The Letters Page: Episode 140
April will make a fool out of all of us!
Run Time: 1:30:04
This episode is the first one we've ever recorded remotely! If you can tell right away, apologies for the drop in audio quality. We'd much rather record in person, but the health and safety of Adam's family and Christopher's cat are too important to sacrifice. If you can't detect a notable drop in quality, that's because Trevor is an AV wizard!
As a result of not recording using our usual setup, we aren't able to pause recording really, so these episodes are much more "uncut". Trevor still edits them quite a bit, but we attempt to push through and do as much "live" as possible. Does that make for a better listening experience? Heck, we don't know - we've never done this before!
We talk a bit about social distancing and other current events for a bit, get to work around 8 minutes in, get to your questions a little bit after the 45 minute mark, and then talk about the cover for a few minutes starting just before the 1 hour and 19 minute mark before calling it a day. All in all, a worthwhile Friday afternoon, that we now deliver to you on a Tuesday!
We look forward to unveiling more of the Multiverse for you soon!
- This is a Miss Information story that’s got to be happening in April because of the “April Fools” prompt. Her first appearance, as Miss Information, was January ’05. The Administrative Assassin limited series that goes into her backstory starts the following month and the incident with Parse where she gets all the chemicals dumped on her was a year later in February ’06. She shows up again in 2015 with the Reality Defaced limited series and her appearance in Cosmic Contest.
- Which iteration of Miss Information is this then? It pretty much has to be the latter, masked version of her. The “classic” version really only existed for those 14 months in ’05 and ’06 and she was the main villain during that time. Telling a throw-away story of the big bad in the middle of their run as big bad doesn’t really work. Even more, because this has to be an April issue, and there’s only one April early on in that run (while Administrative Assassin is still running) it seems even more out-of-place.
- So, they mentioned that she shows up jobbing for other villains in the “mid ’10s”, so she was up to stuff again before the Reality Defaced and Cosmic Contest things happens (the “reverse pep-talk” from Baron Blade, even if it was eventually retconned in Burying the Blade, needed to be based on his knowledge of what she was now up to). They can slot this issue into that era, somewhere between 2012 and 2014.
- Christopher’s proposal: the “April Fools” don’t refer to the heroes, but to the villains that Miss Info has manipulated into doing what she wants. It can act as a sort of “team name” in that she can refer to them as her April Fools or something. Possible options could be drawn from her Team Villain deck: the mini-nemeses in there are Balarian, Green Grosser, Heartbreaker, and Judge Mental. She could probably arrange for them to be involved (the trickiest would be Balarian, but as of Reality Defaced she can open portals to the Realm of Discord, so that’s not out of the question. She doesn’t even need to “manipulate” Balarian, just getting a Balarian into the normal reality/dimension is good enough in terms of trouble-making. That still gets a “behind the scenes” vibe for her m. o. without really taking the fight to the heroes herself or doing stuff that would have impressed Blade.
- Then the question becomes “Which book do we put this in?” as some books might already have stuff going on in April of the years they’re looking at. Young legacy takes over what becomes America’s Newest Legacy in issue #500 around this time (August 2013). They like the idea of it being Justice Comics or Mystery Comics, but which vibe do you want to go for? MC skews more on the Crime angle and if we’ve got a bunch of small-time villains that might be the way to go. Let’s go with MC vol. 2 #476 in April 2013. [There is a question of whether Judge Mental was even around by then as he’s a Southwest Sentinels nemesis - it’s a bit tricky to find, but they did go into his connection with Captain Cosmic going all the way back to the ’70s in Editor’s Note 15.]
- Christopher asks if this would be the latest cover that Adam had done for these episodes (ignoring the OblivAeon-related covers he’s done), but The Guise Book #37 was January 2015, Disparation vol. 2 #134 was in October 2013, and Deepest Space #1 was March 2015.
