The Letters Page: Episode 119
We create and tell the first official Disparation story!
Run Time: 1:30:19
This one is a delightful jaunt of an episode. We're excited to dig into a Disparation story again - each of the previous Disparation-focused episodes have been a lot of fun, and getting to tell the first ever is a blast!
Also, hot damn, that cover is awesome. Adam continues to knock it out of the park. If you're reading this and looking at the cover before listening to the episode, you'll just have to tune in to find out what's going on here!
Thank you to all of our listeners and supporters for making this happen, especially those of you over on The Letters Page Patreon. We are thrilled to get to keep making content for all of you.
- Young Legacy
- Argent Adept
- Oracle of Discord
- La Comodora
- Baron Blade
- The Hippo
- Plague Rat
- Marjorie Mittermeier
- Melissa Morris
- Aislin Allen
- The Freedom Five
- Dark Watch
Disparation Vol. 1 #1
- As we’ve been told in the Multiverse Recap episode, this was from April ’87, just a few months after the big Grand Warlord Voss invasion story (with Legacy being incapacitated, Felicia stepping up into the role, and Tempest’s “suicide mission” to the flagship, and NightMist and Argent Adept try to save him by bringing him home via the Realm of Discord, but wind up pulling Voss and his whole flagship into the RoD in the process). This was the biggest crossover event that had happened in Sentinel Comics to date with most titles relating to the Thorathian Invasion in some way. Then this book comes out that is nominally about stories from other realities in the Multiverse of Sentinel Comics. It opens in the Realm of Discord.
- Voss is wandering. This prompts the issue title - the opening spread of the issue has him tattered and looking out from a cliff into the madness that is the RoD. The top of the page has “Not all who wander…” and continues at the bottom with “Are Voss”. The perspective then switches from being focused on him and where he’s looking to instead look back to see what’s behind him, which is the host of his remaining troops and gene-bound who are still following him.
- We’ve heard before what he gets up to here - he experiments on various things, including attempting to gene-bind a portal fiend which is ultimately how he gets back out (however briefly as AA trashes the ship and NightMist sends him outside of reality entirely almost immediately - that story won’t happen until 1990, though). This is the first issue of Disparation, but we are basically shown that this is our Voss (he talks about what’s happened to him and what he’ll do to the heroes and whatnot that matches up with what we know from the canonical story that just wrapped up - look, it’s an ’80s comic and he’s just very verbose for no reason other than for the reader’s benefit).
- In his wanderings, he comes across a location in the RoD that is not itself shifting like the rest of the place, but cannot be found. He gets separated from his people and they can’t find him while he’s here. Here he sees something like a dais on a plateau with a circle of tall pillars around it (not built, but they look kind of “grown” and are all “jaggedy”). In the center, there’s a shimmery surface that’s somewhat transparent, but also something like a mirror that’s been broken, but in multiple dimensions that a normal mirror could not be (RoD doing RoD things so it’s hard to explain, but it’s an ’80s comic so it more or less just looks like a bunch of irregular polygons - see the cover art that Adam did). Around it, stand a group of tall, willowy figures in robes. The robes are the only things that really seem physical about them as the figures themselves are indistinct - ethereal/ghostly, sometimes with some energy visible around where, say, their arms would be when they gesture. They turn their “empty” hoods to him and speak at once (more verbal narration from Voss - they speak together, but there’s nothing like harmony between them, it’s very grating).
- “Another desperate one has found us. We can only be found by the truly desperate. We are the Oracle of Discord. What will you pay us?”
- Voss interprets this immediately as that it’s not a question of whether he will pay them. They know that he’s going to pay. It’s just a matter of the price. [They’re really loving the excuse to break into Voss’ overly wordy descriptions of everything at every opportunity.] He will give them the existence of all of his troops/gene-bound/everybody there in the RoD with him. This is immediately refused. It’s not a sacrifice for him. [More long-winded musings on the perspicacity of his interlocutors. Adam - “Why were comics so much better then?” They needed to fill like 40 pages as this quarterly book double-sized issues.]
