The Letters Page: Episode 226
Writers' Room: NightMist #114
We're ready to have a howlin' good time!
Run Time: 1:27:32
The spooky times have begun, and they're off with quite the start!
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- No prep has been done for this because “NightMist and Alpha vs. the Court of Blood” sounds like it basically writes itself.
- When does this happen? It could happen in the ’90s in the NightMist book, but it could also be later on in an Alpha title. What might be fun is to do it in the era of NightMist after Vengeance when NightMist doesn’t have powers. How long a stretch is that? She goes into the Void in January ’96 but the Vengeance arc was in ’91-92. Let’s go ahead and do that so we can get a feel for what her comics were like when she doesn’t have powers.
- Additionally, NightMist and Alpha in the Court of Blood doesn’t sound like a one-off issue. The mid-’90s often just had ongoing stories across multiple issues without even bothering with a defined arc (“part 1 of 3” or whatever). Heck, they were pretty bad about dropping you into a story that actually was following on from a different title entirely with little context. As such, they can probably get away with just telling one issue of this larger “arc” without needing to really get into what all happens on either side.
- We could do a thing where NightMist is looking into something that leads her to the Court of Blood and results in her getting a blood curse of some sort. Maybe not straight up giving her access to Blood Magic, but something where the writers were thinking “well, she doesn’t have the mist curse anymore; but she’s still a magical hero even if she doesn’t have the same level of power - let’s just give her a different curse.” Adam doesn’t want it to be about something bad that’s happened to NightMist, but something where she’s trying to stop bad things from happening to other people.
- Okay, maybe we have this be a precursor (well, or at least something that was done that then informs a much later story) to the whole Apex/Blood Magic thing where we have the Court of Blood doing something to Alpha. Like, they do a “blood moon” thing and can force a transformation on her - she wakes up one morning and realizes that she’s just had an out-of-sequence full moon event that she doesn’t remember. That sounds fun.
- With that decided, the previous issue was likely NightMist fighting Alpha while she was in that state. We don’t know why that’s happening at the time and NightMist doesn’t have powers to help her deal with a rampaging werewolf, so that’s pretty scary. It might even be the case that we don’t know that it’s specifically Alpha until the end. Let’s put that in NightMist #113 from October ’94, putting today’s issue at #114.
- We open with our two heroes discussing what all went down the night before - just some exposition about a “blood moon” and why Alpha went crazy. NightMist’s heard some chatter about things and thinks that this isn’t something specifically done to Alpha, but just out in the world since there were actually a lot of werewolf attacks all over. Something is going on that involves Blood Magic and the moon, so this is likely to continue and that means they only have a day to figure things out because it’s liable to happen again tonight. Of course, the number one suspect for something involving Blood Magic at this scale is going to be the Court of Blood.
- How much time do we want to spend at the Court of Blood fighting vampires vs. the process of figuring things out? Do they want to resolve things in this issue or do we want to have the story go on for a few issues and it turns out to not be the Court of Blood that’s responsible? In the latter case they could even have the actual resolution be NightMist, Alpha, and Blood Countess teaming up to fix whatever is going on. That’s cooler, so that’s what they’ll go with. Slowly building this weird “horror team” - they just need a Frankenstein, a mummy, or a Dracula. Oh! Is (a) Dracula actually responsible?! It could also be Baron Blade given that it’s a moon thing, but he’s mostly a science person so using magic seems off for him.
- Maybe this is somebody else who is out to eliminate supernatural stuff. Like, by doing stuff like this they’re exposing the existence of werewolves, vampires, and whatnot and that exposure can cause humanity to rise up and destroy them. Is this a plot by Hexecutioner? How much have they discussed Hexecutioner on the air? [Note: they get the name wrong here but correct themselves in a minute - they mean Hexterminator who was mentioned in passing by name with no further elaboration in episode 220.]
