The Letters Page: Episode 150
Let's get pet-riotic!
Run Time: 1:33:13
We ramble a bit at the start about what we'll be doing in about a month for this year's very different Gen Con live episode, and then we talk about the nature of today's episode. Then, finally, only 6ish minutes in, we actually dive in. (And end up having a great time! Spoilers, I guess.)
You can tell we've been recording too long a little after the 1 hour mark, as we both unintentionally drop some swears. Trevor cleans up after us. Thank you/sorry, Trevor!
We finally break from making up pets stories at around the 1 hour and 5 minute mark and answer your questions.
Catch you next week for a K.N.Y.F.E. in space story! Get your questions in now!
- Tempest's Friend
- Chrono-Ranger and Masadah
- Mr. Fixer
- Absolute Zero
- Count Claw
- Baron Blade
- Claw Corps
- Blade Battalion
- Dana Bertrand
- La Capitan and Chiquito
- Grand Warlord Voss
- Oracle of Discord
- Unity and Mr. Chomps
- Argent Adept
- Captain Cosmic
- Wager Master
- Citizen Dawn
- Miss Information
- Citizens Hammer and Anvil
- The Idolater
- Given that there is no in-person Gen Con this year, there isn’t going to be a gap in the podcast schedule like there usually is to accommodate that. That being said, on Friday July 31 at 11AM Central (so the end of this month) they’ll record the version of the “live” episode that they usually have, only it’s going to be virtual. Like the Editor’s Notes they’re going to broadcast it on YouTube as they record it. Unlike the Editor’s Notes, they’ll enable the YouTube chat and whoever wants to participate in the Q&A style event will be able to do so (rather than just the Discord patrons). This will wind up being the first episode released in August.
- They’ll probably have more information about this for the upcoming Editor’s Note
- They’re actually kind of surprised that the pets episode beat out the Legacy Bicentennial issue for the July 4th tie-in, but whatever. They really oversell how important this issue would have been to have heard about.
- First off, the real-life pets. Christopher has a cat named Syl who likes to eat bread. He’s fostered a lot of cats over the years, but this was the first one that basically decided that she was staying. Adam had two mice named Webby and Lena, but then earlier this week Lena ate Webby which was horrific and traumatic (especially with a 4 year old). They also sort of have 2 dogs. One, Stella, belongs to Candace and lives downstairs, but they have a Boston Terrier named Gomez. Adam’s not really a “pets” guy. Well, he’s ok with ones that live in cages like the lizards and fish he had growing up.
- Getting down to business, they’ll start with Spangle, the Parsons family Golden Retriever who was invented on the spot back in episode 66. Somebody asked if they had a dog and without even needing to consult one another they both knew that they did and what breed it was. Adam invented the name which got instant approval from Christopher. That’s the extent of worldbuilding that had been done, though, so let’s get into it.
- What’s the first appearance? Late ’60s or early ’70s sounds right to Christopher (and Adam thought ’60s, so that works out well). Adam thought having the dog show up before Felicia’s birth would be good, but Christopher quickly corrects him that she was born in June ’55. They could bump the dog to the early ’50s, but decide against it. Adam had thought of Spangle as a boy dog, but Christopher suggested a girl and then came up with a funny reason why. Parents have a tendency to mix up the names of their pets and children when yelling at them and that gets even funnier if Legacy has the same nickname for both of them - his “little lady liberty.” They land on Justice Comics #327 from July ’67. Spangle is the first recurring pet “character” (rather than maybe a one-off villain stroking a white cat or something).
- Hold up, they actually remember that Tempest’s unnamed “friend” dog showed up in Stranger in a Strange World #20, and that was October ’66 [ok, so they said October here, but that means that either the issue number should be #19, the date of issue #1 of April ’65 given in episode 81 was wrong, or there was a 2-issue month at some point - given that in episode 81 they had said that issue #30 was in August rather than September, I’m leaning towards issue #1 being in March as the correct assessment], so that dog actually came first. In any case, both of them serve a similar function, which is to be there as an excuse for the hero to speak aloud when working through something.