- He has to think for a while for something that would be accepted, eventually settling on his memories of “home” - of Dok’Thorath. Beat panel as they look at one another, then back to him. They accept. In exchange they will show him a reality where he truly conquered all. Then we cut to the next section of the book, but first…
- That’s the framing device of the book - that there’s this “Oracle of Discord” out there that was invented for this title. They can use the Realm of Discord as a lens to look into other realities’ RoD and therefore out into those realities proper. This makes them basically omniscient in that they can, as a group, look to find a reality where whatever they’re interested in seeing is happening (although not omniscient in that they already know everything and are constantly monitoring stuff). They can only be found if your in the RoD and are truly desperate. Voss is in this state because of his problems with Earth - he’s spent ~30 years of publication time throwing whatever he can at this stupid little blue rock, up to and including just taking his entire force there as a full-scale invasion and Keeps. Losing. He’s had challenges before, but he’s never just straight up lost.
- The portion of the issue that is about the universe where he conquered all is related as a series of vignettes. Most, but not all, centered on Earth. This framing story has all been stuff they had already worked out (so the “Writer’s Room” creative stuff will follow once they get into the stories), but the Oracle is where issues of Disparation begin as its the common frame story for the title - although we very rarely see who’s asking and/or what they paid (although the idea seems to be that the price you pay is ironic or somehow more than you were expecting). The person paying doesn’t get to choose what is shown to them either - it’s what they “want”, but it’s not a conscious choice. The Oracle does get revamped a bit in Vol. 2 of the title and that aspect gets dropped 10 years later when it turns into the La Comodora-centric thing in the last years before OblivAeon.
What are the Stories?
- So, these are mostly about him conquering Earth. We’ve seen tiny bits of this from Visionary’s “Precognition” and from NightMist’s “Mists of Time” cards. So, they’ve taken up about a quarter of the double-sized book so far with the frame story and they intend there to be a few pages of more Voss stuff at the end, so they’ve got around 30 pages to fill here. The question is how long to make them as there’s a trade off between how long they are and how many they can tell. Not that they have to be all equal-length or anything, but good to have that in mind up front. Maybe it’s best to work out which stories they want to include and see how that impacts how long things can be.
- Do they even tell the story of how he conquered Earth or just jump right into the story with him already in charge of everything? The “how” might be the most important thing in terms of what he wants to see, but apparently this doesn’t end well for him - ultimately being in charge doesn’t work out for him and that’s what’s most important for him to see. From a meta-narrative perspective, the thing he needs to take away from this issue is that the first thing he needs to do once back in normal reality is to attack Earth, because that’s what he does in 1990 (and gets promptly defeated again by AA and NightMist).
- No-brainer that one story needs to be about Tempest.
- We need a general “heroes of Earth” story that actually gets us the “heroes in chains” bit from Visionary’s card.
- Maybe it’s a runner through this issue that we show Voss getting exactly what he wants, but that still doesn’t work out for him (he kills Tempest, but that turns him into a martyr or something).
- Something on Dok’Thorath as a non-Earth story. This prompts the idea that he hasn’t lost his memory of home yet, but after the vision is complete. It’s not really addressed anyway as they don’t cut back and forth to Voss’ reactions in the frame story. We’re in these vignettes until the epilogue.
- That prompts a sequence: do the Heroes of Earth as a global thing (or maybe not strictly on Earth - maybe they’re mining on Mars or something), then narrow focus to the more personal Tempest story, then go for the larger-scale space story at Dok’Thorath, then back down to Earth to round things out.
- This Dok’Thorath story could actually hint at where the story actually goes in the main-line comics as well. Again, this would be years later, but we could get into “what happens on Dok’Thorath in his absence” that is later mined for ideas in the civil war story as the last story could be centered on him setting up shop on Earth to keep an eye on things, maybe a little too much focus on it.
Heroes of Earth
- The heroes are set to work mining on Mars, overseen by Thorathians. Lets throw some villains in there working side-by-side with them. It’s got to be some time after Voss’ victory as we want time for things to have been this way for a while (plus statues being built and whatnot). Anybody who’s shown particular “might” gets shipped off to Mars. This is where we see how the heroes have been changed by their circumstances, but also that they still meet to discuss plans. They’re planning an uprising which will ultimately succeed with the heroes taking control of Mars. We see Voss’ victory in general, but then this slips back through his fingers.
