The Letters Page: Episode 124
We unleash your greatest fear! A podcast!
Run Time: 1:15:31
We explore phobias! Fears! Both irrational and otherwise!
We also end up bridging over into a "Writers' Room" style episode, accidentally. Sorry about that. We just felt like creating, I guess? It worked out, but this episode is all over the place. Scary!
We'll be doing the live Editor's Note on Wednesday this week, the day after this episode goes live, so if you're on The Letters Page Patreon, join us for the live recording!
Thanks for listening, everyone!
- La Comodora
- Absolute Zero
- Miss Information
- Young Legacy/Beacon
- Emily Parsons
- Ray Manta
- Blood Countess Bathory
- The Citizens of the Sun
- Jansa vi Dero and Bloogo
- Baron Blade
- They don’t want to just go down the list of heroes coming up with fears for them. They’d rather think of heroes who have had fears come up in the stories at some point. Funnily enough, this means that they wind up just going down the list anyway (off-the-air) to pick out who they would be.
- K.N.Y.F.E. - with as decorated as she was in military stuff, she should have made it further up the ranks. She was held back by a fear of public speaking. She just doesn’t like standing up in front of people to give a speech and will pass up opportunities for advancement if it means that she has to do so.
- One that develops on the page: Chrono-Ranger is typically a pretty cool guy, but he is buried alive at one point during the La Comodora Disparation era and he just freaks out. From then on he’s got claustrophobia.
- Scholar is scared of heights. Something they run into while working through this list, however, is that for something to really qualify as a phobia it should be an irrational fear. Scholar’s fear of heights isn’t fully irrational. Like, if people are on a Mobile Defense Platform and look over the edge most people might get a bit of vertigo and back off where the Scholar is more likely to throw himself to the ground back away from the edge. It’s still a really long way down, so that’s kind of just more an outsized reaction to a legitimate danger. This is opposed to, say, Adam’s wife who won’t even use a step ladder because it’s “too high” - you can think about it in terms of a “willingness to engage in the risk of heights”.
- That kind of “not really irrational fears” are things that most characters have. Like in the Animated Freedom Five episode they talk about:
- These are all things that are 1. entirely possible and 2. would have serious consequences.
- Legacy has a fear of being a disappointment, not necessarily to his father in particular, although that was the manifestation in the Miss Information episode of the show, but to the family’s, well, legacy. That he won’t measure up to expectations. They don’t think that Felicia has that same issue - her dad didn’t put as much weight on the duty/responsibility angle to the point of guilt that his dad did with him. It’s still present, but it’s what gives the leeway so that she doesn’t necessarily always wind up as “Legacy” (see the Vertex timeline when she took up the name Beacon instead). Emily is a part of the equation as well - making sure that Felicia knows that she can forge her own path in what being Legacy means.
- Haka is afraid of losing everybody he cares about by outliving them - which has definitely been happening to him for centuries. Then it happens to him in a way completely outside of what he’d grown accustomed to - after OblivAeon winding up doing the Prime War thing. He’s lost the reality that he knew and while he’s still seeing familiar faces, these people are so far removed from the people he knew that it just crushes him some. In turn, he’s more violent in Prime War than we’ve seen before because he’s already lost the things that he treasured and isn’t holding back as much. Hopefully he can find something to fill that void for him eventually.
- Going through all of this, they decided that there has definitely been a fear-based villain, so they wanted to do the Creative Process on that.
Creating a New Villain
- First off, when in the timeline did this guy show up? They both figured late ’70s into the ’80s - psychological horror stuff was big. In comics terms they could start to push back against the Comics Code a bit. Maybe go earlier in that range to avoid the grittiness that the ’80s had going on (not to say that he couldn’t be around through that, they just want his point of origin to come before that), so late ’70s it is.
- They want him to still be around in the present. They want him to have not ever been a major player in the past. Like, he was preying on people’s fears to do stuff like rob banks or extort people. Relatively low-stakes stuff that wouldn’t be worthy of a SotM deck.
- An idea: maybe somebody who’s been afraid of everything his whole life and is looking for a way to “cure” that, and/or he’s become disgruntled with society for how scared he’s always been and is getting some level of payback. They also like the idea that he’s angry at the fact that he’s scared and has developed a bit of a persecution complex over it - he feels wronged and even well-meaning attempts from others to help him “get over himself” backfire.
