The Letters Page: Episode 117
Our first ever Writers' Room episode! We're going to make a story together!
Run Time: 1:39:55
Only a couple minutes in, we claim we're getting right down to work... and then we goof around talking about cuts of steak or something.
But then! We tell you what we're talking about, who's in the issue, and build the entire story of that issue out on the air!
After a LOT of work, we take a fun assortment of questions, starting around the 1 hour and 15 minute mark.
No episode next week or the week after, due to Gen Con. We hope to see as many of you there as possible!
Freedom Four #88
- This is the first issue of FF with the “modern” team including Bunker and Tachyon, dating from August 1957 and, along with Freedom Five Annual #1 earlier in the same month, marked the beginning of the Silver Age in the meta-verse. The title started off as an anthology book and then, for a while, finally transitioned to be a team book (Legacy, Wraith, the Henry Goodman iteration of Absolute Zero, and Shrieker with the addition of Haka for a while in an unsuccessful attempt to boost sales). This issue was the reset of the status quo. It’s not like #87 was marketed as a finale or anything - nobody really cared about comics continuity at this point and each issue was a stand-alone story.
- Speaking of FFA #1 - they aren’t happy with the digital comic that we have access to currently. It has the stuff that happens in that comic, but think of it as a “version” of those events. They could see a future where they redo it. [The main thing I imagine is that they didn’t have a firm handle on when, exactly, that comic came out when they produced it and the art style is all wrong for a comic from ’57.] Notable for the issue in general are the first appearance of Tachyon with powers (Meredith Stinson having been around before that, although this issue doesn’t explain why she has powers now), Bunker being added to the superhero continuity (appearing previously in his war story comics). Baron Blade had been around for a while by that point, but this was what brought these two “new” people together with Legacy and Wraith (who are acknowledged as having worked together in the past).
- So, a few weeks later we get FF #88. Along with a tonal shift in comics that starts here, this is also where continuity starts being more of a consideration. Stories refer to past events and writers take care to not contradict or pigeonhole what can happen in other books - there is mindfulness of the overall story across the brand. That’s not to say that Golden Age writers weren’t good, they just weren’t telling [or weren’t allowed to tell] these kinds of long-form stories. This change was something they did under the radar, though. They didn’t announce anything (other than the presence of FFA #1 which 1) introduced this team and 2) introduced the concept of an “annual” title, which you could expect to see happen again in a year), there was no “new team” branding or anything - you just pick up issue #88 and this is the team and things proceed in the new fashion from there.
- This was a double-sized issue, though. The main story with the team is first, but there’s also a back-up story which is where they explain Tachyon’s powers. She’d long been a supporting cast member for Legacy in the capacity of the scientist he’d go to for help. This story is one we largely already know from her game bio, so they’re not going to cover it today, but this is where it fits into the comics history.
- A note on continuity: while this was the starting point for it in comics (and was an intentional move they made), a lot of the prior events can be considered canonical with an asterisk. Things like the previous Legacy obviously show up later and other holdovers like that happen, but other things just get retconned outright as we go forward - if stuff prior to August ’57 needs to go for the purpose of the in-continuity story, then it goes. If something goes unnoted, then you can consider it “unreliably canonical” in a “sure, all of that stuff that happened to Jim Brooks in Frontier Tales and Covered Wagon Comics happened to Chrono-Ranger. Why not?” sort of way. It doesn’t really matter since that old stuff rarely comes up in the first place and knowing the details won’t be necessary anyway (although it could be fun to know). As the decades pass the fine details of what you “need to know” gets to the point where you mostly just need to know the recent stuff as opposed to “everything since August ’57”, but by that point you have people who’ve never read a comic that might be wearing a Legacy t-shirt or something as some of the more popular characters had been around long enough that it’s just part of the general pop-culture landscape.
- Another fun fact about this issue: in retrospect, this can be seen as the origin of the Multiverse in the comics.
- So, before they get going in the creative process, what do they already know about this issue?
