The Letters Page: Episode 159
Creative Process: Dark Watch Villains
We make up some stuff!
Run Time: 1:25:05
We goof around, as per usual, but then make up a few villains and even get into their stories a bit!
At around 41 minutes in, we stop making stuff up, and start making up answers to your questions!
Near the end of the episode, there's a question about how Adam's spouse feels about the version of Baron Blade from the Freedom Five board game, which is now on Kickstarter - go check it out! Here's what she thinks.
In case you live in the USA and haven't voted yet and it's still the day this episode is released, go vote! It's important. Find out where and how you can vote here!
Catch you all next time!
- Looking at the timeline, if we’re doing specifically “Dark Watch” villains they’re probably constrained to post-2000 times as the team only got together in July ’99 (and we know what they were up to for the remainder of the year already). Sure they could do villains from earlier that just had to do with the individual members or for them as a semi-regular informal team-up, but that seems like cheating. That being said, it’s entirely possible that they’ll discover villains who appeared prior to that in the process, but that became foes for the team later.
- Something they haven’t really done yet is an Anarchist character. Things in Rook City are real bad, as always, but Dark Watch is attempting to make things better by working towards the system that should be in place in a functioning city rather than the special set of oppressive systems (i.e. the Organization, for the most part) that are actually in place there. This could be somebody who’s just out to tear the whole thing down, man. Christopher likes the idea of this person even being a new ally for the team for a hot minute when they first show up.
- Ok, so in order to have this type of person make sense and not just be this chaos for the sake of chaos character, they need some justifiable end goal. They should have some coherent vision of what the world is like after they “win”. Is it just "the world would be better without legal systems/authorities"? Then what? We just live in our own little groups that don’t have any sort of governance? Maybe they don’t see that as their job. There might be some new social order that arises later that’s better, but this social order doesn’t work and needs to be taken down.
- Is it too boring/on-the-nose to call them The Destabilizer? That could work as somebody from decades past who gets reworked for Dark Watch. How about Agitator? Before even getting to powers/abilities Adam proposes kind of a paramilitary motif. Maybe they were in a military before going off the rails. Based on that name (Agitator), Christopher suggests powers involving an ability to vibrate the molecules of something by touching it. Like, he (they’ve landed on it being a “he”) could touch a building and make it shake by agitating the molecular structure.
- Running with that, they come up with a background of him having PTSD that involves hand tremors. He goes to therapy and is told that working through things will take time, but he wants it fixed now. He rejects that option and goes off to find some other solution that doesn’t involve the hard work and time investment in actually dealing with his trauma. He finds some quack with an idea for some experimental procedure (“the shakes are due to something with your nervous system, so we’ll just do something to super stabilize that and you should be good to go!” kind of thing). This does as badly as you’d expect and now he’s destabilized (not just the nervous system stuff, but mentally too). They figure that he bristled under authority while in the military (possibly dishonorably discharged) and this procedure just amplifies those tendencies too.
- Christopher doesn’t think that this a character from way back, this seems more like a post-9/11 Afghanistan or Iraq-era guy. Let’s put him in September 2004, Dark Watch vol. 1 #63. Bold move making an army veteran villain in 2004 - maybe it’s sort of a thing where, yeah, they’re trying to stop this guy but they’re also trying to save him. There’s a decent amount of room for sympathy for the guy as none of this situation is his fault - only his reactions once he’s landed in it.
- Naming (which, apparently, always makes the name “Martin” pop into Adam’s head): First suggestion is Matt Geiger, but Christopher adapts it to Matt Mueller (given that the Geiger–Müller tube is the sensing part of a Geiger counter: note “ue” is the standard way to eliminate the umlaut from the German spelling). [There’s some discussion of how “Mueller” would be pronounced mull-er or mule-er - I note that the original German “Müller” has a vowel that doesn’t occur in English, so English speaking people with that surname kind of just land on one of those options. They land on mule-er as the one for this guy.] Matt Muller gets that nice comic book character alliteration and is a bit less on-the-nose than Matt Geiger would be while still referencing the same thing.
- Ok, so that’s a villain who’s of the “chewed up and spit out by the system” persuasion. That’s good - Mr. Fixer and Expatriette could both relate to this guy. That’s a good point - they should likely be shooting to have these villains fit in with at least one if not more DW team members like this.
