of Anthony Drake and so gathers up the instruments to go off to find others to take them up, as mentioned previously and we get that part of the story resulting in the title getting cancelled. Which leads us to the Return of Anthony Drake in VotV vol. 3:
    • The first couple of issues are still about those four characters being brought together by the Scholar. At first they’re all individually fighting villains that are above their abilities - while the readers might not have liked the characters, they can get behind them losing. It’s kind of fun! That’s when Scholar, NightMist, and Naturalist get involved, save them, and start bringing them together to deal with the actual situation we’ve got going on (and it’s not a secret - all of the meta-verse trade press about this relaunch of the title was about it being the return of Anthony Drake, not the return of the Virtuoso of the Void or even the return of the Argent Adept - it’s specifically and explicitly the return of Anthony Drake).
    • With issue #3 we get the reveal that Scholar has been continuing the search for somebody that can attune the pipes but that the reason this search has failed has been because they’re still attuned to somebody (this is an editorial retcon - at the time of Anthony’s death it was definitely the case that he was totally gone and the connection deliberately severed). By bringing all of the new instrument bearers together, binding their connection to the Void through the instruments to one another and then to the pipes (and therefore to whatever/whoever is on the other end) they can perform a ritual to pull whatever it is out of the Void. So, we have our four newbies, NightMist, Scholar, Naturalist, and Akash'Thriya are all together to do this thing. In the process the newbies willingly surrender their connection to the Void as a “for the greater good” move - none of them have really enjoyed their new roles and they feel they have bit off more than they could chew, they are on-board giving this power up to help bring about something that has a chance of being of more use. That turns out to be Anthony Drake, who coalesces out of the Void now holding his pipes once again and brimming with Void energy.
    • This is explicitly not a similar case to what happened to NightMist who becomes a magical/Void being after her experiences there. Anthony is still himself, just with a strange set of experiences (he says something about having “lived a hundred lives and died a thousand deaths” but that itself seems fairly poetic). So, big triumphant moment with Anthony back - then you turn the page and his first words to his friends (and some new people he’s never met) is “You fools.” The analogy here is if you stake an ancient vampire who isn’t outright destroyed by it and then somebody else comes by later and removes the stake, not knowing that this will allow the vampire to return. Anthony was the “stake” keeping Bal'Taranerach at bay. While there was absolutely no line of connection between Bal'Taranerach and reality, there was just this one little sliver of a connection between reality and Anthony Drake, who does remember him and therefore acts as a point of connection once again. He’s back in the Void and is now savvy to Anthony’s tricks and abilities, so he’s hiding out. Much like those ancient vampires - if you’ve got a problematic mortal, the simplest way to “win” is to just lay low for a hundred or a thousand years or whatever and they tend to stop being a thorn in your side. This is actually a lot of the impetus for Anthony’s more daring demeanor after his return - he knows that he’s got to take the fight to Bal'Taranerach in the Void at some point, but this conflict doesn’t occur prior to OblivAeon (although there are are few points at which his influence is felt).
    • “Why doesn’t he appear in the SotM game?” you might ask. The reason is because there’s no real space for him. The only character who fights him is Argent Adept himself and there isn’t a Void Environment where the conflict could take place. Even where his influence is observable it’s much more subtle than something that you could really include in other events. The closest analog is, of course, GloomWeaver, but GW’s influence is much more overt (and he’s trapped rather than just laying low). Meta-narratively, this is interesting for the Virtuosos of the Void going forward. They were an order/lineage whose main job was to act as a check on Akash'Bhuta and keep her from destroying humanity. That problem is largely solved at this point (in Universe 1), but now we’ve got something else for them to deal with that’s far worse. He’s powerful, dangerous, cunning, and most importantly knows that he’s got to be judicious/careful around Argent Adept and the Virtuosos of the Void. He lacks Christopher and Adam’s most commonly used Villain character flaw (which is also their favorite - “No regrets”): Arrogance. He has already lost and knows he can do so again [sigh - here’s where they start getting wishy-washy on the pronoun to use for Bal'Taranerach “he? it? they?” - I’ve been using “he” throughout this thing and I’ll continue to do so, but this might turn out to be something that turns out differently as things progress, so we’ll see about that later]. This is a big reason for RPG!Argent Adept being on the recruiting drive for more Virtuosos. Akash'Bhuta may be sorted out, but their work isn’t over. What if he needs to sacrifice himself again? What if there are too many incursions at once in the meantime and he can’t handle them all? He needs backup of the sort that only additional Virtuosos can provide as any one of them might need to pull the “cease to exist” trick to save reality (which can wind up as an interested character trait for any of you potential VotV RPG character players out there - if you’re not willing to make that sacrifice AA doesn’t have time for you because he’s 1. not a terribly good teacher and 2. he’s a fairly harsh teacher and it’s his way or the highway in terms of Bal'Taranerach).
