The Letters Page: Episode 161
Creative Process: PSAs of the Multiverse
Gather round, everyone. It's time for some real talk.
Run Time: 1:33:39
We had a lot of fun recording this one. We learned some things - about PSAs, about comics, and about ourselves along the way. Remember, kids: there's always a moral to every story.
At around 58 minutes into the episode, we finally get to your questions! There, we talk about the subject of this episode, but also! We talk about a fan-favorite new hero/old trendsetter/in between gladiator! Who could it be? No way to know. It's a mystery forever.
Also, goodness, listening back to this episode, we're at our best/worst when we're just laughing at our own bad jokes. How can you people stand us?
Thanks everyone for listening! This coming Friday, we record our last Publishers' Note, so make sure you tune in to wish Paul a fond-farewell as co-host!
And don't forget: Make Good Choices!
- The Freedom Five
- Absolute Zero
- Prime Wardens
- Argent Adept
- Captain Cosmic
- Professor Pollution
- Dark Watch
- La Capitan
- Felicia Parsons
- Wager Master
- The Southwest Sentinels
- Dr. Medico
- Greazer Clutch
- The Weatherman
- How they’re defining Public Service Announcements for the purposes of this episode - this would be a bit in a comic where the characters are addressing the reader about some “important” information (prompted by a conversation about whether they would include Satanic Panic-style anti-Dungeons & Dragons things which were more aimed at parents than the comics readers directly).
- Types of PSA they can think of offhand (more than they figured they’d just remember as it turns out):
- Health and Safety: Don’t Do Drugs/Smoke, Don’t Talk to Strangers, Food Pyramid, Poison Warnings, Don’t Play with Guns, Heimlich Maneuver, Suicide Prevention, Stay Active/Play Sports
- The Environment: Don’t Waste Water, Anti-Littering, Forest Fires, Conserve Energy/Turn Your Lights Off
- Interpersonal: Bullying, Cyber Bullying
- Education: Stay in School, Read
- Anti-Crime: Something like McGruff the Crime Dog, Anti-Internet Piracy, [and something Christopher thought of later that makes us all very sad: Active Shooter Drills].
- Now, they’re not going to do all of these, obviously. Probably going to stick with one per decade or so from the ’70s on. ’10s is cyber bullying, ’00s is internet piracy, ’90s is drugs, ’80s is environment - probably a general “Conserve water/energy” thing, and ’70s is health of some sort - “Don’t eat Poison” is more fun for them to make up than “Eat Healthy” so that’s the one they go with.
- Adam goes into detail about the various formats of these things: a kind where they’re a single page that runs in every comic for a month, in the ’90s you could have an ongoing story to them across comics (in particular they remember an anti-drug one featuring Mysterio), and there were also full-issue PSAs that were either freebie giveaways or were just preachy issues.
- So, they decide that the ’70s one is a single page, the ’80s is something like a 4-pager that’s just stuck in the middle of a regular issue, ’90s has a full issue, ’00s has that serialized style thing, and the ’10s has some digital ARG thing with QR codes that leads to the inevitable disappointment that it’s just leading to a PSA.
- They also look up some more real life examples in here and the ’50s had Duck and Cover drills and then stuff like “Stop Drop and Roll”, “Working with women” [directed at adults rather than being in comics], Dental Health, Land Mine Awareness, Seatbelt Safety, etc. They don’t necessarily want to mess with this stuff. They’ve got enough to work with.
- A one-page PSA about not eating poisonous things that are in your house. This is almost certainly a Freedom Five thing. There were a lot of other heroes getting going in this era, but you kind of want to let them continue to be a bit edgy and have the more established FF team be the voice for this kind of thing.
- There’s no story or anything going on to “trick” the reader that it’s anything other than a PSA. “Look under your sink and don’t eat/drink these dangerous things” right from the start. Each of them talks about one danger that’s around every day. Cleaning supplies, paint chips, asbestos, and then since each of them has to have something Absolute Zero’s is something like “don’t drink anti-freeze” (“Even I know that’s a bad idea!”). Legacy and Wraith cover “things in your house”, Bunker is “stuff in your garage”, Tachyon’s are “chemicals” of some sort (so still “home” or whatever, but leaning on her scientist role and has her actually trying to explain why it’s bad - although likely in inaccurate terms because it’s a comic and they’re not going to put that much effort into this), then AZ’s comedy bit - also pointing out the fact that a big risk factor with anti-freeze is pets drinking it.
- There should also be a slogan. Christopher’s first attempt is “Remember kids, heroes make good choices!”. They might need to be punched up a bit over the years, but the “Make Good Choices” campaign can be a decent name for the ongoing project name and starting place in the ’70s. That might last through the ’90s as it starts to feel really dated as an entity.
- [Moved from later] They think this little 1-page thing was run in most comics for a while.
