The Letters Page: Episode 20
Today, we talk about the tech-bending villain Chokepoint!
Run Time: 71:03
Around thirteen minutes in, we talk about The Block, and then a few minutes later, we introduce the F.I.L.T.E.R. Agent Paige Huntly. More on her next week, and more on FILTER and The Block the week after that!
We get through her entire backstory without digging into the Termi-Nation story... but not to worry! We do a HUGE section in the Q&A portion of the podcast all about Termi-Nation.
Adam reads a letter from the Cult of Gloom. After the episode, we went to the hospital, but they don't deal with that sort of thing. So, he'll probably be fine.
Listeners! Tomorrow (May 31st) is Adam's birthday! Two days after that (June 2nd) is Christopher's birthday! For our birthdays, please send us questions about F.I.L.T.E.R., Sergeant Steel, and The Block! Next week is the K.N.Y.F.E. episode, but we've already recorded that one, due to Christopher being in the UK this week for the UK Games Expo. If you're at that show, go see him in the Greater Than Games booth!
- Evelyn was born with powers, as opposed to developing them later (puberty for those whose powers are innate - even the Parsons family aren't generally at "full power" when that young). Evelyn would babble at the family's appliances (like she was talking to them) and then they'd fall apart and reform a cocoon around her. Disconcerting, to say the least, for the new parents.
- The Ironclad Project contacted her parents after they'd gone around looking for assistance. They'd been "recruiting" other young people with powers and offered to help the Moores out, but they'd have to sign her over to be a ward of the state. Her parents balk at this at first, but the situation at home continues and eventually they sign her over.
- Evelyn grows up as part of the Ironclad Project - this includes "schooling" that includes the message/expectation that she's going to be part of a new kind of "army" consisting of a relatively small number of powered individuals. So, her mindset has been calibrated to be focused on this future where her purpose will be to help people.
- However, this whole time she hears any metal that has been shaped (say, into machinery) crying out to her. If she "cries" back, the metal will collapse into an unformed state. She's somewhat unhinged, mentally. She's "hearing" these inhuman voices all the time - is that good for one's mental state? Are the voices even really there or just the way her connection to metal manifests?
- One day, while in her teens, she was in training and heard some commotion in a nearby part of the facility. She decides she wants to see what's going on and so just collapses part of the wall that's in her way and heads over. Part of the scene she discovers includes a tank (they specify an M1 Abrams, which assuming this is a canonical detail probably places this after 1980 as that's when those went into active service) that also sang out to her. She called out to it, and it collapsed into bits and then reformed around her (giving her an armored appearance). The soldiers, justifiably alarmed at what just happened, opened fire. This caused her to have a falling out with the military and she left.
- Now operating as Choke, she's mostly a mid-tier Freedom Five villain from the '80s. This backstory doesn't really come into play until she's already been around for a while in the comics (closer to the Termi-Nation event).
- The first story with Choke is a bank heist in Megalopolis. It's supposed to be this really modern, secure bank (robotic sentries, surveillance cameras, automated defenses, etc.) and supposedly impossible to rob. This, of course, means that it's robbed almost immediately - kind of. No money was taken, but all of the security measures are gone. The Freedom Five manage to track the missing robots to an abandoned steel mill where all of the defenses have been set up to secure that location. This is where Choke has set up shop as a headquarters for her mission of "freeing" metal - her vibe at the time is "robot master" with a very ill-defined power set. The Freedom Five fight through her robots and everything, but Choke escapes when it becomes clear that things aren't going her way.
- She shows up periodically with another plot that's easily foiled by the heroes. Sometimes she winds up in jail, sometimes not. She makes for a decent recurring villain, though.
