The Letters Page: Episode 123
Let's go into another version of reality! Again!
Run Time: 1:15:37
We're excited to do another Disparation story, even though we don't know which one! Let's figure that out, together!
No spoilers, but here are the various timestamps where stuff kicks off:
- Overview: 2:55
- Recap: 40:20
- Questions: 48:00
- Cover Discussion: 1:09:45
Thanks for listening, everyone! Since this is a rare five Tuesday month, we'll have another episode before the Editor's Note, so look forward to that next Tuesday, and then the live recording will happen next Wednesday! Exciting times here in spoooOOOoooky OctoooOOOooober!
- So, they know it’s a Disparation story. They also already did the groundwork for how this works and that volume 1 of the title consistently used the Oracle of Discord as the framing device. Volume 2 would occasionally still use that, and at the very least it’s just assumed to be there, but sometimes they’d just jump right into the story.
- Given that it’s “spooky month”, there’s some low-hanging fruit in terms of “zombie apocalypse world” or vampires, werewolves, mummies, ghosts, etc. Christopher starts spinning an idea for a “ghost world” where the world in inhabited (or at least largely inhabited) by ghosts who don’t know they’re ghosts. Adam points out The Sixth Sense comparison - apparently Christopher hasn’t seen it.
- The main thing is that if they want to Twilight Zone the thing and have there be an unexpected twist or similar, they need to figure out what that is first and then craft the narrative that would lead to it [Adam brings up an episode of Samurai Jack with a story involving characters who eat metal, only to eventually learn that they are robots and then devour each other - this is part of Episode XV, he also brings up the classic Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder”].
- While riffing on the idea of having a wish go wrong somehow they hit on the idea that the world was fairly normal, but then some cosmic being did something. We can have our handy outside observer, La Comodora, show up and think she understands what this reality’s deal is only to have the horrible truth revealed to her. Christopher had thrown out Wellspring as the being to have done so, realizing that he’s pretty much the least likely culprit for this sort of thing unless they specifically want the Legacy line to be involved in what’s wrong somehow, but they already have one of those.
- So, if we want her involved then we know what the window is. She takes over the Disparation stuff in November 2012 and by 2014 or 2015 we’re leading strongly into the OblivAeon stuff. By chance, the October 2013 slot doesn’t have anything assigned yet, so here we go, issue #134 [they also joke about it coming out on Friday the 13th, but 10/13 was a Sunday that year and Halloween itself was a Thursday - “new comic day” being traditionally on Wednesdays, at least in our reality thanks to the vagaries of distribution networks].
- They’re not tied down to the culprit being a Singular Entity, but who is available by this point? We’ve got Wellspring or the one that empowered Galactra [[[The Fervor]]]. Points against one of them: they’re very focused on their particular shtick and there would have to be a lot of explanation of what they are and why they’re doing things (while the identities of a few are known to readers, most of what they are is still unclear). They could use the Host - that’s at least been explained if not exactly frequently-referenced. We could have a case where somebody was trying to accomplish something using a Host spirit, but accidentally just opened a portal to the Host dimension and the world’s been flooded with them - the twist could be that everyone is inhabited by a Host spirit and isn’t themselves. They bring up the “psychic planet” that tried to capture Captain Cosmic as a similar story [described in the Cosmic Tales episode], but that was all an illusion to trap him rather than having a multitude of individuals trapped in themselves.
- Working on that, they scale things back a bit. They posit one spirit brought through, but it takes over a person, then the whole family, then the neighbors, up to maybe the town. This would kind of be too small-stakes for La Comodora. She just wouldn’t go to that town. If it’s a “the whole world is overlaid with the Host” thing and it’s only after she’s there for a while that she notices the thing assaulting her mind, why would she have stuck around in this “normal” world long enough to notice?
- The solution is that she’s stuck. She comes into this reality, sees that everything looks normal and decides to leave, but she can’t get back to her ship for whatever reason. This doesn’t even have to be the Host anymore, just some kind of parasitic thing that’s taking people over. It can’t get her immediately, but it can at least disable her tech enough to prevent her from leaving. This leads to a discussion of how that could even work - she’s got a special bond to her ship, so what in the world could possibly disrupt that? It’s not like she’s using some kind of teleportation technology that could be interfered with/shorted out.
