The Letters Page: Episode 166
Creative Process: Treasure Vault of Ignazio Gallo
Delightful devices... with dangerous drawbacks!
Run Time: 1:36:36
We goof a bit at the top, but we also talk about what the last week+ of news of/reactions to Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition. Remember, this coming Friday, we're recording a Bullpen all about Definitive Edition, so get your questions in now!
Just after the 5 minute mark, we delve into treats and tricks.
At around 36 minutes in, we get distracted by watching a video. This is that video.
Finally, we get to your questions at around the 57 minute mark.
At the end, we descent into madness. Why? Blame it on the boogie!
See you next time! If you're one of our Patreon supporters, join us this Friday for a LIVE Bullpen!
Definitive Edition Talk
- Christopher did a livestream to answer people’s questions about Definitive Edition on YouTube. [And with my write-up on the Reddit thread here.]
- He got something wrong, though. GloomWeaver will be in the first expansion for the Definitive Edition.
- For those who have forgotten who this Ignazio Gallo guy was, he was mentioned way back in the Matriarch/Harpy/Pinion episode. He’s an Italian mage who finds magical artifacts and then puts some curses on them. First, he puts a compulsion effect on them that pushes people holding them to use them, and to use them recklessly. Second, and usually more important, he adds a downside - usually something will go terribly wrong with whatever it does every thousand uses.
- Previous items discussed:
- A lighter that didn’t need fuel - he added a bug so that on every thousandth use it would burst into a giant flame (this is the cause of the Great Fire of Santander, Spain in 1941 that burned down most of the city).
- A necklace with a blue jewel that would ensure the safe arrival of any sea voyage when a passenger was wearing it - until he made it so that the thousandth vessel would sink, which was the H.M.S. Titanic.
- A mask that creates an automatic attunement to birds and grants an ability to control them. The curse triggered in Matriarch’s second story where she was escaping from prison, at which point the birds started to attack her instead of being under her control.
- A second brief mention he received in a prior episode was in the Magic episode where it was specified that he’s using Natural Magic (kind of the most pure, un-themed type of magic that’s the closest direct descendant of Ancient Magic [and is connected to things like ley-lines from what we’ve been told previously]; this is distinct from Nature Magic which is themed as being about Nature, so like animals and trees and stuff and is what also gets called Primal Magic sometimes).
- So, in making up new things, the general gimmick can go either way: think up an interesting, beneficial item and then tweak it for the curse effects or start with a disaster and then reverse-engineer the original object.
- Christopher suggests a cane/gentleman’s walking stick. While you’re carrying it, your feet never tire. Not useful in a race or anything, but it lets a gentleman walk around the cobblestone streets of London all day without feeling like it when they get home. What’s the “count” to 1000 uses based on? They’ve said that these things don’t reset by user, so having it be 1000 miles walked would let a situation be set up where one owner gets to 999 miles and the next user is immediately beat down by whatever the bad side is. They land on "after the cane is used for 1000 miles, the user will be compelled to continue walking for a further 1000 steps, at which point all of the exhaustion that’s been prevented by the cane for those 1000 miles (plus, what, about half a mile or so?) will hit the user all at once. That might kill some people, others might just be left bedridden/lame for a long time.
- Ok, going the other direction, let’s start with a horrible train accident. Parallel train lines used to be closer together than they get built now because passing one another at speed could cause an increased chance of derailment due to the trains being pulled toward one another [an example of Bernoulli’s Principle at work]. Maybe the curse is that this “pull” happens before the trains are alongside one another and so they are already canted in towards one another when they meet, causing them to hit one another head-on. They like the idea of the item itself being a railroad pocketwatch and that the beneficial effect would have been to prevent all of the little problems that would have been common in the early rail era. You wind it up, and as long as it’s running everything will go well. On second thought, this is too similar to the necklace that makes ocean travel safe.
