The Letters Page: Episode 217
Writers' Room: Disparation Vol. 1 #13
Time to get BOLD!
Run Time: 1:38:15
Whew, this is a big one! We've been thinking about this story internally for a while, and we're excited to get to share it with all of you! We hope you enjoy it!
Special thanks today to Greater Than Games employees SaRae Henderson and Twuana Price for their helpful advice and consideration on the history and depiction of this story.
Join us next week, when we tell a La Capitan story!
- Today we’re “reinventing a classic Sentinel Comics hero” - they have already done this. No pretending otherwise, this is a story they already know well (or at least the origin/background of the story). Basically, they already have the first half of today’s issue ready to go and have some ideas for the second half. This is another one of those cases where somebody submitted a topic that they could use as an excuse to tell a story they already had in mind, so here we go with Disparation volume 1 #13 from April 1990.
- We open with a story of the underground railroad in the mid-1800s and Harriet Tubman helping slaves escape from southern states to northern ones. One of the people she works with, an informant that helps warn her of people who are on her trail. He seems to almost have a preternatural ability to know when danger is imminent. His name is Joseph Parsons. He’s a former slave himself that Harriet helped escape and rather than moving on he stuck with her to help out. This is his last outing, though, as he dies in the process of helping this last group of people get away - including his wife and son.
- That son, Joe Parsons Jr., grows up and becomes a Buffalo Soldier. He’s taking part in the Philippine-American War but comes to strongly disagree with what he’s had to do and what’s going on there. He deserts and starts helping out the locals organize and fight back and we see the first iteration of the family’s motto: This Is Not My Family’s Legacy. His power is strength.
- Joe Parsons III is half Black and half Filipino and was in his mid-teens during the Great War (aka WWI). His father advises him to help out people where he can in normal life rather than taking part in the war with its convoluted political reasoning. Joe III does wind up in a war, but one where he feels makes a difference - there’s a war for independence happening in Ireland and that sounds more noble to him than the war on the continent. Rather than combat, he helps “fight” this way more through organizing and, if not stopping at least trying to direct or temper the IRA’s actions to limit civilian casualties. His power is regeneration (which he discovers after he gets blown up but is back on his feet within a few hours). Here is a notable change in the course of history when compared to the real world or Universe 1 - Ireland wins and the British are forced out entirely. There isn’t a Northern Ireland that remains as part of the UK. Following the war, Joe returns to the US and becomes an anti-segregation activist.
- Joe Parsons IV is born in 1922. His unique power is bulletproof skin. He grew up with the family stories and whatnot, but he has a disagreement with his father about taking part in WWII. The Nazis are so dangerous to so many people that he feels the need to participate. He joins at age 17 (which you could with written parental consent - which he had to forge). He winds up leading a secret black regiment that also included a Bunker and an Absolute Zero (more along the lines of Henry Goodman than Ryan Frost) that do highly targeted strikes on things like concentration camps or POW transports. Very focused on rescuing/freeing people. He’s the first one to use the Legacy call-sign during the war.
- Joe Parsons V was born in 1946 and has super speed. Not Tachyon-style super speed, but notably faster than normal people should be able to move (much like the canon Legacy line). Coupled with the danger sense, he’s got unparalleled reaction time. He was 11 when Martin Luther King Jr. had a meeting in Atlanta with a bunch of other ministers and civil rights leaders that really got the nonviolent protest thing going and he grows up in that context as well as hearing the stories from his father and grandfather about ways to use strength to help others as opposed to using it to oppress. As a young man he joins up with MLK’s movement and works for the cause. When Malcolm X was assassinated in the mid-’60s that brings the dangerous nature of the work to the forefront. When there’s an attempt on MLK’s life a few years later, Joe is there to take the bullet instead (which he can shrug off just fine).
- Now we take a break from the Parsons family for a bit, since now we have the large historical change where MLK wasn’t assassinated. He goes on to run as the vice presidential candidate under George McGovern in 1972. They still lose, but he’s even more prominent in the political sphere and among a number of other efforts succeeds in swaying public opinion against the war in Vietnam even more than in reality and so we tone things down earlier and avoid some of the worst that happened here. MLK winds up running for president himself in 1984 and wins against incumbent Ronald Reagan and then wins his second term in ’88 - and that’s where we stand when this issue comes out in 1990, with President King. Joe V continues to be a friend and advisor.
