Podcasts/Episode 203

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The Letters Page: Episode 203
Writers' Room: Tome of the Bizarre Vol. 4 #50

Tome of the Bizarre Vol 4 050.png

Original Source

Primary Topic

Intro

This is a weird one... but we really enjoyed it!

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:20:42

Say goodbye to the "Month of Love" with this wild take on the topic! Will this be a throwaway story? Or will it be the beginning of something dreadful?! Or!!! Is it just really silly? Who can say?!

Sorry, I had a whole bushel of ?s and !s that were about to go bad, so I wanted to use them up.

Anyway, listen and learn! We had a great time, and I think we told a pretty compelling tale in the process.

Catch you next time for Episode #204: Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition! (And the launch of the Rook City Renegades Kickstarter?!)

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • So there is this weird, big, notable story in the 2010s between Wager Master and Madame Mittermeier. It was set up ahead of time - by a lot; it happened in the ’70s during Marjorie Mittermeier’s run as Glamour (from the ’50s through the ’70s). They know the broad strokes of that story, but they should flesh it out before tackling the modern reference to it. It wasn’t meant to be a seed for a later story - it was just a weird throw-away one-off until the moment 40-ish years later when it suddenly wasn’t.
  • So, we know it’s a Glamour/Wager Master thing, but who are the heroes? Probably the Freedom Five given the antagonists and the era. Hmm… Wager Master first showed up in the mid-60s so maybe pushing this back into the late ’60s makes sense. The main point is that there’s a throw-away line somewhere in there where Wager Master says that he “owes” Glamour something. Or not. The issue is that Glamour is doing typical antagonist stuff that the heroes are having to deal with and then Wager Master shows up to throw in his own brand of weirdness to make things even more confusing. As part of that, Glamour is annoyed by his presence messing with her plans and he’s annoyed with her refusal to “play along”. They’re both messing with the heroes, but they are both annoyed with the other as well. The Villains aren’t fighting each other so much as just occasionally telling the other to go away.
  • In any event, how things work out is that eventually one of the heroes proposes a wager with Wager Master which the heroes win. The prize for victory is that WM deus ex machinas them out of this situation so they don’t have to deal with either villain and also that the two of them have to keep interacting for “time immemorial” or something. Like, the heroes can tell that the villains are getting on each others’ nerves, so the stakes of the wager are that the heroes get to leave this dumb situation while the two villains have to stick around with each other. The resulting plot thread is that going forward from here Wager Master and Marjorie Mittermeier are (unimportantly, but inextricably) linked.
  • The terms of the deal are vague enough that after that original issue it’s never mentioned again. Christopher looks into placement for where this issue could be on the timeline and November ’66 is a good spot. It’s a few years after WM’s introduction and a few years before the Glamour mantle is taken up by Aislin Allen. December ’66 is issue #200 of Freedom Five and an excuse for a big splashy issue and #201 is the first appearance of Citizen Dawn. Putting this little “nothing” story in #199 gets forgotten about quickly. It likely was just a filler issue and wasn’t even that well written (the touchstone Christopher uses for the level of “wager” the heroes win was along the lines of “what have I got in my pocket?” - it’s not even a clever trick). The deal is that later, somebody who had that issue as a kid is now a writer at Sentinel Comics (and liked it at the time - reading it now it’s bad, but that’s beside the point) and it’s given them an idea for a story.
  • However, so much about the comics universe has changed in the intervening decades (today’s issue is January 2014 - Tome of the Bizarre volume 4 #50 which is also imagined to be like a big double-size issue or something). The person who was Glamour back then is now back to being Madame Mittermeier, the proprietress of this weird carnival who is never seen as she tends to hang out in this personal pocket dimension she’s created for herself in the carnival. Wager Master, on the other hand, has been “revealed” to be a Singular Entity (which wasn’t even a concept back in the ’60s).
    • This gets them off on a tangent they’ve discussed before about when “Singular Entity” was first made a thing. Probably in the ’80s around the Time Cataclysm stuff. Although, it would be kind of fun if the phrase was first used back in the Golden Age to refer to some cosmic thing, but without actually having any specific definition to back up what that meant conceptually.
