The Letters Page: Episode 182
Writers’ Room: Justice Comics #299
Time for a quick switcheroo!
Run Time: 1:25:22
Let's swap some bodies! Just who will get swapped, and to what end? The cover above gives at least a little of it away, but not enough to ruin the story... not by a long shot!
After about 38 minutes of storytelling (sprinkled liberally with goofs), we get to your questions, which range far and wide! High and low! Inside and outside! Cats and dogs, living together!
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- They’re doing a “body swap” story today and they’ve both independently arrived at the same restriction on the story: it’s not Biomancer.
- Do they want to do it through magic, technology, or what? It kind of depends on who’s involved. Other important questions: are they doing hero/hero, hero/villain, or villain/villain? Is it intentional or not? What era do they want to tell the story in (a Silver Age story would play differently from a modern one, for example)? Let’s do Silver Age - how about the early-to-mid ’60s?
- Books around where this could fit in that era: Justice Comics, Cosmic Tales, Ra: God of the Sun, Mystery Comics, Freedom Five, Tome of the Bizarre, of Indestructible Bunker (they also mention that Stylin’ Shirley was around then, but out-of-continuity as well as Beatnik Love and Popular Teen Romance as books that existed). While TotB seems like the easiest option here, Adam likes JC as the place for it.
- Next up is who? The three most obvious choices for who to have as part of such a story would be Legacy, Wraith, and Baron Blade. A story with those characters (two of them or all three) would be fine, but do we want to do something a bit less obvious? Adam wants to do a “hero gone bad” kind of story so we’re likely looking at a hero/villain swap. Who is the protagonist - it’s likely the hero-in-a-villain’s-body who now has to stop “themself”, potentially with other heroes also working against them.
- Adam’s idea for who to use for the villain is Head Doctor [the villain from a Parse story in the ’80s that wound up being used as Highbrow’s backstory]. There’s still a question of whether he’d just be the one who does the body-swap or if he’s one of the people being swapped around too. Adam thinks that as he’s this older, kind of feeble guy having, say, Legacy stuck in that body and having to figure out how to undo it could be fun. Christopher thinks he wants to shy away from Legacy, though.
- Here’s an idea: Tachyon. Head Doctor knows enough science stuff to pull off being Tachyon in most cases and her need to over-explain everything could work against her as it just makes her sound like a mad scientist if she doesn’t have the personal reputation to lean on. This does leave us with another “evil Tachyon” story, but she’s a good person to remove from normal circumstances because if there’s anybody on the heroes’ side who would normally be able to solve this problem, it’s her. Having her be the victim makes undoing it that much more difficult (plus, while she’s still brilliant, her brain will now only be at “normal” speeds as she tries to figure out what to do). That could also be how she gets one over on Head Doctor - she knows that when she first got powers that she had to get used to thinking so fast. At first she convinced herself that because she could think through so many options so quickly that she had gone through all options and so made mistakes. She capitalizes on that same blind spot to defeat Head Doctor.
- The classic Silver Age way to start this story off is to do so in medias res and showing Tachyon doing evil things. Christopher suggests having it start with her going about a morning routine with internal monologue showing that she’s glad that everything worked and that now it’s time to bring down the Freedom Five. Adam objects in that this is “too good” in terms of setting up the storytelling. Early-to-mid ’60s is cheesier.
- What you can do is have the opening page showing her cackling as she destroys a dam or whatever the plot is with a narration bubble saying “Why is Tachyon [doing the thing]? Turn the page to find out!” and then go back to the beginning of the story. Most of the issue has her being “good” and just infiltrating the Freedom Five. At the end we find that Tachyon actually manages to prevent the dam from being destroyed by out-thinking Head Doctor (he can think faster than she can, but he’s not smarter than she is).
