Podcasts/Episode 209

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The Letters Page: Episode 209
Writers' Room: Justice Comics #503

Justice Comics Vol 1 503.png

Original Source

Primary Topic

Intro

Robots... in time?!

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:20:38

Sure, we have all manner of banter up top, but then we get into a lot of details, lore, retcons, corrections, stories, and THREE COMIC BOOKS?! An entire 3 issue arc? YOU BET! Spoilers, I guess. Anyway, enjoy!

Join us next time for a live Editor's Note!

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • Today we’re doing a story about a hero we haven’t really talked about much lately, Omnitron-X. It’s the hero version of the villainous AI Omnitron and showed up surprisingly soon after its evil counterpart. Well, “Omnitron” had been around for a while, but it wasn’t until the Singularity story that it took the form of the self-aware robotics factory that became its defining iteration. Like, Omnitron-X shows up in issue #7 of Singularity itself, so the plan on how to get themselves out of the “modernizing Omnitron” story in the first place was a deus ex machina time travel plot! By the end of the story, Omnitron is defeated and Omnitron-X is destroyed. Nice and “simple” with no loose ends.
  • So, how does Omnitron-X continue to show up after that? Is this a different one? Did something weird happen since it managed to prevent the future that caused it to exist? Because it’s doing time travel stuff, are later appearances from earlier in its existence and then it later goes to blow itself and Omnitron up in its “first” appearance? Annoyingly, it’s kind of both and all sort of handwaved away by the comics. Some stories along the way mention that it’s the same Omnitron-X who’s just bouncing around time out of order before then going do destroy itself, but there’s also this one that eventually just kind of becomes part of the regular cast of heroes (this would be the one that Unity becomes friends with and later becomes Omnitron-U). This latter one kind of has to be a different one from the one that defeats Omnitron back in the ’76 story.
  • Therefore, in theory, you could have a story in which both of these Omnitron-X iterations are around. Do we want to do that story today? No, probably not. Does that story even happen in the history of Sentinel Comics? Hmm… the only way that really works would be… Nevermind, Christopher actually wants to do that one today: Omnitron-X (the one that dies) meets Omnitron-U. Adam points out that Omnitron-U is really late in the timeline and there might not be room for that to happen. Omnitron-U shows up in September 2014 [Freedom Five #773] and Christopher thinks that we can then go over to Time & Time Again for it (as it’s the best place for “time travel involving Omnitron-X/U” stories). This could be one of the “wrapping up loose ends” stories that were going around before they got into OblivAeon times.
  • We wind up with a story in mid-2015 where Omnitron-X and Omnitron-U meet and get some good interaction time. We can have a thing where Omnitron-X is shown to really be kind of a one-note “gotta stop the bad thing” personality. It’s learning about this whole “empathy” thing, but it knows that it has a very limited amount of time to mess around before it has to go do the big important thing that will end it. Omnitron-U on the other hand has managed to pick up a lot of personality and nuance. Oh, it would be fun if this is the moment when Omnitron-X is convinced that it needs to go destroy itself. The discussion here can center around how Omnitron-X is “stopping bad things”, sure, but it’s really a delaying tactic as it’s trying to process empathy for itself. It’s putting off the sacrifice play and not doing that will have ramifications that it needs to consider.
  • Adam is convinced that this is an issue that happens, but he also thinks it’s not the main issue for today’s episode. Christopher agrees with that because in a 2015 issue, they’ve basically just done the entire story. They put it in T&TA #50 in December of 2015 [Christopher said August, but this was later amended in the LP Discord when asked about it].
  • For the actual story, Adam wants to do an earlier one. He feels like we already know a lot about Omnitron-U despite the short amount of time available for it. Let’s see, in the lead-up to Omnitron-X being destroyed we’ve got the Chokepoint, Omnitron IV, and Termi-Nation stuff… It’s probably important to actually nail down when Omnitron-X actually starts sticking around (and later handwaved/retconned into being a separate version) rather than just being this occasional thing that would pop in for a story and explained as just doing this before jumping back to Singularity. Adam feels like those sporadic appearances were likely through the ’80s and until ’92 or ’93 before a gap and then in the mid-to-late ’90s is when it shows up “permanently”.
  • It’s kind of in an interesting/awkward position, though, in that it’s largely supporting cast for Unity who is herself supporting cast for the Freedom Five. It helps that in this era both Freedom Five and Justice Comics (and especially the latter) start to be more “what’s happening at Freedom Tower?” stories rather than specifically about the Freedom Five in particular. It could be fun to have when it shows up again it’s intended to be as an ongoing hero. Like, it had been a character that writers used when they needed an out or occasionally when they had an idea for a Cool Thing™ and actually got the go-ahead from Editorial to do it, but somebody eventually just figured that “Hey, this character only shows up occasionally, but those issues always sell well, so let’s just make them a standard feature in the Freedom Five’s orbit.”
