The Letters Page: Episode 174
Welp, guess we'll go mad!
Run Time: 1:18:38
It's been so long since we've done an episode like this! How do they even work? We end up doing a bit of "Creative Process" and "Writers' Room" type stuff in the Overview section, as that's how we work best, apparently. As a result, you get lots of backstory, some points of interest, and a cool story or two! And all within about half an hour! Hope that answers all your questions on xxtz'Hulissh! We certainly don't expect much in the way of follow-up episodes to this one... (that is yet another one of our lies, in case you weren't sure).
At around the 28 minute mark, we get to your questions, which surely answer any and every question you could possibly have about xxtz'Hulissh now. Whew! Glad we got that covered.
Next week's episode is the long-awaited werewolf stories Creative Process... but we've already recorded it! So, get your "Hero/Villain team-up" and "Young Legacy foes" questions in! Plus, any follow-up xxtz'Hulissh questions, I guess. If any. Not really expecting much in that way, but maybe one or two. Perhaps.
Stay sane, everyone!
- The episode starts with a brief discussion of just how long it’s been since they did a “normal” or “traditional” episode - one that’s just them explaining a thing rather than a Creative Process, Writers’ Room, or one of the assorted “Notes” types. They think it may have been the OblivAeon episodes (83 and 84 from September 2108), but depending on how you want to define it, it may have been as late as episode 113 (June 2019) about the new lineup of the Slaughterhouse Six.
- Something that wasn’t really a good option when they were still doing these “traditional” episodes that is starting to be the case now is the availability of the RPG. One added bonus of that existing is that they can include full written bios for characters in greater detail than the previous games could reasonably include. xxtz’Hulissh is in there and has a bio. They will be getting into it here, but the written one is likely going to be more concise and straightforward, so take a look in the book if you want more.
- Additionally, they will get to some Creative Process elements here as they nail down the specific publication history for it, and then, of course, there will be the questions at the end.
- This otherworldly creature was attracted to this world by the powerful magic being done by the Atlanteans. Atlantis was, essentially, a city where everyone was a “wizard” and xxtz’Hulissh figured it could make a snack of all of this power or something. The Atlanteans were practitioners of what they have occasionally called “Ancient Magic”. This might make it sound just like the other types of “[descriptor] Magic” we’ve heard about (Blood Magic, Nature Magic, etc.) but they once again want to point out that it’s something unlike the modern varieties. It’s the closest thing to “pure” magic - they were accessing it directly, not via some other medium like the Void, Nature, Blood, some weird Mist-curse, or whatever else.
- Having direct access to Magic made it abundant and it’s what their civilization was built with. Like, it’s comparable to think of it being part of their society to the extent that electricity is for ours. It’s more or less taken for granted and it would be hard to imagine the society without it.
- Some of the leaders among the Atlantean mages had become aware that they had attracted this dread being. They didn’t know exactly what it was, only that it was the greatest evil the world had ever known. For all their power and ingenuity, they knew that this was a foe beyond their ability to defeat. All they could do was seal it away and hope that the seal would hold. They used everything they had. Their city, their power, their people. Additionally, they sank the city to the bottom of the sea in an attempt to keep anybody from ever breaking the seal.
- Not all Atlanteans were part of the sacrifice, however. Twelve masters of various disciplines were the ones who left and actually performed the ritual. They weren’t necessarily the oldest, wisest, or most powerful (and “most powerful” is tricky in Atlantis because everyone is powerful) - they were among the higher level mages, but their status as “specialists” were what set them apart. The sealing took place just as xxtz’Hulissh finally fully entered our world. Afterward, the “specialists” went their separate ways in exile - with the knowledge that if they stayed together that eventually others would learn enough to undo what they’d done.
- That isn’t to say that knowledge died with them - they were also the only legacy that Atlantis would have and so the knowledge they had was passed on. People would continue to use magic, but the isolation and specialization of the mages would prevent another Atlantis from emerging and repeating the mistakes of the past as the methods they taught were not to use Magic directly anymore. Having an intermediary medium (Blood, Ley Lines, the Void) creates something like a fuse or a circuit breaker that prevents the critical mass that attracted xxtz’Hulissh from happening again.
- Okay, so all of that is known “history” in the pages of Sentinel Comics and is in the past. So, where does that leave us in the “present” of the post-OblivAeon/RPG era?
