The Letters Page: Episode 160
Writers' Room: NightMist #35
The last episode of Spooky Month!
Run Time: 1:30:48
We do some goofs for about four minutes, which doesn't sound like a long time... and yet. Four minutes can really drag on when it's just all goofs.
Then! We tell a story! We craft it from whole cloth, live on the air! Certainly nothing obscured and no weird twists! Very straightforward beat-em-up tale here. Nothing to be afraid of...
Just after the 36 minute mark, we get into your questions. Thanks for keeping up the flow of questions, listeners! We get so many wonderful questions, and we love seeing them all. Keep up the great work! Submit your questions here!
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- The prompt this time is NightMist vs. Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. This is public domain, right? [quick edit while they actually check - Stevenson died in the 1890’s so all of this stuff is in public domain, for what that’s worth] Yup. Let’s do this.
- When are they doing to tell this? NightMist herself shows up in the early ’60s [August 1962 in Freedom Five Annual #6]. She doesn’t have her own book for quite a while, but she’s around and available for stories. Freedom Five and related titles are fair game, Tome of the Bizarre of course, by the mid-’80s she’s got her own book as well. Let’s do it in her book.
- More about the NightMist title. They’ve said in the past that the title was one given to a team of young upstarts. She had been around for a few decades, but didn’t have more than a cult following in the fandom up to this point (verging on d-list status). This solo title, running 160 issues [June ’85 through September ’98] really caught people’s attention and made her a really popular character. It wasn’t an episodic, or even an arc-based title - it had a more continuous story throughout. Sure plots come up and get resolved over time, but it’s not jumping from event to event with hard breaks between them. It may not have been a single writer over the entire run, but a small number of them (maybe just 2 or 3).
- How long was the Jekyll/Hyde thing? If it’s 3 or 4 issues, which one do they want to do today? Adam brings up the idea of an “inventory issue” - a comic that was written and drawn as filler in the case of schedule slip, possibly not made by that same core creative team. It’s something that can be slotted into the schedule without messing up the ongoing continuity, but that might get rolled up into the larger events down the line (whether that’s Jekyll/Hyde becoming something of a recurring character later or something they don’t know yet).
- That’s an interesting take they haven’t really done yet, so they like the idea of doing one of these “B Team” issues. They decide on the April ’88 issue, NightMist #35. While this episode is in the spooky month of November, they want this April issue to be more “suspense” than “horror”.
- On that note, however, the problem with suspense in a Jekyll/Hyde story is that everybody knows who that is and what’s going on [as opposed to the original story where the fact that they were the same guy was a twist ending]? Also, Jekyll/Hyde is dead at the end of the story, so if we’re positing that he’s a real guy in the world of Sentinel Comics, what’s different?
- Christopher’s idea: the Hyde identity is almost something of a case of possession. Sure, Dr. Henry Jekyll died [in 1886 or whatever], but then “Edward Hyde” just finds a new host to inhabit and try to take control for the rest of that person’s life as well and things go on from there. He doesn’t jump from person to person all the time, just when the current host dies.
- Adam had thought something along the lines of it being a reverse of the “known” story where Jekyll was the evil one, but he likes the possession idea too.
- Maybe we can restrict it so that Hyde only inhabits blood relatives of Jekyll - it’s something of a family curse. They don’t know what’s going on, but somebody in the family always goes mad and does terrible things until their inevitable destruction.
- Adam throws out the idea that the current person is Dr. Jacqueline Hyde [say it out loud] and the implication is that the original Hyde got somebody pregnant and she’s the descendant. This might be getting too far in the weeds for the background for a character in this kind of one-off issue. This could still work, but maybe we’re abandoning the “possession” angle if this is the direction they go with it as they don’t want to over-complicate this. What’s her deal, then? A jerk who sometimes becomes a good person? What’s the problem here that NightMist is solving? The possession angle at least has a clear end goal there.