- To repeat what we know of Tempest’s friend, he was an on-again/off-again recurring character who just disappears from the comics around the same time that Tempest’s writing starts getting really dodgy (later retconned as being the Tempersonation), but we eventually do see him as a background detail on Plavu’Col. He’s looking really old by now, and it wasn’t an important story point or anything, just an acknowledgment of the dog’s existence as an important character in Tempest’s history.
- The implication was that Tempest’s dog wasn’t long for this world at the time. Meanwhile Spangle is still going strong. Comic book time is weird.
- Or maybe… some time after America’s Finest Legacy becomes America’s Newest Legacy we have a single issue (between two larger stories) where Felicia comes home to Megalopolis because Spangle is now really old and is dying. Goodbye moment. Montage of notable Spangle moments from the history of Sentinel Comics, and then Felicia gets a puppy at the end of the issue so in the post-OblivAeon time the “Parsons family dog” is specifically her dog.
- There’s some discussion on whether it’s still “Spangle” - naming the new pet the same as the old pet is a bit ridiculous, but we’re talking about the family that has Paul Parsons the flippin’ Eighth and his daughter Pauline running around, so Spangle it is. Maybe it’s a Golden Labrador instead of a Golden Retriever this time to lend a little visual distinction between them. So, let’s put that in June of 2014, so ANL #510. Let’s also say that the new Spangle is a boy while we’re at it.
- They want to move on to make a pet that’s more than just a “sounding board” device like the three dogs so far. Like, in the early phases of development, Jim Brooks had a dog, hawk, and horse originally who were part of his adventures (eventually pared down to just his horse, Masadah, which is why his robot horse now is named that [I remember in a Q&A at some point before the podcast started that the dog was Danny Boy, but I haven’t found that detail in my notes so that may not have ever come up in the podcast]). They want something that matches the person (suggesting Expatriette’s pet mongoose - it’s sleek, stealthy, fast, and a fighter; she doesn’t have time for pets, though, so not that in particular). Maybe Mr. Fixer has a stray feral alley cat in the ’80s. Like, Slim rolls up the garage door and does other “getting ready for the day” stuff that includes putting out a saucer of milk out back. He probably acts all gruff and like he doesn’t care about the dumb thing, but he really does. Maybe it warns him occasionally - like running in scared of something or meowing at something that’s still a few blocks away that he can hear. It can kind of be a sort of “lookout” for him that way. They’re putting the cat in May ’86.
- An aside here as they can’t remember if they’ve talked about how Mystery Comics was twice a month for a while [they have mentioned this a few times in the past]. It had strayed from its origins quite a bit and had a bunch of weird stuff in it (like Fanatic’s first appearance) and so they rebooted it in 1980 with the first issue every month being a “Wraith vs. crime” story and the second issue every month being street level/crime/Rook City or thereabouts types of stories. That structure loosens up a bit eventually - both May ’86 issues were about Mr. Fixer, for one.
- Coming back to the first appearance of the cat, forget the milk and saucer thing. This guy Slim is opening his auto shop and whatnot and he finds this cat in the engine compartment of the car he’s working on that he angrily shoos out of the shop. We’re just getting a day-in-the-life story for this guy doing this grungy job. Some thugs show up in the alley that he has to deal with. He’s keeping things low-key and just grabs a broom that he fights them off with. Sure, that’s impressive, but nothing really out of the ordinary. It gets to be evening and he closes up the shop for the day. That’s it. This would be in Mystery Comics vol. 2 #145 and it’s the first appearance of “Slim” and also of this, thus far unnamed, cat.
- Issue #146 gets a bit more esoteric and is what catches the readers up on who this guy is, how he went from being Black Fist to this guy running a martial arts school until he shut that down, losing hope, and now he’s a mechanic who wants to be left alone.
- As for the cat, they’re giving it a name in August ’86 in issue #152. Mr. Fixer had shown up both in a few intervening issues of MC and over in Rook City Renegades, as has the cat. This is going to be the issue where the cat climbs into Slim’s room above the shop and disturbs his sleep, but also alerting him to some people causing trouble outside (it scratches his hand before going over to the window again, Slim follows and that’s when he notices people breaking into the shop or something). He deals with that problem then comes back and figures he should probably name the dang thing. He calls it Scratch (a name also independently arrived at by both Adam and Christopher).