- On that note, let’s try to get probably the most difficult one of these out of the way: a good Setback villain. He’s bright and dim (depending on the various definitions of those words) and is a pretty straightforward, genuine guy who just wants to help out. Sure, they could just make some RevoCorp guy who wants to harvest his DNA or something, but that’s not an ideological foe. Is “cynical” enough of a foil for his idealism? Maybe somebody who can (via powers or just by what they say) damage Setback’s worldview. Somebody who isn’t coming at it from a “the world is sunshine and rainbows” vs. “the world is a putrid cesspool”, but more of a “the world isn’t worth caring about either way”. If that’s the angle, using powers to do so is boring, so no mind control.
- How about some old villain doing villain stuff, but who is defeated by Setback at some point and then it becomes personal for that person who then goes out of their way to negate whatever it is that Setback’s doing. Saving people from a burning building? He sets somebody on fire. Whatever good that Setback tries to bring into the world is offset by this person’s actions elsewhere. Heck, from that standpoint this doesn’t even really have to have been a villain before the vendetta - it could just be somebody who got caught holding up a gas station or something mundane like that who then went off the deep end.
- Oh… Or we could really twist the knife by having it be somebody who was negatively impacted by Setback’s bad luck while he was doing his hero thing. Like, he saves a bunch of people, but this person got injured in the process and holds it against Setback. He paid the price that one time, so he’s going to make sure that somebody’s paying that price whenever Setback’s doing stuff.
- How injured do we want to go? Somebody who’s paralyzed or needed cybernetic prostheses? They’ve already done a DW story with a cyborg, though. They also kick around the idea of “medicine” from RevoCorp or Pike keeping them going, but decide instead that they use some kind of exo-suit.
- Names: Torment, as they’re specifically tormenting Setback. Christopher likes them as an unpowered opponent (although with the suit) - they’re not tormenting Setback by being powerful, but by their monstrous actions. The suit lets them do stuff generally, but also helps them deal with getting fought by Setback as it’s a measure of protection even though they have no powers themselves and couldn’t take a punch from him otherwise. They have no interest in fighting Setback, anyway. Getting away from any physical confrontation is the goal.
- So, somebody who watches what Setback’s doing with the express purpose of immediately going out and committing a crime to offset the good that Setback has done. That’s both incredibly petty and quite possibly one of the most evil characters they’ve created. Having invented this person makes Adam feel gross.
- First appearance? They figure the event that injured them could be pre-Dark Watch. Like, some bystander getting seriously injured during some heroics could have been a sad event back in the day, then somebody brought that person back later as a villain. They put them in Dark Watch vol. 1 #20 in February 2001. They also place that original injury in Terminal Ballistics #25 in February ’93. The person wasn’t named then, but was just shown as “sometimes these things happen; at least they’re not dead, so all in all a good job everybody” and then 8 years later another writer thought that maybe that wasn’t a great take on “these things happen”.
- Note on the exosuit: it’s meant to very obviously be showing that this is a piece of equipment to allow this person to function and keep them going rather than something like power armor that’s designed to make the person formidable.
- Personal information about the person: is it a woman? They don’t want to get into a thing where Setback-specific personal villains are women (like Kismet). Sure there’s Re-Volt and Revenant, but those are more RevoCorp villains rather than Setback-as-a-person villains. Neither of the guys have built up any kind of mental image for this person, so maybe they should work out their gimmick (other than the exo-suit thing). Maybe the method of keeping Setback under surveillance - a bunch of small drones as eyes in the sky to keep tabs on him. Some kind of visor for those displays as well as the suit having all the little drones in it could be interesting (and so the suit, as well as providing some level of protection, can also act as a kind of utility belt - some drones might be able to create a smoke screen of sorts to help them escape an actual confrontation with the heroes).
- Adam thinks that “running away” as a goal is a bit too far away from being a threat. Maybe if the drones are capable of creating such a distraction that Torment can simply walk away. Sure, escape is still the point, but how one goes about it is important. Like, you have a contingency set up where you can show the heroes a dozen people you’ve put in danger ahead of time and so they can either deal with Torment now or hurry off to save them. That’s a standard shtick with them - the heroes could capture them any time, but if they do something bad will happen. They name her Stephanie Martin [episode was unclear on the last name, but confirmed with Christopher].
- They don’t have any kind of magic foe, which would fit for NightMist and Harpy, but also fits Mr. Fixer a little. They think they have enough “wizards” already (and Zhu Long is right there). What about a werewolf or some other kind of monster? That’s also a nice fit for Expat.
- They could make a leader of a werewolf pack, so there could be an arc with a bunch of them leading up to a confrontation with this main one. They want to avoid the Blood Countess Bathory thing where it’s the “first werewolf ever” or something. They talked about the werewolf lore in the past with them being elusive and trying to remain off of everybody’s radar. Maybe this one thinks that he’s the alpha and needs to be in charge of this group of apex predators. Can we just call him Apex? [Note this was an alternate reality Bugbear.] Adam throws out a growled “Apex the Wolf-King” which causes Christopher to laugh, but he has no problems with that name.
