The Letters Page: Episode 194
America's Finest Legacy #214
It's SCARY how well this episode went! Even though we recorded it much later than we usually do! And look at how cool this cover turned out!
Run Time: 1:36:39
After some goofs and talking about Trevor, we get into the overview, in which we do a bunch of work! Well, first, an interview? (Trevor wanted me to tell you that the musical excerpt in today's episode is Jean-Joseph Mouret's Rondeau, as performed by Monsieur Croche, so you know.) Then a bit of a retcon. And then some new stuff! And all kinds of things. Far more than a single issue worth of story. Exciting times!
Then, after a lot of story building and storytelling, we take some Mr. Jitters questions, some Adhesivist questions, and a few grab-bag questions!
Join us next time for a Creative Process about Underworlds! And go check out the Devil Bunny Kickstarter!
- We start with some refreshers on what/who/why is Mr. Jitters.
- What issue did he debut in? America’s Finest Legacy #70, October 1977. His introduction was, in fact, a two-part story in issues #70-71 and involves him “besting Legacy”. Fun fact, issue #62 earlier that year was titled “They Saved Hitler’s Brain”. There’s no connection to today’s story, but Christopher noticed it when double checking the Mr. Jitters stuff.
- What’s his shtick? He projects his own debilitating fears onto others. Before he became Mr. Jitters he was just a normal guy, but one who was just crippled by his own fears of just about everything (from immediate phobias of mundane stuff like cars or dogs to long-term fear and anxiety about stuff like “not being smart or kind enough” or “being too kind to the wrong people”; “being too gullible” and “being too trusting” - he’s just a mess). After his life and the relationships he actually cared most about fall apart he does the healthy thing and gets therapy. No, wait. This is comics, he doesn’t do that. Instead he starts looking into old, dark gods. He finds a talisman of some ancient demon god which lets him make his fears somebody else’s problem. His introductory issue starts with him robbing a bank, which seems like it’s going to be a straightforward job for Legacy to deal with, but then we get his story in flashback. Coming back to the present Legacy, who has never really had to deal with fears this intense, is left largely incapacitated and at Mr. Jitters’ mercy. During the following issue Legacy rallies, being the stalwart guy he is, and figures out what he needs to do. He manages to take the talisman from Mr. Jitters and defeats him. Jitters is sent to prison and the talisman taken somewhere for analysis/safekeeping.
- It’s rumored that there was a reboot of the character - what’s up with that? After a few scattered appearances (which they haven’t actually nailed down, but they imagine he had some additional stories between that initial one and the “reboot”), we get a story in the late ’80s or early ’90s where something bad happens to and the talisman gets fused with him. The powers are now part of him and they begin to grow. He isn’t limited to projecting his own fears, but he can draw in fears from other people or pass fears from one person to another. Just all sorts of fear-manipulation stuff.
- That’s about all we know about him to this point. We know that he works with other villains occasionally, becoming something of a “boss” for a while because he can manipulate them. In particular, they have established that he preys on Ray Manta’s general paranoia, Equity (a germaphobe), and Heartbreaker who is really superstitious (he’s encountered enough weird stuff that he’s internalized all of the traditional superstitions like not walking under ladders and whatnot).
- Options for today’s general “Mr. Jitters” prompt: they could do something from that “villain team” period, something from his solo period, or even just do the “reboot” story where he gets the powers. They want to focus on him for today’s episode, though, so probably not the team stuff. It would probably be a good idea to nail down exactly what it was that happened when he got powers of his own, though, so let’s do that.
- So, late ’80s or early ’90s - what are the good options? Justice Comics is recently back from the legal hiatus. Cosmic Tales or Ra: God of the Sun are probably not great fits. Mystery Comics is possible. Freedom Five could always work as an old Legacy foe. Tome of the Bizarre works if they lean into the “demon god” angle, but Christopher almost wants to lean into a more sci-fi reason for him getting the powers himself instead of relying on the relic of some ancient god mysticism. Like, the combination of that magic with some science/tech thing is what fuses the power with him. Adam specifically wants to keep it as a Legacy story, so maybe thinking more along the lines of JC or America’s Finest Legacy. Some Iron Legacy stuff happened in ’88 and this could be a decent follow-up story to that.