- It’s the first appearance of the villain Glamour. This would be Madame Mittermeier, but that detail wasn’t present yet (Glamour’s identity is secret in this issue and remains a mystery at the end, Mittermeier wouldn’t be attached to the character until later) - she was just meant to be a new villain who would be a good foil for the team. Legacy’s the up-front hero guy, Bunker is good at adapting to various threats, Tachyon is very science-minded, and Wraith has this whole “investigation/knowing thing” shtick, so a magic/illusion-based villain was pretty good.
- Since they know that they defeat Glamour, but her identity isn’t revealed they know that she must escape at the end. This means that it’s not going to just be a straight-up fight, but something of a “villainous plot” story, so they need to figure out what that plot is.
- We start by having the team be at their “base” - the HQ was seen in FFA #1, so that’s already established as a place that exists. They don’t think that there’s any supporting cast for the “team” yet (so no Aminia Twain) and while there were probably “bases” seen in previous FF issues/stories, there likely wasn’t much in the way of consistency/continuity in what it was like prior to this version. Later they’d build up support staff (“of course we have a janitor” or something), but they weren’t a feature of the place at first.
- So, the players are going to be the four heroes and Glamour, but where does the story happen? Probably the nearby city, which wouldn’t be named as Megalopolis (along with other details that distinguished it like the monorail or the specific mayor or whatever - as well as introducing Aminia Twain) until FFA #3. Up until that point, the city (while a cool, slightly futuristic city) was meant to be nondescript enough that it could be your city, dear reader. The artists even would have been pulling in bits of various cities from around the country to give it specific sections that could be recognized individually without the whole being familiar and it’s this slow accretion of detail that eventually grows into Megalopolis as its own place. Up until that point it’s just “the city” and people might refer to specific sections of it (e.g. “downtown” or “the merchant district”).
- What’s the plot? They don’t know anything about the villain so what to do with her? Money? Power (of the “the city is mine” variety)? The downfall of the heroes? This last is unlikely since she doesn’t have any kind of vendetta against them yet. Oh, of course, because this is Glamour, and to set the stage for what kind of villain she is, just do both. There’s this whole big “the city is mine” thing, which is thwarted by the heroes. Oh, shoot, she doesn’t get the city - she’ll just have to console herself with all of the money she stole while they were distracted. This is great - we get to see the heroes doing their big heroic things, but we also set up a recurring villain (continuity!) who’s already gotten one over on the heroes. So, they’re imagining a three-act story with a coda which is where the readers learn about the robbery that Glamour gets away with. Hmm… do the heroes even learn of it? Maybe instead of money it’s a valuable thing that she replaces with a fake that is then discovered afterwards (say a big diamond as that’s appropriately Silver Age)?
- They land on a framing device where the heroes are going to see the valuable thing independently at the beginning of the story to introduce it as a plot element early. Maybe it’s a new exhibit at a museum. Or Maia is doing a ribbon-cutting ceremony for it or something? She’d been involved in Montgomery Industries for a while at this point, but wouldn’t be made the CEO until the ’70s or something - up until then there’d be plots involving corporate maneuvering and whatnot, but eventually they get tired of those stories, so they just have her be in total control by the “modern” era. So, she’s a semi-public figure as a very young person to be on the board of directors for such a big company, but they don’t think she’d be doing ribbon cuttings or anything at this point - let’s say that she’s just there as a guest for the fancy reception marking the opening.
- So, Wraith is at this opening event (with a date, let’s call him Charles - the guys think it’s hilarious for her to be there with somebody that she ditches so that she can take care of crime stuff). So, the idea is that weird stuff starts happening all over the city - including the museum (sure, Glamour would want to draw attention away from the museum, but she also needs it to be evacuated). We start with Wraith, but when she calls the others for backup they’re each already dealing with their own problems around town. They also decide that this is specifically a new museum opening so all of the exhibits are new - during the dinner so-and-so is talking about a bunch of them and one of them winds up being the thing that Glamour is after, but it’s not super obvious from the start.
