The Letters Page: Episode 16
Today, we talk about a character with as depressing a name as his backstory! Hooray?
Run Time: 87:33
Right off the bat, we get started with the story of the FIRST Absolute Zero! Surprise!
Just after the 3 minute mark, we lose our highly focused train of thought and devolve into madness, discussing the difference in scariness between Nazis and Nazi Ghosts. And then what to do about ghosts. We do this for... minutes. And then return to the backstory of the first Absolute Zero. There's no excuse for our behavior.
We do get into some of the backstory of the Golden Age of Sentinel Comics in the first fifteen minutes of this episode. We also goof around a bit.
Then! We finally get into Absolute Zero. The Absolute Zero you all know and love, that is.
At 19:28, I get ahead of myself and talk about a thing that I wanted to save for the Q&A portion... but it didn't get cut, so you get to hear what it sounds like when I change my mind on something I'm saying! Yay? Behind the scenes!
Around the 25 minute mark, we talk about Absolute Zero & Tachyon's Sentinels Book Club! Both of those members of the Freedom Five have book recommendations for this episode!
- from Absolute Zero: The Force of Spirit, by Scott Sanders
- from Tachyon: The Eight, by Katherine Neville
Our answer to the first letter read in the Q&A segment (a bit after the 40 minute mark) explains why we have two Absolute Zeroes. There was a reason from the real world?! Not the fictional world Adam and Christopher spend the bulk of their lives living in?! Look, I'm as shocked as you are.
Next week, we talk Vengeance!
- Henry Goodman - the first Absolute Zero in the Golden Age of comics - was a lab assistant in a military facility. You have find new ways to beat those Nazis after all; that is, until those Nazis break into your lab in an attempt to prevent you from being able to do so. The ensuing fire fight destroys a lot of the equipment and kills Henry's boss. Henry grabs a prototype Negathermo device and fires it at the Nazis - freezing them in a line of ice across the room. He later refines this device into hand-held "guns" and becomes the hero known as Absolute Zero to fight Nazis. He was created to capitalize on the popularity of Legacy and was very much like him in personality, just the difference in "powers". Lots of cold puns as you would expect.
- He didn't have his own book. He was introduced in a b-story in Justice Comics and continued to show up in one-off stories in anthology titles (All-Preferred Comics, Greater Comics, United Men Comics, Fearless Comics), none of which were successful titles that lasted (explaining why the game features no flavor-text from them). Not even characters that appeared in them proved popular enough to be retained for the long-haul - Bunker showed up in them occasionally too, but that specific iteration of the character didn't last either, he wound up being reworked when The Indestructible Bunker launched later. Absolute Zero was popular at first, but was not very interesting as a character (nor was he well-written) and quickly fell by the wayside as more popular/enduring characters got introduced.
- The Freedom Four was an experiment ("lets take a few of our most popular characters and some of the less popular characters and throw them into a bucket and make that a team" so that readers would be exposed to these other characters in order to read about their favorites). Legacy and the Wraith (still very new at the time) were the popular characters. The less popular ones were AZ and the Shrieker (about whom more in the Freedom Five episode). Being paired up with popular characters did not help AZ - readers still didn't like him (and didn't like the book in general for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was a fairly obvious cash-grab without any heart to it). [Adam does a pretty good voice for the "businessman" making the pitch at around 10:45.] The original FF book lasted barely over a year before being cancelled (and along with it the idea of the team in general - Legacy and the Wraith stuck around in their own books, obviously, but they weren't nominally on a team anymore). That marked the end of the original AZ being used outside of the occasional flashback to Golden Age stuff during the Modern Age as a continuity Easter Egg for people into the minutia of the Sentinel Comics universe.
