The Letters Page: Episode 22
F.I.L.T.E.R., The Block, & Sergeant Steel
Let's talk about a shady organization that reaches throughout the Multiverse!
Run Time: 67:07
At the beginning of the podcast, Christopher predicts that this episode will have a run time of an hour and twelve minutes. Turns out, didn't even make it that long!
This episode, we cover F.I.L.T.E.R. in all of its incarnations, get into The Block - the extradimensional F.I.L.T.E.R. prison and HQ, and also talk about the story of Sergeant Steel and his Steel Squadron!
We get to introduce the character of Felix Stone in this episode! Exciting times. (We also dispose of him. Whoops! Spoilers.)
You also get to learn of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.!
As promised, here is the Time-Crazed Prisoner from The Block.
As we mention at the end of the episode, the next few recordings are all going to happen pretty quickly. Paul and I will be out of town for a wedding in a couple weeks, and we're all more nose-to-the-grindstone than ever right now, so we're doing a pile of recording this coming Friday, and then skipping a week for weddings, and then doing another pile of recording the Friday after that. So! Hit us up with questions for these characters ASAP!
Thanks for listening!
- The story of F.I.L.T.E.R. wasn't really set down all in one place, readers would have picked up bits and pieces over the years as part of other stories (primarily K.N.Y.F.E. but also characters like Tempest).
- F.I.L.T.E.R. (the Federal Initiative to Limit Terrorism by Extra-terrestrial Races) was started to take care of the various alien threats that had been showing up in comics over the years (as stated as far back as episode 2 of the podcast, there were a lot of one-off alien and robot foes for the heroes to punch back in the day because of Comics Code Authority rules regarding violence), and it was kind of an "INS for space", no larger agenda or insidious overtones yet. It was initially a US-based thing, but eventually a UN Security Council representative from the UK, Felix Stone, made a big push to make it a worldwide organization as alien threats aren't restricted to any one nation. They keep the name, but move the headquarters to the UK.
- While the group now has expanded funding, it has a startling lack of oversight and Stone, as the man responsible for the changes accrues more control over the organization. He starts getting into some shady practices and uses it for his own enrichment, but is eventually noticed and gets removed from his position both in F.I.L.T.E.R. and the UN. This also eventually leads to F.I.L.T.E.R. being disassociated from the UN and becomes more of a private security force.
- They're still around plenty, though. They show up to help fight aliens or are at least the group that the heroes will deliver captured aliens to after a fight. One notable encounter, eventually, was when they catch an alien who's on the run from some other being but who uses some kind of teleportation technology to do so (sticking with a popular trend with teleportation so far in the Letters Page, teleportation requires some recharge time between uses). The alien was in pretty rough shape upon arrival, and died shortly after, but now F.I.L.T.E.R. has this teleportation device.
- F.I.L.T.E.R. manages to work out what the thing is, to some extent, but in testing they activated it without inputting a destination. Leaving this setting as the initial null value resulted in the portal opening to the Null Space Observatory, a large stone building in the middle of nothing. The Null Space Observatory was built by the Varusiods thousands of years ago (Jansa Vi Dero, the Terminarch, is the last one) - the Varusiods were keen on building large places for specific purposes; this one acted as a "window" placed nowhere so that they could observe anywhere/when. Being able to simply observe things eventually lost its charm and they abandoned it. However, now that F.I.L.T.E.R. has this teleporter, they can do more than look at what's going on in these other realities/timelines.
- Now operating out of their new headquarters in what they call the Block, they now have almost limitless recruiting/jurisdiction potential as they can access any conceivable timeline by wiring the teleporter into the Observatory's control system. However, due to the fact that the teleporter 1) takes some time to set up a portal, 2) actually traveling through the portals isn't instantaneous, and 3) by default the portals aren't terribly stable in the first place, F.I.L.T.E.R. winds up setting up bases and other headquarters in various places in various realities. By setting up specific end-points to portals they manage to stabilize them and make them easier/faster to use - an example given is that it would be faster to use one of these "stable" portals to a base on Earth and fly to the moon than it would be to just set up and traverse a portal directly to the moon (the stable portals can be traversed in under an hour while an untried one could take days or longer).
- The story of K.N.Y.F.E. and her time with F.I.L.T.E.R. happens at around this time. Once she goes AWOL, Sergeant Steel takes her place on the strike team (with the objective to track her down and bring her back). While some members of the team we see in Steel's deck were there while K.N.Y.F.E. led it, some are new for this iteration.
- Members of this version of the team: Sgt. Jack Steel, Ash the Arsonator, Rebecca the Bomb Specialist, Chance the Espionagent, Jericho the Mega-Gunner, Beatrix the Infiltrationist, Hans the Battle Medic, Kara the Sharpshooter, and Donnie the Field Inventor. None of them have powers. They never manage to capture K.N.Y.F.E. on Earth, but chase her into space, dogging her throughout her adventures there, and eventually take her down by setting a trap - they fake the same energy signature that Progeny gives off to lure her into an ambush.
