The Letters Page: Episode 170
Writers' Room: Dark Watch Annual #3
I hope you're wearing green today!
Run Time: 1:30:36
Some goofs, but then, a story!
Actually, no, then another set of goofs. And THEN a story.
Lots of interesting stuff in this one. Building out a whole set of stuff that we've had floating around in the shadows but have never formalized. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Around 46 minutes in, we take some questions... and provide answers to them!
As we mention on the air, this week's live show is on Thursday instead of Friday, and it's not Editor's Note #45. Of course it's not. We may never get to Editor's Note #45. We'll keep trying! But this Thursday's recording is an unexpected return of the Publishers' Note! Paul and Christopher will be live for our Patreon supporters at 11 AM, Central Time. If you have questions for the Publishers' note, but sure to submit them by end of day Wednesday!
Thanks for listening!
- Christopher has a general idea for the kind of story this “Luck o’ the Setback” can be, so they talk about that a bit to then zoom out to see where in the timeline it can fit which will then inform the way that the story would be presented.
- He’s imagining a stand-alone, self-contained issue. It’s likely a goofy, funny story and so would likely be a bit of a break just after some darker story just wrapped up. And with that said, this is probably a Dark Watch story. He’s thinking that a bunch of other heroes start off encountering and being enchanted by a leprechaun and then Setback has to deal with that - the “other heroes” could easily just be the rest of Dark Watch.
- Like, the leprechaun offers the others his pot of gold, and it’s not just the shiny metal, but is the gold of knowledge, health, spirit, life, etc. This works really well as a Dark Watch hook since, with the possible exception of Setback, they’ve all got some issues going on (sure, he’s cursed, but that doesn’t prevent him from being a pretty well-adjusted person - he’s easily the most emotionally-stable member of the team). “You’ve got this emptiness inside you that I can fill with my gold. Chase me!” says the leprechaun. Setback doesn’t need what he’s selling (he also kind of has a pretty good handle on what “luck” feels like, and this ain’t it).
- Dark Watch feeling intensifies: the rest of the team can run off after the leprechaun leaving Setback to do some “research” by looking through NightMist’s books trying to find something about them. In the process of messing with the books, he draws the attention of some fay beings who show up and tell him that the only way to solve this problem is to come with them to the other side of the veil. They’re very up-front about the fact that they are not trustworthy, but that he needs to come with them.
- He goes along with it. He meets some kind of council who then direct him to the leader of the leprechauns or something. The like the idea that it’s this old trickster type (think Yoda when he first shows up in The Empire Strikes Back as this kooky local who’s pulling a fast one on Luke to get the feel for him), but who gives Setback the straight story - whatever his friends are dealing with isn’t a leprechaun. It’s some kind of caricature masquerading as one - meaning that the one we meet at the beginning is in full cartoony St. Patrick’s Day merchandise regalia with the green hat and coat where this one is much more mythical/fae/real. Adam suggests that he’s got moss growing on him which is where the idea of green clothes comes from.
- He says that normally they don’t care about humans getting the concept of a leprechaun so wrong. Frankly, having such misinformation prevalent in the culture is probably a net benefit to them as humans do their thing and the leprechauns do their own thing. However, having this counterfeit running around actually doing stuff is just going to draw attention, which is counterproductive to their interests.
- Setback is a great person to send to deal with this. Leprechauns are all about luck, you see. “Son, do you have any idea just how bad your luck is?” Like, the interaction between Setback and the old leprechaun might be the clearest explanation we ever get about his luck. It might even be the first time that somebody actually, explicitly confirms to him this fact that he’s always just kind of innately “known”/suspected. Setback starts off with his usual brushing-off of the whole bad luck/good luck thing (“these things happen to everybody”) before he’s then told that no, this is real, you were cursed and it runs deep within you (he can’t tell the circumstances of its origin, though, so nobody knows that it was Kismet at this point).
- However, it’s something that they can work with. There’s enough weird luck here for the leprechaun to just push on it a bit - to give him an edge in the current situation. “You can make me lucky?” Oh no. No no no. But we can make you far less lucky, but also with enough control to be able to steer things. You can have a bit of our vision and control so that you can choose between the bad outcomes. Setback’s had enough experience dealing with/capitalizing on his bad luck that being able to steer it even more effectively is useful.
