The Letters Page: Episode 196
Writers' Room: Tome of the Bizarre Vol. 03 #16
Enough of all this Fanatic on Fanatic violence!
Run Time: 1:19:10
We say farewell to the spooky months with a tale full of ghosts, mistaken identities, and hero vs. hero action!
Join us next week for a Creative Process episode about Singular Entities!
- To close out the Spooky Months we’ve got another Haunted Fanatic story. As a reminder, that was a story line that lasted around a year (it started after the “Christmas Carol” story from December ’88 and ran through the following October when it was resolved - see episodes 131 and 157 for those start/end points). While it was a relatively short span of time where “Haunted Fanatic” was a thing, it made an impact with the readership (much as it has here in the Letters Page audience - it’s a minor story, but we can’t seem to get enough of it). It’s the sort of thing that would get a nod as an Easter Egg in a movie decades later.
- So, we have 2 main places this issue could go with the simple prompt we’re working with. Tome of the Bizarre and Prime Wardens. The former works best if we’re just doing a one-off Haunted Fanatic story disconnected from an ongoing plot, but the latter could be somewhere from #37-46 of volume 1. Doing a one-off/solo story in TotB is the decision, so let’s go from there.
- With that in mind, we’re looking between issues #10 and 18 of volume 3 of TotB - issue #9 was the one that resulted in Fanatic being haunted (and was the basis of episode 131) and #19 was already described in some detail in episode 157 where they invented the character of Fanatic’s “helper ghost” Stevie and that issue was where, with the help of NightMist, they laid her to rest.
- Just “picking one in the middle” somewhere doesn’t really help us narrow down a story, though. Do we want it to just be a “Haunted Fanatic” story, or “Hanted Fanatic and Stevie” (in that it’s about Stevie rather than just having her there as the supporting character)? Let’s do the former. So let’s say issue #15 or #16 and it’s about Fanatic wrestling with the fact that she is now a ghost. The Prime Wardens book can have the team worried about her being a ghost and she just brushes it off (“the angel of death is still an angel of the Lord” or similar) and they get on with things, but in this story we get more of her introspection about it.
- Christopher suggests maybe having her have to fight “specters of her own past” somehow? Like, maybe it’s a dream, but also real somehow? Adam responds with maybe having someone who’s not got a huge amount of innate power, but can make her mistakes become real. That sounds like a job for the Seer. He somehow finds out that Fanatic is struggling with this whole ghost situation and figures he can use that to try to pull on her Host powers as she’s “losing herself” to this nonsense. The goal is to make her just a ghost, taking her Host connection for himself. Well, this is before any of the Host stuff has been formalized in comics, so it’s just taking her power for himself or whatever.
- They also decide for this issue to have a surprise villain. Fanatic starts having to deal with this stuff, but neither she nor the reader know that the Seer is involved until the end. We’re meant to believe that this is just something that’s happening as a result of the ghost stuff and her powers on their own.
- We can start in medias res with her fighting Apostate, but during the fight this “Apostate” just turns into her and so she’s fighting herself. The fact that she’s a ghost and she’s fighting “classic Fanatic” is a nice self-doubt move. Like, she immediately assumes it’s Apostate trickery, but then it can respond with something like “You’re the one who’s a ghost. I’m an angel of the Lord and will smite you!” She’s “becoming the thing that she hates” just as Jacob Molena [the instigator of the Christmas Carol story] warned her would happen if she struck him down (which she did, because she was there to smite ghosts). She gets smitten by the other Fanatic and that’s when she wakes up. It was a dream. “Hey, Stevie. Do ghosts dream?” It turns out that they do not.
- Okay, so thus far we have Fanatic fighting Apostate, Apostate changing to Fanatic, Fanatic fighting “herself” with some sowing of self doubt, and then a quick consult on ghost lore from Stevie. Having revisited that sequence, Christopher thinks they need to change something. Maybe in the months between the Christmas story and this one a running question/theme is whether “Haunted Fanatic” is good or bad. Is she still and Angel of the Lord or just an “evil spirit” that needs smiting. Like, the Prime Wardens stories likely have Argent Adept noticing that some really weird magic is going on with her and making her meaner and “way more ’80s than usual”. The suggested change to this issue: just start right in with Fanatic vs. Fanatic. Leave Apostate out entirely and start with “classic Fanatic” going all righteous fury on this ghost version of herself as you’d expect. The suggestion to the reader being that the ghosts just co-opted her form and this “Haunted Fanatic” isn’t really her. The fight plays out the same way as they described earlier, with “classic” Fanatic smiting the haunted one and then she wakes up in a cold sweat, wondering which of them she was.