- The major story (as "Choke") involves the Block. The Wraith receives a garbled transmission that seems to imply that something is going on at the Block and that they need help. Tachyon manages to rig together some kind of portal system to allow them to get there reliably (the Block has been around as a concept for a while, but fairly rarely used in the comics up until this point). Once they arrive, they realize that Choke is controlling pretty much the whole place (since so much of the interior is metal). She's got herself set up in the control center, and is basically playing a "tower defense game" against the heroes since the whole place is an extension of her will. She's also interfering with the systems that manage things like the powered inmates or the general background weirdness of spacetime regarding the place. Several F.I.L.T.E.R. agents there at the time are injured/maimed as a result of the power fluctuations. One of these is Paige Huntly, who despite her injuries manages to make it to the control center and take down Choke (who was distracted by everything else she was dealing with - she'd written off this injured normal person as a threat). Choke then gets locked up in the Block, where she stays until Vengeance.
- As part of the general Vengeance plot, Baron Blade broke a bunch of people out of the Block, Choke included. Choke's involvement with the general mayhem was to infiltrate the Freedom Five Headquarters and destroy a bunch of Bunker suits (a common theme between him and Absolute Zero with the exception that Bunker's not often wearing his suit when it gets destroyed). During these events, she is confronted by Agent Huntly (with new powers resulting from the fight in the Block and now designated as K.N.Y.F.E.), who stabs her through the abdomen (see the K.N.Y.F.E. card "For the Greater Good"), seemingly killing her.
- The military find her "totally dead" body and take it to bury (since she was a ward of the state). She's taken to Fort Adamant and the Ironclad Project again for study (while comatose).
- While she's in her coma, Deadline shows up to do his thing. One of his tools is the Zenith Gauge, which allows him to find the weak points/stress points in the world - that is, what allows him to cause the cataclysms. Once he's defeated, the Zenith Gauge winds up in Freedom Tower. It's made of a crystal (actually a strange kind of alien metal) as well as a band and two globes that orbit around it. This crystal "calls out" to Choke in a stronger fashion than most, even while she's comatose, and is drawn to her all the way from Freedom Tower (dragging the other components with it) to Fort Adamant and merges with her. The crystal fills in the hole in her torso left by K.N.Y.F.E. (see the art in the show notes/on Chokepoint's card "Empowered Self Repair"), healing her and waking her up.
- She now has an expanded knowledge and awareness than she'd had previously (as well as cool new accessories orbiting her head - the band and spheres that were the remainder of the Zenith Gauge) and is now Chokepoint. This makes her a living embodiment of the Zenith Gauge - able to use its power to find the weak points in things around her. This alters her goals into "destroy weakness" leading into Termi-Nation (which will be covered more in the Questions section).
- By the end of Termi-Nation, however, she's captured and imprisoned in Freedom Tower. The non-crystal components of the Zenith Gauge are removed from her vicinity, which keeps her power in check. While she's there, the Celestial Tribunal arrives at earth. While in the holding cell, her powers are damped and while she can still "hear" the metal around her, she can't do anything with it. This giant metal construct that's shown up, however, is "more alive" and "has more to say" than most and she can communicate with it - this empowers her enough to break out. She gets the rest of the Zenith Gauge parts and constructs a pod for herself that she uses to get on board the Celestial Tribunal. She doesn't really do much as part of that event (this stuff happens in side plot cutaways).
- The Celestial Tribunal is "defeated" by Dark Watch (both through logical arguments and through Setback saying something offhand that gets it thinking about its creators and therefore questioning its whole existence and oh no what have I been doing my whole life, etc.). When it leaves to go think about what it's done/probably destroy itself, Chokepoint is still on it and is determined to take its power for her own (using the Zenith Gauge to determine how to best act to gain control).
- This is a difficult struggle, and she's not left alone the whole time (Captain Cosmic and others wind up fighting her at some point - maybe Dr. Medico), but eventually she wins, but at a cost. She's able to defeat it, but not wrest control of it - she's left the Celestial Tribunal a mindless husk.
- What's the extent of her ability to make "inventions" out of metal? Could she turn a pile of metal into a tank or would she have to use tank parts to do so? Could she make a computer or gun (which have non-metal components)? She doesn't really make devices/functioning equipment as much as glom together existing equipment. She kind of has the opposite power of Unity (she destroys stuff, Unity makes stuff). For an example, see the drill-thing she has on "Kinetic Looter" - that doesn't have working parts inside of it to turn the drill, she's just smashed together materials to get the right shape and can just make it rotate around her hand with her mind. She is not good at making things.
