The Letters Page: Episode 131
It's Christmas Eve! Let's talk about an avenging angel with absolutely no chill whatsoever.
Run Time: 1:20:50
We talk a bit about Christmas, and then, about 4 minutes in, we get to work!
We expected this one to be tough, but it turns out that we were visited by the ghost of Sentinel Comics past, and they did the work for us!
Just after the 53 minute mark, we start in on your questions.
At just before an hour and 15 minutes in, we talk a bit about the cover, which is shown above.
Happy Holidays, everyone! See you all next year!
- Two real ways to go with this: the more modern story (from like the ’90s up until the point where there’s just no extra production room to do side stories like this) would be to have her being all fighty and others trying to get her to just calm down for a minute because it’s the holidays. The other, from the ’70s or ’80s would be to have a overly-violent reinterpretation of “The Gift of the Magi” or something.
- It’s at this point that Christopher remembers that they had actually discussed this sort of thing a long time ago involving Fanatic and “A Christmas Carol” where Mark Benedetto fills in the Scrooge role. Except, after his own version of Jacob Marley shows up to tell him what’s up for the night’s activities, he instead calls up Fanatic and gets her to come fight these ghosts for him. She fights the first, realizes that something weird is going on during the fight with the second, and then turns around and visits Mark as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come herself.
- When does this happen? They need to know when Mark first shows up. The backstory they have for him involves him jumping on-board this sure-thing investment that was Betamax - given that the fact that this was a failure it needs to be after the format had officially lost the format war with JVC’s VHS standard. [This could probably be said to have been ’88 when Sony started manufacturing VHS machines themselves, but, as the guys discovered in their Wikipedia investigations, Sony kept the format alive until 2016 when they actually stopped making the cassettes. For anyone interested, I think that Technology Connections did a good breakdown of the format war.]
- They land on ’88 or ’89, so let’s look at what comic would be appropriate. They go with Tome of the Bizarre vol. 3 #9 - December ’88.
- So, Mark Benedetto is set up to be this archetypal “evil businessman” that people don’t trust. Given the opportunities of the Ghost of Christmas Past to not only show the bad stuff the guy has done, but missed opportunities and whatnot, should this be where we actually get Mark’s backstory? That’s not a bad idea - it’s early enough in his publication history that it couldn’t hurt to flesh him out a bit and show that he’s willing to be somebody’s lackey for the appearance of power/getting the spotlight.
- So, they’re thinking his “Marley” would be a former business partner. He had a bunch of money going into the Betamax fiasco, so he must have gotten some money along with the boot from the prior computer company job, so he had dirt on the company, but what has he swept under a rug? Maybe he sold somebody out - and big, to the point where that person is now dead to be in the Marley position. Like, he had a friend at business school, they came up through the ranks together at the company. They did shady stuff, but were on the same page for this sort of thing. When things take a turn, Mark sells this guy out - the result is that Mark gets his golden parachute and the other guy is pretty destitute. He winds up taking on a risky venture in some Third World country and winds up dead. It’s an indirect cause of death, but enough that Mark can still blame himself about it. Given that this is 1) a new character for this story and 2) he is only in service of setting up the Christmas Carol thing, they want to lean into the connection to the story and either have his first name be Jacob or his last name Marley. After some off-the-air spitballing, they land on Jacob Molena.
- The issue starts with Mark being an overbearing boss and demanding that people be at work bright and early on Christmas to make their deadlines/quotas/whatever. Some lady (Roberta Krasinsky), comes into his office later with her story about wanting to have Christmas morning off to spend with her family (she only took two, unpaid, weeks off after having her second kid earlier this year, isn’t that enough?). He gives her a hard time and says she can come in an hour late. That’s it. [They have a lot of fun playing up just how much of a jerk Mark Benedetto is here.]
- We do see him as sort of a workaholic himself - there from 7 to 7 (although having a penthouse suite in the building does cut down on things like commute time), eating his steak dinner at his desk before retiring upstairs. The ghosts start coming at midnight.
