The Letters Page: Episode 130
We accidentally got over ambitious with this one!
Run Time: 1:17:59
We just got back from PAX Unplugged, but we recorded this right before we left! We goofed around for a few minutes, but after only about 4 minutes of goofs, we got right to business!
We craft enough framing for a story that we end up doing both parts 1 and 2 in one episode! So speedy!
Around the 50 minute mark, we get into your questions.
At about an hour and 10 minutes in, we talk a bit about the covers, both of which can be seen above!
This episode is released on Tuesday, December 10th. This Friday, December 13th, we'll be recording a live Editor's Note at 11 AM Central time! So, if you're on The Letters Page Patreon, you can watch and potentially even join in! We hope to see you there!
- Exciting starting off point as they’ve never before really talked about Galactra’s first appearance. She has to first appear after the modern Captain Cosmic’s introduction. Looking into the options, they decide that her first appearance isn’t in Cosmic Tales, but rather in the Conflux title that kind of acts as an “annual” book for CT. The plot where she tries to steal a moon that Captain Cosmic talks her out of was in Conflux #3 [we knew both that this was her first encounter with CC and we knew that Conflux #3 was an issue regarding her, but we didn’t know for certain that these were the same issue]. This issue was in March ’72.
- So, while this could be an option. It’s a kind of annual book that introduces her as a character and that her gimmick is that she’s an alien with powers comparable to Captain Cosmic’s. We don’t get so much her story at this point, though, just the plot involving the moon and Hugh having to talk her out of things (more than just “now we fight” as the resolution, it’s a more personal connection). We get the sense that she’s a strident, passionate person right from the jump, but her powers are pretty ill-defined at this point.
- Alternately, they could choose the later issue where we get more of her backstory, which would require some more inspection of the spreadsheet to find a spot that fits. Adam thinks that we go for a third option as this one (which could have been just a back-up story in an issue of Cosmic Tales or something) would probably not really factor Captain Cosmic if it’s focused on her backstory where she basically just demands power from the universe and gets it (not even having the framework of “Singular Entities” available at this point to explain it). They have some back-and-forth on placing this and wind up thinking that this is probably still sometime in the ’70s - this early in CC’s run and as a recurring opponent, there’s no way they let the decade of the ’70s pass without getting into whatever cosmic weirdness she has. The decade was full of convoluted, trippy space stuff that everyone loved explaining, so this wouldn’t have remained a mystery for long. They pin this to a backup story in CT vol. 2 #78 from September ’76 [timeline weirdness - the Multiverse Recap episode said that Conflux #1 and CT vol. 2 #1 were both in March ’70 which, with monthly publication, puts CT #78 in August of ’76 - given that the covers for this episode’s issues match the timeline as previously given, either the number of issue #78 or the month of September are in error in this statement].
- The story that Adam feels they should do (rather than her introduction or the one that explains her origins) is the story that redefines the relationship between Galactra and Captain Cosmic. There is a story somewhere that the writer decided that the two of them had this “will they/won’t they” thing. This probably happens in the ’80s, certainly by the ’90s. It might be ok even earlier, but the time leading up to the formation of the Prime Wardens seems like a good time - possibly even giving this more personal story with him an important role in the team formation in the “Hey, the readers like the stuff we’re doing with Captain Cosmic. Maybe we should do more of that with some other heroes too” kind of way. With that in mind we can look to the fact that the Prime Wardens are becoming a thing at the tail end of ’85 with their team book starting in January ’86, so we can put this story in early ’85 so that the reader feedback has time to register. So, while this isn’t strictly speaking a “Valentine’s Day” issue, it’s in the zeitgeist so let’s make it the February issue, which would be #180.
- So, now that they have the issue we have to fill it in. What’s the story? We could either have her be the antagonist for the story and then have their interactions as CC opposes her lead to a change in their dynamic or we could have her be a victim of some other plot and CC helps her, possibly without knowing she was involved at first (thus giving them a chance to interact with less direct opposition).
- Why not both? It’s a hustle - she’s actually the one behind whatever the plot is and she’s playing him. This lets whatever chemistry between them actually develop, while simultaneously setting that “relationship” off on the wrong foot.
- One of CC’s shticks is the whole “I’ll fight people, but I’m really trying to save them from themselves” idea, so letting him (and the readers) start off with him finding Galactra in whatever situation they put her in and seeing an opportunity to redeem her in some way. Then even when she does the “It was me the whole time!” reveal he can still know that he saw that glimmer of hope in there. He knows it and she knows it (although she may protest the fact). We’re told here that while she’s the more passionate one, he’s the more emotionally-aware of the two (“blinded by passion” being a thing that applies here).