- Jump forward to Freedom Four Annual #2 and the introduction of the modern Absolute Zero. This is the same issue as the first appearance of The Matriarch, but it also included two flashback scenes. One to Dr. Stinson (pre-Tachyon powers) working on a cryogenic chamber in which a surgeon is working on somebody whose core temperature is near absolute zero and another showing the backstory of this frozen person, Ryan Frost. See the AZ bio for how Ryan wound up in this situation. He's now revived, but has to remain in the cryo-chamber. General Armstrong approaches him with a job offer, letting him use a suit designed by Dr. Stinson that would allow him to leave the room, but in exchange for his working for the Freedom Initiative to pay for it. He turns this down. Back to the present, he's watching TV coverage of this whole bird-lady situation and how many problems the Freedom Four are having. Eventually the TV feed goes out and he knocks on his door and asks to speak to General Armstrong. Cue to this guy in a dark grey and bright blue suit showing up on the battlefield blasting birds with ice, announces himself as Absolute Zero, and joins the Freedom Five.
- The suit is always under development by Tachyon. General features: he can shoot blasts of cold air and generally mess with the temperature of stuff around him - as he learns how to use the suit better he learns more advanced tricks like building structures out of ice and so on.
- He's the "negative Nancy" of the team, sarcastic, probably complaining any time he has to leave his cryo chamber and suit up. This mellows over time, but at first he's "all doom and gloom." Not to say that he's not a good teammate. His friendship with Tachyon is very close (they spend a lot of time in the labs together after all - she's working and he lives there). Ryan asking her about whatever she's working on (because he's bored) was useful to the writers as a means of getting some exposition done, but it wound up being something that grew into an actual friendship regardless of their differences. He's not into magic shows, but he has a good time going to them with her. She's not really into music or movies because it happens at a set pace that you have to pay attention to, but he's a big blues/jazz fan. They do start getting into books together, though (in particular The Count of Monte Cristo was one they both liked). This kind of became the game with the writers, developing an ad hoc "Sentinels book club" for their readers by mentioning whatever it was that AZ and Tachyon were reading in the letters page ("Freedom Fan-mail"). As mentioned in the show notes for this podcast, the current recommendations are - Absolute Zero: The Force of Spirit by Scott Russell Sanders, Tachyon: The Eight by Katherine Neville
- Vengeance: Baron Blade putting together a team of foils for the FF was tricky in that he didn't have anybody really lined up for AZ, specifically, because he didn't have any kind of solo adventures that could have resulted in him developing a nemesis. Blade did know about a Soviet super-weapon that had been put on ice years ago, though. More detail in the Vengeful Five episode, but in short he convinced Proletariat that Absolute Zero was the "bad" version of himself - this unwitting slave of capitalism, etc.
- AZ is powerful and works well with other heroes (not just the FF - he does appear in other books occasionally), but he doesn't have that drive to go off and fight evil on his own and so doesn't really have any solo stories.
- In one fight with the Vengeful Five, however, he and Proletariat wind up isolated without the rest of their teams nearby. Eventually, AZ's faceplate gets knocked off. Normally this is such a danger to him that he needs to patch it with something or retreat, but this time nothing happens. He doesn't experience the burning that it would normally cause, and is able to defeat Proletariat. He replaces his faceplate and joins up with the rest of the team. He's suspicious of this whole situation.
- A few issues later he's visited by Wager Master who tells him that his "friends" have been lying to him, using him, and that he doesn't need the suit. He teleports them both from the cryo-chamber to Magmaria with no ill effects. Wager Master then warns him that he can't just leave, because then they'll know that you know and you should bide your time and take your revenge (and, hey, I could use your help in defeating the Freedom Five anyway). Time passes back in the cryo-chamber with AZ resolving that he knows what he has to do, and the readership is well aware that he's now something like a double-agent, just waiting to turn on the heroes somewhere down the line. Delicious tension ensues during subsequent battles. Then the big Wager Master fight happens, showing the culmination of various plots he put in motion, including when he calls on AZ to turn on his allies! AZ then attacks Wager Master, encasing him in ice. He was never planning on turning on his friends (of course, Wager Master was behind the oddity during the Proletariat fight all along). AZ did learn a lot about his powers during this time, though, including dealing with being out of his suit.
- This plays an important role in the Termi-Nation story given that Chokepoint is able to dismantle Bunker's, Unity's, and AZ's gear. More about this story in particular in the Chokepoint and Freedom Five episodes, but his main development is that he's more able to directly control the moisture in the air around him and he uses ice to protect himself and his modules, minimizing the amount of "suit" he has to wear. It's a high-risk, high-reward strategy.