- From there we get Stevie’s help and then we get more fighting and smiting foes from her past. Apostate can still be one of those specters, but they wanted to divorce his presence from the beginning. The readers can still assume that Apostate is behind everything, but they didn’t want him to be propped up as the likely culprit just due to being at the beginning of the story.
- How does this “ghosts from her past” thing work out in practice? Maybe she sees a mugging in progress and goes to stop it, but when she gets there she sees that it’s really the Idolater or something and goes to really let him have it (with the sword or a massive blast of radiant energy or something), and it’s only at the last moment that the scales fall from her eyes and she sees this terrified mugger sprawled on his back trying to shuffle away. She’s just barely stopped herself from killing some guy who, while doing wrong, didn’t deserve death. Something bigger is at stake here.
- We probably get another scene along those lines with another villain and then she goes and gets help from Argent Adept. We can even have it tied in by having some discussion going on in PW #42 or 43 (whichever is in the same month as this issue) with Fanatic visible brooding in the background and this TotB issue having that same scene from a different perspective. After that discussion, we have Argent Adept pull Fanatic aside to talk about whatever this is that’s going on with her. This conversation with just the two of them is where we get her protestations of still being an angel and not some evil spirit, but he retorts with further questions about whether she’s ever been an angel. And that’s when AA turns into Apostate and she fights him. It’s the same deal as before with the mugger - it’s still just AA there and from his perspective she’s just flipped out on him.
- For the intervening scene, they think she runs into a gang or something and the “ghosts” she fights is basically just a group shot of a bunch of her minor villains (including the goat demon from her first appearance). Having her get in another fight with regular people seems a bit samey, though. Let’s say that she’s on the way back to the Prime Wardens to have that talk and is beset by this group of phantoms while en route. She’s really just flailing about at nothing, but it’s an indication that whatever is going on is getting worse.
- A fun idea is for the creative team of this issue and that Prime Wardens issue to be the same people or at least working closely together. We have the same dialog of the PW team discussion in both books, just in this one we’re from Fanatic’s perspective and she sees the team’s faces changing as she glowers at them and we have the additional benefit of her inner monologue to inform the mood of the scene to distinguish her perception from the more neutral presentation in the other book. She’s getting paranoid about whether she can trust any of them and who the deceiver is.
- At this point Christopher has an idea that maybe they should just throw out the whole thing with there being a villain behind this at all. Adam suggests that the issue ends with her off by herself in a chapel graveyard or something like that (somewhat isolated, but makes for a cool scene to draw) where the Seer shows up. She immediately goes into accusation mode where she assumes he’s been behind everything. Nope, he hasn’t done anything to her. He’s just waiting for everything to fall apart so he can pick up the pieces.
- That’s good. As a late-’80s story, do we just leave this unresolved? It’s just setting up bad things and then letting that mood just sit. Seer shows up, says his thing about just waiting for whatever she’s doing to herself to reach its conclusion at which point he’ll just do his thing - no rush, he can wait. He walks off and we get a few beat panels of her in disbelief before assuming a serene prayer position, then ghosts/demons/whatever start creeping in at the edges of the panel. Then she stands up and draws her sword to deal with them. The end. Nothing was learned. That’s our girl. Like, the Seer tells her what’s going on and she takes an action suggesting that she can deal with it, but then immediately reverts to form as soon as provoked in the most minor way.
- To back up a bit, they need to resolve the Argent Adept/Apostate thing. He says the terrible things to her, is “revealed” to be Apostate which makes complete sense to her and she attacks. She wins by hitting him with a massive blast of energy… leaving a crumpled up, unconscious AA on the ground. In her horror at what she’s done, she just flees. If she doesn’t heal him, what’s the fallout? Between AA himself and the other team members we can probably get him back on his feet, but what else? They can probably just handwave it. This happens in a non-PW book, although one that shares a scene - by the next month they can probably get away with just not having it matter in PW until sometime later when another writer points out that this happened and that it should probably be addressed. Let’s see if we can actually make it matter, though, so what’s going on over in PW?
- We’ll put today’s issue as #16 of TotB volume 3 (July ’89). The July issue of PW volume 1 is #43. Maybe that issue can involve the team having that meeting to make plans for some big thing that’s going on and then breaking to go each take care of their portion of it. Then, at the end of the issue, Tempest or somebody calls over the others because he’s found AA unconscious. What happened? Well, there’s this handy editorial caption directing you over to Tome of the Bizarre #16 to find out. Then PW #44 is the rest of the team vs. Haunted Fanatic.