- What’s her role in comics? She’s not just a “cosmic thief”. She’s a creature of whim - she wants to be unfettered and not have anything getting in her way of doing what she wants. She might steal stuff that strikes her fancy, but she might just as easily be out to change or destroy something. Whatever has caught her eye has her full focus until something else comes along that grabs her attention. This characterization makes formulating a multi-part plan like discussed earlier kind of tricky (but not impossible).
- Alright then, for this story so far she has some goal in mind and to reach it she needs Captain Cosmic’s help in particular for whatever reason. Or maybe just that he not stop her and active help is just an added bonus if she can manage it. What if she gets it into her head that she wants to be the empress of a planet and she picks this planet with some despotic warlord in charge now and she can be a savior-type. Less-altruistically, she comes to Captain Cosmic to get help for “her people” who are suffering under this jerk (they’re not her people, they’re just close enough in appearance and she’s counting on him not knowing any better). This comes with the built-in reveal that one of them eventually spills the beans that they’ve never seen this lady before, whereupon she can go on about their plight and she just needed to help them out, they can be heroes together, etc. She’ll get to be empress and then almost immediately get tired of it and leave.
- Looking at pacing of the story - this is now a two-issue arc. We probably don’t even see her leave in this story; we just leave her in charge and then some later issue would come back to the planet for some reason and we find that she abandoned it after some indeterminate period of time.
- Why doesn’t Captain Cosmic object to her being in charge? Like, he would have just ousted some despot and put this other villain in his place once its revealed that this isn’t her world - somebody he knows to be ephemeral in temperament. Maybe he thinks that having some responsibility for others will mellow her out? More likely she has him thrown out at first and then, before he can get started on resolving this there’s a cliffhanger ending where he gets word of something more pressing (like some Infinitor stuff) that needs his presence now and that he just vows to return to deal with her eventually. Or, since we need that glimmer of “hope” about her, we can have her receive a petitioner or something and we can see her passionate nature channeled into leadership - maybe she won’t be that bad at this after all. Better than a sudden cliffhanger, maybe this whole thing was him getting sidetracked from that important thing in the first place - the “maybe she’s not so bad at this” moment could be enough of an excuse to let him leave to deal with that pre-existing problem and he’ll circle back around later.
- Are these people even under tyrannical rule in the first place, or does she just convince the people (or even just Captain Cosmic) that that’s the case? Why would they accept her if the only one she’s fooling is Captain Cosmic? Time to actually think about this culture a bit: the thing that makes this work is that there’s some old law/tradition that whoever holds this crown/scepter/whatever is the ruler. Ooo, let’s just do an “orb”. We’re in a relatively long period of peace and stability after the last ruler took over by force and then realized that he actually cared about these people. He recognized that he wasn’t a particularly good leader and so eventually handed over the orb to a picked successor who would be a good leader rather than waiting for somebody to knock him off or running things into the ground himself. An act of altruism that also tries to set up the precedent of a peaceful transition of power. All of this backstory for the planet is probably opening exposition in issue #181.
- Story beats so far:
- Issue #180 - CC is on his way to a thing, he gets interrupted by Galactra who asks for his help, they go to the planet and he (and the readers) are presented with the story as she wants him to understand it, they find out who the opposition is on the planet and CC makes and executes the plan to fight and depose this leader, Galactra takes the orb. Scratch that - the issue ends mid-fight. We get a good bit here where we know what the plan is, and CC is doing his part, but Galactra isn’t doing hers. Up until this point we’re suspicious of her because of what we know about her already, this if the first suspicious thing we’ve done in this story (she’s going for the orb instead of helping CC who’s having trouble - and we don’t know the significance of the orb yet).
- Issue #181 - fight is resolved, Galactra takes the orb, and we get the backstory of the planet described above. Then we have CC sorting through the revelation of her deception.
- So, where was Captain Cosmic going at the start? How about there’s some sun degrading abnormally quickly and he’s off to see if there’s something he can do about it (some villainous plot or something - he doesn’t have a plan as he doesn’t yet know what’s actually going on there). It’s something that needs to be taken care of, but it’s still a process that’s on long time-scales so a few days isn’t going to make a huge difference so he can stop to help Galactra. Issue #181 can end with him being worried about the “Galactra in charge” situation, looking up and noting the star that he was off to help originally, then it flashes brightly and goes out. The situation has, all of a sudden, become more urgent so he’ll have to deal with Galactra later.