  • Anyway, this issue starts with briefly rehashing the FF #199 story (with the highlights including the two villains at odds with each other and the wager that lets the heroes go free while cursing the villains to be together). Like, 1 or 2 pages at most. That story ended with the heroes going free. Now we pick up where it’s shown that things didn’t end for Glamour and Wager Master. Things we “know” about this issue: it will involve a romance between the two of them and that the romance is “forbidden”. We probably want to stick with them through this chronologically, and that likely means that we establish the parameters of what them being stuck together means.
  • So, if they’re bound together for “time immemorial”, what does that mean? They’re obviously not forced to be around one another all the time as the two of them haven’t appeared in a story together since the original. Maybe they establish that they have to spend a day together once a year. That seems appropriately arbitrary for a cosmic-level curse. From there we move onto something like a two-page spread of assorted panels as a montage showing snapshots of them being around one another over the years. We should also see Marjorie age a bit - maybe she takes the mask off early in the issue and we see that she’s not young to begin (say, maybe she looks like she’s 40 to start with - of course, she’s actually much older than that already). During the montage we see her transition away from Glamour into her carnival look and Wager Master has a variety of looks as well - this is in 2014 and they can do a kind of Definitive Edition thing where the individual panels are in different art styles that came and went over the intervening decades of comics.
  • The sequence goes from them fighting, into a series with them kind of just ignoring one another (she’s reading some old book and he’s working a crossword while they both sit on a couch), into things that show them actually doing things together (eating ice cream, going for a walk on a beach, etc.). We go from clearly-antagonistic to indifference to clearly dating. Early on in this process is where she creates the Fantastical Festival and changes her look accordingly, and the montage gets up to sometime in the ’90s. It’s around that time that the price of doing all of the magic stuff catches up to her and she has to make the pocket dimension where she then lives. She can come out for hours at a time when she needs to do plot stuff, but she degrades quickly when away from the Festival and so she doesn’t leave more than necessary. This is spelled out and Wager Master just kind of agrees to join her within the Festival in that case.
  • The trick here, from our vantage point in 2014, is that we can say that we have a mirror situation going on. She degrades while outside of her pocket dimension, but as a Singular Entity he degrades when he’s inside of it as it cuts him off from the cosmos. This nicely also foreshadows the whole issue that the Sandwich Bag presents later on. It sets up a situation where the RPG-universe Wager Master is aware of the fact that he cannot feel the rest of the cosmos out there and that this is bad for him (although he won’t show that worry).
  • So, that gets us to this situation being a “difficult and dangerous romance” but that’s not the same as being “forbidden”. The angle they can go for here is that while Singular Entities don’t regularly get together, such gatherings can be called if there’s something that warrants their attention (say, it’s damaging to the cosmos or something). Maybe the reasons should be left more vague than “it could damage the cosmos” because that does lead to a question of why one wasn’t called for OblivAeon, or if one was called why we don’t see it/why it didn’t accomplish anything.
  • Christopher’s suggestion for how to handle this last bit is that these… well, what do we call it? They want to stay away from “tribunal” due to the Celestial Tribunal being a thing. Council? Senate? They go with a Singular Convergence. When a Singular Convergence happens, they’re getting together specifically to make a decision about Singular Entities. Maybe the point here is that when Wager Master goes into this pocket dimension, it’s degrading him and his connection to Chaos and this is a problem that needs to be addressed. Adam suggests maybe reversing it and Wager Master is the one who calls a Convergence as a kind of Intervention for himself. This gives Christopher the idea of how to handle it.