- It’s kind of fun that what they’ve created here is a side story that explains the main story. The main story here is that the Prime Wardens are dealing with something and Fanatic is losing it due to her own problems. This leads to her attacking Argent Adept and the whole team having to fight her. The Prime Wardens writers know where they’re going with it and ask that somebody else do a side issue over in TotB from her perspective that explains why she’s losing it.
- So, we’ve got Haunted Fanatic, Werewolf Haka, and now Oni Mr. Fixer; I see what’s going on here - are we slowly just canonizing Adam’s 2018 Sentinels of the Night images? It’s only a matter of time before we get a Disparation issue about Vampire Lord Legacy and the Vampire Hunter Baron Blade, right? They are coincidences. After Adam did them they did have a discussion about which ones could have happened and which not. All of them were kind of indicated by the existing characters to begin with, so the fact that some of the stories have wound up matching the ideas isn’t that surprising. Haka and Fanatic are things that could possibly happen in canon, but the Vampire Legacy not so much. With the Mr. Fixer one being in a Disparation story already I guess that nothing is really off the table, but it’s a matter of what stories they wind up needing. None of those images are part of the canon until stated otherwise specifically.
- Given where the Haunted Fanatic thing wound up going/how much of a thing it was, was the readership at the time surprised by it coming about from some unassuming Tome of the Bizarre Christmas issue? Did that wind up making TotB vol. 3 #9 a major collector’s item beyond what was the norm for that title in general? That’s pretty accurate. Fanatic was a very popular character at this time (she had generally been pretty popular from her introduction, but especially since the start of Absolution where her story was told more coherently). Having her as a major feature character on a TotB cover would have likely spiked the sales of that issue somewhat already and then having the “Haunted Fanatic” thing in place for the next issue of Prime Wardens would have sent people looking for it. As an anthology book that covers different stuff month-to-month, TotB covers have to really do the work to draw in buyers since there are simply fewer every-issue collectors for such titles (well, until we get to issue #100 where it becomes the Naturalist’s “home” book, with his name prominent in the trade dress, through the end of volume 3).
- We’ve been told that Fanatic hates goats (which I’m accepting as canon) - has there been anything come of that when she visits Mordengrad with its Goat-centric culture? First, she absolutely hates goats. Second, Mordengrad doesn’t have a Goat-centric culture - it just has one Goat-centric holiday celebration (along with there just being a lot of goats in Mordengrad). She hates ghosts, but she’s also fought enough “goat demons” that she’s wary of goats on general principle.
- Does Fanatic have any more ill-will towards Baron Blade (beyond that earned due to his general levels of villainy) due to the events of Cosmic Contest? If they saw each other again soon after the Cosmic Contest she’d have probably gone all rematch on him, but he was trapped in the Realm of Discord and so they didn’t have a chance to encounter one another until other, more important stuff was going on. After that, she’s got this whole “being sad” thing on top of her general “being mad” thing and the sad and mad are all getting mixed up with one another.
- Was there any character development from anybody as a direct result of what happened in Cosmic Contest (anybody mock Legacy for getting knocked out in round one, did K.N.Y.F.E. decide she needed to train more after losing to Ansel G. Moreau, were any team dynamics shaken up, etc.)? The trick is that, because it was a one-shot, Cosmic Contest could set up/comment on things that would be important for OblivAeon, the monthly title writers couldn’t/didn’t really take it into account or necessarily react to things that happened in it until after it had been out for a while. There simply wasn’t enough coordination between the writers to work it in organically and with the exception of a few characters (notably Visionary [and Argent Adept]) there weren’t any major character development/changes that came about because of it. It was more there to massage the story/setting into a place where it needed to be for OblivAeon more than it was there to create new plot threads. We needed NightMist’s strength stated for all to see due to what she would be doing later. They needed Visionary in fighting form and Dark Mind split off. Baron Blade needed to be sidelined for a bit so that his triumphant return was a big deal. Beyond that it was just a fun showcase of various “power levels” of the characters.
- During the bad “Fanatic following all religions” story, was it a case where each issue had her exploring a different one or was she following all of them at once? Did she change her primary costume at that time/did it change to match whichever religion she was involved with at the time? There’s a few issues and they imagine it was more an “all at once” approach. She would have changed up her costume, but more just incorporating elements from all of them at once rather than it changing to accentuate whatever she was doing at the time. She might still quote the bible, but she’d just as likely quote the Koran or a Hindu sutra or any other holy text. It’s a mess. Adam imagines the costume as rather simple - kind of monk-ish - just with small details from the various faiths.