- Focal character? Obvious choice is Legacy. They also mention Wraith, but then backtrack since she’s just human in terms of that whole “might” thing - it might be better to have her slinking around on Earth involved in some resistance operations there. Who else? They think having him team up with Baron Blade is “too obvious”, although it is the ’80s and it’s not a full story that they can dedicate a lot of pages to.
- Thoughts on the options for Blade: Either it’s a story where Legacy and Baron Blade join forces to rally the heroes and villains together or he’s not in it at all (not enough time to do the backstabby thing that you’d associate Blade with, possibly not even the right time in the history of Sentinel Comics for that to be the prevalent meme as we haven’t seen alternate versions of him or done team-ups before. There’s a brief mention of having him be an overseer or something, but that’s quickly dropped since even if he were to turn coat against humanity, Voss wouldn’t have a use for him. So, they decide to leave Blade out of it.
- We get get cameos of all sorts of heroes and villains [Christopher name-drops Sk8-Blayde, but who knows if that’s a joke] and they’re all powered characters (not to say that no powered heroes/villains are left on Earth, just that the ones that got shipped off-world are). They’ve all got “cool” outfits too (in that their mining slave outfits have sci-fi elements with collars with blinking lights on them or something - Christopher cites The Blood of Heroes as a visual touchstone). Anyway, Legacy, Haka, Hippo, probably not Glamour - lots of popular characters that fit the bill. Legacy is probably the only “important” one to the story. Well, maybe there’s some nay-sayer that prompts a hopeful speech from him or something. Somebody who can name-drop the heroes who wound up getting executed for causing trouble before storming off only to come back at a pivotal moment. The choice here is Fanatic (somebody who’s “lost faith”) - you could have had them execute Haka (which could have been possible at this stage in the publication history) or maybe Ra. Yeah - they broke his staff and ran him through with it.
- So, the story beat here is Legacy talking quietly about rebellion as always and a voice from one of the bunks says “Don’t bother.” and we then see as she sits up that it’s Fanatic. “I don’t see why you’re so intent on getting everyone killed. Remember what happened to Ra?” Legacy - “I’m doing this because of what happened to Ra.” Fanatic - “And I’m doing this because of what happened to Ra.” and then she rolls back over and goes to sleep again.
- The plan is to take out specific guards at particular times to get somebody into the sentry tower. They consider how to use Sky-Scraper (a relatively new character overall) - they land on her being a guard that the heroes can compromise. All she does is leave the door open so they can get inside, but that’s enough for the plan. While they’re taking the tower, let’s say Tamar shows up as she knew that they would try to pull something, so she’s there with some goons with big guns. That’s when Fanatic swoops with her sword in to blast them and save the day. They have Legacy say that she hasn’t been able to summon her sword in years because of her loss of faith, but then they can have her manage it now as a sign that things have turned around. She drives her sword into the ground with a burst of energy before saying “You gave me something to believe in.”
- So we’ve had some good action stuff here with heroes and villains in a post-apocalyptic space colony fighting space Nazis and alien monstrosities and pointing out the unconquerable human spirit. Good stuff. It’s probably also like 10 pages and so the longest of these vignettes.
- Probably pretty short and starts with him already captured. After the big set-piece of the last bit, they could stand for this to be a taunting conversation between him and Voss. They want to allow it to include the idea that there’s some form of resistance still operating as a lead-in for the last story as part of that.
- Anyway, so Tempest is in a dungeon or something. This is somewhat personal for Voss, so he’s taking special attention for Tempest. What’s the big “reveal” for this one? Maybe Tempest makes some comment about the resistance and how they’ll defeat him. Then Voss says something dismissive of such an effort (“Oh, you mean this resistance?”) before throwing down Tachyon’s goggles or something.