- Joe Parsons VI was born in 1979 [corrected to being 1969 in the Letters Page Discord] and gained the new power of flight and is the first Parsons to take on a role of superhero (there are likely already other heroes in the world). He takes on his grandfather’s wartime call sign as his name and is known as Legacy (tagline for the book is America’s Boldest Legacy). He’s in his early 20s and is the character we’ll be following for the second half of the book.
- The interesting family dynamic here has been a bit of a pendulum swing between combat and non-violent activism (Legacy’s dad was basically a pacifist). However, they’ve all been Revolutionary in some way and that struggle for freedom and helping others become more free is the American ideal they represent.
- Do we actually see the impetus for Joe VI to suit up? This guy grew up with both his dad’s non-violent activism but also his grandfather’s experience in the war, so he’s got both threads pulling on him. It’s also notable that we don’t have the “Legacy mantle” being passed down and the previous generation’s Joe doesn’t necessarily die. Starting with Joe III everybody has their father around and from Joe IV they even all have their grandfather around and having those familial influences around shapes this family in a much different way from the Pauls from the main continuity. The “burden” they carry isn’t the “we fight for what’s right until we die” angle so much as it’s a “we help carry the people forward”.
- It’s an interesting take on the Legacy line that’s very distinct from the regular one while still feeling very Legacy-like. Universe 1 Legacy is mired in the history of their family and (while this term goes a bit too far, it illustrates the point) is something of a government stooge for much of his personal life. He’s just very tied into the whole America™ thing and has rose-colored glasses about a lot of things (and is almost a bit naive in his hopeful outlook). This alternate line of Parsons feel like they have a more broad (and maybe somewhat clearer) view on how power changes hands, or more often, how it doesn’t. The single most inciting action of the family line is likely when Joe Jr., having taken part in a number of terrible wars for his country, decided to desert his post instead of continuing to fight in a war that he felt was unjust. Helping the people who needed help is the job, not whatever the American government happens to say the job is.
- Anyway, this Legacy isn’t really the “flying around, busting people who are holding up convenience stores” kind of guy. Like, maybe he started out doing a “stopping crime in the community” thing, but he’s not fighting bank robbers and more focuses on muggers/drug dealers/home-invaders. He’s also less likely to punch a guy and then drop him off at the police station and is more likely to take away/destroy the drugs a dealer was pushing and then try to find another opportunity for that person so they don’t need to deal drugs anymore.
- What Adam wants to see from this story is what changes for him such that he stops “flying under the radar” like his forebears did and become a symbol. The fact that he can also literally fly probably makes remaining a secret kind of a problem anyway.
- Regardless, the story they are leading towards is that there’s this small European city-state that is ruled by a tyrant who oppresses his people (they’re essentially stuck in forced-labor camps where they build their master’s doomsday devices), and that sounds a lot like the sorts of things that the Parsons family has fought against, so Joe heads to Mordengrad. To be clear, they actually intend for this Mordengrad to be significantly worse than the main continuity one. At least in Universe 1 Mordengrad has a certain level of industrial success and is rather well off for as small a place as it is. Sure, the people aren’t exactly “free”, but you just go and do your job and then you get to go home, maybe dance with the Goat at the festival, etc. This one really is a “labor camp” sort of arrangement where the people’s needs aren’t even being met. That oppression does lead to a spark of rebellion in the people, but the Blade Battalion tries to snuff that out as soon as it’s noticed.
- Okay, so we get a few pages of Joe going about his life, maybe stopping a crime or two along the way, but feeling like he could be doing more. His dad talks to him about how he goes about making the world better for people through social change and legislation and that’s the lasting change. Joe feels that he has so much power individually that there has to be more. He talks to his grandpa and we get the whole thing about Nazis needing to be stopped, but the specific case of leaving his own country and fighting for people’s freedom elsewhere also made America a better place. Then he hears about Mordengrad on the news or something and thinks that this is what he’s been waiting for. He makes a costume, takes up the Legacy name, and goes there to help protect the revolutionaries there and help them organize/gain resources.
- Somewhere in there we get a big Baron Blade thing about him being just another American operative coming in to try to do a regime change thing, just like the rest of the nonsense where the CIA tries to depose the rightful leaders of a country because it’s convenient for America. Legacy can have a bit of a crisis of conscience over that, but he’s got resolve due to the actual oppression that the people suffer and he’s just helping the people who are Mordengrad. Adam brings up the point that for him to not be what Blade is saying, they’ve got to set up the situation such that the victory is the people’s victory, not Legacy’s.
