The Letters Page: Episode 181
Writers’ Room: Disparation Vol. 2 #119
The fireworks are still going off here!
Run Time: 1:36:41
We do some small talk, and even a bit of medium talk, and then we get into the story!
By "story" I mean, slogging through coming up with versions of the heroes for the tale. Once we've got those, everything else goes smoothly. That's how it goes!
Lots of questions on a variety of topics, which we get into at around the 51 minute mark.
Join us next time, where we tell a Body Swap story!
- So, a Disparation issue with a prompt of “Freedom Four 1776”, so it’s going to be a patriotic, Revolutionary War thing. As such, it’s a July issue so lets put it in 2012.
- What’s the point of departure for this universe? Well, the event with Joseph Parsons warning Paul Revere and everything was in 1775. Let’s have it be that in this case, Wellspring does his thing, but instead of each generation of Parsons developing a new power, Joseph just develops a new one every year. So he starts off with Danger Sense as usual, then a year later or something he gets strength, and after a while he’d have the full suite of what we recognize as the “Legacy powers”.
- They want 2012 as the year as by then the whole Wellspring thing has actually been explained in comics.
- From there, it’s a matter of figuring out the rest of the team and tell a story where they do something. They’re thinking some British guy doing some actual supervillainy rather than just having the team doing standard Revolutionary War stuff. Like, they stop a very bad thing from happening that then allows history to play out more or less normally.
- Joseph Parsons is likely the only necessary member with the rest of the team up for discussion. Is he “Legacy”? Sure, having the name based on the ring Paul Revere gave him still works and it’s helpful to have the familiar name. They think he’s recognizably “Legacy”, although with much different costume and speech pattern. What all powers does he have? Flight might not be something we’d want for this story, but there’s no reason he has to get the exact same powers in the same order. Let’s go with Danger Sense (because that’s the standard starting point) and from there strength, durability, and keen eyesight are probably sufficient. He’s still the inspirational leader kind of guy. His durability likely has the one big hit thing, but not full bullet-proof yet. They imagine he’s maybe “bullet-resistant” where he can still be injured by them, but more likely to leave him bruised with some gashes here and there (or broken bones if unlucky) rather than being killed outright.
- Some version of both Wraith and Bunker also fit in here really easily. Wraith’s kind of stealthy, guerrilla warfare shtick (possibly from up in the trees) can work, but it’s almost too easy to let that role make her a Native American - can we do better in 2012? Adam brings up that we can keep the “socialite” angle too. His initial pitch was just this lady who demurely sits at home and sews flags (“So you’re saying that the Wraith is Betsy Ross?” “Yeah, kinda.”), but we can go farther by having her be the wife of some British Naval Officer who’s stationed in the area and is part of the society stuff going on, is in a position to overhear all kinds of stuff that the men don’t expect the women to pay attention to, and is publicly a loyalist, but is really secretly a Revolutionary. This also lets us keep the character trait where having a secret identity is very important. “Montgomery” also still sounds like a proper English name as well. In talking through her first name they wanted to keep the alliteration. They actually like Meredith Montgomery and think it’s a fun fake-out. The officer introduces his wife Meredith at some point and the readers are expected to think they’re going a Tachyon route with her until we find out her role later. They’re imagining her to have a very Scarlet Pimpernel kind of vibe (the aesthetic touchstone was the frayed hat in the Bloodborne game, but they make it a frayed bicorn rather than tricorn).
- There’s a discussion to be had around how “magical” they want these characters to be. We already have Joseph with superpowers, but for the most part his are just adding up to “strong/tough guy”. Do we want something as overtly supernatural as Absolute Zero? Probably not, in the same vein that we don’t really want somebody with a technological suit. We could have somebody who was, say, buried in an avalanche and survived when they shouldn’t have. Still AZ-like, but not something at his level of weird. Maybe some small levels of ice-generation, but not battlefield-scale stuff.
