The Letters Page: Episode 17
The Vengeful Five
Run Time: 92:42
The longest episode yet!
I know that this is a podcast about characters from a fictional comic book series, but we start off by talking about the weather. A bunch. So, that's fun!
Just before the four minute mark, we explain the format that we're using this episode, since we're covering a bunch of characters with overlapping stories. A thing we don't mention but is very true: this episode references a TON of other episodes. In a lot of ways, the Vengeful Five are a product of their opponents, so there's a lot of "inside baseball" talk in this episode.
First we mention Baron Blade... and point out that he's got an episode all of his own! Check it out.
Then, we move on to Fright Train. You might want to listen to the Bunker episode if you haven't yet, as Fright Train and Bunker have a shared history. (The Baron Blade episode is also relevant to Bunker's backstory. As is the Setback episode!)
There are lots of important links in these show notes.
The next character we cover is Proletariat! There's a lot of interesting references going on here, but the only episode I can really point to for you here is last week's Absolute Zero episode.
The final member of the Vengeful Five is Friction. The relevant episode tie-in here is the Tachyon episode.
Mid-Friction, we momentarily follow a rabbit trail from the definition of vengeance and into some nonsense about the definition of self.
Talking everyone's favorite
intern sidekick technopath next week!
- History skipped due to him already having his own episode.
- Steven Graves enlisted on the same day and was put in the same squad in boot camp as Tyler Vance and they knew pretty much immediately that they weren't going to be friends. Some comrades-in-arms stuff along with their rivalry, but not ever really friendly (like, they're never going to go to a movie together, but the rivalry pushed both of them to be better than they would have been without it). Vance is very by-the-book and Graves more of an ends-justify-the-means.
- After boot camp they get deployed in the same platoon, with Vance eventually taking a leadership role. Graves bristles a bit at having to take orders from him, but isn't openly insubordinate or anything.
- Action in the middle-east at one point sees Graves injured in a firefight. Vance stays with him while the rest of the platoon falls back, ultimately holding out for 4 hours until support arrived. This was a bit of a bonding moment for them and is an exemplar of our the early Bunker comics worked.
- Graves gets an honorable discharge following this (citing his injuries) and kind of just wound up wandering a bit, getting work where he could. He's a big guy with a fairly specific set of skills, though, which didn't really translate to civilian life outside of certain industries. He went into private security and worked for a number of "military consulting forces" - that is, he was a mercenary working for a number of groups - some legit, if sometimes shady (oil companies, "private intelligence agencies", etc.) others more shady (drug runners). The level of shade was kind of steadily on a lighter-to-darker trajectory, though. He's good at what he does, though, and eventually gets head-hunted by an anonymous outside group (private, covert wetwork stuff, paid by dead-drops).
- Part of this latest contract involves him agreeing to chemical and mechanical enhancement, and he's up for this as part of the big payout promised. Unfortunately for him, the experimental procedures fail and leave his body just a wreck. He's got to stay in the lab for further study/repair. Of course, this private security force is backed by Revo-Corp, surprising nobody here. The group has no official name, but Revo-Corp will refer to it as their "ghosts" when necessary. This was the same experimental project that gave Setback his non-luck-related powers (see Setback episode for a note on how Baron Blade's, Setback's, and Fright Train's outfits were all variations on the same theme due to the tie-in to this project).
- The data collected from the success of Setback allowed them to "fix" Graves' body. This partial success, combined with some mechanical enhancements make him the monstrosity we know and love as Fright Train as a member of the "ghosts". The first mission is to infiltrate a F.I.L.T.E.R. base.
- Aside for F.I.L.T.E.R. stuff: the Federal Initiative to Limit Terrorism by Extraterrestrial Races started to combat alien threats (given that all the alien appearances to date had been threats. More on them in an upcoming episode for them (in the next month?).
- The "ghosts" wind up getting wiped out - F.I.L.T.E.R. is just too used to dealing with "powered" entities, so a group of normal soldier types is not much of a threat. Fright Train and Char are the only ones to survive, but are captured and wind up in the Block.
- Blade breaks out of prison and starts assembling his villain army. Part of this plan involves contacting prisoners in the Block and letting them know that he can blow a hole in a wall, so if there's an opportunity (during, say, a prison riot) he can get a lot of them out. Fright Train and others (who appear in Vengeance decks) escape.
- Cassandra Lilya appears in the Rook City deck as a young person (the little blonde girl on Blighted Streets). This would be set after the Black Fist era, but before "Slim" Walker would be Mr. Fixer (thus the card's flavor text). The hoodlum on the card murders her parents and takes their stuff. She survives and her family's wealth still has her set up for life. Having all the money she could ever need leaves her pretty spoiled, though.
