The Letters Page: Episode 135
Run Time: 1:26:31
To be fair, Parse started out very murdery, and then mellowed over time. Today, we tell one of those early stories, and we do not hold back! Slight content warning on this one for (audio discussion of) graphic violence, as well as some drugs (not really drugs used, though - just drugs being generally around). Also, she's a jerk. Just so you know. Forewarned is forearmed, and with the amount Parse uses that bow, she's gotta have great forearms, right?
At around the 47 minute mark, we get into questions. You asked them - we answer them!
We talk a bit about the cover just after 1 hour and 16 minutes in, though you likely have already seen the cover by now. It's in these show notes!
Thanks everyone for listening! We're getting close to March, in which the recording and episode release schedule starts to get more normal. Thanks for bearing with us!
- So, “early Parse” stories put us in the mid-’80s (she was introduced in Mystery Comics vol. 2 #97 in May of ’84). They don’t necessarily want to do that first appearance, though. MC only remains a twice-a-month title until the end of ’86, so there’s not a lot of time to play around with there. There aren’t really many other titles at that time that “early Parse” would really fit in. You might be able to make a case for Tome of the Bizarre, but otherwise it’s basically just either MC or Rook City Renegades.
- An offhand comment regarding her being “homeless” (in terms of a book to appear in after MC goes back to once-a-month) sparks the discussion of what the character’s background was; was she meant to be Australian at the time of her introduction in the ’80s? She’s in Rook City already, there’s no reason for Mystery Comics to shift so dramatically in setting to place her in Australia. So, she’s a woman of color dressing aggressively and murdering dudes with cold calculation in the mid-’80s. From the flavor text we see that she does have a distinct way of speaking, so Christopher’s thought is that the original writer was just giving her a distinct (but unspecific in location terms) voice and then a later writer thought that that original voice was vaguely Australian and ran with it.
- So, she starts out with just the flimsy “human computer” backstory and it’s only later (Christopher imagines the late-’90s at the earliest, but more than likely not until the ’00s) that the Cosmic Omnitron booting up while she was investigating it explanation was invented, so she was pretty mysterious for a large chunk of her publication history. From a meta-perspective, this gives more structure for the problem of how to get her character from how they explained her original appearances up through the more modern take on her, but “human computer” is still a familiar enough concept for people to have accepted as why she was the way she was (even if the “how” of becoming a human computer wasn’t explored). [I note that the original Terminator film came out in the fall of ’84 - while she doesn’t have a CPU instead of a brain, the “unfeeling killing machine” that looks like a person idea was in the zeitgeist.]
- Going along with that, the ’70s and ’80s were a period of increased urban crime, and so a character who wasn’t hung up on right or wrong, but only on how to solve the problem of crime fed into a wish-fulfillment trend of the era.
- What kind of story do they want to do and which book should that be in? Mystery Comics and Rook City Renegades are the obvious choices, but the latter title is an anthology book, and so she’d just be a part of it (although possibly the cover story/largest portion of it). If MC, the earliest issues could be the fight between her and Wraith after Parse killed Spite. Maybe the next appearance after that wraps up could be establishing whatever her status quo is and that sounds promising.
- The timeline: issue #97 is her first appearance, #98 is her upstaging Wraith by killing Spite, #99-100 is their fight (and so Mystery Comics vol. 2 #100 - one of those nice round-number issues that people care about, in the relaunch of one of their main titles that was meant to re-focus it on one of their headliner characters - is Wraith losing to Parse). We’d need to take a break from her for a few months at least since we know that Parse is still a sporadically-appearing character. November ’84 would be #109 and that sounds reasonable. Now we can actually move on to figure out the actual story for this issue.
- Do they have a villain in the story? Christopher is leaning towards “no”. This is early on and readers were divided on whether she was even a hero or villain herself at this point. They imagine that she acts as a writer-soapbox at the end of #100 as she monologues at Wraith about doing what is necessary rather than what is right (and other “this is what comics are about now” stuff). Having her going up against a supervillain might undercut that ambiguity. They like the idea of her “winning” this issue, but at some cost (not to her, but something like she kills a bunch of drug dealers and the kids who were in the area get hit in the crossfire - cost of doing business; not that exact thing, but that kind of vibe).