- Well, ever since the Ruins of Atlantis were discovered people have been messing around with things there that all contributes to the seal weakening (villainous plots, scientific researchers mucking about, the Prime Wardens using it as a base, etc.). Several relics have been removed which weakened things further (surprise, there were 12 such artifacts that were key to the whole thing and removing enough of them causes things to break down).
- Aside: Christopher’s in the early stages of editing a set of 6 RPG adventures related to this stuff (the “xxtz’Hulissh adventures” portion of the RPG Kickstarter) that were written by somebody who’s good at horror elements and he’s super excited for how they turned out. As such, this episode is also good primer for those when they come out “in the not too distant future”, he thinks over 6 months, but less than 2 years.
- The last straw was researchers erecting a force bubble around the city so that they could have breathable air and generally make it easier to exist within/around it. They’re doing the archeology thing where they’re carefully, methodically recording everything they’re doing as they simultaneously strip things down in the process of studying it. They might not be actually harming things from their academic perspective, but they’re still moving things around and otherwise messing up the careful balancing act that was the seal. If this is all that was being done to the place it’s possible that the seal would have held for a lot longer, but with everything else that’s been going on there for the last 40 years of comics publishing, things finally just break down.
- xxtz’Hulissh breaks forth and just starts threatening all of existence as dread entities from beyond the stars are wont to do. It’s from this terrible nightmare dimension and it’s just powerful enough to break through from there to here on its own (“which shouldn’t be possible”) and its maw is just a portal to that home dimension. So once it’s here, it can then bring forth everybody else from back home - all of these weird little demon monster things.
- Now we get to the Creative Process portion of today’s episode where they nail down what happens when in the History of Sentinel Comics. Like, all the specific xxtz’Hulissh breaking free due to the scientists’ meddling and then wrecking up the place is RPG-era, but there are details from before OblivAeon that should get established:
- When did the Ruins of Atlantis first show up in Sentinel Comics?
- When do we get the story about the 12 mages doing the ritual that sank Atlantis? Like, Atlantis would have been around for a while before anybody gave it a more thorough explanation. This is almost guaranteed to be in Tome of the Bizarre somewhere.
- When was the name xxtz’Hulissh used for the first time? It may have been in the 12 Mages story above, but not necessarily - Christopher actually has an inkling that it might be a more modern addition to the story, but we’ll get there.
- Adam has an answer for the first appearance of the Ruins of Atlantis - Tome of the Bizarre vol. 2 #8 from August ’59. Apparently this was something that they’d already decided because they have the detail that the story is one where the Scholar investigates the place, encounters the kraken, etc. TotB vol. 2 was the reboot of what had been a horror comic and made it more connected to the superhero stories that Sentinel Comics had been doing otherwise (vol. 2 #1 was the first appearance of Biomancer, for some context). Like, it was still this magic-and-other-weird-stuff book, but now just explicitly tied to the setting for the supers comics.
- As for the 12 Mages story, Christopher doesn’t think it happens before Moonfall - he’s thinking late ’70s at the earliest. By then, they’ve got the writers who were adding stuff like Captain Cosmic, Fanatic, and Argent Adept to the setting and so might be the right kinds of people to have done the Atlantis backstory. Having it that far back also lets us have plenty of time to revisit the location to learn additional details now and then (maybe the specifics of there being 12 important relics was a later detail, say). They could have NightMist wind up there and do some post-cognition spell to learn the backstory - she’s been around by the ’60s, although she wouldn’t have her own solo title until the mid-’80s. They note that she did this kind of thing in the “Haunted House” story from episode 89 [from October 2018, not 2019 like Adam guessed] which was in TotB vol. 2 #238 in October ’78. Maybe this sort of “NightMist goes somewhere and does a post-cognition thing” story was a semi-regular thing she did (“NightMist’s Magical Mystery Tour”)? This one feels earlier than that one, so let’s do June ’77 and issue #222.
- Another story idea that Christopher has is that by the ’00s or ’10s Atlantis has been “known” about (although possibly kept somewhat under wraps) for long enough that it finally gets widely discussed on the internet. This results in something of a “Cult of Atlantis” cropping up that is made of people who are convinced that there’s some great power to be found there and want access to it.