- They end with a stipulation that Setback has to return to them once he’s dealt with that fake leprechaun. Setback immediately assumes it’s just so they can undo whatever they’re going to do to him and readily agrees, when it’s plainly obvious to the rest of us that this is one of those “don’t trust the fae” situations.
- The way that this then works is that Setback goes to the “leprechaun” and joins up on whatever nonsense he’s wanting the heroes to do, entangling his own luck into the group’s plans. Then, because of the unluck that Setback can now adjust, he can make the “leprechaun’s” plans just entirely blow up in his face, unraveling the rest of the team’s trust in this guy - by causing things to fail, he can actually help the heroes by helping to snap them out of it. Eventually revealing that it’s been Wager Master all along.
- They like the idea of a postscript where NightMist goes to bargain with the fae and stating that they can’t have Setback. Christopher suggests that they figured that they wouldn’t and have a backup offer to relinquish their claim on him. He doesn’t know exactly what that would be, though.
- While they said up top that having this be a self-contained story is all well and good, they also like the idea now that there’s a short period of time where Setback retains this fae connection (like the Haunted Fanatic arc). Before this there’s the idea that his luck is a tangible thing and not happenstance, now we know it is, and for a short time he can actually use it. What’s the end of that, though? Maybe eventually ending with a showdown with the old leprechaun?
- Maybe that’s the deal made - the fae don’t get him, but he gets to keep and continue to use this unluck-powered fae-sight thing and there will come a reckoning. After a few story arcs the fae come for him and there’s a confrontation with Dark Watch. NightMist knew this would happen and so has been preparing for it. The fae knew she would, and are ready for that so it becomes an actual struggle. It could be neat for Harpy to do some cool stuff at this point - depending on when this is set, this could be the first time she’s really stepped up as part of the team.
- Oh, on that note, maybe this is the Harpy show. Like, due to her unique experiences as the Matriarch she’s got a handle on this that the others don’t and NightMist’s “preparation” for this encounter has largely been getting her up to speed. The fae will be ready for NightMist, but not for Harpy. It’s also another opportunity to show that NightMist and Harpy have different approaches/strengths in magic. NightMist is all about practicing, studying, and knowing how things work (even if the type of magic she’s using is generally unpredictable, she has a good handle on it) whereas Harpy’s constantly dealing with the chaos/control dichotomy (plus there’s the mist/birds difference in the way their magic is flavored). The chaos that Harpy’s constantly dealing with is what gives her the specific edge in dealing with fae.
- They need to build 2 characters for the story: the chief leprechaun and whoever leads the fae court that Setback is brought to (as they talk about Setback having no problems with an invitation to a fae court Christopher mentions that he’s the kind of guy who, upon receiving an invitation from Baron Blade to dine in his palace in Mordengrad, would respond with a “Sure! It would be rude to say no.”). Maybe the court has a King and Queen, so 3 characters. The King and Queen can be the ones to originally summon him, pass him off to the leprechaun, and then are the ones that NightMist bargains with at the end.
- The leprechaun can be kind of a “Merlin” figure for the fae court. He’s got these strings tied to Setback now and when NightMist prevents that claim, he says that then the strings will remain and there will be a reckoning. This sets up the confrontation down the road. They like that the fae here are becoming the “villains” of the story without being “bad”. They’re antagonistic without being Evil just because the mortal world and their world happen to naturally be at odds and so whenever there’s crossover between the two worlds problems arise naturally.
- Names! Let’s actually pull from some legends to lend it some of the same “I kind of know a bit about these characters already” like they did with the Ennead stuff. Off the air investigation results in quite a lot of the fae court being fleshed out, but the main players they’ll tell us about now are:
- King: a tall, imposing figure with a crown of antlers that grow out of his head. He is the Dagda.
- Queen: imposing in a more threatening way than The Dagda, she has the air of a killer about her. Cold and intimidatingly polite. She is the Morrígan [which properly has the accented i in the name, but Christopher points out to me that comics letterers are notoriously inconsistent in such things, so The Morrigan often occurs as well and simplifies things in terms of typing her name frequently].