  • After the montage we get some pages of Wager Master and Marjorie talking - they like each other. She seems like this very serious, austere person, but keep in mind that she created a carnival as her hideout. She has some whimsy. He appreciates that about her while also admiring her ability to just get stuff done. They have the serious conversation about how whenever he comes in here he can feel a part of him dying and she can feel herself literally dying whenever she’s outside. He says that it sounds like there’s only one thing to do, then… call a Singular Convergence! She doesn’t know what that means, but he just says to not worry about it before disappearing.
  • So, this is still Wager Master being selfish by calling this thing, but it’s also specifically something called to discuss Singular Entities themselves rather than other aspects of reality/the Multiverse/etc. OblivAeon is one, but he’s also kind of “the death of two Singular Entities” - there was probably one called way back when OblivAeon first came into existence. That then brings up the question of whether OblivAeon was present for this one and they kind of think that he is. That being said, the reveal of OblivAeon is a big deal so while conceptually “OblivAeon was present at this Convergence” can be a thing, we don’t specifically see him until he shows up in December 2014 - this is in January and 2014 is the year when all of this stuff is kicking off. Or maybe that December issue the first “full appearance” but they can have him as a background element here. Given that the writers and editorial staff know where all of this is going, they can get kind of cute about it. Maybe OblivAeon isn’t here, but one of the Entities notes that while Archaeon and Oblivion are absent, they can still reach a majority decision. We can seed some fun details that become relevant later but seem throw-away at the time. It’s also fun if we can tell these things are kind of angry at Wager Master for calling them - there’s a lot going on right now. Realities crashing together, etc. and you’re calling about this? Another detail is that any Singular Entity can call a Singular Convergence. All of them receive the call, but none are required to show up. The deal here is that enough show up for Wager Master that they can make a decision.
  • Anyway, where Christopher is going with this is that he’s called them together because he’s fallen in love and the only way around it that he can see is to renounce his Singular status. He’s called them up to formally give up his position and go be a mortal or something. Then we get several beat panels with the implication being that the “discussion” is happening silently. Then they give a simple response. “No.” Then we can launch into the explanation of with everything going on, yadda yadda, the noted absence of Archaeon and Oblivion, blah blah blah, they can’t allow him to do this. Reality itself will not allow him to step away - he can try to live as if he doesn’t have responsibilities, but he can’t just give them up. They should have a phrase that makes “reality” seem lesser, though - “that which is” has potential, maybe “all that is or will be” is better. It’s not even a decision to be made.
  • However, they also see the bind he’s in and are also able to break the wager he’d made, freeing him from having to spend time with this mortal. Furthermore, they also forbid him from seeing her - they recognize that he has no self control and that he’d wind up spending time with her anyway, further degrading himself and his cosmic role which is dangerous. How do they prevent him from seeing her? They don’t. They simply “forbid” it. Wager Master will still sneak around to see her, but they no longer have this annual thing they have to do and it’s truly forbidden now.
  • Time for some knife-twisting! They change up how he left her. They add a bit after he mentions the “Singular Convergence” where she says she doesn’t know what that is and he says that he’ll explain when he gets back, which shouldn’t take a minute. Then we get several pages of Cosmic Deliberations before coming back to her. They had been sitting on a bench together near a carousel at midday. Now she’s been sitting there as evening approaches and then into the night. The final panel is of the empty bench seen in silhouette with a starry sky beyond. As a symmetry thing, this bench is where they meet up on the day - he just sort of poofs into place here to meet her so the story kind of bookends with it. One more panel - we see the empty bench again in the daytime showing that neither of them has come back to it.
  • Something they like about this is that it shows Wager Master caring about something for reasons other than the concept he embodies. He’s also kind of also been an outsider within the category of “Singular Entities” - he’s the weird one who interacts with mortals on a pretty regular basis. This kind of widens that rift and he is pretty bitter about it. And now there are two of him. In any case, this wound up pretty fun when they were expecting it to be pretty goofy/dumb (and granted, it was somewhat, but they got some interesting character work done in the process).

