The Letters Page: Episode 152
Let's make some magical friends! (Spoiler: most of these people are not magical, and many of them are not friends, either.)
Run Time: 1:25:50
We goof around for a few minutes, and then get down to the business of making friends for a hard-to-be-friends-with hero!
At around 38 minutes in, we get to your questions, on a variety of topics.
- So, Argent Adept’s supporting cast. This is a bit tricky. It’s established in the Toll of Destiny story that introduces him that he’s learning this stuff on his own - he doesn’t have the mentor Virtuoso who should be showing him how all of this works. A lot of his stories are marked by who is absent rather than who is present.
- While he becomes a “full-time Virtuoso of the Void” eventually, there would have been a period after his introduction that presumably has him trying to maintain something like a work/life balance. Even then, though, he’s kind of a loner and it’s hard to really consider the various people around him as “supporting cast”. Even when he joins up with the Prime Wardens in the ’80s he’s still not great at working with others (Adam: “He’s not part of the orchestra. He’s the conductor”).
- In any event, there’s probably some character in the ’70s who’s a “friend” or coworker or something who has the concerned “What has been up with you lately?” reaction to him flaking out on things due to his new hero duties. They like the idea that it’s the bar owner - somebody who’d be friendly enough with him, but is also his boss and has a reason to be concerned about him missing shifts. More, they like him being somebody who’s actually been trying to help Anthony figure out his life stuff - giving a bunch of advice that actually turns out to be good for him dealing with being a Virtuoso (but because he puts all of that “being dedicated to what you’re doing” stuff into practice as a Virtuoso, it results in him not appearing to get it from the boss’s perspective). Taking the advice to heart can even be what gets him to eventually respond “You’re absolutely right. I quit.” The guy winds up being exactly the kind of mentor that Anthony needed, but not in the way that the mentor intended.
- So, we have Anthony trying to maintain a normal life on top of being a Virtuoso. His boss tries to get him to snap out of it and really apply himself to what he’s doing, which eventually culminates in Anthony, having accepted that this mystical nonsense is real, realizing that he can sustain himself just fine that way and that he doesn’t need a “real” job, and so he quits at the bar to be a full-time Virtuoso of the Void.
- Who is this guy? He might show up in Toll of Destiny (let’s say issue #3), but isn’t important there. He becomes a recurring character in Virtuoso of the Void. They name him Bobby Addison. As a minor character he’s at first mainly just there to get on AA’s case about missing work/being late or whatever (which, if you think about it from his perspective makes sense - Anthony’s kind of a deadbeat as an employee). He keeps employing him, though - covering shifts himself when necessary. He’s not giving up on this guy.
- They toy around with there being a co-worker as well, but at this point we’re getting even more minor and it’s probably a thing where there is a coworker, but different writers can’t be bothered to remember if they had been given a name previously and so you get a few different names given for somebody who’s ostensibly supposed to be the same person.
- Alright, so we’ve moved on from being a bartender and now he’s doing the Virtuoso thing full time. What’s he got going on that keeps him connected to humanity? Christopher’s take is that he quits his job in the late ’70s and then has a few years adventuring until a pretty major defeat by Akash'Bhuta in ’81. Maybe at that point he realizes that he’s lost track of the why of what he’s doing - protecting people - and so makes an effort to reconnect. That could leave the intervening years with him kind of intentionally disconnected from people.
- One idea is there to be some bad magic user preying on homeless people in some way, and being homeless himself (although in a “I don’t have a house, but I just create a mystical grove to meditate in for 8 hours” more than a “sleeping in a cardboard box under the bridge” way) he gets to know them a bit after dealing with this bad guy. Stories dealing with the homeless can even fit into the early ’80s “urban decay” thing.
- We can make a better case for this connection by saying that when he retreats to rest after the fight with Akash’Bhuta than he can’t summon his grove (maybe a few attempts, one the limbs attack him, another the plants turn to ash, that sort of thing), and so “hanging out under the bridge” is his fall-back option as we get a period of him being more of a drifter for a while leading up to him getting his act together for the rematch (and the forming of the Prime Wardens) a few years later. We can have the “shantytown” have a bunch of people, but maybe only one or two real characters.
