The Letters Page: Episode 147
Let's talk about Tyler Vance!
Run Time: 1:10:06
We craft three stories, possibly in record time? We were shocked at how well it went, honestly. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
After speedy storytelling, we get into your questions just after the 29 minute mark.
We talk about the cover - which you can see above - at about 1 hour and 2 minutes in. Adam went all in on the Barry Windsor-Smith style!
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Catch y'all next time!
- This is the Day in the Life episode for Bunker. That was from January ’86 and was the third such issue. As a recap, he debuts in The Indestructible Bunker which began way back in November ’52 and was set in the Korean War for a few years. March ’55 was the first story that was set elsewhere just doing his “army comic” thing as he wasn’t really part of the superhero thing until getting roped into the Freedom Four [in August ’57]. Issue #161 from March ’66 is the first Vietnam story. The last issue in was #200 in June ’69 - the book had lost popularity due to the connection to the ongoing Vietnam War. That left him with his “home” in Freedom Five from here on.
- A quirk of how the sliding comic-book timeline works for him is that whatever relatively recent war occurred prior to whatever the “present” is was where his military comics backstory stuff happened. He’s a veteran of whatever the most recent war was.
- So, what was a day in Tyler Vance’s life like in the mid-’80s? What were these comics even like? They did one of these for Unity, but that was before “Writer’s Room” episodes were a thing and that issue was a one-off from a few years later than the initial run. The format of the Unity one was probably inspired by the format for the earlier ones, though, so having three vignettes is probably how this will go.
- Ideas for the stories: something regarding his day-to-day of being on an Army base. Not operations, not superheroing, just life as a military man; another focused on his life with the Freedom Five; and a last one with him on personal time, by himself. One of those should probably involve him doing maintenance on the Bunker suit, but it could really be any of them. An option for the first story could involve him reviewing past battles and running diagnostics on the suit (Adam imagines lots of wires and stuff, citing Barry Windsor-Smith as visual touchstone).
- Christopher’s response to that idea is that we start with Tyler doing his maintenance stuff with this visual look - lots of bright/unrealistic color and visually busy with all of the parts/wires, but have General Armstrong come in for some after-action review while he works. So we have the highly-detailed, but “mundane” art going on while the dialog is about some exciting operation (possibly with the occasional panel from those events too).
- Adam has an idea - a through-line for the story could be him dealing with a judgement call he made in the field and the ramifications of that decision. Maybe Armstrong is there partly to commend his actions, with Vance commenting that he doesn’t feel that he deserves a commendation for it - that he made the wrong call.
- So, what’s the thing? Something that he caused either loss of civilian life or significant property damage. The latter (that has an impact on civilian life) is probably the angle to go with. Armstrong points out that nobody was hurt, but Vance thinks that he could have done better. Like maybe this was in some village somewhere, he makes the call to lay down some covering fire, but now the water supply is tainted or something. In his after-action review he saw that if he’d taken a moment to think things through and reposition before firing things would have worked out better.
- That’s good, but they want to fit in a comment from Armstrong at the end regarding how Vance has matured. Even from the starting point of the promising young recruit that he recommended for the Ironclad Project, he’s stepped up in terms of responsibility and whatnot. Vance has a lot of good influences.
- There’s probably internal monologue from Vance as well, regarding him thinking through the review process. You see all of the things that he’s juggling - they’ve said it before but they want to say it again that operating the Bunker suit is an exercise in multitasking. They want to show that he’s doing that sort of mental workout whenever he’s working.
- Another fun angle is that we see not only the sorts of responsibilities and expectations that have been placed on him by others, but also what kinds of expectations he has for himself above and beyond those.
- Moving on to the Freedom Five story - they still want it to be “day in the life”-y so probably not an action scene. Maybe they’re in a meeting to discuss something they’re about to go off to do. Legacy has ideas for what they need to do, Wraith sees other angles, Tachyon is all “Science, science, science” at it, and Absolute Zero doesn’t care. Bunker’s the guy to see the interlocking pieces from everyone’s perspectives and puts together the plan of action. The others (except AZ) all have things they want to do, but Bunker can be the guy who keeps his ego out of it, takes the “view from 10,000 feet” approach, and puts things together.
- That’s a good starting place, but we can move on from here. Christopher asks if Adam has another artist in mind for this vignette, but he doesn’t really.
- Interpersonal drama! After the meeting, Bunker has a talk with Absolute Zero about not contributing to the planning. AZ “doesn’t even want to be here, man” and Bunker replies that look, he’s been part of this team a long time now and they care about him. What do you bring to the table other than “making things cold”?