- They could combine the two original ideas - the Hyde persona is jumping from person to person in the family, but the “morality” of Jekyll and Hyde could still be reversed. The story “everyone knows” was revisionist history told by the victor. Like, Dr. Jekyll made the potion to create an alternate persona for the sole purpose of having a patsy to pin all the bad stuff on that he wanted to do anyway [I mean, that’s not exactly that far off of a legit reading of the original story - that Hyde is just the face being worn so that Jekyll can do stuff he already wanted to do without the constraints of maintaining his Proper Victorian Gentleman™ reputation]. He winds up needing to take the potion to become Jekyll again because the Hyde persona isn’t under his control to the extent that he wishes. This is starting to feel too complicated.
- The “Hyde curse that affects the Jekyll family” is a good angle, but we need some twist for NightMist to discover near the end of the story. Like the family is to blame for it in some way. They do some messy off-the-air work to figure it out. It is a curse. Dr. Jekyll did the thing with the potion and created this alternate Hyde persona. Now every generation of the Jekyll family has their own Hyde. It’s unclear if it’s the same Hyde every time somehow or if it’s a new emergent personality every time. To get to the actual story:
- We open with NightMist fighting Mr. Hyde, who is a big monstrous humanoid. There’s some expository dialog where we establish that it’s Mr. Hyde and that he’s entirely taken over Dr. Jekyll - it’s too late to save him. We get the impression as well that this specific person is a recurring foe for her even though this is the first time he’s appeared in the comic. She takes him down and his dying comment is to thank her for releasing him.
- The next day, she’s at her P.I. office and a woman knocks on the door. When the woman comes in she says, with no other preamble, “You’ve damned me.” She’s Lynn Jekyll, the daughter of the guy NightMist killed yesterday, and now the Hyde curse falls to her. It’s only a matter of time and she’s afraid for herself and others. She knows it’s not NightMist’s fault, but it would be nice if she could help out considering that she just killed her dad. She’s on board.
- The first thing NightMist does is a ritual with Lynn to try to “scan” her to sort out the various parts of her - are there two different psyches in there? What exactly is the “Hyde” persona? She finds that it’s not that simple - the Jekyll and Hyde parts are very much intertwined with one another rather than being separate entities. While there are two “sets of thoughts” in there, she can’t even tell for sure which is which.
- Magical research needs to happen, but she needs Lynn to stay close so she can keep an eye on what’s going on with her. It’s during that process that her first Hyde freakout happens. Not a big transformation thing, but Lynn starts yelling and trashing the office - it’s clear that she’s not in full control of her body. NightMist uses some magic to bind her, but Lynn’s starting to spout off threats and commands to let her go, etc. With all the thrashing about NightMist eventually has to just magic her to sleep.
- So, now we’ve seen Lynn show up and have a Hyde episode and NightMist has looked into things to know the basics of what’s going on. How does she fix things? Maybe after seeing the “transformation” she’s got a better handle on things and does some more research while Lynn’s out. They need to induce another transformation in order for NightMist to do whatever she needs to do to fix things. They need to do this in a more controlled way than usual, so she starts asking Lynn what she knows about Hyde and how to get him to show up. They’re basically going to “set a trap” for him and it’s not as simple as taking a potion anymore (if it ever was - it’s a bit of family folklore and they don’t know if the potion thing was ever really how things got started).
- What does Hyde “want” that could be used as a way to lure him into manifesting? They joke about just setting a knife on a table and waiting, but that sort of “invitation to violence” angle isn’t that bad of an idea. Maybe NightMist even sets Lynn up - “I’m going to sleep on it and we’ll figure it out tomorrow” while casually leaving Lynn here in a room full of magical bric-a-brac, including ceremonial daggers or something. Lynn (and the reader) doesn’t know that NightMist expects Hyde to take advantage of the situation to attack and has already set up magical defenses.
- NightMist goes to sleep. Hyde comes out and tries to leave, but finds the exits already sealed/warded. Having already experienced NightMist magically binding her, she grabs a knife and goes to stab the sleeping hero, only to wind up caught in the trap. NightMist (expositing for the reader’s benefit about how this was the plan) goes about setting up the ritual to take care of the situation.
- A nice bit of symmetry - part of the process actually involves a new potion. Something of a “mental acid” that doesn’t so much separate the Jekyll and Hyde personas, but more erodes Hyde away entirely. They back up at this point and put this explanation earlier in the planning stages - they need to have Hyde active to use it because it keys on the set of thoughts that are running things at the time, so they need to have Hyde come out and then make them drink it.
