The Letters Page: Episode 116
We make stuff up - as we often do - but not really for Sentinel Comics!
Run Time: 1:23:20
We build out the world (and even a bit of the meta-verse) for the Shear Force property, as introduced in episode 102.
We get into the overview just before the 4 minute mark, and there we get down to brass tacks about figuring about just what IS Shear Force. There's an animated show, and there are comics, but most importantly, there are toys. This all definitely hinges around toys. We get REALLY into it. In retrospect, this feels a lot like the conversations we had when we were first creating Sentinels of the Multiverse, but also very different.
After a lot of creative nonsense, we answer a few questions, starting a bit after the 1 hour minute mark.
Thank you all for listening! We hope you enjoy listening to this at least half as much as we enjoyed doing the creative work.
This Friday, we'll be doing a live recording of this month's Editor's Note, so if you're on the Letters Page Patreon, we hope you can watch that, and possibly even join in if you're a Contributor. See you then!
“Because an 8-Year-Old in Arizona Demanded It”
- [Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the thing for Dracula Versus Zorro that they mention. There are some issues of Wizard available in the Internet Archive, and the second available issue (#25) is from September ’93, the month prior to the October ’93 first issue of the comic in question, there aren’t any ads for it. If somebody can find a copy of Wizard #26 or #27 those would be good places to look for it. The next issue available online is #29 which also doesn’t appear to have it either. It’s hit or miss with libraries that hold copies, but you can check here for nearby places that might - anybody close to the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee or Michigan State University may have a shot at it from my general perusal so far.]
- So, this is an outgrowth [heh] of stuff created during the third Create a Thing episode for the Guise RPG book that resulted in the creation of Hedgelord. Shear Force is only barely related to Sentinel Comics canon and most of it is pretty much exactly what you would be able to extrapolate directly from that episode. They had no intention of doing a Shear Force episode, so this one is mostly on the Patreon contributors who voted this topic in. Blame them.
- This is the first “Creative Process” episode, which are similar to the Create a Thing episodes except they’re not done “live” with the Patreon contributors. They haven’t done any prep-work for Shear Force here because they had them on the back burner for some unrelated project [intriguing!], but this is what got voted in, so here we go.
- So, what is the meta-fiction of Shear Force? They’re a line of toys that’s made by some company related to Sentinel Comics in some way (whether it’s a direct subsidiary or owned by the same parent company or something else - they don’t want to nail that down right now, but the important thing is that the toy company is related somehow to SC). The reason for that connection is that there’s a deal in place so that when they release their Shear Force toy line, SC publishes a Shear Force comic at the same time.
- This gets to an important question of when this was happening. If this was somewhere from the '70s to '’90s, its likely that the Sentinel Comics branding would have been present on the comics even though they do not take place in the “universe” of normal Sentinel Comics, but if it’s in the '00s or later SC would likely just create a separate imprint for them. So, we also have the question of whether these were a serious thing (like in the '80s) or a self-aware parody of that era in the more recent period. They kind of like both options, so the '80s/'90s version was this unironically over-the-top version that took itself very seriously, but then there’s’ a revival in the '00s or something that updates things and gives it a more nuanced approach.
- “But Adam and Christopher, in the Create a Thing episode it was stated that they were gardeners from the Extremeverse…” Yeah, that’s a retcon that came about during OblivAeon to connect them to the Sentinel Comics canon in that later iteration. This doesn’t really fit the established Shear Force canon that their superfans would notice (seeing places in the Shear Force media that aren’t XTREME! for example). That’s beside the point for today, which is about the origins of the brand.
- So, these original tie-in comics were the least important part of the project (which also included an animated series that also launched at the same time) and were seen as a throw-away item meant to maybe bring in a few bucks while promoting the real cash cow which was the toy line. However, the writer that got assigned to the project actually kind of took ownership of the project and cared about it. This resulted in a good comic that actually managed to build a readership.
- So, what else for today? Characters maybe? They had some ideas from last time (like K.U.D.Z.U. being the main antagonist organization - with the detail that the acronym wasn’t ever explained in the original iteration, but the recent reimagining actually came up with something that worked).
- So, for characters they need both “real” names and their paramilitary code names. Also none of them have superpowers (except maybe the guy who’s from the psy-ops section and has something going on or whatever), although by the time they’ve got all of their gear and whatnot they’re likely doing stuff that wouldn’t be in the realm of humanly possible in a kind of action-movie way.