- Leaving aside St. Louis-style pizza, is there any St. Louis area delicacies that you do enjoy? What’s your favorite local brewery? Gooey butter cake is good, but it’s a lot of sugar. They’ve had good toasted ravioli, but they’ve also had terrible toasted ravioli (and Christopher notes that while St. Louis claims it as a local thing, he doesn’t think it really qualifies - the ravioli already existed, somebody just decided to deep fry it). Every city tries to have a local thing, but very few actually do. Like, Chicago deep-dish pizza is a very Chicago thing, while New York pizza is basically just anywhere on the eastern seaboard (and Detroit-style is, to hear Christopher tell it, just them putting the sauce on top instead of in the middle to try to be different and have their own thing). Christopher notes that Kansas City had this weird drive to try to have their own thing. Like, they’ve had jazz in town for forever and a distinct barbecue culture, but they were trying to make a name for themselves by having a lot of cow statues or fountains and other weird things. Jazz and BBQ are phenomenal - just stick to those for crying out loud! Favorite brewery is tough - there are a lot of good ones in St. Louis. As a company they frequented Earthbound and another favorite is Urban Chestnut. Paul and Christopher also like Civil Life which does a bunch of British style things.
- This gets into a rather entertaining aside about how restaurants should specialize. Places that try to do everything are rarely very good at anything. There’s a place in St. Louis called The Taco and Ice Cream Joint. They make tacos and ice cream and, guess what, they’re exceptional at both of those things.
- Fanatic is a spirit of Judgement, but part of Judgement is Punishment - how hard a sell would it be to convince Fanatic that people being tormented in Æternus deserve it? How about if she was at a particularly low point, say, while she’s haunted or mourning the death of a lover - could she be convinced that bringing “sinners” to Æternus for punishment falls within her divine mandate? They don’t think this would be a hard sell at all. She’s not normally in the business of thinking about where people go - she’s more of the “let God sort ’em out” mindset, but this isn’t particularly outside the realm of possibility.
- Would she leave those who sold their souls to Æternus to suffer without even trying to save them? Would she attempt to condemn Apostate there due to his assertions that he’s a fallen angel to begin with and he belongs in “hell”? Probably yes to both of those. Sell your soul to Æternus… man you made your bed, now burn in it.
- Does the Naturalist ever learn about his role in the creation of Necrosis. If so, how does he feel about that? Does this outcome lead him to approach future environmental problems more carefully? He eventually finds out - maybe not the full extent of what happened, but at least the Reader’s Digest version. He doesn’t learn just how many problems he caused, but any that he does learn of he tries to address.
- How monstrous/in-control is Necrosis? Is there still some Benji in there that can be talked down or is he just a rabid animal that need to be put down? If he succeeded in taking down the Naturalist and Conteh Energy, what would he do next? There’s likely some Benji still in there, but he’s not just an animal either. He’s a calculating foe who is committed to this course of action, but he’s been driven to it - so far removed from what ol’ Benji was like. He’s more “zealous” than “rabid”. After taking town Naturalist and Conteh Energy he’d likely go after any kind of environmentalist group or cause where he thought he could make a mark.
- Does Vince Snyder get his comeuppance at some point before or after OblivAeon? They don’t want to answer that right now. “It’s too soon to talk about Vince Snyder stuff.” “There are some plot things there. You’ll get it.”
- Is it possible that Necrosis could eventually be, if not “cured”, at least stabilized or otherwise turned around? What are the chances of a redemption arc in the future? Man, not a high chance but not zero either. You’d have to find a way to at least somewhat reverse his condition. You probably couldn’t fully cure it without killing him due to how internal it is to him at this point. Stabilizing him to the point where he could come back to himself somewhat is also hard as then he’d likely be just destroyed by the knowledge of what he’d done. Could he forgive himself at that point? There’s a lot that would have to happen for a redemption arc to be possible.
- So, Benjamin Garner harvested the energy in living things for power… isn’t that Blood Magic? Did he just find a scientific path to use magic, making him an alchemist? He is not a magical being. It has a similar effect to Blood Magic, but it’s entirely through scientific means. He is neither a Blood Mage nor an alchemist.
- Necrosis seems to have similar powers to the Absolute Zero foe Degenerate - do the two of them ever team up (leading to a Naturalist/AZ team-up to save the world from entropic decay)? Degenerate is a more small-scale Punk type of threat as opposed to Necrosis’ “burn down the world” approach. A side comment in the process of asking an earlier question also suggested him working as a minion for somebody - they don’t see him as a jobber. He could possibly be manipulated into doing what somebody else wants, but he’s not “for hire” or anything. He has his own goals and knows what they are. Even if he were to be manipulated, it would still be into doing something that would further those goals. At best, they could see the reverse of that situation - that he gets Degenerate to work for him.