- They kind of think that there’s some kind of “mother” figure in the group (Christopher’s brain suggests the name Rita for no discernible reason, so Rita Jackson it is). She’s been on the street longer than anyone and kind of looks out for the group. First appearance in VotV #103 in November ’81.
- So, Anthony goes off and does his mystical stuff. Occasionally helping out the group directly (like, maybe somebody’s got an infection in his leg and AA heals him, so the group knows he’s got stuff going on). One day he comes back from some adventure and they’re all anxious for his return - Rita’s missing. Somewhere in here we can get to an underlying prejudice on AA’s part - he’s been thinking of himself as “not like you people” in terms of their situation. He’s got this grand mystical purpose and they’re too unimportant for anybody to really want to mess with them. This is kind of a wake-up call in the whole “people are people, I’m just bad at empathy” thing.
- There’s probably a story involving drugs in here somewhere. Rita’s the only “supporting cast” character - the rest, even ones with names, are more quirk characters. They can be memorable, but they’re there as scenery or as a source of problems to solve in one way or another.
- Anyway, a few had probably gone missing, but it’s when Rita disappears that we realize that something’s up and AA goes to track down the bad guy/save them.
- Do we know anything about AA’s parents? No, nothing about his family. Adam’s just noticed that we’ve so far invented both a surrogate father and a surrogate mother. That kind of naturally leads to a reading that he’s got some family issues, even if they’re not specifically addressed on-page.
- Christopher’s take on that: there’s probably a fan question about family sometime in the ’70s or early ’80s and the writers say they’ll address it. Speculation is that he’s an orphan or grew up in a foster system somewhere, but the reality is that he’s got parents who are very austere and selfish. Like, he could go to them and the response is along the lines of “Oh, hello Anthony. Nice to see you. We’re [doing X thing]. Where are you staying while you’re in town?” when his expectation was to be staying with them. There’s just no space in their life for him anymore. Probably upper middle class and somewhat well-to-do and just don’t have time for their adult son. There’s no single tragedy there, just a lack of connection, and this kind of explains where some of his lack of empathy comes from. He didn’t have a good model of it growing up. His “moving to California to tend bar” and whatnot was kind of his rebellion against the sort of life they had in mind.
- When to introduce this stuff? Adam’s thought is late ’80s or early ’90s. Christopher actually suggests, if it’s not too far to push that reveal, that this be part of the stuff after the Fall of the Prime Wardens given that it’s tied up with what’s wrong with him as a person and the team breaking up is all about their personal flaws like that. It’d be fun if he mentioned going to see his parents whom he hadn’t visited in a decade or something (in comic book time). “You have parents!?!” from the other heroes. We could even say that this is a retcon - that he’s said in the past that he “doesn’t have family” with the intention that he was an orphan or whatever, but now that we’re digging into character flaws and exploring his lack of empathy we’re making it more that his parents are just these disinterested people that did a poor job socializing him. When “family” came up in that past instance, he would have thought about his situation for a moment and speak his truth that he doesn’t have a family. Let’s say December ’02, Virtuoso of the Void vol. 2 #14 and they’re Norman and Belinda Drake.
- Going through the process of naming them they were reminded of Olivia Drake [a member of Bunker’s supporting cast from way back who was later retconned as being Anthony’s cousin, but that they didn’t know each other well - she’s mentioned in episode 77 as a brief love interest for Tyler Vance]. Due to her position in Bunker’s story, she’s somewhat older than AA (maybe 10 years or whatever), so whether she’s a first cousin or one of those weird once-removed things is up in the air. We could place that retcon for them being related here close to the story with his parents if we’re going to be exploring the existence of family in the first place.
- Maybe he goes to visit his parents for the holidays, they get in whatever counts as a fight for these people, but there’s more extended family there too and that reconnects him with his cousin. Hmm… More likely is that his parents are their cold selves and they specifically don’t attend the big family to-do elsewhere that they have no patience/time for and if he wants a family why not go there instead. The existence of a “Drake family holiday gathering” is a surprise to him. His parents want to enjoy the “sterile opulence” of their paid-for decorations in their own space without the messiness of other people. He leaves to attend the larger family event. He reconnects with Olivia who is reintroduced for the modern era here and can be an occasional supporting cast for him like she was for Bunker back in the day, although she’s now a civilian who’s doing normal life stuff. [For context, episode 77 mentioned that she had been a nurse in the war stories, then acted as a civilian government liaison to the FF and still worked with and was on good terms with Bunker by the end of the Multiverse Era - we’ll see if any of that is retconned if/when she comes up in later stuff.]