- An off-hand comment from Adam about the various threats being different for each hero combines with the unfocused nature of the museum (art, natural history, you want it, this place seems to have it because of course all museums cover all subjects) to prompt the idea that Wraith’s threat is that the dinosaur skeletons come to life and start attacking people (this also prompts the good action moment where the T. rex skeleton is going to bite her and she can’t escape, but because it’s just the skeleton she dives into its mouth and through the rest of it - it’s not like this thing has internal organs).
- The curator talks about this big diamond (like the 4th largest in the world), some Picasso exhibit or something, and the best part - the dinosaur skeleton display to give an overview of what’s there. This gets them down an edited-for-time rabbit hole on diamonds (including the fact that the Hope Diamond will glow red after exposure to ultraviolet light) before they come to their senses and realize that it’s the ’50s - the comic would just say “the 4th largest diamond in the world” without getting into fine details on what that means. As he finished up the description of the dinosaurs, that’s when they start attacking. The crowd flees, helps make sure they and Charles get to safety, but she’s trying to think of an opportunity to become the Wraith. She eventually doubles back, finds an alcove or something and changes into her costume. This works well in a kind of “first issue” (which it would have been for a lot of people) as we follow this lady around a museum for a while, bad things happen, so then she changes into a costume - ok, everybody’s on-board with who this woman is now.
- Then some cool action scenes with her swinging around and using her normal arsenal - a good showcase of her gimmick, but unfortunately not one that’s actually very effective in this situation. Maybe she uses a smoke bomb to trick one into running into a wall and breaking it or something, which gives her enough of a breather to call the others. Also, they’ve referred to these things as “illusions” as Glamour’s deal, but they want to clear things up a bit - there really are these dinosaur skeletons moving around and they’re not “robots”, but it’s not clearly explained at this point how these things are moving around (maybe at the end the heroes discover the method - like they were being puppeted around with nearly invisible wires or something).
- When she calls for help it’s obviously got the ham-fisted exposition about what her wristwatch communicator is and how it’s “sending radio waves throughout the city” to call for aid from The Freedom Four! Like, she’s just using a radio transmitter, but they spend several panels showing this process. They’re showing and telling as the storytelling style. Unfortunately, they all report that they’re tied up fighting some other threat (with a detail that Christopher always imagines Legacy calling her “The Wraith” even when the grammar of the sentence makes including “the” awkward to say). We get short snippets showing what’s up:
- Bunker is at the airport working extra security for some diplomat who’s supposed to be coming in, but now they’re being attacked by aliens (these can be actual illusions).
- Legacy is downtown where there’s some kind of earthquake or other “ground opening up” issue where lava men come out and start rampaging (these can also be illusions - they’re also not Magmarians as that concept hasn’t entered Sentinel Comics yet, but it might be the genesis of the idea for their eventual creation down the line).
- We get something like half-a-page each for Legacy and Bunker, but neither of them are shown touching the enemies - Bunker’s just shooting at the UFOs, which is fine, and Legacy is evacuating people from the area rather than fighting the lava men. So, along with Wraith’s introduction of secret-identity + gadgets we have Legacy saves people, and Bunker has the guns as introductions to their characters. Also here they develop the idea that this probably represents something of a redesign for these characters so that they’re how we would recognize them going forward (i.e. their core-set SotM costumes) and that they’re probably more consistent issue-to-issue than they’d been previously (with character reference art available instead of the artist just sort of winging it).
- Tachyon is the new character and should probably get some kind of showcase, though. They have her responding to Wraith’s call with a “I’m dealing with something but I’m almost done. I’ll be right…” appears next to Wraith at the museum “here.” What to have her threat be, though? How about robots? She gets attacked by a bunch of robots, she fights them while she’s talking to the Wraith, and then she’s at the museum. Showcases Tachyon’s speed nicely.
- Now we have the Wraith/Tachyon duo to deal with the dinosaurs (get one to chase Tachyon, luring it into a trap that Wraith laid to take it out, etc.). Having the very-popular character Wraith teaming up to do cool stuff with this new character is yet another thing to help get her over with readers. They mop up that threat pretty easily and then check in with the others.
- Legacy has evacuated the area and then dumps a water tower on the lava men, which appears to take care of them (this breaks into some good “Legacy-speak” about how he’s not as good as the fine city fire department, which then prompts that there should actually be a few fire engines present spraying water on the lava men too while Legacy shouts encouragement because that’s Legacy).