- Well, to explain Hexterminator: they haven’t talked about them by that name, but we have heard more about the first appearance of the person who would take up that name. On that note, is this the first appearance of “Hexterminator”? They don’t hate that, so why not? The only hurdle is that his usual status is “monster hunter” and the scale of today’s plot is a bit bigger than at least Adam had imagined for him. It makes sense for the writer that created the character introduced him as a Big Deal that then never really took off. This is probably his biggest plot. Anyway, his identity is Chuck Burnside - the guy who was involved in a story told back in episode 65 (involving NightMist and this Chuck guy investigating a house with a pixie in it - recently revealed to be Brigit who now lives in Diamond Manor). After that story he gets himself a power boost and returns as Hexterminator. Anyway, yes, this issue will be the first appearance of Hexterminator (not that the story really involves him directly - we just get a splash page reveal at the end).
- It’d be fun if there was a bit when NightMist and Alpha first show up at the Court where the vampires say something like “We have been waiting for you.” The heroes take this as an admission that the vampires were behind the problems and were preparing for opposition where the vampires really meant that they assumed that there was some kind of attack on them going on with the Blood Moon thing and they were waiting for whomever it was to show up to try to finish the job or whatnot. It’s only over the course of the fight that they realize that neither side is actually the instigator but then at the end Hexterminator shows up to monologue. Eh… we get the splash page of him watching from the shadows and the monologue can be next issue. Christopher’s original take was that the monologue was along the lines of “it’s too late” because they’d been fighting all day and now the Blood Moon is rising - now they’re all going to murder each other. Adam counters that that’s a “beginning-of-issue monologue”.
- That brings up a good point - they’re fighting vampires during the day. Blood Countess is fine because she’s Blood Countess, but the rest of the vampires are probably tired/strung-out in this issue. Their connection to Blood Magic has been shaken and now they’re being forced to be up and about during the day. Blood Countess can operate during the day in general, she just chooses not to. The vibe that this gives the conflict in the issue, though, is that we have a pair of heroes fighting just a horde of vampires and they aren’t overwhelmed because of the circumstances. Of course, that shouldn’t have been the plan, but they were trying to sneak in and accidentally set off some alarm that alerted the vampires to their presence (the alarm having been set up by Hexterminator - not that we know that at the time).
- Maybe when the heroes arrive at the Court there are still vampires up and about during the day anyway. Since it’s their home turf and they’ve got the central blood fountain going that allows them some protection/power during the day and disrupting that is what the heroes are sneaking in to do when they are discovered. NightMist sets up a ritual before they head in, but they need to complete it on the inside. They sneak in, get discovered, but then NightMist manages to complete the spell, further weakening the vampires (who are about to be their allies and so could really have used that extra power - whoops).
- What’s the nature of the “alarm”? Maybe there’s some werewolf howl out in the woods surrounding the castle that Alpha has a deep, primal urge to respond to. Hexterminator can be revealed to have been behind that sound later and it doesn’t require him to have set anything up inside the castle. It’s likely not just a recording but something like a “bottled werewolf howl” that even has some bloodline connection to Alpha somehow which makes it irresistible. Alpha was even sneaking along in very low-werewolf form (maybe just eyes and claws) but the howl sets her off into full wolf mode. Cue a “What are you doing?!” reaction from NightMist. Vampires show up, mid-fight dialogue about how “you can’t stop us”, but NightMist says she already has as she does the thing to disrupt the blood fountain.
- There’s an important question of how NightMist is working at the moment given that she no longer has the curse that just gives her direct access to magic. She can still do rituals and is likely operating more like a witch (carrying around a bag of reagents and whatnot). She still has the innate connection to magic that lets her do it in the first place and still has all of the magical knowledge she had previously, she’s just hampered by the lack of “is a magical being” that eventually comes to a head when she loses to Isis of the Ennead in a few years, prompting her to go to the Void.