- Further working out what the thing is/wants: it thrives on taking over other minds, but it’s exhausted this universe - it’s already got everyone and now needs a way out [this is a problem similar to the Supply and Demand story involving Count Barzakh in issue #145 they described last week]. They could have it be something similar to the Hive-mind that we see in the Bloodsworn Colosseum, only much greater in scale. Something that can just take you over if you’re close to it, but can still wriggle its way into your mind at a distance. She shows up, notices that people are a little glassy-eyed and is weirded out, but finds that she is physically incapable of taking the action that would return her to the ship - something is already at least able to stop her.
- Of course, this prompts the question of how she’s able to defeat this thing if she’s unable to even get back to her ship. Given that we’re in a post-CCA time period and this is intentionally a “spooky” October issue, maybe they just have her “victory” being able to return to her ship and they leave the greater problem unresolved. If it’s preventing her from putting her hand to her belt to activate the teleport, then maybe she has to make a series of seemingly-innocuous actions that it won’t bother preventing (which implies that while it can prevent her from acting, it’s not actually reading her thoughts, so she can plan in secret at least).
- We also want to see this thing, obviously. So the easiest option is to have it on Earth for whatever reason. They briefly consider having it elsewhere and that people are launched in pods to where it to make it easier to feed on their mental energies (controlling people to come to it), but they can also just have it on Earth and show some pods from other planets landing at some point to get that same idea across that it’s taken over everybody in this reality. As for where on Earth to have it, they want something iconic that would be cool to show this thing in, so they consider Mordengrad, Freedom Tower, Plavu’Col, or even real-world cities that would be recognizable. They briefly consider Insula Primalis as a good option as there aren’t any people there normally, so the only ones to be there would be the ones it brings in, but who cares about that? Then they settle on the White House - iconic, but also with restricted access/heavy security.
- From there we get to “if this thing is controlling literally everybody, are there still governments?” They decide that this thing is mostly just putting people on auto-pilot. This could be some good fodder for what La Comodora sees that’s “off” - people get up in the morning, have breakfast, go to work where they sit at their desk and mash their keyboard for 8 hours, before going home for dinner. The president could come on TV and say “My fellow Americans” before just signing a bunch of paper. The reporting could be similarly stiff and “going through the motions”. Everybody is where they should be, but it’s like they’re all just play-acting what the thing thinks people do. That’s sufficiently unsettling. Even better, maybe things are at least a little less bonkers than that, but then La Comodora sees that the next day everyone does the exact same things. It’s basically just a program that everybody is executing every day.
- With this framework, they don’t even think they need the constraint on her in particular that keeps her from leaving. She shows up here because her ship’s log or the Concordant Helm or whatever indicates that she needs to be here and it’s already unsettling enough to be interesting so she sticks around to figure out what’s going on. She doesn’t even need to stay there into the second day on her own - she sees some stuff is weird, then goes back to her ship to jump forward a day to see what’s happening then and that’s when she sees that it’s all just repeating. Even better, she thinks she’s made a mistake and had gone back to the day she’d already been there for, so she jumps forward a few weeks, then back a few months, and it’s always just the same. We get to the inciting incident - the first time that the Bloodsworn Colosseum shows up on Earth and the Hive-mind that was infecting Orrim gets left behind and this is what it becomes.
- So the first half of the book can be her showing up, seeing the aggressively bland world, and realizing that every day just has everybody going through the same motions. We can have the exposition involving the Colosseum happen when she confronts the thing, which is a big brain blob monster filling most of the White House (with her speaking and it just showing her images - comics are great for this, but they like the idea of it not communicating verbally), but now how to get from A to B.
- They like the idea that when she goes to confront the thing she leaves and then comes back and starts doing the same things - she realizes that she’s also starting to get caught in loops and needs to get out of here. One vision the thing can give her is it taking her ship to other worlds, which gets across what it wants nicely.
- As to “how does she know to go to the White House?” they can just handwave it as “the readings are strongest from over here” kind of gimmick with her equipment.
- But what’s the confrontation? They go back and forth for a few minutes trying to figure out what she can do that’s interesting. They think about her using the dozens of different days she’s blipped into the timeline already to set something up, but at that point she didn’t know what she was facing. If she starts to get caught in a repeating pattern but is able to blip away at some point, then she’s free and can just leave. Does she need to “fix” this reality? Yes. Christopher has an idea.
- Ok, once she realizes that she’s repeating but that the repeating process is just what it does to people because it takes the least mental energy from it to keep going, rather than repeating directly she blips back to her ship every loop to snap herself out of its control, but then goes back in and repeats things anyway to trick it. Over time, she starts bringing more stuff with her about her person during the loops and eventually has enough gear with her to just unload on the thing unexpectedly. Hooray! She’s blown up the White House and the brain blob with it!