- Meanwhile, Bunker’s continuing to fight the aliens, but one gets too close and he tries to punch it, which reveals its illusory nature which he reports to the others.
- Then we finally get Glamour to show up - she takes over the TVs all over town to announce who she is and that she’s taken over the city and demands the key to the city and every police officer’s badge (it’s got to be a symbolic demand since she doesn’t want to draw attention to her goal actually being non-symbolic/monetary) or else the destruction will continue.
- This part is all about actually finding Glamour. The mayor (not the mayor of Megalopolis we’ll get to know later, but just your stereotypical “mayor” character) is giving a press conference about the situation and the Freedom Four show up to offer their assistance. Regardless of whether the threats are illusions or not there are still dangers so they need to take Glamour’s threat seriously. They also figure there’s more Tachyon characterization here with her trying to explain what’s going on scientifically and the mayor not caring (also the “scientific” explanation is largely nonsense given the writers’ lack of specialist knowledge on the subject). The mayor gives them 2 hours to solve the issue before he capitulates to Glamour’s demand.
- Wraith goes into investigation mode, but since they don’t want to split the team up again this issue the others more or less follow along to “help” (and also being there as a sounding board so Wraith isn’t just talking to herself). They check out the various tricks - projectors for the aliens, whatever heat sources allowed for an effective lava man illusion, and the way parts from the robots were forged, and the rigging for the dinosaur puppets (they toy with having a shake-down scene involving somebody working construction for the museum who would have installed the rigging, but that seemed like too much of a tangent so they got rid of it). The robots are the key - Tachyon’s doing analysis on the metallurgy of them and whatnot, but Wraith cuts that short because she knows that this stuff was made at a single steel mill in the industrial district, but it’s been shut down for the last 5 years (more characterization - Tachyon has all of the book learnin’ but Wraith has street smarts). Anyway, they now have a location.
- They arrive at the steel mill, which seems empty, but then the floor falls out from under them and they land in an area that Glamour has set up for them - she announces that she thought they might try to stop her. This is an illusion-fest and kind of foreshadows the stuff we’ll see at Madame Mittermeier’s Fantastical Festival of Conundrums and Curiosities - it’s not carnival-themed, but it’s set up to prey on the heroes specific weaknesses and fears. She doesn’t know who they are personally (that’s more of Miss Information’s shtick), but the Freedom Four are public figures to an extent. So we get things like
- Wraith, who likes to use shadows to hide, gets tied up on a table in an otherwise empty room while the very bright light source closes in on her, which will eventually burn her.
- Tachyon falls into some kind of goo that slows her down.
- Bunker’s just attacked by a lot of gremlins, but there are also hostages so he can’t just open fire.
- Legacy has to fight a Statue of Liberty robot (like 3 times his height rather than actual statue-sized) - they want to showcase what Legacy can do against something stronger than him.
- Now we have to cover how they each deal with their problems.
- Wraith has to turn the situation against itself somehow, but they want to show her “always has the right tool” quality - maybe she has some kind of acid pellet in her glove that she can use to destroy any bonds she gets put in and then manages to duck out of the way of the light at the last moment so that it melts the table rather than burning her.
- Tachyon recognizes that it’s a non-Newtonian fluid and that if she moves just right it will set up and act as a solid long enough that she’ll be able to run across.
- Bunker, having learned from his prior encounter with the aliens, switches the vision circuits on his suit to the non-visual range which reveals the gremlins and hostages are illusions, but also lets him see what’s actually damaging his suit, which he then destroys with external combustion (because there are no hostages around). So that’s taken care of, but he’s still in this room. That’s when…
- The Statue of Liberty robot comes crashing through the wall - it may have been stronger than Legacy, but he gets it off-balance and gets it to tip over. He catches it and then throws it through the wall. He’s not just his power set, he’s all about the team, so he’s the one that breaks down the walls to get everybody back together.