- What comic does he show up in? Let’s go through the list of titles/heroes around in the late ’70s that could fit. Mystery Comics is a possibility. They don’t think he’s appropriate for a “team” comic like Freedom Five because of how low-stakes he is. He could be a solo Legacy villain, but that’s probably the upper limit on how “big” of a mark he would make. Tome of the Bizarre is always around, but whether he’d show up there or MC would depend on what his power source is. Was he some guy who had some weird magical whammy put on him that’s not well-explained? TotB. If he was experimenting to intentionally gain powers, that’s more of the MC end of it. The more they think about it, though, they wind up liking the Legacy solo-villain thing and just put him in America’s Finest Legacy, which has room for him in terms of how much stuff they’ve actually plotted out and it’s a less-common place than MC or TotB for them to drop side-stories like this, so AFL it is.
- So, late ’70s we’re definitely in the Bronze Age of comics, but still feeling some of the camp left over from the Silver Age. Plus, Legacy is kind of that very Silver Age character anyway so throwing him up against a more “modern”, angry, wronged-by-society type is a good dichotomy. It’s also somebody that can’t take a punch from Legacy, so we’re going to have somebody messing with Legacy’s emotions who also requires Legacy to really hold back as one punch would just wreck this guy and Legacy doesn’t want to be that kind of “hero” does he?
- They get the idea for the basic shape of the first interaction. So there’s this guy with some kooky powers that’s robbing a bank. It looks like a standard “Legacy flies in, stops the guy, takes some photos with bystanders, and flies off” boring story. Then he comes in and this guy just floors him. Christopher runs with Adam’s earlier suggestion that the guy is afraid of everything and looking to “cure” it - maybe his powers aren’t just pushing on people’s existing fears, but that he’s afraid of everything, but can “give” those fears to others.
- [Brief interlude to research name options] The villain name they come up with, which is pretty good as it just immediately gives you a feel for the guy, is Mr. Jitters.
- The intro story will be the thing they brought up before with Legacy coming in to stop the bank robbery and getting brought down hard by the guy’s powers. Then we get a flashback to tell his history. Then we come back to the present to show Legacy overcoming the fears and stopping the guy. So, we still need to figure out the middle part. They also like the idea that he can spread the fears out to debilitate everyone in the bank, then when Legacy shows up he drops them all on him to take him out of the fight (but which would let the other people recover). This could showcase how he’s not enough of a threat to warrant being a foe in a hero team story - just one other hero present would leave him vulnerable as he took everything he had to take down Legacy. Or, if it was Visionary who showed up, she could just block the mind whammy altogether.
- Options for powers: magic seems more likely than science. Maybe he’s got a relic or something that can take the fears out of his head, but still requires that they be somewhere and so could feed into his “payback” mentality to put them into other people. Christopher goes into a story about him looking for a “fix” by researching, meaning he faced some fears in going to a library and looking at books. First he finds a lot of psychology nonsense that isn’t useful for him as he just wants something to just make him better. He can come across some reference to some culture’s “god of fear” or something and then go off to a temple or something to find it. Adam breaks in here to want to keep the story in Megalopolis (he could get it in a museum or something - much simpler than globetrotting). Maybe he comes across a reference to the god’s icon and then sees a news report about a new museum exhibit of mysteries of history and he recognizes it among the items.
- This begs the question of how it’s a mystery if this guy was able to find out what it was in his research? Maybe the library is too big and scary so he goes to some out-of-the-way bookstore or something and finds a dusty tome that other researchers wouldn’t have had access to. Or maybe it’s just some out of print thing of minor importance that just happens to include the symbol that he later recognizes in the museum thing.
- They spitball some ideas on what the relic does. Does he need it or does it just bestow the power that he can just use? There is an argument either way for having it be a thing that he needs as that would make him “just a guy” after he’s arrested and its taken from him, but then he’d need to find a way to get it back every time he pops up as a villain again. Maybe he’s just put in a power-dampening cell or just lock him in solitary without much direct interaction with other people to mitigate his powers while he’s in jail.
- Maybe we get a progression. At first it’s a thing that he has on his person that gets taken away, but after the first few times he shows up, by the late ’80s or sometime in the ’90s, something happens to “fuse” it with him so it’s now just a part of him.
- It can also be a simple way for Legacy to beat him that first time; he just need to get the thing away from him. Maybe it’s more of an “empathy” thing and it then projects Legacy’s confidence to everyone in the bank to help them recover.
- Let’s lock down an issue, or maybe two issues with Legacy “defeated” by this guy having a cliffhanger. That sounds good. Since it’s “spooky stuff” let’s say October and November ’77, issues #70-71 of AFL.
- An idea for this guy as a recurring character could be that he can “recruit” minions in the form of extorting them into working for him by preying on their fears. This could get him some help from people that are, frankly, above his “level”. Once he gets the “upgrade” of having the power innately he can start to intuit what others’ fears are rather than just projecting his own. This kind of control (rather than loyalty, or even just paying them) is risky, though.