- A fun detail can be that Plan A was to sneak in and complete the ritual to disrupt the fountain without anybody knowing they were there and Plan B was to get Blood Countess monologuing long enough to get it done. Like, once the vampires are around and Blood Countess gets going we can still see NightMist standing with her hands behind her back, hiding the fact that she’s inscribing stuff on the fountain or whatever.
- It’s also an opportunity for Alpha to shine - the howl made her go full wolf, but now she’s surrounded by (somewhat weak) vampires that she needs to keep busy/away from NightMist. A rampage is kind of the way to go anyway so she just runs with the forced transformation.
- Adam wants to up the tension here a bit. Maybe NightMist needs certain things to complete the ritual but they immediately get broken in the fight and she has to cobble together a set of replacements on the fly rather than just walking up to the fountain with a prepared set of things. Alpha’s job is to keep the vampires off of her while she does so. Blood Countess doesn’t show up until she’s about to complete the ritual. She knocks NightMist back and here is where we get the “waiting for you” monologue. There are some hints in the speech that the vampires aren’t behind the Blood Moon, but not enough to let NightMist pick up on it before completing the ritual.
- Of course, then they all have a “Wait. What?!” reaction when they all realize that they’re being played by a third party. That’s when Hexterminator steps in saying something like “I was just going to let you kill each other, but I guess I have to get more hands-on now. You’re weakened enough that I shouldn’t have any trouble.” With everybody in their current states, he’s probably the most capable combatant on the field even discounting his magical knowledge/powers that he’s extracted from the various creatures he’s hunted.
- This is followed by a bit of discussion about where he’d rank against non-depowered/exhausted versions of these characters. Peak NightMist probably takes him apart. Blood Countess, at full strength and in her seat of power, is “practically undefeatable” and has taken on full teams of superheroes before. He might have a chance against Alpha just given the lower ceiling on her power set relative to the other two ladies.
- Okay, so Chuck Burnside had shown up in that one prior NightMist story, but hadn’t really become a recurring foe for her or anything. This is his first appearance as Hexterminator and he does go on to become a recurring Alpha foe (and general magic antagonist). Hexterminator is much “stronger” than anything we saw from Chuck prior to this.
- Have they delivered on the premise of “NightMist and Alpha in the Court of Blood”? They think so - it’s most of the issue. The Court just wound up not being the actual villain in the situation. It’s surprising how rarely they are - because they’re smart. Sure, they need people’s blood, but if you would just let them have it they’d just sit back and not bother anybody else. Why are you making such a big deal over the blood thing?
- [The Overview closes out with a long digression about donating/drawing blood.]
- [The Question section begins with a longer-than-you’d-expect jam session with the guys doing “spooky polka” with mouth sounds. Thank you, Trevor, for leaving that in.]
- How far back does the connection between Alpha and NightMist go (I can totally see NightMist investigating this whole wolf-woman thing way back when)? “Wolf-Woman” predates NightMist by a fair amount (she doesn’t predate Faye Diamond, but it’s worth pointing it out). NightMist isn’t involved in the period of Tabitha’s rebranding as Alpha either - Alpha’s whole deal is kind of more stand-alone when compared to other comics and we see fewer crossovers and cameos in her books. Alpha might show up in other books (like today’s issue), but not the other way around until we get to later stuff like the big Dark Watch crossover. Before that point, even when she shows up in other comics those events aren’t really brought up in her solo book running parallel. All of that being said, Alpha probably has a better relationship with NightMist than she has with any other hero.
- Why is Locke chained up in Diamond Manor but not Alpha? Is Locke a werewolf because of Alpha? No, on the latter. He was a werewolf hunter that was an associate of NightMist who eventually got himself infected. He’s in Diamond Manor at his own insistence. He’s trying to learn how to control things, but he’s hampered by his lack of acceptance of his new state. He hates the part of himself that’s a werewolf and the denial about that prevents him from really making much progress. We also don’t know the full extent to which Alpha is unique until pretty late in the timeline - her ability to manage things is eventually explained by her being very much a special case.