- Sticking to the pocket watch idea, they make it more time and travel-related rather than trains in particular. You wind it before a journey and you’ll arrive on-time - things just align such that you lack impediments to your journey. How to twist that, though? “You arrive in half the normal time” might mean that you ran yourself ragged if you’re going on foot, but introducing vehicles makes this tricky. Maybe on the 1000th journey, you never arrive where you intend. This can go a number of ways like “you die before you get there” up to “you were going to your mom’s house, but when you arrive you discover that she’d died and the house has been willed to you, so it’s technically your house”. There’s all kinds of Monkey’s Paw twists possible here to prevent you from ever reaching the intended destination. This is nice and insidious and leaves open the possibility of the same person running afoul of the curse multiple times as they don’t put it together that these various mishaps are tied to the watch.
- So far they’ve done a lot of “personal item” objects and a lot of travel-based effects. What else can they do? Adam throws out “an oven” which sounds fun. After some brief iterations on the idea of “bread baking” they arrive on “any bread baked in the oven comes out perfect, but also more nutritious than bread normally is”. A slice of the bread is the nutrient equivalent to an entire balanced meal. It’s also not in some fancy house or something - this is a work camp oven feeding guys doing lots of manual labor in the 1800s or something. They don’t know what’s going on with it, the bread is just doing a great job of keeping the guys fed. The obvious trigger here is the 1000th loaf baked does something bad. After a few false starts, Christopher comes up with the idea that it makes you incredibly thirsty. As in, you’ve got to drink and drink and drink as the bread dehydrates you until you’ve fully digested and passed it. It’s possible to survive it, but only if you can keep drinking (or better yet, get some IV fluids to keep up the pace). Bread in particular is the only food the oven does anything weird to. If you can figure out what’s going on and keep diligent records, you can also just bake that 1000th loaf and throw it away without feeding it to anybody.
- This prompts some discussion on how to weaponize the bad bread. An army uses the good bread to feed their troops, but then get the bad loaves over into the enemy camp. Or you feed it to geese, because geese are just the worst.
- Next up, Christopher likes the idea of an enchanted birdbath. He has no idea where to go with that, but the idea is fun. They want this one to not have anything to do with the two main things that “birdbath” brings to mind: birds and water. How about, the person who enchanted it had this birdbath as a feature in a nice garden where they liked to nap. A 20 minute nap in its vicinity leaves you as well-rested as a full night’s sleep. How to define the area of effect? Gardens or yards are different sizes after all. They decide that instead of just a birdbath, it’s a little fountain and if you are within physical earshot of the burbling, it works. The 1000th time somebody falls asleep in the area of effect gets the Rip Van Winkle effect and sleeps for a few decades or something. They throw around what 1000 hours, days, or weeks would be for a duration, but Christopher likes the idea like with the bread that if you know what’s happening you can mitigate the problem. The bad effect is that when you fall asleep, you will not wake up on your own. Somebody else has to wake you up. So, if you fall asleep outside in the garden for an afternoon nap, it might be a while before somebody notices. There’s a decent story hook there about somebody who climbs over a garden wall for an old, disused house and finds this old guy who’s been asleep for 60 years because he lived on his own in his 20s and just thought he was going to be taking a nice nap. On second thought, if they’re not having you die of starvation or whatnot while under the curse, they figure that having no upper bound on how long you can be asleep is better so you don’t age either. You’re basically in stasis until you’re woken up. There could be a neat NightMist story about her finding somebody who’s been asleep for centuries or whatever.
- They backtrack here to talk about the “reckless” compulsions. The cane makes you enjoy/want to walk more. The pocket watch makes you obsessed with being on time (which can be a kind of curse on its own). The oven makes the owner want to bake lots of bread. Christopher’s idea for the fountain is that you become very protective/covetous of its effects. You want to be the only person benefiting from it, keeping it secret and safe, increasing the likelihood of you not being discovered when the main curse kicks in. You also probably wind up spending your life very alone - or maybe you build a secret room in the house where you install it and take your naps, but your spouse can’t find you when the curse hits.
