The Letters Page: Episode 129
Run Time: 1:09:53
We recorded this episode the day before Thanksgiving, but now it's the week after Thanksgiving! How does time even work?
We talk about a bunch of space stuff, to the point of even crafting and telling multiple tales, due to the anthology nature of the Cosmic Tales book at this point.
Around 32 minutes in, we get to your questions!
The day after this episode releases, we're recording another episode on a Wednesday - two weeks in a row! Amazing! This one is happening because we're about to be in Philadelphia for PAX Unplugged, so if you're around there, come find us!
Catch you next time!
- So, the Enclave of the Endlings. What to do with them? They’ve been around since the early ’60s based on the general aesthetic of the place and pops up occasionally up until the lead-up to OblivAeon when it disappears, so there’s a lot of room to play with. Maybe do the origin issue? That seems like the natural thing to do for a Writer’s Room episode, but for the sake of options, let’s run through some more.
- Not Cosmic Contest as it’s not really an Enclave story. Maybe something where a hero like Captain Cosmic winds up in a conflict with them. Possibly something like Voss/Thorathians invading, or a F.I.L.T.E.R. team coming in. Basically any “space” thing is fair game (so Sky-Scraper or Tempest could work). Let’s just do the origin, though, as it’s the strongest starting point for our first Enclave Writer’s Room.
- What does this mean, though? The first appearance of the place is unlikely to be what we’d think of as “an Enclave of the Endlings story” - it’s more likely to just be a weird wrinkle in some other story. Or even just some characters like Jansa showing up for the first time and doing something.
- Now that we’ve picked that, where can it go in the timeline? Cosmic Tales is the obvious title as it’s the weird space stuff book and fits the time frame we’re interested in (volume 1 running from January ’41 through November ’68). The original Golden Age Captain Cosmic’s story ended with him riding his comet out into unknown space in ’52. CT is still an anthology book with disconnected stories in it, so having an astronaut get sent through a black hole or something and winding up in the Enclave would be a fine thing to have happen. By the early ’60s and the space race heating up space stories had started to move from an H. G. Wells-style fantasy of “anything can happen” kind of genre to a more “realistic” one (the Soviets had started trying to launch stuff to Mars in 1960, which is when Sentinel Comics one-upped them by putting a research base on Mars already).
- Bringing up the space race, is it too much to have it be a Soviet cosmonaut instead of an American astronaut? Maybe have one of each? We’re past the McCarthy era, but are still firmly in the Cold War. It could be a situation where they both think that something horrible has happened back on Earth (some strange transmission from Mission Control just as they were getting transported to the Enclave?) and think they’re the last two people - but Jansa only takes the very last person from a civilization. They claim that they’re obviously very different, but she insists upon all of the ways that they’re the same. Nice heavy-handed moralism!
- As it’s an anthology, what else do they want to have going on in this issue? The Enclave is going to be like 10 pages of the issue and is the only notable thing that sticks. Maybe it’s not even the cover story and it’s at the end of the book. Christopher likes the idea of two short stories that bracket a medium-length story and then we end with the slightly longer Enclave story. Maybe play up the astro/cosmonaut thing and have the short stories each told from the perspective of one of them (more heavy-handed stuff: maybe a cosmonaut discovers on an alien world that Communism is wrong! - no mirroring story for our American, though). Do they want one of the earlier stories to set up the “Earth is destroyed” thing? Nah, readers are used to these things being disconnected. Jansa can burst their bubbles about being the “last” anyway and also lay down some straight talk about the eventual human Endling won’t have these dumb divisions.
- This “we’re not that different, you and I” thing might actually what got the Enclave picked up as a recurring thing. That may have been a notable enough stance taken to get it noticed (possibly even getting some backlash from readers/government).
- More date/positioning - Voss first shows up personally in January ’62 and is often used by the writers to “say something”. Do they want this Enclave story to pre-date him? Probably, but not by much, so probably sometime in fall ’61. Cosmic Tales #250 is October, but this doesn’t feel like a big important milestone issue. Even better, this can be issue #251 from November ’61. Just a run-of-the-mill issue with some space stories to follow up the more “important” issue the previous month (which could have prompted a readership bump just in time for this one as well).
- Christopher’s pitch for a story: American astronaut is doing a thing about how now that we’re going to space we’ll really have an edge against the Commies and whatnot. Important men, doing important things, etc. Then he finds out that rather than being this important guy, he discovers that space already has a lot of people in it and he’s really from some little backwater planet that nobody really cares about.