  • Thinking about it now, it’s more likely that it’s not even a later handwave that it’s a different one. This Omnitron-X is introduced as a different one and that’s part of how/why it sticks around long-term. Maybe when it first appears the heroes are all like “Yeah, we get it. You’ll be here for a little while and then leave,” and it has no idea what they’re talking about. They fill it in with what they know about it, but then we get some great existential conversations with Tachyon (still a bit early for Unity to be getting that much spotlight time) about destiny and branching timeline stuff.
  • Placement? Shortly before or after the “Strike Force Invasion” arc works. There’s plenty of room in Justice Comics in this era. Christopher thinks that if they’re doing the “Omnitron-X issues sell really well” reasoning, at least this introductory bit likely happens in Freedom Five as the big flagship book. Adam counters that it might make more sense to put it in the smaller title to boost sales. Okay, so JC #500 was in January 1997 and was a big dumb thing (“The Death of Emily Parsons” and apparently has a terrible foil cover) that’s set up here but resolved later. This leaves room for a 3-issue arc in #501-3 that’s unrelated to #500 - it’s also notable in that issue #501 is the ten-year anniversary of the Justice Comics title’s return to publication.
  • What we need for this, then, is a specific villain, a specific threat, and a specific reason for Omnitron-X to stick around afterwards. Adam’s idea is that there’s some big temporal threat - Omnitron-X comes to stop it knowing that the nature of the damage this thing is doing to the timelines will result in it not being able to “go back” afterwards - it’s a one-way trip. Christopher had a similar thought, but it’s specifically damage that Omnitron-X suffers in the process that results in it no longer being able to go back to the time-travel thing. It adds a twist to the conversations with Tachyon about everything if it thought at the time that it could then leave. It also adds character flavor for it to need to accept that “now” is its time and home reality now.
  • We could have some sort of converging timelines thing. By this point the first volume of Disparation came and went, but people would know what it was. What if we take some very disparate reality from one of those issues and overlay it on the main reality? Make it something like a big “two realities at war” scenario - lots of options for hero vs. hero fights, both Baron Blades teaming up to take on all of their foes, etc. A big, wacky, nonsense thing. Maybe Omnitron-X comes here to deal with this problem, but finds that the only way to fix things is to overload its time travel equipment. It’s doing a “self sacrifice” thing, because that’s Omnitron-X’s story, but in this case it’s just sacrificing its ability to go back in time.
  • Who’s “doing” this? We should have somebody to punch. Maybe we can have it be the “Magical Freedom Five/Delta V” universe from Disparation vol. 1 #4 from episode 134? That might be too much - that’s a big cast already, but in this era we’re not really dealing with “tight” storytelling in the first place so being kind of a mess might be okay. Even being kind of a mess can result in some good outcomes: Omnitron-X is around afterwards and it gets Disparation stuff back in rotation for when that title returns in a few years. For today, though, we still likely need to have a single mastermind behind everything.
  • Okay, so #501 can be the setup where things get set up and there’s some shadowy mastermind, #502 is the fanservice issue with all of the hero vs. hero and whatnot going on, and then #503 is the one where the conflict with the actual villain gets handled (with the other stuff still happening in the background). Like, for the end we have Omnitron-X and 1-3 other characters actually dealing with the plot stuff. Christopher comes up with “Temporal Tantrum” as the arc title.
  • Adam’s thoughts on the meta-level stakes here. Whoever is writing this story thinks that they’re setting up the next great “time villain” to be a major thing, but it winds up being a character that doesn’t really stick and this might actually be the only time we see them do anything. It might be something that at least sets up Time Cataclysm stuff or is at least a showcase of the kinds of nonsense that it causes. Adam’s idea for this villain: somebody who’s opposed to the very concept of Time as a construct. Somebody who thinks that Time is a shackle that has been put on humanity.
  • Riffing on that, Christopher suggests that their backstory is that the Shattering of the Timelines affected them in a weird way and they’re now unhinged from time. They’re experiencing time non-linearly and realize that they are free from Time. Oh… you know who this is? This is the time-crazed prisoner. This winds up becoming a throw-away character in that they just get locked up in the Block from here on. We still see them occasionally, but they’re just a locked up loony. Imagine for a moment that you’ve lost your mind, but your delusion is that you’ve discovered a great truth that will bring salvation. Being the compassionate person you are, you go about trying to share this insight with as many people as possible. They’re not going to like it and you’ll have to drag them, kicking and screaming, through the process of giving up this thing that they all think that they need. He’s a chronal anarchist and Christopher dubs him Free Radical.