- How do they get Hyde to drink it? Temptation with control: you’ve tried to use the murder route, so we’re pretty sure you’re Hyde now. We know you want control of the body and this will let you have it. Why would Hyde believe her? They can have the explanation of the potion also be part of the trap. The explanation of the potion happened while Lynn was asleep, so the reader knows what it’s going to be for, but she doesn’t. So, when Hyde wakes up and finds that she can’t attack the person helping Lynn she also sees the potion that she assumes is meant for her alter-ego. In obvious desperation, she takes the potion. Eyes roll back, some shuddering, etc. The whole bit.
- Great, we’re back to seeing the Lynn we saw at the beginning of this whole thing. Only now we get the reveal. This has all been a ruse. The “Lynn Jekyll” persona we’ve been dealing with has really been Hyde the whole time. The “Hyde” who was struggling and trying to stop NightMist (and who ultimately drank the potion) was actually the Jekyll side asserting control and trying to prevent whatever scheme Hyde was setting up with this witch. We get some flashbacks as she explains that she got control back when the previous Hyde died and then set up this whole scenario to get control for good. This is the origin story of the villain Jacqueline Hyde who becomes a recurring character.
- In the original story, the Mr. Hyde persona was brought out through chemistry - does this more scientific explanation take him out of NightMist’s area of expertise? While he’s not a “magical” character, the whole situation is couched as a “mystery” which is within NightMist’s genre as an investigator. Argent Adept stories are basically all nature and magic all the time, but NightMist’s have a fair bit of crossover with more scientific stuff (although usually still dealing with “monsters” somehow in such cases). Her stories are very noir - somebody walking through her door with a mysterious family “curse” is on-brand. They did push on the chemistry-related origins a bit by making it into a somewhat more supernatural “curse”. They also had the twist ending planned from pretty early on in their process.
- If there’s a more scientific explanation for a creature (say, Plague Rat as an example) does she still handle it or would she “outsource” it to another hero or let a different Dark Watch member take point while she takes a more supporting role in the action? She doesn’t really outsource things - if she comes across Plague Rat she’s going to try to deal with him. There can be magical solutions to scientific problems and even if the problem is just some big strong punchy guy trying to punch her, she can still do magic to deal with that.
- Most media depictions of Jekyll and Hyde keep the action in the original Victorian setting - is this a time-travel story for NightMist? Maybe she travels to a reality that just happens to still be very Victorian in character (gaslights, etc.)? If the latter is it just at that tech level or is it just retro styling of advanced technology that’s in vogue? Any other heroes we’d recognize? Any Freemasonry going on? None of that, unfortunately. She’s dealing with a modern descendant of the Jekyll family rather than the original. There’s definitely a Disparation issue set in a steampunk universe or something that would get at most of the rest of your questions, though. If they did a gaslight/steampunk story we’d probably see a lot of familiar heroes, but also some originals for that setting.
- What does NightMist fear about herself (losing control, becoming evil, etc.)? Losing herself to her curse. Not just in terms of losing control of her magic, but losing control of her physical form. Not so much “becoming evil”, at least not more than anybody else really does. Maybe a worry that something else would take control of her.
- Is there anything that the other members of Dark Watch do that makes her nervous? Yeah. Expatriette going out solo without explaining what’s going on is always a concern. Setback just being around and doing things. Mr. Fixer being angry at existence. Adam brings up that by Dark Watch era that’s basically just status quo - they’re not unstable like Prime Wardens. Christopher agrees that they’re not unstable like Prime Wardens are because that team is made up of people who aren’t good at communication and don’t have the implicit trust in one another that other teams have. Dark Watch has good communication and trust between the members, but the individual members are themselves unstable. Expat has her entire backstory that puts her on edge. Setback’s powers aren’t trustworthy. Mr. Fixer is dead. NightMist is part Void creature. Dark Watch has good team dynamics but unstable/unreliable “powers” and personalities while the Prime Wardens have very reliable abilities, but don’t have the good team dynamics. They’re going to walk it back a bit (or rather, Adam convinces Christopher to walk it back) - it’s less that NightMist is “nervous” about these things, but she is aware of the situation with each of them having to manage the negative aspects of their individual situations. They’re a team that is struggling against both external adversity and internal adversity, but having each other helps.
