The Letters Page: Episode 224
Creative Process: Harpy Foes
Good morning, Avians and Arcanists!
Run Time: 1:33:34
What kind of foes are around for a Hero who is mostly a protégé/sidekick/team member for the comparatively short time that she's a hero, especially in relation to the very long time she spent incarcerated after her ONE big villainous outing? Well, that's what this episode is all about! Listen in and learn more!
Join us next week for an Editor's Note — if you're on the Letters Page Patreon, join in the fun with us this Friday at 11 AM Central for a live recording of that Editor's Note!
- So they’re up against an interesting wall here since they’ve already said that Harpy doesn’t really have “main” foes of her own and her foes tend to be NightMist or Dark Watch foes generally. They’ve gone back on that a little with the addition of the Fey-Court in particular, but that’s also a Dark Watch threat. What we’re kind of left with, then, is a dynamic where we’re looking at villains who mostly show up in team books but for whom one member is singled out for particular enmity for one reason or another. So the Fey-Court may not be “a Harpy foe” (to the exclusion of Dark Watch as a whole), but it might at least be fair to say that The Morrigan is a Harpy foe. Similarly Blood Countess Bathory would be a Harpy foe that’s distinguished from the Court of Blood and Dark Watch being generally antagonistic. Man, what’s with the Harpy and “ancient magic ladies of impossible power and inscrutable goals”? Even NightMist kinda falls into that category after her stint in the Void. Maybe it’s just the “potential protege who’s shown moral flexibility and recklessness” thing. Also “courts” of various styles. Maybe she needs a lawyer villain.
- There’s also Biomancer and the whole Mocktriarch thing, although Harpy was largely absent from that story and it’s more of a Tachyon story (the whole “not really Harpy” thing was not clear from the beginning).
- There’s also a Mr. Jitters arc that we will get to see more of in the RCR materials. They haven’t talked about that on the podcast yet, so maybe they can do that for a bit today.
- Harpy did play an important role in an Apostate story. Not that they’re nemeses of one another by any stretch, but she did do a lot to foil one of his bigger plots. There’s also a big GloomWeaver thing in there as well. She’s part of multiple Apostate and GloomWeaver stories, actually, but not all are really showcases of her involvement.
- More courts! She’s on trial at the Celestial Tribunal and was a convicted felon. This was not intentional on their part. Maybe something like the Bailiff or the Gaoler. That could just be part of a Fey-Court thing, though, like the person sent to collect Harpy for the Court. That kind of sounds like the entirety of the story there, though. Maybe we just hash out what the Gaoler looks like and move on. Maybe there’s overlap with Setback due to the deal he made with the Court as well. Anyway, Adam’s initial thought is some black, faceless figure with antlers - something evoking Frank Frazetta’s “Death Dealer”. Adam also suggests a cloak (which he imagines is made of black lichen) and Christopher suggests pushing the Fey thing by making him a “deer centaur” but Adam’s point was to use the cloak to make the figure more “formless”. Maybe something like smoke or fog follows him as well to lean into that aspect even more so they go with that instead of the centaur thing (or maybe due to the intentionally-indistinct form he looks like he might be various shapes over different appearances).
- Let’s take a step back and consider her time in prison given that’s where she was for the majority of her existence as a comics character (although in-setting it’s “a few years”). Adam thought that in the ’90s retelling of her origin story (the Night’s Plutonian Shore event) she didn’t kill anybody, but Christopher is pretty certain that people died, but more due to “things birds that she wasn’t in total control did” rather than her personally doing it. As such, it’s probably worth hashing out what the actual charges were that she went to prison for. Probably manslaughter and reckless endangerment at least (looking up federal guidelines for such, the minimum for manslaughter is 10 months, but more if acting with recklessness so there we go at least a year) and there are probably superhero-setting-specific laws around the use of powers that come into play as well.