- Now we need to know what her plot is/which heroes are involved. At this point she probably wants revenge on heroes in general and probably Parse in particular, but at this point in the comics, Parse is out in space doing space stuff. They could say that she was back on Earth at the time of this issue, but that seems forced. Maybe this is one of those “Wraith’s identity could be revealed!” plots and she’s doing this convoluted thing with the other villains to make that happen. Obviously Miss Information already knows this, but there have also been prior stories about that and because of those prior stories, nobody who just claims that Wraith is Maia Montgomery will be believed without more definitive proof, thus a more complex plan. This could also start up a brief era of uncertainty regarding the Wraith that could be resolved by OblivAeon. The plan can be something that’s been set up so that Wraith either has to save the day, but gets her identity revealed or fail and keep her secret. Even if it’s just revealed to the “villain community” in some way and then time has to be spent once again convincing people otherwise (they mention that the Hippo wouldn’t be too difficult and come up with some amusing options: “he sees Maya and the Wraith at the same time”, “One is spelled Maya and that one Maia, so they must be different people”, “have Wraith wear a blonde wig”, and so on - Hippo isn’t too bright).
- This could even be part of a series of similar plots to undermine the heroes in some way. Like, maybe she tries to get government funding cut from the Freedom Five project in general or she tries to get Emily Parsons’ political opponents elected in her place.
- Hmm… maybe they zoomed in too much for this. Maybe rather than doing the specific Wraith story for this episode they should have this be an issue where Miss Info is setting up these various schemes. Maybe instead they keep this as a Wraith story (which, spoilers, they seem to have kind of arrived at the idea that Wraith “loses” in this issue to set up that other stuff - at least she “loses” the Miss Info plot while foiling the smaller stuff she set up) that also plays into the stuff that will then happen in other books for the other heroes. Scheming behind the scenes is better for Miss Info than having her spend an issue where we see the setup ahead of time.
- To the actual issue: the cover likely tells the reader that it’s a Miss Information story. We can start in medias res with a running rooftop fight between Wraith and Heartbreaker. While he’s the most dangerous of the goons in use here, he’s also the most “normal” Wraith opponent. We’re probably starting normal and getting weirder as we go (Green Grosser just sets up bombs, Judge Mental doing psychic stuff is further afield, Balarian is just cosmic nonsense to begin with).
- Anyway, the fight goes about how you’d think. He gets in some good shots, as does she. He threatens some bystanders, she protects them. Eventually she captures him, but his response is a smug/amused/gloating “Ha! This is going to be great. I can’t wait to see the look on your face.” He just can’t help himself in revealing that there’s more to come, but it doesn’t matter because they’ll get her in the end. The police wagon that he gets put into drives off, but then its path gets blocked by the explosions happening around the whole area because of Green Grosser. We can even say that the wagon was wrecked in the explosion - Heartbreaker escapes, but between that and the fight with Wraith he’s obviously not going to be part of this going forward.
- Green Grosser can even just be on a rooftop near some market or something laughing about his bombs as he sets them off. No need to be subtle here. It’s even better for the events going on here to be really straightforward. The important bit is just that she’s burning through her resources and eventually has to return to Montgomery Industries, and one of the encounters there is when she’s at risk of her identity being revealed.
- Playing on that a bit, we have a bomb wind up damaging her equipment and face wrapping. She returns to the nearby Montgomery Industries building to re-stock from her stash there. It’s while she’s doing that a power outage locks Wraith out of her equipment room before she can change into the spare Wraith outfit (normally this wouldn’t happen, but Miss Information knows how to set this up), so she has to, instead, change into some standard business-wear and just be Maya Montgomery for now. Then Judge Mental shows up and so Wraith has to deal with him (making a normally familiar place be confusing using his mind powers) while she’s not equipped as the Wraith. Even better, she’s interacting with employees in the dark building as herself, but they don’t seem to know who she is, so she keeps telling people. What’s happening is that there are a bunch of other villains here who have been instructed to play along rather than fight her - Judge Mental is just making them look like employees, the plan is that they’re tricking Wraith into revealing her identity herself.
- Maybe if that’s the route we’re taking, there should be an interlude before she arrives at Montgomery Industries where Miss Information is auctioning off the opportunity to be part of this “event” where one of their greatest foes will just walk up to them, reveal important information about themselves, and then walk away.