- Anyway, back to where the story left off. He goes off to Mordengrad, but we haven’t seen the costume yet. He’s in Mordengrad and helping people sneak around and organize the revolution. In the past, whenever something gets going the meeting place eventually gets raided and the revolution gets crushed. The same happens to a meeting where Joe is in attendance. The roof gets torn off by a giant walking tank or something and that’s when we get the Legacy moment with him fighting it to protect the people. Oh, or to get a reveal shot we instead have him helping organize, but the whole “these always get crushed” stories can be relayed to him in dialogue where the people are leery of yet another outsider coming and providing resources and hopeful words, but then they leave and it’s their lives on the line. A meeting starts at some point later and Joe isn’t present and so when the tank busts in it looks like another situation exactly like what the people were worried about. It’s then that Legacy shows up to help and we get a full-page shot of him in costume grabbing/lifting the tank before it can crush anyone.
- Fight scene: more walking tanks, Blade Battalion members, etc. Eventually we get the conflict with Blade himself where he says the bit about American’s toppling legitimate governments, etc. mentioned earlier. Eventually Blade gets into some doomsday tank thing and they fight some more. It blows up and Blade is presumed dead, but there’s no body recovered, so that’s probably fine. The people of Mordengrad win and successfully form a democratic ruling council.
- Anyway, the costume and very visible fighting he did kind of makes Legacy a public figure, so he keeps at it. There’s even likely a nod here about how he might try getting a team together. Maybe he’s talking to his grandpa and the “Bunker” and “Absolute Zero” examples come up and we get some context for the montage panel earlier.
- So, there we go. It’s interesting that this world is much different from Universe 1 in that there really haven’t been many super villains and the fight that our heroes have done have been much more on a grassroots/organizing end of things. Does this mean to imply that super villains only come about in response to the existence of super heroes? Well, maybe at least here because up until now Baron Blade was just a tyrant, but now after encountering Legacy, he’s primed to return as a villain.
- Imagining an alternate universe version of Sentinels where rather than making Definitive Edition, you made a “My first [x]” style of kid-friendly entry point to the game: Adam, what kind of art do you think you’d come up with for it? The point of reference you should look into is the work of Derek Laufman. In particular, while he does good work in the more “traditional” comics style, he does cute, almost chibi-style stuff that gets licensed to use on a lot of kid-directed products and that’s the look he’d go for.
- Christopher, what kind of game play changes would you make for such a product? He wouldn’t try to make Sentinels of the Multiverse, only dumbed down for kids. He’d try to make some built-from-the-ground-up to be a kids game thing that happened to use the Sentinel Comics IP. Something that used math and reasoning skills. Less card text (and likely less card-based). Just still hit that “here is a problem that you’re all trying to solve together” target - probably involving robots and monsters rather than people to beat up.
- While Jefferson Knight eventually becomes an ally that works with the Freedom Five, he was initially put in place (by Nixon) as an attempt to rein in the team - was that successful? Were there instances where the team outright ignored an order? If so, how did the government respond? It was successful in that since Knight was there, the government did have more oversight on the team. However, because he becomes an ally when there are orders that they refuse to follow, he can actually run interference for them on his end.
- How do other countries feel about the US having such a powerful super team at their disposal? Certainly other countries would feel it was something of an arms race. Sure, the US isn’t using the Freedom Five in that way, but what’s the actual division between the team and the government? They do get sent to interfere with the sovereign state of Mordengrad on the regular (a point which Mordengrad points out at any opportunity). Large countries like the USSR/Russia and China likely have enough supers to make a team, but European countries like Germany, the UK, France, and Spain might have some supers, but not enough that some could be organized into a team. It’s still possible, just less likely. Of course, Mordengrad is also happy to point out that you don’t need super powers to have a super team. There’s probably a story at some point where Blade peddles super teams to other countries - providing the gear and training necessary to have a team of your own. Of course, Baron Blade secretly maintains control of all of them. With his family history of arms manufacturers/dealers that makes sense.
- What are Senator Emily Parsons’ views on super hero activity in the US and do those views notably differ from her husband’s? Was there ever an instance where Legacy was pushing back against some directive from Jefferson Knight and he eventually got talked around by Emily? Yeah, there’s probably times when Emily comes down on Knight’s side in that sort of thing. They don’t have a specific story in mind for that, but it’s a logical one to be there. Emily and Paul Parsons definitely have different views on super heroes, but they both agree that superhuman activity can be helpful. Legacy’s a boots-on-the-ground type of person and Emily thinks that some oversight/accountability is warranted and that does lead to some tension. For as much of a boyscout Legacy is, compared to his wife he’s downright rash. Depending on when you tell that story, the sympathies shift. If the story is in the ’90s, she’s the bad guy. If it’s in the ’00s, then he’s a loose cannon.