- Why is Rose Griggs called Chaos Witch? Does she draw power from Chaos or does she just enjoy causing it? Yes and yes. Her power source is Chaos itself and the end goal is Chaos itself. She can give herself power by using her power.
- How well-known is Chaos Witch in the magical “community”? Is she related to Ignazio Gallo at all considering both of them seem to enjoy just causing mischief? She’s known of, but isn’t highly public. She and Gallo are probably aware of one another, but they’re not exactly colleagues who would work together.
- What does Chaos Witch do? You say she’s often found near wars; does she cause the war or just take advantage of the chaos caused by the war? Is there a way to track her down? You’re unlikely to track her - she’s too chaotic. She’s frequently started wars - not necessarily intentionally. It’s often just “I’m gonna cause some chaos” and wouldn’t you know it, whatever she did managed to destabilize some situation to the point where hostilities break out. She’s good at subtlety - she’ll seed relatively small things that Butterfly Effect their way to being big things.
- What would it take to kill Chaos Witch? Would she die like a normal person or is she another one of those immortal magic users (like Marjorie Mittermeier)? She’s not immortal, but she’s been around for quite a while. She’s got enough power that it wouldn’t be a trivial matter to take her out. Like, you probably couldn’t just shoot her. Well, you could shoot at her… If you can get the bullet to her, you can probably kill her that way.
- Just how often does Chaos Witch show up in the comics/how popular of a villain is she in the Metaverse? Who in the world of Sentinel Comics even knows she exists (Zhu Long, Biomancer, Soothsayer Carmichael, etc.)? She shows up quite rarely and disappears for long stretches of time. It’s fairly notable when she does show up. She makes enough of a splash that people take notice. She’s one of those “major C-level” characters. Somebody that isn’t terribly important in that she doesn’t show up often, but does make an impact when she does. She’s not going to appear on any kind of ballot for an informal poll of who the readers want to show up in an upcoming issue, but she might get some write-ins. Zhu Long, NightMist, and Soothsayer Carmichael know about her. Biomancer probably knows of her but doesn’t care (he’s not really part of what you’d consider “the magical community” - he makes his own friends).
- Does anybody in Sentinel Comics know that Chaos Witch is the source of Unity’s powers? They don’t think that there’s any reason for anybody to know - not even Rose as it wasn’t like she intentionally did this; it’s just a chaotic outcome of the chaotic stuff she was doing in the war. If anybody does know, it’s such a small number of people as to be essentially “nobody”.
- Does Rose know? If she ever encountered Unity she might recognize the connection. She likely wouldn’t know what that point of connection was, just that it’s a result of something she did somehow, sometime in the past. She likely doesn’t care. She probably runs into, well not lots, but the occasional person who’s been affected by her powers at some point and it’s more just like noticing that “Oh, something I did managed to (probably) ruin your life in some way. Not sorry. Bye!”
- How old is Chaos Witch? Not immortal, but quite old. They know how old she is, but readers don’t and they’re not saying now. She seems unchanging and is one of the more enigmatic characters.
- Congratulations on the Letters Page surpassing the (known) number of episodes that Il Alimento has! In celebration: what’s your favorite food? Christopher has a hard time with this because 1) he is bad at “favorites” and 2) he just loves so many kinds of food. He cheats: he would choose “sweet potatoes” and just prepare them in a zillion ways. Adam has no problems with this question: Mac & Cheese. All forms of it, but especially the way his wife makes it.
- Christopher: Adam has been taken hostage and will be given a paper cut on the web between his thumb and forefinger unless you release a new Variant for SotM - would that variant be: Haunted Fanatic, College-Age Young Legacy, or Headhunter K.N.Y.F.E.? Would you consider any of those options “different enough” from the extant options to warrant a variant? Haunted Fanatic of those three would be the one chosen. Both that and the Headhunter K.N.Y.F.E. are different enough that you could do one. College Young Legacy isn’t appreciably different as a powered character from when she first put on the costume. The big character change for her as a hero would be post-OblivAeon (either in the RPG era when she just becomes Legacy or in Vertex where she takes up the Beacon name). Heck, the version of her on the anniversary foil card is more likely to be college-era than high school-era.
- Adam’s got this one already: Fanatic vs. Fanatic. The only thing to watch for is to make sure the composition isn’t too similar to the one from the Christmas issue just a few months prior. Other than that, yeah. Just the first panel of the story that continues once you open it. It might be neat to have the background be vague depictions of her notable foes (like Apostate, Idolater, etc.), but whatever Adam thinks works. “Ghosty stuffs.”