Questions

  • Wager Master/Madame Mittermeier forbidden romance? Who asked for this? Why? How did they even know to ask? Who forbade it? Is there a reason that immortal mages and cosmic manifestations of chaos shouldn’t be together? Is she just into little blue alien-looking guys? To peel back the curtain a bit, they combined 2 prompts: “cosmic romances” and “forbidden romances” and they thought it was an opportunity to tell this story they already knew about if they combined them. They considered putting “a forbidden cosmic romance” up for voting, but thought it would be better to just be overt about it. Specific prompts are better and sometimes they massage the submitted prompts for voting. As for the logistics, it turns out there’s a lot of reasons for them to not be together. Madame Mittermeier isn’t specifically into little blue dudes; she just made an emotional connection and so that doesn’t matter. Of course, between their assorted abilities, either one of them can look however they want to look, honestly.
  • Why!? P.S. While I wanted to leave it at that, I’ll elaborate: why would you do this to us? Why would the Metaverse writers do it? Was there significant fan response? Christopher and Adam did it because it was something they came up with and thought was interesting. As you can tell from earlier, they didn’t know all of the story beats already, but they had some of it. It was something that added character to two of the harder-to-understand characters in Sentinel Comics. They talked about the Metaverse writer - it was somebody who inherited their dad’s comic collection and just loved this one weird issue and thought of something to do with it. [For Adam, this issue of Detective Comics is this kind of thing - if he were to be writing a Batman story, he’d find a way to bring the Rainbow Batman back.] They loved that issue but in the intervening years the characters diverged quite a bit from what they were at the time, nobody ever acknowledged that the connection had ever happened, and they wanted to find a way to make this work despite those changes. The fan response was likely along the lines of “how dare you make me feel sorry for Wager Master?” In 2014 Madame Mittermeier isn’t really on many people’s radar - she’s just kind of off to the side doing her thing and so after this issue she’s probably mostly talked about as “that lady Wager Master wanted to marry or whatever.” [This gives Adam the desire to have an issue where Wager Master shows up to his own wedding to object. This idea cracks Christopher up.]
  • Why does WM have romantic feelings towards anything let alone Madame Mittermeier in particular? Is this a case of him just “following the rules” or is it a real feeling? He plays by the rules of the curse, but the love is real.
  • Why did I vote for this? That’s a great question. You know why you voted. It’s just intriguing enough that you have to know.
  • [A letter from Wager Master comes in at around 46:12 - Christopher does the voice for the first bit of it which is always entertaining, then we get into a game show segment, kind of.] Know it or You Dine! (where you have to answer the question correctly or get forced to go on a blind date) has already been played before we get here. Nobody answered correctly and so we get to see how Christopher and Adam think the following blind dates would wind up going:
    • Bruce Watkins/Brianna Hawke on a date on Insula Primalis? [To help out a bit: Bruce is the “journalist” who wrote the news story that appears on the deck back for EE Plague Rat and Brianna is the Freedom Five’s legal counsel who appears on a card in DE Megalopolis.] Adam spoils the fact that Bruce actually shows up in art for DE [presumably in the Rook City Renegades expansion, coming to Kickstarter March 1, 2022!] Probably a lot of running and screaming. Also, given that Brianna is the heroes’ lawyer and given the types of “news” stories that Bruce “writes”, Christopher thinks that it’s quite possible that Brianna trips him as they run from a dinosaur stampede or something. She’s ruthless (well, so is he in different ways). Like, this has potential as a story where they each are trying to get the other killed without actively doing the killing themselves.
    • The Fence/Ermine in a model train museum? The thing here is that in order for the Fence to be “the Fence”, this would be occurring before Ermine and Fright Train are canonically dating. It’s a terrible date - he’s very boring from Ermine’s perspective (and he kind of is in general - he’s very dry). He cares about how much value things have what you do with stuff after you steal it. She doesn’t care. The fun bit is the stealing part and she cares more about how pretty things are than she does about their value. Here’s the thing, though - you know who is at the museum and catches her eye? She’d start thinking about maybe stealing “the world’s largest train” or something, but then she sees the world’s largest train enthusiast and thinks that might be fun.