- The next day, everyone is still going through the same motions. She jumps forward 5 years and it’s still the same. She starts to confront somebody about what’s going on and they basically tell her to shut up/not ruin everything. They’re free, but they were under its control for so long that everybody is afraid of that freedom. She can’t save them from themselves as they’ve decided to keep things going. People’s smiles are a bit more forced, maybe the news reporters get their lines a little wrong but they’re all trying to keep the loop going as it’s a safe, controlled way of life.
- And that’s the Twilight Zone twist, she saves the day, but they’re all still slaves in their own minds and she leaves them.
Disparation vol. 2 #134
- La Comodora’s general frame device can be her learning about a reality she needs to attend to. This time it’s something that looks like it’s a temporal anomaly, but without any actual temporal energies being involved.
- She lands near Washington D.C. (Baltimore, say) as it’s close to the center of what’s going on. It leads her to this very normal-seeming world, though, instead of the really bad stuff she was expecting. This also brings up the fact that she probably has some kind of “image inducer” to allow her to make her look like she’s wearing clothes like the locals. This also sets up a good bit later that she can try not doing this during a loop and nobody cares/notices her costume.
- She spends a few hours looking around observing people and eventually sees the news report that just seems off in that it seems really generic. She decides at this point to jump ahead to the next day to see how things are going. That’s when we get the revelation of things repeating (more like 1/3 of the way through the issue rather than halfway).
- Montage of her jumping back and forth in time. A jump back 10 years is when she stops bothering with the image inducer and people are still reacting to her the same as ever. She jumps back to the future and that’s when she goes about finding it in the White House. One of the things it can show her is views of herself as seen by other people 10 years ago, implying that it noticed as well and figured that she’d show up eventually. They really like the story potential for the detail that she talks to it and it just responds in pictures. Here is also where we get the history of it showing up with the Colosseum and taking over from there. From the town, to the country, to the world, and beyond to others, and finally its plan involving her that allows it to access the multiverse (with a nifty image of multiple planets with tendrils between them).
- They like the idea of it showing its hand too early - it’s showing her its plans but one of them involves seeing herself walk into the White House (they imagine that while it’s got all of this mental control, it’s fairly primal and isn’t actually very intelligent). She knows she has to get out of here and free these people’s minds.
- Then we see the next day and her landing and going about the same stuff we just saw her do and saying the same things. Oh no! She got trapped.
- We loop a few times, then we see her on her ship monitoring what she does and slowly building up the armaments. Possibly an action as part of her loop is setting something down as she leaves the White House and since it’s not a literal time loop the pile of these things just grows day after day until she actually sets them off, destroying the thing.
- The next day she lands, everybody is the same and she freaks out and starts jumping forward several times before shaking somebody, trying to snap them out of it. That’s when she gets the “you’re going to ruin everything” bit they decided on for the downer ending.
- They come up with “Prison of the Mind” as the issue title.
- They also really like the fact that the Hive-mind thing they came up with mostly as a throw-away concept for the Colosseum has turned out to possibly be a more major threat. Probably won’t ever come up again.
- We were told that Grand Warlord Voss just kills a population, Gene-binding those who would be useful - even if a planet surrendered that’s what would happen, so why doesn’t he just kill the people of Earth in the story told in Disparation #1? He hates the humans - the only people to defeat him even once so after his eventual victory over them he wants to draw out the suffering.
- We see Voss and Tempest facing off in the Realm of Discord (Negative Energy Field), but why not include Voss’ crashed ship? It’s because it was a specific thing in that one story. It’s not a feature of the Realm of Discord in general. It’s not the end-point of every Voss invasion story, so it’s not in his deck. They tried to avoid including things that always happen once except when it was intrinsic to the story the deck is telling.
- Why no references to the Oracle prior to this episode? Because from a creation perspective, Christopher and Adam hadn’t invented them until they were doing prep for the Disparation vol. 1 #1 episode of the podcast. Now they’ve existed in Sentinel Comics since the ’80s, but they were never mentioned in previous GTG products or properties because they didn’t exist yet. They’ve just been retconned into existence because they wanted the framing device for the title.
- You mentioned that the Oracle of Discord is only findable by people in the RoD who are desperate - why didn’t Baron Blade find them after Cosmic Contest? Because Baron Blade was never truly desperate. In any situation you’d choose to put him in, his internal monologue is saying “I’ve got this.” Put him on a burning Mobile Defense Platform that’s plummeting to the ground and he’d be thinking “I’ve got this.” His confidence and Voss’ are very different. Voss has hubris and a desire to destroy or control everything. Baron Blade’s confidence is built around an iron-clad belief that he’ll be fine because he’s the smartest person ever. Voss has a need to control everything, Blade has a need for people to recognize his genius.