- The ’80s were getting gritty here, but if they do it in the latter part of the decade they can have the Prime Wardens be the ones involved here. They also have the idea to retcon a villain origin to be here. Adam starts to ask “which one?” but quickly realizes that it’s a dumb question as it’s obviously Professor Pollution. Like, she has her story that plays out in the pages of Sentinel Comics as we’ve already been told, but her actual first appearance was in this Make Good Choices PSA.
- So she’s straight up a Captain Planet villain here - polluting and being wasteful just for the sake of it, not even just as a result of some other activity. “Leave your lights on! Muahaha!”
- They could even have a bit where Fanatic says something like “Stand back. I’m going to level this block” as part of her attack on the villain, but Argent Adept stops her “Hold on. That would release some dangerous chemicals that would get into the ground.” and so on (ignoring the lives at stake, which is even funnier). They spin out a few more things along these lines. Haka’s also good for possibly wrecking stuff. Captain Cosmic is another good one for giving the good advice (although Haka can chime in on that end too). Tempest can have trouble breathing underwater due to pollutants. Stuff like that.
- The bit with Professor Pollution here is that people responded to this dumb, non-canonical Make Good Choices character and wrote in to the actual letters pages asking about her, which is what prompts her eventual transition to being an official character.
- This one was in a few issues. Likely Prime Wardens and Freedom Five and whatever the third hot title of the day was. The non-PW ones could even point readers to more of these heroes’ adventures over in their book. This could even be something that’s part of an ongoing set of these things. One month you get this Professor Pollution vs. Prime Wardens one, then the next month you get one featuring the Freedom Five, followed by one starring another popular character or set of characters, and so on. There’s a good gag about Visionary having a few before she herself becomes a questionable enough character in her own right that they just quietly stop using her for these things.
- Anyway, the heroes defeat Professor Pollution by basically just turning off the water/lights or disposing of used oil properly to undo the “damage” she’s doing. They can’t fight her directly without adding to the problem, but if they (and you, the reader) help out by doing these things she won’t have enough pollution to use.
Bonus Animated PSA
- Here in the animated show that introduced Unity there would have to be some PSA tacked on at the end of the episodes. They’d be varied and would cover all sorts of things from the list above that fit into the era.
- It’s a dedicated one-shot issue about not doing drugs. They probably reprint it occasionally and, yeah, comic shops and whatnot would get it, but there’s probably some program where schools can get it really cheap so they can just hand it out to students.
- Additionally, they get some A-list comic talent involved in it so that comics collectors feel like they have to pick it up too, even if they know that it’s a dumb anti-drug thing.
- They’re not going to Writer’s Room it, but what’s the story? It’s a bit too early for Dark Watch as a team. It might be an ensemble thing. Using Marvel as a point of comparison there’s reasons to use Spider-man as one of the strongest, most popular characters in their roster, but there’s also an argument for this era to use somebody “cooler” like Wolverine, Punisher, or Ghost Rider. Christopher suggests somebody who was popular in the ’80s and is still riding that wave, has historically been written well, and is a friendly character that people like, but is still pretty cool with a bit of an edge: NightMist.
- They can have the various drugs personified by evil spirits or something that she’s having to deal with. There’s some teen character who’s involved in all of this who’s the audience surrogate learning the lesson. Also, the whole “Don’t mess with this stuff” message is better coming from somebody who can serve as an object lesson - NightMist is dealing with this stuff now in the plot but she’s cursed. This is opposed to using somebody like Expatriette who had a rough childhood and lost an eye, but now smokes and shoots people. Not exactly as useful a counterpoint.
- A NightMist comic with top-tier artwork would definitely get the collectors’ attention.
- The way the PSA angle works is that she does rituals to summon and bind the “Demon of Cocaine” and whatnot, and the kid congratulates her on defeating it, but her (not quite as on-the-nose as the Prime Wardens thing) response is that she can only contain it for a short while. The only way to truly defeat it is to not feed on its vices (Get it kids? Don’t do drugs!).
- While this is explicitly a PSA and everybody knows it, because of the talent involved it doesn’t come off as too preachy and is generally well-thought-of in terms of PSA materials. They like the idea that the artistic depictions of the various spirits invert what’s “cool” about smoking and drugs - like, the “cool guy” image of a smoker that the demon wants to project gets shown as a facade hiding the reality of what it’s doing to you.
- Also, they think of the idea that the “demons” first show up as the shadows of drug dealers and whatnot. They’re not possessing the gang members or anything, but they’re there lurking.
- This is a multi-part story over several books about internet piracy. Christopher’s initial idea was to have some science/tech-based heroes up against Schema, but that idea gets blown out of the water by Adam’s suggestion of using La Capitan (to really lean into the pirate thing).