- So, they don’t think that any of the people that were invented in the original episode are the “leader” of Shear Force. One might be the main character, but not the leader of the organization (they bring up Colonel Trautman vs. John Rambo as a point of comparison). They lean towards having the leader being a bit of a by-the-book military-type guy so that the other characters’ more fast-and-loose behavior is a contrast. They also imagine that the show would have a large cast and each episode/mission gets a handful picked as the best for that particular job, but that this leader guy is generally always the one actually handing out the assignments, although not out in the field [heh] himself.
- Also, are they actual military, mercenaries, or what? After a bit of riffing, Christopher lands on them being part of Greenpeace, which also nicely gets into the '90s environmentalism fad. Think a weird mashup of G.I. Joe and Captain Planet. This makes K.U.D.Z.U. something like an eco-terrorist group who does stuff with/to plants (experimenting on them, doing bad things with their mutated plants and whatnot - Shear Force needed to be bad-ass plant-fighters because of this and fits in with the later “Extremeverse gardeners” thing).
- So, names that got suggested during that old episode: Landscape, Toolshed, and Greenhouse, Troweler, with Tech Tree as their headquarters and Crop Duster as one of their vehicles. They want names to be evocative, but they want to make sure that they’re not just anti-plants, but for the right plants. “Foreman” was suggested for the leader, but it might be too “construction site” rather than gardeners. Oh, why not just go with something that’s just a name: General Gardener. Adam’s picturing somebody on the young side for a general with short cropped [heh] hair - he got promoted quickly due to his accomplishments. We have options where we can get some conflict if we posit that Shear Force was an established thing and he’s this new, younger commander with new ideas wanting to change it or we could have him as this by-the-book guy who picks a bunch of mavericks intentionally to form the thing as he wants people who can improvise when his planned out missions go sideways.
- After some more riffing they get the idea that Shear Force could be an established thing, but was pretty small and part of the US military up to this point and our “newbie” (in Shear Force, he’s still a bad-ass) protagonist just joins up shortly after the transition to an international Greenpeace thing under General Gardener. That gets us both the new guy trying to learn the ropes angle and the hardened veterans dealing with a new CO.
- They don’t think that Hedgelord is that audience surrogate. He’s got to be one of the original team that carried over - he’s the gadget guy who was a solid team member but wasn’t an audience favorite or anything while also somebody you’d’ like having around. [Note from a bit later in the episode - Hedgelord needs to be part of the later relaunch of the series as “edgelord” wasn’t a term back during the original run. They still like him as the Guise book character as they like the joke and note that “gardener from the Extremeverse” is something you can gather from the name while the rest of them would need more explanation.]
- Other veterans: the guy with the chainsaw hand and hook hand - LumberJacques (wait, he can’t be an original member as he’s French Canadian, so he’s got to be in the second wave once they join Greenpeace). This gets into a tangent about how since it’s primarily a toy line they had to have the huge roster of characters right away in the original incarnation and it’s only the later series that they focus in on a small part of the overall organization to really flesh out. This brings up the fact that there were at least 100 characters with their own toys, not counting the vehicles, bases, or variant looks of the characters like Night Vision Hedgelord (that glows in the dark or whatever).
- Back to characters: they want the protagonist guy to be the one that everybody wants to be. They don’t mean for him to be the best of the best or whatever, just that he’s the one that’s cool in a kind of Rambo way without too out there of a gimmick (like, he shouldn’t be the guy with a flame-thrower as that’s big and bulky and too specialized). They try to think of a good garden implement to base it off of - The Rake is good as a name (being both a tool and something of a scoundrel, but again they don’t see that as the main character but one of the other guys - the debonair guy from like Spain or something who comes on board at the same time as LumberJacques). Landscape and Greenhouse could be veterans (with like a backpack-sized device that he can plug into the ground and do some earth-moving stuff and a bunch of plant-based effects respectively). Rangefinder is a neat name, but would be like the sniper specialist (does anybody on the team even have guns? They could go with the G.I. Joe approach and have any guns present just shoot lasers or weed-killer instead since that’s more kid-friendly apparently). Actually, Weedkiller is a pretty kick-ass name - probably a veteran who was the sneaky assassin type. Ok, so the toys probably all come with the standard gun accessories that pretty much all action figures came with in addition to their unique gear and the conceit is that they’re shooting non-bullet things on-theme for the characters. Rangefinder would have like a theodolite that’s the equivalent of like a .50 cal gun or something.