- They like the idea of starting with your standard “women sorting/packaging drugs while armed goons patrol the background” scene before the door bursts open and a bunch of arrows fly in. A cocaine operation makes sense for the era and also allows for the visuals of the big heaps of stuff to be packaged, but also for somebody to shoot one of the bricks so now there’s a bunch of powder in the air, etc. detail during the fight. Lots of good visual opportunity there. She’s also just straight up murdering these people, but due to the Comics Code you’ve got to do stuff like having the arrow in the guy’s head in silhouette.
- Christopher brings up the possibility that, while she has a pretty simple bow by the SotM depiction, she might have something more complicated/ridiculous here. Adam will look into what kinds of bows other archer characters tended to have in the period.
- There’s a bit where there’s a bit of a showdown between her and some goon with a gun when one of the worker ladies gets between them, taking the arrow and going down. Parse re-nocks an arrow and dismisses the worker with a “shouldn’t have gotten in the way” (our indication that she doesn’t actually care about collateral damage). Adam counters with the goon actively using the lady as cover and Parse just shooting him through the hostage. Her internal monologue on this point lacks regret, just notes that while she didn’t want collateral damage, she’s still got a job to do and these workers knew what they were getting into (which, for the record, many probably didn’t as this was likely some kind of human trafficking or something).
- It’s a gritty ’80s comic, which means there’s lots of nasty stuff going on, but also they’ve got to work around the Comics Code rules (lots of cut-away shots, blood is probably generally black instead of red [see also: the spatter on the Legacy/Baron Blade cover from a few weeks back], etc.). They like the idea of her shooting an arrow into the barrel of a gun at some point (which explodes when he fires, taking off the guy’s hand) because we have to get across the precision she has. This prompts the idea that during the “hostage” bit earlier we can see her doing calculation stuff, which might prompt the reader to expect some kind of crazy trick shot to hit the goon without hitting the hostage, when in reality it was just her getting the more direct shot right (don’t want to hit her ribs on the way through).
- So, after she kills all the other drug boys, she finds the guy who “only” got his hand blown off. Rather than starting with questions, she just walks up and grinds her heel into the guy’s stump [groans from Adam in sympathy at this]. “Usually you ask questions before the torture…” “No time. Who do you work for?” He loses no time in telling her. They started off here talking about “handless Joe” in a jokey way - Adam hoped this meager characterization would make him a recurring character, Christopher said “I’ve got bad news for you” (he envisioned Parse leaving him in the building but then blowing it up on her way out). After the stump-stomping that might be enough to put on the guy, so he has a change of heart and thinks maybe she drags him out and throws him in a dumpster (with warnings about her knowing where he lives, etc.) before she blows it up. The semi-flippant response the guy had to the torture, plus losing the hand has made him memorable enough to warrant being a recurring character who can be somebody who she’s at odds with occasionally (adversary, reluctant informant, etc.). Not a full-on “villain” for her, but a recurring guy on the other “team” who she nonetheless sees as continuously useful enough to not just kill. Maybe she even takes out a gang except for him and then basically strong-arming him to join the next one so she can get dirt on them from him later. He chose to be a criminal already, so she feels justified in telling him what to do. She’s not a nice person.
- It’s that kind of thing that needs to be dialed back in her later reinvention as something more like an actual hero. She’s too inhumanly cruel and inexplicable as it stands, so they need to make some changes (even as an anti-hero) if she’s going to be involved.
- They go off-the-air to decide “handless Joe’s” actual name - Deion Young, who goes by “Rubble”. They wanted something that he thought was a “hard” name, but just doesn’t work (Parse immediately brings up The Flintstones for comparison). Rather, he went by “Rubble”. Now people call him “Lefty” (given that his left hand was the one that was blown off - very funny, guys). As for his characterization - the imagine him as a generally goodhearted person who just got roped into bad stuff. He sees what Parse is doing as something that might actually do some good, but she’s just scary and he doesn’t know how to get out of this situation. Everybody has more power and agency than he does. He’s like the “urban decay” everyman character. They feel bad already for what they’ve done to this guy.
