The Letters Page: Episode 168
Writers' Room: Absolution #18
Why must they fight?
Run Time: 1:23:14
We talk about the weather! Gripping content, right?
Then, we talk about Fanatic and NightMist! (Or at least we attempt to, after a few false starts and rabbit trails.) Not as interesting as the weather, but it'll have to do!
Unsurprisingly, there were a few outstanding questions about each of these characters, which we get to in record time at around the 28 minute mark.
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- Today’s prompt is “NightMist vs. Fanatic” [Adam comments on having started a whisper campaign for this - now that it’s happened he whispers “werewolves” so I guess we know what to do from here]. The story they’d told us about already is in the Absolution book where NightMist has had a vision of some winged person causing great destruction, assumes it has to be Fanatic, so they fight.
- The original Fanatic book that she got shortly after her introduction in Mystery Comics was a rather slapdash affair where they just had “avenging angel” character and they threw in all sorts of things you’d associate with that without a lot of regard for how it fits into the setting (“real” angels being involved, etc. as we heard about in the Fanatic Supporting Cast episode). It’s kind of a mess. Absolution was kind of a reboot where they started over and actually planned out who this character is and what story to tell with her.
- In Absolution #7 we have the reappearance of an earlier foe Apostate in his (now classic) deceiver mode and they start fighting. Issue #8 she kills him, #9 he returns with a bunch of skeletons and the issue ends with him running her through with a big sword, #10 her armor glows as she heals, she pulls the sword out, they continue fighting, and she Wrathful Retributions him to end the encounter.
- With that place setting done, today we’re going to be doing Absolution #18 from October 1981. The following month would kick off a few months of NightMist and Fanatic vs. Apostate in this book. They’re not going to be going into that story today, but it’s the context for where this one will be going.
- So, at this point (NightMist assuming Fanatic is the “winged figure” in her vision), NightMist has been around for quite some time and Fanatic’s been around for about 5 years. This isn’t the first time they’ve interacted, but those earlier interactions would have been in the “slapdash” period of Fanatic’s existence. The gist of NightMist’s response to meeting her is is that Fanatic is extremely powerful, but represents a real danger to herself and everyone around her due to her approach. The vision that prompts today’s story has NightMist seeing “winged figure causing destruction” and assuming that of course Fanatic will finally be going off the deep end. It was inevitable.
- NightMist tracks her down and tries to give her a “You’ve gone too far” kind of dressing down. Fanatic isn’t really sure what she’s on about, but it sounds like she’s asking for a fight, and she’s not about to argue with that.
- Over the course of the fight, NightMist mentions the vision and the winged figure of destruction. That’s when Fanatic explains that there’s another option here. So, in a shocking turn of events, Fanatic is the one to defuse the situation by using her words. First time for everything.
- That’s the surface level plot that one might expect from just seeing the cover. The additional wrinkle here is to first note that NightMist having a vision and jumping straight to fighting mode is somewhat out of character. The reason for this is that the actual villain of this story is the Seer - somebody who is rarely given an opportunity to be the main villain of an arc in his own right. His role is typically to show up and cause a problem that results in some other arc, and that’s the case here as well. The Seer is looking to pit NightMist and Fanatic against one another and draw power from both of them in the process.
- Adam asks if NightMist even knows the Seer is a villain at this point. Christopher doesn’t even necessarily think that readers are really clear on that. He’s only been around a few years at this point and has mostly been showing up in non-supers stories in things like Tome of the Bizarre and presented as kind of a “mystic wanderer” guy who might fight a monster (with magic, not swords or anything like that) from time to time. He does have a bit of a sinister aspect to him, though, as he’ll draw power from the defeated monster which doesn’t seem particularly “good”.
- In this story, NightMist as the vision of “winged destroyer” and goes to some of her various contacts she’s had throughout her previous stories for some advice on what this means. The Master, for example, gives her some vague, fortune cookie type answer. One of these is the Seer, Ken Koji, who advises her to not be rash and to do more investigation into the situation. Great - good advice, better than what the Master had provided, from this guy who we’ve seen fight monsters in weird backup stories occasionally. The next thing we see her do, however, is going off to fight Fanatic.
- After establishing that next course of action for the hero, we return to the Seer where the readers are privy to a classic supervillain soliloquy where he details what he’s just done, which is to riot her emotions and set her on the path to fight Fanatic.
