The Letters Page: Episode 173
Writers’ Room: Disparation Vol. 2, #24
A return to Disparation!
Run Time: 1:34:54
It's been a long time since we did a Disparation episode, and man, it feels good to be back at it! In the words of our very own Trevor:
"Definitely one of the better Disparation ones." - Trevor Casterline
Whoa, slow down there, Trevor! Praise of that caliber is likely to go to our heads!
But before we can get into that, we've gotta goof around on a variety of topics, of course. But only for about 7 minutes!
Then, we get into a bunch of backstory, some temporal positioning, and some issue number questing. And then! A story! A story in which motivations run deeper than we even initially realized!
At just after the 48 minute mark, we get to your many questions. And heck, we almost answer all of them! More or less! Give or take!
We talk very briefly about the cover seen above, as it ended up being a straight forward concept, but wow Adam knocked it out of the park again, right? Damn that looks cool.
Join us this Friday for Editor's Note #45! For real! We mean it! We're really finally going to do that long lost Editor's Note! Nothing's gonna stop us now!
- The prompt this week is a Disparation story involving Citizen Storm (i.e. Tempest after assuming a role similar to Citizen Dawn) vs. the Primal Wardens (that reality’s equivalent of the Prime Wardens).
- A major point of departure here is that when M’kk Dall’ton arrives on Earth, F.I.L.T.E.R. is actively hunting and killing aliens and succeed in wiping out all of the other Maerynians. M’kk manages to Rambo his way through the agents hunting him and then works up the chain of command, taking down F.I.L.T.E.R. entirely. A job well done, he takes to the ocean, swims north, and finds Insula Primalis, which he proceeds to adopt as his new home.
- He becomes Citizen Storm and recruits his Citizens of the Storm, but like Dawn Cohen does in the main universe. They are much more proactive/agressive/successful in their “take over the world” agenda than the Citizens of the Sun are. The Primal Wardens form as a resistance force against the Storm, although their job becomes more and more difficult as the Citizens ranks grow. They don’t only fight the Citizens, but that’s their major foe overall.
- The Primal Wardens consist of:
- Anthony Drake, the Argent Artist, a Vessel of the Void - his story is very similar to Argent Adept, except that the Void is accessed through expressions of visual art undertaken while they embody the Void instead of music in which they’re conducting the Void. Internal vs. external manipulation.
- Arataki Wakawarewa, Haka - the “other” Haka who is linked to Aata Wakawarewa from the main continuity. Her story is very similar to his other than the gender swap.
- Sekhmet, the daughter of Ra - this reality had a Dr. Blake Washington Jr. who became the modern avatar of Ra like in the main continuity, but then that Ra fathered a child. That child is Sekhmet, manifesting powers related to Ra’s without the need for a relic. While she still has the option to follow in her father’s footsteps of “burning everything”, she has a bit more nuance in her use of flame. Flames that purify or heal without burning, for example.
- The Discordian - an anthropomorphic Portal Fiend from the Realm of Discord. The Discordian has a name, but it’s not one that humans are able to pronounce right.
- Helena Gutierrez, Anchor - Host-related hero like Fanatic, but rather than just being Judgement, she can take on different spirits as needed for whatever the situation requires.
- Ok, with that brief explanation out of the way, Christopher suggests the following: the issue getting the full Writer’s Room treatment will actually be the third issue they create today. They should do some work in previous issues to set up the events in this one.
- He thinks they should have an issue from volume 1 of Disparation that sets up the story told about M’kk Dall’ton above involving F.I.L.T.E.R. and finding Insula Primalis. Maybe there’s an idea of heroes opposing him, but possibly not specifically the Primal Wardens as a concept yet. This issue might end with “the Citizens of the Storm have taken over the planet” as the new status quo, though.
- Some of the other volume 1 stories we already know about are pushing on the heroes as villain stuff - what would become Dark Visionary, the Magic Freedom Five vs. Baron Blade’s tech team, and the introductory story of what would be the Inversiverse with heroic Luminary and the Legacy of Destruction. They would want to make sure to steer clear of the Inversiverse angle, though - this is specifically just how things could have gone differently if F.I.L.T.E.R. had been more evil from the jump and how that affected Tempest’s outlook on Earth.
