The Letters Page: Episode 180
Creative Process: Grace and Owen Charles in Universe One
Let's talk about the people who get revamped into Catastrophe and Verge in the Vertex timeline! (Now there's an "inside baseball" statement!)
Run Time: 1:38:34
We're flying blind for this one! Rather than coming at it with an idea of where we're going, we just knew that we needed to fill some story gaps. And we did it! Plus, came up with some content that you'll see in the future...
Thanks for joining us! Get your questions in for our historic look at a hero team, with Episode #181 - Writers’ Room: Disparation: Freedom Four 1776!
- The prompt this week is “Grace and Owen Charles in the RPG era”. When Christopher mentioned this as a topic submission Adam’s response was “Who?”. They are Catastrophe and Verge, young heroes from the cancelled Sentinel Tactics: Battle for Broken City. Adam remembers them now, but “Why are they in the RPG era?” That’s a good question - let’s put it up for voting and if the Patreon people want to hear more, we’ll talk about it.
- Well, here we are. With a topic that they don’t really have a lot of stuff prepared to talk about and one for which nobody sent in letters (because the audience doesn’t even have enough information about them to base questions on).
- So, where are we in terms of the “RPG era”? Well, May 2017 was a company-wide Sentinel Comics relaunch focusing just on Universe 1, aka the Sentinel Comics Universe. Much like May 1940 kicking off the superhero era in general, this was a start point. OblivAeon wrapped up in December 2016, January through March 2017 was a little bit of wrap-up (the RPG Starter Kit adventures happen in this period - while technically the universe has been locked away from the Multiverse at this point, it wasn’t being written about differently quite yet), April was a company-wide hiatus with no new regular issues of comics at all, and then May was this fresh start.
- This “relaunch” is definitely not a “reboot” - the history and setting are all acknowledged to be the same, but it’s supposed to be a good jumping-on point with a little time having passed - enough for some character “evolution”. For example, Felicia Parsons goes from Young Legacy to simply being Legacy, and while she’s not necessarily meant to be significantly older, she’s more “grown up” as a character. The relaunch stated off with 20 titles with #1 issues in May 2017, but more titles do start as things go on.
- June 2019 is when the Vertex imprint of titles starts with their own parallel continuity (Freedom Five #1, The Wraith #1, and Sentinel Sagas #1 all that month) and for a while every 6 months would have a new slate of titles added (and, man, does having all of the Vertex nonsense really getting going over the course of 2020 make a ton of sense or what?!). Then, in 2022 the imprint starts getting into trouble and the title cancellations and company layoffs start and by early 2025 it’s all over. FF ends in March at issue #70, but Prime Wardens manages to hang on for one additional month and its own #47. The Prime War 6-issue limited series runs January-June 2025 and lead into the two new Disparation titles that then continue as parts of the regular publishing line instead of the Vertex imprint.
- Now that we’ve got that rough timeline established, we can get to the fact that Catastrophe and Verge first show up sometime in 2020 or 2021. Here’s where we get to why this is an interesting topic for an episode: if they were added to Vertex in 2020 or 2021, then they almost certainly were based on characters that existed in the main continuity prior to that. The Creative Process today is to determine who they were.
- Getting into things finally, they think that “Catastrophe and Verge” are names unique to the Vertex timeline. They were presented as having been very young children when the Rook City disaster happened, but that event wasn’t what gave them their powers - their backstory hinted that they already had something going on. So, in the RPG era they’d still have powers, just maybe they manifest differently given their much different life experiences and the lack of the giant cosmic energy attack hitting their hometown. As Catastrophe and Verge, Grace (the former) emits dangerous levels of radiation, possibly explosively, and Owen (the latter) has the ability to calm her.
- They need to work at this backwards because, while they did invent some story stuff for the two of them, that was all set in the Vertex timeline and their appearance there was likely derived somehow from their appearance here. Maybe they show up as supporting cast in Daybreak or something like they’re other students at Freedom Academy. Like, there are new students occasionally and Legacy wants to try them out with existing student “teams” to see if they’re a good fit. Or maybe Time-Slinger saves them from something.
- What books are options for where they could show up? Legacy, maybe Mystery Comics, probably not Sentinels of Freedom unless they’re just MacGuffin characters in some way, Daybreak is a solid option, maybe Time-Slinger, possibly Paradigms, and Dark Watch could also be a MacGuffin appearance if only because of the Rook City connection. Of the options, they kind of like Daybreak or Time-Slinger. So, the options are to have these two kids (like, something around 9 and 12 years old) join the teen team or do a thing where they’re just supporting cast for Time-Slinger. They opt for the second - Jim goes out and saves them from something, but then they become kids in his classroom and just fill out that cast a bit.
