The Letters Page: Episode 206
Writers' Room: RevoCorp Presents: Earth Inc. One-Shot
Let's tell a Definitive story!
Run Time: 1:29:39
Adam and I have been excited to tell this story for a while, and now we finally get to do so! And we go ever further! Lots of good stuff in this one.
Even more Definitive Editions letters today, so more As to your Qs!
This coming episode is an Editor's Note, which means we have a live show between now and then. Normally, we record on Friday at 11 AM, but I'm currently in Reno for a tabletop industry trade show, so instead we're going live on Saturday morning at 11 AM! If you're on the Letters Page Patreon, join us then!
Thanks for listening, everyone! Don't forget to check out the Rook City Renegades expansion, now on Kickstarter!
- Jacob Alspach
- Mark Benedetto
- Kaargra Warfang
- La Capitan/Comodora
- Black Capra
- The Citizens of the Sun
- Captain Cosmic
- Citizen Dawn
- [So, they start off with a disclaimer that this episode deals with spoilers for Event/Critical Event content for the core box of Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition, so I guess I’ll put in a new section heading once they get past that portion of the episode as well.]
- The thing they’re talking about is, of course, the Critical Event for Akash’Bhuta that comes in the core box: Akash’Mecha - from the one-shot comic RevoCorp Presents: Earth, Inc. from September 1996. The story summary on the front of the Critical Event card is: “RevoCorp, the Biotech/Futuretech firm with questionable ethics and even more questionable funding created a massive Mechano-siphon to draw energy from deep within the Earth. Akash’Bhuta is slumbering but feels the siphon activating above her. Her own physical form needs rest, but she’s not above using humanity’s hubris against itself.”
- Let’s talk about the meta-level of this story a bit. Why was this one-shot made in the first place? Like, the Ra: Horus of Two Horizons one-shot was in the same general time, but that one is a major benchmark/new status quo issue for a long-established hero. Adam brings up that the late-’90s was full of one-shots and limited series that weren’t really important. Like you probably had Legacy: The Hidden Years or something that just told dumb one-off stories from the past or whatever and don’t have any bearing on continuity. This one does matter, though.
- This was created to accomplish a few things.
- Akash’Bhuta hadn’t been used in a while. Sure, she had been built up as this big threat that goes dormant for long periods of time after being defeated and then the heroes defeated her, but that’s no reason to bench a major villain! Maybe in Argent Adept solo stories they could have him need to go underground for some reason and encounter a small/weakened version of her that he can take care of on his own or there are some Primeval Limbs that were left over and are kind of working autonomously without Akash’Bhuta being “there” directing them, but no major appearances. This is 6 years before the Akash'Thriya story [if this is accurate, they’ve moved her first appearance up from the date we were given previously in, say, episode 81 - this would place it in 2002 rather than 2009] but they don’t think that anybody was thinking about that at the time.
- What we do have going on is RevoCorp shenanigans. At this point the readership would be aware that they were up to no good. The heroes know that occasional bad stuff comes out of there, but it’s possible to explain away as an individual going rogue and doing a bad thing with company resources rather than it being part of the company’s basic operations. Fun dramatic irony! This issue is something that draws together a bunch of those storytelling elements that had just been individual threads for a while. RevoCorp was going to be getting up to much more stuff in the near future, but this was a turning point in how the stories were told and they were more of a “major player” in the decade following this issue.
- Anyway, on to actually making the issue. Let’s start with the Naturalist. Do we want him to discover Akash’Bhuta-related stuff or RevoCorp-related stuff? Both are gonna happen, but what’s the angle to get things started? Probably investigating RevoCorp. Naturalist stories are likely a major reason why readers know RevoCorp is bad. Naturalist wouldn’t yet understand that it’s all bad - he likely knows from personal experience how large corporations can do bad things without meaning to be Evil, but would be keeping an eye on them.
- So, we start with RevoCorp inviting Michael Conteh (due to his prominence in the energy sector, they don’t know that he’s Naturalist) to come tour the facility for their new geothermal energy system as a “open books” kind of promotional event. He think it looks promising, but he wants to come back later to investigate further as even if it’s above-board as a business venture, he wants to look into the less tangible effects it would have on nature.