  • Now that they’ve come up with who the villain is, they no longer think he’s just a shadowy presence in the first issue. He busts in (/busted in/will bust in) and wants you to know (/wanted you to know/will want you to have known) what he’s doing (did/will do). This also solves the Omnitron-X problem in that we have it destroy its chronal equipment in a bid to stop Free Radical to the point where F.I.L.T.E.R. can step in and capture him. Like, maybe as soon as the timelines are righted they come in - they’ve been trying to get in this whole time, but whatever weirdness was going on was preventing it. This isn’t entirely kosher with everybody, but they pull some time-freeze shenanigans to take him into custody and get out.
  • Is this the first time we see F.I.L.T.E.R. operating in this capacity (rather than just going after aliens)? No, K.N.Y.F.E. got introduced in the late ’80s [Out of Time #1 in April ’89] so they’ve been around in a “time cop” role since then at latest. It’s a lot of fun that at the end of the story we have some unexpected entity show up to resolve whatever the issue is and it’s not Omnitron-X. That’s, like, its main deal.
  • Backing up for story beats. The first issue has Free Radical show up and we get his backstory and what his plan is. They can kind of do a 4th wall break thing where he says something like “I know that you experience time linearly so I’ll do my best to explain this” where it appears that he’s addressing the reader, but about halfway through the issue we find he’s talking to Omnitron-X as the one who’s here to stop him but also one of the few beings who might be able to understand, being somewhat disconnected from Time as well. All of the fanservice stuff with the Freedom Five (both regular and magic), Delta V, and the Vengeful Five is just backdrop. And it’s not restricted to that either - any number of crazy time travel stuff can be going on as well (Roman Centurions riding dinosaurs? Sure, throw it in!). Omnitron-X is the one dealing directly with Free Radical and trying to repair the damage he’s done.
  • Omnitron-X can have a response along the lines of that it sees what the guy is going for here, but there are dangers involved with universes overlaying one another too closely. This can be the introduction of the idea that eventually becomes OblivAeon’s plot - that if universes are too similar they mutually annihilate. It’s originally just a plot point from this ridiculously overwrought story, but a later writer picks up the detail for something more important a decade and a half later.
  • Okay, so the beginning and end are pretty well settled, but what does the middle issue do with Omnitron-X and Free Radical (there’s still plenty of the fanservice conflicts happening, though)? Maybe just have Free Radical really leaning into the “Time Cataclysm” aspect of the situation and throwing really weird stuff at our robotic hero. Adam starts off with this idea in that we have “and now Omnitron-X has to fight a dinosaur” level of things, but Christopher thinks that instead we have Omnitron-X be the one that’s throwing in weird stuff like dinosaurs. He’s making things weird in an attempt to prevent the realities from being too similar. Free Radical is trying to make Time meaningless by making everything temporally homogeneous, but Omnitron-X knows that you can’t do that or bad things happen.
  • If the idea is that something that Free Radical does prompts Omnitron-X to realize that it can destroy its time equipment to temporarily cut him off from all of these other timelines, what is that thing and how can Free Radical even do this in the first place? Christopher’s thinking that in the issue #501 backstory stuff we learn that he fell through a rift in time (similar to what we’ll eventually learn happened to La Capitan - just that she had the boat and that helped her manage things and come out in control). The idea here is that as he’s “falling through time” it’s destroying him, but in the process of parts of his form being destroyed it’s also being filled back in by Time. He’s becoming a patchwork being of Man and Time and once enough of him has been replaced this way his mind snaps in this “being unhinged from Time is the solution and I need to bring this to everyone” way.
  • Do we need anything else? It’s a big chaos story so a lot of it is just relating that chaos which doesn’t need to be spelled out panel by panel. Issue one gets the backstory exposition dump about Omnitron-X and Free Radical along with all the weird timeline crossover stuff. Issue 2 is where we get the over-the-top weirdness of the “fight” that has a lot of fun fanservice stuff but also the thread of Omnitron-X having to bring in weird stuff in his battle with Free Radical. Issue 3 undoes the timeline stuff by isolating Free Radical, but at the cost of his own time abilities which also lets F.I.L.T.E.R. come in to take him away. We can have a coda at the end here which is where Omnitron-X has the “I guess I’m sticking around” bit and the conversation with Tachyon which implies that since Omnitron was stopped in the past, this must be a different Omnitron-X.