- Do NightMist and Alpha team up regularly before Dark Watch forms? Is NightMist a reason for Alpha being an ally of the team? Did NightMist “mentor” Alpha at all and, if so, did that experience have an impact on how she’d later mentor Harpy? Definitely not a mentor - it’s more of a peer relationship. Harpy is doing magic stuff that’s similar enough to NightMist’s own skill set that a teacher/student relationship makes sense there where Alpha’s deal is basically unrelated other than being the result of a “curse”. They team up irregularly - infrequent, but it does happen. Alpha’s relationship with Dark Watch is related to NightMist more than any other individual member but Alpha has crossovers with several people (at least one with Expatriette). The association with the team is more for thematic/proximity reasons.
- Does Alpha inherit from Apex an inherent connection to Blood Magic? Apex doesn’t have an innate connection to Blood Magic until the relatively late period where he becomes involved with the Court of Blood.
- Has Alpha been enthralled by a member of the Court of Blood (and if so, was that before or after we learn of Apex’s relationship to Alpha)? They could see it happen, but don’t think so. The fact that they’ve set up this other group of werewolves to be in that position means that they don’t think that it was a thing done in a previous Alpha story. Today’s issue would be well before their “familial” connection was established, but Apex would have been a character by this point.
- How is Alpha portrayed as a hero in her books? How much is her job as a reporter used? We see a lot of her reporter side. As a hero she’s mostly a reluctant one who discovers a thing in the course of being an investigative reporter and then takes action because she should. Sometimes that action is just continuing to do her job and bringing something to light so that people know about it/the proper authorities can take action. Of course, being in Rook City the proper authorities likely don’t take action, so maybe it’s time to turn into a wolf monster and get her paws dirty herself. Especially early on we probably get something like “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” stories where she’s dealing with a problem, but things keep pushing her until she turns.
- Before Apex is known about, are there changes to her backstory as Wolf-Woman? Do we know much about her parents? We don’t know anything about them in terms of what’s on the page. Her backstory would initially been vague in that she’s just a werewolf like any other werewolf, eventually involving her being unlike other werewolves for whatever reason (maybe “a direct descendant of the original werewolf” but what does that even mean?). It’s not until the Apex reveal that things are actually spelled out in a definitive way.
- Does she want a cure? Does NightMist ever try to help her get rid of her curse? It varies. Especially early on maybe there were times she expressed a desire to get rid of it. Then others she might say that it’s a part of her that she needs. Maybe some time NightMist actually tries and it doesn’t work (like, there’s no cure for lycanthropy, but maybe something bad happened to her and she was “dead” - NightMist “brings her back” and tries to bring her back without the wolf curse and it seems to have worked for a while, but eventually she turns again). We can have a later story where somebody “takes it from her” somehow and she needs it back. It’s a fairly broad spectrum of approaches to that part of the character. It probably evolved over time, too. Up through, oh, the early ’90s it was probably a burden she’d like to be rid of and from the mid ’90s through the ’00s is when it became more of a “this is who I am” trait. Then when we get the established back story we finally tack on an “and this is what I must be.”
- Do Alpha and Naturalist ever team up due to the whole shape-shifter thing? There is at least one crossover between them, but they’re not frequent allies. They run in very different circles/the tone of their comics are different. Alpha is strongly tied to the human and, in particular, urban world as part of the Rook City “ecosystem” and has to tap into something primal to defeat foes. Michael Conteh is part of the global economy who is returning to more natural roots to be a better person. Additionally, The Naturalist is a publicly-known hero but the Wolf-Woman is an urban legend.
