The Letters Page: Episode 214
Writers' Room: Justice Comics #695
We'll paint you a story!
Run Time: 1:23:00
It's Adam's birthday! Today is the day! As a result — or, actually, because you demanded it — we tell a frankly silly story that ends up doing some interesting things. And also we read your letters!
This was the first of two episodes recorded in one day, as I'm now in the UK for a week and a half for UK Games Expo! (If you'll be at the show, come hang out with us in Booth #1-852!) But, was this the BEST episode we recorded today? You'll just have to find out next week!
- This week is a Setback and Unity team-up. They have done zero prep work.
- They can put it basically anywhere after 1991, but going that early seems wrong as they were both very new at that point (she first appeared in FFA #11 in June 1990 and he was in a MC issue from April ’91). That being said, Christopher likes the idea of putting this story in the “Dark Watch Gap” (between the end of volume 1 in December 2011 and the start of volume 2 in January 2015). This is good that between the Backdraft arc and Terminal Ballistics he’s already got a lot of team-up storytelling before the first volume of Dark Watch. While there are certainly heroes that show up in a lot of stories at the same time (Wraith, Legacy, and Fanatic get called out as being in this category), they don’t feel like Setback is one of those. They land on Justice Comics in #694 from March 2013 as the starting point (with the caveat that if this story winds up being big enough it could spill over into multiple issues).
- Let’s talk villain, and let’s consider some lesser-used ones. Maybe Ambuscade (like maybe he’s on a big hunt plot, but these two heroes stumble upon whatever it is he’s planning and get involved to stop him - neither of them is his target, they just abuse his laser focus on his target to mess with him). With these two heroes it’s likely to be an “upbeat” story, but that’s not necessarily silly/goofy. Anyway, other options: Apostate, Necrosis, maybe one of those times when individual Ennead members are doing stuff without the whole group being involved. It’s a bit too early for Deadline. Maybe not Kaargra Warfang. Neither of them wants to tackle a Wager Master story today. We could aim way lower-scale given it’s only two heroes. Heartbreaker? Maybe Re-Volt.
- Who’s somebody they’ve never done a story for? Adhesivist. Torment (well, if they haven’t “done a story” for her, they’ve kind of already “told her story” in terms of creating her on-air). They’ve done stories for Radioactivist and Chaos Witch. They don’t think they’ve done one for Heartbreaker, but they don’t think he’s right for a Setback and Unity story. They’ve done Hippo and Ray Manta. Equity maybe. Have they ever done a Choke story? Maybe not, but we’re too late in the timeline for her (before becoming Chokepoint). Maybe Mr. Hideous - that has some possibilities. They could reuse the “our heroes stumble upon an unrelated-to-them villain plot and make a mess of it” idea from Ambuscade, just not the specific “hunt” shtick. Something that’s not “important enough” for Setback to want to bother Expatriette or NightMist or for Unity to bother the Freedom Five about, but something that warrants action. Maybe each of them, individually, find hints as to what’s going on and then just run into each other while working solo.
- What’s Mr. Hideous’ gimmick for this crime? Maybe he’s stealing/defacing beautiful works of art. Or there are a bunch of rare animals at the zoo currently as a traveling exhibit and he wants to, I dunno, shave their fur into Mohawks and spray paint them or something. Maybe a temporary/traveling exhibit of dinosaurs from Insula Primalis.
- Aside: does the public know that there are dinosaurs on this arctic island? We know that there have been scientists there in the past, but would they have kept it quiet? Some types would be likely to want to have their names attached to the discovery while others would consider that the minute they publish their findings people are going to start heading there to hunt them (on that note, we’ve also been told that there have been ill-fated hunting expeditions already, so some knowledge must be out there). By the 2010s it might make sense for the knowledge to be out there, but it’s also on an island with an active volcano that’s home to a team of supervillains on top of how dangerous the wildlife is. They wind up landing on “it’s generally not known and most who hear about it think it’s a hoax” and that having dinosaurs at a zoo “breaks” Insula Primalis.