- The thought here is that she’s trying to combine the Time Stream with the “Internet Stream” or something weird like that. The thing with piracy PSAs that started working was when they stopped trying to hammer so much on the “taking people’s intellectual property is wrong” angle and started using “downloading random stuff off the internet is dangerous because of computer viruses” and things like that. So she’s trying to find ways of putting her own stuff on the internet (in order to combine the streams). Unity’s downloading some music or something and now the Freedom Five’s computer systems are infected so they have to deal with that now.
- This might involve going “into the Internet” somehow. In the end, due to how much she’s intertwined her own powers with the Internet, La Capitan herself becomes infected with the virus and the heroes have to save her.
- Overall the general vibe is a combination of the “don’t download music” and “don’t download random files off the internet for safety reasons” messages.
- One last thing, the digitally-enhanced ARG with QR codes cyber-bullying thing. This is going to start Young Legacy as she’s in college and on the Internet a lot. There’s some secret thing going on and she needs your help.
- It starts there, but will involve pretty much all of the other characters (text files, audio clips or videos, etc.). Some of it is good, but a lot of it is just a picture of a character with some text and doesn’t make for particularly engaging material.
- The main thrust of the “story” is focused on how people treat each other on the Internet. Sure, there’s a particular plot about how a particular villain is twisting things and turning people on one another, but that’s just set dressing. The real villain is how we treat one another.
- This could be Wager Master just sowing chaos because that’s his deal.
- Given how broad they’re thinking the character inclusion is, this can probably even be more than just “cyber-bullying” in particular (although that aspect is specifically called out) and can just be a general call to be kind to one another online and be a good netizen.
- They think the format is that there’s an app to download and the QR codes you have to find in all of the comics (which then have something of a “gotta catch ’em all” aspect to them) and it’s, essentially, digital trading cards.
- They also talked a bit about how well-received the ’90s and ’00s ones were, but this one was kind of a flop. Over-engineered/trying too hard with too many parts to fit together, not as engaging of a story or art. People are just over PSAs in general - you’re almost better just stating facts and talking to people directly these days than trying to convey things through these parables (I mean, that’s likely always been the case that you’ll have better results with honest communication, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try).
- I assume Legacy’s a big PSA guy, but who else? Did Wraith do an anti-drug one just by pointing at Spite and saying “Don’t be like him!”? Did Naturalist handle all of the “Captain Planet” duties in the ’90s? Setback talk about not trusting strangers after his time with RevoCorp? Expatriette on gun safety? Other than Legacy, who did a PSA about:
- Stranger Danger? Wraith. The early Spite stuff wasn’t focused on the drug thing so much and he’s the best (worst?) representation of “Don’t do into an alley with some guy.”
- Unwanted/uncomfortable touching? Maybe a late one with the Southwest Sentinels where they adults are talking to Idealist about it (they joke about how Dr. Medico and Mainstay are talking to her about it and are really concerned, while Writhe just goes and murders the guy).
- Eating too much junk food/unhealthily? Christopher: Setback/Expatriette (him being irresponsible, her warning him, him not feeling well enough to go fight crime). Adam: Guise (he can do whatever he wants, but he’s also gradually becoming excessively, cartoonishly fat).
- Stealing/getting into a life of crime? That seems like and obvious Wraith one as well. She’s one of the more focused on “normal” crime heroes and for all that Legacy can be the moral paragon “don’t do bad things” guy, she’s one of the more relatable, normal people among all of the heroes.
- Underage drinking? Unity/Tachyon.
- Messing around in hazardous areas? Haka, as he’s been lots of places, but there are some places you shouldn’t go.
- Not giving into peer pressure? Haka’s also good here. Captain Cosmic could also feel good here (although he kind of fails that test himself with Galactra - he means well).
- While reading the RPG core book [PDF available to Kickstarter backers already] I thought it was funny that AZ having to do a work safety interview as an Overcome task - considering his textbook case of the overlap between “OSHA violations” and “gaining superpowers” surely there was a relevant PSA put out using him at some point, right (even possibly in-universe)? That makes them consider going back to the “Messing around in hazardous areas” example above - both Tachyon and AZ could fit right in there too, as could Daybreak in general later on.
- Given that real-world comic PSAs tend to be done by the most popular characters, I assume the Freedom Five are prominent but do other heroes do them too? Yes. See above.
- Did the animated series have an impact on who was a popular character (much like how the MCU made many C-list or even D-list heroes household names)? The animated show launched Unity who then got imported over and most of her popularity there is on her own merits once there. While some people liked her in the show, others didn’t (she was polarizing - either she was annoying or great and that largely fell along lines of comic grognards vs. kids just being introduced to the characters respectively).
- [Cult of Gloom PSA at 1:11:30 - no actual question, it’s just hilarious. It’s about how, when you’re going to practice the Dark Arts, to make sure you’re doing it safely and correctly. Remember S.P.I.T.E. - Speak clearly and enunciate, Practice ahead of time, Inventory your supplies, Trust in the lord of the Realm of Discord, Earn your just reward.]