- Running with that, we have a Native American guy who fell into and was frozen in a river one winter. His people moved on left him there, assuming he was dead, but he still had a low heartbeat or something. Joseph Parsons finds him and thaws him out. He’s more comfortable out in the cold now, but not to AZ’s level of “room temperature will kill him”. Christopher does some research into the people of the region and tries to come up with a name they like. They settle on Tatakki Mosk, “Ice Bear”. He’s a big guy and maybe he can freeze his skin in such a way as to make himself more resilient (not “ice armor” levels, but still tough). They can see him filling the Bunker role of “tank” in that way while also being the AZ analogue. He can also do a thing where he grabs the barrel of a musket and his cold can make it brittle so he can snap it in half. Maybe icicles form on his hands, giving him the impression of having claws too. Give him some fur clothing to sell the bear look. He’s a big, tough, icy brawler guy rather than being ranged.
- So far the team is Legacy in a fairly standard incarnation, Wraith as a spy character passing along information but who winds up having to fight to avoid capture eventually, and Ice Bear who gives us both the AZ and Bunker connections. What do we do for the fourth member? Probably somebody French? We’ve got the very American Joseph Parsons, the British Meredith Montgomery, and the native Tatakki Mosk. Let’s throw in a French person - how about a Québécois? They might go back to the Bunker well here and have this be a more military person as none of the others so far were. They could lean on the French thing and model this person on Ambuscade or the Canadian thing and do Expatriette (via her mother’s nationality), but so far we’ve been looking at amalgamations of Freedom Four/Five people so maybe we should stick with that.
- They can have a veteran of the French and Indian War who’s done with all of this military stuff. So far the only Tachyon connection is the name “Meredith”, so maybe after that very Tyler Vance military background, we can have him becoming something of a naturalist who’s trying to learn about the native flora/fauna to get the kind of “scientist” role. Adam actually doesn’t want to do this. Using Tachyon as just the bait-and-switch with the name is sufficient. It’s a “Freedom Four” story, so people are probably keyed up already to expect no AZ equivalent, so throwing out that there’s no Tachyon might be fun for that reason too.
- Oh, that’s fun. With Ice Bear being the AZ backstory with the Bunker suit team role, and this French person having Tyler Vance’s backstory we could go an unexpected direction with the team role - Unity. He left the military and went off to be a trapper out in the wilds and started building complicated trap mechanisms. He’s not making “robots”, but could be little clockwork or other spring-loaded kinds of gadgets.
- Adam thinks that he’d still like a bit more combat application for this last member. Like, more than just the military background/tactics stuff. Christopher’s idea with the traps and stuff fit in with the Revolutionaries using more guerrilla tactics so “traps” make more sense, but Adam thinks that this is stepping on Ice Bear’s background stuff a bit. The Unity angle isn’t bad, but let’s think more “soldier” and less “trapper”.
- Let’s look at who we’re not using and what they boil down to. Tachyon is “fast”, but if we’re not going obviously supernatural with it we don’t really have enough to work with here (Wraith’s already going to be fast, and somebody who can win a footrace isn’t interesting enough). Unity makes mechanical minions (Christopher suggested “gadgets”, but Adam points out that that in particular is also a Wraith thing). Bunker is “lots of guns” - how could one do this in the era we’re set in? Lots of belts and straps and bandoliers and whatnot with pistols and muskets - they’re all already loaded and you just pull one out, shoot it, then drop it to pull out the next. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem particularly “only this person can do it” nor does it feel like Bunker in particular.
- Let’s go a slightly different direction. Instead of “lots of guns”, he’s got one big one - he has a small cannon that he carries and has rigged up a way to use it as a personal weapon (firing round shot for single targets or grape shot if he needs to spread it out some). This packs a wallop and is ranged which is something the team has been lacking so far. Also, while Legacy is still really strong, this version probably isn’t putting out cannonball-levels of damage.