- The cult manage to get a handful of civilian-grade submarines to convoy their way down there. The kraken destroys two of them on the way and the rest just as they’re unloading into Atlantis, so they’re already down like a dozen cultists before they even get started, and have no way back out, but they know that they’ll be okay once they pledge themselves to/get access to the power of the Atlanteans. Little do they know that the power they seek is actually the end of Atlantis and is far more horrible. In any event, further terrible things befall the cultists as the story progresses (magical traps of one sort or another, hallway collapses, etc.), but in the end the leader whose faith and will has been keeping things moving forward gets them to the end. He touches the thing and power flows up through him. He calls out some nonsense set of syllables (xxtz’Hulissh) and is then destroyed by the power he sought. Adam’s twist on the ending here is that he’s not destroyed, but just driven mad and he goes on to wander the empty halls of Atlantis, muttering the name xxtz’Hulissh and carving it into the walls.
- This last one has a few obvious options for which book it could be in and then some other, less direct ones. If it’s a one-shot this could even be something that was meant to be heading towards something, but then OblivAeon disrupted all the plans and it got put on the back burner. Otherwise the obvious option is, once again, Tome of the Bizarre. In 2006, Ra: God of the Sun reverts to being Arcane Tales, and so that is another option. They opt for the one-shot option.
- It can’t be 2016 as that’s firmly in the OblivAeon space already. It can’t be too long ago (like 10 years) as then it’d likely have just been forgotten. Putting it in 2014 or 2015 could leave it as this uncomfortable, in-between kind of length of time to have just left it hanging unresolved. Then in 2017 or 2018 somebody picks it back up and runs with it (they don’t know which year it is yet as they haven’t figured out which issues the xxts’Hulissh adventures will model - likely 2018, but they don’t know for certain). Let’s say the one-shot was in 2014. Four years is about the right amount of time for people to still have an inkling what was going on (and Sentinel Comics probably did a reprint of the one-shot shortly before the 2018 story started up for Free Comic Book Day or something to job people’s memories).
- So, the one-shot was in 2014 and the plan had been to follow up on it in 2015, but they got nixed by the editors because we were in full run-up-to-OblivAeon mode by then. They call it The Secrets of Atlantis (feeling that The Madness of Atlantis gives things away) and place it in September 2014.
- [First letter starts off with a comparison between xxtz’Hulissh and Cthulhu before even getting to a question.] It’s definitely meant to bring to mind the same kind of alien monstrosity from beyond the stars, but it’s also not meant to just be Cthulhu with the serial numbers filed off.
- In the core book, it’s portrayed as as a big lumbering monstrosity, but is that accurate? Other hints we’ve gotten imply that it’s clever/malicious and its RPG stats (while also pointing out it’s vile physical presence) include high die-type stats for otherworldly mythos and magical lore - just how intelligent is it? Does it make complex plans, or it is just a big rampaging monster? Yes. Here’s the thing, while we can easily understand it’s “kaiju knocking down skyscrapers”, lumbering monstrosity nature, its intelligence/cleverness is locked up in an “it’s motives are unknowable” mystery given how alien it is. There’s some dread malevolence that we can discern, but we simply can not glean any motivation or recognize any pattern from its choices, and so can’t really model how intelligent it is. It’s a big dangerous stompy monster, but it also brings an evil magic into the world. Every angle you look at it is dangerous. While xxtz’Hulissh itself is the type of thing to mostly ignore civilians as it makes its way to sources of power to devour, the Hul-Spawn that emerge from it will cause these more low-level threats (and they comment that the name Hul-Spawn implies that the “Hul” element of its name is some kind of reference to its home dimension).
- Regarding its Mastery (Master of the Unfathomable: If you are in a situation involving eldritch and disturbing forces, automatically succeed at an Overcome to do the bidding of a being beyond human concerns), does that mean that it is doing the bidding of some other being or does it count as its own “being beyond human concerns” for these purposes? Yes. It’s doing its own thing, but there’s also a feeling that there’s something more beyond it. It’s not the only one of its kind, but also the place it is from is also an entity (“Hul itself” has its own dread purpose and who/what/when/where/why that is is unknown). Thinking of them as “separate” entities is also tricky - xxtz’Hulissh is in some ways part of Hul as a unified thing too. If that’s troubling to think of, good. We’ll never fully understand what’s going on here.