- Surprise! Something “bad” happens. Like, maybe his presence next to this thing that’s drawing power from deep in the Earth brings Akash’Bhuta’s attention to it (considering that his power was ultimately derived from a curse she put on him - having some of her energy up at the top of this siphon gets her attention). They think that maybe we get some detail from her perspective relative to noticing this thing and checking it out, but without actually revealing who it is. Just cut to him being confronted by something and shouting “You!” before cutting to the next scene where he’s approaching the Freedom Five or whomever in rough shape.
- At some point they need to actually go into detail of what exactly is happening. Akash’Bhuta finds this thing that is siphoning energy from the Earth and just lets herself get siphoned on up with it. At that point she merges with the machine and takes it over, reforming it in her own image..
- With that, they don’t think we get her perspective. We just have Naturalist on the ground investigating things while in the background we see the shape of the device change as she takes it over. It’s when he notices what’s happening that we get the shocked face/“You!” panel before we cut over to Freedom Tower.
- It’s his explanation in flashback where we have her grabbing him and then monologuing for a bit, which is where the explanation of what she’s doing comes in. It’s also a good place to put the “using humanity’s hubris against itself” line from the Critical Event card. Outside of the flashback we can also have a bit from her perspective as she’s walking around/getting used to this mechanical body that gets some good poetic description of what’s going on (power cables entangling with her roots, etc.) just to really try to sell the fusion of nature and machine going on.
- There’s also a fun idea where at first her way of speaking is her usual Earth-spirit stuff, but over the course of the story that shifts and eventually winds up in a “this body is superior” kind of place. Being in this machine corrupts her to the point where her eventual plan is to pull the energy out of the Earth to defeat her enemies stuff that she’s usually not cool with people doing. This sets up nicely the fact that the heroes aren’t just saving the planet or RevoCorp, but Akash’Bhuta herself as well.
- As for that, which who are we actually involving? Naturalist went to Freedom Tower for help, but who was around? They don’t think the whole Freedom Five were. Then we’ve also got at least a couple of RevoCorp people, maybe at least one named executive (but not Kris Barron or Mark Benedetto, but we get Dr. Jacob Alspach who’s showing Naturalist around). For the heroes we probably have Legacy and the Wraith. Setback is more “fun” for this story than Unity would be due to his specific RevoCorp connection. Let’s say that Bunker, Tachyon, Absolute Zero, and Unity are all off busy somewhere, but he was hanging out at the Tower and so comes along to help out.
- Anyway, the four heroes return to find Akash’Mecha already in conflict with RevoCorp security people (not the Revokers that start showing up in later stories [I don’t think we’ve heard that term before but sounds like a good name for a RevoCorp team] or any of their “superpower” stuff that we see villains using). They’re basically your standard security worker types, but with maybe a bit more advanced gear because RevoCorp. They’re still no real match for what they’re up against here, but that’s the general idea.
- Let’s step through the sequence here again. Setup stuff with Naturalist, Freedom Tower where he tells the other heroes what happened and we get the flashback, once they head out we come back to Akash’Bhuta as she’s doing her “figuring things out” stuff and her speech bubbles change as her opinions on her situation change. As part of that she’s starting to look for more power to do her rampage thing and so heads towards the main RevoCorp building that this project was being run from (the Mecha-Siphon was built well away from everything, but its parent facility was nearby). She’s in the process of breaching the building as the heroes arrive.
- It’s at this point where the “main fight” happens and she starts doing more traditional Akash’Bhuta things where she makes the landscape fight the heroes while she herself continues her big-stompy-robot thing. We get a few pages of that and things are looking rough for the heroes when the twist occurs. Akash’Bhuta does a thing to Setback, but at this point we also see the elements of the Earth turn against Akash’Mecha. Maybe perspective switches between her and the heroes over the course of the fight and during some of her parts she’s thinking about how all of these wood and earth things are weak and she needs to divest herself of them to crush these “ants” with metal and electricity, etc. Some subconscious part of her Earth-spirit self starts fighting back to “save” her. [This is modeled in the game - during Akash’Mecha’s End Phase all non-Hero targets other than herself (so Primeval Limbs or any Environment targets) hit her for 1 fixed damage.] The heroes need to still be involved as “giant robot vs. the landscape itself” is still not good for all of the not-villainous-at-all RevoCorp stuff that’s there.