- Their parents died during the OblivAeon attack on Rook City in Vertex - certainly they didn’t die in the same manner at least, but the might still be around. We also still need to work out their powers in Universe 1. It could be as simple as him having a general suppression effect and she is the opposite in terms of being a kind of “capacitor” where she can absorb and emit energy - the OblivAeon attack just overcharged her with radiation and so that’s what she did all the time.
- Whatever they come up with needs to be interesting enough for a Vertex writer to notice it and be able to think of this other way that things could go to become Catastrophe and Verge. Having the time-rewind event be what “saved” them from winding up this way might be the way to come at this (plus it’s an additional tie to Jim, which is nice for story reasons). Maybe she got overcharged with chronal energy during the rewind.
- There we go. How about Grace’s power results in her having a bubble of slow time around her that’s mitigated by having Owen nearby. Like, if he’s right there with her time passes normally, but the farther away he goes the slower time will go in the bubble until at a critical distance it stops. This could be an inciting incident to get Time-Slinger involved. Either Owen (not knowing his own power yet) goes to get help from a time-based hero or Time-Slinger finds them on his own. That sounds better - he finds this weird time anomaly and investigates. He uses his own powers to try to communicate with her briefly by allowing time to pass in a small pocket within her larger bubble, but all she’ll talk about is how worried she is about her brother and that they need to find him. He is frustrated as she’s obviously the problem to fix/person who needs help - he needs to figure out how to help her and then they can look for Owen. Eventually he starts listening and figures out that the brother is the key to everything, goes and finds him, and brings him to his sister again.
- So that works for an introductory story, but other weird time behavior is also possible for later stories. Like, maybe sometimes the bubble is of faster time and there’s worry that she could easily starve or die of thirst if that’s not managed extremely carefully.
- So there we go. They’re a pair of supporting cast students at Freedom Academy who are just trying to figure out how to use their powers. Owen will passively suppress Grace’s powers by being nearby, but maybe he can learn to actively suppress others’ powers and/or learn to stop suppressing his sister’s. They are minor supporting cast for Time-Slinger and can show up occasionally in Daybreak or Legacy stories, but they’re not heroes - they’re just kids trying to learn.
- They probably get some devices (think something on the order of a Fitbit) that links them so that they don’t literally have to be next to one another their whole lives. It gives the option for a story at some point where something terrible is happening and Grace tears off her bracelet to stop time. This doesn’t prevent the bad thing on its own; it just gives the heroes the time to figure out what to do. Like, it could be fun if it’s something really dire, like country-destroying bad (like a black hole bomb or something), and she’s stopped it in a “throwing yourself on a grenade” kind of way. They could leave her frozen there for several issues while the heroes work on it and the time bubble becomes something like a memorial that people visit in the middle of Freedom Plaza.
- Okay, so this is our first post-OblivAeon Creative Process and we need to figure out when their first appearance was and when this black hole bomb plot starts/ends. This latter event could even be a decent RPG adventure series.
- Do they have “hero names”? Maybe Owen does, because him learning to control his powers actually does something. Grace might have some angst about her powers because they consist mostly of “stay close to my brother and/or don’t take off the bracelet” - it’s not useful for anything, while her little brother has something actually useful. She might just be spending her time at the Academy learning some tech or some hand-to-hand stuff because her power isn’t good for heroics. Then her sacrifice play happens and afterwards is when she thinks better of herself and might pick a name.
- Their first appearance is in Time-Slinger #13 (May 2018) - this is the story where Jim encounters Grace in the bubble with stopped time and whatnot. The idea is that the end of this story (which might be in the next issue - we’re also “writing for the trade” at this point and are likely dealing with 6-issue arcs generally speaking) they’re students in Freedom Academy and Owen is learning to use his powers. His chosen hero name is Quiet Time and he takes it up fairly early here, but Grace doesn’t take up a name until after her long time-stop event, which they are saving details on for later RPG content.
- Adam’s thoughts having gotten to this point: Owen seems like fodder for villain plots. He’s a non-combatant who has a power set that villains would have a vested interest in exploiting in one way or another. He’s likely in more danger than most other characters. They don’t recall if they’ve mentioned this, but Freedom Academy has a section for small children that are kept pretty secret and he’s probably part of that group.