- How did you come up with the name xxtz’Hulissh and how to pronounce it? They wanted it to include certain letters and to have a certain kind of sound to it. They’ve seen people arguing/discussing how to pronounce it online and that was something they wanted it to prompt. The general idea here is that there is no correct human pronunciation of the name - we simply lack the physiology to make the right sounds. They say it the way we’re hearing them say it in the podcast, but if your way of saying it is a little different that’s not wrong. We’re all doing our best here. The process of creating this involved them standing at a whiteboard and “making sounds at one another for 40 minutes” and then writing down how you’d spell it until they had something sufficiently weird/inscrutable enough for what they were going for.
- In the RPG bio, there is a mention of relics and human sacrifice in the process of sealing it away - were Tempest’s storm blade and the Atlantean conduit (from the OblivAeon mission rewards deck) among those relics used as anchors? Yes.
- Does xxtz’Hulissh owe OblivAeon some thanks for its release? xxtz’Hulissh owes nothing to anybody, except perhaps madness/destruction/other-bad-stuff. For real, though, OblivAeon did inadvertently accelerate the process of xxtz’Hulissh breaking free, but it was gonna happen anyway due to the general meddling that humans had been going on anyway.
- That last comment prompts an aside: Were Atlanteans humans? No. They compare them to the situation between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis - closely related, but not necessarily the same thing. Likewise, there was some interbreeding in the past. Not all modern humans are descended from Atlanteans, but some are (in the same way that there are small amounts of Neanderthal genes in most populations today).
- Does xxtz’Hulissh break free in other universes after OblivAeon? If not, what’s keeping it trapped? There are some realities where xxtz’Hulissh has consumed all of everything. To answer a question that’s not been asked, they think that Hul is Singular, but it’s hard to say whether xxtz’Hulissh is or not. At the very least there are other things that are very similar to xxtz’Hulissh in other realities that are also called xxtz’Hulissh - whether or not they’re the same being duplicated for Multiverse reasons or unique individuals that happen to be similar is an open question.
- Do the anchor relics have extra potency against xxtz’Hulissh and its Hul-Spawn? Could they be used to seal it away again if brought together in the right way? How are the heroes able to defeat it/cause it to retreat? If you had all of the relics and the magical mastery that the Atlantean specialists had you could, theoretically, use them to seal it away again. The problem is that nobody has that mastery/knowledge anymore. “It is not haveable.” NightMist remote viewing the past does not giver her sufficient information to have recreated/figured out what they were doing. xxtz’Hulissh can be fought. The scary part about it (other than just being a giant kaiju-esque monster) is that it’s only the beginning of the end. You can fight it. You can make it retreat back into the sea to recuperate, but they’re not sure that you can kill it. Likely nothing on Earth can at least. The relics might have some additional potency against them, but you’ve got to actually be doing magic with them. Some random person picking up the conduit doesn’t act as a ward against the Hul-spawn, for example.
- Which heroes/teams would be the usual opposition to xxtz’Hulissh? “Usual” is a problem as it hasn’t shown up enough yet to really have a standard set of adversaries. So far it’s just shown up in the write-up for the RPG. When the adventures come out, the intent is (of course) to face it with whichever heroes the players at your table are using. It’s kind of imagined as an all-hands crossover situation, though. If you’re going to assign an existing hero team to it, this is definitely something in the Prime Wardens category, though. If it had broken free pre-OblivAeon, they could see Dark Watch helping as NightMist and Harpy do the magic stuff while the PW keep it busy. They can also see it rolling up to Megalopolis and having the Sentinels of Freedom and whatever other heroes are nearby stepping up to knock it back into the ocean. To some extent they’re waiting until the adventures are done to really dive into how things shake out.
- The write-up for the Hul-spawn mention a demon dimension - how does this relate to Apostate and Myriad who also have some connection to “demons” of one form or another? “Demon” is a general term that they apply broadly to describe a variety of different things. A working definition could be “extra-dimensional evil creatures”. You might have “demons” coming in from the Realm of Discord, the Void, or any number of other places like Myriad’s bug dimension. The specific dimension/realm/whatever of Hul is not shared with any of these other categories.
