The Letters Page: Episode 179
Writers' Room: Disparation Vol. 2 #3
Just what IS Visionary's deal, anyway?
Run Time: 1:18:02
We talk about more than just one issue! We have lots of issues, in fact! But we only full Writers' Room one issue, which is the cover you see above here. But just what is that story? You'll have to listen to find out!
After a little over half an hour of storytelling (this one went surprisingly quickly!), we get into your questions. We even get into some letters about unrelated alternate reality stuff — seems like there's a lot of lingering interest there!
Thanks for listening, everyone! If you're a Contributor on our Patreon, go vote now for what we're talking about next month! And join us live this Friday for the next Editor's Note!
- Visionary first shows up in the mid-’80s in a Freedom Five book [#422] and later that same month [June ’85] we have FFA #9 which goes into her backstory a bit more. This is the period of the Time Cataclysm stuff to explain time-travel stuff going on here and elsewhere, but the “Dark Visionary” part of her story hadn’t been developed yet - she just had some general anger issues relating to her home timeline being so stressful and the fact that she’s a psychic who’s dealing with the noise of all of the other minds around her. Anyway, we’re not here to talk about her in the primary timeline, but about her home reality.
- First up, we have Disparation Vol. 1 #3 [October ’87] which is an exploration of a world where Visionary (this powerful, but relatively new character) was just evil. Her backstory wasn’t terribly well-explained to begin with as it was a Freedom Five story (we see this other reality’s version of the Freedom Five, Visionary shows up and she decides to come back in time to “fix” things, winds up in the canon timeline and works with/helps this other Freedom Five who aren’t the people she knew but are at least recognizable but are in a lot of ways entirely alien to her, etc.).
- Adam points out that she has what his wife describes as “villain powers” - it’s almost impossible to not do something villainous with the kinds of power she has at her disposal. That’s not wrong and so an early Disparation writer decides to explore that - showing that “our” Visionary is rather buttoned-up in comparison. Anyway, that paves the way for an issue of NightMist about a year later [#43, December ’88] where we first see the Dark Visionary persona where she just casually banishes GloomWeaver back to the Realm of Discord. Dark Visionary’s home reality as featured in that early Disparation issue is also not what we’re here for today. She takes over to the extent that she’s more or less bored by it and jumps at an opportunity to see somewhere new when she senses our Visionary doing her time thing.
- In November 2002 we get Disparation Vol. 2 #3, which is what we’re going to explore today. A lot has happened since her introduction. She’s also an early example of a character who actually had something lasting happen to her due to events in a Disparation issue when they had the Dark Visionary thing come through and, in the Science and Progress one-shot [April ’91] the readers find out that Dark Visionary is straight-up villainous. That remains hidden from the heroes and she acts more like an anti-hero - there’s still some back-and-forth struggling internally over control of the Visionary body.
- All that is to say that this character is just a mess. The readers are into it, but the writers decide to revisit/retell some of her origin stuff to give us more context for the original “good” Visionary that we just never got a lot of time to get to know before the Dark Visionary stuff happened. Because Disparation Vol. 1 #3 was about the evil Visionary, they decided to make Vol. 2 #3 about the good one. The first section is going to be following Visionary in her home reality (rather than being focused on the Freedom Five like the first time around) up until the point where she leaves, then the action will continue there to see what happened after she left.
- Stuff we know about for this issue already: Vanessa Long was experimented on in utero and then put into this super soldier program with Project Cocoon. Unlike many/most of her peers there, she’s a true believer and remains relatively stable - some of the other subjects go a bit unhinged. Things get out of control and go bad, she approaches the heroes with her plan to go back in time to prevent any of this from happening (Project Cocoon, the second Cold War, etc.).
- Okay, so that leads to the questions of “what has gone so badly that this plan is seen as a viable option?” and “who are the allies she’s fighting alongside?” The former is just the necessary set dressing to explain the plot as we already knew it. The latter determines the cast for the rest of the book (likely the majority of the issue) after she leaves. They likely put in a lot of time and energy to help send Visionary back, and then it didn’t work. They’ve still got stuff to do and now they’re also down a powerful ally.