- That’s pretty much everything sketched out except the fight itself. It’s probably got to mainly be against some kind of automated planetary defense system as having Captain Cosmic get tricked into killing a bunch of soldiers as an invader is a little too heavy. Keeping the fight primarily out in space against remote-piloted fighter drones is also more on-brand for the space hero.
- How does she even find him in the first place? They rule out that her powers would allow her to sense him in some way due to how that would bleed into other stories - it would let her get the drop on him too easily. Maybe this whole “he’s on his way to this troubled star” has been an ongoing plot point for several issues (or maybe a year) already as he gets sidetracked by other issues and she hears enough through the grapevine to head him off - or at least to be in a position so that he stumbles across her, drifting unconscious through space.
Cosmic Tales vol. 2 #180, February 1985
- Captain Cosmic is traveling through space on his way to this dying star. He’s been doing this for at least the last 4 or 5 issues and keeps getting sidetracked. Up ahead he sees this debris field of a bunch of trashed robot ships. In the midst of which is a lone figure who’s floating unconscious, possibly dead. He investigates only to find it’s his old foe Galactra [title splash page here obviously].
- He uses some of his energy to wake her up. She’s happy to see him (a surprise) - she needs his help. She wouldn’t have chosen him, but here he is. Fate or something. She’s laying it on real thick, but this is just the sort of thing he hopes to hear from villains; that they want to turn over a new leaf and be heroic. Like him.
- He asks what’s happened and she tells him about the planet of Ko-Gellan and how the Gellites, her people, there are oppressed by this tyrant Samrat Foro. Readers have about three options on how to take this information. The first is that they accept it at face value as being where she’s from. The more observant/pedantic reader might remember that we were told back in ’76 that she was a Narian from Ellona Bohz - this gives rise to the other two options: think that this is a retcon or that she’s up to something. Either way, this is being delivered totally straight at this time.
- She goes on about her struggles and how much he has taught her about heroism through his actions. She will go on to fight this fight because it’s what’s right. You, go on to whatever you were doing already, Captain Cosmic. She is certainly not trying to manipulate you into volunteering to help. She gives an impassioned speech (which is right in her wheelhouse) and is saying all the right stuff to get CC to think “Alright! It sounds like you’re finally on the right track. I’ll go overthrow a tyrant.”
- She gives him the rundown on the defense system and that they send out squads of fighters whenever they detect her energy signature and, wouldn’t you know it, here comes another right now.
- Insert totally sweet space battle here. Importantly, this includes several situations where he has to save her. This is also one of those “romance fights” full of meaningful looks and whatnot.
- They make it through the defenses and to the planet. She takes him somewhere to show him the horrible conditions of the average person here (we learn next issue that this is really something like a prison or whatever - hardly the average situation). Maybe a few places - one just happens to be a really poor area, another is a prison (but she lies and says they’re all political prisoners who spoke up against the ruler, etc.), and some military installations.
- This prompts the further idea that, in order to set up the “surrounded by wreckage in space” thing she came to the planet, did bad stuff, got thrown in this prison, broke out, and the wrecked ships were security sent after her. Having already been to the prison lets her know enough that her getting help from the prisoners is plausible as they’d already know her and be on her side. They can form the core of her personal guard after she’s in charge. Of course, we learn that this isn’t just “Hey, let’s get help from these political prisoners!” in the next issue.
- With that in place, they want to adjust the end of the issue again - the two of them and their armed prison-escapees storm the palace and once they get there the big doors explode outward as the ruler’s personal guard robot (which is set up earlier as a thing that exists - they need to try to get in before it’s armed since it’s bad news and would be a major challenge for them; since all of the robots are really drones that have an actual pilot somewhere it’s not just always active) comes out to stop them.
Cosmic Tales vol. 2 #181, March 1985
- So we start with the fight with the main guard robot and a bunch of smaller ones. The guard bot is said to be Samrat Foro himself, but we learn later (with the whole “man of peace” angle) that it’s not really him - he’s got a right-hand-man who actually pilots that one.
- During that fight Galactra is knocked out and Captain Cosmic puts a shield around her to keep her safe while he continues the fight. He manages to rally and defeats the drones, but when he returns to where he’d left Galactra, she’s not there. He assumes that somebody captured her while he was distracted. He moves on to the throne room.