- There we go - a nice set of characters for whom the Vertex writers could make more edgy by saying “what if instead of this time stuff, she just explodes and they use that as a means of keeping themselves safe from other people in the ruins of Rook City?”. They plan on doing that adventure involving them for the RPG, but don’t expect to see much about them in the RPG until that point.
As stated up front, they got no letters specifically about Grace and Owen, but we’ll get into a few Vertex questions. There are more, but they get into the nitty-gritty and they don’t want to get into that now. One that stuck out to Christopher as he was prepping for this episode included something along the lines of how they “abandoned Vertex”. They did not abandon it - they came up with stuff for it that was to be explored in game lines that simply didn’t pan out. They want to revisit the setting in the future; there’s 6 years of publishing time for them to explore, plus the resulting Disparation titles ongoing after that. There simply isn’t anything being worked on now that uses it and so there’s more pressing need elsewhere in terms of what gets featured in Letters Page episodes. Sure, there are things like Disparation episodes here and there, but as all of that occurred in the Multiverse era it all informs and presses on other canonical events in terms of what the writers and readers have in their heads (and all of the Multiverse nonsense is important to the OblivAeon event itself anyway). Additionally, while we’re well ahead of things here in 2021, there are 2 years worth of RPG-era stories to tell before it starts running concurrently with Vertex and we’re really still right at the beginning of that process.
- When the Rook City timeline split happens during OblivAeon, we know that OA himself winds up in Universe 1 as he’s Singular - what happens to the non-Singular Scions? We know that Voss is in both places - however, the one that was left in Champion Studios setting up his big power-grab plot who suddenly doesn’t have anything to grab power from now has a big problem. Universe 1 Voss winds up really screwing over Vertex Voss, not that he actually cares that he’s done so. Borr is on a timeline for blowing up regardless. Aeon Master was taken out before the split happened - actually, most of them have been dealt with in one way or another before the split occurs. Empyreon exists in both. Faultless may have been “fixed” after the split, and so while it had everything resolved and dissipated in Universe 1, there might still be a corrupted version of him out there otherwise - wait, no, strike that. Mr. Fixer got restored in the Vertex timeline, so the Faultless stuff must have happened before the split. The main thing is that a number of them are still around in some form or another, but cut off from the thing that gave them their power boost. They could see a Vertex Nixious who was really angsty about being cut off. Some of them may have shown up the the Vertex comics, but most of them don’t.
- Is Wager Master no longer a Singular Entity? What would happen once Universe 1 is reconnected to the Multiverse? The one that still has access to the Multiverse still acts in the way you’d expect a Singular Entity to act. Because there aren’t any other realities accessible to the one inside Universe 1, the Wager Master there can’t really act like a Singular Entity because a lot of what’s bundled up in that idea comes down to how they interact with the Multiverse. He still has all of the same abilities he would have had before, but due to the barrier that Voss put up, he can’t use a lot of them. As for what would happen if/when the barrier goes away, time will tell (they’ve discussed it in the past, but Adam doesn’t actually remember - he thinks that they wouldn’t get along as they’d both want to be “the main one”, but Christopher isn’t answering).
- What kinds of classes did Felicia take in college? How did she do in them? Her father doesn’t strike me as particularly erudite [earning a hrumph of disagreement from Christopher] but her mom seems “hella smart” - what does a hero major in? Any extracurriculars (sports, theater productions, etc.)? Did she take part in any campus political activity (protests, etc.)? Any classes that she took, expecting them to be easy filler courses, that gave her trouble? She winds up being a Communications major as she realized that it would apply to her work as a hero. They don’t get into the details for a lot of it. She takes the general education requirement things like writing and math, then the occasional more specialized thing that she found interesting. She took an Astronomy class, which was an exercise in not being obvious about the fact that she’d been to space. A lot of the coursework details are going to be of the “Oh no! My Archaeology paper is due tomorrow, but I’ve got to [fight crime]!” with the option for things like cameos at the end where she’s on the phone with Dr. Blake Washington Jr. taking notes. They want to point out that her dad is not a dunce. Emily wouldn’t have married him if he was. He tends to be a straightforward person, but not a stupid person. He’s very earnest and that often comes off as less intelligent or naive and he definitely comes off as more naive than he actually is.