- One more thing to hit for the episode would be some sort of supporting character specifically on the magic end of things. They’ve said before that he’s kind of a supporting character for NightMist in that she’ll come to him for magical help (although not the reverse). They could use somebody who’s useful for him. Let’s say he’s the person who helped him transition from drifter to the guy who’d form the Prime Wardens. Maybe somebody who could be adversarial at first. Adam suggests somebody who’s a bit jealous - they knew about the Virtuosos already, and now this joker gets to be one? Argent Adept gets to be the “chosen one” while this guy had to work and scrape to get to where he is. And he’s ok with that because he’s the best magician you’ve ever met! Where AA is music and improvisation and nature, this guy is studying and experiments and practice.
- Christopher’s brain immediately goes “Have Taranerach kill him after a few years!” which is just too mean.
- Anyway, this character is never a hero (or a villain), but just another magic guy who’s out there that Argent Adept works with occasionally. His shtick is that he uses his magic to “see what’s coming” and be ready for it. There’s some “predicting the future” in there, but he’s essentially the magical equivalent of a doomsday prepper. As such, he’s really invested in Argent Adept doing his damn job as a Virtuoso of the Void. He tracks him down in his drifter-living-under-a-bridge phase and gets him to snap out of it. He’s a Virtuoso, that means that Akash’Bhuta is around, that means that unless AA does his job everybody will die, this guy is part of “everybody”, so Get. To. Work. Because if I could do it I would, but I can’t. Do your job.
- They’d been going back and forth a bit on whether it was a guy or girl, but in this era of comics with this sort of dynamic they’d inevitably wind up romantically entangled if it’s a girl (which can’t happen because we know later that the fact that he’s never had a romantic relationship in the comics is part of the justification for him being picked out as aromantic/asexual), so it’s a guy.
- They name him Soothsayer Carmichael (first name Cedric, which is some nice broken alliteration - “Cedric Carmichael” has the C’s, but they’re pronounced differently, Soothsayer Cedric would work, but nope, he’s Soothsayer Carmichael). He’s very much “magic book smart” rather than “magic street smart” which is the exact opposite of Argent Adept. They’re probably similar ages - there are probably a lot of similarities between them, just that the differences are so stark that they wind up as such different characters. [They mention briefly in all of this that they think he might have been introduced in Tome of the Bizarre before showing up in VotV, but they never come back to it, so we don’t actually know his first appearance here.]
- So there we go. They think that Soothsayer Carmichael and Olivia continue to show up in modern stories. Rita likely doesn’t except as maybe an Easter egg in holiday stories. I mean, he’s still kind of homeless. He lives in a tree, although probably not in any of the ways you’d normally think of if you heard somebody described as “living in a tree”.
- Once you go through all of the cued-up birthday songs will the two of you be better singers than Anthony Drake? That’s not how singing works. If anything, they’ll be more hoarse. Also, if Anthony Drake’s singing is anything like Anthony Badell’s, the answer is just “no”.
- Do any of the people who were “replacements” for Anthony Drake wind up as supporting cast later on? None of them just fade into the woodwork/get completely forgotten. They all stick around and pop up here and there, some more than others. You might see some of them again. However, they weren’t really AA’s supporting cast. They find their own stuff to do and that doesn’t necessarily tie back to him.
- Even with the Prime Wardens, AA seems like the kind of hero who likes to go things alone - do any supporting characters really stick around for an extended period? Does one of his “Hold my beer” solutions eventually turn them off? Soothsayer Carmichael probably gets real fed up with the “Hold my beer” plans. He’d be describing all the stuff he knows and how he plans to go about doing the thing, then turns around and sees AA just winging it. [Fun bit about that sort of thing “taking years off my life” and him meaning it literally as he’s Soothsayer Carmichael and knowing when he’s going to die is his jam. This sort of extemporaneous magic throws off all of his calculations, though.] He can’t really be an antagonist for Argent Adept as he wants and needs the Virtuoso of the Void to do his job, but he can still wish with all of his being that Anthony would do things in literally any other way than the way he does them (cue incredulous outrage at what AA did with Xu’s Bell and Vogel’s Baton).