- This is a big, ponderous weapon, though. Armor wouldn’t be a bad idea. For fun, let’s say that he’s got his grandfather’s (or even further back) suit of actual plate armor. It’s incomplete and is using the 16th Century equivalent of duct-tape in terms of how he’s got it secured to his person, but it’s a fun look. He’s got the cannon slung on one side and a heavy container on the other to hold the ammunition (and help counter-balance the weight of the cannon).
- While the gadgets angle didn’t survive, they like calling him L’Unité. Former soldier who moved on to fighting for things he believes in. They already got Ice Bear’s origin connected to Legacy. Wraith’s got to be handing off her intel to somebody so she’s likely got connections to Revolutionary leaders somewhere and thus could meet Legacy through that route. L’Unité sees this ragtag group of people fighting the British and thinks that this is the fight for him and joins them.
- They pause to think of the name for L’Unité, but in the process also come up with the villain. L’Unité is Fabien Carreleur [ha! French carreleur is “tiler” in English - tiler, Tyler get it?]
- The villain for the issue is one Cornelius Blyth. He’s a Baron who has gotten involved in war profiteering. He’s used his status and wealth to get into the weapons game and has developed something that makes use of that brand new technology, the steam engine. He’s got a steam ship, the Locomotive Assault Vessel, that uses the motive power of the engine to also swap out the cannons after firing so that it can keep up a very high rate of fire. This still requires a large crew to reload them as they go, so Baron Blyth has his Battalions at hand to do so. It moves by using one large steam-driven wheel on each side and can navigate up rivers. Additionally, the smooth steel construction of the hull lets it actually use the wheels to drag it over land. It’s not an fast process, but it can do it.
- Now we can actually get to the story as the comic tells it. We start with a very truncated telling of Joseph Parsons getting his power as usual, but then developing more of them. He finds this Native American guy frozen in a river and he and Paul Revere pull him out and get him thawed by the fire.
- Meanwhile, we meet this British Naval Officer who knows so much about what’s going on, etc. He goes home to his wife Meredith and they prepare to go to some fancy party and are talking about how dumb these Colonials are. At some point we get the Montgomery name-drop. That night, Meredith sneaks out to tell the Revolutionaries everything she’s found out. On her way home she encounters some redcoats and winds up having to stab one to keep her identity secret. She is in it now, rather than just passing information, but now she’s also got the British military looking for this “wraith” in the night.
- We return to the Revere home where Tatakki Mosk tells his story, including how his people left him assuming he was already dead. He doesn’t have a people anymore - he’s not a member of a pack like wolves, but a solitary bear (Christopher revels in the fact that he can make both ice puns and bear puns - “It’s unbearably cold out here”).
- Paul Revere is out doing “Revolutionary Leader” things, so it’s just Joseph and Tatakki at the house when Meredith Montgomery shows up warning of some bad things that are about to go down. It’s just the three of them who go off to stop some soldiers from carting off a bunch of people in the area who were in debt to the British aristocracy here.
- One of the people they break out, who had been in considerable debt, is Fabien Carreleur. “Zey have taken my box of zings. Can we get my box of zings?” [Despite specifically saying that he’s not Ambuscade, the line reads for how they’re presenting this guy strikes me as very Ansel Moreau regardless.] He gets his armor and cannons and the team is complete.
- The team eventually comes across a town that’s been completely leveled. They find one survivor who’s barely alive who tells them about some horrible contraption and that it when that way.
- The story cuts there to the background/introduction of Baron Blyth, his Blyth Battalions, and his Locomotive Assault Vessel to get the readers up to speed on what the heroes are facing when we get to the actual plan of destroying Boston.
- Wraith and Ice Bear sneak up to the side where the latter freezes a portion. L’Unité then uses his cannon to blow a hole in the hull and the heroes infiltrate the thing and fight the Battalion members inside. Baron Blyth thought himself safe in this metal monstrosity, but when the heroes fight their way to the deck they find that he is also an accomplished swordsman.