- That first Inversiverse issue was #5 in April ’88. We want some distance from that, so maybe somewhere in the teens - they go with #19 in October ’91.
- Question for the follow-up: do they have the issue that introduces the Primal Wardens be explicitly in the same universe as Citizen Storm, or is the connection a retcon? Well, the story we’re doing today is probably the formation of the team rather than being a third issue later. With how successful Citizen Storm is in taking over, and how central “resistance” is to the Primal Wardens’ story, it makes a lot of sense for the second issue to just show up in volume 2 somewhere as a later writer thinking that the original story was interesting, but let’s see how heroes who care handle things.
- Adam suggests “early volume 2” - some of the earliest stuff there is about the Prime Wardens not breaking up, so you want some distance there, but it can still fit. Oh, wait, they know what it is. Disparation vol. 2 #24 is already known as the first appearance of Arataki, and looks like it’s what we’re doing today (rather than Christopher’s initial idea of setting up Citizen Storm in one issue, the creation of the Primal Wardens in another, and then having a big confrontation in the “main” issue for the day). That puts us in August 2004.
- We should probably start off with Citizen Storm doing some “big, evil, bad stuff”, show a bunch of different heroes opposing him, have some heroes die and some switch sides (as a known thing about Arataki’s history is that she’s had to deal with betrayals like that), and ending with the formation of the Primal Wardens.
- So, given we know the five heroes that make it to the end, we need a few more named heroes (as opposed to just “recognizably alt-reality” versions of people incidentally) - one to defect part of the way through the story and another who can die in the big fight that closes things out.
- Adam comes up with a good name for an alternate Wraith: Shadewalker. Christopher agrees that that’s a good name, but warns that they should probably be more intentional about building the cast here. What sorts of characters would be involved in a Prime Wardens book? Start there and build for the right kind of character. Ra and Visionary are easy options, Wraith a bit less so. Disparation has some number of regular readers, but it’s generally structured to appeal to a specific market segment (Prime Wardens readers, Dark Watch readers, etc.) for any given issue and so this one would be more geared to the Prime Wardens market to start.
- Okay, so coming at it from another direction, where is Legacy? Why isn’t he around in this world. Christopher latched onto that idea as the initial conflict here. The book starts off as the Freedom Five vs. the Citizens of the Storm. The team here is very recognizable; some costume changes - maybe “Tachyon” is Hispanic and “Wraith” is a dude or something, but it’s clearly the Freedom Five.
- This has been coming for a while - the heroes of Earth have been worrying about this whole Citizens problem for a while, but not to worry, Legacy and the Freedom Five are going to deal with them. We even have a super-nationalistic/borderline-offensive Legacy (“Listen, alien” when addressing Citizen Storm). With that idea, the look of the team could be a bit more government-issue/military than the standard team. They’ve already set F.I.L.T.E.R. up along similar lines and they like the idea of Citizen Storm having legitimate grievances. He’s still bad, but he has reasons.
- This angle of the “Freedom” Five being jingoistic and taking a position of “Earth is under America’s protection!” is on-brand for the era as well (Adam throws out an “Emperor Bush” reference that makes them both gag a bit. Then they go with it). The more they talk about it the more they want to lean into it - the Freedom Five is there to put an end to Citizen Storm’s “terrorism”.
- Anyway, where this is all leading here in the introductory pages of the issue (well, in honesty this sounds like it might be 1/3 to 1/2 of the overall book, whoops) is that the Citizens of the Storm wipe the Freedom Five out. It’s a neat fight, but one that was only ever going to go this way.
- With how they’ve set up the Freedom Five here, this also lets their defeat act as a kind of referendum on what they stood for in the hero community generally. Like, sure the FF protected America and helped the rest of the world against alien threats and whatnot, but they also wound up getting into everybody else’s business. Y’know what? Let’s join up with these Citizens of the Storm.