- What do we know about him? He’s a magic user who’s looking to set things up so that he can get an upper hand against other magic users (like NightMist here). That’s solid enough. Decades later we know that he gets rolled into the various Host-related stuff and so gets tied to Fanatic’s story (and that Apostate is the one to have “brokered the deal” that connects him to the Host), but right now the Host isn’t a concept that the writers could have had in mind.
- What’s his issue with Fanatic now? Does he even need one or is this just an opportunity to push NightMist into danger? That’s actually probably enough for the moment. They’re both strong; it’s possible that they’ll both wear the other down to the point where he can swoop in like a vulture to take power from both of them. He’s not even “pulling the strings” of this situation since he isn’t behind NightMist’s vision - he just sees an opportunity here and so sets them against one another.
- This is the point at which it’s established that pushing on people’s emotions is his main gimmick (which is later retconned to be due to a connection with the Host). He says “don’t be rash” while simultaneously pushing NightMist to be rash. The soliloquy he’s giving probably artlessly specifies that it falls short of mind control and only deals in intensity of emotion.
- The fight happens, Fanatic calms things down which is character growth for her (also acknowledged by NightMist in-setting). At this point Fanatic is able to see (which is also later explained as being Host-related) that something is affecting NightMist. That something is making her unquiet and with her power and words, is able to calm the soul of NightMist and remove the Seer’s influence. They discuss things briefly, but they don’t know when or how she was affected.
- Then the Seer shows up all on his own. He figures it’s been long enough for one or both of them to be down and easy pickings. He immediately tries to play it off like “I was worried and came to help” or something, but he overplays his hand and tries to do his thing again to rile them up (which starts to work on NightMist). The problem here is that Fanatic doesn’t really have anywhere to go in terms of being riled up.
- What happens, though, is that NightMist gets pushed a bit too far and winds up attacking everything as she starts to lose control to the point that she might even pose a danger to the whole city (the Oblivion spell she’s used involves mists rising, her mostly turning into mist commingled with that, and that mist starts wrecking everything in the area).
- The finale here is Fanatic fighting the Seer while simultaneously “fighting” NightMist and trying to talk her down/protect her from herself. It’s a more “guardian” angel role than the “avenging judgement” holy warrior that we’re used to by this point. She once again severs the connection between NightMist and the Seer, but that just stops him from continuing to push on her emotions, it doesn’t calm her on its own. Meanwhile she also smites the Seer pretty good, but he’s able to use what power he’s stolen to survive it and make his escape once her back is turned.
- She’s focused on NightMist at that point and has an awesome protecting angel panel where she spreads her wings and gives a “pull yourself together” speech while using her power to create some kind of radiant force field around them, holding the mists into a confined area. It’s when that works and NightMist is herself again that they turn to deal with the Seer only to find that he’s already gone.
- Important overall developments from this story: the Seer is definitely a villain and he’s a powerful enough mystic to get one over on NightMist. We also see that he’s something of a match for Fanatic - her belief in her own power is about at the same level as his knowledge of his power. He’s not so much a punchy fighter guy, but his powers let him keep up.
- Denouement: Fanatic asks if the vision of a winged destroyer persists. It does. Does that mean that Fanatic will eventually lose control? No, but she’d thought that she’d seen the last of “him”. The opposing page has some more villainous monologuing about the heroes being aware of his presence, but no matter, etc. Turn to the last page and we see Apostate using some kind of scrying pool to observe the heroes, leaving a nice cliffhanger for the next issue.
- So, we know that Fanatic is a spirit of Judgement in a human body, but do other heroes know what she is? The readership knows that the Host is a thing, although some are of the opinion that it’s just a thing that Apostate made up (although there are other hints to the fact that it’s true). Fanatic fits in along these latter fans in that, even if deep down she knows it’s true, she doesn’t believe it and denies it. The Freedom Five don’t know anything about the Host, but who might? NightMist, Argent Adept, Scholar? Maybe. Apostate, the Seer, and the Idolater know about the Host. By the end Ra probably does. It would be weird if neither AA nor NightMist knew that the Host was a thing. AA is more likely to know. Adam falls into the trap of thinking of NightMist as a more accomplished arcanist than she is. She gets a lot of oomph from the curse and powers of observation (and eventually from being merged with the Void). She’s also done a lot of arcane study as well, but Argent Adept is “the guy” for this kind of thing. Actually, this last comment prompts the realization that no, the guy who knows about the Host is Soothsayer Carmichael. He can’t do anything with it or interact with it, but he knows about it and has likely written up a long treatise regarding it that he hasn’t shared with anybody.
