The Letters Page: Episode 183
Writers' Room: Arcane Tales Vol. 2 #534
Biomancer is back, but with a more explained plan than ever before! Still not THAT much explanation, though. It's still Biomancer.
Run Time: 1:29:54
We're excited to bring you another Biomancer story. He's very much a "sometimes food", but we enjoy it when it comes up.
We do some goofs, figure out where/when in the history of Sentinel Comics this issue lands, and tell the various parts of this story, all of which takes just over half an hour! We're getting pretty good at this.
Then, we get into a ton of mostly-Biomancer focused questions. Go figure that such an enigmatic figure would raise so many questions.
Join us next week for a Disparation Writers' Room all about La Comodora in the Extremeverse! Get your questions in now!
- Today’s topic is a Writers’ Room dealing with the Clone-Ranger and CON story. This has been touched on briefly back in the Biomancer episode, but we’re getting a more complete picture this time.
- We need to pick a point in time for this comic to have been published as establishing that date tells us a lot about what the audience expectations/knowledge of Biomancer plots were (in that, this is an actual Biomancer plot where we know what he’s doing rather than just him existing and having plots generally as a character trait). They’re thinking sometime in the ’00s or later - possibly even after the Biomancer fake-out “Vengeance: Returned” sequel story [which ran July-December ’08].
- Sometime between that story and the Temporal Targets limited series [December ’09 through May ’10] that resulted in Chrono-Ranger being stuck outside of time and space (and Ambuscade turning away from villainy) could be good placement. That gives us a solid year to work with, although there’s a case to be made for CON being compromised being a mystery for Temporal Targets and today’s issue being used to explain it after the fact. They agree that having it as set-up rather than mystery-resolution is better, so June ’09 it is - Arcane Tales Vol. 2 #534.
- In discussion of which title it could appear in we get the details that Tome of the Bizarre isn’t really available at this time [which I assume is down to the Naturalist being the headliner at the time], but also mention that while Arcane Tales only recently started being the title again [taking over from being Ra: God of the Sun] and that today’s issue would "have to go after the ‘fighting spirit’ story and before the ‘Harpy with the Fae Court and Court of Blood’ stuff", which are fun tidbits. This leaves a 6-issue gap between those two 6-issue stories in AT, but this isn’t likely part of a 6-issue run itself, just part of a grab-bag of issues between larger stories (although likely collected as a trade eventually as an anthology thing given that TotB wasn’t acting in that capacity at the time).
- Since they’ve already given a short version of the story, Christopher will just run through it here and stop occasionally when/where one of them thinks that they need to flesh some stuff out more.
- We start out with a bit of background information on Biomancer. None of this is strictly new info, but it has to be collected from the tidbits that have been published here and there over the decades - unless you’re really attentive over a long period of time, at least some of it is likely new to you as a reader. Stuff like his name, how he goes about things, and the fact that he’s got plans that he’s enacted over the centuries (ranging from historical events, like the fall of empires, to more Sentinel Comics-specific “history”). Adam keeps mentioning famous assassinations, but that’s probably too overt/direct for his involvement. Like, he’s not the type to talk Hitler into the horrible beliefs/actions that he would take. He’s much more likely to encourage a young Hitler to become a painter, knowing how things are going to work out for him.
- The summary arrives at the point that this guy has seen time unfold over the centuries and has a pretty good handle on things, but there’s one thing that’s been confounding him. He’s got his creepy, Biomancer-equivalent of your standard yarn-on-a-cork-board conspiracy map (like, gut string instead of yarn, etc.) as he’s figuring out what is getting in his way. It’s Chrono-Ranger, a single person who must be using a vantage from the far future and traveling back in time to make specific changes.
- Since Jim’s modus operandi is to pop into a new place, do his thing, and then pop back out again, Biomancer only had second- or third-hand accounts of this person to work from, but it’s enough for him to put things together over the centuries. In the modern day, he’s active more frequently (rather than having events sometimes centuries apart, he’s got quite a few actions within a few years of one another) and his interactions with many heroes means greater opportunities for info to get out, so that finally lets Biomancer get a pretty solid idea of what’s going on.