- Something to consider: they haven’t actually given him a person name yet, he’s just Mr. Jitters. They could do a thing where they redeem him and then do this bad thing to him again. Like, the joke earlier about him getting therapy could have actually happened. Like, he gets sent to jail and then actually shapes up. When today’s story opens he’s already been out of jail and “better” for a while. He even goes so far as to become a psychologist himself in order to help people. After Iron Legacy, Paul Parsons seeks out a professional to help him work through some stuff and he happens to, unknowingly, walk into this guy’s office. Seeing Legacy again after all this time is a trigger for him, unfortunately, and sets him on the path to being Mr. Jitters again. It could be fun to do something like Gollum arguing with himself - like, he’s got this other, shadowy figure there representing the Mr. Jitters side of him that’s shown for the purposes of the conversations and when he goes full-on villain, the creepy look he adopts is based on this imagined “other” persona.
- Hmm… the story could involve him hypnotizing Legacy or something. Like, he’d given Mr. Jitters up and had gotten rid of the relic, but if he’s breaking here after seeing Legacy again, maybe he uses his position as a psychologist to manipulate Legacy into going to get it for him.
- Anyway, they joked earlier about Mr. Jitters being “Mr. Joshua J. Jitters” and while he obviously hates it, Christopher doesn’t hate leaning into that for the character. Like, have him be Dr. Joshua Jennings or something like that. Sure it’s a fast turn around for a guy who got sent to jail in ’77 to turn around to be a doctor of psychology by ’89, but it’s comic books and starting your academic pursuits while in prison is a thing. He could even be seen as a model example of those kinds of programs. So, without even really trying, they’ve wound up making another spin on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing here with the Jennings/Jitters dichotomy. They’re not two separate entities like Jekyll and Hyde are; Jitters is more just the inner, hidden impulses that Jennings already had [which, ironically, is actually closer to a common reading of the original Jekyll/Hyde story!].
- This is probably not going to be a single issue. The first one here probably just introduces Dr. Jennings without any indication of his past and the issue is presented as simply Paul Parsons going to a psychologist to deal with how he feels about the Iron Legacy stuff that just happened. They have a session (a quick one-page montage) and Paul leaves with a “See you next week!” It’s only then that we start seeing the inner conversation with Dr. Jennings’ inner Mr. Jitters. We can do this as something of a slow burn - let’s put this issue in March ’89, AFL #207. He can continue to be a supporting character for Legacy for a number of months - he doesn’t relapse immediately and the readership can even be rooting for him to keep it together.
- And he manages to keep it together - he’s able to put the Jitters stuff aside for the most part and just get on with things. Until something bad happens. What could that something be? He probably needs to have a fear realized. Like, something shows that he was right to be afraid. Legacy should also probably be involved somehow. Maybe Jitters is going on to him about how this Legacy guy isn’t out to help people, only to stop who he thinks are bad people from doing bad things. Let’s get into the nuance of superhero vigilantes - stopping Grand Warlord Voss or Omnitron is all well and good, but stopping a “common” criminal? Sure it stops that specific crime, but being in prison doesn’t really help much. Jennings argues that he came out better than he went in, but Jitters counters that they are a rare outcome and you know it.
- That can be the common theme of issues where he’s appearing. We get an issue in there where Legacy’s fighting some jobber intercut with scenes from a later therapy session where he’s disheartened by the fact that he keeps fighting this guy and sending him to jail, but he just always goes back to the same crimes afterwards. Jitters latches onto anything like this as “see, he doesn’t actually care about people, he’s just a bully” stuff. We also need to show that Legacy doesn’t come off poorly here too - like, he walks that back with a “I don’t really mean that” or something, he’s just venting and is expressing some very human emotions regarding how frustrating these things would be to him. That’s cool and a humanizing thing for his character that the story does. The problem is that, unknown to him, his therapist is compromised by the remnants of an ancient fear god masquerading as his own inner voice trying to turn him into a monster.
- How long do we let this play out? We’d like to have Mr. Jitters prompting Dr. Jennings into looking into hypnosis or whatever - his angle regarding Legacy is simply “Legacy is a threat to you” and preying on that fear in particular. We’re just looking up things that you can do to protect yourself. He pitches the process to Legacy as just a way to help him stop feeling the frustration he’s expressed in previous sessions. Haha, you going to get in my head, doc? No, it’s all modern [comic book] science with electrodes to attach to your head so we can map out the brainwaves, yadda yadda. But while he’s under, Mr. Jitters suggests that while we’re at it, how about you tell Legacy to go get the talisman from wherever he put it. If it’s out there in the world who knows who might get their hands on it. It’s safest here with you.