- They’re imagining a scrawny maybe brown/maybe gray cat. Probably with a bandage on its tail for some unexplained reason. Likely some patchy fur in places. A snaggle tooth. It’s just a mean old alley cat to everybody but Slim. They like the idea that we see Slim sleeping on his mat, the cat comes in and curls up next to him to sleep. It then wakes up first and wanders over to a corner until he wakes up and is grumpy at it (in an ironic “I don’t like you, you don’t like me” sentiment, but y’know he can smell that the cat was there next to him for a while).
- Adam has another idea for a book aimed at a somewhat younger audience that would have been in the ’60s or ’70s and was about super pets. Like, actual pets with super powers of their own. Maybe even something not exactly intended to be part of the main canon. Probably ran for a few years and might even be alluded to occasionally in the main books. Possibly with a more Hanna-Barbera cartoon style - you’d have Spangle in it with a cape and actually flying around and talking, so definitely not the same Spangle as in the main comics, but she’d be the lead of the book. It’d be funny if Spangle had eye-beams before Felicia did and so when she got them later it’s even funnier as a comparison to the dog, but that might be going too far. Freedom Pets is what they name it. Starts in May 1969. How long it goes depends on how they set it up. Much like Sentinel Comics as a whole, they need a dynamic duo to get this thing off the ground. That means, obviously, that they need to backtrack some time now to give Wraith a cat.
- This is gonna be a sleek, elegant black cat (as opposed to the scruffy Scratch) who’s quiet and stealthy, just like Wraith. It’s likely just a pet that we see around with her, but not a “sidekick” adventure companion. Picking a time frame, we get that MC #106 from May ’55 is “Graduation Day” when Maia graduates from college. She’s relieved that she no longer has to juggle classes with crimefighting. Then her parents announce that they’re turning over control of Montgomery Industries to her, so now she has to juggle running a major corporation with crimefighting.
- Then we can have a bit of a slice-of-life story in December of that year (issue #113) where she’s settled into her new role, her parents are off traveling the world, and so she’s just home alone for the holidays with this cat. We get to know her a bit more here in this post-college existence. Adam suggests Spectre for the cat’s name, and Christopher thinks that that’s along the right lines for theme, but that it sounds a bit too aggressive (maybe would be a good name for K.N.Y.F.E.’s cat if she had one) and suggests Wisp which Adam thinks is too passive. They land on Shadow. This is a super stereotypical name for a black cat. However, we’re also talking about a comic book in the ’50s and so that’s the perfect way to approach naming it.
- Returning to Freedom Pets - Adam’s suggestion for how this begins is Legacy coming out to pet the dog a bit before flying off to fight crime. Then Spangle walks to her dog house, the floor of which descends, taking her down to the super pets headquarters where she meets up with Shadow. We get a bit of fun discussion between the two of them about how they have to do “pet things” with their humans and that cuts into their hero time. What else do they add? Do they just do the Freedom Five as pets? Given the title they’ve already landed on that’s kind of the obvious choice. A hamster in a ball for Bunker. Tachyon’s got a rabbit. While these are the Freedom Five members’ pets in this continuity, only Shadow and Spangle are in the main continuity.
- Names - they like something like Corporal for the hamster. Like, a cigar-chomping, drill sergeant kind of personality. The ball probably has some weapons of some sort that pop out of the sides that he can use while it’s rolling. The rabbit it white but has patches on it that match the red patches on Tachyon’s suit. It’s smart and fast-talking and has a short attention span. They decide it’s named Dart.
- That leaves Absolute Zero’s pet. A polar bear? A seal? A penguin? That last has potential. How about the first four pets are, y’know, pets, but the first story involves them going to a zoo to break out this penguin that they know somehow, don’t worry about the details. This matches how AZ needs to get out of his cryo-chamber for the stories. It’s not necessarily AZ’s pet, but it fills his role in the team. They even have to put in in a helmet or something other gear to help keep it cold. Plus actual powers of snow breath and ice beams from its eyes for good measure. They name him Icy (with the meta joke that it’s really I.C. for Inconsolable Curmudgeon).
