The Letters Page: Episode 200
Writers' Room: An Unequivocally Feel-Good Issue
Ready to feel good?!
Run Time: 1:11:15
Adam is back! He's recovering well! Whew.
For this episode, we have been ordered to make you feel good! Unequivocally! We do our best!
This "show notes" thing is ENTIRELY different now, so I really hope I've posted the episode correctly. If you're a Patreon person, ping me on Discord and let me know how this stuff shows up.
Join us next week for the first episode in February on the first day of the month: The Return of the Shipping Episode! Get your questions in now!
(Secret Lads forever!)
- Adam’s back and feeling better!
- As part of their general goofing around, they inadvertently invent an entire YA book series about the youth wing of MI6 called The Secret Lads of the MI6. Imagine Harry Potter, only spies instead of wizards. They agonized for an hour over what story they could tell for an unequivocally feel-good story, but these would basically write themselves. This has no bearing on Sentinel Comics, but if “Secret Lads” becomes a thing, here’s where it started - when the “Secret Labs” logo on Adam’s chair got pixelated on Christopher’s end of their video call and looked like “Secret Lads”.
- As mentioned above, they needed to to some preliminary work to figure out what this should be because the prompt of an “unequivocally feel good story” falls well outside of their usual wheelhouse. They generally like Pyrrhic victories, knife-twisting, and other less-than-straighforwardly happy endings. Eventually Adam came up with the idea to just do a Silver Age story as those are inherently more campy and makes telling this kind of story easier.
- Even within that context they thought about what they want to do. They could make up a rather silly situation with low-to-no stakes (a villain gets a big gumball machine and the plot involves shooting gumballs all over the city or something), but that felt like cheating. As would just doing a day-in-the-life thing that’s just a hero going about a pleasant day where nothing bad happens, but that’s boring. The option they go with is just to make up a new villain (or rather, one they’ve come up with before but haven’t talked about publicly - in fact, a later version of this character is in Definitive Edition) and put him in a Tempest story in Stranger in a Strange World.
- This guy is called Death-Con and he has a bunch of cybernetic implants. He’s the result of a project by somebody at F.I.L.T.E.R. to create a more effective alien-hunting operative. His first appearance was in SiaSW #18 in August ’66. That’s not today’s story, though, since that one is not terribly likely to be “feel-good”. He’s a recurring villain in the title for a while as he hunts down Tempest. The book ends in issue #30, so let’s put today’s as issue #27.
- They toyed with telling a story with little or no conflict which feels like cheating. They thought maybe they’d just do the story where Naturalist helps fight off Professor Pollution to awaken/create Akash'Thriya, but we kind of already know that story and while the end is hopeful there’s plenty of environmental doom and gloom. No, they land on a very simple Civil Rights-era allegory thing - Death-Con is a guy who hates aliens because he’s been told to hate aliens (and because some of his implants kind of reinforce that by telling him to hunt them).
- Jumping into this issue, at this point in the book we’ve established where the Maerynians are hiding while Tempest is off dealing with F.I.L.T.E.R. and other things (other heroes, a minor Voss event, etc.). This issue starts with Death-Con in the refuge they’ve set up - he’s found them and is sneaking around. This is a bit out of character for him since up to this point he, well, let’s just say his approach isn’t very subtle, what with laser arms and explosions and stuff.
- Aside: Later stories talk about this guy like he’s just a test unit/prototype. Like, Death-Con Alpha or something (in the sense of an alpha test phase in software development). That might be a retcon in how he was seen by F.I.L.T.E.R. though. Apparently Death-Con 1 is a later thing.
- Anyway, this is his chance. He’s got the drop on this alien scum and he’s going to rig some laser explosives to rid the Earth of their scourge. Adam likes the idea that we get to see some conflict between the man and the machine, so they roll with that. We are getting this story from his perspective and, having been a villain thus far, we haven’t really had that. So he’s found them and we see the visual overlay from his implants telling him what to do to exterminate this scum. He’s on-board at first, but in the process of going around to set the charges he’s actually getting to, y’know, observe them going about their daily lives. Including some young Maerynians and scenes of domestic activity showing that they’re not so different - sure, they’re aliens, but there are definitely “civilian” individuals present who are just going about very human-looking lives. The instructions he’s getting continue to push him to blow them up - small aliens are still alien invaders and besides, this is just a cover; it’s definitely still a military installation. Blow. It. Up.