- Specifically, does NightMist know and could she affect Fanatic because of that knowledge, possibly up to releasing the spirit from her body? She is not capable of intentionally doing that, or at least not any more than she’s able of releasing anybody’s spirit from their body. Fanatic’s body is as natural to this spirit of Judgment as anybody else’s is to their own spirit (it didn’t start out that way, but it is now). NightMist also doesn’t do a whole lot of out-of-body spirit magic anyway. Argent Adept does that sort of thing no problem (well, maybe not “no problem” but it’s a thing he can do and has done).
- Are there different points in comics where NightMist’s various aspects (investigator, spy misting in and out of buildings, chaotic arcane energy spell caster, more controlled spell caster, mentor, student, etc.) are explored? How does her personality change between her solo stories, Dark Watch stories, and general crossover event stories? The different aspects of her character are at the forefront depending on the story being told by any given writer more than being tied to specific eras (other than the general arc of “new to magic, more experienced, de-powered entirely, magical again, becoming a magical being herself, then a teacher” that she has over the course of decades). That being said, she tends to wind up more on the investigator end of things in her solo stories with the team-ups leaving her in more of the mentor role or just filling in “the magic one” slot in a team (that might also have “the fighty one”, “the thinky one”, and “the planning one”). This latter is generally the case if she gets pulled into a Freedom Five story as “the magic one” is a role they don’t have on the team as it is. The “chaotic, burn everything in sight with infernal magic” option is rare. Yes it happens in this very episode, but that was at a villain’s instigation. She’s usually pretty precise in her magic use. The “mentor, scholar, calm and controlled sorceress, and spy” roles all kind of get rolled together into that “the magic one” designation.
- How does Fanatic feel about Harpy given the whole Matriarch thing? Probably ok to good feelings about her as a magical ally if anything. Fanatic didn’t have anything to do with the Matriarch event and so has no personal stake there. However, the main thing to keep in mind is that there simply aren’t a lot of Dark Watch/Prime Wardens crossovers for them to really ever interact. Beyond that, though, there’s the thing where everybody makes mistakes as part of the human condition and Fanatic doesn’t go around smiting everybody who’s made mistakes (demons, ghosts, and related things, sure, but not living human persons as a matter of course). Redemption is a major theme for her along with the Judgement thing, so allowing people the chance to be redeemed is important to her.
- A lot of “magic” plots in pop culture will go out of their way to evoke settings of nature, high middle ages, or the Victorian era in terms of aesthetics - does Sentinel Comics do so by having weird stuff happen at a Renaissance Fair or does GloomWeaver send his cult to New Zealand to try to open a portal for him in the Shire set from the Lord of the Rings films? They don’t necessarily go out of their way, but solo NightMist stories might tend to evoke some of the feel of Victorian England. Argent Adept is more the “scenery of nature” guy. Rook City is portrayed as, alternately, one giant decrepit urban slum and gothic hellscape/London by gaslight. The “high middle ages” set dressing is less common - the angle that most could be said to do so is stuff that tends to happen in graveyards or in/near old stone churches.
- [Bloodsworn Professional Wrestling letter at around 40:30] Who wins a Gimli vs. Legolas-style kill count competition in an otherwise empty city with 1000 zombies in it (the zombie dragon still only counts as one): Fanatic with End of Days or NightMist with Oblivion? Only 1000 zombies might not be enough to come to a real conclusion. However, by specifying that there’s a zombie dragon we likely have an answer. Fanatic would get distracted by fighting the big thing. In a more likely comics situation where they’re working together, that’s actually probably even the plan - Fanatic goes off to fight the big things while NightMist is on crowd control. With the “it only counts as one” rule in place NightMist likely wins, but if you take into account the total volume of zombie flesh it might go to Fanatic.