- Adam suggests that Biomancer make a decoy Plague Rat for Jim to come after for the explicit purpose of just getting a tissue sample from Jim. Christopher’s hesitant to have anything that “successful* for Biomancer for this story. He envisions this story playing out with the Clone-Ranger being a far less-perfect copy than usual. He never gets enough information about Chrono-Ranger to make a flesh-child that can speak/act like the real person its duplicating. It’s just good enough to infiltrate CON’s bunker. There’s still questions of how Biomancer gets enough information to know when to wake the duplicate up and also where to put it so that it will”survive" long enough, but we’ll get there.
- Maybe he winds up making a bunch of duplicates. He puts in the hard work to figure out that this figure appears to be a “time traveling cowboy” and between eyewitness accounts in earlier eras and fuzzy photographs as we approach modern day he gets a good enough model of what to make the guy look like despite a lack of DNA to work from. He doesn’t give it the power of speech and barely gives it thought or memory, but he makes several of these copies.
- He works out that if there’s going to be a place such that it could be used as a base of operations for such a person, it’s got to be in one of 6 spots or something. The idea is that maybe once Biomancer knows what to look for, there’s some kind of “signature” that’s present when CON teleports Jim in. Given enough such readings and his general knowledge about how things will go in the future, he can dial it in/triangulate where CON’s bunker has to be. Then just bury a duplicate pod in each likely location. Y’know - if we’re going this route that he can triangulate the location, let’s just say that he manages to figure it out and just needs the one copy.
- The mission here is for the duplicate to infiltrate CON’s bunker, take control, then come back in time to give Biomancer access to time travel. The Clone-Ranger is put into a pod set to wake up when the energy signature he’s been tracking comes online, which might be hundreds, but more likely thousands of years in the future. The location is figured out with a fair degree of accuracy, so it won’t have too much area to cover in looking for it (and will likely not be too difficult to find given his expectations of what that future is going to be like). This all needs to be explained in the book, so this is notable in that the readers are finally being explicitly told what a Biomancer plot’s goal is. Sure, it’s not the big long-term plot goals, but there is a clear “Biomancer is doing this specifically so that he has access to time travel” plan.
- So, the first third of the book gets us that far. Then we get a black page with “Thousands of years later” before getting a scene with a still-two-armed Jim Brooks fighting off rat beasts, getting picked up by some robotic arms and carried into the bunker, then we see a pod burrow up out of the ground somewhere and open. Another Jim sits up out of it and starts walking. Lots of walking in a montage. Eventually it gets attacked by a rat beast and the Jim duplicate unhinges its jaw and bites the thing’s head off.
- Eventually Jim gets sent out on a mission and the duplicate walks in the front door. CON is confused at first how her new friend came in through the door when normally he gets teleported right inside again, but welcome back anywa… oh noooooo…
- The Clone-Ranger just starts disassembling stuff immediately once it’s inside the bunker. Biomancer knows that there’s some automated system that’s harnessing chronal energy to do what it’s doing with this cowboy guy, but not enough to purpose-build a counter to it. Instead, Clone-Ranger just has a generalized interface ability and has to be ready to “fight” the system it finds. Instead of the usual metal-skeleton-with-flesh-blorped-over-it approach to building a clone, the flesh on this one is covering something much more sophisticated. In much the same way that Chrono-Ranger’s mechanical arm can reconfigure itself into all sorts of shapes, the entire “skeleton” of Clone-Ranger is a general-purpose electronics and computational analysis and interface machine that all can expand like Jim’s mechanical arm does.
- So, the “battle” here is both the software side as well as CON’s robot arms against this weird Biomancer-built expanding-skeleton spider-arm thing. For additional visual appeal, let’s also say that CON herself normally has a “face” that Jim talks to. Like, just a mechanical armature with a lens on it as well as a suite of arms that it uses as something for him to focus on rather than just having him talk to the building as a whole. As part of the fight, Clone-Ranger crushes that interface. Oh, as a call-back to earlier, have CON address him when he comes in and then when he opens his mouth to “respond”, he does the same thing he did to the rat beast and bites into the “eye” and starts the fight/infiltration that way. Bonus points in that we’re dealing with a more-mechanical-than-usual duplicate, but it’s still Biomancer-gross.