- So… her being on Dark Watch is a parole violation, right? Probably, but that’s also part of why she’s not really, for sure on the team until volume 2 of the comic. In the first volume she’s mostly just this “dirty secret” that’s kept in the basement while she learns how to be more responsible with her magic. Even “learning how to magic from NightMist” is probably a violation, but Tachyon would have had the logic of “we’ve tried to just do the ‘never do magic’ thing and it’s not working, so may as well be more responsible and get some training.”
- That brings up the question of the status of “vigilantes” in Sentinel Comics. The Freedom Five are certainly government sanctioned, so there has to be something going on here to make at least some superhero activity legal. But what jurisdiction do they fall under given their global (and beyond) reach? That gets tricky really fast and is likely why it’s not really addressed. If they really wanted to get into this they could just pull Jed (Christopher’s rock-climbing buddy and lawyer who runs a blog and wrote the book on superhero law) in for an episode. If people want that, go ahead and submit the topic.
- Adam has an idea for a Lawful character that comes after Harpy in a “you need to do more time/I need to arrest you” kind of way. Maybe a relative of one of her “victims” who doesn’t think that the state’s punishments are strong/strict enough. Somebody who cares more about Justice than any kind of human compassion. They say that they’re interested in Justice but the more we dig into it the more it’s apparent they’re emotionally invested in the vendetta. Possibly with their own jail.
- They should name this person as the name they choose is likely to influence the “flavor” of the character and how they go about things. They land on The Corrector. Somebody who has lost someone (possibly multiple people) during the Matriarch event and becomes obsessed with correcting things he sees as being wrong. One thing that is wrong is the justice system letting Lillian Corvus out of prison as soon as they did. They think that he’d already started down this path before she got out, though - like he was employed in the system somewhere (as a cop or a prison guard or something) and came to the conclusion that that system wasn’t sufficient and so he makes his own prison with very draconian practices and he loses it even more when Harpy gets released. This is a guy who might break into a prison that he thinks is too lax in order to imprison the person properly.
- They envision that Brianna Hawke is a good foil for him as she can outmaneuver him legally where normally he’s savvy enough on legal matters to avoid jail himself when he’s caught.
- Is this just a “device” villain? He doesn’t strike them as somebody with powers. Maybe he got a big life-insurance pay-out/civil settlement out of the Matriarch thing and so has resources to pay for gear and everything.
- Going back to before the Corrector discussion, Christopher had a point he was building towards. Lillian had been in jail somewhere between 1 and 5 years. In that time there’s someone that she made friends with/showed her the ropes/took her under her wing in the prison. Later, she breaks out of prison and expects Lillian to help her do more crime. Some nice conflict there as Lillian has positive feelings towards this person generally and thinks that prison is a horrible place to be sent back to, but also doesn’t want to be part of the crimes in question.
- The prison Lillian would have been in would have to be a “super prison” right? That means that this person also has powers. That still leaves them a lot of room to play with. What might be fun is to reintroduce some character that was a one-off or two-off villain in the Gold or Silver Age and the reason they never appeared again is explained now, decades of publication time later, as them simply having been in jail the whole time.
- They decide that rather than picking somebody from the existing roster of characters, they invent an entirely new character for the purpose of having existed this long time without being used (outside of the occasional Lillian-is-still-in-jail story over the decades). Adam brings up the “list of names we’ve been sitting on” in terms of inspiration for this process. We get a few censor beeps from Trevor since names they don’t actually choose should still remain secret and then some discussion of the merits of this or that name on the list (which is of marginal utility to listeners given that we don’t know what they were talking about but is interesting in terms of the process they use).
- In choosing her first appearance they mention Plague Rat’s first appearance in May 1960 (which we knew) and Crossword’s in November 1961 (which is new information). They put her appearance in March ’61, Freedom Five #131. Then she has a few appearances over the course of a few years, but never really gains traction with readers and is abandoned. Then something like 20 years later a writer reuses her in the Matriarch-in-jail stories.