- Anyway, the “start” of the story has her going about work in the lab just feeling off somehow. Then she starts hearing a high-pitched whine that nobody else does. Cut to a rooftop some distance away where Head Doctor has a special kind of narrow-beam radio transmitter focusing on her. The device will shake up her psyche enough to dissociate it from her body at which point he can transmit his own mind along the beam to take control of her body. After the mental struggle her mind is sent back along the beam to his body, which he’s rigged up a trap to imprison as soon as he activates the transfer (all of this is told in his villainous monologue before activating it).
- Once it’s going we have a brief battle in a weird mental landscape “space” where he eventually throws her out.
- Meredith wakes up in Head Doctor’s body within the “prison pod” that he set up. A short time later “Tachyon” shows up to “stop” whatever the villainous Head Doctor. The rest of the team arrives and she shows off how “she’s” already stopped “him” - Meredith’s explanations of what’s happened just sounds like the ravings of a mad scientist and “Tachyon” can explain what the machine was supposed to do and has Legacy destroy the device so it can’t be used for mind control or whatever it was that Head Doctor had in mind. Even better, the explanation is pretty much exactly what the plan was (except maybe it’s just supposed to make the person think they’re Head Doctor) - “Good thing I stopped him in time.”
- Chapter 2 (comics could have internal “chapters” back then), days later. “Tachyon” and Wraith are discussing some project in the lab and have pulled up the dam schematics to discuss the power output needs for whatever they’re working on. “No, opening all the sluice gates all the way would never work. It’d be the same as destroying the dam.” They like the idea that, while Meredith is the one who defeats Head Doctor in the end by thinking better, not faster, something probably tips Wraith off and she figures out that something’s up like halfway through the story (if this was in the ’80s or later, it’d probably be Absolute Zero who figured it out due to their friendship).
- The original give-away moment was suggested to be something dumb along the lines of saying she liked peanut butter when Wraith knows that Tachyon’s allergic. A better idea is that Head Doctor, as Tachyon, is playing things really carefully. While that’s in-character for Tachyon once she’s actually doing something, in the brainstorming phase (like where they’re discussing the project’s power needs) Tachyon is all “move fast, break things” and so the care being taken in this case is out of character. Her public reputation for the care she takes to do things the right way and without collateral damage is at odds with the fast and loose brainstorming mental mode.
- After that scene, “Tachyon” sneaks off to do some sabotage. Eventually starting to mess with some Bunker suits. As she’s tinkering, trying to install some kind of module the suit’s head turns to look at her. This surprises the villain, but then it’s revealed that it’s actually Wraith in the suit. She knew that “Tachyon” was up to something and would try to mess with their gear - and while Wraith might not be a match for Tachyon, being in the Bunker suit might even the odds. So we close out this “chapter” with a fight: Head Doctor in Tachyon’s body vs. Wraith in a Bunker suit. The end result here is simply “Tachyon” escaping, and now that the jig is up there’s no reason to not just go do the villainous plot overtly.
- As such, “Tachyon” goes on a crime spree. Bank robbery, something blown up, candy stolen from a baby, etc. Or maybe at least they’re all crimes leading to something, like the plan is to build a big version of the thing he had Legacy destroy so that he can take over the minds of everyone in the city or something. The power situation still requires the dam to be involved, though. Wraith remembers the conversation about power needs, though and so we get a nice Legacy-explains-the-stakes-to-the-readers thing in his surprise at how villainous this plot is.
- Where’s “Head Doctor” been this whole time? In jail, still in the pod (“he’s too dangerous to release!”). After Wraith discovers the truth she goes to the jail and finds that “Head Doctor” has managed to get one arm free of the thing. The inside of the pod is covered in equations and diagrams that Meredith has drawn as she’s worked something out and she’s making progress on her escape.
- No, too passive for our hero. She’s already escaped. The pod is open and we see the diagrams, but she’s also left a note for the Wraith. She assumed that Wraith would be the one to figure things out and come looking for her - there’s no time to waste, meet up at the dam. She assumes that Wraith would get here at 2:45 on Tuesday. Wraith checks her watch, it’s 2:43 (“You underestimate me”).