- [Letter from Rainbow Roadie at around 42:40 has some good characterization from Adam in the reading and spawns some Angry Taxpayer lore as a result] Who did Anthony go to for help repairing or maintaining his instruments? Did other virtuosos have anyone special make their instruments in the first place? Who exactly was Vogel conducting? He doesn’t need to go to a store/person for maintenance - he maintains them with magic, but Soothsayer Carmichael definitely has opinions on the way he treats his instruments. Additionally, Anthony just kind of summoned his pipes from the aether of the Void and this just about causes conniptions from Soothsayer Carmichael given that the past Virtuosos had their personal instruments that they already owned and then did some kind of ritual to link them to the Void. AA just was like “I want pipes!” and reaches into the Void to conjure them? Really?!? Vogel was conducting the Void to do his magic (not only conducting as in an orchestra, but also in that he was a conduit for it - this isn’t really how the Virtuosos are supposed to go about it).
- Have any members of AA’s supporting cast encouraged him to put on a performance for an audience instead of just doing his music for “saving the world” purposes? They could see him playing music at the homeless camp. They might even encourage him, but he has a tendency to discount things that anyone says (including himself). He’s Imposter Syndrome: The Person. Sure he’s the “Chosen One” and everything, but he just makes it up as he goes along and things work out. He’s aware that he should be more focused than he is, but also that he needs this improvisational lack of focus to be effective.
- [Letter closes by commenting that while he’s sad that Anthony has never released an album, at least in their canon he’s got a YouTube channel to showcase his home recordings.] They don’t think he’s ever recorded any of his music. Would he post videos from inside the tree? Does he even have a phone? Probably not. He’s the superhero equivalent of a busker.
- Has Argent Adept ever encountered a unicorn and, if so, was he supposed to defend or did it aid him in a separate problem? They think that if anybody is likely to run into a unicorn it’s probably more a NightMist thing than Argent Adept. This line of discussion also establishes that unicorns exist in both reality and dreams simultaneously. They agree that, sure, he’s encountered one.
- How rare/unique are unicorns in Sentinel Comics? Each of them is 100% unique - you’d never confuse one for another. There’s probably a few dozen of them and they don’t reproduce. They’re not Singular, but they’re timeless and multi-planar. Heck, maybe they are Singular. There’s like 30 of them, but that’s across every reality and that’s why it’s so rare to encounter one. Maybe there’s one or a few trapped in Universe 1 now and them trying to break free is what undoes Voss’s lock. They’re not entirely sure themselves exactly how much of this is canon - maybe it’s somewhat hinted at and some people know something like this is out there, but it’s all given with a helping of “how much of this is true?” qualifiers and isn’t established “this is what’s happening” information. It’s kind of funny that if Singular Entities are the closest thing they have to “gods” then unicorns have wound up being the closest equivalent to “angels”. Also, all unicorns can fly, but not all have wings.
- Was there any point when Unity was fighting alongside AA and was inspired to make a bot based on a mythical creature? She’s made a lot of bots of a lot of things, she probably didn’t want to tread on Dreamer’s toes in creating a Unicorn bot because the Whipacorn was her thing.
- You’ve mentioned that there was only one Phoenix, but is that per-universe or per-world? Each reality has a Phoenix. Sometimes it’s on one planet, sometimes another.
- Do they have powers over death and rebirth? Certainly over their own, but not in general. You’ll get legends of needing some feathers from it to use in rituals to raise the dead, though.
- Do they serve a specific purpose to their universe/world? Do you? Does anything in the universe serve a specific purpose there?
- How worried should I be that I’m carrying around a Phoenix egg from another reality? That just means that this other reality would be missing its Phoenix, and so there wouldn’t be any of those feathers around that people might need.
- You’ve mentioned that AA deals with myths and NightMist deals with horrors - what about those areas of overlap like the Sphinx or Anansi (“shape-shifting spiders” is always going to have at least some creepy factor)? Any stories where AA and NightMist work together (or are at odds with one another) regarding such a creature? They’ve certainly worked together. Yeah, there’s room for a story where one of them is out to save and the other to defeat some mystical creature and then they sort it out. A Sphinx is solidly in Ra’s realm, but it could be a crossover there too (Ra shows up: “Oh, good. You can burn it with fire.” “No, I’m just here to answer its riddle.”)