- So, that can be in one issue and the next we can do an “evil Legacy” thing where he’s breaking into wherever the talisman is. We don’t see exactly what happened during the hypnosis. We see the discussion between Jennings and Jitters about this whole hypnosis thing, then we see the start of the process, then Legacy “waking up” afterwards. He doesn’t feel any different, but the doctor says that’s good and expected before the issue ends and the blank-eyed rampage as Legacy breaks into wherever he retrieves the thing is where the next issue picks up.
- Once he has the thing, Jennings just puts it in a box and ignores it. In the meantime, he’s also researching methods he might use to excise this Mr. Jitters voice from his head. The “obvious” place this goes is that he uses the hypnosis device on himself and the talisman in an attempt to take that stuff out of his head and put it back in the talisman where it belongs. This hypnosis machine is important enough now that they should probably come up with a name for it. Neuro-Encephalo Recalibrating Oscillator - the NERO. It’s something that Dr. Joshua Jennings invents to help Legacy deal with the feelings of frustration he has regarding criminal recidivism and the anger he feels towards those people as not being their best selves. The thing that he fears here is that Legacy will stop seeing criminals as people. Dr. Jennings uses the device to try to eliminate those unwanted feelings. Oh, and also implants the idea that he should go find that talisman of an ancient fear god and bring it back here for safekeeping. He probably fits it into the conversation (“Oh have you ever dealt with villains who used fear?”) so that the idea doesn’t seem like a non-sequitur.
- Anyway, the plan is to use the NERO to isolate the Jitters part of his brain and dump it back into the talisman, but what happens is that it drains out whatever was left in the talisman and puts it in the good doctor. The talisman just crumbles away and he just becomes Mr. Jitters. Maybe we see an inner thing where he has Dr. Jennings locked away - enough that he can use what Joshua knows, but he’s all Jitters now.
- They start to suggest that this issue should start with Legacy dropping the thing off at Jennings’ office (after which he doesn’t remember why he came by the office, that’s weird), but no. They think that Jennings should probably have the thing for at least a little while first. He convinces himself that he’s getting it for good reasons (i.e. “keeping it out of the wrong hands”). Unfortunately, he’s now got the whispers in his head and from the box. At one point he sleepwalks and wakes up holding the thing and that’s when he decides to “perform a technological exorcism using the NERO”.
- The official issue for this Writers’ Room opens with him sleepwalking. He then declares “no more!” and comes up with the NERO plan. Then we get an inner battle, or better: we see an inner therapy session where Mr. Jitters is the one on the couch, with Dr. Jennings with the upper hand. He seems utterly calm while Jitters seems trapped and unhinged. As some point there’s a trick, though, with Mr. Jitters asking something about “isn’t this what you wanted the whole time?” - we’ve been pushing in for closeups during this “battle” but now we pull back and see their positions reversed. Or maybe even more subtle than that just playing around with mirrored page layouts on facing pages to confuse which one is speaking - like, make it intentionally confusing to read to obfuscate when the switch happens. Or maybe, as they’re in this astral mind-space they have distinct word balloons, but “accidentally” have the wrong one for the character speaking occasionally. The fact that they’re not different people is the final trick to it - Dr. Jennings has been treating Mr. Jitters as this external entity that he could remove, but really it’s just part of him. Possibly the greater part of him - “Dr. Jennings” is a part of him that only “works” when he’s lying to himself. Once Mr. Jitters “wins”, we see him in his modern incarnation in the real world instead of just this internal mindscape.
- He’s not stuck in that form, though. We probably get a few more appearances of Dr. Jennings as Legacy’s therapist before the cat’s out of the bag. Like, he continues to be manipulated by Dr. Jennings until an issue where he figures it out and Mr. Jitters is revealed.
- So, that whole sequence of appearances feels to Adam to have taken about 8 months. Including the original March issue that puts us in… October… again. Okay fine, there we go AFL #214. We’ve got a whole string of issues that Dr. Jennings might not show up in every issue of, but probably at least 6 of them during this “Legacy goes to therapy” period. The readership would be rooting for this guy to make it through okay. This issue’s cover should probably showcase the internal struggle without giving away who wins. Even the story itself seems like things are well in hand until they abruptly make a turn and then it’s too late.
- They think, however, that this therapy arc isn’t the main focus of the book. This is all B plot stuff until issue #214.