  • [New letter from Liz C, aka Jeysie, one of our most ardent Argent Adept fans and who’s been waiting semi-patiently for this episode for quite a while! And it’s a pretty good one commenting on the whole “and then they died” thing in a fun way and how it applies here, starting at 47:40 for your consideration - it kind of boils down to “What’s the story that you just told?” but give it a listen.] The specifics of what they reiterate on the whole “how has death changed him” angle is that he is very much still himself and that while “a hundred lives and a thousand deaths” seems like it’d be a harrowing experience, Anthony has already been through some stuff in his life, so it’s not quite as traumatic an experience as you’d think. He’s got that new outlook/approach/motivation/drive/emotion/nemesis (his old one changing from “angry tree” to “friendly tree”) due to the opposition he’s facing, but he’s still fundamentally Anthony.

Bonus Follow-up Questions on other AA/PW Stuff

  • Learning that Haka was fallible was rough (and reminds one of similar issues with discovering your real-life heroes have faults) - how did this affect other heroes who looked up to Haka? How did Legacy take it? The other former Prime Wardens? How did Haka himself change after this all came to light? The reaction from the former teammates was immediate and obvious - they no longer trusted him and if they interacted with him their behavior towards him was often very cagey. Other heroes weren’t as privy to what went down and most of the PW people 1) aren’t the type to gossip about this sort of thing and 2) none of them can pin the blame on the others as they’re as culpable as the rest for why things “didn’t work out”. The immediate effect was toughest on Haka - his major problem was thinking deep down that he was “better” than other people and this made him have to confront the fact that he wasn’t. After this his book kind of regresses to being him “punching monsters” as kind of a way for him to withdraw from all of the fraught questions of how he relates to the rest of humanity. He’s working through some stuff with some “punch therapy” until he returns for what turns out to be the search for the real Tempest.
  • Has Argent Adept gotten better at communicating (it seems doubtful that Apostate of all people would be the impetus for such change)? He’s a good bit better after his return, but not so much during the immediate fallout from the Fall of the Prime Wardens where he’s still very much of the opinion that he’s doing just fine by telling people the things that they need to know. Funnily enough, it’s this continued mindset that kind of causes his death as he just goes in to one-on-one this threat instead of getting help. That may have been the right call considering the nature of the threat, but it’s still him just being this “solo-artist” and after his return he sees the value in getting the band back together and that continues post-OblivAeon when he reaches out to even more people.
  • How many of the Prime Wardens are actually “undead”? Going chronologically!
    • Haka dies, but then gets better the next day and walks into his tribe again and gets cast out.
    • Fanatic was a little kid who 20-30 years ago (in comic-book time, so that long ago in-setting as opposed to in the publishing meta-verse) she was a little girl who got hit by a bus and died, but then rose from the dead three days later with all of this supernatural weirdness going on about her.
    • Captain Cosmic never dies.
    • Tempest doesn’t die, but he’s captured and replaced by a double for a number of years.
    • Argent Adept who… doesn’t die, but just ceases to exist in a convoluted “all my atoms are now disconnected from one another and spread throughout the Void” sense.
    • So, kind of 3 out of 5 depending on how you define “undead”- Haka’s the most “died in a straightforward way and came back” of them, Fanatic isn’t the same “person” as the little girl who got hit by the bus and so shares more traits with something like a zombie than the other two (although that allows/leads to all of the fun “earning personhood” stuff), and AA’s is just a mess in terms of metaphysics.
  • Why was F.I.L.T.E.R. chosen as the organization that compromised Haka (was it more than just a further wedge between him and Tempest)? Mostly the Tempest thing - they’re a trigger for him and Haka’s friends are his weakness. They needed a group that specifically was going around gathering detailed intel on powered people and would be devious enough to be able to notice that Haka could be manipulated in this way, and F.I.L.T.E.R./Felix Stone fits that bill nicely.
  • Can any non-humans or humans not living on Earth become a Virtuoso of the Void? Sure - you have to be sapient. Aliens, Gorgons, and stuff like that are all fair game. Robots are tough - even if we grant the existence of a fully, 100% sapient robot we run into the problems of magical abilities thereof [prior discussion found in the Science in the Multiverse episode] - in particular, we’ve established a long time ago that being a Virtuoso is an exceedingly rare combination of a natural attunement to both the music and magic. While we might be able to set up a situation where a robot could successfully pull off a ritual, having a robot with that “natural attunement” is the issue for one being a Virtuoso. This also means that Biomancer couldn’t create a being as a Virtuoso. Christopher isn’t willing to say that it’s impossible, but right now they’re leaning heavily in the “not going to happen” direction.
  • How does AA judge a potential recruit? Does he just randomly hand instruments to people? Nothing that random or prosaic. He communes with the Akash spirit (currently in the form of Akash'Flora, but it’s not like she’s conscious enough to be “talking” to him) to both find additional instruments and people who might attune to them. However, this is a really good question as it’s one that Anthony has to ask himself all the time. It’s not like he can just put out a Craigslist add to help find recruits. He’s got to try to find ways to track people down - one way is to kind of feel out to see if he can sense people who are accidentally/inadvertently connecting to the Void, but that’s by no means the best/final thing he’s going to try to do this. He’s still working it out and he doesn’t have all the answers yet.