The Letters Page: Episode 128
Run Time: 1:28:14
We banter about RPG stuff, then get into a series of conversations about just what comic book we're talking about today. You already know, due to the name of the episode and also the nifty cover art above!
We have a blast putting together all the building blocks, telling the story, answering your question, and discussing the cover. We hope you enjoy it, too!
- This episode was chosen to be about Void Guard and their time in the Bloodsworn Colosseum. This required them to figure out exactly what issue that would have been. They land on the 6-issue limited series that began in March 2015, Deepest Space #1.
- They knew that February 2014 the Soutwest Sentinels title ends with them grabbing these weird glowing rocks and then disappearing. A year goes by without people knowing where they wound up or what they were doing until they show up again in Cosmic Tales #540. That issue introduces them as “Void Guard” and shows them doing their space thing fighting space enemies. We are shown a few short montage/flashback things to show what they’ve been up to over the last year, but in the end they are captured by the Bloodsworn Colosseum and there’s an editor’s note pointing readers to Deepest Space #1 coming next month to continue the story.
- The same month as that Cosmic Tales issue, we also get the Cosmic Redemption one-shot that sets up Lifeline through a series of vignettes as he talks to a bunch of the Endlings and returns to Earth (where he sees destruction he’s caused, works with Naturalist, etc.). A question it doesn’t even have time to ask is why Tarogath isn’t immediately attacked when he returns to Earth.
- The Deepest Space book does two things: it introduces Void Guard and sets up Lifeline more than the one-shot could (as we’ve been told before, he helps Void Guard fight their way out of the Colosseum and then they vouch for him on Earth).
- Strangely enough, the Void Guard title itself doesn’t wait until Deepest Space is done - it starts up in May, the same month as issue #3 of the limited series. There was a lot of scheduling weirdness that was caused by the approach of the OblivAeon event and so VG were in two places at once and they just had to put disclaimers in the main book pointing confused people to the limited series that, while published simultaneously, took place earlier. At least this scheduling SNAFU didn’t cause the storytelling to suffer - it was all good and made sense once you understood the order of events. The OblivAeon era in general was pretty great in terms of art and storytelling, it just all had to get crammed into a publication timeline that was less than optimal.
What to Cover?
- Adam tries to jump right into the story (in medias res with Mainstay getting punched during a gladiator match), but Christopher wants to step back and figure out what needs to happen in this specific issue. They know that #1 is going to be about Void Guard, #2 is about Lifeline talking with Jansa and whatnot, with #3 having them fight, #4-5 bringing them together and him helping them, culminating in the big Lifeline/Kaargra fight, and #6 showing them leave the Colosseum, return to Earth, and VG vouching for Lifeline.
- Do they even want Lifeline to appear in this issue at all? Maybe just a last-page setup for the next issue? Adam comes up with the idea that the issue ends with Tarogath being introduced as their next foe in the Colosseum, making #2 a flashback to show how he got there and ending with him coming out to face these Void Guard people.
- So… if they’re captured already and we end with them getting ready to fight Tarogath at the end, what is there to put in this issue other than a bunch of gladiator matches? I mean, that’s fine and could be a fun way to spend half the issue regardless of what else they come up with, but there should probably be something more to it, right? There’s probably a chunk that’s them talking to Kaargra too. So between that, the fights, and the teaser with Lifeline there’s not a whole lot else they need to invent for this issue in terms of broad strokes. Oh, obviously some character beats for each of the VG members themselves (maybe in solo fights) to reestablish their character dynamics/development:
- Mainstay is the least-changed as tough punchy guy (so start with him).
- Idealist has much more complicated constructs now than she had in the past (plus more confidence in herself and her powers)
- Dr. Medico is turning his healing powers to offensive uses which is new (like, activating pain receptors in his opponent or something).
- Writhe just has his creepy factor turned up to 11.
- This has come together rather quickly. We’ll have a solo fight for each of them, some interstitial scenes between fights to show them together, a scene where they interact with Kaargra, and the Tarogath reveal.