- As stated in her bio, she was a contemporary of Maia Montgomery, running in the same social circles and attending the same events, but neither really respects the other. From Maia's perspective, Cassandra just gets everything that she wants without having to do anything for it (and once Maia becomes the Wraith it becomes even more pronounced as at least she's doing something to help people). Cassandra is resentful that Maia still has her parents, looks down on her for not having as much money as she does, and also for how Maia can't understand what Rook City's really like - this last one heavily influenced by her thrill seeking exploits as the famous thief, Ermine.
- She has so much stuff accessible to her without effort, due to her wealth, and so loves taking what she isn't supposed to have as well. Then she tries to pull a job at the Rook City Museum of Art and History. They had a display of one of the world's largest diamonds, so she breaks in to take it. The Wraith happened to be patrolling nearby at the time, however, and handily defeats Ermine (who, being essentially a car burglar, wasn't really up to snuff in combat) and ties her up for the authorities. Wraith unmasks her before leaving, however, and so now knows her identity (and gets no small amount of entertainment from the knowledge).
- In a shocking turn of comic-book vigilante logic, however, the authorities can't actually prosecute her because there's no evidence that she's actually committed a crime - only that she was tied up in the museum. She's still outed as Ermine, however, which kind of ruins her life as a socialite. So, she abandons that and just goes fully into the life of Ermine, setting up safe houses and whatnot. She's now got a vendetta against the Wraith, but it's actually to her advantage to have been stopped, since the museum itself has long been a front for one of the Chairman's criminal efforts (centered on high-quality forgeries of traveling exhibits that come in the door - the Fence is currently the museum's curator). Cassandra likely would have wound up dead somewhere if she'd succeeded in stealing from the Organization.
- She continues in her life of crime for a while after this, until she's contacted by Baron Blade during his recruitment drive - receiving a nice hand-written invitation to join up and get vengeance on the Wraith.
- Aleksandr Tsarev was a soldier during WWII who was approached after the war to be part of a top secret project involving a space-rock the Red Army had recovered from a Nazi facility (they'd found it in a synagogue that had kept it for centuries prior to that - legends surrounded it involving the creation of golems, although not without cost). Generally, being exposed to the rock would cause a person's cellular structure to tear itself apart, but the Soviet scientists found a way to expose people to it "safely" (with a certain degree of confidence). They recognized that, if they were successful, their test subject would have great power, so they needed volunteers who were true believers. That was Aleks.
- His body responded to the energies by his cells reproducing rapidly, his body bloating and tearing itself apart. At first the scientists figured this was another failure, but he survived (although still quite messy up to that point - it took months of medical treatment for him to recover, seemingly back to normal). He was put back into circulation as a normal soldier again since he was a good one before and, hey, at least they didn't lose him.
- Once during combat training, however, he was struck more violently than usual (could have been expected to have broken some bones if he was still an average soldier). Instead of being injured, however, his body reacted by absorbing the blow and splitting off a duplicate of him. So now there's one of him standing there with the fatigues and everything and another just wearing his underwear (I mean, we're still in the old days of comics so he wasn't totally nude - it set the precedent that very closely-worn items could get duplicated too).
- Clone mechanics: the experiences of copies are shared, thoughts and sensory information are continuous between bodies. With training (and the scientists were quick to jump back on board once they saw what his power was) he got better at dealing with the multiple-viewpoints-at-once thing and also better control over the duplication process (copying clothes and equipment intentionally, getting at least a few clones out without needing to take a big hit first).
- He's now getting into his late 30s, however, and the leadership doesn't want to lose access to this power just by him aging out of usefulness before a major conflict comes along that he would be of most utility. So, they cryogenically freeze him and hide him in a secret bunker in Siberia. Eventually all of the scientists die off before this opportunity came about, though, and so he was forgotten.
- That is, except for the rumors of a secret super weapon that had come to the attention of a certain Fyodor Ramonat who had known some of those scientists. Ivan found references to this in his father's notes and eventually tracked it down and woke him up. Aleksandr is ready to go now that he's been activated, and so Ivan tells him how he's going to be fighting Americans after all this time.
- Krystal Lee's time as an intern for Meredith Stinson, how she was fired, and how she stole a speed suit can be found in the Tachyon episode.