- This could be a character that’s been around for a while, but becomes something of a notable Dark Watch foe. Christopher posits a “werewolf arc” in the mid-’00s. Adam wonders what makes Apex different that makes him harder to deal with. They also figure that while he would have had a human name, he’s discarded it and so they don’t plan on making one up for him.
- Christopher decides that this can be late in the first volume’s run. Like, sales are flagging and as a Hail Mary they do this “Dark Watch: Werewolf Hunters” thing for a while to try to revitalize it, which doesn’t work. It goes for a year before being dropped and they just spend the last few months wrapping some stuff up and ending on a Zhu Long cliffhanger or something. Say it runs from summer 2010 through summer 2011 (with the title ending in December).
- What makes him special? The answer has to be magic of some sort. Christopher doesn’t think a weapon or armor relic of some sort (he should be the epitome of Werewolf-ness and needing weapons or armor detracts from that). A Werewolf doing Blood Magic sounds pretty cool (but how close to Blood Countess or Bugbear would we be getting?). Maybe somebody did some Blood Magic to him rather than him being a practitioner? Well, we’ve been avoiding the Court of Blood, but what if he’s a result of something they tried? Maybe the age-old Vampire/Werewolf rivalry (that everyone knows about, right?) was something she was trying to work around - like, the Countess found a really strong Werewolf and set him up to be the most powerful for all time, but also do stuff to him such that he couldn’t oppose her (which he, naturally, tries to do anyway with much back-and-forth over time).
- Maybe he’s got a vampire advisor that he thinks is under his control/there to do what he says/help him by doing Blood Magic, but really she’s pulling the strings for the Court. He’s the king of the wolves, but from the Court’s perspective he’s a dog on a leash to try to keep the other werewolves out of their hair.
- What does a “Setback villain” even look like (sure, there’s Kismet, but she’s an ex-girlfriend as a reason)? It’s actually really difficult - which is why pairing him up with Expatriette was so common. She’s got villains all over the place. Setback’s presence on Dark Watch angles towards fighting crime, but also “injustice” and things that harm the common man. Setback’s “villain” is “stuff that goes bad for people”. He’s kind of there to be an everyman - which does actually leave some room for there to be some kind of slighted working-class villain (“Angry Taxpayer” as a villain). The Hippo almost fits this, but is a bit to personally sadistic, but a mundane bank robber type is what Setback is trying to fix in the system. Not just stopping crime, but trying to help people be the best versions of themselves. He also makes a lot of mistakes along the way, but is really good about owning up to those mistakes. As such, he also has a lot of empathy and understanding for mistakes that other people make (up to and including the chain of events that leads to a person becoming a criminal). His worldview might come off as immature to a lot of people (in that he’s not at all jaded, which people tend to equate with maturity), but he’s actually one of the more emotionally-aware characters they’ve got and is surprisingly well-adjusted. This is in sharp contrast to the hyper-jaded, emotionally-closed-off Expatriette - this is a big part of why they work, he’s able to get through all that and help temper her. If he was just dumb and optimistic she could brush him off.
- [Birthday request: “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean.]
- What was the cover art like for the introduction of the various Dark Watch members (Expat in Mystery Comics vol. 2 #21 May ’81, Harpy Dark Watch vol. 1 #7 January 2000, Mr. Fixer MC vol. 2 #145 May ’86, NightMist Freedom Five Annual #6 August ’62, Setback MC vol. 2 #212 April ’91)? Well, they don’t have cover art for any of those yet [point of interest: there are covers for FFA #6 and DW #7, but they’re from before the Post-It Timeline Project and so are of dubious authenticity]. They will say that all of those will get drawn [presumably for the First Appearance variant hero cards in the Definitive Edition of SotM], but that means that they don’t want to do a Creative Process thing right now because they don’t want to lock themselves into those descriptions.
- May I suggest a possible idea for some baddies (or not-so-baddies) for Dark Watch? Gargoyles! You’ve said in the past that they’re definitely a thing in Sentinel Comics, so what’s their deal? They haven’t done this work. In the interest of two non-answers in a row, let’s do a mini-Creative Process at least regarding what they are, but not any kind of specific stories. Most likely some kind of “guardian” (whether good or bad). Oh, or maybe observers - it’s not like they come down off the buildings to help. Maybe they’re the agents of some being out there who’s just keeping tabs on things (with the possibility of the occasional rogue gargoyle that breaks free, for good or ill). A full Creative Process episode could flesh this out, or even a Writer’s Room about a story where they actually do something (like whatever specific thing they’re watching for happens).