- Here’s the thing - Bunker’s wrong. He’s the guy who sees how everything fits together, but he doesn’t see AZ’s role in the team dynamic: his job is to be the naysayer. He’s not overly negative about it, but he’s the guy hanging back and occasionally calling out things that won’t work. Everyone else on the team are such optimists that they’re often too gung-ho about things - “Yeah, we can do that” for everything. He is the check on those tendencies. He’s their defense against Murphy’s Law and so it’s important to listen to him so that they’ve actually considered how things will go wrong.
- So, how does this shake out? Bunker likely pushes back initially about how AZ’s just a naysayer who doesn’t contribute with AZ coming back at him with the reasons why the team needs one. Bunker can leave this exchange with more to think about/keep in mind.
- That leaves us with what he’s doing on his own. We know he goes to a VA bar a lot, but that might have been a later development than the ’80s. His depiction in the FF book would have seen him as very buttoned-up. Maybe this is where the VA bar thing is established.
- They could make it a real day in the life thing - like, have kind of abbreviated bullet-point versions of a whole day. Showing him going about a rather uneventful day in his life and, through the internal monologue, show how restless it makes him. He’s the kind of guy who wakes up before his alarm goes off to do some push-ups and is ready for action at all times, so mundane things like a plate being dropped in the diner set him off. They could have Legacy telling him that maybe he should think of taking some time off (which is funny coming from Legacy - although he can point out that he still finds time to barbecue with his family or play with the dog).
- We can then have Bunker heading into the bar for the first time, clearly uncomfortable. Instead of doing the plate dropping earlier, they can have it be a dropped glass here. This prompts an older veteran to come over. He recognizes Bunker’s eyes and knows that feeling. Let’s talk. The idea here is that while cultural knowledge of what we now call PTSD may not have been prevalent at the time, but all of the pieces that go into that would have been and it’s those stereotypes that they’re calling up here. The older guy here can be something of an authority - he’s been through a lot of the same kinds of things that Bunker would have been, and even though Bunker’s still active he needs to take time for himself.
- This works as a good end for the book as the first two stories are about how uptight he is in the other segments of his life. He needs to use his personal time to unwind. The first two are what you expect “every day life” to be for him, but we throw a curveball at the end showing how things are changing.
- So, that was fun. They had some concerns about this as neither of them are really into military stuff and, personality-wise, Christopher and Adam are much more Tachyon and Absolute Zero than they are Bunker.
- Before moving on to questions, let’s do a quick Creative Process to flesh out this older vet who can become a (pretty infrequent) supporting cast guy for Bunker who can be somebody that he can talk to. Then, in like the late ’90s or ’00s we can have Bunker attend his funeral.
- They waffle a bit on what war the guy’s a veteran of. There were suggestions of maybe WWII, but that might be older than they wanted. They land on Korean War so there’s some symmetry with how Bunker’s character started there.
- Christopher’s pitch: Gary Warner, a sailor (because he likes the idea of the two of them having a chummy Army/Navy rivalry thing going) who’s missing a leg from the knee down from frostbite. They can trade war stories, but also life stories after you come back. That angle of “veterans are victims of war” would have been something that started entering popular consciousness prior to this, but it’s good to get it into Bunker’s story.
- What is Tyler Vance like under all of the military stuff? Is he a bit of a dork [letter has a few possible hings towards this - one being that he’ll actually name things the “Bunker-[whatever]”]? Does he play video games himself despite needling Wraith about it a little - perhaps a military FPS like Clarion of Service: Contemporary Combat? No, he’s not a video game person, especially not war video games. In that ARG stuff they were intentionally writing him opening up more than he had previously, so him joking around with Wraith there and being relaxed/comfortable is a new development at that time and, now, is the culmination of his character development that got started in this A Day in the Life book. Early Bunker is exactly the kind of clean-cut military dude one would expect. That was why the letters with his sister in the Indestructible book were necessary - they were the window into his humanity beyond being a stoic military guy.