- As he enters he finds Samrat Foro, already a defeated man as we also see Galactra on the throne with the orb. Introducing herself as Samrat Galactra, she has both Foro and Captain Cosmic thrown in prison.
- During conversations between their cells we get the actual background of what’s going on from Foro. The planet has a lot of energy bound up in the land itself that Galactra’s power set lets her draw on, which is what got her attention in the first place and why she wants to be in charge. Then we get the story of the orb and the leader before Foro and that even he recognizes Galactra as his ruler now because of it - he doesn’t like that his Samrat has thrown him in prison, but it’s her right to do so. [The idea that “the real tyrant in this situation is the orb itself” prompts both of them to have good follow-up stories, but not today.]
- The next day, guards show up to bring Captain Cosmic before Samrat Galactra. She thanks him for helping her so that she can lead her people and offers him the opportunity to join her. Together they could do great things for these people. He may not feel like it right now, but he really has inspired her to be better. She really did feel something during the space battle; that wasn’t fake. He doesn’t like the fact that she manipulated him and took advantage of these people’s traditions to take over. So she asks him to leave her planet as the only alternative is for him to take on the whole planet and their way of life.
- He goes out to a balcony to think about it, notices the star he has been traveling to. Then it explodes. He storms back in and gives a speech about how what she’s doing is oppression and that it goes beyond her - that she’s just the latest pawn in this whole oppressive setup. These people need to be freed from themselves and he will be back to deal with her. Then he leaves to see what he can do at the dead star.
- Epilogue - Galactra visits Foro in the jail and he asks who that man was to her. “He’s the best man I’ve ever met” along with something implying that in order for her to have him, she’s got to break him in some way. The thing is that she wants him, but knows that he won’t have her as things stand. She’s got to wear him down/change him to make him accept her, but will he even still be something she wants if she does change him?
- Everyone with an OblivAeon Shard seems to have some kind of downside that comes with the power, but Captain Cosmic seems to be an exception - does he really have some insidious voice in his head or did his brother wind up with all of that? If the former, what’s it pushing him towards? If the latter, could somebody engineer a similar situation where they take the benefit of Shard-empowerment while foisting the downside off on someone else? It’s the latter - but note that the negatives still exist. Such a pair of characters would be connected like CC and Infinitor are and there will come a time when you’d have to pay the piper. In this pair of characters in particular, when they found the Shard the energy was pouring out of it and into Hugh and Nigel interposed himself between it and his brother. As such, he wound up taking the brunt of the badness. Nigel is strictly speaking more powerful than Hugh as he absorbed more of the energy (and the Shard), but he’s handicapped by having all of the downside. The only real downside that CC has is that he’s linked to this insane cosmic being. All that being said, this is not a reproducible effect. This sort of thing could happen again, but it’s not a situation that you can really set up intentionally. Part of what made it work for the Lowsley boys is that they’re genetically similar and that they’ve got an emotional connection - there’s just a lot of moving parts to this situation. Even talking in terms of OblivAeon Shard interactions, what happened to them is weird. Void Guard are probably what you’d look at in terms of a “standard” interaction with them.
- Have we had a story where Captain Cosmic wakes up with amnesia and Galactra convinces him that they’re married or something? No, but there are multiple stories (like the one they told above) where Galactra’s nature feeds into this sort of thing. She’s extremely passionate and often gets something in her head as the way things are/should be to the point that she convinces herself of their veracity so that any interactions she has with others regarding that fancy seem utterly sincere. It’s less a situation where she’s trying to fool Captain Cosmic, but much more often just times when he has to put effort into sorting out exactly what’s real and what is the story she’s telling herself.
- Has there been a story where she fights with another hero/villain over Captain Cosmic’s affections (possibly with Hugh in the background trying to break up the fight)? This comes up a bit in the early, ill-conceived, quickly-forgotten-about-entirely romance between Captain Cosmic and Sky-Scraper. It wasn’t well-written or thought out and was just “here’s a new alien character” combined with “Captain Cosmic is the guy who dates space ladies” so they threw them together and just doesn’t work as a couple considering their personality types (he tends to act much older than he actually is, and she acts younger). However, it doesn’t take much to set Galactra off. If she sees somebody, including that early SS relationship, being a little too close to CC she’s likely to immediately jump to full-blown “You stay away from my man!” territory and vow to destroy whoever it is (response from CC: “What?” followed by the “You’re a villain” thing). And, as has been discussed in earlier episodes, Captain Cosmic tends to have a bunch of relationships with various space ladies (there are a lot of characters that are too minor to include in the SotM game - like Sk8-Blayde - and a bunch of these ladies fall into this category), so this has the potential to crop up a bunch.