- So, he gets woken up by Jacob’s chains at 12. Inventing his backstory some more: as a result of being sold out by Mark, he had to flee to a non-extradition country and he set up some kind of shipping company. At some point he’s actually captured by pirates and chucked overboard - the chains were what they used to weigh him down and so he appears with them and dripping wet (because “sea ghosts are the best ghosts”). They give him a lot of verbatim dialog from Marley to really bring home what’s going on. Mark actually comes right out and says something like “What, am I going to be visited by three spirits next?” and the answer is “… Yes.”
- They’ve played this homage mostly straight up to this point. The interesting hook of the story is Mark’s response. He’s thought of some contingencies for how to handle weird supernatural stuff using RevoCorp’s resources. How does he get Fanatic in particular, though? A general “call” for help with supernatural stuff would likely get NightMist involved first. Fanatic is well-known enough now that he might specifically want her help in “killing” some ghosts - she’s also not particularly… subtle, or good at hiding her tracks, so it’s relatively easy to keep tabs on her if one were so inclined.
- So, we go from Mark getting the word on what’s going to happen to an exterior shot of some (clearly abandoned) stone church with a big black car pulling up in front. A guy in a suit gets out, goes to the door, and knocks. Receiving no answer he just goes in and says that he’s looking for Fanatic. She descends from the rafters with a standard “You’re standing on holy ground” type speech. The guy tells her that his employer is beset by evil spirits and needs her help defeating them and reconsecrating the ground the building is on (because it was totally already consecrated before, so you should come help cleanse it of evil’s presence or something). You had her at “evil spirits” so she just asks what he knows about them.
- We cut back to the RevoCorp building where Mark’s now fully dressed and back at his desk (not like he was going to go back to sleep). The Ghost of Christmas Past shows up and starts giving the spiel about Mark coming with it. They pause here to discuss what it looks like - traditional depictions of this one are as a child [I’d note that the original story has it more like an old person, but as if seen from far away so that it’s at a child’s proportions - it’s an intentionally ambiguous description full of juxtapositions], but for the purposes of their story now they need these things to look cool in fights and for Fanatic to rush in to fight it immediately. The Ghost of Christmas Present is easier because it’s always a “big bearded dude” so just give him a battle axe and you’re set [the original story described him as having a scabbard without a sword]. They decide to change up the names a little. They decide that they’re the Ghosts of “The First Christmas”, “Today’s Christmas”, and “The Final Christmas” - they can play up the ancient-looking aspect of the former that way, but also maybe get away with it not matching up with the original.
- As it’s the “First” Christmas, they decide that it looks like a grizzled old Roman soldier. It starts talking to Mark about what he’s going to see or whatever. Then Mark tells it that, no, it’s the one who’s been judged. Then Fanatic slams into it and the fight starts. They want the ghost to still do its past thing (and to wind up in the “Fanatic is the last ghost” end state we still need Mark to witness what the ghosts have to show him), so at some point after some good Fanatic action she finally gets hit by the ghost’s sword and disappears. The ghost then rounds on Mark and hits him with the sword, and that’s what brings Mark into his past vision - Fanatic’s there too.
- So, the ghost still wants to curate this experience for Mark, but when it shows up that just starts the fight with Fanatic again. Mark still gets the vision, but Fanatic is also getting bits and pieces of it during the fight up until the point where she takes out the ghost and she and Mark return to the present. The main idea we get from him is that what he’s seen has left him melancholy.
- What does he see? Well, that depends on where they want this to eventually go. By the end of this Mark’s not supposed to be a changed man. The character progression here would be Fanatic’s. Mark’s outlook on the past is that it’s what he’s already gotten through and put behind him and he’s tricked an angel into taking care of things for him. Christopher now has an idea for where to end things, but the important thing here is that, in a departure from the original story, we get past the first ghost with the Scrooge-character unchanged by the experience. So, we see his shady business deals, we see his lost loves, we see him screw over Jacob and we, the audience, can come through that with the appropriate emotional reactions, but Mark just sees this stuff as the things that made him the man he is today and is unchanged by it.
- After the ghost is defeated, Mark is angry at Fanatic. She’s supposed to be this unstoppable force - the whole point of getting her involved was so that he wouldn’t have to waste time actually doing the ghost visions thing and could get some sleep for tomorrow. What important about tomorrow? Business. Profit. [More gleefully evil ’80s businessman stuff.] She doesn’t care about his problems, she’s here to fight evil spirits. There’s a tense stand off-ish moment between them before the clock strikes the next hour.