- Still having trouble with the main character guy. They like the idea that his name is some kind of good-natured ribbing that the veterans give him (the equivalent of calling him “rookie” or something), but that can also be cool enough to work for their purposes for him as the main character. They land on Fresh Cut (having some plant/garden connotations, such as a fresh cut lawn, while also getting the connotation of “fresh” meaning “new” [they miss the obvious “freshman” connection] and also being something from ’80s hip-hop slang for something cool [Will Smith is the Fresh Prince, for example]). It’s also non-specific in terms of what his gimmick is.
- So, on to K.U.D.Z.U. - they really feel that the original run never explained the acronym. Who’s the leader? They use the term K.U.D.Z.U. Commander a few times, but they don’t want to be that generic. Christopher jokes King Kudzu, but thinks that’s actually a great name to use in the relaunch as a monster of some sort (like the team gets to the bottom of where all this is coming from and that’s what they discover). K.U.D.Z.U.’s shtick is that they’ve got plant hybrid soldiers (the generic, unnamed mooks need to be 100% plants so that it’s ok to kill them on children’s TV) and vehicles and everything. They’re toys are so much cooler. They want the leader to be scary and think poisonous or invasive plants are a good way to go. A lot of them sound good for K.U.D.Z.U. agents rather than the leader, though - like Oleander, Hemlock, Nightshade, Wisteria (the psy-ops person), or Herr Loosestrife (which only works if it’s the German guy so you can say it with the accent - it’s kind of silly otherwise), and Flytrap. Since these lieutenant characters are all human/plant hybrids, there has to be somebody doing that, and while Dr. Splicer is a good name, it’s kind of weaselly and might have to be a side character. They want the leader to have a name that’s got that evil sound to it while not being a specific plant. They like “thorn” as a word, so that’s a good one to build off of (plus Thorne is a legit surname) as this half-plant guy with vines and stuff could have thorns on them - it’s a good motif.
- As part of the discussion of what title/rank/whatever this Thorn person should have gets Rebel Thorn as maybe his daughter or something as the leader in the relaunch of the show and that prompts Adam’s opinion that the relaunch is actually a reboot and is its own thing rather than continuing the adventures from the original. When they think for a moment about what the minions are going to be calling this guy they land quickly on Master Thorn - they were overthinking it.
- So, they’ve got a lot of characters for both sides and they’re loving how evocative all of their names are. Much like with Sentinels, they’re dealing with archetypes and these lean even more into that than the comics characters. We’re trying to sell toys to kids, so you’re just hitting them with surface level stuff with depth coming later.
- They also like the idea of a bad guy who becomes a good guy eventually, but they’ll have to work on that.
- Well, “toys” but they’re all toys. Besides the characters and their variant versions there’s also the Tech Tree base playset and an equivalent for K.U.D.Z.U. (they come up with The Noxious Thicket - they needed an adjective in there and “noxious” is sinister enough for kids to know is bad). Thinking about it a bit more, however, “tech tree” is a problem. It wasn’t a term in general use in the era they’re talking about and they decide that it’s more Hedgelord-specific anyway, so that’s specifically his base in the reboot. They eventually decide that The Greenhouse is too obvious a choice to pass up, even though it means taking it away from a character (although one they hadn’t really fleshed out much and they could easily rename him).
- They described a vehicle much earlier that has a flytrap that opens and closes as you push it around (and you put this green ooze stuff in the top that also comes out the “mouth” because it’s a toy from the ’80s and ’90s), that would be Flytrap’s vehicle obviously and they come up with Maneater as the name of it.
- The Crop Duster is a a Shear Force vehicle that is like a big bomber or cargo plane that is something like a mobile base in its own right.
- The Wood Chipper is a SF truck or something with a big grinder type thing on the front.
- They come up with an idea for K.U.D.Z.U. to have attack aircraft that, when shot down, release their plant people that can just be called “Pods”. They also like the idea that Shear Force uses jetpacks rather than individual fighter planes (plus “Jetpack [character]” is an easy toy variant - this prompts the idea that virtually all character toys have the peg slot in the back for this kind of accessory - only the very earliest ones didn’t and were reissued later, virtually identical but just including the slot).