- Were any of the various relics/artifacts that NightMist had in her house the Atlantean anchor items? How about the bug one related to Myriad and Headlong in particular? Would Headlong’s relic have any effect containing xxtz’Hulissh or the Hul-spawn? Headlong’s doesn’t have anything to do with Hul, but NightMist had “at least one” of the anchor relics.
- Are there any powers/items other than the anchors that are particularly effective against xxtz’Hulissh? Not in general. It’s less that, say, Void magic is more effective and more just finding a way to use whatever you’ve got to gain an advantage somehow.
- How is it that we know its name given that it doesn’t seem particularly talkative and we only just now run into it in the first place? Is xxtz’Hulissh it’s actual name or just one that somebody gave it that stuck? If the latter, who named it (the Atlanteans maybe)? Is it even possible to say its name properly or would you need to be Hul-spawn to get it right? As established earlier, humans can’t really say it right and we know the name because of that one-shot they talked about where a cultist has his mind blasted by it, but then “knows” the name at least.
- Where does it come from (the RoD, the Void, some new place we didn’t know about before, etc.)? This place that we’re calling Hul is a new place that hasn’t been messed with before. To bring up everybody’s favorite benchmark for this sort of thing (no, not that one), Soothsayer Carmichael has never heard of Hul.
- Are the Hul-spawn the children of xxtz’Hulissh or are they called that just because they’re from wherever it’s from? The latter.
- Given its status as some kind of nightmarish monstrosity, has GloomWeaver ever encountered it before? No, and further, even as ancient as GloomWeaver is, he doesn’t even know about xxtz’Hulissh or “Atlantean magic stuff”. “People who knew of Hul do not exist anymore.”
- In the HQ episode you mentioned that the Prime Wardens found portals from the Ruins of Atlantis to other places around the world called the Atlantean Pathway; when describing how many Christopher interrupted Adam to declare, with authority, that there were 12 of them - is there a reason for there to be 12 in particular? Some mystical significance to the number in Atlantis, for example? It’s related to the 12 masters/specialists who created the seal. They’ve talked about the Atlantean masters who did so on a few occasions, but Christopher’s surprised that they hadn’t actually specified their number before. There are a lot of 12s associated with Atlantis, and it generally all comes back to this fact.
- Why did you name Lilian Corvus “Pinion”? It’s their favorite of her names. A lot of it goes into the variety of definitions the word has [several of which were mentioned in the letter itself as well]. They’re the outermost part of a birds wings, including the flight feathers. So the connection to her there should be obvious. “Pinioning” also is a surgical procedure to remove that part of a birds wings, to prevent flight - and she had to leave behind a part of her life in her transition to hero. Additionally, “pinion” can be used as a verb when you restrain somebody, as in holding/binding their arms and legs and a lot of what she does with her magic is restraint - preventing her opponents actions. We get both the birds/flight/wing connotations, but also “restriction” (of herself and others). They like that. “Harpy” represents a little immaturity on her part - “she’s just screeching out” and reckless.
- If you could be any kind of bird, what would you be? Christopher: Peregrine falcon is his cool answer, but his real answer is to be a big ol’ turkey buzzard due to their natural disease resistance and their somewhat easy/lazy existence. Just wheel around the sky until you find something to eat, and they don’t have to be picky. Nothing preys on them and if there is a threat they just fly away. Adam: Bald eagle - which Christopher points out is kind of the mid-point between his two choices given that they have a “cool” factor, but are also scavengers when necessary. Adam is also bald [which he himself points out]. Just as they were about to move on, Adam also brings up toucans and hornbills.
- Now that there’s a new Nexus of the Void, but Akash’Flora’s busy being a tree, will other Void spirits come forth? Similar to Akash'Bhuta or different? Would they be confined to the island or could they leave the island (and if the latter, could they do so freely or would they need to be summoned or something)? It’s too early to say exactly what the spirits of Nexus Primalis will be like - we know that they’re interacting with the local prehistoric fauna and flora in odd ways. Will other spirits leave the island? Perhaps. The world is full of possibilities. Time will tell. They’re excited about RPG-era stuff because the world is so drastically changed that there’s more room to play around with new things. Like, up until OblivAeon the world of Sentinel Comics kind of just mapped to reality in a lot of ways (despite the superheroes running around). After OblivAeon all bets are off and this is now a completely fictional place that has the capacity to get much more fantastical.