- During Progeny and OblivAeon he's not a main focus. He's there and is a big help in the fight, he helps out Tachyon when she gets hurt for one, but more than anything he winds up being the rock that steadies the team itself as they waver while fighting these dangers from beyond. From his perspective of "everything is always bad" this is just another problem for them to face down together - you can't demoralize him and he's inspiring in his own way here.
- What character has evolved the most during the creative process? This would be Absolute Zero - when they were first drafting out the characters and stories for the game one of the characters was one called Absolute Zero who had cold powers. He was just kind of a "blaster" - like a cold version of Ra. Over the course of development they decided that his story was more interesting than that backstory (as was his suit) and so needed more interesting mechanics to match. They fully scrapped his story and mechanics at one point - retaining the name because it's cool [heh], but also developing his personality around that - how much his life is just a series of rock-bottoms and who sees himself as "nothing". How uninteresting the Golden Age AZ was is a reflection of this design process and how boring the first iteration of the character was.
- How do his mechanics match up with the comics world? When he's dealing himself fire damage, that's just because he's letting warm air into his suit and the reaction that has near his skin sets off a chain reaction that lets him blast a lot of cold outward. There's no understandable scientific reason for this to work - their own brilliant scientist character can't figure out how his powers work - "Look lady, all I know is fire gets all weird around me."
- If room-temperature air is "like fire" to him, how does he survive having his suit blown up as it seems to in most major stories? The guys are really mean to him story-wise. He does learn how to patch the suit with ice, or cool the air around him. He also learns to take the damage and just deal with it, not giving up. They also do an art review before recording to see what stuff they need to talk about and even they noted just now many of his appearances deal with his stuff getting broken. He's handy from a comics storytelling standpoint in that you can show violence towards him without gore (tearing up his suit instead of his body).
- His bio mentions that he spent 2 years in the cryo-chamber before joining the fight; assuming this is the same room as in Freedom Tower, do people just not talk about the guy hanging out in the cold room all the time? Was it set up elsewhere? Not the same cryo-chamber - this would have been back in the old FF HQ days that predated Freedom Tower. This was a military/medical facility. After he joined up, they had a bunch of cryo-chambers set up for his use (emergencies, etc.).
- Is there a reason he doesn't have a major nemesis of his own? Touched on earlier in that he doesn't have a lot of solo-heroics going on in which he could develop a nemesis.
- How does he spend his down time? What sort of entertainment options does the cryo-chamber have/how big is it? Did Tachyon have to develop special equipment that could operate at those temperatures? Does Ryan put the suit on occasionally just to get out for fun? He puts on the suit for fun a few times, but it's by no means a common thing. Tachyon builds a record player that can output into the cryo-chamber directly (no speakers system) so he can listen to his vinyl collection without wrecking it. He writes a lot, too - journal-style. He's probably their most introspective character. A lot of the later AZ stories are about him as somebody intrinsically disconnected from the world.
- In the Baron Blade episode it was mentioned that he took the death-ray blast for Legacy and that his super-cooled state kept the blast from having any effect; since he's in such a state, does he need to eat? Does he miss simple stuff like that? Did he feel awkward at Legacy's cookout? He doesn't eat, he doesn't breathe, doesn't really sleep (although can go into something like a coma to recover his energy after a fight). He misses all of this stuff. Later he comes to appreciate his friends and purpose in the world, but definitely misses "being a person". He has a greater appreciation for the stuff he still can do, though (like reading or listening to music). He doesn't feel comfortable in social situations (like the cookout), but he still likes to (occasionally) take part in some of them - not without his normal grumbling, though.
- Biographical discrepancies! In the digital version of the game bios one lists his hair and eyes as white, others black hair and brown eyes, but he's often shown as having no hair in the game art. Can he even grow hair at this point? They should definitely show white for both. He still has eyebrows and he is capable of growing hair, but only very slowly (and what does grow is very wispy and brittle). He can just run his hands over his head/face to break the hair off so as to not have to deal with it.