- Adam’s pitch: Astronaut goes out and finds a planet that seems to be just getting started on this evolution thing. Then some old alien shows up and tells him that no, he’s been watching this planet for a long time and the people here destroyed themselves. Then we get the reveal that due to time dilation we’re actually in the far future of Earth.
- Christopher likes the idea of combining those - the guy goes out and discovers he’s a small fish in a big pond and then gets hit with the “Earth all along” thing once he finds this “primitive” planet. This knocks things down to just 3 stories in the book.
- They need the alien that the astronaut meets who’d been watching Earth and they need the “Communist Aliens” that the cosmonaut meets. The Enclave is largely already there for them.
- They haven’t really done a Watcher character - they’ve touched on some themes with Jansa and the Celestial Tribunal, but that’s not quite the same thing. It’s not exactly like they need to create something going forward, though. This is meant to be a far-future thing. It could even be a robot instead of an alien - that might be even better for the guy to be wandering around this primitive world and then finding some incongruous futuristic computer/robot console or something that he finds and then fixes/hooks up to his ship to power it.
- That’s basically the whole story. Important astronaut guy discovers Earth is a backwater that nobody wants to go to. He thinks this is okay as everybody has to start somewhere and in the future we’re going to be great. Finds the desolate planet and we get some good space scenery from the artists as he explores. He finds the gizmo, fixes it up and turns it on, and then it relates the history of this place and we end with the reveal that humanity killed themselves rather than the glorious future he’d imagined. Or rather, let’s even make this a woman astronaut who’s billed in the story as the first woman in space (so for this 1961 story, have it set in ’67 or something). She goes out and gets some tech from the aliens she meets, but then has some trouble with her ship and she sets down on this planet and finds the chronicle device. Rather than learning where she is from it, she finally gets her navigation system up and running again at the end and that’s what tells her she’s already on Earth.
- Playing with the near-future time the first story is set in, they like the idea of placing this one right around the corner or even have it be a secret project that’s already happened in the last year or something.
- They already know they want to do the “Communism is bad” story, and it’s going to be really heavy-handed [Christopher name-drops a story called “Judgement Day” which was an infamously controversial story in what wound up being the last comic published by EC where they ran afoul of Comics Code Authority censors - it was actually a reprint that had appeared in a different title pre-CCA and you can see it here including the resulting letters page a few issues later], but how do they portray it in such a way that when presented to a Communist character he’ll perceive it as bad? The real trick is not having the cosmonaut just dismiss the bad stuff as being the result of bad leadership rather than the system itself. Maybe start off with him justifying how some stuff back home works to somebody and then have the bad stuff here become obvious and when he points it out to somebody they say basically the same stuff he’d said about the USSR, which makes him unable to fail to see the comparisons.
- We can have our astronaut crash land at the Enclave and his ship’s sensors are telling him that Earth exploded or something. Jansa shows up and gives him the tour, prompting him to think he’s the last man. Jansa corrects him by saying that somebody else just arrived last week and she takes him to the other guy who’s got the hammer and sickle insignia going, so we know what’s up.
- Cue the arguments about them being so obviously different, etc. Probably leading to a fist fight that Jansa breaks up. Maybe the actual tour is here with both of them rather than just the American.
- Jansa explains that they both got sucked through the same distortion field, which is what brought them here, but also is what messed up their ships so that they crashed and made their sensor readings show that Earth had been destroyed. There are still millions of humans and you’re all the same, so get your $#!& together.
- The tour she gives is where we establish a lot of the stuff we know about the Enclave (what she’s doing with bringing the last members of civilizations here, a bunch of the individual members that we know and love, etc.). It’s all just backdrop for the moralism, though.
- We probably want them to go back to Earth on the same ship as friends, but there’s not a lot here so far to prompt that. Maybe during the introduction to other Endlings we can have them being rather speciesist towards the humans and so we get some mutual support between them in these conversations with aliens.
- So, they want the three stories to have bleak, bleak, and hopeful endings, so they’re not actually going to do this, but Christopher had an idea for the ending that was done by the creative team, but then pared back by the editorial staff: Jansa gives them the ship they’re sharing for the trip back and that’s the published “friendship” ending. The full ending would have them approaching Earth, getting hailed by the Americans and the Soviets, but being unable to figure out how to respond, they get blown up by both who think they’re invading aliens. You can find those cut panels online now in the meta-verse - they were replaced with some text talking about the moral here, so Sentinel Comics was still being a bit brave in their approach, just without the downer ending.