- Together they all fight the Statue robot. How ridiculous do we want this to be? How is Glamour involved? She’s piloting the robot - the face falls away revealing the Glamour mirror mask with her behind it. This is all team-up moves all the time. Glamour throws the big book that the statue holds at Bunker, but he and Legacy catch it - Legacy then flies around behind the robot so that Bunker can ricochet bullets off of the book into a weak point on the robot. Tachyon runs around the robot’s feet while Glamor tries to blast her with fire from the torch and while that’s happening Wraith gets some kind of reflector dish in place to send a blast back at the robot, etc.
- The robot falls, Legacy rips the giant mirror mask off the robot revealing Glamour. She’s got a contingency plan for this and disappears in a cloud of smoke (they point out that they actually want this to be Glamour, not a fake-out like Biomancer or Baron Blade). She escapes, but the heroes discover the controls for everything that Glamour had been doing so everything’s solved except for the mystery of who she really was.
- We see Glamour on a private jet or something gloating over her 4th largest diamond in the world that it’ll be a while before anybody discovers the fake that she left and that this will help focus her illusions so that they’ll be harder to see through in the future.
Discussion about the Cover
- Do they depict Glamour on the cover? They mentioned “Smoke and Mirrors” as a good issue title, but they also don’t want to include that on the cover so as to give away the twist. Do they want to go allegorical with the heroes on puppet strings? Or a click-bait cover blurb like “Defeated in their first outing”? They don’t want to do this because it’s too early in their team history - that sort of thing works better if we’ve already seen them overcome huge obstacles so that their defeat would be shocking. Maybe just have representations of the various threats (dino skeleton, UFO, robots, etc.) surrounding the heroes with Glamour superimposed above/behind them as a looming thing. Something that shows the situation is dire, but without the teaser of their defeat.
- The approach here isn’t so much to answer questions about the thing they just talked about given that they didn’t know a lot of details up front - although they could have picked out Freedom Four/Five-related or Glamour-related questions that were still waiting in the wings. Instead, what they did was go back over the last few months’ questions and picked out sort of a “grab bag” of ones that didn’t really fit any particular episode. Maybe going forward, questions asked about this Writer’s Room episode will likely go at the end of the next Writer’s Room episode? Christopher thinks that’s better for Editors Notes episodes with these being this sort of grab-bag - stuff that people are asking now that don’t match up well with what’s actually being discussed in recent episodes. It’s all an experiment so things might change if/when they do more of these.
- In the Fall of the Prime Wardens episode we learn that Haka has a “I know better than you” attitude due to how much older he is than everybody, but Tempest is over a century old too - while that’s not as old as Haka, does that change how he acts at least with regards to Tempest? Not necessarily, Maerynians age differently (and Tempest is still young-to-middle-age for his people), but there’s also the fact that Tempest is relatively new to Earth, so there’s still a fair amount of “you don’t know how things work here” going on with him. It’s also worth noting that this behavior on Haka’s part isn’t overt and he’s not condescending about it, it’s more that his internal monologue is colored by this outlook.
- Is Aislin Allen an Irish-American (her super power is screaming like a Banshee, Allen is a surname found in Ireland, although both that and Banshees are also Scottish, but “Aislin” looks like it’s a corruption of the Irish name Aisling which could easily happen during the immigration process)? Yup, all that was intended. Adam knew somebody named “Aislin” and that’s where they picked that name, but the Irish thing is right on.
- Since Maerynian reproduction incorporates genetic material from people that an egg-bearing Maerynian comes into contact with, and the Legacy line of powers passes down to the first child of each prior Legacy, if an egg-bearing Tempest were to high-five Felicia, would that child get the Legacy powers? How powerful would a Maerynian with Legacy powers be? For some preliminary stuff: we repeat that Tempest was not in an egg-bearing state during the Multiverse era and that he’s more likely to imprint Parsons-family genetic material from Paul than Felicia just because they interact more. That being said, they don’t think that the Legacy powers would get passed on in this way. The Singular Entity cosmic magic shenanigans that are responsible for the Legacy powers in the first place are very much tied to the idea of a “family line” than strictly to the genetics if that makes sense. They think that it would be more likely for somebody adopted into the family to have the powers passed onto them than for a Maerynian to pick them up this way. Like, being “a child of Legacy” is the important bit - if Felicia and Tempest were in a formal relationship and were very intentional about things and Tempest’s eventual child was also seen as being her child, then it could work. Because of the way that Maerynian biology works, though, their culture tends to just recognize the egg-bearer as the sole parent, just with the added feature that everyone in that person’s life is part of this child as well - very community focused.