- Emily’s got enough ambition to become a Senator - what are her plans for becoming President (seems like post-OblivAeon upheaval tied to her connection to a hero in a time when pro-hero sentiment is at an all-time high is a good time to announce a run, right)? She’s actually no longer a Senator post-OblivAeon. She takes a leadership role at G.L.O.B.A.L. Even so, the presidency was never really her goal. She just wants to help as many people as possible and in the right ways.
- What would happen if Legacy worked out? Does exercise actually lead to gains like it would for a normal person or is he already as jacked as he’s ever going to get? Does he already work out? If so, what’s his routine? They think that he does exercise, but it’s kind of ridiculous and people comment on it to that effect. Like, he goes for a morning jog in sweats because it’s good for cardiovascular health or something. There’s also probably a fair amount of more super training he does. Circle the planet a few times as a warm-up. He probably has some kind of machine in the gym at Freedom Tower that lets him actually exert himself while lifting.
- Does Legacy train using any kind of martial arts? Maybe not any official “martial art” style, but he definitely does combat training which includes “how to not absolutely destroy a person with a punch” kinds of things. To the extent that it resembles a “fighting style” it’s likely boxing. He also does a lot of “flying into the enemy” kinds of things that doesn’t lend itself to traditional fighting styles.
- What is the heaviest thing that Legacy has lifted in the comics? Silver Age Legacy was likely much stronger than modern Legacy, but also really inconsistent in what would be “heavy” for him. Like, in one story he might strain to lift a vehicle, but then a few issues later he’s lifting a small planet or something. More modern stories cut the peaks and valleys off the chart and you get a more consistent feel for what he can lift, even if there’s not an “official” power rating or something. In trying to think of what he could lift reliably, they start with a semi truck. Then “I don’t think there’s a vehicle on earth that he couldn’t lift” leads to the question of whether or not he could actually lift a Mobile Defense Platform. And that brings up another difference between Silver Age comics and later stuff - big enough things break if you try to pick them up from person-sized hand holds. Even that gets hand-waved a bit in modern comics, but he could certainly pick up a loaded train car even if it’s not meant to be lifted in that way. They look up some figures and think that he could lift a fully-loaded 747 airplane [maximum takeoff weight for the larger models 455 tons, although they cite slightly lower numbers on-air], but would need to strain to do so. 500 tons is probably possible but they don’t think you can get a lot higher (of course, unless the story demands it because if he doesn’t everybody dies kinds of heroic efforts). Silver Age Legacy could likely lift mountains - just impossible weights. While they don’t have a convenient break point that DC had in the real world with Crisis on Infinite Earths after which Superman got toned down considerably, they do think that there was kind of an informal across-the-board lowering of power levels in the ’80s in Sentinel Comics. Adam also brings up a general rule of thumb that “canon is the last 10 years” - most people don’t care that Legacy isn’t as strong as he was back in the Silver Age.
- In the real world, Superman’s costume was specifically meant to evoke the look of circus strongmen - the first comic book Legacy had a look more inspired by soldiers’ uniforms, though, only with his son taking up a new more “classic super hero” look reminiscent of Superman, but Paul VIII’s power wasn’t strength, so why would he choose an outfit that has ties to the circus strongmen look? It came about more as a reaction to the radio program. The original Legacy had a more utilitarian look and was meant to be more pulpy. The radio show added the cape (because a flapping cape was a fun sound effect to add) and had Legacy doing more “crime fighting” as a hero that became very popular even if it didn’t closely represent the comics character. So, they made his son a new character and gave him the costume to show off his physique as this ideal rather than the pulpy utilitarian soldier’s uniform and that’s where the “circus strongman” look comes in.
- How much pressure have the various Legacies felt to have a child/children given their position in the world? Do they wonder about the difficulties of finding a partner while also doing the hero thing? All of the Legacies up until Felicia didn’t really worry about this as until recently getting married and having kids was just the Done Thing™ and was basically assumed. Felicia is the first to have to struggle with it. By the time she’s headlining her own book we likely see some stories about this - her thinking about how by the time her dad was her age he was already married. She realizes that she has the burden of the family line, but also questioning whether she actually wants to have kids. She’s not ready right now/hasn’t met the right person/etc. It’s a theme that comes up, especially post-OblivAeon. She does ultimately want to have kids, but she hasn’t found the right person yet as even that part has added weight to the load because it’s got to be somebody who she’d want to help raise a superhero.