- The heroes win, but Blyth has an escape plan. He slashes the straps that let L’Unité hold his cannon which rolls down the deck, knocking people off their feet long enough for him to jump into a boat on the deck, which has a cover go over it before it gets loaded into the massive deck gun that then fires him away from the LAV by about 100 feet or something. His escape boat skids on the ground for a while before making it into the water at which point Blyth makes his escape in this tiny steam-engine escape boat.
- The LAV is destroyed and the Revolutionaries now have a stock of cannons they can repurpose for their own uses.
- So, that took a while to get the pieces in place, but then the story came together really quick. They especially like how L’Unité turned out with his ancestral, great-great-etc. grandfather’s armor and a cannon he stole off of some ship that he was supposed to be on (it’s not likely that it even needed to be more than his grandfather’s armor, but they like the idea of him spouting off a bunch of greats every time he mentions it - or even that he says stuff like “as my great-great-whatever grandfather said” periodically where he’s making up some idiom off the top of his head, but attributes them to his ancestor).
- Thinking about La Capitan and the Multiverse, could there be a version of her out there that fixes time instead of breaking it? Would such a character have helped out during OblivAeon? Yeah, there is a version of her that fixes stuff. Her name is La Comodora. She’s an odd case in that there’s not your standard “Disparation” duplicates of her like we see with most other characters. Sure, there are alternate versions of her, but her nature is one that’s so “causally disruptive” so as to make her history hard to track easily and they jump around to alternate universes enough that it’s almost impossible to keep track of who’s from where. There are versions of her that do things for different reasons (doing bad for bad’s sake, just being selfish and acting accordingly, trying to do good but messing up, etc.) but the major arc of La Comodora’s character is her looking back and seeing that even when she was doing her best to do right, she screwed things up because of the problems inherent in time travel. She takes it upon herself to go track down other versions of herself, fix what she can of what they’ve all done, scrub them of their time stuff, then drop them back where they belong.
- Does Sentinel Comics have any Sentai/Kamen Rider-style heroes (not counting Idealist’s costume)? If so, were they part of the main comics line or some other imprint? If there is such a thing, it would not be in the main line continuity and they haven’t explored it.
- Do we ever get more stories in the anime/manga-verse introduced Disparation Vol. 2 #21? If not, how about its neighboring tokusatsu universe full of rubber suits and monsters that conveniently blow up without causing any collateral damage when defeated? They are sure that the anime-verse gets revisited, but they’re not sure about a tokusatsu-verse. Adam feels that we’re more likely to have a sengoku universe (although we got a little of that with the Chrono-Ranger story in Tome of the Bizarre Vol. 3 #61). A straight-up kaiju-verse might be fun (where there are normal people, but kaiju attacks are just constant - you get your weather report and your kaiju battle report and just do your best to live your life normally).
- How about Absolute Zero as a Kamen Rider kind of guy on a cool motorcycle? They can see some room for AZ being an Ultraman type - that could be fun.
- What does Super Sentai Idealist say when she “transforms” into that outfit? The shtick here is that she tries out a bunch of different catch phrases, trying to find one that works.
- Is Tachyon the hero with the most known villainous counterparts (Inversiverse, Visionary’s timeline, the “Magical Freedom Five” timeline where she works with Baron Blade, and the Vertex timeline)? Probably.
- If so, what makes her more appealing than others for this treatment? Are there any heroes you’d like to write a new evil version for in a future Writers’ Room? As a character, she’s basically “What if a mad scientist was good?” so she’s already starting pretty close to that line. Both of her power sets can drift into that territory fairly easily. The seeking after knowledge/experimentation angle is well-established in fiction as a drive towards villainous behavior and, while speedsters tend to be heroic in comics, the power set is easily one that can be abused (it’s dangerous to people around you, you can do stuff without people being able to see that it’s you doing it, etc.). The only category of powers they think is more likely to head in that direction are the whole psychic suite (which is why Visionary’s story goes the way it does).