- The situation surrounding the creation of Miss Information (body-swapping with another reality’s version just as she was dying) seems rather unique, but we also hear about other universe’s versions of her with other powers and whatnot - did the event that caused the main continuity’s versions to swap also do something similar for other pairs of Aminias throughout the Multiverse? Did each version have her own origin story? Did the one that became “out” Miss Information just have her personality splintered across many realities? There are two things to consider. First that there could be multiple realities branching off of the main timeline after Miss Information is already present (so there are multiple copies of her with the same origin), but then there are other ways for Miss Informations to be created throughout the Multiverse. It’s entirely possible for an Aminia Twain to just get fed up with the Freedom Five and turn against them on her own - no need for other-reality nonsense. The Multiverse is full of these “similar outcomes through difference circumstances” sorts of things, so a lot of the proposed explanations are plausible in other realities, but not for the main Miss Info.
- How often can comics Legacy use his “Superhuman Durability” power - the “single attack negation” - how long does it take him to “recharge” before he can negate another? Seconds? Hours? Days? I mean, it’s comics so the real answer is probably “whenever it’s cool”, but did the writers have an actual ballpark figure? If it was in a video game you can think of it as being an ability with a cool-down timer. If it was an MMORPG, it’d be like a 5-minute timer, if a MOBA more like 60 seconds. It’s meant to be a panic-button move that you can’t spam. In comics you’re right that it’s whenever the drama requires, but you can think of it as a “once per encounter” ability - something that you can use once in a fight and you need at least some downtime between it and the next fight for it to be available again.
- Is Setback unkillable (given that the way the curse manifests is that he has the “best of luck” in dire situations and what’s more dire than when somebody’s trying to murder you)? Could he even manage to sacrifice himself if it was necessary? They can see it as just as likely that Setback trips while doing something mundane in such a way that he dies from it (say, while getting milk from the fridge he trips, breaks the bottle, and stabs himself through the eye with it). Beyond that, they don’t think that he’s unkillable. It is just very difficult to kill him if you’ve got a high degree of intention behind the action - like, if you have a specific plan to kill him in this precise manner then things will go off the rails to save him. Somebody like Kismet who is messing with probability directly has a much better shot at it. However, chaotic situations with death and destruction going on indiscriminately have a decent chance of killing him too. His luck disrupts order, so there’s only so much it can mitigate in already-chaotic situations. So, one could imagine a scenario where somebody deliberately attempts to kill him, but does so through getting him involved in a generally dangerous area (rather than targeting specific danger at him). Why would anybody try this, though? He’s not really enough of a big deal that people would want to specifically go after him. The few people who do have him on their radar enough to want to try are probably better off using him as a pawn in some way rather than trying to eliminate him. Of course, there’s the question of what’s at stake - the well-being of the others around him is usually what matters more than his own. The question of him doing some kind of heroic sacrifice works - he could probably allow himself to die if it was what was necessary. It’s part of what make him and Expat an interesting team - he cares a lot about the people around him and how he can minimize how much he messes with their lives but she doesn’t care enough about others and is really good at killing people.
- When the Vandals break off from the Citizens to do their own thing, do they keep their van with the manatee airbrushed on the side [this was described in Episode 70 and, according to that episode, appeared in Sunrise #4]? If not, where is the van now? Of course they keep it. Who wouldn’t. I mean, they need a place to keep their stuff and a method for getting around now that they don’t have, say, Anvil around to teleport them (outside of the occasional teleportation spell they manage to pull off - driving is just easier, though, y’know). They’re just a great group considering the level at which they take themselves seriously is pretty much the inverse of how ridiculous they really are.