- You’ve said that if Legacy were a vampire, didn’t have any children yet, and bit somebody to make them a vampire thus creating a “child” of sorts, that person wouldn’t get the Legacy powers because they were already a person and just had the “child of Legacy” label applied after the fact - however, you also said that a hypothetical adopted child could count and gain the powers, but wouldn’t they have been their own person already too? Their thought on this is that a sired vampire is not a “child”. The terminology got reused, but it’s not really comparable to a parent/child relationship. Just because vampires say a thing doesn’t make it true. Additionally, if a childless Legacy were to be turned into a vampire, then the line is just over. Vampire Legacy (like other vampires) is dead.
- What if Legacy adopted a child who then inherited the Legacy powers, but through whatever means, that child already had one of the powers that were part of the Legacy package? Would the kid become even more athletic/strong/fast/durable/keen-sighted/etc. or would they develop an extra power in compensation? They think that if the kid already had, say, super strength, they might be somewhat stronger than they otherwise would have been, but not an exceptionally greater change. The more interesting question is whether a power that they already had that wasn’t part of the standard set (which they would retain) would count as their generation’s Legacy power or not as well as whether that power would then continue to be passed on as well. They think that the power they already had would count as their one new one and that would then get passed on. We’re dealing with Singular Entity nonsense. That means that you could engineer the direction of the Legacy line by finding somebody with the power you want to add and then getting Legacy to adopt them.
- How does Legacy’s danger sense interact with Setback’s luck/unpredictability? Is Legacy just always on edge when Setback is nearby without being able to pinpoint why? Would it only activate when Setback is actually about to trigger some nonsense and so can do something to mitigate whatever Rube Goldberg machine of death that got set in motion? Is Setback’s unluck not actually that dangerous? They love the idea that Legacy just always has an itch whenever Setback’s around but they think it’s not the potential that sets it off. Like, something actually has to get set in motion by Setback that Legacy can then respond to. Otherwise, he’d always have the buzzing in his head just by being around somebody with a pocketknife - the potential for danger is there.
- We know that Legacy’s lantern insignia is tied up with the ride of Paul Revere and that the Inversiverse Legacy of Destruction’s dark lantern is related to a destruction of a lighthouse, but was he also connected to Paul Revere? Was there an Evil Paul Revere? How did the American Revolution work in the Inversiverse (or was it just not gone into)? This is a fun question, but the Inversiverse never went into the American Revolution. Gimmick universes like this require drastically different histories and that just makes everything convoluted and so generally don’t get discussed in detail. Speaking of Legacy’s chest insignia…
- Adam remembers a book he read as a kid called Follow the Drinking Gourd about the Underground Railroad and using the big dipper constellation to navigate. He likes the idea of using the symbol of the constellation for this character in some way. They can play with that in a number of ways, like maybe Joe Jr. looks up at the stars as he’s trying to decide what to do in the Philippines. That can be a running theme for all of them in the montage. Anyway, Adam can do a design based on that for the costume.
- The other question is, do we show Boldest Legacy on the cover in his costume even though there’s supposed to be the big reveal moment late in the issue? The answer has to be yes. Sure, it takes away from that later moment a little, but it’s the big thing you’d want to put on the cover.
- Do we do trade dress for America’s Boldest Legacy or is it still Disparation? Maybe Disparation Presents America’s Boldest Legacy? More likely normal Disparation trade dress at the top and have the “presenting” or “introducing” text lower down (although still using the standard AFL trade dress as the design inspiration for it).
- Does he have a flag or a red/white/blue costume? They both kind of think that he doesn’t. Oof. Adam will have to spend some time sketching this one. Maybe start with dark blue with white accents (or white stars to sell the night sky). Christopher suggests maybe a predominantly white costume with a red cross on it as that’s a universal symbol for aid workers (Adam is quick to point out that the official red cross symbol is a brand identity and International Red Cross sues people who use it). Something Christopher tries to draw winds up being too Crusader. Christopher then suggests blue with yellow accents (still with the white stars for the constellation) because the uniform that buffalo soldiers wore would have been that combination.
- Oh, maybe the WWII Legacy intentionally called back to his grandfather’s uniform for his special regiment’s uniform and kept that color scheme and then the modern Legacy uses his grandfather’s WWII look as the basis of his costume. That way we can have a level of abstraction between modern Legacy and the baggage of the buffalo soldiers.
- So, hero pose, no flag but also no Mordengrad thing. Maybe just a shot of him flying, with a hopeful smile on his face.