- After she left the lab, she's angry and wants payback. She knew who Tachyon was, obviously, and she took the steps to contact Baron Blade herself. Eventually, she gets a form letter back turning her down. She uses the speed suit in Mordengrad to fight her way through a bunch of the Blade Battalion to prove herself (although she runs into a lot more stuff than Tachyon would and generally just not showing much control). Blade and the others discussed above come out to deal with her, but she still can't really control/stop herself.
- Blade manages to take her down eventually and they analyze her suit, for which she takes credit, but he also offers to develop devices to help her not be so dangerous to herself (although also coming with the risk of winding up in even worse shape than she would have otherwise if things go wrong).
- Given the potential here and her desire for payback, he offers her Vengeance! With the addition to her to the group he realizes that he now has a core "team" to be foils for the Freedom Five specifically and so they now become the Vengeful Five.
- This was a crossover event. There was a specific Vengeance limited series too, but it was bigger than that and was a major imprint on every title that Sentinel Comics was putting out at the time. It involved a lot of villains appearing outside of their normal context (a Dark Watch villain fighting the Prime Wardens, for example).
- It marks a specific moment in the comics timeline as it was so ubiquitous, but it only really had minor repercussions down the line. It started with Baron Blade destroying FFHQ, prompting the building of Freedom Tower and he lost his scarring at the end in the Realm of Discord, but it wasn't a major turning point for anybody but him.
- Baron Blade - Already covered in his episode.
- Fright Train - Still doing minor villain stuff for anybody who will pay. Eventually he winds up in the Block again, but this time F.I.L.T.E.R. recognizes his work and he basically gets a job offer, doing similar stuff to what he was doing with the "ghosts" before his first stint there (we see him working with Sergeant Steel at one point, he's paid to bust into Freedom Tower as a distraction later, etc.).
- Ermine - Goes to prison. She's captured during Vengeance and just winds up behind bars until right around the Omnitron IV events, when she escapes. Baron Blade puts out a call for people to recover parts from the facility and she breaks out to take him up on that, figuring that she can just get in and get out without having to fight anybody. She also gets in on the "distraction" job that Fright Train was doing over at Freedom Tower. She gets caught again and winds up right back in prison, though.
- Proletariat - Right near the end of Vengeance, a big event (just prior to Blade and Legacy fighting in the RoD) is that Proletariat becomes aware of Blade's deception regarding his connection to the Soviet cause. He then goes off by himself back to his homeland to find himself and what remains of his cause. He largely just fades into the background.
- Friction - The changes to her suit result in a catastrophic failure during Vengeance, burns out/gets atomized, never to be seen again.
- Friction's bio says that she was turned down by Blade initially, who was his first choice to fill her "spot" in the team? As stated, a core "team" wasn't the original point.
- How was it determined which mini-nemeses appeared in whose deck? There isn't a working relationship between the mini-nemeses and "their" villain (like, the Hippo isn't working for Friction), but they're kind of grouped by who showed up in the same stories. Example: Proletariat's deck has more "thinker" villains since Blade was specifically trying to keep the fiction of his Soviet ideals intact and needed people who could maintain that around him. There will be a long Interlude about more mini-nemeses stuff. Tag your questions on these as Nemesis when submitting. This includes the VotM ones.
- What do the Vengeful Five think of one another? They're all down with Blade's plan to kill Legacy (even if just to humor him), but they don't really gel as a team like the Freedom Five do. Proletariat operates by himself because it's better to get out of his way and let him do his thing. Friction is kind of painful to be around. Ermine prefers the sneaky approach. It's hard to keep up with Fright Train as he just barrels through everything in his way. There's just not a lot of synergy going on in how they fight. They all more or less respect Blade, but that's about it. Ermine and Fright Train (the two most adapted to "normal" life who survive) work together again later. Good line: Fright Train trusts Ermine about as far as he can throw her, but that's pretty far.
- In the bios we find that Ermine and Friction were both contacted by letter, did Blade himself write these? Why letters? Delivery method? Delivered by small rockets. He's good at reading and manipulating people, so he recognizes that a written invitation with nice calligraphy is the right recruitment method to get Ermine on board. The form letter Friction got really is a form letter that he sends to the stream of minor baddies offering their services and Friction's written offer didn't wow him.
- How strong is Fright Train? Like, way strong, bro. Totes swole.
- How "in control" is Fright Train? He makes questionable choices in that he goes with the easy choice rather than the right one. The drugs he was exposed to in the experiments don't make him evil, but make him more impulsive and clouds his already shaky judgement. He always loves trains, though. He's fairly in control - he's still able to rationalize, but he's just never been good at it. He's less likely to consider an action before acting on it.