- Back to the art idea: maybe he takes the “finest graffiti” from around the city and puts it in art galleries where he’s removed the artworks and pasted them up under bridge around town. Maybe the graffiti is done “live” by some goons with spray cans and the art gets cut out of the frames and pasted up around town where everyone can see them. Well, a lot of art museums are free to the public anyway so maybe that can’t be an “anti-elite” motive. Okay, how’s this: instead of doing two things we combine them. We have him and his crew of the “finest graffiti artists” steal a bunch of these works of art and then put on their own art show of these famous paintings that have been “improved” by the graffiti artists. He’s setting up shop in some abandoned/condemned warehouse as his Hideous Gallery.
- Adam thinks that we need to raise the stakes a bit. Maybe Mr. Hideous has also taken a bunch of art critics hostage as part of this whole thing. We don’t need to go too hard here as it’s still something that Setback and Unity would both think they could manage without calling in the whole team. That being said, lets expand the hostage list to caterers and media people. This is an art gallery opening and he wants to do it “right”. Well, he’s trying to be bad, but there’s room for “if it weren’t for the whole kidnapping thing and ruining existing art this was actually an interesting idea.”
- Adam still thinks we need more to this. As it is, what different really happens if Setback and Unity aren’t even involved? Maybe rather than the more straightforward threat of “write me a good review or you die!” we have his plan be to get the reviews out of everybody, but then plan on just blowing the place up afterwards regardless. That’s a bit off since, in theory, he’d want the gallery to remain. Maybe something like a spray “paint” that if you spray it on somebody’s face it freezes it in that expression forever so he can make the hostages into art too? Or maybe instead of “spray painting” people’s faces, there’s some radiation he’s put in the paint the goons use to alter the art. Maybe he doesn’t even need to kidnap people and it’s just a “normal” art exhibition until he locks the doors and then reveals the paintings and the longer people look at them the faster their cellular structure breaks down.
- That’s fun, but Adam thinks that the radiation gimmick is too much. It can just as easily be a gas that’s pumped into the building that the people breathe in while they’re in there. Christopher really liked the “looking at the art” connection rather than just “being in the building”. Maybe something to do with the lighting of the art? Okay, so the art is lit with special lights such that it will burn the image of the art onto their retinas. This is the last art these critics will ever see! How does that work? It’s not like we’re shining light directly into the people’s eyes. Okay, how about the catered food/drinks are laced with something and that’s what the special lighting activates to do the retina thing. It’s functionally “blindness”, but instead of darkness they wind up seeing whatever piece of art they were looking at when things get activated.
- So, evil plan: steal a bunch of art from a museum, kidnap or convince a bunch of street artists to deface them, kidnap caterers and art critics to attend his “gallery” opening. Between the food and the lighting, the plan is to make “his” art the last thing that the critics will ever see.
- Now we need the individual pieces that Setback and Unity discover independently that leads to them both investigating this whole thing. Adam has an idea for Unity: sometimes she likes to spray paint her bots and so she goes to the store to get some. The place has been cleared out - no paint left to be had. Other stores are the same; either sold out or robbed, but no paint left regardless. Christopher’s idea for Setback: we know he frequently works odd jobs. He’s either about to get or recently started a catering gig. Maybe he’s one of the initial round of abductees or whatever and Unity finds him early on in her own investigations and then they work together to go deeper into the plot.
- Chronology of events: Mr. Hideous hatches the plan, Setback takes a catering job, caterers get kidnapped, Unity goes to paint store only to find there is no paint, and then we need the story bits between there and when she finds Setback. We also need to know how far along Mr. Hideous’ plan gets before getting stopped. Maybe he defaces the art in front of the critics and the plan is to then do the lighting thing - therefore we can get as far as the defaced art before he has to be stopped. Maybe it’s even more pointed - he has stolen art specific to each critic. Something they liked and that he’s now stolen and defaces and then means to force them to view this new version as their last sight. Or even better, the process of it being defaced is their last vision.