- They want one more major K.U.D.Z.U. vehicle - they decide on the big $50 toy that everybody wants but only like 1 kid you know’s parents would shell out for it. That would be the big villain tank with treads that work and lots of places for you to put characters. Like with the Maneater they decide that they want to “give” it to a character - that it was a part of the episode with this guy’s plot. They like the name “overgrowth”, but it needs more to it. The decision is that since they dropped the adjective from “purple loosestrife”, that they’ll give it to Herr Loosestrive and his Violet Overgrowth (getting the classic violet/violence connection). Giving the German invader guy a tank and naming him after an invasive species is just perfect.
- [Birthday notice - request is something by They Might Be Giants] What is the nature of the Tech Tree (a bunch of tech shaped like a tree, an actual tree, a big base with aircraft hangars and stuff that’s disguised as a tree somehow, etc.)? Where is it? Since they’ve decided that it’s Hedgelord’s hideout specifically it’s now much smaller than you’re probably imagining. They do think that rather than hangars that the toy would have a places where you could “launch” your jetpack-wearing action figures, though. It’d have “rocket” launchers disguised as branches and stuff like that. The playset would have all sorts of stuff. They’re imagining in-world that it’s an entirely technological place that’s designed to look like a tree (although, like The Greenhouse, they’d have a lot of tended greenery around the place - K.U.D.Z.U. being about untended plants running wild, poisoning or otherwise hurting people so that plants can take over, etc.).
- What does K.U.D.Z.U. stand for? Do they actually have a bunch of kudzu around (and it smells rather nice - do the forces of K.U.D.Z.U. smell nice too)? Is Extremeverse Man-Grove part of the group? Extremeverse Akash'Bhuta? Man-Grove and Akash'Bhuta aren’t in K.U.D.Z.U. (due to it being a late retcon). They don’t necessarily smell nice unless the plant they’re based on does, so they have varied smells. They’ll give an explanation, but reserve the right to change this if they think of something better by the time they actually publish something involving them: Killers United Driving Zealous Upheaval (and remember that the name is only explained in the more tongue-in-cheek reboot, not the original iteration).
- Is the Crop Duster an old biplane (because all crop dusters are old biplanes)? Can it shoot out super spores that Hedgelord makes? Super spores, yes, but as decided above it’s a much bigger plane than you’re thinking.
- Was the gardening robot Cultivatron made by Hedgelord? How does it know when a garden is beautiful? Well, it’s programmed to know, obviously. They think that Cultivatron predates Hedgelord, though (probably being in something like the 3rd or 4th season of the original show).
- How did Shear Force form? That’s covered in the overview, but they don’t really get granular with how/where they get new characters. Like, they introduce somebody in an episode so that they can sell you another toy - they’re not spending a lot of time covering how that happens because it’s happening all the time.
- How are they doing now without their gadgeteer, Hedgelord? Where do they wind up after OblivAeon (do they ironically wind up in the Plant-verse)? They haven’t planned anything about what happens to Shear Force after OblivAeon. Everything they’ve got planned regarding it happens “in the past”. Theoretically, they wound up back in the Extremeverse if anything is going to come of them later. Sure, they miss him, but he’s not the first and wouldn’t be the last member to fall. While his gadgets were often handy (and often necessary in the episodes featuring him), it’s not like they didn’t get along ok in their adventures prior to his creation.
- Do they have a rotating cast? Are there interpersonal conflicts? Do they have personal vehicles or like a big semi-truck style transport? They talked about a few vehicles and there are a lot more they didn’t get into. Just now they thought of a big tank like these that folds out into a mobile base. Yeah, there is a rotating cast as mentioned previously and there are interpersonal conflicts. Fresh Cut is probably in virtually every episode (except stuff like a single-character focused story, like a stealth episode all about Weedkiller).
- Do they have a favorite food (like, are some vegetarians to show those plants who’s boss or are they anti-vegetarians because they don’t want anything to do with plants)? Remember that they like plants, just as long as they’re in their right place (and somebody probably cultivates rare plants in the Greenhouse somewhere). That being said, there are probably people with one or the other of both of those viewpoints. Maybe you’ll have an episode where a member of Shear Force snaps and goes all “I hate all plants” and becomes a non-K.U.D.Z.U. villain to shake things up a bit. Brushfire is a good name for that.
- How much force and Shear Force force through shears? All of it. So much force. They do need a tagline for the brand, though.