Questions

  • We know that Omnitron-X first shows up in the Singularity event in October ’76 and then has sporadic appearances after that, eventually showing up more full time (at latest in Time & Time Again in 2011); he’s also on Unity’s Robot Reclamation [citing a May 2008 issue], so when exactly did he start being a regular feature instead of sporadic and when did he first becomes friends with Unity? The deal with Time & Time Again is that it’s the first time there’s been a book in which Omnitron-X is a headliner (although not exclusively since other time travel stuff happens in that book). We just established today the point where he became a regular cast member in ’97. The friendship with Unity develops over the course of the ’00s.
  • Has Omnitron-X ever had a “Does this unit have a soul?” moment? Has it ever had a moment between itself and Unity when she was asked a question about morality, personhood, etc.? Sure. Unquestionably, all of those things.
  • Any preferences in terms of pronouns for itself? Adam and Christopher both kind of bounce back and forth between “it” and “he” and they feel like that probably reflects how things would have been in the comics as well. “They” is probably in the mix as well. “It” probably shows up more in cases where they’re trying to get into those “am I a person or am I a toaster?” kinds of discussions. Things probably get codified a bit in terms of which characters use which pronouns over time (like, the writers specifically start to have Unity default to “he” while Tachyon uses “it” - that sort of thing, but it wouldn’t be systematized like that for some time, possibly not until Omnitron-U is a thing).
  • Does Omnitron-X continue to use time travel/does it have a unique perspective on time given its time travel abilities? They’ve established here that this Omnitron-X loses its time travel abilities, but they figure that it’s still got some ability to detect chronal anomalies or whatnot. Attempts to repair its time travel equipment might be partially successful, allowing short jaunts forward and back, but not the full-scale travel it used to do. Like, the time travel equivalent to “remote viewing” is likely a standard thing, but being able to “break these things again to rewind [plot-appropriate amount of time]” might be an occasional trick to pull. They can totally see a Unity/Omnitron-X Groundhog Day story where he glitches out somehow that causes the day to loop and she has to try to figure out how to stop it. Likely as a result of her trying to fix the time travel parts in the first place. Or maybe it’s Omnitron who knows the day is looping. Either version would work, but they think that it is only one of them aware of the loop.
  • How often does Omnitron-X wind up having to deal with magical nonsense that’s outside of his normal strengths? Can he even deal with magical threats if he can’t get in touch with Dark Watch or Prime Wardens members for help? There’s certainly some magic vs. Omnitron-X story out there, but they think that he would fall into the “magic is just science we don’t understand yet” camp and would try to work around what he doesn’t know to handle things. Unsurprisingly, Omnitron-X has a fairly cold demeanor and takes things in stride. Stuff happens, deal with it. It’s just another system to figure out. Fun discussion to have happened would be Omnitron-X and Soothsayer Carmichael discussing how magic works despite doing it being beyond both of them.
  • How do Omnitron-X’s platings work? The platings are things that he “digistructs” as needed in the moment. They don’t last forever. They view the Omnitron-X chassis having a relatively fixed amount of mass that it will reorganize in this way (and, in fact, a certain amount of matter is basically just carried around to be used by default - it doesn’t have to sacrifice an arm to make a plating). One thing Adam’s planning to do in DE is to actually have the structure of the plating be different rather than just being different colors.
  • Back in the Omnitron episode you talked about the series of Omnitron versions leading up to X and that II, V, and VIII were destroyed; what did these Omnitrons look like? What were their abilities? How do Omnitron’s “die”? The only humanoid Omnitron is X. The others are various iterations on robotic frames, tentacles/tendrils/cables/tubes/whatever, segmented robotic limbs, etc. Because it tries to iterate so often they wind up using all kinds of body plans. One is even a swarm of nanobots [Christopher guesses IX here but back in the Omnitron episode in question they said that was VII]. A trick here, however, is that this is just the development cycle for the Omnitron-X home reality. Any given universe likely winds up with different versions for all of these.