- Additionally, there can be a “bed” that Jim normally lays on when CON is doing upgrades or anything where she needs to work with his physical body. The Clone-Ranger can lay in that too and the skin can slough off to try to do any biological interfacing that would be necessary as well.
- So, the goal here is for Clone-Ranger to get into the facility, take over, abandon Chrono-Ranger where/whenever he is at the moment, and pull Biomancer forward in time so that he can start being the one who gets to jump around the timestream.
- A fun addition to what’s been mentioned already: just before the “Thousands of years later” page we can have Biomancer enact his plan and monologue a bit about how normally his plans require him to wait until they’re fulfilled, but because we’re dealing with time travel he should only have to wait three… two… [a few beat panels as he looks around]. Curses. So, we go into the rest of the story knowing that something goes wrong with the plan, but readers who’ve been keeping tabs on Chrono-Ranger’s story elsewhere in comics also know that something weird has been going on with CON. We’re probably talking half of the book taken up before we jump to the future as well considering all of the storytelling that we’ve had to do so far.
- CON manages to prevent a Biomancer “win” here by recognizing that it’s going to lose to this thing and so just disconnects the portions of her system that have been infected and time-teleports it out somewhere. So, CON still exists as herself in the bunker but has lost some of her accuracy in determining good targets for Jim’s missions. Also, now we have this Cronenbergian monstrosity that’s part fleshchild, part Biomancer machinery, and part time-travel robot out in the world somewhere/when, so that’s fun.
- The fight goes in two stages once the eye-bite happens to kick things off. First, CON is dismissive - this thing has picked a fight with the wrong entity given that she can control time. She slows down time locally so that she can deal with this dumb thing before she has to bring Jim back. They fight a long time, like a subjective year between the physical and digital battles. Then she realizes that she was wrong and that the dread malevolence that built this thing was very good at what it was trying to do and has to do the self-amputation thing as a last-ditch effort to not lose entirely.
- Christopher has a eureka moment at this point. CON isn’t even compromised. This thing that she’s sent out into the time stream is malleable and can disguise itself and due to its CON parts it is difficult for her to track. She’s not sending Jim out to fight people because she’s malfunctioning. She’s sending him out in attempts to find/fight this thing because she manages to see that at some point it’s disguising itself as, say, Ambuscade.
- When she gets pulled into the present to become part of Jim’s cybernetics when he becomes Time-Slinger, the “corruption” goes away because this thing is probably no longer a threat to the reality they’re in. For one, it’s probably not in Universe 1 with them (Christopher: “Probably.” Adam: “Probably” Christopher: “Probably”).
- Anyway, the issue wraps up with Jim arriving back in the bunker where the remnants of the battle are visible and CON’s got a new, patched-together eye-stalk “face”. He asks what happened and her explanation is that some monsters got in, but she took care of it. Don’t worry about it. She’s got a new target for him - that’s when we see the bounty for Ambuscade, which is the story then told six months later in Temporal Targets.
- Let’s say CON manages to snag a bunch of heroes and put them in a self-sustaining habitat before the world tips over into the Final Wasteland - since she doesn’t have the preservation tech of Jansa in the Enclave of the Endlings, eventually heroes will die of old age, but we’ve had indications that some of them have some potential for immortality and so who of the following could be a possible long-term companion for Haka if they were kept safe from the dangers outside the habitat:
- Absolute Zero - his body could survive, but Christopher thinks that he would break down mentally after a long enough time. Haka is constantly “healing” and so both his body and mind are being bolstered by the chronal energies and whatnot that went into him being Haka in the first place. AZ doesn’t have that luxury and so eventually he’d just be there and cold and not a thinking being anymore. Adam’s counter is that the Freedom Six variant’s incapacitated art has him, having lost control of his powers, just encased in an ice prison and the intent there is that he’s stuck there, conscious, forever. Christopher agrees that you can go either way with it, but he thinks that if you’re telling this story it’s more interesting to have him alive but not really himself.