- Now that their special mission is complete, they return to the Block and begin taking normal assignments again, they're present in the Block when Citizen Dawn is brought in (and subsequently broken out by Citizens Hammer and Anvil - while Anvil's teleportation power is easier than the technology used by the Block, it's still difficult for him to set up a trip outside of reality [more classic "H&A are the best, can't wait for the cross-over OblivAeon movie where these two great guys save the day" commentary at around the 23 minute mark]). Once Dawn is loose, she starts wrecking the joint. Steel and his team need to help stop her (classic Villain vs. Villain action!), planning on blowing the whole place up if necessary. Dawn manages to get some recruiting time in during the rampage, but then the Citizens, old and new, 'port out. Rebecca, the bomb specialist, wasn't counting on not needing to set off the bomb once she set it up, though. Thus ends Sgt. Steel and most of the Steel Squadron.
- During OblivAeon, the Block is being evacuated. While Kismet makes her escape (see episode 7), she winds up shutting down the portal behind her while Felix Stone is still traversing it, causing him to be lost outside of reality. With the loss of the Block, Felix Stone, Steel and his team, and the general destruction going on, this is the end of F.I.L.T.E.R.
- Since F.I.L.T.E.R. has personnel in multiple timelines, is there only one F.I.L.T.E.R. organization? Which reality did it originate in? Only one organization, which originated in the main timeline.
- How is the Block administered (question assumes that there are multiple F.I.L.T.E.R. organizations)? Only the one F.I.L.T.E.R. which then spiders out into various realities, but things are managed from the Block as a central headquarters, with Warden Hoefle running the Block itself, but Felix Stone running the larger F.I.L.T.E.R. group. The various realities' branch offices have "middle-management" officers in the different realities to help run stuff "locally", but the "stable" portals allow fairly quick response from the main office.
- F.I.L.T.E.R. seems to have started as a benign "Men in Black" organization, but during the prison riots the officers fire on heroes there to help and Sgt. Steel will work with villains, at this point is F.I.L.T.E.R. evil? How about Steel himself? If there's a prison riot, and you're part of the fighting but aren't officers yourselves, the guards aren't likely to take kindly to you no matter what the situation is. Sergeant Steel is working against a hero, and therefore might qualify as a "villain" by certain definitions, but he's also working under orders. Can an organization, as opposed to the people in it, be "evil"? They're not strictly speaking a "hero team", they're locking up villains but that's more for their benefit than for some societal good, but they are keeping bad guys locked up.
- Which reality is responsible for the creation of F.I.L.T.E.R.? Do they recruit members from different timelines? Do they recruit multiple realities' versions of the same person? The Block is outside time, F.I.L.T.E.R. is from the "main" timeline, they do recruit people from different realities (K.N.Y.F.E. for one). They don't generally recruit the "same" person multiple times - people take different paths through life, but it's also logistically tricky to do so - but it can happen.
- F.I.L.T.E.R. Spy (from Time Cataclysm) looks like the Espionagent (from Sergeant Steel's deck) - are they the same person? Does this mean that F.I.L.T.E.R. was caught up in the Cataclysm or were they just exploiting it (or even behind it)? OblivAeon caused the Time Cataclysm. The Spy and Espionagent aren't the same individual as they're the "same" person from different realities (one of the rare exceptions mentioned in the previous answer) and they get sent on disparate missions to keep things from getting too confusing. The Time Cataclysm touches all environments, including the Block.
- F.I.L.T.E.R. seems choosy about who they incarcerate, why do Char, Kismet, and Choke wind up there while seemingly more dangerous villains wind up in normal prisons? Given that it's an inter-dimensional prison, the stated number of inmates (under 500) seems small, is there a reason? How much to the heroes know about what all F.I.L.T.E.R. is getting up to? A lot of the more modern reasons for only certain prisoners winding up there is a general unwillingness of some heroes (who've started to catch on to the shady stuff F.I.L.T.E.R. is up to) to work with them/turn villains over to them - especially due to the lack of official governmental affiliation. As far as the number of prisoners, F.I.L.T.E.R. is a for-profit organization at this point and they'll frequently capture a powered person in one reality and will then sell that person off to another reality.
- Is Char the most dangerous inmate? What did he do to earn a spot as the only named prisoner in the deck? Did he already have his sweet "firearm" tattoo or did he get it while on the inside? He already had the tattoo. He gets named because he already had a background due to an affiliation with Fright Train, but he's also one of the more prominent villains present there who's not already represented in some other deck (Spite, Fright Train, Set, etc. all have other, more important appearances, but some of them are from other realities too).