- Her bio mentions a "star at the middle of the galaxy"; is this referring to OblivAeon or something else? That's a star that she thinks she can chain-react to take out a bunch of other stuff (this is the whole "eliminating weaknesses" motive at work).
- She got additional powers from something that belonged to Deadline - is that item represented in his deck? When she's defeated, does she still have that item? Does Lifeline interact with her during the Multiverse era, how does he react to her using his gear? The Zenith Gauge, mentioned earlier, isn't represented by a card in his deck, but is visible in a lot of his art as he always has it (and gear that a character always has is not likely to be represented by a card because that means it could be taken away/destroyed/etc. - for example, Parse doesn't have a card to represent her bow; it's just assumed that she has it). She keeps it after she's defeated because it's now part of her. Lifeline doesn't encounter Chokepoint in the canonical timeline.
- In previous episodes we know she winds up at Omnitron IV eventually, but given how she takes over metal, how was that not the end of Omnitron? More in the Termi-Nation section - while she does assimilate some of the tech there, she doesn't get it all as she has other stuff going on at the time (and it would take a long time to take it all - it's also harder for her to control things that have their own mind, see the problems she had with the Celestial Tribunal).
- She has a halo around her head once she becomes Chokepoint - is this a reflection of how she sees herself or somehow related to OblivAeon (as his messenger?)? Also, how does she hear voices from metal? The shard of crystal (from the Zenith Gauge) isn't an OblivAeon Shard - it's technology that Deadline stole from the Enclave of the Endlings and the "halo" is another component of the same thing. She does kind of see herself as a savior type figure, but she's not actively going out of her way to look like an angel, nor is she in any way related to the OblivAeon events (one of the few characters not even touched by it since she's off in space at the time). She hears the voices of metal, but it's more just the way she is aware of her power's potential - it's not that the metal is calling out to be freed, it's that she can sense the metal nearby with an understanding that she could free it (i.e. turn it back into its base components), and this manifests to her senses as "hearing" it - as a call to action, to use her power.
- Regarding Termi-Nation (implying that it's the trio of Bunker, AZ, and Unity pursuing Chokepoint), we don't have a lot of info - can you give us detail on their exploits? Why had Bunker and AZ invested in new suits? This turns into the general Termi-Nation explanation.
- After the Progeny event, which is one of the final big events prior to OblivAeon, the Southwest Sentinels are hanging out in Fort Adamant (where their further training has been sponsored - their Adamant variants list SS #25 as their first appearance, the Chokepoint issue is #30 - it's also in Texas, did we know it was in Texas?) where they've been monitoring some weird spacetime events using the equipment there and have been forwarding that info off to the Freedom Five. While that's happening, the wall of their bunker explodes and Chokepoint floats in to wreck their day. This is the first appearance of Chokepoint and is the reveal that Choke didn't really die - the intervening events (coma, Zenith Gauge, etc.) is told in flashback after the Sentinels are defeated (which didn't take long).
- Meanwhile, the Freedom Five are doing stuff - some are studying an OblivAeon shard. Unity has just wrapped up the Omnitron-U thing at Omnitron IV and Chokepoint shows up here as well, although Unity and Omnitron both just leave rather than try to take her on themselves. [Confirmation that these comics were released the same week - although I still don't know which issue of FF it would be considering the first appearance of the Termi-Nation variants of AZ and the others is FF #768, but the first appearance of Omnitron-U is #783]. There was an editorial push to get everybody on the same page for the big thing they were going to be doing that involved Chokepoint.
- Bunker and AZ are back at Freedom Tower monitoring the transmissions from Fort Adamant, but things have gone silent. Unity arrives at around this time and talks about Chokepoint showing up (although she leaves Omnitron behind). The three of them go to Fort Adamant, where Chokepoint is and the fight does not go well for these three most metal-dependent heroes. This is when "Harvest the Mighty" happens and we see the Bunker suit ripped in half. They escape and make it back to headquarters to regroup. The others are busy, so it's up to them to figure something out. Bunker and Unity work on building a Bunker suit made largely of ceramics. Absolute Zero extrapolates the techniques he'd been using to patch holes in his suit with ice to basically make a suit out of it (although still using the modules necessary to regulate temperatures normally).