- Does the presence of one (or more) “Suddenly! it’s the full moon” in Alpha’s deck imply that the Moon behaves markedly differently in the Sentinel Comics Universe such that the fact that it’s full can be a surprise? Does she do most of her fighting on cloudy full moon nights so that the clouds parting Suddenly! is a thing to worry about? Is this card one of those things that represents a thing that doesn’t actually happen that much during her comics outside of maybe a few wild and crazy times where she has to deal with her werewolf nature on a full moon night? The moon acts normally. It is a “oh no, the clouds moved” and/or “I didn’t realize tonight was the full moon” narrative device that means that sometimes characters act like dummies for the purpose of the drama. You’d think that a werewolf would have a really good handle on when the full moon is. Do clouds even matter, otherwise she could just stay indoors and be perfectly fine? Granted, this sort of thing rarely happens in modern comics [the issue citation on the card preview is Wolf-Woman #3 which was from December 1974]. It’s comics - sometimes it’s cool for a character who can be forced through a shape change to have to deal with it at an inopportune time.
- How do werewolves age? We’ve seen Apex’s human form in a Kickstarter update and he doesn’t really look old enough to be Tabitha’s grandfather, so what gives? They age much slower than regular humans. They also have more inherent vitality so even leaving the “aging process” aside, they remain in their prime longer/more easily than a human of the same apparent age. Maybe their human form only ages when they’re in their human form… They don’t know about that one. However, also keep in mind that Apex is not her biological grandfather - he’s just the werewolf sire of the man who would then be her biological father. There doesn’t need to be a full generation’s worth of age difference between Apex and her father. That being said, Apex is way older than he looks - he’s been a werewolf for over 100 years.
- [Letter starts with a humorous “Vampires are prejudiced against Italians” thing because of the aversion to garlic, crucifixes, the sun, and looking at themselves in the mirror] How does the “Alpha is a frequent ally of Dark Watch without being a member” thing actually work out? Does she just show up occasionally? Do they call her in if they need her? Is she only involved with “horror-themed” stories or does she help out with more mundane/modern foes too? They don’t so much call her for backup and is usually a “she shows up when the story demands it” or the specific story is one where they know that they could use her help and go find her.
- How does she get along with the members of Dark Watch? Fine. There’s probably at least one story where they have to fight her for whatever reason. In early stories there’s probably a thing where Expatriette considers her more of a liability than helpful but she eventually comes around. Setback is too “jokey” for Alpha - as such he likes having her around but she’s annoyed by him. Mr. Fixer barely talks at this point so there’s not much there. They had met in earlier Rook City Renegades stories.
- Does Alpha have any stories where she directly wields/is subject to Blood Magic? Subjected to, yes. Using, no.
- We know that Blood Countess is the individual responsible for vampires existing at all, but what role do the members of the Court play in vampire society? Are all vampires technically members of the Court? Do they swear fealty to the Court? Is the Court just the most powerful organization within vampire society? How many vampires are there that aren’t affiliated with the Court? Are there any other “organizations” of vampires? If so, how powerful do they tend to be? The Court of Blood is the most powerful vampire organization and is recognized as the point of origin of all vampires. You can’t just become a member - it’s specifically made up of old and powerful/influential vampires that tend to be high up in the hierarchy of who sired whom (closer to Blood Countess herself = more powerful). The physical location of the court also has many servants/lackeys/hangers-on, but they’re not technically members of the Court. There are a ton of vampires associated with the Court and the most at least recognize it as the seat of power and most of those have at least a ceremonial “fealty” relationship with it (even if in practice they and the Court just go about their own business without actually interacting meaningfully). So, that means that there are lots of groups of vampires all over who if you asked would recognize that the Court is technically their superiors, but as long as they’re not at odds they’re left to their own schemes without interference. Within the Court, Blood Countess is obviously in charge but the other members operate as kind of a council. She can overrule even unanimous opposition from the Court, but there’s a feeling of “what she chose better work out” because while she isn’t really threatened by them (well, if they all worked together they have a shot at killing her but it’s by no means a sure thing - even then, it’s got to be more of an “assassination plot” type of coup rather than a direct fight), things are easier if they at least respect her and she’s done a good job on this front so far. There are the occasional fringe group of vampires that outright oppose/reject the Court. The various Draculas are examples of such things.