- Leprechaun: an ancient, bent figure. Leaning on a gnarled staff and overgrown with moss (or his skin may simply be moss - it’s unclear). Looking at him and knowing what he is you can see how the pop-culture figure of a leprechaun was derived from him. He is Ogma. One thing they decided about him is that one real legend of him is that he invented Ogham, the old Irish alphabet, and they liked the idea of this old leprechaun needing a way for people to communicate, so he invented writing. Another is that he’s sometimes referred to as the brother of the Dagda. You’d look at the two of them here and wouldn’t even consider that they were related, and yet Ogma is the brother of the Dagda. Lots of fun stuff for them to mess around with here.
- Where do we place this? They already know what Dark Watch vol. 1 #1-7 are (the original story involving Zhu Long resurrecting Mr. Fixer followed immediately by the Harpy’s introduction). This brings us into early 2000. They like the idea of this story being the first real deep dive into fae stuff in Sentinel Comics. While there were probably plenty of little hints of it here and there in the past, the details hadn’t been formally collected/fleshed-out with characters and rules before now.
- They need Harpy to have been around long enough for the Harpy Show to be a decent payoff at the end of this arc. They also envision a few arcs between today’s issue and the resolution and so need to dodge around stories they already have in mind that wouldn’t make sense for Setback to have this fae-touched thing going on. We need enough room for this story, two arcs for him to be in that state, but aren’t about fae stuff, then an arc to resolve his situation.
- Is this the first issue of a 6-issue arc? A stand-alone story that then feeds into an arc? Thinking about the tendency to publish with the trades in mind, there’s not really any reason that they couldn’t fit 7 issues into one. Do they have it here in-sequence or do they put this one at the beginning of the trade for the resolution? Adam suggests that maybe they do the “dumb Annual trade thing” where they collect a few unrelated stories.
- That’s it. It’s an issue of Dark Watch Annual. That lets it be disconnected from the regular ongoing book a bit easier without messing up other numbering they’ve established. They decide that this is DWA #3 from June 2002 and is the first appearance of the fae court and the various characters they’ve created for it.
- From there we have an arc from July-December 2002 and another from January-June of 2003 with this fae-touched Setback that aren’t about the fae [#37-42 and #43-48 respectively] and then an arc from July-December 2003 to resolve that [#49-54]. Having gone through the story as they’ve discussed so far, Christopher had been a little worried about it being a stand-alone, but now knowing it’s an Annual lets them have some extra room to tell the story and it makes some sense for it to spin off into this extended year-and-a-half period.
- Now that we’ve got all of that figured out, let’s run through the issue again.
- Start off with the rest of Dark Watch already bamboozled by the “leprechaun” with Setback the odd man out and skeptical. The idea is that we’re already slightly in medias res on the whole leprechaun thing so that we don’t have to see the process of it showing up and convincing the team to come along - we’re taking it for granted that it’s happened. Setback’s convinced that this has to be some kind of magic to get his friends to act like this. The leprechaun is very stereotypical and we’ve got an impossibly vibrant rainbow painted in the sky that they’re off to follow. Like, the depiction of this stuff is really ham-fisted.
- So, Setback consults NightMist’s books to try to find out about leprechauns, and in the process of going through things he’s muttering stuff he’s reading out loud. After a bit of that, the veil between worlds parts and a pair of fair folk (slender, regal in bearing, wielding batons, and clothed in gauzy material) come through to inform him that his presence is requested in the High Court of the Fae. [beat panel] “’kay.”
- He’s brought before the Dagda, the Morrígan (along the way there are whispered conversations among the fae that a mortal is being brought before the Dagda and the Morrígan which he finds less than encouraging about what’s happening). They are huge and beautiful and terrible. They don’t want him here. They would never bring a mortal into their court were it not requested by their trusted advisor, Ogma. Something in the mortal realm requires our attention and Ogma has decided that you are the one to address it.
