The Letters Page: Episode 23
Today, we talk about Michael Conteh of Conteh Energy Corporation! Surely, that's where you know him from, right?
Run Time: 61:31
Right in the beginning, we mention that The Operative will come up later in the podcast. And then we follow-through on that promise! We talk about stuff between The Naturalist and The Organization - which does happen to involve The Operative - just after the six minute mark.
Lots of exciting things in today's episode, including space adventures, business take-overs, and even the origin of Akash'Thriya!
As we have done before and we will certainly do again, we discuss how unsettling birds are in this episode. Listen to the few minutes leading up to the 30 minute mark for that gem. I'm certain it'll come up again in the future.
The future holds a lot for The Naturalist, but we can't spoil TOO much for now - lots of story things will come up in the long run!
We've already recorded all of the episodes from now through the end of June, so send in your questions for the Chrono-Ranger episode! We'll announce our schedule through the beginning of August next week.
- Argent Adept
- The Operative
- The Chairman
- Doc Tusser
- Fright Train
- Citizen Dawn
- Citizens Truth or Dare
- La Capitan
- Prime Wardens
- Slaughter-House Six
- Aviva Natasha Aldred
- Professor Pollution
- Plague Rat
- He generally winds up being a side character during big crossover events that the card game tends to model.
- His first appearance was in an early issue of the anthology book Tome of the Bizarre when he's cursed by Akash'Bhuta. His appearance in #24-26 depicted his journey through mastering his power (see the flavor text on his Form cards) with the help of Argent Adept, but even in these issues he was the "B" story - even though it's only 3 issues of a title, his story takes place over years. This happens shortly before the Vengeance event and the writers decided to pull him into the broader stories rather than letting him be just a one-off character in their weird The Twilight Zone-ish book.
- He also wound up being a supporting character in Nightmist's book for a while (as one of a number of contacts she had regarding different types of magic than her own) and from that connection would occasionally also show up in Dark Watch stories or others dealing with magic-using villains (namechecking Matriarch and Apostate - again, unsure about why Matriarch is mentioned here given that her "only" villainous outing would have been in FFA #2 decades prior to his introduction unless told in flashback).
- His first big story, however, was against The Organization. He shows up and brutally murders the Muscle in the sewers of Rook City (see card art for "Feral Fury" - Rook City Renegades #5 is also cited on Setback's "Looking Up" further showing the connection to the Dark Watch vs. the Organization struggle). The Operative still manages to take down the team by the end of the issue and it's a pretty bleak book in any event as she and the Chairman discuss how the heroes did basically nothing of concern.
- Given his change in outlook after his ordeal becoming the Naturalist, he winds up at odds with the board of directors for his oil company and they wind up hiring Equity to kill him. Nothing really comes of that, it just sets up conflicts down the line, namely...
- Vengeance is his first really major "superhero" appearance and he's involved in the major set-pieces: in Ruins of Atlantis he can communicate with the Kraken to help take out Doc Tusser (see "Environmental Allies"; Vengeance has a lot of "mini-Nemesis fights" where heroes wind up fighting members of other heroes' rogues galleries), he's part of the team that takes down Fright Train (whose incap art shows Naturalist along with K.N.Y.F.E. and Setback), but ultimately lost, along with Haka, in a fight against Proletariat (see "Flanking Maneuvers"). He's then out of the public eye for a while.
- We next see him on Insula Primalis, hanging out with the dinosaurs there ("Blend into the Pack") - a lot of his solo appearances involve him "walking the earth" and communing with nature, etc. This appearance is during Citizen Dawn's big push after getting the Mobile Defense Platform (an event also involving Parse and Citizen Truth - which I assume also means Fanatic is involved given the art on "Critical Multiplier"). He doesn't do anything particularly notable in the event, but is part of the team that faces off against Dawn herself in the finale.
- He's got kind of an odd progression. He will show up in an event, then fade into the background and not be seen for a while, but then in his next appearance he'll be a slightly more notable presence, increasingly at odds with how he's depicted in his solo stories.
- His next major story is Deadline, where he's at the forefront (along with Scholar) due to their connections with the natural world and stuff like the ley lines. They try to defend the latter as much as possible, but they can't prevent Deadline from severing a few of them, and they can't repair them afterwards. This is bad, for both the environment and for magical reasons, and the repercussions of this are felt through the end of the Multiverse era.