- Oh, no. Christopher has it. Ok, so this is a 2-4 page bit mostly with them talking. Tempest’s deal is mainly “hope and the human spirit” and Voss is dismissive finality. Tempest tips his hand too far by mentioning the resistance. Voss is contemptuous with his “I already know about them” before throwing down Wraith’s utility belt. This bit ends with Tempest taking something from the belt and, having given into despair after buying that Voss has succeeded in crushing the resistance, kills himself with it. Maybe don’t show it happen - Voss gets going on a monologue and paces back and forth. We haven’t heard Tempest say anything for a while (which is different from the back-and-forth they’ve had to this point) and when Voss comes back in front of Tempest’s cell he’s caught short and we pull back and see in the foreground Tempest’s outstretched hand on the floor with a vial or something rolling away. Voss gives one last comment like “Oh, so you see, old friend, that you had no hope” or something. They fill in that over the years of this going on their conversations (including this one, so we’ve heard it) always get to this impasse on the subject of hope and so this “now you see” bit is the new development from that. “I’ll miss these little talks of ours.” and he walks out.
- Is Wraith’s utility belt enough to prompt this end? Probably not. Ok, so it’s just part of it. Voss really lets Tempest have it that the resistance is crushed along with things like the remaining Maerynians being wiped out and he’s the last of his kind, he’s even had the gene-bound ones destroyed just to drive the point home. Just really lay into him on the hopelessness angle to get him to give up his “always fight Voss” mentality. So, while these conversations are common, today is when he has the news about these defeats. Wraith’s belt provides the means, but it’s what’s happened to his people that’s the motive.
- So, given that he’s got to put so much focus on Earth to conquer it, he’s had to pay less attention to his home. This entry is “colder” in that it’s more of just an overview - like an encyclopedia entry - of what’s going on. There’s still the military dictatorship and whatnot, but there’s fighting (and in-fighting) for control. The military trying to run things, the scientists in charge of the gene-bound maybe thinking they should be in charge, the civilians getting restless to the point where they may start taking action (although not yet civil war levels). “Meanwhile back on Dok’Thorath: Things are bad!” Without Voss there to keep things under his boot heel, the regimented society is falling apart.
- It’s not really specifically spelled out, but this issue has largely been chronological. Maybe we get a bit here where an underling comes in and mentions both the uprisings back home and on Mars (there are still some troops there who need reinforcements or extraction or something). They’re building to an endpoint for the overall story that they’ve worked out ahead of time, by the way. So, things went really wrong on Mars, the Tempest thing didn’t really go how he wanted (but he’ll take it, not a total wash), and things are going really wrong back home.
- He needs to resolve these problems.
- Ok, so first he just blows up Mars. That’ll show them. Sure, some Earthlings might survive, but at least it removes any benefit they might have for holding the Mars installation. He planned for this possibility (what with putting lots of powered people together in one place) and so has things rigged so that he can just blow the whole planet up.
- So, while he wasn’t lying about the Maerynians (the guys don’t want him to crush Tempest’s hope by lying to him, but by actually crushing his hope), but he’s still got some resistance to deal with. So, lets have Tachyon, Wraith (sans-belt), and one more bring the fight to him. They suggest Parse, who was still pretty villainous at this point, but she’s almost too useful for this. Spite? That’d be interesting, but he’s part of the next issue, so let’s not use him. Plague Rat? Too inhuman. Ambuscade? That’s good - it’s a good era for him and the masked/metal arm look is pretty great. This isn’t Stuntman, he’s not the charming rogue guy that set him up for that transition, but the hero hunter guy [a problem is that we’ve been told in the recap episode that Ambuscade was introduced in Savage Haka #1 in April of ’88, so we’re a year early for him]. These three break in to assassinate Voss, so we get a brief fight. They don’t necessarily need to show him killing them all, but that’s the end result here. Outsmarts Tachyon by shooting an energy blast that she has to duck or something, but in such a way that her momentum takes her into Wraith, taking them both out of the fight. Ambuscade tries to leap on Voss to stab him with a knife, but Voss just grabs him by the face to haul him into the air. He taunts him a bit (“earthlings are all alike” and something about knowing where the other heroes are and they’ll be dealt with shortly) before Ambuscade pops a small gun out of his metal arm. Voss puts his hand over it to absorb the shot, then just crushes the arm entirely before tossing him aside with contempt. He stands over the three of them with a monologue about how he’s got contingencies for his contingencies and he has everything under control.