- Which, if any, of the Endlings (besides Deadline) attacked Earth over the decades? Did they get welcomed back to the Enclave? To think things through a bit, after this first appearance we probably don’t see the Enclave again until Legacy and Black Fist wind up there. It’s mostly just used as a setting for other stories, not the source of antagonists. There is a story where Orbo leaves the Enclave. His race may be gone, but he’s going to be the most powerful Satellan ever. Here’s where we learn their shtick - he’s basically a planetary vampire that bites onto other planets and drains off their resources. In this story he does this to Jupiter, with the implication that Earth would be down the line. The heroes show up to fight it, but eventually Jansa has to step in to take Orbo back to the Enclave - actually requesting the heroes help in wrangling this thing as he’s pretty powerful due to his recent feeding. This prompts the question of what would happen if somebody were to kill an Endling. If it happened in the Enclave, she’d be furious and would probably either destroy them on the spot or at least fling them out into space. Jansa isn’t all-powerful, but when compared to a human she might as well be (and she’s even more powerful in the Enclave itself). If an Endling left and got killed (like if Deadline had been killed during his attack on Earth), she’d grieve and would probably lament her inability to save everyone, but Deadline was attacking a planet and they have the right to protect themselves. As for being “welcomed” back… not every Endling is really part of the community there. Orbo and Immutus stand apart (and Immutus just kind of stands there in general). Orbo was “welcomed back” in that Jansa went and brought him back - once again bringing up the question of is the Enclave a prison? A zoo? A retirement community? Tarogath was probably punished in some way when he returned (taking all of his toys away for a while).
- Can you tell us the story of Black Fist and Legacy at the Enclave? Not in this episode as it would be a whole thing on its own. That’s a Justice Comics issue from, probably, the mid-to-late ’60s [Black Fist was introduced in JC all the way back in January ’51].
- Were there any heroes/villains besides Parse that sought out Jansa (or other Endlings) for knowledge/advice? Captain Cosmic goes there pretty regularly in the later years, even by the ’70s it was probably a not-uncommon place for him to wind up for one reason or another. The thousands of Endlings there are a trove of information that he could use something like a library to find out about whatever it was he was dealing with at the time. It got introduced in the issue today described, visited a few years later by Legacy and Black Fist, and then got fleshed out a lot in vol. 2 of Cosmic Tales in the ’70s.
- Besides Lost, what do Endlings gather together for? There aren’t a lot of gatherings. Friend groups form between them, but there aren’t things like “Endling Holidays” that would bring them all together. It’s not a very warm place. Some of the more humanoid/sapient ones might have formed something like a community. Think about people who live in a large apartment building - there isn’t really ever a big get-together with everybody just because they all live in the same structure, but they’re all vaguely aware of each other and some become friends with each other.
- When Jansa decided to remove the Enclave from reality, did she do any last-minute recruiting? Like, if she was convinced that all of reality was about to end, wouldn’t any person from a civilization wind up being an Endling once that happened? She’s not into making Endlings. Although that’s a good idea for an evil version of her, possibly from the Inversiverse - she grabs one member of a civilization and then kills the rest. The story of her leaving is much more about Tarogath, so we don’t see her going around to do this as it would undercut what the point of the story was (plus she wouldn’t really have the time - this was more of a preserving of what she already had as she was running scared, which is notable in itself as she’s always seemed like this inevitable immortal being).
- How did Bloogo’s species get reduced to one? Hunted for their delicious, delicious Ahpan meat. That was Christopher’s off-the-cuff answer, but the more he thinks about it the more he likes the idea that they were the most intelligent species on their planet, but not the top of the food chain. There was some other sapient, less-intelligent, carnivorous people on the planet who hunted them into extinction (but for Bloogo). Adam then chimes in with the idea that Ahpan meat is now this legendary delicacy throughout the galaxy and that there are people out there who would eat Bloogo if given the chance.
- During the many attacks on the Enclave over the years, how many enemies has Bloogo defeated himself (either deliberately or inadvertently)? Not many. He’s defended many other Endlings, but he’s not one to attack.