- Ok, so first issue is to break Icy out of the zoo/jail. Next that probably fight Baron Blade’s pet, which probably isn’t a bird as that would make sense in a Matriarch story later on. Maybe something like a hyena or jackal. Yeah, let’s go with a jackal named Count Claw who’s all haughty and has a scar over one eye and who leads a pack of feral dogs (like Doberman Pincers called the Claw Corps as they model the Blade Battalion). Their evil plot? Wait for people to put out food for their pets and then steal it (possibly using some kind of Kibble Impulsion Device).
- They could keep going on this basically indefinitely. A lot of the ideas in this kids’ book probably get recycled into Animalverse stuff that eventually shows up in Disparation decades later as people who read the original comics grew up and became writers - basically just expanding the idea of “Spangle and Count Claw are Legacy and Baron Blade” and run down the line with everybody else.
- How long did it run? Christopher things around 20 issues, but Adam thinks that as a kid he would have thought this was pretty rad and figured at least 5 years, so that’s what they go with. Issue #60 ends it in April ’74.
- With that out of the way, Christopher also thinks that one of these pets needs to become canonical later. Like, Spangle and Shadow were existing characters before Freedom Pets, but somebody has to make the transition back to the main line of comics. Figuring out which is tricky. Corporal has the best name, but it’s hard to imagine Tyler Vance having room in his life for a pet. Having Dana and Meredith keep fluffy, luxurious rabbits is a fun image, but they’re both so busy that it doesn’t really fit either. Maybe in the late ’00s Wraith goes to Bunker’s home and is like “You have a hamster?” at the incongruity. “Yeah, that’s Corporal.” Just a fun one-off detail. Adam counters that maybe he keeps him in the shop at Freedom Tower. Tyler comes in every day with a “’Morning, Corporal,” and then gets to work.
- To round things out, they need to have a pet that isn’t just part of the various “home life” parts of the characters’ stories. They need to thread the needle of having a pet that could do so without being major enough to have warranted being featured in the hero’s deck. Christopher, for example, wouldn’t have put Lockheed in a [Shadowcat](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitty_Pryde deck. Adam immediately says that he definitely would have, though, so you can see how tricky this will be. At the very least you might have Lockheed in the art here and there, but he might not be a card in the deck. They do have Chiquito in La Capitan’s deck, though [and Huginn and Muninn for Matriarch/Harpy].
- There’s a “hawka”/Haka joke. They consider having Parse have a bird as a spotter, but the idea of Parse needing a spotter is pretty laughable. There is something to be said for her maybe recognizing that she isn’t great with people, but she seems to get this animal. Maybe have it be some kind of late addition to somebody’s story. Like you have some robot or alien critter from space or the Realm of Discord start hanging out with somebody well into their run as a character. Because SotM decks represent the most iconic versions of the characters, having this late addition involved wouldn’t make sense in the first place.
- Idea: have it be a more recent addition and have that alien critter idea be on the ship with K.N.Y.F.E. and Sky-Scraper [err… Rival and Vantage]. Having it be semi-sapient and able to act as a third point of view on the ship for the others to talk to about the stuff they’re not saying to one another. This also works well for K.N.Y.F.E. in general - her deck represents her as she was in the ’90s, but later there was the whole Headhunter arc where she was out in space and could pick up this hanger-on. She’s on some planet fighting Progeny and this thing helps her. Ok. After the fight she pats it on the head and then it follows her and sneaks onto the ship.
- What is it? Some kind of lizard is the easy way to describe it, so let’s double down on “6 legged lizard with hair”. Christopher then counters with a 5 legged lizard, but Adam objects to asymmetrical body plans in “natural” things. How about it was a 6-legged lizard, but lost one in the fight with Progeny. That way it’s still got the appropriately symmetry in the body plan, just down a limb. Part of the post-fight interaction is K.N.Y.F.E. using her power to cauterize the wound.