- So, things Unity and Setback can do: stop the food from being dosed, swap out the lights, etc. but also at the end just point out that Mr. Hideous has done something kind of cool in bringing so many street artists together. Maybe just have them do a non-evil art thing. This turning of a negative thing into a positive one is very on-brand for both Unity and Setback.
- Adam has the way to loop Unity into things here, but something that will push this into being 2 issues (something they’d already considered). Unity encounters some kid with a spray can and asks where he got it considering she can’t find any. He’s got aspirations to be an artist and rather than the more “traditional” artists Unity mentions he pulls out his phone full of pictures of graffiti the kid likes and considers “great art”. Unity is wrong here as she goes on a journey of accepting street art as a legitimate form (it’s also really fun to have Unity be the “wrong old person” in this situation). Anyway, this kid has heard about the job for street artists that some guy has been promoting as the thing that will make you famous. That’s where all the paint went. We get a bit of a B-plot involving this 14-year-old aspiring street artist.
- Anyway, back to chronology: no paint, Unity meets paint kid, finds out about the call to all artists (which isn’t alarming in itself - it’s a bit shady in a “probably exploitative of the artists somehow” way - she figures they’re being paid in “exposure” or something and the fact that the kid says they’re getting $20 each is somehow less reassuring than it should be). That gives us the story title as well: Exposure.
- We probably need for the bad thing to happen to at least one critic. Maybe the one who’s the “worst” and generally is a big jerk is singled out as a demonstration. How is this resolved? We have Setback and Unity fighting Mr. Hideous while also disabling things? Unity can take care of the lights pretty easily. There’s got to be some regular goons as well (as opposed to the street artists who are not likely in this for the violence). Of course, the theming of the event means that the goons’ weapons are likely street art themed - spray paint can flame thrower, etc. This works for non-gimmick reasons too since the heroes can’t easily tell at a glance which spray-can-holding goons are the artists vs. the thugs.
- The second issue (April 2013, JC #695) is the one we’ll get a cover for as now we’re into the meat of the plot. At the end of the first part the process is used on one critic as a demonstration of what’s going to happen to the rest and this issue starts with Unity and Setback up in the rafters or something. Because of that demonstration, they know what the process is and what they need to do to stop it. All of the critics have already consumed the chemical-laced hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Unity might ask if Setback would want to call in his girlfriend, but she might have a tendency to just shoot anybody with a spray can and sort things out later, which is not ideal. This also plays nicely with something the kid said earlier about wanting to be seen as an artist and not a criminal.
- Adam has a funny idea that to the reader it’s obvious that the giant, muscle-bound guys are the thugs and the others the artists, but our heroes cannot spot this difference. Then we have a fun bit where some big guy who looks like a dock worker is talking to a compatriot about color blending and stuff and some scrawny guy has a spray can that shoots lasers. See, it’s not that easy to tell them apart, is it?
- Anyway, between the goons and the actual villain plot, there’s too much to count on being able to do themselves. They’ll have to fight the thugs and Mr. Hideous and yell for the artists to spray paint over the lights. The power of teamwork is what will save the day and maybe the spray painters helping gets the snooty art critics to reconsider their biases. Oh, or maybe instead of Setback and Unity asking for help it’s the kid from earlier. Setback and Unity are in peril in some way. In going over the plan the reader is clued into what is supposed to happen (Unity turning the light fixtures into robots, etc.) but then as soon as they go to start doing the thing Setback has his bad luck kick in. He trips or something and breaks the beam they’re standing on so instead of a controlled drop down from the rafters they just fall at the villain’s feet. Now they’re about to also get the same vision treatment as the critics.