- Fanatic - no real reason she couldn’t survive, as long as she believed that she should. If the world has become this wasteland she might consider herself to have “failed” and would lose her powers or something. Alternately, maybe she’s in this bunker and cut off from the world and everything and so might slowly begin to age, so she’s around but ancient. “Old Fanatic” sounds pretty cool as an idea.
- Dark Watch Mr. Fixer - his body would still eventually decay.
- Dark Watch NightMist - no, but not because of “immortality” reasons. She’s not going to just sit in a bunker - she’s got stuff to do and so she’d leave. Eventually she’d be bested and die out in the world.
- Guise - he’s not immortal, but he’s not not though. He ages, slowly, but he does age. His power set is one such that he can erase the physical signs of aging, but he’s aging nonetheless and it will catch up to him eventually.
- Scholar - he’ll still be around if he doesn’t undo it himself somehow.
- Dr. Medico - presumably… Yeah, they think he will.
- Akash'Thriya - yes, but she’d eventually grow and turn more Akash'Bhuta-like again. The lack of humanity’s presence would likely mean that her eventual form would be different, though. Without all those people around destroying nature, but with all of these monsters running around she’s probably “nicer” than her old iteration.
- Luminary (y’know, because of the repair nanites) - yes, but again the problem comes down to whether or not a human mind can take it. An entirely likely end-state for Ivan is uploading his brain into a computer/wind up as a brain-in-a-jar. Whether that works out for him is another matter.
- Are there any other characters that have the potential to live forever and make Eternal Haka’s existence less lonely? Omnitron has a shot at it. GloomWeaver is probably still out there. Aeon Girl and Muerto would as well (although not likely going to get much conversation out of the latter). Blood Countess Bathory assuming there’s enough food - if they figured out the right amount Haka could likely supply that where she would take enough to survive without killing him off too.
- While Chrono-Ranger almost certainly misses his home time/place, what other times that he’s visited does he like? They’re not really sure that he necessarily misses Silver Gulch. Maybe where he was from before he got there, but by that time he was already something of a wanderer - a tumbleweed rolling along, maybe picking up some dust, but not putting down roots. He’s more likely to reminisce fondly rather than missing/pining after a place. It’s notable for him that once he’s Time-Slinger he starts putting down those roots a bit.
- Adam - is he still going to be as ruggedly handsome in the Definitive Edition? Yes.
- Does CON’s bunker need some external power source/does Jim need to bring back batteries or something? No, the bunker’s got its own power systems and Jim doesn’t need to do anything for it to run.
- Have any other heroes or villains tried to make use of CON’s bunker? Not really. Very few people wind up in the Final Wasteland generally speaking and today’s story is the only really notable story involving somebody other than Jim actually getting inside. Given that they just did a story involving it this wouldn’t be on the table for a while, but doing a Writers’ Room for a more usual “heroes wind up in a place” story involving the Final Wasteland might be interesting.
- Has anybody actually figured out Biomancer’s identity as Zosimus Alchemista? Probably none of the major heroes and villains. Adam thinks that NightMist and Scholar have the potential to know, but Christopher disagrees on NightMist. GloomWeaver probably knows but doesn’t care. Zhu Long knows and only cares in a “I see what you’re doing over there” keeping-an-eye-on-him way. He wasn’t a peer of either of them either - the man-who-became-GloomWeaver was much older than Zosimos and we know Zhu Long is older than that [notably, as part of the gimmick of the letter from a Biomancer clone they dropped the hint that Biomancer is older than the 3rd Century identity of Zosimos as well].
- Does Biomancer spread misinformation about his own past in an attempt to prevent anyone from learning his identity? He doesn’t spread any information. He holds his cards close to his chest and is not one to monologue. Well, there are monologues, but canonically every one of those was being delivered by a duplicate and the purpose of the monologue was to delay the heroes. Even then, they tend to be more along the lines of “You fools have no chance to understand me” rather than “Here is my plan in exquisite detail.”
- How does he get the voices right for the flesh children (say, in order to copy a person he’s not actually met)? If he’s heard the person he’s pretty good at getting them “close enough”. People actually pay attention to voices less than you’d think. If he’s basing one on a DNA sample, the biological apparatus is going to be pretty perfect anyway, which helps. Notably, the Clone-Ranger doesn’t talk because he’s neither heard Jim speak nor does he have access to any DNA. This sort of winging-it approach is highly atypical for him - he is very patient and will wait until he has enough information and/or a DNA sample, but when you’re dealing with a time traveler who is hard to predict when/where he’ll show up for very brief periods, you can’t really count on patience paying off.