- He meets Ogma who is obviously a “real” leprechaun (rather than the cartoony one we saw earlier - they really love the idea that this guy is designed so that you can instantly see the connection between this thing and the modern caricature). He explains the stuff regarding Setback’s luck that everybody “knows” but nobody talks about. He also explains about this fake leprechaun out there being really loud and grabbing attention (while we don’t know that it’s Wager Master at this point, his plan is to give all these heroes his gold, get all of them, effectively, addicted to it, and then be able to control them since they’re now in his debt and owe him favors). Having a “leprechaun” granting everyone’s wishes out there in the world will inevitably draw attention that the fae do not want. Myths and legends and the cartoons are all well and good, but having somebody out there actually doing stuff with high visibility? That can’t stand.
- Setback asks if Ogma will make him lucky. That’s not to be. All that can be done is to exacerbate the curse, but give him a little control over it. This is done by Ogma giving him a gold coin. He must take it freely; knowing that it will curse him further, but it will also let him see things the way that Ogma does. He will be able to see how luck and unluck run through the world. He accepts and the coin sinks into his palm. He can’t just get rid of it - it’s now part of him, almost like a metallic tattoo on his palm.
- All that’s left is the beat-by-beat of how Setback defeats the “leprechaun”. They meet and this time Setback makes the deal with him. Oh, they can do more with the coin-in-his-hand thing - if he touches somebody with it he can temporarily tie his own luck to them, and so by making a deal with Wager Master and shaking on it, he’s got an in to foiling his plan.
- We still don’t know that it’s Wager Master. Most stories involving him are way less subtle about him being involved. What we wind up with now is that Setback and the “leprechaun” are now allies, but wouldn’t you know it, ill-fortune keeps befalling them. Wager Master is supposed to be giving people that thing that they need to be complete, but things are now failing. As he goes down the line failing each member of Dark Watch, we get to Harpy and that failure is when he finally breaks character and is revealed as Wager Master.
- The team squares up to fight him, but he’s not interested. He gives an “I’m not scared of you, but this isn’t fun!” excuse and a bit of a rant as he just loses his cool about Setback ruining his fun. This shouldn’t be possible. He’s more powerful than anything the five of them have ever encountered and he’s supposed to be able to control all of this, so why is this happening? As he’s ranting he continues to trip over things and other slapstick elements as Setback’s luck continues to mess with him. Nothing should be this powerful. What’s really happening is that this is all just an effect of Setback’s unluck being powered by Wager Master himself - Setback’s curse isn’t that strong on its own.
- It would actually be neat at this point if the second arc after this was a Kismet story and it could be where the two of them figure out how he got cursed. It’s possible that the readership found out before this, but it would be a good opportunity to have something really weird happen if he touches her to bind their luck together when they’re already connected due to the curse, which causes some really weird feedback loop. The first arc can be “look how useful this fae-touched thing is” followed by this crazy nonsense chaos story that establishes that no, this really is a problem, and then the third story resolves it.
- Anyway, back to this issue we have the epilogue with NightMist talking to the Dagda and the Morrígan. He accepted the token freely. NightMist: “You can’t have him.” Very well, you may keep him for a year, then he’s ours. That ties in nicely with the publication schedule as a year later is when the arc resolving the fae situation kicks off.
- Man, this just worked out better than they imagined. They’ve been wanting to do a fae court thing for a long time and just didn’t have the right story for it. Now they’ve got the fact that some stuff showed up here and there over the years as just the occasional weird thing. Now in 2002 they introduce them as a set of potential major players, 2003 has an actual arc involving them, and then there’s a number of years before OblivAeon where they can get show up as well as being set up to be available to work with in the RPG era. Just a lot of good stuff came from the “and then Setback meets a real leprechaun” idea.
- Do leprechauns exist in Sentinel Comics? What are they like and what kinds of stories do they tend to show up in? Well, they just came up with the answer to this question today, but we get some ideas as to what they’re like. We met Ogma the leprechaun elder, but others are like him, although many are probably visibly younger than him. The idea we get here is that they like to tempt mortals into going places they shouldn’t go, making deals they shouldn’t make, or wanting a thing that they shouldn’t want. They really like the idea that they look suitably otherworldly while still obviously evoking the pop-culture depiction of them.