- During the description of a hero raid on Voss’ base you had decided that Ambuscade was part of the team, but in the Multiverse Recap Episode you mentioned that his first appearance was in Savage Haka #1 around a year after this issue of Disparation - how do you want to retcon/explain away his presence here? You got us. We often run into the problem of assuming that we have all of our characters available and in the excitement of creation we didn’t double check the timeline here to make sure we could use him. That being said, Ambuscade himself wasn’t all that important to the story in himself - they just wanted somebody the readers knew as a villain to be part of the team alongside Tachyon and Wraith. The Hippo isn’t interesting. Heartbreaker doesn’t happen until even later. Apostate would be interesting, but would overshadow the rest of the proceedings and isn’t great strike-team material. Then again, it’s a fun thing to do to the readers to drop him in there with zero explanation and leave them wondering what the circumstances would be to get him involved in this. Let’s roll with that, we get Apostate with his sword and everything, but his wings have been torn off (he’s got a few inches of stubs left coming off of his back - that also helps save page space in a crowded scene).
- [Next letter prompts whether they personally have been truly desperate.] Christopher has a story from his childhood in Venezuela - he was ~8 and his brother ~6 and they were alone and coming back up to where they lived on the 5th floor of a building in the janky elevator. At one point it stopped, the lights went out and then it dropped a floor, the doors opened and closed, then dropped another floor, and when the doors opened he shoved his brother out before diving out himself. Then the elevator wound up crashing to the bottom. He was pretty desperate to get out of that situation. Once Adam got lost out in the rain while on his bike. He found a street he knew in fairly short order, but it was still scary.
- Was the Oracle used in every issue before La Comodora took over, or was it just in this one and then assumed to be present after that? They talked about it some. It was used in every issue of volume 1 - you didn’t often know who was talking to them, but they did all start and end with them. In volume 2 they were frequently there for either the main story, the Inversiverse back-up story or both, but not always. Once La Comodora showed up they used her as the framing device instead and the Oracle was dropped. This prompts a good idea to have issue #122 (the last issue prior to La Comodora taking over the title) be something to use in a future Writers Room - the staff would have known about the change in the title, so it could have been planned as a good “farewell to the Oracle” issue.
- We see a variety of other characters in the Realm of Discord at various points, but does anybody notable ever find the Oracle? They are not going to answer that question. They want to leave themselves creative space for future Disparation stories and they don’t want to lock themselves into a list here and now.
- Who saw the Inversiverse and what did they give up? That sounds like a great idea for another episode so we can find it out. They will say that the vast majority of these stories aren’t as detailed as the Voss story when it comes to the Oracle interactions.
- Was the same framing device used to set up the Inversiverse back-up stories? The idea was that the Inversiverse got set up initially in a normal issue, but by the time we got to the back-up story stuff it was already established as a setting. It didn’t require more people asking the Oracle to see it. They also didn’t want to dedicate what limited page space they had for those to the framing device.
- Is the Oracle a Singular Entity? No. Each version of the RoD will have its own version of the Oracle. There is a theory that all Oracles are linked through the crystal things, but it’s unproven.
- [Angry Taxpayer letter] Which world is better to live in, the “regular” fake world or the “inverted” fake world? Which one has heroes that do a better job protecting the normal working Joe? Adam starts with the assertion that the main continuity does, which elicits a heavy sigh from Christopher. His reasoning: the main timeline is, by and large, meant to represent the normal world and how things are here (until OblivAeon). The Inversiverse, as introduced, has a bit of a dystopian quality to it and the heroes of that world have to deal with the Legacy of Destruction and that’s a tough job. They guess that in general, the main continuity heroes do a better job, but that the OblivAeon event also hit there really hard and that was worse than anything that had happened in the Inversiverse. So, while they did a good job recovering from that event and the world’s in a pretty good place, there were still a lot of lives lost during that event which your average angry taxpayer might hold against them.
- They don’t want to put the White House on there as it’s a bit of a spoiler for where she should go.
- This almost immediately gives Christopher the idea that we should have La Comodora in a Norman Rockwell sort of “everyday life” kind of painting. We’re even late enough in the title’s run that it would be ok to mess around with the trade dress for the issue.