- There’s a ghost somewhere in Rook City that’s in dire need of being Smited/Banished - who finds and deals with it first? Probably NightMist. Fanatic would be flying around looking for it while NightMist can use her magic to determine where it is and/or call it to her location where she’s set up the required banishment stuff. It might take NightMist a small amount of time longer to banish it than Fanatic would need to smite it, but not long enough to make up for the difference in how long locating it takes each of them. If the ghost has to travel to where NightMist is, they think it’s a 50/50 shot that Fanatic would notice and intercept/smite it before it can get to her.
- Which of them would do better in a fight against Ra? Most likely Fanatic if we assume just a no-context brawl. If we assume these fights happen shortly after the current issue plays out, Ra vs. Fanatic is a big flashy fireworks show of a fight while NightMist vs. Ra has Faye on the defensive the whole time. If we instead put the fights in the early ’00s, NightMist is stronger and has more control while by this time Fanatic is… compromised in terms of Ra and so NightMist would do better.
- [Letter closes out with the final match-up being “Surviving the OblivAeon event… Too soon?” calling out SpeedyOlrac in particular, a reference to their Discord name also including “NightMist Mourner”.]
- Was there any public backlash to the NightMist character when she was introduced (or later during the Satanic Panic era) due to her association with “the occult”? Not when she was introduced in the ’60s. There likely was some in the ’70s and ’80s Satanic Panic era and she probably got brought up in some hearings somewhere, but they don’t think that her character really changed much because of that. She was a somewhat less important character at the time - she didn’t get a solo book until the mid-’80s and even then it was a smaller side book that only became notable due to what some of the writers wound up doing with her so there wasn’t a real need to “cover up” anything that she was up to. Comics always kind of had a disreputable status as “trash media” up until 2000 or thereabouts, so nobody really cared.
- She’s one of Sentinel Comics’ main magical heroes and winds up involved in a lot of crossover stories, but judging by her SotM deck it seems like she might operate in a less conventional manner than other heroes - does she stick out as somewhat out-of-place in, say, Freedom Five stories that feature her? Yes, incredibly. There’s all of these costumed superheroes, and then there’s the very noir NightMist. She feels less out of place in Mystery Comics, but artists will play this up in some of the other comics. They’ll be the standard, brightly colored hero comics, but the panels with NightMist (or maybe even only NightMist within a normal panel) will be muted/desaturated to play up the film noir feel (of course, some of that is the fact that she’s already pretty desaturated with white mist, hair, and shirt, black skirt and jacket, pale skin, dark red lipstick - everything is high-contrast with her).
- Is there a tradition within Sentinel Comics for November to be “the spooky month”? That’s true here in the meta-metaverse, but in the metaverse for some reason October is seen as the spooky month.
- Both her game bio and her main podcast episode mention that Faye’s attempts to cast the Mist of R’lyeh spell is what transported her to another realm of mist and resulted in her curse, which also amplifies her magical ability - while most of her deck’s cards feature mist in the art, only two explicitly relate to mist (Mistbound and Mists of Time which relate to opening a portal and seeing through time respectively, the latter in particular also being connected to other realities given what we’ve been told of time travel in general); additionally, Planar Banishment’s flavor text refers to the “Gates of R’lyeh” so that’s another reference to the misty stuff as related to gates and portals to elsewhere which is interesting considering what eventually happens with NightMist becoming the mist gates to all realities.
- Aside mid-letter: There’s also Scouring Mists [and Mist-fueled Recovery and Mist Form] that name-check the mists, but in all honestly all of her spells could have been named something involving mists and that wouldn’t be inaccurate - it just makes for clunky game design. They can get away with having more of Ra’s cards reference the fact that he’s all about Fire because there are more synonyms that can be used without sacrificing accuracy. What do you do with “mist”? Fog has different enough connotations that they couldn’t use that.