- Given the book she appeared in she’s somebody who can believably challenge the whole Freedom Five team. Granted, that back in the era where you’re more likely to see villains do so who you’d really wonder how they managed it if it were later on. On that note, maybe it’s somebody who was this new flashy thing at the time, but after being in prison for so long they’re kind of behind the times. Bank robber? Maybe a bit more glitzy and have her crashes galas and robbing the rich people there. We just need to be careful to not step on Ermine’s toes too much. We do that by addressing the point that Ermine is a socialite who is covetous and bored. This person is clever and comes from nothing - some poor person who stumbles into power and then uses to “get what’s mine.”
- Adam’s dumb Silver Age power to give them? She can control the power of colors. She can pull the colors off of things and/or make them all confusing. It’s an interesting power to give a comics character in the era given the printing developments going on at the time. “I pull all of the blue out of Legacy’s cape and throw it at Wraith who’s overcome by the power of blue.” What does that mean? Who knows, but it’s fun. Does it make sense? Not really, and that’s why it doesn’t catch on as most writers don’t know what to do with her. Her name is Moxie.
- Adam’s on a roll with her origin as well. She’s a poor painter who drops her paints into some sort of toxic/radioactive waste or whatever and since she needs the paint and can’t afford to buy replacements she has to fish them out of the goo and that’s what gives her the powers over color. Christopher tweaks that to that she doesn’t even have a “fun” painter job - she paints houses and fences and stuff. She’s got a job to paint this house, but has to go out-of-pocket to buy the supplies and her little wagon of paints is what gets into the toxic waste (the city is just lousy with the stuff - it’s a real safety hazard if you think about it). She does the job but she accidentally draws in all of the color and so she gets fired because it looks like she’s done nothing anyway.
- Anyway, we have her early appearances in the ’60s and then have her show up again in the ’80s in one of the non-Wraith twice-a-month issues of Mystery Comics where they have the occasional story just be set in the prison with the Matriarch because “Tachyon’s cousin who’s also a villain” seems obvious fodder for the occasional story. We’re in a super prison so powers are being suppressed but they think it’s fun to have Moxie still have enough control over herself that she’s able to do color-power stuff to adjust her own clothes and approximate nail polish and makeup, so she always looks impeccable in a setting where that’s often not possible.
- They put her reintroduction in MC volume 2 #67 in February ’83. They can have it be something along the lines of her “helping” Lillian in some way, but it turns out that Moxie is always just looking out for herself. Adam also thinks that Lillian isn’t important enough at this point to get a full issue dedicated to her, so this is likely just one of a number of vignettes within the prison.
- Finally, jumping to the point we actually want to get to, we get the story where Moxie gets out of prison. Christopher suggests some “comic book time” shenanigans here where Moxie was in her 20s in her initial appearances, in her 30s in prison, and maybe in her late 40s here. Adam argues that while having her be “a bit past her prime” is all well and good, we run up against the “teenager, in your prime, or old” categories that comics are basically limited to in terms of character ages without resorting to actual dialog to get the point across. She’s “middle aged” here.
- They figure this has to be Dark Watch and put her reappearance in the January 2004 issue (#55). She hasn’t changed and is still doing the same sorts of stuff she was doing before. In fact, you don’t really go away for that long for just “stealing stuff” so let’s say that she’s been in and out of prison several times rather than just one long stint. We have this be a specific problem for Harpy while the team is busy with something else - Moxie has shown up in secret and reminds Harpy that she helped her out in the past and needs Harpy to return the favor. Does she keep Moxie a secret from the team? Does she fight her? Is she actually her friend?
- Of course, now we have to deal with what the 2004 explanation of her powers is. We go with that she draws “energy/vitality” from things, which causes them to lose color in the process, and she can use that energy to strengthen herself or she can throw it around as an energy force. Maybe there’s a limited amount of “light manipulation” going on as well, such that she might be able to make things invisible. She can also do “perfect camouflage” by applying the correct pattern (in the Silver Age she definitely made herself look like part of the brick wall she was standing against - she likely can still do something similar if less “cartoony”).
- On the personality side, the name is apt as they imagine her being showy. She’s good at making an entrance and has a presence.
