The Letters Page: Episode 146
Adam's birth month is over! There will be feasting and dancing in May next year!
Run Time: 1:15:31
After some birth month/day talk, we get into the overview a couple minutes in, where we first attempt to clear up some misconceptions, which devolves into a conversation not at all pertinent to the world of Sentinel Comics. Then, we once again go into too many issues for a single Writers' Room episode, but not as bad as other recent episodes. We just have a penchant for writing in arcs.
At a bit before the 38 minute mark, we get to your delightful questions! And then, at just before the 1 hour and 10 minute mark, we talk very briefly about the cover, which you can see above.
If you're a contributor to the Letters Page Patreon, the topic submission form for this month went live yesterday! Let us know who you want us to talk about! We're settling into the new way things work here, and we're excited to create even more stories for you.
- The Idolater
- Citizen Dawn
- Prime Wardens
- The Operative
- Zhu Long
- The Citizens of the Sun
- Blade Battalion
- Baron Blade
- Grand Warlord Voss
- Citizens Blood, Sweat, and Tears
- Citizens Pain and Gain
- Citizens: The Seasons
- Citizens Truth or Dare
- Mr. Fixer
- Aeon Girl
- Aeon Master
- Borr the Unstable
- Nixious the Chosen
- Wager Master
- Today is a story involving Citizens Hammer and Anvil (who aren’t just Adam and Christopher self-inserts - they’re more based on characters that they played in other games). Christopher has an idea coming in; the Citizens Imperative one-shot is in May 2004. That’s the first time we see them in their new outfits as they are sent out into the world to “do stuff” for Dawn. The first such example of “stuff” then occurs the next month over in Fanatic vol. 2 #32.
- In Episode 81 (the Multiverse Recap) they mentioned that this issue is the first time we see the Idolater with his burned face, but this can’t be right as that event would have been back in the late ’70s or early ’80s and he’d have been around again before 2004. He’s too useful of a character to be absent 20 years.
- So, what are they up to? Hammer and Anvil are probably on a recruitment drive, but they wouldn’t be recruiting Fanatic. Would they recruit Idolater? Maybe it’s more like Idolater is recruiting a “flock” of powered people to oppose Fanatic, but then Hammer and Anvil show up and so they’re in conflict with one another over who’s joining up with whom. Then Fanatic shows up to break up the party.
- Given that Hammer and Anvil’s whole deal here is that they’re going to be showing up in a variety of titles as they go about their business, there’s no need for them to really be “defeated” here, just sent packing. They like the idea that maybe this “cult” that Idolater is putting together is a story in-progress that Fanatic’s already been dealing with that Hammer and Anvil just cross over into.
- More positioning detail: the first 10 issues of this volume of Fanatic are in period where the Prime Wardens are falling apart (vol. 1 of PW ended in August 2002 vol. 2 starts up in July 2011). We’re still relatively early in the “former Prime Wardens doing their individual solo things” phase - they would do crossover stuff occasionally at this point, but still mainly seeing what having solo adventures was like now.
- Given the era, a 6 issue arc makes sense, so Fanatic vol. 2 #31-36 are the “Congregation” arc involving Idolater’s new cult. Idolater is gathering a powerful flock with the intent of taking on Fanatic directly. This calls back to earlier in this volume [see the Fall of Prime Wardens episode, #106] where Idolater was controlling Bugbear to attack her - this is a follow-up to that tactic. Instead of just one jerk with powers fighting her, he wants a whole group of them.
- This line of thought sparks an idea: Hammer and Anvil play along. They totally want to join this guy’s congregation and aren’t just in it to get in good with everyone else before taking over and bringing everybody north with them once Idolater’s plans go south.
- Fun discussion ensues about who the recruits are/how they have powers. Thoughts include: people who got powers after being collateral damage during previous Fanatic battles, people that Idolater is giving powers (which doesn’t work - his power set is twisting people’s minds and you have to be very careful about introducing ways to just give people powers), people in that first category who have beef with Fanatic but whom Idolater just makes them think that they have powers that he’s given them (which might start manifesting if Fanatic thinks that he’s given them powers - but we’re getting too many layers here as to be confusingly complicated). He could be handing out relics (Host-based or not - they’re wary of leaning on that too much) that give people minor powers, but if Hammer and Anvil are potential recruits, you’d think he’d be able to get people who already have power too.