- The cover for Disparation Vol. 2 #134 says that it’s a “free digital edition” - how common was it for Sentinel Comics to be published in that way? Were there other notable issues like this? Adam put it on there because it was on every book at that time. It’s not that the book was free - just that if you bought the print comic you also got access to the digital version. Everybody was doing that sort of thing at the time (late ’00s to early ’10s) to try to get people interested in reading their comics in a digital format in the first place. Adam thinks that comic sales for digital has never gotten to the point where it probably should be - they’re shooting themselves in the foot by charging the full cover price for the digital version. Of course, there are also people for whom reading comics (or even just books in general) in digital format just isn’t the same and/or collectors who are a big part of the audience, but who want the physical book to put in their collection with the rest.
- Do Sky-Scraper and Unity have any notable interactions? What would Portja-bot be like? They definitely have interactions given how long Sky-Scraper spent as supporting cast for the Freedom Five and living in Freedom Tower. A bunch of it is Portja not understanding humanity and Unity being really enthusiastic about giving her “advice”. She’s not a troll giving bad advice intentionally, but her advice tends to be bad regardless. People giving her advice kind of exist on a spectrum. The Freedom Five collectively tend to be in the middle, varying in usefulness by the specific topic. The best advice she got throughout the ’90s was from Aminia Twain. Then there’s Unity giving bad advice. There was almost certainly a robot version of her as Unity made them of basically everyone at some point (especially the people she spends a lot of time around, and with both of them living in Freedom Tower Sky-Scraper would qualify, although the Freedom Five wind up being the standards just to keep things simple).
- When Porja play chess, does she make herself tiny to walk around the board and get a different perspective on the game? Yeah, sure. It probably doesn’t help as it limits her ability to see the overall board state, but she probably does it at least once.
- Can you talk more about her friendship/relationship with K.N.Y.F.E./Rival? They can. Oh, you want them to do so now? Uh… They like being in a space ship together. Rival likes going out to find the spiciest food and hardest alcohol she can when they arrive on a new planet. She can handle the worst that Earth has to offer, but there’s been many a time when Vantage winds up having to go find her, sizes herself up a bit, and then carries a rather worse-for-wear Rival back to the ship all nuzzled up against her. “Rival is aggressively self-destructive, but in the most fun way possible.” “She is reasonably immature” in that she keeps a lid on things while she’s working, but if she’s off the clock and can cut loose, she does so like she means it. She’s lived this military, highly-regimented life and can do so just fine, but she overcompensates in the other direction when it’s not required of her. She’s also all about the fight. She’s not interested in fighting 600 ninjas who all go down easy, but in fighting the 3 ninjas who are each slightly too strong for her. The same goes with other interests - she wants that drink that will knock her on her ass or the food that’s spicy enough to set her mouth on fire. She’s not going to get in a drinking contest on a planet where the inhabitants have a much lower tolerance than humans.
- The discussion about Sky-Scraper often being supporting cast for other heroes got me thinking, are there any heroes that were specifically created to fill that role (support for more popular heroes)? Unity for one - well, she was to drive interest of children in her origins as an animated character, but her role within the comics was as supporting cast for the Freedom Five. That doesn’t really happen much with the heroes we know about, though. Every hero is created by somebody who hopes that their creation will be the next big thing and really take off. There might be an interesting Creative Process to be had related to this, but who knows.
- Prompted by a previous question about Thorathian bias in favor of duality having ramifications in how they treat (or completely ignore to the point of not believing such things exist) non-heterosexual relationships: how did Portja react to such things once she arrived on Earth? Does she acclimate to it? If another Thorathian were to come to Earth, how would they react to this situation? Sky-Scraper was becoming a more prominent character throughout the ’90s and eventually this sort of thing would come up. She’d accept it without problems. She’s so far along on the “Thorathians have everything wrong” train of thought that of course they’d be wrong about this too. Additionally, but this time she’d have spent a lot of time around a large variety of aliens as well during her time in the Colosseum and would have been exposed to people with other numbers of genders already. Other Thorathians would have a harder time accepting any of this nonsense (Vyktor is “everything-phobic” and is, by design, about the worst person you can imagine).