- The flavor text on "Impale" mentions a comic A Day in the Life: Absolute Zero where he and Legacy are arguing, what's going on in this one-shot and what are they arguing about? It's a fairly late comic in his story. There are a bunch of "Day in the Life" issues, mostly surrounding Freedom Five-related characters. This one involves a big fight against Omnitron and AZ putting lots of big ice structures across sections of Megalopolis - this is doing a good job containing Omnitron and its drones, but also endangers bystanders that Legacy then has to go save (causing the argument). Late in the fight, AZ just wants to leave - he already had plans for that afternoon and had already told everybody that he was busy. He thinks that the team has things well in hand and just leaves (Tachyon intervenes with Legacy telling him that it's a rough day for Ryan). AZ goes to a second-hand store that employs ex-cons in a work-release thing and asks a guy if he remembers Christine O'Neil. The guy (the drunk driver who killed her) sputters a bit and Ryan calms him, just wanting to talk about how its been 30 years since she died [that seems like a long time in "comic book time" to me, we get a rundown of around 17 years between the her death and when he started being a hero - 5 as a janitor, 10 in a coma, 2 in the cryo-chamber - but whatever] and how much things have changed, and to tell him that he's glad that he's getting back on his feet and making peace with him in general.
- It seems harsh to make him "pay" for the suit by being a hero, why couldn't they have worked out some other way for him to pay for it or why couldn't Tachyon just chalk it up as an experiment? Any other of this kind of morally-gray, semi-coercive things the FF has done? It's not the Freedom Five extorting him, but it's part of the government (kind of an extension of the same programs running the Ironclad Project and Fort Adamant). The other members of the FF want the best for him and they aren't the ones doing the coercing.
- Would AZ count as "powered" in Citizen Dawn's accounting of things? Yes. She probably wouldn't bother trying to recruit him, but if he showed up on her doorstep wanting to sign up she'd take him. The suit isn't his power, it just allows him to more readily use his innate power.
- Has anybody bothered studying why fire gets all weird around him? If not, is it out of respect for his privacy? Tachyon definitely spends a lot of effort studying him and it's one of earth's greatest scientific mysteries. At first he just wants to leave him alone, but as they become friends he helps out more.
- In the ARG Event, we see him talking to his therapist about Writhe as a person outside his "super" persona; is AZ more social than he seems, making a point to get to know the others as people or was that just Writhe in particular? He really is that standoffish loner that he seems to be, but he saw a kindred spirit in Writhe and how people react to them (and both are middle-aged, a lot of the Sentinels cast skews older than "normal" in comics) and that got them talking to one another about life.
- What was his dream job mentioned in his bio? He has always loved music, writing, and writing about music and he has a degree in journalism and the dream job was (in the '70s) getting a column in Rolling Stone covering blues and jazz and the influence of those in the music world.
- Has he ever had the opportunity to interact physically with somebody without the suit since he got his powers? No - he's too cold, any physical contact would give frostbite immediately.
- Has he tried dating again since his fiancée died? He hasn't had any romantic storylines throughout the Multiverse era until the near the end, after he's become a bit more personable, he's getting out there in online dating. He's got to be up-front about who he is and the limitations inherent there, though. He's not so much looking for a "romantic" partner as he wants more human connections.
- Tactics - Two Absolute Zeroes to discuss. During the break with the government, when the Wraith buys-out Ryan's (and the rest of the team's) remaining obligations, he sticks around voluntarily given that they're his "family" now. He's slightly more upbeat now. The second person to mention isn't going by the name "Absolute Zero", but in the core game artwork we do see the granddaughter of the original AZ, Henry Goodman.
- RPG - [here's where the guys finally make the "he's dead" joke for all the bingo players and that spurs a short discussion about how he's functionally immortal - as long as he's kept at the right temperature range and isn't subject to sufficient trauma, he's likely going to be around] The FF is now in a more mentor role and the other members all have had their roles described and it largely makes sense given their previous heroics. Ryan is teaching a lot about "what it means to be a hero" - a lot of philosophy and ethics of heroism and "vigilante justice" that's important to understand if you're going to be a superhero - how to stay grounded as a person.