- He's then involved in the fight against the young La Capitan (i.e. her VotM incarnation), but he's almost immediately flung through a rift in spacetime and "overclocks" his power (see "Chronological Hotspot") and he wakes up on Dok'Thorath during the civil war there (this is really confusing for people just reading his solo book as now he's all of a sudden on this alien planet fighting Infinitor alongside the Prime Wardens).
- The Prime Wardens bring him back to earth, he's got a handle on his powers again but their still in flux. His comic also has a return to more down-to-earth stories after the reader backlash to the weird space stuff he got involved with for a while. This sets up the next few events for him, though, now in the Hunted variant.
- Bugbear is now after him (read: wants to eat him) to consume his unique magical essence - blood magic is gross. This isn't a standard "superhero fight" story - it's a chase, and generally a stealth one where Bugbear is just this relentless pursuer. He's not particularly fast in his pursuit, but tireless and doesn't give Naturalist much time to rest. In the middle of this, he also has to deal with the Slaughter-House Six who have been hired by his old oil company to finish the job they started with Equity. They manage to capture him (Glamour is namechecked specifically, see the "Freak Show" card in MMFFCC), although he does break out eventually.
- Aviva Natasha Aldred (the last heir to the family who ran Aldred Industries until the whole Omnitron incident) now runs an environmentalist non-profit and he approaches her - she's good at this whole business thing and he doesn't want to be stuck in an office so he can do his animal-in-nature routine. He sells his 40% share in Conteh Energy to her for $1 so he can wash his hands of it (and get the board members off his back - although he gives her the goods on them too).
- This frees up his time for heroics rather than running away and he confronts Professor Pollution. She's got "radioactive waste powers" and seems like a natural foe for him, and he defeats her. They don't mention much about this fight itself, but it does set up one of the most important arcs for him.
- One of the things that Prof. Pollution is doing, as a side-effect, is leaching toxicity into the dormant Akash'Bhuta (dormant, recovering from the fight with the Prime Wardens). This results in something like a cancer in her which Michael becomes aware of due to his connection to her (from when she cursed him). He communes with her to convince her that she needs to change in order to survive - paralleling his own origin story - and this is what results in the creation of Akash'Thriya and they kind of become an odd "team-up" duo, fighting against Revo-Corp and Plague Rat, Omnitron IV, and others.
- Bugbear is back on his trail, though (after getting sidetracked in a fight involving Nightmist), who is now more vicious in desperation given that he hasn't been successful in fueling his blood magic. He gets Naturalist dead-to-rights until Akash'Thriya steps in to save him (which is really the first altruistic "hero" action she took that wasn't purely in his own self-interest). They remain in this duo arrangement leading into OblivAeon.
- Naturalist isn't really involved in the "main" lead-up events to OblivAeon, but his involvement with getting Akash'Thriya up to speed as a hero was important.
- His main deal during the OblivAeon events proper involves the general magical weirdness going on at the time - he only has specific animal forms tied to specific events and he gets another one here: a giant vulture. This becomes very important as a means to get from battlefield to battlefield as OblivAeon moves. He's still part of the main fights, but as usual for him, he's still kind of a side character involved in the protection of the environment rather than your standard "fighting" contribution of most heroes.
- What's the extent of his powers/how many animals can he turn into? It's very nebulous, he's got a magical attunement (as mentioned in previous episodes like Nightmist and Matriarch), but not really in a "spell casting" sense. He's powered by "earth magic" via his connection to Akash'Bhuta). We see him turn into the three canonical animals in his deck, plus the Vulture form during OblivAeon. He does get a few more, to be mentioned later. There is an alternate-timeline version of him shown in La Capitan's VotM deck that shows him as a small bird (like a parrot), showing that different universes' Naturalist winds up with different forms since they're tied to specific circumstances that impart important life lessons to him.
- The alt-art version of Hunted Naturalist's incap art shows him as a hyena, can he turn into other animals besides the 3 in his deck, if not what's going on here? When he went to save Akash'Bhuta from Professor Pollution, she did not initially respond to him and he went off by himself and tried to create another form. He managed to turn into a hyena, but couldn't change back. He returns to her and she agrees to help him and changes him back, but this is the "Eureka!" moment that convinces her of the need to change. The hyena form's lesson is "don't reach for things not meant for you" (the vulture form's lesson is something like "don't have expectations about what you need").