- The Primal Wardens (and the heroes on their side, generally) are the ones who don’t feel like just trading one version of subjugation (Emperor Bush) for another (Citizen Storm). They were not expecting today’s episode/issue to have such an overt political angle, but they’re enjoying it. Placing the Freedom Five as this overstepping, pushy group lets there be a natural over-correction with people signing up with the opposition once they’re taken care of.
- Now that we’ve really set up the Primal Wardens as a resistance movement, we need a way for them to find one another, band together, and have some minor victory at the end of the issue (Citizen Storm is still around during OblivAeon for example). There’s an option for the heroes to, essentially, “retire” and just try to fade into the background, but then Arataki does a “walk the Earth” thing, not letting people just give up.
- They’ve said in the past that there isn’t a relationship between Arataki and Anthony Drake, but it seems like there should. Let’s give a different reason than usual - they used to be in a relationship. Arataki kicks in the door of some dive bar somewhere near the California/Mexico border and finds Anthony tending bar. Christopher wants him first instead of last because he wants to set up the idea of the two of them starting the team if he’s the nominal leader.
- They brainstorm and go down the list of who they could get for a team. Lot’s of “dead” responses as they go down the list, with the occasional “turned.” Many names are recognizable, but not all of them.
- That page length issue with the Freedom Five battle is coming to a head now. They might not actually have time to do the thing where one ally dies and another turns - they’ve just taken the story in a different direction than they expected going in. On that note, they might actually go the other way in terms of betrayals - one of the final team members is somebody who turns against the Citizens during the fight that closes out the book. They pick Sekhmet for this position.
- Anchor can be nearby. Like, she can be in Mexico already and so they don’t have far to go to pick her up. It’s harder to come up with a convenient place to pick up the Discordian. Are they already here or do they have to go to the Realm of Discord? There’s not time to go to the RoD, so it’s either already here or can get brought here.
- Or maybe the final conflict of the issue is in the RoD. Like, this isn’t a head-on, let’s assault Insula Primalis group, they’re resistance. Maybe Citizen Storm is starting to mess around with alternate dimensions or something and so they go there to stop whatever nonsense he’s getting up to (which can also serve as a callback to the Voss/Tempest encounter that happened there [see “Negative Energy Field”]). Anchor, due to Host reasons, can tell what’s going on and where they need to go.
- That’s the team - just Argent Artist, Anchor, and Haka. They know that Citizen Storm is amassing an army in the Realm of Discord and “the job” is just to mess up the plan and strand them there. Simple guerilla mission. In the process of doing that they meet the Discordian. His people are being oppressed by this guy who’s brought all of these troops in and are basically colonizing the place. The “terrorists”, once they have power, are just as bad or worse than the status quo ante (the subtext they’ve built in for themselves just keeps on giving - the person who wrote this story has some axe to grind and got a little carried away with it).
- The heroes work with the Discordian freedom fighters - maybe this reality’s portal fiends are all more humanoid. Or maybe there aren’t “freedom fighters” as such. The Discordian, as an individual, is more assertive than the rest - calling his people “sheep”. Their response to invaders has typically been to just teleport around and ignore them. This is a young firebrand, though, and wants to do more (so now we’re also getting some commentary on isolationism). He joins up when he finds out they’re going to do something. He can get them right to the front door.
- The team succeeds, and when the door slams shut behind them (the Discordian comes with - even if it means he can’t go home again this sounds like an adventure) they’re surrounded by Citizens. There’s a fight. Citizen Storm isn’t there, but Sekhmet is (and we still need to figure out why she switches sides). This is also just generally an opportunity to show off some more alt-reality versions of people we know.
- One angle for Sekhmet is that Anchor could have known Ra (or better, she can channel a Host spirit who did) and lay on some parental guilt. Not even directly - it can sense the connection to a hero it once fought beside and continues talking about him rather than laying into Sekhmet herself for not living up to his example (let her do that to herself).
- Switching sides mid-fight here at the end is a little jarring. Let’s move this specific fight back a bit into the RoD as the team is pulling off their job so the switch happens before the jump back into reality.