- She heads down to the docks to deal with Deion’s boss, Big Danny (a throw-away joke when they said it earlier, up there with “handless Joe”, but now it’s stuck - this is a one-off character so there’s no real need to make him interesting or to care about his name too much). She kills some sentries as she goes, and comes up to the warehouse that’s right on the water (so boats can go into it to unload) and there are cranes and whatnot, so it’s an interesting set-piece location.
- As she goes in she finds it strangely empty. As she’s skulking about, she’s hit with a spotlight and then a bunch of goons tromp out along the catwalks with guns pointed at her. Big Danny is there too - he’s gotten word about what happened at the packaging site and wants to know who she’s working for (assuming that she’s with some rival outfit). She gives some retort about getting rid of scum like him and things are real tense as she’s looking at the gunmen who have her surrounded. Then the lights cut out.
- The goons have a brief moment of disorientation. Then we go to Parse’s point of view. She’s reviewing “snapshots” in her mind of where everybody was standing a moment before and analyzing what they’re likely to have done in the meantime. She picks off a guy blind in this way. After he’s hit, he pulls his gun’s trigger. The flashes of light from that are enough for her to continue to update her intel and pick off more of them. She works through the goons and makes her way up the catwalks and eventually to Big Danny’s office where he’s hiding. She asks him where the people he thought she was working for hang out.
- Adam proposes a bit more tension. She busts in and knocks over his desk. He’s on the floor scrambling for his gun as she gets a boot on his chest to start questioning him. He’s still almost within reach of the gun at the time and during the exchange he actually gets it. *BLAM* Then we see her leaving the building. He got the gun and took a shot, but he didn’t get her.
- Short epilogue where she checks the electrical panel on the side of the building, which has smear of blood from it where the wires have been pulled out down to Deion on the ground below it who’s in rough shape as he’s continued to bleed through the bandage he’s got on his stump. “I thought you might get yourself into trouble.” She comments on him “thinking for himself” tonight. Thus begins their lopsided, toxic “relationship”.
- And there we go. We get like 7 years of her operating in this kind of mode and she gets a following, but as we get out of the ’80s she needed to be reworked as you can’t continue to act like this and still be considered a “hero”. So she gets “rebooted” in the ’90s, and there’s her time doing stuff in space, and then she’s on a team. It’s good. Not every character really gets the opportunity to grow and change. Legacy grows older, but that’s about it. Parse has so many interpretations for what she is and what she should be doing over the years. They feel that she actually gets used to tell some really good human stories over the years. Adam thinks there might only really be one type of Parse fan, and that’s the group of people who accept her for the full breadth of what she’s done and the weirdness of it all, but also the human element within it. Others might find it weird that people are Parse fans because her story is so all over the place, and there’s probably also a contingent of former-fans who liked her in the ’80s, but not what’s been done with her since. She’s definitely a niche character/cult favorite.
- Back in the Parse episode, you mentioned that Captain Cosmic is something of a father-figure to her; how does that square with everything else we know about Captain Cosmic? Does he teach her life lessons? What makes her look up to him? How did they meet? What were his first impressions of her? How did his view of her change over time? Does he feel close to her as well? Broadly speaking, they’re both space-faring characters at the time. Parse doesn’t know much about space stuff and he knows a bunch - so he kind of shows her the ropes and that’s the basis of the avuncular relationship he has to her. They have a bit of an age disparity as well - he’s depicted as middle-aged by then while she’s still “in her 20s”. While most characters generally don’t age past about 35 or so, they note that by the time OblivAeon is over, CC is probably in his early-40s. The “dad vibe” that people attribute to him definitely actually creeps in over time. Additionally, by this time we’re solidly into the phase where it’s known that she has Asperger’s Syndrome and rather than just being this cold, calculating killer she has her own unique view on people and whatnot. With the two of them being “Earth’s representation in space” her take on things is important too and she teaches him some stuff about humanity in the process. She’s still very analytical, and has that approach to dealing with people, but if something gets to her that falls apart until she can pull herself back together. Captain Cosmic helps with that part of it too.