- We know that Mr. Jitters can project fears onto other people, but does it specifically have to be his fears? Can he sense what somebody else’s greatest fear is and capitalize on that? Can he enhance a fear in another person? Are these things that he develops the ability to do the longer he has his powers? In his original incarnation as just a guy with this fear relic he could only use his own fears. The modern version after today’s issue can do a lot more - feeding on somebody’s fears, taking one person’s fears and giving them to somebody else, etc. There’s a psionic element to it to where he can sense people’s fears and enhance them. His abilities do grow over time as well as he learns what he can do. Basically, yes to everything you asked about.
- What are the limitations for whom Mr. Jitters can project fears onto? Could he put up a fight against Omnitron-X, for example? Probably not Omnitron-X. Mr. Jitters deals in the fears of mortal men, and Omnitron-X’s robot brain doesn’t fit. This would be interesting not so much as a plot point about how easily Omnitron-X defeats him, but more interesting in a story where Omnitron-X is already questioning its sapience/personhood and the fact that Mr. Jitters can’t mess with it is fuel for that angst.
- How about Akash'Thriya, Progeny, or Aeon Men? Assuming he could read their fears, what would they be? Adam thinks he likely could for Akash’Thriya, but not Progeny or Aeon Men/Girl. Christopher agrees on Akash’Thriya, but asks what Adam thinks of Akash'Bhuta. Maybe, but it’s more a scale/power-level thing. He could likely sense her fear, but probably not use it against her. Progeny and Aeon People are just extensions of the will of OblivAeon - they don’t have enough mind there to work on. Akash’Thriya’s fears are largely about herself - that her fate is to once again become Akash’Bhuta and unlearn all of the lessons she’s learned. Akash’Bhuta’s fears involve the Void, the Void eaters, and the imbalance between nature and the Void.
- If Mr. Jitters, Writhe at his creepiest, GloomWeaver, Biomancer, Agent of Gloom Spite, and Voidsoul were summoned by Jansa vi Dero to the Cosmic Hauntest, who would be victorious (the winner of each round is determined by one contestant scaring another into surrender or by accumulating the most “scare points” in a Monster’s Inc.“-type setup)?”Weaponizing fear" is kind of Mr. Jitters’ whole shtick. GloomWeaver isn’t a slouch in this area either - and he reaches everyone* through their dreams, so he’s got quite the reach despite being in an alternate dimension. He’s less fear-focused than Mr. Jitters, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of using it. Mr. Jitters beats Writhe. Biomancer is too subtle - he’s creepy in a body horror way, but he’s not scary. Agent of Gloom Spite is still mainly just about murder and is sort of a one-trick pony in that regard. Voidsoul is a little too “unknowable” to be as viscerally scary as some others. It probably goes GloomWeaver, Mr. Jitters, Biomancer, Voidsoul, Writhe, Spite. There’s some wiggle room in the middle, but the top two are pretty solid.
- Is the way he’s depicted in the Arcane Wonders Freedom Five board game his look after he’s internalized his powers? Is the pale skin a power side-effect or makeup to make him look scary? What did his earlier costume look like? His initial appearance was one they imagine read more as “normal person” and likely, due to the period the story took place in, consisted of a colored jumpsuit and holding this twisted relic thing. They think that the pale skin look is a physical change as the magic/tech thing made what was on the inside now the outside. He has to put on makeup and whatnot to appear as Dr. Jennings after that.
- Is there a Mrs. Jitters, possibly with some teenage children by now (I ask because I see a similarity in power sets between him and Muse, but don’t want to set him up as a foe for the teen heroes)? They don’t think so. At least that’s not a plan they have right now.
- [Angry Taxpayer letter just over an hour in starts off with a taunt about this joker not even being able to plod his way through some feel-good psychology program to be “Dr. Jitters” - not realizing that that would be exactly the background they’d give him today! Once again, great material all around, though.] What makes this guy so scary (compared to Biomancer or Spite he seems minor league)? What makes him scary is whatever you are scared of. And beyond that, as his powers grow, he can also just draw on whatever fears he’s encountered over the years and just make you scared of whatever would be most useful in the moment.
- Has the phrase “Please… Mr. Jitters was my father. Call me [x]” ever uttered in the pages of Sentinel Comics? [Doesn’t sound like it, they just riff on how between this and the “Mrs. Jitters” question earlier we’re collectively really pushing for there to be a Jitters family. They also note that for this line to work you really want to have a good [x] to land the punch. “Jitters Jennings Jr.” or “Jangles” are both jokey suggestions.]