- They like that this has kind of turned into a Wraith/Tachyon team-up. Sure, the guys are around in the finale to do their parts in the fight or whatever, but this is won by Wraith and Tachyon using their minds against the bad guy.
- How do we get Tachyon back in her body? Well, the plan is to broadcast the Head Doctor’s mind into everybody else’s body, so the machine is right there for the heroes to turn back on him. They also like the idea of Wraith kind of setting him up - by pointing out that Tachyon’s much less methodical in the planning stages, it prompts him to go even faster through the planning process and leaves himself wide open to how they get him. Once he starts broadcasting his mind out to everybody, it leaves him vulnerable to having Tachyon reassert her place in her own body. Then they shut things down. They have his body in custody, but his mind is trapped out in the radio waves. For the next chunk of time in the comics, the Head Doctor is just a voice on the radio. That’s a sufficiently Silver Age thing to have happen.
- An idea is to have the heroes “plan” be to surround the machinery with a bunch of radios and so he’s getting his mind signal intercepted by those instead of making it out to people. Meanwhile, Tachyon’s actual plan involved her “uploading” her own mind to one of these radios ahead of time and then we can have another “mental battle” scene in the radio. She compliments him on his prison pod design - she’s managed to make a facsimile here in radioland and traps him here before going back to her body. He’s not just a voice on the radiowaves, he’s trapped in a specific radio. He’s still got a strong mental presence, but all of the other radio signals (songs, news reports, advertisements, etc.) distract/disrupt him.
- The dam is saved because he needed to activate the machine to get his mind out into the signal before the power gets boosted by the dam’s destruction, but when Tachyon takes her body over again she’s able to stop that second stage from triggering.
- Christopher’s mean finale: back in the lab, AZ comes in and hears the voice on the radio Tachyon’s listening to. “What’s that?” “I don’t know. Some weird radio play? Let’s put something else on.” She turns to a different station that has music. That’s when we “zoom in” to find the Head Doctor is trapped in this specific radio that Tachyon’s got in her lab, which she can tune to not allow him to be heard (in fact, he’s forced to listen to whatever Tachyon tunes in to). That’s unbelievably cruel, but also completely on-brand for a Silver Age story. Surely no future writer would ever revisit the events of this one-off story and there will be no ramifications. It’s also fun that his comatose body is somewhere, but it’s not at all addressed in this comic.
- Specific issue: JC #300 is in April ’65, but this seems too much like a filler issue to be a big number like that. In that case, maybe it’s #299 to literally just fill space between a prior story and whatever big thing they have planned for #300. There we go, March 1965 it is.
- Including the story you just told, would you say that body-swap stories in Sentinel Comics are played more for laughs considering the potential for such stories to be rather silly? They would say “no”, but there are situations that are played for laughs. Villain plots are dire situations, loss of bodily autonomy is a scary issue.
- Any stories where there’s a body swap where the person winds up in a body they want to keep (say, Baron Blade into Legacy’s body, only to be thwarted by Legacy in Baron Blade’s body)? That’s kind of the story they just told. There could be a late ’80s/early ’90s story where somebody is unhappy with something about themselves and gets swapped into something else that they find more appealing, but by the end they discover stuff that they miss about how they were.
- These two responses prompt an aside how they like for their serious stories to have moments of humor in them and that comedic stories should have some serious aspects. The former in particular is just life - have you ever had things go bad enough that you just had to laugh? Or have something that seemed terrible at the time, but you’re able to look back on and find humor in it?
- Bloodsworn Professional Wrestling letter starts at 45 minutes with all of the production value we’ve come to expect:
- Could the Hippo finally defeat Haka if they swapped bodies, or would Haka’s experience still give him the win? We’ve seen Haka fight lots of things that are stronger than he is - the Hippo’s body gets thrown around a lot in the process of him eventually defeating Eddie in the Haka body. Eddie would be arrogant and assume that the increased strength would be enough.