- Let’s try another “backwards” one with the handicap that it’s not an item that’s held, worn, or carried. Also something involving multiple people maybe (rather than just having the potential for the fallout to affect multiple people like the boat thing). Like people laughing or running themselves to death? Oh! Or how about dancing. That makes the obvious cursed item be an instrument of some sort. An accordion? Something slightly unusual that’s also not going to be carried around day-to-day. The accordion music makes people engage with the emotion of the music - pathos for sad songs, joyful for happy ones and they’re more likely to dance along. The reckless curse is that the performer tends towards playing faster and faster songs (joking that everything winds up being the sabre dance). The 1000th performance, the dancers cannot stop dancing, even when the music stops. They’ll dance until they lose consciousness, but you could dance yourself to death if left unchecked - this lets you snap them out of it by sedating them or otherwise rendering them unconscious.
- Christopher’s next suggestion is a printing press (“an oven for words!”). An easy good enchantment is that you don’t have to reink it. Who would be running this thing originally? They land on a very early newspaper producer who wants to get the Truth out to the people. Gallo’s curse is that you can only print true things with it and the 1000th thing you typeset and print out will be disbelieved by the readers. That can be abused by somebody who knows what’s happening - imagine putting out a cursed paper that says “Legacy is Paul Parsons” which is now known to be a lie by anybody who reads it. Or flip it the other way and have them try to out Maia Montgomery as the Wraith, but that particular printing was the cursed one, so it works out well for her.
- Lots of what they’ve been doing is real old-timey. How about some modern athletic thing, like somebody’s grandparent had some piece of gear that they inherit before the curse went off. Team-based sports make the usage a little weird, so let’s go with a tennis racquet. Back in the ’40s this lady was a champion player and her racquet has been kept more or less as a trophy and unused by the family since then until her great-granddaughter starts playing tennis herself. She doesn’t use it right away, but is really talented and makes it to Wimbledon and makes a deal with herself that in honor of her great-grandma she’ll play with it if she makes it to the final (which is pretty terrible strategy - equipment now is so much different than it was then in terms of shapes and materials [let alone the fact that she got to that point with her modern gear, so that was working for her]), but she gets it restrung and practices with it ahead of time or whatever, fine. They think it’s keyed to the 1000th serve (1000 volleys is too frequent and 1000 matches is way too long) and needs to have a downside that can conceivably be one that in a given situation might not be too bad and so the great-grandmother had it activate once without it being obvious such that she continued playing, leaving the racquet “primed” for the modern story. Maybe she uses it for all of Wimbledon and it’s only in the finals that the curse activates.
- Trying to think of the benefit they don’t want to take away the skill of either of these ladies, so they work on ways that it makes you better at tennis without being a specific “better at tennis” enchantment. They toy with a stamina boost - you’re not better at playing tennis, you just don’t get tired from playing tennis - but that’s too similar to the cane. They land on “while you’re holding the racquet, you can judge distances perfectly” as it’s a useful skill to have to play while also not “cheating” in terms of how well you perform the physical actions of playing. So, the modern lady gets to Wimbledon and will play with her great-grandmother’s racquet in her honor. She was a dark horse competitor coming into the tournament, but keeps winning.
- They also haven’t actually thought of a good curse angle yet. Playing on the idea of having perfect distance/angle sense, they think the 1000th serve will go off in some impossible direction wildly off-course and cause some ridiculous, Rube Goldberg-esque chain reaction of events that causes something bad to happen. That seems too non-specific. Additionally, having it just be “you go blind” isn’t terrible enough (sure, you’re blind and you lose the match, but then what?). You’ve got to think about how if Ignazio Gallo observes the effect of the curse he’d just be chuckling to himself about how devious he is. The first half of the curse can just be that you play extremely aggressively - just crushing the ball out there. In investigating the actual rules of tennis, it turns out that hitting your opponent with the ball is a valid strategy (you lose the point if you touch the ball with anything other than your racquet).