- You mentioned that the Adhesivist is a member of Sergeant Steel’s team in the Animated Universe and that the villains there were recognizable minor villains from the comics, but the only official appearance I can think of is his appearance in the Sentinels of Freedom video game, which is set in the post-OblivAeon Universe 1 so what sorts of appearances did he have prior to OblivAeon/the Animated appearance? Did he participate in Vengeance? This letter came in prior to the episode about him, which answers much of this. He’s a minor villain who had been around for a long time. He would definitely have been involved in Vengeance (he’s “the exact sort of villain” to be involved in that). He was “frequently seen, but rarely important” in the pages of Sentinel Comics. He’s a jobber. He will be appearing in some Definitive Edition art, though. [In particular, we know that he’s on the new version of the Megalopolis card “Hostage Situation”.]
- So, in an infinite Multiverse, surely there’s a universe out there where there’s an elder god of some variety who’s stuck in an alternate dimension, but uses his affinity to adhesives and his mortal cultists to try to get back into normal reality: GlueWeaver? Would he be an appropriate subject of a Writers’ Room? sigh No. They appreciate the joke, but no. Maybe in some non-canonical parody comic or something. It sounds like something that Bad Magazine would put out rather than Sentinel Comics.
- [At around 1:12:30 we get a letter from Sorry Not Sorry that’s just a bunch of glue puns without questions.]
- What are the top three times that a well written/spoken apology would have resolved a conflict or prevented a character’s origin story? Maybe Legacy/Baron Blade… It’s hard to pick the time in which that could have worked, but it also feels like there’s something there that could have headed it off. Fun to think about, but no way it’d work: Voss or Spite. Maybe Chairman seeing the errors of his ways and giving up the whole criminal empire thing, but that’s also hard just because of the scale of stuff he’s done plus the fact that he kind of enjoys it. They don’t really have a large number of “tragic” villains. Like, they made Mr. Jitters more tragic today than he had been in their heads prior, but they also don’t think there’s a good apology moment to alter his path. Adam suggests that Wraith’s origin could have been disrupted if the criminal was there when she woke up to apologize. This leaves Christopher speechless for a few moments before responding “Wow.”
- Of course, he then launches into a Disparation story that follows this poor, down-on-his-luck guy who, needing money, starts holding up people in the nice part of town. He doesn’t want to hurt anybody and basically figures that if anybody can afford to lose whatever he takes from them, it’s these rich types. One mugging involving a young couple goes wrong; the guy tries to take his gun and gets shot in the scuffle and the girl faints and hits her head badly. She wakes up in the hospital and finds this young guy has snuck in - he’s really sorry and everything, but can’t turn himself in, but will turn his life around, yadda yadda. She’s just yelling at him to get out, which he does, but then he starts training himself so that he can try to intervene when other people in situations similar to himself start to make bad choices, etc. He becomes this shadowy figure known as the Wraith! Years later they run into each other again, and while she fundamentally doesn’t like him, she helps fund his operation and becomes his “guy in the chair” because he’s doing good.
- If you could choose anything, which other fictional universe would you like to see Sentinel Comics cross over with? Man, that’s tough, so let’s narrow some parameters. Let’s say we’re doing a comic and that it’s something specifically involving the Freedom Five. They don’t want to go the easy route and have it be “The Freedom Five meet the Avengers or X-Men”, so what’s something more interesting? Well, thinking about that, it would be more interesting to have the team involved be Dark Watch instead of the Freedom Five. Something fun with Dark Watch would be to drop them into the plot of Final Fantasy VII. Like, right at the beginning with the team on the train, have the DW people there are recruitable members for the game. K.N.Y.F.E./Metroid could also be fun. A Sentinels vs. Street Fighter game is something that’s always there in their heads. The Prime Wardens in an episode of Captain Planet is kind of ridiculous to consider, but a funny mental image just due to the overkill involved. That leads Adam to a legit Fanatic/Hellboy crossover idea, though. Fanatic, Ra, and Haka could all work great as members of the BPRD. So could Tempest - he and Abe Sapien would probably get along. Man, Dark Watch fits there too, which makes the BPRD as the stand-out crossover potential property.
- As the “final confrontation” between Dr. Jennings and Mr. Jitters we want to showcase that and even if we’re not going to position it to show Jennings with the upper hand, he should at least look like he’s in control of the situation.
- Adam also wants “a dumb title” as the text along the bottom. Options Christopher’s worked out are “Conscious Conflict!” or “Sentient Showdown!” The former is the better option between those two.
- Maybe the blocking should be a “mirroring” in position, leaning into the fact that they’re the same person.