- Adam has an idea for a similar group of people that Fanatic has burned like she did Idolater, and that mark is part of the group identity (as “The Marked” or “The Scarred” or something as the group name). Hammer and Anvil don’t have that going for them, but they’re joining the cause. There could also be a thing with any that Hammer and Anvil successfully recruit who have additional scarring done to change the existing mark into the Citizens symbol.
- Christopher’s remix of that idea: Idolater has a group of people he’s calling the Marked Congregation. They’ve all been wronged by Fanatic in some way before. Idolater is the one branding the cross into their faces as part of their initiation (and also linking his own power to them - each person acts as an additional conduit for him to pull on for his Host stuff, he’s repaired the damage to his cross relic by now, and also boosts them up a bit individually). Hammer and Anvil come across this happening somehow, see this old man “giving people powers” somehow and infiltrate - the don’t come in as Citizens of the Sun, but just as two dudes who hate that darn Fanatic. They figure that they can easily take over once Idolater’s plan crashes and burns. Adding the mark isn’t an issue, Anvil’s healing powers can remove them later (for any new recruits too).
- Additionally, they like the idea that since Hammer and Anvil don’t know the ins and outs of what Idolater is doing, things don’t go to plan. Not only do the people not actually have powers (they’re just piggy-backing on Idolater’s own while he draws on their life force to buff his own connection to the Host), when they get linked up to him, this powers Idolater up a lot because of their own strength that he can pull on. It’s kind of fun that Hammer and Anvil fail hard in their first outing - likely breaking free of Idolater during the ensuing fight with Fanatic. This fits into the characterization of these two as falling in with whatever charismatic “leader” is around - we don’t really see them successfully recruiting anybody despite how many times we see them show up during this phase of their story. They’re natural henchmen and so keep getting caught up in other people’s plans. They’re at their best when they’re working for a cause. Also, The idolater is a card in the VotM Operative deck, and they can totally see a situation where Hammer and Anvil wind up working for Zhu Long and getting bamboozled in largely the same way (thinking they’ll be able to recruit some people with powers out of the deal somehow, which Zhu Long is happy to let them think is even a remote possibility).
- That’s not to say that Hammer and Anvil aren’t worth taking seriously. They’re very powerful and have things they’re very good at (such as fighting the heroes) - just “leading” isn’t one of them and so other competent leaders see these powerful guys and will make full use of them if the opportunity presents itself.
- Adam’s worried that this is maybe taking their characterization too far in this direction. They do have some limited successes during this period, but they probably don’t have a large number of unqualified successes just due to the lack of any notable new Citizens having their origin in this recruitment drive.
- But shouldn’t there be some success/impact from this? Sure Citizens Imperative is a one-shot, but it’s not a stand-alone thing, it kicks off an ongoing story. Shouldn’t it actually matter that they’re out there doing stuff even if it’s not a standard crossover event (i.e. it’s not something happening simultaneously in several titles, these guys just crop up periodically across titles)? Christopher thinks the one-shot serves to answer one question (it’s been several years since we saw her, where is Citizen Dawn? She’s biding her time,) while prompting a related story where a few Citizens get involved as bit players in other stories.
- Adam’s not convinced - characters can just show up, you don’t need a one-shot to “give permission” for them to do so. You have a one-shot to draw attention to it, so it should be leading somewhere. Christopher starts suggesting that maybe it is, but that whatever that was got supplanted by OblivAeon, but that’s still 12 years out, which is a bit far for that to be the explanation. They could see if there’s room for another Citizen Dawn story in that time, but that seems unlikely given how crowded things got in that pre-OblivAeon space.
- Maybe it’s enough that their mission is not just a recruitment drive, but that it’s to also take down the heroes who have foiled the Citizens of the Sun so many times in the past. Just having them going after the heroes is enough narrative reason to pay attention to them. Also, it’s possible that there was originally some editorial plan for where this was going, but it could have been dropped for other reasons - if so, they should still think of what that was even if it never made it to the page as it could inform what stories get told with them.