- That’s when the gets stabbed from behind (this is the thing they’d worked out ahead of time). He wasn’t paying attention to and taking care of his home (hey, neat serendipity between this problem and the fact that Voss is giving up his memories of home to the Oracle - that wasn’t planned), and that’s resulted in a betrayal. So, they like the idea that it’s some sort of laser blade and since it’s the 80s, having two blades is what you do (plus this way it can hit both of Voss’ hearts). It’s Vyktor (shooting Voss would have been more in-character, but the stabbing visual is better). He let the heroes in as a distraction so he could do this. He’s going to run things with precision instead of holding onto grudges and getting distracted. Voss is a little too prideful to be a good space fascist, but Vyktor is one step away from being a machine and has what it takes to dispassionately wield the power.
- So, we had about 10 pages for the first story, 4 for the second, 6 for the Dok’Thorath thing, then about another 10 for the last. Now we’ve got a few pages of “our” Voss talking to the Oracle again.
- What does he “take” from this - what’s the message that’s given that he takes entirely the wrong lesson from (the lesson being “I have to destroy Earth”)? The message is that he shouldn’t overreach - he should take what he can reasonably hold, and then go home to manage things. Hell, he could probably just quarantine the solar system somehow and sill manage to take over the rest of the galaxy. He’s just fixated on this one planet he can’t take, so the lesson is that he should just destroy it instead.
- Does this make him suspicious of Vyktor? Does it even matter to him? He wasn’t part of the group pulled into the Realm of Discord and isn’t really part of the “Voss story” from here on. He shows up in Tempest stories occasionally or other weird science/genetics stuff in general.
- So, now he’s got a plan to destroy Earth and walks off to find his troops again. The Oracle members say something along the lines of “They never learn the right lesson.” Nah - they probably don’t say anything. But they watch him go, then look at one another, then go back to gazing back into the fractal mirror thing.
- The book doesn’t actually go into what comes of Voss paying the price, though.
- How does the sequence of “who has been Glamour” work out now that you’ve done your timeline project (since the first iteration we got was way back in the Slaughterhouse Six Interlude and said that Madame Mittermeier was the Golden Age Glamour and FF #88 was the start of the Silver Age)? The issue with Marjorie Mittermeier being the “Golden Age Glamour” is mostly a matter of them not having exactly when the line between Golden and Silver Ages happened for Sentinel Comics. Madame Mittermeir and her Fantastical Festival had appeared in the comics prior to this (and are therefore proper Golden Age elements - mainly in Tome of the Bizarre), but Glamour wasn’t intended to be her from the outset. It was a later writer who decided that Mittermeier was the one behind the mask. The name isn’t so much “passed down” as it is “taken” - somebody just decides to start using the name and then does so. Melissa Morris just noticed that there hadn’t been any activity by “Glamour” for a while and so started using the name for her own schemes. This was an opportunity for the writers to “modernize” Glamour a bit - making her more of an active villain presence rather than the secretive plotting stuff that the original had done (early Glamour stories had a feeling like they were building to something, but there wasn’t an editorial mandate of a specific end goal to work towards). Then eventually she died and Aislin Allen took over.
- We don’t actually get to see Glamour on the cover of FF #88, how much has her costume changed over the decades? There are a few different costumes we see (hair-exposed or full mask). [They say that we see the version without hair in SotM, which I don’t think is true - the version of her mask on Tachyon’s “Nimble Strike” looks different (with a yellow/orange eye mask and no mirror element that I can see), but they all have hair exposed. The no-hair versions are in Sentinel Tactics and the RPG.] The versions with hair could be any of Madame Mittermeier, Melissa Morris, or Aislin Allen. The one without hair would just be Aislin [although the ST version is Aminia Twain]. There’s also going to be a fair amount of variation in the costume’s exact look depending just on how the artist drew her without it being intentionally a “different costume”. Up until the RPG version of the outfit it’s all variations on “red costume with gold accents plus the mask, mirrored or otherwise”).