- The second Cold War is based on a secret arms race, where the “arms” in question are “people with super powers”. In the process of the actors on both sides rushing to develop as many as possible, they wind up with a bunch of such people who aren’t necessarily in control themselves or simply don’t want to be controlled and so turn on the existing power structure. Things very quickly go from “Cold War between Eastern and Western nations” to “everybody against these rogue supers”. It might not even be clear which side was responsible in particular, but somebody created the worst villain ever (or a team - it might even be a Citizens of the Sun situation with a charismatic leader recruiting others).
- A detail they throw in here: a lot of the nations involved in the war are likely proxies for corporations who are the ones actually doing the experiments (cloning and whatnot - that seems appropriate for a story in 2002).
- For the story to land, they don’t want the primary villain to be a robot or an alien. It should be a human to emphasize a “this is what humanity does to itself” kind of message. Adam suggests that there’s this one person who goes bad and then takes over a lab somewhere to get the scientists to make more like them. Christopher starts thinking aloud about how, being a Disparation thing, having this be an established character would be fine, but then realizes that with what Adam just said that this could be an evil Tachyon story.
- We could have this world’s Tachyon be working on War stuff, taking more and more on herself - eventually experimenting on herself to amp up her powers and cloning herself so that she can be in even more places at once. We wind up with a bunch of unhinged speedsters all over the world trying to stop problems before they start, almost Minority Report style.
- A potential problem here is that we have no indications that Visionary ever had problems with Tachyon in the main continuity. This can be explained away by her 1) knowing that her world’s Tachyon started down this path with good intentions and 2) after an initial “oh no!” reaction upon arriving in Universe 1 she quickly understands that this is a different reality and a different Tachyon. We can acknowledge it in the original stories in the ’80s without it becoming a lasting prejudice on her part. It also plays nicely into the reversal of their positions in Science and Progress - Dark Visionary wants to mindwipe Tachyon. Normally the good Visionary personality would be trying to fight against this sort of behavior, but because they know what Tachyon is capable of and this little seed of mistrust (even our good Tachyon sometimes pushes up against her limits of ethics in terms of her scientific work), she doesn’t fight on this one. It’s a slippery slope to losing control to Dark Visionary altogether.
- So, the conflict in her home reality involves her coming to the rest of the Freedom Five for help. She knows what she plans to do, but also knows that Tachyon is everywhere and will know what Visionary is up to as soon as she starts doing it. She needs the rest of the team to run interference.
- Adam still has a concern about there being a bunch of Tachyons. He’d prefer there to still just be one of her, but she can still create some help. Like, they don’t even have to be defined characters and could just be ill-defined “monsters” or something. Christopher’s follow-up to that is that she’s got DNA samples from all sorts of heroes and just clones them for her purposes, so she’s got some kind of imperfect, monstrous Legacy clone helping her out. She can do a bunch of these to fill whatever need she has/whatever problem needs “fixing”. Visionary time travels while the rest of the Freedom Five are fighting off Tachyon and a mob of these unstable hero clones.
- What’s the plot after Visionary leaves? Some kind of doomsday plot? Yeah, okay, so Bunker and Wraith helped Visionary build some kind of mental amplifier device in order to do this big time jump. After she’s gone and things aren’t better as soon as she leaves (presumably she simply failed in her mission), the heroes are left in a rather tough fight just to survive. Tachyon captures the device and figures that Visionary had a good idea - she should just make a Visionary clone who can then power the thing so they can try again (although with Tachyon’s obviously superior plans on what “fixing things” means). The Visionary clone is just there to run the thing - she has no personality and has a bigger brain, etc.
- The climax of the issue involves the heroes storming the facility and destroying the machine. Okay, so that’s one of Tachyon’s various plans foiled, but she’s got more. The heroes have their specific victory here (and sending Visionary back does have positive effects in Universe 1, but they never learn of that result), but the book’s tone is not triumphant. This universe is not in a good place - Tachyon’s got more plans and she’ll get her way in “fixing” thing eventually. Oh - even better let’s go back to a previous idea. They stop Tachyon - in 2002 they probably even just kill her on-page. Her last contingency plan then comes into effect; all of the Tachyon clones are released. She knew they’d stop her eventually, but let’s see how they manage with, like, 100 of her.