- How about this: the Citizens were used a lot in the ’90s, leading up to the big blowout Sunrise story. So, even after a break in using them for a few years when people start itching for some Citizen Dawn stuff, the opinion is that it’s still too soon for more of that. The compromise is this lower-stakes thing with just Hammer and Anvil out and about. This was meant to lead to another big Dawn event, but which doesn’t actually materialize (getting bumped for something like Vengeance: Returned or whatever).
- The main concrete effect of Citizens Imperative is that Citizens Hammer and Anvil are available to writers as villains who can appear out in the world as often as would be usual for characters of their power level without specifically being tied into a particular Citizen Dawn story. That sounds good. Back to the story at hand.
- Ok, to recap: the “Congregation” arc is about the Idolater finding a bunch of people who have beef with Fanatic. He connects their lifeforce to his own, which grants them a small amount of power while also increasing his own ability to draw on the Host power stuff. Hammer and Anvil observe this and just see a bunch of people being given powers and figure they can pull a fast one to get some recruits, but they don’t understand what’s actually going on. When they link up with Idolater, he actually gets access to their powers and is really powerful now [I’m imagining Idolater able to use “holy fire” and getting the big glowing wings thing that Anvil does]. So, when Fanatic shows up she has to deal with a bunch of people with minor levels of power, Hammer and Anvil who are slightly depowered, and a crazy-powerful Idolater.
- They like the idea of, several issues into this thing, when Hammer and Anvil realize that they’re not actually getting anything out of this deal that they turn on Idolater as well. Maybe not exactly “joining forces” with Fanatic, but at least opposing Idolater. Yeah, that’s roll with that. Cliffhanger in issue 5 ending with their betrayal of Idolater with issue 6 being a big Hammer, Anvil, and Fanatic vs. Idolater and the Congregation fight.
- This also lends itself to a funny finale. They win, then turn to Fanatic to give her the recruitment pitch. *scoff*, *radiant blast*, *flies away*
- So, issues: 1st has Idolater setting stuff up, 2nd has Hammer and Anvil joining, 3rd and 4th can be largely from Hammer and Anvil’s perspectives as they’re part of this thing, 5th and 6th is the fight after Fanatic shows up.
- There we go. Got a good Hammer and Anvil story, plus we worked out a better picture of exactly what their role in Sentinel Comics was during this period.
- Given that Anvil doesn’t talk, but he and Hammer spend a lot of time together, do they actually have conversations? Does Anvil use sign language or write stuff down, or does he just suffer through Hammer monologing (perhaps wishing he was deaf as well)? Closest to that last one. Hammer does a lot of talking and will say stuff like “… and Anvil’s with me on this” when Anvil is not. Anvil is doing a job for Citizen Dawn and that job is to keep Hammer’s loose cannon tendencies checked and aimed in the right direction. He does this mostly through actions and the occasional word - he’s not totally mute, but he can’t string together words to form complete sentences. Even sign-language or similar wouldn’t help because he’s been cursed with an inability to communicate effectively. Changing the medium of communication doesn’t solve that. Now, the two of them have worked with one another long enough that they can get by with this, and some level of non-verbal communication/body language makes it through and so they’re very effective as a combat team, but to an outside observer it frequently just looks like Hammer talking at Anvil for hours on end with maybe the occasional noise from Anvil in response. In any event, Hammer thinks that Anvil’s on his side. Anvil is on Hammer’s side in that he’s on Citizen Dawn’s side and she’s tasked him with being Hammer’s handler. Hammer thinks “we’re two peas in a pod” and Anvil thinks “this f***ing guy.” Anvil’s hold the leash of a rabid dog. He gets along with the dog, but he never forgets that its rapid.