- So, now they need 1) who each of them fights, 2) what titles they each earn (as that’s a recurring gimmick of Colosseum stories - these could also be nods to who these characters have become in the intervening year), 3) what the interstitial scenes are about.
- Starting off with Mainstay, we would want the fight to be up against another brawler. Just a total slug-fest. Internal monologue could be about just how much has changed between where he started and where he’s wound up.
- Hey, if they stick to that format (lots of inner monologue during the four fights) they could even do away with the interstitial scenes entirely, which is good as it frees up page-space for the other stuff. Just have one group scene after the Writhe fight before they have their talk with Kaargra before the big Tarogath-in-gladiator-getup splash page to end it.
- Topic of the group scene can be about their “family” with Kaargra’s bit being around seeing how well this “team” does against a world-ender. Actually, “The World-Ender” makes a pretty kick-ass title for Tarogath to have.
- They basically wind up playing Mad-Libs™ with how the rest of the pieces need to go together (Mainstay fights [gladiator] while thinking about [monologue topic] and earns the title [thematically appropriate title]. There’s also the question of whether the gladiators should all be new characters or not as well, or if we only get one fight for each or if there’s a series in each section so that we get more of an impression that they’ve been at this a while. They land on a single fight with a new-to-comics gladiator each as they only get a few pages per hero for the fights, so make them as cool as possible for Bloodsworn purposes.
New Gladiator Ideas
- Mainstay fight should be a big bruiser, as mentioned. Adam’s initial thought is somebody who can grow extra limbs at will from anywhere on their body, which could make for some interesting grappling, but they put a pin in this as they want to get some stuff down for the others first.
- Idealist should probably face some kind of horde - either some Proletariat-like thing where it’s all one person or something like a wolf pack. Maybe some of them are psychic projections and aren’t even physically there.
- An interesting idea for Medico could be something that has a fast-healing ability and that he could turn that against it somehow. Adam likes the idea of having this thing be more of a beast/monster than a person. They don’t want to double-up on “healing” for the bruiser for Mainstay to fight.
- The Medico part also prompts the idea that they all get issued gladiator gear that they reject over the course of the fight. Like, Medico starts by running up to the thing and slashing it with the sword he’s been issued. He sees the thing heal and then just drops the “toys” he’s been given so that he can just do what he does. Once they have that idea they like the visual of them all having the gladiator look imposed on them, but they stop playing along. Designing gladiator costumes for each of them would be fun.
- Writhe should fight some puppies or orphans or something. Whatever they have Writhe fight, the reader should feel bad the whole time. For real, though, by the end of this readers should not feel good about Writhe. Through Southwest Sentinels his story was one of redemption. Through Void Guard his story is one of “Woah, woah, WOAH!. Dial it back, buddy.” as he falls again. So maybe his opponent here is somebody charismatic who actually wants to be there and is a crowd favorite. Writhe just takes him apart/embarrasses him - maybe not as creepy as he’s going to get over the next couple of years, but still something that readers would qualify as “too far”.
- [I’m imposing some structure on this to have some consistency, so each member’s entry might have bits slightly out of order from where they discussed it.]
- So, they’re starting in the middle of the Mainstay fight (with him getting clocked a good one and flung across the arena). They decide on a rock monster of some sort. It may be pedestrian in terms of “wow-factor”, but we haven’t seen Mainstay fight one, so it’s not retreading old ground. Importantly, we can see him punch it, do minimal damage, and hurt his hand in the process. This gives him an excuse to do his own Shard-powered rock-form thing, which the readers wouldn’t have seen before. The “extra limb” thing could easily still be part of the rock monster shtick, maybe even changing the ground itself into limbs to attack him - although maybe “earth” more than “rock” would work better. He eventually can actually damage it by charging his chain with Shard power.