- [Continued] In the Magic in the Multiverse episode you mentioned that magic, broadly speaking, involves drawing energy from some realm and gave some examples, including the fact that NightMist generally uses Discordian magic (which is associated with the Realm of Discord) and later on some Void magic, why that and not the realm of mist or R’lyeh (the latter of which is not simply where dead Cthulhu waits dreaming, per the Supernatural Settings episode that specified that while elements of NightMist’s backstory are inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft those works themselves aren’t canon to Sentinel Comics)? Is R’lyeh the realm of mists itself? If not, what is it? Are the mists just part of the Realm of Discord? Are the mists specifically related to planar travel or are “mist gates” that NightMist uses that way just because she is misty and that’s how her power manifests (like a magical fingerprint)? Within the world of Sentinel Comics, the works of H. P. Lovecraft are fiction as well (so right, R’lyeh is not a sunken city where ol’ squid head slumbers) but the word is associated with the realm of mists. Individual writers treat it differently from one another, though. For some it’s a realm of its own and others treat it as a part of the RoD (which has “mists of discord” at any rate). NightMist is associated with Discordian magic, but is also mist-cursed. Basically, everything that you’ve talked about in your letter has been true for some writer at some point and so our understanding of the truth of it within the fiction of Sentinel Comics is also contradictory - you can think of it at least somewhat as an artifact of the workings of the realms of magic being beyond mortal ken. NightMist’s book has a lot of retcons that aren’t even really treated as retcons - “Didn’t it work differently the last time this was explained?” “Sure did. That’s chaos magic for you.” Sorry for the (possibly) unsatisfactory answer.
- When GloomWeaver crushed the stone containing Joe Diamond’s soul/spirit/essence what does that actually mean for Joe (does it kill him, does he go to an afterlife, does he simply cease to exist)? It destroys his soul/etc. - if there exists an afterlife where he would have gone, he doesn’t get to go there now because he’s ceased to exist. He was dead before the soul was captured in the first place, so that’s not part of this process.
- [Letter from Mother Maria Josefaker] You’ve said that Fanatic’s powers let her beliefs affect the world around her which could possibly allow her to perform the sacrament of the Eucharist without being ordained as a priest - does this mean that if she were to perform the Eucharist that the communion wafers would undergo transubstantiation and become the body of Christ? After some humorous “what is wrong with you guys?” noises they give the cop-out answer of “Fanatic would not perform the Eucharist.” She wouldn’t feel that it’s her place to do so and so would not. Blessing/anointing somebody, maybe, but not the performance of this sacramental ritual. If somehow she were coerced/forced to go through the motions, the fact that it wasn’t of her own will would mean that her power of belief wouldn’t kick in.
- [Continued] Once her powers alter something, is that alteration permanent after she stops actively thinking about it? So, if she were to transubstantiate, oh, about 120 pounds of communion wafers into the body of Christ and then left it unattended, would those qualities remain regardless of what some third party then did with them (say, Biomancer making a flesh-child-of-God)? They don’t think Fanatic could do this. Even if she wanted to, she doesn’t believe that she could do this. That being said, it’s not like Biomancer would think that he needs “the real thing” if he wanted to make a fake Jesus.
- What do Fanatic and Soothsayer Carmichael think of one another, surely they’ve interacted at some point? They’re not entirely certain that they’ve crossed paths. Carmichael is more of an Argent Adept supporting cast member than a Prime Wardens one. That being said, Carmichael is certainly familiar with Fanatic and she likely features heavily in whatever he’s written up about the Host. If they have met, he’s probably a little too interested in her and she tells him to go away and stop writing stuff in that notebook. He probably doesn’t really register on her radar otherwise.
- Who is “Nahropt” who is quoted on the Imp Pilferer card in Apostate’s deck? That’s the Imp Pilferer’s name.
- Are there any general changes to Advanced rules in Definitive Edition (any that are more specific/thematic to the Villain in question)? Yes - general changes. Some that are unique to that Villain, but some will still be the general +/- Damage types of things, but the hope there is that those cases are done in a targeted way that they’re meaningful for the battle in question. The Advanced rules have been looked at like everything else was for DE.
- How do Events interact with Advanced mode? Do you get more Collections for winning on Advanced? Do Events/Critical Events have Advanced rules of their own? Events don’t reward you more or less for using the Advanced rules. Events are a kind of replacement for the Challenge rules document they put out for the current edition, so you can think of Events using the Villain’s Advanced rules as being the DE version of the so-called “Ultimate” mode (to use the term that Handelabra uses in the current digital game). Regular Events do not have their own Advanced rules, but Critical Events do as they provide a variant Villain character card.