- So, while we know that the Ironclad Project has been making some kind of Bunker suits since WWII [they break in here to clarify: they’ve had “armored soldiers” since WWII which isn’t quite the same as saying that Bunker suits have existed that long, and the project predates the war slightly], and while we were told at the time that it wasn’t really economically viable to make more of them and later the suits require somebody who’s just the right mix of driver, mechanic, and soldier to run the thing, but why haven’t they made more over the decades given the general military approach of “find what works and do it until you don’t need to”? Because while the Bunker suit was the result of an attempt to “find what works”, it actually isn’t one of those things that works. Sure, the suit being operated by Tyler Vance, who’s constantly working on it and knows it inside and out works, but this is kind of an act of historical fiction. The best examples of that consider a what-if scenario that doesn’t actually change history as we know it. The Bunker suit was developed as one of a number of approaches the military was trying out, but it was determined to not be the way forward and so we get to modern military gear/tactics by them following up the line of thinking that did work. They also think that Tyler Vance is singular (or approaching it) in terms of him actually being capable of running this thing (Christopher brings up Benchmark, but Adam quickly notes that in that case he needed computers built into his body to run it, so that’s one possible solution to the problem). The huge expense and need for such a specialized pilot makes it impractical for the military in general to adopt it. To extrapolate into the modern era from where Project Ironclad began, the military is more likely to have something more like exo-suit components that can be clipped on over the body rather than being a vehicle. Something that would look much more like Benchmark than Bunker and would provide some armor while also allowing the soldier to carry heavier loads. The “find what works and do it until you don’t need to” solution to what the Bunker suit actually represents is a tank. As it stands, the Ironclad Project probably would have been rolled up long ago if it hadn’t started getting involved in the really shady stuff that eventually got out of Armstrong’s control.
- Given that the schematics were lost with the destruction of Fort Adamant, would something similar build off of the idea in the future? They’re more likely to take things in other directions for the same reasons given above.
- I like the idea of a character being a “mundane” character attached to a hero in some way before becoming a major player in their own right (Tachyon was a scientist contact for Legacy, Ermine was a social rival for Wraith, Steven Graves was a member of Bunker’s platoon, etc.) - as I’m working on an RPG character who was also a member of Bunker’s platoon I’d like some clarification: initially the description we were given placed them in the desert during Desert Storm, but after the timeline project moved The Indestructible Bunker to the Korea-Vietnam era, where would their stories have been? The sliding timescale they mentioned earlier comes in here: since they were active in whatever the “most recent war” was, by the time of Vengeance, the Gulf War had been over for the better part of a year. There’s a question then of when Steven Graves was around - they think it’s more interesting for him to be a Vietnam era guy. Like, that’s when he shows up and eventually gets discharged. At the time when he shows up we can get the backstory details about him being in boot camp with Vance and their rivalry, which leads to the antagonism once he shows up as Vance’s subordinate.
- Were the members of Vance’s armored unit the same as the members of his Bunker unit (as in, were there other guys in tanks driving around with him in the Bunker suit)? There were stories with people driving tanks. Early on in IB even Tyler Vance wasn’t always in the Bunker suit - sometimes it was tanks or other sorts of mobile armor. The History of Sentinel Comics will go into the development of the “Bunker suit” concept as they were going in those early days.
- If his platoon were soldiers on foot, would they have had armor of some kind too, if not full Bunker-style suits? Would they have had individuals with specialties (like the sniper, the sneaky guy, etc.) or more just a group of “standard” G.I.s backing up the walking tank? The supporting cast would have developed those individual personalities and the specialties they had over time - at first just random soldiers who you weren’t expected to know who they were issue to issue, but over time the writers would invent some detail about this one or that one that would actually stick. Personality accrued over time rather than being a ragtag team from the beginning.
- What happened to them as the book approached cancellation? Did they become more heel-ish towards the end or other changes with the times, or did the book keep up the Heroic action right up until the end? That was the problem, they kept up the heroic action despite the changing public sentiment regarding the war. Part of the issue was that a lot of writers in that era were WWII vets who had their opinions of what being in war was like, but Vietnam was a much different beast in terms of opinions on the home front. The Indestructible Bunker had been a favorite of soldiers, but even the active guys at the time thought it was off the mark now. So, it was cancelled.
- Outside of Graves and Armstrong, do we see anybody from the old days return in later comics? Yeah, probably. Both named characters that readers of the old comics could be expected to remember and just generic soldiers. Possibly even people who entered politics after leaving the service. Any of the old characters are fair game to show up, but none of them but Armstrong and Graves became anything resembling a regular character.
- If some emergency comes up while Tyler Vance is not near a base of operations, does he have some means of getting to the suit or getting the suit to him quickly? There have been a variety of answers to this. Certainly there have been things like a big truck comes to him with it. There’s the “Bunker-Chopper” that would air-drop it for him. Probably some sort of cannon that launches it to his approximate location, having the suit arrive in a three point landing until he gets in. Currently, he has components in a satellite that can be launched down to him.