- Gladiator look: he’s already got his Shard-on-a-chain, so they don’t need to give him a weapon. Maybe just add the whole sandals/leather straps aesthetic to his existing look, which is already pretty gladiator-adjacent, so it’s not like he needs much adjusting.
- Opponent: Their standard process of throwing out thematically-appropriate words and then checking for availability vs. existing characters being what it is, they come up with Tritus. They’re imagining something like Graveler only more dirt than rock - just a conglomeration of loose dirt, rocks, trash, etc. that just shifts around and has stuff dropping out of it constantly.
- Inner monologue: something about comparing this to old simple joys like riding his bike and getting into bar fights and look at him now. They like the idea of him thinking about how “everywhere it’s the same” in terms of getting into fights. As weird as this fight against living rocks and dirt is, people are people wherever you go. You just gotta do your best for the people you care about. Mainstay’s story here is real simple and they’re going to go weirder from here.
- Title: with the fight turning into “earthen mass” vs. “rock person”, they like the title of “The Crag”.
- Coming back to how to do the “horde enemy” concept in a new way (that’s not just Proletariat, Hive-Mind, or the psychic copies thing that seems too samey compared to Idealist’s own powers). Adam just throws out the idea that it’s quintuplets or something - not even a “one being in many bodies” thing, just identical people who fight together. Christopher one-ups (two-ups?) him by suggesting septuplets. They’re humanoid aliens, but the species can mind-meld with their family members or something so that they fight “as one”. She has to fend them off and eventually disrupts their connection with each other. Thinking about her power set in particular (which isn’t really a telepathic thing, so she’s not going to be messing with their minds directly), Christopher comes up with an idea that she is getting worn down as they’re just “too much”. Then she realizes that “Wait, I’m great at ‘too much!’” and then just makes lots of extra copies of these guys, eventually one of them tries to connect with one of her copies, and their whole mental thing falls apart.
- Gladiator look: Go with the full helmet with narrow eye slits. That would look good with her glowing eyes. Since she’s already got her Shard on a bracer, balance that out with another and some matching grieves. Throw on a cape for good measure.
- Opponent: Having arrived at septuplets, they try to do something with “lucky number 7” and struggle a bit to try to figure out a way to distinguish them from one another that plays into that (standard dice only go up to 6, there are only 3 permutations of 2 dice that add to seven [6 permutations if the dice are distinguishable], etc.), but eventually land on having a logo of a standard 6-sided die, but the value on top actually shows 7 pips for one member. It’s explicitly part of their gimmick. It’s also fun to posit that they’re team name is The Lucky Number Seven, where the Seven is a reference to the number of members [like Ocean’s 11 or whatever].
- Inner monologue: they want to tie this into her tactics of fending off/disrupting the opponents. She’s got a lot of internal struggle against this dark part of herself buried deep inside going on throughout her story, and they want to hint at it here. Mainstay’s here to fight and protect his family. She’s got an internal thread of “I’m a good person doing good things” fighting against that deep dark part of her that says “I’m want to kill everything.” They don’t want to have her give in to these impulses at all at this point, just acknowledge that it’s there. Maybe don’t show it in terms of a specific bad thing that’s offered as a suggestion that she rejects (for now), but just that some part of her ego is talking her up about how great she is and that she can do anything, etc. (and that she takes the thing that her foes here are doing - lots of them working together - and she shows how she’s the best by doing it better than them). In terms of “inner darkness” things are going to escalate: none for Mainstay, a bare acknowledgement of existence for Idealist, a reluctant tapping of it for Medico, and then embracing it with Writhe.
- Title: so she’s overcoming odds that were against her (there’s a good bit about “The Dubious” and why it’s not right here, but is funny and they can’t go with “The Long Shot” for reasons, so they go with “Dark Horse”.