- Thus reequipped, they head back to Fort Adamant, but now it's seemingly abandoned. There are a bunch of big holes in the walls/buildings, but some of these lead into large underground facilities that were unknown to the heroes to this point (where some nefarious experiments had been going on). They head in, wind up separated for various reasons, and have to deal with automated systems but also with test subjects who have gotten loose - powered people who have been experimented on and augmented by the Ironclad Project (under the auspices of Dr. Demikahv). Bunker fights the Radioactivist who's more radioactive than before - now he has a large canister-like thing on his back that's storing the excess energy he's putting out that he can use for bigger blasts. Unity fights Char. Absolute Zero fights Highbrow - she's creepy; she has a giant brain and she has to stay in a special chair because of it (well, she had to stay in the chair until her brain was removed and put in a jar that hovers around her with a cable leading to her spine). She doesn't have any psychic powers or anything, she's just really really smart.
- The Southwest Sentinels, back on their feet by this time, are fleeing from Chokepoint elsewhere in the underground base and stumble into a room with more OblivAeon shards. They grab the shards and promptly vanish (more on this in their episode). Chokepoint, at a loss for what happened to them, goes off to find other targets.
- General Armstrong, the main military contact for the Freedom Five this whole time, is in some records room. He's been aware of a bunch of the stuff that's been going on, but isn't involved in anything sinister personally. He sees that somebody's trying to access the Bunker files and deletes it rather than letting it get out to whoever it is. The heroes hear him yelling his defiance to somebody regarding them, and then a gunshot, but they don't know what actually happens to him.
- The heroes eventually confront Chokepoint and the resulting fight winds up disabling most of the base. Chokepoint loses and winds up in the holding cell mentioned earlier. The overall point of the story has been to establish that the government has been up to some shady things and paves the way for the Tactics timeline (where the heroes have separated from the government) and the RPG timeline (where they're still working cooperatively, but have distanced themselves a bit).
- Bunker and AZ have their new approach to their equipment, but how does Unity adjust to fight Chokepoint? She doesn't maintain the bots as long. She'll make one, have it do a thing, then let it go as she can't count on them doing much without Chokepoint wrecking them anyway.
More General Questions
- What does Chokepoint think about Unity (power similarities, hair-color copycat, etc.)? Unity doesn't like that Chokepoint hurts her friends, but likes her hair (although would never admit it). Chokepoint thinks Unity is an annoying child and is angered that she's putting metal into a form that's not its natural state.
- What's the nature of the alien crystal that she absorbs? Is it sentient? Its nature is already covered, it's not autonomous/there's no will behind its operation.
- How much is Chokepoint in control of herself or does the crystal manipulate her? She's already kind of unhinged and isn't so much being manipulated as she's now just aware of the worst possible targets for her to go after.
- Seeing as we've found out a lot about characters' hair in these things, what's the deal with Evelyn's hair? Is she using metal to give it a particular look, are the pink tips related to her aura when she uses her power? Her hair is naturally black and she just dyes it this way, possibly as a backlash against the military upbringing she had.
- In "Shocking Animation" we see Chokepoint doing something to Nightmist's amulet, what effect does this have on the relic (or could have on other relics)? Any relics made of metal could be interacted with. Fanatic's sword could be broken down (which would do little other than make Fanatic really mad), but others have wills of their own - the amulet is one such and caused a backlash, but doesn't grant any extra abilities to her.
- Where did "Choke" and "Chokepoint" as names come from? A choke is a part of an engine that regulates air intake, and therefore the operation of that engine, and her name was chosen because of that connection. "Chokepoint" was a variation on the existing name, plus the Zenith Gauge letting her narrow her focus to points of weakness.
- Tactics - she's lost in space.
- RPG - she's lost in space. We also know that Void Guard has been fighting her out there and losing pretty badly - she's gaining power out there in some vague way. This is further down the road than the launch of the RPG (it'll be in phase 2).