- Mr. Hideous calls up a few of the artists to do their art-defacing thing and one of them is the kid from the previous issue. Now, it’s not like the artists are all happy to be involved in crime but we get some grumbles here about at least how they’ll be famous after this. The kid is not having any of that, though, and wants to help. He gets the other guy that got called up to help spray paint over the lights (and the kid gets a good surprise attack in as well, spraying paint in Mr. Hideous’ face). The goons move in but Setback and Unity use the distraction as an opportunity to get free and now the fight actually starts. The kid rallies the rest of the artists to help cover the lights as well in the meantime.
- Then we have the hero victory page with Mr. Hideous and his goons trussed up and the artists helping out. Good job, everyone. Then the door bursts open and Expatriette comes in with like 70 guns, NightMist wreathed in mist, Legacy who ripped the door in two, etc. Just all the big guns have shown up just too late to actually help deal with the crisis. Given how the story has developed, they probably both sent out calls for backup before the fight started but then they had to make a move before anybody could arrive. Or maybe the magnetic locking system that Mr. Hideous used to keep everyone in also turned the building into a giant Faraday cage and they’re not sure that their distress call actually got out to anybody (or Unity made a small bot to go get help but doesn’t know if it succeeded).
- Then we have a bit at the end to wrap things up after the villains are taken away. In the process of installing all the locks and whatnot for his evil scheme, Mr. Hideous essentially retrofitted this old building and so it doesn’t need to be condemned anymore. They actually turn it into a street art “gallery” such that things are in one place, allowing more accessibility to the public and critics.
- Let’s see, stuff that makes it specifically Unity and Setback. The latter has his bad luck kick in at a crucial point. Unity has “compassion as her superpower” when she first talks to the kid. I suppose we didn’t really get into the fight in a detailed way. The “spray can weapons” gimmick is fun and Unity likely co-opted a bunch of them as bot material - like “bat bots” where the spray can is the body and they fly around spraying stuff. Maybe the lights are ceramic or some other more exotic material. Not for anti-Unity reasons (well, within the fiction) but because having metal fixtures would interfere with the process somehow.
- What would the hypothetical Setback-bot that Unity made be like/what would its abilities be? Would it be something like Luck-bot/Clumsy-bot/Jack-bot or would she lean more into Pete’s strength and durability given that the luck curse isn’t exactly well-known? Okay, so Jack-bot is a great joke. Hmm… so we said that Setback was part of the catering crew and that Unity frees him, but why wouldn’t Pete just start with the punching when villain stuff started to go down? One option is to have him realize that something’s wrong and then ducks away to change into costume, but it’d be fun if the caterers are all “accounted for” and his missing would be noticed. So Unity makes a robot replacement to cover for him after she gets there, but it’s a Waiter-bot/Plate-bot that’s just supposed to be convincing enough for him to sneak away rather than something mimicking his powers. It could even be fun if they fall out of the rafters because of the bot - like maybe Unity used structural elements of the building when making it and that’s why the rafter failed so spectacularly when he tripped on it or whatever - Setback’s unluck working through her.
- What appearance/costume changes are associated with Setback’s Fey-touched era? Time will tell.
- Did you answer “time will tell”? Shoot, they’re onto us! For real, though, he’s got mossy runes running up his arm from the coin that’s embedded in his hand, with the idea being that it’s slowly turning him into a Fey creature. It’s a take on his Dark Watch costume given the era.