- So the opponent is going to be some big beast (of the “half shark, half alligator, half man” variety - some ridiculous combination monster like that). They like the idea of him going in with the sword he’s been issued (scratch that, a trident is cooler), slashing at it, and seeing it heal. Then it bashes the gear out of his hands. He starts to go retrieve it until thinking better of it and just using his powers. Talking about giving him a trident and what some of the animal combinations, they like the idea of it being a semi-aquatic beast and he gets dragged under water before losing his weapon. He starts to swim down for it before giving up on that and just going with what he knows. He really ramps up its healing abilities, which essentially means that it develops some horrifying,growths as it bloats up. It rears up in agony and throws him aside. When he loses contact with it the thing reverts back to its old self, but collapses in exhaustion. So, he doesn’t kill the thing, but this is a bit of a shock for readers to see just how bad Medico can make things.
- Gladiator look: He’s already got the trident.
- Opponent: it just needs some kind of weird creature name. They come up with the Gronnfahr.
- Inner monologue: very clinical going through what he’s going to do to it - overloading its synapses or something as long as he’s touching it. They like the idea of him trying to analyze its physiology as he’s going about things too - being out in space, he’s had reason to try to learn more about how alien bodies work. Part of the “that’s maybe a bit too far, Doctor” thing can be him thinking of this creature as an object, an assemblage of parts, rather than a living feeling being. Other thoughts thrown in about it being similar to something else he’s come across (or several things, including like a lion or something from Earth - enough examples to bring home the point that he’s been a lot of places) or his analysis of some piece of its metabolism or something - calm, professional analysis while it’s writhing in torment. They don’t think that this cold analysis is normally part of his personality (he’s not nearly as analytical as Tachyon), but it’s something he can “turn on” when necessary. He’s still a doctor and while his external communication has some actual bedside manner to it, this is still under there.
- Title: they like the idea of it tying into his being a doctor since they’ve done so much of that with him (like “The Clinical”), but that wasn’t really an apparent part of the fight. A horrifyingly appropriate title is “The Giver”.
- This is going to be up against that crowd-favorite champion guy and is the most “persony” gladiator we see them fight, somebody extremely charismatic and attractive (going back to an earlier off-the-air conversation they’d had about an objectively attractive man, they bring up a particular stand-in). This brings up the fact that, in this match, Writhe is the “monster” who’s jumping out of shadows and being gooey and whatnot. This guy is here for glory and loves it - he probably could have left a long time ago if he’d wanted. The way this has to end is with Writhe completely destroying that for him in some way. It doesn’t necessarily have to even be something that gives him a challenge. The “humane” thing for Writhe to do would be to just defeat him, but he toys with him instead, showing that this guy can’t even really fight Writhe and that fact makes him more desperate over the course of the fight. They like the idea of Writhe getting tired of simply evading him and eventually doing something like what we see him do to Biomancer and scaring him until he’s shrieking, huddled in a ball, and crying.
- Gladiator look: we’ve already seen them in the process of branding him (one of his foil incaps), so that’s on him and then give him shoulder spikes or something.
- Opponent: easy pick of something like The Centurion. He’s the most gladiator-looking guy we’ve seen in the Colosseum.
- Inner monologue: none. We had his teammates thinking about fighting and the journey to get here, trying to stay positive and how they could be the best, and some clinical calculation coupled with categorizing details. Writhe doesn’t have anything up until he’s won and taken this guy to pieces in front of the crowd that loves him, when he thinks something laconic like “Good.” Adam compares the target vibe here to this rather brutal scene from Fight Club (click at your own risk). By contrast, we can have the champion guy come out and have some rousing pre-fight interaction with the crowd and some narration boxes more from his perspective than Writhe’s. After being scared off, maybe Writhe’s dismissive comment to him can be calling him “Child.”
- Title: “The Terror” is on-point.
Deepest Space #1, March 2015
- The book opens with Tritus punching Mainstay. Probably with a few panels of him getting knocked around. It could even be nice to intersperse panels of similar things happening in old bar fights as he thinks about these things (like, having Tritus grab a guard’s spear and hitting Mainstay with it, mirrored by somebody breaking a pool cue over him in a bar somewhere). He eventually does his Shard Strength transformation and defeats Tritus. We can end with him thinking something along the lines of “in any bar fight it’s important to know where your friends are.” And this can transition to him watching the Idealist fight.