- The Headhunter era begins in Cosmic Tales vol. 2 #530. Let’s put this thing’s first appearance in #537 in November 2014. A fun running gag is that nobody knows what this thing is. She’s going around the galaxy, at first trying to get it to go elsewhere, but eventually becoming resigned to its presence, but if it’s going to be around she needs to figure out more about it. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have any better ideas than she has. They name it Radge and he sticks around as supporting cast on the StarCross (which, despite not being a “smart” ship is also a supporting cast member). That also gives the chance for it to interact with Voss and smack him in the fact or something in the first few issues at least.
- Does the Parsons family dog ever get powers? What how does it powers? Does it lose them? What’s its name? They’ve pretty well covered all of this above. Spangle never gets powers in-continuity, but there’s the Freedom Pets book and whatnot that kind of circumvents that eventuality pretty early on. They even think that it’s later established that Freedom Pets is within the Disparation continuity - like at some point the Oracle of Discord is looking at various realities and one that’s recognizable is the Freedom Pets setting, so they grandfather it in that way. That way we also probably see the Freedom Pets in a panel during the OblivAeon fight. This is made extra poignant since the canon Spangle had died a few years prior, so having a version of her fly through a mist portal to help save the day is cool. It’s still just a background detail rather than letting Legacy interact with her or something, but a neat detail nonetheless. How do the Freedom Pets get powers? It’s never spelled out how they have powers, but it operates with a general understanding that they have powers in exactly the same way that their humans have powers (accident with the zoo air conditioning or refrigerator or something for Icy, Shadow just trained a lot, etc.).
- Does the Naturalist ever spend an extended period of time as somebody’s pet? Does the manga-verse version of Naturalist take on different animal forms (say a pet cat who grants magical girl powers)? He doesn’t spend time as a pet (for one he only has a few forms, so it’d have to be rather exotic animal owners in the first place) as he still has a human’s mind. They can imagine a situation where he poses as an animal specifically to get on the inside of a bad guy’s operations (like poachers or something), but that’s still not the same as being a “pet”. Like, once he gets the bird form he can maybe do a thing where he knows the bad guy is going to be looking to by an exotic bird and he goes to the seller ahead of time to twist his arm into making sure that the guy buys this specific bird that he’s going to be leaving here as a means of infiltrating the guy’s place, but that’s not going to be an “extended” period. In the manga-verse he doesn’t actually turn into animals.
- Does Unity ever make robotic pets for herself? What about Omnitron-U? Does she keep a spare Mr. Chomps in her apartment in case the others get blown up? Is that one extra cute and cuddly? There’s an argument that all of her golems would qualify. The trick with Mr. Chomps is that he is eternal. She makes a raptor bot named Mr. Chomps and if that one gets blown up (“Oh no! Mr. Chomps!”) and then she “fixes” him by making a new one. It’s just a conceit that she has that every raptor bot she makes is Mr. Chomps (or if there’s more than one it’s Mr. Chomps and his friends - who are also Mr. Chomps). She’s not delusional. It’s just a game she’s playing since all of her bots are under her direct control anyway. Like if you decided to treat your Roomba as your pet.
- Do Maerynians keep pets or is that weird given their closer connection to other forms of life? They don’t have a concept of pets - that’s part of the point of Tempest’s “friend”. There might be animals that live near them that they interact with, but it’s not a “pet” relationship. There might be something similar to the clown fish/anemone mutualism relationship - like, there might be some kind of animal that lives in a Maerynian dwelling that winds up keeping it clean and benefits by having the shelter.
- Has Biomancer ever replaced people’s pets to infiltrate a place? Do other villains have pets we know about? How about exploiting the heroes’ pets? While Biomancer has strayed from “people” fleshchildren enough to make some kind of giant monstrosity/kaiju thing at some point, they don’t think he’d have copied people’s pets. Maybe that’s what happens involving him in Freedom Pets. Other villains? There’s Chiquito. Nobody kidnaps Spangle to get to Legacy (or similar plots), though.