    • Biomancer/Gene-Doctor Kronz in an amalgamation of both of their laboratories? This fails as a “date” almost instantly as they get into mad-scientist mode. We get into a fun game of one-upsmanship as they try to outdo one another. This might wrap back around into “date” territory if you want to annoy Adam with some fan-art.
  • How did Wager Master and Madame Mittermeier meet? Who fell for whom first? Who confessed their love first? Why was their love forbidden? What were their dates like? How long did their relationship last, both in-universe and in publishing terms? What does Madame Mittermeier look like; have we seen art of her? A lot of those were already answered. They think that Wager Master would have fallen for her first, but we don’t actually know. Like, within the context of the montage pages the extent of it would be him showing interest one panel before she does but they’re not sure there’s even that much. Similar “we don’t know” montage panels stuff for “who confessed first”. The relationship lasted quite a long time and is only “over” now due to the forbidden thing. It’s one of the longest-running relationships in the pages of Sentinel Comics; we just didn’t know about it for most of that time. You have never seen art of her - maybe someday.
  • We’ve been told when Marjorie Mittermeier took up the Glamour identity and we know about when Aislin Allen took it up as well, but what about the second Glamour, Melissa Morris? How long was she around? What was her M.O.? She was around a very short amount of time. Maybe a year or two. The “intro” story today in the mid ’60s isn’t the last appearance of Marjorie as Glamour, but it’s one of the last ones. Aislin Allen is in the ’70s [October ’72, FF #270 from what we’ve been told in the past]. Melissa takes up the mantle specifically because she wants to mask her crimes by making it look like a previous criminal and so her methods look very much like the original Glamour’s. Of course, the meta reason for this is because Melissa’s existence is down to a name goof where the writer didn’t remember that we already knew who Glamour was, then they just ran with it as a new person under the mask. Later we learn that Marjorie Mittermeier is using powerful magic to do her thing while Melissa Morris is doing some illusions and whatnot she’s much less well-defined (and then Aislin Allen is very different from both of them). Aislin is also much more playful than her predecessors. Old school Glamour steals things for inscrutable reasons and monologues. Aislin likes making a fool out of her opponents.
  • Do Meredith and Dana change their last names in any way once they get married? They both kept their own names as they are both already public figures with their own professional identities. Christopher considers that maybe they hyphenated their names in the later, non-space-based wedding issue but he doesn’t think so (and even in that case, the likely keep their existing names as their “professional” names).
  • What is Dana doing now in the RPG era? Is she aging out of her prime modeling years? What new career path would she follow (launching her own fashion line or starting a modeling agency)? Dana does a lot of environmentalism thing and charity work. By this point both she and Tachyon are rich due to their lucrative careers and she can spend more of her time running the charities she’s involved with. Maybe the occasional photo shoot as well, but not to the extent that she once would have. She’s likely more of a public figure now than she was as a model - people may have seen her face in a lot of places before, but they know who she is now.
  • As a spouse of a hero rather than just supporting cast, does Dana start showing up more often in comics? Maybe to the point of getting her own book? That’s still the definition of supporting cast. She doesn’t get her own book. She makes frequent appearances, but she’s been doing that since the ’60s. The nature of her appearances has changed, but not by much. She is “primary supporting cast” - sure she’s Tachyon’s significant other, but she’s also friends with Argent Adept. She knows other people.
  • Will we see a new version of Stylin’ Shirley featuring Dana? That’s cute, but no. Stylin’ Shirley was a book about an up-and-coming fashion designer who is also dating all the time. It was a Romance comic. It’s fun to think about a new version that is about Shirley and the act of styling her - it’s about the process of making the gear that Fashion uses. It’s a really niche book (or, more likely, the name of a single issue).