- Is Sgt. Steel from the main timeline or K.N.Y.F.E.'s home timeline? How about the rest of the team? Is F.I.L.T.E.R. generally from a mix of realities or was K.N.Y.F.E. an exception? Sgt. Steel is from a timeline other than both K.N.Y.F.E. and the main reality. The squad are from a mix of realities, too, but it's not like they're all explicitly from unique timelines (the Arsonator and Mega-Gunner are from the main timeline and had fought Bunker all the way back in his debut comic - see the cover art on the 3rd page of the pdf). F.I.L.T.E.R. personnel started as being from the main timeline, but has expanded into a mix since they found the Block.
- In Sgt. Steel's deck we get to know his team and that they're specific characters - how does one get onto the team? Do they need to replace people periodically (supposing a high turnover rate due to getting the tough jobs), how often? Would we see the recruitment happen in F.I.L.T.E.R. comics? Are members characters that readers would already be familiar with? This team was formerly K.N.Y.F.E.'s team - Jack Steel, Bomb Specialist, Arsonator, Espionagent, Field Inventor, Infiltrationist, and a few others (not the same as the rest of the team as shown in the deck as Steel added Sharpshooter, Mega-Gunner, and Battle Medic to the team once he assumed command). Arsonator knew Mega-Gunner and got him recruited, but generally you get consideration for a slot for past accomplishments (especially wet-work jobs).
- Since Steel is a "Vengeance-Style" team villain deck, does he work with other villains considering that he's mostly out to get K.N.Y.F.E. specifically and they seem to capture her on their own? They eventually got her without help, but that doesn't mean that they didn't try to get help prior to that. On Earth they worked with Miss Information, offering to help against the Freedom Five in exchange. They hired Greazer to help once they're chasing her out in space (which did not go well for Greazer). [I'll also point out that it's mentioned that they work with Biomancer and Citizens Hammer and Anvil when they're going after Visionary back in the Expatriette episode]
- When Setback worked in a copy shop, somebody dropped F.I.L.T.E.R. documents that he found. Who was that? What was the document? Why didn't F.I.L.T.E.R. have their own copy machine? Was the shop torn down by a real construction crew or was that a coverup? The person was a high-ranking officer from a local outpost. It was a manifest of prisoners transferred from that outpost to the Block. He wasn't there to copy that document, he was getting some personal stuff done and he couldn't use the work machine for that. F.I.L.T.E.R. used a real construction crew to tear the place down as a coverup.
- In the Vengeful Five episode, it was mentioned that Baron Blade blew a hole in the wall to break Fright Train out, but given that the Block is in another dimension/out in space how did Blade manage this? Null Space has breathable air. Blade is a mad scientist and builds his own portal to get there and then just blows up a wall to let people out/through his portal.
- Given that F.I.L.T.E.R. visits multiple universes, are there prisoners from different ones? Are there lots of copies of the same person? How big is it? Like with recruiting multiple versions of a person, it can happen, but not often. The Block has a fairly high turnover of inmates given their trafficking of people to different realities. They tiptoed around it earlier, but F.I.L.T.E.R. is pretty Evil by the end of the story.
- Given "F.I.L.T.E.R." and "K.N.Y.F.E." it seems that somebody there is a fan of acronyms, is it just one person or a committee? It's a committee, Agents for Creating Robust and Original Names Yoking Meaning.
- The flavor text of Time Crazed Prisoner implies he's aware of OblivAeon and the multiverse in general, who is he? He's just some guy, but he's been there for long enough that he's gone crazy from being there - but in one of those "only the insane can grasp the truth" kind of ways. All of the crazy stuff on his wall are true things - there are no red-herrings in the card art. F.I.L.T.E.R. figures out pretty quickly that long-term exposure to Null Space can cause a form of madness and do a good job of rotating out their personnel regularly. The Warden and other people that need to be there a lot have required periods that they have to cycle out, although Felix Stone doesn't.
Bonus Question Section About The Character We Didn't Know About And Therefore Couldn't Have Asked About
- Was Felix Stone always a megalomaniac out to meddle in these other realities for personal power/gain? No, he was always a little greedy/self-serving, but was just a normal bureaucrat.
- What made him go off the deep end? Null Space Madness, to some extent, but also this resulted in him drawing the attention of Voidsoul ("the whispers of doubt and madness that OblivAeon likes to traffic in") who made him think that all of these crashing realities and whatnot were fine and that things would work out for the best for him. This is why K.N.Y.F.E. gets what amounts to a dismissal when she brings her worries to her superiors - the word from the top is that they are aware of what's going on and they have a handle on it, don't worry and shut up.
- Tactics - former members are around, but independently. The Bomb Specialist is now Becky Blast, a member of the "For Profit" criminal organization (she survived the blast that killed most of the rest of the team). The Block is still there, attached onto this reality, but now being used as somebody's headquarters.
- RPG - F.I.L.T.E.R. is gone, but will be back eventually (with different management and name(?)).