- How well-known by the public are the extent of Legacy’s powers? Do people know about the “single attack negation” power or do they just read it as “really tough” (it seems like if people knew how that power worked that a villain would just set up two doomsday blasts to take advantage of it)? You’ve nailed it. Baron Blade would definitely try to exploit that power’s limitations if he knew how it worked - although he likely knows more about their powers than just about anybody. Like, even the Legacies themselves don’t understand everything perfectly. Also, the “recharge time” on the single-attack negation is really handwavy and tuned to fit the drama of the individual story. In short, the powers are not well-publicized at all. People know the surface level stuff that you get from casual observation.
- [Letter intro talks about whether Paul VIII and Felicia graduate high school: they both did, although Paul likely doesn’t have anything like a “graduation” event in the comic. He shows up as a teen, we see him a bit, then all of a sudden he’s Legacy.] Did they do any extracurriculars in high school? We don’t have that stuff for Paul due to the stories of the time. We probably see Paul going to Felicia’s school play, dance recital, science fair (excited about her volcano model working - like it would be fun for him to be showing the other heroes photos of it or something), or other things like that over the years. Having Felicia being in the science club makes sense as it’s something for her to connect with Tachyon about. We just get little snippets of her school activities over the years.
- [Letter preamble goes into the trap that Baron Blade set up in the Wagner Mars Base to kill Legacy and two results, one with Felicia dead that led to the Iron Legacy timeline and the other with Paul dead and Felicia takes over as Legacy.] Yes, that’s correct and there was a timeline split that happened there. One of the two of them would die in that trap.
- [Continued] In both the Vertex and RPG timelines, Paul and Felicia are both alive, so neither of these are the timelines in question? Correct.
- What’s the deal? Was there time travel shenanigans that prevented them from happening? Visionary provided a vision of the future that let them sidestep the issue? Let’s get into it: the Iron Legacy story starts with the idea of there being two timelines. In the one that was supposed to happen, Paul dies and Felicia lives and the Legacy line continues as it has to this point. This is expected. Iron Legacy was showing what happens when things go wrong. That’s how the book opens to explain/set up what we see from then on. Moving forward, the differences between Vertex and the RPG are that in the former Legacy just continues to survive and Felicia decides that she’s ready to be a full hero, but since her dad is still around she’ll just be Beacon in the meantime (and will probably become Legacy when he eventually does die). The RPG has them change things up. We don’t need to always follow “tradition” (fighting until I fail) and so he retires from active heroics to become Heritage and lets her step up into the Legacy role. He can do other things as a hero that don’t require him to push himself up until his own violent death. That other timeline that split from the Iron Legacy timeline is neither the Vertex nor the RPG timeline, but exists somewhere else out in the Multiverse [at some point in the past we were even told that the Iron Legacy crossover into the canon timeline was itself what prevented it from becoming that other timeline - both Paul and Felicia were injured in that event and so weren’t part of the Mars mission to foil Baron Blade].
- [Letter postscript mentions the option of naming a kid “Paula” instead of “Pauline”] There’s a story reason and a personal reason for not using Paula. One, it’s a rough name to saddle a teenager with (I mean, so is Pauline, so they’re stuck either way there). Additionally, Adam’s mom’s name is Paula and so that’s just not going to work for them.
- Opening statements re: Antimox and why nobody made the Gregory Nolan/Nathan Gregory connection, Gregory Nolan seemed almost a throwaway character who was just there to set up the important thing, Isoflux Alpha, which is produced due to the activity of the Nolan Generator (the emphasis on his surname, not the shared “Gregory”). Additionally, a main theme of Isoflux Alpha is that it’s not a controllable substance, so a description of a villain who’s “giving” people powers seemed like it would be unrelated. As a result, the connection of “Gregory” and “physics” probably weren’t as great a set of breadcrumbs as you were thinking. It’s possible that somebody may have eventually put it together, but I’m not surprised nobody did.] They agree that the breadcrumbs weren’t obvious. What’s weird is that the audience has picked up on stuff that was way less obvious than even these were. It’s not that they’re sad that nobody got it - they got to have their big reveal this time! It’s just a little odd for this fandom to have missed this one considering how good we typically are at sussing out stuff like this.
- How long was there between his disappearance and his reformation as an energy being? “Some time later.” Not minutes, but not years either. The time between Gregory Nolan disappearing and him showing up with his totally-real credentials as Nathan Gregory was probably years, but not a decade. He was definitely an established professor before Felicia started attending the school. It’s not super important and we only really see this period in flashbacks.
- What made him decide to go into teaching? He is into physics stuff and likes teaching stuff/sharing his knowledge. He probably feels fondness for most of his students. He just also has zero compunctions about experimenting on them. Some scientists feel fondness for the rats or other animals they use in experiments.