- We can have Sekhmet be some kind of lieutenant or something in charge of the RoD project. We can have some interstitial bits here and there while the team is infiltrating that shows her reporting to Citizen Storm through a portal or whatnot. Through her dialogue we can see that she thinks that the goal here is to actually do good on Earth, not like those Freedom Five jerks. She has noble reasons for being involved and some order she’s given shakes her certainty that she’s on the right side even before the encounter with the heroes starts.
- Anyway, the team portal fiends into the base - this was not unexpected and there were security wards to alert the Citizens. The heroes are captured and Sekhmet contacts Storm again for further orders. Those turn out to be to execute them and then hang their corpses out as warnings to others. This gives her a “Are we the baddies?” moment of clarity.
- She ends transmission, goes to the holding cell, and blasts the guards instead. Time to get out of here - she knows how to break stuff/ruin the RoD plan and so there’s a running fight as they take care of that and then portal out. Now they’re in the Citadel of the Storm and the hard part’s just beginning for the Primal Wardens! fin
- Did Citizen Storm get stuck in the main timeline like Arataki? Did they have a change of heart after finding there were more Maerynians? If he goes back home, do the Primal Wardens have a hard time of it since they’ve lost Haka? Citizen Storm does not stay in the main reality. At this stage, they can only really say whether or not somebody is in Universe 1 or not - there are some refugees from other realities there now, but there are a lot of them in the various other realities in the Multiverse. Getting home through a mist gate was not a simple matter and many people wound up in the “wrong” one. As it stands, however, is it very unlikely for more than one person from the same alt-reality to be present. Everything’s just all jumbled up. If the other Primal Wardens are all still in their home reality, even if Citizen Storm isn’t they would have quite a struggle ahead of them.
- Was there some correspondence between the Citizens of the Storm there and the Citizens of the Sun here in terms of membership? Most of the Citizens of the Storm are likely recognizable heroes and villains from Universe 1. They likely don’t have “Citizen” naming conventions like Dawn had - if they do it’d probably be on the level of “Citizen Parse” (and definitely no cutesy “teams”).
- Was Citizen Dawn a member? Sure, why not.
- Was Citizen Storm more aggressive than both Tempest and Citizen Dawn (considering what little we know of his takeover was along the lines of the other heroes responses being to “join, die, or hide”)? Yeah, for the reasons given above, but that also starts with this M’kk Dall’ton having a deeper anger. They think they did a good job of presenting the world as being one that fits that, but it’s both nature and nurture.
- How different are Arataki and Aata in terms of how they go about using their powers? Not a lot. They’re both big, punchy people. Aata might try to hold off and stop a fight before it starts, but Arataki never really had that luxury and so jumps right in faster than he would. Aata also has more of a history of using his traditional weapons while they envision Arataki as more of a grapple-to-the-death sort, more brutal in her execution.
- Are other Primal Wardens members more unique in their powers or are they generally just variations on the Prime Wardens? They’ve talked about them - enough to get a handle on the differences. The two Anthony Drakes are the most similar - more so even than the Hakas. From there on down it gets real different. Anchor and Fanatic at least have a one-to-one correspondence, but Tempest and the Discordian are basically just “alien” in terms of similarity, and Sekhmet isn’t mapped onto Captain Cosmic at all.
- How successful were the Primal Wardens? Short term, successful. Long-term, probably not very great. We know at least that Arataki and Citizen Storm survive up through OblivAeon. Most of the rest is up in the air at this point. They don’t see this as being something like Iron Legacy where the “war” has been lost and he’s in charge - it’s a world still in conflict.
- Why did La Comodora choose Arataki and Aata out of all of the various options for who to link? There’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem here because of time travel. She chose the two of them because they are the two who survived up until the end of things. She also already knew Aata because she’d had plenty of interactions with him before she even knew that she was going to be responsible for him. Like, at first he’s just this really strong combatant. Later she eventually has a realization that “somebody did this to him” to make him this way. It’s only near the end of the Multiverse Era where she realizes that she is that somebody.