- What are some cool ways the artists of Sentinel Comics depicted Unity in her techno(mancy) aspects? The most we see in terms of “understanding an object and how it’s built” is what Adam would do: find a picture online of a thing that’s been disassembled so you can see all the pieces and then just draw the pieces in an arrangement analogous to how they would be assembled while floating in the air. Christopher also thinks there’s room for a “mind’s eye” situation where we see her touch a thing and concentrate with her eyes closed and the reader sees something like a tiny version of her taking an internal tour of the device, but that’s just an abstraction to convey what she’s learning rather than literally representing how her powers work. Another way to do it would be for there to be a panel of her touching (or even just looking at) a thing and then another panel with the background replaced with a photo collage of schematics/blueprints of the machine. Christopher has a fun riff on that is that she’s talking about building a thing, but then we get some speech balloons from her that are just filled with blueprint rather than text (and Tachyon responds with an “I see” or similar active listening thing that shows that the blueprints are just visual shorthand for the fact that Unity is really talking about the technical details). Unfortunately, Unity doesn’t “talk like that” and so it’s inappropriate for how she would try to convey this stuff. Choke would be more likely than Unity and she doesn’t exactly have a “blueprint” vibe to her take on machines either.
- [Funny given that they hadn’t read ahead in the question:] Did anybody have a sequence of panels with Unity’s thought bubbles full of blueprints as she worked through the design of a bot? What about more religious imagery with Unity in the center of a floating cloud of tools and parts? Any sequences of panels showing broken bots (say Omnitron) with her thoughts overlaid as she works through the technobabble explanations of how things are connected/asking why things are this way, etc.? The first two are definitely things that could happen. The last (with her working through the logical connections) is not Unity. Her ability to assemble and make something functional is more instinctive so she’s not going to think in those terms. That’s way Adam would tend to shy away from using blueprints as a shorthand for how she thinks/talks about things - it could be useful for conveying to the audience that she’s doing technical things, but it does give the wrong impression about how her thought process actually works regarding it. The technobabble explanation of how a machine works is Tachyon. Unity has learned a lot of this stuff from Tachyon and she can apply it, but it’s not her normal way of doing things. Unity’s inner monologue would be more similar to how a doctor thinks about a patient holistically than how an engineer thinks about a device as a series of discrete components that do specific things.
- During the Young Legacy/Harpy/Unity story you discussed the age dynamics between them and you landed on Unity being the youngest, then Felicia, then Harpy; in Unity’s main episode you mentioned she was introduced as 18 or 19, if she is still around the same age in that recent story she’d need to be younger in her original appearances for Young Legacy to have known her then (several years before going to college) - I know trying to pin specific ages to comics characters is a fool’s errand, but how does Unity interact with the sliding timescales (was she a child prodigy in early stories or has she just remained the same age throughout and you’re just expected to not look too closely at it)? How does her age scale post-OblivAeon? Unity is introduced as “a teenager” - the implication is “late teens” but it’s not actually specified. She is meant to be a prodigy, though, and if you had to pin it down she was probably around 16 at that time. Putting actual numbers if difficult and every time they wind up doing so it’s a mistake. She was a teen when introduced, “late teens” in the Girl’s Night Out story, and in the RPG era she’s “early-to-mid twenties”.
- How strongly does CON resemble Unity (identifies as female, cheerful personality)? Does CON’s voice sound anything like Unity? How about her vocabulary and speech patterns? When Jim Brooks finally meets Unity is he visibly startled when he hears her speak? CON takes a lot from Unity’s personality, but there’s enough influences in there for CON to be her own thing. She’s kind of a “child” of Unity, but with the way timeline branching works that’s now a different Unity. The voice might resemble Unity’s, but maybe tinnier. Jim would be unlikely to be startled at the resemblance, but might comment on it after being around Unity for long enough. Visually, CON resembled Omnitron more than Unity’s stuff.
- When Ryan Frost is teaching a Freedom Academy class about the ethics of being a hero and whatnot, what class is that? Responsibility and Ethics 101.