- On the energy and vitality manipulation end, they think she can take power from one thing and imbue another with it to get a little control over it. Christopher’s example is drawing some color from one thing and putting it into a brick wall that can then “fight” for her. Not fully “animate” like it gets up and walks around but more like “making the pavement form waves to knock somebody down” levels of stuff. That gives her light “reality manipulator” vibes and increases the kind of threat she can be.
- Picking a real name for her, they go with Cheryl Tyler. She doesn’t use it much, but the character should have one.
- They think that the 2004 arc starts off with a few issues of the main team dealing with some other problem with Moxie as this subplot for Harpy to deal with but the back half of the arc has Moxie as the main problem they all have to handle as the “favors” she asks of Harpy escalate from minor to major and she gets in too deep.
- They also think that she’s enough of a threat to warrant actually sticking around after her reintroduction. Sure, she becomes more of a “Dark Watch villain”, but the initial connection is due to Harpy.
- Given the names of Harpy’s Cohorts, do any of Harpy’s villains take their names from Norse mythology? Not really. Gee they can’t think of a reason why that would be, though. She names her Cohorts the way she does because she’s an over-dramatic nerd. They are not actually Odin’s birds.
- Does she have any rock-based foes that go on to boast about how many birds they’ll kill with one stone? That joke gets made at some point, but it’s more likely to just be some strong enemy that throws a big rock than somebody rock-themed.
- Does she inherit any villains from NightMist? Definitely. NightMist was holding together so much stuff before she became the gate. She likely inherits all of NightMist’s villains and they’re used to dealing with NightMist-level competency and Pinion is not that. It’s a rough time for her.
- [Humorous Cult of Gloom letter discussing the possibility of Harpy foes in the form of some disgruntled alien ostrich that can’t help but answer the call of Harpy’s magic, but is really disgruntled about it. Also, if you’re in the market for a great recurring nemesis, they know a guy. She could totally prove herself as the greatest mage ever by allowing GloomWeaver into reality so that she can defeat him for good. She should give that a try.] Adam also points out that the Cult of Gloom gets some serious rep in the new DE GloomWeaver deck. This version really fleshes things out more.
- Does Harpy try harder than the rest of Dark Watch to get the criminals into rehabilitation programs? Is she harder on crime given her background? She probably talks about the issues with the criminal justice system more than most heroes, but it’s by no means a common theme. Most writers just ignore it. Also, Harpy likely recognizes that she deserved to be in prison for what she had done, but she’s very aware that prison didn’t “make her better” just having been there. She has a lot of guilt regarding her past. Story points on this theme kind of culminate in the Moxie story, though, with “what can we do besides prison?” sorts of things.
- Are there any former supervillains that she got buddy-buddy with while in prison or would Tachyon have discouraged such things? Moxie, that they just made up today. Tachyon would definitely have discouraged such things. “Yeah, I’ve made some friends.” “Don’t make friends with these people! They’re criminals!” “Yeah, so am I.” It’s fun juxtaposing the very black and white Freedom Five with the various shades of gray Dark Watch.
- Are any of Harpy’s foes more heroic than she is? They kind of did that with the Corrector. He’s not “heroic” but he thinks he is.
- How much does Harpy lean into Blood Magic as a resource (given that in the RCR materials we know about we have the Blood Raven variant and the “Reservoirs of Power” card and she used it to great effect in the Alpha team-up story Writer’s Room in episode 191)? She didn’t really use/have access to it before the incident with Blood Countess Bathory. It’s there, but she has access to lots of magical power already that NightMist had been teaching her to control. Then Blood Countess suggests that, hey, there’s always this other thing you could do. It’s easy and right there. Sometimes you need results now. After that encounter Harpy resolves to not use it because she sees that it’s bad news. However, sometimes you do need results now and it’s right there… so sometimes it gets used. It’s generally a desperate last-ditch move and there are always costs to using magic. Sometimes that cost is in study, practice, and doing the prep work ahead of time and so has relatively few or even no direct consequences. Sometimes you’re flying by the seat of your pants and there are more consequences.