- Anyway, she doesn’t have to go through this long before figuring out that something is up. Like, Judge Mental’s plan here is to have her think that she’s talking to “trusted confidants” without realizing that Wraith doesn’t really have many of those and so she winds up having the weird conversation with two villains “disguised” as the same person twice. Now she’s on high alert.
- Come to think of that, maybe the interlude showing what’s going on should come in around here as a flashback so the readers get a little taste of the weirdness before we find out what’s going on. Additionally, we can get the impression that Miss Info is auctioning off a number of bespoke experiences for villains - this one is this thing with the Wraith, but we get the impression that it’s neither the first nor the last such auction she’s holding which sets the stage for the other issues’ events for the other heroes.
- We have arrived at the point where they need to acknowledge that the villains aren’t the “April Fools” that Miss Info has manipulated, but that this is a sort of April Fools’ Day “prank” that she’s pulling on the heroes. This plot can be seen as a place where she’s realized the worth of and is monetizing her knowledge of the heroes, but this approach is still something that wouldn’t get Baron Blade’s approval. This kind of approach is petty from his perspective.
- Ok, so how does Wraith handle the situation she’s in? She defeated Heartbreaker (although he escaped in the end) and she beat a tactical retreat from Green Grosser intending to return to deal with him, but now she’s stuck in this powerless building. She goes to the roof to just get outside and make her way down.
- We’ve also arrived at the conclusion here that Wraith neither encounters nor even knows about the involvement of Miss Information in this whole thing.
- Anyway, now that she’s on the roof and outside a portal can open up for Balarian to come through. She can fight it with her normal skills and whatnot, but still in her civilian identity. They toy with the idea that news helicopters show up to cover the incident, but decide that goes too far - they don’t want this to be a “revealed to the public” thing.
- Here they decide that she should probably still be “Wraith” for this fight, so maybe once she’s onto the plot she returned to her office to put on the damaged costume and just improvise a mask out of a shirt or something, so that’s the look she has during the Balarian encounter.
- During that fight she winds up pulled through portals into the Realm of Discord and eventually gets thrown back out into normal reality - and through the roof of the Wretched Hive, now surrounded by villains and unmasked. More: this was planned - like, she falls onto a dais surrounded by seated villains waiting for her. She falls, lands, gets hit with a spotlight, and the villains applaud the entrance. End of book.
- They do need to add a bit of Miss Information into things here, though - the heroes will need to have some kind of thread to pull to figure out what’s going on and, besides, this is a little too smart for her. She has hubris, she needs for the heroes to know that their downfall is at her hands.
- So, Wraith falls, through some stuff to slow her descent some so she’s not killed outright. As she stands after her rough landing, a voice in the darkness: “Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for. I present to you…” *spotlight* “The Wraith! Or should I say, Maya Montgomery?!” That’s when the audience becomes visible and they do their ovation. We also see Miss Information here off to the side, acting as the master of ceremonies for the proceedings.
- They like the idea of changing the issue title/cover trade dress to “April’s Fool”.
- You’ve described Miss Information’s powers as “reality warping” but also as “illusions”, so how real are her changes - is she overwriting reality somehow as long as she’s focusing? After she warped a hole into the side of the asylum she was in so that she could escape, did the hole remain after she left? If she were to make you think that a delicate vase was a bowling ball that you then dropped, would it break? If so, when it lands or later after her she stops maintaining the illusion? If you were to throw red paint on the ball, would the vase be splattered once it reverted? What’s happening is that she’s creating illusions so strong that they become the TRUTH as long as she’s focused - the “overwriting reality” idea is accurate. So, while she’s exerting her control, the vase is a bowling ball, and so would behave like a bowling ball up until she stops exerting her control. The vase wouldn’t break at any point because during all of the events that would have broken it, it had the qualities of the ball and is now safely on the ground. It would be covered in paint, though, since paint was still thrown on it.
- [Letter from Reborn Once More with a Clear Mind Maurice, he’s had quite a journey] Why does she deal Sonic damage on her flipside? They like the idea that its because of her monologuing and you have to listen to her horrifying revelations. They don’t specifically remember the logic from back in the design phase [personally, I like the idea that it’s her cackling laughter]. Part of the rationale for it not being Psychic damage is that they didn’t want to give the impression that she herself was psychic in some way.