- Is there a day of the year that she is afraid of (Halloween, anniversaries of people’s deaths, dates when something went terribly wrong for her, etc.)? Probably not. Time is already weird for her. Like, she might be aware of days where there’s going to be a confluence of ley lines with some nonsense from the Void or something such that it’s easier for creatures to cross over into reality or something, but those kinds of events aren’t likely running on Earth Time and so aren’t going to be cropping up on the same day every year. The whole “All Hallows Eve, when the veil between worlds is thin and etc.” thing likely got mentioned in a NightMist story at some point, but then later ones dismiss it - or that’s just normal as part of the balance since the veil is thick the rest of the time. They joke that Arbor Day is the real day to worry about (which prompts a Man-Grove comment).
- Has she had any contact with Cthulhu or similar ancient, non-Singular Entity baddies? Almost any public-domain ancient monster-type things have been featured in a NightMist story. GloomWeaver is this kind of thing as the specific-to-Sentinel Comics alternative to Cthulhu.
- How has she maintained her sanity through her exposure to all of this stuff over the years? Was her sacrifice during OblivAeon just a way to be done with everything? Her time in the Void was her barely maintaining her sanity. When she came back she wasn’t sane or insane, but is now just “differently self-aware and conscious”. Her psyche is pretty different after her time there. There is a vibe that she’s haunted by her knowledge of things that man was not meant to know and that her giving things up at the end to save reality was, in some ways, a release.
- How does she like her coffee? She’s a tea person.
- When will she be back? At this point they have no plans to bring her back. Never say never, but this isn’t one of their coy talking-around-future-plans bits. They just like the way her story ended and plan on leaving it at that as of this recording.
- [Halloween birthday request “Spooky Scary Skeletons” by Andrew Gold.]
- Did Ansel G. Moreau ever inherit an island from a mad geneticist uncle? No, then it would be the Island of Monsieur Moreau which doesn’t have the same ring to it.
- Did Zhu Long ever get a reputation in the Limehouse district of London under the name Dr. Fu Manchu? Zhu Long is also not a doctor.
- Outside of a possible Glamour plot, did heroes ever visit places resembling Oz, Wonderland, or Never-Never Land? Almost certainly (both outside and inside a Glamour plot).
- Did Haka ever travel the American countryside as a lumberjack accompanied by a large blue ox? No, but American Folk Tales/Tall Tales are definitely up for grabs as episode ideas. They have a list of folklore characters (not limited to America) that would make good Sentinel Comics characters.
- We’re told that the relationship between NightMist and Argent Adept is a bit cold and formal, in part due to the discrepancy between how they approach magic; what do the two of them think of the Scholar? As somebody with more magical power than the two of them combined, has he helped either of them in terms of their magic use (individually or getting them to work together more seamlessly)? They don’t think he’s more powerful than the two of them. Individually he probably takes it in terms of experience and knowledge, but in raw power things probably go to Argent Adept. You could make an argument that Harpy has the most raw power, but just lacks the control to bring it to bear effectively. Rating magic skill/power levels is hard in general (which is part of why they haven’t tried to codify things or put numbers on them). Harpy, Scholar, NightMist, and Argent Adept are all powerful and the latter three all have a great deal of knowledge about how their power works. The difference is that Scholar also knows a lot about how other people’s power works. NightMist and AA have some experience with that stuff, but less direct knowledge. Part of Scholar’s strength as a tutor, however, is is knowledge of how people work.
- I’m working on some inspiration for an Egyptian-themed hero and wondered: has Apophis ever shown up in Sentinel Comics as a Ra foe? Is it what ruined their original home dimension? Apophis has probably shown up in backstory things, but never as a modern-day character. Their home was destroyed through their hubris rather than through the actions of Apophis. They can’t say that they don’t have any plans for Apophis eventually showing up, though. Thus far it’s seen as more of an “ancient Ra foe” from previous avatars of the Ra mantle. As for inspiration for your own hero, just go read up on Egyptian history/mythology - there’s a lot of good stuff in there that they haven’t touched yet. Also weird stuff. Lots of weird stuff. Anyway, find some story that sounds interesting to you and then find a way to weave that into the story of a modern comic book (even if that means inverting the story somehow as subversions can also be fun).