- They’ve kind of painted themselves into a corner here as all the options they think of are either too convoluted or to trite. The way out of it is the same way a comics writer might, end on a cliffhanger. This could be a story narrated by the Scholar or something talking about the variety of things that Ignazio Gallo is responsible for. As we get to the end of the book we have this lady serving with a counter hitting 998 in a panel, then 999, and as Scholar wraps up his discussion of how you never know what horrible thing is going to happen due to these curses, we see the racquet hitting the ball with 1000 in red on the last panel of the book. It’s cheating, but it’s leaving the horrible thing up to the imagination of the reader, which is absolutely a thing that comics writers do. They might revisit this when they inevitably think of something perfect later.
- [First letter is a Cult of Gloom one, throwing some nice shade at hucksters peddling those
cursedenchanted artifacts that don’t do exactly what they’re advertised as doing. If you want quality dark magical artifacts, join the Cult of Gloom today!] Had Gallo pawned any of his second-rate items off on any other members of the magical community? Has he ever worked on fake copies of Ennead relics or the like? Has he visited Madame Mittermeier’s Fantastical Festival of Conundrums and Curiosities? Man, him going to Mittermeier’s is likely to end badly. Re: the Ennead thing, he doesn’t make his own artifacts, just breaks existing ones in ways that amuse him. Like, if he got a hold of Geb’s artifact he might set it up to, on the 1000th use to turn into the Geb snake form, the user turns into a garter snake instead. However, that’s generally too high-profile for his tastes. He wants to find relatively minor, harmless and beneficial items and mess with them to cause calamities. Have we seen any characters (other than Matriarch) use any of this stuff? NightMist likely has a handful of these things locked away in her house (she would know what their deal is and is locking them away for safety - we don’t know what number it’s on, so it’s not worth the risk of using them). That’s a good story hook for RPG-era Pinion as she has to now deal with all of these things. She’s going to be having lots of fun trying to sort out the ins and outs of what’s in that house as it is.
- His Gallo more motivated by malice or does he just want to be an agent of chaos? If he were to find an evil artifact like GloomWeaver’s drum, would he put a curse on it that makes it do good, or just some other unexpected bad thing? He’s interested in chaos, but a malicious chaos. They coin a portmanteau “malischief”. He wants people to suffer from the chaos he causes. Causing problems for GloomWeaver would also tickle him pink, though, so he could make the Drum of Despair’s curse be something like “everyone within earshot has their outlook on life altered to positivity and unbearable joy”. Like, that’s not a great state for a person to be in long-term (or maybe they laugh themselves to death or something). The point is that it’s bad for the people individually but it also seriously impedes GloomWeaver’s plans if a big Cult gathering gets drummed out of his influence. [They have a lot of fun with the idea of GloomWeaver sending Jacob, this cultist who’s just doing a real crap job of it, off into the woods to play the drum once he knows they’re getting close to the curse activating. The other cultists, with cotton stuffed in their ears and a safe distance away, just wait for him to wander off laughing before recovering the drum. This is fun enough that the Drum of Delight story gets dropped into Disparation as a back-up story somewhere. It’s not like Ignazio Gallo is a particularly well-known character.]
- [First, a plug for a favorite Hanukkah book, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins] What kinds of traditions built up over time related to Haka’s parties? What day is “Haka Day” celebrated? They love the idea of “Haka Day”, but his party is explicitly a New Year’s Eve party. It is an interesting question of when we first see his parties, because the issue they did is pretty far along and it seems like something that would have shown up before. Sometime in the ‘70s seems likely as just a “superhero New Year’s party” with a variety of traditions’ decorations. Then in the next few decades it gets established that Haka does this every year, even if it’s not shown in comics every year.