- So, what was the Setback thing that turned things around? Let’s say that a big rock fist grabbed and threw him at Akash’Mecha. He grabbed onto her robot body and peeled away part of the exterior in the process, exposing the “musculature” underneath. This was initially made of roots and vines, but as we observe it here it’s actively being pruned away and replaced by wiring as she’s grabbing up stuff from the labs. Setback might then also get in there and tear some of that away just to watch it get replaced again. It’s the exposure of that fact that gets the Earth-spirit stuff to turn against the robot. The readers are aware of her voice and goals changing over the course of the story, but this is supposed to hit you over the head with what’s going on as her physical form changes.
- Christopher has an idea that maybe Naturalist is kind of “leading the charge” of the limbs against her. Like, we have a moment where the Wraith is knocked to the ground and about to be smashed when the limb stops and turns. Then we see Naturalist on top of another pointing and calling at where they need to attack now. It would be visually fun if the Living Rockslide then also shaped itself into a rhino as it smashes into Akash’Mecha (like, just due to Naturalist’s influence - the limbs are “listening” to a new voice and are taking some cues from it, but it’s not specifically something within Naturalist’s power set to do this). Oh, okay - he charges in rhino form and the rocks and stuff just start forming around him as he goes, eventually becoming a giant rock rhino when it actually connects with her. The natural elements are just seeing an ally and joining in - Setback comments afterwards about how he didn’t know Naturalist could do that to which Naturalist replies that he can’t.
- Another thing we can have going on is while Akash’Mecha is getting more and more mechanical, she’s also getting more and more “human” - not necessarily more “humanoid” but starting to act more like a human villain rather than an ancient Earth spirit - monologuing more in general, but also the tone.
- Eventually they’ve got to beat this thing, and Adam suggests there be an “evil button” - some particular power core drilled into her head or something that needs to be destroyed to stop the body from replicating/repairing itself. After the big hit from the rock rhino the body is smaller due to the damage and it starts making a beeline through the building to get to its central power station which was the original goal anyway. We can have the tech body do a creepy fast crawl to get to the big glowing power core thing that she grabs and eats.
- Time to do The Thing™ there could be some dialog from the Wraith about how as long as they can prevent her from getting the power core they have a shot at just wearing her down. Setback: “I hate to break it to you…” That’s fine. Now they can’t cut off her power so the plan becomes more power! Time to overload this thing. Naturalist is running interference distracting her. Setback’s job is to gather as many power rods, cores, etc. that he can and give them to Legacy. Legacy just flies around the robot shoving all of these components into it. Finally, Wraith shoots the protruding rods with her stun bolt which sets of arcs of electricity between all of them, overloading the whole robot.
- The robot breaks and falls apart. The face plate of the robot’s disembodied head falls off to reveal a beat-up but recognizable “normal” Akash’Bhuta face that addresses the heroes. She basically blames all of this on humans, having learned nothing from her experience. Humans are the problem, humans built this thing, she got corrupted by these dumb human thoughts, and she still hates all of you. She’s also going to go back to sleep now. Goodbye. face melts into the earth Another job well done, heroes!
- Now, what does RevoCorp learn from this? A brief epilogue shows Dr. Jacob Alspach talking to Mark Benedetto as they reviews things from the (now totally destroyed) complex. “We’ve lost the whole facility. However, the mecha form performed exactly as intended.” From there, we learn that Akash’Bhuta getting involved wasn’t what they were going for, but that the mecha device itself worked great. Hmm… Let’s change that a bit so that while they weren’t anticipating “the Earth spirit’s” involvement, the reshaping it did in the process actually gave them what their designs had been missing and they can move to the next step ahead of schedule. What could possibly come from this?!
- Wait, wasn’t RevoCorp Presents a book started to showcase Benchmark? Is he an older character than I thought? Did this one pre-date Akash’Thriya or was she a separate entity from the one that RevoCorp were trying to tap into? RevoCorp weren’t trying to tap into Akash’Bhuta - that’s just what happened. Akash’Thriya isn’t around until 2002 [a second mention of this date, moving her origin up 7 years from when we were originally told]. Benchmark isn’t until way later than that. This is the first RevoCorp Presents book. While RevoCorp Presents: Benchmark is the only ongoing series under that umbrella, there were a bunch of scattered one-shots in there. They’re always around in the background where we see things like RevoCorp-tech-armed thugs or stuff like that going on, but every once in a while we get an actual RevoCorp plot and we get a one-shot for it. Rather than the title being a reference to Benchmark, his later series is a throw-back reference to these. They think that there’s some back-and-forth between them and the ongoing Naturalist (and eventually Akash’Thriya) stories told elsewhere.