- So, that internal conflict is one thing they wanted to set up. The other is that around halfway to two-thirds of the way through the book he should be in a situation that he needs to be saved from. Maybe he gets the charges set and asks if he needs to set up a detonator or something. He’s told to not worry about that, just once things are set go to the middle of the compound and “they” will take care of things remotely. The twist here is that “they” don’t actually care about him - he’s the detonator and is being sacrificed to take out these aliens. They can always just slap some cybernetic parts into some other “Death-Con” guy later.
- We need some specific moments to build things up for him. How about: as he’s laying the last charge a ball rolls over and hits him in the leg. He picks it up and looks over to see a Maerynian child looking back at him. He hands the ball back. As he does that, we see a word bubble from behind him. “You don’t belong here, stranger!” and then he’s hit by a ball of lightning and is knocked out.
- He wakes up on a cot-like thing in a Maerynian shelter. Tempest isn’t there, but a Squall Guard or similar is there asking him about the devices that he’s been setting up. The twist here is that he can answer - all of his implants are offline after he got hit with a bunch of electricity and until they boot back up he can just be the man talking to these people without the machine running things. Eventually Death-Con is back online and Tempest shows up for a fight. However, while the fight is going on he can still talk and he’s basically begging Tempest to destroy him - it’s the only way to save all of these people.
- The angle Tempest has in this fight, though, is to save everybody and to do whatever it takes to accomplish that. Through careful application of his lightning powers (possibly even using his “lightning blade” to cut through the cybernetics, he manages to disable all of the robot parts freeing the man from their control. Tempest had a chance to talk to the others who first found the guy and had a chance to talk to him - he knows that this guy told everybody about what was going on when the machinery was shut down and he hopes that the man knows that he has been on the wrong side in these conflicts.
- Adam wants him to have an actually redemptive act and suggests that while he’s been freed, the detonator has also been activated. He then grabs all of the explosives and flies up to get them away from everybody (and he survives somehow so it’s still a feel-good ending). Christopher isn’t against the idea of redemption, but if that was an option for how to get rid of the charges, why couldn’t Tempest just do so? “Tempest can’t really fly like that.” “And Death-Con can?”
- Tempest should still be the “hero” of the story since it’s his book, but he needs to be able to be the hero because of Death-Con somehow. Maybe just the “you need to save these people and the only way to do so is to destroy me” is enough - the man is offering himself up as sacrifice to save everybody by telling Tempest how things work. Hmm… maybe we can at least do a fake-out.
- He explains that the machines are all through him and there’s no chance but to destroy him to stop the explosion. Tempest follows through with a big lightning blast to his chest or something. Turn the page with a “3 weeks later” or something and the guy wakes up. Everybody’s left the refuge they’d set up since F.I.L.T.E.R. knows about it now, so they’re all out on some boats on their way elsewhere. They’ve been painstakingly disabling the implants in his body, which took some time as they had to give his body a chance to recuperate as each system went offline and his own body took up control again. He’s free. He still has the implants, but they no longer control him.
- Maybe one “act” on Death-Con’s part could be that during the fight where Tempest’s goal is to shut down the individual components without killing the man he’s aiming his electricity attacks at various robot parts and eventually Death-Con manages to get within grappling range and just moves Tempest’s hand over to his chest in an attempt to just end things.
- Oh, also, as part of the plan to abandon the previous hiding place, they went ahead and set off all of the explosives. As far as F.I.L.T.E.R. is concerned, he’s dead and so are all of the aliens he was sent after. He can stick around as a supporting cast member in Tempest stories for a long time.
- We can end the story on a conversation between him and Tempest as they sit on the edge of their boat. It’s your standard “we’re not so different” anti-prejudice stuff after they apologize for all of the “rocket punches” and “lightning bolts to the face” and whatnot.
- There we go, despite their instincts otherwise to include some hint that he was going to turn evil again at some point (which he doesn’t, this guy really is free) we just end with the two of them getting to know one another as people.
- Maybe we should name this guy. David Daniels. He continues to be around as supporting cast for Tempest. He’s useful as both just a guy who knows a bunch about the inner workings at F.I.L.T.E.R. but some writers let him use his implants to actually get information from F.I.L.T.E.R. (others don’t - he’s just got some robot parts; it’s inconsistent and at whatever level the writer says it is for the needs of their story). Maybe he also becomes something of a behind-the-scenes activist for pro-alien-relations stuff. Given that he’s supposed to be dead, it’s also possible that in the long run he winds up living at Plavu’Col and is simply a human resident wherever the Maerynians are as he makes this kind of bridge building his life’s work. Maybe he’s even got an official role there once we have formal ambassador relationships with them.