- Voss vs. Tempest? This is a real rough battle. For this to be happening, it has to be before Voss gets banished outside of reality, which means it’s before Tempest works through any of his trauma. His goal here would be to defeat Voss in his body while simultaneously leaving Voss’ body wrecked in the process. Like, Voss is handicapped in that he has pride and wants to go on after this fight while Tempest would view killing both bodies off as a reasonable outcome as it means that Voss is dead.
- NightMist vs. Skinwalker GloomWeaver? Skinwalker GloomWeaver means that this is against Void-being NightMist. He’s not used to using Void magic, but getting access to it would not be a problem for him. Meanwhile, the Skinwalker body is actually a downgrade for GloomWeaver, so Faye’s at a disadvantage there too. This could be an interesting kind of Disparation thing to think about, because now you’ve got Void-body NightMist that’s actually also GloomWeaver with the green flames and whatnot going on.
- Green Grosser vs. Guise (i.e. what’s harder, dealing with a normal body after being Guise for a long time, or dealing with becoming Guise in the first place)? This one really depends on the story you’re telling. One way, Green Grosser is a clever guy while Guise is an idiot and so without the powers this one is Green Grosser at a walk. On the other hand, you can just as easily go in the direction where Guise knows what having his body is like and how Green Grosser would be having trouble with that nonsense and manages to trick/goad him into making mistakes.
- Prediction for today’s episode: Setback will be one of the parties involved and that his luck is part of the how/why the swap happens. Speculation on who else is involved: one possibility is members of Dark Watch and it would be fun to see people trying to use one another’s powers. Another is a villain where, say, Miss Information or the Seer was trying something only to have Setback’s luck foil the plan. Biomancer is also an option and if Wager Master is involved all bets are off. How did I do? All good options for body-swap stories, but none were accurate for today’s episode. Setback swapping with another hero is good because we get to see him using somebody else’s power, but he’d know that the biggest problem is what could happen to the other person given his luck. Actually, that’s a good question: would the curse/luck stay with his physical body or his mind/soul/etc.? Likewise with NightMist and the ability to do magic. Legacy’s strength wouldn’t transfer, but would his danger sense? To what extent is your brain your mind? We’re really getting into the weeds on this, but it would (as usual) come down to what the story being told was. Generally the simplest “powers stay with the body” is likely, but people like writing complicated stories too.
- [Letter writer mentions this Reddit thread regarding people who write into the podcast for use as a list of NPCs at Freedom Academy in an upcoming game - feel free to add to it.]
- Was Haka witness to any notable historical events? Yes [but then we get a long humorous list of stuff like “he was in town for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but didn’t attend the signing itself”, “He was on the Titanic, but then he got off. Like he was just helping a friend load some bags and took a look around before disembarking”, and “He helped build the Eiffel Tower”.]
- Did he meet any noteworthy historical people? He punched Hitler and Stalin. At the same time. He did that thing where he knocks their heads together. Seriously, though, these last two questions are more of a Writers’ Room prompt where they could do something similar to his holiday issue where he remembers a bunch of stuff he’s done.
- Did Haka ever find out that La Comodora was the source of his powers? Either way, how would he feel about a single person being responsible? Same with Arataki (assuming she has a similar backstory to Aata)? Neither of them know. Arataki’s backstory is very similar. He would not be furious about there being one person behind his tā moko fading and subsequent banishment, but he wouldn’t think that it was great. He would consider the good he was able to do over the centuries because of it. Aata (more so than Arataki) has arrived at the mindset of the past is the past - he can’t just hold onto things forever.
- After OblivAeon, are Aata and Arataki still connected? What happens if one is in a universe at a split point? Does Arataki still being inside the “sandwich bag” of Universe 1 prevent her from getting stronger if there’s a new Haka that happens in another reality? If the “bag” is broken and they meet, would Aata be stronger for having been out in the Multiverse? They are still connected. Any further split-off duplicates still get absorbed so that there are only two of them. The connection persists through the “sandwich bag” - there are metaphysical things that can still pass through it and so the stuff that La Comodora did still happens.