- Has Arataki’s story more or less followed Aata’s path? The idea is that it’s the same backstory. However, it’s just implied because there’s not really room to get into it in the Disparation books. More about her story would be revealed in the post-OblivAeon era given that she’s just in the main continuity now and there’s more room to actually delve into that stuff, where there wasn’t before. We will likely see more of that when the eventual/hypothetical Prime Wardens RPG source book comes out.
- Does the Argent Artist mirror Argent Adept in that he’s able to take up the various tools of the prior Vessels of the Void in a jack-of-all-trades manner? We’ve been told that his medium was painting, but what kind of style was he known for? Argent Adept plays all of these different instruments and plays them all. Argent Artist isn’t like that - he’s a painter and does magic via painting. He’s the latest Vessel of the Void and so has some similarities to Argent Adept there, but we don’t know what the Akash'Bhuta relationship is (or even if there is one in that reality) to inform how their story played out before Citizen Storm. Once again, there just isn’t enough time/narrative space to flesh him out more than that.
- Just how close does the creation/birth of Sekhmet match up to the myths? Again, we don’t get into the details. We just know that she’s the daughter of a regular mortal woman and Ra in his godly avatar form. We know this version of Ra was more interested in “watching the world burn” and that she uses flame in other ways.
- What can the Discordian do besides the basic portal fiend teleportation tricks? Nope, in this story we get that his deal is “using portals aggressively”, which is something that they could all do but none have the inclination - it’s worth noting that his people are just be called “Discordians” in this reality rather than “portal fiends” as the latter are these animalistic critters and he and his people are more humanoid.
- Just how much control does Anchor have over which Host spirits she’s embodying at the moment? How does she feel about Ra? Anchor isn’t the mother of Sekhmet or anything - we do find out that one Host spirit knows about her and Ra, though. She doesn’t change reality around her like Fanatic does. She’s just taking on aspects of the Host to change who she is (taking on Wrath to be a fighter, Empathy to connect to people, etc.). In the comics you probably see some kind of visual representation around her to show what she’s doing at any given time (auras or other magic effects).
- What happened to Voss in this universe (I seem to remember M’kk killing him)? That was the Grand Warlord Tempest story line - they had conflated the two by mistake in a previous episode. Voss doesn’t appear in this story, although he is presumably still doing Voss stuff out in space.
- Do we see any other versions of Voss in the OblivAeon fight? No. Not because there wouldn’t be versions of him out in the Multiverse that would want to fight the end of all realities, but because “our” Voss plays such a key narrative role that they didn’t want to muddy the waters of his involvement. We see Voss doing one thing and there’s no confusion on that point. He isn’t a Singular being, but for the purposes of that story he may as well be for the writer’s point of view. Other Thorathians, sure, but no Voss.
- How often does Voss die in other realities (besides the first Disparation story and the one where Tempest kills him)? He dies in other stories with some frequency, but it’s not a given. Basically, any given Disparation story has pretty good odds of any given character dying just because there isn’t the main-continuity reluctance to kill off a named hero or villain. There’s no plot armor in alternate-reality stories.
- What happened to Joruun Kir’Voss? He’s still out there somewhere [implying that he chose exile over execution].
- Could Citizen Storm, after arriving on Earth, have entered an egg-bearing state and, though a quirk of genetics, that child lacked the weather-manipulation skills common to Maerynians, resulting in the need for them to become skilled in the use of firearms to fight against their parent’s tyranny? Definitely! Why not. With all of the political baggage of the world they probably call themselves the Ex-patriot or something.
- Does every reality’s Realm of Discord have an Oracle of Discord? If so, are they linked together? Every RoD has an Oracle. They might not always look identical, but they exist and have the same job of being hidden, only being findable by people who need to be shown something, and then showing people what’s going on in other realities. The first story mentioned today would have had a brief framing thing at the beginning because the first volume of Disparation was consistent on that front, but the main story wouldn’t have.