- How many languages does Haka speak? Maori and English, obviously. There’s interesting discussion to be had about whether English was his second language, though - it largely comes down to when exactly he left New Zealand. It’s possible that he stuck around long enough to learn it from English speakers before he even left. Alternately, he may have taken his exile from his home very broadly and just struck out in a boat on his own right then, making some Asian or other Pacific island languages likely. They like this, so yeah, he left early on and probably hits up a fair bit of Asia. The answer is that he speaks a lot of languages. Probably less than 50 but more than 12 at a conversational level, and fluent in something like 6 or 7 (which is likely enough for him to pidgin his way into most conversations at least).
- Do we have an ETA for the History of Sentinel Comics book? Sometime in the next couple of years. Confident in saying after the Guise book and before the Dark Watch book.
- In the NightMist vs. Hyde story, it started off with her observing that the monstrous appearance of the “Mr. Hyde” she was fighting meant that the individual in question was past saving - does this mean that Jacqueline Hyde isn’t so far gone yet and could be saved or did the potion that NightMist made make that impossible, despite the lack of physical changes? The point of the potion was to exorcise the other personality that was in the body, which in this case means the Jekyll personality. There may be a faint glimmer of hope, but not much. The plot that Hyde pulled off here was getting full control of the body without the transformation.
- Does Jacqueline Hyde become more monstrous over time? No, or at least not for a great long while (at least through the end of the Multiverse era). Again, putting that off was the point of her tricking NightMist.
- We know about Joe Diamond’s fate with GloomWeaver and his soul orb and Faye’s sacrifice during OblivAeon, but what eventually happened to Thomas Diamond? Is there any story that touches on what happened to him later on? Does he survive past OblivAeon, leaving Lillian Corvus the unenviable task of trying to explain to an increasingly-senile Thomas what happened to his daughter? After the creation of the Dark Watch book, we have a story with NightMist dealing with her father who’s finally on his deathbed. He had mostly been forgotten by the comics in the intervening years, but somebody eventually realized that they had never established what had happened to him since he was shown with Alzheimer’s in the ’60s. He had never wanted Faye waste her time with any mystical nonsense, everything has a rational explanation, and he’d started getting dementia before that part of her life started, so he doesn’t know about her heroics or anything. When she visits him (disguised so that she looks normal instead of being this weird mist/void magic creature), luckily he’s having a more lucid episodes and they can actually talk. He doubles down on this whole “no matter how strange things appear, there’s always an explanation” stuff. She thinks about some recent and not-so-recent things and replies along the lines of “Yeah, dad, there always is an explanation. We might not understand it, but there is one” and that’s their last interaction. She’s kind of lying to him (for his own good), but only kind of since there is an explanation, just not one that he would necessarily recognize.
- In the Dark Watch antagonists episode you invented Apex the Wolf-King as the leader of the werewolves, but in a Disparation Dark Watch story you named a version of Naturalist Apex as well - usually you do a pretty good job of not doubling-up on names like that, so even if this was just a mistake/oversight, can you think of a reason for a reused name in this case? One, “Apex” is just a cool name so they could have had a situation where they’d “used up” this really cool name on a one-off Disparation character… oh, no… In actuality, the practice is that no names invented for Disparation stories were seen as off-limits to main-continuity writers (and vice versa). Sometimes you might have a very different character in Disparation use the name of a canonical character, but they throw in some little detail as a point of connection. Other times they don’t. This is one of the latter - the name is the same, but there’s no reason to equate the two. It’s a good name that fits both characters well. One was in Disparation so there’s no reason to not reuse it.
- Where do you get off giving our poor LevelUpLeo bad advice about America? We’ve got enough problems without other people thinking we’re lacking in our PSA game in terms of not having “question what you see in advertisements” content here [insert description about a commercial-length one where a little girl is sad that she’s not as pretty as the model in a magazine - the model addresses her talking about how much makeup and whatnot goes into how she looks and it being unreasonable to make the comparison, etc. Good “question advertising” and “have a healthy body image” twofer.] Adam thinks he might remember that one vaguely. He’s also currently wearing a Taco Bell t-shirt, so obviously ads don’t work on him.