- Adam’s still of the opinion that “a bunch of speedsters” isn’t visually interesting, even just as a reveal at the end of an issue. Like, having a bunch of missiles launch is a better kind of thing. Christopher is okay with that, but he’s also a fan of “a lot of Tachyon clones” for how this goes down. A bunch of missiles launch carrying Tachyon clones. She knows there are other inhabited planets out there and she’s going to try to fix things elsewhere/seed them with life (along with a Tachyon overseer) if they don’t want her help here. She’s also rigged the Earth’s core to explode - sometimes you just need to start over with a clean slate. We end on rockets heading out in every direction and the beginning of fire erupting from the planet’s surface. There’s not an explicit “the heroes have no way to stop this in time, rocks fall everyone dies” ending, but the chances of the heroes saving the day at this point are extremely low.
- That’s a depressing ending, but they like the idea that we have the Freedom Four vs. Tachyon where the team needs to out think her. She’s smarter than them, and she knows she’s smarter than them. However, it might be possible to trick her; she’ll see whatever we do and think through whatever our plan is so that she can counter it, but if we plan for that, we can let her make the assumption that she’s understood the entirety of our plan and then hit her in an unexpected way as she counters it. Like, there’s a pleasant amount of 3D chess that’s necessary for the four of them to get one over on Tachyon.
- Do we do this “alt-reality Freedom Five” thing too much? Should we mix it up some? Because of the original story in the ’80s, they should probably keep things simple. That being said, they can talk about how this team is different from their prime reality counterparts.
- Legacy is angrier. He’s probably in more “hardened soldier” mode here than we see him normally.
- Tachyon is leaning more into the lab coat and goggles mad scientist thing here more than the speed-suit.
- Bunker can have an even bigger war machine, but in keeping with the kind of rougher-around-the-edges team so far, let’s say that he got hit by an IED or something in the past and lost his legs or something. He’s basically built into this thing now. Like, no legs and from the arms below the elbow he’s just wired into the thing.
- Wraith gets her story blended with Jonathan Donovan in this reality - she’s a reformed serial killer. She is really good at killing people and so, rather than being executed or imprisoned, she gets a kind of “work release” to help out for the war effort. Legacy has a kill switch for a collar she wears to help keep her in line.
- Since they give Absolute Zero a hard enough time already, maybe lighten him up a bit here. From early on in this story we could have him being something of a Tachyon apologist. She can’t be all that bad, right? Maybe Tachyon has “fixed” him - there’s some kind of module built into him so that he doesn’t need a cryo chamber or suit. He’s still got the same coloration and likely has some kinds of bracers or something to help replicate his usual power set in terms of using his powers, but he can interact with the world in a more “normal” fashion.
- In discussing that they come up with how they get Tachyon. They have AZ play up his friendship with Tachyon and have him be convinced that she’s right and join her (and given how he approaches things from early on in the story, this could be something that tricks the reader as well). She accepts him and assumes that he’s being set up for a double-cross but that is the trick - he’s really there for a sacrifice play. Like, the plan is for her to eventually kill him, but he’s rigged something to freeze her to him when she does so, which allows Legacy to come in for the kill. Like, he breaks the module that she built into him and we see her body freezing before Legacy comes in and shatters her. That’s fun and gruesome. AZ probably gives some final speech about how all of his “remember who she was/she can’t be all bad” stuff he told the rest of the team seems to have been something she needed to hear more than anybody.
- Is there a specific single event that we can trace things back to in terms of when Visionary’s home timeline diverged from Universe 1 (like how Iron Legacy branched off when Baron Blade killed Felicia)? The thing you can point back to is the second Cold War being a thing (with the arms race being centered on superpowers instead of nukes). Adam starts to say that Visionary coming back wound up stopping it, but Christopher points out that Project Cocoon was a thing that got started because of the Cold War in her universe while it existed without that background in Universe 1, so the divergence was some time prior to when Visionary traveled to here.
- What has become of some of the non-US places we know about (Maerynians, Mordengrad, etc.)? Did they choose a side in the second Cold War? Are they just on the sidelines? Nobody’s on the sidelines. The idea is that everybody is either involved directly or a victim in some way. The Maerynians might be dead (there’s possibly some sentiment that’s aggressively anti-alien that may have wiped them out prior to the Cold War even starting). Alternately, maybe any aliens were rounded up and “harvested” for various arms-race reasons.
- We were told back in the Visionary episode that most of the heroes of this world had died; how did that happen? In the line of duty as soldiers? As collateral damage from strikes made by the Communists? Did any of our known characters fight on the other side? Yes to all of that. It very quickly went from “fighting the Communists” to "fighting unhinged/rogue supers from wherever". The labs that are creating the supers are more powerful than any world government at this point.