- How does he get the psychology right? Again, it’s the “good enough” approach and sometimes he doesn’t get there. Notably, he gets Tempest wrong for years. Getting DNA to get a solid base biological framework is helpful. Often he’ll try to abduct the person and get a mind scan done and then release them without their ever knowing that they were abducted (other than possibly noticing some missing time).
- The film Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released the same year the Silver Age of comics began; was that an inspiration for Biomancer as a character? For context, the film came out in 1956 [which is typically recognized as being the beginning of the Silver Age in the real world, however the Silver Age for Sentinel Comics actually began in 1957] and Biomancer first appeared in ’59, so that timing works out. However, in his earliest appearances he wasn’t really doing the body-snatching thing and was more just an ancient evil magician and the clone thing was an evolution. They did not plan for this, although they could see the influence. By the time it comes out, They Live could also be an influence in that way.
- [Letter sign off about GTG employees being flesh children sparks a tangent about how it’s hard to get health insurance if you are one. As such, Biomancer likely tries to build in some disease resistance so that they don’t need to actually see a doctor as often. This would probably make them more effective as employees than the real person and they’d do just as good of a job up until the point where they don’t, but that’s true of the real person as well. This gets into you-know-that-I-know-that-you-know-etc. plotting about how people who never call in sick would immediately be suspect, so maybe Biomancer programs them to occasionally do so even if they’re not sick or possibly engineers them to get a mild case of the sniffles occasionally to warrant them being out of the office without needing to go to a doctor.]
- Can Biomancer sense his creations? Could the heroes dispatch one of his duplicates and then send the real person back in its place to infiltrate his lair? He can, but is not constantly mentally connected to his creations. He exerts some concentration to do so. With a bit of magic or other trickery you might be able to do so up until the moment where he actually tried to connect to it. It’s not a high probability (he tends to know his handiwork when he sees it, the master craftsman that he is), but it could work for a little while. That being said, the story you tell with this setup is that he notices within a few minutes, but goes along with it to see what the heroes are up to/how many weird tasks he can convince the heroes to do to keep up the charade.
- What would happen to all of the flesh children in the world if Biomancer were to actually die? He isn’t actively maintaining them in some way; once they’re going they can just continue to exist and so they’ll continue to follow whatever programming he’s set them to do. For example, Biomancer probably died before the Clone-Ranger woke up. However, if the programming is “act like a normal person until I tell you otherwise” that “otherwise” is never going to happen. That being said, they’re going to age, but it will be weird.
- Would a medical professional be able to tell flesh children aren’t real people? Do they breathe or have other “normal” biological processes or are they just magically-animated flesh slapped onto a mechanical skeleton? If the latter, could he make more lifelike models? They are “just magically-animated flesh slapped onto a mechanical skeleton”, but it turns out that that’s actually pretty indistinguishable from a regular human. They breathe, have a pulse, etc., but only because that’s part of the “act like a person” general program. They don’t have all of the normal suite of internal organs because they don’t need them, but Biomancer could add them if it was necessary. Biomancer enjoys putting a bit of uncertainty and horror into the world, though, so “something goes wrong and now the flesh child is revealed to be a horrible mockery of a human being” is kind of part of the brand.
- How susceptible to ailments/curses/etc. are flesh children? Could one come down with the Maerynian flu or the Plague Rat infection? Could one become a vampire? They’re illness-resistant for the “avoiding close medical scrutiny” reason given earlier. They could probably be infected by the Plague Rat thing as it’s more potent than most diseases in that it tries to turn basically all body tissues into rat-beast. That being said, flesh children are likely weird with it in that they might not turn into rat beasts themselves, but the flesh might slough off and turn into lots of little rats or something else horrifying like that. They don’t think vampirism is likely - they don’t have normal blood and the magics involved likely don’t get along. They imagine a vampire trying to feed on a flesh child likely has a result much like severe radiation poisoning for both parties, only happening in an instant.