- Who teaches Villain Psychology so our prospective heroes can learn how to trick them into monologuing and whatnot? How about Civil Engineering so that heroes can learn how to hold up collapsing bridges? What courses are required and what are some of the popular electives? Is interdepartmental politics a feature in any stories? Wraith probably teaches the Villain Psych class as she frequently has to get into her enemies’ heads more than most. Heritage might take point on Civil Engineering since he’s probably had to hold up more bridges than anybody. Tachyon’s also likely involved to provide the theory behind it while Heritage is handing out the practical experience tips. A lot of the other stuff is more likely to get coverage as it comes up in episodes organically and/or in the Urban Settings RPG book which should cover Freedom Academy in more detail. It’s not like the comics ever really stick with a class for a whole lesson anyway - the school aspect is there to serve as backdrop. The characters are taking the classes, not the readers.
- Follow-up to a question in the AZ/Muerto episode: if AZ couldn’t be a Scion of Wager Master if the latter didn’t intend for him to be a Scion, does that mean that Wager Master meant for Guise to be one? No, Wager Master didn’t have any intention behind Guise’s creation. He probably could have “revoked” it at some point, though. He just doesn’t - Guise is a great source of chaos and so him existing out in the world serves WM’s purposes. The difference here is that WM was trying to trick AZ and Guise just happened and “just kind of happening” is how Scions of Wager Master are made.
- Regarding the OblivAeon vs. NightMist body count discussion (without needing to care about infinities!): OblivAeon’s plans are to make realities similar enough so that they’ll overlap and mutually annihilate one another (or sometimes he does it directly, but it’s still 1 or 2 at a time); if there are infinite universes, no matter how long you chip away in these finite chunks you’ll never get there - therefore, if we assume that OblivAeon isn’t an idiot/this bad at math we can assume that there are finite universes, right? Also: the way that you’ve described timeline splits they only occur when a significant enough thing happens - since that’s not caring about every quantum event surely splits don’t happen frequently enough for there to be infinite realities, just something like 2 to the [very large number] power universes, right? OblivAeon’s plan is a bit different than you’ve described it - the plan is to set things up so that the overlapping/annihilation process starts a chain reaction that then pulls everything down at once. That could deal with the infinity problem. However, they agree that it’s likely that there aren’t literally infinite universes out there - it’s just an arbitrarily large, but finite number of universes that’s often talked about as if it were infinite. Sure, we’ve now gotten to the point where we’ve said that neither of them have killed an infinite number of people (a given universe doesn’t have an infinite number of inhabitants and now we’re saying that there aren’t infinite realities for “NightMist” to get mist-gated) but we’re still dealing with such vast numbers that it’s “functionally infinite” for any purpose we’re actually looking at.
- Would you make the argument that neither of them have murdered vast numbers of people (one of you argued that NightMist didn’t kill her alt-reality counterparts, she just made them “not people” anymore - by a similar reasoning you could say that OblivAeon just made some universes not exist)? Intent does matter here. They consider OblivAeon’s motive of ending existence to include the concept of “killing” within it.
- In the Neighborhood Watch episode you mentioned that the title was part of the second wave of post-OblivAeon titles; Is Alpha’s new book in that wave? Yes.
- How many books are in that second wave? Do any of them have titles/briefs you’re willing to share now? Do Tachyon and/or AZ finally get their own titles? There are 7 titles in the second wave that launch in May 2018 but there are 10 books total that count as part of this (the rest are a set of three 6-issue limited series that have a staggered release schedule with the first starting “a few months” after May). Then another “wave” starts again in May 2019. Anyway, they don’t want to get into the briefs this time, but they’ll let us know three more titles at least: Heritage, Fanatic volume 3, and Night Hunter. Tachyon and AZ don’t get books in this wave (maybe not ever, but at least not here).
- The second issue is the more interesting cover here. The first one is, what, Unity looking for spray paint? Issue two can have Mr. Hideous with spray cans standing over defeated Unity and Setback, whom he has likely graffiti’d. Adam suggests instead we have Mr. Hideous standing as if presenting/revealing graffiti versions of the heroes. Maybe their faces are “scared” to show how much trouble they’re really in/maybe implying that they’ve somehow been turned into the graffiti.