- Given the Ghost of the First Christmas was period-appropriate for that time, they want the Ghost of Today’s Christmas to be something indicative of what late ’80s Christmas would have been about - something still in line with how the Ghost of Christmas Present was about the good things about the holiday. Christopher’s idea is that this guy is going to be kind of just like Mark Benedetto. Total business guy who talks about marketing and profit and ways to commercialize Christmas even more than it already has been. Just total nonsense “evil” marketing stuff.
- The gimmick here can be that the ghost bursts in talking about this stuff. Fanatic wants to get to the smiting, but Mark actually restrains her so he can hear what this guy has to say (which is funny because he was just lecturing her about how she wasn’t smiting fast enough last time). So, the ghost here is really trying to talk Mark’s language to connect with him before trying to insinuate things and steer the conversation around to how these are bad practices, but Mark isn’t picking up on the subtext (or is outright dismissing them if made overt) and it just going all-in on the commercialization of Christmas angle and how he thinks that these bad ideas could actually work. It’s at this point that Fanatic starts to see what’s wrong with the situation as presented to her initially.
- The ghost gets fed up and at least tries to salvage things by changing tactics to talking about how excess profits can at least enable more charitable giving. “Oh, for the tax write-off?” Well, that plus think of the people you can help - bringing up loyal, hardworking Roberta. Maybe actually doing the ghost-vision tour like in the story to visit her house. Mark’s response to this is to reject the ghost altogether as this kind of sentimentality makes it “weak” in his eyes.
- They’ve kind of painted themselves into a corner here. They need Mark to reject the ghost and get Fanatic to take care of it, but if Fanatic is seeing all of this she’s unlikely to want to at this point. Or maybe not: ghosts and spirits shouldn’t be here (“Fanatic is pretty racist against ghosts”), so there’s not really much more convincing needed to get her to attack one.
- How about: while the ghost and Mark are off doing their tour, Fanatic stays where she was and we get a chance for an interlude with Jacob’s ghost which might prompt her story turn later.
- So, while Mark’s gone she’s left pacing in his office. She’s confused about how she was called in to fight ghosts, then this one shows up and the guy she’s helping seems into it and tells her to not fight it. What’s going on here? That’s when Jacob Molena shows up to clue her in. He’s not filling in the Jacob Marley role of trying to help change Scrooge for the better before it’s too late, these are revenge ghosts. Fanatic is ruining his plans to ruin this guy’s life. She’s just here to smite evil spirits, though. He warns her to not become that which she hates, but then she just smites him anyway. As she does so, he casts some of his ghostly chains around her and those stick around for a bit longer before fading. That’s when Mark and the other ghost return with Mark giving his “I didn’t realize that you were weak” and how there’s no real charity/altruism bit. Everybody expects to get something in return.
- So, Fanatic hears this last bit, but she’s here to smite ghosts and so that’s what she does anyway. As she hits this one, some of its essence flows around her and becomes something of a spectral cloak and cowl. She knows what Mark’s deal is now, though, and has come to a decision. She grabs Mark and flies out the window with him claiming to be the Ghost of the Final Christmas. She’s going to show him the darkest part of himself.
- What she shows him is a kind of dystopian future. The collapse of capitalism/the over-commercialization of everything - kind of a half apocalyptic, half cyberpunk kind of thing. Some vignettes with heroes doing the full “hero for hire” thing where they might stop a mugging, but then the would be victim still has to pay the hero. There’s also probably some signage about how this is the Final Christmas - one last big blowout then we’ve collectively decided that this is enough and nobody really shows any joy at it anyway - it’s just a distraction from work. We killed the weekend decades ago, this is the last vestige of “holidays”. This is the future he’s creating.