- The Legacy radio serial had police chief Charlie Callahan who had an Irish accent and we know his comics counterpart, Chuck Callahan, was based on him - does Chuck have an Irish accent as well? The presumption is that yes, he has an Irish accent. However, the standard thing about written accents comes into play where not every writer bothers trying to convey it in the text. It’s actually probably pretty rare that the writers have tried to convey the accent this way, but it has happened. There have likely been a few “soft reboots” of the character over the decades as it is and characteristics like that probably fall in and out of style.
- Does Glamour (Aislin Allen - formerly the Shieker on the original Freedom Five) know Wraith’s identity? Yes.
- Are there any Irish/Irish-American heroes/villains besides Glamour and Spite? Almost certainly considering the percentage of Americans who claim some Irish ancestry (about 9% from what they looked up). They’re not sure if any of the major heroes are, though… Thinking about it they decide that Anthony Drake is at least part Irish. They haven’t gone into the full genealogy of many of their characters. Basically just the ones for whom their ancestry is part of their identity. K.N.Y.F.E. for example is the most Scottish you can imagine somebody to be, but most aren’t that important. Some characters may even have had one writer decide they were one thing early on, but then another says something else later just because it wasn’t an important enough detail for the character for it to have stuck.
- You’ve mentioned that you had an argument about whether to include Wager Master as a villain deck - if you hadn’t, who would have been Guise’s nemesis? The argument was on whether Wager Master should be a character at all and the development of him was hand-in-hand with the development of Guise. That being said, if we were to just excise WM from the setting and leave Guise as-is the question of who his archenemy is would be rather straightforward: Green Grosser. You could probably come up with a villain plot for him to build a deck around (there’s weeds growing all over Megalopolis and they’re all bombs!), even though he’s pretty much a mid-level villain in general. They’re not going to do that, though, because we have Wager Master who works better in that design space.
- Has Wager Master ever gotten involved with other villain events? Was he involved in Vengeance? No.
- Has he ever interrupted an existing conflict to make both heroes and villains play his dumb games? Definitely.
- Did he try to play a game of chance against Kismet? No. This prompts the question of whether there’s just been a Wager Master/Kismet crossover story at all. They don’t have one in mind, but they won’t say definitively that there wasn’t. It’s more likely post-OblivAeon, but might involve the whole Slaughterhouse Six, although she is still a notable villain on her own.
- Has he ever staged a prison breakout at the Block? No. He’s more likely to hold a game show there (like, transport a bunch of heroes there and involves the inmates as hazards/penalties in some way).
- Have his shenanigans ever drawn the ire of villains to take themselves more seriously? Sure, but what are they going to do about it (Dawn blasts him, he turns into a cartoon burned match, then is fine again moments later).
- Which other villains has he interacted with? What kinds of interactions were they? If not, which villains would interest him the most? What would they think of him? That sounds like a good episode topic. A Wager Master/Villain(s) story.
- Given that Wager Master “plays along” with the conceit of other universes, what did he do in the Inversiverse? Was he a benevolent force? Did he just pull his pranks on the bad guys? They’ve mentioned this briefly in the past. He tries to be a hero, Mister Wager, this super over-the-top hero. He keeps messing it up as his true nature just isn’t well-suited to the role.
- What is Wager Master’s opinion of cooperative card games? He would pull a Trevor and find a way to traitor mechanic it even if there isn’t one normally.
- Who’s his favorite deck to play in Sentinels of the Multiverse? Setback because it has the most tools in it for ruining other player’s day. The other option is Legacy and never playing any team-support cards.
- Does he enjoy Dungeons & Dragons? Yes, but he plays with real ones. There’s probably an actual issue for that - possibly even worked out with the Metaverse WotC as a crossover promotion.
- If Wager Master got his hands on a copy of SotM and made Guise play a game against Advanced Wager Master where everything that happened in the game happened in the world, but prevented Guise from playing with the Guise deck, which heroes would Guise play? They think that WM would also choose the Environment (probably Megalopolis as it’s where the people are). He’s going to fan-cast this. Scholar because he’s his best bud. Legacy and Wraith next because they’re the classics (plus he wants them to like him). The last two are Ra and Fanatic, because he ships them. (Hey, Handelabra - free Weekly One-Shot idea for you!)