- How public is Bunker and Wraith’s dating life (given the latter’s still-secret identity)? Do the paparazzi give them a hard time? The relationship is somewhat recent and they try to keep things low-key. The image we have in the RPG book has her dressing down (for her) and they’re in that veteran bar, so Tyler being there isn’t a big deal. Paparazzi would be more of an issue for Maia Montgomery more than Tyler Vance. Sure, they’d know who he was already, but she is the draw because of her wealth more than because she’s dating a superhero. They’re both already prominent figures, there’s no real need to try to explain away why they’re together without bringing the Wraith into it. When people first noticed them together there was probably a press release confirming their relationship, please don’t make a big deal about it (which certain segments of the media do anyway).
- Which is the biggest power couple of the Sentinels of Freedom: Heritage and the senator [interject that she’s not a senator anymore], Tachyon and the model, or Bunker and the CEO? Probably Tachyon and the model. They’re probably both the most famous on their own; Tachyon’s a superhero who’s also a world-class scientist, Dana is big in the public eye as a model, and they’re very public with their relationship.
- How does Absolute Zero feel about being the only member not in a relationship? He feels cold about it. It chills him to the bone. He has a cold heart.
- Does a villain find some way to reveal Wraith’s identity (beyond the Chairman and anybody that Miss Information sold it to)? That thing with the press release about their relationship happened just recently - it’s possible that somebody in the future might discover things because of it, but it hasn’t happened yet.
- If Aldred Industries made Omnitron, are they also responsible for Bunker’s Omnicannon or are the similar names a coincidence? Coincidence.
- [A letter prompts Adam to do an impression of Christopher - jump to 53:50 or so.]
- Some timelines suck, some Vanessa Longs try to go back in time to make them suck less but wind up in alternate timelines - is there a timeline where multiple Vanessas wind up in the same reality after doing so? Do they form a band? There isn’t a story of that, but it’s a fine thought experiment. Note that the main reality (and by proxy the Inversiverse) wound up with 3 Vanessas and they didn’t form a band.
- What exactly did Dark Visionary want - she spent a lot of time pretending to do hero things, but did she have any real goals other than “take full control of the body” and “don’t get caught”? Why not just sign up with Citizens Hammer and Anvil when they showed up? She wouldn’t sign up as a Citizen because what she wants is Control, and being a Citizen means being subordinate to Dawn. What’s funny is that eventually she does sign up with somebody else, OblivAeon. She sees Power as a tool towards the Control thing and she’s lost often enough to want more power where she could get it. The laying low that she does is because she knows that if the other heroes knew that she was in there they’d do something about it.
- Is Vanessa Long permanently bald? What wigs does she wear/what hair does she wish she had? We know she wears wigs when she’s trying to do “civilian” stuff (as mentioned in her Supporting Cast episode). Visionary is permanently bald because of the stuff that was done to her in her backstory to make her into a soldier (note that Muse has hair). She doesn’t wish she had hair; she’s pretty content. She had a number of wigs for different needs back in the day, but in the present, as Visionary Unleashed, she probably doesn’t bother (and if she needs to appear to have hair she’d probably just project the “has hair” concept into the minds of those interacting with her - or just any appearance at all). Without the mental load of dealing with an extra consciousness fighting for control of the body, Visionary is extremely powerful.
- [Angry Taxpayer question shortly after the one hour mark] When Mark Benedetto is revealed to have been the villain Revenant, are there any legal repercussions for the rest of the RevoCorp management? The other executives pin everything on Mark as the fall guy, as is tradition.
- So, they know exactly which issue they’re doing. There’s some trade-dress for the A Day in the Life “series”, but they’re all actually treated as one-shots rather than being numbered.
- Rather than doing a cover that speaks to all three vignettes, these books probably do something splashy/iconic to draw in readers, so this one might be some kind of iconic Bunker pose with Tyler Vance standing in front of it. Adam thinks maybe something a bit more abstract - “this encapsulates this character” kinds of imagery. They can agree that it’s a very Tyler Vance-focused cover for this one.
- Christopher’s thought on the abstract idea: do a half Tyler’s face/half Bunker “face” with a bunch of scenes from his life behind them. Something indicating that even when he’s inside the suit he’s still Tyler Vance.
- Adam throws out him leaning against the suit on a hillside while he looks out at the ocean or whatever. Adam’s going to have to toy with it and work out his personality while doing so. What might be useful to work out here is a list of aspects of him that should be represented on the cover.
- Maybe some of the trauma that he’s experienced (given how the last story addresses that it exists, even if it’s not resolving it).
- Him being a teammate and a leader.
- His tactician/strategist qualities.
- This is going to be a difficult one.
- Comment here at the end regarding the fact that they’re writing/illustrating an RPG adventure that people who have been paying attention should know what it is [the consensus being that it’s the stretch goal adventure that bridges the gap between where the Starter Kit ends and the Sentinels of Freedom video game begins].