- Based on his bio, he seems to be on the periphery of the major events of the Multiverse, mostly being tied up in his own struggles and transformation, is that an accurate read on his situation? Are there major events where he's more central (and if so which)? This has mostly been answered, but the guys really wanted to drive home this question's initial statement - he's a side-character, but there's still a lot for him to do over in the sidelines. He's still involved in some major fights, but as mentioned this results in kind of a disjointed feel for him as written.
- Is he only able to transform into animals or can he change into objects or other people? Just animals (and specifically, just those animals). He's not shape-shifting in the same way Guise does where he's just moving his body parts around into a different shape, he's magically becoming these other animals (although with the weirdness involved in his "Hunted" era he can do strange combinations of attributes between them). In the same way that Legacy is "a guy, but with other weird powers", when he's a crocodile he's "a crocodile, but with other weird powers".
- Where was he during Progeny's assault? Already mentioned, he's off with Akash'Thriya, getting her up to speed as a "hero".
- In his bio, it's mentioned that he's pretty mad at Argent Adept by the time he's through his initial "training" phase, does he retain any of that animosity later after his journey back to humanity? He's certainly furious at Akash'Bhuta and AA during the initial crocodile form event (that form being one of fury to begin with), but it's worth noting that his journey isn't really one "back to humanity" rather than one forward into something new. He and AA get along well now.
- His original costume, with its clean lines and classic "superhero spandex" look, kind of seems odd for him given his naturalistic power set, why did he choose this as his look? He doesn't seem to care about his identity being secret, so why the mask? He's definitely trying to protect his identity - see all of the assassination attempts. People who know him as Michael Conteh, former head of this big oil company and people who know of the shape-changing hero known as the Naturalist do not know that they're the same person, although they both have enemies. He chose the outfit because he likes green and it's a useful color for camouflage (and is very different from anything he wore in his civilian life).
- What's the deal with his "star" logo? It's a West African (specifically the Akan people in what is now Ghana) Adinkra symbol meaning "change" or "transformation", implying a personal change (rather than the literal shape-shifting he does).
- Why did the Argent Adept not invite him to join the Prime Wardens? He did, Naturalist didn't want to be on a team because he had his own stuff to do on earth specifically and the Prime Wardens are off-planet periodically.
- Why did he not seek out the Argent Adept when his powers started to lose control? He was kind of busy with the whole "being hunted" thing, but it's also not particularly easy to track AA down as it's much more likely that AA will find you - which is what happened when they found Naturalist on Dok'Thorath.
- What caused his powers to go wild? La Capitan's meddling and the severed ley lines mentioned previously.
- What was offered to Ambuscade as a reward for capturing him? Money ("over a million dollars" "less than a billion").
- Does he ever regain control or at least left in peace? What a good segue into...
- He and Lifeline work together to repair the ley lines to help stabilize the world. This more or less happens during the OblivAeon event, so strictly speaking isn't the "future" yet, but it's necessary to set up the other stuff where the Naturalist's story is kind of bound together with Akash'Thriya's fate.
- Tactics - Akash'Thriya is very badly damaged during the OblivAeon fight and, afterwards, goes off alone to recover but she takes along a bunch of OblivAeon shards which allows her to regain power much more quickly than she generally could (more in her episode) and is kind of reverting to "her old self, but worse". As a result, Naturalist is losing control of all the various magics running through him while also trying to access many new forms, resulting in blended forms and he becomes a "Chimera" - a primal force of nature rather than a hero or villain. He's not as far gone as Plague Rat, but the heroes still have to try to help him regain something of his humanity.
- RPG - Akash'Thriya is still seriously damaged and needs to draw energy from the Nexus of the Void, but rather than using OblivAeon shards to accelerate this, the Naturalist helps her enter some kind of chrysalis state in the Akash'Flora in downtown Megalopolis. He returns to his "walk the earth" roots, but gets a few more forms, including the hyena and vulture. He's got more "far future" stories they've imagined that gets him more forms, but that's like an entire new episode's worth of stuff. His role in the RPG setting is a shaman-type character that heroes can get information/guidance from as he keeps an eye on the natural world while his ally Akash'Thriya is in hibernation.