- Do you have any tender Ra and Fanatic moments you want to tell us about (well, tender for those two anyway)? The last moment is pretty tender. Christopher likes the moments when Ra feels like he’s lost everything and Fanatic is all “you need to get back up and go be the Sun God now”, but neither of them are particularly tender people. Even when they care about someone it’s not like they’re going to go make some muffins together. Oops, you’ve got some flour on your face let me wipe that off. And then they’re kissing. Ra’s got an apron that says “Kiss the god” and Fanatic has oven mitts that look like gauntlets. That’s not them.
- [Cult of Gloom writes in while in some deep denial before heading off to listen to the Iron Legacy episode again. In part it reads “I’m not crying, you’re crying.”] They note that the crying impulse there is more in response to “heartwarming” stories, which aren’t necessarily “unequivocally feel-good” stories. There’s got to be some bad stuff happen and then maybe a resolution that’s a bit of a mixed bag to really pull on the heartstrings.
- Some of the most heartwarming stories in comics don’t involve punching villains, but are when heroes interact with regular people - say a steel man or a mouthy mercenary who talk people down from suicide - what are some examples of such things from Sentinel Comics? They have a moment where Fanatic is isolated from her friends and Argent Adept talks her around and helps [I assume this is the incident on AA’s “Inventive Preparation” card in DE.] There’s probably at least one story where Legacy helps out a civilian by talking (either talking them down from suicide or getting them to release people they took hostage for whatever reason). Especially in the late ’00s or the early ’80s are good eras for Legacy to do so as “the most inspirational dude.” Another hero who has a shot at doing so is Setback. Less in an inspirational manner, but he’s the most “everyman” character they’ve got and so can relate to everybody but he’s the master of acknowledging that something is bad, but reminding them of the good. Plus, however bad their day has been he’s probably had worse stuff happen to him, but he’s still able to see it as a “pretty good day.” Haka, Scholar, and especially Absolute Zero are going to have these moments. Even Tachyon would have occasional ones. Expatriette is not likely to do so until fairly late - maybe specifically in the case of helping Harpy deal with NightMist’s death. Several of the previously mentioned heroes would have these kind of interactions frequently, but others don’t and so when they do it’s a notable character moment. The Prime Wardens in general don’t have a lot of face-time with civilians.
- Many characters could really use a hug, but might not be the most accepting of them. How would the following characters react to being hugged?
- Argent Adept: Kind of stiff. It depends on the era and writer. They can see him taking a moment to get what’s happening - he didn’t think they were close in that way, but okay whatever. Other times he might be the person who recognizes that somebody else needs a hug and initiates.
- Captain Cosmic: Big strong squeeze. Slap on the back. He’s a hugger. A bit “formal” about it, but doesn’t shy away.
- Infinitor when he’s a little less crazy: When is this? Before the meteor when he’s just Nigel he’s just a regular person. Probably a little warmer than his brother. After that he’s pretty crazy right up until the end at which point he dies. There’s not a lot of space there. Insufficient data. He’d probably be rather jittery.
- Fanatic: “Unhand me!”
- Tempest: It’s a weird custom and one he’s not used to, but once he’s around enough to get it he would see it as important to learn to be a good hugger. Same with handshakes. He’s a character who cares about communication and these non-verbal things still count.
- Absolute Zero: He’d kind of laugh at himself, you, and the situation but okay. Unless it’s a situation where his powers have been shut off somehow which would be something else entirely and likely involves him sitting down to cry for a bit.
- Sky-Scraper: She’s excited about hugs.
- Expatriette: She’s not excited about hugs. “We don’t have a ‘touching’ relationship” she says, sometimes, to Pete.
- Ansel G. Moreau - specifically post-OblivAeon: He’s not likely to welcome a hug at that point given how painful his skin is. Please don’t touch him. That being said, probably some hugs here and there. Back in Stuntman era he’s likely do the side-by-side, arm around the shoulder hug of camaraderie.
- Visionary post-Cosmic Contest: Fairly normal. She’s a much more “even” person after that and she’d try to be as “normal” as possible with regards to this sort of thing.
- La Comodora: A big hearty hug. She’s got that pirate energy even at this point. She’s the type to give you the big hug and then the familiar greeting-kiss on the lips.
- This is more just for confirmation that Haka and Setback are good at them and could use one: Agreed on both.