- What exactly are Fashion’s “powers” - does she have something like “fabrikinesis” that lets her control her costume? I know what she does (modifies her outfit to do different things like how Wraith might rely on her utility belt for a variety of situations), but how does she do it? She’s not even a fashion designer, only a model; how does she incorporate alien tech into her dress? This would have been addressed back in the ’60s in her first appearances as Fashion. She’s a model who has aspirations to be a designer. The issue is that she makes these complicated, overwrought outfits that don’t really work as fashion, but wind up being useful when she stumbles upon a bank robbery in progress (like this really long, extending sleeve happens to be useful for wrapping up the robbers). In that era, she had to actually change into different outfits for the various abilities. This is silly and doesn’t really land with any of the readers at the time. As S’sdari the Bloody she’s not doing any of that. She’s got her one outfit, her chariot thing, and her guns. It’s in the process of escaping the Colosseum that she ends up with various bits of alien tech that she puts together into this modular outfit thing. She’s not doing the fashion thing and she’s not doing the gladiator thing, but the combination of the two lets her luck into this outfit gizmo that she doesn’t really know how to use at first. The course of her story from her reintroduction/escape through the end of the Multiverse era is getting used to this thing and incorporating it into different things. She doesn’t have any superpowers. If you’re building her in the RPG they’d certainly give her the Creativity Quality. Some regular person with the same outfit would use it as a modular tool thing (a bladed weapon if you need on, a helmet if you need to do a space walk, etc.), but with the sum of all her experiences she’s using it in much more creative ways. Adam imagines her changing it as somewhere between Sailor Moon transformations and a Transformer. The elegance and beauty of the former with the modular, sequential nature of the second.
- Has her time in the Colosseum made her immortal or unaging? It’s relativistic time dilation due to space travel. Time has simply passed slower for her than it did on Earth. Due to how the Colosseum moves around so much, time only really passes for her when they’ve stopped somewhere for fights.
- Who is the gunsmith from Expatriette’s story? That’s a supporting cast episode. They would eventually like to do one for everyone.
- Who is the most influential character in her transition from anti-hero to hero: Mr. Fixer, Legacy, Scholar, or Setback? Scholar plants a seed without seeing it through to fruition, as does Mr. Fixer. Legacy is who makes her realize that not all super-powered people are jerks. She spends time with the Freedom Five before Setback’s even on the scene at which point he becomes something of a sounding board and accountability buddy on that new path. So, probably Legacy for getting her down that path a bit to begin with.
- Now that Mantra is alive for real, is he still rocking the Rook City Renegades ball cap? They said that “When Mr. Fixer isn’t wearing that hat he’s dead”, but they say here that he’s gone through death and is doing his own thing now. He’s no longer wearing any head gear as Mantra [I thought they were going to use an “exact words” defense and say that since he’s no longer “Mr. Fixer” the statement about the hat no longer applies].
- Why are there metal detectors in the Extremeverse when there are so many aesthetic elements to clothes (spikes, buckles, etc.) that would set things off? They could come up with an explanation that the detectors are finely-honed enough to know how to ignore spikes and chains, but it’s funnier to say that no, the detectors just go off constantly. To the point where somebody not setting off the detector is likely cause for some concern.
- Adam has some ideas. Before hearing them Christopher stipulates that he doesn’t want anything that’s even hinting at the fact that it’s a Wager Master story. Similarly, he doesn’t want Ogma there as he doesn’t want to reveal the real/fake leprechaun thing. On that note we don’t see any of the fae court stuff - it could be a joke cover with Dark Watch prancing through a field or something.
- Adam’s ideas: he does a Chris Bachalo thing where the title is incorporated into the art. We do the cartoony leprechaun and the leprechaun’ed up versions of the heroes. We don’t need to necessarily need to have Setback not participating as he does eventually go along with it, although having the first thing that happens be Setback going “Wait a minute…” is a good intro after this sort of cover.