- If Akash’Mecha is exploiting RevoCorp technology, does she gain access to a network connection? Do things start going terribly wrong at RevoCorp HQ? We don’t see her going all Omnitron and having her mind go into the computers. If this had been Omnitron this would have gone much worse. Maybe things could have gotten to that point if she hadn’t been interfered with.
- Does the magic inherent to her form not have problems with questionably-ethical technology? It does! That’s why this form was a corruption of herself.
- Is the Mecha form considered an EV? They can’t tell if you mean Electronic Vehicle or if you’re referring to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Let’s just say “by some metrics”.
- [From Cult of Gloom:] Is there a MechaWeaver story and, if not, what have you been doing with your lives? There is not such a story. Sorry. This causes them to consider RevoCorp Presents: Oops all GloomWeaver which is unlikely - he’s had enough changes as it is. RevoCorp Presents: The Mecha Cult of Gloom could be fun - a bunch of cyborg cultists!
- [Long, well-written preamble starting at 46:25 regarding how they don’t shy away from “bad stories” in the history of Sentinel Comics as part of the verisimilitude of the project, but also them being pretty good about inclusive representation of varied cultures/sexuality/ethnicity/etc. before eventually getting into “bad art” that’s also going to be present in a comics history (overly-muscled men, ludicrously-proportioned and spine-twisting women, etc.), but the fact that they also get to pick what art shows up on a given DE card. This leads us to:] To what degree do you think that we should expect to see “bad art” in DE? Did Sentinel Comics ever become more realistic in terms of, say, bodily proportions or have they largely mirrored “real” comics? The first thing to remember is that the worst examples of bad art that get shared around on the internet are the vast, vast minority of what’s out there. Sure, it happened, but it wasn’t every comic. With that being said, Adam does a lot of research of an era and the people who are drawing and he tends to pick the most prominent artists of the era. Usually the people doing those kinds of art weren’t the most prominent ones. There are a few arts in Definitive Edition that might, say, mimic the style of an artist that they don’t particularly care for (and so might think about the art as “bad”) but they still include it because the artist was important. However, if you were to imagine them making a deck for a real comic character with a huge library of comic panels to choose from, they wouldn’t select those meme-able “bad art” examples. While there’s room for “bad art” like there is for “bad writing” in the History of Sentinel Comics (although they have the benefit of seeing the entire history laid out when they are creating it so that they can say that Sentinel Comics avoided many real-world comics problems), they can work in “mistakes” here and there, but they aren’t going to include things that are harmful or exploitative because they don’t have to. The example that Adam brings up is Fleet of Foot. It is very ’90s and very exaggerated, rubber-bodied, and shiny. Adam doesn’t find it an appealing style of art to start with and it looks unnatural, but it was an important style to have represented in there somewhere. It’s also featuring two characters running really fast and you could maybe explain some of the weird body stuff to distortion caused by that - like, it’s less that the artist was doing this for sexy reasons and more that this was just how this artist drew speedsters when going this fast. They don’t think the art is “inappropriately sexy”. Acknowledging that a variety of artists (and writers) existed over the years while really focusing on the ones they want to use to put their best foot forward is the deal. Adam’s not going to be doing art for an artist he doesn’t like more than once in a given deck (and many don’t even get that one).
- Who’s the other Maerynian helping Tempest coax the coral into a building? There is more than one other Maerynian there, but they’re all just “background” characters.
- The vampires on Rolling Fog prompts a question: would a Vampire be able to use Maerynian blood to control the weather? They don’t see why not. It makes for better story potential that way at least. The other way to go is that they can’t, but when they try to they find that instead they can do like a water-bending thing with blood. That is, a “no” isn’t that they get nothing from drinking Maerynian blood, but that they get something unexpected instead.
- There’s also a throw-away bit about how “obviously” a Maerynian vampire could still control the weather, which gets quite the chuckle out of Christopher and Adam about how “obvious” it is.