- [Questions “What’s his ultimate goal? What plots did he succeed in before/while Felicia was there?” that were read off at the same time as the above ones were not addressed.]
- What did he do during OblivAeon? Where is he now? Does he continue to be a Legacy foe? He’s not a part of the OblivAeon story and we haven’t seen him since then. His identity was not revealed and he survived, but who’s to say where he shows up. Maybe Nathan Gregory gets a job teaching at Freedom Academy (he is not currently).
- Is Antimox himself a reason that shutting down the Nolan Generator wouldn’t stop Isoflux Alpha from being generated out in the world? No, the Nolan Generator acts as they described it. “Shutting it down” shuts off the power generation process, but not the generation of the antimatter that’s used in that process. Eventually this would lead to an explosion.
- Is there any meaning or origin to the name “Antimox”? It’s just a cool-sounding word that they got from riffing on “antimatter” and deciding that they wanted just one syllable after the “anti-” prefix. This is a similar process to how they got Infinitor.
- How does he make sure that the Omegas he creates wind up villainous? Is he unintentionally the origin story for some heroes too? He’s not just willy-nilly turning people into Omegas (except for the ones like Dr. Medico and Mainstay that are incidentally created by him in that his invention is key to creating Isoflux Alpha generally). The people he’s experimenting on are people that are, in one way or another, “on the edge” and he just pushes them over that edge when he makes them Omegas. Then he just sits back to observe. Turning out “villainous” isn’t necessarily the right description, though. Sometimes it’s more just chaotic or like a “monster” that’s not really rational. Often they’re villains by circumstance - they wind up doing “bad stuff” without having an explicitly villainous mindset.
- Is Legacy immune to the effects of Isoflux Alpha? There are no known examples of Isoflux Alpha granting powers to somebody who already has powers. Additionally, the vast majority of people are “immune” to Isoflux Alpha in that exposure doesn’t do anything to them. It’s a freak event for it to do anything to anybody and when it does it just exaggerates some aspect of your personality as your powers key in on that.
- Given that the Nolan Generator is a Fixed Point, is the superhuman rebirth of Gregory Nolan one as well? If not, is Antimox Singular? Antimox is not Singular, but neither is he a Fixed Point. In some realities he only gets injured by the generator’s activation, in others he did everything safely and he suffers no ill effects, in others he gets destroyed and in some of those he reforms. In some it’s even possible that it destroys the entire universe.
- How does one spell Antimox? Antimox.
- How did you go the whole episode where you named the football jock “Leather-fist” without considering the name “Pigskin”? They did consider it. It wasn’t evocative of the character they wanted him to be. Pigskin would have to have porcine qualities (he’d be a “big football pig”), and they didn’t want him to have those.
- What is Mathlete’s name (and does his “good at math” quality break away from the racial/ethnic/gender stereotypes)? He’s definitely not an Asian boy. He’s likely still a stereotypical nerd, but they would specifically not have him be Asian by the time this character was introduced. They pause to invent a name and he’s Terry Alexander (the comics never specify if that’s short for “Terence” or not).
- [Writer is under the mistaken impression that Mathlete doesn’t have powers and is just really good at seeing how things will play out.] That ability to work through the consequences of actions/lightning calculation is how his Omega-ness has manifested.
- What does his costume look like (some kind of fractal design, maybe)? He’s likely got a vambrace with a calculator or something. Like a Power Glove kind of thing on one hand for him to do tech things with. Those can have wires leading up to his body, and can even be a little loose so that they can move a bit for visual interest in illustration, but his costume is made up of photovoltaic panels. The gear he’s got needs power from something and he’s got all of this surface area going to waste otherwise.
- Is he just doing villainous things that Felicia opposes or does he have a particular grievance with Young Legacy? His intelligence gives him a sense of superiority. He thinks that Young Legacy is also special and so is also better than others, which leads to kind of a one-way grievance from her to him where she rejects his lumping of the two of them into the “better than other people” category. He’s kind of a Citizen Dawn-lite. She considers unpowered people to be a lesser kind of creature entirely, while he would just put himself above them as a philosopher king.
- What is the tone of Mathlete’s appearances in comics? From full-camp to a more serious Biomancer-like “all according to plan”? More on the camp end without being all the way there. Maybe 25% up from full-camp towards the more serious mastermind end.
- Any chance for him to appear in future RPG content? Normally they’d be cagey about it, but while it’s likely that he eventually shows up in something, they don’t have any particular plans regarding him a the moment. It easily could happen; no specific plans currently.