- How far off am I: the Freedom Five are mostly dog people, Dark Watch mostly cat people (even if Setback is basically a humanoid golden retriever already), for the Prime Wardens there’s Tempest’s dog and Argent Adept seems like the kind of guy to keep songbirds? Ok, if we’re just looking at the dog/cat continuum, that this is more about what kind of energy you have/what resonates with your personality rather than “what kind of pet you have time for” or what you’d necessarily want to have as a pet, and recognize that there are gradations (for example, Christopher and Adam are both cat people, but Christopher scores very highly on that while Adam is low scoring, just on this side of the midpoint):
- Legacy - dog person.
- Wraith - cat.
- Bunker - dog.
- Tachyon - dog.
- Absolute Zero - cat.
- Expatriette - cat.
- Setback - dog.
- NightMist - cat.
- Mr. Fixer - cat, but he’d never admit it.
- Argent Adept - cat? Either way he’s really low-key.
- Haka - dog.
- Fanatic - “Get away from me. What are you doing?” which defaults to being barely a cat person if we assume that people have to be one or the other.
- Tempest - by a similar token, barely a dog person.
- Captain Cosmic - dog.
- What villains have them and what kinds (I tend to assume villains are more likely to have cats, but I can see Baron Blade having attack dogs, I’ll assume that Wager Master has a ferret unless told otherwise, and Dawn seems the type to keep some kind of bird of prey, and Omnitron obviously has mice)? How would Tefnut feel if one of her teammates had a cat? Do the villains’ pets ever face off against the heroes’? They only face off in Freedom Pets. Let’s go through the core game villains:
- Baron Blade - cat person.
- Citizen Dawn - dog, like a loyal bloodhound type person.
- Grand Warlord Voss - dog based on the fact that the Frost Hounds are the first things he makes himself.
- Omnitron - not a person. Animals are inefficient. The letter said mice, but Omnitron wouldn’t see much difference between them, porpoises, humans, dogs, or cats. There were probably mice living in Omnitron at some point, yes.
- That covers the cat/dog thing, but as for pets villains actually had… Frost hounds count. Chiquito. Miss Information has one of those white, medium fur cats with blue eyes that pierce your very soul.
- [Birthday request - “Lifelight” the main theme from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.]
- Does Baron Blade have a pet goat? No. Mordengrad has The Goat. Everybody has The Goat. The Goat Mordengrad::Li’l Sebastian:Pawnee, IN. Because The Goat is used in some of those “unofficial” holidays in Mordengrad, Baron Blade acts like he cares not for The Goat. That’s something for the rabble down there. But he loves The Goat and has a big photo album featuring it that he has to hurriedly put away if some Blade Battalion commander comes in or something. It’s also probably a Punxsutawney Phil situation where there have been many Goats, but we all pretend it’s the same one. It might even be the case that there isn’t a specific The Goat for its whole life, they just go get one that looks right when it’s time for any particular celebration that requires its presence. The Mordengradi dialect of Latvian probably even has 2 words for “goat” now, the standard one and one that refers specifically to The Goat that they feel isn’t translatable as translating to “the goat” doesn’t encapsulate everything that goes along with it.
- Who was the first citizen (or citizens) that Dawn recruited and when did they first appear in comics? That’s kind of two different questions. The first few Citizens were just nondescript people. The first ones that we have names for are Hammer and Anvil. Dawn first appeared in FF #201 and they showed up only a few months later in FF #209. Issue #202 was the “Dawn takes over City Hall” story and there were Citizens there, but just random, unnamed minions for her.
- In the Fanatic Writer’s Room episode, did Hammer and Anvil use aliases when joining the the Idolater’s congregation (possibly, picking two names at random, say Christopher and Adam)? They just use their own names, Hayden and Lucas. It’s not like Legacy who couldn’t go undercover and still use “Paul Parsons” as his name - nobody knows much about Hammer and Anvil’s past. Not like Idolater would really care where they come from anyway.
- Has Fanatic’s “racism” against ghosts ever gotten her in trouble? Would she ever have had a reason to feel bad about smiting a “good” ghost? She wouldn’t feel bad since she’d have been putting that spirit to rest. Even if somebody explained to her later that it was a good ghost that helped people, she would still probably feel justified. There might be a lesson for her to learn regarding this, but she has not yet learned that lesson.