- [Letter points out that “Aislin” is based on an Irish name “Aisling” that is more like “ash-ling” or “ash-leen” than “ehz-lin”.] Sure, but as they’ve said before, Adam knows somebody with the name spelled “Aislin” pronounced the way they say it for their character. Good to know the origin of the name, but people iterate on this stuff all the time, so we’ve just wound up with a variant here (especially since Aislin Allen is an American, not an Irish national).
- Can you tell us more about Aislin Allen as she was as the Shrieker (what she looked like, how her powers worked, etc.)? Tight body-suit along the color scheme of Freedom Five Tachyon’s outfit, so kind of a medium blue with concentric white rings that spread from the center of her chest (stylized sound waves) and a blue domino mask. Red hair. She gained her powers when, as a child (in the 6-8 years old range), she was trapped in a coal mine which caught on fire. She’s screaming and screaming and, in the process, inhaling the coal dust/smoke and whatever other mineral particulates are in the air. People hear her and come rescue her. Her voice is all hoarse from the stuff she breathed in, but as she’s recovering she loses her voice entirely and is mute for years. In her early 20s, a doctor realizes that it’s not that no sound is produced when she speaks, she’s just emitting sounds that are outside of the human hearing range. He performed an experiment where he injected bat DNA into her throat (because bats can also produce sounds higher than what humans can hear as well as ones we can, so this is the obvious treatment) [I also looked it up for curiosity’s sake, and while the double-helix structure of DNA was first described around 1953, its existence and role in heredity had been known for some time prior, so this isn’t necessarily an anachronism]. As a result, she can talk normally again, but she gets other vocalization-based powers on top of it (can still go ultrasonic as well as produce very loud sounds, control her pitch well enough to shatter glass, produce shockwaves that can throw people around, etc.).
- We know about the Inversiverse that reverses everybody on the hero/villain continuum, but what about a universe where everyone’s powers are reversed? They’re trying to think of what that would even look like. Legacy isn’t strong and can’t leave the ground at all. Tachyon makes other people slow. Ra is cold all the time. Sure, there are bizarre universes out there where weird stuff happens with people’s powers, so go for it.
- Do you believe in the Omniverse and all the theories that go with it? Like, realities split where Singular Entities do something else? They want to know the difference between a Multiverse and an Omniverse. They’re guessing you mean something like every quantum-level event can cause new realities? That doesn’t happen in Sentinel Comics due to the “too-similar realities mutually annihilate one another” thing that means that only significant differences cause split points. You can play it however you like in your game, though.
- We got alternate versions of the Freedom Five and Dark Watch on the card "¿Quando? ¡Ahora!", but they’re from different realities; what are the Dark Watch and the Freedom Five teams that we don’t see from those realities like? The short answer is that if they exist in those universes we never see them in the pages of Sentinel Comics, so there’s not much we can say about them. You can extrapolate what each team would be like given what you know about those universes if you want, though. Also, keep in mind that if there are specific Disparation stories you want to learn more about, there are ways to make that happen.
- How would the Spite: Agent of Gloom variant translated to the Inversiverse? It likely wouldn’t since the Agent of Gloom story wouldn’t happen if there weren’t an evil GloomWeaver trying to use Spite as a means to get into regular reality… Unless a villain successfully killed Peacemaker and then GloomWeaver (who’s doing good by weaving gloom out of the world) does something to bring him back, weaving his life back together. So, we’d wind up with Peacemaker: Agent of the Loom (because “weaving”). There you go.
- Christopher’s suggestions: Voss approaching the Oracle, so we get to establish what they and the fractal mirror thing look like and that’s important for the title as a whole. The other option is Voss with Tempest. Either way, given what’s just been going down in the comics line overall, Voss should be on the cover.
- Adam had been thinking about Voss Victorious to show more about what the story is about to grab your attention.
- Ultimately, they decide on the thing with the Oracle. It could even be a “the cover lies” situation where the thing on the cover doesn’t actually occur on the page. As a “first issue” Adam also has to be careful not to mess up the title and whatnot. [They go with the Oracle around the fractal mirror with Voss shown within.]