- [Long preamble about pretty boys, and thus Anthony Drake and Ansel G. Moreau who both have a connection to bars. The former worked in one, the latter has gotten into a number of bar fights.] Has Anthony ever needed to deal with a bar fight? How does he handle them (breaking them up, staying out of the way until they blow over, etc.)? He’d let the bouncers handle them - that’s their job. Before he becomes the Argent Adept we see a fight break out and he just ducks behind the bar until it’s done; he wants nothing to do with it. Once he is the Argent Adept, in the brief period before he quits, there’s a fight and he blows Eydisar’s Horn to get everybody’s attention, but it releases a bunch of magical energy into the bar and makes things worse. It’s one of a number of steps as he learns to use his powers properly.
- It sounds like Portal Fiends have a gestation period of approximately no time at all; how many of these things are there in the Realm of Discord? Are they short lived? Are they just rare enough that two of them meeting is uncommon to the point that they simply don’t have an opportunity to fill the place up? Am I just applying too much human logic to nonsense-land? Is the RoD just large enough that it can’t really ever be a problem? Mostly the last thing there. The place is essentially infinite. There are a bunch of Portal Fiends, but they live mostly solitary lives and when some do meet there’s always room for another. It works out in ways that haven’t been studied by humans.
- Are there any bounds to these esoteric places like the RoD, the Void, Ur-Space, etc.? In the same way that there are no bounds to the Universe that we know of. They are “immeasurably big”.
- Given that the Miss Information April’s Fool story managed to work in all of the mini-nemeses from her team deck, were the other VotM decks similarly themed after a specific issue/story? Kinda-sorta, yeah. They’re not just themed together in terms of what types of characters they are, but in groups of characters who have interacted. It’s not necessarily the case where there’s a specific story involving all of them, but if not you can likely take any given subset of them and have a story involving them.
- If each of those team-ups did happen, what was a Bugbear/Ammit story like? Can Ammit leave the Underworld or does she just make deals and grant powers to the others in the deck? Ammit is not in the Underworld. The times we’ve seen her depict parts of the Tomb of Anubis. Ammit definitely hires/bullies/cajoles Bugbear into doing weird tasks. Her whole shtick is being a manipulator. She’s played second-fiddle for millennia and doesn’t want notoriety for herself, just for things to happen as she wishes.
- Adam: how are you approaching art for “future” materials (given that we’re getting to the point where comics under discussion would be published after the present) given your approach to mimicking historical art styles for Definitive Edition? They don’t need to worry about it yet. Any SotM content, including DE content, would only go as far as 2016. The RPG materials have several years (2017 to the ever-advancing present) to explore before we get to the need for “future art” [I note that even the Starter Kit came out in 2017 and so was contemporary with the period in question]. Sure, the Vertex/Sentinel Tactics/Prime War art would have been the “future” from when it was made, but 1) they could make the excuse that Vertex was intentionally being created by older creative teams that got big in the ’80s and ’90s and 2) strictly speaking, nothing but DE will be “correct” in terms of art style. Events may be generally accurate, but before he started doing DE they weren’t trying so hard to map things into specific issues from specific dates.
- This is an opportunity for Adam to do a cover that he’s wanted to do for a long time. There was a semi-common trend in comics covers to have the hero doing something petty/terrible/generally unheroic. We can have this tie into the latter part of the issue where “Tachyon” is doing all of the fast crimes - “Why is Tachyon stealing everyone’s prized possessions?” (not that that has to be exactly what’s going on, because covers lie, but it sells the idea of Tachyon as a thief). She should be saying something too. “It’s not so much that I need this. It’s that I don’t want you to have it.” The point isn’t to be an accurate representation of the contents, but to get people to buy the issue.