- Has Harpy ever tried to use the mask to control a creature that is nominally a bird, but is supernatural and is therefore able to shake off the compulsion (say, a Roc or Thunderbird)? If she tried, would that result in, if not a “nemesis” at least some ruffled feathers and maybe a grudge? If something is “a bird” she can attempt to control it - there’s an avenue for the power to work. They don’t have a specific Harpy story, but they do have a Matriarch story in mind. In 2013, a Disparation story in the La Comodora/Chrono-Ranger era there’s a 2-parter “Wings of Time” story where an alt-reality Matriarch falls through time and the heroes have to help them. That Matriarch makes friends with a Thunderbird in a version of the Final Wasteland so we have at least something along the order of someone with her power set “communing” with such a creature. That’s more along the lines of what Harpy tries to do with birds anyway rather than just assuming direct control of the birds like she did as Matriarch. That being said, if she were being attacked by a magical bird she could use her powers to try to fend it off. The more will/ego a bird has the more able it is to resist her power. Could she control an actual harpy? Probably not control, but the birdiness they have would likely give at least a partial connection/avenue for communication.
- How does the Rook City populace feel about being protected by Dark Watch? How do they feel about the Harpy in particular? Megalopolis is very aware that the Freedom Five is there - they’ve got that big weird sky-scraper and everything. It’s a very public image and presence. Dark Watch does not have that kind of setup in Rook City. They’ve got a few abandoned warehouses, assorted safehouses, Diamond Manor, and Slim’s Garage. They have secret identities that they protect and their “base” isn’t generally known. The Harpy is probably less known than the others and that’s saying something. The RPG era is a different matter as the Aviary and Dark Watch are more known about as the larger organization is active and visible. That being said, it’s not likely the whole city right away, but they start at the Aviary and then slowly branch out organically as they start managing different problems as they come up.
- Does the Harpy have a good public image? Is the public generally afraid of her? What about the media? Do the villains know that she was once the Matriarch and try to convince her to do the villain thing again? Villains have definitely given her a “come back to the dark side” kinds of speeches. Not every villain would recognize her or would know, but many do. Same with “regular” people. If people found out that she was the Matriarch they probably would be afraid of her, with some justification. The Harpy is one of the least-known costumed heroes and Dark Watch in general doesn’t have a great public image. Slim’s Auto Shop has a better reputation than any member of Dark Watch (although that’s more of a “local secret” rather than having high Yelp reviews or whatever - it’s pure word-of-mouth).
- As a zookeeper, “pinioning” to me means amputating a wing joint to prevent a bird from growing flight feathers (pinions) so they can’t fly away - it’s largely seen as unnecessary these days (given that simply trimming the flight feathers is an option) and is at best controversial, but it still has a negative connotation so why does Lillian choose to change her name to Pinion? Part of the connection is that she uses her powers to “pinion” her opponents - hexing them to “shut them down”. The connection to the pinion joint itself that you mention is also there: she is this very important feature of the magical community now that NightMist is gone just at the pinion joint is key to flight. The point is that they considered the various ways the word is used and apply them in different ways to her - the “negative” connotations being how she controls her foes rather than being a commentary on herself. “Harpy” also had negative connotations, but those didn’t really apply to her or what she does so “Pinion” is more fitting at least in that regard.
- “The Harpy” by the Undead Poet Society (aka Dr. B from the podcast Discord who helpfully provided the text)
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, bored and weary,
Over a strange feathered mask inside that curiosity store-
As I stretched out, reaching, grasping, suddenly there came a flapping,
Wings and beaks around me, clasping, searing power through my core.
“Now I’m meant to rule,” I muttered, “to dominate the world,” I swore-
“All I want, forevermore.”
Crow and rook and sparrowhawk, jackdaw, vulture, goose, and auk,
Falcon, pigeon, finch, and heron flew to help me wage my war.
Eagerly I sought to ruin, shattering the world’s illusions,
Darkness my solution- but the power o’erthrew me in a roar.
Overwhelmed, the heroes came and brought me down, my doom and more-
In a cell, forevermore.