- What would she do if she had succeeded in defeating the Freedom Five? She’s spent her entire adult life working with/for these people, so is she subconsciously holding herself back from actually winning? Would she keep bringing back reality-warped copies of them to continue the fight if she won because she’s so fixated? She believes that she wants them dead, or at the very least she wants to defeat them (see her delusion of some of them serving her after her victory). She wants them to admit that they “wronged” her, which they haven’t done since that was the Freedom Five in another reality. It might be hard for her to move on with her life if she had killed them all because of her fixation and might create some kind of simulacra of them to keep things going.
- Did the FF hire a new administrative assistant after Aminia… left their employ? Was this new person as much a fixture in the supporting cast? Did the support staff in Freedom Tower fall even more into the background after she left? They learned a valuable lesson in the process in that they didn’t have a single person who had that much importance in the organization. Aminia had a bunch of other people under her in various segments of the operation, and that division of labor was maintained. We meet some of those directors in the decade between Miss Information and OblivAeon, but there’s not a lot involving them directly. After OblivAeon the org-chart for Freedom Plaza is much different even from that.
- Have any other denizens of the Multiverse (besides Guise) tried to impact their fate by directly messing with the Sentinel Comics staff/writers/etc.? Certainly there were probably stories (probably in the Silver Age), when Baron Blade had some plot involving the “Smentinel Comics” office (where the staff members very obviously resembled people working at SC at the time). The comics world in the ’60s and ’70s was a pretty small one and people put themselves or their colleagues in their books all the time. However, what we wouldn’t have are characters (again, besides Guise) interacting with these people in an attempt to influence meta-level events.
- Does the Naturalist have any recurring human characters who primarily interact with him while he’s in an animal form? Any that don’t know that he’s a shape-changer and think this weird green Rhino is just an individual animal that shows up occasionally? There probably had to be some characters like that over the years, but they’d be minor characters who probably only exist for a single issue rather than being recurring characters.
- While Naturalist was living in the Rook City sewers as a crocodile were there any epic croc/Plague Rat battles? They already mentioned the time when he and Akash'Thriya fought the RevoCorp Plague Rat, but that was well after the “living in Rook City sewers” story. What you’re describing probably happened at some point, though. Jumping forward a bit, Christopher has had this rattling around in his head for a bit and now thinks that in the Final Wasteland the leader of the Rat Beasts is a rat king made of Rat Beasts. That prompts Adam to consider that in those Plague Rat/Naturalist fights, Naturalist can talk with Plague Rat. Generally PR stories just have him as this snarling thing that occasionally resembles words that the man he was used to know, but he and Naturalist could have something approaching normal hero/villain fight banter (although PR is still really rage-driven).
- If Naturalist can communicate with animals, are there any investigative stories where he has to turn into an animal to get information from another animal (say, he turns into a gazelle or something just so he can get some intel from Evil Boardmember #8’s pet cat)? How about other heroes’ pets/companions (like Huginn and Muninn)? That’s used as a bit in Naturalist stories, like somebody’s pets or the pigeons outside some building. That being said, birds are real stupid and it’s hard to get any useful information out of them. It would need to be very specific information that birds would care about/pay attention to for that to work.
- Where are most of Naturalist’s stories set? Is he mainly in Nigeria? Other named countries? Just a generic westerner’s mental picture of what Africa is; full of jungles and warlords? In a meta-sense was it aimed at an African market, or still mainly in the US? The short answer is “yes”. It’s aimed at an American market. If the main story had started in the ’70s, it probably would have been all “jungles and warlords”, but as it was in the ’90s that’s toned down (although not absent). In the ’90s he’s probably all over Africa, but later on he’s likely getting writers who put in the time/effort to make things very Nigeria focused or at the least going to a specific named place to deal with something specific to that place (like, they might do a blood diamond story so they do some actual research into where/what that entails).