- In a recent Publisher’s Note you revealed that Fashion is back in the RPG era headlining her own title and I had some questions: she has a bit of a cult following here in the Metametaverse, did that factor into her prominent return? Did she have a similar cult following in the Metaverse or was it more of a pet project of a specific writer? While she does have that cult following in the fandom, that excitement is actually mirrored by their own excitement. Sure they made up S’sdari The Bloody and Stylin’ Shirley, but the more they talked about her and how she worked the more excited they got to tell more stories about her. She’s just a lot of fun. The gimmick with calling her Fashion also helps a lot - it just fits so well. Things were kind of similar in the Metaverse - Stylin’ Shirley was a thing, some writer thought it would be a fun detail to have this human gladiator be her, then somebody after OblivAeon thought it would be a cool idea to bring her back. It was a pet project of a writer, but the editorial staff thought it was great and let them run with it.
- Now that Fashion’s back, what is her costume style? Does she wear a dress in combat? Does she prefer a short skirt or long? Is blood-red the new black? Fashion isn’t necessarily into the blood red thing from her gladiator days. As to the other questions: yes. That’s part of the fun for Adam - he gets to draw her in so many different outfits. In connection with Fashion they bring up the game Final Fantasy X-2 where you could change your party members’ job class skills mid combat by changing their outfits. This was a fun gimmick for this game and is a good touchstone for what Fashion’s deal is as a hero.
- [An obviously old letter from after her original description in the Kaargra Warfang episode] What happened to S’sdari/Fashion after the destruction of the Colosseum? Does she survive in either the Vertex or RPG timelines? Is there anything left of the heroic Stylin’ Shirley left after her time as a gladiator (if not, I may have to come up with something of my own for the RPG as she seems too cool a character to be little more than a footnote)? On that last point, they agree! If you hadn’t already found out - she shows up in the RPG era as she gets her own solo title in the post-OblivAeon relaunch (but doesn’t show up in Vertex). When the Colosseum is destroyed it strands a lot of gladiators on Earth, but for her it’s just that she’s now home. She’s largely able to put the S’sdari stuff behind her. They think that some (but not all) of her allies/villains/supporting cast members were all gladiators too - it’s a good pool of characters to pull from that’s intrinsically tied into her own story. They also clarify that while she was a designer prior to being in the Colosseum, she wasn’t really an inventor yet - that comes about as she applied her designer-mindset to her situation in the Colosseum. A lot of what she does as Fashion probably wouldn’t be possible with Earth technology - she’s brought a lot of know-how back with her from her experiences off-world. The “changing outfits mid-battle” thing really is on-point here - she isn’t so much tinkering with little gadgets here, it’s swapping entire loadouts as she changes outfits. She’s definitely too cool to be a footnote (and has been around a long time, the first issue of Stylin’ Shirley was in January ’44 and ran through #274 in October ’66 - and with the oddities of comic book time she was likely a teenager for those and is maybe in her mid-to-late twenties now).
- How did fans react to the new Fashion book? While we all went nuts over that recent reveal, did many people in the Metaverse remember the character’s existence? They’d like to think that it’s as popular as you think it is. The Stylin’ Shirley book ran over 22 years. That’s a long time for a title to be around even if it ended 50 years ago. Then S’sdari the Bloody shows up and likely wasn’t meant to be Shirley Shane at all at first. Some later writer decided that this human gladiator with red hair should be Stylin’ Shirley. That wouldn’t have awakened any latent fanbase for the character, but her reintroduction as a hero post-OblivAeon would have been of interest to people who knew about the character’s history (whether they were original readers back in the day or younger readers who just had read up about her) or who learn that this “new” character isn’t new but is actually an ancient part of Sentinel Comics history.
- A short round of Canon or Not!
- Greazer Clutch punched Casa-Nova in his pretty, pretty face? Split decision. Follow-up discussion: Christopher is actually convinced just as Adam starts going. Casa-Nova is this incredibly ’70s character and Greazer is a gritty ’90s anti-hero in a book that’s gonna take pot shots at goofy stuff from the past. It’s likely not even a notable event. Greazer’s in a brawl and Casa-Nova is just this hippy guy who comes through a door and starts to try to calm people down. Greazer slugs him and just keeps going without anything even being done to call out that this guy is an established character.
- There is an Easter Egg about a skeleton in a San Alonso mall’s air duct? Split decision. Follow-up: it’s not actually a split decision. Christopher thought the implication was that Wipeout just finds a skeleton in the air duct, not that the implication was that she herself was the skeleton. That latter one definitely doesn’t happen.
- The Weatherman is still active and we know him by a different name? Canon-ish. He’s active, but you don’t necessarily know that this shadowy figure is him, even if he’s not necessarily acting under a new name.