- Given details in Parse’s episode about her, over time, starting to see multiple outcomes to events (implied to be due to the Shattering of the Timelines), can we assume it’s because of OblivAeon’s attempts to bring timelines closer to one another and she’s seeing outcomes that occur in multiple, very similar realities? Yes, that is what they meant to be true about why her perceptions changed. Within the Metaverse this obviously wouldn’t have been the case - they just needed her to start questioning her ability to know the outcome so that she’d stop with the self-justified murder thing and the explanation for why that happened only became clear well after the fact.
- How has Voss sealing off Universe 1 affected her perceptions? Man, Parse in the RPG is a whole new ball of wax. She still has the cascading outcomes thing, but her seeing OblivAeon really caused a fundamental shift in her thinking (plus the whole Fugue State thing) that we haven’t seen the effects of yet and that was before Voss did his thing. They have some ideas/plans for that, but they don’t want to commit to any particulars on that front yet.
- How did Parse keep up with the Wraith in their first meeting (given the latter’s well-known physical prowess and the former just being a programmer up until a short time before their fight)? One thing that will come up in the cover discussion: just what does ’80s Parse look like? Was this just bad writing or did she have more powers early on or something? Did some outside event distract Wraith so that she couldn’t give chase? Parse likely doesn’t look like her SotM iteration and might be in better shape - this early on she wasn’t a computer programmer as that backstory was added in later. The main thing that answers this question is that Parse has an edge in that you can imagine a fight you’re in with somebody who’s better at fighting than you, but if you’ve got a little voice in your head that tells you everything that they’re going to do with enough lead time for you to react to it you might do a lot better. Everything that Wraith does, Parse can see coming. Parse, on the other hand, is doing stuff that Wraith doesn’t understand [I’m imagining computer AI and genetic algorithms finding solutions to a problem through roundabout ways that the human programmers can’t sort out how they work, but they work nonetheless.] This isn’t a good match-up for the Wraith if only because she’s fighting somebody who knows all of her tricks. At the point of this confrontation Parse is being treated like the Villain of the piece and they’re allowed to be more powerful than the heroes too (“always seeing every outcome perfectly” would make for a boring hero - which is another reason for the transition to seeing multiple outcomes later; it just makes her more interesting).
- [First birthday notice: song request “Princes of the Universe” by Queen.]
- [Princess Cool letter] Was Parse always plus-sized like she is now? What about her costume - always the kind of civilian, street clothes look or more classic superhero or edgy like the tone of the early comics? Was her personality much different? They talked about her personality and not-yet-canonically-Australian stuff a bit earlier. She probably looked a bit more stereotypical for comics - she may have been a bit “curvier” than average but not yet plus-sized. The personality shift to be more like modern Parse probably started in the ’90s with her look becoming our now-familiar version after the retelling of the Cosmic Omintron event in Cosmic Concurrence that happened in ’08. Her original outfit: see the cover.
- Did she have any recurring target that eluded her in the early days and/or notable supporting cast? They invented a supporting cast member just now! There was probably a recurring antagonist of some sort, but they don’t have one in mind. That sort of thing is also tricky considering that she didn’t have her own book and was only an occasional feature in other things at this stage. Most of her early foes were likely no- or low-powered and were related to urban crime stuff - and the bad ones at that. She’s taking on the drug trade, smugglers, human trafficking operations, etc. She’s not just tracking down the guy who stole your TV.
- Was she more centered in Australia in the early days? Nope (again, because her being Australian wasn’t established until later), there probably wasn’t even a story with her in Australia at all until the late ’90s at the earliest.
- [Letter ends with second birthday request, which is the Cooltopia National Anthem… whatever that would be.]