- He then wakes up in his bed. They have fun imagining how the “Boy! What day is it?” exchange would play out from his high-rise penthouse window, but that just doesn’t actually work. They decide he’s got a clock/calendar thing with the flipping numbers that tell him that it’s actually December 26th. He’s missed Christmas entirely. He rushes down to the office to find a bunch of memos indicating that everyone could take Christmas off, although they’re all there now. They’re all thanking him and saying stuff like they’ll work twice as hard today. The thing Mark actually learns is that people who feel that they’re treated well will work harder and have increased loyalty. It’s still something of a self-serving lesson, but it’s a lesson nonetheless.
- Postscript: Fanatic’s on an adjacent building with some dark spectral energy still around her as she looks at the RevoCorp building. “I’ll be watching you, Mr. Benedetto.” They like the idea of setting up a “haunted Fanatic” arc here that she has to deal with and maybe some caption teasing a follow up in the January Prime Wardens issue (which would be vol. 1 #37). Adam brings up the Halloween drawing he did for Fanatic in 2018, which is just about perfect for this idea.
- We know that Fanatic had a time when she experienced other religions, does that color how she feels about other December holidays? Does she celebrate any of them? So, that story exists and isn’t “forgotten” exactly, but they’ve done their best to put it down the memory hole. It’s a story that is intentionally ignored because it was bad for so many reasons. Writers never refer to it. So, if the character of Fanatic ever thinks about that stuff, it’s never on the page. She doesn’t really celebrate any holidays as “celebrating” isn’t something she’s really wired for. The closest we get is the issue about Tempest’s holiday and you could say that’s more “observed” than “celebrated”, although she gets into the spirit of cheering Tempest up (so the “haunted Fanatic” arc lasts under a year since that story was in December ’89).
- How does Fanatic chill out enough to enjoy a holiday? She doesn’t. By the time that she’s actually getting more in touch with her humanity and calming down a bit, Ra dies and kind of sends her spiraling a bit. She might eventually get there.
- Who does she spend holidays with before the Prime Wardens formed? Nobody. There might be some monk or something that brings her some soup [Father Humphries is name-dropped here, but that’s a joke because that’s the Idolater].
- Is there any particular observance/traditions she performs? She spends the day in prayer and fasting, like she does every day.
- Has she been put into a situation where she has to pretend to be Santa Claus? No, but she’s probably met Santa. They think of some ideas for when somebody else had to be Santa, though. Guise did, obviously. Tachyon is a good choice - like there was a Freedom Five story where Santa couldn’t do his thing, and so Tachyon had to be the one to deliver all the gifts in one night. This lets Absolute Zero be on snow duty, Wraith and Bunker build the presents, and Legacy does the dress up and “Ho ho ho!” thing. So maybe that can be the Writers Room episode idea to submit before December of 2020 [remember that the voting for December episodes happen before December].
- Has there been an Apostate-centric Christmas story for Fanatic? Eh… it’s not like every comic will have a Christmas issue (or that even any given year will have one). Most of the time there will be seasonal trappings in the character downtime/background scenery without Christmas being an actual story point. They like the idea of Apostate Christmas, though, so they might keep that one in mind for later.
- Are there any heroes that don’t celebrate holidays this time of year? Why? Who’s the most eager to celebrate? Fanatic doesn’t really celebrate, as mentioned. Legacy’s probably the most eager. Unity is probably up there as well - while a lot of her stuff would tend towards “somber”, Hanukkah is more joyous (plus Unity is just a “conduit for excitement”, so it’s fitting). Expatriette doesn’t celebrate - the only holiday in the culture in which she grew up, Dawn’s Day, is in remembrance of the day her mother became Citizen Dawn (sort of like a new, chosen birthday) and is traditionally when Citizens get their names now. Expat doesn’t celebrate, but she still knows when it’s coming up - maybe getting up bright and early that day to get as black-out drunk as possible to completely avoid the day in its entirety. Setback gets excited about “normal” holidays and she doesn’t really get how they work. Who else…? Mr. Fixer does community outreach stuff - maybe a big Feeding the Hungry thing on Thanksgiving (although that’s probably a pretty popular hero activity anyway). Y’know who’s weirdly into Christmas? K.N.Y.F.E. - they just see her getting really into giving/receiving gifts and having some eggnog (with booze in it, naturally). It’s an excuse for a party and she’s always looking for excuses for a raucous party.