- [Letter from “Please call me Maurice, 'Crazy, Old' was my father"] Would Hammer unquestioningly kill Anvil if Dawn ordered it, or would he at least ask why? Probably not. Hammer would be more likely to turn on Dawn. In the reverse situation, Anvil could probably be convinced to turn on Hammer, but there’d need to be a reason. Even so, such an order would likely lead him to question Dawn in the long run. At least, as things stand now - early on, before the two of them had any loyalty to one another, Anvil probably wouldn’t need so much convincing. Even now, they could also see Anvil “smiting” Hammer take the form of a teleport as the blow landed, making it seem like he was obliterated, but later Anvil teleports himself to where he sent Hammer in order to team back up. Dawn isn’t likely to do this sort of thing, though. She’s evil but not unhinged. It would take some masterwork level amount of manipulation/irrefutable evidence that one of them had betrayed her for this to happen. Even then, Dawn isn’t above getting her hands dirty anyway (poor Citizen Lance). The only reason she might have for having one of them kill the other instead of just blasting them herself is if they both betrayed her and so having them fight one another is part of the punishment. She might kill the other anyway, but if we’re telling this story, this is probably where the “Anvil teleports Hammer away” thing comes in as they’re joined at the hip. They both know that neither betrayed Dawn, so now they have a duo mission to get to the bottom of this/clear their names.
- Are Hammer and Anvil the most loyal henchmen in the pages of Sentinel Comics? If not, who is? There’s possibly at least some segment of the Mordengradian population/Blade Battalion who are more loyal to Baron Blade than Hammer and Anvil are to Dawn. That’s probably the only close contender, though. The Thorathians follow Grand Warlord Voss because he’s a powerful leader more than specific loyalty. You might think of the Operative, but she’s pretty opportunistic. Hammer and Anvil are definitely the most loyal named henchmen.
- How does Dawn going about forming the teams of Citizens? Does she group them up and then give team names? Do they pick names and just get paired up otherwise? Some “teams” had pre-existing associations (Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Pain and Gain), but were there teams that didn’t work out that had been put together after getting named? Was there an Odd Couple situation with Hammer and Anvil when they first got put together? A lot of them were associates before becoming Citizens. We know that Anvil was sent to break Hammer out of prison and then be his minder, but it’s not exactly an Odd Couple dynamic. The Seasons were unaffiliated with one another and were specifically recruited to be the Seasons. Truth and Dare were associates with thematic naming that don’t work together. There’s probably not a “usual” way for things to get grouped up - it’s a mix.
- You didn’t mention in Citizen Dawn’s episode where her powers come from in the first place; what is her power source? She’s one of the very few characters who doesn’t have an explanation for her powers come up in the pages of Sentinel Comics. She shows up early enough that she got away with just having them. That goes on for long enough as a status quo that eventually it becomes the official position of Sentinel Comics editorial that her powers aren’t explained. [I would note that back in the Sunrise episode rather than her original episode the “surface level” explanation was exposure to radiation in the environment after nuclear plants started coming online, but that can easily be read as having been subtext/the thought process of the writers at the time rather than something that was explicitly said in the comics themselves.]
- In re-listening to the Parse episode, you had (jokingly) mentioned an app called Caper [this kind of detail didn’t make it into my notes at the time - I’ve tracked this down and it’s part of the question that starts shortly after the 47 minute mark in the Parse episode - the idea was that a hero sees a villain doing something and takes a picture, other heroes swipe left/right to ignore/join the fight], any chance of such a thing becoming canon in the RPG, since it sounds like it could be a useful gimmick? That was a fun bit, but it’s not the kind of thing that likely requires mechanical representation to be used in a game. They can totally see it being a one-off joke that gets mentioned once. Or maybe it’s a Guise thing where he has the idea and makes it/pays somebody to make it. Sure, canonically we’ll say that it exists. That doesn’t mean that they need to figure out anything for the RPG other than saying that it exists.
- At the end of the story in episode 138 (Dark Watch vol. 2 #121 - the Eclipse arc), Expatriette leaves Redeye in stasis at a RevoCorp facility, does Redeye show up in any stories later (even if it’s just a background Easter Egg in RevoCorp Presents or something)? There’s probably at least a cameo somewhere in there before OblivAeon.
- Any plans for Redeye in the RPG (it would be fun for her to show up in the Dark Watch book)? Yes, they have plans for her (and that would be fun).
- In Editor’s Note #41 there was a question about Parse fighting various heroes (like Mr. Fixer) - which heroes did she actually fight in her dark and gritty past? That scary, dark, and gritty period of her existence was in the ’80s and it wouldn’t make much sense for her to fight Expatriette in that era as she was also this dark, gritty anti-hero at the time (although at team-up could be fun). We know she fights Wraith. By the time Setback’s around she’s already beginning the transition to a less extreme character. She probably just doesn’t really fight many heroes. Her stories are more “crime comics” than “superhero comics”, really. Other than her analytical mind, it’s very street-level vigilante vs. gangs involved with drugs and human trafficking.