- Ray Manta is obviously paranoid and whatnot. He’s probably an easy mark who doesn’t even resent what Mr. Jitters does because his conspiracy theory mind would lend itself easily to being scared of whatever it is that Jitters needs him to be.
- Equity is a germaphobe, fastidious and wears gloves all the time.
- Heartbreaker is scared of ghosts/phantoms and whatnot. He’s very superstitious.
- They started to talk about more villain phobias, but they then considered that this sort of thing is either the type of detail that never comes up or always comes up in comics. If heroes know about a phobia that a villain has, they can always bring that to bear against them, which undercuts their status as a threat. We also tend to learn about this sort of thing from inner monologues and whatnot, but comics are generally from the heroes’ or a civilians’ perspective. However, we do occasionally get villain perspectives:
- Blood Countess Bathory is scared of mirrors. It’s generally known that vampires don’t have reflections. She does, and it’s kind of a Picture of Dorian Gray situation - she maintains her appearance a certain way through Blood Magic (and it’s not an illusion, her physical body really does look that way), but her reflection shows her as she should look, twisted by age and corruption. It’s not like bringing a mirror is a great way to defeat her, though, as they tend to drive her into a rage where she’ll smash the mirror along with whoever brought it to her, so it’s not like Mr. Jitters or a hero could use this against her.
- So… despite this being a user-submitted topic, nobody actually asked questions for this episode. Because there’s a backlog, though, they’ll just grab the 6 oldest questions that aren’t about a forbidden topic. They can also use it as a point to talk about mentioned heroes’ fears.
- If she has the timeline right, it sounds like Expatriette was operating as a serial killer from the ages of around 12 to 18, and so she probably went through puberty alone in Rook City - did the Citizens of the Sun prepare her for this sort of thing? First off, she’s not 12 when she shows up as a serial killer - she’s like 17 at the youngest and then just kind of spends a bunch of comic book time at around that age. She’s aged up to only around 25 between the early ’80s and now. As such, she would have hit puberty on the island and there were probably some Citizens who were helpful through that process. Nobody really ages in “real time” - Unity showed up in her teens around ’89 or ’90 and that was 30 years ago now. A general, but still pretty nebulous guide is that somebody would age up 1 year over the course of around 100 issues [or months, so a little over 8 years real-time]. We can see the inconsistency by examining some long-running characters: Heritage is in his 50s now, but was in his 40s for forever as Legacy. Back in the ’50s and ’60s he was in his 20s and was only a few years older than Wraith. Now, she’s considerably younger than him. People age as necessary for the story.
- Expatriette: closest thing to an irrational fear is “running out of ammo” which is part of why she stockpiles/caches it around the place and keeps meticulous tabs on how much she’s got.
- You mentioned that if Blood Countess fed from a powered person, she’d gain some power from that - is that true for vampires in general or just her? The vampires that she directly makes also get a benefit like this, but she gets more of a boost than they do.
- All male vampires are subservient, but is that subservience to all female vampires or just the one that made them? If the latter, if she were to be killed would he then be “free”? It’s more about the societal thing within the Court - there isn’t some magic binding them to subservience, it’s just the way that the power structure within vampire society has been set up. Vampires that aren’t part of the Court in the first place are subservient to the Court, regardless of gender, and “male vampires will never be part of the Court” is baked into the structure, therefore all the men are subservient to Court members, and the Court is subservient to Blood Countess. There have been attempts (as mentioned, like “Dracula”) to change this. It didn’t work out well for them.
- Are Sentinel Comics werewolves vulnerable to silver or anything else? Silver will burn them (some connection to the moon or something). They mention “normal” stuff like fire and acid also burning them, though.
- You’ve mentioned that werewolves look like “hairy people”, so we talking lumberjack-hairy or the medical condition that likely started werewolf myths in the first place? They’re like Chewbaca-hairy. Not Robin Williams-hairy. They look like the classic Lon Cheney Jr. Wolf Man in their “natural” state, but also have “very hairy human” and “just a dog” transformation forms too.
- They already talked about Blood Countess’s fear and members of the other groups mentioned don’t all have the same fears as one another.
- You noted in the Settings of Power episode that Expatriette doesn’t really have citizenship of any nation, is there any attempt to legally prosecute her for that? How about for all of the gun-related deaths she’s responsible for in her youth? They’re question for you in response is, who is this person they’re going to prosecute? It’s not like Expatriette is a public figure. They can think of a late-’80s story where Chairman gets her arrested by the crooked cops and put through a kangaroo court to convict her of all the murders before she can break herself out. They also see room for a story about a detective trying to do the right thing, putting together that there’s this one person responsible for a lot of deaths and, in the process of tracking her down, getting to know something of her story and eventually just dropping things. She very much leads an extra-legal life. She doesn’t really “exist” in the legal system.