  • You recently said that only Singular Entities and La Comodora were aware that Fixed Points are a thing, but on the actual Fixed Point card, the flavor-text quote is from Omnitron-X and Visionary is mentioned as present; is Omnitron-X just guessing? Did both he and Visionary get amnesia about this event? Do the two of them ever tell anybody about Vanessa Long across the multiverse? We talk about Fixed Points as a known thing here in the podcast; the quote on the card indicates that Omnitron-X is “posited” the statement about it occurring in all realities - he’s stating a hypothesis based on seeing a pattern of events rather than a known fact. He’s now maybe on the lookout for other commonalities like this, but it’s still just a working assumption of the Multiverse rather than certain knowledge. It’s still a few steps short of “knowing Fixed Points are things that exist” generally.
  • Is Omnitron-U Jewish? There is no consensus among rabbis as to robots being Jewish, but the debate boils down to this: to be Jewish you need to be born Jewish or convert; Omnitron-X was not “born” and conversion requires free will and robots follow programming created by a biased creator - but has the empathy chip given Omnitron true “free will”? [Interjection: That certainly is the question.] The other side of the coin is that there are other inanimate objects that count as Jewish people (say, the Golem - Mr. Chomps counts as a Jewish person!); with that precedent, why not a robot? If something looks and acts “human” it is given the benefit of the doubt and is treated as such. Other statements might apply like “whoever brings up an orphan in his home is regarded as if the child had been born to him” - finally, one of the core commandments for Jews is to love, so if a robot and love and be loved then it could be Jewish, so can Omnitron-U love? Look, whether Omnitron-X/U can be Jewish or not they’re going to leave up to any rabbis or whatnot in the audience who are better suited to that debate. They can say that Omnitron-U was rebuilt by Unity, a Jewish person, but that doesn’t make her his “parent” - she’s more like a surgeon who puts somebody on death’s door back together. They’re not sure about Mr. Chomps either considering the point about “looks and acts human” bit - so Cryo Bot might qualify, but Mr. Chomps seems questionable given the criteria listed (although they don’t have the full information on what inanimate objects besides the usually humanoid Golem would fall into this category). On the “love” question, though, what’s the difference between truly being able to feel “love” in your heart/soul/whatever and simply seeming that you do so? What’s the functional difference? Omnitron-U thinks that he loves things and thinks that it understands being loved. We’re likely coming down to whether or not there’s a difference in the metaphysical “structure” of the comics setting. Like, they have established that something soul-like exists in Sentinel Comics (although specifically not what their origin is). Omnitron-X/U likely could have a soul, but they’re not sure that he does. It’s possible that Omnitron-X didn’t but Omnitron-U does. Maybe the “magic” element brought in by the stuff Unity did in rebuilding him makes a difference there somehow. Christopher, as a point of personal opinion rather than speaking as something canonical within the setting of Sentinel Comics, thinks that Omnitron-U can love and be loved but he doesn’t think that it’s “answerable” within the setting and Adam agrees. That’s fun in terms of story potential. [Insert Christopher actually bringing up real philosophical points. “I could do this all day.”] You can easily think yourself in circles around this. [They even circle back into the fleshchildren topic along these lines briefly, but it’s cycling through the above discussion and what’s been said on this previously as well.]
  • I realize that most questions about the Definitive Edition version of Omnitron-X are likely to go unanswered at this point, but I have to know: is Omnitron-X likely to keep the Rocket Fist in some form or another? Yes.
  • Given the Akash’Mecha story’s position between Akash'Bhuta and Akash'Thriya, was it used by writers intentionally as a stepping stone between villain and hero? Yes.
  • Did the Akash’Mecha story give her a better understanding of humanity? Yes, that’s the whole point of the story.