- When redesigning the heroes, did you try to adjust them to fill in mechanical gaps that only a small number of (or even no) heroes had filled previously (e.g. Void Guard Writhe is the only hero currently who can prevent enemies from healing - will there be more heroes that can do that)? That’s not the way that they think about the characters. They understand that the players will wind up finding shorthand “role” designations for the heroes (this one is mainly a damage-dealer, that one is support, etc.) but they don’t design them with that kind of thing in mind. They want each hero to have a variety of options in how to play them and the “role” that any one has in any given game is more down to what cards you wind up with in hand and what kind of player you are. They’re not blind to the role thing, though - they know that Legacy and Argent Adept will inevitably wind up doing some support actions because that’s their character and their decks reflect that, but a design philosophy for DE was to increase the options you had [Braithwhite mentioned in the bullpen episode he was on that Wraith currently plays as “knife-throwing fighter” as a pretty optimal strategy and they wanted to shake things up so that there were other equally valid ways to play her]. As for the specific question about additional heroes who can prevent healing: not currently.
- Do all Critical Events take place after the “base” character card (it would feel weird to fight a variant before the original if doing a chronological campaign)? In the core game all Critical Events happen after the “story” of the base setup for that villain, but time will tell on future expansions. It seems unlikely, but they won’t state outright that they won’t shake things up.
- I love using the Environment against the Villain (say, letting the volcano on Insula Primalis take care of a pile of minions) but a lot of these tend to only really get a chance to happen in OblivAeon games - does DE allow for more such interactions? There isn’t necessarliy an effort to increase those interactions specifically, but they do try to introduce more situations that you have an ability to capitalize on in one way or another. They are trying to move away from “the Environment does the thing it was already going to do and it turned out well for the heroes” and towards “the heroes see a way they can manipulate the Environment to their advantage”. The Enraged T. Rex is a good existing example since, if you know it’s around, you can try to make sure that everyone’s HP is such that it attacks the villains instead of the heroes [I note here that the T. Rex has been changed from its current mechanics - it’s frustrating in the current game since it goes after the second-highest HP, which is an area that a Hero is likely to be in for most of most games. The DE card we’ve seen now goes after the second-lowest HP, which will probably also often be a Hero unless they intentionally leave around some low-HP minions or Environment targets. It’s easier to manipulate now].
- What is the threshold for some mechanic getting a keyword in DE? For example, I imagine that there’s a lot of repeated text in Fanatic’s deck regarding her being “at 10 HP or less” which could be keyworded as being “in danger” and thus could be used in other decks, but would that just be too specific to her deck’s mechanics and/or would it just not save enough characters to be worth it? Are you just worried about getting to the point where you need a game dictionary handy to make sense of all of the keywords by the time all the expansions are out? Terminology breakdown: they use “keyword” to refer to the text in the separte box between the card art and the mechanical instructions that identify the kind of card (the words like One-Shot, Ongoing, Limited, Item, Relic, Ordnance, Citizen, Device, Indestructible, etc.). Those shouldn’t need a dictionary because they’re either pretty universal to the mechanics of the game or they’re unique to a given deck, but just specify what’s a valid piece of other cards’ mechanics as written on the card. You’re talking about things like Discover or Salvage which are new to DE and are what Christopher calls “terms” rather than “keywords”. They can imagine additional Keywords showing up in the expansions as those are often tied to an individual deck’s mechanics [like Void Guard Idealist having Concepts and Fragments in the current edition], but they don’t want to have “term” creep because they want to avoid that dictionary problem. Additionally, for the specific example of “in danger” for Fanatic, they just don’t see using that specific mechancial trigger for other decks because it would lessen its impact as “Fanatic’s thing”. They want terms to refer to “standard actions that would apply to any/every deck.” It’s unlikely for each expansion to add new terms. If any do get added, they’ll be explained in the rules, but they don’t imagine many will be (single digits, possibly 0).
- Will any of DE Ra’s cards have flavortext in hieroglyphs? If so, will they actually say something this time [the current edition’s Living Conflagration card has some, but it’s just generated by the keystrokes “Christopher and Adam” in a hieroglyph computer font - it doesn’t actually read as that, though as the characters don’t map directly to the expected key values or anything]? No, they’re not putting any hieroglyphs in flavortext in DE.
- There’s no reason for this to be anything other than “Fanatic vs. NightMist”. Put some words on there like “The master of magic against the angel of the Lord” or something. Maybe not even a sentence like that.
Master of Magic!
Visions of Destruction!
The Fall of Fanatic?