- Despite appearances, the Sun is not on fire but is in the process of undergoing nuclear fusion - is Ra’s fire doing likewise? If so, why is he not doing Toxic or Cosmic damage? Because he’s the God of the Sun, but not the modern scientific understanding of the sun, but the Ancient Egyptian conception of it which means Fire. Adam also posits that, for the sun, “fire” is a symptom of the nuclear fusion.
- If Ra is using actual Fire, what is he burning? It’s magical fire, he doesn’t need to provide a fuel.
- How… “heroic” is he (considering the potential for collateral damage if he’s in a fight near anything combustible or explosive, like a fireworks factory, and the fact that other than punches or hitting people with his staff he’s likely to be leaving his opponents horribly burned if not dead)? This is a thing that Adam’s had problems with his entire life considering the Human Torch is a hero. Comic book fire often just acts as a flash bang - a thrown fireball hits a person, it explodes, and the person is knocked down. Or if their arm gets set on fire they flap it about in a panic (and thus distracted) until they get it put out with no further complications. There’s a lot of handwaving with it (similar to comic book lasers where you get hit with it and it hurts, but then you’re fine - they’re largely treated as a non-lethal replacement for bullets when that’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it) or you fight things that are resistant to fire in the first place. Comic book fire is largely treated as “pain energy”, unless you specifically need somebody to be burned or melted for the story. And if the story is taking place near a fireworks factory, the point of it is either so Ra can set them off by the end of the story or as a constraint on his ability to use his powers during the fight. There’s no reason to have that story element without one of those being the case.
- In the Plague Rat episode you mentioned that there was an era that Ra and Setback were hanging out a lot, you haven’t talked about that time in either the Ra or Setback episodes - what was this period of stories like? Was Marty Adams present in Ra stories through the end? If so, were Marty and Setback friends? Marty was a support character through the end, but his importance waxed and waned depending on the writer and how much they needed him around for any given story. He was always acknowledged to be around regardless, even if they’re in a run of issues where he’s not present in the story for a while. As for the Ra and Setback time, they’ve never defined it very well. The main thing is that it was interesting given the dichotomy between their stories. They need to define it better at some point, but right now isn’t that time. It could make for a good Creative Process - Christopher thinks it could be surprisingly interesting as they come up with the stories for that overlap.
- Who was Blake Washington Sr.? Was he aware his son was a hero? Did Marty/Anubis tell him at some point after his death? Hmm… well regardless of whether he’s still alive or not, they don’t think he factored into any stories while Ra was alive. It’s possible that there’d be a post-OblivAeon thing where Marty goes to a really old guy in a nursing home to tell him about his son, but he’s got Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember having a son (despite continuing to call Mary “Junior”). There’s a potential story there, but they don’t think that Blake Washington Sr. was part of Ra’s story.
- You’ve mentioned the Phoenix characters having jobs - how does that work when you need things like a Social Security Number to get a job and these people are magically created from a pile of ashes and don’t legally exist? It’s a tricky thing since the Phoenix thinks that they’re a real person. I guess the implication is that part of the personality/memory generation includes details like that. They know what their SSN is and when things don’t work during the hiring process it’s chalked up to user error somewhere rather than it being flagged as “fake”. This prompts the question of what would happen if somebody with amnesia and no identification walked into a Social Security office and tried to get an identity. In any event, the Phoenix thing is largely handwaved as, while it’s interesting to think about, it’s not the kind of thing that would get much attention in a superhero comic. The Phoenix thinks they’re a regular person and they just fit in - if that means that they need to spontaneously have an SSN, so be it.
- You mentioned that Ra’s soul is devoured along with Blake Washington’s by Ammit after his death during OblivAeon, but then how does Thiago become Ra in the Vertex timeline? There was a December 2020 one-shot issue in the Vertex line, Song and Flame, which was the reintroduction of Argent Adept and the origin backstory of the Thiago version of Ra. It involves Argent Adept fighting through the Egyptian Underworld to free Ra’s soul - he tries to get Blake Washington Jr. as well, but he cannot.