- While nobody’s weeping over the death of Spite, does a hero like Parse get any kind of legal protection for eliminating dangerous villains? Not “legal protection” per se, but looking at a situation where 1. there’s somebody going around killing people, 2. another person stops them, but 3. this “stopping” winds up killing them there’s probably going to be some court case that would decide things. Adam brings up a video he watched where a real lawyer talks about a superhero case where he says that a self-defense argument could have merit, plus in the Parse case there’s the threat to the bystander to take into consideration. We’re also operating in a comics world that obviously has a different approach to vigilantism than we see in the real world. Sure, there’s still going to be some constraints, but it always seems to work out.
- How did Miss Information not trigger Legacy’s Danger Sense? If she had some means of sidestepping that, why did she not do a better job preparing for Parse? Legacy’s Danger Sense is not Spider-man’s Spider Sense. It’s triggered by physical danger/impending doom. Miss Information’s actions were too subtle, innocuous in themselves, and under layer upon layer of obfuscation to trigger the Danger Sense. She knows about his ability and how to stay under the radar. Parse, on the other hand, is all about looking at the disconnected events and tracing them back to their common cause.
- Parse doesn’t have an irrational fears, but she does have concerns that she won’t be understood or listened to, like she’ll know what’s going on but won’t be able to convince people to listen to her. Miss Information has a fear, that she’s always having to tamp down in the back of her mind, that she’s wrong. That this iteration of the Freedom Five don’t deserve her wrath. It’s not quite a fear, but more a niggling doubt.
- Why did Bloogo die given that Jansa could prevent deaths in things like the Cosmic Contest? When you play a game at the Enclave and you defeat an Endling, are you killing the last of a race? You’re not killing them when you defeat an Endling. You’re knocking them out or sending them back to their enclosure or something. As for Bloogo, when Aeon Men attack the Enclave they damage the structure of the Enclave itself and the tech in place that preserves things and Bloogo dies while that’s offline. This is a big part of why Jansa takes the Enclave out of reality. She needs to get somewhere that will be safe while she gets the “Preservation Matrix” back online. [Christopher also mentions recently reading a note for one episode, I’ll quote what I had there: “Why did you kill off Bloogo? Without sacrifice there’s no meaning. Plus they like hurting you.” This was in the Cosmic Settings episode as part of a Powerhound question, at 1:23:10 if you want to revisit.]
- Bloogo is afraid of fish/things that live in the water because he can’t swim. Jansa is afraid of loss (of things, knowledge, etc.). Lifeline [who isn’t particularly addressed here, but is tied into Bloogo’s death] is afraid of lots of things. That’s why he goes to destroy the Earth - out of fear. He’s just not risk-averse.
- Can you dig into the complicated relationship Expatriette has with various Legacies due to her past experiences with powered people? Given that she first met Paul VIII when she went to Megalopolis to confront the team for being a facade for something bad (an antagonistic way to make a first impression), even when she helped them fight Baron Blade it seems likely that they wouldn’t trust her, right? Did Legacy see in her someone who could be steered into a more heroic role? How did he put aside the fact that she’d have just murdered a bunch of Blade Battalion members? Does he work with her one-on-one or is her rehabilitation more of a team effort? Would she see him as a poor example of the whole no-killing thing given that there’s so little that can actually hurt him in the first place? Have they opened up to one another emotionally at all? You’ve got a good handle on the first meeting. It’s not so much a “team effort” thing as other members, particularly Bunker and Wraith, would see her as a danger that needs to be put in a cell for a while. Legacy would be quick to point out that Bunker shoots people and Wraith is quite the vigilante herself - Expat is a lot like them, only misguided/without the upbringing that they had. Legacy’s work with her is as much explaining his world view and him listening to her explain hers as it is anything.
- How did she and Young Legacy meet? How/when/how often did they interact? Given their disparate childhood experiences, what do they have in common to talk about? Felicia would have been a notable side character for Legacy, but not in costume yet. So, when Expat met her it would come with a realization that this person is like her (very iconic, super-powerful parent) just with different outcomes from that experience. They wouldn’t be buddy-buddy, and can’t really connect over media, but their weird friendship (and “friendship” is generous) could be over things like Felicia noting that “We can’t connect over music or movies. Maybe you should listen to some music or watch some movies.” They didn’t really have many opportunities for such interactions, though. By ’89 Expat was already much more of a hero than a villain (for comparison Dark Watch wasn’t until ’99), so these interactions would have been in the mid-to-late ’80s leading up to the Terminal Ballistics book as a duo with Setback starting in ’91. This “low-level friendship” is part of the puzzle that lets her become more of a person.