Languishing, my power faded. Still, the Mask, it captivated;
I resisted- “cousin Dana, your forgiveness I implore.”
Redemption calls! A chance to earn it; Nightmist’s craft, I now must learn it,
The Mask my bane, I choose to spurn it, though it calls me evermore.
Amanda, Harry, Pete, and Faye, they help me grow, my Dark Watch four-
Far from Night’s Plutonian Shore.
Presently my skills grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Mistakes I’ve made, my mentor, but I want to join the hero corps.”
Alas! the time had come to part us. OblivAeon brings all to darkness-
All her knowledge now she’d harness, hope to give us in the war.
Her sacrifice she made, her power op’ning up the ranging doors-
Mist was there, and nothing more.
Now in the Arcanum sitting, Huginn and Muninn ’round me flitting,
Relics to recover, refugees to save, my heart still sore.
All my past misdeeds now seeming like a remnant of my dreaming,
Evildoers their plots are scheming- I resolve to settle scores.
Loyal still, her watch I’ll keep, her burdens now are mine, I swore-
Desert my duty - nevermore!
- The exchange in the Aminia Twain kidnapping story where Glamour told her that she could really take the Freedom Five apart if she wanted to, given what she knows about them, prompts a question: was that scene the inspiration for the Miss Information story some 30 years later? Most likely, although probably not directly. More it’s a turning point for Aminia’s story generally in terms of her being Important™ to the team.
- Is that scene part of the backstory of Miss Information (i.e. did a similar conversation happen for that alternate-universe Aminia)? They wish that they could say “yes” to this, but this story is 30 years before the other and comics almost never refer to stories that far back. The vast majority of cross-references are to comics within a few months of the one in question, maybe a year or two for an important event. Beyond 10 years is virtually unheard-of if for no other reason that it’s “impossible” for somebody to actually track down the issue in question. Dedicated comic shops that have back-issue collections are a relatively recent phenomenon, and online options are even more recent. Back when the primary way of finding a comic was just on the spinner rack at your local grocery store or at a newsstand there was no way to get a back issue. Everything had to be related to something that was easily obtained at the time. There were certainly people who read the Miss Information story and remembered that old issue, but it wasn’t assumed to be the norm or acknowledged by Sentinel Comics directly.
- [Depressing head-canon that even after the Freedom Five replace Aminia, nobody actually uses her old desk - it just stands empty as a reminder and a place for the heroes to be sad on occasion.] They don’t think that leaving an empty desk is expedient, despite the opportunity for poignancy. Let’s say that her original desk was destroyed in her plots and they had to replace it anyway.
- Was there a lot of fan speculation as to who Miss Information was before the Aminia reveal? Definitely.
- Was there ever a team-up between “Miss Information” and Glamour to definitively show that they were different people (considering the overlap in m.o. and animosity)? They don’t think there was something done to specifically show they were different people, but Glamour was certainly at the top of a lot of people’s list of candidates. Even post-reveal they don’t think there’s much room for a team-up given the bad blood between them. “Taking down the Freedom Five” is all well and good, but Miss Information doesn’t think she needs Glamour’s help for that, plus the prickliness between them.
- Who else did fans think Miss Information was? There were probably a bunch. Baron Blade probably got blamed for the general “stuff going wrong” angle. Maybe the Entertainer. The usual suspects for the types of stuff going on, but then you also get really off-the-wall hare-brained ideas like the Radioactivist or Cueball. There were tons of guesses as to who it might be, but there was really no indication ahead of the reveal. Baron Blade (because when anything happens to the Freedom Five and it looks like a plot is involved he’s the top of the list) and Glamour were the two big ones.
- Does Garfield exist in the Sentinel Comics Universe or the Metaverse? The Garfield comic strip and Jim Davis definitely exist in the Metaverse much like they do here. It probably exists as a comic strip within the comics as well. At least, remember the time when little plush toy Garfields with suction cups on the feet were a thing that people would stick to their car windows? You probably get those showing up in the art of the comics during that period. They might be Legally Distinct Knock-offs, though.