- Prompted by the Freedom Five game on Kickstarter right now: does Mr. Jitters ever go up against Dark Watch? For sure.
- [Letter from the villain union rep starts about 55:30 or so, Adam does a good voice] You’ve got two characters who could be justified in having their own villain decks, but who got relegated to Environments or single cards in other decks - Blood Countess Bathory and Zhu Long. While Blood Countess seems to just be doing her thing existing and chasing off the occasional angry mob, how are Zhu Long’s various activities (running drugs back in the Black Fist era, the oni masks, etc.) not enough to warrant a deck? Is it just a case where he built in importance as the Letters Page went on? Zhu Long, as long as they’ve talked about him publicly, has never become a bigger deal than they thought he was. They know exactly how big of a deal Zhu Long is. You, dear listener/reader, do not know how big a deal Zhu Long is. It is part of the mystery of how big a deal he is that he doesn’t have a Villain deck. In order to have a Villain deck, you would have to know what his plot was (and, frankly, his plot is too big for a Villain deck). They may have said too much.
- How does Heartbreaker (by all accounts just a former Rook City cop who had a rough time of it) keep up with the various powered individuals in Dark Watch? Have any writers tried to give him powers? From their point of view, Heartbreaker isn’t a threat to them in a stand-up fight kind of way. He’s a marksman, especially with thrown weapons. Something happened to him in the Bloodsworn Colosseum, but for the most part he’s just put in the effort (and we definitely see him as Tony Taurus after the Colosseum where he’s sitting in his office and just throwing a knife at the wall over and over and over again). He’s a one-trick pony, but it’s a combination of that with his keen intellect and sadistic streak that makes him a threat. In a general brawl with multiple people on both sides, he’s likely to be over at the edge of things waiting for his moment. He’s an assassin who’s doing a job, not a general purpose villain who’s going to be taking on a whole team of heroes in a fight.
- Now that Slim’s alive again as Mantra, it seems likely that Zhu Long knows that he’s alive again. Is he worried at all about his old foe? Is his control over him (in the form of the dragon tattoo) strong enough to make it a non-issue? Is Mantra hesitant to go up against Zhu Long? Zhu Long no longer has any control over him, but he’s not afraid of him either. He’s very aware of him as an obstacle, but not a threat. The tattoo is something that Mantra would have to find a way to work around, though.
- Is it fair to assume that Kismet will appear in the RPG now that she’s escaped from the Block? Yup, she’s in the core book.
- In the Animated Universe, how did the Matriarch escape captivity between the Freedom Five episode that introduced her and her first appearance in the Dark Watch show? It was kind of handwaved. The shows are acknowledged as being in canon with one another, but there was no explanation for how we got from point A to point B in this case.
- [Heartfelt comment to them from Zen Viking at around 1:02:30 regarding their storytelling abilities and the quality of the SCRPG. Everybody has imposter syndrome, but the best storytellers are the ones who love it and will tell stories to a rock if that’s all that’s available and you guys seem like that type. Also:]
- When are those RPG supplement books coming out? They’re actually really far along in the writing process, but they need a ton of art at this point, plus the layout stuff. They’ll be out when they’re done. There’s a bit of urgency, but no rush if that makes sense.
- The Freedom Five board game has scenario books that are presented as being comic book issues (much like Sentinel Tactics scenarios and SCRPG adventures) - however, the preview materials that the Kickstarter has shown so far breaks with tradition in that they do not yet appear to be presented as being specific canonical issues of Sentinel Comics (with appropriate trade dress, issue numbers, etc.); is the plan to include those details once they’ve been finalized? Yes, they want to do that. They’ll be working with Arcane Wonders to figure all of that stuff out, but they don’t want to get too into the weeds until we actually know what all of the scenarios are and what’s in them. They’ve already discussed which eras and stories are fair game to use, so then it’s just a matter of fitting things together and slotting them into the official History.