  • Is this why as Akash’Flora she’s able to provide power to Megalopolis (the merging with technology experience)? That’s a fine theory. The tree is providing power and the fact that it’s able to interface with the grid is inexplicable, but that’s a good theory as to why it’s possible.
  • Is this why Baron Blade is interested in her in the RPG Starter Kit - his interest is related to what RevoCorp found out back in this story? Again, this is a good theory, but you can also just boil his interest down to “There’s this ‘infinite energy’ tree. I would like some of that infinite energy, please.”
  • Regarding some of the stuff happening in the Akash’Mecha episode (like the rock-covered rhino-form Naturalist): isn’t Naturalist more “magical” in gazelle form? How long has Akash’Bhuta been able to control robotic components? How are wires working in place of branches? Sure, gazelle form is utility and magic, but also speed. Naturalist doesn’t do magic in terms of “casting spells”, but all of his forms are magical. Akash’Bhuta didn’t have robotics/wires control before that, it was just a case of her finding herself in a robot because the machine’s purpose was to pull in energy from the Earth and she is energy of the Earth. This wasn’t a standard ability of hers, but a situational one.
  • How well did Akash’Mecha fit into the “canon” that readers cared about? Did people think it was awesome/did “earth covered Naturalist” happen again in later issues or did I misunderstand them? There were certainly letters in the back pages of issues where people complained about Akash’Bhuta never being a robot before so she shouldn’t be now. The response there, of course, is just “yeah, this is a new story - new stuff happens”. Earth-covered Naturalist happened here because the primeval limbs of Akash’Bhuta were fighting back against her and it was more of a “team up move” between them and Naturalist than a specific ability he had/developed.
  • Any chance of the Earth Rhino showing up in Naturalist’s deck? Hmm… maybe. That’s more likely something for Akash’Thriya than Naturalist, but she’s not ’Thriya yet at this point… We’ll have to see. It might be a thing that can happen again as a team-up move once she’s a hero - likely not the exact same thing, but something along those lines.
  • Now that we have Tantrum’s tragic backstory; does she enjoy being a supervillain? Is she only doing so because RevoCorp forces her to? Is she just in it for the money or does RevoCorp have more sinister means of keeping her on a leash? It’s not that she enjoys being a supervillain - even using that term isn’t quite right. She’s pretty short-sighted and reactionary. It’s less that RevoCorp has her on a leash and more that they point her at things as a job. She’s more dangerous because she has RevoCorp direction, but she’d probably still wind up doing bad stuff. There’s a meta-level question to ask of “How many criminals enjoy being criminals?” as opposed to them just being in circumstances where that’s what they’ve found themselves doing. Then there are people like Baron Blade or Citizen Dawn who wouldn’t think of themselves as “criminals” in the first place (although crimes are definitely committed by them in the process of whatever else they’re doing). It might be useful to distinguish between “supervillains” like Blade and Dawn and “super criminals” like Tantrum, Re-Volt, or The Hippo.
  • After RevoCorp goes “good” in the RPG timeline we still see many of the villains that worked with/for them continue to do so independently; does Tantrum continue as a villain or does she turn a new leaf? She’s definitely still around. They don’t see her joining a hero team, but maybe she could get a job at the new RevoCorp. She really is the kind of character that gets shelves and then pulled out as a jobber when the writers need one, though.

Cover Discussion

  • Well, we’ve gone ahead and told the story for 3 issues but Adam isn’t going to be doing three covers, so which one? Adam’s initial thought is #501, but Christopher suggests maybe not since that cover might not give away that Omnitron-X is in the book. Sure you’d get Free Radical on there, but #503 might be more interesting because you could show the two of them fighting (whether or not it depicts the type of “fight” that they’re engaged in). That’s a good point, but Adam’s struggle is now: #503 is going to be a much easier cover to draw as it’s just the two of them where #501 is likely to be FR in a nonsense landscape with all of the weirdness he’s causing. How hard does he want to be on himself in terms of workload? A deciding factor winds up being that it would be nice to have more recently-drawn art of Omnitron-X and that’s going to be on #503 so that’s what they go with, the April 1997 issue of Justice Comics.