- On Anoint Allies we see Fanatic granting power to her allies in a very different outfit; is this XTREME Fanatic? Is there more significance to the costume change if not? That’s just ’90s Fanatic. There isn’t a specific significance. The ’90s had a bunch of weird costume changes that happened for weird ’90s reasons. It’s the same reason Ra has that huge mass of “coins” draped across his chest. It’s kind of hilarious just how much chest muscle (or “muscle” in Absolute Zero’s case) some heroes put on in the ’90s. That’s another art discussion about how art changes for era reasons.
- Haka and Kaargra? [Referring to the look that she’s giving him on Haka of Battle] They are not the ship they would sail for those two - there are better matches out there. That being said, they both like fighting and so it’s not the weirdest thing. They wouldn’t complain if some writer had paired them up. They just don’t see it working this way. Adam starts to consider them more having a “drinking buddies” dynamic, but even that’s not right - that fits more of K.N.Y.F.E. and Lugh’s thing. Kaargra is not chill about anything - it’s all glory all the time. They both like fighting, but Kaargra basically only likes fighting. Not “fighting and hanging out”. Her lack of chill will not work for Haka. There’s not enough potential for an emotional connection.
- For Dance in the Fray, it’s nice to see Haka enjoying himself - is looks like a later art with Haka fighting on the deck of La Paradoja Magnifica in the timestream, right? How long before La Comodora figured out what she needed to do and creating Haka? Yeah, that’s Haka fighting La Capitan’s crew. It’s not in a La Comodora story - by the time we get to the point in her story where she’s creating Haka she’s well aware of who Haka is. She knows that he’s this champion and only finds out later (from herself - thanks time travel!) that she’s the one who makes that champion. That card in particular is from July 2010 and is a later La Capitan story. Looking at the quote on the card (“His boundless energy… Almost as if he draws strength and vitality from beyond his own realm.”) this is probably the moment she realized that something weird is going on with him, but not what or who did it.
- Fanatic’s First Appearance variant features a goat-headed demon; was this a reference to her goat-hating personality? Who is the goat-headed demon? What’s his story? Why is one of his arms a flail? This story was created for the purpose of “Oh no, a demon!” that Wraith fights and then an angel shows up to fight it too. His name was Black Capra and he was doing your standard “ruler of hell, come to take over the earth” kind of thing. There were probably some disappearances that Wraith was investigating that turned out to be victims of sacrifices performed to summon this jerk. He was very much a one-off villain for this one story, but gets rolled into that general category of Æternus-entities. Why is one of his arms a flail? Because it’s scary.
- What caused the Dinosaur Stampede? Were any Citizens desperate enough to use creating one as a tactic? They don’t think the Citizens ever intentionally causes one and if anybody were to create one on purpose, that sounds more like a hero move (Expat and Setback casing the joint; Expat: “Hmm… we need to find a way to get all of those Citizens out of the way so we can get inside.” Setback: “Help, the dinosaurs are chasing me!” Expat: “Well, that’ll work.”).
- What is the in-setting reason for Captain Cosmic’s constructs not being affected by Devastating Aurora? Uh… let’s go with: the constructs are made out of light and so aren’t so easily affected by the light of the Aurora. This is really more of a game mechanics question. In a story, the constructs or Unity’s bots could definitely be destroyed by a Devastating Aurora if that’s what the story required. It’s not even that “Devastating Aurora” is an actual defined power within the context of the comics. When you’re making a game like this you wind up codifying things that might not be so set in the original medium. Within the context of a story, maybe sometimes Captain Cosmic is able to keep his shields up through such an attack, sometimes not. It depends on the drama of the story.
- [Preamble like a lot of DE letters has, but includes a bit about how the Heroes all feel stronger that gets a response before they get to the question] A part of DE design is to “flatten the curve” a bit. Older versions of SotM had certain Heroes that felt stronger or weaker than others. Rather than normalizing to the middle, they tried to bring everybody up to the strong end. [As an example, they’ve said before that they feel like Legacy didn’t get all that stronger for DE, but that’s because he was already on the high end that they were aiming to bring everybody else up to.] Like, people should be able to lose a game against Baron Blade, but it shouldn’t be happening “all the time” with certain heroes, so let’s just bump everybody up to make things feel better and play smoother. Then, if people want more of a challenge, let them use Advanced modes, Events/Critical Events, or both.