- Do Fanatic and La Capitan share any ancestry [bringing up the name similarity between Helena and Maria Helena]? This is like asking if the actor Adam Driver and our own Adam Rebottaro are related. No, La Capitan and Fanatic aren’t related. They used to be less careful about new characters having names that they hadn’t ever used before because they figured that some overlap is natural, but they’ve learned that any possible connection like this will get latched onto.
- We know that Host spirits can be bound to objects - are they a “who” or a “what”? How much personality/agency do they have? They’re somewhere between a “who” and “what” - they have a bit of something like a personality, but they’re much more of an id than an ego. They’re entire identity is tied to whatever their concept is. They’re either both a who and what, or neither.
- Are Fanatic and Apostate different due to their connection to human souls? Fanatic is different because of her spirit getting all tangled up with the girl’s soul. Apostate is different because of his choices and intentionally making himself different - he “went too deep” and got stuck. He can’t return to the Host realm.
- How confused do spirits get when getting bound to the normal world? They don’t really get confused as they don’t have enough thoughts/emotions to experience that - Host spirits are pretty much there just to continuously emote the thing that they are. How confused was Fanatic when she woke up after dying? Not very - she just accepts that this is who she is and got on with living.
- What kind of concepts have Host spirits? Just things that humans can do or is it tied to things people are? It’s broader than “humans” - think about how broadly you can apply “personality” to various living things. Any kind of actionable/communicable trait is fair game.
- If you were to put a Host spirit in a Golem, how one-note would its personality come out without an underlying human connection? Very because the thing that makes Fanatic Fanatic and not just Judgement is the human connection.
- [Letter signs off with a bit about hoping to not need to break canon too much for use of this stuff in their RPG game. This prompts the following:] As much as they talk about how you should change whatever you want for use in your home game, it’s important to note that that holds for comics writing as well. People just write what they want to happen and that’s how characters change over time. Characters can only do [x, y, and z] is only true up until somebody says that they can do [w] as well. Every Star Wars movie introduces new things that are true about that universe and that’s a good thing. You need to justify things a lot of the time for a sense of continuity, but that’s not an excuse to keep things static. A thing that they try to keep in mind for Sentinel Comics is that things have a cause and they have costs, so if you’re covering your bases there you’re probably ok. Thinking through ramifications is another thing to keep in mind (a weakness of Spider-man had been that he could run out of web-fluid, somebody eventually decided that he should have organic web-shooters in his wrists and so he did - an effect that this has on the story space is that now he isn’t going to run out of web-fluid, so that’s one less crutch for writers to use to up the stakes in a conflict and so they need to be ready with other things to serve that purpose).
- What is Fanatic’s new sword called, if anything? It’s from an alternate reality where an evil Fanatic was doing stuff with Blood Countess’s Blood Magic stuff. Its name is Course (as in the course of a river - although there are a lot of good meanings one can assign to this word, not coarse as in rough) [they had told us this previously in the Iron Legacy/Alternate Timelines episode - but that’s not a really convenient place to go looking for it, so may as well answer it here again in a Fanatic-specific episode]. It is not an angelic weapon and there are dangers to using it, so she probably shouldn’t be doing so.
- In the Deepest Space episode, I want to offer my own opinion on how the Dr. Medico bit should have gone [they break here to ask if the Legally Distinct Nevermore is just using their podcast to publish their fan-fiction, but they’re ok in this case because this is a very “letters page” kind of letter] since I think that him turning cold and clinical due to the influence of his Shard is too abrupt: have his internal monologue be the Hippocratic Oath and about the juxtaposition of its “First, do no harm” stipulation while being a superhero. That could also be highlighted by him not wanting to fight in the arena in the first place. This could still lead into him noticing the healing factor of his opponent and the fight ends the same way, but could lead to the title he earns being “Oathbreaker”. That’s a pretty cool way to do it, but they’re still happy with how they did it originally.
- It should be Fanatic fighting a ghost. More specifically, it should be a lying cover that shows something that doesn’t actually happen in the book where she’s fighting something like the stereotypical “Ghost of Christmas Future” cloaked-figure/grim reaper ghost, especially since they flip the script on that part of the story. “Can Fanatic Defeat the Ghost of the Final Christmas?” is a good teaser line.