- Thinking about how “non-binary” status might apply to Thorathians, how would they react to a pink-skinned Thorathian who unequivocally had a single power? They can think of a story where society expects that they have a second power we just haven’t seen/figured out yet, but the person knows that they only have the one power and have to hide the fact and try to fake having a second power somehow. Eventually the truth comes out and despite this being the only shortcoming they have as a “good Thorathian”, they lose everything due to not fitting into what society expects of them. The Thorathian government probably “disappears” any gay Thorathians because they don’t exist is the official narrative. It’s an incredibly terrible society.
- What Sky-Scraper’s boyfriend Theodore Geisel named after Dr. Seuss (full name Theodor Seuss Geisel)? No, his name is Theodore Cassell, not Geisel.
- After the OblivAeon event, who helps out all of the heroes from other realities who are stranded in Universe 1 (the Department of Exo-Earth Integration seems a likely candidate, but my previous thought was Freedom Academy)? Yeah, the DEI is probably helping out with that. Freedom Academy likely has some participation, but not everybody would wind up going that route. There isn’t a cookie-cutter answer for who helps them. Some probably get duped into helping a villain. Some probably just made do on their own.
- We don’t have a sense of scale for Tantrum as seen on Sky-Scraper’s card “Proportionist” - how tall is she and where is this encounter taking place? The blue and green vertical bars are just how Adam was doing an abstract “city” background at the time. Tantrum is somewhere between 3 and 4 feet tall (probably closer to the second, she’s supposed to be a “small girl” in size).
- Given that Isoflux Alpha is in some ways “radioactive waste”, are there any stories where the transformative process of becoming an Omega proves fatal? Could Omegas eventually succumb to ailments brought on by their exposure to the stuff later on? Yeah, there’s probably some stories where things go badly - Antimox is experimenting on enough people that somebody likely undergoes a transformation that kills them outright and others who are “successfully” transformed, but then their powers eventually overwhelm them. Most Omegas seem stable, but that doesn’t mean that they are.
- How is Antimox exposing his experimental subjects to Isoflux Alpha? Does he set up elaborate situations such that the person will basically stumble into it, or is he more hands-on and squirts some nerds with a water gun while they’re elbow-deep in whatever their interest is? We see both approaches (with the latter likely being more “pouring it on somebody he’s got caged in his lab” or even injecting them with it rather than sniping them with a Super Soaker™).
- Given that the world of the Final Wasteland wasn’t destroyed in a giant antimatter explosion, but we know that the Nolan Generator couldn’t be turned off without this happening, does this mean that there are a bunch of Omega cryptids out there? Does Isoflux Alpha have a shelf life before it decays or does it just stick around? Isoflux Alpha will break down in a relatively short amount of time. The fact that Antimox can collect and store it is notable and unique to him. They think that it will only likely stick around out in nature for a matter of minutes.
- Surely it’s been created in larger bodies of water than the puddles and whatnot we’ve seen - does it diffuse out like dissolved salt or would it stick together like an oil slick? If in a large enough body of water would it dilute itself down to the point where it would not be able to create an Omega? It diffuses, but its short half-life means that it doesn’t get a chance to spread out much in a large body of water.
- Suggestion for podcast audience: Pannapictapodcastlis’nas - given that a pannapictagraphist is a collector of comic books.
- Letter writer here at the end mentions that they have a friend whom they got into the podcast without that person being into the games. They were introduced to SotM and while they didn’t latch onto the game, they were interested in the characters and hearing more about them.
- Adam’s immediate thought here is a variation on “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze. Christopher is into this. He can even have the O in Disparation be the circle of stars from the early American flag. Maybe, if there’s room, there could be a hint to the Locomotive Assault Vessel in the background.
- Christopher also tries to make this an oil painting or an “Alex Ross cover”, but Adam’s just going to do what he can. It will likely take way longer than usual [and it did - he spent 3 days on it].