- Considering we’ve been told that vampires and werewolves have a “long-standing” feud but vampires have only been around for 400-ish years (and some of the oldest possible vampires are still around), how did that feud start? For the record: werewolves predate vampires by a long time, given that their origins are far enough back to be shrouded in legend rather than being able to point to the historical person who started it (which is fun for them - in a lot of other media vampires have this reputation for basically being around forever so subverting that is amusing). A lot of the animosity is probably down to the fact that both vampires and werewolves “hunt people” and there’s complications due to that. There’s also a class warfare thing - vampires showed up and have this very strong “we’re the aristocracy and you’re filthy animals who live out in the woods” better-than-you attitude.
- Have all of the vampires in the Court of Blood deck been around since the beginning, or do we see some joining during the history of the comics? They’re all based on real people like Blood Countess Bathory herself and so have been around “since the beginning”. They got introduced in the comics over time, but they’re all presented as having been there since the beginning.
- Are there any significant vampires introduced into the Court in the comics who were not featured in the deck (say, how Harpy almost was)? They don’t think so. The members are just there and if we see a new one it’s just because we hadn’t had reason to encounter them before. They’re background characters until they’re not. Oh, wait! Magistra Demaris (the one acting as a liaison to Apex) is a new Court member. She was probably the leader of one of those other subsidiary vampire groups out in the world who was then recruited into the Court for the purpose of being loaned out to/keep an eye on the werewolves.
- Would they take a sentient snapping turtle [this is part of the letter-writer’s gimmick]? Uh… if it was also a vampire. And not a dude.
- We’ve seen the Blood Raven variant for Harpy that’s presumed to be from the story in episode 158 [yes] - how long was the Court trying to recruit her? Were they a constant threat in the background for a while after that? Specifically Blood Countess approached her and showed her that she “could just do this thing” and would be very powerful if she did. Harpy did ultimately reject that overture, but from then on she always has that knowledge kicking around in the back of her head. As such, when pressed she occasionally uses that Blood Magic and the variant represents her going down that road. It’s a constant temptation for her and the Court, being patient, mostly just watch and wait at this point.
- What could happen if somebody were bitten by both a vampire and Plague Rat? What if Plague Rat bit a vampire (I assume their Blood Magic nature would offset the “mundane” infection)? Could a vampire “save” a person infected with the rat plague by biting them? They think that a vampire bit by Plague Rat would hurt as it’s a virulent blood-borne infection and they’re powered by Blood Magic, but they wouldn’t become rat creatures. Similarly, they think that being turned into a vampire while undergoing the rat transformation would reverse the rat thing. If you want a Blood Rat, about the only real chance would be to vampirize Plague Rat himself. His specific change is complete enough that the vampire curse couldn’t undo it. The rat plague will kill you. Sure, you become a rat creature in the meantime, but ultimately it will just kill you. The vampire “infection” on the other hand sustains you in its own way so they think that other than the “stable” case of Plague Rat, becoming a vampire will just clear the rat plague from your system. The Court of Blood might be able to intentionally create rat vampires out of late-stage plague victims, but it’d be a case of precise timing and even then would have a low success rate.
- What if you got bit by both at the exact same time? In a vacuum, it’d probably just turn into a vampire for the reasons given above. However, if you’re crafting a story such that this somehow actually happens to a person you probably wind up with some kind of hybrid “half their body is vampiric, half is rat creature” thing because that’s more interesting. Let’s call this person Plague Bat.
- How about the cover just being an action shot from the Alpha and NightMist vs. Horde of Vampires? It might be more interesting with Blood Countess. It’s 1994, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to design. It can be pretty busy, though, with lots of words. Do we want it to have “Blood Moon Rising” on the cover, or have that on the title page with some other text teasing the contents on the cover? Something like: Alpha Lost to the Blood Moon Madness, the Court is out for Blood. No, we’re going to just do “Alpha Lost to Madness”. We’ve already got “blood” in the other phrase so we’re cutting out the “blood moon” reference. This is still going to be a bit of a mess.