  • Was the choice of “homophobic space Nazis” for the villains in the wedding issue intentional or was that aspect of Voss’ awfulness not established yet? It not, was it established in this issue or maybe later when Portja is exploring her attraction to Paige? They think the homophobic Thorathians thing is probably established in the ’00s. The “space Nazi” thing has always been there and the strong binary element to their culture from not too long after that, but the full implications of the “binary culture” wouldn’t be explored until fairly late and that includes the stuff related to sexual orientation.
  • Your description of Parse in the recent shipping episode made me think that she’s either demi- or sapiosexual, which would be pretty rad; other than Argent Adept, are there any other characters who fall into somewhere on the Ace spectrum? Parse probably qualifies as sapiosexual, but in her case it’s likely more of a result of her position on the Autism Spectrum - or if not a “result” of it, all of these things are tied together [my paraphrasing is likely inadequate here - I don’t get the impression that they’re implying that people on the AS are more likely to be Ace/etc. as well, but that for her it’s the case]. However, this discussion is also likely codifying things more than the comics ever would. For similar reasons they don’t think there’s anybody else described as Ace explicitly. Over time there are likely characters written more or less in that category as the writers’ approaches to the character differ, but nothing spelled out other than the explicit case of Argent Adept where it was the explanation given for why he’d never been depicted as being in a relationship. It’s also kind of the reason they don’t necessarily know characters’ favorite foods or their specific religions - writers vary on details if they ever come up at all. Writing isn’t “list based” and so they didn’t just go down the list of characters assigning favorite foods. Writers also like leaving room for themselves (or their successors) - unless there is a story reason for one of these things to come up and be important, there’s not really a reason to add these details. You can let something happen more or less organically (“Wait, Argent Adept hasn’t ever been in a relationship over the last 30+ years!?” could require some explanation at which point you start doing things intentionally). If you establish something early, then you’re stuck with it (or somebody retcons it which will upset at least some people and is much more costly). They have the advantage of looking at the entire 80+ year history at once and are likely more generous towards the fictional Sentinel Comics writers than is realistic in terms of what changes are popular/stick long term. If you’re writing a comic that you’re expecting to continue publication for decades, your incentivized to change as little as possible and only then in small incremental steps. You can make your mark, but you’re also kind of expected to put the toys back on the shelf the way you found them. Large changes need setup and, like today’s episode, are often based on something that somebody else did before you that you liked.
  • [Not a question, but a thought occurs that the oblivious dummy that is the Adhesivist doesn’t notice that maybe there could have been something with Highbrow until after she’s disappeared into Fort Adamant. Then the next time he sees her she’s an emotionless floaty-brain cyborg. Sad face. And it’s only then that he gets attracted to Guise.] Yeah, that would be a sad story.
  • A follow-up to episode 54, the Supernatural Settings episode: who’s the shadowy figure who makes the deal that frees Baron Blade from the Fantastical Festival? You described them as “young” and that they offered power and souls in exchange - my hypotheses are 1) an actual daughter of Baron Blade (in contrast to the brainwashed Young Legacy from earlier in that story) or 2) one of the Glamours and this is how she was recruited to take the name - are either of those on-track (or something for a later story and must be kept a secret)? They refuse to answer the question other than saying that it’s neither of those things (“but you’re not far [off]”). It is a story for later. Don’t worry about it. It’s just someone who doesn’t matter. [They’re very much playing up this last bit as something they don’t want us to dwell on. They’d like to talk about it more but oh no! the Cover Discussion music is starting!]

Cover Discussion

  • Adam’s idea is that for Tome of the Bizarre #50, the cover says “Singular Convergence” on it and the image is Wager Master facing off against more Singular Entities. Christopher strongly disagrees as he thinks it gives away the “forbidden” twist and that the cover should be Madame Mittermeier and Wager Master. Adam argues that that is more of a surprise to the reader than a bunch of Singular Entities and so is better left to the interior pages. The bait-and-switch of the cover talking about a Singular Convergence but the book starting with a Wager Master/Madame Mittermeier thing is enough to get him on board.