- [Letter from somebody with Asperger’s] Can you see why I would be a bit concerned with how you’re using Parse’s diagnosis as a reason for her to be the way she is and/or need to have some specific traumatic event to convince her that murder is wrong? Can you talk more about her motivations? They’re not intending to imply that. A lot of it is tied up in the history getting from the origins of the character and how she operated for a number of years to the later reality of the character. She was created to be this dark, edgy murder machine. It was after her reinvention (to make her a person) that they explored how her having an experiential difference from the majority of people would explain why she acted differently from other people as well (and that’s not even getting into her power set that’s an extra layer on top of that which is its own kind of feedback loop with how her mind already works). They don’t want to say that her difference is bad, just different. All of that being said, they also have to address something that’s really weird about their jobs - they’re aiming for a sense of verisimilitude within the context of comics publishing over the course of decades. If they’re going to be introducing a character who has Asperger’s or is otherwise on the Autism Spectrum, they also feel like they need to have the depiction of that character feel right for how comics writers of the day would have treated such a character (and how later writers would have “fixed” them by changing the characterization to reflect more modern understanding of such people). This means that characters like Parse, Tachyon, and Argent Adept should feel like how those characters should be portrayed now, but the old stories probably wouldn’t feel right. As such, modern Parse doesn’t feel like a murderer. It’s like people looked at this character disassociating her actions from her emotions, somebody at some point decided it was because she had Asperger’s, then even later somebody decided that no, it wasn’t because of her Asperger’s, but they still retained that fact of her existence that she has it. There’s something of a rule of thumb in comics that “canon is the last ten years” - a character’s portrayal and outlook shouldn’t be examined too closely farther back than that. It’s a rolling window, so changes can be gradual, but anything older than that can be considered more as trivia than something that needs to be maintained as true as far as the cultural understanding of the character is concerned. They hope that addresses your concerns, but if they’re messing up on things like this they want us to let them know about it, so thanks for your letter.
- Given her placement as Australian, did the writers give any hint that Parse may have had any part of the design of the Australia II racing yacht that broke the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year winning streak at the America’s Cup? The timeline problem is that that happened in the early ’80s, at which point (even if the comics writers were into competitive sailboat racing) Parse wasn’t Australian. Maybe some clever writer in the ’90s or later would have had her involved (hey, remember that boat from like ’82?) [but then we get into elastic timeline/age problems after a while].
- Given the amount of news coverage this event caused, could Sentinel Comics have used it as a marketing gimmick to tie her into it? No, for the reasons given (plus the fact that she wasn’t even a character until a year or two after the event, making her less useful as a marketing tool as it would have lost immediacy). That’s a fun snippet of history you’ve tried to connect in. A more likely bit of sports tie-in would be something like Legacy connecting to the Miracle on Ice event somehow.
- Since this episode was delayed due to Adam’s new kid’s arrival, does this mean that this child is somehow Parse’s new weakness? If she’s so great why can she get brought down by a baby? They’re not sure that she has a particular weakness beyond the fact that she’s a fictional character and Adam’s children are real people. Adam could draw a picture of her and then hand it to his kid to tear up, so I guess that makes them stronger than her. Also: it is an objective fact that shortly after his daughter was born the Kansas City Royals won the World Series for the first time in like 50 years and then days after his son was born the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl for the first time in like 50 years. He’s not saying that his children cause Kansas City sports teams to do well, but that their entering the world bends reality around them.
- [Birthday singing commences at 1:15:40 - Christopher makes up a Cooltopia anthem.]
- Adam wants to do “Parse surrounded by bad guys”. We’re in the ’80s and so it can be pretty stylized/not a literal scene from the issue. Christopher suggests just having guns pointed at her without even them even held by a person, but Adam thinks that’s too modern. The point should be “look at how cool Parse is” while she’s surrounded by the drug boys. Christopher likes the tag line “Crime Will Pay!” without even naming the central character here - the emphasis is on the bad guys getting what’s coming to them and playing on the “Crime doesn’t pay” cliche.
- What’s her costume? Black leather? Yeah, probably, but more of a lived in “leather jacket” kind of vibe. Maybe a back quiver and a hip quiver to sell the idea that she shoots a lot of arrows. Maybe put a knife on her belt too. She should look ready to take on the world. They should put her symbol in there somewhere to get across the human computer thing. Adam thinks that her wearing glasses is something added later with the programmer background detail. Christopher brings up the idea of a lens over one eye (for a particular cultural association) but that would be superfluous as she does that stuff in her head. Maybe have her have one of the symbols painted on the side of her face.