- When defining the court of the Fey, I only recognized 2 of the 3 names you picked - did you intentionally steer towards obscurity (possibly to avoid overlapping with other properties’ usage of traditional beings)? Why not Titania, Oberon, Robin Goodfellow, Mab, etc.? They specifically wanted to go with ground that hadn’t been trod by other IP-holders, but still had enough to work with to make them interesting. They could have just made up their own fey court, but wanted that history. They can imagine some other members of the court resembling the ones you named in a “Oh, I see where those stories came from” kind of way. Along those same lines, they’re also not going to stick strictly to the “known” mythology related to the names they chose - the “truth” in Sentinel Comics is one where you can see how the myths came from, but are their own thing. Over time they imagine that various writers doing stories involving the fey would include nods to different “famous” ones, though.
- Do the Sentinel Comics fey retain some recognizable limitations attributed to them (being unable to lie, weakness/aversion to iron/“cold iron”, trapping people in their realm if they eat food there, etc.)? They follow rules. Cold iron (iron shaped and formed without a furnace) is something they’d avoid. They definitely trap people in their realm, but through more means than the food thing. There are a variety of behaviors and rules that vary by individual, though. Some can’t lie, but others do so and delight in it (some may even say that they cannot lie, with that itself being one of their lies) for example. There’s a lot of room to play around in here.
- Is there a distinction between Seelie and Unseelie Courts? The fey court in Sentinel Comics isn’t separated like that - some members are hostile to humanity and others are willing to work with them, and there are nuanced positions between the two. What’s happened is that they’ve promulgated that myth on their own to help shape their interactions with humans when necessary. They use the myths and legends about them to their own benefit.
- You mentioned that you know that Legacy isn’t Irish because we know his ancestry, but to my knowledge, you haven’t actually ever described the family history for any of the Parsons’ wives, so could some Irish have snuck in that way? It’s possible.
- Court of the Fey environment deck in Definitive Edition? No.
- Is there any particular reason the Sentinel Comics writers leaned more in the Irish rather than Shakespearean direction for the Fey? Did they pull solely from Irish or did other groups get pulled in eventually? Was there a standard term used for them (like “Fair Folk”)? Are they one large collection or are they broken up into several “courts”? How do you spell it in this context? They do incorporate other mythos than the Irish one over time, and not just Gaelic, Welsh, or other British Isles stuff - they use this umbrella concept to pull in things from all over (Japanese equivalents being the obvious one to bring up). There isn’t one name like “fair folk” that gets used (although that one certainly does at one point or another), but “The Fey” is the most common (and while “fey” is the most common/canonical spelling of that particular word, others creep in occasionally due to various writers).
- You’ve said that fairies are very isolationist - what would cause them to break that isolation? Is it only in relation to humans and they’d interact with other places like the Realm of Discord more often? It’s not just humans, they steer clear of pretty much everyone else. They will get involved if there’s something that’s endangering them that needs to be taken care of. Wager Master doing his leprechaun thing would draw attention to them and their realm, which they do not want.
- Have they sent emissaries into the world? If so, are they fey or do they empower human agents? Very rarely. Sometimes they’re the fey themselves. Other times they’re mortal agents - which are often coerced. Like a loved one is prisoner and they’ll be freed if you do the thing for them. They’ll make the job easier by empowering you somehow, but they still have some leverage to ensure that you’re going to do their bidding (although even then, now you’re tied to them and so while your loved one may go free, you cannot, etc.). They’re very tricky and it’s probably in your best interests to just not get involved with them at all if you can help it.
- Can a human magic user get in touch with them? Can you make deals for wealth, talent, power, etc.? Most contact with them is sought out, but the majority of it is you doing so and them saying “sure, why not” and showing up. It’s hard to force contact short of capturing a fey being (although some cases where you think this is what you’ve done is actually the cover for the former where they want to get in touch with you). You can make those deals, but don’t do it. It’s not going to turn out well for you.
- Creative Process for the Fey as a topic suggestion? Yeah. Either Creative Process or Writers’ Room would work if it gets through the submission/voting process.
- Why doesn’t Expatriette just shoot Wager Master in the knee when he’s pretending to be a leprechaun? The most straightforward reason is that she’s “enchanted” by him and is therefore on board with the nonsense. It’s a great question, though.