- In programming there’s a practice known as Rubber Duck Debugging (if something’s not working, you try to explain your code to a rubber duck - just as a target for you to be talking to - to work through things and hopefully notice where you’ve gone wrong) - if Unity were to make a bot for this purpose while working on a project for Tachyon, would it look like her (as the person who’s trying to understand what’s happening), Tachyon (as the person whose experiment it is), or possibly a raptor-sized duck? Probably just a normal duck-bot. An example of her actually doing this sort of thing, though, is Augustus from the ARG - she makes him to help work through a problem it doesn’t quite work out properly, though, as he starts talking in some weird language.
- Your comedic example of Unity making a Unity bot who then makes more bots brings up an RPG question: if somebody makes a Minion, could that Minion make more Minions? Is “Create Minion” something like an Overcome or is it some kind of unique action type that doesn’t fall into one of the Basic categories that Minions can take? That last bit - normally Minions cannot have the ability to create minions. If that’s important for your character concept, you can work with your GM to figure out a way to make that work, but there is not currently a mechanical representation for that sort of thing in the core book.
- [Birthday request: Boombastic by Shaggy]
- How does Omnitron-U feel about being in a new chasis? Any dysphoria or attempts to upgrade into something more high-tech? Omnitron’s quest has always been seeking improvement/advancement. It’s not so much trying to become a “real boy” so much as being the “best boy he can be”. Humanity isn’t the end-all of existence, but he’s got to understand them before he can ultimately, truly surpass them. Does he feel dysphoria? Not really and yes constantly. Whatever body he’s in is what he is, but the change from X to U was the weirdest transition he’s ever had as it was a body built by a person instead of a robot. Now, the differences that come with that “built by a person” thing actually gives him a lot of fresh insight into that “personhood” thing he’s been working on.
- [Another from Sorry Not Sorry] If Omnitron could choose one upgrade, would he prefer: work it harder, make it better, do it faster, or make us stronger? Make it better is probably what you want. Harder, faster, and stronger are all good, but better is ideal.
- Writer “A Space Wizard” just wants to point out that the illustration featuring Sever on Cosmic Tales vol. 2 #541 is his favorite thing Adam’s drawn (beating out the Samrat guard bot on CT vol. 2 #181 - A Space Wizard likes Cosmic Tales covers, go figure). Thanks, he likes those too.
- Did any of the Scions other than Voss actually survive the end of OblivAeon? Are there any left out there doing OblivAeon’s bidding? They don’t want to necessarily talk specifics here, but they will say that destroying OblivAeon doesn’t automatically destroy Scions. Aeon Girl is still around and she’s just made of OblivAeon energy after all. Let’s see… Borr blows up, Aeon Master is destroyed… The old law of serial fiction comes into play - if there’s no on-screen/page death, you can’t assume anything about whether they’ll be back.
- What were Sever’s motivations/goals in becoming a Scion? We’re not really given that on the page because he’s just this one-off villain. That’s not to say it couldn’t be revisited in the future.
- If Nixious’ head survived and eventually met Aeon Girl, would he try to destroy her as some kind of perversion of his master or would he worship her as OblivAeon’s daughter? Well, Nixious is pretty thoroughly dead, but in this hypothetical he’d probably fall more on the worship end of that choice. Possibly seeing her as some kind of “larval” version of his master that must be protected in the correct ways until she takes the mantle of his master.
- Which is more celebrated, Wager Master’s birthday or Adam’s birthmonth? In the pages of Sentinel Comics, Wager Master’s birthday. In the “real world” (if you can even call it that as we’re likely in a simulation), Adam’s birthmonth.
- They’ve got 6 issues to choose from. Adam likes the idea of doing Fanatic #32 (the second part of the story) as it’s Hammer and Anvil-centric as it’s where they come into the story. Christopher thinks that #35 or #36 could be good as they’re the “fight” issues. If they’re going to do #32, though, it should have a lying cover where we see Hammer and Anvil in their Citizen outfits and bowing down to/near Idolater. That’s good. Let’s roll with that.