- How has the faster Hero setup trend affected Expatriette’s guns/ammo shtick? Does she have more cards that let her collect/discover them? Can guns come pre-loaded (allowing you to play/discover an ammo card when you play the gun)? Maybe her innate power just discovers items? The update in the Rook City Renegades Kickstarter that features her cards does show that she has means of getting guns/ammo into play. An important change is that you no longer have to play ammo on a specific gun - you can play them before you have any guns in play. You’re going to have options. The new conceptual space for ammo cards isn’t that you’re loading it into a specific gun when you play it, just that you have it and have put it in a magazine or something so that you can swap it into a gun quickly when you need to use it. They recognize that the old way of thinking wasn’t necessarily wrong, but that it just took too many steps to set up.
- Does she get a sniper rifle in her DE deck? She does not. The Dark Watch variant card in EE showed her with her rifle [and it’s power was Aim that increased damage she dealt], but you’re right that it’s not quite the same. Good news! Her DW variant in DE is explicitly about her having/using a sniper rifle, so look forward to the day where you get to see how that shakes out mechanically.
- Can you talk about Pride and Prejudice? Has the art been flipped on them so that you can play them in the correct order now? On the latter - sorry, they needed to have the names line up with which of her eyes was shown so they were locked into that way. In DE they are combined into a single card.
- We just got the RCR update featuring Kismet which previews her card Fortune’s Smile, with art and quote from a Disparation issue! Kismet isn’t a known reality hopper, so why is this issue being cited in her deck? Is that the canon reality’s Kismet? If so, why is she in another reality? While her powers aren’t explicitly something that allows her to jump between realities, we also know that she’s in and out of the Block frequently and that allows connections to different realities. This is an odd issue of Disparation in that it’s related to something going on in the main timeline. “Our” Kismet winds up in this other reality, displacing the version of her who was already there. In this reality, she’s the High Queen of Planet Earth. This is fun - she is there for a while, has a good time, then something else happens and she winds up back in the main timeline again. How? Why? That sounds like a Writers’ Room topic.
- Re: classic comic art we can say some phrases and have things leap to mind (“slamming down a car”, “swinging, holding a person”) - what are the “covers everyone knows” for Sentinel Comics? The ones that really stand out are the first appearances (which is why they want to use them in the game on the First Appearance variants - note that Wraith’s fits the “swinging, holding a person” category). The History of Sentinel Comics will also be a great resource for this kind of thing once we actually have it in hand. Adam has a number of iconic covers that he’s drawing specifically for that book.
- [In response to the DE episode note that they love hearing about fans outside of the usual demographic: My son is 7 and loves the game, especially NightMist so he’s really looking forward to RCR, but in the meantime is using Tachyon. Meanwhile, my 5 year old daughter loves Unity and has her picture up in her room and is having a blast playing as her in DE - including the most recent game where her last turn took down 54 of Akash’Bhuta’s HP (Powered Shockwave to hit every limb for 7 damage and then the bots’ damage). They’re also having fun with the RPG, but it mostly seems to consist of one of the heroes getting captured and the other two saving them.] That’s all great! The RPG is fine - sometimes you have big arcs and sometimes you just go issue by issue. As long as everybody’s having fun!
- Why was Bugbear not mentioned in the NightMist Supporting Cast episode given the time he spent as a semi-hero after NightMist helped him out by trying to lock away his curse? They talked about him a bit before recording. He’s his own character rather than being “supporting cast” for her. They didn’t feel that he was notable enough for her stories to fit into that category (she’s notable in his story, but not necessarily vice versa). Even when he is around, that’s a late and short-lived period.
- What are the Supporting Cast characters doing now after OblivAeon and NightMist’s death? Good point. Diamond Manor kind of winds up “displaced” and has to be recovered by the Dark Watch team. When it is recovered, Kuranchu, Locke, and Brigit aren’t there. We’re in a very time will tell situation regarding what happened to them/where they are now.
- It’s already done! Thanks, past Adam!
- Christopher is out of the office this week for a trade show in Reno. He won’t be getting back into town until late Friday. This week is when the Editor’s Note is recorded but they’ll have to record on Saturday instead of Friday. So, if you’re on the Patreon, they’ll be doing the recording at 11 AM Central on March 19.