- Do the heroes ever expect somebody to be a flesh child only to discover that it’s some more mundane kind of doppelganger? Anyone suspect that they themselves are a flesh child (the ramifications of just knowing that Biomancer is out there and what he does has to really get under somebody’s skin eventually)? Around notable/big Biomancer stories (there aren’t many such, but there are some) you get a lot of this “Are you a flesh child? Am I?” paranoia. There’s probably even a case where somebody gets convinced that they are one, and they cut into their arm and find a metal thing, but somehow it’s just another villain messing with them. Glamour being behind a flesh children story could be fun (as in, there are no flesh children, just her making everyone think there are).
- Can flesh children have children of their own, like biological ones? They’re normally missing a lot of important internal organs necessary for the process. Biomancer could make some that could, though.
- In Biomancer’s fake-out Vengeance story he had to make a lot of flesh children - where did he get all of the flesh and viscera to make them at one time? Heck, where does he get it normally? He gets some of it through various means (stealing from morgues, grave robbing, black market, etc.), and not all of it is human necessarily, but not all of it is natural either. He creates a fair amount of it and even the more mundanely-sourced stuff is altered by the time he’s done with it. He doesn’t have an Igor, but he can just make something to do the digging for him for grave-robbing purposes and then just repurpose the materials of that “Igor” when he’s done with it.
- A lot of the hero-duplicates have clever names, but what’s the clever name for Biomancer duplicates? The clever names that are used, say, on the SotM cards are not the names that Biomancer would give them. He’s either not going to bother naming them or would just call them by the name of whomever they’re duplicating. In the context of the comics they generally think that some other character says them at some point (“It’s some kind of Tempersonation!” which Christopher thinks sounds like a Unity line read). Biomancer duplicates are likely met with frustration when revealed and probably don’t get such a thing. However, for the academic exercise of coming up with something: Lie-omancer (after a bunch of other less-good suggestions like Bihoaxmancer and others).
- What did Writhe actually do to Biomancer that the rest of Void Guard found disturbing? The fight between the two of them wound up in Biomancer’s lair. Writhe pulls the old “I’m something of a scientist myself.” and then kind of just… disassembles Biomancer, tearing him down to his component parts and puts them in labeled sample jars (“Biomancer’s skin”, “Biomancer’s brain” or what’s left of it considering how much he’s had to mess with his own nervous system, “Biomancer’s bones” but there’s not much in that one due to the other “stone” “wood” various metals and other things he’d used to replace his skeleton over time). This doesn’t kill Biomancer, but it’s where Writhe leaves him (in the coda of the story we see one of the jars fall off the shelf, though). In the early issues of the post-OblivAeon relaunch era there’s a story involving Biomancer trying to put himself back together and we get some gross body horror stuff (like a brain inch-worming its way across a floor) and some reminiscences (him commenting on how this bronze femur was once a would-be-conqueror’s crown). [I note that they told a somewhat different version of the Writhe/Biomancer encounter back in Editor’s Note 26. The main takeaway there was that Biomancer really hadn’t messed with his own brain that much, but Writhe did a number on it during their fight.]
- Adam wonders if there’s any reason to not use the phrase “The Sins of the Flesh” on the cover. Yes, that’s a good line that should be saved for something more flesh-centric (say, the post-OblivAeon story they just mentioned).
- How much do they want to give away or tease on the cover? The first half of the book is Biomancer stalking Chrono-Ranger over the centuries, so do we want to imply a conflict between them? Or just Jim doing something but a looming figure of Biomancer in the background watching him. Oh, even better have him manipulating Jim like a puppet.
- How about something more general like Jim looking evil and destroying CON? It’s hard to sell that it’s specifically CON there and the first half of the book is about Biomancer, so maybe not that. The cover should communicated to the reader that it’s a Biomancer story.
- Adam likes the idea of the puppet master thing, but with a bunch of tubes and fleshy tendrils and whatnot that also kind of implies that he’s capturing Chrono-Ranger. Let’s go with that. This era typically doesn’t really have other cover text unless it was a multi-part story (where you have “Part [x] of [y]”).