- She fights the Lucky Number Seven, throwing psychic knives and robots at them, but she can’t deal with their coordination. She’s gotta be the very best and eventually starts making copies of them since what she’s trying isn’t working, so she decides to just do what they’re doing instead, which causes their coordination to fall apart. Yeah, see, whatever somebody else can do, she can do better.
- Dr. Medico fights the Gronnfahr, some horrible animal mash-up monster in a semi-aquatic arena. He starts with a trident, loses it under the water, and he starts to retrieve it before dismissing it and just doing horrifying stuff to this thing while being coldly clinical about it.
- Centurion, everybody’s favorite gladiator, fights this monster called Writhe. He’s utterly ineffective and is eventually terrified into a mewling little ball of terror.
- The four of them are brought together in the gladiator quarters. They’ve been through a lot and need to find a way out of here, but at the same time they’ve got to play these games. Eventually Kaargra demands to see them.
- She brings up the fact that the four of them seem to think of each other as some kind of “family” so it might be interesting to see how they fare against The World-Ender. Then we see gladiator-esque Tarogath.
- What was your highlight of this story - the moment that makes you set down the comic for a moment? Which of the gladiators came closest to winning? The Lucky Number Seven came closest to winning as they had Idealist on the ropes before she came up with the right tactic. Sure, Mainstay was getting beat up, but that’s not new. Medico was not really ever worried about his safety (and we don’t have a great handle on how he even exists as a being in the first place) and Writhe was never in any danger. Hard to say whether Centurion or the Gronnfahr had it the worst in this issue. The highlight in that it would make you take a moment is probably Medico dealing with the Gronnfahr. The reveal at the end of Tarogath is probably a big surprise moment as well.
- Do any of the Void Guard (or Lifeline) earn a title? Yes, as described in the main part of the episode.
- On the Cosmic Contest cover, why are they in their pre-Void Guard appearances? The sad truth is that Adam drew that cover well before “Void Guard” was even a concept, let alone the timeline project happen that established when things were (Cosmic Contest was May 2015, the same month as the first Void Guard issue). So, in any event Cosmic Contest happens when Void Guard are a very new concept and also takes place in a kind of weird time in terms of continuity as it doesn’t disrupt any of the stories actually going on at the time (other than whatever Baron Blade was up to prior). Christopher goes so far as to justify the cover by saying that the cover artist for it was given a list of all of the characters to put on it, but they didn’t know about some of the character changes that were going on, such as Void Guard.
- How similar are Dr. Medico’s and Citizen Spring’s powers? Could she do harm like Malpractice Dr. Medico if she wanted? Similar in that they’re using life energy to undo injuries, but she’s less precise in its application. Her approach is very much in the vein of a “magic spell” where she just waves some life energy over the person and they get better - she can’t reverse the polarity to harm. Dr. Medico is doing medical stuff with healing energy. These might wind up being similar in end result, but hers is much more general.
- What are XTREME Void Guard up to? That sounds like a Writer’s Room idea, although by the time that Void Guard were even a thing Disparation was fully into the La Comodora stuff. Maybe a fun thing to play around with is the fact that she actually does show up at one point with Void Guard, but maybe she went to the Extremeverse first to get them, but they were busy, and so she had to settle for the basic model.
- It’s weird as its a limited series #1 issue. Maybe the best thing to do is just have the four of them in their gladiator getups ready to fight Kaargra. Given that the fight with Kaargra actually happens later, maybe we go simpler for this (this is also probably the eventual cover for the collected trade). The idea eventually settled on is a more abstract thing showing the four of them in their getups, but it’s arranged more like a promotional poster that might get slapped up by the Bloodsworn Colosseum’s marketing people.