- How bad a state is the world in after Vanessa leaves? Bad, as they discussed above.
- Is there anybody that Vanessa cared about (even as just a “brother in arms” kind of way) that if, say, La Comodora offered to go retrieve them, she would want her to? Did anybody from this timeline come through a Mist portal to fight OblivAeon? Nobody came to fight OblivAeon because they (in theory) destroyed that world. There might be a lingering plot thread that they left it open (say, if they wanted a later Disparation story involving Dok'Thorath that started with a Tachyon clone rocket landing - a genetic war between Tachyon and Voss could be interesting), but there’s a level of disconnection there that no “main characters” would have shown up in OblivAeon from that. We only see a little bit of Vanessa’s life before she goes back in time. The people we see her around in her childhood all either lose their minds or go off to fight in the war and die. There’s a camaraderie with the Freedom Five, but not friendship to the point where she’d ask for La Comodora to go get them. Like, if asked she might take a moment to consider it and then answer that “there’s no one in that world that you should bring to this world.”
- What specifically tipped Vanessa off that she was in an entirely new timeline rather than her own past? Everything about the world is different for one. The first people she meets are the Freedom Five and after her initial “Tachyon!” response we have a few panels and by the end of that same page she’s realized that every one of these people is a different person than the ones she knew. There’s a question of whether she tried to point out that maybe Tachyon could “fix” AZ by doing this embedded module thing, but they think she doesn’t. She would shy away from doing anything that would make this world more like the other one. Her being very aware of the butterfly effect and not really taking the initiative might be part of what pushes writers to invent an internal conflict for her after a few years.
- If Universe 1 wasn’t sealed away post-OblivAeon, could Visionary (unburdened by Dark Visionary) reality-hop again? Could Dark Mind do so? Presumably, with similar levels of technological/energy assistance and a great enough desire to do so, yeah. She would probably not attempt it, though, as she also knows it’s just inviting hitchhikers and it also almost killed her. Dark Mind is very possible, especially with the lack of a physical body to bring along - although that might make it more likely that one would lose oneself.
[Copying a question from the Visionary Supporting Cast episode for context for the next letter:]
* If some mad scientist at [[F.I.L.T.E.R.]] were to become aware of the Fixed Point, then go around to realities harvesting individual organs from not-yet-empowered Vanessas to Frankenstein together a composite being, would she count as “Vanessa Long” enough to eventually develop powers? They could go either way. If the answer is “no” it’s because whichever reality that they made this Vanessa in already has a different Vanessa that’s wound up in the Fixed Point. If the answer is “yes” then it’s because that reality didn’t have its own Vanessa already, but this monstrosity is the one that fills the slot instead.
- Since the Block is in its own universe, and “Vanessa Long gets powers” is a Fixed Point across all universes, doesn’t that mean that such an event had to have occurred in order for there to even be a Vanessa Long in that universe? The problem here is your positioning of the Block “in a universe of its own” - it’s actually a small pocket dimension out in Ur-Space, that nowhere/nowhen between realities. Sure, it has it’s own little pocket of “reality” that the Varusiods created for it to exist within, but it is not a “universe” by the standard definition and so the Fixed Points don’t need to occur there.
- What would this world’s version of Guise be like (although this seems like the kind of world that Wager Master doesn’t spend much time in)? This story doesn’t have a lot of space for Guise to be explained, y’know. However, one of the powerful clone creatures that Tachyon uses is a purple shapeshifter (like, it’s a puddle of purple goo that can pop up in whatever shape it needs to be in for the task), so while not explaining what Guise is like there, there’s a nod to the fact that he exists there (or existed). Something that doesn’t happen that would be funny is Wager Master to open a door from nowhere during one of the big fights and just turning right back around to leave after seeing what’s going on. Or maybe he steps through right after Tachyon’s dead-man’s-switch message plays: “What’s going on in this reality?” [explosion] None of that happens, but it’s fun.