- Steven Graves becomes a hero as the new Bunker in the Iron Legacy timeline, does he do anything similar during OblivAeon? During the OblivAeon fighting, the only Vengeful Five member who does anything notable is Baron Blade as Luminary. Graves is in some small backwater in the Southwest, laying low until he's out of money again. Some Aeon Men show up (as they do everywhere) and he punches them, but then has to move on as it's outed him as this scary thing that the people maybe should fear. So, he technically did a thing, but it didn't contribute to the overall story.
- How did Proletariat not get a hero deck for OblivAeon (citing that his motivation isn't a villainous one)? He wasn't a major character during OblivAeon. Given infinite time and resources, it'd be fun to do decks for everybody, but it's sort of the case that only the major villains/events get their own decks, and that goes for the heroes too and he just wasn't important for this. He fought some Aeon Men (because they're ubiquitous), but didn't fight OblivAeon.
- Is Proletariat's vendetta against Absolute Zero just due Blade's description of AZ's employment by the government and the parallels to Proletariat's own situation or more due to the indoctrination of Proletariat against the US back in the day? Both are accurate. Proletariat's attitude is more that he needs to defeat AZ so that he's not actively fighting him, thus allowing him to save this unwitting stooge of the capitalist dogs. He sees AZ as a victim.
- How many clones can Proletariat have at a time? He shares senses and experiences with all of them, so it's difficult to manage them. He doesn't have a physical maximum, but it gets harder for him to maintain them mentally. The most we see in the Multiverse era is once when we see him fighting Haka and it's about a dozen. If he gets up to around 20 it starts to be pretty mindless. Twenty is about as many as he'd go to if there's a singular goal (falling from a height, trying to land on somebody, lets get as many bodies as possible to do that or when fighting the Aeon Men and only needs each body to swing the hammer at the guy in front of him - no more complicated than that). Finesse isn't really possible above around 6.
- Why does he have a vendetta against AZ (if at all)? What all can he duplicate (costumes for sure, what about the hammers or anything else like one of Blade's death rays)? First part already covered. His power is really hand-wavy on how it works (much like Absolute Zero's) - with practice he learned to copy clothes and simple hand-held objects. That's why he uses a hammer, but not even a simple gun.
- Blade's deck has flavor text from Exordium, what's its relation to Vengeance? Exordium is a pre-Vengeance storyline - a limited series detailing the recruitment phase of the plan.
- In the AZ episode it's mentioned that Proletariat isn't really a nemesis of AZ in the way of most nemeses, did he appear in comics prior to the Vengeance plot and, if so, who did he fight? No, he was new for this. Despite the long history of Commie-busting in the comics he didn't feature in them. The most notable Soviet character in the comics from back in the day was Iron Curtain, who didn't even make it into the game (only appearing in some cover art they did - showing the current Legacy's first appearance). (This is Justice Comics #102 seen on the second page of the "Hero Challenge Achievements" PDF on the GTG website, True Believers!)
- How big a deal, in-universe, are the mini-nemeses? Did Blade contact them individually or did they seek him out when they heard what was going on (like, why get the Hippo to fight Haka when there's this perfectly serviceable French jerk willing to fight him)? Each of them has their own reasoning. Common thread among them is "vengeance", though. This implies some slight or wrong done to them by the hero, which is why the Haka example is fitting - Haka didn't do anything to Ambuscade, he's just after money and glory as far as going after Haka is concerned.
- Are there any Vengeance villains who betrayed Baron Blade in some way? "Betray" is strong and nobody really backstabbed him in the way implied. Zhu Long was there for his own reasons, though, as are some others, but it's not like anybody's really there for Baron Blade. He just used their pre-existing motivations for his own ends. One exception for somebody whose presence kind of backfired on him was the Seer. He's the one who opened the portal to the Realm of Discord and the events there with Legacy were what kind of resulted in the Vengeance plot falling apart. It's not an intentional betrayal, but still a problem for him.
- Tactics: Proletariat shows up, Ermine, Fright Train, and poor Friction don't (although Fright Train appears in some art). Proletariat is working for whoever is running Revo-Corp at the time, but we don't know why yet. He's not really a villain, but he's doing his own thing to further his ideals.
- RPG: Can't really go into anything yet. Proletariat has a role (some roles?) to play. They have to save some content for until after the RPG comes out at which point they can circle back around to do some Interludes or something. There are plans for them regarding what they are going to do with these characters and what we, the players, will do with them (an intentionally tantalizing comment here at the end).