- This title wasn’t in the list of post-OblivAeon relaunch titles; was Disparation phased out for Prime War? Where was that story told? The Prime War stuff itself was started as a limited series offshoot of the Vertex imprint titles (which in turn had started a few years after the post-OblivAeon reboot in the main continuity [the post-OA relaunch was in May 2017 and the first round of Vertex titles started in June 2019] - the Prime War series doesn’t even start until January 2025). After that stuff wraps up, there are two new titles that get going, Wardens of Disparation (team Preservasion, starting lineup: Captain Cosmic [Mist Storm Universe], Haka [“our” Haka], Blood Countess [Mist Storm Universe], and Black Frost [Inversiverse Absolute Zero]) and Mavericks of Disparation (team Progress, which starts with: Parse [Mist Storm Universe], P.R.I.S.M. [Mist Storm Universe’s native Paige Huntly], and Man-Grove [unspecified universe]), that continue the story of the Prime War characters after the Vertex universe is destroyed. These new Disparation titles are rolled back into the main-line comics instead of being their own imprint, but because they’re Disparation they are still outside of Universe 1’s events.
- [Letter is apparently a long hypothetical about the mechanism of how the Oracle of Discord does what it does that Christopher interrupts as Adam gets into it.] Nothing that complicated - the Oracle simply has the ability to look into other realities with a high level of control about what is seen.
- In the RPG era, can the Oracle see out of Universe 1? Are they one of the few beings that understands how bad this situation is? Yes and yes. They have never interacted with other realities (the greatest extent to which they get involved with events at all is just in showing people things), and that continues, but they can still observe. They’re not the only beings who understand how bad the “sandwich bag” problem is, but they’re one of the few that do.
- A trend in real-world comics in the 2010s was to have large-scale conflicts - did that sort of thing happen in Sentinel Comics? Zhu Long vs. the Organization at large scale rather than secretive maneuvering? Thorathians attacking the Enclave of the Endlings? The Citizens of the Sun invading Plavu'Col? Cult of Gloom infiltrating Mordengrad? How about an event in Disparation or over in the Vertex imprint that could best be described as a “war”? There was the Extremeverse Disparation story involving elemental pirates vs. mecha ninjas. Today’s story involves a world at war. The Cult of Gloom has never done anything at a scale that could be described as a war. Sentinel Comics is very “event light” when compared to comics in the real world. Vengeance and OblivAeon are the two big crossover events that happen. Certainly, other large events happen, but they weren’t these huge things that took over every title for a year or whatever - a nice thing about Definitive Edition is a chance to showcase more of these. The idea is that on the occasions when an Event takes place in multiple books it’s for storytelling reasons and not just a sales gimmick.
- Seeing Christopher rocking a vest brings to mind NASA flight director Gene Kranz (known for his “mission vests” - he was played by Ed Harris in the Apollo 13 film) and talks of one-handed shuffles brings to mind card mechanic Richard Turner - has Christopher ever considered a side gig as a magician? Christopher has done some card tricks. He’s done a few that stump Adam, but wouldn’t fool Penn and Teller like Richard Turner does (he actually did this when showing off DE content in a livestream recently where he kept revealing the same Ruins of Atlantis card). He would never take a job as a close-up magician - if he did it would need to be 10 years from now after spending all of that time practicing the moves until they’re seamless. He will be spending his time doing other things. He enjoys watching such people. Adam is working on a few because it’s fun to astonish your kids.
- [Letter breaking down how, while “scientists keep ruining dinosaurs” is something that happens, there are still a lot of cool things, so don’t worry. Examples: while T. Rex may have been feathered as chicks, they are not believed to have had feathers as adults, like how elephants get less hairy as they grow up. Additionally, while “birds are dinosaurs” means that chickens are dinosaurs, it also means that cool ones like terror birds were dinosaurs.] Yeah, there’s a lot of cool things and it’s nice to hear that T. Rex weren’t feathered - Adam had seen some renders a while back where they were covered in the things and it just looked dumb.
- They don’t want to put the words “Primal Wardens” on the cover. They probably want to lean into a “Return of Citizen Storm. Who can stand against the Storm?” angle even if he is not personally involved in a lot of the story. I guess they start that way, even if it’s a bit of a red herring. That can be pretty straightforward as a stylistic thing with just him looking intimidating.