- Let’s say that you are trapped in a blizzard: who are the 3-5 Sentinel heroes you want with you? The 3-5 you don’t want to be stuck with? Don’t want DW Mr. Fixer - he’s not great company. Adam thinks Wraith and Bunker would be good - another couple for he and his wife to play games with. Wraith, Bunker, and Haka are a pretty solid 3 people to be stuck with. Haka can do some baking and they’re pretty chill. Christopher’s list: it’s just him and 5 heroes. Wraith and Bunker for the already stated reasons, Haka, Benchmark, and Unity and he’d run an RPG for the 5 of them. Even better, it’s SCRPG and the character sheets are the 5 of them, but they don’t get to play themselves. Argent Adept could provide some musical entertainment, but he’s not great company (although just give him a corner to play in and he’d probably be happy just jamming without interacting with the other people). Hanging out with Tachyon, AZ, and Unity could be fun. Enough of that, let’s do people to not be stuck with. DW Fixer for one, Ra and Fanatic are a bit too intense to be cooped up with - although both of them would probably just leave as a blizzard isn’t going to stop either of them. Harpy, depending on when could be a poor choice. Adam doesn’t think he’d get along with the Naturalist - both “business guy” and “environmentalist” are archetypes that he doesn’t really have much to say to (although his wife would probably get along with him).
- How do “gimmick” universes work? Do they copy the main universe and apply the gimmick or is it just that in an infinite multiverse, some are just like that? If the former, what happens when the main universe is in the sandwich bag and the Miststorm universe is destroyed? If the latter, do they develop in different directions now? More the latter than the former. They kind of run alongside the main universe but the differences between them can range from minute to stupendous.
- How much of the Sentinels lore did you actually have in place at various milestones? Did you have any of this ready to go when you were kids? In school? How much of the story stuff did you really plan for as you developed the game? How much was a happy coincidence? Is a sizeable bulk made up on the spot when listeners ask? Creative Process and Writers’ Room episodes that we’ve been getting for a while now are largely in-the-moment creation. Sometimes they already know bullet-points or a few specific details, but need to flesh out the rest. As for what they had already when they were kids/in school? Nothing. Sentinel Comics didn’t exist until they were making the game a decade ago, but it was informed by all of the stuff they’d made up together over the course of their friendship in the years prior. There are a handful of characters that are imports from their college-days Mutants & Masterminds game, but there were large changes that happened in that process. Everything in Sentinel Comics that had a prior existence got remade in the process of becoming part of Sentinel Comics. Setback is based on their mutual friend Pete and was the star of a comic that Adam was drawing a page at a time in college, but he wasn’t called Setback - he was The Risk. A bunch about his character changed besides the name as well. The amount of extra work that goes into tweaking an existing idea to fit what they needed is often not worth it and it’s easier to juts make up a new thing. The reason to reuse something isn’t “saving time/effort” but “we really like what we did with this thing.” Proletariat was a great character (although not named Proletariat - which is a much better name for him than the original). Anyway, they went from having zero Sentinels lore up to a specific point to having “a thousand Sentinels lore” of which maybe 70% wound up becoming what they actually made into Sentinels of the Multiverse after which point it was just a matter of filling in the edges and answering the questions that were implied by their own suppositions. The other really weird thing was that they needed to make all of SotM to know how much to put into the universe. That is, they needed to finish OblivAeon to know where the edges were and set the stage so that they would know what Definitive Edition could be. It wasn’t until they’d been doing the podcast for about a year and did the spreadsheet timeline project that they knew what issues were when to the point where they had the requisite details to “fix” the errors and make DE look the way it does. Honestly, the timeline project is what made them want to do DE, or at least gave them the necessary understanding of the scope of their creation to make it a thing. They didn’t really care enough about the timeline at first - just the relative ordering of events rather than pinning specific issues to specific dates. Seeing it all and what it could be was revelatory. Today for example, they knew that SiaSW involved Tempest dealing with F.I.L.T.E.R. and anti-alien stuff and that this era was also when the first Death-Con operatives started showing up, but then they got to flesh that out even more in the process of doing the episode. The Writers’ Rooms are great additions to their process of filling in lore details. They’re fun, they get cool covers out of them, and they get to populate the universe a bit more.
- Death-Con’s been around for several issues now, so he’s probably there. Likely a big splashy fight thing between him and Tempest. This would be May 1967 and Adam’s not going to try to hash it out now - he’ll need to take a look at some era examples but there’s a lot of room for text on the cover in this era. He’ll sketch up a fight scene with areas blocked off for text boxes that he’ll then have Christopher fill in. [Note that he wound up putting August on the cover image by mistake.]