- Given that the only examples we have of characters with true time travel abilities (Chrono-Ranger and La Capitan/Comodora) both have their abilities tied to something else (CON interfaced with Jim’s sheriff star and La Paradoja Magnifica respectively), does this mean that time travel requires some kind of “relic” (for lack of a better word) to channel the chronal energies? Do characters who exhibit false time travel like Omnitron-X and Visionary fail due to this lack and/or the fact that they didn’t encounter a time portal for exposure to chronal energy in the first place? You don’t necessarily need some kind of “relic”, but you need some kind of anchor. Omnitron-X could possibly act as its own anchor for that purpose, but didn’t successfully do so. What you’ve described is a little too neat of a formula, but you’re heading in the right direction. Like many things in comics, it’s not “scientific” enough to explain adequately to the point where you can explain it. We see a couple of people pull it off successfully, so looking at things they have in common is a good way to approach things, but it’s not enough to explain everything.
- If every reality has its version of the Realm of Discord, what’s it like in the Inversiverse? Is it still chaotic, but a place of wonder and beauty? They have to imagine that there’s a story that touches on this topic at least somewhat just because we have such a long period of Disparation that has Inversiverse content. They’ve mentioned that GloomWeaver is absorbing the gloom from people to try to make their lives better, so the Realm of Discord is still very similar. It’s still a chaotic mess because of its nature, but GW is using it as something of a “capacitor” to take up all the gloom he’s collecting. That being said, there’s also room for the wonder and beauty. Like, maybe GW creates that gloomy part, but he can keep it kind of contained to an area. Wonder and beauty don’t mean “safe”, though. Unicorns are these wondrous things, but they’re still as big as a horse with a sharp spike on their heads.
- Is Madame Mittermeier’s Fantastical Festival of Conundrums and Curiosities a thing in the Inversiverse? What’s it like? How about Mittermeier herself and her relationship to the brilliant Luminary? Mittermeier/Luminary is too late in the timeline to have been covered. The Festival itself has the problem that if you take this dark and sinister carnival and turn it into a bright and friendly carnival, you’re still left with a carnival which are inherently scary places. Christopher’s idea is that the Inversiverse Mittermeier’s is something like a ’20s-’40s soda shop kind of place. It’s got some arcade games and a soda fountain counter. An apothecary in the back. It’s just got a cure for whatever ails you, mentally or physically. Madame Mittermeier’s Friendly Fountain of Carousing and Cures. It’s also one of those mysterious shops that appears where it’s “needed” so you might leave and when turn around to look back and it will be gone.
- Are there heroic Inverse versions of Galactra and Empyreon? Yeah, almost certainly.
- If so, what are their origins? Look, what you’re telling us, dear listeners, is that it might be time for another Inversiverse episode of some sort.
- The discussion of the various “gimmick universes” prompts the question of whether there are any that combine two or more “gimmicks” (say an Extreme Plant-verse where everybody is covered in thorns or an Inverse Animal verse where Lumicarnary and the Flounder Five (or maybe the Hound-dog Five) Marmaduke it out with the Legaseal of Destruction and the Deersome Five)? I assume that such places must exist due to the infinite variety of the Multiverse, but do we ever see any as a gag in the comics? They want to say no. It’s too many levels deep. Maybe if there’s a La Comodora story where she’s having flashbacks to a bunch of different realities for a panel at a time, or there’s something wrong with the ship and she’s going from one to the next in a similar effect where the writer and artist are told to “go wild” with these one-panel glimpses. Another silly option would be a story that involves, say, the Animalverse and Legaseal has to fight an alt-reality evil Legaseal.
- The Iron Legacy episode [which is as far as this writer has gotten in the podcast before writing this in] mentioned that that universe’s Haka was killed, but I thought that La Comodora made it so that there were only two Hakas? That wasn’t one of the two, was it? How are there more of him out there? They’ve covered this, but here’s a recap. There’s this “ripple effect” that goes out from the moment that La Comodora does her thing. The two Hakas are the Universe 1 Aata and the “Citizen Storm Universe” Arataki. As that ripples out, it absorbs existing Hakas from timelines that already have them, but also quickly absorbs any Hakas in any newly-branched-off timelines as well. Basically, there were alt-reality Hakas in comics that had been established earlier in publication history, but eventually they decided what was happening and from that point on there are just the two of them.
- The thing that comes to mind is one of those “gets the idea of the comic across without actually happening in the pages” covers where we have evil mad scientist Tachyon fighting Visionary. That era may or may not have any copy text. Maybe some kind of play on “back in time” due to both Visionary’s plan, but also the hearkening back to that earlier issue. It might be better without anything, though.