- Is there a child conceived between Captain Cosmic and Galactra? As far as they can recall, there isn’t even consummation between the two of them. That’s prime Disparation material, though. That child would be a fun character. It’d be more likely for Galactra to have a child and then claim that it’s his for some ridiculous reason.
- What is Galactra’s race, home planet, the nature of her powers, and the name of the Singular Entity that empowered her, and do we see that Entity interact with anyone else? They’ve mentioned these before, but they’re not necessarily the easiest to find. She’s a Narian from Ellona Bohz. Her people are very stoic and reserved and she’s very passionate - she flees her planet and winds up demanding power from the cosmos and gets it. At the time this wasn’t explained as being due to a Singular Entity - but the later retcon attributes it to one called The Fervor (which is a title, its proper name isn’t given). Her powers let her draw energy from objects or embue them with power. Frequent manifestations of this power are that she has explosive punches and can disintegrate things. Other stuff she does is very “cosmic power” handwavy. The Fervor isn’t seen doing anything else. Something we haven’t been told before is that her original name was Issa Uzara - although post-empowering she’s got that whole “new person” thing going so she’d recognize that name as formerly belonging to her, but she’s just Galactra now.
- Why do Captain Cosmic, Infinitor, and Galactra form the same symbol around their hands? The Lowsley brothers make a sort of sense given they got their powers from the same source, but then why Galactra? “Symbol” is a generous way to put it. It’s just how cosmic energy tends to manifest itself. At a meta level, when she was introduced she was intentionally meant to be somebody with a kind of dark version of his powers, so they drew her to have similar motifs. Then later writers answering the “but why?” question threat came up with various explanations, but it’s all down to her being like him but different.
- How many heroes and villains have/had secret identities? How often do such identities get exposed? Anybody ever create alternate identities to, say, establish and alibi or something? Not a lot of villains have secret identities, or depending on how you look at it they all do. The Slaughterhouse Six all have secret identities (and villains at that level are the ones who tend to). Baron Blade, Citizen Dawn, and Grand Warlord Voss don’t need to/care about this sort of thing as “being a supervillain” is more or less their job/identity already (Baron Blade and Citizen Dawn think of themselves in those terms rather than their given names). Equity has a family and a very normal life. For heroes, Setback is probably the one who struggles with this sort of thing the most as he’s tried to hold down straight jobs. People who know Pete Riske wouldn’t immediately peg Setback as being him - costumes actually do a pretty good job of throwing people off as this goofy guy they used to work with doesn’t seem like the masked vigilante type. Wraith is obviously the one for whom it’s the biggest deal, though, as both Maia Montgomery and the Wraith are fairly high-profile people, so there are a bunch of stories that play around with the difficulty in keeping her identity secret. There’s definitely some story in the ’70s or ’80s where she gets unmasked. Then there’s some explanation after some fallout that no, this was all a ruse you see - we were helping the Wraith with a case and part of that required this big public fiasco. See, here’s Maia giving the press conference and here’s our good friend the Wraith, showing they’re both here at once so it can’t possibly be Maia. A lot of the lesser-known heroes that don’t make the game are the type with secret identities. What even is Fanatic’s identity? Ra has a secret identity. Tempest doesn’t - the hero person is the same identity as the Maerynian ambassador person. Legacy is really public. Parse is “secret” mostly in that she’s very unobtrusive (plus difficulties in the whole identity thing with her too). Argent Adept and NightMist do big things, but what those things are tend to be so weird and out-there that they don’t show up on most people’s radar. Hopefully that gives you an idea on their mindset regarding them. Secret identities are only interesting if they’re in peril in some way or if there’s significant supporting cast who doesn’t know about it.
- The #180 cover should definitely be teasing the “are they going to kiss?” thing. The Second cover should involve the big robot they fight (Christopher pitches that Galactra should be holding the orb, but that’s a surprise in the issue, so not that). Maybe have Galactra defeated and Captain Cosmic in dire straits. Since “Samrat” is a Sanskrit word, maybe design the robot with some influences from that part of the world.