- Does the Phoenix come back post-OblivAeon? Probably. Coming back is kind of the Phoenix’s whole shtick.
- Without the Ra that knew it, can it achieve redemption? Hypothetically. It’s a concerning question - Ra being the only one who can lead it to redemption seems unlikely.
- Can anybody other than Ra succeed in subduing the Phoenix? Here’s hoping, otherwise we’re likely in some trouble.
- Was there any sort of overarching structure or hierarchy between the various Ra churches/cults that sprang up around the world once he showed up in the modern era (despite Ra’s disinterest in them)? Do any of those groups continue through to the RPG era? How does Fanatic feel about them? Ra wasn’t involved in any of them, like you said. There isn’t any one “high priest of Ra” or anything - each group was pretty small and its own thing. There might be some of these groups that continue through to the present, but they don’t continue to be a major factor in any stories. All three of the major hero deaths, NightMist, Ra, and Scholar, were good deaths. Fanatic’s very much a “Worship God, not Ra. He was just a man (and what a man, but just a man).”
- We know a little about Tantrum (she’s an adult in the body of a child and is upset about this, so she breaks things), do we ever know anything more? What’s her real name? How did this happen to her/how did she get the kinetic force powers? Is she a villain that’s out to fix what happened to her or is she more just living her life until one too many annoyances crop up and she just throws a titular tantrum? Given that Sky-Scraper didn’t really have a solo book during the Multiverse era, was Tantrum a relatively minor character? Did she have any notable appearances outside of Vengeance? How does she feel about Vantage leaving Earth for space adventures with Rival? They actually don’t have a lot fleshed out for her. She’s a super minor character who hasn’t really had a dedicated story (even the name “Tantrum” is more fan-applied than something that she or the heroes use to refer to her). These are good questions and could be a Creative Process or Writer’s Room - which is why they left this in. They specifically designed her as a foe for Sky-Scraper as “somebody tiny who can hit hard”. Visually that was fun for the game. How do you have somebody small like that? Why not a child? Well, maybe not an actual child for the obvious reasons, so thus the explanation for “adult stuck in a child’s body” thing.
- Zen master Shunryu Suzuki said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” - as creators, what do you do to bring about your “Beginner’s Mind” and fuel your creativity? That’s an interesting way to think about it. While the two of them are the creators of Sentinel Comics, neither one of them individually sees himself as The Expert on Sentinel Comics - neither of them knows everything that happens in every comic, but the two of them together have the potential to do so. So they approach is as imagining what could be done and what haven’t they done before. They don’t think they “cultivate the Beginner’s Mind” to use that phrase, but they come to one another with questions. “Hey, what do you think about [x]?” One of them will have a vague idea or a character name and will come to the other to feel out what it could turn into. For the vast majority of the stories they’ve told they don’t really have any idea who had the story - one of them came with a starting idea, the other said a lot of smart things, then the other says smart things in response, etc. until they had the final version. Their creative process isn’t individual. The meta-layer helps a lot. As a result a lot of this feels like characters they’ve discovered rather than created. Sometimes it’s as simple as thinking of a good name that, somehow, hasn’t already been used and then they have to come up with who that person is, but the layer of “what would have inspired writers in [whatever time period] to make this character?” That tells them a lot about how things would develop. They don’t approach things as if they know everything there is to know about this setting. They likely never will. At some point they’ll stop making up stuff for the setting, but that doesn’t mean that it’s “complete” at that point and that everything is known.
- The cover should probably just reference the fight with Mr. Hyde at the very beginning. If they put Lynn/Jacqueline on the cover that’s likely going to give things away too much. NightMist fighting Mr. Hyde is a pretty solid cover.
- Adam feels like there should be some copy on the cover that indicates the actual plot involving a curse. “Can NightMist help the Jekyll family overcome the Curse of Hyde?” with “Curse of Hyde” as the big words on the cover. That way we get both the interesting fight scene cover, but also an indication of what the actual plot involves.
- This version of Hyde should be rather monstrous as well. Maybe not explicitly demonic or anything, but a big, grotesque humanoid.