- How jealous of Bloogo’s popularity is Guise? Guise doesn’t have this petty jealousy that you’re attributing to him (Christopher then jokes that he did think it was good for him when Bloogo died, though - it’s a funny bit with his delivery, but they make it clear-ish that this isn’t what actually happened). Also the joke that the real tragedy is that nobody’s going to use the opportunity to eat that delicious Ahpan meat.
- [First Birthday notice: requesting “Gordon Freeman Saved My Life” by Miracle of Sound]
- Once, while playing SotM, I was prompted to wonder why Bloogo would choose to shield the TCF Stalwart from harm, thus ensuring a successful invasion of the Enclave, let alone how he could protect the whole thing given the size disparity or how he’d get to it in the first place; when I voiced this question on Discord Christopher, a well-known liar, responded only with “Bloogo loves spaceships” - I come now seeking the truth of the matter: does Bloogo love space ships? Yes. Sure there’s all of these Thorathians and Gene-Bound running around with all of the other Endlings, but then he sees somebody trying to attack a spaceship? That won’t do.
- Who made the garments that Bloogo is wearing? Those are traditional Ahpan garments that they weave cooperatively with their horns from thread that they actually excrete themselves [said as a gross joke, but then given the “canon” label so…].
- How big exactly is the Stalwart? Are the other ships shown around it the same size as the TCF Conqueror? Yes, those tiny ships are Dreadnauts - the Stalwart is truly enormous. It’s an oblong saucer shape, about 10km by 6km. It’s the flagship and most of the Thorathian forces are on it.
- You’ve both said before how much you like the Enclave, but there can only be one human Endling - each of you, if you were chosen as The Last Human, which Endling would you choose to be your new co-host on your podcast? Assuming we’re at a time when they’re all around: not Bloogo, Gruum, Orbo, or Korrupton. It’d have to be a new podcast in general, so maybe we should pick the subject first. Christopher would (at least to start with until he gets a better idea/this one peters out) start one with Urdid about the pros and cons of various types of weaponry - Urdid would have opinions on that sort of thing. Adam would do a comedy podcast with Immutus. The entire joke of it is spent in the first episode (he keeps prompting his co-host to voice an opinion and getting no response at all), but he keeps doing hundreds of them. Very dry, NPR-style titled “Unmuted”. Could be a fun joke after a few episodes to have somebody stand in for Immutus and be really talkative - have a disclaimer that they’re sorry for the technical difficulties in prior episodes, Immutus’ mic wasn’t working.
- [Referring back a few episodes to the Citizen Dawn Extremeverse story:] Sword & Sorcery elemental-pirates vs tech-ninjas led by an eternal laser dragon, that’s going to be a board game, even if I have to make it myself - wait, I should be asking a question: Disparation #50 would have fallen right around the speculator bubble in comics, which saw the proliferation of comics with variant covers done by either the normal artist for the book, or a series of guest artists; who would each of you choose to do a variant cover for Disparation #50 and how would you want it to be different from the main cover? Unfortunately for the conceit of the question, this was Disparation volume 2 #50, which was in ’06 not the prime time for the speculation market. Alternate covers are still a thing, though, so we’ll still answer. Christopher wants a sea of ninjas vs. a handful of elemental pirates drawn by Joe Madureira (Adam thinks that cover idea would be a better Frank Miller piece). Adam was thinking of a more subdued cover by either Oliver Coipel or Jim Cheung. A lot of these are still kind of “standard comics artists”, though, and maybe for a variant cover they want to go with something a bit more out there like a Boris Vallejo who seems pretty perfect for the subject matter. Another option is Wayne Reynolds.
- How prevalent were variant covers/guest artists in general in Sentinel Comics/the meta-verse? Somewhat common - it’s going to be one of those things that’s pretty similar to the real world, only the speculator market wasn’t catered to quite as much and things don’t get as exploitative and store-adversarial as things got here. Sentinel Comics didn’t participate in such practices that hurt small/local comics shops as they see how important those are for the industry, much like how Greater Than Games recognizes the importance of your Friendly Local Game Store.
- This is a tough one given the fact that they’ve got three different space-race stories to choose from. The Enclave probably doesn’t go on the cover. They probably want something that reads as Soviet/Communist on there. It doesn’t have to be representative of what’s inside. Adam is going to punt on the discussion here this time around as he really needs to do some research into what anthology books of that era looked like, but it’s likely going to be something from one of the first two stories.