- [Letter from Vince Snyder - not that one, but he’s writing on behalf of all Vince Snyder’s out there and it’s pretty entertaining, starts at 1:07:05] Can you tell us about any frivolous lawsuits that have been brought against Sentinel Comics? The only high-profile one they had isn’t exactly frivolous, but it was the Justice Comics situation. To be candid, though, they don’t want to make life difficult for the writers of the History of Sentinel Comics by making up a lot of details like this in the meta-verse. There were probably some concerned Christian mothers who had problems with Fanatic. Maybe something involving the depiction of the military in some way. Likely somebody whose kid tried to emulate a hero and injured themselves. They can also imagine a situation where some other corporate body filed a suit because there was a passing similarity between a mascot and a character: let’s say in the meta-verse there’s a professional sport team that are “The Hippos” and they sued because of the Sentinel Comics character even though the only similarity is the fact that he’s a guy in a hippopotamus outfit.
- [Princess Cool letter] So, acknowledging the problems that arise in boss/secretary relationships in the real world, this is comics, so did Michael and Chima ever get together (note: she doesn’t actually ship this, Naturalist/Akash'Thriya OTP!)? They actually had a conversation about this while they were doing that episode that they did not want to imply sexual tension or a “will they/won’t they” thing at all, but knowing that somebody (probably Princess Cool, so thanks for taking the bait) would ask about it. They also decided that this mirrors how things went in the writers room as well - that kind of thing wouldn’t be implied in the writing, but the conversations in the fandom run rampant with discussions of it (with, maybe the occasional furtive glance or something thrown in by the artists just to stoke those fires). Any little sign of affection, which would be normal for childhood friends to show one another, is latched onto by the shippers. By the present the fact that it’s never been acknowledged in the writing has reached the “they must be doing this on purpose” levels of reading what you want to see into the subtext.
- What’s up with the Naturalist in Universe 1 after OblivAeon (the Future section of his episode is rather sparse on details)? They’re not super ready to talk about in-depth, he’s not likely to show up in the RPG until they get a few source books into the run (he’d be in the Prime Wardens book). There are 20 Sentinel Comics titles that are part of the post-OA relaunch and he’s the headliner of one of them, Wildlife, which is the name he takes up in this era. The brief for that book is as follows: “Michael Conteh, formerly the shape-shifting hero known as the Naturalist, has lost control of his powers. Given the stresses of recent encounters with Earth spirits, cosmic beings and the potential end of reality, he was forced to stretch his spirit in ways he had never before considered. Now he traverses the natural world, attempting to reconnect with the Earth itself. His goal, to save the world from its most basic threats. But, in the pursuit of that goal, he may have to sacrifice his humanity.”
- They probably want Miss Information on the cover because letting the readers know she’s involved isn’t a problem, but she’s got so little time on-page. They also want the “April’s Fool” phrase on there.
- Christopher proposes (and not this specifically, but something along these lines) her looking into a crystal ball or a monitor or something watching the Wraith. Adam thinks maybe go a bit more abstract, with her manipulating the Wraith with strings as you would a puppet, but that sounds like something they’ve already done. Leaning on the auction house probably spoils things a bit. They don’t want “Wraith surrounded by a bunch of Miss Informations” because that setup puts the focus on the surrounded character.
- Maybe play into one of the minor villains? Have her leaning on the giant gavel that Judge Mental has (which also is a subtle way to suggest the auction)? That seems like it only works if Judge Mental has more to do with the story as a whole.
- Do we even need the Wraith? It’s a Mystery Comics issue and Wraith is in the first page, so that’s not a problem. What’s something cool we can have for Miss Information to be doing? How about several villains with Miss Information masks? That’s a cool visual, but likely not right for this issue - that might be great for a book later in this arc (possibly even the very next issue). To riff on that, maybe Wraith in the Miss Info mask? That reads too much as a body-switching story.
- Maybe they should focus more on the Wraith given that she is “April’s Fool”. Maybe some scared-looking Wraith with the whole background just being a giant Miss Information mask. There’s something there. Maybe Wraith is on a Montgomery Industries sign that’s crumbling out from under her, showing what’s at stake? That’s something to go with, Adam will just see what comes together when he goes to draw it.