- Whose idea was it to include Mr. Jitters as a stretch goal villain? How much direction did you have to give on his play style given that this is his first mechanical representation in a public-facing product (and much like having the Adhesivist and Perestroika first appear in the Sentinels of Freedom game, I hope that such collaborations continue to do well)? They were also really exited to have those characters in SoF - it was fun to have the option to pull in some characters that the Letters Page listeners would have a passing familiarity with and let them shine a bit. That’s the same reason they wanted to include Mr. Jitters (and others - but as much as they’d like to talk about them, they don’t want to steal Arcane Wonders’ thunder on that) in the Freedom Five game. They have a lot of influence for this project in terms of what stories and characters are available, and that means also saying that if they’re going to include Mr. Jitters, [Redacted], or [Also Redacted] in there they should act in these ways. Some of it worked the other way, too. About a year ago they met with the AW team who had need of a character to fill a particular slot in their design, so they went through the various possibilities for who might do what they needed. For example, if they asked for “some creepy, scary, mind-control type of character” then Mr. Jitters was the obvious choice. Also, they asked if they could use Visionary, and were told “no” due to other upcoming projects.
- When brainstorming content for Freedom Five, why Mr. Jitters instead of any number of other characters you have available in your roster? Was the character design in existence prior to his inclusion in this game? Any chance of a full-body image of him anytime soon? He was chosen as he fit what the game needed and also because he’s a good character to be there as a minor villain for the Freedom Five. Other villains, team villains, or mini-nemeses that already existed either didn’t fit the game role necessary or exactly work as a Freedom Five villain (or weren’t accessible for story reasons). There’s also a desire to simply move the world forward - they wanted to include some characters who hadn’t been seen before. It showcases how big the roster of characters is if this new game isn’t only a greatest hits album of characters people already know. His look was decided before adding him. Nothing was designed specifically for this game, but Adam notes that this is the “soft reboot” version of the character. His original comics appearance wasn’t quite so creepy. As for the full-body image of him, as of recording he hadn’t actually been unlocked yet, but in an update since then we have this.
- Given that Jim Brooks, AKA Chrono-Ranger, has been revealed as being in the Freedom Five game I have to ask: is Adam more attracted to him in his new artistic iteration where somebody else was the one to draw him? “Actually, kinda. Yeah.” He’d say that about all of them, though. It’s still too weird for Christopher, though.
- Is Adam’s wife more attracted to the new versions of Baron Blade from the board game? She hadn’t seen them yet. Per the show notes she says that “this version of Blade looks like a jerk somehow. #notmyblade”.
- [Angry Taxpayer letter at 1:14:00] Happy election day special, ya bums. If we’re lucky this might lead to an end to ad campaigns and texts. [This causes Adam to break character for a moment to rant about text-message-based political ads.] If we’re unlucky this drinking problem is likely to get worse. If you’re in the US and haven’t yet: Vote! [sorry my notes are up late] Anyway, what villains in the Multiverse have kidnapped the President, a Supreme Court Justice, or a non-Parsons-related member of Congress? Any of them run for president (in disguise or otherwise)? Villains have definitely kidnapped various of those government office holders. The President was probably kidnapped a lot in the ’60s. Let’s say that Iron Curtain definitely did some of the kidnapping. Proletariat might have back in the original transition from hero to villain as the Cold War got going, but that’s less likely. Nobody ran for president. There’s probably been villains who got into Congress at some point, but not beyond that. Any politician that gets kidnapped would have been fictional, though. They wouldn’t have done that to real politicians.
- Thanks for creating SotM and everything else, it’s inspired me to create my own RPG (which, it turns out, is a lot of work). [The guys cut in here. It sure is, but it’s worth it. Even if your RPG is a “failure” (and you’re the one who decides what that looks like) the process of going through that creative process is worth it.] The episodes where you create heroes or villains in particular have been useful as inspiration, but how about the creation of species? How much did you know about the Host, Maerynians, the Endlings, etc. before you created the individual characters? Whenever they create anything, it involves a lot of research. Something they’re good at as a team is getting way out into the weeds during that process. That is strictly helpful for them as they get interested in a topic, learn a lot about it, and even reach out to experts occasionally so that they’re starting from a place of accuracy even if they then go off the rails into comic book nonsense based on it. Depending on what you’re doing, though, their exact approach may not be the best to emulate. Because they’re often creating things with the verisimilitude of history, they will be investigating what people thought was true about a topic 70 years ago so that they can create a thing from that era with those opinions and biases intact, even if that is out of touch with today’s understanding. They intentionally make things wrong so that it fits that historical framework and then layering retcons over that to account for the shift over time to make things work for modern audiences. A nice thing about making stuff up for SCRPG is that they’re finally able to mostly just make stuff up for today’s audience without that extra step. What all this means is that when they’re making up aliens that first appeared in the ’60s and ’70s they’re mostly of the Star Trek type of humans with extra makeup. In any event, they usually work in two ways. They either have an end point in mind and then work backwards to see how they can justify it being that way or they get out there in the weeds of research and see what inspires them.