- Was there a time when Chrono-Ranger was sent after a mythical creature only to have AA defend it? It’s a fun idea, but there isn’t a specific story in the canonical timeline as their stories just don’t line up that way. It could be a fun Disparation thing, though.
- The idea of the Argent Artist existing brings up the question of how much natural rules can vary from reality to reality (if “visual arts” is a valid way to tap into the Void instead of “music” in that reality, just what sorts of other areas of expression could work in other realities)? If the Argent Artist came to Universe 1 would he still be able to do Void magic or would he have to learn music (and vice versa for Argent Adept in that reality)? Improvisational expression is the important thing - it’s not the case that different realities have different rules for how one connects to the Void so any Virtuoso in any reality could still do their thing. That being said, they think that the long tradition in place here and resultant pattern in the collective subconscious for that expression to take the form of music would result in any Virtuoso that comes to be here would be through the medium of music. It’s not impossible for a Virtuoso to arise using another medium, but just very unlikely. They could see, for example, somebody becoming a Virtuoso through the medium of dance (not music itself, but related enough to music to not be as difficult a jump as some others would be).
- What do you guys have against water (limited game effects related to it, none of which deal damage; not an option for damage type)? How am I supposed to make a character who sends their foes to a watery grave with these options? While it’s not listed as an element/energy type in the RPG, just use it anyway [heck one of the live-stream characters added “bubbles” to that list]. The trick is that water is not frequently expressed as the “element of water” it’s generally depicted as “hammering down” on the opponent and so generally gets melee or projectile typing. Otherwise it’s often given the Cold type. They don’t have a problem with water, just that the word “water” doesn’t inherently tell you what the water is doing. It’s the same reason that lava doesn’t do “lava damage”.
- Would Fashion have been considered a D-list hero? Yes.
- Does Casa-Nova’s guitar (being made of star stuff) have any similarities to Captain Cosmic’s constructs? Is it roughly as durable or is it more like Argent Adept’s instruments that are just kept in a pocket dimension or something until he needs it? Does it have amplification or does it just have the “groovity” to be heard across a battlefield? Once he makes it he has it. He might not always have it on him, but he can summon it as it’s always the same distinct object. It has amplification abilities, but those are mostly working off of groovity. It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation.
- Has Casa-Nova run into any other space heroes (or been to places shortly after other heroes left)? They think his stories are pretty self-contained. He might have a cameo here and there, but nothing major - just Easter eggs in the background.
- His name implies that he’s gotten to know a lot of different life forms out there; does he have any children? Do his kids and Captain Cosmic’s kids form a mutual support group? Not that we know of. It seems almost certain that he has children, but they aren’t part of his story.
- Could he have been a Virtuoso of the Void? No.
- How does he travel through space? Does his “groovitational pull” let him propel himself around? Does he ride cosmic waves while rocking? Does he just hitchhike? A little of all of those. Whichever is the grooviest way to travel at the time.
- [Letter starts pointing out that Adam posted a picture of OblivAeon sitting in a chair in the Discord during the last Editor’s Note recording which is not true, that was the Vertex iteration of Voss sitting in a chair as discussed in that episode, briefly - the rest of the letter doesn’t depend on that misunderstanding, though, so to continue:] Do Singular Entities live lives like we do? [No.] Do they sit down to eat their meals or to rest their legs? Do they have a need for furniture? [No.] Are there any instruments that they need for mundane or supernatural purposes? No. Singular Entities don’t live lives as we do. Wager Master sits in things for comedic effect and that’s 100% of what Wager Master does - any interaction he has with physical objects is due to his particular idiom. OblivAeon has the OblivAeon engines, but those were actually something that Voss convinced him to use (because Voss had a plan for them).
- [This last letter was from Morphing Menagerie and they close out with a comment that details in some recent episodes have made them land on the idea that their powers come from a combination of Gene-Binding tech and the Plague Rat infection, so that’s fun - you might want to make sure that your powers are stable. You might also want to get help.]